Tuesday, September 30, 2008

End of September status update

I'm ahead of schedule on the stupid, hateful St. Enda sweater. As you may remember, my goal was to have one sleeve finished by the end of September. Although I do not have one finished sleeve, I have two sleeves which are both almost finished.

I finished the first a few weeks ago, I thought, until I realized that Alice Starmore apparently designed sweaters for gnomes. It looked a little stubby to me, but sleeves always do look funny before you sew them up, and the schematic measurements are all in metric so they are meaningless to me (the US really should go metric, but that's another rant for another day). I trusted in the pattern and after washing and blocking the sleeve realized that not only was the saddle part too short, but the whole dang sleeve was a few inches short as well.

By that time I had already begun the second sleeve so I will finish it and then go back to the first one, rip back the saddle to the bind off, add a few more inches and do the saddle again.

Actually, I only have about 2 more inches of very short rows and can feasibly finish this sleeve by the end of the month (i.e. tonight), thus fulfilling my goal. But who knows what I'll feeling like doing when I get home from work at 9:30 tonight? I may just have a glass of wine and some ice cream and call it a night.

Here are both sleeves side by side, just because it makes me feel productive. The little blue markers on the left indicate where I originally would have bound off, following the pattern instructions. Also, notice how nice the sleeve on the right looks, perfectly illustrating why blocking is so important.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

American Wife: a review

Curtis Sittenfeld's new novel is a fictionalized story of Laura Bush's life, but don't let that deter you. As she says in this interview, although it is loosely based on Bush's life, about 85% of it is totally made up.

An epic novel, it spans Alice Blackwell's life from high school until middle age. Alice is a very likeable and complicated character, and the book explores some themes I've thought about a lot, such as how the private lives and opinions of political figures contrast with what they show the public, and the responsibilities of presidential spouses. Charlie Blackwell, her husband, I found much less appealing, and I'm sorry to say he reminded me a great deal of George W. Bush. I didn't understand Alice's attraction to him, but it didn't lessen my enjoyment of the book, and in fact their complicated marriage provided great food for thought about the way marriages work (or don't work). For the most part I didn't think about the Bush family as I read this, but just enjoyed it as a novel. So if you're concerned about reading a big long book about someone you don't necessarily like, please don't let that keep you from reading this. Sittenfeld is a great author and American Wife is well worth your time to read.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Librarians: Czars of Acceptable Information

So this article is interesting. The piece seems to be saying that librarians are bullies who decide what is appropriate to have in libraries with no consideration for what taxpayers have to say (because clearly, librarians themselves must not be taxpayers.) The major example in the article is a situation in Nampa, Idaho where some people complained about The Joy of Sex and The Joy of Gay Sex, and recommended that they be moved to the director's office where only those who specifically requested to could see them.

Imagine this. Imagine going to the library and looking up one of these books in the catalog. The call number includes "director's office." Now you have to approach a staff member to ask the way to the director's office. They, of course, question why you need to see the director. You then have to say, "I'm looking for The Joy of Gay Sex." Remember, now, you are in Nampa, Idaho. You are shown to the director's office by a staff member who now knows that you are interested in gay sex, and you need to make the same request of the director. "Hi there, I'd like to look at The Joy of Gay Sex!" Most people wouldn't go any farther than seeing that the book is in the director's office before giving up. Even if you persist, what if it's in the evening and the director is gone for the day and the office is locked? Do you have to make an appointment?

This is all so that children will not come across the book laying about and look at it and see pictures that are not appropriate for them. What people - like the author of the opinion piece - seem to forget is that public libraries aren't for children, they are for everyone. There are a lot of things in the library that aren't appropriate for kids, which is why libraries all have a separate children's section, and why parents are expected to go to the library WITH their children.

Getting back to the bully librarians, the author asks, "Does this sound like democracy in action, the free exchange of ideas?" I would argue that yes, actually, it does sound like the free exhange of ideas. The only way to HAVE a free exchange of ideas is to allow lots of different opinions and views on various issues. If you don't want to read about sex (or worse yet, GAY sex) then by all means don't pick up that book. But shouldn't it be there for someone who does want to read about it? Allowing the few "taxpayers" who complain to dictate that certain things be removed from library shelves, well, that sounds pretty undemocratic to me.

Near the end of the article is a point I've made in a previous thought-provoking post about how librarians do actually censor collections to some extent, based on what they choose to buy or not buy. But then he goes on say "Not only that, they’re regularly removing books from the shelves for being out of date or suffering from a low check-out rate." Which, seriously, are you suggesting we keep out of date books and books that nobody at all wants to read that are just taking up space? And get rid of books that some people may actually want to read (even if you don't)? I really want this guy to learn just a teensy bit about collection development before writing an opinion piece about it.

Actually, what I love the most are the comments. Did you know that making books about sex available is a communist act? And that Russia is still a communist nation? The same commenter also said "Americans won't have immorality paraded in front of children" which totally made me laugh out loud. Has this person turned on the tv lately?

CNS news apparently exists as an alternative to the liberal bias prevalent in the media, so I would expect an article about libraries to take a similar stance (though I'd hope it would be better thought out.) But as a librarian, I am all for the free exchange of ideas and availability of differing views, so carry on.

Saturday, September 20, 2008


I bought this yarn at Windsor Button this week, and it is so luscious! It is Malabrigo, and amazingly I've never used this yarn before. I can't show you the project yet, as it is a gift and not yet ready for public consumption (but if you're on Ravelry, check my projects page - I am threegoodrats - and there is more information and a project photo).

The colors are a bit off in this photo, and my camera has left the building so I can't retake it right now. It should be a little darker, more jewel-toned than it appears. But what the photo does capture is the shiny, lofty, lusciousness. It is a dream to knit with! Don't you just want to touch it?

Friday, September 12, 2008

Knitting Teamwork!

A group of us at my library all pulled together to make this baby blanket for a co-worker. Between knitting the squares and sewing it together, I think there were 15 of us who took part. It's a very simple pattern - just garter stitch squares - but the combination of colors and the whipstitching gives it a great patchwork look. The edge squares were left unsewed to give it the fun flaps, which I think look great. We gave it to the new mom-to-be this week and she seemed to love it!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

For those about to block, we salute you

Despite the amount of math and swatching and blocking of swatches I completed before beginning the St. Enda sweater, I began to doubt myself about the size and fit. I'm almost halfway through a sleeve and it just doesn't look right, though I've checked and re-checked the pattern schematics and my gauge. I knew that I was erring on the small size with my knitting and planned to block the sweater to size, but still I worried.

To allay my fears, last week I washed and blocked the back piece. The difference is amazing. The front and back were the same size, but look at them side by side now!

The back looks really fantastic and finished and boyfriend-sized!

It is only recently that I began knitting items on the too-small size, and blocking them larger. It's a great way to control the finished size of your garment. Knitted items tend to grow when washed so you can always block something to a larger size, but you can't make them smaller (not without felting anyhow). Eunny Jang taught me this in response to a question I posed on Craftster a few years ago.

There are different methods of blocking including steam blocking (which is terrifying as it involves an iron near knitted items) and spray blocking, but I use the simple wet blocking method as described in Stitch n Bitch. I wash the garment by hand, roll it up in a towel to remove excess water, then lay it out on my blocking surface and pin it in place. This seems like the most logical way to block because eventually I will have to wash the garment and I don't want there to be any surprises. No doubt that whatever the results of steam or spray blocking, they won't predict how the fabric will behave when it is washed.

As for the surface on which I block, that is another whole subject worthy of an entire post. Suffice it to say that I don't have a professional blocking board but I may end up buying one. Though many say they're not worth it, I haven't found a good substitute yet.

The St. Enda is ahead of schedule right now. My goal is for one sleeve to be done by the end of September but I think it will be done a week from now. Let's see if my prediction comes true!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

September: Change

I have not ever finished the BAM Challenge book this early in the month, but I had been dying to read Uglies by Scott Westerfeld so I started it on September 1st and finished it today. I may have previously mentioned my love for YA books, and this book did not disappoint! I only wish I had planned better so I could have started the second book in the series immediately, but alas, I need to wait for a library copy.

Uglies takes place in a future society in which everybody is made pretty through surgery when they turn 16. The idea is that if everyone is pretty, nobody will feel bad about themselves and because of this equality society will be peaceful. Tally is just a couple of months away from her 16th birthday when she meets Shay. They have both been left behind by friends who have already turned 16 and moved to New Pretty Town. As they become friends, Tally learns that Shay does not want to undergo the operation to become pretty. When Shay runs away to join a band of outlaws, Tally is forced to go after her and expose their settlement to the authorities so it can be destroyed. If she doesn't, she cannot undergo the operation herself: she must either forego becoming pretty, or betray her friend.

Though this book was a very quick read considering its hefty size (425 pages!) it touched upon a number of great themes, such as beauty, friendship, sacrifice, and environmentalism. The characters are likeable and the premise is fascinating. It is fast-paced, vivid, and completely enthralling. The next books in the series are Pretties, Specials, and Extras. I can't wait to read them!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Still no goals

If you know me, by this point you just laugh when I talk about life goals and not having any. It is a source of stress to me, which has not been helped by Brian Souza's book Become Who You Were Born To Be, subtitled - like an ad in the back of the National Enquirer - We All Have a Gift...Have you Discovered Yours?

To answer that: no, I have not discovered my "gift," even after reading your book, which I think was supposed to help me in this arena. Never trust a book if the cover has a picture of a smiling guy wearing a suit. You know they are smiling because they now have your money (presumably to buy more suits.) Thank goodness I read a library copy and have lost nothing but time.

In all seriousness, it wasn't all bad. The first part of the book actually gave me a lot of food for thought. In this section Souza talked about identifying your "burning desire" or "burning discontent" and turning it into a goal by making it more precise, visualizing how you want your life to be, and examining your life patterns that prevent you from moving in the right direction. He talked about brainstorming and trying different things out, and exposing yourself to new experiences and new interests in order to find direction.

Other than that, it was mostly filler. The topics covered included having a postive attitude, committing to excellence, dealing with change, and facing your fears, as well as reminders of how lucky we are to live in America compared to many other places in the world. I can't argue with anything he said, but he didn't really say a whole lot. It was fluff. Each chapter also contained an inspiring story of someone who overcame their life circumstances to be successful and (usually) famous. Though these stories were meant to illustrate the concept of that chapter, sometimes I couldn't see the connection.

Aside from how insubstantial it all was, I had a bit of a problem with the generalizations he made about his readers. Much of it seemed to be based on the assumption that we are all caught up in a rat race, we have all lost our core values and are completely materialistic - there are actually several chapters on these themes. But it is SO not where I'm coming from. I mean, I'd love to give up my 6-figure income and sell my yachts and discover what is really important in life but, you know, I have to do some shelf-reading in the fiction section and clean the cat's litterbox and whatnot.

Most of the book is encouragement and not helpful if, like me, you don't have some childhood dream you are still waiting to pursue. Despite the promises of Smiling Suit Man, I finished this book no closer to discovering my true purpose in life. In fact, I'm even more convinced that there is no such thing. Sure, some people do have a calling, but not everyone.

Luckily, when I found this book I also grabbed a copy of one called Living Without a Goal. This one feels more promising since I'm already doing what the title suggests. I'll let you know how it goes!