Sunday, July 31, 2011
He's cute, isn't he? He is, yes. Rascal is a very well-behaved boy. He doesn't pull on the leash, he obeys commands, and he's not much bother.
Except he's part shih tzu.
Shih tzus were bred to sit in the lap of the emperor and bark to alert the court that someone was approaching. They're like little sentries. Walk past, and they'll give a little bark. It's a very useful thing when you're out in the garden and someone comes to the door. They like walks, cuddles and the general company of people. They don't need much else. Most of the time, they snooze in the sun.
So, here's a summer day with our little sentry:
5:00am. We're fast asleep and the windows are open to let in some fresh air. The cats in the neighbourhood begin their morning brawl.
Cat 1: Yeeeeooowwwwl! Reooowwwwwww! I'm a cat, and I want you off my lawn, other cat!
Cat 2: Nooooooooooooo! I'm a cat, and I have to scream at the top of my lungs when I see you!
Rascal: Wha? Pah! Shocking! Someone is making a noise! Let me out immediately so I may deal with it!
Me: No, go to bed.
Rascal: But! Pah! They are making noises! This is unacceptable! Let me run around the room a few times to show my frustration!
Me: Go to bed.
Rascal: (After a few laps around the room) Ok, well, that solved it. I'm going back to bed.
Me: Man, now I'm awake.
Rascal: Not me, I'm bushed. Night night. *snore*
After work, I come home and decide to take a 20-minute nap to make up for my early morning. Two people walk past, having a conversation at normal volume.
Rascal: Wha! Pah! Shocking! People are moving around out there! Let me jump on the couch so I can growl and bark at them!
Me: No, chill out. I'm trying to have a nap.
Rascal: But! Pah! That's just not right! I have not given permission for people to walk past. I will get my squeaky toys and squeak them in frustration.
Me: Come back here! Rascal! Give me that toy!
Later that evening, I stay up a little later to finish some work or chat to a friend. Before I head for bed, I let Rascal out for his evening routine. A dog two blocks away barks.
Rascal: Wha! Pah! There is a doggy alert! I must investigate!
Me: No, come back in here. Come! Come!
Rascal: No! Let me run through the wet vegetable garden and race around the yard barking at full volume at 11:30 at night!
Me: Come back here! Rascal!
Rascal: I know you're wearing your pajamas, but I am not coming back until you come out here and chase me for a while! Pah!
Me: Ooooo! Where are my shoes....
It's a good thing he's cute.
This is why I am such an advocate of people walking their dogs daily. Rascal gets two walks a day for a minimum of 30 minutes each time. If the weather is extreme, he gets one walk and we play with him in the house and get him to chase his squeaky toys until he is tired. Can you imagine what he'd be like if we never exercised him?
I shudder at the thought.
In the end, I do love this little guy. He's been such a great companion and is really one of the family. He is always great at settling down nervous dogs, and he has a way of making people smile when they need it. It's just a lot easier to live with him in the winter time, when the windows are closed and there aren't as many noises at night. Still, it's good to know that if anyone were to try to intrude, he'd be right there, letting us know.
He's the cutest security guard I know.
Thursday, July 28, 2011
Now that the Tour de Fleece is over, I find myself struggling to go back to my needles to actually knit something. Those last few days were the first time in the long time that I didn't have needles in my hand because I was so busy spinning. Now, I have a terrible battle on my hands: spin or knit?
Part of my problem is that my yarn stash is already overflowing, and I really need to knit some of this stuff up into something before it overwhelms my house. That might not sound like a problem to a lot of knitters, but as much as I love knitting, I hate to have this stuff just sitting there whilst I while away my time on other things. On the other hand, I also have a big pile of fleece to be spun, and I don't want to get out of practice.
When your hobby becomes a burden, does that mean it's officially an obsession? Is that such a bad thing?
The good thing is that I haven't felt any need to make any purchases of yarn whatsoever for a while. Yep, savin' my cash, that's me.
Well, I'm sorta lying. I did buy a new spindle from Windrose Fiber Studio. Wait, wait, hear me out. I already own one of their spindles, and I decided to buy a third spindle because I figured that it would help me to spin faster. I have two top-whorl spindles right now. If I fill up one spindle, then I could set that aside and fill up the second spindle, and with a third spindle, I could ply those singles together, straight off the two others. That would save me the time it takes to take the yarn off the spindle to make it ready for more spinning. Time-saving, that's all I was thinking.
And well, since I was paying for shipping, I figured I'd buy 4 ounces of Blue Faced Leicester roving while I was at it. It was just more economical, you know.
I can stop whenever I want to. Really, I can.
Another thing that's holding me back is that I'm trying as much as possible to connect with other people online with similar interests. I comment on blogs and I look through Ravlery, Twitter, Plurk and, most recently, Google+ to find inspiration and to see what cool things people are up to. The problem with this, of course, is that it takes time away from what my needles.
I think, though, that I'd rather be busy meeting other people than be lonely with my needles. To all those I've chatted with recently, it's been to cool to find you! Here's to finding your tribe and getting to know them!
Monday, July 25, 2011
We usually make sure our accommodations have an internet connection, because the hubby needs to maintain his business when we're away (he's not a workaholic, he just likes to make sure no one is in dire need while he is away). This time, though, the internet connection wasn't working, and the owners were desperately trying to get it going again. Couple this with the lack of cell phone reception, and we were practically transported back in time.
So, I couldn't write a blog post. I couldn't check my email. I couldn't log on to Ravelry, Facebook, Google+ (yeah, I'm there)... soooo, what to do?
I spun some yarn. I slept. I read magazines. I played with Rascal. We walked and talked and slept some more. I had a bath. I watched the birds, the clouds, the squirrels. I only thought about work a couple of times. When I woke up in the morning at the usual 6:30am time my brain wakes me up at, I rolled over and slept some more. Time slowed down to a crawl. A pleasant crawl.
I spend a lot of my day doing things: knit, write, spin, write, clean, cook, garden, knit, work, drive, wash... This was the first time in a long time I really didn't do anything. Nothing planned, anyway. And it was nice.
My brain seemed to take the time to purge itself of bad stuff. I had dreams that I was back with my grade 1 class in London, and they would NOT stop screaming. I woke up with a gasp more than once, but each time I went back to sleep and woke up rested. I remembered embarrassing moments, bad decisions, annoying people, folks that hurt my feelings. And I made peace with it, I think.
I couldn't live like this all the time, but I'm glad we took the time to do it. There's something to be said for the enforced silence that comes from a lack of technology on vacation. I rather liked it.
Of course, the first thing I did when I got home was logged onto the computer to announce that I was home. I'm sure the internet breathed a sigh of relief. "Oh thank goodness," it said. "We could not do anything until she got home."
You're all relieved, aren't you? I'm back, and I'm rested. Brace yourselves, everyone...
Sunday, July 24, 2011
That last one is so true. She said that the day I told her I didn't want to go to my junior high graduation (I did want to go - I was just trying to make a statement). I can't remember a time when I wanted to do exactly the same as someone else. I can't even order the same thing at a restaurant as someone else I'm sitting with. "You want the steak? Aw man, that's what I wanted..."
So, when it was suggested to me that I do the Tour de Fleece, my inner teenager scoffed at it. Me? Join in? No way.
I have to say though: It was a great choice for me to do it. I don't think I would have accomplished so much if I hadn't thrown myself in and joined the race. Probably the most helpful thing of all was stating the goals I wanted to achieve during the Tour, which were:
- To spin at least 20 minutes a day.
- To try out long draw drafting.
- To try out spinning from the fold.
I thought spinning 20 minutes a day would be easy, but on days when I was tired or busy, it was tough to fit it in. Last week was the big sprint for me. I realized how few days I had left, and I really wanted to do the other two goals I set for myself, so I spun as much as possible to finish up the dyed merino I've been working on.
On Friday, we were supposed to spin something challenging, to match up with the most challenging day of the Tour de France race. I decided I'd hit goal two at the same time and try spinning the camel down I purchased this year at Olds. Since the hairs are so short, you need to spin it with lots of twist, and you need to use a long draw. Long draw is a way of stretching out the fibres so that the twist enters them slightly differently than a short draw. I knew it would be tough for me, because it would require me to let go of some of the control you get with a short draw. I brought out my brass tahkli for the first time and gave it a shot.
Here's what my tahkli spindle looked like last night. I wound a small ball of yarn off it later on. It's not finished, but hey, goal two: check.
Today, being the last day of the Tour, I knew I still had to give that last goal a try, at the very least. I finished spinning my dyed merino, set the twist and hung it up to dry. Then, I decided I'd try spinning some of the merino top I nicknamed George that I got from Olds this year as well. I really didn't think I'd be all that successful. After all, spinning from the fold seems counter-intuitive. It's where you take some of the fleece (prepared as combed top), and then fold it in have and spin it from the folded edge. The control-freak in me shuddered at the thought of having folded hairs in my yarn. It's not perfectly straight? Wha?
I got it working in the first try. I even did it with a long draw. Goal three: check. Go me.
So, while I only got two balls of yarn totally finished during the Tour, I still think it was a success. There's something to be said for diving in and joining the group. No wonder wildebeest are so successful... apart from the crocodile-infested waters they navigate and stuff. There's strength in numbers.
Hey, maybe they should add crocodiles to the Tour de France! I'll write that email to the organizers right now...
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
How many other words have you uttered and regretted later? I uttered these very words last Friday when I spun the last of my alpaca/merino roving for Tour de Fleece. I've only ever plied yarn once before, and it was a dawdle. You take two balls of yarn, and you twist 'em together. Bada bing, bada boom, two-ply yarn. This time, my singles were thinner, but hey, I figured it would only take an hour or so to ply them with my spindle.
On Saturday, I prepared my singles into two balls to get them ready for plying. On Sunday, after walking my dog before the heat of the day, I brought out the two balls and my spindle out and thought I'd be done before I went swimming later that morning.
I started plying. Swimming time came along. "I'll get it done after lunch," I said to myself.
After lunch, I continued. Two hours later, I said, "I'll just take a break now."
I took a short nap. I continued plying afterwards. Four o'clock came around. "I guess I'll get some things ready for dinner." My arms were aching by then.
An hour after dinner, I finally finished. I soaked the yarn, set the twist, then left it to dry.
Presenting: my handspun two-ply alpaca/merino blend yarn. Approximately 220 yards of fingering weight.
The white pieces of string are the bits of string I used to secure the loops of yarn so they wouldn't get tangled whilst soaking. It's a darn good skein of yarn, if I do say so myself. It's so smooth and soft, and the texture after plying is quite pleasing, like tiny soft beads on a strong. Those alpacas and merino sheep oughta get together and breed more often.
I know, that's not what happened, but how did you enjoy that mental image?
I know there are plenty of other spinners who have spun way more yarn than I have during the Tour de Fleece, but a plied skein of yarn in two weeks is really fast for me. I'm very proud of this yarn, and I'm glad I challenged myself to spin it. I'm still working on some of the dyed merino yet, and I still have some challenges left that I set for myself at the beginning of all of this. The Tour finishes on Sunday, so I don't have much longer now, but I think I can still fit it in.
How hard could it be?
Monday, July 18, 2011
While we were there, we made sure we saw as much as possible, while still squeezing in some days of relaxation. We took a tour and saw El Djem, a coliseum built during Roman rule. It was used in the filming of Gladiator.
We also visited a couple of mosques in Kairouan, filled with miles of beautiful hand-painted tiles and carved plaster.
The hotel we stayed at had unbelievable examples of this carved plaster in the lounge. It was difficult to photograph, but it was truly breathtaking:
It's only recently that I've realized how attracted I am to intricate patterns. I recall spending time as a child covering every bit of white space on pieces of paper with lines and swirls. Even now, I continue to be inspired by batik patterns, and the patterns of Persia.
Having said that, there are certain kinds of intricacy that attract me. It has to be simply intricate, not contrived, elegant, sophisticated, rich. It's funny how one can be so particular about something that seems so generic. It's difficult to describe, but I know it when I see it.
So what does this look like?
Here is some fabric I found in a quilt shop that I couldn't walk away from:
And you can certainly see it in my preferences for knitting patterns:
What amazes me is the imagination of the people who create these patterns, either in fabric, in carvings and especially in knit stitches. I have no problem idly doodling patterns on a page, but to immortalize these patterns out of loops of string truly astounds me. Have a look at Kitman Figueroa's designs or Kristen Kapur's Cerasefira Shawl to see this genius at work.
Is that simple? Maybe not, but my brain seems to see these as an ordered beauty, not chaos. I wish I could explain it better than that, but that's the best I can do. If lines were language, then these patterns would be poetry.
Stitch poetry. Yeah, something like that.
Saturday, July 16, 2011
The image most people have is this: a person (usually a woman), nestled in a soft, comfortable chair, cat or other furry animal sleeping at her feet, with a basket over yarn balls next to the chair. A strand of yarn connects the basket to her needles as they click, click, click.
That's not what I look like when I knit, at least, not what I looked like last night.
I started working on Semele yesterday. Semele is a person from Greek mythology, the mortal mother of Dionysis. It is a beautiful shawl, but well...
The lace in this pattern is true lace, where each row is different. I'm used to knitting lace where you get a bit of a break every other row, where you just purl across and you don't have to think much. Not true for this pattern. I don't think I've wrinkled my forehead for that long before.
This is actually my second attempt knitting it. The first, I screwed up the start and mixed up the right and wrong side...
Or so I thought.
Last night, I was working away, carefully checking each and every row. I finished the first section, and was about a third of the way through the second section, then I stopped.
Wait a minute, I thought, I've done it again. Argh!
I worked back to where I thought I'd messed up. I turned the piece around and around. Ok, this is the right side. No wait, this is the right side... right?
I kept on knitting. That doesn't look right at all. I was expecting it to decrease here. I worked back a couple of rows, then worked them again. That's still not right.
I looked at the pattern, looked through each line, counted stitches. It was like reading hieroglyphics, and my brain couldn't see the shapes the pattern was making.
Then finally, logged onto Ravelry and looked at other people's projects. That's when the lightbulb went on. I hadn't messed up. This pattern is just one of those projects that is defying my instincts. It feels like I'm doing things wrong, but I'm not. It's difficult to trust the pattern.
I guess I'm more type A than I thought.
Perhaps one of the reasons that I'm finding it so hard to trust this pattern is that I've already ripped back on this project twice, and I'm pretty sure that, if I have to rip it out again, I'm going to pitch this ball of yarn out onto the street. I've just realized that one of the increases I used is wrong, but it'll just have to stay as on of my "personal touches."
I know, I wanted something more challenging, and perhaps once I finally get into the rhythm of this pattern, I can start to enjoy it more. I am loving the colour of the yarn, and I'm starting to appreciate the shapes I am making, but it seems like it's going to be a while before I really know what this thing will look like.
This must be what it's like to learn how to fly the space shuttle.... difficult at first... lots of steps to learn, then easy... well, ok, it's nothing like flying a space shuttle. I just want to be able to say that I AM like a rocket scientist for once. I'm guessing, though, that astronauts just don't say, "Well, I'm thinking this is the right switch. It just feels right." There's a big difference between thinking you're right, and actually knowing you are.
It's probably just as well that the shuttle program is finished. They don't need any advice from the likes of me!
Thursday, July 14, 2011
It's a little lumpy and uneven in places, but I suspect that it might just even out with wear. I worked a row of half double crochet around the edge to hide some of lopsidedness of this thing, and it sort of works. It's soft and comfy, anyway. I'm sure whoever ends up using it won't mind the imperfections... much...
I've still been spinning on my spindle on the side. I'm almost through my 100g of alpaca/merino, and I'll be ready to ply it soon.
I decided the other night that I'd start prepping some of the fibre that I dyed during the dye class I took at Olds Fibre Week a few weeks ago. I was pretty sure it was going to be a tough spin, because the process we used seems to have felted the wool a bit. Both my friends, Tara and dkzack, had a tough time spinning it.
I decided to separate it as thinly as possible, and then predraft it as much as possible. That means that I stretched out the fibres gently as wide as I could without it breaking apart. It was pretty compacted, and it took a long time, but it worked.
And, oh my goodness, is it pretty!
It won't make a lot of yarn, but it'll make a decent little skein for some small project. I'm pleasantly surprised at how much I'm enjoying spinning it!
I'm so excited to get on to other things, now that I've finished that blanket. I'm kind of tired of these epic projects, but there doesn't seem to be any way to make things any faster, unless:
- I figure out how to slow down time.
- I develop bionic fingers.
- I learn to knit with my toes.
Monday, July 11, 2011
Sometimes, I yearn for the days of chivalry, of the court, and the beginnings of manners, and the fabled decency and kindness of the legendary king. Is chivalry dead? Are manners and decency a thing of the past?
This weekend, the British tabloid, The News of the World, was shut down by its owner, Rupert Murdoch. It was revealed that the editor and a private investigator had hacked into the voicemails of murder victims, victims of the 7/7 terrorist attacks in London, and relatives of deceased soldiers to obtain information about them for their stories. They even went so far as to delete messages here and there, giving the relatives of murder victims false hope that perhaps their loved ones were still alive, since they appeared to be taking their own messages. Once these activities were revealed, it was met with severe public outcry, and, eager to keep public opinion towards his media empire on his side, Murdoch closed down the paper. The News of the World published its last paper on Sunday, July 10.
I have to admit, before the paper was shut down, when I first heard of this story, I despaired. I was sure that The News of the World would continue on into perpetuity, publishing more trash and destroying more lives again and again. It's not the first time they had done such activities. When I heard they were shut down, I looked up from my knitting and cheered at the tv. I could not believe that human decency was winning. It seems so long since it did... that the media continues to profit from other people's suffering and embarrassment.
This time, they didn't.
I'd like to believe that the days of Arthur will come back. I can't imagine that I'll see a knight lay down his cloak across a puddle for me anytime soon (but it'd be cool if that happened). Maybe, though... just maybe, people are going to keep standing up against anti-social behaviour, and against the profit from other people's suffering, even the profit gained from mean-spirited talk. We hear it every day. I think it's time to push back the tide.
I feel like giving the Lady of the Lake a high five right now. I wonder if she'd do that...?
Saturday, July 9, 2011
That's about 50% of the alpaca/merino blend I started last week. It's not bad for spinning at least 20 minutes a day. I took it off the spindle today and rolled it into a ball in preparation for plying it when I get the second half done.
I've been visiting a lot of other blogs belonging to people who are also spinning for TDF, and most of them are wheel spinners, a handful spindlers. I can't help but feel a bit inadequate when I see the quantity others are spinning. All I can think is:
a) I need to spin for longer each day.
b) Maybe it's time to think about getting a wheel.
c) It might be time to quit my job so I can spend more time playing with this stuff.
While the third option is attractive, it's not exactly practical. I figure that, if I keep at it, I can be just as quick. It's not helping that I'm still working on my blanket (this thing is never gonna be done), but I intend to step it up a bit and spin for a little longer each day.
Oh, and I managed to take a photo to prove the date:
Keep on pedaling!
Wednesday, July 6, 2011
- THIS is why I don't make baby blankets.
- I'd much rather be going cross-eyed over a lace chart or on a complicated cable pattern.
- I'd much rather be spinning/knitting a shawl/having a bubble bath/eating cake.
- At least I won't have to block it into shape.
- I won't have to block it into shape because it's already the shape of a block.
- The baby that gets this better not throw up on this thing.
- If I keep having to work on it, I might throw up on it instead.
Oh well. They say that these things help you to appreciate the good things in life. It won't be long before I'm back to making something more interesting.
I promise I'll never complain about a complicated pattern ever again. Pinky swear.
Monday, July 4, 2011
Just because something is easy to measure doesn't mean it's important. - Seth GodinI was a teacher. I became a teacher because it felt like it was something I was good at that could get me a job. I taught all ages, but concentrated on the elementary grades. I started my career in London, England, and then taught in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
I met many, many children while I was a teacher. I don't think I met a child I didn't like... eventually! (There were certainly a few that weren't my favourite people right away.) I still meet children every day in my current line of work, but I don't develop the relationships I used to as a teacher. So, why did I leave the profession?
I left because I couldn't keep measuring children.
Tests, tests, tests, levels, standards, inspections, ticking boxes, submitting plans, marking, marking, marking... No, I couldn't do it. That's not all it was - we had lots of fun, I had great days, great moments. I loved watching the lightbulbs switch on in their minds, when they worked out things for themselves, the great pleasure of owning your own knowledge. There just weren't enough of those days for me.
And then, there were the unmeasurables.
These were the kids that weren't great a reading, who took lots and lots and lots of coaching to spell words correctly, who daydreamed during math lessons. They were at the bottom of the heap, the lowest reading levels, the same kinds of math sheets... over and over, they failed.
But darn it, what else was there to them?
Ken was of my favourites. I know, you're not supposed to have favourites, but you can't help yourself sometimes. He wasn't a great reader. It was believed he was dyslexic, but you know, I think he just wasn't into words at all. It wasn't his language. He didn't understand how stories had a beginning, middle and end... But ask him anything about animals and he could tell you. He had stacks of books about animals, and he couldn't read a word in them, but he could point to an Amur leopard and tell you how endangered they were. He knew that giraffe's tongues are purple and that you call them stick insects, not stick bugs, because they're not technically bugs. And he could draw. And paint. In fact, he painted this bear and gave it to me as a Christmas gift that year.
He would lose his books and his lunch money. I don't think I ever heard him read me a sentence on his own. He didn't like playing football (soccer) with the other boys... at least, he didn't until he was allowed to play goalie. But he was great a congratulating his classmates for their achievements. We thought his concentration was no good until he happily stepped in to play another kid's instrument during the end of year concert as well as his. He knew both parts. Alright, it was a rainstick, but try playing that at the same time as a triangle. Try it. It's hard.
My own family has members that are unmeasurable. They have talents that don't register on the standardized tests - cooking, driving, sense of direction, mechanics... but where would we be without them?
Someone asked me once to complete the sentence: The world needs more _____ and less ______. And I said, "The world needs more plumbers and less lawyers." Think about it. How easy is it to find a good plumber?
The idea of unmeasurable knowledge has been stuck in my mind for the past few weeks because I often think about the marketability of my talents. I have a degree in education, but if I stray out of that, what can I do? What have I been measured for, and what value is there in the the things I can do that you can't measure? Am I useful if I know I can tell a story? Relate to people? Knit a sweater? Carry a tune?
I want to believe that the world will change one day to value people like Ken. I want to know that the world will not just look at scores and certificates and bachelor degrees to understand the true measure of a person. I don't know if that will happen, but I want it. Badly.
Ken would be eighteen this year. I hope he's found a place that understands him and values him. Cheers to you, kiddo. You still inspire me to look for the talent in each and every person I meet.
Saturday, July 2, 2011
The Tour de Fleece group on Ravelry posted some of the guidelines:
Spin every day the Tour rides, if possible. Saturday July 2nd through Sunday July 24th. Days of rest: Monday July 11th, Monday July 18st. (Just like the actual tour)
Spin something challenging Friday July 22nd. (The Tour’s toughest mountain stage over the Col du Galibier for the second time, and finishing up on Alpe d’Huez.)
Wear yellow on Sunday July 24th to announce victory. Why not wear yellow on any day you feel particularly successful? (Yellow is the color of the race leader in the Tour - but here we are all ‘race leaders’)
Other colors if desired: Green (sprinter - think FAST), Polka-dot (climber - as in uphill), and white (rookie)
My goals for the Tour are:
- To spin at least 20 minutes a day.
- To try out long draw drafting. It's a way to stretch out your wool to make a loftier, springier yarn.
- To try out spinning from the fold, which is another way to get lofty yarn.
What's amazing is that, all of a sudden, I'm spinning steadily without having to park and draft (where you have to stop the spindle so that you can get the wool ready). It's like things have miraculously clicked! Maybe it's because I've been watching so many YouTube videos of people spinning. I learn very well from watching and listening.
It's exciting jump in and play with my spindles. All I've been thinking of is spinning these days, which is making it really difficult to finish my current knitting project. I'm bound and determined to get it done in the next week, because I'm really quite bored with it, but I refuse to start anything new until it's done. One project at a time... pah!
J'espère être un champion de spin à la fin de ce défi! (I hope to be a spin champion at the end of this challenge!)