Conversations with Cats

Sometimes cats talk with me. Don’t ask me how. I’m far too committed a rationalist to claim psychic powers, and I know cats don’t speak English. Nonetheless, it happens. Just last week, Damian asked a perfectly intelligent question about the availability of free government pamphlets on trout farming. Several times I’ve heard Archy using a French accent to murmer innuendo to his favorite throw pillows.

Last night, Bea and I had the following exchange.

Bea: This summer, let’s get Sparky swimming lessons.
Me: I don’t know. I don’t think he’d like going in the water.
Bea: That’s okay. I could push him.

And on the Knitting Front

I’m almost to the end of my third ball of Malabrigo on the Clementine Shawl. Once I finish in the next day or so, I’ll be taking a trip to my LYS, so I can have someone look over my shoulder and coach me as I graft it. I can follow printed instructions for Kitchener stitch, but I’m not yet completely confident about tension and the like—and I don’t want to mess this project up.

I’m also about three-quarters of the way done with a new, larger Easy Triangular Shawl in Noro Blossom color 19 (courtesy of Little Knits). This pattern has a crochet cast-off that makes a little, loopy fringe, and I’m thinking of switching to a very drapey, purple-brown rayon I’ve got in the stash (I think it’s rayon—I don’t have it in front of me) for that part, which should be easier to manage with the crochet hook and have a more graceful line. I’ll wait to move on to this last bit until I’ve has a chance to consult with Melissa because I trust her eye for color.

Last week, when I was sharing pictures from Jo Sharp Knit 3 I’d noted that my back-and-forth stockingette can get a bit wunky. Well, I played with it some over the weekend (in between writing placement tests), and I’ve figured out a way to improve things. I knit continental style and had been bringing my needle over the yarn, then drawing it through the loop; if I bring the need under the yarn and sort of scoop it through the loop, my stitches come out much more neatly. Having discovered this, I’m in a transitional phase just now, using my over-the-top method for projects already underway (luckily, none of these have big stretches of stockingette), but starting to switch the the scoop-it-up technique as I begin new pieces. It feels a bit awkward, but is well worth the effort of re-teching myself in terms of the quality of the finished project.

And in closing, let me share this picture of Damian, hard at work putting the cat in catatonic.
Damian puts the CAT in catatonic.

When Bad Things Happen to Good Yarn

Consider this lovely ball of yarn:
Magenta moss ball

Now, look what’s been done with it:
Organic T
(If that small image makes you all squinty, you can click here for a bigger version.)

The project is from the Spring 2007 issue of Knitter’s; the yarn is Ty Dy by Knit One Crochet Too. The knit tank top manages to capture all that’s bad about quilted clothing and translates it, with no improvement at all, to the world of knitting.

But that yarn! I just want to pat it and hold it and love it. It pushes the tertiary-colors-violet-apple-pleasure button that apparently is hard-wired into my consciousness (recall, for example, my two favorite colorways of Malabrigo: Col China and Melilla). I doubt I’ll be buying Ty Dy anytime soon as it’s about $13 for a 197 yard ball, which seems a bit pricey for what might turn out to be nothing more than glorified dish-cloth cotton. But if I were to stumble across a winning lottery ticket in the next few days, I’d throw caution to the wind and order a bag (or two) posthaste.

Now what would I knit with it? Maybe a summer cardigan or a shrug with some nice open-work, like Sonnet, the Lace Sampler Shrug, or Maisy.

Summer Reading and a Memorial Day Message (with a Wee Bit of Knitting)

I survived the Big Read. This year’s most-popular literary references included Death of a Salesman, MacBeth, Lord of the Flies, and The Great Gatsby. I was particularly struck by the number of students who cited Gatsby as an example of success, apparently having forgotten that the novel ends with his suicide. Perhaps they haven’t gotten to that chapter yet…. There was also lots of not-always-accurate discussion of the cold war and much extolling of the virtues of capitalism.

I got various bits of knitting done in my free moments: several eight-row sets of my Noro shawl, several four-row sets on my malabrigo Clementine, and a fair piece of a still-top-secret project that is to be a gift for a regular reader of this blog.

I still have two weeks of teaching left this quarter, but I’m starting to daydream about summer reading. In general, I read non-fiction: epidemiology, medical history, forensic science, early church history, history of science, biography. But every summer I go on a little mystery-novel binge and plow through the latest works by some of my favorite writers. I’ve just now been putting in book requests at my local library’s web site, so I’ll have some books waiting for me once classes end in another two weeks. Here are some of my favorite summer-reading authors:

Laurie R. King
King authors several mystery series, my favorite of which features Mary Russell, a much-younger woman who joins up with Sherlock Holmes after his retirement and later marries him. They’re both strong characters, so the negotiation of their relationship is fascinating, and the mysteries are substantial and engaging. Sadly, there’s no new Russell novel this summer, so I’m requesting The Art of Detection, which features another of her recurring characters, Kate Martinelli, a lesbian police detective working in San Francisco. In this book, Martinelli investigates the death of a Holmes aficionado, so there may be some overlap with the Russell series after all.

Elizabeth Peters
Peters is a wildly prolific writer, specializing in genre fiction. She writes a number of mystery series, as well as romance novels. I am particularly fond of the Amelia Peabody mysteries which are a sort of mystery/historical fiction/soap opera melange set in the Egyptological community during the early part of the 20th Century. Peters actually has a doctorate in Egyptology from the University of Chicago, and these novels offer a wonderful insight into the history of that field with depictions of Carter, Maspero, and other key figures. Amelia Peabody is an independently wealthy, iconoclastic, yet oddly proper, character. The first novel in the series has her meeting and becoming involved with Radcliffe Emerson, a formidable Egyptologist, who embodies the ethos of present-day archaeology (the focus on full study of a site, as opposed to treasure-hunting; a commitment to documentation of lower-class as well as royal sites and possessions). There are now eighteen books in this series. I’ve read the most recent, so as a substitute I’ve requested Amelia Peabody’s Egypt, a book introduced by Peters that depicts Egypt and the Egyptological community during the period in which the Peabody novels are set.

Kathy Reichs
Reichs’ heroine is Temperance Brennan, now also the central character of the Fox series Bones, though the literary and small-screen figures have significant differences. The Brennan of the books is, like Reichs, a forensic anthropologist who splits her time between positions in the U.S. and Canada. Brennan, as is typical of such fictional characters, spends a great deal of time riding shotgun with her detective boyfriend and engages in a great deal of hands-on bad-guy fighting, which I don’t expect bears much resemblance to Reichs’ real life, but the overlap between the fictional and real worlds means the lab scenes and details of forensic work (I am not talking about the tv series here) are specific and accurate. I listened to Reichs’ latest on CD during a cross-country drive last year, and this year will spend some time with the printed version to see what I missed on the first go-round.

Sara Paretsky
Paretsky’s heroine, V.I. Warshawski, works as a private eye in Chicago and takes on cases that involve social, as well as criminal, justice. The characters and plots in these books are rich and complex, giving readers much to think about beyond the central mystery that drives the plot. I’ve requested one older Paretsky title, Blacklist, that I somehow missed when it first came out, as well as Writing in an Age of Silence, Paretsky’s reflections on her own life as a writer and activist.

Carole Nelson Douglas
Douglas has two series, one featuring Midnight Louie, a cat, the other featuring Irene Adler, the central character of the very first Holmes mystery, “A Scandal in Bohemia.” I’d forgotten all about the Adler series until recently and was pleasantly surprised to find that the are five novels available in this series that I haven’t read yet. Holmes has figured occasionally in the Adler novels I’ve read, which adds to the fun, but it’s Irene, opera singer and independent spirit, who’s the real delight.

Marcia Muller
I’m also behind on Muller’s Sharon McCone series, which is good news for me. McCone is a San Francisco-based private eye, loosely connected to a law firm originally founded by a group of hippies hoping to change the world. The characters move between idealism and pragmatism, sometimes inspiring, sometimes disappointing, always entertaining.

And because today is Memorial Day…

Please click here and listen to today’s broadcast from National Public Radio‘s Fresh Air. Actually, today’s broadcast was a replay of a show originally recorded in March, but it’s as timely as it ever was. Host Terry Gross interviews Martha Raddatz and Richard Jadick. Raddatz is a former NPR commentator, now chief White House correspondent for ABC news, and author of a recent book, The Long Road Home, which documents 2004’s battle for Sadr City. Jardik served as a military surgeon during the battle of Fallujah and has published a memoir On Call in Hell. Regardless of our politics, regardless of our stance on the war, we all need to hear what these two people have to tell us about the current sacrifices of U.S. soldiers and their families.

The “Big Read”

I am off tomorrow afternoon to “The Big Read” and won’t be back till late Sunday, so I won’t be posting again until Monday.

“What is ‘The Big Read’?,” you ask. (Or maybe you don’t ask—but if you keep reading, you’re going to find out.)

Every spring, all the students who have been accepted to every University of California campus take a writing placement test that consists of an essay written in a two-hour time block in response to a 1-2 page reading passage. I’ll stop there with the description, but you can learn more (lots and lots more), if you click here.

This year, that will amount to about 19,000 students, give or take a few hundred.

Next comes the gathering of the writing faculties. We start swooping into Berkeley on Wednesday (room leaders) and Thursday (table leaders), until the full contingent of 300± is present Friday morning.

After that, we more or less spend three full days shut up in large, overly warm rooms reading and scoring essay after essay with occasional breaks for delicious, but mostly high-sugar snacks (which unfortunately tend to stupify, rather than revitalize). By the end of the three days, every essay will have been read and scored a minimum of two times. Those with marginal or discrepant scores will get additional readiings.

The essays themselves vary widely in content and style, though certain tropes will become unbearably familiar before the weekend is over. Regardless of what the essay question actually asks, several hundred students will spend several pages explaining (often erroneously) the use of onomatapoeia in the reading passage, having been assured by some AP teacher somewhere that this is what truly distinguished writers write about. Several thousand students will work Hamlet or Romeo and Juliet or The Grapes of Wrath or all three into their essays, oftentimes in rawther unusual ways. And we scorers of essays will soldier bravely through, doing our darndest to give each essay a fair reading, no matter how mind-numbing the process becomes. (Really, we do. We know that each essay represents a living, breathing young adult on the threshold of great intellectual adventures, who deserves respect for what she has learned and support to take that learning further.)

Late Sunday, we all head home, having completed some 45,000 or so essay readings and having gained an average of five pounds each from the combined effects of endless sitting and high-calorie noshing.

Wish me well, won’t you?

Jo Sharp Knit 3

This book (magazine?) came out in the fall, but I’ve just discovered it and spent some time calling around my LYSs to see if any had a copy in stock. None did, but I’ve special ordered a copy through Article Pract.

I’m not familiar with Jo Sharp’s designs, so I don’t know if these are typical or not, but I’m struck by the wearability of her pieces. They look comfortable, they look classic, and each has a bit of detailing that takes it beyond the generic. Four of my favorites:

Quick knit jacket Wide collar cardigan Wide collar vest Wrap jacket
L to R: Quick Knit Jacket, Wide Collar Cardigan, Wide Collar Vest, Wrap Jacket.

I could easily see myself working up and using any of these pieces—though, of course, I’m already thinking of modifications. I might go with garter instead of stockingette on the Quick Knit Jacket. On the Wide Collar Cardigan and Wide Collar Vest, I might try using moss on the body, and leaving the stockingette for the collar. (Do you see a theme here? My in-the-round stockingette is just lovely, but my back-and-forth stockingette still gets a bit wunky.) Perhaps I’d try a looser sleeve on the cardigan. I would definitely be wearing the vest sans belt, and might add a crocheted loop-and-button closure. The Wrap jacket doesn’t really look to me like it wraps much, but the lower halves of the sleeves and body have a pattern stitch that would make for enjoyable knitting and an attractive garment.

If anyone has experiences working with Jo Shap patterns, I’d love to hear about them.

P.S. I’ve added (actually Melissa added–I don’t know how to do diddley squat; I just say, “this would be neat on my blog,” and Melissa, bless, her, makes it appear) two features to the bottom of my right nav bar: the “Cost of the War in Iraq” tally and the “Official George W. Bush ‘Days Left in Office’ Countdown,” both of which I first saw at Lella’s site, Zippiknits. I like being reminded of such things, but would be much happier if we knew

A) when the cost of the war was going to top out, and soon please!

B) what might be coming next when the W countdown has done counted down.

Damian’s Last Name

Sometimes a cat’s full name is immediately apparent. Sometimes it reveals itself gradually.

A few years ago, after much discussion, we realized Damian has a middle name: Vaslav, after the great Nijinsky, of course. More recently another revelation descended: for all five years of his life, Damian had been using Melissa’s last name, but that’s not his real last name. His real last name is

Pantalones de Queso y ¡Qué!

(For those of you who don’t speak Spanish, that can be translated as “Cheezy Pants—wanna make something of it?”)

Damina, Mr. Pantalones de Queso

Damian Vaslav Pantalones de Queso y ¡Qué!

It suits him, don’t you think?

Reversible Soy Wool Stripes Hat—Two Looks; One Easy Knit

Revelation: I often answer my “what if” questions with a hat. Hats are both simple and complex—simple in that they knit up quickly and have straightforward construction, complex in that they require decreases and (for me at least) a pattern that can be worked in the round. And, yes, there are a great many people in this world with a great variety of head sizes, so I know any hat I knit will be perfect for someone. It’s all just a matter of match-making. (“Rosy soy-wool blend seeks 21″ head for cozy walks on the beach, morning coffee on the deck, and kayaking on Elkhorn Slough…”)

When I was knitting lots of scarves, I enjoyed stitches that produced a distinctive, attractive look on both sides of the work. Now I’m starting to ask “what if” questions about adapting such stitches to hats. Behold my first result:
Christina models one side of the hat.
It’s knots!

Presto change-o! It’s ribs!
Now Christina models the other side of the hat.
[Our model is the fabulous Christina, friend of Melissa, barrista extraordinaire, and all-around credit to the sisterhood. I don’t know if she will take the hat kayaking, but she was happy to receive it as payment for modeling, and will no doubt show it many a lovely and interesting time.]

Want to see it again? Voila!
You need to say what this is.

You need to say what this is.

And you can have a hat just like this. Simply follow these easy steps…

Choose one skein (at least 110 yards) of heavy worsted weight yarn. I used Patons’ Soy Wool Stripes, available at both posh yarn outlets and crafting chain stores.

Cast on 80 stitches using 16″ U.S. 10.5 needles.

Work in K1, P1 rib for an inch or so.

Then, work in this two row pattern stitch until total length is about 5-5.5 inches.
Odds: P around
Evens: K1, P1 around

Continue working in pattern stitch, decreasing every odd row as follows:
Decrease 1: P8, P2tog around
Decrease 2: P7, P2tog around
etc, until
Final Decrease: P2tog around

Weave your ends in carefully and trim. I used a bit of matching sewing thread and a needle to tack the ends in place, both for the sake of neatness and to prevent unravelling.

Then, try it on, admire yourself, decide which side you’ll be displaying today, go get yourself a well-earned cup of coffee, and wait for the compliments to start rolling in.

A Not-Very Productive Weekend

The bronchitis I’ve had for the past month started out deceptively, with a mildly irritating sore throat, then blossomed wildly over the course of two days into a hacking, wheezing, forget-the-throat-let’s-just-struggle-for-air state that dragged on endlessly. Last week, I’d worked my way out of the hole: Sunday, good; Monday, good; Tuesday, good. Then on Wednesday, I woke up with a mildly irritating sore throat and things went downhill from there. Ack!

So, I made no headway on the pile of student papers I’ve been schlepping about. I haven’t even been knitting—and you know it’s bad when not even knitting seems worthwhile. But I did get in some top-quality naps with Bea and Sparky, who find an invalid mom quite a nice thing, except for the sudden bursts of coughing.

Melissa came down to keep an eye on me and stocked the larder with soup and oranges and deviled eggs. She took the reversible hat back to Oakland to photograph, so I will be posting a pattern with pics one of these days.

Meanwhile, my apologies for not being a livelier, more entertaining hostess. I’m doing all I can to recapture my usual state of bonhomie as quickly as possible.

Happy Mother’s Day

The “Mother’s Day Proclamation” by Julia Ward Howe was one of the early calls to celebrate Mother’s Day in the United States. Written in 1870, Howe’s Mother’s Day Proclamation was a pacifist reaction to the carnage of the American Civil War and the Franco-Prussian War. The Proclamation was tied to Howe’s feminist belief that women had a responsibility to shape their societies at the political level.

In recognition of the history of the day, Mother’s Day for Peace, in conjunction with Brave New Films, created this video. They are also raising funds and awareness for No More Victims, an non-profit organization that brings Iraqi children injured in the war to the U.S. for treatment. The Mother’s Day for Peace website is currently down; I suspect they have gotten too much traffic today. Here is a copy of the video hosted by YouTube:

The text of Julia Ward Howe’s proclamation follows.
Happy Mother’s Day to all!

Mother’s Day Proclamation
Arise, then, women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts,
Whether our baptism be of water or of tears!
Say firmly:
“We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies,
Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
We, the women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.”
From the bosom of the devastated Earth a voice goes up with our own.
It says: “Disarm! Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice.”
Blood does not wipe out dishonor, nor violence indicate possession.
As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil at the summons of war,
Let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel.
Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.
Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means
Whereby the great human family can live in peace,
Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar,
But of God.
In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask
That a general congress of women without limit of nationality
May be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient
And at the earliest period consistent with its objects,
To promote the alliance of the different nationalities,
The amicable settlement of international questions,
The great and general interests of peace.

[Posted by Melissa while Sarah-Hope tries to fend off Round 2 of her evil nasty virus.]

Yarn of the Week

Paton’s Soy Wool Stripes has been the yarn of the week. I read about it on Crazy Aunt Purl, and when I got to the part about it costing only $6 a skein and being available at Michael’s, I grabbed the car keys. Crazy Aunt Purl had compared its colorways to Noro, which added to my motivation.

When I located SWS at Michael’s, I had an “Oh, this is that yarn!” moment. I’ve been eyeing SWS in the Herrschner’s catalogue, but their photos left me uncertain about how this yarn would knit up, so I’d been doing my usual thing: folding down a corner to mark the yarn, but then tossing the catalogue in the recycliing without ordering. And a good thing, too—Herrschner’s wants $2 a ball more than Michael’s, and that’s before adding in postage.

I bought one skein each of Natural Blue, Natural Geranium, and Natural Green (which is as much pink as it is green). I believe the “natural” is in the name because each yarn includes some warm taupe in its color range. The blue SWS has become a rolled-brim beanie for Melissa, something she asked for a while back. To stop the rolling, I followed the stockingette opening rows with six rows of P one row, then K1, P1 one row, and had my second SWS-aha! moment. The stitch had been improvisation on my part (or so I thought), but actually, it’s a pattern I used on several scarves a year ago, which worked particularly well because the stitchess on each side are both pretty enough to wear as the “right” side: a knot-like stitch on one and a knit/moss rib on the other. So once I’d finished Melissa’s beanie, I pulled out the geranium skein and knit a whole hat using that stitch. Cute! I’ll get a pic and a “quickie pattern” (x inches of this, x inches of that, then decreases) up tomorrow.

This single-strand yarn—70% wool, 30% soy, 110 yards per 80-gram a skein—knits like a wool, but has a glossiness to its finish that must be credited to the soy. In fact, this yarn was slick enough that it took a few rounds to get used to working with it on my Addi Turbos. If I’d had wood circulars in the right size, I would have swtiched to them. This shine gives depth to the colors and invites petting. The color transitions are crisp, but not abrupt, no muddly spots between shades. The striping came out beautifully on the hats. I knit them both 80 stitches around and got stripes that averaged 1/2-3/4 of an inch in width. I’ll definitly be using this yarn in the furture and will keep my eyes peeled, in case it ever goes on sale at Michael’s (do let me know if you spot it anywhere at bargain prices).

For the record, Sparky has also given it his seal of approval. I wound the leftover yarn from the second hat into a little ball for him, and he carried it about in his jaws, prancing like a circus pony. He has become quite good about only playing with the yarn I give him, despite his early stash-weasel tendencies, so I like to allow him a bit of fun now and then.

P.S. Last night as I fell asleep, I was thinking of turning some of my cotton washrag yarn into placemats. What do you think?