If I Were Twenty-Five Years Younger…

… and I’m-not-even-going-to-say-how-many pounds lighter, I would love wearing this dress from the latest issue of Knit.1.
Lovely 60s-hippie brown knit dress.
Look at it—all loose and roomy where you want it to be, but nipping in at the right spots to show off a girlish figure. Wearing it would be like walking around all day wrapped up in a cozy afghan, while still projecting a confident, I-am-chic vibe.

For the most part Knit.1 and its parent magazine, Vogue Knitting, don’t do much for me. (They do sometimes have great technique articles, like last year’s series on knitting lace.) It may be that my general lack of enthusiasm is a “coast thing.” Both magazines seem geared toward what I think of as “East-Coast women,” women who dress for career and socializing. Out here in Santa Cruz, formal means black socks with your Birkenstocks.

But I love this dress. I bought Knit.1 for this dress, even though there wasn’t a single additional item in the magazine that caught my interest, even though there is absolutely zero chance that I will ever knit this dress. I just enjoy looking at it.

Can You Smell It?

That’s the question my friend and her husband ask each other across the dinner table when it’s been a particularly rough day. The kids think the “it” is bedtime, but actually “it” is the gin they’ll be getting out to mix up some gin and tonics after the kids are in bed. Right now, I’ve got two teaching days left in this academic year—and boy can I smell “it.”

I have a whole set of to-do lists lined up: knitting projects, book lists, household chores, baseball dates. I may even engage in a quilting or embroidery dalliance or two—just don’t tell the stash! In the week before summer break starts, all things seem possible.

If you are in the Santa Cruz or Oakland areas, here are some yarn alerts:
The Golden Fleece has a new shipment of Malabrigo in and a buy ten, get one free deal.
Article Pract is having a big sale with lots of yarns at 25% off and many wonderful full bags at 50% off. I used part of my Big Read pay to pick up one bag each of Classic Elite Miracle (color 3385) and Classic Elite Inca Print (color 4675). That’s twenty balls of yarn for about $85. I’m thinking shawl for the Miracle and am desperately hoping to find a cardigan pattern with 3/4-length sleeves that will work for the Inca Print. If need be, I suppose I could pair it with some trim in solid black wool to make the yarn go further. (Does it strike anyone else that it’s hideously unfair that one can’t knit any pattern whatsoever out of a full bag of yarn? A bag! You’d think it would be enough for anything.)

Last week, Melissa met a friend and her just-about-to-turn-one-year-old daughter for lunch. Baby Natalie looked very cute in the roll-brim soy wool stripes hat I’d made for Melissa.
Natalie looking sharp!

I wonder how this flower tastes?

And if you want more baby cuteness, be sure to check out my Child’s Sandia Sun Hat on the new MagKnits.

New on MagKnits: Sandia!

My little friend Boaz is modeling my newest pattern on MagKnits.
Boaz is too cute
It’s called Sandia: a sun hat for kids knit out of cotton-modal with a brim to keep little noses from burning.

Melissa and I had the pleasure of babysitting for him last night while his moms were off seeing Lily Tomlin. Boaz is in a bus phase, so we spent two hours riding the shulttle all over campus, getting off to ramble and poke about. When we lay down with him at bed time, he prattled on about buses for a while, until I started singing him a quiet series of off-the-top-of-my-head bus songs. At one point I thought he’d fallen asleep and let my singing trail off—when suddenly he popped right up and announced “Headlights! Engine! Door! Bus Driver!” So I went back to my singing until he really was asleep.

Filatura Di Crosa Fall 2006

(Once again, I’m a season behind. Oh, well.)

I found this magazine at The Swift Stitch, one of my LYSs, while I was looking for something interesting to use for the crocheted edging on my Easy Triangular Shawl (I settled on a skein of Berroco Quest in Obsidian). I had a shoulder-dislocating sack of student essays over my left arm that I would be taking into the bakery next door to mark over some chai, so I was moving through the yarn shop rather slowly to delay the inevitable.

I decided to browse through the various manufacturer magazines that filled one rack. You know the kind I mean—they usually feature all sort of ridiculousness that no rational human would ever wear (wool mini-dresses with open mesh-work stomach panels and the like), and I was delightfully suprised by the Fall 2006 Filature di Crosa magazine . Page after page of designs, many of which were lovely and all of which were sane.

Here’s a sampling of my favorites:
Lavendar cardigan.
Gray cardigan.
Maroon jacket.
Gray bolero.
Suffice it to say, this magazine is now sitting near my bed and already starting to show signs of wear from all my thumbing-through. I’m thinking about knitting the first sweater out of Noro Transitions color 1, which would result in some not-too-flashy (I hope) vertical striping. I’m also considering knitting the second sweater (minus the wrist bobbles) out of Malabrigo in the the Red Java colorway, which is a mix of dusty coral with a touch of pea-soup green (I know it sounds hideous, but scroll down to the kettle-dyed solids and look at the pic—it’s really quite lovely). I don’t know that I’ll knit either of my other two favorites from the book, as I think I’d get less day-to-day wear out of them, but they’re still completely gorgeous.

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?