Monday, January 26, 2015

Happy 13th, blog

Yeah, the first post on here was on 26 January 2002, so this blog is 13 years old today.

I guess I was in the first wave of knitbloggers - I wasn't the FIRST, there were people writing before me, but I was in the first year or two of people knitblogging. A lot of the early blogs I've read are gone, either the people who wrote them had changes in their lives, or lost interest, or whatever. Lots of other people started blogging later on, some of them ultimately parlaying the blog into a writing career or a yarn-dying career, or something else.

I'm still here. Not as many people read blogs as did formerly; I suppose blogs are viewed as passé by some, and I know there are a lot of people who never saw the point of them at all. 

And that's okay, but I don't like the people who just totally denigrate the idea of blogging - there are still a number of blogs I read daily, and still others I read weekly. Frankly, I like actual blogs with *writing* better than I like Tumblr - which is more visually oriented - or more ephemeral platforms like Twitter, where something you say is gone and buried hours after you said it. At least with most blogs there's some kind of archival function. And yes, I do use my blog as a bit of an archive at times - for example, "When did my car's battery fail?" I know that because I wrote about it here and I can search it. Or "when did I get a tetanus booster last?" - it's back there in the archives. I'm not good at keeping a paper journal, but I'm pretty good at keeping up the blog. 

I don't write about knitting nearly as much as I once did here. For one thing, my life has gotten busier, so I don't have as frequent finished projects. And really, for "instructional" or "opinion type" things, Ravelry is a huge wide world of information. And I don't link as many things as I once did (Weblogs, I guess, originally did kind of develop as catalogs of links). But I don't have as much time to surf around, and most of the stuff I find, other people already know about.

Blogs grow and change. I guess like people.

And yeah, my blog is 13. Thirteen was not a good year for was the height of the time the "mean girls" picked on me and the rest of my peers ignored/shunned me. I remember a class I had loved, science, was taught in a "student centered" way that I found massively annoying, and I actually think I brought home a C one grading period because there were all these stupid "challenges" that seem to be set up so that the careful, detail-oriented people failed at them, and the slapdash people did well. And maybe, okay, sometimes it's good for people who don't normally succeed to do so, but to have that happen at the expense of the people who are normally the hardworking ones feels deeply unfair....

(I will also observe, just in passing, that the science teacher that year wound up serving time in prison - I found about this years and years later - for "inappropriate" relationships with some students. While I was there? I don't know.  I will say I always felt something slightly "off" about the person and strove not to ever be alone in the classroom or lab with them.)

And thirteen was the height of my "awkward" phase - I had braces and a bad haircut and had just started wearing glasses and felt UG-LY. When I look back at my pictures now from that time, I recognize they are not so bad (at the very least, I was blessed with clear skin). But reality and perception are seldom the same and I remember feeling a lot of the time like I wanted to walk around with a bag over my head.

I don't know if blog-years at all equate to human years (I kind of thing that blog-years are like dog-years; that blogs mature faster than people). At any rate, I hope my blog's thirteenth year is far, far better than my thirteenth year was....

And here's something just kind of random and weird. Someone on ITFF introduced us to Max Raabe and his Palast-Orchester. Most often they do 1920s and 30s style dance-band music (they have an extremely sweet version of Singin' in the Rain, which seems to be more typical of their style and which I like very much) but occasionally they parody recent pop songs, and the effect is weird and funny.

Like this: 

(He's German, so there is an accent issue there. It's more noticeable on some songs, I think it's more noticeable on the "modern" pop songs than the "vintage" ones)

My thirteen year old self would have hated that song. She probably would have liked Singin' in the Rain, but she was a much harder-core music snob than I am now.

Edited to add: here's another wonderful, goofy piece by Palast Orchester. Apparently they "revive" old arrangements of things; I read somewhere that they started with sheet music found at thrift shops. This is a version of "Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf" (from the old Disney cartoon) in German.

There must have been a tiny fad for this; on one of my old Chanson albums there is a version of it in French, done by....Oh, I forget who. Not Tino Rossi, not Charles Trenet, the other guy....

Jean Sablon. That's it. Jean Sablon did a version of this in the late 30s or early 40s. But here, they even have people playing the parts of the pigs:

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Saturday morning arglebargle

Comment verification is back on (I don't know, since this is an "older" blog with an "older" template, if Blogger will go to that "Click this box to verify you're not a robot" thing some blogs have, or if it will be the crummy old captcha word).

But having to delete almost 100 spambot comments from the queue first thing on a Saturday makes Erica something something.

I'll leave it on for a while, and take it off when I figure the bots have left.

But really, I think there should be a "refuse comment, and administer small electric shock to the one trying to leave it" option. (Would work on trolls as well, though I don't really seem to attract trolls....knock wood).

Friday, January 23, 2015

the scary things

Sometimes, they say, you have to do things that scare you.

I did a minor-league one this afternoon.

I hate the phone, right? I especially hate calling up people who aren't expecting a call and talking to them. Especially when it's people I don't know well.

BUT: we really, really, really need to get homebound visitation/communion going again at church. And as the fairly-new head elder, it falls to me to arrange that. Even though I hate the phone.

Our super-enthusiastic, very friendly, new interim pastor - I had suggested starting making the visits again to him - wanted to go out on the first few to meet people and to help. So he and I (and possibly his wife, if she's in town) will go out on Sunday.

But we had to call the people first. And because I knew one of the couples, and knew who the other person we were going to be visiting was (though I can't remember if I ever met him), it fell to me to call.

And I hate the phone. And I hate feeling like I might be intruding on someone's life. But I had to. So I did it this afternoon.

The first couple was easy, I knew them well before the health problems hit and they were happy and enthusiastic to get a visit. The other man, he was more difficult, because he's very hard of hearing (I warned the pastor in my e-mail message). I finally got a message to him through his daughter. (Oh. Maybe I have met him before, maybe that was before his wife died. Okay, that makes sense now, I know who he is).

But it's DONE, and both of them welcome a visit and communion. So that feels good.

This will get easier, and anyway, I won't have to do it every time - the expectation is the other elders will pick it up some times. This is an important thing to do, and I admit it's something we've been "floating" on because of various other stuff going on but mainly because I hate the phone enough that it's been hard to take the initiative to do it.

(And maybe eventually I can cultivate one of the other elders, one who likes the phone more, into being the one to do it....I don't know)

I always feel like this after doing a scary thing like this:

It also takes me a while to calm back down to be able to do something productive.

Friday morning random

* I started taking the Sherman paper (it was cheap enough, and it carries some of the news important to me here). There's also advertising, and I hold out hope that maybe I'll see some new nice store or restaurant I didn't know of the existence of.

Well, anyway, in their advertising section this week, they're apparently ramping up for Valentine's day: a local jeweler had a photo of a pendant, with the caption "A woman's worst surprise is no surprise" (Implying: she will be disappointed if you don't buy something for her)

Let me give that again: "A woman's worst surprise is no surprise."

Oh, really? I can think of MANY surprises, a few of which I've experienced in my life that are far, far worse than no surprise at all. A simple example: coming out of the pharmacy on a hot summer day, trying to start your car, and finding out the battery is totally DOA. "No surprise" would be the car starting up happily like it should....dead battery is the surprise. 

And I can think of far more melodramatic surprises that would be far worse than no surprise.

* More and more, looking 'in from the outside' (as a long-term uncoupled person), Valentine's day is just a messy minefield full of false expectations and the chance for people to either be disappointed or to stress out over the fear of disappointing the other person. (As I said last year: long-term couples, where there's real love there - like my parents - don't really face this issue, because they show their love to each other all year 'round). But the media has sure done a good job of screwing up Valentine's day.

I liked it better in its grade-school iteration: where you gave funny cards with puns and cartoon characters on them to your friends, and then you had cupcakes and red Hi-C in the afternoon.

* I pulled out the Hagrid Sweater from the bag where I had been storing it and restarted. It's funny, with some of these complex stitch-patterned things, it often seems like they need a period of my not-working-on-them for me to really understand how the pattern works, and then when I come back to it, I go, "Why did I ever think this was tedious/hard?" So I am going to work on that more for a while, and see how close I can get to finishing it before something else grabs my interest.

I did also find the two (long cable and short cable) size-3 circular knitting needles I had bought for a fine-gauge striped sweater (it was a kit from KnitPicks - a Christmas present of several years ago. I had been on the point of ordering a new set of needles so I'm glad I found the old ones before I did. (I knew they were in a "safe place," but some of my "safe places" are so safe I forget where they are).

I don't think I'm going to start it just yet; I want to get more done on Hagrid first, but I think that will be the next sweater I start. 

* Saturday is apparently "Love your Local Quilt Shop Day" (yes, an invented holiday, but still: I appreciate that I have a local quilt shop). I think I'll take a trip down to mine, maybe peruse possible backings for the quilt in progress, or consider some kind of wild-colored solid to use as sashing in an upcoming quilt. I have a packet of "Far, far away" fat quarters (fairy tale characters; several of the pieces are a unicorn print) that I want to make into a really simple quilt; I'm thinking of large-ish rectangles or squares with sashing between them. I may take a few of the fabrics with me if I'm really serious, so I can decide on a good color.

* I am temporarily giving up on "A Fine Romance" until I get a couple more "standards" worked through; it's a little more complex. Instead, I'm picking up the arrangement of "When You Wish Upon a Star" in the same book - it's a little more straightforward. And, from what I can play of it (I went through most of it right-hand only; I can usually do hands-alone pretty successfully on a new piece, it's when I put them together that it takes a lot of work), it's a pretty arrangement. I think I'm learning something about chording and how accidentals are used by working on these: it's a different style and a different way of thinking than the mostly-Baroque pieces I practice as fingerwork.

I like the song. Most of us, I think, mainly associate it with Jiminy Cricket, but some years back I had an album of Disney songs redone/reimagined by various pop/rock/alt/country stars. Ringo Starr (with his "All-Starr Band") did a version of "When You Wish..." It was a creditable version, or at any rate, I liked it.

And I like the song. A lot of those old standards, I like them because the lyrics are....well, they're more complex than a lot of more-recent pop songs. (I feel similarly about traditional hymns vs. "praise songs.") Also, in some cases, the lyrics are actually pretty clever and funny. ("A Fine Romance," as an example. Or one of my all time favorites, known alternately as "Bill" or "Just my Bill" - you can hear the version from the old movie of Show Boat here - well, the lyrics were written by P.G. Wodehouse. I like the song in part because it does seem to ring true to experience: when you're young, you expect to find this paragon to fall in love with, but then, someone comes along who isn't that good looking, or that athletic, or that brilliant....but he's the "right" one, so that's okay.)

Anyway, I like "When You Wish Upon a Star" because it's such a hopeful song. For one thing, it presupposes the existence of a dream....that there is something you long for, something you want. And then it expresses confidence that that dream can be fulfilled. (And of course, not all dreams ARE, though I would argue that the ones that are, to not get too theological, in "accordance with how the world should work out," are).

But of course, though the song does talk of wishing on a star, as I have learned as an adult, if you have a dream, as much as the fulfillment of that dream is up to you, you have to WORK to make it happen. For example: I want to publish a manuscript on these soil inverts. So I have to write the darn thing. And I have to read all the background research and incorporate that. And I have to rewrite it multiple times to make it read better, to make it clearer, to make sure there are no errors.

Granted, the acceptance of the paper is not *entirely* up to me - either a dyspeptic reviewer can sink it, or the editor could decide it's not meaningful-enough to publish. (And actually, it's the not-up-to-me part that makes me crazy, and the feeling of "You might have done all this work for nothing" part that makes me procrastinate....)

And yes, I suppose, if you do inject theology into there, whatever you want has to be something that is good for you and good for those around you and in line with what God wants....but at the same time, it seems to me you can't just sit around and wait for that thing to happen, I think we're supposed to, as much as we can, work towards making the good things happen....and while maybe luck or Providence or whatever you want to call it may factor in, you're a lot more likely to achieve something by rolling up your sleeves than you are by sitting around and hoping for it.

But still, I like the song. (And it seems to me that many of those older pop songs are perhaps more optimistic than modern pop songs? Perhaps our general worldview, or at least the general worldview of those in the entertainment business, has changed in the past 70 or so years?)

But yeah: you have to work to achieve dreams, I think that's how it's meant to be. (And with that - I need to get back to combing the literature for information I can use in the Discussion of this paper....)

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

High Street Vest

I didn't get this photographed before, wasn't wearing anything that would work with it.

But another thing I finished over break was the High Street Vest. This is a pattern that calls for sportweight (you could probably make it work with dk, though it would yield a slightly stiffer fabric). I had seen the fairly-new "Galileo" yarn from KnitPicks and wanted to make something out of it, but not something that took tons of the yarn.

Galileo is a blend of bamboo and wool, so it has a little bit of shininess to it and I like that. 

This vest took just over five balls. If you did the smaller size (I think I did the 42" size) you could probably get away with five balls. Or if you made it cropped shorter than what I did.

I like the color. It's that "weird" green that's somewhere between green, gray, and yellow:

high street vest

I like the pattern, too: nice and simple, and, unlike some, she doesn't say "Reverse shaping for other side" - I can do that, but sometimes if I'm tired or knitting in a noisy place or something, it's harder to think of how to do it.

I think this would also be nice done in stripes. Or maybe with a variegated type yarn. (Or, oooooh, one of the Noro sportweight color-shifting yarns). It's a free pattern (available as a .pdf) and you can get it from Hello Knitty and I think, also from Ravelry.

Keeping up motivation

I admit it, I hadn't considered the "professional musicians practice for as long in a day as you are at work" thing recently, but yes, that's true.

I want to keep playing. If I can get past my perfectionism, I do enjoy it. And I can see myself getting better on the couple pieces I recently started working on...and getting better at playing the others without errors.

And anyway: the quilt tops I make aren't perfect. The seams don't always match, the corners of blocks are sometimes slightly off. And yet, that doesn't bother me at all, unlike the occasional sour note I hit. I don't know why that is....maybe I figure the finished quilt, even if it doesn't LOOK perfect, still serves its purpose, whereas with playing the piano, it's more evanescent and the performance IS the purpose. But anyway.

I can't make more time than about an hour in a day to practice but there's still that. And I am better at playing now than when I started

I just need to keep up my own motivation.

(This is grabbed from JoyfulInsanity's Deviant Art page):

I'm also still working on the Queen Chrysalis amigurumi. SO. MANY. HOLES. I'm up to the wings but doing all the holes is really sapping my desire to crochet. I'm glad I'm almost done with this (the first wing is nearly done, and after that, all that remains is the second wing, the crowny thing, and then the eyes - which are felt and will be faster to do). It will be an impressive amigurumi when it's done, but whoa, this was a big project.

That said? I have the Miss Cheerilee pattern and yarn set aside and it keeps staring at me when I'm in my office here at home. So perhaps that will be next. (But I still kind of want to do a Maud Pie....I did the full Maud Pie today in soils, it was the Parent Materials lecture so I got to talk all about igneous and sedimentary and metamorphic rocks....

It also struck me that if somepony referred to another pony as "dumb as a box of rocks," Maud would probably get all intrigued about that pony....)

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

I shouldn't worry

But I always do.

Though perhaps, if I have a long enough string of positive doctor's visits, I'll eventually get over my fear.

I think, because I was a fundamentally very healthy person (save for allergies) until a couple years ago, I'm not used to going to the doctor. So my main associations with doctor's offices are:

a. You need a vaccination (I still don't like needles, and especially didn't as a child)
b. You hurt yourself badly and will need stitches or something else painful
c. Someone you care about is really sick or really hurt and you have to go with them to be their advocate.
d. You're likely to get bad news

And then there's also the disinfectant smell, which is a lot like the disinfectant smell at the vets'....and, well, the last few vet-visits my family was involved with were not happy ones, so.

Also, I had a very bad experience, years and years ago, of a doctor essentially yelling at me for being overweight and telling me I was ruining my health and crap. All blame, no advice on how to get not-overweight. And I sat there- I was far younger then than I am now - crying into a tissue and feeling a total failure and feeling horrible and guilty and awful. (Now, I'd probably sit there, sort of stony-faced, and then go find another doctor. I'm tougher now than I was)

My doctor is an EXTREMELY nice person. She knows that I know I'm overweight, she also knows that I know that, and that I'm active and I try to eat "right." So she doesn't bug me about my weight because I think she's figured out that I'm the kind of person nagging just makes worse.

But still, checkups make me nervous. Even though all that happens is that I get vitals checked, she listens to my heart and lungs and carotids and checks my ankles and calves for edema (spoiler alert: I've never had any and don't have any now).

Today was no different, but I was a bit bolder and was able to raise the issue of hives (her assessment: we're doing all we can do, if I could avoid mold better things would be better, but I can't, so.) and also to ask about atrial fibrillation, because I have a close relative who has it. "Well," her response was, "You ARE at higher risk because of the family connection, but really, the biggest risk is uncontrolled high blood pressure, and yours is controlled." She also told me I'd know if I had it - it feels very unpleasant. (Interesting, the relative I have who has it never complained of anything, but another person I know who has it describes it as feeling like "a toilet flushing in your chest." I mentioned that to her and she laughed and said that was an exact description of how it would feel). She also said she'd hear it if I had it, and she couldn't hear any sign of it.

(So I suppose it's good I found a doctor and got treated very shortly after I first suspected I had hypertension)

And my weight? Down a few pounds from last time. Not QUITE the lowest it's been in recent years, but getting there. And I haven't even been eating very restrictively! So I'm chalking this up as a big win for Kenn Kihiu and his workout regime. (And I was right about thinking, "You know, I feel thinner" after a few weeks of doing it). If I can keep eating like this, keep doing the workout, and still keep my weight under control (or, even, dare I hope: make it go down more), I will be a very happy person. I will also say about the workout that I've had far fewer knee or hip problems since doing it; I suppose I'm strengthening muscles that needed it.

outgtha be rule

This happened last week but I just remembered it now. This is one of those, "Why isn't there some rule of etiquette that makes this a no-no" things?

The ladies' room on my hall is small (two stalls and a sink). I usually use it because it's less used than the larger restrooms in the classroom area and tends to be quieter and cleaner.

Well, I push the door open and I hear someone talking. At first I think she's talking to someone still in the stall (which is also a personal no-no to me: I do not like carrying on a conversation while in the loo).

Nope. She was on her cell phone. Standing in front of the sink, at the mirror, just talking.

I backed right back out of the room and waited until after my class - but to me, that's like a who DOES that? situation. I get that people might want privacy while on the phone but there are a number of open but unused-at-the-moment classrooms and such. What this person did was effectively blocked anyone a bit shy (like me) from wanting to use the facilities until she was done with her call.

Sigh. We have a "lactation room" (this was something mandated, though we currently have no one who is nursing a baby). Maybe we also need to designate a "mobile phone room" for people. 'Cos the bathroom shouldn't be it.

For your amusement

I didn't do a whole lot yesterday  other than more sewing, so here's a dream I had last night. I think I know what it means:

I was standing around at a train station, not one that is one I ever use (it might not be one that even exists in actuality) waiting for a train. I was back to TA days, or at least, I was much younger than I am now, and closer in age to my students.

One of my former students, from the class that had just concluded for the semester approaches me. Cute guy, the sort of physical type I like. He notes that he recognizes me and then immediately asks if I want to be his girlfriend.*
I'm taken aback by that - no normal adult man asks someone point blank to be his girlfriend, especially not without dating her a bit, and some men never really ask, they just assume at some point.. So it seems strange, but I am sufficiently flattered (and, as I said, he's the physical type that appeals to me) so I agree. And there's some sense of excitement, very like I would have felt in my 20s: I finally have a *boyfriend*. The world will finally see me as *normal* because I'm now coupled.

And I also think: well, at least I won't have to sit next to a complete stranger on the train (I was traveling coach.)

And we stand there and talk. Several times, I see lights approaching (it is nighttime) and everyone who is waiting edges up to the yellow line for boarding....and then the train turns out to be a freight, and we all hurry back so we don't get blasted by its horn/buffeted by the wind it creates.

And he and I stand there and talk. And it slowly dawns on me: he's talking about one of the examples I discussed in class, and he thinks I meant it as a joke with a punchline rather than an honest, earnest example. And I realize: not only is this guy naive (which I could work with), but he's also dumb as a sack of hammers (which really would be a dealbreaker: not being able to have anything approaching a detailed, adult conversation).

And the train doesn't come, and it doesn't come, and I realize with increasing dismay that this nice and good looking guy is SERIOUSLY dumb, like, I'm not sure I can stand here and think of things to say to him dumb.

And then I woke up.

The trains were probably a red herring of sorts; I live close enough to tracks that I can just, at the corners of my consciousness, hear the freights as they go by, and so I often have trains in my dreams. (Well, also the fact that all the long-distance travel I've done in the past ten years has been by train, so sometimes I think they're symbolic of an escape)

I think the main theme though was, what if you got what you thought you wanted and it turned out not to be what you wanted after all?

Dangit, brain.

(*In the real world, I would never ever ever date a student, even if he were sufficiently close to me in age UNLESS he had graduated or otherwise almost impossible that he'd ever take a class of mine again. Because having someone you were dating in class would be too weird, and also, it raises all kinds of sticky ethical issues.)

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Back to quiltmaking

After church today, I decided to do some sewing. I had a quilt top in progress - the design is called "roll of stamps" and it is based on the old Postage Stamp pattern. This one had been stalled for a while. I used a "jelly roll" of fabrics for it and there's not a huge diversity of colors or designs in the one I chose, so at first I was a little dissatisfied with how the individual blocks looked.

They are sixteen small (2" finished size) squares, joined together. At least on this one they are made by sewing strips together and re-cutting them, unlike the old-style Postage Stamp pattern where you cut a million tiny pieces and then sewing them back together.

But today I decided to power through (it's hard for me to reject an unfinished project. It may sit for months or years but eventually I come back to it). I like it a lot better now. I sewed up fifteen or so blocks (there is a total of 35) and I laid out all the remaining ones so now I just have to sew.

Next quilt top? I don't know. I've got literally dozens planned and probably enough fabric to make them all. I think the next one is going to be some kind of bright novelty fabrics; the more subdued fabrics in the top I'm currently working on, while it's pretty enough, is less exciting to me than bright prints.

(It's funny how my tastes have changed over time. When I first started quilting seriously, I was all about Civil War reproduction prints - fairly dark colors and subdued prints. Or 1930s reproductions, which I still like, but don't use as much as I once did. Now, I like a lot of the bright, slightly-goofy novelty prints, and I find myself drawn to some 1970s-ish colors and design (remembering my childhood, perhaps)

One thing I like about quilting is that I can use colors and prints I'd NEVER wear as clothing, but kind of like, in a quilt.

I do still do some more traditional or subdued quilts: one of my upcoming quilts is going to be a large-scale traditional block, with a star in the center (you can see it here). I'm going to use white as the background, and prints with a dark-blue background (I have a couple of snowflake prints, and a couple that are night-sky prints) as the focus fabrics. (I THINK I've accumulated 12, so far....maybe that should be the next quilt top)

And yes, I use them on my bed. I rotate them out - right now I have my "winter quilt" (snowmen, and it has a wool batt in it) on the bed, but in a month or so I'll take this one off and put another one on.

It's one of those things a person either "gets" or doesn't: I could see someone looking at all the quilts I have and go, "Why do you need so many? Why do you bother to make more?" but the thing is, I just like having them around. And I like making them. It makes me happy.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Some piano thinking

Right now, my lessons are on hiatus (long story but: teacher drives in from out of town, she works at a job that ends at 5 pm, she doesn't want to be driving the long way home, across a bridge, in the dark of evening. I respect that but I hope she starts teaching again (as she suggested she might) when we go back to DST. Because for one thing, that will actually give me something to look forward to about Daylight Saving, which I normally dislike, because it means I drive my (short) commute to work in the dark again)

I've been practicing on my own. Mostly working on a couple of standards (one, "Dream a Little Dream" that I had worked on with her but I felt I just hadn't perfected yet, and a new one, "A Fine Romance," which I'm not very far into). I'm also slowly going back through the Bach Anna Magdalena pieces I've learned, and also going to attempt the ones I haven't. (I'm working on a Minuet in G right now, it's the third one in the book I have but it's tricky because it has some arpeggios in it)

The thing is, I get frustrated and discouraged easily. I'm not progressing as fast as I think I should. I still make mistakes, even sometimes in pieces I've played a hundred or more times. I'll probably never be that good.

(And I have the added challenge of having small hands - my reach is only about an octave, or an octave plus one on a good day. I have to rework some of the chords to work for me)

I don't know. I suppose it's because I've only ever really heard professionals play, or hear people play at church where I'm maybe focusing on the words of the hymn and don't notice a single infelicitous note in a chord or something. And I suppose my perfectionism is coming into play here. But I find myself thinking, "Darn it: you've played that first minuet (this one) out of your Bach book so many times; you should be able to play it every time without making a mistake. (And I can play it sometimes without errors, just not always, or not frequently enough to satisfy myself).

Because that's what holds me back from ever playing for anything: the fear that I can't trust my hands well enough not to make a mistake. Come to think of that, that was my problem with playing in small groups or performing solo back when I played the clarinet: I felt I couldn't trust the instrument, or the instrument plus my embouchure, not to mess something up and squeak or give a sour note or something.

I don't know. Maybe a lot of the CDs of performances I have are just people who have been playing for far, far more years than I have (this spring will mark 6 years) and with that level of expertise the mistakes get squeezed out, and I just need to be patient with myself. Or maybe some of them are studio recordings put together from the best of many takes. (I wonder, is that the musical equivalent of Photoshop? Or maybe the musical equivalent of Photoshop is Autotune?)

And yes, I can play with fewer errors now than when I began. And yes, I can see myself getting better on things as I work on them - most recently, the arpeggiated on (this is a screenshot of the very beginning of it).

And I admit: part of me goes, "These are BEGINNER pieces. You should have MASTERED them already." But part of me just kind of enjoys perfecting my ability to play them, being able to put in the "correct" dynamics (at least, those recommended by the compiler/editor of the volume I use) and do stuff like the, what's it called? In baroque playing where you raise the volume just a bit on ascending runs, and lower it on descending runs? (I knew what that term was, once).

Someday, I want to be able to play the entire Anna Magdalena book, so I'm working through it piece by piece. My goal is to run quickly through the pieces I've "mastered" and then work more on the ones I haven't yet.

I don't know. I really honestly don't know where someone who's been taking lessons on and off for six years "should" be, if I'm doing okay or if I'm just really really behind and maybe should consider giving it up because I'm just no good at it.

And yeah, this is probably all partly influenced by an orchestra teacher years ago who made the implication I was wasting his time and mine trying to learn the clarinet. The bigger implication being that I had no musical talent and should stop trying to force myself to have some. And yes, there's a world of difference between a no-talent hack who still thinks they can perform for a living and make money, and someone who maybe isn't so skillful at playing an instrument but still wants to try for their own fun and enjoyment and learning. And I fall into the second group, but I admit, at times, that orchestra teacher's words haunt me a little.

(I suppose the secondary lesson that could come from that is, if you teach, be careful how you give criticism to students, sometimes it may have a greater effect than you ever know. Then again: I've had a few students that I really wanted to bluntly tell, "No. Don't go into medicine.")

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Thursday morning random

* Well, Brookshire's assures me there is no celery or celery seed in the "natural flavoring" of their tomato sauce. So I don't know. Maybe this IS just mold allergies. That's good and bad:

good, because it means it's almost impossible for that type of allergy to go to anaphylaxis (with food allergies like celery, they can get progressively worse and go there precipitously)

bad, because it's impossible to avoid mold and I know my campus building has mold in it.

I am going to bring it up with my doctor (I have a checkup very shortly) and see if she has any ideas. It's more an annoyance issue than a danger issue, I think, but it's an annoyance I'd very much like to be rid of.

* When I get the occasional hive-around-the-eye (which is less scary than it used to be to me, and now that I think of it, this was how this entire mess started - way back in 2010 or thereabouts, I had swelling around one eye. I thought I had got into poison ivy while gardening (never mind I didn't see any) and didn't think any more of it. But I guess that was the warning shot.)

Anyway, when I get the occasional eye-hive these days, I find myself wanting to do the Veronica Lake things with my hair (train one lock of it to fall over my eye so no one can see the hive). For those of you not into old movies: Veronica Lake, though there aren't really any good photos of her iconic hair thing over there. (And she had kind of a sad life, including undiagnosed or poorly treated mental illness...)

Or, I suppose a more modern and childish variant of the hairstyle: wear a big lock of hair over one eye, like Fluttershy. (There's a fan comic out there where the main gag is "What Fluttershy sees" is just a mass of pink, from her hair down over her eyes).

The good thing is they usually develop late in the day, worsen overnight, and then go down rapidly once I get up and take my allergy medications, so usually they are not that noticeable. (And yeah, I think those are mold exposure: I got a big one the day we took the Christmas tree in the house at my parents, and live trees are known moldboxes.)

* I started a new thing, a "scarf" that is actually a cowl-type of thing - It's called the Purl Ridge Scarf. I wound up having to rip it out and restart because it got mobiused (the cast on got twisted) and I didn't know if it being mobius would be a problem in wearing it (there are some circularly-knit scarves you intentionally do that to, it's a feature, not a bug). This time I knit the first couple rows "flat" (without joining to work in the round) and that solved the issue - I'll just have to use the tail from casting on to sew that little bit up.

* I found a new favorite way to fix cauliflower: The Pioneer Woman's cauliflower stir fry.

My mom is a big fan of the Pioneer Woman and watches her show (I like it too, but it's usually on when I'm busy). One of the episodes we saw over break featured this recipe and I decided to try it.

I made two small changes: first, I parboiled the cauliflower for 5 minutes before stir-frying it, because I don't really like "crunchy" cauliflower, and also, cauliflower that's not totally cooked is harder to digest.

I also used coconut aminos instead of soy sauce. Coconut aminos are a soy sauce substitute; they taste similar but have no soy and, importantly for me, are lower in sodium. I first found out about them from an article in Eating Well or somewhere about someone who had to change how they cooked after a family member was diagnosed with some food sensitivities (one of them being soy).

Except for the fairly-tedious task of breaking the cauliflower down into tiny florets (and it's messy, I was sweeping dropped cauliflower bits up off the floor later), it's a pretty fast recipe. And it's GOOD. Cauliflower is kind of bland on its own so it does well with a strong-flavored seasoning. (Cauliflower is kind of the tofu of vegetables, I guess).

I find I like Sriracha sauce much, much better than I anticipated I would. Formerly, I did not like "hot" things at all, but I find that my tolerance for and enjoyment of "hot" foods (at least in the chili pepper sense) is increasing over time.

The sauce on this is a  lot like the "garlic sauce" a Chinese restaurant near my parents uses - they have a special "steamed" menu that they CLAIM is low sodium as well as low fat; I've eaten it a couple of times and I really like the garlic sauce.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Possible invention idea?

I'm not nearly knowledgeable enough about biochemistry to know if this would even be possible given the current state of the technology, but last night before bed, I found myself thinking:

"It would be really nice if a person with food allergies could get test strips that they could dip into a food they were concerned about, and it would turn color if the allergen was present."

I was thinking about the glucose test strips we use in one of the labs I do - they are a product sold for diabetics, so they can test their urine. There are also color-changing tests for lead in paint, and I am sure other things I am not thinking of.

But what nice peace of mind that would be - "I don't know for sure if this broth might have miso in it, so let me check." or "Could there be peanut proteins in this smoothie?" (I can see how it would only work for liquid things).

Or, even better - something like one of those Star Trek quick-diagnosis devices, where you could stick a  probe into the questionable food, it would sample and quick-analyze it, and tell you. They could even, perhaps (I'm dreaming here, of course) be programmed so multiple users with different allergies could use them - so if you are allergic to eggs and your partner has a gluten sensitivity, you could both use the same sensor with different settings or modes.

Theoretically it should be possible: have some kind of thing that would bind to the specific protein and either change color or (if it were an electronic sensor) send some kind of impulse if it were present.

Technological-minded food chemists or food engineers? If you could get on that project and make it happen I'd be very appreciative.

Because given Monday's issues, I think I'm going to have to be WAY more careful about "natural flavors" in things.

Also, an aside: my new favorite "grab a meal quick while I'm out shopping place" (Panera Bread) has SUPER detailed ingredient information on their website - they list every flavoring in things. (And they have good nutritional info so I can look up sodium). Yay Panera Bread, and you're going to be getting more of my business in the future because of that. (Though sadly? Their new "broth bowls," which look good, are all made with miso, which gives me terrible headaches - so, none of their broth bowls for me.)

The nearest one right now is in Sherman but I keep hoping we'll eventually get one right here. I'm thinking it would do well, given the presence of the university....

Another finished shawl

I finished another shawl/shawlette over break. This is Wedgewood, from Sock-yarn Shawls.

wedgewood close up

I used Lorna's Laces (her standard sockweight yarn) in a color called "Wonderstone." That one had been in the stash for a while, I bought it shortly after it first came out because I liked the colors, but I couldn't find a pattern I liked for it until I saw Wedgewood.

Here it is on. (Photograph was last night and my mouth still felt a little weird, so if my smile looks kind of janked up, that's why. The swelling had gone but the lip felt kind of like I'd had heavy dental work done)

wedgewood 2

(I had taken another photo of it wrapped a different way, but when I look at it now, I was slouching - I didn't do my standard, "Shoulders up, chest out" posture and I don't like how it looks so well, so I'll just leave that one over on Flickr. I'm learning from looking at my self-taken photos that two things really make a difference in my appearance: first, if I smile*, and second, if I stand up straight - standing up straight I look perhaps five pounds lighter. And I look less tired.)

(*And yeah, that irritates me a little, considering the number of people over the years who have exhorted me to "smile" when I'm walking down the hall or something - my "thinking face" is a neutral face, I don't think to smile when my brain is heavily occupied with something)

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

A real thing?

WOT gives the site an "untrustworthy," which makes me wonder if it's a gag site rather than an actual business, but this is pretty funny (NB: a fair amount of harsh language):

Send your Enemies Glitter

That's right - an envelope full of glitter (plus a note, to increase glitter spillage when they pull the note out) that goes off to someone who has ticked you off.

It's awful and evil but also pretty genius and while I still probably wouldn't do it to anyone, I like it better than the thing about sending your enemies a box of horse manure that I wrote about a while back.

Note to any CPAAG (sea pig) people: this is not a solicitation for you to send me an envelope full of glitter (or confetti, CPAAG people do that too).

possibly lurking celery?

NB: I have a mild food allergy to celery (so does my mom). When I eat something with celery in it, I get hives.

So I got to thinking: could I POSSIBLY have got something I was allergic to in my food yesterday afternoon? So I catalogued what I ate:

A small packet of Graze's mock-jelly-donut snack (raspberry and gelatin gummi strings, dried cranberries, little tiny cookie things, some slivered almonds)

A glass of milk

And for dinner:

some prunes (What? I like prunes and they are supposedly a good source of silicon, which can help prevent bone brittleness)

about half a can of "light" syrup canned peaches

some neufchatel cheese

A bowl of tomato soup, made using a homemade roux and a couple cans of "no salt" Brookshire's tomato sauce

And at CWF: a cup of typical sugar-sweetened (I can't do artificial sweeteners so I check) cocoa and a small slice of raspberry cheesecake.

So I thought, could one of those things set me off? Raspberries? No, I eat them all the time, I ate gobs of the frozen kind over break and had no ill effects. Peaches? Not likely, again, I eat canned peaches regularly. Dairy? I eat almost more dairy than anything and an attempt years back to do it as an "elimination" diet showed that it had no effect on hives.

Almonds? Maybe, but I ate them in stollen over Christmas....

Then I decided, while heating up lunch here at home (Refried beans with cheese, a salad, some applesauce) to take a look at the second tomato-sauce can I had:

Water, tomato paste, onion powder, citric acid, natural flavors, dried bell pepper.

Uh-oh. "Natural flavors" can cover a host of things, one of those celery.

So I have a call in to one of Brookshire's "people" (she was away from her desk and I left a message).

The good news is, if "natural flavors" includes celery, that means my body isn't doing a new stupid thing to me, it's doing the same old stupid thing it's done for years, and I can stop being concerned. Also, the fix for the problem is simple: give the remaining can to a food drive (celery allergy is rare enough that I doubt whoever got it would have a problem) and don't buy that kind any more. (Hunt's, as I remember, is just tomatoes, water, and a little salt)

If not, it could still be mold. But the timing is so suspicious of when I got the hive and it got bad that I would not be at all surprised to find out there's celery in there. (I really have to be careful about "natural flavors." In some cases it's totally innocuous but in others there can be celery there.)

Also, it seems my celery-induced hives are getting worse, which means I need to be extra careful.

ETA: I just remembered now that I had a bit of indigestion this morning, which is somewhat uncommon for me, but which IS a symptom of a celery reaction (it was one of the issues my mom has with celery). So, dangit - but at least now I know. (Brookshire's has not called back but unless I hear a "no, it doesn't have ANY celery of any kind" I am going to assume that that's it.)

Back to Hunt's sauce for me.... or to Cento whole tomatoes (which are just tomatoes, salt, and basil, and are very, very good.)

E-ETA: From some of my desultory research, I have learned a couple things:

a. Celery allergy can result as a cross-reaction with birch or mugwort (Artemesia; mugwort is the European common name) pollen allergy. (I am allergic to birch. Don't know about mugwort)

b. It's more common in Europe than here, and is most common in France, Germany, and Switzerland. (Not that it probably means anything, but a goodly chunk of my heritage is German and another is French)

c. In the EU, there's a requirement that foods be labeled if they contain celery. I admit, I'd love to see manufacturers here parse out the nebulous "natural flavors" designation so I knew....then again, some may change formulations often enough. I guess the answer is I just have to avoid "natural flavors" containing foods unless I can verify they don't contain celery, or I have successfully eaten them before. (And even then I'd have to be wary of reformulations). But I also understand that celery allergy is rare here and they probably can't label for all potential allergens....anything that contains a protein could theoretically be an allergen for someone.

 d. This is going to mean I have to start asking at restaurants like my mom does. The couple of favorite restaurants they go to up there all know her and expect the request. I presume things like a salad with oil and vinegar dressing is safe....and I've never noticed problems with Panera's food (and most of their food, it's pretty recognizable what's in it. And I don't eat the soup anyway, too much salt.)

The upside? If I can be really, really vigilant about the (comparatively few) processed foods I use and get rid of any with celery, maybe I will have far fewer hive problems. (Hope springs eternal.). When I was at my parents' over Thanksgiving, I had NO hives, and all the meals I ate were prepared at home by my mom and were certifiably celery-free. I also had fairly few hives over Christmas despite eating a few things she didn't specifically fix and which may not have been 100% celery free.

a little critter

I did knit a couple toys over break. (I started on the pangolin, but doing the scales is pretty tedious, so I didn't get terribly far.)

I bought a Mochimochiland pattern (the tiny woodland creatures) specifically so I could get her "free" pattern (which, if it's like her other holiday patterns, will be available for sale at some point soon).

This one is called Deck the Walruses (Deck, as in the sense of "deck the halls," not the sense of "punch so hard they fall down")

It's a tiny walrus pattern plus three hat patterns. I knew immediately which hat I wanted to do: the watchcap, because then the walrus would sort-of resemble a famous ocean explorer.

I didn't buy yarn for this, I just used bits that were on hand (leftover from other things) up at my parents' house when I was there. it only takes tiny amounts of each yarn.

This is "Jacques." (I think the name is least to people of my generation and a bit earlier):

Jacques front view

The hat isn't sewn down but at some point I might tack it on so it's less likely to get lost. (The pattern also comes with a chullo style hat and a Santa hat - so you can do one, some, or all of them)

Here's a side view:

jacques side view

One of the clever things is that tiny lengths of i-cord are used for the tusks. This is a VERY small toy, it will sit in the palm of your hand comfortably. If you had a large-ish Christmas tree, you could probably put loops on these and use them as decorations. (Especially if you did the old traditional thing that some did, of having small toys on the tree that were then destined to be gifts for the children...)


In other news, I got a hive on my lower lip. It started last night as just a small one and it spread overnight. (This is typically how the big hives go: they start small, then get huge for a little while, then start to go down). I admit I was a bit alarmed when I woke up at 2 am to go to the loo and decided to look at it in the mirror. But I figured: I'm not having breathing problems (I never do with hives), and if it was going to kill me, it probably already would have.

The problem was I looked awful. Either like a kid who was playing with the vacuum cleaner hose and stuck it on their lip, or like a starlet (or other "beauty" obsessed person) who went and got collagen injections in her lips but overdid it a little.

But I went back to bed. I debated getting up to work out but then decided that encouraging blood flow might help reduce the swelling so I got up at 4:30 like usual. I did take my meds (the anti-allergy ones) first, which may have been a good idea.

It started going down a bit during the workout. Now, it's almost back to normal. I can still feel a bit of swelling and my lip still feels weird if I purse it, but I don't look frightening any more. (I guess this tells you how blase I've become about these things: what amounts to angioedema on my lip and my main concern is "I don't want people stopping me in the hall and going, 'oh, no, your lip! Are you all right?'")

But as I said: I've been to this rodeo before, and it's never gone bad, I just have to wait for the swelling to go down.

I did put on the air filter in my office; I hadn't run it yesterday and I suspect - as the HVAC seems kind of dead in the water as far as moving air around goes - that molds are probably bad right now. (Also, we've had a lot of rain/damp days lately.)

Monday, January 12, 2015

Reviving a tradition

I didn't do it this fall, but for a few semesters in the past, I started off the new semester with one of my favorite pieces of music (which is also appropriate to the situation): Brahms' "Academic Festival Overture"

Here's a new-ish version of it, by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra:

All my classes "made." It was worrisome for a while on the intro class; it's an 8 am section, enrollment in general is down and 8 am classes can be a tough sell at the best of times. But a couple last-minute adds coupled with permission from the dean, and I've got the classes I wanted to teach for this semester.

This will be a much less stressful schedule than last semester: my first class MWF is at 11 am, which, if I can make myself be disciplined, means a couple potential hours each of those days of writing time on this manuscript (I've already been working on it some this morning). And hopefully, later on, reading time, to consider summer research.

Tuesdays and Thursdays I have lectures at 8 am and 11 am. I do teach three afternoon labs (M, W, and Th), but at least they are all supposed to be done by 3 pm - if the intro class hadn't made, I would have been taking on late-afternoon labs (currently covered by "staff" - probably the grad students or adjuncts) and that would have been sad.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Blocking the aestlight

The Aestlight Shawl, that is. I decided after lunch today to wet-block it.

I finished this a day before I came back, so I figured blocking it at my parents' was too iffy, too likely for it not to dry in time. So I did it here.

blocking aestlight

The pale purple foam squares (they are a lot like those soft foam puzzle squares some day cares have to make the floor a little friendlier for small kids) are pretty genius for blocking. They were a Christmas gift from my mom a couple years ago.

I'm pretty happy with this. The pattern is really clearly written and I think it might be a good advanced-beginner to intermediate (someone who hasn't knit a lace shawl but wants to try) pattern. Yes, there's a lot of garter stitch there but once you get past that, it actually moves kind of fast. The shawl comes in two sizes; I made the bigger size. The smaller one you probably could get out of just one 100 g skein of sock-weight yarn.

Here's a close up of the edging:

aestlight border

That big open pattern is called Bird's Eye Lace. I think it's somewhat traditional in Shetland knitting.

I used a Phydeaux Designs yarn for this - Chausette in the color called "Alchemy." It took just over one ball (I had bought two, anticipating). I'm guessing it took about 50-75 yards from the second ball, but that's fine, I can use the rest for a pair of mitts sometime. Perhaps even socks, if I weigh the remaining ball and do a little calculating.

The pattern is from Shetland Trader. I've knit two of her patterns - this, and the Crofter's Cowl. I've been happy with both of them. (I think the Crofter's Cowl is still free on her website and on Ravelry.)

Another thing I did this weekend:

Ponyville's new home

I had been talking about taking the "Ponyville" (most of my blindbag figures plus my house-teapot collection) down off the mantel and moving it to the now-empty coffee table. I did that yesterday.

This pleases me a lot. I don't know why it does, exactly, but when I was a kid I used to love making little "arrangements" of things like this. And I liked the idea of little worlds. (I had several dollhouses, including one or two I totally made myself, when I was a kid). I can leave this up until next Christmastime if I want to. (And it also means I don't have to find a place to store the house teapots)

I had a lot of fun grouping the ponies - the Apple family (and extended kin like Apple Fritter and Caramel Apple) are all together, and the Mane Six are more or less together, and the musical ponies....and the ponies that have a conceivable fashion-focus (Buttonbelle, Royal Pin, and Ribbon Wishes) are all positioned so they look like they are having a meeting with Hoity Toity....

And I found a possible headcanon pairing, in the process. I have a pony (a boy-pony, those are still kind of rare in the blindbags) called Barber Groomsby, and another pony called Big Wig (I think she shows up in the bowling-alley scene in one of the episodes. And I realized, they seemed to have a natural shared maybe like the Cakes are a couple, they are a couple:

Big Wig and Barber Groomsby

Yes, it's kind of silly, but I don't care. This kind of thing makes me happy.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Saturday morning random

* For anyone else wondering about the shoes, they are Klogs brand, model Madrid.

* More project photos to come Monday. I did finish both shawlettes I had on the needles but I need to block the Aestlight shawl. (One thing about the Aestlight pattern - it has the best and clearest explanation/justification of how you "turn a corner" while doing a knitted-on border. V. easy pattern to follow.)

* I don't really do New Year's Resolutions because, as one of the columnists in the paper my parents get said, "They seem mostly about giving stuff up" but I do want to strive to do two things this year: first, to work on quilts more (I have so many ideas and so much fabric...) and also to laugh more/lighten up more. I don't know why or how I got so serious in the past few years but I need to get back to a way of being able to see humor in situations rather than seeing that which frustrates me.

* I finished two books over break: Brian Fagan's "The First North Americans" (about Paleo-Indian groups) and Monica Dickens' "One Pair of Hands."

"One Pair of Hands" is about a young (Middle-class, I presume, from her brief discussion of her background) British woman (And yes, she is related to THAT Dickens), who, in a fit of early-20s boredom (a proto "quarter life crisis"?) decides to go "into service," as they say. She didn't HAVE to, but it does seem to have been a bit of youthful rebellion against her privileged background (and the fact that her acting career died a-borning).

The book is told in episodic fashion; more or less each chapter deals with a different person or family she worked for. They range widely, from a holy-terror of a fashion designer who shows that "overblown sense of entitlement" is not just a late-20th-century thing, to the sad situation of a family with a dying mother (her illness is never mentioned but it seems to have been TB), to a pair of contentious newlyweds, to an old traditional Manor House, where she winds up embroiled in the servant intrigues, to a family that is almost TOO nice to her....and after them, she decides to quit the business.

A couple of thoughts: I rather hope the people she worked were were either fictionalized into unrecognizably or never read her book (Well, maybe Mr Fashion Designer might have benefited from reading about how he treated the help, but then again, it's my experience that a certain type of person never comes to realize when they are in the wrong). But at times her descriptions and the information she conveys is a bit uncharitable (Note To Self: Remember this in the future when commenting semi-anonymously here about students or colleagues).

I will also note that this (and also Other People's Dirt, a book written by a house-cleaner that I read years ago) is part of the reason why I would choose not to have "help" in - and clean my own house. I'd hate to think of my personal foibles (my tendency to stuff t-shirts and turtlenecks into dresser drawers without folding, the way some unused cabinets have been out-of-sight, out-of-mind for cleaning for a couple years, etc.) becoming fodder for someone to laugh about with their family.

Another thought: in the end, part of the reason she gives it up is that she finds herself becoming increasingly uncharitable in her thoughts about others. I admit, I can see that. My work isn't as demanding or as personal as hers was, but still: I can find myself getting that kind of attitude when I have a particularly challenging class or when I have to deal repeatedly with someone who seems bound and determined to be difficult. (The best solution for this is time away, which is perhaps why I shouldn't feel so guilty about taking time off from time to time)

I also have to admit that it seems interesting to me she'd choose to be a "cook-general." Granted, there were fewer opportunities for women in those days (and she seems to have had a less-directed education than you might need for, say, nursing or teaching). But at times I DID get the sense of "she's slumming, and reveling in the fact that she is" and that was a little uncomfortable.

Also, her tendency to "play roles" - in one instance, she gets herself up as "Plover," an excruciatingly-correct type of maid, because she imagines it is what her prospective employer expects. I'm always amazed when I read stories about people who invent new backstories and such for themselves - aren't they afraid of getting caught? For example, if you say you are from some particular small town in Nebraska, but you aren't....and you run into someone who is FROM that town. Or you claim to someone at a party that you are in a career different from your actual one....and they turn out to be in that very field. (Better, I think, to be honest, but risk people thinking you are boring or something)

Friday, January 09, 2015

Some good advice

Mental Multivitamin has a wrap-up of her (previously homeschooled) daughters' first year at college, along with general "good advice" for the college bound: Sit in the Front Row.

Oh, yes, so much to all of that. (And I say this as someone "on the other side of the desk").

Of course, it's a chicken-and-egg question: do people do those behaviors because they're inherently motivated and good students, or does doing those behaviors encourage one to do well? I can say about where you sit in a classroom mattering: my habit, in general, was to sit in the front row (or the second row; there were a few classes where you didn't want to be in the very front). A couple times in grad school when I was more or less "auditing" a class and so chose to sit in the back (to allow the enrolled students a shot at the front row) I found that my attention to the prof was not so good, and also, there was much more temptation to talk to my friend sitting next to me. (In fact, I remember a prof making a joke about "the disruptive people in the back" when a few of the fellow profs showed up to his class - because they wanted to learn the stats technique he was going to demonstrate - and they sat in the back. And yes, they did talk.)

A couple other comments:

the "backpack inventory." I've said before I was mildly compulsive as a student (still am) about making sure I had pencils, paper, that my calculator was working, etc. I've had students walk in to an exam empty-handed and ask me to borrow a pen or pencil. Well, for one thing, I don't generally carry pens or pencils to exams (I'm carrying other stuff, and I find loaning pens is a good way to lose them) and I'm also just....flabbergasted. Yes, I suppose it's possible to have a pen in your pocket and have it fall out, but I don't that happens enough to explain the 2-3 students I get per exam that don't have a pen or pencil.

To me, it suggests the person is unprepared for the exam if they show up without something to write with. (These also tend to be students who do not take notes, so they usually don't have a pen or pencil)

Also, the "do not talk during class, do not text, do not nap." That one always gets to me and I am sure I take it far more personally than I should, but I grew up being taught "attention is a form of respect" and when I see someone texting in class, it says to me, "I do not want to be here, I do not care about what is going on in class." Talking in class is almost worse because it disrupts other people around the talker who might be trying to learn. (I tend to call out talkers more often than I do texters. Because I've had a few texters who, if I didn't let them text, WOULD talk - in one case a constant, sotto voce stream of snarky comments. Yes, I would be within my rights to throw that person out, but sometimes that kind of thing just causes more problems and more ripples - if they go to my chair, if they go to the dean, if their parents hear one side of the story and get upset....)

The whole deadline thing, too. I've said before that when I was assigned a paper, I would go home THAT DAY and make a timeline of intermediate due dates, for example, I need to have the background research done by such-and-such a day, and an outline by such-and-such a day, and I always tried my best to have a good draft a minimum of a week before the due date so I could let it sit for a day and then revise it. Even in cases where the only official due date was the big one at the end. (Perhaps in my class-with-the-big-paper, I need to set more intermediate due dates. I know the prepared students would find it patronizing but I get enough students who panicflail a couple days before the paper is due and come in and say they can't find background research, or they don't know how to interpret their results, or they don't know how to structure the paper....)

The truth is, none of the advice in there is so very mystical. A lot of it is just plain old common sense and time management, with perhaps a tiny dose of "treat others with the respect with which you would expect to be treated" thrown in. And yeah, some of it does require being a bit proactive and being able to go in and talk to people, which I know some students have trouble with (and frankly, I have trouble with cold-calling someone, or walking into an office to ask someone for something - but I do it, because I have to). But a lot of people don't learn that stuff until later on in life, and that's unfortunate. (And some never learn it, which is really unfortunate.)

Plain and fancy

The two pairs of socks I finished over break.

The first pair is using a Regia tiger-striped yarn, I think Simply Sock Yarn called it "Tiger Carla":

tiger socks

They're just simple socks but for some reason took me many months to finish. As is typical for yarns like Regia and Opal, the yarn is "scratchier" than some of the softer, more expensive independent-dyer yarns (or even yarns like Lorna's Laces). Washing the socks did make them softer, and hopefully future washings will continue that.

The biggest, longest-term project I finished over break were the Alpine Glow socks. I think I have been working on these since some time in 2011. These are very complex and require a lot of concentration, which is probably why I didn't work on them very much. I LIKE twisted stitches fine, and I find the more I work a pattern the easier it becomes, but these type of projects are not the kind of "pick it up at the end of the day when I'm tired" type of project.

I was glad to get these done.

alpine glow socks

It's hard to photograph the almost bas-relief quality of the twisted stitches. This is a very clever pattern - increases and decreases make the "clock" pattern continue and move diagonally across the instep. The two socks, right and left, mirror each other.

Here's an attempt to show the twisted-stitch pattern on the instep:

close up of traveling stitches

Stephanie van der Linden (the author of the book these are from) says this is a traditional pattern called "Forgotten Love." (I wonder why.) I kind of like the pattern. I wonder if twisted-stitch patterns are done much with heavier yarns; I could see doing a saddle-shoulder sweater where this pattern went down the length of the sleeve from the "saddle" up at the neckline. (Perhaps for worsted weight yarns you do cabling, I don't know).

And yeah, I got thinking about designing again over break. I thought of a saddle-shoulder sweater with the twisted-stitch pattern on it, and I also thought back to that "prairie socks" idea I still hang on to - a way to do a bison-themed sock, and a way to do a "rhizosphere" sock, this one using twisted stitches. That one would be tricky and would take a lot of graphing and swatching to get it to look right. (The bison one would be simple, but I figured out a twist for the design that would make it more interesting than what I was planning). Someday. Maybe if we don't have a summer session this year I will take some times and play with those ideas.

The socks have complex diamonds in twisted stitches up on the ankles. A lot of the stuff on fancy socks doesn't show so much if you wear them with slacks. (But I can't quite bring myself to wear socks with a skirt, even a long, casual skirt)

alpine glow

I also have to share one of my Christmas presents. (Well, an after-Christmas present, because I had to go and try them on, but they were purchased for me). I needed to replace the old clogs I had been wearing: the soles had worn to the point where they were dangerous on wet floors, and they also had loosened up to the point where walking in them was a little arduous, compared to a better-fitting shoe.

So I got these:

new shoes

I know there's a school of thought that says women's shoes should be alluring and "sexy." And yeah, these shoes begin to approach the territory of what a college friend used to call "B.C. Shoes" (B.C. for "Birth Control," as in "No man will look twice at you when you're wearing these")

But to be honest, any more, I dress to please myself rather than to please anyone else, and I like these shoes. I think they're cute. And they're definitely comfortable, which is a consideration when you spend multiple hours in a day standing on floors that are a thin layer of tile over poured concrete. They have good support built into the footbed, and I need that. They're also not too flat, which is something else I need.

Also, they will work in lab where open toed shoes are a bad idea, because of the possibility of falling glass or chemicals.

I specifically bought them big enough to wear over socks, with the idea I'd mainly wear them with slacks, but since they have buckles I think I could cinch them up to wear over hose with a skirt.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

The "Cuddleewe" pad

I had mentioned a while back that I received a "Cuddle Ewe" mattress topper as a "big" Christmas present. And they sent a wool-filled pillow as a free gift with it. Lynn had asked how I liked the wool pillow, and I wanted to give it a bit of time to be sure.

I really like them. I don't know how long the wool pillow will last, if the wool will eventually compress or break down or whatever, but right now I really like it - it's lighter and, ironically, doesn't seem to get as hot as a polyfil pillow can. (I used to use a down pillow but gave it up when my hives first got bad, out of concern that that was what was causing them. But down is heavy - or at least this pillow was - and can be kind of lumpy). The wool pillow isn't lumpy, it's soft but resilient.

I also really like the mattress topper. It makes the mattress softer but still allows for the "proper" amount of support. (I admit I have little truck with the people who claim you should sleep on a board-hard mattress. It may be better for some people's back but I know a few times when I've traveled and wound up in a hotel with hard mattresses, I did NOT sleep well at all, and woke up stiff.) It also warms up over the course of an hour or so to something like body temperature, which is very nice in the winter (I will probably either make or obtain a good storage case for it and take it off in the summer if it proves too warm then). It also makes you 'sink down' a bit more in the bed, and I like that feeling, like you're being cradled a little bit. (Or: it's like being a Pegasus pony sleeping on a cloud. Or so I imagine it).

The company does say it will compress a bit over time from body weight, but that it should still provide warmth and support. They also recommend rotating or flipping it every time you change the sheets and I plan to do that.

I've also seen actually lambswool pads - like either a skin or perhaps the wool woven into a backing where you can actually SEE the wool. This is cleaned and purified wool stuffed into a very heavy cotton case and sort of quilted in places so it stays put.

I will note that even though the wool is cleaned, it still smells "wooly." I suppose some people might find that slightly objectionable but I really like the smell of clean wool (it smells like yarn) so that's a plus for me.

Some break recap.

(Yes, I heard about the Charlie Hebdo news story. I can't come up with any commentary that is better or brighter than what others have said. Or, in more cases, drawn.)

Break was quiet. It was just the three of us; my brother and sister-in-law (and niece) had been up at Thanksgiving, and also, in Northern Virginia where they now live (kind of in the foothills), weather can be iffy in December. So they stayed home for Christmas.

The biggest unusual thing that happened was that the tree fell over. My parents still get a real tree, despite the struggles to set it up (my mom and I have to do it; my dad's knees don't allow him to help) and the fact that we're all allergic. Well, we got the tree, we got it up and decorated, and I kept saying, "If I get too close to the tree, I get vertigo, because it looks like it's going to go over." We tried to adjust it - we have one of those adjustable stands with a lever that allow you to turn the tree and adjust its angle - but it kept going back to the same position. (We should have turned it).

One night a couple days before Christmas it went over. It must have gone over slowly; very few ornaments (thank goodness) broke. Most that fell off landed on the carpeted floor and were fine; the couple that broke were where it hit the coffee table. (The saddest one we lost was an old "Shiny Brite" from WWII or just after - it was one of the clear ones with the painted bands, it came from my dad's parents. But luckily, the other vintage ornaments from them and the treetop angel survived). It also dumped water on the floor.

My mom and I managed to wrestle it back up and this time we swiveled the tree and got it better oriented. Replaced the ornaments and swept up the broken ones.

It's ironic that after having had cats since they were married until about 2010 or so, the one year the tree goes over is one where there's no cat in the house. (I can't remember the cats ever trying to climb the tree, then again, the one we had when I was a kid - he was sort of a rescue-cat -  came to us declawed and probably couldn't have).

I did get a lot of knitting done; pictures will come later. The longest-term project I finished were the Alpine Glow socks that I've been mostly-not-working-on since 2011.

I mostly received books for Christmas; this often happens. My favorite one was one I had specifically asked for, called "Centenary Stitches," edited by Elizabeth Lovick, which is a book of patterns that are re-creations of WWI era patterns. A small film group was making a movie about a particular family and its participation in WWI. The movie is called "Tell Them of Us" and is about a Lincolnshire family that sent two sons to the war (apparently only one came back). They needed vintage-styled clothing for the actors to wear, and apparently knitting was such an important part of the household economy there that many garments were knitted. Also, there were enough old photographs to use as source material, and also things like Weldon's.

A couple of things I learned:
 - apparently old patterns very frequently had mistakes in them; the editor wrote about having to try to figure out what the patterns actually intended. So even though a lot of knitters now complain about poor technical editing, apparently it's better than it was. (And also, now, with things like magazine websites and Ravelry, it's really easy to learn of errata)

- Shawls were common pre WWI because most women wore corsets, and so their trunks were well-insulated by all the undergarments and they mainly needed to keep their shoulders and arms warm. Starting in the 1920s, when a lot more women became more athletic (and also ditched the corsets), sweaters for women became more common because of the need to keep the trunk warm. This is interesting to me; I had not thought about it but yes, I can see it: on a really cold day here, I will wear a sweater or other jacket-type garment for added warmth indoors, it's mainly in spring and summer I wear shawls. Also, I remember I had a thermal undershirt, kind of like what they used to call an A-shirt when it was made for men, that I would wear for winter field labs in Michigan and Illinois, and it did do a lot towards keeping me warm.

Some of the patterns are perhaps a BIT "costumey" and things I might not wear (as in: they clearly look dated) but there are a lot of things that are interesting and nice and modern enough that I'd like to wear them. (In fact, it's surprising how many of the 100-year-old patterns do look "modern" and in some ways seem less dated than the wildly-colored, big-shouldered sweaters of the 1980s). My favorite pattern and probably the one I will make first is called the "scarf vest." It is an unusual construction, a vest that crosses over the front and ties - so you can adjust the fit by how you wrap and tie it. It's also pretty and has an unusual shape, so it should be fun to knit. There are also a few simple sweaters (like the "Sports Sweater" for women) that are nicely designed  and would be patterns I might make.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Yes, I'm tired.

So, my little humidity-meter was reading in the low 20-percents when I got home - not good for the piano, probably not good for my sinuses - so I filled up and turned on the new little humidifier I bought during the whole respiratory-virus ordeal back in October (I really think it took me until now to totally get over teeth hurt for a LONG time, and my hearing was freakishly sensitive for a long time)

It's one of those that boils the water ("warm vapor"), which I figured was marginally more hygienic. It makes a faint gurgling noise.

Well, I was in here working away and the heat (briefly) turned off....and I heard this sound. Sort of a regular, quiet sound. Almost like a....chewing.... sound.

"Oh, no" I thought, "Is there a mouse somewhere after all?" (When I had one a couple years ago, I found out, because it would sit under the shelving unit that is my "pantry" and nibble on stuff, and I could hear the nibbling).

So I got up to try to echolocate the sound.

And then I was coming from the humidifier. Which I had forgotten I turned on.

Yeah, I think I need to wash my hair and change the sheets on the bed and turn in early tonight.

And I'm back

Comments posted during my absence (I moderate comments, given the volume of spam trying to use this blog as free advertising I get) were moderated-into-visibility today. Because I couldn't access the blog from elsewhere - I got the "You are not permitted" message, which scared me just slightly, but then again, it was trying to tell me I had a different e-mail linked to the blog (Blogger used to give a "" address to my old netcommander address until I updated it this fall). I am happy to see the blog is still accessible from home, with no issues. I'd kind of hate to lose the blog or have to start anew under a different address and try to get all my far-flung readers shepherded back in to the new blog. (Some who read here are on Ravelry or Twitter and could learn of a move of the blog from there, but I know there are people who are not on either....)

The trip back was gloriously uneventful given that there is a mini polar vortex going on right now. (It's even cold here in Oklahoma). I admit I was twitching a bit as it got cold...and started to snow heavily (You can't always get what you want: we had a green Christmas) the day before I was due to come back.

But aside from the train being an hour late (I don't know what it is between Pontiac and Bloomington, but it always loses time), everything was good. I was even early getting in at Mineola.

I did have to run one quick errand: the "low tire pressure" light had come on while I was driving to the station, and although I stopped at a gas station that had one of those "feed quarters to it and get compressed air" things, it wasn't working too well, at least, I couldn't fill the tire enough to make the light turn off. (It was the front driver's side tire. I fear it may have a slow leak; this happened once before a couple months ago). Fortunately, the nice volunteer at the train station told me about a tire place a few blocks away. I pulled in, hoping they were open yet (it was not quite 9:30). They were, and they were not busy, so two guys ran out, one on either side of the car, each grabbed an air hose, they checked and filled the tires. No charge, in fact they laughed when I asked them what I owed. (Take that, stupid gas station "you pay, you fill" air compressors).

As it was still so early, and because I wanted to stop and take off my heavy wool coat (I couldn't quite put my arms down, not with the sweater I was wearing, and driving was uncomfortable), I pulled into the lot of Stitchin' Heaven. This is a large quilt shop - they used to advertise as being in Quitman, but either they moved or opened a second store in Mineola, they are right there as you pull off 69 to go into town. I'd seen them many times and said, "I should go in" but never took the time.

I did this time. It was nice - lots of fabric, well set-out, easy to find stuff. As seems to be typical for quilt shops, there was a sizable group of friendly women working there who were happy to point things out or cut fabric for me. (Yes, I bought a couple small pieces). As I was checking out, I commented that I was driving back home to Oklahoma, and one of the women said, "Oh, you better get out after you finish here; it's supposed to get icy."

Well, I interpreted that as "there's an ice storm a-comin'" and I wondered why the lady at the train station hadn't mentioned it. However, the north-Texas news channel only said "colder temperatures and wind," so perhaps the "icy" meant the temperatures (which are not so bad compared to what I just left.) We MIGHT get some ice on Sunday (yup, just in time for students to be moving back to campus, ugh), but right now it's just cold and windy.

So I stopped at the Kroger's on the way back home and bought a bunch of vegetables and stuff, all the "spoilables" that you can't stock up on and then leave home for three weeks. And now I need to take down my Christmas stuff (sigh) and put away my clothes and all that. And probably change the sheets on the bed. At least there's no sign of mice getting in the house while I was gone like there was one year....

Saturday, January 03, 2015

"The Great Blizzard"

I just remember this. Not in any great detail, and not in as much detail as I might think (I would have been nine, almost ten, when it hit).

I grew up in sort of a secondary "snowbelt" area. In Northeast Ohio, we didn't get the Dreaded Lake Effect as badly as Buffalo did, but we did get more snow than some other areas.

Mainly, I remember all the snow. There were times when I was a kid where there were drifts as tall as I was.

I also remember the power went out. (Schools, of course, were closed - though just a few years later we got a superintendent who didn't believe in closing for ANY reason, and there were an awful lot of cold/heavy snow/icy days when we had school - I think even once or twice they didn't run the buses, meaning parents were responsible for getting the kids to school).

We had a fireplace in those days (later on, we even got a fireplace insert, which would have been even more efficient). As I remember, we camped out in sleeping bags around the fireplace. We had a gas furnace and as I remember it had a pilot that stayed lit (it was a large, terrifying box in one corner of the basement), but of course with no power, the blower would not work to move warm air through the house.

We were able to cook; the stove was a gas stove with pilots that could be lit with a match. (A lot of the things that have been adapted in the name of "safety" make it harder to find workarounds - I don't think you could do that on a modern gas stove). As I remember, she made a batch of macaroni and cheese and took it across the street to the family that lived there - four kids, and she knew they had an electric stove, so they needed hot food.

I don't remember being scared, or feeling inconvenienced, or the "howl" that some described.

Here's The Akron Beacon-Journal's remembering of the storm (Back in the day, that was the paper we took: the daily Beacon-Journal, which was the nearest daily paper, and then also the weekly Hudson Hub.)

And more history: here's a radio account of the blizzard:

I guess my parents were pretty good at insulating my brother and me - as I said, I don't remember being scared or feeling in danger; in fact, for me, it seemed rather like "playing Little House on the Prairie." But people died and lots of buildings were damaged...I don't even remember hearing that.

My parents always planned ahead in winter, we had plenty of food and firewood on hand, so we came out of it fine.

Wow, and how different radio broadcasts used to sound! I'm getting old.

WJKW Channel 8: I don't know if I ever saw this broadcast (as I said, the power went out), but the names of the reporters trigger my memories. We watched this channel. I especially remember Dick Goddard and his "Wooly Bear Reporters."

It's just fascinating to me to see the 30-some year old reporting, and how different it was. I remember this style, I remember when things were done this way.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

New Year's Eve

As I've said before, I don't do much for New Year's Eve; I'm not big on the type of party-tradition here in the US.

In Austria, often they have waltz concerts or play waltzes. The national broadcaster apparently plays "The Blue Danube" right at midnight.

Here's the version from the turn of the LAST year:

May 2015 be better than 2014 was.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

From "The Snowman"

This is really sort of an odd holiday special - almost entirely wordless.

And I'm a big sap: I cry at the end of the special. (I'm sure I'm not the only one.)

Saturday, December 27, 2014

a little present

Well, actually, given the amount of money I shelled out for it (at one time*) it's a BIG present to myself, but:

String Theory Colorworks - the maker of the self-striping sock yarns I love so much (I used one of them, the color she calls "Dopamine," for a pair of gift socks for my mom, and I have a number of other colorways, some knit up, some in the queue. My next pair of stripy socks from them will be in her color Strontium-20, which I am thinking of as "Electric Fluttershy," since it's black, yellow, and pink striping, and the pink is kind of hot pink)

Anyway, she's doing a "sock club" or rather, a yarn club - with exclusive colorways and everything. You get to pick your base yarn. (At first I thought of going with the cheapest of the sockyarns - though I really love the Continuum, the one with a little bit of cashmere. Then I decided: the Continuum club was only about $20 more, and really, that's not a lot in the grand scheme of things)

So this is my Christmas present to myself for this year: a membership in the club. Every other month next year I will get a skein of sock yarn in the mail, in a never-before-seen colorway (so there's that little element of surprise there). It will be like a little gift every other month. (There's also a promise of a little "swag" with it - some kind of other gift that's not yarn).

I've said before that I wish there was some kind of subscription service where you could get small monthly (or bi-monthly) "surprise packs" in the mail. Now with the Internet this is beginning to happen - Graze, and that beauty supplies place that does sample boxes (Birch, I think it's called?) and sock clubs....

(*If I bought the yarns individually it would probably be more money, and I really do spend more than the cost of the club on sock yarn in some months. Yeah, yarn is where most of my 'disposable' income goes these days... what can I say, as vices go, it's fairly minor.)

It will be fun to see what colorways come out. If there are any I just can't stand I may offer them as a trade, but generally, I like even weird color combinations...

Thursday, December 25, 2014

A Merry Christmas

To all who celebrate: a Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

100 years ago

This is such a "tale of a vanished world" (I cannot imagine it happening today) and yet it is still one of those things that is pointed to as "keep a little faith in humanity":

The World War I Christmas truce.

It happened 100 years ago this year. British, French, and German soldiers all ceased hostilities for a little while, sang together, exchanged small items, possibly played a game of football (what we call soccer)...

The site I linked lists some of the common things that happened. There were not truces everywhere along the "Western Front" (and in fact, some writers disputed that they happened at all, there not being truces in the area where they were), but there's enough evidence to support that they happened some places:

"But precisely what happened during the truces? With some notable exceptions most letters refer to a number of common events:
  • An agreement on a truce
  • Burying any dead lying in No Man's Land, including prayers such as the 23rd Psalm
  • Chatting and swapping jokes
  • Exchanging souvenirs
  • Swapping of information about the war
  • Singing of songs and hymns
  • A football match?
  • An agreement as to when the truce would end
There's much controversy over whether football matches took place during the truce"

It seems, I don't know, but this little moment of humanity in what was a pretty inhumane war.

I doubt we will ever see its like again; for one thing, I think Christianity (either devout or nominal), which would be necessary for one to want to recognize a Christmas truce is not as widespread any more* and of course, in our current fights, often the people we are fighting are not people who celebrate Christmas. (I wonder: do US forces hold back on fighting on Muslim holy days? I would hope they did, just as a "common decency" thing)

(*Also, I think there is often less respect for religion in general society/non-practitioners of that religion than there once was; I remember a time when churches were left unlocked in case someone needed either sanctuary or a place to pray. Now, an unlocked church usually means that anything that can be sold is stolen.... And of course, we see an increase in ugly vandalism of different types of places of worship.)