Friday, January 30, 2009

after the storm

If you've heard about Kentucky in the news lately? It's all true...we've had a bad ice storm. I've been lucky; we've had electricity, phone and internet, unlike most of the state. We (the dogs and I) spent a quiet week working hard inside, warm and comfortable, aside from the crashing sound of breaking tree limbs. (which is very scary to highstrung dogs!)

Unfortunately, the professor had to work, so we walked him to the university. We're lucky to live only a half mile away, so that's why this was possible. It's really an ice rink on some of the sidewalks, though! One student at the university was injured because a tree limb fell on her as she walked underneath it. It was very unsafe for a day or two. Now it's just cold (it hasn't gotten above freezing) and slick, still a dangerous combination, especially if you don't have electricity...and, if you live in a rural area, you then don't have water (electric pumps for the wells) or possibly heat either.
Yesterday I de-iced my car (it took 30 minutes, the driver's side door was ice-glued shut, so I climbed through the passenger door to begin the process!) in preparation for catching a flight to visit my family. I'm off to Virginia for the weekend, assuming all goes well.

On the knitting front, I've been working with some laceweight yarns, doing a little swatchy swatchy knitting...pictured here. So, here's a fanciful question for all you laceweight fans with electricity and internet access:

If you could choose any kind of fiber for your laceweight creations, what do you prefer? Why? Is there something you absolutely avoid? (cotton? Multi-color?) Are there things with too much drape? Too much elasticity? Curious knitting writers wonder about these things!
Tell me what you think in the comments, please-- Your insight is useful.

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

warm and dry

View from my kitchen window after a power line came down:
(4 fire trucks, 2 fire department vehicles...just wish my 3 year old nephew was here to appreciate it!)
Good thing I'm not driving anywhere today--that was my driveway: The line is fixed very quickly...and the electricity and phones all work. The internet works--sporadically.

Settling in to enjoy a beautiful (and pretty dangerous) ice storm over here.

It's supposed to last through tomorrow mid-day. Stay safe and warm! I'm set--I've got food. I've got work. And, if the modern utilities fail? I've got a fireplace. I've got loads of books. I've got...knitting!

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Monday, January 26, 2009

when you don't get the memo...

Sorry for the silence over here! I've had a busy few days, including partipating in a fiction workshop. A few months ago, there was a call for had to be "good enough" to get into this workshop. I sent in my story, joking about my chances.

To my surprise, I got in. I read the other pieces, which were all reasonably good, but mine seemed, well, different. I have this book deadline coming up soon, and a relative was visiting, but hey, I thought, maybe I can do this workshop.
Maybe I can do this fiction thing.

The first day I climbed up the hill to the university and saw the classroom had no left-handed desks at all. I'm left-handed. (an omen?) I made do with a spare wooden chair and wrote on my lap. The instructor, a talented novelist, then talked. And talked. His eastern Kentucky accent? Delightful to hear. His information--somewhat interesting...for perhaps the first hour. Over two hours later, we had our first break. My bottom was so sore it was hard to concentrate after that! After the first day (9-3), I wasn't sure I wanted to go back.

Day 2 seemed slightly better, although the instructor allowed for little time to make connections with other writers, and again talked at us for a long while. (No partner exercises, few writing prompts, and just a few conversations.) Finally, we got to the time when we "workshopped." People talked about each others' stories. I'd never had a group evaluate my fiction before, and gosh, maybe this wasn't the group for me. Even though more than half of the participants liked my story, the negative comments were all over the map...and they seemed upset when I wanted to respond and discuss my choices. Very few offered me specific revision concepts that I understood well enough to act on. In fact, I wasn't sure I wanted to.

Many of these students called themselves "workshop junkies." They'd "workshopped" the same stories over and over. They loved these "events" where people talked writing and ideas...but mostly focused on Southern writing, as far as I can tell. Although I write all the time, sell my work, and often look for feedback...well, I think I'm not in this workshop crowd. Even the readings assigned upset me. The most difficult part is that I seemed to have missed the memo:

This was an Appalachian fiction workshop. Even though they accepted me to the program, my work and life experience didn't fit in. Instead, I heard phrases like this:

I’ve been quit smokin’ three years now.

I was Holiness until I was 17. *

*Holiness is a Christian denomination. (they assumed you knew exactly what that meant.)

In the conversations, in the shared experience, I was lost. Although the instructor said we wrote for ourselves, not our audience? In every prompt and exercise, I gauged the crowd and wrote for them. I had to fit into their genre; they didn't have to reach to mine.

On Saturday evening, something serious came up, I felt I needed to pay attention to our visiting relative-- and I decided not to go back for Sunday's class, bowing out early with a (darned) good excuse.

The important thing learned from this is that sometimes bailing out is the right thing to do. I was so unhappy and agitated. I didn't feel welcome, like an alien with three an ice cream parlor....and felt shamed by it. I imagined having to back my three heads right out of the storefront, saying "oops! Sorry! Wrong Planet!" The best part about being an adult and choosing one's educational journey is being able to admit, "Hey, this path just isn't for me. I'm backing the car up now. Let's go on home." Never before did my isolated home office, my computer, my books, and all my email correspondents seem like such a good place to be a writer.

Whew. Glad to be home.

Ever feel this way? Aren't you glad that there's more than one way to succeed as a professional?

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

the day after

There are no photos for this post. Remarkably, it turns out that when I drive to Indianapolis for a photoshoot (4 hours of driving each way in about 28 hours), I don't have time to take a single photo! My conclusions:

1) It was awesome to listen to the inauguration events on the radio during the drive. Better than being out in the cold in DC, and for me, better than watching TV. I like imagining it all, although I did look to see the inaugural outfits online later. (fashion junkie, can't help myself!) Also, I tend to cry over these huge events, so it was good I was driving. I kept myself pulled sniffling and tearing up! It's unsafe! I am so excited by all the potential for change with our historic, intelligent, new president!

2) I got to see two sunrises--one in Kentucky on my way to Indiana, and I saw the tail end of a sunrise while leaving Indiana. The big expanse of the midwestern sky in winter is a beautiful thing.

3) It turns out that the only differences between doing a photoshoot with the professor and with the lovely professionals at my publisher's are small ones...
a) the professionals all have a good style sense, so I am not stuck styling each shot on my own
b) the publisher employs a lot of gorgeous and smart people to use as models
c) it's a social event, with food, hot drinks, and even jokes
d) there wasn't one argument, which I thought came along with the photoshoots?! (only with one's life partner, apparently...)
e)The best part was how reassuring it all was. Complete strangers complimented me on these projects I've been designing in isolation for months. That was a surprise. I didn't expect that, but it was worth the drive to hear. Folks in Indianapolis are just nice. Thanks for saying nice things about the knitting!

While in the car, I realized I hadn't answered several questions that commenters have asked on the blog.

Mary G, my professor bought me the silk birthday yarn as a gift, but after doing a bit of research, I understand that it comes from "rustyseller1" on ebay. His ebay shop is Silk Yarn Collection.

In the darning post I did, I had a lot of comments. Who knew folks felt so strongly about darning? I don't own a darning "egg" or "mushroom". I've never needed one, although I think they're very cool! If you use a darning egg, do you darn with one hand? Please explain?

Deb mentioned that she wears out the heels of her socks. The best solution for this is to rip out the old heel (carefully) and reknit the heel. This is called a peasant or after-thought heel. I learned about this from Anna Zilboorg's fabulous paperback book,Simply Socks, which I think is a reprint of the hard cover Fancy Feet. Since both of these books are out of print, I'd recommend checking out online sources for "peasant heel" or "afterthought heel." It's a bit tricky the first time, but after you've mastered it, you can make yourself brand new heels in no time!

On my drive, I saw a lot of trucks. Our country is so dependent on fossil fuels to supply us with everything in our stores...from caskets (I saw a coffin truck!) to milk. It seems to me that one (very small) step towards sustainability, responsibility, and even, well, sacrifice...might be darning socks instead of buying new? What else is a step in the right direction, in your opinion?

Psst: Jodi, if you're reading this, leave a comment! It turns out I have a lot of secret readers out there. Say hey, ok?

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

fixing a hole/we are one

Well, I apparently hit a hot topic with darning. In discussion with a writer friend, I realized the best illustration for darning I could find is in Therese de Dilmont's book, Encyclopedia of Needlework. I own a reprint of this oldie but goodie, but if you follow the link, you'll go directly to the section on mending knitting. It's no longer covered by copyright, so it's freely available on the web. Scroll down to the don't even need the text to see how to darn. The drawings are that good.
I spent most of the day working hard on a sample for book #2--knitting. On Tuesday, I will be driving up to Indianapolis for a photo shoot for this book; I'd like to finish this first. I was inspired by We are One, the inaugural concert...which I listened to on National Public Radio. I hear that if you have HBO, they will replay it again tonight on that TV channel. If you've got nothing else on, check out the concert! (I used my imagination, since I grew up in Northern Virginia, near DC. I know what the Lincoln Memorial looks like, and that helped while listening to the radio!)
I love the message of Martin Luther King Day, which we celebrate on Monday. When I was growing up in Virginia, we celebrated Lee-Jackson-King Day--a terrible contradiction that has since been fixed...but my family always emphasized why the combination seemed impossible. I loved teaching King's words when I taught high school in DC...they always captivated even the most uninterested teenager. In honor of King's words, in which we will one day all join hands, I found a few contemporary essays that display our diversity and complexity:
and our empathy and tolerance:
and finally, that we must act on that tolerance to make the world a better place:

So, if you have a chance to reflect, enjoy these fine examples of how we can all work together, in our complexity, empathy, tolerance, and actions. I am so excited by the next few days and the hope it ushers in for the United States. I listen to the radio...I'll be knitting over here.

Please leave me a comment if you've got thoughts on these essays or on anything in this post; I'd love to hear what you think!

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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

fixing a hole

A while ago, I proposed a class called: "Holey Sock, Batman!" The premise? Students get a chance to learn to darn their handknit socks. I didn't get accepted as an instructor for that event, which worked out ok in the end. However, I think darning is a lost art. It needs to be re-taught...and not just because "Darn IT!" can then be a real curse again! Darning enables us to keep our clothes instead of throwing them away. This is important. It wastes a lot of energy to make clothes and throwing away clothing is wasteful and fills up landfills. (If you donate your clothes to charity without darning them, you're just expecting folks without money to darn when you don't know how! Is that fair?) Lots can be done with clothes to old to wear, but before they become old in my book, they get darned once or twice.

I've been pondering this. A friend invited us to dinner and gifted me with a 100% alpaca sweater. It's black, with 3/4 quarter sleeves, and a bright floral pattern. I didn't think it was my style, but surprisingly, it looked SO good on me that I had to rethink and graciously accept the offer. It's a great addition to my sweater collection, since alpaca is very warm. (more on this in a bit.)

My friend took out another beloved alpaca sweater to show me, and horror of horrors, there were HOLES in it. Moth panic erupted for all of about 30 seconds. Then my husband the professor (the one who studies butterflies and MOTHS, remember?) stepped in and examined it. These weren't moth holes, these holes happened because of actual wear. Yes, weak threads/yarns can break down over time, especially in an intarsia knit. Moths will leave evidence, such as casings and other insect detritus, of which there was none. It's so nice to be married to a PhD who's an expert in the topic!

I volunteered to mend the holes, and my friend was relieved, because while she can darn, she worried she'd do a messy job. I took photos of it, the darning came out just fine, I had hand-dyed sock yarn that matched perfectly...but gosh, the photos are terrible. (use your imagination!)

Then, we heard that the temperature in Winnipeg this week reached -40. Yup, that's the same temperature in both Fahrenheit and Celsius. DARN COLD! Since we hope to be living in Winnipeg next year in this time, I'm rethinking my winter clothing. In very cold weather, it's not embarrassing to double and triple up on hats/mittens...even coats. A regular hat with one layer isn't warm enough even when it's 5F/-15C. (We've dealt with those temperatures with frequency when we lived in upstate NY.) So, I dragged out this thin knit cap that I've had for years...and holey HAT, Batman! Perhaps 10-15 years old...I based it on a Rowan pattern, it's Rowan yarns, and I made it before I was married. Maybe even when I was in college in upstate NY in the first place? I found a hole in the cap along the was knit flat and then sewn up.
Another darning chore. Darn it! Yet, it's nice to maintain this link to my long ago knitting past...and don't really mind darning, especially if I'll get more use out of this hat. So, I've been wondering...

Do you darn your clothes/knitted items? Do you wish you knew how to darn and mend things? Are you completely opposed to darning? Inquiring minds want to know!

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Friday, January 09, 2009

resting on your sheep?

Many thanks to those who wished me a happy birthday! I managed to get back to some of you...but not everybody. I'm sorry about that. It's been sort of a busy week over here in writer land. If I haven't gotten back to you or don't have a good way to contact you, please know I am so grateful for your b-day wishes!

The good news is that I've got plenty of work lined up. The bad news is that, well, I've got a lot of work lined up. :)

Here's a story to tide you over 'til I come back to post again. This past week I met a woman in Nashville who was "between opportunities." Let's call her Gert. Gert asked what I did. I said I was a writer and that I had a book coming out soon. I burst with pride. I couldn't wait to talk about it. She jumped in to ask about how one becomes a writer. I tried to be encouraging, explaining the (long) process. Gert asked for details right down to how to write a cover letter. Again, I briefly explained. I said that one of my favorite parts of being a writer was that writers have to read a lot. I love to read! I read a lot! Reading makes you a good writer! There was a pause in conversation.

"So...." Gert says, looking a bit concerned..or maybe put out. "How many books would I have to read?"

"Oh, one or two a week!" I replied. I was still grinning with enjoyment there. It became clear about then that Gert thought she might could dive in and try this writer thing while looking for "real" work. After that, we heard that Gert wanted to get rid of her dog, she hated that dog but no one would take him. Uh Oh. The professor and I left the gathering sort of fast, and Gert....after that first dog statement, things got weird.

Later that day, we laughed about the situation, (we had to laugh) which seemed increasingly awkward. (the dog part was plain appalling) I hadn't mentioned to Gert that I meant one or two books a week know...the last thirty years. So, underestimating, we're talking 1,600 books or so?

Pride goeth before a fall--maybe I was resting on my laurels or something like that. Should have realized that Gert didn't think there was anything to this "writer act" before I embarrassed myself further... That she felt she could fit in all those books tomorrow and write her own book next week.

Good thing I can laugh. Otherwise, I'd be crying! It's taken me years to write a book. It's taken me years before I can say, "yes, I'm pretty busy working!"
Turns out Gert just thought I had loads of time to spare, since, you know, I was a big FAKE writer who doesn't do much! You know,--just like Sally here, resting on her sheep pillow-ahem-squeaky toy. Oh well. That poor dog. I almost wanted to drive 70 miles back towards Nashville just to rescue Gert's dog...nobody should dislike their own dog...

Weird, huh? So, what's the right response to these bizarre encounters?! Advice? Weird tales of your own to share?

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Tuesday, January 06, 2009


Yesterday was my birthday. I celebrated by having a good but "normal" workday day. Well, in the knitting department, I was abnormal. Yesterday I finished knitting 3/4 length sleeves on a size 6(4mm) needle for a sweater sample. I knit both sleeves in 6 days...New Year's Eve- January 5th. I knit the second sleeve in less than 48 hours. There were a few moments where I thought my hands might break off; they are still a bit sore. That's a serious amount of knitting. I am now on to assembling the sweater and knitting the collar, so this is great progress towards hitting my deadlines! (enough progress to warrant a post-birthday blog post.)

I had a lot of lovely birthday notes, emails, cards and phone calls--thank you, friends! The professor bought me 1000 grams (1 lb)/2,000 yards of worsted weight mulberry silk yarn from India. What's a birthday without a fibery gift?! This is a marvelous one and I can't wait to dye this and knit something fabulous out of it.

Every year my professor makes me a card.
This year was no exception!

I got sent some other fun gifts...which I will try to snap photos of if I have a bit of time. Turns out my dear professor was afraid the yarn wouldn't arrive from India in time, so he ordered some flowers. Possibly the nicest roses I've seen in a long time...
We also had a great dinner, if I do say so myself. Ginger soy smoked salmon, a pasta dish with sauteed garlic, onion, artichoke, roasted red peppers, sundried tomatoes, capers, with a white wine, olive oil and butter sauce. Then, I had a large piece of the all important chocolate cake. (Psst: I made dinner and the cake.)

All in all, a pretty good day. The best part is how much healthier I feel when compared to last year. I'm a year older, but possibly a year livelier than last birthday. The line I remember from that big NYC visit to the relatives was "Have you always gotten tired so quickly?" and my response, "Remember? I have a kidney infection!" Oh, I feel so much better that I can already tell 2009's going to be fabulous!
(... and the chocolate cake was very good.)

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Friday, January 02, 2009

Wishing you a wonderful 2009!

Things over here on the blog might be a wee bit quiet over the next few weeks. I've got this thing (called a book deadline) and well, it turns out that I'm letting myself get distracted too often! From now until the projects are done, I need to knit. All the time. I'll have to write a little too, but that's it...or at least, that's what I'm telling myself. Just a lot of knitting and some writing until mid February--no play. (hah! See how long that lasts...)
On the 30th, a former student of the professor's (and a blog reader, I might add) came over for a lunchtime visit. We ate homemade grapeleaves, a bean dish with garlic, oregano, artichokes, tomatoes and roasted red pepper, cheese and crackers, tangerines and pistachios. (the professor made the grapeleaves, he wants that duly noted!) She's also a knitter and a spinner, so we had a couple of hours of stash diving and other fun. A blast, complete with hand carding lessons!
We then had a delicious vegetarian Gulyas (goulash) at a friend's house for New Year's Eve. We were at home and in bed by midnight, listening to fireworks, guns being fired, and other craziness when the new year came in. Somehow, I never mind hiding from the noise and broken glass!

The professor decided to catch a few photos of a normal work day around here. The first two are dark, but now you see how the blog (and yes, many articles) are written. Sally is on patrol, watching for bad guys from the office window. Harry monitors my progress. The laptop is in use...and I even wrote something that day!

We also took a break to attempt the famous "author photo" shoot on New Year's Eve. It didn't last long. Our models were restless. Here are a couple of the funniest shots. First, there's Sally. Her eyes practically glow from the flash (whoops) and if you see my hand? I'm clutching at her. Some of us are nervous around the paparazzi. Heck, Sally's nervous all the time, who am I kidding?
Harry, on the other hand, is a pro. Note that boy, licking his chops! After the shoot, he'll go out for kibble treats and the photographer/the professor always pays!
We (me, the professor, and of course, Harry and Sally) wish you a happy, healthy, prosperous, peaceful and safe 2009! May your meals be good, your knitting and spinning beautiful, and your friends be plentiful. Also, we hope you'll have a lot of quality time-possibly on the couch-with your animals. (even if they're not dogs....!)

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