Saturday, December 30, 2006

small (and LARGE) pleasures

On my computer's monitor, there's a fortune, the kind from a Chinese fortune cookie. It says, You are very grateful for the small pleasures of life.

In order to stay content during trying moments, I reread the fortune. I aim to be grateful and excited about what the future will be in 2007. (Actually, Jews are lucky this way, I also got to be hopeful about the Jewish New Year 5767 back in the fall, at Rosh Hashanah.)

I find this reminder helps me to disregard some of the unfortunate frustrations of life and to refocus, especially when I receive hate mail! One of the big treats of the last few days has been the KOSHER bone. Out of the blue, we received a package from just 4 pooches. Someone, it's a mystery who, sent Harry and Sally this treat, this fuzzy dog toy complete with a squeaker, this KOSHER bone. We have a hard time keeping toys intact here. Two young dogs make quick work of all toys but hard plastic bones. Anyway, this bone has been a huge hit. It has a place of honor right next to the pink fuzzy ball given to us by Uncle Ben. The dogs take turns carrying this bone all over the house, and they share it grudgingly. When isn't in use, it is stored safely, by the dogs, on my side of the bed, with the pink ball and the odd nylabone. (This is obviously the best place to be, according to the dogs.) If you sent us this fuzzy KOSHER bone, please 'fess up. We need to send you one big slobbery thank you note.

Other small joys have included some of my recent handspun explorations. Here's a summary from top to bottom:
1) Joanne dyed fibers: navy cotswold, with bruise colored pink alpaca and some cotton candy hot pink wool as accents. This is a two ply yarn.
2) Camel and Silk and Reddish Brown Suri Alpaca. This is spun into a textured twisty 2's seriously soft stuff.
3) Chasing Rainbows Merino/Mohair, in the Mendocino Hedges colorway, plied with a deep brown gorgeous soft mixed Finn (and something else) fleece. I won the Chasing Rainbows fiber at the Tennessee State Fair spinning competition, and got the fleece there as well.

To answer any queries, no, no idea what I'll do with any of it. I haven't even set the skeins in water yet. If you are seized by desire and must have any of these yarns,please let me know! Otherwise, they'll go in the pile to be sold by the gallery in Berea that sells my handspun or on my website, which needs to be updated anyhow...

I had a great visit with the Green Hill Methodist Church for a couple of Wednesday nights. I got to talk about Judaism in the USA, and they got to ask questions. What a welcoming crowd--really fun! It was a super teaching moment, a chance to trot out all that graduate learning in Religious Studies without causing conflict. Such a nice place and kind people. I'm just sorry they weren't my "flavor!" I'm not about to convert, but I thoroughly enjoyed sharing their hospitality for an evening or two.

The last small pleasure I'll mention is this one:
Recognize these yarns? This is the cotswold and silk I spun dyed a few months ago. The yellow, dyed with marigolds, perks up the crimson and cranberry red. This here's a sleeve. It'll be a long time 'til I finish this sweater...I'm making it up as I go along.

The biggest surprise and LARGE pleasure is a letter I got in the mail a couple of days ago. I've been chosen to receive an Artist's Fellowship from the Kentucky Arts Council , based on my non-fiction fibery writing. I'm still in shock. I'm one of 13 writers, choreographers, and composers chosen for this honor in 2007. Mostly, I'm glad I was sitting down when I opened the letter!

All of this is something to celebrate. Let's toast to a happy, healthy and productive 2007 for everyone! Let's hope for peace in 2007! Let's hope I can keep fighting off my husband's plague of a cold! L'Chaim!

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Lights! Color! Action!

We've got sunshine here today (finally!) after days of rain, gloom and damp. What's a person got to do to get some snow or a hard freeze around here? I know, I know, the only solutions are: a) Stop global warming or b) Move North. I'm naively hopeful about either or both options.

I'm creating my own bright winter glare with colorful knitting and dyeing this December.
I promised photos of my other TNNA swatches, knitted up and sent off in the mail a couple of weeks ago, and here they are. First, we have the cranberry colored Sandesgarn Alpakka. (If you clickety click on the photo, you'll get to see it up close.) This is a DK weight 100% alpaca yarn, very soft stuff. I used a double mock ribbing pattern which lent it some body. This was nice luxury stuff but as with all alpaca, it is limp limp limp. Better add some elastic ribbing or a cable if using this. I could imagine it in a cabled or textured twin set. Very classic knitting...

Next is my baby mitten, knit out of Dalesgarn Baby Ull. I already knew this was great stuff--I've used it before. 100% wool, machinewashable and very plush. Great for babies and also, I think, it would be good for socks, if you were doing stranded knitting. Yes, it doesn't have the nylon/silk/mohair (whatever) blend for harder wear, but it's a tough wearing yarn. I think it would stand up to socks. The gauge for this yarn is 8 sts to an inch on 2.5 mm needles. It's not speedy knitting, but it's lovely.

The last swatch I did this year was Mountain Colors Twizzle. The color is Sunburst, and the DK weight, Merino silk blend is lovely. I used a slip stitch pattern to break up the color striping, and it is nice stuff. I lucked out with these samples! I loved knitting with each of these this year. I hope I'll get a chance to play with these yarns again. I have a partial ball of each left for more design swatching.

Finally, here's a photo of my latest silk dyeing experiment. This here is bombyx silk, about 3 oz. I used that highly professional and time honored stainer, kool-aid. The colors featured here are blue berry(?), grape, and black cherry. I used a generic brand, about 6 packs, so this experience cost me perhaps 60 cents, plus vinegar, the silk, and the energy spent in the dyeing process. In order to get the color to truly saturate, I soaked the fiber in warm soapy water for 30 minutes before dyeing. I also donned gloves and fanned out the fiber to make sure it was color saturated, using the extremely scientific "dye dumping" method. (dilute the kool-aid with water in a jam jar to the right color.) Dump on fiber. Repeat dump until you're sure the fiber is full of color. I then baked the whole thing in a pyrex dish in the oven at 350 for another half hour. As you can see, it worked this time! I'm looking forward to spinning this soon, just as soon as I finish enjoying the spin time for some Chasing Rainbows merino/mohair in Mendocino Hedges and get that off the bobbin.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

and the winners are...

Ladies and Gentlemen, the raffle took place this morning, at 10:35 AM Central Time... we sang out the drum roll, rattled around the entries in a cardboard box, and...

Here are the winners!
Barbara Collins!

I'm going to try to email you or contact you via blog to let you know you won.
EDIT: If you haven't heard from me, it's because I can't find your email address on your blogs, etc. Please contact me, Chris and Dandy, (email contact is in the "about me" part of the blog.) and give me your snail mail addresses so I can mail you the prize yarn!

Now, in the interest of fairness, let me offer you the small print.
There were 12 entries in the raffle by the time I randomly decided to end it. Why today? I'm going to the post office today, and might go again tomorrow, but I'd like to send these things to you soon so there is a chance you'll get them before New Year's. I tried to get Harry to choose the raffle winners, but he was chewing on a nylabone and wouldn't be disturbed. Sally wouldn't even join us in the raffle headquarters (also known as my office) as she was sleeping downstairs. Instead, I asked the other human here, the professor husband, to do the honors. He is coughing, hacking, snorting, and generally suffering from a cold, so after he chose the winners, I threw out all the entries to avoid catching this plague.

If you were out of town, enjoying family time, or otherwise engaged in religious festivities over the last few days and didn't remember to enter the contest, I can guarantee you were probably more happy/busy/occupied than I was! I read every blog comment twice and listened to a whole audiobook. I spun about 6 oz of yarn and knit a lot. We watched tons of DVD's from the library, and we ate Chinese take out on Dec. 25th. I even worked, but I tried to hide it so no one was think I was being rude and bothering them on their holiday. Anyway, I am looking forward to going out into the world to send y'all yarn presents. Thanks very much for entering my little raffle, thank you for leaving me blog comments, and giving me something fun to do! I'll post photos and other fibery things soon!

Friday, December 22, 2006

Live! Evening Bag Alert

Here it is, the Glittery Evening Bag! My first Lion Brand pattern came out today, with a story, in their e-newsletter. You can read about it or see the pattern here. In celebration of this big event, I happen to have three gifts to give away! Yup-- I have enough yarn left for three evening bags, and I'd be delighted to mail it off to you. Leave me a comment and say you'd like the yarn to make an evening bag. I will check back in a few days. If there are just three comments, well, you'll all get yarn. (you can, of course, leave a comment without entering the yarn raffle, just don't mention the yarn part!) If you're one of winners, I'll email you to find out your snail mail address, etc. If there are far more than three people who want goodies, I'll have an informal drawing here, chez Seiff. It'll be just like the state lottery, except with dogs.

One other bit of news to share. My web designer snuck up in the middle of the night and posted my new, revised Cuddle Coat pattern for sale on my website! Here are the photos of Happy Joanne, wearing her Cuddle Coat. Both the old version on the left, and the updated one on the right will be getting a lot of use over the next week, as I spend time cuddled up at home. In fact, it's likely that I'll be sitting on the couch, wearing my Cuddle Coat and knitting this New Year's Eve, but that's ok. I can always remember that I used to go out...!

Monday, December 18, 2006

My People!

<TNNA sample, child's hat, my design, knitted from Sheep Shop Yarn Company's Sheep #1. This is some luscious yarn!

We have a friend who is three years old. I thought of her as I knit that hat. Whenever she sees us on the street, or at a party, she cries out "My People!" Sometimes she'll even run over to say hello. She started out by asking her parents, work colleagues of the biology professor husband, if we were indeed "her people." When they assured her that yes, we were, she started something special.

Apparently we're the only people she calls "her people" on a regular basis. Every connection with a kid is special to folks like us, who don't have kids. We love being her people.

I mention this because this time of year is an intensely social time. I'm plum tuckered out from the sheer number of social interactions we've got scheduled...because my work life too is quite busy now. However, I'm also grateful that people care for one another and want to be involved with one another, building community.

I didn't end up hosting the Menorah lighting on the town square this year. I'm not sure it will happen at all. For me in particular, it was because a good friend of ours, a leader in the Unitarian community, died this year. He supported me wholeheartedly when I took on this responsibility and spent 9 months asking city officials to allow me to do this. (Go back in the Archives to last December if you don't remember this saga.) When I reached out and asked for support elsewhere, it didn't happen. I decided to be a different kind of activist in this December, 2006.

Starting with the first night of Hanukah, we had guests. We're having guests again tonight. We're reaching out to anyone who's curious about Judaism; we want them to feel welcome here. We were also invited to visit a Methodist church locally to light Hanukah candles and to talk about Judaism. Education is key when it comes to preventing prejudice and hate, so that's what we're doing this year. Educating.

Hanukah isn't very important in the Jewish calendar, but it's a time when families exchange little treats and gifts. My family always has one night where we donate tzedakah (charity) in honor of each other, and we send gifts, too. This year, I wanted to show how much I care for my family. I wanted them to be warm. I knitted 4 scarves, 3 hats, and a pair of mittens for my Virginia and DC family. If, for some reason, they can't find things that suit, I've invited them to give these things to charity too. So many people are cold, hungry, or in danger this year...this reaching out to others in need is all part of remembering that everyone should be part of "my people" when it comes to covering the basics. All religions should be able to join together on that.

Recognize the boas from magknits? If you look at the top left of the photo, you can see Sally's feet. She helped model some of the loot I knitted. Most of it is alpaca and wool, with a little cashmere thrown in.

You may know that I worked toward a very short knitting deadline last week. Thanks so much for cheering me did make it to the editors in time. Your moral support helped. Keep in an eye out for the December 22nd issue of the Lion Brand e-newsletter...I hope you'll see my knitting debut there!

I admit it's tempting to just sack out on the couch as it begins to get dark at 3: 45 in the afternoon. However, I've articles to write, latkes to fry, and brisket to cook before the guests arrive. Have a warm and happy Hanukah, and a good holiday season, no matter what you celebrate. Make time for a little calm and a nap on the couch. Here are Harry and Sally as role models.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Crack house in da 'hood, part 2.

The suspense! OK, here's the rest of the crack house story... I couldn't make you wait for the ending any longer.

When the crack head neighbors returned from jail, at first it seemed quiet. I was lulled into thinking things were better. My waiter neighbor said no, they were still dealing, but were quieter. He'd been sitting out on his porch and using binoculars to check out the action.

I found out some of the elderly neighbors, distracted by the pleas of strangers for rides and money, had actually decided to help them. Some of those elders realized they'd been duped, but said that they felt they had to help out of Christian charity. (Druggies will take advantage of anybody.) This made me feel so bad!

Finally, I started calling the cops a second time, and they actually did stake outs from near our house, watching the crack house action. I saw college boys, looking sheepish, knock on the door at 9 am. Honey, don't you know that crack house junkies sleep late? I saw an old woman with a golf club (no kidding!) banging on the walls of the house. I'm going to hope she was collecting pot for a friend with cancer, ok?

On the Friday before the 4th of July weekend, "Project Firecracker" happened. When I walked up the hill with Harry, I saw state troopers, local city police, county police, a K-9 unit, FBI and ATF officers. They arrested 9 people in that sting. Seven of them were arrested across the street from me. After the second arrest, they were evicted, according to city laws, from the apartment. I thanked the police personally while they shoved the last crack head into the car.

Another neighbor bought the crack house to clean up the neighborhood, and has been trying to renovate or sell it again ever since. For a while that summer, people kept coming by, trying to buy drugs. They'd bang on the windows and sit on the stoop, waiting for the dealers to come home. Luckily, the dealers never came back to that house, but it was a while before all the customers stopped soliciting near by and moved on. Sometimes I hear the construction noises while I'm working or when I walk by. I thank the construction workers. I've never been so grateful before to hear renovations taking place.

For those who haven't been around this sort of thing, crack, meth and heroin are scary drugs. These are the drugs that cause people to commit heinous crimes and do very frightening things. Once I knew what was going on across the street, I couldn't ignore it just because it quieted down a little. The bone rattling music and constant traffic were the least of the problems. Attempted break-ins, confrontations, solicitations for money, drugs and sex on my block, and taking advantage of and harrassing the elderly neighbors were just the tip of the iceberg.

As a result of the crack house, I was motivated to get a "scary" black guard dog, much like my first dog, Lucy. Sally really is a great addition to our family. Now, we can sleep again and the neighborhood is peaceful. Sometimes, I worry people will complain when my dogs bark at passersby. Sally is a great barker and looks fierce. However, I remember the crack house experience, and I let the dogs bark. Sally's vigilance makes me feel safe. Mostly, we lived happily ever after, after the police cleaned up our corner crack house. The End.

crack house in da 'hood

This is my house, with the picket fence and my happy yellow car.

Finally, I get around to telling the crack house story. I know, I can hear you over there...clamoring for da REAL DEAL.

Once upon a time, about two years ago, there were some nice people, the professor, and me, who lived in town and believed in urban renewal. (all good stories start this way, right?) These nice people had a young setter mix puppy named Harry, who was younger than a year old at a time. As a result, we were outside all the time with little man Harry, who had to tinkle a lot.

At first, we thought, hmm, new people moved into one of the apartments across the street. They weren't friendly, but they were loud. In the past, I'd gone over and nicely asked folks to turn down their car stereos or to stop honking in the middle of the night but this time, I didn't. I follow the "Mom, he's touching me!!" school of neighborliness. I try not to bother others, but I'll ask them to stop doing something if it is infringing on my sanity. That's assuming I'm not afraid of the other person. If I'm afraid, I stay on my side of the street.

Over time, I noticed it wasn't just loud people out at night. Every 20 minutes, from noon to about 2 am, somebody drove up, usually in an SUV, on the lawn of the house. The subwoofers in their cars rattled my house windows. I began to watch more closely. I saw baggies being exchanged. I saw cash. I saw some seriously strung out folk.

Around the same time, as winter turned into spring, I began to get approached by strangers on the street near my house. Could I give someone money for a ride? Drive them someplace? Since I grew up near a big city, I knew how to politely turn down these people and get away, but it was getting worse. I saw what only could be described as "ladies of the night" coming in and out of the house across the street.

First, I mentioned this on the phone, long distance, to my mom and my best friend. They both thought I seemed a little odd and agitated, and suggested maybe I needed some drugs too, you know, the kind for anti-anxiety? I told them they'd feel weird too if they had their work and their sleep interrupted by teeth rattling music every 20 minutes all day and half the night. I started calling the cops.

At first, the cops thought I was messing with them. What they didn't know is that I started out my career teaching in inner city DC, and I'd just finished a gig teaching in downtown Buffalo. I'd escorted stoned or strung out people out of my classroom, using my body to shield the students. I taught in schools with shootings, fires in the hall way, broken metal detectors and confiscated weapons. "Honey," I felt like saying the dispatcher, "I done seen high people before. I know what crack heads look like."

Then, my neighbor, a waiter, slept late one morning and someone tried to break into his house... while he was there. Now I started calling the cops and reciting the license plate numbers of the cars I saw. "Ma'am," they finally said, "We know about it. We'll do something."

On Memorial Day weekend, 2004, the police did the first drug bust. They found crack, heroin, meth (drug of choice around here) along with pot and prostitution. It was one stop shopping across the street. Since the bad guys were jailed for 2 nights, I got a decent amount of rest and realized I no longer felt agitated all the time. Amazing what lack of sleep and adrenalin will do. After two days, they were back. Out on bail. More, in the next installment of...crack house in da 'hood.

On the left, a photo of the former crack house, now undergoing renovation. On the right, the house of an older widow neighbor. Her husband was a preacher.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

party recovery

Well, I know I left you hanging there in that last post. Would the dishwasher get fixed? Could she make it all work for the big biology bash??

The simple answer, my friends, is YES. (say this while your fisted hand is pumped quickly down from above your head.) Dishwasher dude came, he was charming, and one $50 seal later, plus $130 in time and labor (20 minutes of labor, including going out to the truck) dishwasher no longer leaked. Fine. I was willing to pay the price.

So, in the middle of my work week, I stopped working around 1 pm on Thursday to prepare for the big event. I made an apple/pear crumble and a fudge brownie pie. I cut up toppings: artichokes, mushrooms, olives, pineapples, feta, mozzerella, peppers, sauteed onions, ...and more. I made enough dough for 5 large cookie sheet pizzas. That's approximately 3.5 lbs of flour. I made sauce. I made salads. I set things up. The guests came a little after 6. I drank a glass of wine while organizing the pizza dough, negotiating toppings, and being official pizza baker. It was all a huge success. At 11 pm, the last guest left. Whew! We'd fed pizza to 12, and everyone seemed happy. (aside from Sally, who was a little overwhelmed by the crowd and a visiting 4 year old who baited her, and she kept doing alarm barks.)

On Friday morning, I was really beat. I worked at the computer, I talked on the phone, and I did this: The hat. It is made out of handspun, mostly. Cranberry Cotswold, White Border Cheviot, and the leftover reject mitten yarn (Icelandic gray, gray alpaca, and dyed silk.) I paired the gray mitten yarn with a commercially spun alpaca for extra warmth. Then, I spun up a lofty alpaca single and crocheted a little extra warmth on the inside. (a certain Dad needs this extra warmth where some of his hair used to be...) The knitted thrum plan didn't work out (blotches of white alpaca everywhere) but the crocheted spiral was a nice addition.

Now, it's finished!

In a continuing effort to show where I live...The photo above, of the neighborhood during snow showers, offers a different view from our house. The big white house there across the street is divided into apartments, it's mainly section 8 housing (government subsidized housing for poor or sick people, for those of you who aren't US citizens) and is across the street from the former crack house. There's a bit of the crack house on the right of the photo. Someday I'll show you our house built around 1930, which is really quite lovely. It's just that living close to the university and the downtown here is seen as not very nice when you could live in the newly built suburbs, so, most of the professors, etc. don't live here.... I will continue the neighborhood and crack house saga in another post! I did really enjoy the brief snow dusting though. Gotta build up the anticipation. Next post, I'll describe more about "the people in my neighborhood, in my neighborhood, in my neighborhood... YEAH! Who are the people in my neighborhood, the people that you meet, when you're walking down the street, the people that I meet each day!" Wow, that was a little Mr. Rogers for you. I must still be pretty tired.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

the view from home

I've been a little down about the big debut of my Heart's Ease sock pattern. Maybe it's just that I put so much thought into it--while I was meeting other deadlines. For months, I kept thinking, as soon as I have a moment, I'll post that baby. Other people will see how intoxicating that two color, three stitch repeats are, they'll get lost in the nooks and crannies of this thing. I've sold one pattern so far. Only one. So, as Marti says, the end of my woolweek felt great. The beginning of the next week? Not so much. Maybe people do like simple patterns better?

Meanwhile, I finished knitting a new sample of my Cuddle Coat in only two and a half weeks, and I'll post that soon. I'm also spinning and knitting up winter time "keep warm" items for my family. This is the cranberry colored Cotswold and naturally bright white border Cheviot I posted about back in October. I'm going to make a hat out of this, and line it with some alpaca thrums for extra warmth.

I'm hosting my husband's big lab dinner, when all his research students come over for a meal, on Thursday. In honor of this momentous occasion, our dishwasher started leaking water yesterday. I'm slowly cleaning up the house, planning out meals that suit the dietary needs of multiple students, and oh...waiting for the repair guy to come help fix the dishwasher. 10 people eating dinner and dessert without a dishwasher? Ugh. (don't even say paper plates around here. That's not sustainable! These are biologists. We don't do that!) Luckily, if it isn't fixed, the professor/husband will do the dishes. All of them.

The weather's turned here, and we are finally having some of the brisk cold weather that I really enjoy in the fall and winter. We live at nearly the top of Reservoir hill here in town. This is a view from my upstairs bedroom window. We have a big sky here in Kentucky, much bigger than it ever looked to me in Virginia or North Carolina. The sunsets are spectacular (this isn't a great one, but it shows the big sky) and during tornado season, the sky turns this scary grayish green before a storm, and it smells almost like sulphur. You can smell the sky here.

The advantage of living with a Biologist? He's taught me to remember to see these things. I'm heartened by the big sky, even on a day without a killer sunset. Last night when I got up to go to the bathroom, I even stopped to admire the moon.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Heart's Ease is ready!

Finally, at long last, my Heart's Ease sock pattern is available for sale HERE!

This is a great way to end the workweek, because well, this pattern was fascinating to knit, and hard for me to write. However, with two color charts and careful editing (thanks, Donna) I think it is ready for the world to try out.

PS: Sarah, I'll trust you on the Pilates. I tried it a while back. It hurt like heck, even after doing it for a month, and no one in the class ever talked to me! My back is much better, thanks to the glasses, remembering not to lean in to stare at the monitor, and one tylenol. I did a sun salutation or two as well, in deference to my sadly lacking yoga.