Thursday, October 28, 2004


Anne Lamott has a quote that goes something like "books are good like the ocean is good." (I'm paraphrasing. My copy of Bird by Bird seems to be lost in a book drift around here somewhere... ) That's the kind of thinking I like.

When I first moved away to college, I couldn't take all my books with me. Mom mailed a box of books to me that arrived at my dorm room a couple of weeks after I arrived. Lining up Catcher in the Rye and the Once and Future King on the shelf above my bed, I felt I'd finally made the dorm room into someplace liveable. Having my books around, I just felt better.

Seeing someone's book collection, I get the sense I know the person. Once I moved in with a roommate who had Wallace Stegner's All the Little Live Things on her shelf. We became good friends right away. When Randy and I began dating, I noticed right away that Randy not only had a lot of books around his apartment, but he'd built his own bookshelfs, too. This seemed like it might come in handy if our relationship lasted. Randy's well-worn collection of Foundation and Dune books amazed me, because he'd obviously read the books over and over.

I remember once reading a classmate's copy of C.S. Lewis' Till We Have Faces. In this book, Lewis turns a Greek myth into an exploration of human love and selfishness. The classmate followed the protagonist's struggle with her plain appearance throughout the book, making notes in the margins along the way and picking up nuances I'd have missed myself. Reading her margin notes throughout the book, I felt that I was understanding the book better and getting to know my classmate, too.

A recent article I found in Arts and Letters Daily celebrates the good book. The article is entitled "My Own Private Library," which is a great title. The author is an English professor of the best sort, the kind that is in love with reading and collecting books. This gentleman has spent a small fortune gathering his favorites, and his article gives plenty of reasons for the rest of us to follow his "gentle madness."

I like his final conclusions about his choice of profession: "At bottom, I suspect I am a scholar because I am a bibliophile rather than the other way around." That's a great reason to become a college professor, and it is as fair a description of why I enjoy working at a community college as any I can invent myself.
Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Countdown to Christmas

You know, you can get a lot of cool stuff at the hardware store. My favorite hardware store is Menards. First of all, Menards has a completely ridiculous name. Who the heck is Menard? (And whoever he is, I hope he is really handy with powertools, because he may have to use them to defend himself.)

I also like the store because it is a complete mess. I can never find what the heck I'm looking for when I got there, and the 12-year-olds that work in the store can't seem to find anything either. Unlike the lost and empty feeling you get at Lowe's and the other big box hardware stores, at Menard's the isles are littered with displays, boxes of odds and ends, piles of clutter no one has bothered to put away. Half the shelves are loaded to the breakage point, the other half are picked over and hanging empty and forlorn. It reminds me of the crowded, dusty hardware stores of yore, the ones with plywood floors and the smell of sawdust in the air.

The clutter at Menards may seem like a problem, but wandering around Menards, I always running into must-have household items. Stuff like insulating plastic window covers, the "Blackout Buddy" emergency radio, nightlights, 'Goo-Gone' stain remover, and really strong glue. You just can't be a homeowner without this kind of stuff. If I go to Menard's with a list of things to pick up, my shopping basket is always twice as full as it should be when I get to the checkout stand. Clearly, the clutter is an important part of Menard's marketing strategy.

On a weekend trip to the store, as I was browsing a bin of $5.95 fleece blankets, an idea occurred to me. This could make a nice Christmas gift. Then, inspiration struck. I'm going to do all my Christmas shopping at Menard's this year. Why not? The people on my gift list will get practical, low-priced gifts they may actually use after the holiday passes.

I'm a fan of the practical holiday gift. Socks are my favorite present, next to books. My Dad is a pro for giving practical gifts. Most years, he is responsible for keeping up my supply of toothbrushes and mouthwash. He gave me a very handy lint roller that I still use. One year, after I graduated from high school, he presented me a great big bag of little hotel soaps he'd collected while on business trips. I didn't need to buy a bar of soap for years.

The Menards Holiday Challenge is not without it's limits. I'm the aunt that always gives the nieces and nephews books for holidays. Unless Menard's starts stocking Dr. Suess books, I'm going to head to other stores for books for the kids. I just can't let the kids down...

Everyone else on my holiday list, consider yourself warned. You may receive a laser level in your stocking, or a 3 piece pruning set, or a "Draft Dodger" pad to nestle along the bottom of a door to keep out the winter chill. Or maybe a nice pair of gardening gloves. Wouldn't you rather get that then another vanilla-scented candle?
Sunday, October 24, 2004
Crystal Ball Gazing
Madame Fortuna at your service, darling. I see you've returned for your annual palm reading session. Autumn is blowing by, the colors of fall are fading. The weather is changing, the world is changing. Let me look at your palm to see what awaits you in the coming year. Hmmmm, this is very interesting.... It seems as though your view on the world is taking a radical shift?

Well, there's that construction project across the street from our house. You'd think that tiny strip of land would be too dangerously narrow for a house, but that isn't stopping the real estate developer. Apparently, the new house will be built on stilts. I'm a little blue that the new house will block our view of the trees that grow across the way, especially this time of year when the oranges and reds and yellows are in a riot.

A Living Room with a View Posted by Hello

On the other hand... you see those buildings down there? The buildings are a YMCA, and they have lots of plans to expand. They're planning to cover the tennis courts and pool for year-round play with those bland-looking Morton Buildings. Maybe blocking the view of corregated-steel siding ain't such a bad thing.

Fascinating, yes. That may explain this new crease in your palm here. Could it be you are starting a new venture, a new quest for love and good fortune?

I've started my holiday knitting. I'm hoping to knit Randy a sweater before Christmas, which gives me exactly 8 weeks of knitting time to get it finished. I've never knit Randy a sweater, and he's a bit picky about his clothing, so this should be an interesting experiment for the two of us. I'm using Victorian 2-Ply Wool, a sports-weight yarn I found when we visited Halcyon Yarn in Maine during vacation. Since it's lighter weight, the sweater should be wearable indoors, so hopefully Randy will actually put on the sweater from time to time.

Thousands of Possibilities, So Little Knitting Time Posted by Hello

For the design, I'm using Ann Budd's The Knitter's Handy Book of Sweater Patterns, which is great fun to use. The plan is to make a pullover sweater with set-in sleeves and a shawl collar. I'll be making up the shawl collar design as I go along, which means Christmas Eve I will be frantically searching through my sweater pattern collection for some shred of guidance about how to make this work. But you know me, I'll worry about the details when they matter.

That explains it then, this new tension line across your palm. I thought perhaps you were facing a dreadful disease, or bankruptcy, or the loss of your job. Instead, the tension line must be a result of the Victorian 2-Ply Yarn.

You see right through me, Madame. The yarn has a rustic feel, characteristic of many of the Halcyon exclusive yarns. It reminds me of Bartlett's Yarn or Lopi Yarn, only much lighter weight, and it is a wooly yarn that likes to cling to itself. When I tried to hand-wind the first skein of yarn into a center-pull ball, the skein became hopelessly tangled. It's now a great wad of wool stuffed back into the bookshelf. On my second try with a fresh skein of wool, it took me two hours of knitting time to wind it by hand into a useable ball. This may be the excuse I need to by a mechanical ball winder.

Thus the Randy Sweater Begins with a Sleeve Posted by Hello

Darling,that's not really bad news at all. I predict another trip to the yarn store, where you will find that new knitting toy, plus some additional yarn you don't really need. For the coming year, I see much knitting in your future. Yes, I see it, a finished "Blue Shimmer" sweater with successful 2-color knitting and steak. I see you learning how to knit lace, and perhaps knitting that lace shawl you promised your sister Sarah if she would make that trip down the wedding aisle. Ah yes, and those neutral-colored sweaters you've been telling yourself you will knit one of these days to go with your work wardrobe. This is the year, darling. This is the year.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Ms. October

Just watched the Brit comedy Calendar Girls about a group of Women's Institute ladies who pose naked for a charity fundraiser calendar. The ladies model their wares behind muffins or sheet music to keep things tasteful. My favorite is the gal who hides behind her knitting.

I wonder what Randy would think if I met him at the door with nuttin' on but the knitting?

Moving on....

Earlier this year during the month of May, just as it was getting too warm to wear a sweater, I finished a big wooly thing. It's the "Must Have" cardigan from Paton's "Street Smart" flier, and it's knit in Paton's Classic Wool natural grey. Lots of other knitters on the 'Net complained that their version of this sweater came out way too small. To compensate, I added a couple of inches to the length to the hem. So of course, my sweater came out way too big. The sleeves hung gorilla-like down below my knuckles. Very attractive.

Just recently, Claudia shared some advice about adding a crochet reinforcement along the shoulder seam to keep the sweater from stretching out across the top of the back. It occurred to me that the reason the "Must Have" sweater felt so big was because it was "growing" along this seam. I reinforced the seam with a bit of crochet,. Then, Ta-Da, the sweater fit much better. The sleeves are still a bit long, but they are passable. Now that sweater weather is here, and now that the "Must Have" sweater is back to human proportions, it's become my favorite.

Strike a Pose Posted by Hello
Sunday, October 17, 2004

Spinning Along

On the Friday edition of NPR's All Things Considered, an interview with a filmmaker caught my attention. The filmmaker was Alexander Payne, and he was on the air to talk about his latest film, Sideways. The film is about a character named Miles who is a failure in his career and relationships, but is very knowledgeable about wine. For Miles, his passion extends beyond a good bottle during dinner, it's the sort of all-consuming interest that becomes a metaphor for life.

The filmmaker explains that having wine as a hobby gives Miles a way to have some self-esteem despite the mistakes he's made. It's a sort of absorbing interest that gives him new ways to interact with people. Because he's a wine expert, he can be a teacher with others, the one who knows the best wine to go with any dinner, he can expound endlessly about how the grapes are grown, and why difficult-to-grow grapes make the best wines.

While listening to the filmmaker talk, it occurred to me that perhaps my interest in knitting could be similar. It's good to have a niche in life, something that I'm good at and can explain to others. Having a hobby that takes me out of my daily routine is healthy, and exploring the world of knitting to it's fullest is a refreshing.

In the spirit of delving into a personal interest to it's fullest extent possible, I attended the Bishop HIll Fiber Guild's annual Spin In on Saturday. I've been toying with the idea of learning how to spin yarn from scratch, and I've been playing with the idea of buying a spinning wheel. Part of me thinks this is a really crazy idea--why would I want my knitting projects to take even longer to complete? In truth, the reason I'm drawn to spinning is because I enjoy the magazine Spin Off. Reading about knitting is almost as interesting as doing the knitting itself, but knitting magazines have been dragging me down a bit. I keep reading the same articles over and over about how to knit cables and do kitchner stitch. I'm a long way from being a knitting expert, but the reading is getting a little redundant.

Spin Off, on the other hand, is full of articles on a whole realm of knitting I know next-to-nothing about. So this means each issue is fascinating. The magazine usually includes a couple of articles where the artist walks through all the steps of their project, from the conception of the idea, to the making of the final projects, sharing the problems and solution met along the way. This is the kind of article I think the knitting mags could try out. The writing standards of Spin Off are surprisingly rigorous. The articles actually include footnotes!

In the knitting magazines, the project designers are the stars. Stand-out designers are typically talked about in hushed tones, like they're moving stars. In Spin Off, it is the individual artisan that is the center of attention. While a knitter may follow a pattern, there's a lot of ingenuity, creativity, and problem-solving that goes into making the final project. And it's this emphasis on following each step on the path that interests me about the craft.

After attending the Spin In, I have a few new skills to practice. I'm along way from knowing how to make yarn, but I'm willing to take the time to learn.
Thursday, October 14, 2004

Is it Time for My Tantrum?

Last year, while Randy completed all kinds of winter weatherization projects, I spent weekend after weekend curled up on the couch under a cozy afghan, a cup of lavender tea in hand. Why would I let my husband slave away all weekend, fixing the storm windows, sealing the driveway, cleaning out gutters, and adding insulation to the attic, while I finished reading another book? How could I be such a cruel partner, giving Randy project after project while I reclined on my backside?

Because I had the perfect excuse--graduate school. Another Greek drama text, that collection of Willa Cather stories, the stack of William Carlos Wiliams poetry, the writing journal, the chapbook project, and term paper after term paper to write. All fabulous reasons to stay in my pajamas instead of toiling in the garage, trying to figure out how the caulking gun work.

This year, when I finished graduate school, I vowed to help out more around the house. No more would I leave the dishes to Randy because I had a stack of papers to grade. No more would I rationalize letting the aged leftovers "mellow" in the fridge for another week because I had too much homework to do The diploma marked a new era. A return to the basics of home life that I'd neglected for three years. A return to home-cooked meals, to a grime-free kitchen, to regular use of the vacuum, and to an equal hand in the repair work around the house.

Well, so much for good intentions.

This weekend, I nearly threw a gasket when Randy suggested I help him repair cracks in the driveway. What? Spend hours crouched over a patch of cement, trying to force tar-like sealer into milimeter-wide cracks? Don't you understand I have a whole stack of books I need to read! Once Randy reminded me that 1) winter is coming and 2) I no longer receive grades for reading books, I came to my senses. By the end of the weekend, we had a nicely sealed driveway to show off to all our friends and family. And I still managed to do a little reading.

A Girl Named Zippy: Growing Up Small in Mooreland, Indiana is my current book-in-progress. Reading this book, great chortles of laughter come spurting out of me unexpectedly. It can be disturbing to onlookers. During one outburst, Randy asked me what's so funny. I said, whipping tears form my eyes "See, the mother, she's trying to knit. And the little girl Zippy wants to play Interview. And...It's just funny. You have to be a knitter to understand." Take a look to see what I mean.

Me: "Mom. Mom. Mom. Hey. Let's do Interview."
Mom: "Not now, sweetheart. Let me just finish this arm." {Note: She was knitting a sweater.]
   We hear the "Me" character snort unhappily into the microphone, and something that sounds remarkably like cat fur. The recorder is shut off abruptly, and then comes back on.
Me:: "Hey, Mom. Mom. Mamamamamama. Let's do Interview now."
Mom: "We will. I'm almost done with this."
   There is generalized stomping and fury. The recorder is shut off, and then comes back on.
Me: "Jesus loves me, this I know. For the Bible tells me so. Lootle ones to heem belonga. They are weak but he is stronga. Mom. Mom. It is time for Interview?"
Mom: "If you don't stop pestering me I'll never finish this sleeve and then we'll never play Interview."
   A little primal throaty sound. The recorder is shut off. Comes back on.
Mom:  "Good evening, and welcome to Interview. Let's just go straight to our guest and have her tell us her name. Can you tell us your name, miss?"
Me: "No."
Mom: [surprised] "Don't you know your name?"
Mom: "Okay, then, is there something else you'd like to tell our audience?"
Me "Not today."
Mom: "Well, then. I guess we'll just sign off. Would you like to say good-bye?"
Me: "No."
Tape is shut off.

My, I'm not sure which character I relate with more, the kid or the Mom. At times, I am the pouty eight-year-old, dying for some attention. Other times, I'm the cranky knitter, trying to finish one more row. In the words of Knit-Blogger Marilyn, Shut up, I'm counting stitches.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004
Sweater Weather

Lions and tigers and bears... Posted by Hello

Here at Prairie Tide, we've pulled the fuzzy slippers out of the closet, added a thick blanket to the bed, and found those flannel pajamas. Fall is in the air, and all I can say is BRRRR. Thank goodness for a cedar chest full of wool sweaters.

Over the weekend, Randy and I took a hike around the outer edge of Wildlife Prairie Park. This state park features a small zoo of animals native to these parts. There's wolves, lynx, and a couple of man-eating bears. Our hike under the amber leaves was brisk and refreshing--and no sight of hungry bears along the trail.

After a day's hike, I finished up the Lopi Sweater. I considered this this sweater a "practice sweater." I wanted to try my hand a knitting a two-color yoke sweater before tackling "Blue Shimmer", a Bohus-style sweater kit languishing in my yarn stash. As far as the practice sweater goes, my fingers seemed to figure out how to keep the yarn tension the same between the plain stockinette rounds and the two-color rounds. So this makes the whole experience worthwhile, in my mind.

Houston, we have a sweater here. Posted by Hello

Otherwise, I think this sweater is going to find it's way to the bottom of the cedar chest. For one thing, the Nature Spun Worsted yarn is Wooly Mammoth thick. We're talking surface-of-the-sun-warm. On my maiden voyage with the sweater on a walk around the neighborhood, the sweater felt positively nuclear powered. Basically, its a sweater to wear outside while tending a flock of sheep in sub-zero temperatures.

What was I thinking? Posted by Hello

What's more, my improvised color-combination came out a little disappointing--the gold pops out way to bright. When I purchased the yarn, I'd never have guessed that the gold would dominate the other colors so much. Wearing this sweater is like wearing a big neon sign around the neck that says "Look at me! I made this piece of #@$&%!"

Between you and me, I'd prefer my handknits to be a little more subtle.

Friday, October 08, 2004
The Better Way
The annual used book sale is one of my favorite events held at the college. This year, I helped out with the sale for a couple of hours. All the more time to browse the books. Each year before the sale, I go through my shelves to find books I want to donate. This always results with me deciding I can't possibly part with any of my books. And each year, I come home from the sale with a couple of shopping bags full of new books to find a place to stash until the unforeseen day when I may actually read them all.

"A fact-packed treasury of hints and inside information for every homemaker." Posted by Hello

Among my finds this year, two books from the 1950s--one on housekeeping and one on manners. Books written about housekeeping reveal a lot about how the role of women change through the years, and I'm always on the outlook for them. The Better Way promises to be "A unique, money-saving handbook for homemakers." The funny thing about this book is that it does not actually include a lot of information about housekeeping. The entire housekeeping section is only 25 pages, including a chapter called "How Did We Ever Get Along without Saran Wrap?" which includes some interesting uses for this stuff. One tip--cover eyeglasses with Saran Wrap while painting to keep paint flecks of the specs.

The rest of the book is about buying things, which is curious for a book that promises to offer ideas for saving money. There is a chapter on "How to Buy a Cat." Buying plants for the garden and furniture for the living room take up the rest of the book. Actually, this sounds a lot like the women's magazines of today, with the fashion spreads and room makeover. Things haven't changed all that much from the 1950's.

The etiquette book is even more of a treat. The cover, in Martha Stewart style, promises that "good living is pleasant living." Inside, the book is all about dating. While there is a section for men that includes the proper method for lighting a date's cigarette, the rest of the book outlines "the rules" of courtship to women.

There is a whole chapter of "Visiting Those Fascinating Men in Uniform." This is my favorite part of the book. In particular, the book admonishes women to "Be agreeable. A fault not very much fun. No matter how you feel, it pays off to pretend you are cheerful and look the part." Solid relationship advice, if I've ever heard it.

Here's another gem: "Don't pursue other men or even the one you happen to be with at the moment,in and obvious way, but give them the privilege of pursuing you." Which certainly would be a privilege, unless you're a whiner.

The etiquette book is fodder for next year's used book sale. I'm far too suave to need advice about whining. The housekeeping book may come in handy, especially if I need to find a use for Saran Wrap.

With The Better Way as my guide, I've reorganized my home office yet again, which of course requires some serious shopping to find the perfect organizational tools. Reorganizing seems to be a perennial pursuit of mine. What to do with all those stacks of paper, the piles of unread books, the drifts of knitting magazines I can't possibly give away. And what fun it is to buy more things to deal with this problem. This year's solution was a set of metal mesh shelves from KMart, my donation to the Free Martha Fund. Now, all the books are off the floor, and I've rescued my yarn stash from underneath the bed. As you can see, I'm not much of a yarn stasher. There's enough here for two sweaters, so I'm only a couple of months ahead of my knitting ability.

Hmmm, that gives me the urge for a little shopping... Posted by Hello

Sunday, October 03, 2004
When I Grow Up
"Was that you knitting at the Barnes and Nobles last night?" a student asked me. Yes indeed that was me, knitting in public. Come to find out a group of knitters meets twice a month at the local bookstore. I'd heard about the group a month or so ago, and this week I got the work and home schedules smoothed out so I could try out the group-knitting-thing.

As I walked up to the bookstore, my knitting in hand, I briefly wondered if I'd be the youngest knitter at the table. Well yes I was, by a long ways. Knitting hasn't really caught on with the younger set here in Peoria. But the ladies at the bookstore were very welcoming, and I must say they were some darn good knitters. One knitter kept pulling out fabulous shawl after fabulous shawl out of her work basket. Another showed me a poncho she'd knit with a fancy lace design she made up as she went along. These ladies love beautiful yarns and beautiful stitches.

My work-in-progress that night was the Lopi Sweater. I'm finally up to the color yoke section, and my improvised color choices seem to be working out well. The bright gold in the photo looks a little harsher in the photo than in person. Best of all, I think I've figured out how to keep the tension in the two-color section the same as in the body of the sweater. I don't detect any gaps or puckering in the transition between the two areas. Sigh of relief.

Brassy fall colors Posted by Hello

The Barnes and Noble ladies are speed demons with the knitting needles. I'm not sure if I'll be able to keep up with their rate of production, but I may sit in the group from time-to-time to see if I can pick up some of their knitting techniques--and some of their grace, too. The ladies in this group embody the wit and humor of the poem by the Peoria poet Jenny Joseph about wearing purple into the Golden Years. When I grow up, I want to be just like them.


By Jenny Joseph

When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn't go, and doesn't suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we've no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I'm tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick the flowers in other peoples' gardens
And learn to spit.

You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.

But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.

But maybe I ought to practise a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.


Songs from the Land of Lincoln

You know how it is. You're doing a little housecleaning (and believe me it's been a way too long since I've done enough of that), the radio is on, but your not really paying attention. Then slowly the words of the song floated into your consciousness. And suddenly, your mind is blown wide open by what's on the radio. This happened to me just yesterday. And ever since the same tune has been playing over, and over, and over in my head. What radio song changed my world?

It was a punk rock song about Nauvoo, Illinois.

In my housecleaning sweats and houseslippers, I started dancing. The song had a catchy tune, a driving drum beat, a lead singer who sounded like Kermit the Frog, and knowledgeable insight into the history of the Mormons in Nauvoo. What's not to get your feet moving? Here's some lyrics:

We left Illinois for a land called Utah
Under the leadership of Brigham Young
We left behind the City of Joseph and followed the setting sun
But now we have Salt Lake City
So raise your voices higher
Sing this song about the town of Nauvoo
With the Mormon Tabernacle Choir

Come to find out, the band belting out the story was Illinois First! A band dedicated to retelling the Prairie State's history in rock clubs throughout the Chicago area. Imagine a dark smoky nightclub, imagine guitar, base, drums, and accordion players on stage, imagine tribal dancing in the mosh pit--all soaking in the band's motto that "Illinois is Not as Boring as You Think!" What a great line, what a great band.

Illinois First! gets it's name from the public work project enacted by Governor George Ryan. The band has a song dedicated to the former Governor. According to the band, George Ryan is the "Coolest Republic since Honest Abe." Of course, the band also has a song about Abe Lincoln's early days in New Salem, Illinois.

In 1800 and 32, he fought in the Blackhawk War
Then he went to work in a store in New Salem
When he was not busy, he spent hours reading and studying
And talking to people passing through
He was honest, friendly and brave
So they called him Honest Abe
Then he worked as the postmaster and surveyed

In the fine tradition of Schoolhouse Rock educational cartoons and the rock band The Presidents of the United States of America, Illinois First brings the message that history can be fun to punk fans everywhere. Other songs by the band include "Starved Rock," a song about the Native American siege that pervades the Illinois founding myth. Joliet and Marquette both share a song, while Jean DuSable gets his own ballad. Carl Sandburg, the poet from Galesburg, has a song, too. And of course any self-respecting rock band that sings about Illinois history would have to write a song about the town of Rock Island. According to the band, "Rock Island ROCKS!"


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