Monday, September 29, 2008

Diving in

The week before a new quarter starts is always stressful. There's just something about knowing that it's coming that's worse than just getting started.

It's like dipping your toe in the water before jumping in...if the water's cold enough, it's guaranteed to give you second thoughts. But somehow, just diving in isn't as bad.

Classes are now begun, and hopefully this means that a little of the dread of miracle-working will be replaced with the miracle-working itself. It's always better once you're in the water.

And yes, I do know that this is a knitting blog. Fortunately, I finished my grading a few minutes ago, which means that I have an hour before bed in which to knit. And that means that I might just get to graft some sleeves onto the endless sweater tonight...

Sunday, September 28, 2008


Sometimes the best cure for a "what else can they expect of me" week is a day of celebrating plenty, of turning my mind back to the things that I have rather than the things I must get or achieve. I have so much to be thankful for, and very few real worries in life. Stress, yes. Deadlines, yes. High expectations to meet, yes. But I don't fear for my life on a daily basis. I'm not hungry, or homeless, or hopeless. The mere accident of my birthplace has made me one of the luckiest people on the planet. Sometimes a little bit of perspective helps when the stress begins to mount.

My garden is my favorite way to celebrate bounty. A few small seeds, and up sprouts more food than you can eat. There's so much, you have to find someone to share it with. So little effort, such a large reward.

But my garden is not producing much right now. My first planting of fall greens didn't do well. We bought some started plants two weeks ago, and the slugs have eaten almost all of them. What's left is still struggling along, but it will be a while before it needs any real tending.

The excess of summer is still evident at the farmer's market, though. All of the summer fruits and vegetables are still in full swing, despite the fact that it's almost October. Today, we stored up some summer sunshine in jars.

Peaches, plum preserves, and plum jam. Not a bad way to finish the summer's fruit harvest.

While I was in the kitchen, I made potato sourdough bread for the week, and roasted squash, eggplant, and tomato for dinners.

They don't look like much in the picture, but they'll be a nice addition to pasta or salads during the week.

And then there's lentil soup. My first real fall comfort food dish of the year, inspired by the sudden resurgence of my sorrel plant. (Not everything in the garden is slowing down!)

And then lamb with a teriyaki-apricot glaze, using up some of last summer's sunshine in a jar, and a few new potatoes that are arriving in the market now that fall is upon us.

And, finally, a plum and nectarine cobbler to use up the fruit from last week that had begun to ripen just a little too far for eating out of hand.

I like to start a crazy week knowing that I don't have to worry about dinner at the end of the day. It's nice to know that there will be one less thing to do when I'm tired and don't feel like cooking. Four hours in the kitchen finished most of the week's meals, and stored up a taste of summer for a winter day.

Tomorrow is my first day of teaching, and I'll be stepping back into the fray. But tonight, I have my middle-knitting, and a week's worth of healthy dinners to look forward to. And really, that's a lot to be thankful for.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

To dream the impossible dream

To fight the unbeatable [odds]...

The odds do seem unbeatable sometimes, don't they? Somehow, I am one of those people deemed worthy of life's impossible tasks, again and again. I wonder what marks a person out as the one that can do the undo-able? (Besides the fact that I have an annoying tendency to manage to pull them off...)

As my fall quarter is coming into clearer focus, the magnitude of my task and the scarcity of my most basic resource (teaching time) are becoming ever more apparent. Monday is my first day, and already I have gone from having an hour to having about 40 minutes a week in which to change the way a group of freshman conceive of their learning process, and thereby to increase their scores and turn them into fully successful chemistry students.

Forty minutes. To change the study habits and learning methods of 20 students. In a significant way. In ten weeks.

If anyone needs me, I'll be out by Puget Sound practicing my water-walking. I've been told that's a good miracle to have up your sleeve, when all else fails.

Monday, September 22, 2008

In-between times

There's a stage between beginning a project and finishing that stretches out forever. A pragmatist might call it the middle, but we know it's more than that. The rush of starting is over, the end is not yet in sight, and the stitches follow one after another, slipping into progress so small that it's almost invisible. It's a netherworld of sorts, a stretch of space that's bigger than the distance between the two ends it connects. Short in inches, seemingly infinite in duration.

Sometimes, I get impatient with this stage. When I am really excited about the final product, this endless middle ground can last an eternity. But sometimes, an eternity is exactly what I want.

Life has been moving more quickly than I'd like lately. We haven't even been all that busy, but I've noticed myself slipping into overdrive and not coming out, not noticing weekends because I don't have time to slow down after one week ends and before another begins. The quarter hasn't even started yet, and already I feel time slipping away faster than I am prepared to handle.

Fall is upon us, and I'm not sure I even noticed summer. A new year is starting, but didn't the old one just finish? I have so much further to go, and yet this last year will be gone before I know it. Plans for the next step are beginning to form, but it seems almost too early to consider that the crush of graduate school might ever come to an end. Things change so quickly, especially when they don't seem to be changing at all.

Having a project where time seems to stand still hasn't been entirely unwelcome. It makes for bad blogging, but the knitting is rather nice. Quiet, steady, mindless. All the things that writing a dissertation, finding postdoc funding, and starting a new lecturer position are not.

I've always been a big project person. I like my knitting to take a while, to give me time to ponder and plan the next project. Plans have been plentiful lately. Lots of things requiring sketching and swatching are waiting patiently in the wings, keeping me company as I slip past the center point in the sweater.

So, if I'm quiet, it's because I'm listening. And it's because quiet, endless knitting is sometimes just what I need.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Too much time?

While we were in Philly, we went to the Ben Franklin Institute (something like a yarn store for geeks...a must on Branden's list). They had a whole section on gears and mechanical instruments, which was very cool, and seems to have initiated a new spurt of clock-mania around here. Tonight, Branden told me I must visit Clayton Boyer's Clock Designs webpage.

The designs are beautiful. They're worth taking a look at, even if you aren't fascinated by clockworks, and especially if you are. Even better, way down at the bottom of the page, there's a link to the Yarn Lover's Package, where you can buy full instructions to make a swift, ball winder, and tabletop spinning thingy-do. What's not to love?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Caught up in the rush

Oh has been a while, hasn't it? I have thought about posting almost every day for the past week and a half, and it just hasn't happened. The trip to Philly and the wedding were great; it was nice to have some time away from lab, and even better to meet some new people. We're not very good at getting out and socializing, so it was good to have an excuse.

After posting about travel knitting, I went upstairs to explore the stash and decide what to take. I bought several sweaters' worth of Patons Merino on sale a year or so ago, and haven't done anything with it since the two first sweaters pilled with minimal wear. So, I have a ton of Patons that's been weighing on me. Which led me to cast on for an afghan. Not exactly standard travel knitting, but it was only in the baby stages, so it wasn't too big for carry-on. Big yarn and two plane rides means that I'm about 10 inches into it, and the feather and fan stitch I picked is super easy to keep track of.

I decided against taking the leaf socks, because I still haven't picked a leaf stitch pattern for them. Instead, I took along Anne's Tudor Grace, which has been fun to work. The pattern is super easy to memorize, and it's making quite a bit of progress considering how little time I've spent knitting on it.

I know. You want pictures. But the camera isn't out, and I'm feeling lazy. Pictures next time, I promise.

We really liked Philly. We saw all kinds touristy places; we visited Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, the Ben Franklin Museum, the Natural History Museum (they have a great butterfly garden), and took a day trip out to Valley Forge. It was so nice to have a city that was fun to walk in, and that could be covered pretty well by foot. Walking around Boston was one of our favorite pastimes when we lived there, and we really miss having a city compact enough to access entirely by foot.

Despite Branden's best efforts, we only made one yarn shop during the whole trip. He had a whole list of them printed out, but we got distracted with other things, which is just as well, since I don't need any more yarn.

I'm feeling pretty emphatic about that at the moment, actually. I feel like I've barely been knitting, and my projects list is beginning to feel a bit oppressive. The last thing I need at the moment is more on my "to do" list, so I'm glad we didn't increase the stash much.

I did pick up a couple of balls of Jojoland when we visited Nangellini on South Street, though, since I've been meaning to try it for some time and Branden thought he might like a pair of socks. It was a nice little yarn shop, with all kinds of novelty yarns and bright colors. The owner was very friendly, and took us on a guided tour of her favorite yarns.

We tried to stop in at Sophie's Yarn (also on South street), but they weren't open when we got there. The shop kitty looked quite content to be curled up asleep in the window, though.

So that's the short version of our trip. We landed back in Seattle late Sunday, and were back at work Monday. My new faculty orientation for the teaching fellowship began today, and I'm working on getting postdoc funding. I think it must be fall again...I can just feel the academic year winding up...

I'm debating whether or not to go to TKGA this weekend. We have planned to go to three or four fiber-related events near Seattle, and have only gone to Alpacapalooza, which was much more about the alpaca and a lot less about the knitting. Something always seems to come up at the last minute. It's so silly not to go, since it's so close, but I kinda want a weekend at home to finish the laundry from our trip, weed my garden, and come to terms with the fact that it's time to come back to real life. I am torn. It would be nice to go hang out with knitters, but it we have done more socializing in the past three weeks than we usually do in three months, so it's tempting to stay home, too...