Saturday, July 30, 2005


Calling all Austinites! Attention! The Target down south on 290 is a veritable treasure trove. An embarrassment of riches, shall we say. It is at least bigger by 1/3 than the Target off I35, near 54th Street. You know what that means, kids? More clearance items!

I used to have a Babar poster when I was a kid of about 22, that had Babar sitting in a big wing chair, in front of a photographer bent over one of those cameras on a tripod with a curtain over his head. The poster said something like, "Well-satisfied with his purchases, and feeling very elegant indeed, Babar now goes to have his picture taken." I loved that poster, because I knew exactly that feeling of having a shopping trip go excellently well, and feeling like a million bucks (without having spent anywhere near that much).

Target made me feel that way the other day! See all those lovely red clearance tags? Look at all the loot I got (plus a sale book from Bookpeople):

A lantern candle for my porch for 2.50! Some red workout pants that are sooooo soft for 7.99! And not one, but TWO pairs of Isaac Mizrahi sandals! One pair in black, and the other in white:

For 4.98 apiece, why not bring both pairs home? Personally, I normally stay away from white shoes (they make me think of first communion), but sometimes, nothing but a pair of white shoes will do. And for five buckaroos, how can you go wrong?

I have to say, kids, I was dumbstruck over the past couple of days at the inroads that knitting and crocheting has made into fashion. Or is it vice versa? Because, have you seen these?

Crocheted shrugs, made of cotton, for about $15.00 at Target. Does anyone else's heart plunge into despair at seeing this kind of thing? I know, I know, I know! That there's no comparison between these, and a handmade item, that you made with your own hands, in the color that you want, in the yarn that incited spasms of pleasure as it passed through your fingers. These Target shrugs were made of a rough cotton that was about as soft as, say, a doormat bought from Dollar Daze.

And yet. Here they were, done. And it fit perfectly. No frogging to get the fit or the armlength right. No messing with gauge. In about six colors, one for every mood.

In case you were wondering, of course I didn't get one. I have my lovely drop stitch shrug, that I am making slow but sure progress on. Not enough to take a new picture of! But it's a' coming along.

Just a reminder of how lucky I am that I don't have to do this knitting thing for a living. If that were the case, I'd pretty much be dining exclusively on tuna casserole.

You would not believe the pair of knitted boots that I saw today at Nordstrom. Alack! I didn't have my camera with me, so you'll have to take my word for it. They looked like a pair of Ugg boots (a boot for which I cannot think of a better-suited name), except they were knitted! With a rubber sole attached. Seriously. I think I have now seen the apotheosis of this knitted fashion trend.

In other news, I managed to win a new convert to the Church of Yarn! Here is my friend Lena, happily showing off her first few rows! Yay, Lena!

Here's Jill, working on finishing her awesome purse before it goes into the washer to be felted:

In between bites of pear with blue cheese and fig spread, and swigs of red wine, and Sex and the City reruns, yes, we did manage to get a few stitches in.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Boulevard of Broken Dreams

Heather was posting the other day about her secret stash of yarn. Well, I have a secret stash, too, one that I think every knitter can relate to...the UFO corner. I have decided to expose my corner, to uncover those UFOs, to own up to the shame, so that perhaps I can have some peace and/or perspective on these things.

First stop on the Boulevard:

This is really not a stop, but a slow drive-by, because in reality, this is not a real honest to god Unfinished Object. It's finished, but it's funky, and I'm not happy with it.

The pattern is the Mudflap Girl Tank from Stitch and Bitch Nation. It was meant to be a gift for my sister in law's birthday. Which was in February. Anyway. It's made from Classic Elite Cotton, and I don't know about you all, but cotton is just not very amenable to being blocked. See the way the armholes curl out in funny ways? Same for the neckline.

I tried to give it a crochet edging, but crocheting not being my strong suit, it just looked...funky. I then thought, well, maybe if I take the crochet out and redo it, tighter around the armholes where it gapes, maybe it will look better.

This was back in....May, I think. I have two words for you as to why the corrective measures didn't happen. Can you guess? BLACK YARN. I knew that you could!

The prospect of tearing out the black yarn just stopped me in my tracks, every time I picked it up to look at it sadly, before putting it down. I couldn't possibly give it to her looking all holey and funky and home made. Then, I had the know, I don't mind wearing stuff that's funky and holey and homemade. Because I can always admit that I made it, and people will smile indulgently. But if my sister in law wore it and someone asked her if she made it, she would have to say that her sister in law made it for her, for her birthday. And it would be a Herculean effort for people not to choke out, "And this is someone who cares about you? Are you sure she doesn't have some secret beef with you?"

So, yeah. Am wearing it as I type. Sister in law! If you're reading this, I promise to make you something beautiful! Maybe even in time for your next birthday! Love you! No beef!

The next stop:

The heinous pile of granny squares. I fell in love with a little poncho for my niece, that was on the cover of one of the Lily pamphlets. So I decided to learn to crochet, just so I could make this poncho. I made squares. And more squares. And yet more squares. And soon, as the poncho trend hit a fever pitch, I realized that I was never going to make enough squares to finish it in time before the fever faded away. Why? Because I just don't like crocheting. I know that I'd get better if I kept at it, but I just don't like the feeling of pulling and yanking the yarn through the loops.

And then I saw all the loose ends. You see how each granny square has about three different colors. That makes six different loose ends to weave in, friends and neighbors. I decided then and there, that I was going to quit while I was ahead, and sew these squares together for a purse or something.

But I still love you, three year old niece! I will make you something beautiful! Maybe for your next birthday!

Finally, there's this wrap that I was going to make for myself, when I decided I wanted to try cables.

It's from The Encyclopedia of Knitting, and I think it's a Lily Chin design. I thought it would be great to have a fluffly cabled wrap to throw around my shoulders on those five brisk days in January (which is what an Austin winter consists of). I bought two cones of a mohair/acrylic yarn from Ebay, started knitting with two strands held together, and soon realized that my cables and ribs were looking like the equivalent of lawn gnomes, compared to the lovely flowing cables in the book.

Change my gauge? Maybe. I know I will pick this up again at some point, but if it doesn't work out, the yarn could possibly work for this.

Well, thanks for coming with me on my tour! Hopefully, there won't be any new additions on this boulevard for quite a while....

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Diffr'nt Strokes

...For different folks. Now I know what that really means. Or I think I do, after having finished my two week swimming class for beginners. Because I realized that, although I hate the breaststroke with a passion, I do believe I am getting the hang of the freestyle stroke, and am in absolute love with the elemental backstroke. (Of course I would love this one, since it's the easiest, but it just felt so graceful and so natural to skim through the water like a little frog on her back.)

The breaststroke, however? Not natural. How am I expected to lunge out of the water like that, over and over? And then coordinate that with the kick? Our instructor, S., told us to remember: "together, breathe, kick, glide." This magical chant, well, it didn't work so well for me. After failing to bring my whole upper torso high enough to drag a breath into my protesting lungs, I stood up and dug my heels into the cement pool floor. My instructor told me that I was spreading my arms too wide, and showed me the maneuver, together with the kick.

Uh uh. I looked at her accusingly. "You're bringing your legs in at the same time as your arms." That made sense to me, because it would seem that the momentum of the legs helps to push your head out of the water. She gave me a wary look, and told me that she was breaking down the steps so that we could learn them separately and then put them all together. I understood that her approach was to teach us the correct form, but this just wasn't the best route for me. I overanalyze everything. What to eat for lunch. What color t-shirt to buy at Old Navy. So in focusing on all these separate, minute steps, I just couldn't let my instinct take over and put the steps all together. Eh. I turned over and floated on my back. Love that backstroke.

I started out the class by knowing how to swim a little, but not knowing how to blow bubbles. Therefore, I could only swim as far as my breath would hold. And my lungs are small. So I consider it a small success that I can now blow bubbles. I figure everything else will build on the bubbles.

Afterward, my friend F. and I went to Sandy's for chili dogs, fries, and custard. We sat out back and watched the huge stormclouds roll in. They have been making a regular evening appearance for two weeks now, even forcing two swim class cancellations. But this time, they shed a few drops and then moved on, making the sunset rather spectacular.

I headed over to Hollywood Video to rent a video, and ended up choosing Kinsey. On my way out, I asked the video boy if he'd seen the Machinist. I just saw Batman Begins and have to say that I've developed a little crush on Christian Bale. It's possible that the Machinist would cure me of that crush, but I'm still intrigued. But the box described it as "psychological horror," and since my roomie's away, I was too chicken to rent it. I asked the video boy, though, if he'd seen it. He said yes, and said he thought it was good. "Well, I don't want to see it by myself," I remarked, and then inwardly gasped. Was that an accidental flirtation? The video boy looked all of 17, and thank God he didn't offer to come over and slip the video into the slot, so to speak, although I did catch him sneaking a peek at the non-existent cleavage hiding underneath the sheer tunic I was wearing over my bikini.

Anyway, I know that remark doesn't seem extremely provocative, but I felt like that conversation could have gotten very awkward. And to top it off, I was renting....Kinsey. Does anything scream "single, desperate, and ready for action" more than this? Well, maybe porn does, but I didn't see a curtained off section in Hollywood Video. The other video boy saw what I was renting and gave me a thumbs up. "You're renting Kinsey? Awesome." Great! I've got so much game with the video boys.

Today I studiously avoided the papers I have to grade, and maniacally cleaned my house. I mean, psychopathically. The inner Virgo in me came out. I usually keep her stuffed down in there, kind of like Barbara Eden in "I Dream of Jeannie," and sometimes she jumps up and down and begs to be let out so that she can obsess over the dust on the blinds and the pile of atm receipts on my desk, and the way my tshirts are folded (or not folded) in my drawers. I can usually ignore all these things, quite happily, which makes me think that I have some other really messy sign for my moon sign, or something.

But today, Virgo/Jeannie in all her glory fought her way out, and clean I did. Dusted the baseboards. Mopped the kitchen. Re-folded my tshirts. 409'd the area rug in the living room. Why is it, the more you clean, the more dirt you notice? This, of course, would be the perfect reason NOT to clean, except that I live with a roommate and that somehow keeps it in check.

Anyway, I uploaded a couple of pictures of my new knitting projects. Yay! The Viennese shrug was for my sister, and the ribbon xback tank cost me so much pain, that I figured I deserved two new projects for myself.

Here is the Victoria Tank, from the summer 2004 IK:

I'm using lovely Vintage Cotton from Karabella, based on the recommendation of the very nice lady at my lys, who told me she was knitting the same tank.

I am also making the Drop-Stitch Shrug, from the Staff Shrug Project, Summer 2005 IK:

Although the designer used Alchemy Synchronicity for this, and made much of the fact that the drop stich pattern makes the most of the sheen and drape of this lovely merino/silk yarn, blah blah, I know that it probably costs a gajillion dollars per skein, and will thus cost a gabillion dollars to make the shrug. Therefore, I am using Cascade Sierra, in a humble cotton/wool blend. Living in Texas, where rivers of sweat start to pour down your back before you even make it to the bus stop, this is a practical, washable choice for me. Plus, I love the color, and I love that I get so much yardage out of one skein.

Another thing to love: the drop stitch pattern! I haven't ever done this one before, and yes, it feels like absolute anarchy to drop that stitch and see it unravel all the way down to the bottom. I love the way it's pushing the ribs in and out, too. I didn't get a good sense of what that looked like from the picture in the magazine, but now that I can see it taking shape before my very eyes (and fingers), I adore it. I think this will be my immediate gratification project.

Finally: Some friends and I went to see Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It was fantastic and weird, and I highly recommend it. There was something about Willy Wonka, though, that looked just so familar...

I know I'm not the first one to notice this, right? Nuff said.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Hamlet Had It Wrong

The question isn't, to be or not to be? The important question really is: to knit or to blog? Really. Not only is there a learning curve to putting pictures up on this thing, but who knew that three hours would go swirling down the drain the other night as I wrote my last post? Granted, I uploaded a picture, added some links to my sidebar, joined a webring (yay!) and figured out how to get that little "Academics Knit" picture to appear correctly (there were two pictures, one right on top of the other, and it took me a while to figure out how to get rid of the evil twin).

All of which meant that, when I was done, I realized that I was too tired to knit. What?! I realized then that the blogging thing could get completely out of control, with tragic consequences. A sense of restraint, which has never really been an issue for me, was something I had to get for blogging. Put a box of cookies in front of me, and I'll only have two. Open a package of Kit Kats, and I'll have maybe two sticks. (somehow two seems to be the number of moderation for me. so arbitrary! maybe it should be three.) But the blogging? THREE hours is NOT OK.

So, balance is my new mantra. But before I start chanting, I would like to present you the utterly, completely, absolutely finished FO!!!!

Yes, friends and neighbors, it's the Ribbon XBack!

Project specs:

Pattern: Ribbon XBack from the Spring issue of Knitty
Yarn: I lost the labels (I may have misplaced them after the fourth or fifth frogging...), but I am pretty sure that it's On Line Linie 15 Orlando, in light blue (checked the Wiseneedle yarn reviews and then finally tracked it down on Elann.)
Needle size: 10 1/2 circulars from my Boye Interchangeable needle set
Gauge: 12 sts/4"

I think this yarn is discontinued (having dug it out of my lys discount bin); it wasn't easy to find online, but there's still some at Elann, and assorted other sites. It's a nice, lightweight ribbon, but the knit fabric is weighty and stretchy. The designer originally used Katia Ola, and I don't know how it compares to Orlando, but that might be part of the reason I couldn't get this to come out right for soooo loooong. But I doubt it, cuz everyone else on the knitalong was have troubles with this, lordy, lordy.

So I tried my best to get a shot of the back.

Then, I finally got it right.

That's all for tonight, kids. Gotta go get some knitting in. More posting on that new project later.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Almost FO!!!

Please meet the object of my recent obsession:

Or should I say, the object of my OCD. This is the almost finished Ribbon X-back tank, from the Spring issue of Knitty. (For my non-knitting friends, an FO means finished object. A UFO means unfinished object. Don't ever say that knitters don't have a sense of humor.) This is my own personal Waterloo. The bane of my existence.

What I've learned from knitting blogs: just like you should always check your gauge, you should always surf the blogs to see what disaster awaits within the innocently written pattern instructions for your latest project.

Oh no, don't be misled by the simple construction, or the label designating the project as "easy" or "novice" or "beginner." After knitting for two years and working on a variety of sweaters and tops, I think I can safely say that I'm probably in the intermediate range, but I saw this pattern and thought, oh, easy. Nice and summery. And our lovely local LYS was having a sale, so I found some ribbon yarn and hopped to it.

I knitted along merrily (and yes, I did do a gauge swatch, deciding that it was close enough). Soon, I was holding up the tube I knit and I wondered. It was looking kinda big. But, somehow, I thought...well, maybe once I divided for the front and knit the straps, maybe it would look ok. Huh. NO! HUGE! And I knit the small size. So, I ripped out the whole thing (actually I knit from the original garment, so I wouldn't have to rewind the balls of yarn), switched to smaller needles, and used the directions for the XS. Knit the thing again. Finished the front, and the straps. Actually wove in the ends for all of it. Wore it once. But it was...still....too....BIG!!! It bagged in the back. So not cute.

DISCLOSURE: I am a Virgo, so perhaps these fit imperfections wouldn't bother someone else, but for me, they are like a pebble in my shoe. I would be thinking about them all the time, and the poor neglected little tank would sit in my closet forever and ever. At this point, I almost considered giving up. But my momma raised me to not let anything go to waste, although every week I throw away produce that I bought with every intention to start eating healther, but that has gone dark and slimy. But, you know. The yarn is different. I looked at this blue ribbon yarn, and lacking the creativity or vision to think of something else to do with it, I thought, damn it, I spent $27 on you! On sale! You WILL become the ribbon x back!

At some point along this quest for the perfectly fitting xback tank, I decided to check the blogs for knit alongs. Guess what? NOBODY's tank fit well. EVERYBODY's tank was fitting like it was meant for the bride of King Kong. (And I'm not talking 'bout Fay Wray here.) I could have saved myself a passel of grief if I'd thought to do this before, oh, maybe, the fourth frogging. If there's a lesson to be learned here, other than seek therapy for the OCD, it would be to check the BLOGS. Love you, blogs!

Anyway, I finally decided to (gasp!) alter the pattern. (I normally do not mess with patterns. I have been convinced that utter disaster would strike if I made anything other than the slightest change. Tanks would not turn out. Earthquakes would hit. GWB would be elected for a 2nd term....wait, never mind. OK! altering the pattern! nothing left to lose!)

So I did not rip the whole thing out, but just down to the 11" before you divide for the front, and knit it a little longer, decreasing roughly around the left and right sides so that it hugs a little tighter just underneath the arms. But of course, now the number of stitches do not match the pattern, so after messing around with the maths, which I cannot do, and knitting the front and ripping it out several times because the right and the left did not match, I just decided to knit the straps long and stitch them to the back, instead of leaving live stitches at the back to knit the straps to, halfway down the back. This way, I could knit the front the way the pattern dictated.

Well. I think this is it, my friends. I finished the knitting last night, pinned the straps to where they will be sewn, and put the thing aside. It will fit this time, maybe not like it does in my dreams, but well enough. Ya! Basta! There is a lovely lace tank top awaiting my attention (from last year's summer IK), and a shrug from this summer's IK. I'll post pix of the ribbon tank once I weave in the ends. That may be the last this world will ever see of it. (because while trying it on last night, I kinda thought it made me look fat.)

So, I just finished watching reruns on TBS of "Sex and the City," and drank some white wine. The second episode was the one where Miranda met Steve. Yay! He is so adorable! It's so much fun to watch these episodes, knowing what eventually happens. Miranda! You're being such a bitch to him! But you wait! He will win you over and you will bear his son and end up in Brooklyn, living the middle-aged, middle-class life you never imagined for yourself! But you will be in true love. Mmmm.

Swimming lesson was cancelled today, due to the thunder and lightning that has been plaguing us all week. The instructor sat with us for about 20 minutes, describing what she would have taught us. Could anything be more useless? I think she felt bad that we couldn't swim, but for the love of God. I had so many important things waiting for me at home. Like grading. Or...Sex and the City and white wine. Decisions, decisions.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Bandwagon jumping

Well, after starting this blog in NOVEMBER, I have decided to jump on the blogging bandwagon for real this time. As parents around the world love to hear, everyone's doing it, so why not me? The thing that really inspired me was finishing a sweater I made for my sister, and having an online knitting friend post it on her blog for me, and getting lots of nice complimentary comments from completely random strangers. Ooh! Nothing like having your ego stroked!

The reason I never thought I would actually start blogging is because I have never been able to keep a journal successfully, and I guess I saw the blogging thing as writing in your diary. I remember the little hardcover ones with the fake leather and the gold stamping on the front, and with the lock that never worked and the sweet little key. Yes, I remember those, and I remember never writing in them past the second or third page. "September 10, 1979. Went to school today. Got there late. Tater tots for lunch! OK, gotta go play dodgeball before it gets dark!" Third graders do not have the most riveting lives.

Nor are they the most self-reflexive. That's the other thing that kept me away from journaling, even past the third grade. I cannot stand being alone with my thoughts. Not that I don't have a rich interior life and spend lots of time lounging around like The Thinker, but if faced with a blank piece of paper and asked to record my thoughts and actions for all eternity, well, I just get bored. I don't feel like my daily life needs to be recorded for my great great great great grandchildren's children. If the world even lasts that long, they may simply be puzzled at my constant references to "America's Next Top Model" and "Who Wants to Date my Mom?"

But blogging seems to me to be more of a form of Christmas letter. You know the may have received a few. Or even have written a few. Instead of writing personal notes in all your Christmas/holiday cards to all your loved ones, trying to make up for forgetting to call them all year, you simply draft on your computer a one to two page letter updating them on everyone from the kids to the cats. You refer to yourself in the third person too ("Olga took swimming lessons this summer. Whew! She had a close call with the kickboard, but managed to drag herself to safety in the nick of time.")

I also learned that I can blather on for pages if I'm simply writing a letter. I started a pen pal-esque correspondence with someone I'd started dating in April because he's spending the summer in Yellowstone (yes, very sexy, I know. For those of you familiar with my status as the poster child for long-distance relationships, I ask: WHY? Why do these, um, situations follow me around like fleas to a dog in the middle of August?) I surprised myself with the reams of ink-stained stationery I could produce. Apparently, although I am incapable of having an extended phone conversation or starting conversations at cocktail parties, I can string quite a few sentences together when writing for an unsuspecting victim.

So this is my Christmas letter to y'all, except it will come (hopefully) much more often than just once a year. I plan to show off my knitting, and have deliciously satisfying rants on everything from ethnic identity (I already had one on someone else's blog, just scroll to see my comments under "Desvelada") to graduate school to having to tear out the knitting on my latest top for the SIXTH time. More on that later.

I am also posting today to share my absolutely fantabulous weekend at a conference (yes, being the geek I am, a CONFERENCE is my idea of fun). This was no ordinary conference, people. It was the tenth annual Latina Letters conference in San Antonio. None other than La Sandra Cisneros was the keynote speaker, and among the glittering personalities there were Ana Menendez, Lorna Dee Cervantes, Alicia Gaspar de Alba, Pat Mora, and Norma Cantu, just to name a few. These names, with a couple of exceptions, may not be well known beyond the Latino literature classroom, but believe me, I was in heaven all weekend!

I had the good fortune to be invited to a dinner on Friday night where all of these authors were seated around a table at Mi Tierra in downtown San Antonio. I just kinda sat there at the end of the table in disbelief. Eventually I got to chat with one of Sandra's best friends. She just kinda came in with La Divine Miss S midway through the dinner, pulled up a chair next to the empty space near me, smiled, and started chatting with me. It also helped that she knew the person on the other side of me...she was probably the real reason she sat down at that end of the table!

Anyway, she asked me where I was from, and I said Chicago, and she was like, have you told Sandra? (because Sandra is from Chicago, too. ahem. in case you're not a star-struck groupie, like me, and knows what kind of cheerios she likes for breakfast, like me.) I stared at her, thinking, are you kidding? Sandra doesn't know me from a frijol in her pantry. But I just shook my head and casually said, no, I haven't had the chance to chat with her yet. Ha! Please! I've met this fantastic author at a few booksignings and let me tell you, if she remembered me after having met all the Chicanas who have come up to her crying and telling her how much they love her books and how much she's changed their lives, then I would just fall over dead.

So she tells me, oh, I've known Sandra for twenty years, and we were just talking about how she doesn't go dancing anymore. And I was like, girl, I remember when you used to dance on tables! And lift your skirt over your head!

I looked at her, in awe. "Are you one of....Las Girlfriends???," I whispered reverently. She smiled and nodded modestly. "Yes, I was kicked out of a bar once."

Holy crap. I almost choked on a tortilla chip. I have to say, that was probably the highlight of the weekend.

Oh, yeah, I also presented a paper on Saturday, about Latino stereotypes and publishing. Most of my rant on Alisa's blog comes from the mental place I was in while preparing that talk. (Which doesn't mean that I don't think Alisa is a hypocritical rat-bastard 24-7. But the rest of my razor-sharp media analysis was a by-product of the state of frenzy I was in while preparing that paper.)

Well, here are some lovely pictures from an incredibly lovely weekend. Hope you enjoy them!

Crystal, La Sandra, me, and Erin, huddling for a group shot!

(Five head-scratching, swear-word mumbling minutes later: I cannot figure out how to post more than one picture, apparently. Seems there is a learning curve to this blogging thing. Oh, well. Must run to my swimming lesson (true story, but sans the kickboard accident, that was embellishment). Maybe I'll figure out the picture thang later.