Sunday, November 2, 2014

Just a Little Patience

I finished this Triangle Tulip Shawl from Brooke Nico's book Lovely Knitted Lace yesterday.  It is made with Malabrigo Worsted.  It is intended to be a Christmas present for my aunt, but now I am in a dilemma as my impatience makes me want to give it to her now.  

“Know your own happiness. You want nothing but patience- or give it a more fascinating name, call it hope.” 
-Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility

I could never do that.  I don't have the patience."  Every time I hear those words in reference to my knitting, I experience mixed emotions--both an urge to laugh and a sense of frustration that people have such a misconstrued understanding of me and of the nature of my hobby.  I am an impatient person. A person who, when aiming to make a right turn and faced with a long line of cars at a stoplight, will cut through an adjacent parking lot. A person who, when young, quit entry level jobs in publishing (highly coveted by recent college grads), as I was unable to bear the notion of waiting for my turn to rise through the ranks and gain a position where I would make a decent living and have some autonomy.  A person who, in her early-twenties-eagerness to  get life started on a large scale--big house, fine meals--hitched my wagon to a dark horse with an eerie physical resemblance to John Gotti, one whose depths of dysfunctional arrogance and unbridled ambition were worthy of any reality show star.  A person who later still wanted a big house and found herself in a crumbling two-story residence replete with a rotting balcony, squirrels in the walls, and several unusable fireplaces, a domicile that was virtually too dilapidated to inhabit and so financially draining that my husband and I have still not recovered from this early marriage mistake.  

Alas, sometimes in spite of our best efforts to hurry up and reach tomorrow's goals, life forces us to be patient.   And in these very moments of resigned waiting (when I am experiencing sometimes unbearable impatience), knitting fills the void.  I knit in the waiting room of the doctor's office, at my sons' football games, in the wee hours of the morning when I am sometimes itching to get up and begin my to-do list but know that turning on lights and clomping around would be unwelcome by the rest of the household, or at least by my husband (as teenagers sleep so soundly I could run the vacuum with music turned up loud enough to hear over the machine's roar and my sons would probably continue their snoozing).  And while knitting has its rhythmic, relaxing properties, ultimately there is always an element of impatience coupled with any project. The desire to finish spurs me on and either results in a finished item in a few weeks time or works in progress--especially those made with airy light yarn--that rest in bags stuffed into my closet or hanging from hooks in a my knitting nook.  

With the Christmas season suddenly encroaching on my basking in the cooler temperatures and bright colors of fall, I am determined to slow down and not set any goals that will result in my knitting like wildfire in every spare moment.  I need to engage in the moments of knitting--the process over the product.  I also need to bring this same skill to my new job, working each day to grasp the school culture, the expectations, the students' levels of ability, and not focus so much on reaching my goal of being accepted and valued.  Those things take time.  

I also need to focus on waiting patiently for the summer, for a planned trip to England.  In the interim that means fewer meals out and a moratorium on yarn shopping and weekend getaways.  Fortuitously, though, in the heat of summer, some former coworkers and I had planned a weekend trip to the mountains before a generous invitation from my friend in England (blogger Mrs. Thomasina Tittlemouse).  So last weekend, six women and I headed to Black Mountain, North Carolina, for some much-needed rest and for a visit to the Southeaster Fiber Arts Festival (SAFF) in nearby Asheville. 

These felted bobbles were on sale at SAFF.

Tonya, my former roommate at Vogue Knitting Live in New York back in 2013, enjoys her new-found knitting skills picked up our Manhattan trip, and Dawn is a crocheter who is also a talented graphic and visual artist.  The other women who traveled with us weren't fiber artists but enjoyed attending SAFF and seeing the displays and vendors.  And, of course, petting the animals was a highlight of our day. 

I exercised self-restraint on this trip and spent less that eleven dollars on some sock yarn. Of course, I couldn't resist purchasing a handcrafted yarn swirlette, a revolving holder for a ball of yarn. While this contraption might seem gimmicky, I have loved using this.  The yarn ball stays neat and tidy and doesn't end up tangled with pens, paper scraps, loose yarn, etc. in the bottom of a bag.  

My yarn swirlette with one of the two skeins of sock yarn I bought.  

On the Friday evening before our planned day at SAFF, the seven of us attended a haunted tour at In the Oaks, a 1920s mansion built in the style of a Tudor English country manor by Franklin Silas Terry, an industrial magnate.  The house is now the property of Montreat College. Volunteers, some of them descendants of the the original owners,  dressed in period garb reminiscent of Downton Abbey and played the roles of In the Oaks residents.  

Left to Right:  Lisa, Dawn, Darla, and Tonya in the gymnasium of the mansion.

Left to right:  Vicki and Genny.  

The guide tells us about the "Dutch Room" in the Prohibition-era mansion.  This room has
a double-layered door for muffling noise and access to a hidden wine cellar.

On Sunday, our group said and good-byes and went in various directions.  Dawn and I drove to the farmers' market in Asheville to purchase apples and some other seasonal fare and then drove back to Black Mountain for lunch in a German restaurant on the way home.  

I am certain that sharing a house together required a bit of patience on the part of my fellow travelers.  I know that in my exuberance to maximize the opportunity for a weekend away, I'd planned an exhausting schedule of activities and realized (after the fact) that a trip to a vegetarian restaurant with tofu in nearly every recipe wasn't particularly welcomed by the group.  (As Asheville is an artsy city populated by numerous Birkenstock-sporting vegans with unruly hair, I couldn't fight the schoolteacher in me and had to plan a foray to The Laughing Seed to expose my friends to a little local cuisine.)  While I enjoyed my sweet-potato-filled quesadilla, some of the women were a little hesitant to order--although that fact may have been due to the hot dogs I had espied some of them eating at SAFF!

Ultimately, though, whether the weekend required patience, indefatigable energy, or a sense of humor, the time away was enjoyed by all.  So much so, that the seven of us who shared a house are eager to do so again.  But I'm not getting online to look for dates right now.  I am looking forward to my big trip this coming summer, though that time seems so far off.  In the meantime, I'll be patient.  I have plenty of knitting projects to fill the hours.    

Friday, October 10, 2014

Sleeping Beauty

“His mind now misgave him; he began to doubt whether both he and the world around him were not bewitched. Surely this was his native village which he had left but the day before.”
"Rip Van Winkle," 1994 edition, 17

In recent days, Rip Van Winkle seems a kindred spirit.  Like this long-slumbering fellow, I have woken up to find that time has eluded me.  I’ve been jolted from summer-in-the South’s numbing reverie, and suddenly there are cracks in seemingly endless searing days.  Mornings are cooler; some positively brisk.  And when I do find a moment to hang my laundry outside, the shirts and socks have come to life, snapping back and forth in the wind, rather than lolling about listlessly in the summer heat and humidity.  Their merry dance reflects my mood, as I am happy for the end of what is always a long, hot season in North Carolina.  I’m especially pleased that the last few difficult months spent utterly absorbed in navigating the ins and outs of my new job are behind me.  During that time, I did a bit of knitting and had moments of creative design inspiration, but had to do the very grown-up thing and put executing those ideas on hold.  I can’t, however, let fall slip me by without taking a moment to pause from my daily grind to pay homage to its simple pleasures.

While the leaves haven’t turned here yet, mums and pumpkins and Indian corn grace roadside stands, and I am fortunate that there is such a farm market around the corner from my house.  In the past, I stopped here maybe once or twice a year, always too intent on my next goal—pick up children, drive to sports practice, race home to cook dinner and throw in laundry to take the time to drive in, park, and spend a few moments perusing seasonal fare.  But, in the last couple of years—whether a result of more time on my hands as my children get older or a greater appreciation for life’s simple pleasures as I advance in years—I have made frequent stops to buy homemade jams, vine-ripened tomatoes, sweet Silver Queen Corn, and even some okra, an item I can’t recall cooking (but since my southern husband was raised eating this, I assume he cooked it up for the family, and I probably ate some).

Fall is also the time when thoughts turn to knitting cozy winter garments.  The yarn shops gear up, replenishing their stocks of cotton and silk yarn with infusions of woolly fibers.  And, here in the Charlotte area, shop owners join forces for our area Yarn Crawl.  While I didn’t make it to the thirteen or so shops which took part in this event, I did have a great excuse to visit a few, emerging from the experience with a book of mitten-and-glove designs by designer Amy Gunderson (who lives in the Charlotte area and works for nearby Universal Yarns) as well as The Unofficial Downton Abbey Knits and some yarn to craft a roaring twenties inspired Modular Lace Blouse in this magazine.   I hope the final result isn’t too youthful for me, as the text accompanying the pattern describes this garment as suitable for "devil-may-care" flapper Rose, a character who epitomizes the free-spirited mood of the Roaring Twenties.

Waxhaw, NC knitters outdid themselves by yarn bombing numerous lamp posts in honor of
the yarn crawl.  I hear that, for next year, this creative bunch have set their sights on
transforming a trestle bridge  that spans railroad tracks.  

This is the start of the Lady-Rose-inspired Modular Lace Blouse.  
I’ve also been planning a fall weekend getaway to the mountains.  Two former co-workers and I dreamed up this trip over coffee on a hot Saturday morning in August.  We now have seven people going, all former co-workers of mine, some retired now.  We will be staying in a house in Black Mountain (no picturesque mountain cabin, but, rather, a vinyl-sided rental replete with 1980’s décor with a school-teacher-friendly rental price).  We can still soak up some atmosphere, though, as on Friday night, will be taking part in a haunted tour of the historic Terry Estate, also known as  In-the-Oaks.   And their is a good view from the back porch of our weekend lodgings.  

This shawl is a gift for one of the women going on the the knitting retreat.  The yarn I used
belonged to her mother.  

Of course, I wouldn’t be traveling to the highlands without having some ulterior motive related to knitting in mind.  On Saturday, I, along with others on the trip, will be making a trek to SAFF in nearby Asheville.  This huge event always provides an indulgent fiber fix, and I always make a point to take some time to pet and cuddle at least some of the woolly animals on display there.  I have to show some self-restraint and not arrive home with a fluffy angora bunny  . . . or maybe a llama!

A beautiful fall Sunday merited a walk outside at my mother-in-law's house in the country.  Her pomegranate trees were weighed down with fruit.  

This mocking bird was frantically jumping up and down in front of a window at  my
mother-in-law's.  He must sense a change in the air and has an inkling of winter's impending descent.  

In the South, camellias bloom throughout the fall and winter.  

      The changing season also turns my thoughts to Christmas.  How will I ever finish the numerous projects on my needles and knit up gifts for friends and family?  I will probably have to put the Downton tunic, along with other projects, on hold, and get knitting.  I have, however, almost finished seaming a cute sheep pullover for a Christmas gift for a baby in the family.  And I plan to skip Vogue Knitting Live this year and devote that weekend to my own personal knitting staycation/retreat.  I’m forgoing VKL as I’ve been provided with a wonderful opportunity for my husband and I to travel to England this coming summer, so I need to refrain from shopping and traveling for a bit to save up for lots of yarn shopping (and good eating) abroad.  While my journey to the UK seems far off now, it will invariably creep up on me, much like fall has, and then usher in a frenzy of activity in preparation. 

I'm almost done with this sheep sweater.  I want one for myself!

I'm making progress on my cropped cardigan.  The pink yarn will be used for a hat.  

I certainly didn't need to cast on another project, but this Malabrigo called to me
this morning--perfect for the tulip lace shawl in Brooke Nico's book.  

Sunday, September 28, 2014


A new job at a school with a large faculty provides numerous gift knitting opportunities.  (I just finished sewing the buttons on this Feather and Fan sweater today, one that is identical to one I made within the past year.)  
“Since a new job is almost always accompanied by new surroundings, new co-workers, new responsibilities and many uncertainties, starting a new job is a significant source of stress.” 

                               -Melissa Stöppler, MD, About Stress Management Guide     

       Shoulders back.  Hair styled.  Blouse pressed. Nails manicured.  Like most people, whenever I go on a job interview, I present my best self—polished, suited up, self-assured. I also intentionally and methodically muster up a plan for suppressing any signs of insecurity, so that I appear self-confident.  And I always know whether my tactics have been successful before  I have even left the meeting—whether the encounter was a terrifying exercise in pregnant pauses and awkward responses or a test I mastered, where I vanquished my fears and passed my worry-wart self off as a competent professional.  Of course, in the larger scheme of things, the interview is only a minute portion of the challenges faced when one accepts a new job. 

In teaching, at least, it’s the first year at a new school that’s the most frightening.

I’ve been a bit absent from my blog lately, as I’ve been attempting to navigate the waters of a large and prestigious public high school.  On some days, in my new post,  I feel like the seasoned pro who has spent more than twenty-two years in the classroom and on others I see myself as a naïve first-year teacher, so intent on completing every task perfectly--organizing files, completing requisite forms, handling lessons with flair and aplomb--trying so hard that that I sink slowly gasping for air, ending up bungling even simple administrative tasks. 

At night, I wake up in the wee hours of the morning and my thoughts are always on school.  I think about particular students—the boy who mutters under his breath about the injustice of school cell phone confiscation, or the  poised, articulate daughters of the public school’s aristocracy who bring to mind Emma Wodehouse (from Jane Austen's Emma), reminding me in moments of uncertainty that I am merely Harriet Smith, blessed by their presence, a satellite in their bright and shiny spheres.  A particularly imposing and self-assured teacher also lurks in my nightmares, correcting me for grammatical errors in my emails and chiding me for computer log-in incompetence.  And the parents!    Teacher and administrators both have taken me aside for tête-à-têtes to warn me of menacing helicopter moms and dads, whirling overhead, ready to descend to question a point value on my course prospectus.  

This is a cropped sweater I am making for myself using Knitcol yarn.  The easy ribbing and stockinette stitches make for a stress-relieving knitting project.   

“I’m not an attorney,” I tell my students as I smile broadly with an air of false bravado, and then add, “my online grade book is not the daily stock market report,” updated by the minute so that it can checked twice daily and fretted about.  I live in fear of some mom with sharp cheekbones and insect-like legs, who will stride into my classroom—with the air condescending air of one of Mr. Bingley’s sisters—and view me with derision.  Or worse, she might, in the manner of Lady Catherine de Bourgh, take me to task, not for daring to aspire to Mr. Darcy’s love but for implementing vague assignment rubrics and an ill-conceived grading point system. 

Of course, Elizabeth Bennett would not be cowed.  But, as she is a fictional character and therefore has the license to open the sluice gates to her sarcastic wit.  I am a public servant, of sorts, so biting my tongue, seeking advice from a close friend who is my age and is also new to her teaching job this year, and trying to view each day as a fresh page in a book of notes that will someday come together as a guide to steering the course in a foreign territory.  And, of course, there is knitting. . . .

This is another baby gift, but not for a newborn.  The sheep decorates the front of a sweater that has pink sleeves.  I haven't blocked this yet, so it doesn't look quite right yet.  

I have already purchased some gold and black yarn (my new school’s colors) and if daily life ever calms down a bit (if twelve-hour days become a thing of the past), I have plans to design a school-spirit baby sweater.  With a large staff, my new school should provide ample opportunities for baby knitting.  In fact, I’ve already completed a sweater for one co-worker’s baby to be.    And there is a fiber arts club to get started.  While I don’t want any new challenges at present, I’ll know that when I’m settled in here, when fear and self-doubt are—on most days—memories, I’ll be searching for activities to fill spare moments and will be ready to interact with students outside of the classroom, sharing my love of my knitting hobby.  

Several years ago a former co-worker, Genny, gave me some mohair/acrylic yarn that belonged to her mother who is no longer able to knit.  Genny retired last spring, so I've been working on this shawl for her, using the yarn she gave me.  The lace pattern doesn't look like much here, but should open up with blocking.  I'm using a pattern found in Brooke Nico's Lovely Knitted Lace.   This book is a  wealth of information and provides numerous gorgeous patterns.  

Until that time I’ll continue the daily battle and soldier on.  Facing the  interview, the first day, open house, computer logins, parents, students, co-workers is a  hurdle whose landing is softened by knitting respites.  In fact, knitting might even help improve my job effectiveness.  In an article entitled, "This is Your Brain on Knitting," author Jacque Wilson cites Catherine Carey Levisay, a clinical neuropsychologist and wife of CEO John Levisay, who says that crafting "improves our self-efficacy" or "how we feel about performing particular tasks."   Elaborating on Levisay's statement, Wilson adds that "psychologists believe a strong sense of self-efficacy is key to how we approach new challenges and overcome disappointments in life. So realizing you can, in fact, crochet a sweater for your nephew can help you tackle the next big paper your teacher assigns."  I can only conclude that if knitting did, indeed, help me obtain my new post, maybe it will assist me in the day-to-day trials faced as a new employee.  I'm also reading a popular teen novel entitled Divergent (it's a movie, too), whose main character Tris faces fearful challenges every day to prove that she is, indeed, worthy of being inaugurated into the Dauntless faction in her society.  While this action-packed adolescent novel is a far cry from Austen's works, the main character's courage and perseverance are as inspiring as those of any Austen heroine.  

This vintage yarn looks a little dull and discolored here, but the photo is a bit deceptive.  The work in progress using this yarn is a color that looks bright and crisp.