Sunday, August 25, 2013

Keeping Calm and Casting On

I don't think I'll have space to include the words "amour" on this baby sweater I'm designing, but I hope the Eiffel Tower fits okay.  (Math wasn't my best subject.)   I'll post the final instructions and chart when I'm finished knitting.  

To Do List:

1.  Write a twenty-page paper about my trip to England for the World Affairs Council (the group whose grant money funded my week at Oxford this past summer) discussing how my experience impacted my role as an international educator.  Hmmm. Do trips to yarn shops and department stores (for underwear shopping--necessary due to lost luggage) factor in there somewhere?  

2.  Scrounge up $1250.00 to use to renew my National Board teaching certification this school year.  And then write and video and collect artifacts (student work samples) and submit to review board.  

3.  Create a digital portfolio (something new the state dreamed up for teachers of honors classes this year) with evidence "proving" that I'm teaching something of substance to my students.  (One would think that my disheveled and hangdog appearance  at the end of the semester would serve the same purpose.)

4.  Somehow try to do these things within the current technological environment.  Due to "an error by a member of the Technology Services Department" (words listed on the school system's temporary website for the last four or five days), the county school's server has been shut down.  I guess I can find consolation in the fact that the poor soul responsible is probably in a lot worse shape than I am right now.  

5.  Try to hand out progress reports to my students on Tuesday, even though the digital gradebook crashed and has been nonfunctional since last Thursday. This problem is unrelated to the issue discussed above (in number four).  

The gradebook glitch was responsible for the fact that my husband and I arrived at an open house at my older son's school last Thursday evening to find that the event had been cancelled, as the school staff had  no means of retrieving and printing student schedules.  Aimlessly wandering like the walking dead through the eerie fluorescent-lit corridors, among a not-too-modest-sized group of other slacker zombies who'd also neglected to listen to their voice mails, was actually a nice cheap date where my husband and I could reconnect without interruption. 

6.  Deal with the now nationally infamous raw deal teachers were recently handed out by the North Carolina legislature:  a continued pay freeze--in its fourth year now--keeping the state ranked at number 46 in the nation for teacher salaries.  There were a few other legislative decisions that recently impacted us, too:  No more tenure.  No more additional pay for teachers with Masters Degrees. Demonstrators are urging teachers to wear red to protest. The color of my face right now should probably suffice.  

7.  Manage to juggle family obligations--such as two football games with fifteen teaching class periods and four tutorial sections every week and somehow keep up with my knitting.  (Actually increased stress prompts more knitting, so this final item shouldn't be too difficult to manage.)

8.  Somehow revisit my Midsummer Aran--the project that tormented me this summer and is now in "time out" until I miraculously regain the mental acuity and balance to finish it.  I encountered the final straw a week ago, when after a wonderful few hours spent sitting by a fountain sipping bubbly mineral water and knitting away, I realized that yet again that I had to tear out row after row after row because of a glaring error in a cable many rows down on the front.

There is something wrong with this picture.  My Midsummer Aran,
still not completed, is shown here with a recently purchased mum plant.
 When mums are in the stores for sale, it's long past midsummer
and fall is on its way.  My sweater should be off the needles by now.
I did manage to complete one project (shown here still damp), but
 my general beginning-of-school fatigue and recent stresses are reflected in
 the one mistake I made--a twisted stitch in the front!  (I've hidden it for the picture.)
I double that only another  knitter would notice it anyway, but I still may knit up some
 tiny flowers to cover it.  Note:  I haven't  added a button to close this yet.

The solutions: 

1.  Plan a field trip for my students to go to the upcoming Yiasou Greek Festival in Charlotte.  The state bureaucrats might make life miserable--but I can fight back. Drinking frothy dark coffee and eating loukoumades (sweet, round, fried cakes) is a pleasant way to pass a day at work--although maybe a job at Starbucks would provide a similar experience and be more lucrative.  

2.  Go out and buy more yarn!  Of course, I did recently purchase and experiment with a synthetic fiber.  Trying times require new economy!  The Berroco comfort DK I bought to make my Eiffel Tower sweater is surprisingly soft and pleasant to work with, though.  And maybe there will be some luxury yarn in my future . . . if I win the lottery or dig through my formidable yarn stash.  (I actually can't complain.  I even have some gorgeous blue Debbie Bliss Angel given to me by my generous blogger friend Mrs. T.  I'll post a picture when I start a project with it.) 

3.  Decide to create an original design. Sketching and then coloring in little boxes is a soothing occupation to take my mind off of my troubles . . . sort of like basket weaving, I suppose.  

4.  Take a deep breath, keep calm, and cast on.  

A half-day workshop for English teachers and following afternoon faculty 
meeting sent me hyperventilating to the yarn store, where I purchased some 
silk yarn to make this cardigan in the spring 2013 issue of Vogue Knitting. 
This yarn was surprisingly reasonably priced.  This entire sweater should
 cost less than $40.00 to complete.  

Monday, August 12, 2013

Tea and Sympathy

The Jane Austen cup adds to the pleasures of afternoon tea.  

I was going to open this blog post by discussing how, at this time, the myth of Sisyphus truly resonates with me, but then had second thoughts.  Such a downer!   In Greek mythology Sisyphus was a king of Ephyra punished for continuing deceitfulness by being forced to roll a massive boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll back down, and to repeat this action forever. As I've continued to work on my Midsummer Aran—or should I now call it my Wintertime Warmer or, perhaps, Eastertide Top—I have repeatedly ripped and redone and ripped and redone.  But in equal proportion to my frustration working this garment (which, oddly enough, I'm still excited about wearing, when and if it reaches completion) is my aversion to writing any more about the painstaking learning process I have gone through to get where I am now, roughly two-thirds of the way toward casting off.

My knitting notes for my tricky sweater are beginning to look like some
complex mathematical equation.  

In knitting, as in life, sometimes we need to ease off a bit, to give ourselves time to regroup to fortify ourselves for upcoming challenges.  This idea works in reading, too.  After recently slogging through The Vicar of Wakefield, Bleak House, Oliver Twist, and half of the 600 pages of The Lady in White (I actually do love this book and am slowly working through it), along with a current attempt, sparked by renewed regrets at past laziness, to hone up on my French by attempting to read The Hobbit in that language, I was ready for a break.  So a couple of days ago I devoured an easy-to-read Christian chicklit novel (yes, this genre really does exist), a volume which offered a warm-and-fuzzy escape this week from the realities of my monster sweater and of the beginning of my school year.  (Only 175 days left!) 

The book I finished, bought recently for 99 cents at Goodwill, is entitled Sisterchicks Go Brit  and is about two middle-aged women who travel to England, spending some time in a country village, in London, and in Oxford.  (If you've read my previous blog post about my recent trip to England, this itinerary is familiar.)  The text on the back cover states, "Nothing on the excursion goes the way these two friends had envisioned."  (Hmm. Also eerily familiar.)  I have to say, though, that I too can relate to the fact that the narrator's experiences with the people she met on her journey strengthened her faith in God and in humanity . . . and heightened her appreciation for an afternoon cup of tea, accompanied by something sweet to eat, of course. 

While I've been ashamed to admit that I enjoy this type of very easy-to-digest literature or other guilty escapist pleasures such as my addiction a few years back--when I was enduring a particularly stressful work situation--to watching Gossip Girl (after first reading the entire horribly trashy series), I figured that it was time to come clean.  My confession of my forays into mindless escape might inspire some others, maybe even some knitters (an overachieving group as a whole) to take themselves less seriously.

Simple knitting, like escapist literature, is essentially formulaic and provides the same type of welcome respite, especially when this activity accompanied by a soothing afternoon cup of tea.  Several days ago, after ripping out the nearly finished second sleeve of my Midsummer Aran, I cast on and quickly knit up a tea cozy for a friend of my mother.  While I had a difficult time quelling the displeasure of my inner yarn snob (who has a preference for natural fibers), I even used an acrylic-wool blend, a mixture which seems practical for kitchen use, and am very happy with the results.  I also cast on an adorable--but not complicated--sweater for the baby girl my niece is expecting in December. 

I love this baby wool--it's inexpensive and super soft.


Amazingly enough, working the tea cozy and next several inches of the baby sweater, I was ready to attack my nemesis.  I'm also going to open that novel in French--but maybe after I have some tea and start Sweet Revenge, "A Lady Arianna Regency Mystery," a literary gem with cover copy that states, "includes chocolate recipes and trivia!"  Cozy mysteries, like tea and cozy knitting, might shore me up for the coming weeks of school and their accompanying stress. 

The pattern for this cozy can be found in the book Tea Cozies 3.