Thursday, May 29, 2014

Casting Off

If things are going untowardly one month, they are sure to mend the next.  
                                                                                       -Jane Austen

I just finished this summer shawl, which I knit for my mother using Sanibel yarn by Classic
Elite.  Click here to see my project on Ravelry.  

Stress levels and tempers were high at my school last week.  We had three days of final exams:  English on Tuesday, science on Wednesday, and math and social studies on Friday.  There was a computer glitch on Monday, so a whole slew of students were sent outside from their assigned testing rooms to wait for technology troubleshooters to solve the problem and make their online English exam work properly.  Teachers in North Carolina are assessed based on their students’ performance on exams.  This evaluation is even tied into computation of our future salary, so the other two English teachers at my school and I were obviously a bit distressed that our students played volleyball or frolicked merrily out in the sweltering sun for over an hour and then ate lunch before once again attempting to begin their English exams.  Then there was a whole muddled late afternoon, where timing miscalculations caused students who were not done taking the tests to be interrupted by all sorts of noise and opening and shutting of doors. 

This general confusion caused perhaps a bit more angst for me than it might have at another time of year.  Ironically, while my yearning for summer break is painfully palpable—especially around mid-March—I always experience a bit of an emotional letdown at the end of the school year.  Even without testing snafus, the onset of break marks change—students graduating and personnel shuffling—and the awareness of this change is always coupled with exhaustion from 180 long days instructing teenagers.  Friends and colleagues are moving on to better and brighter things:  the witty and bright young co-worker who is returning to his birthplace out West—for a higher salary and a closer proximity to his children’s grandmother.  The best friend who retired and moved to her home in upstate New York, many hours away.  The vivacious buddy with whom I spent evenings going out on the town in Charlotte who moved to Europe years ago with her Belgian husband.  The principal and two co-workers at my school who are retiring after teaching careers of 30-plus years. 


Here is another view of the shawl.  I finished knitting this a few days before the end of the school year.  

While I stand still, life flows onward and away.  My son, Jonathan, will be a senior next school year and the following year will be off to college.   My younger boy, James, will be entering high school this fall—so I am anticipating an emotion-fraught eighth-grade-graduation ceremony, where I will contemplate the passage of time and the slipping away of childhood. 

Despite these alterations I will stay put for a while—slowly plugging away, not tearing up and reinventing myself when it isn’t practical to do so.  And, rather than engaging in maudlin contemplation about where my life is going during the next two months off from school, I can get busy.  I can work on my TKCG Masters Knitting Program this summer and finish up some works in progress (lots of them!).  There is always the promise of future projects, which beckon with creative possibility, and future visits to distant yarn shops yet unexplored. I've also finally  signed up for a subscription to Rowan Yarns magazine.  I can't wait to see their fall designs. . . .



This Chenille Cowl is for a former co-worker who moved to New York State.  I love the rich Blue Heron
chenille yarn.  I hope to travel to see her this summer.  


     Funny how knitting, like the school year, provides constant variety, but, typically, not the kind tinged with melancholy or loss (save for a few unfortunate frogged projects).  Rather each new knitting endeavor, whether undertaken or merely contemplated, provides anticipation, enjoyment, and escape.   We had a farewell party for my co-workers this afternoon and my summer break just started today.  I think I’ll pull out some yarn I dyed two years ago and cast on a woolly sweater—just the thing to wear to school next year.

  



The end of the school year is filled with celebrations.  I made these cupcakes (along with some chocolate ones) for a co-worker's fiftieth birthday celebration.  

I also made Dawn (the birthday girl) a frilly apron.  Dawn is a talented
artist and brings an aesthetic eye not only to her artwork but also to her
culinary creations.  

The batch of chocolate cupcakes required six ounces of  unsweetened chocolate in the batter and more than
a pound of butter in the batter and icing!  I splurged on some gourmet dark chocolate.




Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Confessions of a Lazy Knitter

I blocked my Lady Londonderry shawl this past weekend.  I love this Classic Elite Sanibel yarn.  
     
     Sometimes it’s easy to let oneself lapse into complacency.  When it feels as if there are so many other areas of one’s life where taxing learning is involved (such as ongoing and sometimes tear-inducing technology training sessions at my school), voluntarily making oneself sit down to study or learn techniques loses its appeal.  The copy of The Hobbit in French that I bought last summer, the one with a bookmark a few pages into the first chapter, attests to that fact, as does my failure to brush up on anything related to French except for the occasional restaurant menu or wine list.  So, after my spate of complaining about completing my renewal of my National Boards (for teaching high school English), it may be as surprising to those who know me as it is to myself that I’ve signed on for a Master Knitting Program that requires meticulous attention to detail and extensive research and writing. 

     My older and wiser friend Cindy always says, “Don’t do anything else!” during our morning phone conversations where I, (hyper and chit-chatty from two morning cups of coffee) invariably go on and on about my latest activities or aspirations.  When I mentioned the Master Knitting Program at the knitting group at Cottage Yarn last night I also aroused an immediate reaction, one that included an account by one knitter of how nine of her samples from level one (“Nine!”) were returned to her with little pieces of thread attached to them here and there along with written suggestions that corresponded to the threads.  The woman who recounted this experience is quite a perfectionist, so her tale didn’t inspire much confidence in me.  But it didn’t discourage me, either.  I’m a bit of a competitive person! 



A student took this picture for me at school.  
  


     I also realized this past weekend that completing this program will force me to learn techniques that will actually be useful (ones I've been lazy about exploring--a sort of avoidance, really).  I’m currently working on a baby sweater.   The instructions for the sleeves say to work rows that include two increases under the arm.  Since I am now armed with several large used knitting reference books and have been reading up on increasing stitches for the Master Program, I actually used a new technique—a twisted increase—to make certain that my increases were mirror images.  After reading up on blocking, I also took particular care to block my Londonderry Shawl (shown above).

   
This is my current relaxing evening knitting:  the pattern is called Highland Fling.  The vibrant Malabrigo yarn is named "Ravelry Red."  


      Of course, in the evenings, after a day of teaching at the end of the school year, my brain isn’t primed for absorbing and applying any new information.  And I haven’t wanted to buckle down for much serious study on the weekends, although this past Saturday I did go to my public library to look at some TKGA Master Program projects posted on Ravelry--on a computer that was much faster than mine at home (one with a network burdened from sharing bandwidth to stream my sons' movies and video games).  

     I also knit three swatches last week, none of which was well-executed enough to serve as appropriate TKGA Master Program samples.  But, for now, until final exams are graded and I’ve cleaned up my classroom and locked its door for the summer, I don’t anticipate I’ll be getting much swatch knitting done.  In the evenings, a glass of wine coupled with none-too-taxing knitting is about all I can handle. 

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Schoolmaster



Peonies are only pretty for a day or so.  This bloom in my garden looked perfect this morning.  



     In a blog post entitled “15 Steps to Cultivate Lifelong Learning,” Scott H. Young states, “Letting your intuition guide you can make self-education more enjoyable. Most of our lives have been broken down to completely logical decisions, that making choices on a whim has been stamped out.”  While I am always a bit frightened of following my instinct, I recently chose going with my emotions and pursuing my passions over other forms of educational advancement. 

As a teacher in a state now infamous for its educational bureaucracy and low teacher salaries (see this article, discussing a North Carolina teacher who qualifies for food stamps), I have often toyed with the idea of returning to school to complete an administrative license.   I’d have a bigger salary and might actually get to take a bite of food without an interruption or go to the bathroom on a flexible schedule.  

     But the thought of hours and hours reading and writing papers about the latest national or statewide educational initiatives (in other words, the current pedagogical crazes) or teacher evaluation systems leaves me a bit cold.  I used to get excited and idealistic about such things, but witnessing the reality of implementation over the years had led to deflated enthusiasm.  Educational reform programs sound interesting on paper but the product all too often manifests itself as burdensome and formulaic hoops for teachers to jump through.  One veteran teacher I know who, unlike me, doesn’t get ruffled by the latest educational mania that visits our school system every few years sums up this phenomenon this way:  “Don’t worry.  This train will pass.” 

So, for the time being, I have decided to bide my time and eschew enrolling in any courses with a practical bent (as least in the direction of my current area of employment) and signed up for the first part of The Knitting Guild Association (TKGA) Masters Hand Knitting Program.  I have a year to complete this section, and then there are two more parts to finish the certification process.  After downloading and printing the instruction manual for my course, I realize that my skipping certain details in my impatience to get things done will not be tolerated—and I’m glad of that fact.  In the six years that I’ve been knitting, I’ve been sloppy about blocking and haven’t bothered to read instructions for different types of yarns or specific techniques for certain types of stitch patterns.  Now, I’m required to write a paper about blocking, and my initial reading on this subject has made me realize that I should have taken the time to do this type of research years ago, so that my blocking would have been executed with the care I put into choosing yarns and patterns and the attention I devote to the actual knitting process.


The yarn for the Master program has to be light colored and worsted weight.
This Universal Deluxe should do well.  



I also have to knit sixteen swatches and one pair of mittens to meet course requirements.  I’ve worked the first swatch and have already learned a new skill—how to increase nearly invisibly in ribbing.  Since I’m lazy about writing tutorials (and don’t see the need to reinvent the wheel), here is a link to an excellent video tutorial I used to help me. 


My first swatch isn't blocked yet, but I put it in the notebook I have to turn in for safekeeping


As I devote my spare time to this new endeavor, I won’t completely abandon thoughts of advancing up the ladder in my current profession.  But, for now, the knitting class offers me a much needed escape from my day job, providing creative rejuvenation that will, I hope, sustain me as I tackle the latest educational craze that comes down the pike and ultimately lands in my classroom.  I also truly hope that the current  climate changes, and that in a year or so I might find myself motivated to get involved in education on an administrative level. 



I've also been busy working on my Lady Londonderry shawl, until I ran out of yarn.  Some is on the way, though, and I should finish soon.