March 31, 2007
No, I haven't fallen off the face of the earth. I'm still in Baltimore, and have had trouble getting internet access at times when I can blog. Right now, however, things are a bit slow in the exhibit hall at the ACRL conference and my colleague has wandered off to look at other exhibitors, so I turned off the external monitor and logged into the blog. I have had so much to write about since I have been here and it has been frustrating not to be able to write about it. I promise a full report when I get back. In the meanwhile, I'll just say that librarians can be surprisingly nice when they are out of their libraries and don't have to worry about shushing people or preventing book theft. And it is good that they are nice, because Baltimore is currently crawling with librarians. Everywhere I go, there they are (I can recognize them by their buns and glasses, and the fact that they are all carrying ACRL tote bags). On Thursday night I even found myself surrounded by librarians in a bar! I did manage to escape them last night, however, by heading down to the South Baltimore/Federal Hill area. I guess they don't stray too far off base. Back to work now, but more tomorrow from Ann Arbor.
March 29, 2007
On the Road Again
I missed you yesterday, dear Reader, but I have a good excuse for not posting: I was en route to Baltimore to staff the ICPSR exhibit booth at the national meeting of the Association of College and Research Libraries.
I arrived safely yesterday, checked into my hotel, and spent the evening wandering around the harbor area. Today I went to the Convention Center first thing in the morning to get my exhibit booth set up. This was the scariest part of the whole trip. I had a very half-assed training on setting up the exhibit booth, which pretty much consisted of the ICPSR human resource assistant telling me that I am too short and that there is no way I'll be able to do it myself. The exhibit booth is a 10x10 foot pop-up frame, which then gets plastered with ICPSR information. I have a friend who used to design these things for a living, and she said the challenge was to create an impactful booth that could easily be assembled by one person. I guess the designers of our booth weren't imagining it being set up by a 5'3" tall woman. Fortunately, when I got to the booth space, there were two tall chairs and, standing on these, putting the booth together was actually pretty easy. The hard part was turning the booth's shipping case into a podium. There are some extra pieces that snap on, and then velvet panels that go around the whole thing, attached by magnets and velcro. But I just couldn't get the side panels to stick, so they are standing out at an angle, making the whole thing look pretty low-budget.
I expected it to take about an hour to set up the booth and it ended up taking two, so I'm glad I went early. The most infuriating thing, however, was the people who work here, who are supposed to be here to give any help we need. The whole time I was setting up the booth, four of these guys were standing around chatting in the booth next to me. They never once offered help, though they did make eye contact with me a few times. Instead, they were busy loudly discussing:
- The fact that restaurant smoking sections are too small (one guy said that he wanted to open his own all-smoking restaurant, where the nonsmokers have to sit in the basement
- The fact that the surveys showing that a majority of Marylanders don't like to be around smokers are biased because they only survey Democrats
- Why they need guns
- The overly restrictive nature of Maryland's concealed weapons laws
I wasn't quite sure why they had to have this conversation right next to my exhibit booth but, as soon as I finished setting up and left to wash my hands, they disappeared as well. In any case, my booth is set up, no thanks to them, and now I'm off to find some breakfast.
March 27, 2007
Reading, Knitting, Foot Rubs, and Transitive Verbs
Over the weekend, I perfected the art of reading while knitting. I had heard of people doing this -- most notably uber-knitter Wendy -- but never thought I would be skilled enough. I also kept wondering how one holds the book open with hands wrapped in wool. But it isn't as hard as I thought, as long as I am sitting at the dining room table and reading either a magazine (which stays open by itself) or a book that I can prop open by laying another book along the top edge.
[Involuntary digression: it took me a minute just now to figure out if I should use the verb laying or lying. I had never even heard of transitive and intransitive verbs until I studied German in college. Why is it that we are never taught English grammar, so we don't learn grammar until we study another language? In any case, transitive and intransitive verbs didn't make any sense to me for the longest time, until finally it just clicked. Yesterday at work I heard someone say that she wanted to go home and "lay down on the couch" and I just wanted to shout "LIE DOWN -- you need an intransitive verb there!"]
Back to the story: so I spent most of the weekend (when I wasn't spaving at Costco or drinking David's milk) sitting at the dining room table, knitting a sleeveless top and reading Alligators, Old Mink, and New Money, an auto/biography of Alison Houtte, owner of Brooklyn's Hooti Couture. It was a fantastic way to spend the weekend but, by Saturday night, my back was pretty sore from leaning over the table. When I mentioned my sore back to David, he immediately came up with a solution -- I should give him a foot rub. Sometimes I wonder exactly how his mind works: I say my back is sore and, instead of offering me a back rub, he suggests that I give him a foot rub!
March 26, 2007
Losing my home internet connection has exposed me as the blog slacker I truly am. It is easy to post every day when I sit in front of a T-1 connection at work or when I have access to my neighbor's wireless at home, but it is much harder to post when blogging requires taking my computer to a cafe, even though two cafes offer free wireless within four blocks of my house. I guess I'm dedicated, but just not that dedicated. So I apologize to readers for going yet another whole weekend without blogging. Here are some of the things I might have blogged about, had I blogged:
- Going to Costco: I think the best part about having a Costco membership is all the blog fodder it gives me! When we walked in on Saturday afternoon, the first thing that caught David's eye was a display of spring bulbs to plant. We stopped to examine the offerings, and turned back just in time to see a man shopping with his young daughter begin to walk away with our shopping cart. We hadn't put anything in the cart yet, so I wasn't terribly alarmed, but I did exclaim to David, "that guy just stole our cart." David ran right up to the guy and said, "Dude, that's our cart." The guy sheepishly returned the cart to David and took another one from a nearby stack. Realizing that there were a bunch of empty carts nearby, David immediately became embarrassed for having been so possessive of our cart, and explained to the guy that we had become attached to the cart because we had brought it in from the parking lot. As we walked away with our recovered cart, David couldn't believe that he had actually uttered the words, "Dude, that's our cart."
- Other bizarre things that came out of my husband's mouth: On Sunday morning, when David went to pour milk into his bowl of cereal, he found that his new gallon had been opened, and asked me if I had used some of it. I replied that I had, and he asked, "what did you do with it?" This seemed like a really bizarre question to me. I drank it, of course -- what else does one do with milk? I couldn't very well knit a sweater out of it! Maybe he thought I fed it to his plants...
- Recreational reading: For the past week or so I have been reading the novel Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld. I had purchased it as an impulse buy at Borders because it was marked 3 for the price of 2, and expected it to be rather trashy -- basically the high school version of Tom Wolfe's I am Charlotte Simmons. But it wasn't like that at all. I'm not saying it is great literature, but Sittenfeld does an amazing job of capturing the social awkwardness of a teenage girl from Indiana attending an elite East-Coast boarding school on scholarship. It reminded me of my own experience of social life in college, but kicked up a notch. I could so relate to feeling like an outsider around kids who had grown up much wealthier than I had, and feeling like I had somehow missed the memo about how to behave.
- Spring-cleaning update: I think I have recovered from the spring-cleaning bug, as I did absolutely no cleaning all weekend. It feels good to be back to normal!
So there's the four-point rundown of my weekend. I hope I'll still be able to think of something to blog about tomorrow :)
March 23, 2007
After wearing my handmade sweater for the second time yesterday, I decided it wasn't quite done. I just didn't like the way it was hanging on me so, when I got home, I took off the sweater, picked up the stitches around the neckline on a circular needle and knit a few rows of ribbing, as the pattern indicated. I hadn't done the neck originally for two reasons: I was intimidated at the thought of picking up neck stitches and I was afraid that the neck opening was already too small. And I will admit that it took quite a bit of trial and error to figure out how to pick up the neck stitches because the instructions in The Yarn Girls' Guide to Simple Knits just aren't very good. When I was re-learning how to knit in the fall of 2002, however, it was about all that was available in the genre of books geared toward knitters under sixty.
In addition to adding the neck edging, I decided to block the sweater again, because it was looking a bit lumpy. I had blocked the pieces before sewing them together, but I hadn't blocked the whole sweater. This time, I used the blocking directions in Stitch N' Bitch, which I got from the library the other day. Debbie Stoller recommends soaking the sweater in soapy lukewarm water, rinsing it, rolling it in a towel, and laying it out flat in the shape I want it. It isn't dry yet, but it is already looking better. I can't believe I had never really looked at Stitch N' Bitch before. I own the sequel, which has a lot of fun patterns, but the original is a fantastic reference with super-clear directions for just about every technique I will ever need. Too bad it didn't come out until 2003!
March 22, 2007
Yoga at Work
Last week a yoga class started up in my office on Mondays and Wednesdays at lunch time. Our teacher comes to us (from where, I'm not sure), and we clear away the tables in one of the downstairs conference rooms and set out our yoga mats. There are ten of us in the class, but only about seven on any given day, and it only costs us $5 each per class (though we had to pay in advance for the whole 12-week series). But really, what an awesome deal. Doing yoga in the middle of the work day is such a fantastic break and the fact that I don't have to go anywhere except downstairs makes it even better. I feel pretty lucky to work for an organization that lets us do this (it would be even better if they had organized it for us and paid for it, but no workplace is perfect). The only part I don't like is changing from work clothes to yoga clothes and back in a bathroom stall -- it feels too much like middle school P.E. class!
March 21, 2007
Last night I read about this site in Bust magazine. Holla Back is a website that allows victims of street harassment to publicly shame their harassers and, really, in a world where the police aren't interested in protecting us from being catcalled, flashed, and masturbated at, this is about the best we can do. Holla Back encourages victims to take photos of their harassers (with their cell phones, of course) and post them to the site, along with stories about what happened. New York was the first city to have a Holla Back website, but now several cities have sister sites. I was at first surprised to find that there is no Holla Back LA (though their are sites for San Francisco and for California as a whole), given that Los Angeles is the only city in which I have been flashed and masturbated at (though I have never been catcalled anywhere as much as I was during a week in Danbury, CT of all places), but then I remembered that very few people actually walk or use public transit in LA, and street harassment just isn't much of an issue when you are ensconced in your own car. I guess I was just one of those unlucky few.
What struck me most about Holla Back was its very existence. Obviously street harassment is very prevalent if it can fuel fifteen websites dedicated to shaming its perpetrators. I was especially shocked to learn how common it is for sleazy men to masturbate on public transit. I had no idea. When I was fifteen years old and saw a guy masturbating in the seat across the aisle from me on the Big Blue Bus, I couldn't imagine that there were men doing the same thing on buses and subways all over the country (and, perhaps, the world). But then a friend told me that the same thing happened to her on a subway in Boston, and two weeks later I discovered Holla Back, which was founded by a woman who had been masturbated at on a New York subway. Of course, camera phones didn't exist back when I was riding buses around Los Angeles, but I'm glad I at least had the presence of mind to tell the driver what was going on so he could kick the guy off the bus. Next time, I'll Holla Back.
March 20, 2007
According to the Drug Abuse Treatment Outcome Study, a majority of adolescent drug addicts believe that "people who suffer unjustly in this life will be rewarded in the afterlife." What does this fact say about the relationship between religion and drug abuse?
Winning A New Bathroom
Two Saturdays ago, David gave me a home-improvement assignment: winning a new bathroom for our house. He had just read in the Ann Arbor News that Covenant Construction is holding a contest to give away a bathroom remodel. All we have to do is write 200 words about why we need a new bathroom and send it in along with photos of the bathroom in question. If anyone needs a new bathroom, it is certainly us, so I sat right down to write our entry.
As I look at the contest rules online, however, I'm beginning to fear that our bathroom may be too crappy for this contest. To begin with, it is too small -- they are looking for a 12'x12' bathroom, and ours is probably 5'x8'. Who has a 12'x12' bathroom? That is huge! Second, they are only replacing fixtures, reflooring, and painting, not making any structural changes. Our bathroom, if we ever want to shower in it, will need some structural changes. Yes, you read that right -- we can't shower in our current bathroom. We have a gorgeous claw-foot bathtub, but it is under a sloping ceiling, so we can't stand up in it. The only alternative to raising the ceiling would be putting the bathtub on the other side of the bathroom and moving the sink and toilet to the bathtub's current location, which would require rerouting all the plumbing. I'm guessing they won't want to do that either.
Over the nearly five years I have lived in this house I have grown pretty accustomed to showering with a hand-held sprayer while sitting in the bathtub, and I honestly wouldn't mind winning a bathroom remodel that didn't involve installing a stand-up shower. Just getting some new flooring (ours is a nasty rental-unit linoleum), a new sink unit, and a paint job would certainly be an improvement!
March 19, 2007
Still At It
I have apparently not yet recovered from the spring cleaning bug I caught last weekend, because I was at it again yesterday. Yesterday I Vacuumed. That's right -- with a capital V. I'm talking about serious Vacuuming, moving-the-furniture-and-vacuuming-behind-it Vacuuming, vacuuming-the-furniture Vacuuming, and vacuuming-the baseboards Vacuuming. I even moved a cabinet in the kitchen to vacuum under it, cleaning out the crack of doom between the stove and the countertop next to it.
Readers who know me know that this behavior is pretty atypical. Not only do I hate cleaning, but I don't think I have vacuumed my house for real since about 2004. I have probably mentioned this before, but vacuuming is difficult at 521 N. Ashley because we have wood floors but a vacuum cleaner that is not equipped to handle them. Somehow, when you put our vacuum on wood, it blows instead of sucks. So we have to vacuum with the hose and brush attachment, one square inch at a time. Ususally I just sweep with a broom and follow up with a Swiffer. This weekend, however, I had a burning desire to get all the dust sucked up. Perhaps it is simply a new manifestation of my OCD. I always wished I could channel it into something productive, such as cleaning or crafting, instead of pulling out my hair or dieting. But we don't get to choose our compulsions!
While I was cleaning, I also did some redecorating, which necessitated more cleaning. The redecorating was inspired by a book I just happened to spot on the shelf at the public library yesterday: Susie Coelho's Everyday Styling. I was a bit embarrassed to take it to the checkout counter, given its cheesy title, but I'm glad I did because it turned out to be a fun, quick, and productive read. Her basic decorating philosophy (actually, she calls it un-decorating) is use what you have and do what you like. Pretty simple. You don't need a book to figure it out, but I think I did need a book to give me permission to do this. So I brought up some stuff from the basement (notably a collection of handmade bowls, the result of my failed attempt at pottery during my first year in Ann Arbor, and my collection of action figures -- Buffy, Queen Amidala, Jesus, and a Starbucks barista) and displayed it in the dining room and study, and I reorganized the kitchen shelving to put stuff that actually looks good in the open shelving over the sink and to hide other stuff in the cabinets. Not a big change but definitely an improvement.
Once David puts up our new porch swing, we will officially be ready for spring. Now, if it would only stop snowing...
March 18, 2007
Yesterday David came home from Meijer and informed me that he had scored a free gallon of milk. He followed this sentence up by saying, "and I only had to buy five boxes of cereal to get the milk for free!" Ah, spaving. Spending money to save money. I have blogged about spaving before, in a rather disdainful tone, but have become a much bigger spaver since joining Costco.
My main complaint about spaving is that it tends to encourage overconsumption. It also contributes to our obesity epidemic. For example, why not "supersize" your meal if it only costs an extra few cents? David and I have been guilty of overconsumption too. On our first trip to Costco, we bought a large hunk of Gouda cheese because the price per pound was really good, but then we had to eat this huge chunk of Gouda! Almost two months later, we still have a few ounces left. Fortunately, I'm not the type of person who minds a little mold on her cheese :) For the most part, however, we restrict our spaving to things that don't go bad (toilet paper, cleaning products, and, in David's case, cereal). As long as we have the storage space, I don't see any reason not to buy six months' worth of paper towels at one time. I also like to spave on vegetables because I eat a lot of them anyway. The first time I bought a 3-lb bag of fresh broccoli florets David asked if I was going to freeze them. "No," I replied, "I'm going to eat them." Sure enough, they were gone in less than a week.
The cereal David bought yesterday to score his free milk was his current favorite, so he probably would have eaten five boxes of it over the next month anyway, and it was on sale. Now, however, our kitchen cupboards are overflowing with cereal, as our house was built before the onsest of the spaving-through-supersizing trend!
March 17, 2007
Last night David and I went to the Saline Area Players' production of Gypsy. This activity was a pretty unusual date for us because David hates musical theater. I'll admit that I'm not a huge fan of musical theater myself, despite having played in pit orchestras for Guys and Dolls, My Fair Lady, Peter Pan, and Bye Bye Birdie. There have, however, been musicals I have liked, notably Miss Saigon and Rent. David, on the other hand, hates all musicals except for musicals that make fun of the genre, such as Everyone Says I Love You and the Buffy Musical Episode. Gypsy almost falls into this category, and we almost liked it.
I knew nothing about the play or about Gypsy Rose Lee, the (in?)famous stripper. We went because a friend of David's from the gym was in it. She was one of the placard girls -- her job was to strut out on stage between scenes with a placard stating where the scene was set -- and she was actually quite good at it. Gypsy is about the childhood of Gypsy Rose Lee, aka Louise, the neglected daughter of a grandiose stage mom obsessed with turning her other daughter into a star. When the favored daughter runs off to get married, the mom turns her attention to Louise, transforming her into a burlesque performer when their Vaudeville show washes up. The first act was pretty excruciating to watch as it basically drills into the audience's head the atrocious nature of the act the mom created for her daughters and the various boys she picked up along the way. Intentionally or not, it makes fun of musical theater simply by showing just how bad it can be. It also, of course, makes fun of stage moms. But the show is also a commentary on mothers who live out their narcissistic desires vicariously by pushing their kids to do the things they themselves would have liked to do. Although the play was set in the twenties and thirties, it seemed very relevant given today's epidemic of narcissistic parenting, as evidenced by the current spate of mommy blogs. Granted, if I ever have kids, I probably will blog about them, but I hope to maintain enough sense of self that my life (and blog) never revolves entirely around my offspring.
March 16, 2007
My First Sweater
Today I am wearing my very first hand-knit sweater -- I finished it around ten last night! Although I have been knitting on and off since the age of eight and nonstop for just over a year now, I have so far avoided knitting sweaters for several reasons. First, I was sure that it would take too long. A sweater seemed like a project I would start one winter and finish the next winter...or the winter after that. Second, I couldn't imagining knitting a sweater that would actually fit me. All the other hand-knit sweaters I had ever worn were always tight in the neck and armpits and they were always rather scratchy, but that was, of course, because they hadn't been knit to fit me. Third, sweaters can be very expensive projects because they just use so much yarn. I didn't imagine I could knit one for less than $100 and, really, what is the point when I could buy at least four sweaters for the same price and probably have them look better? And, fourth, sweaters require all of the knitting techniques that intimidate me, along with the ones that I just find tedious, such as swatching and weaving in ends.
I think it was the knitting podcasts that inspired me. I would hear all these other people talk about sweaters they had knitted and think that if they could do it, maybe I could too. I also simply wanted to make something from one of the many knitting books on my shelf. I have some books from which I have made nearly every pattern, such as Joelle Hoverson's Last-Minute Knitted Gifts, and other books I have owned for years without making anything from them, such as The Yarn Girls' Guide to Simple Knits. Inspired by the blog 101 Cookbooks, I decided to finally use the patterns in the books I already own rather than continuing to amass new books.
So I chose the Yarn Girls' "Bare that Belly" v-neck sweater. In the book it is shown in orange, but I made it in hot-pink Sierra from Knit Picks. It was on sale for $3 a skein and I bought eight but only used six, so the sweater cost me $18 to make (shipping was free). One sweater problem solved. I solved the problem of a sweater being a big, long project by using a bulky yarn that knit 3.5 stitches to the inch on size 10 needles. Actually, all of the Yarn Girls' patterns are written for bulky yarns, so they are designed to knit quickly. I solved the fit problem by measuring a sweater I own that fits me and knitting to the same measurements. I didn't get it quite right -- the sleeves came out about two inches short -- but too-short sleeves are a novel problem for me, given that I usually find sweater sleeves to be too long.
With three of my four sweater-knitting obstacles out of the way, I decided to tackle the fourth (intimidating knitting techniques) head-on by just doing the techniques I was intimidated by. Granted, I could have avoided most of these by knitting a seamless sweater in the round (and that is probably what I will do for the next sweater), but I really wanted to use one of the Yarn Girls' patterns, all of which involve seaming, blocking, set-in sleeves, and picking up stitches. In the end, I found most of these techniques far less difficult than I feared. Knitting the four pieces (front, back, and two sleeves) was, as I expected, the easiest part. Blocking was also easy, now that I know how to do it. Seaming the sweater together actually turned out to be pretty interesting once I realized that it is more a process of weaving stitches together than it is sewing. Setting in the sleeves was definitely the hardest part, and they don't look perfect, but it got done. In the end, I avoided picking up stitches around the V-neck by deciding that it looked fine as it was. I was also nervous about making the neck opening any smaller than it already was. I may go back and do it later, but for now, the sweater is done.
And did I mention that the whole project took me less than a week? I think I have finally become a Knitter. Now, if only I had a digital camera so I could post photos of it...
March 15, 2007
I pack my lunch and breakfast every day and, last fall, I decided that I needed an actual lunch box to pack them in. So I went to Kmart and browsed the selection. I began with the dignified, grown-up (i.e. plain blue) lunch boxes, but then I turned around and saw the kid lunch boxes on the shelf behind me. Most of them featured characters I had neither seen nor heard of, but then a pink lunch box caught my eye. One one side it said Hello Kitty and on the other side it had Hello Kitty's face. I had to have it. I have been a fan of Hello Kitty for as long as I can remember and, when I was a kid, my mom would take me to the Sanrio store every fall to get a new Hello Kitty pencil box.
I have now been carrying my Hello Kitty lunch box around every day for about six months and have gotten a lot of compliments on it. Strangers stop me on the street to say "cute lunch box" or "nice bag." But all of these compliments were from adults, until yesterday, when I got my first kid response to my lunch box. I was walking home from work, and a girl of about three or four years old was walking toward me with her mother. As we got closer, she stopped and stared at my lunch box. Her mom said to me, "she's staring at your lunch box because she has the exact same one." So I bent down and told the girl that I like Hello Kitty too. It's good to know that I have the right lunch box to fit in with the three-year-old crowd!
March 14, 2007
My Secret Soft Spot for the Brits
Regular readers of this blog know by now that, after having spent a good deal of time in England, I'm not terribly enamored of the Brits. Okay, that is probably putting it mildly, given the frequency with which I make anti-British posts. But I do secretly have a soft spot for those Brits, as I remembered today while working on the 1963-1970 study of Political Change in Britain. In this study, pollsters asked respondents what time of day they voted, and one of the multiple-choice answers was "after tea." How can you not love a people so devoted to tea that they all drink it at a specific time? In case you are wondering, "after tea" is 5 - 5:59pm.
My Husband, the Mermaid
On Friday night, David and I had our friends Elizabeth and Ken over for dinner and a game of Cranium. I had owned Cranium longer than I had known David, yet had never played it. The game was still shrink wrapped when we brought it up from the basement on Friday night. I can't remember all the countless times David and I said we should play it, but the game requires at least four people and we never thought of it at times when we had four people together.
But on Friday night the stars were perfectly aligned -- we had four people in our living room with the express intention of playing Cranium, so we got it out, chose teams (men against women), and rolled the five-sided die. Despite having complained in previous posts about trivia games and drawing games, I really liked Cranium, despite the fact that it involves both trivia and drawing. There are four categories of questions -- "data head" (trivia), "word worm" (spelling and definitions), "creative cat" (drawing and sculpting), and "star performer" (charades, singing, and impersonation). Some tasks were ridiculously easy (spell larvae backwards), while some were ridiculously hard (sculpt an Oscar). Others were just totally fun, as when David had to charade a mermaid. He got Ken to guess swimming woman and woman in labor (David was sitting on the couch, kicking his legs up as though they were a fish tail), but not mermaid. Meanwhile, Elizabeth and I were trying not to pee in our pants with laughter. If only I had a photo to post...
March 13, 2007
Today I'm blogging from an easy chair at Sweetwaters because I took the day off work to go to the dentist. I don't usually take a whole day off just to go to the dentist, but today I had to get a crown and, having had one before, I knew that after spending two hours in the chair getting drilled and prodded, I would just want to go back to bed, which is exactly what I did. Dentistry has always been pretty traumatic for me, from getting my two lower front baby teeth extracted at the age of five to ten years of orthodontia, followed by numerous fillings on teeth that had decayed under the braces. My first year in Ann Arbor, I was told that I needed to get my wisdom teeth out, which turned into a month-long saga, by the end of which I was hospitalized and having emergency surgery. I won't rehash the whole story, but suffice it to say, I should never have gone to someone named Dr. Mash! I have a much better dentist now -- Kristin Guenther of Donaldson and Guenther. Going to their dental office is kind of like going to a spa. At cleanings, they even massage my head! Today they gave me a soft pillow behind my head and a set of headphones so I could listen to the radio while they worked on me. I put on NPR despite the fact that it was the BBC newshour, figuring that the British accents wouldn't be so bad if they were drowning out the sound of the drill, but unfortunately it was the reverse -- the drill drowned out the British accents. I'm sure that when someone develops the technology to do a crown without drilling, Donaldson and Guenther will be the first to get it, but for now, getting a crown isn't much fun, despite the pillow and headphones. But I was done within the two hours they promised and I went home with a lovely temporary crown that I'll be sporting for the next month. I'm still super sore, and am sticking to soft foods for now, but I'm hoping to be back to normal tomorrow. All in all, I think I would rather go to work than go to the dentist!
March 12, 2007
Another Non-Blogging Weekend
I tried to blog both days this weekend, but there was no wireless signal out there in the ether to connect to. Here are all the things I did this weekend instead of blogging:
- Got a haircut
- Washed the curtains in the living room
- Attempted to win a new bathroom for my house (stay tuned for details in a future post
- Cleaned the stairs
- Knit (and blocked) the back of a sweater (again, stay tuned for details)
- Went grocery shopping and packed my lunches for the week
- Mended the hem on a pair of pants
- Watched the next two installments of the Up series
- Removed everything grad-school related from my filing cabinet
- Culled books that I no longer need from the bookshelves
- Rearranged decorative items in the living room
- Cleaned the kitchen
All in all, I would say it was an exceptionally productive weekend, despite the fact that no blogging got done. Or maybe it was an exceptionally productive weekend because no blogging got done...
Springing Forward and Getting Left Behind
On Saturday night, David and I and our friend Shawn took David's dad and brother (my father- and brother-in-law!) out to dinner to celebrate their birthdays, which are both March 18. As Saturday was Daylight Savings night, springing forward became a topic of discussion. Personally, I love Daylight Savings Time. There is something about long light evenings that just makes me feel so relaxed and free. Perhaps it is that I associate light evenings with summer, when school is out and there are no deadlines to be met. My in-laws, on the other hands, hate Daylight Savings. They would rather have the light in the morning, when they are heading in to work. They are also pessimists and curmudgeons who will complain about anything.
So it wasn't that I forgot about Daylight Savings Time -- I dutifully set my clocks ahead on Saturday night before I went to bed -- yet I overslept both Sunday and today. Oversleeping on a Sunday isn't the end of the world (though I did miss a phone call from a friend who calls me at eight on weekends), but oversleeping on Monday is worse. On weekends, I set the alarm clock for five minutes to eight and on weekdays I set it for five minutes to six. Last night I turned on the alarm, but I forgot to change it from the weekend time to the weekday time, and I didn't realize what I had done until I woke up this morning at 6:45. Had it not been the first Monday of Daylight Savings, I don't think I would have overslept so badly. I usually wake up on my own right before my alarm goes off. Today, however, I woke up on my own an hour after right before my alarm goes off!
I still managed to get out the door by 7:10 this morning and, just as I had predicted, it was pitch dark. Yet today I didn't mind walking to work in the dark because it is finally spring! Okay, it is still below freezing, but only by a couple of degrees, rather than by tens of degrees, and I was able to wear my transitional green puffy jacket instead of my long purple winter wool coat. Over the weekend, the temperature broke fifty! The way I can tell that it is spring for sure, however, is that all weekend I actually had a desire to clean my house. I have caught the spring cleaning bug.
March 09, 2007
Learning to Block
As I mentioned in my previous knitting post, there are some knitting techniques that just intimidate me to no end. Most of these don't relate to the actual knitting (I've got knit and purl and their various variations down pretty well), but rather to the finishing: seaming, sewing on extra stuff, and blocking. Over this past week, I have begun to face my fear of blocking.
For non-knitting readers, blocking is what you do to a piece after it is knitted to make the knitting lie flat and to coax the piece into its proper shape. But how this was done seemed very mysterious to me. Early on, I thought that you were supposed to iron the piece, and that terrified me. To begin with, I don't iron (despite having asked for an iron for my twenty-fourth birthday). Second, the thought of pressing a hot iron to a piece of fabric I had spent hours creating out of two sticks and a string was just too much. But as I read more about blocking, I learned that one should actually not iron knitted items, at least not without placing a wet towel between the item and the iron. So how do you block? Well, different sources gave vastly different directions. Some said to soak the piece in soapy water and then pin it out, while others said to pin it and then steam it with an iron. Another suggested pinning it into shape and then spraying it with a spray bottle. But pin it to what, I wondered? And where does one find rust-resistant pins?
For my entire knitting career, I have dealt with my fear and ignorance of blocking by only knitting items that didn't need to be blocked: hats, mittens, legwarmers, socks, felted bags, ribbed scarves, and anything in garter stitch. Last weekend, however, I found myself almost finished with a project that desperately needed to be blocked. I had been wanting to make flora from Knitty for about a year, and I had just enough of a gorgeous red/pink/green yarn, so I cast on. The part that goes around the neck is knit in stockinette, but with a border of moss stitch that I thought would make the piece lie flat. Between the stockinette and moss is a lovely row of eyelets. When I finished that part I realized that the moss border did not make the stockinette lie flat and the eyelets were not quite open enough to look like eyelets. I would have to block it.
The pattern said to "steam block," so that is what I tried first. I folded up a large towel, pinned the piece to the towel (I have no idea whether or not my pins are rust-resistant -- I just used what I had on hand), filled the iron with water, and plugged it in. When the iron started steaming, I held it above the neckwarmer and bathed it in steam. At this point, I ran into two problems: one, my iron drips water and I couldn't figure out how to make it stop; two, having not used the iron in a very long time, it was also scattering fine particles of I-don't-know-what on my knitted piece. All the instructions said to leave the piece pinned until it was dry, so I did just that and tried not to worry about it. When it did dry, it didn't look any the worse for having hot water dripped on it, and the fine particles brushed right off (for the most part), but the piece still wasn't quite flat and the eyelets were still somewhat closed.
For blocking attempt number two, I pinned much more aggressively, pulling the eyelets open and using every pin I had. I went to Downtown Home and Garden and purchased a spray bottle. When I asked the salesman where I could find a small spray bottle, he asked if it was for watering plants. I said no, it was for knitting, and a saleswoman who is also an avid knitter perked right up and said, "oh, for blocking." I was quite relieved -- this must mean I was on the right track! I brought the spray bottle home, filled it with water, and sprayed away. I let it dry for two days and unpinned it last night. And guess what -- it worked!
March 08, 2007
Last weekend David and I rented American History X, a film about a former skinhead who tries to prevent his younger brother from following in his footsteps. It was a little simplistic but the basic message of the film -- hate doesn't get you anywhere -- was true enough.
From the very first shot, I could tell that the movie was set in Venice (or Venice Beach, as the film referred to it), California, one of my hometowns. The movie portrayed Venice as an actual city, but it is really just a neighborhood of Los Angeles, the part that borders Santa Monica to the south. Venice got its name from its developer, Abbot Kinney, a tobacco millionare who wanted to replicate Venice, Italy in California because it was his wife's favorite city. He did a pretty good job, too. There is a gorgeous system of canals flanked by posh houses, and when I went to Venice, Italy, I found myself in a piazza surrounded by buildings just like the ones on Windward Avenue in Venice, California. It was surreal to visit the original after having lived in the replica. Venice is probably most famous for its boardwalk, the strip along the beach where you can ogle all manner of humanity, purchase drugs and cheap sunglasses, participate in a drum circle, get a tattoo, have your tarot cards read, or receive an acupuncture treatment.
My mom and I moved to Venice in January of 1996. I was sixteen years old and my mother had just divorced my evil stepfather. We moved into an apartment in the now-infamous Lincoln Place housing project. Originally built in the late 1940s to house returning GIs, these were gorgeous, high-quality apartments, located about a mile from the beach (we called it "the beach house"). We had a light and airy second-floor apartment with windows on three sides. You can see a picture of it here (click on the third thumbnail photograph in the top row -- ours was the center building, upstairs left unit, behind the tree). We lived there until 2000, by which time I was in college; my mom moved out just before we would have been evicted for a massive renovation that has turned these affordable apartments into luxury dwellings.
I loved living in Venice and watching American History X made me amazingly homesick. The theme of the movie, however, puzzled me. It was about disaffected white kids in Venice who form a skinhead gang and go around terrorizing and victimizing Venice's black population. The film centers on Venice High School, and I really can't comment on the racial politics there because I never went to Venice High: my mom managed to exploit some loopholes in the districting system to keep me at Santa Monica High (affectionately known as "Samo"). So maybe I just missed something or had my head in the sand, but I really don't remember a whole lot of racial tension in Venice. And the film was made in 1998, which is when we lived there. This isn't to say that there aren't ghettos and gang feuds in Venice, but the movie just portrayed the whole city as a war zone, which it certainly wasn't. Overall, I feel lucky to have been able to live somewhere with such a notable roster of current and former residents, but Venice's glitz and notoriety probably helped contribute to making it such a desirable locale that the owners of Lincoln place could get away with evicting 795 middle- and working-class families to build luxury housing.
March 07, 2007
Happy Birthday, Ghana
Fifty years ago yesterday, Ghana became the first African colony to gain independence, under the leadership of pan-Africanist hero Kwame Nkrumah. Actually, the modern nation of Ghana was formed from two British colonies: Gold Coast and Togoland.
I didn't pay much attention to Ghana's independence day yesterday (though at David's insistence I text-messaged my friend Ackah to wish him a happy independence day) because I have very ambivalent feelings toward Ghana after spending a month there in the summer of 2005. Before I went, people told me that I would either love Africa or hate it. It turns out that this was just one of many pieces of misinformation people fed me before my trip. I neither loved nor hated Ghana: I loved some things and hated others. Here is a list of other things I wish people hadn't told me before I went:
- You will get sick (malaria, diarrhea, parasites, etc.)
- You will get mugged and/or raped
- Africa is dangerous
- The food is sketchy
- When you get there, you will need to wash the walls of your room with laundry soap
- Don't go out after dark
- Accra (the capital of Ghana) is just like Los Angeles
- Wear mosquito repellent
- If you ride a tro-tro (public minibus), you will die
- You can't be too careful
And here is a list of things I wish people had told me:
- Africa is no less safe than the US
- The food is delicious (though fattening), especially the plantains
- Forget about hot showers, but cold showers are less cold at night than in the morning
- Wherever you go, people will try to sell you stuff, and they will expect you to buy it (regardless of whether you need or want it) because you are white
- Carry toilet paper or, better yet, learn to pee like a man
- Tro-tros are fun, and much cheaper than taxis
- Sit in the front of the taxi, and don't expect to have a seatbelt
- How to make an international phone call (it took me two weeks to figure out how to call home)
- How to do laundry (I never figured that one out)
- Ghanaians are very well dressed (they know how to do laundry)
- Every man you meet will want to marry you; don't take it personally -- they just want to get out of Ghana
- Navigating is hard because Ghanaians don't use maps, street names, or addresses, but if you ask someone for directions, more than likely they will just take you where you want to go
- Food is cheaper on the street than in a restaurant, and no less delicious or safe
- Talk to strangers -- it is the only way to learn about a foreign country
Ghana was a difficult place to live -- I was dirty all the time, it was hard to find a toilet when I needed one, the maps were unreliable (I had three maps of Accra and all were different, so I had to triangulate between them to find anything), there was no infrastructure (VERY hard to find a working pay phone and impossible to get around except by taxi), libraries and archives were in dismal conditions, and things that we take for granted (like kitchens and laundry facilities) just don't exist. But there were some things I really liked about Ghana -- the food, the people I met, the climate, and the music. There was music everywhere. When I called David from the only working pay phone I ever found in Accra, he said it sounded like I was at a party.
Going to Ghana was a life-changing experience. I probably could have made it easier for myself by staying in hotels and hanging out in the expat section of town, but that isn't my style. I enjoyed staying with a Ghanaian lady (whose name was also Emily!), getting around Accra on foot, and eating meals on the street or in chop bars. If I had had a little more courage, I would have ventured into one of the bars fashioned out of shipping containers near my house. I would not recommend Accra as a tourist destination, but if you have a reason to go there, it is a very interesting place to go.
March 06, 2007
The Boob Fairy
A Window on the English Class System
For the past week or so, David and I have been watching the "Up" series: a series of television specials produced in England that interviewed the same group of people every seven years beginning when they were seven. So far we have seen the first four films: 7 Up, Seven Plus Seven, 21, and 28 Up. The series is based on the saying, "give me a child to the age of seven and I'll give you the man." They never say where this phrase comes from, but the series continually questions whether, at the age of seven, you can predict how a child will turn out, or what kind of adult he or she will become.
In England, for the most part, you can tell what kind of adult a seven-year-old child will become because the class system basically determines it. For example, at the age of twenty-eight, the four children from the East End are still working class, while the three boys from the exclusive Kensington pre-prep school are lawyers and BBC producers. The two boys from the children's home are manual laborers. The kids who went to "public" (private) school plan to send their kids to "public" school, while those who went to "state" (public) schools plan to send their kids to "state" schools. There were, however, a few surprises: the poshest boy (who is already in boarding school at seven years old because his father lives in Rhodesia) ends up teaching school in the East End and living in a Council estate, but you can tell that he is headed there by the age of seven because he is super-sensitive and wants to help people. Another surprise is the Yorkshire farm boy who ends up becoming a physics professor at the University of Wisconsin, but again this isn't a real surprise because, at the age of seven, he has no interest in farming and wants to "learn about the moon." Some of the kids turn out just how you would expect. John, the smarmiest of the bunch, is already defending his privilege at the age of seven. When he and two friends were asked whether prep-school house captains should be elected or appointed, one of his friends says that it is fairer to have them elected. John agrees that it is fairer to elect them, but goes on to say that it is "better" to appoint them. Over the next three films, he continually defends the class system and the "public" (private) school system, having no qualms about getting advantages that the East End boy or the boys from the children's home didn't have. When asked if he wants to be rich when he grows up, he says no, he just wants to have enough money so that he doesn't have to work and can pursue other interests, like collecting art. If that isn't rich, then what is?
The first time I went to England, it was January 2000 and I was twenty years old. This class system was still firmly in place, and I was shocked and disgusted by the upper-crust among whom I found myself surrounded at Cambridge University. For the first time in my life, I was proud to be an American. When I expressed this view to my fellow Americans, they told me I was naive: the U.S. had just as much of a class system, they said, but it was more insidious because it was hidden behind a facade of supposed meritocracy. They are probably right, but at least we have an ideology of equality even if we don't have equality in practice. For me, the ideology provides hope. In England, the poor kids, even as adults, didn't have any sense of outrage at the system that had produced them and, for that reason, it will probably never change.
March 05, 2007
Internet Access Update
To start by stating the obvious, yesterday was the third day since starting this blog last June that I didn't post. It wasn't for lack of effort, however. After complaining several times last year about my impending internet access problems, I fell silent on the issue and continued to post daily. It turned out that losing my dial-up connection was neither the end of the world nor the end of the blog because I started working at ICPSR a week later. At work, I sit in front of a computer with a T-1 connection nine hours a day -- which gives me plenty of time to blog -- and when I get home in the evening, the last thing I want to do is look at a computer, so I don't even bother turning it on. On weekends, I can usually blog via a wireless connection pirated from my neighbors. Yesterday, however, my streak of good luck ended. After spending about half an hour trying to connect to the internet, I gave up and resigned myself to a non-blogging day. It was hard, since I promised myself when I started the blog that I would post every day, and if it had been any earlier I would have taken my computer to Sweetwaters or the People's Food Co-op and blogged from there. But it was already 5pm, and I had just returned home from the Co-op, so I wasn't about to head back out. In any case, I apologize for my absence from the blogosphere yesterday, but I fear that these weekend absences may begin to occur more frequently until I get a more reliable internet connection at home.
March 03, 2007
Between my house and my office I have about six calendars (one in the kitchen, one in my study at home, and four in my cubicle at work -- they were free and I didn't know what else to do with them), and it took me until Friday morning to get them all set to March. Not bad -- just over a day into the month. Given that I have six calendars, and had just switched them all to March, I should have been pretty clear about what month it was. Yet, when I looked at the calendar in my kitchen and saw that it said November, it actually took me a little while to realize that something was wrong. At first, I just thought, hmmmm, November. Judging from the weather outside, it probably could have been November. But then I remembered that it had just been February, and November isn't usually the month after February.
So why did my calendar say November? No, I hadn't just turned six extra pages. It was my kitchen calendar, which features vintage University of Michigan football posters. I had been looking at the poster part of the calendar, which was advertising a game from November 18, 1922, rather than the calendar part. When David got home, I asked him to look at the calendar and tell me if anything seemed wrong, in order to check whether it was just me or if the calendar really was confusing. He looked at it for a minute and said, "yeah, it says November," but then he pointed out that all of the football posters said either September, October, or November, because those are the only months football is played. Had I ever heard of a football game in March? As we flipped through the other posters, however, most of them displayed the month much less prominently. Many of them just had the date in the corner or even abbreviated the month. So why had the calendar makers chosen that particular poster, the one that says "November" in large print across the bottom, for the month of March? Wouldn't it have made a lot more sense in another month, say, November?
March 02, 2007
A New Month, A New Budget
When I was in grad school, I "budgeted" by holding my breath and trying not to buy anything. It actually worked pretty well -- I managed three and a half years without overspending my stipend or going into debt, though it helped that I also had savings from my two years of work between college and grad school. I also wrote down everything I spent, which probably shamed me into spending less. The problem, however, was that I constantly felt poor and insecure because I didn't know how much I had to work with. I knew what was going out, but I didn't really know what was coming in or what the reserves were.
Now that I have a regular and reliable source of income, I would like to have a real budget, and also work toward my two personal financial goals: paying off my student loans, and building up a contingency fund in case I get Dooced. So I have been doing a lot of online lunch-break reading about budgeting and decided for March to try the 60% Solution, which I have seen recommended by several personal finance experts and bloggers. The way it works is that I limit necessary expenditures to 60% of my income. That is, 60% of my pretax income, and necessary expenditures include all taxes, health care costs, housing (from mortgage to utilities to toilet paper), groceries, transportation (gas, car insurance, and those rare times I have to pay to park). The other 40% gets allocated between fun spending, long- and short-term savings, debt service, and giving away. I have decided (for March, anyway) to give away 5% (half in donations and half in gifts), save 5% for retirement (automatically deducted from my paycheck and double-matched by UM), put 10% in my contingency fund, put 10% toward debt service (in other words, give it to Sallie Mae), put 5% in short-term savings, and use the remaining 5% as spending money (for yarn, skin-care products, haircuts, eating out, etc.).
The two tricks will be to limit my essential spending to 60% of my not-so-big income, and to limit my non-essential spending to 5%. I am already thinking of loopholes. For example, if I knit something as a gift for someone, then I should pay for the yarn from my gift money rather than my spending money. And what if I knit for charity? Then I could buy the yarn with my donation money. But what about purchases where the profit goes to benefit a cause I care about? For example, if I buy a skein of Violet's Pink Ribbon Yarn from Lisa Souza, the proceeds from which go to pay for medical care for Miss Violet of Limenviolet, who is currently undergoing treatment for precancerous breast tumors and has what sounds like the world's worst insurance policy, does that money come from my non-essential spending category or my donations category? And what if I use that yarn to knit a pair of socks for someone else? I guess nobody said budgeting was easy...
March 01, 2007
A Gorgeous Site/Sight
My cousin, who is about to graduate from Carnegie Mellon University's Master's program in Communication Planning and Information Design has just rolled out her new website, which is absolutely gorgeous.
Check it out: www.rebeccaaviva.com.
Maybe I can hire her to help me out with my blog!
A Knitting Weekend
I spent most of last weekend sitting on the couch, knitting, and watching Trading Spaces. It was fun to watch a show about creativity and design while doing something creative. By the end of the weekend I had made (for myself!) a pair of "Hurry Up Spring Armwarmers" from Stitch 'n Bitch Nation. I wish I had a digital camera so I could post a picture because they are absolutely gorgeous. I used two strands of Knit Picks Memories yarn in the "Geranium" colorway. The armwarmers are ribbed on the bottom and have a cable pattern on the top that looks like vines with budding leaves (hence the name).
I had knit a couple of other pairs of armwarmers before, one for my sister Sophie and one for my friend Elizabeth, but I had used a different pattern: the one from Last-Minute Knitted Gifts. As a fairly cautious knitter, there are a few techniques I avoid whenever possible: any kind of seaming, anything that requires attaching new yarn, and picking up stitches. For this reason, the Last-Minute Knitted Gifts pattern was less intimidating because it just has a hole for the thumb, as opposed to the Stitch 'n Bitch Nation pattern, which has you create a thumb gusset, put the stitches on holders, and then come back to it, attaching new yarn to knit about an inch of thumb, as you would for a real glove or mitten. But after making two pairs of thumbless armwarmers and a pair of real mittens, I decided I was ready.
I probably should have been intimidated by the cable pattern, but I wasn't. I had knitted cables as a child and learned that, as long as you follow the directions and don't overthink it, cables are actually pretty easy. I didn't actually do anything with the cables I knit in my youth, mind you; I would just knit one pattern for a while, bind off, and knit another. Somewhere in a Los Angeles landfill there is probably a plastic shopping bag just full of little cabled acrylic rectangles. In any case, on Saturday morning, I bravely cast on and began knitting the cable pattern. There was, however, a major difference between this cable pattern and the ones I had knit as a kid: the instructions in Stitch 'n Bitch Nation were given in chart form, whereas I had previously only followed verbal instructions. Since words are read from left to right (in English, at any rate), that was how I read the chart. Several rows in, it began to bother me that the chart line numbers were presented at the right end of each row -- at the end of the row rather than the beginning -- which made it hard for me to keep track of which row I was on. After grumbling about that for a few rows, it hit me: I should have been reading the chart from right to left, since I knit from right to left! In general, I am not a perfectionist knitter, and when I find I have made a mistake I usually try to turn it into a "design element" rather than ripping back. So I scoured the pattern to see if doing it in reverse would make a difference, and was relieved to find that the chart was for the right armwarmer; the instructions said to reverse the chart for the left armwarmer. So I was just making the left armwarmer instead of the right. No problem. I kept going, but it still didn't look quite like the photograph in the book.
On Saturday night, I took a break from knitting to have dinner and play Trivial Pursuit at Shawn and Dave's. Somehow, getting away from the knitting for a while gave me a revelation: I hadn't quite been reversing the chart. Yes, I was reading it from left to right instead of right to left, but there were some parts of the chart where you read two boxes together, and I hadn't been reversing those boxes. In effect, every time the cable needle came into play, I had held it to the back when I should have held it to the front (and vice versa) and I had purled off of it when I should have knit off of it (and vice versa). I returned home sure that I would spend the rest of the evening frogging my day's work, but when I looked at the chart again, I got a new glimmer of hope. So I kept going, finishing the "left" armwarmer on Sunday morning. But it really didn't look right.
Hoping against hope, I cast on the right armwarmer around noon on Sunday and knit it reading the chart from right to left. It came out totally different from the "left". In other words, it actually looked like the picture! So when I finished it, I grit my teeth and frogged the left one. The second time around, I reversed everything in the chart and, miracle of miracles, it came out the perfect mirror opposite of the right armwarmer. Determined to have them finished in time to wear to work on Monday, I stubbornly kept myself glued to the couch until about eight-thirty, when I bound off the left armwarmer, reattached the yarn for the thumb, and quickly finished it.
Compared to the confusion about the cable pattern, reattaching the yarn for the thumb was nothing!