April 30, 2010

This coming weekend is the 2010 Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival.  This event is something that I’ve come to rrreeeeeaaaaallllyyy look forward to.  Last year is the first year I attended, and even after anticipating it for weeks I nearly didn’t go because that Sunday the weather was awful.  It was pouring rain and I just knew that the fairgrounds were going to be muddy and yucky and that I was going to have a miserable time.  I went, and there was way more mud than I had imagined there would be, the place smelled pretty distinctly of wet wool (go figure), and the rain really didn’t let up all day, but I’d not be telling the truth if I didn’t admit that I had a really wonderful time.  I came home with three skeins of gorgeous raspberry-colored worsted weight wool yarn (which, not surprisingly, is still in my stash cabinet waiting to be turned into something…I’m pretty sure I know what it will become, but there it sits), and I got to visit for a while with the people upon whose farm the sheep were raised and who dyed the wool themselves.  Perhaps even cooler (and maybe a bit more dangerous) I came home even more super-duper excited about all things woolen.  (Well, not all things…have you noticed how horrifically ugly some of the knitting patterns are that are floating around out there?  Yes, there is some stunningly beautiful design work as well, but some of those things…well, they just leave a great deal to be desired.  I mean, seriously, who makes those things?  Do people really like them enough to spend hours and hours making something that looks like that?  I know I shouldn’t be judgmental, but I look at some of these things that, to me, are like the knitterly equivalent of being punched in the gut and among the more kosher of the words that come to mind are “really?” and “ugh”.)

Anyway, I’ll be going again this year and I’ve been pretty excited about it this week.  I’ve been thinking about what kinds of wool I’ll be wanting to be on the lookout for since I have tons of projects earmarked.  (I know there are other kinds of yarn in the world, but wool really has become my favorite.)  I’d like to branch away from black and charcoal grey (my idea of not black), although if the wool is for a knitted garment for me (scarves excluded) I know I’d be wasting my time knitting in too many other colors.  I’d like to find some nice cashmere and I’d like to bring home some funky sock yarn.  I’m sure I’ll find many a treasure that I’ll have to leave there for someone else, but I’m excited about the possibilities.  Last year I was completely overwhelmed by my choices, and this year I’ve saved a few extra shekels to spend (although with weeks of physical therapy coming up I should probably save some of those shekels…hmmm, it really is difficult to decide where that money would be best spent…perhaps it’s a good thing that that decision is pretty much made for me since I won’t really be able to knit at all until I’ve at least started the physical therapy…)

What amazes me is the amount I’ve learned about yarn and about wool and about knitting in the past twelve months.  I’ve done tons of research, read an enormous number of blog posts, books and magazines, pored over patterns and yarn catalogues, haunted my LYS, swatched like a mad woman, experimented with knitting new and increasingly difficult things, all in the spirit of learning as much as I can about and spending as much time with something I’ve come to enjoy tremendously.  I actually hadn’t thought much about how much I might have learned and how much experience I’ve gained until I started thinking about what kinds of things I want to keep an eye open for this weekend.  I made the drive to the fairgrounds in another county last year not really having any clue what to expect or what to look for or what I might like, either to wear or to knit with.  This year, armed with more knowledge, I think I might be even more overwhelmed, but at least I have more of an idea of what I’ll actually use and what it would be nice to use for.  My tastes have also changed in the last year, as is they are wont to do with continued learning, which really broadens the possibilities because I’ve become more open minded about some things which before I totally dismissed.  (Like lace, for example.  I’ve gone from thinking knitted lace to be something for the geriatric set to finding much of it really quite beautiful.  And socks.  I’d always dismissed socks as something too difficult for me to attempt, but now knitting socks is firmly set as one of my passions.  Although as much as I like socks, this should be no real surprise.)

So, I guess the short of all this is that I’m excited.  Probably more excited than a person should be about visiting a place that smells like sheep and where one can spend many a dollar on glorified string that hasn’t yet even been turned into anything.  It’s the prospect of what the strands of fiber could become (“ooh, wouldn’t that be really beautiful as a {enter title of lovely project here}”) that is as exciting as anything.  (Although some of the wool is dyed and hanked so very beautifully that one doesn’t really even want to use it but could be content just to look at it and admire its beauty, be proud that it is in the stash cabinet, and on occasion give it a good fond petting or hug.)  Nerdy, glorious fun.  I’ll let you know what I come up with.


Actions speak loudly

April 24, 2010

I’m going to have to be careful with this one, I think.  I’ve thought a lot about whether even to broach the subject, but it has been on my mind so much lately that I think it requires some outlet.

Greatly pervasive in my thoughts in recent days has been the business of friendship.  I really struggle with the idea of friendship, because since my family lives far away (or more accurately, I live far away from my family) I would be completely alone if it were not for my friends. (One of my very closest friends lives far from me as well, but somehow with her the distance really does not seem to matter much.) But having friends is not the same as having family (which in itself can be a bit on the shaky side too, I realize).  There is only so much one can really ask of one’s friends.  As much as your friends love you, they will always have other obligations that will come first in many circumstances.  Totally understandable, completely justifiable, but sometimes strangely disappointing as well.

I recently read a quote that says “If I am falling and you remain silent you are nothing more than an aquaintance”.  I wrote this down and stuck it to my computer monitor at work in the hopes that I would see it often and remember not to remain silent when I see that some other person may need me.  But as I’ve read this over the past few weeks I’ve come to have a different reading of it than I had previously, and it has conjured some questions and emotions that I find myself brooding over and somewhat bewildered by.

Am I a good friend?  To the people whom I call my friends, especially those I claim to care for and cherish the most…am I behaving as a friend or merely as an aquaintance?

But in my typical fashion, I also can’t help but ask the question:  who are my real friends?  Not the ones to whom I am a friend, but the ones who are friends to me?  I’ve been going through a bit of a rough patch lately, and I’ve been in some instances a bit surprised as to which of my friends have really behaved as such.  The usual suspects have been right there, solid as the rock of friendship can be.  With others I have somewhat the hard way found that maybe I’m asking too much of them or maybe I’m expected to be something different from what I’ve been able to pull off the past few weeks or I have no idea what else, but whatever the case the connection was lost as soon as the difficult times began.  And now that I’m starting to feel a bit better, somehow I’m expected to just accept the idea that things should be all hunky-dory again.

I won’t dwell on this or whine about it any longer.  But to those of you whose actions have placed you firmly in the real friendship category, there is nothing I can say to express how thankful I am for you.  I can only hope that my actions will speak as loudly to you as yours have to me.

Shouldering the weight

April 19, 2010

On a recent Sabbath at church a friend from the choir described me as “putting on a brave face”.  While the face I’ve been presenting has, at least to me, not been particularly brave, this description has put me to thinking, and I have to admit that recently the view from here totally bites.

It has been an eventful few weeks, but the thing most predominantly on my mind has been a seriously distressing case of neck and shoulder pain.  It started with what I thought was a kink in my neck that turned into an impossibly frozen shoulder, and I have been driven to distraction by pain unlike anything I have ever experienced.  The MRI I suffered through (and incidentally an MRI, I discovered, is not for the feint of heart…it was a truly awful experience) has revealed what the problem is (herniated disc in my neck) and while a trip to the orthopedist did not fix me (didn’t do anything but thoroughly tick me off and keep me away from work for the majority of an afternoon, in fact), I am at least set up to see more doctors of different sorts who will hopefully have some very clever ideas as to how to take care of this problem.

Other than the hideous pain, my biggest issue (at least in terms of this particular problem) is that I need this to be fixed completely in a very expeditious manner.  Stat, tout suite, etc.  I need this to be quick for several reasons, some of which I will mention here.

1.  We are soon to move out of our building at work.  I will be completely useless in this process if I cannot lift things and pack boxes.  I refuse to be useless.  (I often feel useless, but that is something entirely different.)

2.  I have a huge list of knitting projects that I wish to get through this summer.  I had hoped to complete  a few pairs of socks and at least a couple of sweaters (there are actually many, many sweaters on my list, but I thought two or three would be a reasonable place to start) by the end of the summer.  Knitting is an impossibility in my current condition.  The sweater I started a few weeks ago is languishing on my desk and socks still on needles are beckoning from their basket.

3.  My attitude has been in serious need of adjustment lately anyway, and living on pain medicine is doing nothing to move this in the correct direction.  I am sleepy and cranky and depressed, and more often than usual when someone in a perky mood walks into my office I have a really terrible time resisting the urge to slap the smile right off his or her face.  While doing this might make me feel better (no guarantee, unfortunately, but I’d really, really like to see if it works), it would do nothing to improve general morale.  (While some may think that this should be part of my job description — improving morale, that is, not slapping people — I am surely the wrong person to have been chosen for that particular task.  But I digress.)  My friends and my animals and the poor people who have to deal with me at work on a daily basis are totally sick of me, and rightfully so.

4.  Being in constant pain totally sucks.

5. I am incredibly impatient when it comes to these kinds of things.  My lack of patience affects me in nearly the same manner as do pain meds.  (Refer to No. 3.)

I am having a difficult time coming to terms with the simple fact that getting this problem fixed will not be fast at all (don’t even get to see the first of those other doctors until the end of this week), and I am actually quite nervous about the whole thing.  There is perhaps an up side to this, in that I will hopefully get more reading (my three favorite fiction writers are all coming out with new books within the next few months!!!) and writing accomplished, as these are among the few things one can do with an arm that doesn’t work properly.  (As long as I can continually remind myself that reading and writing are not the same as watching tv shows or movies for hours on end.  One of the problems with not owning a television is that I receive pretty much all of  my visual entertainment in bulk via dvd or online providers.  My stack of books waiting to be read is pointless if I succumb to complete Huluification and Netflixis.)  And, at least for now, my legs still work so walking and hiking are at least within the realm of possibility.

I feel a bit like the weight of the universe is sitting on my left shoulder (or, more accurately, as though a universe’s worth of red-hot kitchen knives are being stabbed into it) and my “brave face” is, if it was actually there in the first place, most definitely starting to crumble.  Trying to keep it up is exhausting.  Pain is exhausting.  Worrying about being in pain is exhausting.  Thinking about how much I’d really like not to be in pain and trying really hard not to constantly complain about constantly being in pain are exhausting.  (I think you get the idea.)

I know that compared to so many things, compared to completely disastrous circumstances in the lives of so many people, my current situation is massively inconsequential.  I should not be complaining about any of this, as everyone has his or her own stuff going on.  (But this is my blog.  I can complain here if I want to.)  I’m trying my very best not to let this particular thing get the better of me, but I have to admit that I’m not doing as well as I’d like and I’m feeling pretty down and out these days.  Hopefully a visit to yet another doctor this Friday will at least help me find a course of action and thus (fingers crossed) relieve a bit of the stress.  More later on that.

I think, though, that at this point (if you’ve taken the time to read today’s ramblings in their entirety) I should be able to consider you duly warned.  It is probably not a good idea to walk into my office smiling.  My right arm still works very well.

Random Wednesday

February 3, 2010

I was going to post something profound and thoughtful, but having been sick in bed for two days I find that my creativity and ability to think are still considerably hindered.  And not wanting to let the urge to post pass me by once again, I’ll turn to randomness to keep me in (return me to?)  the swing of things.

1.  Having taken two sick days this week (I know — ASTONISHING.  I never take sick days.  I really was that sick.) I find that I’m having trouble getting myself back into work mode.  I’m staring longer than usual at the people who present themselves at my desk, and it takes longer than usual for me to comprehend what they’re asking me.  (Part of this is that I’m still too sick to care what they want.  Part is that my ears are hopelessly clogged.  Part is that having been sick I can get away with it.)

2.  My workaholism seems to be waning significantly.  I felt the slightest pang of guilt when I went home on Monday after having made it at work for only an hour and a half, and another fleeting pang when I emailed in sick on Tuesday, but really I harbored no continuing guilt at all.  Again, I was just sick enough to make this justifiable, but it really does concern me a bit because A) I usually can’t handle staying home from work for any reason, and B) if I’m not experiencing chronic guilt at any given moment something must be seriously, radically wrong with me.  Today the guilt is back in general, so no need to worry, but the reality is that somehow I no longer wish to work as hard or as many hours as I used to want to.  (The fact that this means that I am either burned out or permanently broken is something that needs cogitation and will perhaps be addressed at another time.)

3.  I am uncontrollably, helplessly addicted to my iPhone.  I have no idea how I ever lived without the thing, nor do I wish to try ever again.

4.  I’ve started reading again.  After not having finished a book for months (again with the astonishing, I know…I’ve been a bit off kilter, I think…well, obviously) I’ve delved back into the literary (or rather, not-so-literary, as the truth would have it) world with a fervor almost close to what it used to be.  (Can that still be called fervor?) I now remember how I best get through my free time. (There are ever so many ways to justify and/or rationalize the situation if a fictional character turns out to be less than I wished for.)

5.  A friendship I’ve been experimenting with has turned out to be a complete disappointment.  Although, come to think of it, this was expected, so I guess disappointment is a bit of an overstatement.

6.  Another friendship I’ve been experimenting with may have some potential.  While my guess is probably not, I’m trying to extend myself into the realm of optimism for once (so very many astonishing things today) so I’m not yet pooh-poohing the thing entirely.

7.  Talking about experimental friendships makes me miss my friends.  The real ones, the tried and true.

8.  Being sick (or maybe being home…resting…like a normal human) has taken away the crankies (for now) but has, as it is wont to do, brought on the blues.  Or maybe just induced a reality check.  Sometimes I’m unable to discern between those two things.

9.  While the above randomness may tend toward exposing my anti-social side (ok I know…the use of the word ‘side’ here is more than a smidge of an understatement…) and the pessimism that goes along with (at least for me) having such a side, I am not the ingrate I seem to be.  One of the things that has been pretty powerfully returning to me lately is a sense of gratitude.  Really profound gratitude.  For my friends and loved ones, for my job, for my warm and cozy place to live, for my cute car, for the fact that the holiday season is over and will not return for nearly another year.  For so many things.

10.  And gratitude?  Gratitude has the potential to warm me as very few other things can.  While hobbies, friends, loved ones, things and people I wish could be with me for the long haul tend to ebb and flow, to enter and leave my life seemingly at random, I’m always ok if I have gratitude.  Because if I am thankful it means that I am remembering that I have Someone to whom to be thankful.  And as long as I’m remembering that Someone and the leadership and care that He has afforded me, somehow I’m different.  Different in a really good way.  I remember that the truly valuable, truly good stuff of life (including my existence itself) is indeed not at all random but is part of my life for a reason.

7:00 and all is…well…

August 3, 2009

Where on earth does the time go?  When I enter my apartment do I have my own little time zone, one in which time mysteriously speeds up or is somehow different from earth’s normal time keeping rules?  Does my axial spin somehow get faster when I have things to do?  (Thank goodness I don’t have to plan my time on Jupiter…very, very short days there….)

A few posts ago I declared determination to set some structure to my time. What’s happened to that?  Right. Out. The. Window.

I got home from work today just after 5:00, hoping to “get some stuff done.”  Since I had been really quite productive at work today, I decided to reward myself with a little reading time.  Two hours later (way too little and way too much reading time), I still have the following to do:

Get dinner off the stove

Eat dinner (don’t think I’ll make it with two asparagus spears and a bite of cottage cheese)

Finish my glass of diet coke before all the fizz goes away (I hate that)

Take the dog for a walk

Take myself for a walk

Do laundry

Find something in the attic that I should have filed properly in the first place

Do dishes

Organize my desk

Work on the sock I’m knitting (or maybe put this off because I’m afraid to start the heel)

Other various stuff that I’m sure needs doing right now that should have been done while I spent yesterday knitting and watching Stargate-SG1 (season 4 is really good).

You see?  As usual no structure.  So, maybe I just need to prioritize instead.  I have had some relax/reading time, and I’ve managed to at least heat up dinner, and I remembered to send a friend a happy birthday text message.  Three things down. (Well four, I guess…surely blog updates count.) Not truly terrible for two (ok, make that two and a half now) hours.  

Guess I’ll go get some more done before I succumb to complete and utter laziness (“forget it, its too late to do anything now anyway” comes to mind).

Sending Transmission

July 27, 2009

Feefee the Jeepy-Jeep (my beloved car) is having some issues.  This past week Feefee and I had some very stressful times, and while I think that at least for the immediate future we’ll be ok (thanks to $600 worth of repairs last Friday), I still don’t think she’s feeling at all well.

You see, it seems that Feefee has transmission problems.  (I guess this has been a very common problem with Jeeps between the model years 2000 to 2004, and I’m just lucky that mine has made it to its not especially elderly 87k.) Thanks to my good friend and newest (and possibly forever, at least in the car department…you’re stuck with me now, Pal) go-to guy Michael Polan, I found a trusty and friendly transmission repair place that is (mostly) within walking distance of my house and work.  I sent Feefee in for some not-terribly-costly repairs (which I was told fixed problems like hers about 85% of the time…), but she’s still suffering a bit.  I guess it could best be described as, well, being a bit like me — no low gear, only high gear. (She actually has low gears, of course, but they don’t always engage properly…my car and I are ever so much alike.)  I think she’ll last a bit longer, as most of our take-offs (I’d say about 99% of them at this point) are still perfectly fine.  But I am now faced with a really difficult decision:  Do I have her transmission rebuilt and hope that extends her life a great deal longer, or do I…I can hardly even think it…trade her in for a newer model (or maybe a different model altogether…one that works will do)?

I have two major problems with this last option.  Firstly, I am totally attached to this car.  We’ve been through some major stuff together.  She’s the first car I’ve ever purchased and completely finished paying for all by myself.  We’ve had camping trips, trips up and down the East coast, and a trip across the country and back together, not to mention many trips around town to teach students, and to the vet and the grocery store.  (Wisely, Sylvia talked me out of driving myself to have my wisdom teeth removed.  Sad, in a way…that would have truly been a bonding experience between Feefee and me…but I fear we would not have made it home.  Well, we absolutely would not have.  Thanks, Slyv.  You’re a good friend.)  Lots of history.  Feefee has been very faithful to me, and I feel like I’m letting her down by even thinking about another car.  

Secondly, I really DO NOT want a car payment right now.  Well, ever.  I hate making payments on things, and the fewer bills I have to remember to pay every month the better.  (I am really terrible at paying the bills.  It gets done, but I hate it.  Worse than dishes, worse than grocery shopping, worse than grooming the dog, worse than fixing the toilets at work.  Hate.  Loathe.  Despise.)

These are my choices, neither of them particularly palatable.  Luckily I have some time to think about it.  I think I’ll avoid discussing it with Feefee until the decision is made, however.  I need to be able to take a firm hand and just tell her what is happening rather than asking her permission.  And here’s something I need to keep in mind:  my car is an inanimate object that does not care whether I trade it in or whether it works or whether I get to work on time (this last one is sketchy most of the time anyway and cannot be blamed on my vehicle).  Note to self:  remember this.

I will be spending the next few weeks doing some research and trying to decide what might be the best decision regarding Feefee the Jeepy-Jeep my car situation.  (See, I’m already doing better.)  If you see me speeding around town sometime in the not-too-distant future in something small and silver instead of the usual red blur, don’t be surprised.  Whatever decision I make will I’m sure be the correct one, and I will live with it and be happy because that’s the way I’m trying to be in as many areas of my life as possible.  (No, really.  I am.)

In which I…gasp…

July 22, 2009

I can’t even bear to say it yet, so I’ll start with a story.

In early March of 2008 I wandered into a little novelty shop and for whatever reason the learn-to-knit kits caught my eye.  I left the shop with one, having been encouraged by a friend to look into finding a hobby other than working and reading and spending too much money on degrees I’m not using. 

When I opened the kit, read the instructions (hey, this couldn’t be too difficult, right?  Grandma, after all, tried to teach me as a kid, so I can’t really be considered a complete novice, right?), and produced a pretty little purple swatch of garter stitch from the needles and hank of purple yarn (which I promptly managed to render a hideously tangled mess, not having read the instructions thoroughly (or at all, really)  and thus having no idea that I was supposed to turn the hank into a ball before use), I soon declared to my friends and family that I had taken up knitting. 

The response?  Laughter.  Without exception.  For many years, in fact a good deal of my life, I would not tread within a hundred yards of a craft store.  Crafts were for people too dimwitted to read a proper book or work a few extra hours at the office.  Crafts were a waste of time and heinously boring.  Crafts were for people who had no real hobbies (such as reading or working).   These are things I staunchly and unapologetically declared everytime I saw a craft store.  In short, I totally asked for it.  The laughter at the other end of the phone (did I mention this was without exception?) was warranted and deserved.  I got the question from my stepmom:  “Does this mean we get little knitted stuff for Christmas?”, or something snide to that effect.  Also deserved, although a bit feeling-damaging, as at the time I had actually considered it.  But my friends and family came to accept the fact that, yes, Jessica had taken up a craft and, yes, looks like she’s not joking, and as time went by, yes, looks like she’s actually really into it.  She still talks about it, at least.  (I’m sure there were some relieved people in my family when Christmas came and went this last year with no knitted gifts.  The fact that they received from me no gifts at all does not, I’m sure, lessen that relief in the slightest.)  (Lest you think me a complete jerk, we did not exchange gifts among the adults (oh, how loosely I use this term) in our family this past year.  And lest anyone think they will be recieving any knitted thing at all, for any occasion in the future, well, you can go ask the stepmom why not.)  (I am sure this last statement has only intensified the relief…but most certainly I digress….)

I have to admit that the knitting had a brief hiatus when things got really busy at work last fall.  There was also a brief bout of crochet, but I still don’t know what that was all about.  (I guess its a good thing to know how to do, though, as it is called for in a knitting pattern or two and is handy for edging things.)   But after I returned home from my Christmas holidays I flung myself back into knitting with a vengeance.  I tried new stitches (I swatch like a mad woman), cast on new projects, and have even finished a nice (well, at least I think it is nice) scarf for Sylvia.  (If she doesn’t really like it then she has very recently become a much better liar than she used to be.)  A month or so ago I boldly strode into a sweater pattern (albeit an easy one), and was oh so proud of myself when the back was completed.  “I am becoming a real knitter!”, I excitedly thought to myself.  I even referred to myself not too long ago (I can’t at the moment exactly recall where…facebook?…I’d really rather forget about it anyway) as an “avid” knitter.

Oh, how pride doth go before a really bad (really, really bad) fall. 

Earlier this week I cast on what was to be the front piece of my sweater.  I was nearly halfway finished with it when I became a bit frustrated.  I had always thought that my stitches were a bit wonky, but it hadn’t really mattered before too much because a) I was essentially a beginner, so my stitches couldn’t possibly yet be expected to be as beautiful as those of Kristine or Marcie or others who had been knitting much longer than I, and b) my wonky stitches hadn’t shown up so much in the stitch patterns I had been doing.  But my stockinette stitch was killing me (its not all that interesting to knit miles and miles of this, so its no wonder I started looking more closely at my stitching).  It was not even remotely pretty or even.  I kept telling myself that a non-knitter wouldn’t really notice that much, but it was really bothering me, so I had to figure out what was wrong.  I tried everything.  Different tension, not pulling funny on my knit rows, different needles, different yarn.  Nothing worked.  So, I went back to the very basics.  I looked at how I was doing the very basic stitches.  (Have I yet used the words “very basic”?)

I still can barely say it.  It is nearly impossible to face.  I have been knitting for nearly a year and a half and all of this time I have been purling incorrectly.  Incorrectly.  Purling.  From what I know (which, apparently, is absolutely nothing, zero) this is the second most basic stitch.

Out came the front of the sweater.  The frogging of it was so intensely sad I had to call someone afterward.  But, in the hopes of marching boldly onward, I swatched a bit to practice the movement of how actual purling is done (as opposed the fake-ass purl nonsense that I had come up with…I still haven’t figured out how I learned to do that so very wrongly…I really don’t want to know).  Then I recast the front of my sweater and tried again.  The new (real) purl stitch makes my knitting look so much better (oh great surprise), but now I’m dropping stitches all over the place.  Frogged the front again (and chucked it, along with all pretense of optimism, to the other side of the couch)  and haven’t had the heart to cast it on for a third time. 

I think I’ll finish one of the other projects I have on my needles and I’ll finish it gloriously incorrectly and save learning how to knit for real for another day.  Laugh away, friends and family.  I will in time come to laugh at the moment as well.  Or not.  No, probably not.