Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Fuzz

For most of the quite nearly 100 years of its existence, our building has been sliding slowly into what is called, with good reason, Manhattan Valley. This means that the floors in our apartment are so slanted that if, say, a vat of water were suddenly dumped in the living room, by the time the water got to kitchen it would have developed the momentum necessary for playing Poohsticks. While this might be a selling point for the under-5 set, for a cranky grown-up like myself the slant in the floor has been a source of great frustration since Todd and I moved in over two years ago: it's impossible to do yoga at home, for one thing, and for another, until very recently, our office was configured in such a way that it was necessary to place rugs under our desk chairs; without some form of traction, all we would have been able to accomplish at our desks was hanging onto the edge of them for dear life (a visiting friend once found the fun in this situation, pushing off from the desk while leaning left or right, causing the desk chair to circle in an amusement park ride-esque manner as it flew downhill. This is all fun and games until someone runs into the closet doorknob, but I digress).

For the first year or so in the apartment, the office chairs were anchored with the remains of a very, very old, very, very dirty, and very, very fake Persian carpet that Todd had purchased long before he had me around to save him from himself. In true economical graduate student fashion, we cut the carpet in two, placing one half under each of our office chairs. The dirt-encrusted pile of the carpets provided excellent traction.

If I had gotten hired at a New York City college with faculty housing, the story would have ended with tossing the rug and moving on to spacious and level living conditions, but as it turns out I got hired at the other type of New York City college, which meant I had both the means and the need to shop at Ikea. My deep hatred for Ikea really warrants its own post; for now, let's just say that after painstaking internet research and some phone calls, we drove out to a New Jersey-based Ikea to purchase Ringums. I chose a red Ringum for myself; Todd opted for a more masculine beige.

So Red Ringum came home with us a little over a year ago. I was filled with such hope. Red Ringum was going to save us from the slant and look good doing it. And Red Ringum did in fact accomplish both of these objectives; the problem was that Red Ringum wanted to do so much more. Be so much more. Be so many more places.

Red ringum. red ringum. redringum. redringum redringum redrum redrum REDRUM.

Excuse me. Where was I?

It turned out that Red Ringum shed. A lot. It was like living with Clifford. Red fuzz in every corner of the apartment. Red fuzz in the bed. Red fuzz stuck to my students' homework. Red fuzz in my mucus. Red fuzz in my lungs. Red fuzz in my knitting projects (hardcore readers - or readers in need of further procrastination fodder - should feel free to look back through my various knitwear pictures, clicking on them for big file versions, because at least one of the pictures clearly shows a red fuzz infestation).

Do you remember those almost certainly carcinogenic red tablets that the the dentist would give you to chew after brushing your teeth, or was that only my dentist? Any lingering tartar would be dyed red, and from this you were supposed to learn something about oral hygiene, and possibly also something about the futility of doing your best.

The slightest hint of Red Ringum's fuzz had a similarly revealing effect on what would otherwise have been mostly unnoticeable standard issue dustbunnies.

Over the course of several heroic attempts to clean Red Ringum into submission, Todd succeeded in little more than severely damaging our vacuum cleaner. It became clear that the shedding would only stop when the supply was exhausted. Red Ringum was an evil, twisted version of The Giving Tree. I had, alas, thrown away the noble bisected Persian carpet in a fit of optimism/hubris, and so, in order to keep my desk chair from going into amusement park ride mode, I had no choice but to live with Red Ringum until such time as we were able to replace it. And that day, my friends, is today. Today Red Ringum is being put on the street with the following note:

Free carpet! No bedbugs, but shedding will drive you crazier than the bugs would.

I would be sad about Red Ringum leaving (I'm irrationally sentimental), but I know from long, bitter experience that he won't ever really be completely gone. Kind of like shingles. Or the New Delhi Police (motto: For You, With You, Always).

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Knitting and Criticism: Presenting Samantha

Finished in a frenzy of end-weaving and last-minute spot blocking (spritz with water, stick in pins as needed and set the blow drier on cool...), Samantha by Kate Gilbert is finally, finally, FINALLY finished.

While by and large I am pleased with the finished product, this was far from a joy to knit for several reasons. The main issue was problems with neck shaping: after much fiddling and some cursing, I took the mess over to a local yarn store where the staff confirmed that I wasn't crazy but the neck shaping was. I set the project aside for a while in part because I was mad at it and in part because I had other pressing knitting deadlines, but eventually I picked it up and took it to Portugal, where I would have made more progress on it had the *&^%$ security personnel at the Lisbon airport not confiscated my needles just before the 8 hour flight home. Hate. hate.

Back home, I waited and waited for Kate to write me back with pattern corrections, and eventually, fearing that winter break (read: vital knitting time) would pass before I heard from her, I wrote to a fellow Samantha knitter who had noted on her Ravelry account that Kate had sent her the corrected pattern. Said knitter responded quickly and heroically, sending me the corrected pattern (and I did send her my pdf of the old, incorrect pattern as proof that I had bought the original pattern so, knitting copyright police, there's no reason to think that there was anything unethical about this heroic intervention). For the record, Kate did eventually respond to my email, but much later than was useful. Kate is a very talented and popular designer and so, despite the name of this blog, I hesitate to say anything too critical; still, I do think that if a designer has a website and they know that they've been selling a pattern with critical errors, it would be appropriate to post errata on the website, particularly if the designer has difficulty responding to email in timely manner.

Besides the annoyances of the neck shaping errors, it seems that the corrected pattern (at least the one sent to me by the heroic helpful Samantha knitter) also has an error in collar instructions: basically, picking up an odd number of stitches (as the pattern suggests for all sizes) will not work; the easiest fix is just to add one stitch to the suggested number of stitches (e.g., for the size I knit, the pattern suggested picking up 71 stitches for the collar, so I picked up 72).

The final annoying thing may be more of a function of the yarn that I chose (Zara 100% merino) rather than the pattern itself, but the picot edges simply wouldn't lie flat no matter how much I blocked them. This is minor and actually not nearly as annoying as finishing the picot edge itself (it made me want to gouge out my eyes with knitting needles), but still. I'd say that knitting this yarn a bit more loosely than I did might have made the problem less pronounced (I had to knit it a bit tightly to get gauge). On the bright side, I chose Zara because I knew that it has great stitch definition, and sure enough, the smocking and eyelet really did come out nicely.

The buttons were a singular triumph - I'm normally horribly indecisive, but I always immediately know whether or not buttons are right for a project. If only I could somehow transfer this vital clarity to other areas of my life. In this case, even with the assistance of a disconcertingly handsome and helpful salesman at M and J Trimmings, I failed to locate anything that I liked, but then another knitter who was looking for cute kid buttons for a another cute little knit dress (and one that was blissfully devoid of picot edging) came over to me to ask about a box of buttons I had disregarded, and I happened to see a box of buttons that she had disregarded, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Thank god.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Why yes, I am taking pictures of my underwear and posting them online

Yesterday, post-yoga and post-mildew encrusted shower (since I stopped being a work-study person at my yoga studio things have gone seriously downhill), I was in the process of putting on one of my new, hard-won, $48 bras when twang - the strap came unglued.

Yes, UNGLUED. To the causal observer, the strap appears to be sewn, but on closer inspection, it seems that some kind of pinpoint-pronged heated press was used to MELT stitch-like marks on the fabric.

At the time, I attributed my ability to continue calmly dressing rather than mutate into a obscenity-spewing monster to the Power of Yoga, though honestly it also might have been my general inclination to save that kind of behavior for home.

Time to start knitting my own underwear.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

In the immortal words of Giles: "Actually, I feel quite well, except for the rage."

I went bra shopping earlier this week and I have some thoughts about it. Thoughts that have been building since the first humiliating 32AAA shopping experience of my early years. And developing bona fide breasts didn't make the shopping experience any less awful, probably because by the time I actually grew breasts worthy of support I was paying for my own bras (this is a little-noted disadvantage to being a very late bloomer, often overshadowed in the literature by the more obvious psychological scarring of being the flattest girl in one's grade, lacking a bra strap to be snapped by the cutest guy in the 8th grade, not even remotely filling out the top of one's junior year homecoming gown, etc, etc.)

But anyway, bra shopping: I hate it. Possibly the only thing I have ever hated more than bra shopping was my afternoon section of Anthro 1001 last semester, but those horrible children are happily gone from my life forever and bra shopping will torment me until I die or become too demented to do it on my own. Speaking of undergarments and terminal illness, I took my demented grandmother bra shopping a little over a year ago, and I have to say that while the prospect of contracting dementia is crushingly depressing, it is cheering to think that when I succumb to my genetic destiny, someone else will be charged with the task of pawing through rack upon rack of tangled brassieres only to discover after no less than 30 minutes that they are absolutely out of the necessary size. And I think that's the best I can do as far as having a good attitude about bra shopping is concerned, so back to complaining, which in this case, as is often the case, is more properly described as honesty, or even better, as satyakriya, literally, truth-act, which in classical Sanskrit literature is often a speech, usually uttered by a woman in great duress, that by virtue of its its power as spoken truth, changes lamentable situations - bra shopping, for example - for the better.


Bra makers have us. They SO have us. They have us in a capacity that is possibly only rivaled by manufacturers of the sinisterly-named family of "feminine hygiene" (or, worse, "feminine protection") products. A machine-crafted piece of nasty ugly itchy polyester lace-encrusted spandex made in a Chinese prison just down the barb-wired lane from a prison that produces claw machine stuffed animals retails for a minimum of $25; a less odious, vaguely wearable piece of spandex-laced polyester, often with the brand name emblazoned on it in places that, in both their capacity as private and sexy, should not be functioning as advertising mediums, retails for $50, minimum. Actually, the price point for mid-range bras is more like $48, but screw them, that's effectively fifty dollars, FIFTY DOLLARS, half of one hundred, and once you throw in a few pairs of matching panties, you are indeed at $100, or nearly.

And regarding Victoria's Secret bras, with their inch-plus padding, Barbie-esqe rigidly sculpted cups, unimaginatively slutty styling, and absolute crap quality (the Secret is possibly that they are sewn with water-soluble thread), I have nothing to say except that people who seem to enjoy shopping there tend to refer to the store as Victoria's Secrets, suggesting that they may be illiterate enough not to be distracted or otherwise dismayed by the Victoria's Secret logos that cover every exposed inch of the store's products. Lucky them.

And then there are the bras that I would buy if I were either an investment banker or getting paid in British pounds - lovely, sexy, wearable and, you know, $98 or so. Which is to say one hundred dollars. Which is a lot more than boys pay for their undies. And boys' undies are also machine washable. Which is why the rage.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Is that a new knitting project...

or are you just happy to see me?

Thursday, January 10, 2008


I'm back from a rather disappointing vacation in Portugal. There was some unusual and often lovely architecture (Ask me about the Manueline style! I dare you.)

And a popular form of Portuguese Christmas decoration looks a lot like Santa has been executed, which really warms my heart:

But beyond these minor perks, Portugal left a lot to be desired. However, with the perspective afforded by a good night's sleep, and in the spirit of self-help, I have decided to suppress my natural inclination to complain openly about the whole experience and instead ask myself what I learned on the trip. Which is just to say that I am now going to complain in a roundabout manner.

I learned, most importantly, that drinking massive amounts of Portuguese wine and port does not give me a hangover. I have no idea why this is the case, but thank goodness it is, because heavy drinking made everything else on the vacation more bearable.

I learned that I am old, which is to say, I am set in my ways. If I cannot eat (mostly) vegetarian food, do yoga on a regular basis, and/or have full, large breakfasts (as opposed to nasty dry rolls, Nescafe, and in one memorable instance, little snack cakes with an expiration date of December 2006), I become a weeping, angry, and, frankly, extremely constipated monster.

(No picture here. I'll reconsider if I receive an overwhelming number of requests for photos of the above mentioned monster.)

I learned that I am actually a raging Orientalist. Clomping grimly along the cobblestoned lanes of the umteenth walled medieval city built by the Knights Templar (now overrun with packs of feral Italian tourists), I found myself thinking all about how much more interesting Indian public space is, with the livestock and the crumbling ancient splendor, the wild traffic, and the exotic people with their exotic street food harboring exotic intestinal parasites; looking at the umpteeth crumbling castle with little to note beyond the style of crenellation, I found myself thinking about Mughal architecture, grand Hindu temples, and Ellora and Ajanta. I am apparently Adela Quested after all, and if Edward Said were still alive and if he knew me, he would be very, very disappointed in me. Good thing I'm unimportant and he's dead.

I learned that with great concentration and deep breathing, it is possible for me to knit in a car without getting carsick, even on twisty mountain roads in the heart of the cork/grape/olive/orange producing regions of central Portugal. Positive note: cork trees, freshly shorn, are strangely beautiful:

The result of my car-bound knitting efforts was the completion of the muskox scarf, now blocking happily, soon to battle the frigid 50 degree temperatures we're currently experiencing here in New York.

I also made a lot of progress on a Project That Cannot Be Named On This Blog since it's a gift and the recipient may be reading this.

And finally, I learned that Portugal is the most loathsome little backwater of a provincial European wanna-be nation that ever adopted the Euro as its currency because at the Lisbon airport they confiscated my knitting needles - rudely - and made me run back to the airline counter and check them as baggage. In my six years of post-9-11 flying - national and international - this has NEVER happened; most recently at Newark airport on the flight to Portugal, during a hand check of my backpack, the homeland security guy pulled out my knitting bag and said "Oh - okay - knitting needles. We couldn't quite tell from the x-ray machine. Sorry about that. No problem." For readers who might wonder if maybe knitting needles should be banned on flights, consider this:

To the old Sesame Street tune: One of these things is banned on airplanes out of Lisbon; c'mon, can you tell which one; can you guess which thing is banned on airplanes out of Lisbon; guess before my song is done; and now my song is done.

And if that doesn't convince you of the absurdity of banning knitting needles on flights, consider this:

That's my index finger, of course, pointing upward, asking you to reconsider the above needle/pencil comparison.