Saturday, August 30, 2008

Shawl by Paula Bunyan

Dude, seriously.
Ninety-nine inches.

Spitting Distance

Don't talk to me please. (Commenting doesn't count.)

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

I wish it fit me.

Ruby's Drifting

Pattern: Fiona Ellis, Inspired Fair Isle Knits, Potter Craft 2007
Size: 2 years
Cast on: August 2, 2008
Bound off: August 21, 2008
Tension: 22 sts, 28 rows in stockinette
Needle: 4.0mm and 4.5mm Clover Takumi bamboo circular
SandnesGarn Smart, 100% pure new wool, 50g (100m)
5226 (A - Plum, 2 balls)
1012 (B - White, 1 ball)
7033 (C - Aqua, 1 ball)
4715 (D - Pink, 1 ball)
8615 (E - Lime, 1 ball)
SandnesGarn Lanett Superwash 100% merino wool. 50g (195m) #5836 (F - Blue, 3 balls, held double throughout)
Yarn Source: Needle & Arts Centre
Yarn Cost: around $60
Modifications: None (ETA: forgot that I did change something. The instructions for the front neck band call for picking up 46 stitches - that works out to more than the number of stitches/rows. I knit the neck band as directed and it was way too long. It was wavy, wouldn't lie flat, and distorted the neck edge. I ripped it out and tried picking up 36 stitches instead - it worked much better. I also decreased after the eyelet row on the front neck, one stitch on each side of the centre 6 stitches, to help it lie flat. This worked beautifully.
1) There is an error in the chart, on row 9. The last 7 stitches should be k3 in colour E, k4 colour A. Chart has k7 colour A with no symbol.
2) I don't like that the fair isle band is worked flat. It would have been just as easy to work the sweater in the round to the armholes, then divide - that would have made the FI band so much easier, and the finishing so much neater.
3) I LOVE this sweater. I wish I could make one for my daughter but I have a feeling it wouldn't look as cute in a gigantic size like a 7 year old, or a 4 year old, would need. I think I have enough yarn scraps to make a hat, though, so I'll get my final Drifting fix that way.

All right, on to the photos.

This first one is to show you how many ends you are looking at weaving in, if you knit this sweater (I'm talking to you, Kristine). It took me two and a half days of weaving - not steadily, but whenever I had a chance. I am careful with ends, and these are superwash, of course, so you do have to run them in pretty thoroughly as they won't felt in by themselves. It was okay though: I just queued up about 15 episodes of Cast On and let my butt mould into the shape of the corner of the couch. When there are this many ends, you have to be careful, too, to not run them all into the seam at the same don't want the seam too thick.

See? Seamy goodness. (The side seam shot is kind of a trademark of mine.)

On this sweater the left side button band opens, but the right side button band does not. You're supposed to just sew the buttons right through both layers, but to make sure Ruby's grownups aren't confused by the mysteriously "stuck" buttonholes, I also whip-stitched the right hand button band closed, so it would stay purty. Didn't get a very good picture of it, though.

Here you can see the left-hand button band as well - the one that opens.

I love the feel of this sweater - the weight of the finished fabric. It's very heavy and warm, but so soft and pleasantly drapey. The two different wools do feel different - the purple on the bottom is "new wool", a bit scratchy, and the blue is merino. Divinely soft. I suspect that the blue may pill up a little bit, but the purple should be good for a long while.

And it's time to pack this up for its trip back east...of course I am a gigantic geek so I have wrapped the sweater in five colours of tissue, matching the yarn colours.

Yes, I know. Go ahead and laugh. It would have been six but I can't find the purple.

I would knit this beautiful sweater again in a heartbeat. It was fun, very quick, and so satisfying to see all those vivid colours together. I think it's going to be so lovely on little Ruby, who has dark hair and eyes.

Joe and Dave, I hope you like Drifting. And I'd love to see some pictures of it on Ruby, after her birthday. Thanks for commissioning me to do this - it was an absolute pleasure.


Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Then I Played the Concertina While She Interpretive-Danced to the Skye Boat Song.

Last night I dreamt that I met a woman at a conference, and befriended her. We went out for coffee a couple of times over the weekend we were there. She liked my kids. We had some really good conversations and during one of these I discovered she was a knitter. The day she left, she brought a box of yarn over for my daughter - the box was huge, like the size of a coffee table. She said she had this kit and wasn't going to knit it herself, so Charlotte could have it. I was astonished to see "Isle of Gress" on the box, and peered rather closely at my new friend.

It was Alice Starmore.

ALICE FREAKING STARMORE, and she LIKED me! She really liked me! I woke up feeling the press of happy tears, and I wouldn't have been a bit surprised to find my hair had all turned white.

True story.

Monday, August 25, 2008

And I Know He Watches Me

Erudite Mondays at HalfSoled Boots
Volume 5, Number 4

Mary Doria Russell

I'm torn. I have just finished this novel and have sat down to write the review, but I feel compelled to write instead an essay. That would be boring for you to read, though, and probably irrelevant unless you've already - and recently - read this book. I'll try to find some middle ground, examining theme and metaphor and technique without getting too technical...but if I don't succeed, forgive me - there is a lot of information swimming around in my head, jostling for position in an attempt to settle into some kind of meaningful analysis.

Father Emilio Sandoz, SJ, is the sole survivor of a Jesuit-sponsored mission to Rakhat, in Alpha Centauri, where humanity has at last detected the first traces of extra-terrestrial intelligence. After the disastrous mission comes to an end, he is sent home to account for the events on Rakhat and to face allegations of murder and sexual depravity. The novel is set up as a retrospective (which, by the way, is emerging as my favourite novel structure - characters living through a difficult present as they are forced to acknowledge, explore, and dissect the tortuous past) which Mary Doria Russell unfolds in her characteristic cryptic, uneasy style. This is another case of knowing the bare bones of what happened, but craving the meaty detail - the fleshing-out of the story.

You'll understand that last sentence all too clearly when you read the book.

There are a lot of characters in this book, which I also found true of A Thread of Grace, Russell's story of the Italian Resistance in World War II. It can be confusing, at times, to keep the names straight and remember what's important about everybody. It's helpful to read the thing quickly, though - your experience of the book would be much less if you kept putting it down and picking it up over the course of a couple of months.

If you've read Orson Scott Card's Hugo and Nebula Awards winner Speaker for the Dead, you'll find some similarities in The Sparrow. There is the Catholic mission attempting to reach and observe the culture of a forest-dwelling, outwardly pacific race of sentient beings. There is the moment when foreboding becomes horror as the characters discover the aliens' capacity for gruesome, ritual violence. There is the uncovering of cultural and biological reasons for the bloodshed, and an examination of how impossible it is for an observer to understand, in any meaningful or visceral level, a culture different from his own.

But the culture discussion is not the most striking one in the book. The really good stuff happens on the spiritual plane. Here, as everywhere, mankind is seeking God. And I was tempted to say "something higher than himself", in order to make this review palatable to everyone, but it wouldn't have been true. The main character is unapologetically seeking God. The deity. And not finding God "within himself", either, or any other cosy, feel-good, pat answer. He's not "in nature", he's not "all around us", he's not "in the love we give others".

Emilio Sandoz is already a priest when the story begins. But he doesn't experience a true vocation, a calling, until the first music is heard from the binary star system Alpha Centauri. He hears the song of an alien voice from the sky; the Arecibo Radio Telescope is his road to Damascus. His journey from that moment is inexorable: orchestrated, he is sure, by Heaven to bring him to where he can see the face of God.

He undertakes the mission to Rakhat not to save souls, not to bring a gospel, but in search of an answer to his own questions. The journey is the refining fire that will strengthen him, a vessel worthy of its calling, sure at last in the presence and the intent of the Divine. Like mankind itself, though, Sandoz steps, in innocence, on a path that will bring him not to enlightenment, but to utter darkness.

It all begins with the garden. There is beauty and fruitfulness, followed by bloodshed. There is anguish, horror, and a steadily mounting grief as everything good is stripped away. Even then, bound and stricken, the stumbling priest is sure that he is sustained by God's unerring hand. He can feel meaning, just out of his grasp but coming nearer every moment. He turns, before his captors, to see at last what he is sure will be the face of God. What meets him is not divinity, but devastation: the methodical and thorough destruction of spirit.

The Sparrow is an uneasy experience. It creeps into your chest and wriggles in chilly lines into the pit of your belly. Mary Doria Russell asks questions that she doesn't give answers to. She tells you dreams for which she, herself, has no interpretation.

It may not be for everyone, but it's brilliant. It's an intelligent and unflinching story that asks hard questions and, more importantly, leads the reader to ask the same questions. Mankind's quest for God is the overarching theme, but Russell doesn't take an easy path. She leads her readers on a gruelling climb, bringing them to the top of the mountain hungry, blinded by scorching sun, with bleeding feet. Then she leaves them there - confused, helpless, choking on the bitterness of betrayal - to make their own way down.

Half Soled Boots Highly Specialised Book Rating System
The Sparrow gets

Reread? Undoubtedly.
Given to Others? Yes.
Bookplate? Yes. I only wish I had ordered a hardcover.



Thanks so much, all of you who commented with your favourite books. I used my good old hatpin to stab a winner...I was going to simply choose one, but began to feel responsible for the dejectedness that would surely result amongst the non-winners, and chickened out.

I wrote words from each of your comments on a piece of paper (freedom, impoverished, historical, individuality, utterly, despair, profound, cerebral) shut my eyes, spun the paper, and jabbed wildly. Congratulations to Rachel, who should email me with her address.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Feet, Don't Fail Her Now

My friend Mel over at Pipe Dreams and Purling Plans needs your help. She and her husband Tad will be walking 60 miles for Breast Cancer research - 20 miles a day on October 3rd, 4th and 5th - to honour the memory of her mother Linda, who succumbed to the disease in 2004. To increase awareness and to raise funds to benefit research, Mel is holding a little blog contest.

She is offering a chance to win one of her beautiful prizes for every $10 donated to the 3Day. She started out offering two prizes: a copy of the out-of-print Poems of Color - Knitting in the Bohus Tradition, and a skein of beautiful mohair yarn. As word has begun to spread, though, others have donated prizes for her to award, and her full collection (so far) can be viewed here.

Please click over to Pipe Dreams and Purling Plans and read Mel's story for yourself. Donate if you feel you can, or if you have some irresistible knitterly prize, consider passing it on for the cause.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Land Ho!

Drifting is almost completely finished. I have numerous - not to say multitudinous - ends to weave in, and she will be all done. I tried to get some nice pictures for you but it was horridly dark today and the flashed shots were just too garishly lit for my taste. I opted to suppress the flash, ending up with a more subdued colour than in reality, but preferring the mellow tone of these photos.

I went to the fabric store this evening in search of buttons. Buttons are difficult. Buttons are problematic. Buttons are a tricky thing. You don't want them to overwhelm the garment, but it's all too easy to err on the side of caution and end up with nondescript, boring buttons. You want them to be eye-catching, but not obtrusive. As to size, you have to be careful with knitted items because the buttonholes are often fairly tight to begin with, but are easily stretched. A too-large button will pull the band out of shape - a too-small button will come undone at inopportune moments.

Today I had a pretty good button-search experience, actually, only trying seven different buttons before I found the winner. I tried two or three rather rustic-looking, matte plastic hearts and flowers, but though they looked fine on the papers, they looked cheap on the sweater. I went to a more standard, round button, but they were jaw-crackingly boring.

Then I spotted, hiding on the bottom rack of the button spinner, some beautiful pewter butterflies. They are a great shape for knitwear - about twice as wide as they are tall, so they will be easy to button (provided you put them in wing-tip-first) but the width will keep them in place once they are there. Also - butterflies! Pretty!

And here's more button love for you.

I spent yesterday blocking the sweater, and tried a new technique this time - forcing steam through the knitting using my iron, without touching the soleplate to the fabric.

It worked remarkably well. The knitting smoothed out beautifully, and dried quickly. I love blocking - everything looks so right, pinned flat and with a patina of mist over it. Wool loves water, and water covers a multitude of sins. I'll use the steam blocking method again, because it was so darn fast and easy. I still prefer the soak-and-stretch, but this garment was already biggish for the child's age.

Which brings me to, how can the final knitted piece be three-quarters of an inch bigger than the pattern says it will be, when my tension was spot-on? I am getting exactly 22 stitches over 4 inches - I should have a piece that is identical in size to the schematic given. That it is not, is just another example of how knitting can mess with your mind.

I'm trying not to get too annoyed, because it doesn't really make any practical difference in this case - the child is not going to get any smaller, after all - they can always roll her sleeves up for the first year she wears it.

But still. Irritating.

I will soon have the FO post ready, but I have a date with a tapestry needle, first. I will be busy for a couple of days, I think, weaving in ends, and then I will give the entire thing a once-over with the steam just to pretty it up a bit. The button bands need a good steaming, as they weren't knitted yet when I blocked the four individual pieces.

The button band, before the advent of buttons.

This was a nice quick knit - I would definitely do this pattern again. More notes on that, in the FO post later this week....or possibly next. In the meantime, here is a glimpse of the (pre-blocked) wrong side of the Fair Isle band, in case that floats your boat (as it does mine).

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

New Happy Place

I spent this past weekend camping with my daughters, along with my cousin and her two girls, at a lake in the mountains about forty minutes from town. It was a sun-drenched, lazy-water weekend with long, hot afternoons and just the right amount of breeze. I took some pictures for you. (Click 'em - you'll be glad you did.)

I love how the lakes around here are all the same - deep, cold, clean, with conifers right slap up to the edge. It was a bit crowded, though: there were four other families enjoying this lake on the same day we were there - a Saturday. It was hard to get along sometimes, but we managed not to step on each other's feet too often.

I'm being facetious.

Here's where I realised I was not capturing the feel of the day and the lure of the water, so I shifted my perspective a bit. I put my camera in mortal danger for you all

but decided it was worth it.


This is such a cool spot. On the left of the above picture you can see there is a narrow channel (it's about 8 meters wide) between the mainland and the sandy beach of an island. The children could easily cross this little land bridge - it was covered by only about 70 centimeters of water.

We took the girls up to one of the boat-in sites we could see from the beach - it was vacant but I promise you, at this time next year it won't be. (I'm looking at you, Mark. I'll bring the Hermann's.) This was one of the most beautiful places I've ever been - looking down on the bay in which we'd just been swimming.

There - you can clearly see the little neck of water between the island and the mainland.

It was hard to get a smile - everybody was hot and thirsty by now.

And here they are, happy and tired. They're smiling now because I am holding up two golden marshmallows on a stick.

Pepsi and a Top Dog, and a spot out of the smoke...doesn't get any better than that...even if you DO have a gigantic mosquito bite on your leg.


I have finished Drifting, and will show you blocking pictures tomorrow. It's beautiful. I'm seaming right now but have yet to pick out buttons. Maybe I'll get to that tomorrow as well.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

I have needs, y'know.

It's a little Google fun, brought to you by the big, bored Internet.

I Googled Shannon needs and found that I am more high-maintenance than I thought.

Shannon needs to be more vigorously investigated by the Irish government. Shannon needs an alibi. Shannon needs to stomp that Latin out. Needs your support. Needs Atlantic Roadway now. Needs to stop singing. Needs to learn to soothe her moods with something other than food. Shannon needs more cred. Shannon needs no more treatment. Shannon needs a car.

And Shannon needs to shake her booty more.

And I'm going to add one more thing: to put away the clean laundry.

Monday, August 18, 2008

The End of the Road Not Taken

Erudite Mondays at HalfSoled Boots
Volume 5, Number 3

David Guterson

Seconds ago I turned the last page of David Guterson's new book, The Other. In between setting it down and picking up my laptop, I murmured, involuntarily and in a subdued voice, "Wow."

At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, this is a huge book. Not physically - there are only 256 pages - but thematically.

Written in the first person, this story is a complicated, delicate retrospective of a long friendship between boys who become men - boys who inhabit each other's thoughts and emotions. John William Barry is the son of prominent Seattle money, and Neil Countryman's is a family of "nail bangers" - construction workers and tradesmen. They meet at the end of a footrace in 1972, after John William defeats Neil by three-quarters of a stride, and offers his hand at the end with "heartfelt, ruddy, exclamatory" sentiment.

The next two hundred or so pages are the firelit, pot-scented chronicle of adventure and misadventure as experienced by John William and Neil. I couldn't drag myself from this book. It led me inexorably from paragraph to paragraph, greedy to discover the next turn of the wheel: to pull aside the curtain a little bit more, hoping for another glimpse at the character and history of John William, Hermit of the South Fork Hoh.

There are beautiful moments in this book. You love, and disapprove of, the two boys. You understand, and then you don't. And if you read literature with a critical eye, as I do, you can't help but admire Guterson's technique - his choice of metaphor, his light hand and deft touch. The way he often says, in this novel, "In other words". And the voice of the narrator, Neil Countryman, is consistent and honest, believable.

There is a wonderful evocative use of language - images and sounds that convey the light and shadow of life with ease and richness. I often turned a page to a new chapter, only to laugh involuntarily, or catch my breath in foreboding, as I glimpsed the heading: the first chapter is entitled "No Escape From the Unhappiness Machine". There is also "Loyal Citizen of Hamburger World" and the second-last, my favourite, "Periodic Irritable Crying".

The book is about many things. It's about the choice given us, every day, to either live in the world or be apart from it. And it's about what happens to those people who are dragged in the wake of genius, or psychosis, or fanaticism.

Stories are compelling things. Well-told, they can occupy your thoughts to obsession, making normal living impossible. Guterson is amazing in this novel. He gives away the end, right at the beginning - on page 6. You could quit reading there, if all you wanted to know was what happened. But you don't, because it's not the end that matters - it's what lies buried at the beginning, what is uncovered in the middle - and, even more importantly, why?

Before I rate this book, I'd like to encourage you to leave a comment telling me a bit about your favourite book. Not just title and author, nor even a plot synopsis - what I'd like to hear about is how it makes you feel, and why. I'm giving away a hardcover of The Other to one commenter, selected from all those who leave me a note before the next Erudite Monday.

HalfSoled Boots' Highly Specialised Book Rating System
The Other gets:

Reread? Yes. At least yearly.
Given to Others? Yes.
Bookplate? Absolutely.


Friday, August 15, 2008

Glass Half Full.

Will somebody please come over here and teach my stupid dog not to eat fridge magnets?

Look at him. You'd think he wants what's INSIDE the fridge, right? Wrong. He wants to finish the snack he was having when I caught him earlier today.

On the other hand, scooping poop is really easy - you just walk around the yard with a spade held a few inches off the ground, and Zing!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Don't Be Afraid to Let 'er Rip

Thanks everybody, for your well wishes on my anniversary post. Mr HalfSoledBoots even read it, after I told him his anniversary card was online and he'd have to go to the blog to see it.

These photos are very dark - I took them outside hoping for some natural light, but there was just enough to disable the flash and not enough to show the colours.

Drifting is coming along beautifully. I've finished the sleeves and the front, which means I would be completely done the knitting except that I need to knit another back since I ripped out the first one.

When you're knitting fair-isle, as everyone knows, you have to be careful to keep your floats loose or the knitting pulls in and ripples the surface of the work. To make tensioning easier, the designer calls for a needle change just for the colourwork band - you move up to a 4.5mm from a 4mm. The problem was, I usually handle the tension issues myself, by pulling the stitches along the right hand needle as I work. This, combined with the larger needle, made the colourwork band simply too loose and sloppy-looking. You couldn't tell from the picture, but it just wasn't good enough for Ruby.

So I ripped and I'm now one inch into The Back, Part II. I should be done it by this weekend, and then I can block, seam, and knit the button bands.

The pattern itself is a good one - these vivid colours really keep my interest. I also like the natural sections of the pieces - it keeps you knitting to the end of that section. You knit merrily along, enjoying the feeling of the wool, then suddenly the purple is over. So you start the colourwork, and then you feel like you really should carry on just until that's over, but then the beautiful blue starts and the decreases begin, and you think "Well, it's only a few inches, it would really be a shame to stop now." Then it's 1:00 AM and you bind off in triumph.

The front.

I do have two criticisms, though. One is for the book in general - I really do feel that "Fair Isle" should be done in finer yarn. It looks pixelated and clunky when it's in anything above a sport weight.

The second is that this pattern (and, probably, other patterns in this book) should really be knit in the round. A steek would not be necessary - you could knit in the round from the hem to the underarm, then divide. That way, you do the colourwork band in the round and save yourself the torture of the purl rows, not to mention the abhorrent looseness at the edge of each piece, when your yarn ends are dangling there looking pointless and sloppy. I think no matter how carefully I block, steam, and seam, there is going to be some rippling at the side seams. AND THAT BOTHERS ME.

This shows the colour better.


Piper is six months old now.

And after putting up a 6+ foot fence to keep the hateful deer at bay, I have blooms on my hydrangea for the first time in three years.

So altogether the world is spinning nicely today.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Beyond The Horizon of The Place We Lived When We Were Young

I met Mr Half Soled Boots when I was 22 and he was 23, and we had both just been hired to a research project at the university.

We spent a lot of time that summer hanging out with people from the project - just as a group, nothing more than friends. I was seeing somebody else at that time, so wasn't on the lookout for a new person. As the months went on and my engagement was moved from serious condition to critical, showing signs of coming apart at the seams, I started to notice how much I liked this blond guy at work. He was funny.....really funny. Side-splitting. It was the kind of humor that a lot of people don't get - he's a laconic dude, from that day to this, and you have to be pretty quick to catch the remarks.

One night he had a friend visiting from out of town, and a group of us went out. We ended up back at his place and after an hour or two there were only three of us left: me, Mr HSBoots, and his best friend. We were all sitting around smoking (well, they were smoking...I was mostly trying not to cough too much) and listening to Pink Floyd. It was well into the night and getting on to the time when, if there had been a fire, we would have been staring into it. As it was, we just sat in the dark and listened, while the PULSE album, discarded on the floor, flashed its quiet heartbeat.

Where were you when I was burned and broken
When the days slipped by from my window watching

The weeks went by and my personal life went from bad to worse. It didn't matter, though - there was no way I was giving up on this relationship I had invested almost six years in. In retrospect I can see what I couldn't at the time: that he really didn't want to marry me. That the proposal and the ring and the engagement were a stalling tactic. And that in my heart I did not believe I could ever do better - find anyone else.

And where were you when I was hurt and I was helpless
Cause the things you say and the things you do surround me

On August 12 the project group went out again - this time to a beach about a half hour from the city, away from the lights, to see the Perseids. I had arranged with my roommate to borrow her vehicle and was going to drive everyone - all these carless UVic graduates - but by the time we got off work at 11.00 PM, three of the group had decided they wouldn't go after all.

Only two of us were left.

We were lying on blankets on the beach, heads on driftwood, surrounded by a crowd of recumbent strangers all chatting and gazing skyward, when Mr HalfSoledBoots took a deep breath and said he had something to tell me. He said he knew I was engaged, but he had a feeling I wasn't happy...and that he loved me. He wanted a chance to change that - to make me happy like he thought I deserved to be.

While you were hanging yourself on someone else's words

Dying to believe in what you heard
I was staring straight
into the shining sun

And three weeks after that, it was all done. The phone calls had been made, along with a few four-hour drives to and from the town my fiance was living in. The ring was returned, all three hearts were to various degrees broken.

On August 12, a year later, we were married. He moved in, carting boxes of CDs and headphones, speakers and amps. We sat on the floor listening to David Gilmour and Roger Waters and going through the CDs, tossing all the doubles onto a pile. Ten Summoner's Tales. The Wall: Live in Berlin. Cuts Like a Knife. The Tragically Hip. Jagged Little Pill. I laughed as I made room on the shelves for the his music - Grateful Dead, The Doors, Led Zeppelin, Carmina Burana - while he earnestly explained how I was supposed to pronounce Knebworth.

Eleven years later, I still haven't listened to it.

A lot of water has flowed under the bridge since we got married. There have been lots of victories, and more defeats than I like to admit. We've had the health, and we've had the sickness...we've had the richer and the poorer. We don't really listen to music anymore - it's hard with all the interruptions of a family. When I get into the car after Mr HSB has been driving, I just punch the power button to turn the stereo off, out of habit, before it even has a chance to get fully wound up - with the kids strapped into the back seat and talking a mile a minute, music is a bit overstimulating. If I let it play, though, I know what will fill the car - he takes all six CD slots and fills them up with concert bootlegs, Jimi Hendrix, U2, Robert Plant, Jerry Garcia.

Yesterday I sat in the corner of the couch, knitting. The kids were playing in the sprinkler outside, shrieking and laughing. And Mr Half Soled Boots was on the other end of the couch, laptop balanced on the arm, listening to David Gilmour on iTunes. He's not a singer-along, generally speaking, but ever since I met him there's one refrain he doesn't even try to resist. Usually I join in, compelled, as he is, by the song. As it approached I waited for it, smiling and trying not to smile, glad he was looking in the other direction and didn't know I was paying attention. The low-voiced verse ended, the music changed from minor to major, reaching resolution in a moment of pure beauty.

There is no pain - you are receding
A distant ship smoke on the horizon
You are only coming through in waves
Your lips move, but I can't hear what you're saying...

I have become
comfortably numb

It's the most he ever sings - ten or so lines of a surreal rock opera. Listening to him, the way he pauses - has always paused - along with David Gilmour in between "smoke" and "on the horizon", he became to me the same 23-year-old who had made me laugh all that long summer. He was the same funny, taciturn boy who played albums for me at night, turning up the guitar solos. I had been pushed back in time, just for a minute, to that night in 1996 when I sat in a smoky bachelor pad and heard the ringing of the Division Bell. Before my life was changed.

I took a heavenly ride through our silence
I knew the moment had arrived
For killing the past and coming back to life

Thanks, Ian. Thanks for loving me for eleven years, and for making good on your promise to make me happy. Thanks for saying what's important, even though, as a rule, you don't say much.

Thank you for my daughters.

I love you.

High Hopes, from Division Bell 1994, by D.Gilmour, P.Samson
Coming Back to Life, from Division Bell, 1994, by D.Gilmour
Comfortably Numb, from The Wall, 1979, by D.Gilmour, R.Waters

Monday, August 11, 2008

Former, Future

Erudite Mondays at HalfSoled Boots
Volume 5 Number 2

Judy Astley

Okay, if you have a few hours to spare in the next several weeks, this one should squeak onto your summer reading list. You've probably got time to read it - it doesn't take long to get through. It's laugh-out-loud funny with just enough unexpected elements to keep you interested.

How does a fifteen-year-old girl do this, Nell wondered. How could Mimi twist her face into something that so clearly expressed incredulity, disdain, disgust - all at the same time and all without losing her essential clear-eyed beauty? Anyone over twenty would look demented. This must have been what Picasso had been going for when he first painted two eyes on the same side of a woman's head.

It's about Nell, a woman who decides, after abruptly becoming a single mother, to seek out her volatile, long-term boyfriend from college. Through her own marriage and children, she has never quite gotten over him. It seems a good chance to pick up the thread she dropped all those years ago and see what happens.

Laying the Ghost (which, by the way, has to win the award for the best book title ever) is like Bridget Jones - 15 Years Later. If Bridget married Mark Darcy, bore him two children, raised them to teenhood then ended up single, she'd Google Daniel Cleaver, I guarantee it. It also reminded me a bit of Tara Road. There was the winsome, somewhat scattered heroine whose point of view is charming, self-deprecating, and hilarious. There was the teenaged daughter, whose emotional journey, I thought, could well be developed into another whole book. There was a hapless group of girlfriends in various stages of partnership and unpartnership, with all their attendant anxieties and idiosyncrasies.

"Kate, no, I really don't need a man. When you've just had Pest Control round, you don't rush out and buy a pet rat."

It's a girly book, and one that I suspect would ring unnervingly true for a lot of women. It's all so realistic: Nell's slightly depressing circumstances, her preoccupation with her former flame, and the steps she takes to find him. It's so funny, though, that you put it down uplifted, rather than the opposite.

Laying the Ghost gets:

Reread? Yes
Given to Others? Yes
Bookplate? No


Friday, August 08, 2008

Funny, the things you remember.

I come from what you could call honest, hard-working people. My grandparents on my mother's side are both gone now, but my grandfather - we called him "Bobo" - was one funny, funny guy. He drank a lot and got progressively more hilarious and good-humoured with every ounce. He played the harmonica like he was born with one in his mouth. He smoked constantly. He would fall asleep on the couch with the mohair throw over him, and when one of his daughters tiptoed up to remove his glasses he would say, without opening his eyes, "Leave them - when I wake up I'll need to know where I am."

He used to sing this song, that I sing to my kids now. Does anyone else, anyone not in my family, remember this song? *

I took my gal to the ball one night
It was a fancy hop
We stayed 'til it was over, and the music it did stop
Then I took her to a restaurant
The finest in the street
She said she wasn't hungry
But this is what she eat.

A dozen raw
A plate of slaw
A chicken and a roast
Applesauce and 'sparagraus and soft-shell crab on toast
Oyster stew and crackers too
Her appetite was immense
When she called for a pie I thought I'd die
'Cause I only had fifty cents

I gave the man the fifty cents
And this is what he did

He tore my clothes and mashed my nose
And kicked me in the jaw
Gave me a prize of a pair of black eyes
And with me swept the floor
Then he grabbed me where the pants hung loose
And threw me over the fence

Take my advice, don't try it twice
When you only have fifty cents.

They had plaques on their walls, with quaint little sayings on them. One read as follows:

We are making a debt for our children to pay
And economists groan as they say it
But we also seem to be finding a way
To create enough children to pay it.

There was an ancient newspaper clipping on their fridge, that said

It's not my place to run the train
The whistle I can't blow
It's not my place to say how fast
The train's allowed to go
I don't take tickets at the gate
Nor even ring the bell
But let the damn thing jump the track
And see who catches hell.

Half the time I had no idea what was going on, at their place. Didn't understand the queer sayings on the walls, was unnerved by the alcohol all over the place, and couldn't keep my eyes off the three-dimensional monkey-shaped ashtray made of hollowed-out coconuts. I think it might have said something like "Aloha from Hawaii" but I could be making that part up.

I'm thinking about learning to play the harmonica, so my children can hear it. Those were my favourite moments, when Bobo would play for us.

I'd like to have a word with Grandma and Bobo now. I miss them a lot. Bobo's been gone since I was 13, Grandma since I was 23. It's been a long time.

Five minutes, a little Google, and look what I found: provenance of "I took my gal to the ball one night". This is an old, old ditty - 1885. Who knew?

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Onward and Upward

Remember how I overpowered my poor $500 Kenmore sewing machine a couple of months ago? Well, it sadly turned out to be unfixable, and I was forced to replace it.

With this.

It's the Pfaff quilt expression 2048, and this is a lot of sewing machine. I don't do much quilting (yet....) but I wanted to get a machine that I wouldn't grow out of in the foreseeable future. I sew a lot, although it doesn't come up often on the blog, and I was finding that my old machine had frustrating limits. I think it'll take me a good long time to reach the edges of the Pfaff's capabilities.

I haven't had a lot of time to work with it yet, but yesterday, after burning my hand for the umpteenth time on the handle of my cast iron skillet, I cut up an old towel, wrapped it in scrap quilting cotton, and made this.

These are all quilting stitches - there are a hundred and fifty or so other decorative stitches - and I like 'em. I think my favourite is the zig-zaggy one.

This machine has free-motion quilting, where you attach a special foot and drop the feed dogs so you use your hands to control the back/forth, side-side motion of the fabric under the foot. I tried it out on the other side of my little potholder.

So altogether I'm glad I spent the money on this machine. It carved out a huge hole from my settlement - to the tune of about $2500 - but it's undoubtedly worth it. I'll have this thing for the next 40 years, if it lives up to the manufacturer's reputation.....and now that I know to be gentle.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

You wear a smile but it's...

Thank you all for your votes -- after carefully considering all the options, Joe and Dave chose Drifting for Ruby's second birthday.

On Saturday I went to my LYS for the yarn, and was, to say the least, quite keen to get going.

I'm loving this knit. It's so cute. The colours are gorgeous, and it will be so toasty warm. What I DON'T understand is, why is no one else on the interKnit making this? I was doing some Google-fu and couldn't come up with a single project. Ravelry is completely Driftless too, and in fact the design is not even listed as one of Inspired Fair Isle Knits' projects. It's very weird.

It's knitting up fast. I am almost half done the front, the back is finished (but it's a little bit bockety and I may redo that piece) and the sleeves, being raglan, will come together quicker than either of those.

I did have to do a little yarn sub for the blue on top. I couldn't find a satisfactory colour in the yarn I had chosen, so I used a different wool, Lanett Superwash fingering weight, and doubled it to make a DK. Knitted up, the doubled Lanett is gorgeous. The softness is incredible, the stitch quality is excellent - very balanced. I've used this yarn for a couple of things before, but the more I knit with it the more I love it. It's sold as a baby yarn, but the colour palette is impressively varied - not just pastels.

Anyway, it shouldn't be too long before this is an FO, even taking into account the probable reknit of the back. I'm not exactly sure of Ruby's birthday, but ideally I'll get this done, blocked, seamed and mailed by the third week of August.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Cry me a River

Erudite Mondays at HalfSoled Boots
Volume 5 Number 1

Su Tong

I don't know much about ancient China - just the little bits you'd glean from being raised by a history-buff librarian mother who has a casual habit of coming out with little-known facts. When I saw the précis of this book I was intrigued enough to pick it up - the fact that it's another of the Canongate Myth Series, oft-mentioned at HSBoots, made it extra appealing.

I was surprised at how old this tale is: it has been passed down verbally for two thousand years in China. It's the archetypal quest book - a virtuous hero wandering, improvising, and persevering, until he is successful...or dead. We in the Western world are familiar with Gilgamesh, Beowulf, Odysseus, Aeneas, and the knights of the round table. What's refreshing about the tale of Binu is that the hero is a woman. Her gender affects all her adventures, and their outcome.

Binu's quest is a humble one. Her husband disappears one autumn day - conscripted with every other able-bodied man to Great Swallow Mountain to build the Great Wall. Binu, broken-hearted, ties a bundle of warm clothes for him and sets off, on foot, to bring them to her husband before the onset of winter.

In one way, her adventures are typical of epic characters. There are tricks played, disguises donned and discarded, theft of valuables. She falls into the hands of charlatans, hostile mobs, wealthy noblemen, feral children. The difference between this female character and her male counterparts is that she can never resort to force or even craftiness. Her greatest strength is her determination to reach the mountain, and at times the only thing that keeps her alive is her will to see her husband again.

I didn't love Binu. I often wished she would be more heroic - her special power of continuously shedding unending floods of bitter tears didn't seem very proactive to me. I couldn't help but pull for her, though. And by the end of the book, after all those miles of prefecture and villages, cruel, embittered amputees and reincarnated frogs, piles of excrement and hooded executioners, human ponies and gourd ladles, I cared about her. I wanted her to win.

The end of the book is a remarkable thing. It is the climax of all her adventures and misadventures, the last piece of the puzzle, the final question answered. At the building site of the Great Wall, where the labourers are driven mercilessly and the winter is coming down, Binu arrives to seek out her husband's fate. The tears she has shed on every page culminate in a torrent of water that devastates the landscape, washing every character in sorrow and bringing down the Wall. There is a sliding, anguished feeling of dropping sadness. For all its pain, the last metaphor is a beautiful one.

HalfSoled Boots Highly Specialised Book Rating System

Binu and the Great Wall

Reread? Probably
Given to Others? Yes
Bookplate? Yes