Thursday, November 30, 2006

You can't please everyone!

I gave my Toastmasters speech tonight. It went well, mostly. I went with the topic I mentioned the other day - why the study of American religious history is important - and asked the Toastmasters to pretend they were college students thinking about taking my course. The project was to "persuade with power" - ie, to learn how to make a persuasive speech.

Now, first of all, if someone in class really asked me why they should take my class rather than an economics or biology class (something "practical"), I wouldn't launch into a 5-7 minute speech. No way! I'd ask the class why they think the topic is important and turn it into a brainstorming session.

Nevertheless, I gave the speech. I slipped into lecture mode. Oops. I didn't even know I had a lecture mode, but apparently that's what I did. I paced back and forth. I looked at the floor while I gathered my thoughts. All of this felt very natural. My evaluator told me it broke the connection with the audience and was detrimental to my sincerity and conviction. Here I thought appearing to stop and gather my thoughts would look more convincing. Oops!

You see, Toastmasters aims to help people with their public speaking skills, which in turn should help one with one's professional goals. They don't like it, though, if you give a speech that conforms more to the norms of one's professional role than to the specific Toastmasters situation of giving a 5-7 minute (or however long) prepared speech. How frustrating! Apparently I can't experiment with lecture styles at Toastmasters, and I don't quite think that the "emotional connection with the audience" my evaluator wanted works well for lectures! Yes, it's good to be an interesting, engaged speaker when lecturing, but it's not the same thing.

You can't be all things to all people, I guess, and I should do the Toastmasters thing at Toastmasters, and practice lecturing in other situations. I guess I thought I could combine the two, but it appears that you can't please everyone! Maybe I should have given a persuasive speech on why Toastmasters needs to be open to a variety of speaking styles, especially ones that pertain to people's jobs! :-)

I did get a bunch of knitting done on the somewhat mysterious sock, which was fun!

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Knitting: The New Arts and Crafts? (part 2)

A few weeks ago, I posted about an upcoming Toastmasters speech I was going to give. I wanted your thoughts regarding a comparison between the late-19th century Arts and Crafts movement and the contemporary resurgence of knitting. Several of you asked to see the speech, and at last I'm getting around to editing it to reflect what I said rather than what I'd written ahead of time. Here you go!

Do you have a hobby? Perhaps you have a vegetable garden, or you like quilting and sewing. Maybe you really enjoy fixing your car or doing do-it-yourself projects around the house. Maybe you visit your local farmer’s market because you enjoy the organic produce you can purchase there. Perhaps you enjoy baking your own bread, the heady, hearty smell of yeast floating through the air as it bakes – so much better than Wonderbread!

For me, my hobby is knitting. I’m wearing some of my knitted items right now, which I’ll talk about throughout my speech. Tonight I’d like to tell you why, for thousands of young women like myself, knitting is the new Arts and Crafts. Yes, as Tony told me before the meeting, it's been a hobby for many years (he mentioned socks made for soldiers back in World War I), but it seems to me that despite this older popularity, knitting is indeed experiencing a resurgence of popularity among young women and even a few young men. Maybe you’ve heard of these book titles: Zen and the Art of Knitting [laughter] or At Knit’s End: Meditations for Women Who Knit Too Much. You might have seen a news article calling knitting the “new yoga." [laughter] We knit, it seems, because it puts us in touch with something real, something physical, something more important than purchasing a sweater at a store. Take, for example, this shawl that I’m wearing. Whenever I wear it, I think about the process of making it: I started it on a trip to my in-laws, and finished it months later in time to wear to the wedding of two good friends.

Since I’m a historian, I often find myself thinking about past precedent for current practices. Specifically, I call knitting “the new arts and crafts” because of how it reminds me of the Arts and Crafts movement of the late 19th century. What’s that, you may ask, and what does your handout have to do with knitting? Hang in there, I’ll tell you.

Let’s have a look at the handout. [See footnote below for links to the images I used].* The Arts and Crafts movement was a late 19th century movement that started in Britain with elite men who wanted to escape the sense of alienation and malaise brought on by industrialized society. Buying tables and chairs at stores rather than making them themselves made these corporate leaders of an increasingly capitalist world uneasy. So they went back to the land, or at least to the workbench, creating beautiful tables, chairs, chests, and other works of art. They aimed for simple yet elegant designs that stood in stark contrast to the flowery, ornate complexity of much of Victorian art. Think of the turrets and spires of Victorian-inspired mansions still around today, or the enormity of the famous houses of the Vanderbilts or Rockefellers, and you get an idea of what I mean.

[looking at bottom half of handout] The handout also includes some contemporary resonances for the 19th century Arts and Crafts movement. For example, the image of the brand of home repair tools that you can find today actually borrows from a major Arts and Crafts journal called “The Craftsman.” You’ll see images of both there on the handout.

Of course, knitting isn’t exactly home repair or microbrewing. However – and this is my main point for tonight – just as supporters of the Arts and Crafts movement were attempting to get back to something real through their handiwork, knitters of today are seeking to be in touch with the stuff of life. Just look at what I’m wearing, and what I’ve brought with me: hand-knit socks, a shawl, this sweater, and even a cell-phone holder just for kicks. Would it be cheaper to buy socks or sweaters at Target, or even Macy’s? Certainly it would be. Knitting isn’t about doing things for cost-effectiveness. My husband could tell you, however, that whenever I finish a pair of socks, I do a little dance around the house, staring in glee at my feet. [Here I started dancing around the room in a rather ridiculous fashion]. "Look honey, look what I made! Look at my new socks!"

One of my fellow knitters spoke of using her great-grandmother’s needles as she knits her own projects; knitting for her becomes a connection with her family, her past, and her present. We knit, several friends said, because we want to feel connected to the very physicality of the world around us. We want more of a connection than we get handing over the credit card at the big-box store. We want a chance to give actual material shape to our own lives outside of the limiting confines of the mass market.

In short, I, and dozens of knitters like me, knit for the same reason we all go on hikes, travel the world, bake our own bread, grow our own veggies, or learn a new skill. Like the men who participated in the Arts and Crafts movement, we knit for connection, for a chance to experience the world in a slightly different way.

What’s your new Arts and Crafts?

*Basically, I googled for Arts and Crafts images to use on a handout. Here are the ones I used: a Frank Lloyd Wright chair, a Greene and Greene chair, and this plant stand.

At the bottom of the page (for the contemporary resonances) I included the following: the turn-of-the-century Craftsman newsletter, the contemporary Craftsman brand of tools, and a microbrewery logo that plays on the Arts and Crafts ideal.

It was a lot of fun using the handout, as I kind of felt like I was in class. For that matter, it was fun to take off my shoes and dance around wearing a handknit pair. I've never quite danced at Toastmasters before, and the audience seemed properly amused by my performance! They even bought that I used these entirely non-knitting-related images to discuss the contemporary appeal of knitting!

I have another Toastmasters speech this Thursday. The project is to "Persuade with Power." I think I'm going to pretend that it's the first meeting of a class on American religious history and a student has jsut asked why he/she should take this class rather than something more practical or concrete like Econ 101 or American "regular" history. My job will be to convince the student/audience of the importance of knowing about the history of religion in America, using both logic and emotion to support my position. In order to keep it relevant, I might use this time of year - holidays and consumerism - as examples, thus keeping it relevant to the people in Toastmasters, most of whom are not students. In other words, it's the 5-7 minute oral exam I'll never have, but without professors!

Happy belated Turkey Day!

We spent the long weekend at my mom's house in the San Jose, California, area. We arrived on Wednesday just in time to start cooking! Seeing as two of us are fishetarians (fish-eating vegetarians), we had a nice slab of salmon in addition to the inevitable turkey. T, my mom's boyfriend, had the rather effective (plus entertaining) idea to remove the large bones with a pair of pliers (click for the larger image to get the full effect!):

Pliers for the bones
Take that, Alton Brown!

As usual, the table was set in full fall-colored Thanksgiving splendor:

Thanksgiving table

We ate: soup, salmon, turkey, vegetarian stuffing, stuffing from the turkey, candied sweet potatoes, Del Monico potatoes, green beans, salad, and of course, pie! Pecan and pumpkin (which we actually dug into on Wednesday night, dubbed "Thanksgiving Eve." A tasty new tradition has been born!)

We did: Coffeeboy plugged along on his dissertation. We all went wine tasting on Friday, and out to sushi in Los Gatos on Saturday. Several of us went to a woodworking shop and glued together little bumblebee toys the store was donating to homeless children. We spent a good deal of time patting Stinker, our 15 year-old cat who's now blind. We think he has kidney failure and arthritis, and he can only make it halfway up the stairs before he needs a long nap. He's a sweet old cat and I'm glad he made it to this Thanksgiving, as I don't know if he'll be around when next I visit.


We shopped: The only Black Friday shopping I engaged in took place at a LYS I tend to frequent when I visit my mom, Knitting Arts in Saratoga. (There were several other shops I wanted to visit, but I didn't want to bore my relatives. Next time, then!) This store was having a graduated sale, with 30% off if you arrived at 6:30 AM, and 25% off if you arrived between 8:30 and 10:30 am. I discovered the sale at about 9:35 am, and at 9:50 am, my mom and I were in the car, zooming over! Since this coming Sunday is my birthday, my mom offered an early present of yarn:

Yarn haul
Mmmmm, pretty colors!

She even wrapped the yarn so I'd have something official to open on the actual day, but she left the ends open in case the security people at the airport needed to look inside. After I "open" them on Sunday, I can show you more than a glimpse!

All in all, it was a restful, enjoyable long weekend. We're back home now, and I'm slowly getting back to the reality of the world and work after exams and conferences and travel - oh my!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Conference and FOs

I'm home from the conference. It went really well. Coffeeboy feels good about the interviews he had, and I managed to catch up with some very good, old friends as well as make a few new ones, not to mention the inevitable meeting of various scholars. In general, I felt very freed by my post-exams state: it gave me an easy topic of conversation and a zillion books were relatively fresh in my mind. I bought a few books, including one 3-volume set that cost more than I would've liked (including a 50% discount) but is a set I'll have to read as I move towards the dissertation. I heard some good news from professors about exam #2, and even had a couple of conversations with friends and others about possible dissertation ideas. Yay!

For the first time, I knit during the conference sessions - a sock for the husband, knit out of luscious Mountain Colors Bearfoot in "Yellowstone":

Yellowstone sock
Lucky husband... but he's worth it!

I also bounced around Washington, DC, sporting my newly knit tam:

Blue tam

Pattern: Tam from Hats On (in size medium)
Yarn: Andean Silk from Knitpicks
Needles: size 7 for the main part of the hat
Time: oh, about a day - very fast and recommended!
Thoughts/Mods: I changed the brim a bit, making it a 2x2 ribbing with a simple cable in the ribbing. I think it turned out quite cute!

I also finished up my Fuzzy Feet. Here are the images of before and after felting:

Fuzzy feet before Fuzzy feet 2

Pattern: Fuzzy Feet from Knitty
Yarn: Brown Sheep Lamb's Pride bulky (though the pattern calls for worsted, oops)
Needles: Size 10.5
Thoughts: Yes, I ran out of yarn and ended up with slippers of different colors. Oh well! They're also a little big for my feet, as you can see. Maybe that's because I used bulky yarn? They took 3 trips through the washer to felt, at which point the stitches were still a little visible but they were getting to be just the right length for my feet, so I dared not keep going. They will be coming with me out to California to visit my mom for Thanksgiving.

Fuzzy feet 1
These slip's are made for walking, and that's just what I'll do...

How's that for productivity! Woo-hoo! Now that I'm back from the conference, I can also work on washing up the Spilled Milk Saga...

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Knitting, with spilled milk

Last night at SnB a milk carton exploded all over me! Specifically, my pants, my blazer, a few drops on my sweater, a few on the hat I was knitting, a few on the scarf I was wearing. It felt gross, annoying, and even a bit funny. It splashed, most impressively, all over my knitting bag, enough so that 10 minutes later after we'd cleaned up the mess and relocated to another table, the bag was dripping milk on the ground. I kid you not:

Photo courtesy of Dawn's camera phone

Anyways, we were at a Barnes and Noble, in the cafe. After the milk splashed all over me, the cafe folks couldn't find paper towels (WTF?) so I grabbed a pile of napkins from the table, and started moping myself off. Fellow knitters Jessica and Dawn kindly rescued knitted items from the sopping bag, and concocted all sorts of issues with how the milk had spilled on my irreplacable alpaca from the steppes of somewhere.

The store manager, who arrived during all this, clearly doesn't know much about either dry cleaning or fiber arts, and was prepared to be footing a large bill to cover the damages - a bill that would most likely take the rather nice form of a gift card with which to buy, well, knitting books, of course! He was clearly pleased that I wasn't screaming and shouting at him or about his staff (I'm not that kind of person.) Actually, the situation was pretty darn funny. At a certain point, I found myself trying not to laugh, having to make myself appear seriously concerned about my knitting bag and yarn to merit repayment for damages. Yet I really just wanted to let loose... I mean, I've been spilled upon by cafe staff before, but for some reason, it's never been this funny!

Needless to say, I'm milking the situation for all it's worth.

Har-har-har. I think I've used that line about as much as I can, now.

There is more to the story, of course! But I need to go pack and get organized for the big conference I'll be at this weekend in Washington, DC. I also need to felt those clogs! And take pictures of my newly finished tam. Stay tuned for Part II of the Spilled Milk Saga next week, when we all get to find out about the sum total of my remunerations knitting book fund.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Cats in the bed

No, I don't mean "in the bed" as in taking cute, snuggly naps there or sleeping with us at night. No, I mean little beasts who lie on their backs and claw holes in the bottom cloth cover of the box spring, and then make the brilliant discovery that they can go in the box spring and take naps there! That they can crawl around inside there, making noises that sound more like advance-guard squirrels than little cats!

Ever since I realized they'd been inside the box spring, we've been trying to keep them out of the bedroom, at least at night. Finally on Saturday, after my exams were over, we did something about it. First, of course, we had to assess the damage:

Inspecting their handiwork 1 Inspecting their handiwork 2
Juniper is pleased with the damage she inflicted

After some debate, Coffeeboy and I had decided that rather than simply put a new cloth cover on the boxspring - one which sooner or later (and probably sooner) would be clawed into - we would put some lightweight sheets of wood under there. We removed the flopping cloth, and the cats, not satisfied with simply checking over their destructive handiwork, climbed inside, one last time.

Cats in the boxspring 3
Mage is pleased that even though the bed is standing up, she can still climb in... for now

We put down some kind of woody substance, basically like pegboard but without the peg holes. I forgot to take a picture. When the cats found that their secret hideaway was truly gone, we saw them glowering under the bed, scheming up a plan, no doubt. Thus far, our nights have been free of disturbing squirrel-like noises.

On the knitting front: Work on everything is temporarily stalled. During a bit of shopping yesterday I tried on a tam, and I thought it looked pretty cute! But why buy one when I could raid the stash? Besides, Angel had whipped one out, so why - in a vast fit of copy-cat-itis, I guess (thanks for the inspiration, A!) - couldn't I? That's what I did last night, minus getting up to the start of the decreases and realizing it was one size too big. Not to mention starting over three times as I fiddled with a simple cable on the brim. (Argh!) I think I'm finally back on track, though. Maybe I can finish it tonight at SnB!

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Done, done, and started

Done #1: I'm done with my second general exam! Yay!!! Friday came and went in a flurry of typing, and I was finished! There are still 2 papers left that count as exams, but I'm done with the 8-hour, slogging through it, type of exam! Woo-hoo! I think it went about as well as the last one (which means I think I passed). Yay! I am a bit nervous because, well, one prof asked for "bolder claims and statements" so I pretty mucg finished off one essay with a few "what the field needs is this" statements that read rather obviously as loose dissertation thoughts. This makes me nervous, especially when I don't know when I'll hear back about the exam.

Done #2: I also finished ths socks I mentioned in the last post:

Opal socks

Yarn: Opal something or other
Needles: Knitpicks 0s with magic loop
Time: oh, too long (you can tell I really keep track of these things, can't you)
Thoughts: This self-patterning yarn knits up strangely. I have no idea if the yarn was supposed to knit up like this, but it does, and it's rather odd. I think the recipient - who so far as I know doesn't read this blog - will like them, though. I still have yarn, so I'm considering making some very basic ribbed fingerless mitts to go with the socks. A big *thank you!* for all the suggestions about what to do with the too-tight gauge. I appreciate all the support, and meant to write something in response sooner, but obviously, there was the test. Also, I was at the toe (so, the end) of sock #2, so there was really little point in measuring, and I just wanted them done. In retrospect, I think that mindset was inspired by my exam; had I not been working on them right before the exam, I might have frogged the foot and knit it differently. Oh well. They've been blocked, and I think they will fit. If anything, they'll start out tight and then loosen up over the course of a day.

Started: What have I been doing to relax now that my exam is done? Knitting, of course, and a good bit of sleeping! Besides finishing those socks above, I started these, a vaguely-secret sock project:

Mystery sock

I knit a couple more inches beyond that earlier tonight, sitting by a fire while Coffeeboy and his brother watched football. We've done a lot of playing games (mostly Starfarers of Catan) since the BIL came into town yesterday afternoon; while we played, I did a bit of easy knitting, finally finishing up my Fuzzy Feet! Now, all they need is felting. But I'll save the details for another post.

I'll also save the details (ie, pictures) of how the cats clawed a hole in the boxspring of our bed, started hanging out inside it, and needed the vacuum to scare them out of it, and of what we did to keep them from getting in there, for another post, too. In other words, I'm playing blog- catch-up. Yay!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Tension and gauge

Hmm. I've been working on a gift sock while reading through my notes, mostly in an attempt at fidgeting productively. I think this was a bad idea. I just checked my gauge, and on size 0s with some Opal yarn, I'm at 9 spi. (9???! That's never happened to me before.) This would explain why the sock is looking much smaller (6.5" in diameter or so) than intended. The intended foot is size 7/7.5 (according to the boyfriend.) The gauge for the leg, knit last week before the massive stress kicked in, is 8 spi. Rii-iight.

When they call gauge "tension," they aren't joking! Tension in one's life can really mess with one's, well, tension!

I'm rather worried that this is going to be just too small. It's knit with 60 stitches in stockinette. I think I was assuming that my foot is a medium, it might work to do the same # of stitches I usually do, assuming someone's else's foot to be medium as well. A lot of people who presumably have bigger feet than I do seem to knit socks over 60 stitches. (Or maybe I'm imagining that.) I've reached the toes (actually gone past them, but that's a separate problem), so I thought I might finish the sock and then try to block it bigger, but I'm afraid that it's just not big enough. There's also the problem of having finished sock #1 a while back. I could frog 'em both, but...

If any of you out there have similarly sized feet and any hints, that's much appreciated!

Studying update: I think I'm feeling better than the other day. Yay! I can't wait to have this gosh-darn PhD exam over with. There's still quite a bit of review I need to do, but I'm in pretty good shape. Thanks for all your support!

Monday, November 06, 2006

Wake me when it's over*

You know it's bad when a friend calls and asks, "How's life? What have you been up to?" and you kind of half mutter/grumble/murmur, "Studying," unable to think of what else might be going on in a life.

She had to prompt me: husband, cats, garden, knitting, cooking, visit from the bro-in-law, flu shots, cats clawing around in the box spring of the bed... oh yeah. That "life" stuff. I've actually been doing small amounts of it, here and there. You know you're stressed when you need prompting. Somewhere on Sunday evening, buried under a mass of notes and a seemingly-endless project of sorting them, I kind of forgot about that other stuff. I just keep saying, "it will all be over soon... Friday, my exam will be over and I will be done!"

After Friday, I might begin to remember how to answer such questions as "What's up?" Currently, I'm suffering from what now seems like a bit of dementia: "I'd really like to deal with this historiographic category because it's been important in shaping my understandings of blah blah." Um, yeah. What was I thinking?! Said category can only be divided from numerous close cousins by a very fuzzy piece of mohair... I mean, fuzzy line. Why did I want to answer this particular question, again? How on earth am I going to talk about it clearly under pressure? Why did I think everything seemed clearer when my advisor said thus and such, and now, for the life of me, I can't organize an outline?

Regularly scheduled knitting and other fun content will return in a few days, including a posted copy of the speech from Thursday (which went well - thanks for your comments!) Until then, I just need to remember that I only need to answer the question (well, 3 of 6), not to reinvent the discipline.

*I meant for this to be a "I'm not posting much and this is why" but it came out a bit more, um, negative than I might have intended...