PunkconformityLife, history, and the pursuit of knitting.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Hand-dyed inspiration

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I took a two-week vacation from work, in the hopes of not injuring the incoming class of freshmen with my bad attitude (born of too much rah-rah orientation spirit and not enough me-time).  While some of this time was spent at the beach, at least a day of it was spent dying wool with my mom.

We've done dying days before, with rather less than stellar results.  Either the colors weren't quite right, or the yarn didn't take the dye evenly, or in the end it didn't align with the vision I saw in my head.  So this time, we changed up our system, worked a little more diligently and patiently, and came out with four skeins each of yarn that made us (for the most part) quite happy.

I thought I would share the photos that were our inspiration, and the resulting yarn.  All of these are on KnitPicks bare bases, some of which have been discontinued since we stashed them.

source: pinterest.

source: pinterest.

source: Pyrex Collective via pinterest

source: pinterest
Sunday, August 25, 2013

On the needles IV

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What I'm doing: School started this week, so I have been busy helping students ensure that all is right with their schedules before they are permanently locked.  While our office usually requires that students make an appointment, during the first week of classes we allow walk-ins, which is exciting but very tiring; we can see anywhere from two to eighty students in a single day.

I've also been attempting to fit exercise back into my daily schedule, which is less fun, but probably better for me.  I have a whole rant that I'll make on some other day about how we have produced a society in which it is okay that work take precedence over personal health, and where it is just expected that you will be on the brink of exhaustion almost all the time.  It's really quite horrible, and I'm trying hard to nip my couch-potato-ism in the bud now, but it is an uphill battle (literally and figuratively - the goal for this week is to be able to jog up the hill behind the health center without getting out of breath).

What I'm reading: I just started Ahab's Wife, which is the retelling of Moby Dick from the perspective of the young wife Captain Ahab left behind.  Thus far, I must say I am less than impressed - in the first vignette alone there is a fairly unbelievable description of childbirth, someone freezes to death, and a young slave escapes across the river à la Eliza in Uncle Tom's Cabin (an artistic choice made for no apparent reason at all).  It seems to be a lot of the author saying, "Look how much I know about 19th century literature!" and not enough of the author saying, "Look at this choice I made because it was an integral component of the narrative!"  I know 19th century literature, and you, madam, are no Harriet Beecher Stowe.  At this point, you're not even a passable Emerson.  I'll give it another 50 pages, but unless it gets significantly better, I will be taking this one back to the used book store.

What I'm watching:  We're still in the process of finishing up the last season of Fringe.  I almost don't want it to end, because I have so enjoyed having Joshua Jackson in my life again.  But once that is completed, I think we'll move on to Broadchurch, about which I have heard only amazing things.

What I'm knitting: The Trimmed with Roses Cardigan, with a few modifications.  I'm knitting in the round to the armholes, and I added two red stripes above the ribbing.  I cannot explain how much I love this yarn, and how beautiful I think this pattern is going to turn out.  I haven't decided if I'm going to do the short-sleeves of the jumper or the long-sleeves of the cardigan - I think it will depend on the amount of yarn I still have when I reach that point.  I might also do fewer buttonholes when I get to the button-band.  We'll see.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Book Review: Thames: A Biography

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I love London.  Some might say I am a little obsessed.  My first project as a research assistant was to help design a course that tied early novels to the geography and social structures of London.  So when Peter Ackroyd uses the city (or in this case, the river Thames) as a backdrop for his wild, outlandish, pet theories, I get a little peeved.

I just finished Thames: The Biography, and as the Boy can attest, it left me spitting mad.  Having read several of Ackroyd's other works, I should have known that this would happen, but every time he sucks me in with the promise of interesting anecdotes about my favorite city, and then disappoints me with bad scholarship and poor argumentation.

His particular bug-a-boo in Thames is the idea that the river has been used for religious rites throughout history, and that the modern incarnations of religious houses, commercial buildings, law-courts, etc, that border the Thames are there due to some sort of primordial understanding of the river as a spiritual medium.

Okay, I'll follow you down that rabbit hole, Peter.  What's your evidence?

1) There are lots of churches dedicated to Mary along the river, so that is proof that the river is connected to some sort of ancient fertility goddess.  Huh.  As opposed to the numerous churches dedicated to Mary that aren't along the river?  Somehow those are just churches, but these are tied to internalized remembrances of our ancestors?

2) Lots of the great early modern English astronomer-philosophers lived along the river, which suggests that the flow of the river has always inspired people to look to the heavens and investigate the stars. Sure.  Or, you know, it's darker along the river, because it's a place on which humans find it harder to build things.

3) The existence of henges, cursus, barrows, etc, along the Thames (in conjunction with our modern buildings of power) suggests that for thousands of years, "the Thames remained a sacred and highly charged area." (65) Maybe.  But considering that the most famous henge is on a plain 72 miles to the west, maybe it's just that England is an island, and after multiple thousands of years of human habitation things start to pile up.

He also makes the statement that "London Bridge is Falling Down" was a nursery rhyme dating to the 11th century, when Aethelred the Unready's Viking ally, Olaf, pulled the bridge down with his boats.  The 11th century destruction of the bridge is a highly contested "fact" that is attested only in skaldic verse (which, due to embellishment and generic tropes, has more in common with fiction than with history), and most folklorists agree that the rhyme dates from the 17th century (though it builds on medieval children's games).  So it is extremely problematic that Ackroyd chooses to state these things as absolute fact, with no qualification and no sourcing.

The fact that he includes these unsubstantiated "facts" and makes such poorly substantiated but somewhat titillating arguments suggests to me that he is not confident enough in the significance of his subject matter. He's afraid no one will really care about the Thames qua Thames, that the river only matters to moderns in some larger, Ancient Aliens kind of way, as a gateway to our past beliefs.  He clearly thinks that no matter how tenuous his argument in support of this bosh, it will still be more engaging than an actual history of the Thames.  And that is what makes me the most angry.  The river doesn't need Ackroyd's pet theories to make it more interesting; between 17th century frost fairs, mudlarks, London Bridge actually falling down, Battersea power station, Jerome K Jerome (to say nothing of the dog), the disappearance of the Fleet, Ceasar's incursions into Britain, and all the other amazing things that the river has produced/experienced, why would you ever feel the need to embellish it with bad history and even worse argumentation?

So save yourself the frustration and gnashing of teeth I experienced.  If you're interested in the history of the river and its human inhabitants as they were and are, and not as someone with an obvious ideological agenda wants them to be, read something by a different author.
Monday, August 19, 2013

The Garden

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This year I decided it would be fun to plant a real garden.  The townhouse has a back patio that actually gets sun, and has a spigot to make watering a breeze, so I thought the time had come to try growing some veg.  We eat a lot of potatoes (as good Irish folks do), and I think we consume our weight in spaghetti sauce and salsa every month.  So I planted a small container garden of potatoes, tomatoes, chili peppers, zucchini, and herbs (rosemary, basil, parsley, sage, and cat-mint).

Shortly after I planted them, it looked like this:

But sadly, things did not quite go as planned.  I combated the bugs - beer traps got rid of the slugs that were eating all my basil.  I fertilized and Mother Nature watered consistently.  And still, the veg did not appear.  The plants grew green and tall, but without fruit.

Apparently, my back yard does not get quite enough sun to truly be full-sun.  So a few weekends ago I pulled out the tomatoes and the potatoes.  The zucchini strung me along for another three weeks, blooming with gorgeous yellow-orange flowers in the morning, which promptly fell off by dinner time, before finally turning yellow all over and dying. 

Now the growing season is over and I have no veg.  But that's okay.  You win some, you lose some.  At least it was a convenient excuse to by a spray-nozzle for the hose that not only has different settings, but has an honest-to-goodness throttle on it, which is, without question, awesome.

And at least the herbs are happy.
Sunday, August 18, 2013


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We have a new member of the household.  Having both grown up in households that couldn't say no to an animal in need, neither the Boy nor I were capable of saying no to this face when it appeared on our facebook feed:

Especially not after his initial rescuer, (one of my co-workers, who found him under a van) informed us that she was naming him after ol' blue eyes, Frank Sinatra.  Since we already have Sammy and DeanMartin, we decided it was a sign.  We picked him up as soon as we got back from our honeymoon.  He's about 7 weeks old, at best guess, and is suffering from all the typical signs of abandonment (fleas, worms, ear-mites), but has had his first round of baby-shots and will be going back for boosters soon.  He is the snuggliest little dude and loves to sleep on chests.  He's also very playful; he loves to fish things out of the toy bucket and run them all over the house.

The household is...adjusting.  DeanMartin is cautiously interested, but Sammy wants the intruder to disappear and never come back ("when's this baby's momma coming to get it?").  It's been less than a week, though, so I'm optimistic that another couple of weeks will find everyone getting along swimmingly.