Thursday, December 31, 2009

Year End Special

Welcome to the last day of 2009...or the first day of 2010, if you're reading this late. It's not only the end of the year but also of the decade, the first of the 21st century. It's kind of a big deal...like me.

Tomorrow, I officially welcome the start to Yarn-Over 2010, my personal stash-busting, budget-balancing non-event of the new year and decade. Why a non-event, you ask? Because all I have to do for it to be a resounding success is simple NOT buy yarn for the next 12 months. Simply do nothing that involves the exchange of monetary currency for spun fiber and I can add this to my list of life accomplishments!

Now, you should know I've been doing a "test run" of the Yarn-Over theory all through the month of December. I experienced a budget flush around Thanksgiving during a visit to Michigan during which one of my favorite yarn shops anywhere was going out of business. I figured after that, I shouldn't/wouldn't/didn't need anything more for the rest of year, so...I started early. Well, all was fine and good for the first three weeks. I took my name off the mailing lists and websites that often feature excellent yarn at excellent prices. What I didn't count on was one of the best indie retailers sending out a 20%-off Year End Sale e-mail to her preferred customers. If I got this e-mail (I did), it means I'm a preferred customer (I am), which, in turn, means I bought a lot of yarn from this woman in the recent past (most definitely).

To those uninitiated, Miss Babs sells wonderful hand-dyed sock yarns. Merino wool, various plies to choose from, I've been a fan of her yarns for as long as I've been knitting. When that e-mail showed up, I fought it, I really, really did, I swear...but the 20% also applied to her already on-sale destash...and who can really turn down a double discount? In all honesty, when I got to the website, though, the destash section was completely empty...but by that time, it was already too late. The hypodermic needle was already poised...

I bought conservatively, though. Thinking more about the Sock Yarn Blanket than any other project (and the 9 other Knit Night goers who have also started their own, thank you very much!), I opted for smaller, less expensive skeins of lovely 2-ply merino. $9 a pop, 10 in total with a 20% discount...you do the math. My last yarn purchase for the next 12 months was under $100, shipping included. I just received it today:

In other unrelated news, I've just come back from seeing "Avatar," that new blockbuster, big-budget CGI extravaganza from James Cameron that everyone is talking about. Personally, I really enjoyed the film...it was entertaining, engrossing, albeit a bit predictable. I saw a matinee and it was well worth the $4 I spent. But more on that later...

The movie and its themes got me to thinking about a story that was circulated all through the St. Louis Metro region toward the end of November. The story involves a deer hunter from Edwardsville, IL, who took down a 25-point buck this season. For those who don't know (for I barely do), that means the buck had a mean, massive rack of antler atop his head, a testament to the long life and years of experience this animal had accrued. Anytime a deer of that stature is taken, it tends to make the news.

In the interest of full disclosure, let me just state for the record that I am not a hunter, never have been. My father was, his brothers were, their father was, too. It was a family thing, learning to use the bow and the gun to take down game. I suppose it was sometimes done for the meat the animal provided but, just as often, it was done for the sport of it. Personally, I've never understood the "sport" aspect of deer hunting: there's no way you can really lose unless you count not killing an animal that day. If you want to hunt lions or, better yet, bears...that makes more sense, especially if there's a very real possibility that you could lose...a leg.

There were several aspects to this particular deer hunting story that made it so extraordinary to me. The first of these was the manner in which the hunt took place. The hunter had been using Google Earth to plot the most likely paths the animal might take. Ingenious really, if you think about it for a moment. Now this, this aspect of hunting I can understand. The accumulation and careful analysis of information pertaining to a quest.

The second aspect, and really the most amazing, is the manner in which the kill went down. The hunter's analysis must have been correct because one night, while the hunter was lying on the ground, the buck came by. The hunter took aim with his bow and let one fly...only to have the arrow deflect off a tree and rip through the buck's ear, which in turn startled the deer, causing it to slip down an embankment and off a cliff, where it fell over a cliff and down 20 feet into the water, where it drowned!

Don't believe it?! You can read about it here, here and some comments others locals have made regarding this story here. I was even able to find a photo of the hunter with his kill here.

My initial feeling when I first heard this story is about the same as it was today when "Avatar" reminded me of it. I may not fully understand the act of going out into the cold woods with a bow or a firearm to sit and watch and wait for an animal to come along so you can take its life...but when an animal as regal and proud as I imagine a 25-point buck must have been comes along, what possesses a hunter to take up arms and cut short a life which has already spanned so long? Is it the taxidermed head mounted to the wall, rack still attached the skull? Is it bragging rights to your buds about your prowess in hunting, which surely wouldn't apply here? What is that urge that seizes you to kill a living thing?

I will concede that under the best of circumstances, there may be some honor to be found in the glory of the kill. This story, however, is far from the best of circumstances. This hunter took a lousy shot that caused this beautiful animal to fall to its death and drown. There is surely no honor in that, none whatsoever. Take a look at the photo, the very existence of which at least implies some sense of pride at having brought this animal down. If this man had wrestled the deer bare-handed to ground, perhaps...just perhaps I could better understand. But, simply put, I don't. I just don't know how someone could do what this man did. It saddens me to think of that buck.
In one final note, a happier note...here's Benson. He, like so many who have come before him, has decided to start hitting the gym for his New Year's Resolution.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Scrooged

Let me be clear: I don't hate Christmas.

Now, let me clarify. This whole story started several weeks before Christmas while I was having a phone conversation with my father, during which I indicated to him that I didn't want us to do a gift exchange this year. I didn't realize when I said it that I was instigating a minor revolution in the family dynamic, but there you have it.

My reasons for this request were quite simple. Last year, I got both my Dad and step-mom lovely, long, plush bathrobes, the kind you often find at high-end spas. I have one at home that I wear ALL the time and thought they might like them, too. I mean they're warm, comfy, cozy, have pockets...what's not to love. Simply put, I don't think they've ever been worn...by anyone. No problem...not really.

Also take into account that I am a knitter...in case you didn't already know. Odds are pretty good that at some point in the next 12 months, both my Dad and my step-mom will get something from me, hand-made with them in mind. I don't yet know what those items might be or when they'll be made...but I wouldn't bet against the House on this one, folks.

But what it all really comes down to is that for many years now, I have been trying to understand why people do what they do around Christmas. I'm not confused about getting together with family, baking and cooking oodles of food, gorging oneself to bursting and taking naps on the living room sofa. The gatherings of people and the parties I understand.

What I don't understand is the money, the spending, the consumerism. Truth be told, I've never really understood it, not at its core. I tend to think of myself as a thoughtful, pensive individual, thorough and methodical in almost everything I do. I don't make a lot of assumptions and tend to pose more questions than many people are really comfortable with or understand themselves. So, it only makes sense that I would start taking a hard look at everything that happens around the holidays.

Every year, we, as a nation and a culture, spend oodles and gobs of money on shit. Many times, we spend money we don't have yet, don't have at all and may never have. We spend it on stuff like televisions and PS3s and kitchen appliances and sport coats; jewelery for the women, dress shirts for the men and inane, flashing, blinking, loud, crazy toys for the kids. En masse, we descend upon the shopping malls with lists of people we feel we must buy for: Mom, Dad, brothers, sisters, uncle, aunts, cousins, grandmas and grandpas. Then there's the second tier: office collegues and secret santas; neighbors and maybe your postman; random donations to Toys For Tots; everyone at Knit Night or everyone at Monday Night Dinner.

People get anxious, too...especially as the big day closes in on them. Realizations about who they have or have not bought for set in and people start to panic. I've noticed that people seem to have subjective evaluations about how much they're supposed to give to the people in their lives and if they don't feel that they've attained those levels, they start buying more and sillier things to make up the difference. Suddenly packs of socks and packs of cigarettes are fair game! Candy bars and Burt's Bees sample packs, even sample bottle of shampoo and deodorant become "stocking stuffers," the holiday equivalent of hot dog filler. People struggle and strive to find more and better things to give to people and all in an effort to do...what?

The commonly held idea is that Christmas is a time to spend with friends and family and to exchange gifts around a lit-up tree to demonstrate the love and caring of the season. But I tend to be of the opinion that, especially for those that are nearest and dearest to me, the love and caring I feel for them is not at all dependent upon a "season" and I give them gift throughout the year and not just towards the end of December. I give them gifts when I happen upon something that makes me think of them or when I set out to make something specifically for them. I buy my parents bathrobes because mine brings me such pleasure and I want to share that pleasure with them. I give über-rare Tori Amos CDs because I know Kort will love them and give them a good home and I like to see her face light up.

A couple years ago, I opened a Christmas gift from a family member who will remain unnamed (although I'm pretty sure they don't read this blog...it's called respect). When I opened the box, I found a casserole baking dish, gorgeously glazed in a deep red. The problem is that I've never made a casserole, I've never talked about casserole and, to this day, I've never, ever felt the desire to make a casserole, even though I could now...because I was given this casserole dish. Please know that my intention is never to appear ungrateful, but I have to ask the question: what made this person think I could really use a casserole dish? Did they see the casserole dish and say to themselves, "Oh, that would be just perfect for Dean!" Better to have given nothing at all, I think.

But we, as a culture, as a nation, often have a problem with that: not giving anything. Which brings me back to my original point of not having a gift exchange this year. When I explained everything to my parents, there was a slight pause on the other end of the phone and then a simple question: "But...what will we put under the tree for you to open?"

Nothing. Nothing at all...and that's kind of the point. I went out to my Dad's to eat dinner with my family, to make them laugh and to laugh with their jokes, to drink copious amounts of coffee, to play with the dog and to see people I don't often get to see. I didn't come out to stock up on stuff I don't need, might not want, but feel obligated to drag home with me anyway. I think what that one question really revealed was my parents' own uncomfortability with the prospect. Everyone else would be opening presents...except me...and they felt bad about that...even though I wouldn't feel the least bit bad about that. They would...

And ultimately that's their issue, not mine and I can't take responsibility for how someone other than myself feels. I can acknowledge it, respect it...but I will not take responsibility for it. In the same vein, I also will not plunge myself into excessive debt to but trinkets for everyone I know simple because it's December 25th. Better, I think, to not have anything to give them on Christmas...but rather, give them something when they're not expecting it...in fact, when they're least expecting it. The pay-off is so much better for both people!

So, Christmas...I neither love it nor hate it. I do, however, hate what it has turned into for too many people. We are knitters and jewelers and print-makers and hand-crafters of everything...there's no reason we should ever be wrapping up a carton of Camels with a pretty, sparkling bow simply because of some societal pressure we feel to give someone something, anything...

...just because it was Jesus' birthday? Hey, it's the Winter Solstice! Here's a Mag-Lite for your car and a coupon for $5 off your next car wash.

Oh, and just to finish the original story, we did not have a gift exchange this year. Other people at our family gathering did, but between my parents and me, we did not. My Dad cheated, though, when he slipped me a $100 bill. "You said not to buy you anything...so we didn't."

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Good-bye Citty Knitting

I made my first trip to City Knitting several years ago. My best friend had just moved back to the Grand Rapids region with her new son and I was going up to visit them and to touch base with my home state, which I hadn't seen in quite some time. During the trip, Courtny and I did an old-fashioned yarn crawl and after several hours and a couple stores later, City Knitting emerged as the winner hands down. I wish I could say it emerged like a victor from the clouds of ware but, truth be told, there wasn't much competition. Simply put, City Knitting rocked my knitting world. After several hundreds of dollars of yarn, I left feeling more exhausted and satiated than any sex I've ever had has ever been able to accomplish...ever. You get the point...

This week marks the closing of City Knitting forever, for always.

Around Thanksgiving, I had the advantageous opportunity to visit them one last time. The same pleasant ladies I've always seen were still there, still looking beautiful and pleasant. I even had the pleasure of running into Lorilee, the owner, during my visit. She was looking plaintively at the wall of sock yarn, slightly diminished and thin. I gave her a hug, the dude knitter from St. Louis, and thanked her for just being there over the past couple years. It was always, always a must-go destination every time I drove up.

To commemorate the closing of the store, Courtny was commissioned to created a piece to be given to Lorilee. As an emerging artisan jeweler and metalsmith, and as the best friend of a knitter, she had no trouble coming up with the perfect piece:

A small, diminutive knitting needle, hand-made from sterling silver. Across the top of the head, stamped into the silver, the word "Joy."


For anyone interested, you can get more information regarding this unique piece, as well as other available pieces, by contacting Courtny directly via WillowSongStudio@hotmail.com or by searching fro her via Facebook.

Much thanks to Lorilee and the staff of City Knitting, one of the best Local Yarn Shops I've ever had the pleasure to frequent. Thanks for selling Yarn Hollow and for winding up those 24oo yards of lace weight Cedarwood & Cinnabar I bought while I was there. I know it took awhile. You all have always been beyond welcoming and, as a dude knitter, I have always appreciated it.

You will be missed.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Social Networking, Microblogging and 1 New Tire

It's Thursday evening and I'm at home, comforting myself after an mini-adventure in the best way I know how: with a fresh pot of coffee and my favorite new mug. You see, tonight I learned, yet again, the value of having really great friends. In this case, it's my work-friend, Trish. She is just amazing...

'Cuz you see what had happened was...it was 5:30p and my work week was over. I left the building, glided through the chilled and brittle air and got into my car. As I was pulling away, I could hear a distinctive thwump, thwump, thwump which, of course, caused me to pull the car over. I thought that perhaps, due to the excessively cold air, the tires had settled a bit, giving themselves a slightly flat side. Although the basis of my theory was soon proven correct, it wasn't so much the cold air that was to blame as it was a total lack thereof, specifically in the front left tire.

Yes, I experienced my first flat tire...ever. And you know this shit never, ever goes down after work on a lovely late April evening, when the flowers are in bloom and all the world seems to be in a good mood. No. This happens on the second day of a particularly bitter cold snap, when most of my co-workers have left long before. But there was Trish, leaving not too long after myself. She drove over and immediately asked, "Okay, what did you do?" Funny lady...

Long story short, she stuck with me while our boss, Barry did what he could and while an super nice guy from second shift first re-inflated the tire (only to discover some odd...bloating...on the tire wall), then changed out the tire of dubious means with my spare. Sir, I neglected to catch your name but please know that I am exceedingly grateful for your kindness. Trish followed me to the nearest Dobbs and left me in their capable hands to meet up with her oh-so-cute boyfriend, Dow, to whom I also extend gracious thanks for allowing me to borrow your girl so impromptu-ly.

So here I am now, back home, with cold feet (literally...I don't know why) and my fresh mug of joe. I just realized I forgot to add sugar...be right back...

And, while I am handing out gratitude to readily at the moment, some thanks must go out to Deborah for gifting to me and the Sock Yarn Blanket the remains of an autumnal Schoppel Wolle Zauberball. Yea, I love sock scraps...

My delay in between blogs is due in large part to my burgeoning exploration of Facebook and Twitter. I'm not totally sold on either...but I am helplessly addicted to the gaming apps. I'm a vampire and a gangster with a fish tank and a farm and I just colonized my second planet. I have no excuse...lock me up now, officer...please.

On to the knitting...

After a 5-month duration, Work Project IV is finally done! Remember, the Work Project pieces are those that I do at work, on lunch hour. I don't work on them at any other time, which explains why it took five months to knit a pair of socks.

During my recent sojourn into the Michigan wild (of Grand Rapids), I was able to get back to the Swallowtail Shawl and make some serious headway into the second motif. I didn't succeed in competing it, but progress was made.

I also just completed 2 pairs of mitts for my good friend, Shivian, and his boyfriend, Kai. They live in the frigid, snowy land known as Chicago.

Originally meant to be a pair of Diamondback Mitts in red & black, I eventually opted for a simpler pattern done twice. Shiv's mitts are knit with Southwest Trading Company "Karaoke Multi," a 50/50 wool & soy silk blend with deep, saturated colors. Unfortunately, the red and black colorway didn't hold throughout the skein, so the second mitt ended up more red and...deep red. It's the beauty of a hand-knit item...I also started knitting Kai's mitts out of the same yarn, hoping for better results for his blue and black color request. As you can see...it was not to be. Not only did the blue and black not go through the entire skein, the colorway actually went lighter, into the robin's egg and turquoise regions. I had to fall back on an old reliable, Plymouth Encore DK in a blue/black twist. I held the yarn double throughout, so Kai's are actually thicker (and probably warmer) than Shivian's.Work Project V will begin on Monday. I'm going to do another Boneyard Shawl, this one using 2 colors of Rowan Classic Cashsoft, a blend of extra fine merino, microfibre and cashmere. I have a new friend, Sarah, who makes this amazing linocut prints. We've arranged a trade: a 2-color Boneyard Shawl for one of her framed prints. It's a deal!

I also have other small projects in the works, though not yet started. Eva needs a hat with a curved brim and a pair of black fingerless mitts; Amber needs mitts and a swanky scarf; her kids (all 4 of them) needs scarves and the newest one needs a lil' baby hat to keep his head warm.