Tuesday, October 27, 2009

An open letter to breasts.

I have always loved you. I remember every pair of you I’ve ever seen, whether in person, on film or in print. Some men (and women) believe that you are only beautiful if you adhere to a standard of perfection in terms of proportionality – but they are mistaken. Whether pendulous or perky, small or large, you are all beautiful. Some also believe that you are only lovely if completely natural. They too are mistaken, for there is nothing so lovely as confidence, and if by augmentation your owner feels more confident then you are lovelier as a result.

My first wondrous vision of you is seared into my memory. I was in fifth grade. A classmate’s mother was sunbathing in her backyard. She had removed the top to her swimsuit and was lying on her towel. As we unknowingly entered his backyard, my classmate was instantly embarrassed. I was entranced. I wanted to stay, but this was of course impossible. I knew at that moment that I wanted to see more of you, although I wasn’t sure exactly why.

My second glimpse did nothing to curb my interest. I was visiting my grandparents’ house. A cousin, much older than me, was also visiting and had brought along her infant son. I was playing in the front yard, in a makeshift fort inside a large camellia bush tucked up on the side of the house. I heard a noise from behind me, and turned to see my cousin, inside the house and in the bedroom that adjoined my fort. She was sitting on the bed with her eyes closed. Through the open window I could hear the contented gurgles of the boy as he nursed at his mother’s breast.

I remember vividly the first time I touched you. My date and I had escaped from a dance, only to find ourselves on a deserted baseball diamond. My nervous fingers fumbled at the clasp that held you back. The night was cold but you were magnificent.

This fascination has stayed with me for many years, and I am not alone. I know this because I have heard others whisper tales of exposed skin. I have seen the furtively respectful looks of men who quickly avert their eyes when presented with an unintended glimpse of your complex curves. I have witnessed the lecherous leering of those who seek out such sights. And I have done both of these things.

Your power is immense. Your mere presence can change the nature of polite discourse. When the future Mrs. TSMK introduced me to her father he was eating dinner at the kitchen table, while watching Lethal Weapon 2. At that exact moment, the action of the film gave way to a love scene. You were plainly exposed. And what was my future father-in-law’s response to “Dad, I’d like you to meet [TSMK]”? Unable to avert his eyes from the screen, all he could manage was “That’s a breast!” Even my father-in-law is not immune to your siren song. Fortunately for me, I was able to deflect his comment and save us all significant embarrassment by commenting on the lovely breast of fried chicken sitting in his plate.

Even today, married some 13 years to Mrs. TSMK, I feel giddy when I catch a glimpse of you as she readies for bed. A fleeting image and I am transported back to that afternoon in my classmate’s backyard. A touch and I am again a beardless boy on a baseball diamond. And a vision of my son, eyes closed and pressed against your creamy white skin and I am once again reminded of the smell of camellias.

All of this makes what I need to say to you that much more difficult.

I must give you up.

This is not because I have fallen out of love with you, because I have not. It is because you cannot be trusted. If pain and suffering may be likened to terrorists, then you are Waziristan. You run with a dangerous crowd.

I first became aware of your willingness to harbor criminals when your “friends” claimed the life of my Aunt. My father’s sister, she would have been in her late 40s. Perhaps she might have fared better if you hadn’t so effectively hidden her assailant.

You betrayed BF in her 20s. She’s healthy now, but still bears the scars from the surgeon’s work.

My friend WK’s mom wasn’t so fortunate. She fought mightily, and it actually appeared that she’d win out. But your friends returned. They were stronger the second time around. When they finally won, WK was devastated. That was less than five years ago, and WK has devoted himself to fighting on your behalf and against your friends.

You turned on S (“SoD”) K just last year. She’s healthy now I’m pleased to report, but you could have saved us all a lot of heartache if you’d have just told your friends to stay away.

Now I hear that you’ve been at it again. This time it is my friend SS’s sister. She’s 38, with a husband and young children. Mrs. TSMK likes her very much, and my middle son is friends with her daughter. Why would you allow this to happen? She’s a beautiful person. She didn’t deserve this.

I can’t convince you to change your ways, and I can’t fend off your friends. But I can do what’s in my power to help keep her comfortable. I will help her fight your friends. The doctor tells her she should expect to lose her hair, so I’m making her a hat. The weather has turned cool up here, and she may need a scarf to go with it. Or maybe a pair of mittens. Together, the large number of us who care about her and her family will help give her strength to fight your friends. She will make it though this.

But my relationship with you? Well that is another matter. Keep your friends away from Mrs. TSMK, my mom, my sister and all my friends. And all my friends’ wives, mothers, girlfriends, sisters, daughters. Come to think of it, why don’t your friends just leave us all alone.

I’ll miss you.


Saturday, October 17, 2009

Dangerous appetites

About 15 years ago, I worked for a short while delivering pizzas. It wasn't really a job I wanted, but seeing as I was a college student, every little bit of extra cash helped. Plus, at the end of an evening I could consistently plan on bringing pizza back to my apartment. The pizza would be breakfast, lunch and dinner over the next day or two, helping stretch my food budget that much farther. Since I loved pizza - that last bit seemed like a win-win.

The place was called Road Dogy's Pizza, and I think it has since gone out of business. It wasn't the best pizza in the world, but for a little bit extra they'd also sell you a pie with just the crust and cheeze [Note - cheese : cheeze :: diamond : cubic zirconia], with garlic butter and marinara dipping sauces. For some reason I've always been a sucker for food you dip - a proclivity which I suspect started with Lik-m-Aid candy as a child - and am therefore incapable of resisting cheeze bread with any kind of dipping sauce.

By the end of about a month of doing this, my girlfriend (now Mrs. TSMK) began to complain that my car smelled strongly of pepperoni and other assorted toppings. She was right. And, although pizza delivery was actually more lucrative than I'd expected, I'd already had one uncomfortable run-in with a drunken and chain-smoking woman in her late 50s, wearing a negligee and asking me to step inside for my tip. I've always enjoyed The Graduate, but this lady was no Anne Bancroft. In short, I was beginning to tire of the glamorous world of the pizza delivery driver.

Then, something remarkable happened. The night manager, my boss, struck up a friendship with the night manager of the restaurant next door. That restaurant was a Dunkin' Donuts.

The Dunkin' Donuts was open 24 hours, whereas we closed our doors at 2:00 a.m. As a gesture of good will, and in recognition of the close kinship we shared as purveyors of late night and early morning artery-clogging sustenance to the local student, trucker and/or marijuana-user population, we began to arrange an evening exchange. We would make an extra pizza or two, and deliver it to our friends next door. In return, they would give us a few dozen donuts, which we would split among us as we headed for home. From that day on, I would go home from work not only with a pizza, but also with 6-12 donuts.

The sad fact is that my life hasn't been the same since. I only worked at Road Dogy's for about six months, and the pizza/donut combo diet was only a part of my world for approximately half of that time. But I gained over 35 pounds as a Road Dogy's employee - and over the ensuing decade and a half, I've never quite gotten rid of all the weight.

All this is a long way of saying, you should never try to eat something bigger than your head. At least not in one sitting. It should go without saying, but people frequently forget.

We have a tradition at my office of taking our summer law clerks out to one last lunch toward the end of the summer. Each of them is informed of the amount that the firm covers for reimbursement of summer-clerk lunches, and is then put to work in a contest to see who (if anyone) can eat enough food to actually go over the reimbursement limit. This is, of course, made more difficult by the fact that we take them to Red Robin. As often as not, someone ends up leaving the table to be sick.

Animals forget as well. Who hasn't seen the news article of the Burmese Python found dead in the Everglades after ill-advisely attempting to swallow an alligator. Here at home, we had a similar episode in Mrs. TSMK's fish tank, when our resident Cyphotilapia Frontosa male of approximately 6 inches in length made an attempt to swallow a Neolamprologus Leleupi of the same length. I walked in to the surreal site of seeing 3 inches of south-bound Leleupi sticking out of the mouth of a north-bound Frontosa. Odd. Odder still to see said Frontosa give up, release his grip, and the Leleupi wriggle out and swim away like nothing had happened. Sure, she was missing a few scales, but she's since gone on to successfully spawn in the tank on two occasions.

Fish can be strange creatures, and their willingness to eat anything and everything (unless you're trying to catch them of course, in which they feign anorexia with ease) is a source of constant amazement. It is also a source of knitting inspiration, as with Thelma Egberts' wonderful Fish Hat [dead or alive?] pattern, featured in Knitty last winter. I've just completed one for each of the two older boys. The younger fellow's hat most closely follows the pattern, although I played with the shaping of the fins a bit. The older fellow's hat diverges from the pattern in a number of areas, including the length of the fish, and the shaping of the tail and the fins. Plus, the striping of his hat follows the fibonacci sequence for no apparent reason. Here they are, although the discerning reader will note that the older guy has not yet learned the dangers of large appetites; his donut is bigger than his head.

Monday, October 12, 2009

There is no spoon

In the climax of The Matrix, Neo is finally able to see through the "reality" of what is appearing before his eyes. Instead of seeing Agent Smith he sees a stream of cascading information. He sees that the walls of the tenement building in which the scene occurs are actually luminous bits and bytes of data. And he sees that the bullet that has been fired at him is also data: data which can be manipulated however he sees fit. Neo has finally realized that there is, indeed, no spoon.

Usually, knitting lace is a lot like that scene. Honestly.

It sounds strange, but I typically find that somewhere in the course of a lace project, the pattern suddenly makes sense. I am able to see where I am in the pattern. To see how my current stitch relates to the pattern as a whole, and to see how one change of that stitch might change the pattern in significant ways. This is a kind of epiphany - and I always enjoy the chance to play "Neo with Needles".

Except, of course, for those occasions when the epiphany never arrives.

Unfortunately, that was my experience with the Curved Shawl with Diamond Edging from Jane Sowerby's Victorian Lace Today. Frequent readers of this blog will note that I've complained of this pattern before. The piece is now done, and I'm pleased with the result, but I have to say that I never did have an opportunity to express my inner-Neo with this one. The pattern simply never made sense.

Each individual stitch made perfect sense. Also, each of the rows was relatively straight forward, but the relationship of one row to the next consistently confused me. Partly, I think this is because there really aren't any rows of rest. Most of the lace work I've done has been in either straight stockinette or straight garter stitch - meaning that the wrong side of the work is either straight-across purl stitches or straight-across knit stitches. This pattern is arguably garter stitch in nature, but the wrong-side works a number of yarn-overs and decreases as well. Incorporating those into the work made it very difficult for me to see where I was at any given time within the context of the four-row repeat.
Also, once you manage to get the central section completed, you have the opportunity to work the edging all around the piece. Because the 16-row edging repeat connects to four rows of the central section, this takes quite a while. I managed to frog the edging section multiple times before getting it right.

All that said, I'm pleased with the result, and Mrs. TSMK seems to be as well. It came off the blocking this morning, and she immediately threw it over her shoulders to head out the door.

So, here it is. Curved Shawl with Diamond Edging - done in Plucky Knitter two-ply lace weight cashmere - Color is "Mouse of Madrone."


Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Jenny’s Scarf

Some time ago, my mother sent me an email, telling me how much enjoyed the blog, but posing a troubling question. Her email stated, in relevant part:

“Just a thought - - why is only Mrs. TSMK reaping the benefits of your beautiful work? Why not the TSMK’s Mother?? . . .

I remain
Your unadorned mother.”

What My Unadorned Mother (“MUM”) failed to mention, but which I subsequently pointed out to her, is that she was actually the recipient of one of my earliest knitting efforts, a fuzzy garter stitch scarf made from Trendsetter Blossom yarn (black with red flecks – available here). What I did not mention at the time was that I was already in the process of making her something else.

As frequent readers of the blog already know, I’m a big fan of Nancy Bush’s book, Knitted Lace of Estonia: Techniques, Patterns and Traditions. Long before TSMK’s dog savaged the lace peacock feather and fan scarf, I’d already begun working Bush’s extraordinary Lily of the Valley motif scarf.

By and large, the pattern is fairly easy and straightforward. That said, this piece was my first experience with the misery known as the “nupp.” For the uninitiated, nupps are made by knitting into a single stitch multiple times (typically 5 or 7 times) and then purling all of those newly created stitches back into one stitch on the next pass. The effect is to create a raised bump (more than a purl bump but decidedly less than a bobble) on the right side of the fabric. For someone with my general lack of manual dexterity, successful nupp-execution is about as difficult as playing Bach on the banjo. This difficulty was of course made worse by my choice of yarn: Rowan Kidsilk Haze.

As an aside, I might mention that I’ve now heard Kidsilk Haze referred to as “Kidsilk Crack” on several occasions. While this is an interesting concept, I find myself wondering what serves as the “gateway yarn” which leads you to Kidsilk Haze. As a secondary issue, the cost analogy doesn’t seem to work. Although stunned to find out that there exists such a website, a quick Google search suggests that the street value of crack ranges from approximately $100/gm to $160/gm – depending upon the size of the “rock”. Kidsilk Haze, on the other hand, seems to retail for around $15 for a 25 gm ball, suggesting an overall price of around $0.60/gm. Granted, my source for information about crack pricing is Canadian and my source for information about Kidsilk Haze pricing is US, so there could be some exchange-rate effect going on (or even some manner of nepharious crack and/or Kidsilk Haze arbitrage). Still, given that crack is approximately 166 to 416 times more expensive than Kidsilk Haze, the crack moniker seems overblown – or perhaps I’m just overthinking the issue.

Anyway, I soldiered on with the nupp-laden scarf. After much moral support at my LYS, I achieved détente with this infernal Estonian stitch, and managed to finish the scarf.

But there was a problem. Once finished and blocked, I looked at the scarf and realized it didn’t look anything like something I thought MUM would wear. MUM generally wears things that are brightly colored, and the scarf wasn’t particularly colorful. Also, although it hadn’t occurred to me before starting, I can’t say I recall ever seeing MUM wear lace. . .

So, MUM didn’t get the scarf. I held on to it for a number of weeks. After much thought, I realized that scarf looked a lot like something our good friend Jenny would wear and enjoy. So, one evening when Jenny stopped by the house, I offered her the scarf. That was this summer, and I’m pleased to say that now that our Pacific Northwest has turned cool, she’s had a chance to wear it a few times. In fact, earlier this week Jenny and Mrs. TSMK went to a book club together – Jenny wore the scarf.