Sunday, April 26, 2009

Magical Thinking Strikes Again

Fact: The pattern for the sweater I'm knitting ("Elsewhere") clearly states, on the very first page, and I quote: "Throughout this pattern, you’ll be picking up lots of stitches."

Fact: I hate picking up stitches. I can never get them to be all even, and because I am easily bored to the point of occasionally being lazy, I sometimes pick up neatly at the beginning and become progressively sloppier as I go on.

Fact: I knew both of these facts before I bought the pattern.

Fact: I bought the pattern before I bought the yarn.

Fact: I have knitted all the way to the bottom of the sweater and have picked up approximately 9,387 stitches, cursing each one.

Fact: Knowing thyself is not all that useful if you do not apply that knowledge.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

In Which Our Intrepid Spinster Author Makes a Discovery

I took the Boy to a comic book convention today, where (among other things) he had the opportunity to be photographed with such illustrious personages as Darth Maul and someone called (if I heard correctly) Bubba.

The place was packed. It was so full I was very worried about what would happen if there was a fire - because, honestly, a comic book convention is not where I imagine spending my final moments. We spent an inordinate amount of time pressed up against people who had clearly made their own costumes from such common materials as cardboard and duct-tape, and who were supposed to be some sort of comic book/ fantasy figure.

It was surreal.

On the plus side, though, I have made a discovery.

Now I know where all the single men hang out. (I know why they're single, too.)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

First Impressions, and the Importance Thereof

Minutes after the shootings, everybody's cell phone rang. We weren't supposed to have cell phones unless we had a note from our parents explaining why they had to be able to reach us in a hurry.

But most of us had them anyway, and, as it turned out, most of the parents (for all their complaining about how much TV kids watched) were close enough to a radio or television so that they found out immediately, and all the phones went off at once. The annoying rings and the stupid songs sang out, only slightly muffled, from inside everyone's backpacks.

So begins After, by Francine Prose. (And may I just say, what an awesome name for a writer!) This is one of the best books I have read in a very long time. It's about a fictional high school, which is a short distance away from Pleasant Valley, where a Columbine-type shooting has just happened. The day after the shootings, things start to change. The next day a grief counsellor is brought in, and after that little freedoms start to disappear, all with the most reasonable of intentions.

Then the freedoms that are being lost get bigger.

Then people (students and teachers who speak out in any way) start to disappear.

The book is terrific; the suspense kept me reading far, far past my bedtime, and although the book belongs to the school library and they know a) my name; b) where I work; c) what kind of car I drive and where I park it; and d) my boss; I am seriously considering not returning it.

"Prose, you say? Cool name. Never heard of her."

Sadly, I think my students would rat me out, since I read this opening to several classes as an example of how the first lines of a story can hook you.

Two of my ESL classes are writing story anthologies right now, and when we're done the hard work of first drafts and first revisions, we're going to have an opening line contest - I can hardly wait. With other classes (that is, classes of students who are all proficient English language speakers) I have shown the Bullwer-Lytton Fiction contest (go here, you won't regret it), which is a contest run every year for the worst opening line of an imaginary novel. I might do that with this group, but some of those sentences are mighty complicated, and some are not (ahem) quite age appropriate.

If I ever write a novel, I will make sure it has a kicking first line.

(Speaking of first impressions, I observed my eccentric neighbour last weekend, walking up the road at quarter to eight on Saturday morning carrying a rice cooker. Cool.)

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Another day...

Say what you will about my commute, you must admit that I have a pretty sweet view in the morning.

That's looking west this morning, with a classic chinook arch in place over the mountains. I love looking at the mountains: sometimes they're so close you could touch them, other days they're barely visible. You never know what you're going to get.

The right side of the road (that would be....east) is also compelling:

The sun coming up, fields, horses, all manner of tranquility to prepare me for a day that includes this:

I am pleased to report that this is the "done" pile of marking, but still. It's eating up my life and I am not amused.

Now that I've shown you all the pictures of life on the way to the salt mines, here are a couple of the view from inside the classroom.

That's right inside the doorway. Check out those huge windows - I have the best classroom ever.

Here's a view from my desk:

Yes, that is my knitting on top of my laptop. Sometimes I knit at lunchtime - takes the edge off. (Through some weird depth-of-field accident that went unnoticed until just now, the knitting is the only thing in focus in this picture. Freudian? I wonder...)

And that, dear reader, is how I spend my day. Thanks for popping in.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

A Book, and its Cover

In that Meg Ryan/Tom Hanks movie You've Got Mail, the Meg Ryan character owns a children's bookstore. "The things you read as a child," she says, "become part of who you are the way no other reading in your life ever does." (Or something like that, anyway.)

This is one of my favourite books from my childhood; Rosemary Sutcliff's Eagle of the Ninth. I loved everything she wrote, but I only owned a few of her books, and this one is worn out pretty well. It's an old Penguin edition, from 1983 or thereabouts. The pages are yellowed, the font is uncomfortable to read, it's unpleasantly flimsy in my hands and feels like the spine may crack at any moment. Speaking of the spine, it's faded several shades lighter than the covers, because it's lived on many bookshelves since it came into my possession. (Now that I think about it, it's possible this isn't the copy I owned as a kid, but rather one that I picked up along the way, at a garage sale or something. Most of my childhood books vanished after I left home.)

A librarian of my acquaintance told me that one of her challenges is re-ordering books that the library already owns, because after the covers stop looking current the kids don't borrow the books any more. Who, after all, would pick up a book with a cover like that 1983 Penguin when they could have this:

a re-issue of Sutcliff's Frontier Wolf, which I bought the other day?

I'm halfway through this book, and I have to say that I am loving it every bit as much as I did when I was a kid. (It was originally published in 1980, and Sutcliff died in 1992.) She wrote historical fiction that was primarily about Roman Britain, which is a period I still find very interesting. It's just so compelling: the legions arriving in Britain, the rebellion led by Boudicca, the settlement of most of the island, the building of Hadrian's Wall, the fall of Rome and what happened to the place after the legions left. The fact is that we don't know much about the period at all, but coming as I do from a place where a hundred years is a long time, the idea of remnants from almost 2000 years ago is enough to capture the imagination and never let it go. Some of the first (cough DREADFUL cough) fiction I ever wrote was in blatant imitation of Sutcliff's style and themes. Going back and re-reading these books has been a real treat: they are still as fresh, still as interesting, and still as absorbing as they ever were.

So the moral of the story, as it were, is that maybe you can't judge a book by its cover, but changing that cover can certainly make you pick up and rediscover the book.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Where's that picture of the alligators again?

Report cards due in on Friday.
Most stuff marked, except for odds and sods that kids hand in NOW so as to avoid a 0.
Most stuff entered into the Magical Mark Recording Software (it does all the math for me! It is wonderful.)
I can't get on to the main site from home to put my marks into the system. Can't say I'm surprised.
Boy child has given me the cold from hell. There is no way I should go to work but I can't not.
Help! Am too sick to knit.
Going to take extra-strength cold medication, lie on the couch, and moan.
Wish me luck.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Mighty Neighbourly

Here on the Artsy ranch, we don't have very many neighbours. It's mostly because this is a brand new townhouse complex, and most of the units aren't finished yet. We do, however, have one other person living in our block. I first realized that I was a neighbour when I opened the door one morning and saw this:

"Holy Dinah!" I thought to myself. "Someone has abandoned that car right there in the middle of the street!" I was so distraught that I wandered on over to see if it had a license plate on it or if it had just been dumped there. Surely, I thought, no one would ever drive a car that cost more to insure than it is worth, and which is too big to fit into our standard size single garages...

But no, I was mistaken. The car belongs to my neighbour, and believe me when I tell you that this is the way he parks. All the time! He just pulls that big old boat (damn it's loud) right up until he's more or less in front of his place, then he stops it and gets out and goes on his merry way.


I thought that I was a little eccentric - for example, I turn on the subtitles when I'm watching a movie, because I like to read the dialogue (otherwise I sometimes have trouble following what people are saying) - but never once have I left the house with my shirt on backwards, collar pulled up to keep my throat warm. Nor have I ever walked down the road while brushing my teeth.

I guess I have a long way to go in the eccentricity department. It's a bit of a relief, to tell you the truth.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Update, Random

My grade 7 language arts class did a poetry project, which took me 57.3 years to mark, and which had to include a poem by an author of their choice. Some of them found the poems on the internet, and didn't bother to re-write the name, which left me puzzling: who, exactly, is Frost, Robert?

Anyway, here are some random updates on knitting, which I am doing to avoid marking. Nothing new here.

"Everybody Knows" is done like dinner, and I love it.

It's not easy, being green.

Check out the buttons:

And one more, because it's my blog and I can put all the pictures of my knitting on it that I damn well please:

What else? I'm so glad you asked.

"Elsewhere" is coming along swimmingly, I'm just past the shoulders.

Knitting. Making me happy since 2005.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Why I Love Knitting, Reason #5,682

I do not feel very connected. I don't know who grew the squash I used for dinner tonight, or who raised the chickens that laid my eggs. I don't know my neighbours (well, I only have one neighbour right now, and one day I will explain why I don't particularly want to know him, but that's not the point). I shop in town as much as I can; there's a new little bookstore with one of those appallingly cute names which has an excellent selection of new and used books. The lady at the post office, after six months of essentially the same conversation, now recognizes me when I come in to get my mail, but that's about as far as it goes.

Knitting makes me feel connected.

Take the new sweater, for instance. It was designed by a lady whose blog I read. She and her wife own Make 1 Yarn Studio in Bridgeland, which I love dearly. A couple of weeks ago, I bought the yarn for the sweater at Make 1, and it made me think about all of this, about knitting and community and convenience and art.

If it was just a sweater I wanted, I could have gone to Wal Mart and got one for less than fifty bucks. It would be exactly like 2.5 million others, it would be made by a machine that was probably operated by a child the same age as my boy, in a factory in China somewhere. But a sweater it would be. It would keep me warm when my classroom gets cold, it would do the job I need it to do, it might even be stylish. (Let's not hope for too much, though. Really now.)

It would not have cost very much, and I would not have to spend hours and hours of my free time (that is, the time I am not spending marking) carefully pulling one loop of wool through another using a pair of pointed sticks in order to make it.

The yarn I bought was Manos, which I love.

It's made by a women's collective in Uruguay, and they sign their name.

The knitting book I just finished reading says that making your own clothing is an act of subversion, an opting out of the corporate world that values dollars over lives. A small reclaiming of our own connectedness to the world, and our obligations to the people around us.

This sweater is going to cost me a lot more than one I could buy at Wal Mart, but I think it's going to be worth every penny.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Strange Happenings.

The weirdest thing happened to me yesterday.

I was loading up the car before I left school - today is a holiday and Monday is a PD day, and my report card marks are due next Friday, so I have a lot to do. I struggled out with all my stuff; a box of marking, my lunch bag (with knitting), my newly completed green sweater which I will take a picture of and put on the blog when I'm good and ready, another bag of marking, my plan book, two library books, and the assorted miscellaneous crap that I lug from place to place, not being a terribly organized individual by nature.

There I was in the parking lot, trying to get the key into the lock on the trunk so I could load it up and go home when, out of nowhere, a huge bird descended. It was gigantic, people, it was not your common or garden pigeon, not the magpies which wake us in the summer, not even a Canada goose. Oh, no, it was a monster of a bird, and it flapped its wings and beat against me until I was driven back, holding tight to my lovely green sweater and books while abandoning (with tremendous reluctance, as I'm sure you can imagine) the huge box of marking.

Wouldn't you know it, but that huge nasty old bird grabbed hold of my marking in its talons, and, with a shriek of triumph, snatched it up and flew away.

It was heading east, if you want to know.

Seems to good to be true, you say?

Sadly, you are right. Oh, well, I can dream.

In other news, the Artsy household is now inhabited by one Easy Rider:

And the weather has improved considerably. Here, for your comparison, is the before picture:

And the after picture, taken last night:

I love spring. I just wish there were more mysteriously large homework-eating birds flying around.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Just keep knitting...

I will NOT be defeated by the set-in sleeves on the green sweater! I will NOT!

Update to follow.

PS. The boy mastered Riding a Two-Wheeler this weekend, and has the bruises to show for it. I'm so proud!

Also, did anyone know that you can freeze wine? And also, that it tastes just fine when you defrost it? Weird.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Nothing to see here. Move along.

Got a new order from Amazon. Includes one book about knitting - ha! metaknitting! - one book about Sesame Street, one new Henning Mankell, and other assorted loveliness, including an Easter gift for the boy-child.

Can't talk.


Wednesday, April 1, 2009

In Like a Lion, Out Like a Lamb (or something like that, anyway)

Still blustery and cold and with more snow in the forecast here in River City, Alberta. The daffodil picture is just to taunt you.


In other news, this week has gone by quickly. Today I was informed that my grade 8 French class is getting two new students. (Not an April fool, unfortunately.) This puts me up to 32 kids in that class, when (despite much scrounging last fall) I only have 30 seats. I told the office that I would just send two kids to them every day, and let admin sort it out... that didn't go over as well as you would think.

Knitting news? About two thirds of a sleeve left, then sewing it all together and knitting the collar. Adjusted date of completion is Sunday.

That's because I have another project in mind: "Elsewhere" is a lovely swingy spring-like cardigan, which looks like just the ticket. (Amy Swenson is the designer, if you want to ask the Google for a picture.)

The boy announced that he wants to have a friend come and sleep over. "He's coming on Friday, mummy," Junior announced. "So you'd better get a substitute on Friday so you can meet us when we get off the bus."

Ah, youth.

Bookishly speaking, I just finished Leanne Lieberman's Gravity. I saw it reviewed in the Globe a while ago and instantly put it on my Amazon wishlist. Sadly, it is never ever ever available for immediate shipping, and I distrust those "Ships in 1 to 2 weeks" messages. They invariably mean "We will ship it whenever we darn well feel like it, and you will be grateful that we do that much, you miserable sod."

Anyway, it was in the school library and I snatched it up. What a fabulous read! It's about a young girl, living in Toronto, who is an orthodox Jew. She is also, while away with her grandmother at a cabin for the summer, experiencing a sexual awakening of the sort she had never imagined - that is to say, she experiences a full-flung infatuation, a coup de foudre, as they say, involving another girl. The main character, Ellie, is desperately trying to find a place for herself in her faith that allows her still to love who she loves. I understand that this is a debut novel, and I hope to see lots more by this author.

That's about all the news from where we stand on Wednesday. Funny how I managed to write something every day last week, in spite of the 10 tonnes of marking, and now I haven't even got the energy to do a proper book review.

Now, if you will excuse me, the French department (that is to say, moi) is meeting in the living room with a bottle of wine, the remote control, and some knitting.