Saturday, August 29, 2009

Photo Friday: the saturday edition

Photo Friday

I'm moving this week's Photo Friday to Saturday so I can post all sorts of pictures of Bobby's fist time at the state fair!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Bring It On

So, the lever knitting isn't going as well as I had hoped it would.

I've been practicing. I've been trying to only use lever knitting in the hopes that it would force me to learn more quickly, make the change, and get it over with. I knit dishcloths. Four dishcloths to be exact. Two are green, two are blue. I used straight needles. I like the needles I was using. They're Brittany Birch and I use Brittany needles very frequently for socks. But, I am a big fan (think every size I've used, and duplicates of some, though I've been a bit inhibited by budget issues) of Addi Turbo needles. They're amazing and I love them dearly. I had knit with this yarn before (Knit Picks Cotlin) and I think it's great for dishcloths, but that's all I've used it for, and that's all I probably will use it for and I had only knit one dishcloth before this. In other words, while I was acquainted with this yarn, I hadn't used it a lot. But, I figured that since I was practicing and didn't want to use any of my "good stuff" I would work with this yarn and those needles.

Then someone on a Ravelry board group for lever knitting said he had switched to a different project and it made the lever knitting so much easier once he was working on something he liked. And, it stands to reason that the flexibility of wool might make it more forgiving than the cotton/linen blend I had been using. So, I thought I would try out some other stuff.

I had put the dishcloths aside for a few days while gearing up for school, but figured I should finish those up first. In the class Stephanie said that if you learned on the straight needles it would make it easier to transfer the muscle memory and technique to circulars and dpns. So, once that last dishcloth was done (there was much rejoicing) I thought for a while about what I should knit.

I only have one size straight needles and no projects planned that use straight needles. I mostly knit in the round or on projects big enough to make circulars a better option. And, I didn't want to knit on throw away projects any more. I wanted to actually knit something I wanted to knit.

Most people learn better when they have a context and a reason for learning whatever skill or knowledge it is. And that motivation is even more important when you can't understand why you ever thought that it would be a good idea to change what's been working for you for most of your knitting life and you feel comfortable doing in public and you don't look like a spastic freak trying to figure out. (It really doesn't help that I've discovered my mouth hanging open at times.) Oh, and purling for some reason isn't working out. It kind of makes my hand go stupid. It suddenly loses the connection with the rest of my body and starts doing crazy loopy, yarn grabbing, things. Then when I tell it to stop it starts curling its fingers in on itself like it's feelings are hurt. Sensitive little jerk that it is.

So, in the face of adversity I did the only reasonable thing and picked out a sweater pattern. An adult-sized cardigan to be exact. One that will call for equal parts knitting and purling, on circular needles, and (for the fun of it, and it was the only yarn I had) I'm going to do it in stripes. And those color changing rows will be seed stitch so as to make the colors blend together a bit more. (I got that idea from the tulip sweater I knit Bobby.)

It's going to be a casual sweater, scrappy and comfortable looking. Partly because that's the best use of the yarn and the pattern, and mostly because I don't want the added pressure of needing something to wear to a formal dinner when I'm done. This is something I'll wear at home (where they'll love me no matter what quirky thing I'm wearing) and among friends (see previous note).

I'm starting a new sweater and by golly that whole sweater will be lever knit. If at the end of this sweater it still isn't happening for me then I'll take it as a sign that lever knitting and I just aren't meant to be. I'm hoping though that the sweater will be more like a long engagement before the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Things I Learned

This year I tried something new with my classes during the first couple of days. And I've found it very educational.

In the past I've done the syllabus and rules on the first day. I always get so excited to meet the students, but then I feel exhausted from talking all class period and disenchanted by the glazed, bored faces staring back at me (or at the clock on the wall). I so much want them to know that I'll only ever talk at them like this two or three more times during the year, but that's a hard-sell after 45 minutes of talking-teacher-head, and I can see them trying to decide what to tell their counselor to increase their chances of getting changed out of the class.

And, that's only one problem. Because of the nature of school, classes, and individual student needs my classes aren't usually complete (kids moving in and out) until the end of the second week. Last year we had the first three days, then during the second week of school Bobby had surgery. I was out the whole week with him and when I returned on the third week my second hour had 18 new students bringing the total to 24; so 75% of the class knew the sub better than they knew me. It made for a rough start, but it did get better. So, with all of those changes happening I end up going through the syllabus several times.

This year I decided to use something one of my colleagues used last year. I talked briefly about the class, talked them through a survey, then gave them an assignment. They were surprised at homework on the first day, but then relieved that it was pretty easy. I gave them each an index card. They folded it in half, wrote their name at the top, on the left side wrote down three things good teachers do, and on the right listed three things good students do. We talked about the fact that a good teacher usually teaches something, so things like "brings food every day" or "throws parties" or "never gives homework" weren't really going to cut it. I wanted them to think about the teachers they learned a lot from and enjoyed learning from. Then think about the things they have done when they were learning a lot or things they had seen other effective learners do. I told them that completed card was their ticket back in the room the next day.

I had a 100% completion rate! It's a great way to start the year: everybody had done their homework and I'm hoping to keep building that habit!

The things they had written down were quite telling. I still had a few folks ask for no homework, less work, or trips to the gym. But, I was surprised at the maturity and awareness reflected in some of their observations. One girl asked for a sense of humor but ability to stay on task. Another asked for help when she doesn't understand. One boy asked that we get out of the classroom sometimes. They wanted to be kept informed about their grades and be given specific instructions on assignments. We negotiated the amount of homework and one class asked for points based on their attendance and participation. Overall, they seemed to know how they wanted to learn, but more importantly they generally sincerely seemed to want to learn. That made me unspeakably happy.

There were some responses though that made me want to ask what horrible things they had experienced in previous classes. I'm sure we all have memories of the burned out, stressed out teacher freak outs. And, it was clear how strongly those must effect our students. At least 70% of the students had some variation on the theme "be nice." And one student asked that I "not yell."

We've been talking over both sides of the agreement, my responbilities and theirs. I'm drafting a contract that we'll all sign. But I'm keeping all of these cards in my desk.

Teachers are people, too. We have bad days just like students do (and I think we need to let them have those bad days, it's rough being a teenager). But, we also need to remember that our bad days can have a devestating effect on our ethos and a demoralizing effect on the students who are the victims of our irritation/frustration/wrath.

"Be nice" is to me like that all-encompassing favorite catch phrase of teachers: "be respectful." It sounds so simple, but can be so hard to live out.

This year I'm going to try really hard (and feel miserable when I fail) to be consistently nice to my students.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Beginning Again

Tomorrow is the first day of school with students. I'm not entirely ready, but I'm also not too nervous about it either. I was up at school until about 5 this afternoon with Bobby running amok and Bob helping to paper over some of my windows. (You may ask why I would want windows covered. Good question. It's because they're windows to another room. And I'm not excited about seeing lots of other students in other rooms. The prairie dog look gets old.) While they were helping, I was cleaning out old student folders to make room for the new students I would be meeting this year.

The students are, of course, what makes teaching so fun, interesting, and exciting. Now, at the end of a bad day, those adjectives might all be very, very, very different. As I took out old name labels I realized I hadn't used some of those folders for three years. It was a strange mix of names from all short my years of teaching so far. Some of the students I only had for a quarter before life circumstances moved them elsewhere and others I have seen through their last 3 years of high school.

As the names flashed in and out of my hands I realized that I didn't know how very many of them were faring. Several will be back this year, but so many more have moved past high school. There were names I haven't thought of since they left my classroom. Students that had moved out into the world and passed through my room and life only briefly.

I saw the name of a student I had for only one semester. Her situation was a difficult one and seeing her name reminded me of the last time I had seen her: on a street downtown, looking like she may be living there. For all appearances she was worse off than when she walked through the door. That was a depressing name to see.

But then there was the name of the young lady I had last year who I saw over the summer working at a drive-thru. The last time she teased me saying she wasn't coming back; she was changing schools. At least she had the sense to not joke with me about dropping out.

I also saw some former students in the halls. One was picking up transcripts for a training program he'll be starting this fall. The other was trying to register; actually, his mom was trying to register him and he was trying to look too cool to care if he was in classes or not.

Those old names on the folders, like the students they represent, were a mixed bunch. Some were written in easy, flowing hand writing. Others in cramped letters trying to fit their full, formal name into a 1.5 inch space. All different, and surely none ever thinking that their little name on that piece of card stock would make their English teacher very sentimental one day.

Being able to meet so many different people, then getting to know them and work with them, is often awe-inspiring. Every student comes in with their own baggage. Some are weighed down by it, others use it to rest or even climb. Watching them grow and change is amazing. Seeing them decide who they are, who they want to be, what they believe, and what they want for their lives is a process that I can't see myself tiring of anytime soon.

I am excited to see the new names on those folders.

And I'm sure this time next year, I'll get all nostalgic over their names, too.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Knitting for Speed & Efficiency

My favorite class at Sock Summit was the Knitting for Speed and Efficiency class taught by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee. It was three hours full of interesting information and practice time on lever knitting.

As a recovering perfectionist it was great to hear her speech about how long it takes to learn new habits. I taught my sister to knit last year and like all new knitters she got frustrated. But, as Stephanie pointed out, I didn't berate her, call her stupid, ask why she was wasting her time, or otherwise insult her intelligence. And, since we were learning a new way of knitting, we couldn't really, in good conscience do those things to ourselves. It was good to hear, and I've had to remind myself of it a few times. But, I'm determined to learn this way of knitting. I don't have as much knitting time as I have projects I want to work on, so I need all the extra knitting I can squeeze out of that time.

When my mom taught me to knit she taught me to throw. Throwing involves carrying the yarn in your right hand. It's straight forward and easy, but I got frustrated with how slow I was when I did ribbing or seed stitch.

So, I learned to pick which carries the yarn in your left hand and I am able to knit between 40-45 stitches a minute when I pick. Switching to picking also did wonders for my tension. I used to knit pretty tight, but when I started picking my knitting got looser and more consistent, though I'm not sure why.

Now, I'm learning to lever knit and that means changing the yarn back to my right hand. It also means that I'm back to knitting super tight. I have to carefully and forcefully slide my knitting down the needle. It's as though I'm afraid the yarn is the only thing holding the needle itself together. This is my third day trying to lever knit, and it's getting better.

I remember when my sister came back to my house with her practice swatch and showed me the moment when she finally loosened up. Her little 10 stitch row went from about 1.5 inches wide to about 3 inches in the space 1 or 2 rows. I'm hoping the same "a-ha!" moment will happen with me and my hands, but I'm not sure when it will. So, until then, I'm knitting dishcloths.

I've never knit dishcloths, but I figure it's one of the few projects that won't look totally ridiculous with one half almost twice the size of the other, when that moment hits. Sweaters would be disastrous, and mittens a bit goofy if that happened half way through.

In addition to teaching us lever knitting, she talked about how we could be more efficient knitters using the way we currently knit.

She gave us 4 tips:

#1 Get smarter. She pointed out that we should read the pattern. I completely get this. I totally understand why this is better than not reading the pattern and having to take out hard-earned knitting just to fix something that you really should have been able to read. Especially if you're an English teacher. But, this didn't stop me from making 2 big mistakes on Bobby's sweater, both of which I could have prevented if I had read.

First, I knit an entire row on the wrong size needles and had to take it out just to re-knit it on the right size needles. Second I knit almost the entire sleeve before realizing that just like in my adult sweaters I needed to be decreasing along the arm. So all of that (with its cut ends) was ripped out as well. And that one was late at night so it stung even more. Luckily, Bobby is small and so is his sweater.

#2 Get better. She had us look at our current knitting and identify ways we were duplicating work and being inefficient in our movements. I discovered that I don't have to re-tension the yarn every time I switched needles, which was quite a little epiphany for me. Unfortunately that epiphany is a bit wasted now, because I'm re-learning knitting altogether. But I'm hoping to keep this bit of advice tucked away so when I can lever knit without looking like a total goofball I can then re-evaluate how I'm doing.

#3 Knit more. This one is pretty clear. The more you knit the more you get knit and the faster you get at it. I knit pretty often, but need to do a better job of taking advantage of the time I have to knit. In the car is one example, and I'm working up the gumption to knit in other settings that are a bit more public. I'm just hoping that people will believe me when I say that I really am paying attention and listening even if I'm knitting.

#4 Fix your tension. Tension determines the size of your knitting and if your tension gets all goofy so does your knitting. I had my tension all sorted out with picking, but am back to square one with lever knitting.

She said that it takes 21 days to develop all of the micro-movements and small muscle memory to be competent at a new skill. I'm on day 3 and getting a little better. I'll keep you updated.

Luckily the next 3 weeks involves the start of school and so simple dishcloth knitting will be about all I'm up for anyway.

To Recap

I am home from Sock Summit. It feels very good to be home after 5 days away from Bob and my new house. But, it felt so sad leaving the Summit. Luckily there was a lot going on here and the business has helped me from dwelling too much on the sadness I feel now that the Summit is over. It was incredible. I can't explain how amazing and overwhelmingly wonderful it was, but here's a taste.

I teared up the first time I was in the market. There were so many brilliant indie-dyers and all of the people I met were friendly and interesting. I was especially fond of the people who engaged Bobby and talked with him about the wonders of the yarn and fiber surrounding him. (I've noticed I'm tending more and more to gauge people based on their reactions to my son.) I'm also hoping he'll know it's not just a fetish of his mom's, this whole "yarn and fiber" thing. Anzula and Serendipitous Ewe were particularly kind to him. I bought this beautiful skein of 80 wool/10 cashmere/10 nylon from Anzula and am going to keep poking around her shop on etsy. I love the depths of her colors. I joined the Serendipitous Ewe Sock Club for Bob (well, the socks will be for him anyway) seeing as the retro video game theme couldn't have been more perfect, and bought this skein of their strawberry fields colorway to knit myself some Christmas socks!

I bought so much more I almost felt ridiculous. Then I heard one of the luminary panel members say she had recently moved houses and discovered that she had 6,000 pounds of yarn and fiber. I refuse to feel bad about the materials for my crafting until I reach over 3 tons. Then I'll think about it. Maybe. But, here is a picture of my other yarn purchases. Pretty isn't it?

And these are the fun other things I bought. Patterns, buttons from a very cool Button Emporium and Ribbonry. Just the other necessary tools of the craft. (Necessary, right?)

The people at The Knitting Bee were funny and let Bobby try on their sample Tulip sweater. I bought a kit for it and knit that for him to wear on the plane home. I think it's quite adorable and think it will be even nicer after I've properly blocked it.

While at the Summit I took two classes. The first was Colorful Stitches with Anna Zillboorg. She was great. That was the class where I discovered how truly dangerous knitting can be. Luckily the victim recovered and we were able to talk that night at the Sock Hop.

The second class was Knitting for Speed and Efficiency with Stephanie Pearl-McPhee (The Yarn Harlot). She was very funny and very informative. She taught us lever knitting which I had never heard of before. It's the fastest way to knit. At least, after you've learned how. Tomorrow I'll explain about how I'm now learning to knit all over again, but for now, I'm heading to school to set up my room. Tonight, I continue to learn how to knit.

Friday, August 7, 2009


Pinch Me!

So, it's blurry, but it's so totally us with the Yarn Harlot! (I'm on the left of the picture.)

We've been having fun, mostly. On the flight down Bobby decided his first plane ride was so boring he would sleep through the whole thing. No complaints here! But, while he slept his body betrayed him and started forcing out not one, not two, but three new teeth. Upside: he'll have 4 on top and 4 on bottom. Downside, he spent our first day and a half a very sad, pathetic little boy. And I spent most of that time feeling like a horrible mom who couldn't make things right for her baby.

But yesterday got much better! For one, we bought yarn. Now, Bob was no so clear on Bobby's yarn budget, so I wanted to present picture evidence of the fact that it is indeed Bobby's yarn and not mine. I've only bought, well never mind that, but this yarn is certainly his.

We also went to the market preview for the summit attendees. It was amazing and I actually teared up a little bit! Then we went to the opening night festivities and basked in the wonder of so many knitters and knitterly things. It was great to be able to knit during the talking and not have anyone think I was being rude. Everywhere you looked people were knitting or spinning. The atmosphere here is wonderful.

Today I went to my first class and it was quite exciting and dangerous. At one point the woman next to me said, "I have a knitting needle stuck in my leg and I'm afraid if I pull it out I'll start bleeding everywhere. Can you get help?"

She said it so calmly that it took a minute for it to sink in, and then I went into full-blown, panicky-smiling-laughing mode. (I'm not the best in an emergency.) And, it's hard to properly convey the import of your message when you're laughing about it. On the upside she was walking around afterwards and it made for a very exciting class.

One funny bit, she and those (less faint-y individuals) around her were very keen to make sure she didn't get blood on the project on the needles, and that the needles weren't too expensive before using the bolt cutters to make her safe for transport to the emergency room. Crazy, crazy! Like one paramedic said, "I never knew knitting was so dangerous!"

More later!