Friday, May 28, 2004

Thanks for the terrific comments from last entry. Dianne, be careful about encouraging me or I'll never get off my soapbox! And Max, you will have an easy time ditching your car in the D.C. area. We started our one-car lifestyle when we lived there in the late 80s-early 90s; if we were to move back, I think it would be much easier to do without a car entirely because the area now has two car sharing operations. Check out FlexCar or ZipCar and you may find you don't need a personal car at all. For out-of-town trips and vacations, on the weekends you can rent a compact car from Enterprise for less than the cost of wear-and-tear on your own vehicle.

For those who don't know about car sharing, it is a membership scheme making cars available in neighborhoods for rent by-the-hour. Learn more and find out if car sharing is available in your town at the CarSharing Network. Ooh, and I see from clicking on the link to Traverse City that I need to send a new message to the network coordinator. Our local group exists only very informally now.

OK, off the soapbox and on to mostly-knitting content.

Knitting readers: if you scroll down to the May 14 entry, I have replaced the cloudy photo of Fjalar with a sunny one.

Thanks to the Traverse City Commission giving bus station opponents unlimited time to speak (which resulted in an 8-hour public hearing spread over two nights), I finished The Rebozo on Monday night:

And the bus station was approved, which was also good news.

In other knitting news, I finally decided to use the gorgeous cashmere yarn I bought at Lost Art's January sale for mittens and a hooded scarf, basically following a pattern in Candace Eisner Strick's Beyond Wool. I have started the scarf, which is now my take-away knitting.

I haven't cast on yet for Audrey. I am hesitating because I'm tempted to make it one size smaller as an incentive to exercise more and eat less.

Saturday, May 22, 2004

Warning to those who read this blog for its knitting content: none in this entry.

Today's musings are about hardship and sacrifice, or what passes for it in modern U.S. culture.

Regular readers (if there are any) of this blog may recall that my family attempts to do what is widely regarded by most of our neighbors as an enterprise in pure folly: we "get by" with "only" one car. My husband (I want no part of it) owns a 1999 Ford Escort wagon and the mileage reimbursements he gets from his employer cover its costs in gas, insurance, maintenance and even the oft-overlooked opportunity costs (the money we could be earning if we sold the car and invested the proceeds).

I rarely use the car, but it's available to me when I need to travel outside my walking and biking range. For the past 10 days, it hasn't been available as my husband has been away with it for work. Several of my neighbors have generously offered me rides or the use of their cars. While I am grateful to live in a neighborhood in which people know and care for each other, I can't help recalling Bill Bryson's wonderful essay, "Why No One Walks," in I'm a Stranger Here Myself. Bryson described how his well-intentioned neighbors reacted to his walking habits when he first moved to New Hampshire:

"People have gotten used to this curious and eccentric behaviour now, but several times in the early days passing acquaintances would slow by the curb and ask if I wanted a ride.

"But I'm going your way," they would insist when I politely
declined. "Really, it's no bother."

"Honestly, I enjoy walking."

"Well, if you're absolutely _sure_," they would say and depart
reluctantly, even guiltily, as if leaving the scene of an
accident without giving their name."

(For those who haven't read it, an excerpt of the essay is available here.)

We've lived in the neighborhood long enough that most people know I don't need a ride, but I suspect the proliferation of offers in the past 10 days has been a result of the weather. It's been an exceptionally wet spring and those who are traveling in the comfort of a metal cocoon must naturally assume that exposure to the unpleasant elements outside constitutes a particularly nasty hardship.

When I'm walking my children to school in a downpour, or biking my daughter to ballet class in the drizzle, I know it may look like a hardship to my neighbors, who might justifiably wonder if I'm unfairly sacrificing my children's welfare to my sense of environmental responsibility. A little perspective is in order. True hardship is walking 5 miles every day to get drinking water, wedging yourself into a packed cargo truck for a long hot ride across the border for work, or seeing a loved one hauled off to Abu Ghraib prison.

My life is one of comfort, ease and security. I have umbrellas and rainwear to shield me from the rain, boots and parkas for the snow, and even sunscreen for those rare and blessed sunny days. I have a warm, comfortable house and too much food in the kitchen. Getting wet or cold occasionally is not a sacrifice; it is the least I can do.

As for my children, their welfare is always my concern. I think they have more to fear from our car-centric culture than from raindrops, and I'm not just talking about the statistics that show automobile accidents are the leading cause of death for children. The fossil-fueled prosperity to which we've grown accustomed in the U.S. is coming to an end and my children are learning the skills and attitudes they will need if they are to help lead our society away from war and self-destruction and into peace and long-term sustainability.

The internet, as well as your local library, has a vast amount of information and essays on this topic; try googling "end of oil" for starters. One of the best books offering practical solutions is Divorce Your Car by Katie Alvord. She lives not in transit-friendly N.Y.C. or San Francisco, but 11 miles outside Houghton, Michigan, where the annual snowfall is around 200 inches. She offers useful advice for minimizing car usage even for those who live in car-centric suburbs. Highly recommended.

Transportation accounts for more than half of the oil consumed each year, so efficiency in that area can have a big impact. But don't forget to take steps to reduce energy usage in other areas, such as heating (turn the thermostat down and knit more sweaters!), food (organic and local whenever possible), and consumer goods (reduce, reuse, recycle). Take the Ecological Footprint Quiz and learn what you can do to live more lightly on the planet. Then, if you'd like to discuss your progress with others, consider joining the LessIsMore discussion group (warning: high e-mail volume).

A little bit of voluntary hardship and sacrifice now may save us from catastrophic hardship and sacrifice later on.

Monday, May 17, 2004

A little blog housekeeping to start. I noticed this weekend that the referral system appeared to be out again as my blog did not have the usual list of referring web pages. Then this morning when I was reading Wendy's blog, I noticed that her referral list was working and I wondered, what's up with that? So I clicked on the link to the referral service, copied and pasted the code back into my blog template, and saw that the address has changed. Either I wasn't a registered user and didn't get notified (very possible) or I did get notified and deleted it as spam (also very possible). Anyway, you other bloggers who have been using the referral system and have wondered where your list has gone may want to check it out!

No pictures today. I know I said I would take another photo of Fjalar in the sun, but I missed my opportunity yesterday and now the sun is gone again. I'm almost finished with The Rebozo and I'm almost to the armhole steeks on Donegal. I also swatched for Audrey and got gauge the first time with the recommended 5.0 needles. The Rowan Calmer feels so good!

Friday, May 14, 2004

Finally, a Finished Object to show! This is Fjalar, a design from Elsebeth Lavold's Viking Patterns for Knitting, in Brown Sheep Cotton Fleece:

Here's a detail of the cabled band:

Thanks to Joe for the photography tips. The last time I attempted to photograph Fjalar, the texture did not show at all. Joe recommended photographing it with the morning or afternoon sun, without a flash. Since I live in northern Michigan, the odds are not good that the sun will peek out when I happen to be home with my digital camera ready, but I did at least take it outside for natural lighting. The sky is so gray and drippy today that I could not stop the flash from going off, but I think the texture is somewhat visible. If, as promised, we do get some sun tomorrow, I will try again. And I suppose the one good thing about the current weather is that I don't have to wait until fall to wear the sweater (45F as I write this!)

As long as I'm trying to find silver linings... While the horrendous events that have brought this about still make me nauseated, I'm somewhat heartened to see that at least Bush's poll numbers are starting to drop. Maybe people are finally getting a clue! How many people have to die or be tortured before the remaining 44% stop approving of the way Bush is handling his job?

Monday, May 10, 2004

In knitting news: I joined the Audrey knit-along and I'm very eager to begin, but I've promised myself not to even swatch it until I've finished at least one current WIP. Thanks to a rainy weekend that was perfect for movies and knitting (finally got to see "Love Actually"!), I am just a few rows short of finishing the sleeves for Fjalar (from Lavold's Viking Patterns for Knitting), and thanks to T-ball games and various meetings, I'm only 3 stripes away from finishing "The Rebozo" (here's an old photo of it):

If all goes well, I should be swatching before the end of the week.

But sadly, if I can't learn to control myself around Green & Black's chocolate, I may not be able to fit into Audrey or any other sweater! This stuff is insanely good, and last month my local food co-op had it on sale and I "stocked up." At least I thought I stocked up; it's all gone now. I was eating it at the rate of two bars a day. My favorite is Almond, which is whole roasted almonds in a yummy milk chocolate. But my local store doesn't have the toffee, which is probably a good thing for me. I also highly recommend the Maya Gold. Actually, they are all delicious. Does Calmer stretch much?

Friday, May 07, 2004

Because I am procrastinating on something else I need to do, and one reader of this blog expressed an interest in voluntary simplicity, and Wendy is getting grief over her penchant for luxury yarn, it seems an appropriate time to address the role of money in knitting and in life.

This issue goes much deeper than the usual "yarn snob" flap over acrylic vs. natural fibers, but let's get that out of the way first. I will confess to being a yarn snob, although it's partially by default. I have never knit with Red Heart or Lion Brand, primarily because I have three excellent yarn shops within walking distance of my house so I've had no need to look for yarn in discount stores. I did not even know Red Heart existed until I subscribed to knitting lists! But now that I know, I still have no interest in it. Even though my family income is very modest, I don't mind buying the "expensive" yarns because:

* I value my local yarn shops for their expertise, excellent customer service and commitment to my community. For yarn or anything else, I patronize locally-owned businesses whenever possible.

* I don't knit because it is a thrifty way to get clothes (does anybody?) If I just wanted a sweater at the lowest possible cost, I would go to Goodwill. And actually, that's where I get most of the clothes I don't knit myself, which is a big reason I can afford the luxury yarns.

* I don't waste money on stuff that isn't important to me. A major savings in my family is transportation. We have one small car (a Ford Escort wagon) that we use primarily for out-of-town trips. Otherwise, we walk or bike. We spend several thousand less a year on transportation than most of our neighbors. I've always wondered why people feel a need to get a minivan or SUV when they have a baby. We took the Great American Road Trip last year -- coast-to-coast twice, 31 states, 5 provinces, a dip into Mexico -- with two kids and a large dog and all our camping gear in the Escort! I won't say it wasn't cramped, but if we had purchased the large vehicle that most people claim you need to do this, we couldn't have afforded to make the trip! There are many families who spend more on car payments than on rent or mortgage payments. If anyone would like guidance on how to reduce this huge expense, I recommend Divorce Your Car! by Katie Alvord. Or let me know and I'll point the way to more resources.

But there is another ethical dimension to this. Is it right to indulge in Rowan when people are going hungry? Probably not, I say as I eye the 8 skeins of Calmer I purchased 3 days ago. I don't have an easy answer, but I turn to environmental writer Stephanie Mills for an elegant wording of this dilemma. From her book Epicurean Simplicity:

"A source of bad conscience, however, is the knowledge that my way of life, austere though it may appear to the richer folk, is still ruinously exploitive of nature -- not in my backyard, where I practice harmlessness toward even the wasps, but in the atmosphere, where my fossil fuel combustion's carbon dioxide is helping change the climate; in all those mountainous places where the metals and minerals that structure and drive my American life are torn from the earth; and in the flesh of fish and birds, mammals, and reptiles, where the chemicals that made the paper and plastic I use bioaccumulate, deforming reproduction.

"That guilty knowledge is another argument for material simplicity. The less I consume, the less harm I do to that which I love. In a consumer society, harmless living may be simple, but it is not easy. I make no claim to exemplary harmlessness or simplicity."

When it comes to knitting, the most ethical approach would probably be to purchase all fibers directly from local organic sources, handspin the yarn, and give the resulting knitted items to those in need. I am far short of this ideal! But I suspect this is not the model that most of Wendy's critics had in mind. I do not wish to judge anyone who truly struggles to afford yarn from discount stores; I know that many people must carefully track every penny and have no room in their lives for even slight luxuries. But I also do not think those who have some financial flexibility should be criticized if they opt to skip the discount stores and support the merchants and artisans who are contributing knowledge and beauty to our world.

Monday, May 03, 2004

As the calendar now indicates we are now in the month of May, I suppose eventually warm weather will come again to northern Michigan and I will be spending more time outside and less time inside watching TV and knitting. That is a good thing, if the first night of May sweeps is any indication of what is in store on the boob tube. I am embarrassed to admit I watched the last 45 minutes of last night's disaster movie on NBC -- "10.5". We turned it on in time to see the Golden Gate Bridge collapse. But apparently this was a teaser quake and we have to tune in again tonight if we want to see California fall into the ocean. I think not.

Especially since "Love Actually" came out on video a few days ago and I have yet to see it. I tried on Saturday night, but all the copies were checked out at my neighborhood rental score. This is a bonanza week for Colin Firth fans as "Girl with a Pearl Earring" is released on video tomorrow. All Colin, all the time. What more could a girl want? (pun intended!)

I know that some knitters dislike Lily Chin, apparently because she is popular with the new hip urban knitters. Well, get over it and check out her new book, Knit and Crochet with Beads. I picked it up last week at Lost Art and I have to say there are some tempting projects in it. The Bogus Bohus Cardigan might interest a few KBTHers, although La Chin promises that "it's a lot easier to do" than it looks. The cover design, a lacy mohair stole, is gorgeous. There is also a very pretty tank top in which beads give the illusion of cables.

No pictures today. I plan to update and redesign my web page in the near future (I hope that by announcing my intentions, I will actually be compelled to do it).