Autumn 2013

Autumn 2013

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Back to school

Hello, and welcome to a lovely spring day – or spring day, anyway, with sunshine and clouds and well, temperatures well above freezing. A Danish spring day, in other words; we may have rain later, maybe not, and there may be frost during the night.

And school is starting again tomorrow! Four weeks of lockout are coming to a close; and children and parents – and grandparents – across the country can return to normal.
The government decided to intervene, after all, this week, maybe because the end-of-school tests for the ninth and tenth graders are coming up. These tests were supposed to start this coming Thursday, 2nd May, but have been pushed till the 13th.
Apparently, the Prime Minister said at the weekly press conference on Tuesday that they were still waiting for the involved parties to work out a solution – and then on Thursday morning there was a new press conference detailing a) the government’s proposal for the intervention and b) their expectation that the members of the Folketing would approve it during the long weekend (Friday was a holiday). Which they did; and so the teachers can return to their work – and their pay – and school children can return to school.
Victor isn’t overly thrilled, but that’s just how it is. And it probably is time he went back: what with ‘bridge building’ (trying out the next level of the school system), the flu, Easter break and the lockout, he hasn’t had regular school for seven weeks.

The next few weekends are going to be somewhat busy: Sunday, 5th May, is Music School Day; so we are all going to Copenhagen, as Victor and his guitar group are playing in Tivoli. Last year, Thomas and I and my mum went along with him, and this time, my dad is coming as well, and maybe Andreas; so we’ll have a proper family outing. Fingers crossed for the weather to behave!
The following weekend, 11th & 12th May, sees the Wool Festival in Saltum, where I’ll be going with my sister – on the Saturday, as there is a guitar concert at Ulstrup Castle on Sunday.
So, a lot of music coming up, and yarn ... and this is a perfect segue to:

The Knitting
My Fosco socks are ongoing; I finished the first one and have reached the heel – the Welsh heel – of the second. This Welsh heel is, apparently, the sturdiest one out there (I am merely quoting, I haven’t actually made a full comparison of heel types), done with slipped stitches on the heel flap and double decreases on the bottom of the heel. The picture below shows the slipped stitches; I am about two-thirds down the heelflap on that one.

The sole of the foot has arch shaping that makes the sock hug your foot in a very comforting way; that feature I will definitely use again! Note to self: find out how this is done in toe-up patterns. See, the journey of exploration and learning goes on and on ... gotta love it!

And I am sock designing at the moment, as well; secret socks, for now.

For TV knitting, I have the Comfort Shawl KAL. As I am using an aran weight yarn instead of worsted, I am fiddling a bit with the numbers, not for the first – or the last – time; but everything seems to be adding up.

And I found something else to occupy me, another TV knitting project, in fact:

On these sunny spring days – and even in the summer, sometimes – when the sunshine is warm but the breeze is still cool, I want something around my neck to keep the draught out but not make me sweaty. So, a scarf in cotton, bamboo, or silk is called for.
I have been and am still planning a Wingspan made out of sock yarn leftovers: that will keep till later; and in the meantime, I have dug out my Blend Bamboo leftovers. This is a Hjertegarn mix of bamboo and cotton that I have used primarily for baby things, as it is light and soft and quite lovely – and suitable for a summer scarf.
The Wingspan is built up of staggered triangles made with short rows and is as such excellent for using up bits & pieces. I cast on 54 stitches for the first triangle instead of the 90 stitches suggested, as I want a longer and narrower, more scarf-like than shawl-like, piece, and so each triangle takes up about 6 grams of this yarn. The original scarf has eight triangles; I will keep going until I find it long enough to wrap around a few times and tie the ends in a knot. Maybe 14 triangles, since I have seven colours to play with – nine, actually, but I’m probably leaving out the pink, and I only have 4 grams of the purple, too little for a triangle (I wonder why that particular colour has been used up?), so that bit I can use for some of the final edging.

The Books
Knitting lace & cable socks goes well, of course, with audio book listening (which I may have mentioned before); I am now on to the final 7-hour part of eight of The Vampire Archives, the huge collection of stories spanning several centuries and continents. One feature I like about this collection is the author mini-biographies that precede the short stories (or poems); any aspiring writer should take note of how other writers have made it, thanks to or in spite of, their circumstances.

In on-the-go listening, I finished Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond, the big history on how it came to be that Europeans beat other peoples around the world and not the other way round. Diamond is fond of expressions like ‘accident of environment’, stressing in many ways that the geology, continental orientation and so possibilities of plant and animal dispersion, inventions and so forth, happen to be more favourable in Eurasia than in Africa, the Americas and Australia, not to mention a host of smaller entities. Eurasia happened to have large, domesticable animals, an East-West orientation that enabled flora and fauna to travel along an axis facilitating comparable environments, and relatively reliable seasons. And so, Europeans had potential for food production, providing more calories and thus more complex societies including specialisation, a settled lifestyle in close proximity to animals and thus germs to evolve tolerance to, and so on and so forth.

My current audio book is Be a Free Range Human by Marianne Cantwell, an upbeat motivational guide on how to break free of the caged corporate life and find yourself, happiness and a steady income, doing what you love.
As you may guess, I find the tone a bit much, though there is useful advice in the book – even for decided introverts such as myself, who do not wish to be life coaches or massage therapists (quite a lot of the examples involve coaching). The whole looking into yourself and reconnecting with your childhood dreams makes sense; more now, anyway, than when I was compelled to do an NLP course 2½ years ago. And sanity checks on your dreams are necessary: there is no point in wanting to do something full time that would require you to work 100 hours a week just to make a living.
The focus is very much on the online based business, be it coaching or blogging; the chapter I am in right now describes how to live nomadically to be truly free. Hm. Well, you can bring up children like this (though the mentioned families have only one child each) – but you can’t all of a sudden drag three teenagers out of school and halfway across the globe. Or am I, oh horror of horrors, only representing the views of the beige army?
Ok, now I’m just being sarcastic; free-ranging is great, and the line(s) of work I can envisage for myself, in writing and knitwear design, can be done anywhere; the patterns are virtual products and only need an Internet connection to be uploaded and sold. But you don’t have to live in five places around the world to be a ‘real’ free range human, and I wouldn’t uproot my boys to do it; not at their stage in life: that sort of life is probably best begun when you are adult or a small child.

On paper, I am reading Savage City by Sophia McDougall, the third book in the Romanitas trilogy that features the Roman Empire – now. The first book in the trilogy opens with the view of steel crosses gleaming in the sunlight along the banks of river Thames in Londinium, ready for criminals and runaway slaves.
I am always drawn to parallel history, the little cognitive shocks you get when your everyday reality collides with the otherness; and when it is well written, as this really is, I love it.
So many details need to be thought through when you create a parallel reality: technology, religion, political and social institutions, names of persons and places and things, world dominance, &c. In this version, the Roman Empire persisted and now rules a large part of the world, including the Eastern parts of Terra Nova (the New World), which is shared with Nionia, a.k.a. Japan, the other large empire. Christianity is an obscure sect, the potential abolition of slavery is a thorny matter, cars and trains run on electricity, and madness is hereditary in the Imperial family (nothing new there).
Words for various objects are derived from Latin rather than Greek, as we are used to: longvision screens are everywhere, people communicate via a longdictor, vigiles patrol and arrest criminals, &c. The ubiquitous and familiar saints’ names do not exist, of course, in a world without widespread Christianity, where the Roman gods are still worshipped in their temples; people have Roman or Gallic or Persian names according to their place of origin.
The story itself is compelling: without giving too much away, I can say that we get runaway slaves, intrigue and murder within the Imperial family, attempts to abolish slavery, international diplomacy as well as warmongering, romance, violence (it is Rome, after all), siblings united and divided. There is a lot of travelling done through various parts of the world, in as well as beyond the Roman Empire, officially as well as on the run.
The characters come alive in the detailed descriptions of their emotions and reactions, both physical and mental; and thus, this story really is a window into another world. Highly recommendable.

And with that, I will leave you for now; next week, I plan to post early, before going AFK for the weekend (not quite globally free range, yet) – so watch this space :o)

Keep happy, keep healthy, keep crafting!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Knitting Galore

Viborg has been bombed – yarn bombed, happily, which is so much nicer than the awful goings-on in Boston earlier this week.

A couple of trees on the edge of Borgvold, a little park by the lakes, have been wrapped in colourful knitting. Before we had two days of stormy weather, there was also a sign on the fence next to the multi-trunked tree, saying ‘There is so much work you never see’ – which is why I suspect locked-out teachers to be behind this.

Yes, the school lockout is still in effect; it has lasted three full weeks now, and rumours are that the government is not going to interfere after all. At Victor’s school, some degree of teaching is being done by teachers who are employed as civil servants: so the ninth graders, over whom the final tests are looming, are getting some lessons, and the sixth, third, and second graders, as well.
Victor is in eighth grade, so he is concentrating on his guitar lessons and practice. And he should: he has been entered to audition for the Talent Programme at his music school – very exiting!

But I digress. One major point of conflict and discussion in all this mess is the apparent inability of politicians and people in general to understand that teachers have more work to do than merely classroom teaching; this also pertains to the negotiations over the conditions for high school teachers earlier this year. For some obscure reason, teachers in all levels of the school system are accused of ‘sitting around and drinking coffee’ half the day instead of working. And well, yes, teachers do sit around drinking coffee half the day – while they work. Preparation, grading, meetings, &c – all this is invisible work and thus susceptible to denigration by those who do not know what it is to teach, or do not care.
And this is why it seems probable to me that the yarn bombing was done by teachers.

The Knitting
I wanted to report back on the Ocean socks that I knitted recently, just to say how much I love them! Love the yarn, love the pattern, really enjoyed knitting them – and then I had them sitting there in all their pristine glory for several days before putting them on to wear for real, not only to model.
Because herein lies truly the eternal Dilemma of the Hand-knit Socks: you want to wear them all the time, because they are soft and warm and pretty, but you don’t want them to be worn out, ever. And you know that yet they will be worn out, that a thinning of the fabric will occur, and eventually a hole under the heel or the ball of the foot; and you will have to choose whether to try darning them or chucking them out. Thus hand-knit socks can teach us a lesson about the transience of beauty: like the flowers that are appearing now, in springtime, must wither and die at the end of summer, so all socks must be worn out. But as new flowers will appear next spring to replace the dead, thus new socks can be knitted to fill the shoes of the worn out (sorry about the awful pun, couldn’t help it).
And with the abundance of gorgeous sock patterns and yarns available, the transient nature of the hand-knit sock is live-with-able. Though a thing of beauty really is a joy forever, the bittersweet knowledge of its impermanence can enhance the enjoyment of it. So, I wear my Ocean socks with love and pride, relishing their warm softness and knowing that they won’t last forever – although I can’t help wishing they would, sometimes.

But there will be other hand-knit socks: I am down the leg of the first Fosco sock and onto the heel. This pattern has several interesting features: a cuff with cross-over ribbing, followed by a complicated cable going down the side of the leg – the two socks have separate charts – and a combined cable and eyelet pattern on the remaining part of the leg. So far, so good. Next came the Welsh heel, which I haven’t tried before, so this is really a quite interesting project. Right now I am fiddling with the beginning of the gusset: my stitch count may be off, as I can’t get the instep pattern to fit – I’ll have to look at it again and work it out.

I promised you pictures of my two most recent FOs, the Wilhelmina shawlette and the driftwood cardigan, so here goes, straight from the spring sunshine in the garden today:

The KAL for the Comfort of a Friend Woman Shawl started on Tuesday; I inadvertently jumped the gun and dove into swatching while it was morning over here – and seven hours later, the official start was announced. Oops. And then later, next day I think, I realised that the plan for the KAL has the cast-on happening NEXT WEEK. By that time, I had done the ribbing and was started on the body increases. Oops again. Almost as if I had planned it, by the time I had done half of the increases I realised that the shawl was getting too wide too quickly, so I frogged all of the garter part and did it over, increasing on every 6th row instead of every 4th.
Anyway, I am not the only one to have worked ahead. To fill the whole five weeks of the KAL I can either string this shawl out, so to speak, by only working on it once in a while – or I can finish it and then go on to knitting the doll and girl versions that I want to make for my niece Laura, anyway. Or I could string the adult shawl out by working on the little ones alongside it. Decisions, decisions ...

The Books
As I mentioned last week, I have been listening to Quiet by Susan Cain, about introverts in an extravert society. It is no wonder that I enjoyed this book: any book that caters to your own personality traits, confirming their validity and values, is easy to love. Cain provides both anecdotal and scientific evidence for the distinction between the two major personality types treated in the book: stories of people and their lives, how they handle or fail to handle the challenges they meet; and studies done by psychologists and psychiatrists in babies, children, college students. We get a description of a Tony Robbins seminar – that left me tired just hearing about it – and later in the book advice for couples, parents, employers and employees on how to respect the needs of introverts in a world that continually demands outgoingness.

Next up in my Audible downloads is Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond, a history of biology, evolution, language, culture, invention, and warfare to explain how it is that Europeans have conquered so many other parts of the world instead of the other way round. The whole of the explanation can, not surprisingly, be summed up in the title of the book.
This book is in no way a justification of the white European’s superiority or claim to rule the world; rather a list of natural and geographical factors that have coincided to make Eurasia the place where ‘civilised’ life developed earliest. Europeans are, of course, no more intelligent or inventive than peoples around the world: they simply had better conditions in which to work.
To give a few examples: Eurasia is mainly orientated East-West, so plant and animal species adapted to the climate of a certain latitude can spread more easily than on continents lying on a North-South axis (the Americas and Africa). Most of the ‘big fourteen’, the large herbivores suited for domestication, were originally found in Eurasia (cows, horses, pigs, camels, &c).
And so, settled life providing more food and closer contact with other people and with animals developed earlier in Eurasia than in other parts of the world, thus exposing humans to various microbes that either kill you or make you stronger. It wasn’t just Spaniards on horses with guns (the Spaniards, not the horses) that killed so many Indians in the 16th century, it was smallpox and measles.

An entirely different book on humans and animals is George Orwell’s Animal Farm. Thomas has been reading Orwell lately, so I decided to re-read Animal Farm to better be able to talk with him about it; it is probably at least 25 years since I last read it, so there may have been a couple of details I had either forgotten or missed altogether.
It is really a rather depressing story, reminding us of the glaring incompatibilities between the ideals and the realities of Communist societies.
‘All Animals are Equal, but some are more Equal than other.’

And I finished the Ravenor trilogy; as all good science fiction, this is not only about space travel and gadgetry, or even daemons and weird magic, but also the human condition in general and particularly when faced with evil. Ultimate evil, of course, but also the more squalid kind: slavers, corruption, greed and meanness. I like the way Dan Abnett manages to write whole persons, not cardboard cut-outs, for minor characters as well as the main ones; and to drop in those everyday observations that bring life and depth to the story.

On that happy note, I will leave you for now. Have a great week; keep happy, keep healthy, keep crafting!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013


So, this morning the KAL for the Comfort of a Friend Woman Shawl began over at the WWMDfK group, with swatching and counting and measuring ... all good fun, nice and harmless.

And then, four hours later, I see a thread on Ravelry – my main news site (I’m only partially joking): someone exploded two devices at the finish line of the Boston Marathon on Monday afternoon EST, right at the 4:09 mark, when presumably quite a lot of runners were finishing.

Oh. Wow. Boston really needs the Comfort of a Friend right now, all the runners there and elsewhere. I am shocked. Why would anyone want to blow up runners, spectators, volunteers? This is so wrong.

And what will happen to marathon events the world over? Seeing how airport security has changed since 9/11, this has to have a huge impact on the organisation of – well, any sports event, really.

My heart goes out to all runners, whether in Boston or not, to all relatives, spectators, volunteers, and everybody in Boston, whether runners or not.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Life Goes On

Hello, everybody, and welcome to the Apple Basket! I hope you have had a lovely week.
Spring has finally arrived: the snow is all gone, and the breeze is mild today, more caressing than biting.

Remember that I mentioned a sore elbow a week or two (or three) ago? Well, it didn’t go away by itself, so this Friday, I mentioned it to my physiotherapist. He did what these people do best: prodded the tender spots and found some more that I hadn’t noticed; and now I officially have a tennis elbow. Not that I’ve played tennis more than at most a couple of times in my life, but there you have it. So now I am supposed to not do all the things that make it hurt ... like gripping, lifting, twisting, stirring, and cut down on typing and (oh, the horror!) knitting.
Instead, I need to do a daily exercise; a Swedish researcher has found out that controlled exercises are more effective against chronic tennis elbow than rest and anti-inflammatory medication. On the bright side, it should all be over in about three months’ time.

The school lockout is ongoing and as of now seems to be going to last until the end of next week, the third week of April and of the lockout itself.
I can be fairly sanguine about the day-to-day side of it, having only one fourteen year-old stay at home: Victor looks after himself a lot of the time and doesn’t get too bored. But there are lots of children in the streets and shops in the daytime, many of them with grandparents; and some people need to take their kids to work with them. The receptionists at the physiotherapists’ clinic had a couple of small boys rummaging around on Friday; and Victor’s guitar tutor brings hers along, as well.
And supermarkets are overflowing with all the cut meats and other stuff usually put into the packed lunches that most of these 875,000 school children eat every day; while unpaid teachers are very likely to spend as little money as possible for the duration of the conflict.
So, teachers, children, parents, grandparents, retailers, anybody employing parents – nobody is unaffected by this whole mess.
And for what? To save money on a short term basis by forcing teachers to spend more time in classrooms and less time preparing for classes. And by forcing teachers and children to spend 8 hours every day in schools, allegedly comprising all needs of a child in one big package. This whole-day school model wants to incorporate after-school activities into the school environment; but no schools have the facilities or professionals for that amount of sports, music, crafts and whatever the kids actually do. Or, for that matter, individual work spaces for all of the teachers.
So, I am in no way sanguine about the contents and prospects for the conflict; the only comfort is that if things go as badly as one can fear, given the suggestions and plans put forward by various politicians, Victor at least has only a year left in that part of the school system.

The Knitting
When I have just two active WIPs, as was my custom these three months (I have been reading & listening to too much Victorian fiction lately, it’s rubbing off on my language!) – anyway, with two active WIPs, the situation is quiet and manageable: they sit there nicely, waiting their turn. With four or five or even more, there is a constant clamour for attention, as if they all are afraid to be overlooked or forgotten. This bustle can be quite invigorating for a while, even fun; but only for so long, before I start to feel overwhelmed and pulled in every direction.
Luckily, WIPs can be put away into a bag or a closet for a while, until I am ready to attend to their needs again – quite unlike children or school students or even pets. Nobody will make a fuss if I ignore a certain piece of knitting for a week or a month (or more) to maintain some order in my day-to-day business.
On the other hand, having several WIPs going can be an inducement to get more knitting done. It is all a matter of finding that delicate balance that will keep away boredom on the one hand, and confusion on the other.

My stripy summer driftwood cardigan is almost finished; I put on Downton Abbey to get the last of the second sleeve done, and now I have only ends to weave in and buttons to attach.

And the Wilhelmina shawlette for Victor’s guitar tutor is finished and right now soaking, waiting to be blocked. This is really an approachable knit: the lace pattern is repeated a number of times; and if you choose to make it as written, it is quick and not too big, more a scarf than a shawl. If, on the other hand, you want it more shawl-sized, it is easy to keep going and make more repeats on the body before adding the edge.

So, last Saturday I downloaded the PDF version of WeWMDfK?; and I made it all the way to Sunday evening before casting on the Fosco socks by Heather Ordover, Fosco’s Pret-pret-pretties that I have been eyeing ever since the sneak peek. Some purple sock yarn had found its way into my shopping basket one day, and now it is going to be socks. I haven’t made it very far yet, as I decided to quiet the clamouring by actually finishing a few things this week; only the ribbed cuff on the first sock. But now that the Wilhelmina is done, Fosco is next ...

Another incentive to turn at least one WIP into a FO is the KAL that starts next week, on the 16th April: as you may know, pre-ordering Madame Defarge Deux, WeWMDfK?, gave access to a free bonus pattern. In the book are two little shawls, one doll-sized, one little girl-sized, called Comfort of a Friend and inspired by Beth in Little Women; and the bonus pattern is this same shawl in several sizes for adults. What I particularly like is that the tips are buttoned to the waistband; I am forever tying knots on my shawl tips to keep them from flapping and dangling, so this seems hugely practical. And while springtime may not seem the obvious time to seek woollen comfort, it will be cold again soon enough.
Contemplating this KAL had me, of course, looking through my stash for suitable yarn; or rather, my virtual stash on Ravelry: so much easier than dragging all those boxes out from under the bed. In the end, I finally got the impetus I have been waiting for to go about frogging a long cardigan I have had lying around. This is my Lomond Jacket that I knitted a few years back, while I was in the process of shedding quite a few extra kilos. So by the time I had finished the thing, it was already a bit big, and now I am swimming in it. Or rather, I would be swimming in it if I ever wore it, which is kind of the point here.
Now, then, I am transforming a big, heavy, dusty cardigan into new(ish) yarn for knitting. The drill goes as follows:
Unpick seams; which may sound like a lot of fun, but really isn’t.
Frog pieces into skeins (for this, I find a niddy-noddy to be extremely useful).
Soak skeins overnight to get rid of kinks, dust, and cat hairs. This is where the fun begins, in picking up those skeins of refreshed yarn from the water basin.
Allow skeins to dry.
Wind skeins into balls.
And voila: yarn as good as new, ready to be knitted into new lovely things. Brilliant.

The Books
Jane Eyre is still ongoing; I have actually this week caught up with the CraftLit podcast and experienced for the first time the wait for the next episode. Only a couple of days; but now I am waiting a whole week for the next one. Weird.
In the meantime, of course, I can catch up on all the other podcasts I listen to, including Chop Bard, where Hamlet is up next. I bought the Royal Shakespeare Company version with David Tennant to watch when I’ve listened and (re-)read ... looking forward to that.

So I’ll manage; and now that I have the Audible app, I can haz audio books on the go again. The one I am listening to right now is Quiet by Susan Cain, about introverts in an extrovert culture; a book that tells you that it’s fine to want to be left alone is the perfect one to stick in your ear for a solitary walk. Besides, it makes a lot of sense to me.

While knitting Wilhelmina, I listened to more of the Vampire Archives, including a story by sir Arthur Conan Doyle about mesmerism. Once again, the law of synchronicity prevails: I have just begun re-reading all of the Sherlock Holmes stories, the excuse for which is my intention to submit a design for Defarge Does Sherlock later this year; so far, I’ve read A Study in Scarlet.
And the lady practising mesmerism in the Conan Doyle story comes from the West Indies, as does the mysterious Bertha in Jane Eyre. That last coincidence is not so strange, perhaps: it is not difficult to imagine the West Indies as an exotic locale from which 19th century writers could let strange characters with unusual traits and abilities derive.

In a quite different genre, I am again reading Warhammer 40K sci-fi, this time the Ravenor trilogy by Dan Abnett. I read last autumn, before going to the Black Library weekender with Andreas, the Eisenhorn trilogy, about an Imperial Inquisitor and his works & deeds. Ravenor was Eisenhorn’s pupil and later colleague; this trilogy explores his way of dealing with the warp-infested dealings that take place in a troubled world.
Dan Abnett is a star author at Black Library, and no wonder: he manages the eccentricities of the corner of the galaxy in which his stories take place about 38,000 years hence, as well as interesting and well-rounded characters. The good guys have their shadows (and sometimes even daemons), and it is – at times – possible to have at least some sympathy for the bad guys. Rarely is a person without redeeming features; except for Lijah fething Cuu in the Gaunt’s Ghosts series, of course.

So, that’s it for this week; I had better stop typing and rest my elbow a bit. Next time, I will have photos of pretty FOs to show off :o)

Until then: keep happy, keep healthy, keep crafting!

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Tell Me A Story

It seems that spring is finally here, with temperatures up to 10 C in the daytime, though we still have frost in the nights. Today, the weather is very Aprilesque, with sunshine one moment and a shower of hail the next.

Big news of the week: I have a new phone! My old one apparently decided that if I was treating it as an mp3 player, it was going to behave like an mp3 player. So first, it kept insisting that the headphones were in even when they were not, which made it somewhat of a scramble to answer a call. Next, it ignored my attempts to make a call – which did rather impair its usefulness as a telephone. So, I decided to replace and upgrade, while I was at it, to a smart phone.
The biggest challenge was to get to learn all the new stuff: touch screen, apps, Internet games, you name it, without Victor grabbing the thing out of my hand to show me – at a high speed that left me going huh? Sometimes, I feel old.
The generation gap, when it comes to technology, is immense, and even shows itself across half generations, like the one between my boys, who are teenagers, and my sister’s toddler-age children, who have grown up with touch screens. Emil on his second birthday was playing games on an iPad. To me, that looks weird; but of course, a touch screen is much easier to understand than a computer mouse or a controller: you touch the button you see on the screen, and things happen. Pretty straightforward, much more obvious than moving a separate object around to do stuff on the screen.
But anyway, now I have me a new toy, including, of course, an Audible app, WordFeud, QuizBattle and all. And I can still treat it like an mp3 player, as well; so my podcast listening is safe.

In other, minor (heh), news: the teacher lock-out is in effect, with nearly 900,000 children and their families affected. There is a rumour that the government will move in on the situation, but only after two weeks have gone by, so it doesn’t look like it was planned from the start.
So it seems that between the flu, the Easter break and this lock-out, Victor is going be out of school for over a month. He manages to be stoic about it, though (heh, again), filling his time with playing the guitar (always a good thing), playing WoW which, he claims, counts for both English and social studies, and reading (English again).

The Apple of the Week
is all about story telling, in person and in writing.
This Saturday, I participated in a story telling class: a dramaturge visited the group to teach us about – well, how to better tell a story. It was a great day: 6 hours of theory, instruction, lots of exercises, fairy tale writing, re-writing, and telling, good food and fun.

The instructor, Lene Skovhus, was amazingly focused on the details of everybody’s body language, facial expressions, gestures, voice, quality, tone, and speed of speech – as well as the words and structure of the story itself.
She uses two images to describe the story:
A skeleton, gradually fleshed out and with the addition of a heart: the skeleton is the structure of the story, fleshed out with descriptions, emotions, &c – and the heart is the deliverance of the story, the way the story teller uses his or her body in the telling.
A shark: its teeth are the beginning of the story, designed to grab the listener (or reader); after that the story arches towards the raised back fin, becoming more interesting and complex; and finally, it resolves, maybe with an added flick of the tail, a morale of some sort.

One exercise had us tell six-sentence fairy tale-style stories in groups of six (or one group of six and one of seven, as it turned out) with prompts that go as follows:
Once upon a time ...
Every day ...
One day ...
And then ...
And then ...
It all ended with ...
The first sentence introduces a Who and a Where; the next one presents the situation, which is disturbed or altered in the third, with the intensity rising through the fourth and fifth and being resolved in the sixth.
There is a certain challenge to continuing someone else’s story, not least in ending it in a meaningful way that ties off the threads presented.

After lunch, we each chose a fairy tale, either from the ones which Lene had brought, or one that we knew well already, to work on and make our own for telling. We were invited to maybe update the tale or put a different spin on it. Afterwards, we told the tale to a partner giving feedback; then we had one minute to tell it – or rather, the bare bones of it – and next, we were to tell it in varying tones of voice according to prompts: slow, quick, loud, sorrowfully and joyfully. This last, of course, became quite absurd, when the phrasing did not match up with the content of the story.
I worked on Rumpelstiltskin; it needs some more work, particularly on the ending, and then I may put it out here for you.

The part about the structuring of the story itself is, of course, relevant also in writing. I am slowly working my way through What If?, as you can see from the Goodreads widget in the sidebar; the first chapters are all about beginnings that capture the attention of the reader and makes him want to read on. Like:
The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.
In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.

Both of these give you a protagonist and a place – and questions. Who is the man in black, and why is he running? What does the gunslinger have to do with him?  And what is a hobbit?

One exercise from the book is to every day write the first sentence of a story – just that, not the rest of the story – to practice this grabbing of attention. I like the image of the teeth sinking into the reader and holding him fast.
These are a few of mine that I am somewhat happy with:

All through that winter, the men took it in turns to keep watch, and the children were never allowed to play without supervision, never let out of sight; and no-one ever crossed the shallow, fast river that never froze.

If Lucy had been asked a week earlier, she certainly would have agreed that finding her fiancé dead in bed with another woman, also dead, was the worst thing that could happen to her; but now that seemed almost trivial compared to the events that followed this discovery.

Mr Dawes hardly ever agreed with his wife about anything of importance; so she was quite surprised when he concurred with her views on the new neighbours.

Three very different stories, n’est-ce pas? In the first one, the threat from the far side of that winter river can be anything from wolves to vampires, Vikings or witches. The second one raises the question, among others, of the cause of death for the lovers: were they both targeted, or did one of them just become collateral damage? The third one gives me a picture of a Dursley-like couple – and what are those neighbours up to?

I find this a fun game to play, challenging the imagination and the precision of the language: you need to pack enough information into one sentence to generate an image – or rather, let the reader generate an image – that is interesting enough to warrant further reading.
But now to something completely different:

The Knitting
My Ocean Socks are finished; these are the Water CycleSocks by Tami Sheiffer, made in Mary Queen of Socks from Superknits. I really enjoyed this pattern: toe-up for easy fitting, with four different lace patterns for variation and interest. These socks are both pretty and fun to knit. I made the folded cuff on the first sock and then decided that I didn’t like the bulkiness of it; so instead, I did a k1 tbl, p1 ribbed cuff that fits perfectly with the stitch patterns on the leg.

I have this week had a bout of startitis – or rather, an attempt to rekindle my enthusiasm for knitting by seeking the temporary thrill of the new project.
For some reason, my driftwood cardigan does not claim my attention; I do want to finish it, not only for the sake of finishing and crossing it off my list, but because I want to be able to wear it, what with spring coming on and everything. But for some days, it was just sitting there. I got my act together last night and finished the ribbing on the body – and then spent an hour or more fumbling with the button band, trying to pick up and knit the right number of stitches and make it look nice. Having put it down to go to bed, I realised how to do it; so that will be my next job today.

Having finished the Ocean socks, I immediately cast on for a little sock yarn pouch for my new phone, to protect the screen when it is sitting in a pocket or a bag. A pocket for a Galaxy Pocket :o)

It is very simple, just a sock toe cast-on, a few increases to make the corners rounded like the phone itself, and plain stocking stitch. I made a fold-over flap and then unraveled it; with the decreases at the top, the phone sits quite happily inside its pouch even when it’s open.

And before I even finished the socks, I caved and started swatching for a summer top, in white fingering weight cotton. This design has been hovering in my mind since last summer, when I swatched a bit and then got sidetracked by deadline knitting, first for gifts and then the Ravellenics; and then the summer was practically over, and winter and Christmas knitting were more important.
I am not telling you more about it for now: if it turns out to be anything good, I will submit it to the Madame Defarge series and see what comes of that, if anything.

Since November and the Music Talent Competition, I have been wanting to do (as in knit) something nice for Victor’s guitar tutor. She is a lovely lady, always smiling and helpful towards Victor and her other pupils, giving them fine sand paper for their nails, gently pushing them towards improvement, having them participate in events that may further their work and maybe even careers. To say that she does this because she loves all things guitar (and more) would be true, but in no way sufficient – everybody who has ever taught will know that no matter how much you love your subject and want to share that love with the world, teaching is hard work.
So, I would like to show my appreciation, and how better to do that than with a knitted gift?

In browsing through What Would Madame Defarge Knit? I came across several items that I Just Have To Knit, including the Wilhelmina shawlette and Jane’s Ubiquitous Shawl.
Victor gave me a stern look: Do you really need all those shawls?
Me: Umm ...
And then the inspiration hit me – you have guessed where I’m going with this, right? – to knit the Wilhelmina for Victor’s guitar tutor. Two birds and all that; three, actually, since I have in my stash some sock yarn in (blood) red, pinks, and purple. Great for a lady with dark hair.

So now, all of a sudden, I have four active wips, and a summer skirt coming up for which I just ordered the yarn ...

Also, now the second Madame Defarge book is out in the digital version! I downloaded the PDFs Saturday morning (local time) and just wanted to stay in and knit for about a month. Well, I knew already that I want to make the Fosco socks for myself, but I did find even more lovely stuff. No surprise there, of course.
The patterns are all up on Ravelry, too, if you want to see them and have not (yet?) bought the book.

As I seem to be including this on a regular basis, I may as well make it a proper feature. So, ladies and gentlemen, I present to you:

The Books
While knitting my Ocean Socks, I listened to James P. Blaylock’s Homunculus. This is the second book in his Narbondo series; the first one takes place in the 1960’s California, while the following are ‘real’ steampunk set in Victorian London. Blaylock was actually one of the inventors of the steampunk genre.
What can be better or more relaxing than knitting lace socks while listening to a fantastical story about intricate mechanical boxes containing gems, aliens, and wind-up toys; mad vivisectionists raising zombies to set them loose in the streets of London; and a group of scientists and poets including a sea captain with an ivory leg striving to foil the evil plans of various foes?
This is a rhetorical question; please do not send me suggestions on how to improve my life :o)

Having finished that audio book, I am continuing with the next part of the Vampire Archives – quite appropriately accompanying the knitting of the Wilhelmina shawlette; well, almost appropriately, since it’s not Dracula. But close enough for my purposes.

On the CraftLit side of things, Jane Eyre is ongoing – in fact, both in my podcast time and in real podcast time; I am nearly caught up now, only two months behind.

As for books of the papyrical persuasion, I read this week the latest in the Corduroy Mansions series by Alexander McCall Smith, A Conspiracy of Friends; his books are composed of vignettes, little pictures of the characters, their lives and thoughts on the nature and fate of humanity and the ways in which we conduct our lives and treat each other. The tone is one of generous humour with an underlying earnestness to it: we can smile at these people and their antics – and be horrified at some of the tricks that the less likeable characters play on others – but we should never forget that we are all part of the same humanity.

And on that comforting note, I will leave you for now and go and knit something.
Keep happy, keep healthy, keep crafting!