Autumn 2013

Autumn 2013

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Heroes and Cakes


Hello, everybody, and welcome to the Apple Basket!
I hope you are all well and thriving; I have had an interesting week, as you will see. So let’s get right into it.

The Apple of the Week is a story about a hero and a treasure hanging in a tree, much like a golden apple can do. This is only some of his story; large parts are hinted at or outright ignored. Enjoy!

How Jason got the Golden Fleece

Jason is a hero from the old days, even though he doesn’t really want to be a hero. But that is just the way things are. Jason meets all the requirements for a hero: he descends from a noble family, he is handsome and strong, and he gets to go a perilous journey.
You see, Jason is sent on a mission by his uncle Pelias, the king of his homeland Thessaly. He is to travel far away, almost to the end of the world to retrieve the Golden Fleece of a ram hanging over there in a tree (the fleece, not the ram). This was a magic ram, who could both talk and fly; but even magic rams do not live forever, particularly when they ask to be sacrificed to the gods. So now, its Fleece hangs in a tree. It is still magic, though, bringing peace and prosperity to the land; and since the man who brought it there was the cousin of Pelias, it is only fair that it be returned to Thessaly.
So runs the argument, and it does sound reasonable. So Jason takes on the task, gathering fifty-odd other young men and sets out on the good ship Argo to find the far end of the world and the Fleece.
What Jason is not aware of is that uncle Pelias has planned for this to be a suicide mission: he believes that Jason wants to be king and accordingly does not him to come back safely.
After many weeks of sailing and many dangers – among these an island filled with murderous women – or heroes reach Kolkhis at the end of the world (these days we call it the Eastern shores of the Black Sea, but back then it was the end of the known world).
Their plan, such as it is, is to go to the king, Aietes, and ask nicely to have the Fleece and bring it back home to Thessaly, where is rightly belongs. What they are not aware of is that Aietes is even more brutal and dangerous then uncle Pelias back home: he routinely suspects any strangers of wanting to seize his power and so plots how to kill them, before they get a chance to kill him. He is, however, sufficiently well-trained and cunning to not murder them outright, but their request gives him an opportunity: he sets Jason a challenge to prove himself worthy of the Fleece. Jason must yoke two of Aietes’ bulls, plough a field of a certain size, and sow the seeds he is given. Everything must be accomplished between sunrise and sunset on the following day.
This is a demanding, but not impossible, task; and Jason accepts it. What he is not aware of is that Aietes’ bulls are made of bronze and breathe fire; and the ‘seeds’ to be sown are dragon’s teeth from which issue undead and practically unkillable warriors that spring from the earth fully armed and programmed to attack the first person they see.
So, the next morning before dawn, he is ready to begin. All of his comrades from the Argo are there to cheer him on – even though several of them privately think that they would be better for this job – and Aietes himself presides, chuckling to himself, because he is confident of how things will proceed today.
What he is not aware of is that his youngest daughter, Medea, sat in a corner of the hall yesterday, when Aietes interrogated the prisoners interviewed the visitors, and she looked at Jason in the way a young girl can look at a young man. And Jason certainly is worth looking at.
Afterwards, Medea convinced herself that Jason had really come to Kolkhis to woo her, and that the whole story about the Fleece was just a silly excuse. She knew all too well that the challenge her father had set Jason was likely to have a grim and bloody end, because Aietes’ challenges usually do. And so she had to keep Jason alive, and probably also help him get that Fleeces, since it seemed to mean so much to him. Consequently, she offered him her help, and he did not refuse to take her home with him.
Medea is not your common or garden variety princess: she knows something of magic spells and herbal remedies (or whatever you want to call them), in other words, she is a witch. Not a fairy tale witch with the warty nose and the black cat, either: the kind who walks into the graveyards in the dead of night to pick those herbs that stretch their roots down through the corpses.
Medea mixed a balm that would protect Jason from the fiery breath of the bulls, and gave him a tip on how to deal with earth-born warriors.
So, Jason yokes the bulls – not without difficulty, but without being burned alive – and sets to ploughing. It is strenuous work, even though the bulls do a good job of it, once they are subdued; and it is a long, dry day under the sun. Late in the afternoon, when the sun in sinking towards the west, Jason is done with the ploughing and hastens to sow the seeds. Before he has thrown the last handful, the first of the warriors are there, ready to attack. Jason’s comrades protest and begin yelling accusations of cheating, but are restrained by Aietes’ guards. They watch Jason as he bends down and seems to look for something on the ground – and then he throws a stone into the midst of the warriors, confusing them so that they attack each other instead of him.
Technically, Jason has now completed the task and thus won the right to the Fleece; but Aietes knows full well that he had help, and from whom. So they have to act quickly to pick up the Fleece and get to the ship, before he can strike back at them.
What they are not aware of – but ought to have known – is that the Fleece like so many other gold treasures is protected by a dragon; this one sleeps all day and awakes at sunset. So, the exhausted Jason has to get back into it. He fights bravely, avoiding the venomous bite of the dragon, until at last he chops its head off.
Finally, he can grab the Fleece and run towards the ship, pursued by Aietes’ soldiers.
When they are all on board and ready to cast off, Medea comes running: she reminds Jason of what he promised her – everybody looks puzzled at this, including Jason, which does not escape her – and that she will be severely dealt with by her father, if she stays at home after what she did. The only decent thing Jason can do is to bring her along. And anyway, they haven’t got time to stick around and discuss the matter, since the severe dealings of Aietes are pretty much closing in on them. So, Medea is allowed on board, even though there are murmurs about it being bad luck to have a woman on a ship.
Thus, our hero claims both the treasure and the princess and can sail homewards with them both ...
What he is not aware of is just how much Medea will turn out to be capable of.


So, I survived another birthday this week; a big one, even, if one can trust the numbers. I try to downplay the whole thing, claiming that ‘round’ birthdays are totally random and only interesting because we happen to employ a decimal numeral system. This worked fine, until a learned friend of mine waved his ten fingers at me. Okay, then, the decimal system may not be entirely coincidental. But still, who says a life can reasonably be divided into decades? Big changes can occur at other intervals: some claim seven years to be the appropriate basic unit into which to order a life.
Anyway, I am waiting to find the answer to life, the universe and everything in two years’ time ...

A lovely friend gave me a knitting book: Magnificent Mittens & Socks by Anna Zilboorg, published by XRX. I had never seen or even heard of this book before, so that was a lovely surprise.
It has a plethora of colour work patterns for tip-down mittens, with instructions for three different ways to do the thumb. At the back of the book is a section on socks – according to A. Z., converting mittens to socks is only a question of putting in a heel instead of a thumb.
I have lately been pondering one of my goals for this year: to become properly acquainted with (let’s not yet mention the word ‘mastering’) Fair Isle colour work, so this mitten & sock book comes at just the right time. I will return to it in more detail, once I get round to working with it.

For now, I am still plugging away on my monochrome projects: the Blues Riffs socks and the Juniper jumper.
Oh, and the Splendid Striped Cowl, which of course is not monochrome. But it has the simplest possible colour work: stripes; and I am cheating and using a multi-coloured yarn with a solid for even more easy colour play.

On the socks, I had to tink all of the heel and a bit of the gusset, because it was too big for Victor’s foot. And looking through projects on Ravelry for this pattern, the Riff Socks by Lise Brackbill, it seems to me that a lot of people have the same issue with the gusset and/or the heel being too big. Maybe it’s the pattern, or the designer’s row gauge being tighter than most, or ... I don’t know.
So I spent hours and days laboriously un-knitting small, twisted stitches. Not fun. I find unpicking knitting really depressing, particularly twisted stitches on size 2 mm needles ... slow going. But that is done now, and I am knitting forwards again. The heel is redone, I am crawling up the leg (that makes me sound like a bug), and the end is in sight. The end of the first sock, that is. Once again, I remind myself that the second sock will be much quicker.

This kind of knitting is most suitable for audio book listening: it takes too much concentration for pretty much anything else. So a lot of this sock pattern I now associate with Book 5 of the Dresden Files, Death Masks; the fifth book in the series by Jim Butcher about the modern-day wizard, Harry Dresden, living in Chicago and working as a PI. These books are great fun, even to the point of alleviating the pain of tinking a sock; and the audio books are read by James Marsters, whom we of course know and love as Spike in Buffy The Vampire Slayer. And he as a great reading voice.

After that, I turned to a different kind of detective novel: one of the latest Ian Rankin novels; he wrote the series about the Edinburgh policeman John Rebus and had to have him pensioned after twenty years, when he turned 60. So he started another series with a quite different protagonist, Malcolm Fox. Where Rebus spends his lonely nights in an armchair, drinking and smoking and listening to old rock music while pondering the current murder mystery and ancient ghosts, Fox does not drink at all and so far works with the Complaints, investigating complaints (hence the name) against police officers. This, of course, does not make him and his colleagues very popular among the general police staff.
I am listening to the second Fox novel, The Impossible Dead; the next in the series, Standing in Another Man’s Grave, has Rebus show up again. Now, that should be interesting.

And my catching up on CraftLit has brought me to Dracula ... I have read it ages ago, but it is always fun to revisit a classic, particularly, of course, with Heather’s learned comments accompanying it. So again, I recommend a listen; there is a parallel podcast called Just The Books, if you don’t want the crafty part of it – if you’re reading this, you probably don’t mind the craftiness, but still, chat about trips and Rhinebeck and whatnot going back almost seven years now may feel slightly irrelevant.


So, that’s it for this week; I am a bit tired today after spending Friday afternoon baking, all of Saturday morning and afternoon baking, cooking, tidying (even ironing! a table cloth), in preparation for my birthday dinner party. And, of course, spending Saturday evening with friends, which was lovely.

I had decided instead of a regular dessert to serve cakes with coffee (and tea), so I made three cakes: a Sachertorte, which is a chocolate cake layered with apricot jam and covered in chocolate (while doing the covering, I was listening to the bit in Dracula where Jonathan Harker is found by the three voluptuous ladies and longs for the sensual 'kiss' -  very fitting); a New Yorker cheese cake (my first cheese cake); and an oatmeal cake with berries on top, very Nordic. That all went very well; and I haven’t heard of any subsequent heart attacks ...

Hence the baking on Friday – and hence the fridge now burgeoning with cake and salad leftovers.

And I am going to the local knitting group this afternoon, it being the last Sunday of the month. So I will leave you with images of cakes ...

Have a great week: keep happy, keep healthy, keep crafting!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Carnival


Hello, everybody, and welcome once again to the Apple Basket!
I do hope you have had a lovely week, be it winter break, plain ol’ winter, autumn or whatever.

So, this week there will be no ranting about politics, I promise; only talk of books and music and children and knitting. And baking: I made the marzipan-filled rolls last Sunday as planned, and they came out beautifully. This recipe is a keeper; I found it through an ALT for Damerne newsletter (a ladies’ magazine), and I will give you an English version of it, as the link above goes to the Danish page.

It is winter break, so the boys have been home from school all week, enjoying late mornings and no schoolwork. The week did turn out to be quite full, though, what with several family visits and a musical outing.

My sister came down for a couple of days with her children; when they are in town, they stay at our parents’ house, since they have room for everybody, and so rarely come by us. But this time, we managed it.
Three-and-a-half year old Laura particularly wanted to see our house and to understand the concept of having rooms upstairs; and Emil, who is nearly 2, was happy about the stairs in themselves, going up and down several times.
And the playground outside in the snow is a great attraction, not least with the big cousins (Thomas and Victor) to pull their little sledges. So, we had fun, and the box of Lego Duplo was brought in from the cold (literally, I took it inside from the shed a couple of days in advance in order for it to thaw out).

Oh, and I got my birthday present a week early: a skein of Mary, Queen of Socks from Superknits in the colourway Come Back To Me Colour TV, a lovely variegated tealy turquoise (that doesn't really show in the photo, sorry about that). Yummy.

And: a personal gift certificate to a yarn or knitting event, on domestic or foreign ground, to be redeemed sometime in the next 10 years. Let’s just think about that for a moment ... the possibilities are legion. Yumminess will ensue.


Valentine’s Day this year was all about music; last year I decided to read Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay, since the day of the picnic in question is Valentine’s Day 1900. I hadn’t read the book before; we watched the movie and analysed symbolic imagery in it back in school about a hundred years ago, so it was fun to revisit the scene, so to speak.

The American born composer and professor of electronic music in Aarhus, Wayne Siegel turned 60 this week, on 14th February. In honour of this, a concert was arranged with six of his pieces performed by professional musicians and certain talented young musicians.
You have probably guessed where I’m going with this: Victor (along with five of his friends and his guitar tutor) was among the 36 guitarists to perform Domino Figures, an 18½ minute piece in which short musical motifs are passed along from one guitarist to the next, all placed in a half circle, by a tipping of the guitar. The motion is meant to resemble the falling of dominoes, and all of the performers were required to dress in black to themselves resemble dominoes.
Victor is no. 3 from the left ...

So, we drove to Aarhus; the guitarists met at 2 p.m., which gave me a whole afternoon to spend. The weather did not invite strolling about, but I did get quite a bit of walking done in the icy, windy streets, as parking a car turned out to be a challenge, and it ended up down by the harbour; my dad came later in the afternoon for the concert and to get some shopping done before that. So we walked back and forth, from the harbour to the shop, back to the cars with a heavy box (containing a computer table for my mum), and up again to find food – and warmth. We ended up going to Musikhuset, where the concert was, an hour early, just to be indoors.
And so we met an old school friend of my dad’s, and in the course of the small talk, after I had pointed out Victor and (proudly, of course) mentioned that he was going to play in the Dominoes, the husband of the school friend says: ‘That piece is dedicated to me.’ Wow. As it turned out, he is Erling Møldrup, retired professor of guitar at Musikkonservatoriet (The Royal Academy of Music / Aarhus); I recognised his name from Victor showing me on the music sheet and talking about it. Wow again. Of course, I made sure that Victor and he met in the interval – it never hurts to know people in the business. Apart from it being fun to meet this nice old man who taught Victor’s present guitar tutor back in the day, when she was at the Academy.



So, I am finally reading The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins; when the promos for the first film began, I went to my default position Read The Book and bought the trilogy. And now, prompted by Heather Ordover on CraftLit, I am reading.
This is not to say, of course, that one shouldn’t watch the movie; Thomas read & watched in school and tells me that it is done well.

In case you don’t know the Hunger Games trilogy – well, you have been living under a rock, but that’s okay, I tend to that – here’s the deal (without spoilers):
The story is set in the country Panem, formerly known as North America and now divided into thirteen Districts ruled by the capital, Capitol; seventy-five years prior to the narrative present, a rebellion in the Districts caused the Capitol to obliterate District Thirteen and subsequently punish the remaining Districts by every year ‘reaping’ two teenagers, one male and one female, from each, to fight to the death in an artificial arena. One victor makes it out alive and is rewarded (though not unequivocally).
The story is told as a first-person narrative in the present tense by Katniss Everdeen, a 16-year old girl who becomes a ‘tribute’ in the Games; and it is told so brilliantly that often, the reader knows or can deduce more than she does herself, which is quite a feat.
To a classicist, this story and its world are rich in context:
-          The reaping of the teenagers recalls the tribute that Athens had to pay to Crete: seven girls and seven boys to be eaten by the Minotaur, in the ancient story of the hero Theseus. The reality behind this myth probably has to do with another arena sport, bull jumping; it is not hard to see how this can lead to tales of youths being devoured by a bull-monster.
-          The reference for Suzanne Collins’ world is Imperial Rome, in which the privileged few lived for luxuries and entertainment, while the majority toiled and sometimes starved – and in which the whims of the Emperor decided who should live and who shouldn’t; this is the Rome described by Suetonius and depicted in the HBO series of the same name. (And described, very well, by Steven Saylor in Empire, his sequel to Roma; these two books go through the history of Rome in a Rutherfurd-esque way, following members of the same few families through many generations.)
-          The Capitol was the centre of ancient Rome; and the inhabitants of this Capitol accordingly have Roman first names: Cesar, Seneca, Plutarch, Cinna &c.
-          The favourite pastime of the Romans was watching people and animals fight to the death in the arena.
-          What the Emperor needed to pacify his population – or put another way: what the people got in return for giving up influence – was Panem et Circenses: Bread and Games.
-          Bread and food in general play a huge role in the story: the suppressed people in the Districts are always on the brink of starvation, while the inhabitants of Capitol gorge themselves on delicacies (much like the ancient Romans); and during the games themselves, that usually last a couple of weeks, the tributes need to constantly search for food to not starve to death.
There is so much more to this, but I don’t want to reveal anything that can spoil it. Go read, if you haven’t already.


The Knitting:

Well, my driftwood jumper, the so-called Juniper, is bouncing along: for most of this week, it has all been stocking stitch in the round, a.k.a. insanely boring, especially as I’m not even doing the stripes and also omitting the increases in the body. This made for excellent concert knitting on Thursday, though, and conversation knitting that no-one could blame for taking away my attention.
In a bit it will be long enough to do the bottom ribbing, so next week I will be moving on to the sleeves. I am looking forward to wearing this, though on trying on it did seem rather wider than I expected. That may just be because I am comparing it to the more fitted Georgia, though, and this one is supposed to go over something else and so needs to be more roomy.

The Blues Riffs socks are proving to be somewhat of a challenge: first, I made the toe on 2.5 mm needles and found out it was too loose, so that had to be redone on 2 mm needles. Next, I was all of a sudden too far up the foot and had to go back a bit to start the gusset, which on these socks happens rather earlier than I expected – and it would of course have been way too easy to read the pattern properly to begin with.
Now, I worked the gusset and the patterned heel – and decided to try the thing on the relevant foot before proceeding up the leg: and the back part of the sock was too big. The heel itself fits nicely, the front end of the sock fits nicely; but the gusset has too many increases, or Victor’s instep is not as high as the average instep (I had the same issue with the Watson socks). So, the next step will be to frog the bit of leg, the heel, and the last bit of the gusset back to where it fits. And then do the math to make the riff pattern match up – because that is really well done in the pattern.
I need to keep reminding myself that the second sock will be much quicker to do ...

Going to a family birthday do Saturday evening, I had to come up with presents for my cousins: a girl cousin who is 24, and a boy cousin who will be 20 in a month.
He got a Nottingham hat for Christmas, that was a teeny bit small, not too small, but still; so this time, I made him a Shilling hat. This is one of the many free Ravelry downloads, a textured hat with cables running up and sections of garter stitch alternating with stocking stitch to all in all give a plaid impression. A quick knit, done in a couple of days. The pattern instructions call for two and a half repeats of the 17 rounds before the decreases; but when I had done those, the hat was tall enough already, so I frogged the half repeat and started the decreases with the third repeat.
My girl cousin actually knits, so I made her a set of stitch markers in her favourite colour: green.

I had, not surprisingly, brought my Juniper along for the evening and made it all the way down to the ribbing. As usual, I got a couple of comments along the lines of ‘I have never seen you without knitting’ (which they probably haven’t, so that’s fair enough); and the boyfriend of my cousins’ cousin decided that knitting can’t be that difficult, and since he learned to knit in school like everybody else, he was going to knit his girlfriend a pair of socks – in an evening. What could I say, except ‘Good luck with that.’


When presented with luxury sock yarn (the MQS), you have to browse sock patterns, right? So I spent half an evening on Ravelry going through gorgeous photos of cute and quirky socks, finally deciding on a pattern and immediately putting it in my queue – at the very top, no less. At some point, if I survive the Blues Riffs, I may actually get to knit it. Socks for me, yay!


So, this week I will end on a sweet note, with the Fastelavnsboller / marzipan filled rolls.
Keep happy, keep healthy, keep crafting!


Classic Danish Shrovetide Rolls
Sweet yeast rolls with marzipan cream filling and cocoa icing on top.
Work time: 40 minutes plus time for rising and baking.
16 rolls.

Dough:
100 g butter (4 oz)
200 ml milk (8 oz)
50 grams fresh yeast
2 tablespoons sugar
1 whole egg
a pinch of salt
450 g wheat flour (1 lb)
1 egg for brushing

Marzipan filling:
100 g marzipan (4 oz)
100 g soft butter (4 oz)
100 g sugar (4 oz)

Cocoa icing:
100 g icing sugar (4 oz)
2-3 tablespoons good cocoa, e.g. Valrhona
a bit of hot water

1.
Melt butter and warm up milk to hand temperature. Pour into bowl and dissolve yeast. Add sugar, salt and egg. Add flour and knead until smooth.
2.
Cover dough and leave to rise for about an hour.
3.
Meanwhile: grate marzipan and mix with sugar and butter into a smooth paste.
4.
Roll out dough onto a flour-sprinkled surface into a 30 x 30 cm (12 x 12 inch) square. Cut into 16 small squares.
5.
Place a dollop of filling on each square; fold in points and press edges together to keep filling inside. Place rolls joins down on a sheet of baking paper.
6.
Leave to rise for about 20 minutes. Brush with whipped egg.
Bake for about 15 minutes at 200°C / 392°F.
Allow to cool.
7.
Mix cocoa icing and place a dollop on top of each roll.
8.
Enjoy!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

We don't need no


Hello, everybody, and welcome to the Apple Basket!

I hope you have had a good week; mine has been somewhat active, so on top of all the activities of last weekend, this one is being rather quiet. The snow is gently falling outside, and we are all settled in with our quiet pursuits.
I am going to bake for today’s afternoon coffee: homemade Fastelavnsboller, which are cream-filled sweet rolls or Danish pastry, traditional for Shrovetide. Mine will be rolls rather than Danish, with a marzipan filling. And, by the way: in Danish, ‘Danish’ is not called ‘Danish’, but ‘Vienna bread’. Such are the ways of the world.

This week, I rant about conditions for teachers, and as always give you an update on my knitting.


The Apple of the Week:
Recently, our lovely politicians seem to have it out for teachers on all levels of school, both the folkeskole (something like primary and lower secondary), years 0-9, and the gymnasium (upper secondary / high school), years 10-12.
The common consent is claimed to be that teachers do not work enough, what with only 16 or 18 or 20 hours of ‘real’ work a week (and not even proper hours: most schools still have lessons of only 45 minutes) and ridiculously long holidays.

Someone has even calculated that teachers at a gymnasium work 9 hours a week. Yes, nine.
How do you come up with that number?
There are several phases: first, you count all of the academic staff, including the headmaster, the administrators, the counsellors, the guy (or gal) who manages the library, all of whom are traditionally trained as teachers, but who obviously do not all teach full time, and add up their number of teaching hours.
Next, you divide that number by (1) the number of above mentioned people and by (2) 46: the number of weeks in the year minus the 6 weeks of vacation that everybody in the workforce is entitled to. Note that the break weeks, in which no students are at school, are included in the number of supposed teaching weeks, as is the exam period.
Finally, you set teaching hours to equal work hours, ignoring planning, preparation, evaluation, meetings, marking of papers and performances, &c.
And voila: you have proved that teachers work much less than everybody else.

Anyone who has ever tried teaching will instantly know, of course, how preposterous this is. I am continually amazed – and angry – that it can be put forth again and again, that reporters and politicians can get away with so blatant a lie. Who would demand that actors are only paid for the time they are on stage or in front of a camera? Or musicians? They are not, as it is sometimes claimed, paid a vast amount of money for a couple of hours’ concert; they are paid a pittance for the vast number of hours of practice they put in before the concert.
Or the politicians themselves? Would they want to be paid only for the time they actually speak in the House?

I am reminded of a tale I heard recently, about the Emperor of China:
The Emperor was a great collector of art, particularly images of horses. He had jade horses, gold horses, wooden horses, and horses made of porcelain. One day, he heard of an artist, the most talented maker of charcoal drawings in the known world. ‘He must draw me a horse!’ the Emperor said to himself; and he sent an envoy to speak to the artist.
The envoy rode out to find the artist, who lived far away from the city, up in the mountains, in a little cabin. And back he came, with the answer that the Emperor could have his drawing in six months, and it would cost him 10,000 gold pieces. ‘No problem,’ said the Emperor; he had plenty of gold.
Time went by, and when the six months were almost gone, the Emperor became impatient for his drawing. So he ordered up his retinue and set off, out of the city, far out into the mountains, to seek out the artist in his little cabin.
The Emperor entered into the cabin, looking about him, but seeing no drawing. ‘I have come for the drawing you promised me,’ he said to the artist.
‘All right,’ said the artist; and he took a piece of charcoal from the fireplace and with a few quick strokes drew a horse. It was a magnificent beast, with a flying mane, a spark in the eyes, ready to leap right off the paper and gallop away. ‘You can leave the 10,000 gold pieces over there,’ said the artist and turned to carry on what he had been doing when the Emperor walked in.
The Emperor admired the drawing of the horse; but still, he was puzzled and somewhat annoyed. Why had he had to wait for six months? And pay 10,000 gold pieces for a drawing that took less than a minute to do?
‘Oh,’ said the artist casually. ‘You can have those too, if you want.’ He pointed to a huge pile of paper lying on top of the wood stack.  ‘Those are the 9,999 less than perfect attempts to draw a horse.’


The negotiations for work and wages in the gymnasiums have been finalised now, resulting in more pay, it seems, and more teaching. For those who are not fired, that is: with the same number of students and lessons, and each teacher having to take on more, many schools will have to either fire or not hire teachers.
The secretary for finance, Bjarne Corydon, is pleased and calls this a ‘solid’ and ‘responsible’ result; read: he has managed to save some money and at the same time bully the teachers. And he is supposed to be a Social Democrat.

The real results will be seen when either even more teachers snap under the strain of a job that already has a high frequency of stress, or the quality of the education that the students get sinks to a new low, if everybody insists on working the hours instead of the task.

I can only be glad that my teaching days are over, and that I haven’t exerted myself to try to get back into it after a stress-related depression that has left me with lingering remains of social phobia. It would have been a slap in the face to start up again in these circumstances.

And that will have to do as an ending on a happy note; it is somewhat difficult to be optimistic about the future of education the way things are going.


Knitting is much more pleasant: you can always make the knitting do what you want and get decent results out of that; nobody ambushes your efforts or tries to denigrate them (apart, maybe, from USOC last summer, but never mind about them).

And then there’s the cat to cheer me up – he just decided to take a walk on the wild side:

So,
The Knitting:

Last Sunday, I discovered that the lovely Martine of iMake podcast fame has put up a free cowl pattern, the Splendid Striped Cowl. This is an easy, striped cowl in stocking stitch, knitted on the bias and grafted into a big loop.
And as I was going to a school function Wednesday evening, I needed something simple yet not boring to bring along.
The function was the presentation of 8th grade projects, which Victor has been working on for several weeks together with a partner, who unfortunately fell ill last week, when all the writing had to be done. So Victor wrote it by himself – and presented it by himself, all alone on stage with his PowerPoint presentation. He would have preferred his guitar. But he did well; the umbrella subject was ‘On the Way ...’, and these two had chosen bio ethics: On the way to the perfect human, looking both at gene modification and mechanical prostethics. Other groups tackled youth culture, education, recycling, multiculturalism, global economics, &c.

Anyway, this entailed 1½ hours of watching & listening, so I did the provisional cast-on at home to have the fiddly bit done and then simply knitted stripes with in- and decreases on the RS rows. A fun knit; not at all demanding, but the stripes and the shaping add knitting interest – and I look forward to the warmth it will give to my neck.

An added bonus was that I finally got round to frogging a couple of items that I knitted nearly 2½ years ago and practically never wore: my Wayfarer wrap, from Rowan Magazine 48, and a little shoulder warmer of my own invention. The Wayfarer is big and chunky and romantic – but ultimately unpractical in a climate that is mostly wet and / or windy or too cold to not wear a proper coat. Besides, even the small size was too large and kept slipping down over one shoulder. So, much as I liked this thing and enjoyed knitting it, it has been languishing by the frog pond for a while. The shoulder warmer suffered from comparable, though different failures: too chunky and impractical.
And now they are frogged and ready to be reborn as this lovely cowl and ... something else. I know what I want to knit, but I don’t want to mention it before I actually get to it, so watch this space :o)

The anklet bed socks are done, and now that they have dried out after their soak to get the extra dye out, I can try them on and take pictures. The dye surplus is all my own doing; the yarn is dyed with a healthy amount of logwood to get the deep colour, and it does tend to crock. So my fingers were purple for a while there; I still have a faint trace of it across my left index finger, where the yarn runs over.

My driftwood jumper, named Juniper on Ravelry, because the colour of the yarn reminds me of juniper bushes on the heath, is coming along nicely. I have done all the increases around the shoulder part, and right now I am just working back & forth in stocking stitch below the armholes, waiting to join to work in the round below the opening. So far, so good.


And the Blues Riffs socks for Victor, the first of them anyway, is moving towards the heel; the gusset is rather elongated, with increases on every 3rd round instead of the usual every 2nd round. I say ‘usual’: that could only reveal how little experience I have with sock knitting. I may have to report back on that issue in about 20 sock patterns’ time.
Anyway, now the riff pattern is showing itself on the instep and looking very neat.
And the KnitPro cubic dpns ... I promise, they are not paying me for this (although maybe they should, lol): they are lovely. Pointy and not bendy like 2 mm bamboo needles. They are not all that long, mind you, so I have to watch the stitches a bit now that I have a lot of them going all at once; but that is just a phase, when I get to the heel, it will sort itself out.


Let’s see, is there any other knitting news?
Oh, I found the yarn for my nephew’s birthday sweater; in my stash – which doesn’t mean, of course, that I don’t want to spend on him, only that I have already done it. And I am contemplating a pattern. His birthday is 28th March, so there’s no rush, but it does help to have a starting point. Now I have to ask my sister for his measurements; he will only be 2, but as his dad is two metres tall, this little guy is tall, too – as is his sister. So usually, one can go with the age-appropriate measurements in width and add a bit lengthwise.
This project I will get back to in a while: no pics before the big day to not spoil anything, but it will be mentioned here.

And I am almost ready to release a pattern in my Ravelry shop, The Apple Basket. I have some patterns there already, some free, some for sale, and I am working my way through the design notes I have sitting around to eventually get everything put out there in both English and Danish. The one I am writing up now is Pomona, a lacy summer cardigan that I made a couple of years ago; my task is to go through the pattern and clarify all the notes-to-self instructions, so that they are accessible to others. And, of course, make sure that everything makes sense and that there are not any errors.

That’s it for this week – I will be back next week with a report on how we survived the winter break that is just beginning :o)
Stay happy, stay healthy, and keep crafting!

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Gerasko


Hello, everybody, and welcome yet again to the Apple Basket!
Well, winter has returned after several days of thawing and melting and the air actually smelling of spring. But of course, this was still January, and on Friday, 1st February, the snow came back (the weather this winter seems to be quite hung up on dates: the very first snows fell on 1st December).
I do hope that you have had a wonderful week, be it winter or spring or approaching autumn where you are.
This week, the Apple is about growing old while remaining active, and I try to get a grip on my knitting in between socialising.

The Apple of the Week:
When I was in my first year at university, I put up a quote from the Athenian wise man Solon in my reading cubicle: ‘I grow old while always learning new things.’ (Gerasko means ‘I grow old’ in Greek, hence the title of today’s post.) One of our dons, a Venetian (not Italian, mind you! But that’s another story) apparently saw it and added a scribble: ‘But Solon was 60! You are 20!’ I wasn’t, yet, but never mind. But I wasn’t ‘growing old’ at the time, either, of course.
This Venetian scholar, Giuseppe Torresin, to everybody known affectionately as Bepi, never grew old; he had to retire when he was 70 (official policy), but was allowed to keep a (small) office and more or less went about his daily business at the department, until he died. He maintained that conversing with students kept him young – and it was true that we had to be on our toes to keep up with him.

Earlier this week, the Dutch Queen Beatrix has announced that she will abdicate this coming 30th April after 33 years on the throne. We in Denmark can, of course, laughingly dismiss her as an amateur, our own Queen Margrethe having celebrated her 40th anniversary last year – though even she can’t hold a candle to Queen Elizabeth and her Diamond Jubilee.
But facetiousness aside, 33 years in a not exactly easy job is a lot, and Queen Beatrix is 75 years old (on Thursday, 31st January). She does deserve to retire; most of us can only hope to be healthy and strong for so long.
And besides, the Dutch queens have a tradition for handing over the reins to the next generation; the mother of the present queen abdicated on 30th April 1980 (yes, the exact same date), and her grandmother abdicated on 6th September 1948.
So, all the best wishes to Queen Beatrix – and to her son, the heir apparent Prince Willem-Alexander, who at the age of 46 will be taking over.

The general retirement age in Denmark is, for the time being, 65 years (it changes with the trends in the economy); university professors and others in official positions can stay on until they are 70, while the privately employed can work for as long as they like, basically.
The state pension is available at age 65, with the possibility of full or partial earlier retirement at reduced payments, provided you are old enough to be able to partake in that scheme; it is being gradually dismantled. My dad is currently in that partial early retirement system, working a few days a week and looking forward to turning 65 next year; I decided at age 30, when the saving for it was to begin, that I did not trust it to be in place by the time I am 60.

The individually appropriate age for retirement depends on a number of factors: health, finances, social situation – and, of course, what you do. The voluntary early retirement plan (VERP) was originally intended for the uneducated workers doing physically demanding and often monotonous labour, who are worn out by the time they are 60, or maybe even before that.
Intellectual and creative work with more variation and more challenges can often continue for much longer, even though most people do not work past the age of 90, as someone like Christopher Lee does.

The BBC’s World Book Club podcast episode from 5th January this year was all about Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, which celebrates its 200th anniversary this year. On the discussion panel was, among others, the great queen of crime fiction, Baroness P. D. James; in 2011, she published what has been called the best ever sequel to Pride and Prejudice, namely Death Comes to Pemberley, in which a murder takes place on the grounds of Mr. – and Mrs. – Darcy’s estate. Thus, P. D. James was able to combine her two great literary passions: the works of Jane Austen and crime fiction. And the book is good, I might add; I got it from Audible.
P. D. James is 92 years old and still working with what she loves; I want to be her when I grow up – or old, or whatever comes first.

So, how do you get to be that old and still not only function, but shine? Well, the mystery of ageing has been under investigation for centuries, if not millennia, by alchemists and mythologists – and these days by biochemists.
I will not claim to know any answers apart from the basic rules: it seems to be down to a combination of nature and nurture, or genes and epigenetics. Which means that you first have to choose your parents with great care to get the proper genes, and then lead a healthy life: eat right (let’s not get into what that means) to nourish your body, avoid toxins and too much stress, exercise to keep your arteries open and get lots of oxygen to your brain, be active and social and happy, challenge yourself – I think that’s about it.
Sounds easy, doesn’t it?
Writing up a list like this with just the headlines is easy; the hard part is finding the way that will make your life just right for you. And everybody’s starting point is different, be it on the genetic, social, financial, or environmental level. Every day, we each have to seek the balance that will keep us challenged and thus not bored, but on the other hand not stressed out, and find ways to cope with the elements in our lives that are too much without making everything worse in the long run by poisoning ourselves with short-term comforters.
It’s often the simple things that work best; I truly believe that at least some of the ‘Stone Age’-trend makes sense. Go outdoors, get some fresh air and sunshine, converse with nature (however corny that sounds), have a pet, laugh with your loved ones, eat a variety of real food, use every part of your brain and body, set yourself new challenges and goals.
That is the way to happiness, right now and for the rest of your life.



I’m having a very social weekend – well, for me, anyway.
Friday evening I went out to dinner with my sister and our cousin; I was driving to Aalborg which is an hour away from here. And wouldn’t you know, the weather decided to be winter again after nearly a week of almost spring-like conditions – well, thaw, anyway, and all the snow from the two weeks of proper winter weather was gone. But Friday dawn saw rime on the ground, which turned into a grey, rainy morning; and then it snowed. Big, heavy snowflakes all over the place, and it was like soap on the roads; so I texted my sister to ask how much snow they were having (since the December snows were much heavier up north than here). She was totally uncomprehending: no snow there. So, I drove off – carefully – through flurries of snow, and before I got to Aalborg, it had turned to rain and then stopped.
We had a pleasant evening out, the three of us, quieter than it would have been 15 or 20 years ago; but so it goes. We needed to chat without children around more than any of us needed to go drinking and dancing.
And I drove home again, back to the snow, and got up on Saturday to a beautiful winter wonderland.


This Sunday afternoon I went (with Victor) to coffee with friends, a male couple whom I know from university; these are the fathers of the Rainbow Baby, who is already six months old! How time flies. I finally got to meet the baby herself, an adorable little girl with a shock of dark hair (Victor called it ‘Harry Potter-hair’), and the mothers – lovely people all around.
We were going to meet in December, but a snowstorm put a stop to those plans. So we had to take a rain check – or snow check (sorry about that, lol) – and hope that the next crazy winter weather wouldn’t happen this time. It did seem manageable now: no more snow since Friday. At least not until mid-afternoon ...
Anyway, after a lovely afternoon, we drove home, not too fast, in flurries of snow.

Remember the Bifrost blanket? It’s funny: I knitted it, loving the colours, packed it up for months and was surprised at the vibrancy of the colours when I took it out again in December – and seeing it again today was another revelation of a riotous rainbow.
And everybody involved is geeky enough to appreciate that the centre of the blanket is purple, with the colour sequence spreading outward to red.

And there we have the segue into
The Knitting:

All this week I’ve felt like I’d hardly knitted anything, though I must have done something; I have been knitting in between everything else. Let’s see ...

The Fern hat is done, which it bloody well ought to be, being planned as a ‘quick knit’.
I worked it all the way through to the cast-off, tried it on – and the rib edge was too wide; it was going to come down over my eyes. So I frogged it (the edge, not the whole thing) and continued the decrease section for 4 more rows; that gave me two more sets of 8 decreases. Of course, that meant that the nifty k3, p2 ribbing from the pattern didn’t work, since I had 104 stitches instead of 120; so I did a k1tbl, p1 ribbing. That works, too.
It has turned out to be a quite big, slouchy tam or beret; I am not wholly convinced by it, but now I am going to try and wear it and see how it works out. If it doesn’t, I know just what to do with the yarn.

I bought buttons for the Georgia cardigan, and they have even been sewn on. For some reason, this has taken all week; I have no idea how 9 buttons can be such a big project. But the cardigan turned out great, so all is well.

I have done a bit of sock knitting – the Riff Socks that I had to start over on smaller needles. That explains it: I have been knitting, but this second sock toe looks almost the same as the first, though finally a bit longer; and 76 stitches to a round on 2 mm needles is dreadfully slow going. What a relief to know where my knitting time has gone, though!

Oh, and the driftwood jumper has been sitting still for a few days, while I needed the 3.25 mm circular needle for the wider part of the hat. I have only one set of dpns and one fixed circular in 3.25 mm, because we can’t get those in-between sizes here. Really annoying; of course, I can order them from the UK, I just haven’t gotten round to it yet.
But anyway, now that the hat is done, I have picked up the jumper again. It is a technically fun knit; I really like how the shoulder part is working out so far. And I love working with the yarn. This is Rowanspun DK – a rather light DK, more like a sport weight, I would say – in the colour way Eau de Nil, a bluish green with little tweed flecks in blue, yellow, and dark green. Right now, it is randomly sitting on top of some bluish purple yarn, wool dyed with logwood, and those two colours are so good together. I may have to make a scarf to go with the jumper (oh no, more plans!).

The purple yarn, though, is becoming something completely other than a scarf: I needed some simple knitting to take with me on Friday, and neither the increase section of the driftwood jumper or the twisted stitches on the Riff socks fitted that description. So, I wound up a couple of half skeins of Aran wool, that I used for some of my dyeing experiments, and started a pair of short bed socks for me from the same pattern that I have used twice already for Victor.
I even got to show my half a sock to a random stranger: we went for coffee and cake after dinner and knitted away while chatting, me on my sock, my sister on a shawl for a friend (my cousin doesn’t knit – yet! Mwahahahaha ...), and a man stopped at our table on his way out, saying how nice it was to have us sitting there knitting. He tentatively, almost apologetically, called it ‘grandma-like’, and we kindly informed him that knitting is both modern and trendy.


So, all in all, I do have a little to show for this week, knitting-wise. So it goes.
The discrepancy and frustration arises, I think, from my physical knitting pace being much slower than my mental knitting pace. Well, obviously, I hear you cry: I can plan knitting while lying in bed – much better than counting sheep – and while doing all those other pesky chores that steal my knitting time. Over the course of a week I can easily imagine – and I did – 3 jumpers, 2 pairs of socks, a hat, a shawl, and of course finishing my current wips.
And what have I actually done? Finished a hat, sewn in 9 buttons, made a sock toe and half a bed sock, and a bit of a jumper.

It’s the same with reading: there are about a hundred books I want to read RIGHT NOW, so reading a hundred pages in one book feels like hardly a dent in the list.
Patience ...

That’s all for this week – have a great one, be happy and healthy, keep crafting!
I will be back next week, and until then:
Happy knitting!