pre-emptive nostalgia

by dichroic in daily updates

There are few things sillier than pre-emptive nostalgia. I’m a bit sad that my holiday season is almost over, and my actual holiday hasn’t even started yet.

Maybe it’s because “holidays” are a long and complicated season for me; this year included a Diwali event where my choir sang the Star Spangled Banner, gift buying, my mom and brother’s birthdays, Chanukah candle lighting, exchanging a couple presents with Ted (my family tends to run late) and still to come, buying and decorating a Christmas tree, time at the lake house, a visit from my in-laws, Christmas dinner and presents and biggest deal of all, time off from work! So by that rationale it is half over, even though the biggest parts are yet to come.

Or maybe saudade or hiraeth are better words for what I’m feeling, in which case it all makes more sense – that beautiful strain of sadness that adds piquancy to times of the greatest happiness, like the tradition of smashing a glass at a wedding.

the other Chanukah poem

by dichroic in poetry

This is more what I wanted to say this year, though I’m not sure it’s as good a poem. I may still tinker with it.

Some darkness is only the absence of light
Sacred, cyclical
Clean and empty
Time to rest and gather in before regrowth.

A candleflame honors it –
Contrast, counterpoint
Dimming and flaring
Centring and setting off its velvet black.

Other darkness surges and seeks to overtake
Encroaching, enveloping
Resentment and envy
Quenching light and life in rot and death

A candle resists it –
Holding off, diminishing
Dancing, yet steadfast
Where it stands, the dark does not prevail.

In any kind of darkness, light a candle.

This is 2018, which means I’ve been writing Chanukah light-in-darkness poems for ten years now. (Possibly longer; I need to check my old Moveable Type blog that preceded the WordPress one.) Trolling the archives of this blog, I’ve found 18 Chanukah poems – I didn’t write any in 2011, but wrote 2 or 3 many years. Is that enough for a chapbook?

this year’s Chanukah poem

by dichroic in poetry

I may add another poem, if I can write one – I still want to say something less about Chanukah in specific and more about kindling light in darkness in a more general way.

I light this candle as I choose –
to hold the darkness back, this night.
And we have gained too much to lose.
I light this candle as I choose
to honor heritage. We Jews
remember what it means to fight.
I light this candle as I choose,
to hold the darkness back, these nights.


by dichroic in daily updates

If I ever go back to regular blogging again (which I really ought to do, because I miss having a record of my daily life) I ought to log my Homemade number each day. Today my number is 2; I made the necklace and the socks I am wearing (two socks count as one item, I think).

Speaking of logging, despite still having an occasional cough from the cold that hit me before Thanksgiving, I am 138,404 meters done with the Concept 2 Holiday Challenge – more than 2/3 done. Assuming I complete the 12km planned for tonight, I will be 3/4 of the way through. (Erging is extremely good for your ability to do fractions, due to a combination of not much else to think about while you’re doing it and the desperate need to know how much you’ve done and how much you have left to go.)

While I’m setting numeric goals, I should probably set one for this weekend, to fill out and stamp some number of holiday cards, since we finally got ours yesterday! 

the holiday season, now with extra mucus

by dichroic in daily updates

I have been having a cold since early Thanksgiving week. I was a terrible guest at the in-laws for Thanksgiving – usually I help cook or take over part of it; this week I didn’t do anything involving touching food. The in-laws get vaguer and less willing to make advance plans every year, but hopefully they will come to us for Christmas and I can make it up then.

It was a bit depressing, too; MIL is at the point where she’s clearly being affected by the same dementia that killed her mother. It’s early days yet; she’s just losing words and retelling stories (I mean, more than would normally happen at her age). She can still drive and do everything else but needs a little more watching; FIL says she got lost going to a friend’s house not long ago. Since she recently got a smartphone, we’ve shown him how tech can help and made sure “Find a Friend” is turned on on her phone. I need to talk to him at Christmas about making sure she’s discussed this with her doctor; he’s not fond of going to doctors himself, despite or maybe because of being a retired pharmacist, so I don’t know if he’d push her to talk about it, but I know they do have drugs to help some forms of dementia.


I still have the remnants of the cold, mostly coughing and blowing my nose a lot. This is a problem since the choir I joined at work is in holiday recital season, singing for various groups at work and in the community. I’ve missed a few concerts so far and will miss another today; I just can’t sing! Symptoms are better each day, so I’m hoping to be able to perform at the ones on Wednesday and Thursday. (Or I could probably go sing bass.)

I lost several days of erging for the Concept 2 Holiday Challenge, too, but am more or less back on track. If nothing else happens I should be able to complete it well before Christmas Eve – and if stuff does happen at least I should be able to finish it on time. I’m at 76 km right now and will finish off the 100km level of the Challenge this week, but of course 200,000 is the “real” Challenge! (I have done the 100km version a few times when we had a lot of traveling during the holiday season and I just didn’t have enough days with access to a rowing machine to do more.)

Mid-century, not so modern

by dichroic in daily updates

I’ve been on a kick of reading WWII vintage authors on and off for a while now, and it’s on again with a new bunch being republished as e-books. They might be classed as romances, but I don’t think of them that way; there’s usually a romance that comes out right at the end of the book, but it’s far from the only thing going on. Maybe these are what romances were before Mills & Boon started their assembly line. (I’ve also been rereading Miss Read, who has almost no romance, and enjoying her too.)

A lot of them are jarring in different ways. For instance, when you’ve read Theatre Shoes and Ballet Shoes and so on, it’s a bit of a shock seeing sentences like “People like Sara are always in a flap about something. Copulation isn’t one of the simple pleasures as it is to you and me, it’s a high-brow affair, which you go it as if it was an opera”. Or just the word “copulation”, maybe. I’m pretty sure none of the girls in the dancing classes knew that word.

The other odd thing was realizing that I understood the MC in Ursula Orange’s book, Company in the Evenings, more thoroughly than almost any other character I can think of … and knowing the author killed herself. Only thing I can say to that is that the character isn’t the author, and I can’t imagine the character doing away with herself except under the circumstances I’d consider it myself – say, if struck with a very painful and invariably fatal disease. Or maybe Orange did put herself into the character but left her depression out.

Of all of them – Noel Streatfeild, Ursula Orange, Angela Thirkell, Elizabeth Cadell, Richmal Crompton, Elizabeth Fair – that flourished from around the 1930s to the 1960s and are being reprinted now, I think my favorite is D.E. Stevenson.  There’s a sweetness to her books even when they’re in the middle  of war and scarcity. Streatfeild and Cadell are a bit uneven, some of the others get a bit arid after a while, and while Thirkell’s chief characters are great, some of her books are disturbingly xenophobic. Stevenson’s people are interesting and sensible and all different, and I like them.

Little things

by dichroic in daily updates

Well, maybe the beauty of autumn trees is not so little.  The trees around here turn colors and lose their leaves over the course of at least a month, and since the ones along the roads are all planted rather than native, it tends to go street by street (since each street has trees of the same age and species on it). This means that, while the trees on the street in from of where I live have lost a lot of their leaves, I’m frequently getting the experience of turning into a different street and seeing a glory of red and yellow trees at the peak of their fall majesty – this morning it was all against a pink sunrise sky. Every time it happens I try to just … I don’t know, relax into the beauty and imprint it in memory, because fall is so evanescent. I know it will happen again next year and this year, unlike some past ones, I know that we will be in the same place next year (kinea hora, insha’allah) but still, next year’s leaves are a long time away. I wonder how often in later life AE Houseman was tempted to rewrite A Shropshire Lad:

And since to look at trees aflame
Fifty springs are little time,
Up to the woodlands I will fly
To see the maples hung with fire.

My big epiphany the other day was as mundane as it could be: the cafeteria here has peanut butter and jelly. I knew that, but hadn’t thought of it. The one nearest me has a station where you can make your own sandwiches, but the bread isn’t as good as in the other cafeteria, which has a staffed deli station – not the good crusty kind and often a little stale. But for PB&J I don’t care about that – even plain white bread is fine. Yesterday I had a choir rehearsal starting at 11:30, dollowed immediately by a critical meeting that I had to run. At around 11 I realized that if I were going to have lunch at all I needed to have it right away, I didn’t really have time to get anything that would take long to make or eat, didn’t want anything that would disagree with me an hour later (I have IBS, so this covers more things than you would think) or anything too heavy. Bonus for anything that I could eat half of and come back to after the meeting. Peanut butter and jelly to the rescue! THis isn’t an uncommon scenario, so I foresee a lot of it in my future.

This morning on the (satellite) radio I heard a song called The Call of the Wrecking Ball, by a group called The Knitters, about a guy who stomps on chickens. I have had my dose of surreality for the day.

Ted’s off today to the Netherlands on business, but I don’t think I’ll have trouble keeping busy this weekend. I have a party tomorrow night and a sweater I need to finish before then if I want to wear it to the party. (It’s the one I steeked. I just have to finish knitting the second placket and weave in the ends to wear it; blocking, adding buttons, and covering the shorn ends with a ribbon can wait.) I also need to erg 17km or more over the two days, go grocery shopping, probably do some work I haven’t had time for this week, and maybe some other shopping errands. I might go downtown to Title Nine’s big annual sale, though then again I have too many clothes and shouldn’t add more without getting rid of some I don’t wear first.

busy weekend. busy week.

by dichroic in daily updates

Random thought: I really wish English would adopt the Dutch abbreviation t/m. It stands for “tot/met” which translates literally to “to/with” and practically to “up to and including” but is a lot more concise than the latter.

Tasks accomplished last weekend (met steeking):

Ripped back on a sweater and reknitted after realizing a stripe was supposed to start 11 cm down from the neck, not 11 inches!
Reviewed and tweaked the poster I’ll be presenting at the Women at Intel Networking conference in a few weeks
Erged 10 km Saturday
Went to a release party at one winery, visited another and decided to switch a wine club membership we’d been disappointed with to there, visited a third and picked up our wine club allotment from there (yes, we belong to four wine clubs, yes that’s silly, shut up)
Finished the increasing section and knitted 3 of 11 of the center sections on a shawl project
Planned meals for the week, with Ted
Errands: Visited the farmer’s market, replaced a CO2 canister for our Sodasteam machine at Kitchen Kaboodle, picked up bulk popcorn at New Seasons, tried unsuccessfully to trade in a dead iPad at Verizon, did the bulk of my grocery shopping at Freddy’s
Donated blood, since they had a truck out by the farmer’s market and there wasn’t much of a wait (I normally try to donate when the truck comes to my office, but have had times when I had an appointment but the wait was so long I had to give up because it was time to go to a meeting).
Sewed and steeked my sweater (took hours, since I didn’t even know how to thread the sewing machine)

The only thing I didn’t do that I had planned was to erg an additional 7.5 km on Sunday. I did that yesterday instead – not easy, because it was very much a “hit the ground running” sort of Monday. Almost literally – I was running between enough meetings that my watch said I was halfway through my daily exercise time by noon. It’s being a whole busy week, especially as I’ll be out half of next week presenting at a conference and presenting a poster at an internal one right after I get back. Whew!

At least we’re going to the lake this weekend. I may not do much. Except I have to, because this is the time of year to start building up meters on the erg / in the boat ahead of the annual Holiday Challenge.


by dichroic in daily updates

I think it’s fair to say that my steeking experience completely lived up to my expectations – which is to say, miserable. (Background: steeking is a technique in which you work a sweater as a pullover, sew or crochet some reinforcing lines, then but up the front to make it into.a cardigan. It’s faster to knit and provides more even results in colorwork sweaters, and is a traditional method in Norwegian knitting.)

Before steeking:

We have a sewing machine, but I hadn’t used it at all (and have only used any sewing machine a couple times in my life). Ted’s used it, but not enough to keep him from having to figure it out anew each time. So that was the first problem – it took me over an hour just to figure out how to thread the damn thing, and probably another hour to figure out everything else I needed to know about it and experiment on some scrap fabric and then a knitting swatch.

I considered running a basting line where I wanted to sew, but I tested that and it turned out to be nearly impossible to see; however, it wasn’t hard to see where I needed to go anyway because this pattern’s steeking section includes four purled stitches in the center with two knit stitches on either side. More or less easy to see, anyway. (First bad design decision; the stitch lines are supposed to run up the center of the outer purled stitches – any experienced knitter who’s done ribbing will know that the first purled stitch next to a knit section will try to curl up and hide behind its neighbor knit stitch.)

Practice lines
Successfully threaded!

I do not have a picture of my first sewn line – that would be the one where I sewed the front of the sweater to the back of the sweater (even though I knew this was a risk and was trying not to). This was compounded by the fact that I was using a turquoise thread that closely matched the main yarn (I was advised by different people both to do that and to choose contrasting thread. Guess which was better advice?) So ripping out those stitches one at a time was a slow process.

Once that was finally done I rethreaded the machine with red thread, and sewed my first successful line. Yay! Had a small hiccup starting the second line – I tried to oversee the first few stitches to keep them anchored and overdid it. The sewing machine tried to eat my sweater. But once I got that fixed, the second line was also fairly easy.

First successful sewn line

Cutting it was nerve wracking; the knitting designer’s second bad decision was to carry floats the whole length of the steek section, which made it hard to see where to cut. I had tried to use both yarns in a checkerboard pattern, but it looked terrible due to the knit/purl combination, so I gave up on that after a few rows and just tried to anchor my floats. Also, with the carried yarns and the superwash yarn used for the pattern (another bad design decision and not mine – it was sold as a kit and was a present to me) the edge stitches unraveled more than they’re supposed to, but not too far.

In contrast, my only previous steeking experience was a lot more pleasant. I crocheted instead of sewing to stabilize the edges, the steek section was knitted in a traditional checkerboard so there were no long floats, and the yarn was a traditional “sticky” one that didn’t try to unravel (Dale of Norway Helio). I don’t really grudge the time spent learning the sewing machine – at least I did learn something, and it will be easy when/if I use it again. I think if I were to make a simple skirt now, the cutting (and probably the dealing with elastic) would be more of an issue for me than the actual sewing.  So if I ever steek again, it’s at least possible that I will sew it instead of crocheting, especially if it’s a full-length steek like this instead of a shorter one for a sleeve or neckline zipper.  But for sure any other steaks I do will use traditional methods and yarn – they’re traditional for a reason!

After steeking – inside
After steeking – outside

More depressing than intended

by dichroic in daily updates

I’ve been rereading Georgette Heyer’s The Convenient Marriage. It’s funnier than I’d remembered, but the prejudice against women is just appalling. It’s not the obvious stuff that’s bothering me, like the double standards the hero and heroine are held to – I can ignore that as an artifact of its time, and actually Horry, the heroine of this one, has a surprising amount of agency. Not only does she propose to Lord Rule (to Sacrifice Herself on the Altar of Sisterly Love, or in plainer terms to save her older sister, who loves someone else) though he does later solicit permission from her mother (not her brother!) but after her marriage at 17 she instantly becomes a queen of society, with a social circle independent of her husband’s. This one is set in the Georgian period, not Regency times; Horry has gorgeously decorated satins instead of plain muslins, has young men visiting her bedroom to help her decided which patch to wear, and perhaps more freedom overall for women.

It’s not even the fact that Horry is continuously outsmarted and outmaneuvered by her husband that bothers me; given that he’s literally twice her age I should hope that he’s learned something over those years! What appalls me here is the need to sacrifice any of the sisters: Lord Rule wants to marry into the Winwood family because of its prestige, for some reason that is never well explained, but one of the Winwood girls has to marry Rule for his money – because of their brother’s Fatal Tendency to gamble deep. The family needs money, so one of the girls must marry a rich man; originally the eldest and most beautful sister is betrothed despite her Love for Another and is only saved by her youngest sister’s initiative. And nobody sees anything wrong with this, with a brother’s bad habits forcing his sister to be sold to save the family. They treat his “tendency” as an inescapable family fate, and it does run in the family – Horry gambles too, as soon as she is married and is allowed to, but there is no indication that it might beworse than a bad habit, if it ruins someone else’s life. The brother, Pel, is presented as a sympathetic character – not too bright, but with a good heart. He’s willing to go to great effort to support his sister when she’s in trouble, but there’s no sign of guilt or that he owes her anything.

It would be easier to dismiss all this if it were truly a reflection of social mores in the late 1700s – but for all her research, Heyer published this in 1934. It’s a reflection of her time, not George III’s, and her time is not so very long ago. My maternal grandparents were married in 1936; in 1934 they were dating, trying to earn enough money to marry on in those Depression years. Heyer’s book would have been fluffy escape reading for people dealing with the realities of a harsh time, and though she might have been portraying the customs of an older time, she still needed to be writing plots that would go down easily for her contemporary readers.

Even more depressing, here we are 84 years on, a long lifetime later, and we’re still hearing people who think it’s reasonable when a boy’s light action ruins a girl’s life, who still say it’s OK if he didn’t really mean to harm her. Or didn’t realize. Or couldn’t help himself.