Monday, October 25, 2010

The Nightgown (in which I convince myself that polyester pants are a good idea)

I've done it. I've solved the mystery of how a reasonably stylish young woman turns into a dowdy old lady. It goes like this:

A little girl spends her childhood looking at her grandmother's frumpy nightgown and thinking how the little purple flowers are kinda cute, but how hopelessly out of date it is. When she informs her grandmother that the nightgown just isn't cool, the grandmother doesn't seem offended. She just states that she--gasp!--doesn't care. No one outside the family is going to see her in it anyway, and it's very comfortable and practical.

Years pass. One day the granddaughter, grown, is walking through a Sears on her way to somewhere else. She is not looking for clothes, but she is suddenly brought to a complete stop in the lingerie section. Now keep in mind that this is Sears. The "lingerie" is Playtex bras and packages of tube socks. But what has stopped the granddaughter cold is not a bra designed for women with breasts shaped like torpedoes. It is The Nightgown, a cotton summer nightgown almost identical in style to the one she disparaged so many years ago, complete with little purple flowers and lace detailing on the front.

As the granddaughter looks at this nightgown, she is transported instantly to summer mornings in her grandmother's kitchen. The smell of Grape-Nuts and hot Constant Comment tea suddenly fills her nose. She can hear her grandmother's voice making her morning telephone calls, smell her grandfather's pipe smoke wafting up from the workshop in the basement, feel the tubby poodle's warm breath on her feet as she waits patiently for a toast crust to be slipped under the table on the sly.

In the grip of uncontrollable nostalgia, the granddaughter buys the nightgown, takes it home, and wears it. No one's going to see her in it anyway, she reasons. And gosh darn it, it really is comfortable and practical.

And, slowly, like an infection taking hold, the granddaughter's fashion sense starts to change. She's already picked up her grandmother's knitting habit, all the while reassuring herself that knitting is really trendy and hip and retro. Now she starts wondering whether it wouldn't be a good idea to knit herself some dickies. (You know, the fake turtlenecks that are nothing but neck and a little bit of fabric you tuck under your top so that people think you're wearing a turtleneck, but the joke's on them!) And maybe she should pick up a couple of sweatshirts showing scenes of adorable woodland creatures. Maybe the dickies could be sewn into the sweatshirts! Now that's just genius. And the dickie-sweatshirt combo would look awfully cute with some colorful polyester pants. Bright green would be lovely.

The granddaughter recognizes what is happening, but seems powerless to prevent the descent into practical, comfortable clothing. She wonders how many generations of women in her family this has happened to.

So if you see a woman on the street who looks a little frumpy, don't blame her. Blame her genealogy. Understand that somewhere in her past there is probably a cotton nightgown with little purple flowers. And don't waste your time pitying her, either. After all, polyester pants really are comfortable and practical!

Friday, October 22, 2010

A Life in Chinese Food (in which I provide unwarranted free advertising)

I've been thinking about my life history as reflected by the Chinese restaurants I've known and loved over the years. Each restaurant has a dish it does best.

When I was a little girl, my first Chinese restaurant was Chin's, in El Dorado. They had the most delicious egg rolls I have ever tasted. At Chin's they cut two egg rolls into four slices each, and everyone at the table got at least one slice. Chin's is where I learned how to share something that I really, really, really didn't want to share. That's a pretty tough lesson for a kid who was an only child until the age of 7. Regrettably, Chin's has been torn down. I think it's a bank now. But I can still taste the egg rolls.

When I moved to St. Louis to go to Webster University, I discovered Webster Wok in Webster Groves. Their egg rolls left something to be desired, but their shrimp lo mein was the stuff midnight cravings are made of. Unfortunately, they closed at 8. Near my apartment, there was a place on the corner of Manchester and McCausland in St. Louis that had superb shrimp fried rice, although every time I went in there, I had to squint my eyes just a bit to avoid seeing the less-than-spotless decor.

When I graduated from Webster, I took my English degree out to Maryland Heights, a St. Louis suburb, and starting working for a publishing services company. In Maryland Heights, my colleagues told me about the place on Dorsett just west of 270. They had a particularly great chicken with mixed vegetables, and my favorite crab rangoon. To this day, I haven't found a crab rangoon to top theirs. Plus, they delivered with no minimum delivery fee. You could order one $5 lunch special and they'd bring it to you for nothing but the tip, which meant on those days that I couldn't take time off for lunch (which was a lot of days), I still got a decent meal that held me until I went home at 6pm. Or 7pm. Or 8pm.

The thrill of cheap Chinese food delivery eventually stopped making up for the insane schedule I was working, which, I realize in retrospect, was literally driving me crazy. So I decided it was time to leave that job and go back to school. In Lawrence, I found Plum Tree just up the street from my apartment. And while sitting on my new friend Priscilla's couch, I simultaneously learned to love KU basketball and Plum Tree's spring rolls. There are a lot of things I miss about Lawrence, and at the very top of that list is eating Chinese food with Priscilla while shouting at the TV and laughing hysterically at the opposing teams' faces as Russell Robinson or Mario Chalmers executed the umpteenth turnover in a single game.

Back in Wichita, Master's degree in hand (okay, really, it's sitting unframed on the piano music stand), I'm working in publishing again, teaching, trying to cobble together some kind of life, and eating the szechuan shrimp from the Great Wall at 21st and Amidon. And their egg rolls . . . Well, I can't say that they're as wonderful as Chin's, but they're pretty close. It just figures. I spent 12 years wandering, but couldn't find what I really craved until I came back home.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

I Am a Process Knitter (in which I use the word "Gee-Whillikers")

I have knit a lot of stuff in the past few months. I mean a lot. I spend time knitting when I should be working, knitting when I should be doing yard work, knitting when I should be doing the dishes or cleaning the house. I knit in restaurants and in the car when I'm caught by a train. The one good reason I can think of to move to a big city with good public transportation would be so that I could dump my car and knit while riding trains and buses. When I'm working with adults, I knit while I tutor. When my computer starts acting up, I run extensive automated clean-up procedures even though a simple restart would probably do the trick, and use the downtime to knit a few rounds. I am trying to get good enough to knit and read at the same time, at which time I will probably disappear completely from human society.

All this knitting has produced a lot of stuff: three shawls, some hats and scarves (some lacy, some plain), and socks--five pairs of socks this summer. Imagine my surprise when it got cool enough to actually wear them and I suddenly realized that although I spent my summer making purple socks and blue socks and pink socks and red socks and pink-and-red socks, what my wardrobe actually calls for are brown socks and cream socks and maybe the occasional dark green socks. Red socks? No.

But I still love my socks and might even adjust my wardrobe accordingly. I just love socks. I love the skinny yarn and the way it feels as it glides over the ring finger on my right hand. I love the tiny little double-pointed steel needles and how they clink together as they make tiny, perfect stitches. I love heels. I mean, really, who would expect that you could make fabric turn a corner?! Perhaps more to the point, who would expect that I could make fabric turn a corner? Socks have some kind of weird magic. I don't want to be one of those knitters who only ever knits socks, but I fear that's the direction I'm heading. So I started looking for projects that have the same elements I love in socks but that are not actually socks.

Enter the long-sleeved fingerless gloves. They're knit in the round on small double-pointed needles in fingering-weight yarn. They're just like socks except instead of a heel, they have a thumb. Thumbs are not as awe-inspiring as heels, but they're pretty cool. And this is a very practical project for me. My desk is against an outside wall, and the desktop can get uncomfortably chilly. Some long-sleeved, fingerless gloves that keep my forearms warm while still allowing me to type would be perfect. ("Wear one of the 83 sweaters in your closet," you say? "Shut up," I say. "There's no fun in that," I say.)

So I have knit these gloves. Or rather this glove. Singular. I should have two by now, but I have a congenital inability to accept the obvious. I cast on on a Saturday. As I was knitting, I kept trying it on and thinking things like, "Gosh, that's kind of tight" and "Golly, that's really tight" and "Gee-whillikers, every time I try this on, my fingers start to tingle." On the following Wednesday, at which point I had already knit the entire arm and half the hand past the thumb (i.e., I was an hour or two from being done), it finally dawned on me: "This glove is too tight. If I actually try to wear it, it will cut off the circulation in my arm and my hand will likely turn black and fall off."

This is when I discovered that I am a Process Knitter. When a knitter knits 16 inches and then discovers that what he or she has knitted simply will not work, the knitter will experience some combination of two basic reactions. The first reaction is overwhelming rage that will cause the knitter to yank the object off the needles and start using it as a dust rag until it unravels to the point that it must be thrown away. Knitters who experience this reaction are Results Knitters. They don't particularly love the actual knitting. To them, the point is to get to the finished object. When they are thwarted, they are likely to give up. When a Process Knitter faces the same scenario, on the other hand, he or she giggles gleefully because having to start over means that the knitter gets to knit some more! Yay!

Most knitters are some combination of Results and Process. I swear to you that I did not giggle gleefully. In fact, I was pretty darn annoyed. But I--and this is where I shocked myself--was not angry. I was irritated because it is likely that my hands are going to be cold for another week before I get this set of gloves finished. (In my world, there are no other options like wearing sweaters or turning up the furnace. In my world, I must knit gloves.) But the idea of having to knit the entire first glove again did not bother me a bit. Except for the 2x2 ribbing at the cuff and fingers. I am not fond of 2x2 ribbing.

So I calmly--yes, really, calmly--put down the glove and spent the rest of the evening working on a Christmas gift that shall remain unnamed at this time.

I took the boa-constrictor glove to SnB on Thursday and had a heart-to-heart with Shelley, who pointed out that, although my gauge was dead-on and I was knitting exactly the size specified in the pattern, the model wearing the thing in the picture was a skinny bi . . . well, you know. She really is, too. This woman's neck and head look like a toothpick holding up an orange. For the glove to fit me, a regular human-sized woman, it would be necessary to add a lace repeat or go up a needle size. I opted to go up a needle size, which is a fairly predictable move for me. Adding a lace repeat would've required some math; going up a needle size required buying a new set of needles. Duh.

I then toted my doomed glove and my new needles over to the table, and let the other SnBers sigh sympathetically as I ripped back 16 inches of knitting. (I have to say, ladies, you need to work on your sympathetic sighs. They sounded a little bit like muffled laughter.) They then had to listen to me muttering to myself about how stupid 2x2 ribbing is and whining at the end of the night that I had accomplished only 1 inch of it.

So here I am, ten days on from the start of this project and five days on from the second cast-on for the first glove, and I have one whole glove. It fits. I'm wearing it as I type this, and it does a lovely job of keeping my forearm warm while leaving my fingers free to type. I was worried that the thumb was too long and would interfere, but it seems fine. My left arm is feeling left out, not to mention chilly, so I've already cast on for the second glove. Once again, I have 1 lonely inch of 2x2 ribbing. The only good thing about 2x2 ribbing is that it is not 1x1 ribbing.

If You're Interested:
The pattern is Sparrow Fingerless Gloves, and the yarn is good old Berroco Comfort Sock, the workhorse of sock yarn.

The SnB is at Twist Yarn Shop and Shelley is Shelley Stilger, Resident Yarn Genius.

Why did I put the glove on my right arm and use my awkward left hand to take blurry photos when I could've reversed it and taken decent photos? I don't know. All I can say is that I took them when I got home from school last night and it was the end of a 13-hour day. The critical-thinking part of my brain had long since stopped functioning.

UPDATE: The second glove was finished Saturday, 10/23/10, at 6:44am, 13 days and about 12 hours after casting on the original doomed glove.