28 March 2006

The Tractor Ride

That Marcy, she sent out a quilter’s email (sort of like a meme in the blog world) and wouldn’t you know there was a question where I had to tell a story. The question was simple enough. “Can you drive a farm tractor?” My answer, of course, not so simple…

I’m a farm girl, kinda. I grew up on a real, live farm with cows, chickens, pigs, geese, horses, sheep, and all other assorted critters who called our corner of the world home. We won’t get into the critters that my father paid to work on the farm. Suffice it to say that often the four legged kind smelled better and were smarter than the two legged kind. My father has the patience of Job (and a complete lack of olfactory nerves).

Anyway, I feel I can only kinda claim the farm girl title because really, I was let off the hook of most farm-related chores. Yes, I had to gather the eggs when I couldn’t sucker my little brother into doing it for me, but there were no early morning feedings or nights spent in the barn helping some critter bring a litter into the world. I didn’t spend days hauling hay because generally I was off at some nerd camp taking logic classes. I guess I don’t feel that I earned my overalls (although I occasionally still wear a pair of my grandfather’s worn out overalls).

One job that I did occasionally tackle though was mowing the yard. Now, let me explain that at the time, we didn’t mess around with a “lawn tractor.” We used the real deal, albeit a small tractor, a real tractor nonetheless. I thought this was a great way to get a tan (a sunburn really) and spend hours just sitting and thinking, one of my favorite pastimes. Our yard (field) is pretty flat and easy to cover, except for the front lawn. Two large trees offer shade and a bit of a challenge to the lawn mowing project.

But you know I love a challenge.

So I’m be-bopping along (as much as you can be-bop on a tractor) and I come to the area underneath the trees. No problemo, think I. I’ll just bend over really close to the steering wheel and pass right underneath the lower branches here. Just like riding a horse. No problemo.

I know when I think there isn’t a problem, there usually is a problem.

I’m feeling quite proud of my tractor-driving abilities as I scoot under the branch and start to sit up to make sure I don’t get any funny tan lines. And then I notice that my posture is improving with every move forward.

While my face managed to avoid hitting the tree branch, my ponytail wasn’t so lucky. I was caught and slowly being pulled backwards, conveniently right over the mower. You know, the part with the blades. I pulled, I yanked, I screamed, but that ponytail was stuck. Just as I’m starting to stand up with one foot on the seat, I managed to get the holder free and break from the tree, leaving a rather large hunk of my curls behind.

So while technically I could probably jump on the nearest John Deere and mosey up the road, we’d all be in danger from such a maneuver. Best to stick to morning traffic in my Saturn with a nice latte in one hand and the other ready to flip off anyone who dares cut me off on the 290.

27 March 2006

Leslie the Academic Rock Star’s Spring Tour: Show 1

Before you get too carried away with the Rock Star title and start asking for my autograph, let me assure you that it’s just dreaming. I’m still a lowly grad student who is paying to attend two conferences in as many weekends, yammering about sections of her dissertation and just hoping that she (a) gets a question and (b) can answer that question. In the first round, I headed to Florida. I had visions of escaping the real work to hit an outdoor cafĂ© to enjoy some time in warm weather, but really, I was lucky to get a mediocre latte in the hotel and scrub the dirt off a table by the pool. Oh well, at least there was a pool.

As far as business goes, the paper was read. There was discussion. I wasn’t laughed at or given a book contract on the spot. Eh. It was a conference.

However, there were some bright spots to my travels. Despite my lack of posting to the 20 Things list, I have been thinking of them. They’re posted on the fridge and give me a chuckle when I think about wearing a two-piece in public. Yeah, not gonna happen. But besides comic value, they are a good reminder of things I want and need to do in the next few months. One of those goals was to attend a conference and do the networking, participation scene rather than hiding in the hotel room with knitting and Law & Order. Well, give me a checkmark. I was engaged. I asked questions. I got business cards. I even had a moment where I wished I had business cards. Of course those cards would have to be little slips of paper that I cut out after hand-writing “grad student in need of tenure-track job” under my name, but they’d still be cool to give out. I exchanged resources and discussed job market tips. I heard about how to publish and how to pursue teaching jobs. All in all, I did it. I was right there in the thick of things and actually enjoyed it.

Maybe I’m an academic after all.

I’m not sure if this is a good thing to admit on a knitting blog, but in four days, this was all that I accomplished. Yes, I started a new project but I needed to meet all the requirements of airline security (bamboo needles) and Leslie’s travel knitting philosophy (small, portable, not requiring a fully-functioning brain, able to fit into a Ziploc bag, not completely destroyed by inevitable latte drips that seem to defeat said Ziploc bag). It’s version 2.0 of the lacy openwork scarf in alpaca. (Faithful readers will remember version 1.0 which currently resides in England after the International Scarf Exchange.) There will be full project coverage once I finish the post-travel re-entry routine around here. Basically, I need to wash underwear and write a paper for Rock Star Tour: Part 2.

Yes, I'm using Tristram Shandy and a book of criticism to stretch out my lace knitting for the picture. This whole academic thing may be going a wee bit too far.

19 March 2006

Spring Break Adios


Do I really have to go back to the real world tomorrow? Can we just stay on spring break until, say, summer?

Granted, I didn't really do anything spring break-y, no beach, no late nights at the bar, no travels, no all day in bed even. I wrote. I read. It was good.

I did get some new toys. The postman was very, very good to me over spring break, even if the pesky credit card companies actually want me to pay for my presents.

I feel like a real knitter now... my very own swift and ball winder. The swift is off ebay and I really like it. It was considerably cheaper than the large umbrella ones and I had a PayPal balance from the Fun Fur I eliminated from the stash. (Yes, I had Fun Fur, don't ask.) So far, I've managed to tear apart the ugly sock, although it made an ugly little yarn cake. I can't believe I actually have to practice using a ball winder. The black alpaca laceweight turned out nicely and wow, so much easier than doing it by hand.

I've resisted the urge to get out all my stash and wind, wind, wind.

16 March 2006

Got Color?

I was looking at a stack of my knitting projects this morning and I think I may need to inject a little color. Perhaps the bleak days of Buffalo winter have gotten to me.

On my off-white couch which sits against an off-white wall and under a light tan piece of tin ceiling, I have two sweaters to be repaired, one beige and one cream. I also have the beginning of the Lara sweater (in ivory) that made it around the blogworld a few years ago and the winter sock pattern (in natural) at the beginning of the Magic Loop book.

And yes, my favorite ice cream is vanilla.

When I moved into this apartment, my landlord was planning to paint most of the rooms. (She really wanted me as a tenant, even called me after I looked at the place to offer to redo the ceilings in one room and strip ugly wallpaper in another. Sometimes living in a renters' market is pretty sweet.) She asked me if I wanted to choose any colors. "Off-white is nice. It's simple. I like simple."

I was as shocked as anyone to hear that line. My last apartment was all about color. I had a bright red dining room, a navy blue office, olive entryway. Every square inch was decorated and planned out. It was gorgeous, if I can brag a little, but time consuming. Things had to be dusted and I had a different look for each season. Displays had to be changed, pottery re-arranged, chandeliers washed once a month (yes, in Buffalo every apartment has chandeliers). Friends would tell me that it was like visiting a real home, for grown-ups. The problem is that life for grown-ups is complicated and hard. When I moved here a year ago I wanted life to be simple, focused, maybe even a little easy. So rather than sewing new slipcovers for my mismatched sofas (I'm not that much of a grown-up that I can buy real furniture), I ordered some cheap-o off-white puppies and called it a day. Granted, I still have TMS* syndrome and I'm slowly re-decorating as I unpack boxes of goodies (yes, I'm still unpacking after a year), but I still retreat to clean neutral colors when I get a little overwhelmed.

Don't worry, Buffalonians, I won't get into The Woman in White territory or anything.

For all our outside readers, there's this slightly crazy lady about town who dresses from head to toe in white. White clothes, white trash bags covering her shoes, some large white hat which resembles a meringue. The thing is, she looks spotless. No off-white about this chic, she's the real deal. And she walks the streets of Buffalo. It really must be magic. But some days she has this white bundle which she carries like a baby. That's when she's more sad than scary.

So don't be alarmed. I'll be sure to dig in the stash for some bright pink yarn just to make sure I'm not heading completely off the deep end. (Did you notice that I said I'd look in the stash for yarn rather than heading to the store to buy some?)

*Too Much Shit Syndrome. It's both genetic and contagious. Consider yourself warned. Spend any time with me or my family and you'll end up hoarding craft supplies, sweaters from ten years ago, and furniture of all shapes and sizes. I could invite every single friend over and offer every person his or her own end table for cocktail storage. Come to Leslie's and you not only get your own coaster, but your own table to sit it on. You can't walk through her apartment, but you can rest your glass in style. TMS... it's not a good thing.

On a happy note, I've made peace with my new espresso machine and we're frothing like crazy now. I can stay in my off-white apartment and drink from my brown coffee mug. Maybe tonight I'll bust out those pink cocktails again, just to be festive.

13 March 2006

Knitting Olympics: Lessons Learned

… Or, there’s more to socks than heels and toes?

[Warning: This is on the wordy side. Sorry, pics and less navel gazing to come in tomorrow’s post.]

While I find it a bit strange to was poetically about knitting socks, I wanted to post a sort of summation of my lessons of late. On the one hand, I know that knitting is really just sticks, string and a good way to waste time. I’m a bit skeptical of the knitting as metaphor for life kind of thinking, but at the same time, it does make some sense. When I think about that other hand, the one struggling with doing a yarn over correctly or choosing the right set of sticks and string, knitting is something that I do. I invest my thought, time, and money into my hobby. I work at improving. I connect with others to help them improve or learn from their skills. It’s a social endeavor, sometimes the center of a social gathering, sometimes more of a backdrop to conversation and time with friends. And sometimes it teaches me a thing or two about myself.

I entered the Knitting Olympics because I wanted the deadline, the restricted time where I had to work on something that I set up as a personal challenge. And then, hey, I entered because I’m a joiner and wanted to be a part of the whole international phenomenon idea. While I try to pride myself on being independent (which is really just code for “I try not to care that I’m dorky and a bit off”), in reality, I often succumb to the idea that if everybody else is doing it, I should too. Yes, I’ll take that leap off the bridge and meet you at the bottom.

Anyway, I set out to learn socks. I contacted a fellow knit-blogger/grad student who seemed maybe even slightly more insane than I am. That Lone-Knitter… she teaches like 8 gazillion students, works 20 jobs and still has time for knitting… oh, and a writing career. Can you tell I’m impressed? So really, I thought my lessons were going to be about heels and toes.

But that’s not all. Like most of the other Knitting Olympians who have posted about their experience, I learned how hard it is for me to be monogamous. Don’t laugh, you’re all as bad as I am. I know how many corn dog boxes containing unfinished quilts reside in various homes in the Midwest. I found that confining myself to one project and one project only kept me more organized and actually made me more productive during my knitting time. No searching for the yarn, the pattern, or the needles that I had magically misplaced or put into another project. There was a goal, a deadline, and a public forum where I had to confess my wandering eye (and hands) or inability to whip out a project for my mother. (I added that “for my mother” part just to up the guilt factor in case I felt like giving up. Can you really abandon a project for the woman who carted your lazy behind to umpteen million French horn lessons, softball games and even a math contest or two? (Yes, I did math contests on Saturday mornings in high school. Laugh and you’ll never see a pair of socks knitted for you.))

I kind of expected to learn these lessons. Finish one thing before you start something else. Been there, heard it before, and promptly forgot it.

What I didn’t expect what just how wily my own lack of dedication can be. Did you catch that post about Sock Experiment A and B and C ad infinitum? Um, hello, with only one sock down, Super Girl here decides she should undertake a sock knitting master class the likes of which Sock Queen Nancy Bush would struggle with. I started innocently enough. If I complete my first sock in a weekend, and the Knitting Olympics involve three weekends, then there should be plenty of time to actually produce three socks, maybe even four if you factor in the midweek knitting. So despite knowing that in reality, a pair of socks in 16 days was a challenge of its own, I wanted to make it harder, to see what kind of knitter I really was. All in the name of a perfect pair of socks.

And you think I only do this with knitting? Let’s just look at the evidence. Getting a PhD? Hard. Getting a PhD while adjuncting at two other schools, editing someone else’s book, taking three simultaneous classes at the yarn shop, trying to run a first 5k, moving approximately 34 times, searching for the perfect boy amidst 8753 bad dates, deciding I needed to cook more, and every so often mopping the kitchen floor? Harder. I have this little disease, you may have heard of it, perfectionism, otherwise known as over-achiever-itis. It all sounds so innocent, until you wind up losing two weeks of your life and waking up with some really stinky laundry that needs to be dealt with… immediately.

And the kicker, I usually wind up doing pretty shoddy work on that whole list of tasks.

The thing I learned though is just how easily I get myself into these boondoggles. It was just going to be one extra sock, just to check out a different heel. I had good reasons and the whole idea seemed plausible. But that’s the thing with bad habits, even really destructive ones start out very small and possibly even innocent.

In the end, I only knit two socks. The second one had a tighter gauge overall so I’m hoping my mom has one skinny foot and one plump foot. The heels aren’t very good and I wish the cuffs were longer. But most importantly, they’re finished. I tamed the perfectionist beast long enough to finish a project.

So, translating knitting lesson into life lesson… be less of a perfectionist. Just throw out any ol’ diss and be done, right? Well, see, this is what I’m struggling to learn. I’ve given up on the diss being perfect. It stinks right now and it’ll stink when I turn it in. The problem is that I’m trying to be perfect everywhere else. I’m this close to signing up to work with a trainer at the gym who wants to put together a team for a half-marathon in October. Work projects are bringing me into the office on days when I’m supposed to be writing. I often feel like I’m a garter stitch dishcloth knitting newbie when I look around the blogworld and see all these amazing things that I’m not knitting. (Not to rag on the dishcloths, because really, that’s where it’s really at… get it, “rag”? ba dump bump) The point is that I have a really hard time just saying no to the over-achiever urge, even when I know it’s just going to bite me in the ass (which is way too big to even consider a fourth of a marathon, let alone half of one).

“Good enough” are hard words to swallow, especially when that means that I’ll just be good enough to not get fired, I’ll just be good enough so that the health department won’t condemn my messy apartment, I’ll just be good enough to knit at the rate of one project per year, I’ll just be good enough to not fall off the treadmill while I’m walking at a ho-hum pace, and I’ll be just good enough to resist my over achiever habits as much as I can.

12 March 2006

Stress Amnesia... Not All It's Cracked Up To Be

In high school, my friend Tara and I took turns taping Days of Our Lives. We generally only watched two or three episodes each week, but we got enough in to know who was sleeping with whom, which illegitimate children had been identified, and who had been written out of the will. Inevitably, every few months some beautiful girl blinked her eyes open in the hospital and tearfully sighed, "Who am I? How did I get here?" The handsome doctor at her bedside would reply, "I don't know but I'll stay right here until we find out." If she was lucky, she was claimed as the daughter of the town tycoon and was immediately transferred to a private hospital room set up in the family mansion. If she wasn't, she ended up in jail after the hot cop puts it together that this beauty is really the serial killer who has been on a spree in three neighboring states.

So I'm here rubbing the crap out of my eyes and trying to remember what the hell happened the past two weeks. Since I look too much like my parents to have actually descended from a bazillionaire from Buffalo, I really hope I didn't do anything too nasty during those missing days. And anyway, where's the hot doctor that's supposed to help me figure all this out?*

Based on the stack of papers on my desk, here's what I think I've been doing. Seems my students are reading Tristram Shandy at the moment and not doing so well. I've printed out pages from Cliff's Notes so I don't think I'm doing too well with it either. I have a sneakin' suspicion that they're working on a midterm that's going to be a real bear to grade. Wish I knew what moron decided to assign a take-home essay exam. There are some emails suggesting that I've been proofreading final copy of a newsletter that needed to be at the printers about a month ago. It's rather alarming that they let me make decisions about comma placement in an altered mental state. I'm also finding evidence of at least two conference papers that may match up with two travel reservations. It kind of makes me laugh to think that I'll be doing two conferences in two weekends, while grading those essay exams and explaining how Locke's concepts of time and duration apply to Tristram Shandy. Yeah, kind of makes me laugh... when it doesn't make me cry...

So, based on my highly scientific investigation, I think I've been too darn busy to breathe. No wonder I have a bit of a stress hangover at the moment. I think this little stress bender has been a nasty one.

But, there are two little words that are currently making it all better... SPRING BREAK. Five whole days with no lines at Starbucks, no jabbering of undergrads in the library, no lectures to give or papers to grade. Five whole days stuck in my cage at the library... ahh, does life get any better than this?

Yes, I'm being serious. That's how pathetic I really am. (See the matching SPRING BREAK avatar? Yep, Leslie the hipster library chic...)

But, since I'm resurfacing into the land of the living, I should post about knitting. Now, I know you're probably shaking your finger and telling me that if I've been too busy to wash dishes for three weeks (unfortunately this is not an exageration... very, very gross), I've been too busy to bust out the yarn. This whole work before play thing is really over-rated. Knitting before washing dishes... always.

Pattern: Crazy Aunt Purl's Co-Worker Scarf
Yarn: Lion Brand Wool-Ease Chunky in Denim; 1 skein
Needles: 10 1/2 Clover Bamboo circs
Date Started: Sometime in the stress daze of February '06
Date Ended: 9 March 2006
Notes: I changed this up a bit due to the difference in yarn and needles. You know, you have to take into account the little things if you're going to be a real knitting pro. So I cast on 20 stitches rather than 16 and did 3 seed stitch stitches on the edges. The center pattern is pretty simple: YO, K2tog all the way across. I didn't even block this because can you really block 80% acrylic and I liked the look of it "as is" right off the needles. Phreny the Phrenology Head likes it too, although he doesn't get to keep it. And the yarn, hey, I'm a simple girl. I like my yarn snobbery, but sometimes you've just got to get down with the Lion Brand. Wool-Ease ain't so bad. The heathery colors are actually rather pretty and the overall feel isn't too plastic-y like some acrylics. A quick and dirty gift that only took a few episodes of CSI and used up some of the stash.**

So now that my former life is coming back to me, there's something bopping around in the ol' rusty brain about the Knitting Olympics and a need to post a wrap-up summary of all my lessons learned. Sounds an awful lot like an essay exam, but I guess that's what SPRING BREAK is for after all.

And as the say, like sands through the hourglass, so go the days of our lives...

*For those of you who are curious (mom), the handsome doctor in my life has been doing night shift rotations so I'm not counting on getting help with figuring out much of anything. There's a law that residents can only work 80 hours a week, which means the hospitals try to only schedule them for 100 hours. Our last hot date involved a 30 minute debate on who has put in more work hours recently. The winner got to pick the movie and the choice for take-out. He beat me by 4 hours so we got Chinese and fell asleep after the first 15 minutes of Zorro. They didn't have that kind of romance on Days of Our Lives.

**Yes, I said STASH...no purchases yet. If I snuck into a yarn shop while in my crazed state, I haven't yet found the receipts so I'm guessing I'm still safe. Marcy's Ides of March are fast approaching. Will I cave? Will I finish my conference papers and decide to celebrate? Only time will tell...