Friday, June 17, 2011

The Truth (?) About Sunscreen

 This week, the FDA updated sunscreen safety and regulation information.  As I was reading some of the new information, I made a number of troubling discoveries.  As someone who is dotted with small, round scars where the dermatologist has scraped potential cancerous spots off my skin, I want my sunscreen to work.  According to new research, in many cases, it doesn't--at least not in the ways or to the degree that I expected.  Here are some things I have learned.

  • First, the SPF (sun protection factor) refers only to the level of UVB protection. UVB rays are the ones that cause sunburns.  UVA rays are the ones that cause skin cancer.  Sunscreen manufacturers may claim that their products are "broad spectrum," but that has not been a regulated claim and could mean next to nothing.
  • SPFs higher than 50 don't mean much.  According to an expert quoted in June's Women's Health Magazine, SPF 30 protects against 97% of UVB rays, SPF 50 98%, and SPF 100 against 99%: in other words, the numbers are misleading.
  • Vitamin A, an "anti-aging" ingredient added to 30% of sunscreens on the market, could lead to accelerated cancer growth.  I just bought a face sunscreen yesterday.  It has Vitamin A in it.  I will be returning the sunscreen.
  • Many sunscreens contain a chemical that some scientists and doctors claim to be dangerous.  Oxybenzone is added to sunscreens and may penetrate the skin and act as a hormone-disruptor.  There is general disagreement about what effect oxybenzone has, with some groups cautioning against its use and others dismissing concerns since only a small amount is likely to be absorbed.  The American Academy of Dermatology recommends its use. 
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has listed 600+ sunscreens based on effectiveness and potentially dangerous ingredients.  Unfortunately (for me anyway), none of the "best" sunscreens are likely to be found on any shelves near me--the more widely-available brands are the more dangerous ones. 

What's troubling as well is the fact that there seems to be a lot of disagreement about these issues.  The EWG has been condemned by some as over-exaggerating the dangers, using out-dated methodology, and having an ulterior motive, as outlined in this piece from the Huffington Post (read the first comment as well for a response from the EWG).  Additionally, the EWG disagrees with many recognized authorities: for example on the danger of oxybenzone (see above) and the potential side-effects of sunless tanner (see below).
Sure, it is possible that dangers have been over-exaggerated by some Chicken Littles out there.  But, I admit, I am very afraid of cancer and frustrated with the lack of consensus over causes and prevention.  It seems lately that there are sensationalized news articles about potential carcinogenic effects of everything from cell-phones to cleaning products.  I try to sort through the research as best I can, err on the side of caution, and go with the advice of credible organizations.  With that in mind, here are a few useful links:

The EWG's list of surprising findings about sunscreens, as well as sun safety tips

The Mayo Clinic:
On Sunless Tanner (The Mayo Clinic approves of sunless tanning, unlike the EWG).
Does your Sunscreen Expire?  Yes, but only after about three years.

Tips from the American Academy of Dermatology on Skin Cancer Prevention.

The American Cancer Society promotes the catchy Slip, Slop, Slap, Wrap method.
Basically, the advice seems to be to avoid making sunscreen your first or only line of defense, but instead, avoid the strongest sun rays (between 10am and 4pm) and stay in the shade, and wear long sleeves and broad-brimmed hats.  Sunglasses are also super-important, and should be labeled for both UVA and UVB protection and actually cover your eyes.  Since I can't even go outside to check the mail without my sunglasses, this isn't hard for me to get used to.  Sunscreen is still a necessity.  Hopefully, with the new FDA rules, it will be easier to pick one that actually has good UVA and UVB coverage.  I'm going to be avoiding Vitamin A, but I'm still undetermined about oxybenzone--it's rather hard to find one without it.

So, hopefully, it's beach, yes, skin cancer, no.  Happy Summer.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Deluge and the Ascent

 Jordan and I went camping on Friday night.  Despite the fact that it was raining and had been storming.  We went to Pilot Mountain, with plans to climb the next morning.  Pilot Mountain is impressive at any time, but particularly so with glowing skies and storm clouds behind it. 

Let me just say now that my parents did teach me how to camp.  They took me hiking when I was six days old and camping when I was six weeks.  I have been doing this all of my life.  But, never without them.  This was our first solo trip.  Mistakes were made.  Like, no canopy.  We ended up rigging the tarp we had intended to use under our tent as a canopy over the picnic table.  We rigged this in the rain as it was starting to get dark.  We also had no lantern.  It was really dark.  Finally, we had no sleeping pad.  The ground is really hard.  Our tent was on its maiden voyage.  My parents had bought it for us a while back, and I actually like it.  I call it the sarcophagus.  It is coffin-shaped and narrow--it sleeps us both, but that is it.  It actually isn't as claustrophobic as I had feared and is actually pretty comfortable.

We couldn't get a fire going.  If you bring "strike-on-box" matches, you need, uh, the box.  I didn't bring it.  We had one of those long fire starters but it was almost out of fuel.  The campground provided free firewood (yay!) but it was wet (boo).  Jordan struggled for at least an hour to get a fire going.  I had even brought dryer lint, but we went through that and every scrap of paper in his car without any success.  Finally, we ate cold chili beans and went to bed.

At about 1:00 am, we heard rustling outside.  We had forgotten to put up the bag that had our food in it.  My first thought was, "squirrel."  Jordan's first thought was "bear."  When we got up to inspect, we found that our visitor was actually a raccoon, who was no-longer in sight, but had left his distinctive five-toed print.  He had also made off with a gallon-size ziploc bag with cornbread muffins in it.

 Everything was much more cheerful in the morning.  The sun came out.  We got our Coleman grill working and had scrambled eggs and toast for breakfast.

 We checked out the damage Jordan had done pulling out of the muddy parking lot when we picked up our wood.  The tires were caked with mud and there was a rut at least six inches deep left in the lot.

 The view from the parking lot at the summit is pretty great.  You can see all the way to Winston-Salem.

 We climbed in an area near Three Bears Gulley.  Each of the routes is named (which I find fascinating) and we worked on Papa Bear and Mamma Bear.  I don't have any pictures of the actual climbing because it would be really hard (and dangerous) to take pictures while trying to belay someone, but trust me, we did it. 

The weekend was definitely a learning experience--some things that should already be understood.  Like, rain is wet and unpleasant.  The ground is hard.  It gets dark at night.  But we survived.  And will probably do it again.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Review: The Winter Sea

The Winter Sea

Susanna Kearsley's The Winter Sea was an enjoyable first read on my new Nook Color.  The novel follows two parallel narratives, one being that of modern-day writer Carrie McClelland who settles into a rented cottage on the Scottish coast to work on her newest historical novel, and the other is that of Carrie's heroine, Sophia Patterson, named, on a whim, for one of Carrie's ancestors.  Carrie's novel, the story within the story, is set in 1708 at Slains Castle and follows Sophia as she finds romance and danger in the midst of an early attempted Jacobite uprising.  At modern day Slains, Carrie becomes concerned when she discovers that her imagined scenes between characters are born out as true by her subsequent research.  She comes to believe that her novel is less fictional that history--she has inherited the memory of her ancestress, and her writing uncovers a variety of twists and surprises that had not been included in the family record.

Despite the quirky framing and occasional references to genetics and DNA to explain how Carrie could possess the memories of her great-great-great-great-great grandmother, the story is less sci-fi /fantasy and more historical novel.  The Carrie narrative arc is gentle: her encounters with the locals who are eager to supply her with material for her novel, the fairly harmless triangle that arises between herself and the two sons of her landlord, and the descriptions of her writing process.  Despite its relative quietude, I liked the Carrie arc--I wanted to know who she ended up with, and as someone who has been attempting a bit of writing myself, I am interested in other writer's descriptions of the process (and surely Carrie and Kearsley share ideas on this subject?).  The Sophia arc was also interesting, if, again, a bit quiet.  There is danger, but most of Sophia's trials are mental--the references to chess games are apt, as she attempts to hide the information she possesses from those who might harm her loved ones and their mission to bring back the Scottish king.  Her's is a more likely true look at the dangers women faced--domestic dangers, the trials of waiting, knowing but being unable to act.

The book reminded me quite a bit of Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series--both take place in 18th century Scotland and involve "time-travel" in a way.  But Kearsley's is a gentler tale--far less sex and violence than Gabaldon's lusty adventures.  I definitely recommend the novel as an engaging but tranquil historical read.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

What I did on my Summer Vacation

I assume that most teachers have the same problem.  People think that you are a lazy slob in the summer.  No, no, I am working.  I'm just not being paid for it.  Granted, I love my summer flexibility, and not everything that I am doing this summer is even able to be compensated.  So, to expand on my standard response when people ask what I am doing this summer ("oh, tutoring and writing"), here is what my summer is looking like:

1) Tutoring.  I have been tutoring at the local Baptist association as a volunteer for about three years now.  I love it.  I have worked with adult ESL students from Vietnam, Puerto Rico, and the Sudan.  I have also tutored kids ranging from pre-K to 8th grade.  When you add up all my teaching experiences, I have worked with all age groups, ages 3-80.  Love it.

2) Working with the youth group.  Oh my goodness.  Wednesday night youth classes, which Jordan and I assisted with, have ended for the summer, but the twice-a-month Sunday night classes, which we teach, are still going, and I am doing a girls Bible study at my apartment once a week this summer.  Additionally, Jordan and I are planning a week-long mission trip for July to Red Springs, NC.  There's also a lock-in in the works.  It's a good thing we like these kids.  To add to the craziness, we are looking for a youth pastor.  Jordan is on the search committee.  I am on a committee that is developing a personnel policy, which we realized we needed if we are going to hire someone. 

3) Writing.  Right now, I am trying to revise one of my diss chapters into an article for an upcoming special issue of a journal on Thackeray.  I feel pretty good about it.  But I need someone to read it.  My diss chair is jetting around doing research in India and China, and I feel bad asking other people, "Please, read about 26 pages of close-reading of a really long Victorian novel.  It'll be fun!"  I have thought about trading a meal for insightful feedback--you know, using some of my more valuable skills.  Also, on the writing front--a secret project.  I'm pretty excited about it.  But I need to get the article out of the way first.

4)  Working out like a fiend.  Right now the running schedule is four days a week: Once a week it's intervals (aghhh!) where you alternate running really fast with slower recovery runs.  Painful, but you see almost instant gains.  Twice a week I meet a friend who is new to running for a leisurely 2.6 miles, about half of which we walk--we plan to run the whole way by the end of summer.  Once a week, I do a solo long run, between 3 and 4 miles.  My goal is to run a 5K in September in under 30 minutes.  My last 5K time (2 years ago) was 32:10, so I think this is reasonable.  Twice a week, I do strength training.  Last summer, I joined a gym, but this summer I am trying things on my own.  Right now, I'm not using weights, but trying body-weight exercises like push-ups, lunges, pull-ups, etc.  Old school.

5) Eating and cooking.  Oh, summer food.  Squash, corn, strawberries.  My old friends.  And because of the working out like a fiend, I am also eating like a fiend.  I have found that my migraines are often hunger-related, and I often let hunger go on too long, because I feel to busy or just too un-motivated to stop and eat.  So, now I am trying to eat around 6 small meals a day before I get hungry to the point of fainting, which was my typical signal to eat.  I have this serious struggle between wanting to eat real, local, Michael Pollen-would-approve food and convenience.  Tyson chicken nuggets--so easy, so quick, but so mysterious--is it real chicken?  This needs further investigation.

6)  Being all professional.  Since the job search starts for real this fall, I am working on all that stuff--job letters, CV, writing sample, diss abstract, etc, etc, etc.  I am scared.  Also, working on becoming a really awesome teacher.  It looks like I will be teaching courses I am familiar with this fall, so I plan to polish those syllabi and assignments till they shine.  I'm still optimistic that if I work hard enough, I will find a way to teach all of my students to write intelligently and read insightfully.  Fingers crossed for Fall 2011.

7) Getting around.  Beach trip with my family, beach trip with Jordan's family, the aforementioned missions trip.  Also, a camping trip already in the works (yay!), and hopefully some time spent with far-flung friends.  Jordan and I used our season passes this weekend at the Biltmore House, and plan to go back again soon to rent bikes to ride on the property.  I also want to (finally) see note-worthy places nearby--Duke's chapel and gardens, Guilford courthouse, etc.  I have a Fodor's guide to the Carolinas and Georgia, so I plan to make like a tourist in my own backyard this summer.

So clearly, I'm not doing a 9-5 this summer, but I'm not watching soaps and eating bon-bons either.  Teaching has its ups and downs.  Summer is definitely one of the ups!

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

In Memoriam

My beloved high school English teacher passed away last week.  I had heard a rumor a couple of years ago that she was sick, but when I never heard anything else, I assumed everything was ok.  I had been thinking about her recently.  As I was finishing up my PhD, I was making plans to write letters to all of my English teachers, thanking them for helping me along the way.  She was at the top of the list.  Last Saturday, I learned that she wasn't doing well, but I still thought I had more time.  Thursday, I woke up early for some reason, drafting the letter I wanted to write to her in my head.  I learned later that she had died that morning.

She was, undoubtedly, the most amazing teacher ever.  I took senior English--Brit Lit--from her, and I believe that my decision to become a Victorianist can be traced to her influence.  She had the reputation of being very challenging.  Kids who had taken honors classes throughout high school, dropped out of the advanced program and took standard English because they were afraid of her class.  And she was tough.  We came in the first day of class to find a stack of about five books on our desks.  We read Beowulf, and Othello, and King Lear, and Hamlet.  We read Wuthering Heights, Tess of the D'Urbervilles, and A Tale of Two Cities.  We read The Heart of Darkness.  I also took her AP English Lit. class where we read Jude the Obscure (well, I didn't read it: I had learned my lesson about Hardy with Tess)  We read The Bridge on the Drina, a challenging contemporary novel about Serbia.  And, as a special favor, because she wouldn't do it with just anyone, she took us sailing on the Pequod: Moby Dick was her personal favorite novel.  We read so much poetry--poems that are now my favorites, I read first in her class, and for many of them, it is her voice that I hear when I read them.  Browning's "My Last Duchess", Shelley's "Ozymandias".  We read Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" out loud in class every day for at least a week.  I don't know if we ever discussed it--I think we may have just let the words wash over us.

She gave kooky, but challenging assignments.  We made mobiles with symbols from King Lear.  We made a model reproduction of the house in Wuthering Heights.  My favorite was when we went to the art room (she was bosom buddies with the art teacher), and made something from clay to represent an idea from The Heart of Darkness.  I made two figures--Kurtz's fiancee, dressed in Victorian mourning, and the native woman, dressed in a tribal costume.  After the figures were fired, I tied them, back to back with a bit of twine.  How could this not have been a precursor to my dissertation work--images of femininity, gender binaries, dress, for goodness sake?

She made us feel special.  When I went home to visit my parents this weekend, I unlocked a trunk in my old bedroom that stores my "treasures."  I found the cigar box that she brought in for us to decorate.  Inside, among other paraphernalia of my teen years, were a sea-shell she had brought--she loved the beach (she had a lounge chair and inflatable palm trees in the back of her classroom) and brought her students smooth, heavy shells, to serve as worry-stones.  I carried mine in my pocket for years in college.  I found a post-card she had written me on spring break, writing about hearing Verdi's Othello, and how much she enjoyed having me in her class.  I found the small, framed quotation that she gave me as a graduation present: "Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things."  "This made me think of you, Stephanie," she said, "because it is what you do."  I don't know if that is accurate, but it made me want to be someone who does it.  The frame came with me to college.  It is what I brought into my Freshman Experience class when we were asked to bring in something meaningful to us.

My students don't know it, but they are learning from my beloved teacher.  Every semester, from the readings, to the ideas, to the assignments, I am drawing on what I learned from her.  It seems impossible that she's not here.  That she's not growing her orchids, reading on a beach, or enlivening another generation of students.  Someday, I hope to see her in heaven; and I expect that we will have more than enough time to talk about every book we have read since we saw each other last.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Various and Sundry

 Easter dress shrug.  A bit small, but pretty.

 I really liked the design.  I thought it would be tricky, but it was actually the easiest lace pattern I have tried thus far.  I couldn't decide if the pattern looked like flames, trees, leaves, or peacock feathers.
 A bit of embroidery.  This was for my committee chair--the poppy motif seemed to suit her.
 I wasn't too sure about the frame at first--I was afraid it was a bit frilly, French country.  But I like it.  I took the glass out so it wouldn't smoosh the embroidery.
Flowers for Momma and my mother-in-law for Mother's Day.  Flower arranging is a lot harder than it looks!  Especially if you do something silly, like try to use a planter with a drainage hole as a vase.  As it turns out, I couldn't just tape it up and expect it to stay water-tight.  So I ended up using the ubiquitous Mason jar as the actual vase and packing plastic grocery bags around it to keep it from bumping the ceramic planter.  Classy, right?  Anyway, the flowers were pretty, coral and yellow striped tulips and light orange roses.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Wham, Bam, Strawberry Jam

 Freezer jam is quite possibly the easiest thing in the world to make.  No kidding.  Making a sandwich involves more skill.
 First, I picked the berries.  I love the pick-your-own farm just up the road.  My bucket was so full that berries kept jumping out.  Back home, I sliced off the tops and hulled them.  Spread them on a baking sheet and mashed them with a potato masher until they are nice and pulpy.
 In another bowl, I mixed sugar and pectin, then mixed in the mashed berries.  This mixture gets poured into half-pint jelly jars, leaving a half-inch head space (the jam expands when it freezes).  Leave it for thirty minutes and then freeze or refrigerate.   That is it.  No fancy equipment, no boiling water--I didn't even turn the stove on. (Specific measurements are listed on the pectin container; I used Ball Instant Pectin).
 I gave a jar, along with a loaf of homemade Victorian Milk Bread, to my committee members as a thank you for helping with my dissertation.
We kept several jars for ourselves, and Jordan has been eating it straight out of the jar with a spoon.  I prefer mine on toast.  It is so delicious and tastes nothing like store-bought strawberry jam--it actually tastes like strawberries, even after it has been frozen.  We tried some last night on croissant bread pudding that I made with some very stale croissants: shazam.

Whole new possibilities have opened up: blueberry jam, blackberry jam, peach jam, quince jam.  Forget ice cream and frozen peas.  Our freezer will be stocked with jam!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

A Moveable Feast

In my family, holidays (and combined birthdays, celebrated quarterly) are marked by a dinner at my grandmother's.  All the grown-up women bring a dish.  I think I am a grown-up woman now, so I want to bring something to these dinners.  But, there is a problem: I live 2 and a half hours away from Granny's.  And we arrive typically two days before the dinner.  So this Easter, we will have a dinner, but we will be getting into town the Friday before.  Thus, my dilemma: I need something that can be made well in advance and can be transported (and won't melt in the car).  I'm thinking some kind of bread.  I am also thinking I just need to live closer to home.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Fukunaga's Jane Eyre: An English Teacher's Perspective

Jane Eyre is quite possibly my favorite book ever (I say possibly because, really, who can pick a single favorite?)  I have read it at least half a dozen times since the fateful first encounter when I was sixteen and absolutely riveted by Jane and Rochester, the breath-catching romance and the flesh-creeping spookiness.

I was, however, rather nonplussed when I first heard that a new film version was coming out.  I have seen several different renditions of the novel in film and am unimpressed with all of them, except for the 2006 Masterpiece Theatre miniseries.  That version, starring Toby Stephens and Ruth Wilson was quite good, so much so that I didn't think there really needed to be another version already.  After seeing the film on Saturday, however, I feel that Fukunaga's version has definite merit.

There are a few problems, the most significant being length.  It is just too problematic trying to cram a 500+ page Victorian "loose baggy monster" into a 2-hour feature film format.  Several scenes that I found important (though, admittedly, not essential) were cut, in particular the ones in which Mr. Rochester attempts to deck his fiancee in finery, which she is having none of.  Of course, this is no doubt due to my interest in fashion in literature, but I see these scenes as important in establishing Jane's resistance to attempts to manipulate her sense of self and identity.  The other significant scene cut is Bertha ripping Jane's veil and blowing the candle out in her face the night before the wedding.  I was particularly shocked that this was eliminated, since from the trailer it looked as though the film was going to play up the Gothic elements.  However, Bertha actually gets very little screen time at all.

Also, while overall the casting was quite good (and excellent in Mia Wasikowska as Jane, but more on that later), I was a bit dissatisfied with Michael Fassbender's Rochester.  He's just a bit too....mean.  Particularly in the earliest scenes, he is vicious.  Which doesn't match the Rochester of the book, where he is stern and gruff and commanding, but also funny and tender; Fassbender seems to forget the latter in his efforts to convince us of the former.  Jamie Bell's St. John Rivers is also problematic, but for the opposite reason: he is too nice.  The film insinuates that St. John is actually attracted to Jane and wants to marry her for romantic, as well as evangelical purposes; we have none of the St. John of the book's icy "you were formed for labor, not for love" pronouncements.  And there is, of course, no Rosamund Oliver.  Oh, and Jane being a cousin to the Riverses is not mentioned at all....

But, enough with the problems.  First, the film is gorgeous.  It opens with Jane's flight across the moors as she leaves Thornfield, a red sky with rain in the distance behind her, and it just gets better from there.  There seems to have been a commitment to authenticity in many of the details.  For example, the scenes shot in those dark corridors of the Thornfield appear to be lighted by only the candle the actors are carrying--no mysterious, bright-as-day "moonlight" creeping in--you actually see what it might have been like to live in a pre-electric time.  The clothes are also wonderful, from the chemises, petticoats, and corsets outward.  Jane appears in her blacks and greys of course, but with subtle plaids and stripes.

And, then, Jane herself.  Mia Wasikowska is fantastic.  She looks like Jane, who is described as small and plain.  The plain part is easy: even the prettiest woman stripped of her make-up and forced into that distinctive 1840's hairstyle with that severe center part and braids looping around the ears is going to look plain. But Wasikowska is able to pull off expressions that convey the sense of passion being forced back by reason.  It's all about restraint.  I like Ruth Wilson's Jane, but she is a bit too jolly, smiles a bit too easily, and cries a bit too heartily.  Wasikowska is more subtle: a flicker of flame hinting at (but neither revealing nor hiding) the inferno beneath.

There were so many really good scenes, but I'll just mention two that were particularly memorable--the proposal beneath the oak tree really demonstrates Wasikowska's restraint.  I have told my students that I think the most important lines in the novel are probably the ones where Jane says "Do you think that because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little that am soulless and heartless?"  And Wasikowska nails it.  It was during this scene that my husband, who has never read the book and does not profess any great interest in classic British literature, looked at me and announced, "This is good."  The other scene that is particularly well-done is the one where Rochester is trying to convince Jane to stay after the discovery of Bertha.  Oh, the agony.  But, oh the restraint.  You can see Jane struggling, not allowing herself to touch Rochester, literally crying out to God for help.  It's breath-taking.

If you haven't seen the film, it is definitely worth watching (and I would love to know what you think).  Good luck finding it in a theater near you: we drove to the next county to find it in a small, artsy theater.  But it was certainly worth it!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Snow and Scripture Memorization

First, it is snowing.  On March 28th.  In North Carolina.  Looks like I will get to try out the mittens after all.

Second, I will be attempting to memorize more Scripture.  This is something that I was forced to think about as I was doing some work on our Youth study for church.  I memorized some Scripture when I accepted Christ as a teenager, but I haven't done much since.  I will remember a phrase or two, but I am particularly awful with remembering the reference, so I'm usually going, "yeah, I'm sure that's in there somewhere."  So here's the verse(s) for this week--something from a recent lesson I taught the girls' class.

"I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.  And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God." ~Romans 12:1-2

I like the idea of being constantly renewed and transformed--especially if it means revealing the good, acceptable, and perfect will of God.  Also, the phrase "reasonable service" doesn't mean "what is expected of you" like I at first thought.  It means spiritual worship--I talk to the youth about what the word "worship" means, trying to get them to think beyond the "worship service," the sermon and singing.  Here, our dedication of our selves to God is an act of worship.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Knitting Back-Log

Here are the things I have been working on lately. And by lately, I mean since September. I am really behind. But there was that whole dissertation thing in there somewhere, you know.

The Villette Vest: Purply corset-type vest in a tiny wool-silk blend that took a loooong time to finish.

Linville River Mittens: Super-thick, super-warm, double-stranded with 100% wool worsted and wool sock yarn. I named them after the river that I visit often on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The dark gray mixed with flecks of blue, green, and brown, with the pebbly texture of the moss stitch made me think of looking into a mountain stream with its clear water and rocky bottom. These are lined with fleece for extra-warmth. Hopefully I won't get to test their abilities until next winter!

Rivendell Gloves and Hat: I love coral. I should not wear it. Shades of orange are dangerous with my complexion, but I can't resist. I made the hat first. I love the leaf lace pattern, that also looks (in this shade) like tiny flames. It is a bit long, and therefore a bit lumpy, but, no matter. The gloves reflect another of my obsessions: cables. This is the most complicated cabling I have done, and one glove (the second attempt) came out a bit better than the other. I named them after the elven city in The Lord of the Rings because both leaves and delicate Celtic knotwork seem to belong there. The book I am holding (getting a bit ambitious with our photo-staging, huh?) is David Day's Tolkien's Ring, a really cool study of the various world myths and stories that may have inspired Tolkien.
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Friday, March 11, 2011

Catching Up

So, it's a bit sad that my first post of 2011 is in March, but I think that should be a fair indication of what the last few months have been like around here.  So, here, in no particular order, are things I have been doing:

1) Dissertation Updates: I passed my defense last week!  It was tough and exciting in equal parts, but it's over.  I am now in the process of editing/formatting so I can submit to the graduate school.  Graduation is set for May.  Which leads me to...

2) The job search: I have nothing to say on this besides a plea for prayers.  I am hoping for a lecturer/adjunct position somewhere in the general area.

3) On being sick: I have had 2-3 colds, a mild case of flu, what was possibly a sinus infection, and a round of stomach virus in the last few months.  My doctor had told me back in August that there really wasn't any need to take my multi-vitamins since there hasn't been any proof that they do anything.  I'm thinking that they do something for me, so I'm taking them again.

4)  New Computer: After more than six years of excellent service, my laptop finally gave up the fight.  I spent more than a week computerless, which actually taught me that the world will not leave me behind if I don't check my email every five minutes and that Facebook really isn't a life necessity.  Nevertheless, I am very happy with the new laptop, and my ability to get online without a drive to the public library.

5) On books and travel:  I never thought I would say this, but I have been devouring Jan Karon's Mitford series.  I always assumed that these would be beyond cheesy and trite, but they are actually quite good - nice, peaceful, before-bed-reading.  I have also been reading Great British WalksGreat British Walks: 100 Unique Walks Through Our Most Stunning Countryside (Countryfile) and feeling that pit-of-the-stomach, achy, love-sick feeling I get when I start thinking too hard about England.  I want to go back sooo bad.  I actually got out the Fodor's again, just for fun, to start thinking about where we would go the next time - I'm thinking fly into Manchester, hit either the Lake or Peak District, go through Yorkshire, then north into Hadrian's Wall country.  Sigh. Oh, I listened to the audio book of Sarah Rose's For All the Tea in China: How England Stole the World's Favorite Drink and Changed History For All the Tea in China: How England Stole the World's Favorite Drink and Changed History, an historical account of Robert Fortune's theft of tea production from China in the 19th century - very interesting.

6) Projects: After a mad flurry of knitting (I finished the Christmas gift shawl, the Villette vest, a pair of mittens, and a hat (pictures to follow)), I am taking a break from needlework.  Instead, I have been breaking out the old colored pencils.  For Christmas, Jordan got me a certificate for an art class on colored pencil technique which I very much enjoyed.  Then, on the new bookshelf at the library, I saw Wendy Hollender's Botanical Drawing in Color.Botanical Drawing in Color: A Basic Guide to Mastering Realistic Form and Naturalistic Color  Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful.

6) On working out and goals:  Since January, I have been working out fairly consistently at the gym at school.  I was doing a program that Jordan found for me, that involved actually going in the weight room, where I was invariably the only girl.  I was actually impressed with what I was able to do - I finally figured out that the weights are supposed to be heavy (duh).  I had always picked light weights (like 5lbs.) because I thought that was what I was supposed to lift, because I am a little girl.  Then, I realized that you don't get stronger if you lift what it already pretty light.  I quickly moved up to the 15lb. dumbbells, which are almost too heavy.  I'm not sure that they are actually having the effect that I wanted - I think I am stronger, but my arms are still fairly stick-like.  I've been running on the treadmill too, and as soon as it gets sufficiently warm outside, I am going to start training for another 5k.  I ran one in 2009 in 32:10.  My new goal is to run in under 30 mins.

I hope to blog with something approaching consistency;  I also hope to learn how to end posts.  They always seem abrupt or weird.