Saturday, February 28, 2009

Goodbye February

I can hardly believe how quickly this month flew by! February is a shorter month to begin with, but it really seems like yesterday was February 1st!

I've been working fairly steadily lately. One of my regular jobs is for a teacher that is undergoing cancer treatment. Every two weeks I go in and sub one whole day followed by one half-day. I've really bonded with his 4th block class, so that's pretty cool. They aren't the easiest kids to work with - they've got a lot of issues - but they are all good at heart. I know all of their names and everything, and that never happens.

They see me knitting all the time and they always ask me what I'm working on and how I do it. I think that this school (or any school, really) would do well with a knitting and crochet club. A lot of kids get into trouble (especially the ones I'm talking about here) because they have nothing better to do than hang out with the wrong crowd. I keep thinking that maybe if they had something positive to keep their hands busy they could avoid some trouble.

Eh, that's probably wishful thinking on my part. If I had things my way, everyone would be required to knit.

Anyway, I've got some FOs to show you to round out February. Here's the last bunch of assignments from the HPKCHC.

First, my DADA project.

Yarn: Lion Brand Vanna's Choice in Beige
Mods: CO 80 stitches
Complete 5 full pattern repeats, then start the decrease rows
End with 32 stitches on the needles

This hat was a real pain in the butt to make. The pattern as written knits up to an elephant-sized hat. Seriously, I feel like something is wrong with the pattern. I had to frog this three times and seriously fiddle with the number of stitches to cast on and the number of pattern repeats to make.

The end result was so cute that I consider the frustration worth it. I'm glad I figured out how to make this hat fit! The bee buttons are from Michaels.

The assignment was to make an object that related to your patronus. My patronus is a swarm of bees, so I made this beehive hat. I explained my reasoning behind my choice of these quite succinctly in the DADA thread in the HPKCHC boards:

Work ethic: Bees keep busy and work hard, (you know the saying, “busy as a bee”) and so do I. I never have nothing to do. I’d go nuts if I had to sit still for too long, so I keep myself busy. This usually takes the form of knitting or crocheting, but if I have something to do for work I work on it relentlessly until it is done.

Pollination: Bees give flowers the pollen they need to grow. As a teacher, I give students the knowledge and guidance they need to grow. We both help raise up beautiful things.

Sting: Bees are tiny creatures, but they don’t let that get them down. They have a powerful sting. I am kind of scrawny myself, and my small stature doesn’t do me any favors when it comes to dealing with difficult students. I have to pack a sting through my attitude and procedures in dealing with them. My strictness functions as a warning for them to behave as a bee’s stinger functions as a warning for people to keep away.

Next is my assignment for Herbology. A (mostly) self-designed Trellis Scarf.

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Pattern: Crocheted Mesh Scarf by Heidi Hirtle and Mountain Laurel Leaf by Bonnie Sennott
Yarn: Knit Picks Main Line in Ivory, Knit Picks Essential Sock in Granny Smith and Lion Brand Vanna's Choice Baby in Pink
Mods: I chained fewer stitches for the scarf that the pattern called for to make it more narrow (around 30 or so). I worked about 40 rows of the pattern.

This project was special to me because it is the first thing I have made that I haven't followed exactly from a pattern. The scarf base and the leaves were from pre-existing patterns, but I brought them together in a way that was all my own. The idea of the assignment was to use at least a yard of i-cord to make something that wraps around the body. I was inspired by the idea of a garden trellis. I ended up with about 186 inches of i-cord altogether, which I used as vines to weave through the scarf base.

The most annoying thing about this project was the finishing. There were so many different pieces to sew onto this scarf! It all holds together very well though, so the time I put into it was worth it. This is a goofy project, but it is unique!

Lastly, I have a hat for Arithmancy.

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Pattern: Maze by Celeste Culpepper
Yarn: Knit Picks CotLin in Eggplant and Desert Turquoise
Mods: I completed three full repeats of the maze pattern before beginning the crown decreases

What can I say about this hat? It's beautiful. It's not itchy. It's just the right size. I am in love.

The idea of the assignment was to make something related to labyrinths. I immediately thought of this project from Knitty. From my post on the HPKCHC boards:

When this assignment was posted, I immediately thought of the Maze Hat from Knitty (I’m surprised no one else made this for this class). I was pleased to see that this pattern suited my arithmancy numbers well. For example, the number seven shows up in the pattern over and over, and seven is my social number. The pattern uses slipped stitches to create the maze image, and the slipped stitches are always alternated with knit stitches (i.e. slip 1, knit 1), so my character number of one shows up many times as well. I also cast on for the hat with size three needles and three is my heart number. It seemed like destiny for me to use this pattern for my project.

For my colors I chose the same ones I worked with in last month’s assignment - purple and blue. They work well together and match my numbers. The finished product is absolutely beautiful. While I don’t consider this true color work (I’m only holding one strand of yarn at a time and slipping stitches to create the image), this is my first experiment in a more complicated color design.


So, obviously, I've been a very busy knitter lately! Tomorrow is the start of March and with it will come another batch of projects to make for the HPKCHC. I can't wait to see what's in store for us next!






Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Some FOs

Sorry for the short blog absence, but I haven't felt much like writing lately. Subbing is getting to me a little bit. It's exhausting, frustrating work with very few rewards. Most days all I want to do when I get home is sleep. Adding to the stress of it all is the everlasting school budget crunch which means I probably won't be finding a full time teaching position anytime soon. If I didn't have knitting to keep my hands busy I would be having a considerably harder time with everything. It's my own form of meditation I suppose.

Anyway, I've come today to post some FOs I've made for the HPKCHC over the past week. First up is my Care of Magical Creatures project - my Ashwinder. This one comes in three parts: the snake, the eggs and the little snakes.

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Pattern: Ayame the Snake by Mary E. Smith
Yarn: Patons Classic Wool Merino
Mods: None

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Pattern: Happy Eggs by Ana Paula Rimoli
Yarn: Patons Classic Wool Merino
Mods: None

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Pattern: Bendy Snakes By Frakie Brown
Yarn: Patons Classic Wool Merino
Mods: I used embroidery floss to stitch on eyes rather than use the paste-on googly eyes the pattern recommends.

I explained the story behind the project more thoroughly in this post. Basically, our project this month was to make a magical creature. I chose to do an Ashwinder from the HP universe. An Ashwinder is a snake that crawls out of magical fires to live for one hour. In that hour they lay a clutch of bright red eggs . I took the whole thing a step further and made little baby snakes to pop out of the eggs.

The baby snakes are essentially strips of garter stitch seamed up around a pipe cleaner. It's a simple pattern, but quite ingenius. The little guys have gone over pretty well with everyone I have shown them to so far.

The next project I completed was my Charms project. I made a hat for my husband as a Valentines Day present.

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Pattern: The Armando Hat by Gina House
Yarn: Malabrigo Yarn Merino Worsted
Mods: I used a size 10 16" circular instead of a size 9 because that was all I had. I made the medium size.

Our Charms assignment was to make an object which had to be kept a complete secret from somebody. With Valentines Day right around the corner, a present for my DH seemed to be the perfect thing.

Happily, it fits my hubby perfectly and he likes it a lot. I loved working with Malabrigo again. The colorway of this yarn is absolutely gorgeous and perfect for a guy. I feel like it's interesting and rich without being flashy.

I've got a lot more in the pipeline as far as my HPKCHC classes go. My DADA project is completely finished and awaiting pictures. My OWLS are at 25% each and waiting for pictures. My Herbology homework is well on its way (that one has a lot of components). The only thing I haven't started on yet is Arithmancy, as I need to go and buy some needles for that one. I'm really hoping to get everything finished in time!


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

February Book Review: Twilight

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February is here and that means it's time for a new book review. This month I am taking a look at Twilight, the bestselling teen vampire novel by Stephenie Meyer. There will be some spoilers in this review, so if you plan to read this book in the future, stay away.

Let me open this review by saying that this book is tremendously popular among the students I substitute for. It doesn't matter whether I'm subbing middle school or high school, I'll see at least five kids walking around with one of the Twilight saga books under their arms. My whole reason for reading it was to see what all the fuss was about. I knew it would be juvenile, because the target audience is juvenile. I expected it to be cheesy because the previews for the recent movie adaptation were beyond cheesy themselves. What I didn't expect was how incredibly bad it was.

The story centers around Isabella Swan (Bella), a seventeen year old girl who relocates from her comfy home in Phoenix, Arizona to Forks, a small town in Washington state, to live with her father. At her new small town high school, she meets the mysterious Edward Cullen and falls instantly in love with him. She soon finds out that he is a vampire, but she doesn't care. No one can stop their love! Edward and his family feed on animals rather than humans, so she's safe as long as Edward can resist her alluring scent. As the novel progresses, Bella finds herself in danger when a new coven of vamps come to town. From this point on the story descends into nonsensical plot twists until Edward finally rescues her and saves the day. Then they go to the prom. Not even kidding.

This book is a lot like The Da Vinci Code to me. It's a bad book, and you know it's a bad book as you're reading it, but you can't put the damn thing down until you've finished it. I read the whole thing in only five days. The book is very fast paced, which makes the reading go by fast too. That doesn't mean that the reading is particularly enjoyable, mind you. I don't see how anyone above the sixth grade could be tricked into truly liking this series, but it's happened. Twilight purports itself to be a children's book, a romance novel and a suspenseful thriller and it totally fails on all three fronts.

While this novel is undoubtedly written for children. It fails at being a great children's book. If we look at some of the truly great works of adolescent fantasy literature such as the Harry Potter series or the Narnia books, we can find common threads running through them. They value bravery, intelligence and morals. The characters learn a lesson or stand up for what's right through the story. The plot lines are exciting and action packed. These are the kinds of things kids should be reading about. Standing in counterpoint to these ideas is Twilight, with its weak storyline and pathetic main character.

Bella is perhaps the most helpless literary character I've ever encountered. Her personality is unpleasant to say the least. She is cowardly, has no self confidence, is intensely negative and always sarcastic. Physically, she is clumsy to the point of being disabled, pale and sickly looking, prone to fits of fainting and literally needs to be carried through many parts of the book. Aside from her naturally weak traits, she is also the victim of a ridiculous level of bad luck. She can't go anywhere without almost dying. This, of course, is so that Edward can repeatedly rescue her to the delight of middle school fangirls everywhere.

The damsel in distress routine is interesting to a point, but it gets tiring real fast. Take this quote, for example. It takes place just after Edward tells Bella they are going on a five mile hike through the woods:

"Five miles. I didn't answer, so that he wouldn't hear my voice crack in panic. Five miles of trecherous roots and loose stones, trying to twist my ankles or otherwise incapacitate me. This was going to be humiliating."

Keep in mind this is Bella's reaction to the thought of walking around. Come on girl! Not everything has to conquer you!

What is perhaps, the most unforgivable offense of the novel is that Bella doesn't change at all by the end of it. She is still a wimp. She still needs to be rescued from everything. She is even hampered by a broken leg in the closing pages of the book so she still needs to be literally carried around. So much for character growth, huh? Returning to the classic children's novels I mentioned, Twilight just doesn't fit the pattern. There is no real bravery, no standing up for what's right, and no lessons to be learned. There is only Edward, Bella and their unbalanced love affair where Edward is good at everything and Bella is good at nothing (not even walking).

Meyer is so desperate to create reasons for Edward and Bella to touch that she doens't pay much attention to what that says to the children she is reaching out to with her writing. Bella is a horrible role model for young girls. I would not want my daughters reading a book like this. This is 2009. Women these days have an equal part in relationships. We value our intelligence and trust our instincts. We do things for ourselves and believe in our abilities. There is nothing women can't do now. We do NOT need a man to define us, but Bella does. Bella spends the entire novel mooning over Edward and doubting herself.

Yes, I understand that Edward is a vampire and is somewhat super-human. Bella should have been given some abilities that could compete with the strength of his character. Instead, she is continually allowed to pale in comparison. Meyer allows her to disappear in his shadow. It is this message that women are weak and need to be rescued that makes Twilight fail as a children's book.

The second thing Twlight tries to be is a romance, and it fails spectacularly at this as well. I have read a lot of romance novels in my day, so I know the template they usually follow. The problem with Edward and Bella's love affair is that it is acknowledged too soon. A teen romance novel obviously can't have sex in it. That means that the climax the story should build towards is the first kiss of the couple. Edward and Bella kiss too soon. They become boyfriend and girlfriend too soon.

All of the romantic anticipation is spent halfway through the novel when their first kiss occurs. There are no more delicious, "Will they or won't they?" moments. After they come together and are intimate for the first time, the rest of Edward's romantic gestures become cheesy and played out. Oh, great, he's kissing her neck again. Not like we haven't read that before.

Another issue I found with their romance is the feelings raised by this quote, spoken by Edward after some nighttime canoodling with Bella:

"I'm just pleasantly surprised," he clarified, "In the last hundred years or so," his voice was teasing, "I never imagined anything like this. I didn't believe I would ever find someone I wanted to be with . . . in another way that my brothers and sisters. And then to find, even though it's all new to me, that I'm good at it . . . at being with you . . ."
The first issue here is that a hundred year old man is seducing a seventeen year old girl. I can overlook that to a point, it's kind of necessary as Edward is eternally a teen and all. The real issue I had was the fact that Edward is a virgin.

I'm sorry, but from what I know of vampires, the words "sexy," "vampire," and "virgin" don't even come close to belonging in the same sentence. Vampires are supposed to be experienced and irresistible, not inexperienced and unsure of their sexual prowess. I would rather have had Edward be a widower six times over than a virgin. At least he would have cut a sympathetic figure to the reader in that case.

I'm assuming that Edward's virginity is Meyer's attempt to make him less creepy to her readers. A hundred year old virgin is probably more acceptable to her reader's mothers than a hundred year old straight up pimp. It somehow makes Edward less of a man though. I don't want to fantasize about someone who is probably inept in bed, but maybe that's just personal to me. I'd much rather have a hero who knew how to get my blood boiling.

Aside from those specific problems, Edward and Bella's romantic interludes are marked by cheesy and horrific writing. I wanted to vomit repeatedly while reading lines like this:

"Hesitantly, always afraid, even now, that he would disappear like a mirage, too beautiful to be real . . . hesitantly, I reached out one finger and stroked the back of his shimmering hand, where it lay within my reach. I marveled at the perfect texture, satin smooth, cool as stone."


*Barf*

The last thing Twilight fails at being is a suspense thriller. About three quarters of the way through the book, the storyline abruptly shifts from straight romance to romance/thriller. The shift to the climax of the story is blatantly obvious, and not done smoothly. As I was reading this section, I literally thought, "Oh, I guess this is where the end of the story starts," and that's never good.

It seems like Meyer ran out of coherent ideas for how to finish off the story, as the plot twists become improbable and confusing. Locations jump from Forks to Phoenix to Forks again with little to tie everything together. Edward's family figures majorly into the final conflict, which is weird, since we never got to know them all that well before this. They seem unnecessary and out of place playing such major parts in the story right at the end. The whole conclusion seems rushed and surreal and was not enjoyable to read.

Of course, the novel ends with Bella being grievously injured. She tried to do something on her own without Edward, so of course she ends up in the hospital. Luckily for us, she recovers enough of her strength to go to her prom. The only surprise in the story is that it doesn't end with her being elected prom queen. I honestly thought that's where all this was going.

As the novel failed on all three genres it tried to fit into, I'm giving this book just 1 prom ticket out of 5. Don't waste your time on this anti-feminist tripe.

Monday, February 9, 2009

And now, for some Romance . . .

Sir Cadogan
A Valentines Day Poem

Oh good Sir Cadogan,
Knight of my heart!
It's you that I love,
Though you're technically art.

Oh how my breath catches,
And how my heart stirs,
As you call us all cowards
And liars and curs.

I watch you each day,
As you run through our school
While I hope and I pray
That you'll ask me to duel!

But for now I must wait,
For the time I dream of
When you'll leap from your painting
And slay me with your love!

A Soup to Warm the Blackest of Hearts

Remember a few weeks ago when I mentioned that the new HOM assignment was to make something inspired by your favorite character in Harry Potter? No? That's okay. Read on anyway.

I spent quite a while trying to figure out what to do. I have many favorite characters from the series, but it's not so easy to come up with the perfect thing to represent them. I wanted to turn in something thoughtful and unique, but I didn't want to cast on another knitting project (I have a lot on the needles right now). Finally as I was drifting off to sleep one night, an idea hit me. I could cook something! Of course!

Aside from knitting and crocheting, cooking is probably my favorite other art form (and food is an art form). It would be perfect for me to tweak a recipe to make it represent a Harry Potter character. With my medium finally decided, my thoughts fell to figuring out which character to represent. My favorite characters in novels and movies always shy away from the norm. It's rare that I come to love a main character the best and it's even rarer that I love a character on the side of good. Everyone loves a villain, right?

I decided that it would be way more fun to cook an evil recipe than a good one, so I ran down the list of my favorite Happy Potter baddies in my head. After considering my options, I ended up choosing none other than Lucius Malfoy. No only is this guy a royal asshole, he's pretty sexy too (in the movies at least).

With a character in mind, I quickly formulated a cooking plan. A food inspired by Malfoy Sr. would have to be dark in color for sure. Black if possible. It would have to be spicy too, obviously. It would need to have layers of smoky flavor, as Lucius has many layers of deception operating on a regular basis. Besides all that, it would need to have some green ingredients, for Slytherin, and some white ingredients for his white hair, probably his most defining physical feature. The one food I could think of that fit all of these parameters was black bean soup.

After scouring the Internet for a suitable recipe, I settled on this one. I made some changes to it so that it would suit Lucius Malfoy better (described below). A quick trip to the grocery store secured my ingredients and I got to cooking.

I began by preparing the onions and garlic. I also added a diced jalapeno to the recipe, for some spice and some Slytherin green.

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When that prep was all done, I starting the cooking part of the recipe. It began with frying some diced up smokey bacon. The recipe called for 10 strips of regular bacon, but I used 5 strips of real bacon and 5 strips of turkey bacon to make the recipe a little more figure-friendly. When the bacon had given up some of its fat, I added the onions, garlic and jalapeno to the mix. You can not imagine for AMAZING this smelled.

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After that mixture had sizzled for a little while, I added in the rest of the ingredients, including the black beans, tomatoes, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, and chicken broth. The only change I made in this section was to substitute spicy Mexican chili powder for the regular chili powder the recipe called for.

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All that remained to do after that was to let the soup simmer for a little while. At the time specified in the recipe, I added in some fresh cilantro and lime juice (both Slytherin green ingredients might I add).

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I garnished the finished soup with fat free sour cream and sprigs of cilantro. The cilantro is to remind us of Lucius' Slytherin heritage and the sour cream is for his shock of white hair.

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I don't want to brag too much, but this soup was amazingly delicious. It had the right mix of smokey and spicy flavors. The dark coloring was perfectly evil and the garnishes finished the soup nicely. I would definitely recommend giving this recipe a try!

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I think I'll call it "Lucius Malfoy's Evil Black Bean Soup." Try it . . . if you dare. :)

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Hiss!!!

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Yikes! Mini-snakes are everywhere today!

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Pictures of my first FO for the HPKCHC coming soon. ;)

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

February is Here!

I can't believe that we are already into the second month of the new year. It seems like just yesterday I was setting up this blog and solemnly pledging to write in it at least once a week. I've done a pretty good job so far. Let's see if I can keep it up this month!

The first bit of knitting to report is an unexpected project. It seems like everyone wants to know a knitter when babies are on the way. My mother asked me to make a pair of baby hats for two different clients with newborns. One boy and one girl. She was buying the yarn, so I said, "Why not?"

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The pattern is Fixation Newborn Hat. The yarn is Lion Brand Jiffy Solid. No, your eyes aren't deceiving you. One hat is substantially bigger than the other.

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I cast on for the boy hat first and I followed the pattern exactly. It wanted me to cast on 70 stitches, which seemed like a lot to me -- especially in bulky yarn. I, however, never follow my knitterly instincts. I assumed that I must naturally be wrong and forged ahead with what the pattern called for. The resulting hat was probably appropriate for a baby elephant. I didn't want to stress about it though, so I just assumed the kid would grow into it one day and cast on 50 stitches for the girl hat. That one looks much better. I should learn to listen to myself more!

The next knitting news is about my Potions OWL in the HPKCHC. I decided to make the blanket strip by strip, assembling it as I go. This is to avoid weaving in all those ends at once! I need to have 25% of this sucker done by the end of the month to earn some more house points. I have a long way to go. I have one strip done so far:

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Purdy, huh? I'm liking it so far! I rarely pick colors that go together so well but I did a good job on this project. It reminds me of winter weather. I hope my mom likes it when all is said and done.

Lastly for tonight I have part of my new Care of Magical Creatures assignment. The challenge was to craft an amigurumi magical creature. I chose the Ashwinder.

From Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them:

" The Ashwinder is created when a magical fire is allowed to burn unchecked for too long. A thin, pale-grey serpent with glowing red eyes, it will rise from the embers of an unsupervised fire and slither away into the shadows of the dwelling in which it finds itself, leaving an ashy trail behind it.

The Ashwinder lives to only one hour and during that time seeks a dark and secluded spot in which to lay its eggs, after which it will collapse into dust. Ashwinder eggs are brilliant red and give off intense heat. They will ignite the dwelling within minutes if not found and frozen with a suitable charm."


Here's what I've got so far:

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Most of the snake and most of the eggs are done. I need to affix eyes to the snake, put a wire in the body (for mold-ability) and make a bevy of little snake babies for the eggs. I'm really pleased with the way the project is coming together so far. I think it will make for some awesome pictures.

I will share more details about patterns, yarns and such when I've completed everything. For now, that is all. I've got a sub job for tomorrow and I need my sleep!