Monday, September 1, 2014

Technique (and Technology) Matters

Four, two . . . .  I punch in the five-digit code to the copy machine at my new place of employment. While this school has a reputation as one of the top in the nation and consists of a sprawling compound replete with swimming pool,  the workroom here displays typical institutional shabbiness. The same cinder-block walls, refrigerator salvaged from someone's home remodeling project, and cast-off chairs longing for their glory days of every teacher workroom at every school where I have been employed greet me.   But my dismal surroundings do not depress me, as, after I have concluding punching in the final digit, a happy green light on the machine greets me and humming sound plays what to me is a joyous symphony.  My copy code works!

I have been on duty at my new school for about ten days, five of them with students in attendance. Since I’ve reported to my new post, I’ve had to imbibe so much information, that one afternoon I thought that my head would pop off and roll around the media center (where I was attending a faculty meeting). Student information cards. Bus duty.  Lunch duty.  Tardy policy.  Picture day.  Cell phone seizure (not a name for some strange disorder resulting from too much Instagram activity but referring to when teachers must confiscate these forbidden items). Dress code details--leggings, jeggings, distressed jeans, sheer tops, cropped tops.   

I have also had the opportunity to meaningfully interact with computers in a concentrated amount of time. First I registered for my school system’s Internet and email system and then explored “Intranet,” where I had to use another password and user name to access health benefit information.  Then there was Gaggle to unravel--but after a few emails to the techie at my school, I was able to access that site.   There was also a new Google account with my school email as my user name and then MyTalent to log into (an online teacher evaluation system now renamed and relocated from its former site).  Of course, the tab that I was supposed to select (according to the instructions) did not exist on my screen.  I also had to create a Wiki site, so had to navigate logging into my school system’s Wikispace. Since I’m not that familiar with Wikis and don’t like their limited personalizing features, I decided to create Google Sites for the two levels of senior English I will be teaching.  Of course, many of my students haven’t been able to access the materials posted there, as they’d forgotten their Gaggle usernames and passwords (provided to them freshman year), but after a  week or so, I am blindly believing that they have managed to do so and am naively imagining that that they actually know what homework is due tomorrow.  

Finishing Louisa Harding's Stellina sweater sustained me during a busy time.  Love this
Noema yarn.

During the past ten days I’ve also had to set up a direct deposit account, write numerous emails to the payroll department of my former employer’s central office to see about having my sick days and personal days transferred to the new system, set up my dental plan, and somehow actually prepare to teach students.  There were also some emails involving securing payment for some days in August when I begrudgingly worked at my old place of employment.  

Then there was Turnitin. . . . This website allows students to hand in work digitally, where it can, through some mechanical process, be checked for plagiarism. I'd never used this tool before but welcomed any means that might discourage academic dishonesty. This program isn't free but my new school has paid for teacher access. During the early part of my first week with students, I sent an email to two individuals whom I’d thought might have information about logging into this system.  And then I decided to wait a while before reading any responses I might receive.  I was suffering from online overload and needed to see about what I was going to teach my students.  Something about Beowulf?  Finally, on Thursday, I read two of the several emails I’d received about Turnitin, pieces of correspondence that provided provided two entirely different user names and passwords--neither of which actually worked . . . for me, anyway.  I was ready to throw in the towel.  I once again contacted one of the individuals I’d already  emailed.  Let’s just say that the end result was my cowering apologetically for having neglected to read the detailed instructions this formidable long-time fixture of my new school had sent me (ones that I’d either never read or had merely glanced over).  I certainly am glad I’m not in high school anymore--at least as a student!  

I was exhausted and stressed last weekend but cooking helps me unwind, so I
used some frozen berries to make jam and also made some homemade yogurt.  Both of
these items have been a part of my lunches at my new school last week. 

Cooked milk has to be the proper temperature before adding yogurt cultures.  

I took this picture weeks ago at an outside cafe, when it seemed as if summer would never end and when I'd started to knit a shrug with wonderful Folio yarn.  I unearthed this sleeve this morning and brought it to Cottage Yarn, where I learned about my slipped stitch errors.   

I have a teacher friend who changed jobs this school year, too, although her semester began a week before mine.  She was bordering on an anxiety attack when she called me on a Saturday after her beginning-of-year teacher workdays to vent about the difficulty she was having learning how to teach lessons to sixth graders using iPads.  She’d been staying at school until six or seven every night, even though she is divorced and has two children to tend to at home.  There was a tinge of hysteria to her voice, but I was able to comfort her a bit--telling her to relax, put away the iPad lesson instructions, and do things she enjoys over the weekend.   She walked her dogs and went swimming and thanked me for the advice.  She also returned the favor this week when I called her about the Turnitin fiasco and began quoting to me from a self-help book she is currently reading.  I’m not one for reading that genre, but her words enabled me to take a deep breath and sleep through an entire night without waking up to angst about school.

Not only has this friend’s words sustained me through a tricky period, I have found great solace in my knitting.  While I haven’t pursued any design challenges, I have found myself at Cottage Yarn several times, both browsing and stopping to sit and knit.  I went there this morning to buy some white yarn for a child’s sweater that has an adorable sheep on the front.  When I was there, Lynn, the owner, helped me to figure out what row I’d been working on when I’d put a work in progress in a bag over a month ago and neglected to take it out until this morning.  She patiently examined the sleeve I’d almost finished and told me how she enjoyed figuring out this type of puzzle.  After we’d solved this issue together, she also informed me how I’d been working some stitches incorrectly.  I’d heard that slipped stitches should be slipped purlwise unless otherwise noted in the pattern and had mistakenly assumed that this same rule applied to slip slip knit and other slipped stitches used for decreases.  Lynn explained the twist created by my slipping those stitches purlwise and showed me pictures of correctly knitted stitches. While a bit ashamed of the fact that I’d been working so many stitches wrong for so many years, I am so thankful for Lynn’s technical help.  So much so that I think I will frog the sleeve with the incorrectly knit stitches and start over.  As for Turnitin, I think I might wait until next year before rolling it out for student use in my classroom.  

Friday, August 15, 2014

Sands of Summertime

As I look back, I can’t really label this summer as a relaxing one or even refer to it as a “break.”  On the contrary, this has been a season of muddling through a sea of outrageously expensive car repairs, unpleasant medical appointments, sundry unforeseen household expenses, a disappointing children’s school acceptance snafu, and a serious discipline issue with my older son, who, with his own car and summer job, was given enough rope to hang himself (I’m using figurative language here) and did just that.  On top of those activities, in recent weeks I painted and scrubbed in preparation for a house guest and spent weeks working on a job application.  All along, though, I found both solace and novelty in my knitting. 

Evening knitting and its corresponding release of tension came in particularly hardy the last few weeks or so, after I’d made the decision to resign from my former teaching job to accept a new position in a different county.  I walked into my old school, informed my principal that I wouldn’t be back to teach when school opened up, gleefully anticipating having a having a fourteen-day or so break before beginning a new job.  I was, therefore, taken aback by the assertion of this imposing and stolid man (whom I'd never met before this time) that I wasn’t allowed to leave until he’d found a replacement and that by law he could hold me for thirty days (something about a mysterious contract I’d signed twelve years ago).  Anyway, I have moved furniture and boxes, started one school year at my former place of employment (where school begins a couple of weeks earlier than at my new place), spent a little over a week there, had one day “off” to take my older son to a three-hour medical appointment, and the following day attended orientation at my new school. 

Happily, in the next few days, before officially beginning my new teaching position at a large high school in Charlotte, one with an excellent reputation for its strong academic programs, I hope to try to steal a little bit of summer.  A couple of days ago, I finished my Sand Dollar Tunic, made with seasonably appropriate Cascade Ultra Pima Cotton.  Yesterday I put it on and caught a matinee at my local megaplex movie theater.  I might not have been at the beach, but there is still something about sitting in the dark munching popcorn on a hot afternoon that screams summer indulgence. I saw 100 Foot Journey, suitably light and amusing for a summer afternoon.  

I also plan to spend the next few days working on my Stellina Sweater, a Louisa Harding design.  Knit with another warm-weather fiber, I hope to have this item off my needles before August is over.  As it is often in the 80s and 90s through the end of October in my region of North Carolina, I should have plenty of time to wear this garment before winter.  I also plan to finish the novel I am reading, Charles Dickens’s Old Curiosity Shop.  Last summer, a time characterized by a glorious trip to England and little serious consideration of any practical affairs, I spent a week at Oxford University taking part in a seminar dealing with Charles Dickens as a trailblazing mystery writer.  This year the Old Curiosity Shop has me on the edge of my seat regarding the plight of Little Nell, (I should know what her fate is but can only remember that thousands of people in the 19th century stood by the docks in New York—or maybe New England—awaiting shipment of the part of the serialized story that dealt with whether Nell would live or die).   I find this sentimental story another perfect and much needed summertime escape, but hope that in a year or two my feet can once again walk through London and the English countryside, rather than traveling vicariously through Dickens's world. 

Cables and garter stitch create the front of Louisa Harding's Stellina sweater.  

Until that time, I know that I am firmly entrenched in a time of duty and obligation, where I must muster strength and patience.  While a new job is exciting, I will have bigger classes and the new employee’s burden of proving myself.  I must also enforce new rules and regulations with my son.  (Placing a seventeen-year-old under “house arrest” for a month has frazzled every nerve in my body and challenged my already high strung psyche).  But my knitting, along with reading and infrequent get-togethers with friends offer bright spots along the way.  In addition, my local yarn shop is having a big sale this weekend, and while my stash is rapidly encroaching on my family’s living space, I can’t avoid attending this event, so that I connect with fellow fiber enthusiasts and escape by handling and basking in the colors of the store’s wares.  Maybe I’ll break down and buy one of the many Christmas stocking kits the owner has hanging by the cash register.  Summer’s end is almost here and December won’t be far along.  But before casting on Christmas gifts, I have to get back to a silk shell I started months ago.  I might get it done before the first marking period grades are due at my new school. 

I finished this scarf yesterday, an item made with a Louisa Harding pattern and her
Amitola yarn and pattern.  The rosette is fastened  to a pin, so it can be moved.  I should pack
this away for a future Christmas  present  for someone, but I love the colors.  

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Summer Idyll

Artful bloggers display great skill in depicting idealized existences—portraying to-die-for shabby chic studios, displaying spreads of crusty bread and heirloom produce arranged in rustic settings, or presenting the viewer with winsome children frolicking in the grass in vintage outfits.  Magazines serve the same purpose, revealing images that are a fantasy, eye-candy for women like me, who aspire to live a life where style is as important as substance, where aesthetics take center stage. 

This time of year, it would be easy to write little and to craft today's post in such a manner, ignoring the realities of life.  In the midst of the chaos of catching up with a year’s worth of home-and-auto repairs, along with medical and dental appointments and a slew of bureaucratic school-related paperwork (a description of which is certain to kill any attempt of mine at portraying an idyllic summer break), I have been privy to some blog-worthy moments. But I have to say those times--interspersed with cleaning, football laundry, to-do lists, or life--are few and far between.  But maybe their scarcity makes me savor them with greater instensity and enjoyment.    

This Brown-Eyed Susan shawl is from Juju's Loops, a book I purchased at Loop in London last summer, a time when I was far away from mundane summertime duties.  

A friend from college, who now lives in Massachusetts, came for a visit last week.  She’d been slated to arrive the week earlier, but the night before her flight, the plumbing in her old house decided to give way, and decayed pipes spewed water from the walls.  When she cancelled this first trip, I hadn’t expected to see her this summer, especially since the airline reps were only willing to give her a $49.00 credit towards another flight.  But she’s a seasoned teacher and Union representative, possessed of the right mix of moxie and humor to convince even the most-hardened airline supervisors trained to say no to give her a break. She arrived in Charlotte last week. 

We were able to drive down to the Charleston area to spend a night in a cottage owned by a kind woman I met while in the mountains last week.  (I describe our meeting in my last blog post.)  The cottage was stunning—right out of Southern Living.  The fixtures and d├ęcor flowed with a soft, blue-and-tan beach theme.  The shower in the master bathroom, which also had a gorgeous claw-foot tub, was nearly as big as my kitchen at home and had three shower heads, one that was the size of a large cake plate.  (I was pretty impressed, but I guess I don’t get out much!)  While one night may not seem like much of a get-away to some, I was thrilled to have an opportunity to unwind in such a beautiful home and to have a chance to swim in the waves at Folly Beach the following morning.  My friend, Susan, and I also had a leisurely lunch at Poe’s Tavern on Sullivan’s Island before driving home. (Check out the link to find out about Edgar Allen Poe's connection to Sullivan's Island.)

The waves are strong when the tide comes in at Folly Beach, but I braved the water.  

My mismatched outfit and the casual array of food reflect my beach state of mind.  

Susan and I also went up to the Asheville area, making a pit stop at a boutique in Black Mountain along the way.   I try to buy most of my clothes from Goodwill (as all of my spending money seems to go for yarn), but I did buy a dress and matching sweater at this shop.  I suppose I can justify this purchase as a work-related expense, as this new outfit seemed just perfect for school. 

The cottage's atmosphere is serene.  

Along the way, from home to beach to home to mountains, I carted my Brown-Eyed Susan shawl in progress.  The color of this Manos de Uruguay silk-and-wool-blend yarn is appropriately named Deep Sea.  I used seven skeins of this yarn for this project, five of them a generous gift from blogger Mrs. Thomasina Tittlemouse.  I’m happy to show her that the wonderful contents of a package she sent me some time ago have been used to create something that is beautiful.  And this garment, so light and soft, feels spectacular on the skin!

I’m also working on another beach-inspired project, the Sand Dollar Shift.  The pattern for this item has been a source of struggle to me, and I’ve torn out many rows, worked my brain to a frazzle, had some aha moments, and found help with pattern instructions from gifted Lynn, the owner of Cottage Yarn, my LYS.

Speaking of yarn shops . . . I was driving with my husband yesterday in the small town of Matthews, after a morning’s outing to Lowe’s Home Improvement, Goodwill, and a bagel shop, when I saw a tented sign that said, “Yarn, 50% Off.”

“What!” I shouted.  “Stop!”

I discovered a small yarn shop, Leslie’s Loops, tucked away in a small strip mall.  The owner’s husband, who was manning the cash register, informed me, when I inquired about the shop, that it has been open since April.  Everything was 50% off, so I came away with enough purple worsted wool for a sweater and eight skeins of Knitcol, probably for future baby gifts as the need arises.  The eggplant hued worsted wool is making me think of the woolly sweaters of fall and even of Christmas.  But for now, after doing laundry and picking up my car from the shop tomorrow (making the grand total for repairs for this VW this summer a whopping $1600) and then going to eye doctor, I’ll work to capture a few more of summer’s perfect moments.    

I love this pretty island of flowers and trees.  

This artistic display in the cottage reflects the colors of sea glass.  

In the morning, the tide out back was very low.  

We had time for a brief evening stroll through Charleston.  

The real gas lamps appeal to my romantic nature.  

This Sand Dollar Shift is one of my works in progress.  It's hot in the South sometimes until October, so I want to finish this and wear it before 2014 ends.  Summer days are perfect for knitting with Cascade Ultra Pima Cotton.