Thursday, June 30, 2011

More House Nattering: Picture Edition!

Matt and I met up with the HVAC and window people at the new house today. While 90% of the fixes the new house needs are cosmetic in nature, that other 10% is pretty important and needs to be dealt with immediately. The two biggest issues involve the air-conditioning system and the windows. The A/C unit is way too small relative to the size of the house, and the fan system is located in a utility room just off the living/dining room area. This means that the existing system not only doesn't adequately cool the house, it generates a lot of noise. The fix: installing a larger heat pump and moving the whole shebang up a floor into the attic (fortunately, there's enough room). The windows aren't in bad shape, but they are really old: they're original to the house, which was built in 1954. That means they're really inefficient, and bleed heat and air. The fix: new ones! This may cost a small fortune given the weird sizing and the fact that some of them will have to be custom jobs.

Meanwhile, back at the current house, Matt has a few projects to take care of. He spent the afternoon fixing a few leaks in the roof. This picture depicts the face he made when I advised him not to fall off the ladder (the last time he did that, he broke through a ceiling and dislocated his collarbone). He said that project is finished, so he only has a few left: fixing a leaky window, locating and fixing a leak under the master bathroom, repainting the entire house, ripping up all of the carpet and parquet and installing hardwood floors. I told him his next duty was to set up a wordpress account (for whatever reason, he prefers it to blogger) so that he can post pictures of his roof-fixing endeavor from earlier.

I have projects, too: helping out with the painting and removing the (godawful, moldy) wallpaper in the master bathroom. It's started to peel in places, so hopefully it'll come off easily. I'm probably not going to be involved in The Great Re-Flooring thanks (seriously, I hate dealing with carpet removal) to my weekend work schedules. The others should be able to get it done fairly quickly, though. Time is of the essence here; we want to get this house rented out as soon as we possibly can--the income will be paying for the renovation and furnishing of the new place.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Book Review: The Purity Myth by Jessica Valenti

I'd heard good things about The Purity Myth online, and decided to check it out when I came across it at the library a few weeks ago. I'm very glad that I did; Valenti's takedown of abstinence-only advocates is not only comprehensive, well-researched, and informative, it's hilarious. Valenti's sense of humor shines through even the most disturbing parts of the book (purity balls, anyone?) and carries the reader through some pretty depressing material. I would know. I've lived it.

In some ways, I'm lucky. I came of age just as the True Love Waits and abstinence-only sex education movements were taking off, so while I have definitely had a number of negative life experiences as a result of them, I managed to avoid their more recent excesses like purity balls. Purity balls, for the uninitiated, are parties in which fathers and daughters go as a couple, and the father presents his daughter with a ring, symbolizing her promise to him to not have sex until she's married. My teenage self would have preferred drinking bleach to attending such an event, and I'm consequently thankful that it was never an issue.

I also lucked out in the sense that I didn't have my entire childhood inundated with that foolishness, that I managed to catch the last gasping breath of the sex-positivity of the early and mid nineties. The first time I ever heard of True Love Waits was when I was about thirteen. I was in the Youth Room of my church at the time,* and there was a giant stack of paperback bibles whose covers read, "THE TRUE LOVE WAITS BIBLE," in glossy, colorful bubble letters with shiny foil accents. I didn't take one since I already had at least three bibles at home,** but I was confused as to what that phrase meant (waits for what, exactly?), and why it required a whole special bible. I found out a week or two later, when the youth pastor gathered us all together and exhorted us to sign a pledge saying that we wouldn't have sex until we were married.

I didn't sign.

I'd like to say that I was motivated by a sense of moral outrage at a balding thirty-year-old's interest in my (as-yet nonexistent) sex life, that I was galled at the onus of everyone staying pure being entirely placed on young women, or that I was casting off the oppressive shackles of fundamentalist christianity once and for all, but none of that was true at the time-- I didn't have those realizations until two or three years later. At that point, I didn't want to make a promise to god that I wouldn't be able to keep. I figured that even if premarital sex was a sin (having read the bible cover to cover by then, I knew that it was open to interpretation rather than a set-in-stone commandment)***, I was better off only committing the one sin (having premarital sex) than two (having sex and breaking a solemn promise to god). There was also a pretty big part of me that thought I was too young to be thinking about that stuff, anyway. I was largely uninterested in boys until I was about fifteen.

In the years following that moment, I was subjected to a number of speeches on the subject, all of which included a heavy dose of guilt and the usual hard sell to sign a pledge card of some kind. Time and again, I refused. With each successive lecture I heard, the more disillusioned I became. I grew increasingly resentful of adult intrusion into my (still-nonexistent) sex life, and all of the peer pressure that came with it. Every time the pledge cards got passed around and I refused to sign them, the teens around me who did sign them would give me weird looks. Every time we were encouraged to give verbal confirmations of our pledges and I remained silent, everyone else would stare at me. Every time the "Stand up if you're saving yourself for marriage!" ritual happened and I remained seated, other people would whisper and point at me. Shunning and well-meaning but patronizing and irritating lectures inevitably followed. I've always been a fairly reserved person, so to say I was displeased at the way True Love Waits (et. al.) had given everyone and their mother license to pry into my private life (nonexistent or not) is the understatement of the year.

I guess it goes without saying that the Yay Abstinence! crap I was exposed to as a teenager eventually offended my nascent delicate feminist sensibilities.**** It didn't take me long to notice that the majority of the purity rhetoric was targeted at the girls, not the boys. The guys got off easy; while they were expected to sign the cards like everyone else, they were never subjected to exercises in "you're totally worthless and dirty if you have premarital sex," in which the youth pastor/facilitator/lecturer would do things like pass unwrapped candies around the room, having everyone touch them, and then asking a boy (it was always a boy) if he wanted to eat it, then pouncing upon the inevitable grossed-out reaction with the usual slut-shamey platitudes. I also don't ever recall seeing a guy wearing a purity ring, nor hearing of a guy being told to change the way he looked or dressed because he was leading the young ladies of the congregation into perdition (yes, that did happen to me. I wore a shorter skirt the following week).

Why yes, my adolescence did strongly resemble the movie Saved!

Fortunately, I was lucky enough to avoid abstinence-only sex education more or less altogether. I did get to experience a snippet of it during my last year of attending public school (sixth grade), where I learned that since condoms don't work, there's no point in using them, birth control pills give you cancer, and oral sex can get you pregnant. That there were eighth graders with children at that school (South-Doyle Middle: yes, I'm calling you out) should come as a surprise to absolutely no one. Once I transferred to private school the following year, such talk all but ceased. I dimly recall a few episodes of the original Degrassi in seventh grade and a three-hour-long "Sex Seminar" in eighth grade (which, while featuring the unfortunate "sharing fluids" game,***** was mostly medically accurate and didn't involve calling sexually active women dirty, untouchable whores), but beyond that, it wasn't discussed. It was a two-edged sword: on the one hand, I wasn't exposed to any more inaccurate information that could have gotten me knocked up or infected with some variety of crotch rot. On the other, I didn't get nearly as much information as I should have, putting me at risk for getting knocked up or some variety of crotch rot.

I would like to take this moment to thank the librarians at that school for maintaining subscriptions to magazines like Glamour or Cosmopolitan. That's where 90% of my sex education came from; in those days, both magazines frequently published articles about safe sex, comparisons of different contraceptives, and, most importantly, critiques of abstinence-only sex education. I don't think they do that anymore (from what I can gather scanning the covers in the checkout line at the grocery store, anyway), which is really a shame. Nevertheless, it's a pretty sorry state of affairs when teenagers have to resort to fashion magazines to get medically accurate, non-judgmental information about sex.

You don't have to take my word for it. The Purity Myth backs up pretty much everything I've written here: that a myopic focus on virginity harms young women, that abstinence-only sex education is totally ineffective, that purity balls are gross and creepy and, most importantly, that the push for female chastity feeds into the backlash against the feminist movement that's been plaguing us since the eighties. Throughout the book, she discusses the multitudes of potential negative consequences that abstinence advocates and their ilk have on women and society as a whole. It's quite compelling, and I'm of the opinion that everyone (but especially parents, educators, and teenage girls) should read it. 5 out of 5 stars.

*Brief backstory: I was raised Southern Baptist, and want to church three times a week more or less every week until I was around seventeen, when my mother finally caved and stopped forcing me to go. If I'd been given any choice in the matter, I would have stopped going at around fourteen.
***No lie. The literalists take a lot of liberties and do some serious word-stretching to make the case that premarital sex is prohibited--unless you're willing to also make the argument that it's okay to stone a woman if she's found to not be a virgin after she's been married (Deuteronomy 22:13-21), there's little basis for it in the original text.
****I didn't start identifying as a feminist until I was 15, a few years after my initial exposure to True Love Waits.
*****Ten students are given a half-full Dixie cup of water, one of which contains a small amount of sodium hydroxide. Everyone "exchanges fluids" with three (or whatever arbitrary number) people by pouring some of their water into the other person's cup, then allowing the other person to pour some water into theirs. Once they're done, the facilitator places phenolphthalein into the glasses, turning "infected" liquid pink and educating everyone about why condoms are important (if the facilitator doesn't suck) or that ALL SEX IS BAD AND WILL MAKE YOU DISEASED FOREVER (if the facilitator does suck, which seems to be more likely than not).

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Everyday.

Sometimes I think I should do more blogging about my everyday adventures. Sadly, most of the amusing things that happen to me aren't fit to print for an assortment of reasons that range from "I'd really like to keep my job(s)" to "Yeah, my dad/sister really doesn't need to know about that" to "Wow, I've really gotten boring since I graduated from college and stopped living in what amounts to a clothing-optional commune." Not that the last one matters; even if my life continued to resemble a Brett Easton Ellis novel (which it does occasionally, just not as much), I'd still be less than willing to spill the deets where family members can read them.

Here lately, my daily activities have involved working, going to the gym, reading books, and harassing Matt about starting a blog about the new house endeavor. The latter should be ready within the next few weeks; we're set to close on the new house on the 21st and have a few projects around the current house to complete before then. All Matt needs to do is get his wordpress account set up and port it over to his domain name. Very exciting and all, but since I have no intention of doing it for him, it's on him. (I will, apparently, be doing the photography and editing for that blog. Whatevs.)

Today, though, I got to have dinner with Amy, a fellow feminist book blogger. It was pretty awesome; I really like meeting people from THE INTERNET. I always feel like I have more to talk about with them.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Moving, again.

When I responded to Amy's comment on my review of the hoarding (shudder) book earlier, it occurred to me that I have moved six times since I graduated from college four years ago-- and in one month, I'll be moving yet again. So that's seven moves in four years and two months, roughly one move every seven months. At this moment, roughly half of my things are in a storage unit, a fifth of them are in my dad's basement, and the rest are floating about Matt's current house.

No wonder I don't know where any of the lids to my pots are and can't think about unpacking all of my stuff without getting a noticeable twitch in my left eye.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Book Review: Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things by Randy O. Frost and Gail Steketee

I would like to let it be known upfront that I don't watch any gawk-at-the-crazy shows, including the ones about hoarding. I find them degrading and exploitative, and consider those responsible for them to be incredibly unethical.

That said, I have known a few hoarders in my time, and was interested in gaining some insight into why they do that. My grandmother almost certainly qualifies as one; once she buys a new possession and brings it home, there's no getting rid of it. As a child, I remember there being dozens and dozens of unworn shoes in her closet, along with more hats than I can count. That's not even getting into everything she stuffed into her attic, or piled into the extra bedrooms. The crazy thing is that, objectively speaking, she wasn't all that bad. The house was never what I'd consider unsafe, and here lately, once she's filled one house with hats and antique furniture, she goes off and buys another one. So, it could definitely be worse.

I remember it driving my mother nuts (I imagine it still does, but as neither one of us lives in Knoxville anymore, it's less of an issue). My mother is an anti-hoarder, if there is such a thing. Her cleaning sprees are legendary, as is her unabashed hatred of clutter and junk. While she isn't a neat freak by any stretch, she's far more likely to chuck something she may need later than to hang onto it just in case. I'm the same way; once my possessions start to hit a certain critical mass, I go on de-stuffing sprees and get rid of things. I hate knick-knacks and bric-a-brac, and dislike all but the most minimalist of furniture. The only things I tend to hang onto are crafting supplies and yarn (sadly, I plan out projects a lot faster than I can knit) and books. As far as books go, I've been working on only acquiring and keeping the ones I intend on re-reading or using for future references ever since I came to grips with the fact that Books Are Stuff, Too. Another possible example is cooking supplies and gadgets, but those tend to be sort of necessary for the types of cooking I do (I may be the only person I know who uses a pastry blender and a lemon zester more than once a month).

So, needless to say, hoarding is a totally foreign concept to me-- AND it's something I am likely to run into in my future career; as more attention is paid to it, the more likely it is that social workers will continue to be involved in hoarding situations. Frankly, the idea of having that much stuff floating around makes me feel sort of anxious, and I have a difficult time identifying with people who are that fixated on material objects. Stuff has helped me somewhat; the authors do an excellent job discussing the root causes of hoarding as well as effective strategies for dealing with it for both families and professionals. They also provide a number of very revealing case studies that help to both illuminate and humanize the issue. Unfortunately, most of the endings weren't happy ones; hoarding is very resistant to treatment and intervention, and relapses, even among those who are committed to recovery, are very common.

4 out of 5 stars.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Friday, June 24, 2011

Third time's the charm?

I'm working on the third (and final) installment of the Idiot-Proof Sideways Scarf. I'm using a zauberball in fingering weight, and it's going well so far. I'm just really, really tired of knitting these scarves!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Book Review: White Coat, Black Hat by Carl Elliott

White Coat, Black Hat was another impulse pick from the new books section at the library. For someone who isn't scientifically inclined, I have a surprising love for books about medicine and medical history, even the ones that aren't exactly happy stories. White Coat, Black Hat is definitely one of the unhappy ones; in it, Carl Elliott discusses the ways in which the pharmaceutical companies have wormed their way into every aspect of drug testing, marketing, and prescribing, and are not only in bed with members of those entities, but those of the regulatory bodies as well. As the narrative progresses, it becomes clear that the pharmaceuticals industry is in need of serious reform and that until that reform happens, no one is safe from  the next Vioxx, Fen-Phen, or other wonderdrug with catastrophic side effects.

Needless to say, it's a pretty sobering, if highly informative, read. Highly recommended. 4 out of 5 stars.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Good news, good news!

I've been itching to post about this since Saturday, but I didn't want to jump the gun or jinx myself: Matt not only found a house he liked, he successfully put in an offer on it, AND, as of yesterday, it is officially not a money pit!

Or, it's a small money pit in all the ways we predicted.

Overall, it's a pretty awesome house. It was built in the 1950's, so it has some really awesome features, mainly hardwood floors and gigantic windows. Unlike most houses from that era, though, this one also has giant bedrooms (unusual) and normal-by-modern-standards-sized bathrooms (practically unheard-of). It also has a crazy amount of closet space and a full attic, on top of a giant open living/dining room. There's also a smaller front room, a medium-sized kitchen, and a bonus/second master bedroom and half bath that are located over the garage.

It's going to need a fair amount of work, though. It's been owned by the same people since the 1970's, and it's probably been about that long since anything was updated. Replacing the original (crappy, single pane) windows is a must, as is (in my humble opinion) getting rid of the orange shag carpeting in the bonus room and the stick-on linoleum tiles in the kitchen and entryway. The floors, in general, are a job of work: where they haven't been haphazardly carpeted or linoleum'd (I will never understand why people stick cheap linoleum on top of hardwood floors), they're in pretty rough shape: dirty, stained, and scratched. The whole thing needs to be sanded and re-finished. On top of that, Matt has some contractor-y stuff to do: none of the outlets are properly grounded, and the attic is inadequately insulated.

Meanwhile, I've tasked myself with making the place look nice, which is somewhat daunting. I'm not particularly wild about decorating; my idea of making a bedroom look nice is picking out a duvet set from, Target, or ikea, selecting a color I like from it, and painting the walls that color. If I'm feeling especially interested, I may change the light fixtures or add some coordinating lamps or artwork. I have the same attitude towards bathrooms: pick out a set from Kohl's, paint walls accordingly. I guess that would go for living rooms and kitchens as well, but I've never "done" either one before. When you rent, you don't generally invest in sprucing up the place, and up until now, all I've ever done is rented or live with my parents.

While my usual approach will probably work just fine in the bedrooms, it's not going to hold up in the bathrooms or the kitchen. The bathrooms need new floors, and I'm not really a fan of the wall tiles (also, one of the tubs is mauve. MAUVE. Why?). It's looking like I'm going to have to start from scratch with all 2.5 of them. Indecision, ahoy! The kitchen poses additional issues: it has these really awesome vintage cabinets and countertops, but the formica topping of said counters has got to go, even if I wind up replacing it with formica of another color. Beyond that, I need to pick out a 100% new floor color, as I am 75% sure that there's no hardwood underneath the three layers of linoleum I was able to chip away. I also have something of a pantry quandary that can only be explained through pictures, and I need to help Matt select new appliances (must needs have a dual fuel range).

It's a lot to do, so expect further posting from me on the subject-- but not necessarily here. Matt's been considering starting a blog to document the process, and if he does, I may post my house-related entries over there instead of here. We'll see if he does it, though.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

FO: Idiot-Proof Sideways Scarf #2

The second draft of my pattern is complete! Hooray! Now I just have to finish one last scarf and I'll be able to publish the pattern.

Pattern: Idiot-Proof Sideways Scarf
Yarn: Knitpicks Chroma Fingering
Needle: US #7
Finished Size:  60" x 15" 
Notes: Just what I always wanted! Only not. I'm giving it to a co-worker.  

Monday, June 20, 2011

Rejoining the 21st Century

After a yearlong hiatus, I have decided to return to Twitter. You can follow me at @underneathabook

I'll be installing a widget in the sidebar and tweaking my design a bit presently. 

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Book Review: Female Chauvinist Pigs by Ariel Levy

I was really looking forward to reading Female Chauvinist Pigs, as it has prompted very mixed reactions among my feminist friends. Some loved it, some hated it, and many more fell in between, enjoying some parts but strongly disagreeing with others. I found myself in that camp; while I agreed with Levy's overall thesis, I had a number of minor to major quibbles with the evidence that she used to support it, and, as usual, I take issue with feminist works that rely on hating on other women.

Criticizing other women can be a difficult thing to do when you're a feminist. You want to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem, but it can be really difficult to reconcile one's feminist beliefs with women who either insist on being part of the problem or deny that the problem exists at all. Right-wing women like Ann Coulter and Sarah Palin are two fine examples of right-wing women who appropriate the rhetoric of feminism while actively seeking to deny rights and freedom to women. At the opposite end of the spectrum, you have people like Lady Gaga who are all about freedom of sexual identity and expression but all but develop the vapors and clutch their pearls if you suggest they're feminists. Then there are the hordes of women in between, those of Wollstonecraft's gilded cages and their modern equivalents (Sex and the City characters, for example). Then there are the Female Chauvinist Pigs, who Levy describes at length: women who join men in oppressing their fellow women by eschewing all "girly" forms of behavior, sexually objectifying other women (and sometimes themselves), going along with misogynist humor, and, of course, refusing to socially associate with women because they're backstabbing, cutthroat bitches.

Pointing out sexist (or even problematic) behavior on the part of other women is a fine line to walk. Everyone struggles with internalized sexism in some way or other, and the line between constructive criticism and rehashed misogyny isn't always clear. And blaming effects of a patriarchal culture on the women living in it is really...uncool, I guess, but at the same time, all people, even women, need to be held accountable for the effects that their actions have on others. That's my sticking-point: I try to avoid criticizing other women for things they have no control over, or for behaving in ways that they were socialized to, or for partaking in the girly-girl culture (much as I detest it). Often, hating on the color pink, or domesticity, or women's jobs quickly devolves into hating on the women who like pink, domesticity, or want to work in those positions themselves, and I'm really not a fan of that. I do, however, draw the line at women whose behavior actively oppresses other women, as opposed to mere passive compliance with existing sexual and gender norms.

Women who throw other women under the proverbial bus in an effort to score points with men especially irritate me, as their behavior isn't merely sexist in and of itself, but it reinforces the idea that sexism is okay with every man they interact with. Every time a woman tells a man that she refuses to make friends with other women because they're vapid, petty, or passive-aggressive, she reaffirms and justifies any pre-existing prejudices that man may have had about women being catty, immature, and impossible to deal with as equals. Beyond that, it's always a losing game: when you play the Women Are Inferior, And I'm The Best of All of Them Game, you always lose because, at the end of the day, you're still a woman and the men that you're trying so hard to impress will always look down on you for it.

Needless to say, Levy's thoughts on raunch culture walk a loosened tightrope, swaying back and forth between what I'd consider acceptable social critique and excessive shaming of other women's (particularly sex workers') choices. The main thrust of Levy's argument is that raunch culture, or the proliferation and mainstreaming of porn culture, does not represent authentic sexual liberation for women. Rather than facilitate freedom of sexual expression, it stifles all forms of sexuality that aren't geared towards exhibitionist competitions for the male gaze. Instead of liberating sexuality for all, it commodifies it and sells it. No matter how much feminist lingo is used to dress it up, raunch culture caters primarily to men and their sexual desires, not those of women. Women who don't buy into it are castigated as unenlightened Puritans or prudes who live in the past, hate sex, and may as well don a burqa already.

Can you tell that I've encountered this attitude before? (Those of you who know me well know how hilarious it is that anyone would ever call me a sex-hating prude. That should probably tell you something about the merits of the whole "objecting to raunch culture = repressed god warrior who hates herself" argument.)

Anyway, the thing that I found most appealing about Levy's argument was that she doesn't object to overt sexual expression in and of itself; what she objects to is the extent to which it has become compulsory, and the fact that it caters almost exclusively to men. That some women may enjoy that type of sexuality isn't a problem; that we're all expected to is. I believe that there's a wide range of legitimate sexual expressions, and, yes, Girls Gone Wild-esque exhibitionism is one of them, even though I, personally, do not care to partake in it. In short, I've never had a problem with someone choosing to show me (or the entire world, for that matter) her boobs, but I do have a problem with others expecting (and pressuring) me to flash mine because other women do it, or it's the cool thing to do in a bar, or whatever else. I also have a problem with using alcohol to coerce women into sexual behavior that they wouldn't engage in sober.

Another thing about Female Chauvinist Pigs that I really liked is the clear, cogent way in which Levy delineates the negative effects of raunch culture on women (and men, too: patriarchy does, after all, punish men with more "womanly" sensibilities, be they gay, bisexual, or simply not chauvinist assholes who actually respect women). Obviously, anything that retrenches the virgin/whore dichotomy is going to be damaging to women, and raunch culture has had the perverse effect of causing the conservative culture warriors to kick into high gear (in a self-reinforcing feedback loop o' irony). Beyond that, training teenager girls that sexuality is a performance to benefit men isn't exactly conducive to healthy attitudes toward sex later in life, and appears to lead to very unfulfilling relationships. It also leaves queer teenagers completely out in the cold (or, worse, aping the worst aspects of raunch culture for themselves). And, once again, the notion that it's okay to get women hammered so that they'll engage in sexual activities they wouldn't otherwise is fifty kinds of wrong. Finally, shoving everyone into one particular vision of what sex and sexuality should be like rather than allowing for the freedom of individual expression isn't doing anyone any good.

What I didn't particularly care for was Levy's overly simplistic, often ham-handed way of discussing porn stars, strippers, and other sex workers, which often sounded for all the world like a rehashing of the Great Feminist Sex Wars of the 1970's and 1980's. As someone who falls into the uncomfortable grey area in between the two sides, I found her assertions that sex workers shouldn't be emulated, that porn stars weren't really people (I know she was getting at the on-screen personae of porn stars, but her wording was seriously unfortunate), and that the mainstreaming of porn was Very, Very Bad a little too black and white and slut-shamey for my delicate Third Wave sensibilities. It often seemed like Levy was coming down on individuals (like Jenna Jameson) rather than the industry, and that's something that really didn't sit well with me. I also didn't care for the tired, hackneyed, totally unnuanced descriptions of What Sex Workers Are Like. While I understood what she was getting at with regards to the negative effects of the mainstreaming of hardcore pornography, her treatment of the sex workers themselves really weakened her argument.

My opinion on sex work (porn, stripping, prostitution, etc.), by the way, is that I have no objective problem with people taking their clothes off or having sex, filmed or not, for money. What I do object to is the exploitative nature of the sex industry, the often crappy working conditions those who are in it must deal with, the relationship between sex work and drug and sexual abuse, the reality that sex work is often the only way that poor women can put food on their tables, the way larger society stigmatizes sex workers, and, yes, the fact that I'm now expected to treat any and all acts depicted in those industries as a-okay normal. As I've said for several years now, the fastest way to kill the "But porn is GOOD for women!" argument (which I approve of about as much as I do the notion that porn is intrinsically bad) is by asking a room full of women to raise their hands if they'd ever felt pressured into performing a sex act they were uncomfortable with that their male partner had first seen in porn. None of these things, though, are the fault of the strippers or porn actresses or prostitutes themselves. If we don't blame Wal-Mart employees for sweatshop labor (and every other crappy thing that corporation does), we shouldn't blame women employed in the sex industry for the way the industry operates or the effect that it has on society. A lot of feminists fall into the trap of blaming the sex workers, and I was disappointed to find Levy among them.

Despite its flaws, Female Chauvinist Pigs is nevertheless a very thought-provoking read. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Current Book Docket, Yet Again

Here's what I'm working on currently:

Moby Duck by Donovan Hohn
Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
Making Our Democracy Work by Stephen Breyer
Odd Girl Out by Rachel Simmons
Children of Men by P. D. James
Boys Will be Boys by Myriam Miedzian

Friday, June 17, 2011

Yarn Review: Knitpicks Chroma Fingering Sock Yarn

I purchased a skein of KnitPicks Chroma (fingering weight; they've since released a worsted) for the second iteration of my Idiot-Proof Sideways Scarf pattern. I'd never ordered KnitPicks yarn before, and had seen a number of mixed reviews of it on Ravelry, so I was a little bit nervous.

There's something of a bias in the knitting community against the use of cheap yarn. "You get what you pay for" is the mantra of the Local Yarn Shop Owner, trying to compete with both craft store yarns and cheap online retailers like KnitPicks and For the most part, I have found most craft store yarns to be lacking (though some of them do have their uses, like dishcloths or scrubbies), but had never tried KnitPicks yarn until now. I'd heard rumors of knotted skeins, fading/bleeding colors, misleading weights, skimpy yardage, and, of course, the knitter's worst nightmare: pilling/fuzzing. I decided that $8.99 a skein was too good an offer to pass up, and bought one in the Galapagos colorway.

Overall, I am very pleased with this yarn. The colors were pretty much exactly as pictured, except for a light green that showed up grey on my monitor. It looked just as nice, though, so I don't care. The colors transitioned from one to another very nicely, and the whole skein was very well-coordinated. The yardage, from my calculations, was spot-on. It was evenly spun, and had consistent thickness throughout. It also felt nice to knit with, and wasn't scratchy or sheddy or anything else that can make knitting unpleasant. It also blocked out beautifully, and I am very pleased with how the scarf I knit from it turned out (pictures tomorrow). The finished scarf is very soft and nice to wear (none of that stereotypical wool scratchiness!), and the colors survived the Eucalan wash I give all of my knitwear before I block it. The water did turn a little blue, which is typical as blue dye can have "stickiness" issues, but I didn't see any fading or bleeding.

I do have a few quibbles, though. First, Chroma fingering is advertised as a sock yarn. I would strongly recommend against using it for socks (or anything else that gets heavy wear), as it's a single ply that's not spun very tightly. It's a recipe for pilling. It's also not superwash, which I found downright weird for a wool/nylon blend. I'm not a fan of using handwash wool in socks, as they will often felt right on your feet, between the friction of the shoe and foot sweat! My second issue is that it tends to fuzz while you're knitting with it, and would advise anyone who uses it to avoid frogging it. I had to rip out a few rows at the beginning, and it really didn't look as nice after that. Luckily, the fuzziness issue appears to go away once the yarn has been washed and blocked.

My last, and saddest, complaint was that my skein had a knot in it! That really drives me nuts, even though I recognize on an intellectual level that they're inevitable. At least whoever milled the yarn took the time to make sure the second strand matched the first one. That's one of my biggest pet peeves about noro: not only are the skeins crazy knotty, but when you arrive at a knot, it'll have skipped several colors, resulting in you having to go through the entire skein looking for the right place to rejoin the two strands. In my Chroma skein, the color on one side of the knot and the color on the other side of the knot were the same, I was able to splice them together without incident, and the color pattern was uninterrupted as a result. So I guess that was nice, even though knots annoy me.

Overall, I give it 4 out of 5 stars. Even with the fuzziness and knot, it's still a very beautiful yarn and a great value for the money.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Book Reviews: One of Our Thursdays is Missing by Jasper Fforde

I really hope that One of Our Thursdays is Missing isn't the last Thursday Next book. The end hasn't been formally announced, of course, but you never know (Dear Jasper Fforde-- please don't get hit by a bus). It seems that most of Fforde's other series (Shades of Grey, Dragonslayer, Nursery Crimes Division) have been trilogies, and the Thursday Next books are the ongoing exception. With each one that I read, the more I'd like to know about Thursday and her ongoing adventures.

The interesting thing about One of Our Thursdays is Missing is that Thursday is only in it for three pages. The protagonist is instead Fictional Thursday Next, or Thursday5 from Thursday Next: First Among Sequels. While she's come a long way from her super-crunchy, pacifistic days in the previous installment, she still suffers from a near-crippling passivity and is content to represent Thursday in the novels, occasionally moonlighting for a Jurisfiction subsidiary. Her quiet life is thrown into chaos when a red-headed stranger on the train informs her that the real Thursday has gone missing, and slips Real Thursday's Jurisfiction badge into her pocket, urging her to get to the bottom of it. Fictional Thursday embarks on a long, twisted journey through the BookWorld and RealWorld, searching desperately for her inspiration and trying to figure out why she went missing.

It was strange reading a Thursday Next book in which Thursday herself wasn't the protagonist and narrator, but I really enjoyed Fictional Thursday's alternate perspective and evolution as a character. It was also neat to get an outside perspective on Real Thursday's life and see just how important her presence in both the BookWorld and the RealWorld is. As always, Fforde's gift for comedy and absurdity shines through. 5 out of 5 stars.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

And the Hits Keep a Comin': NC Bars Planned Parenthood from Receiving State and Federal Funding

Shortly after midnight last night, North Carolina became the third state to ban Planned Parenthood from receiving state or federal funds when a Republican minority and five turncoat Democrats in the General Assembly overrode Governor Bev Perdue's veto of their budget. The Senate still has to vote, but since they have a strong Republican majority, it will almost certainly pass there. As a result, thousands of women across the state are at risk of losing access to their only source of healthcare and family planning services.

I am one of them. Fortunately, my birth control renewal (I buy three months at a time because it's cheaper) happened a month ago, and I therefore have enough nuva rings to last me until I start school in August. Hopefully, the school health clinic will offer my birth control at prices comparable to Planned Parenthood's, and I won't have to worry about getting knocked up and coming up with the cash to cover an abortion (perhaps I could bill the General Assembly). There are many, many other women out there who aren't so fortunate. Like me, they make too much money to qualify for Medicaid, but work at jobs that don't provide insurance (or, in my case, have insurance policies that are so expensive that employees are unable to use them) and don't pay well enough to allow them to purchase private full coverage. Planned Parenthood is an invaluable resource for us, and these cuts could result in a loss or interruption of services.

Planned Parenthood has promised to challenge this in court. While I'm certain they'll win, given the smackdown that Indiana just received at the hands of Health and Human Services and Obama's (frankly shocking, given the way he threw abortion rights under the bus during the health care reform debate) pledged support of Planned Parenthood, a legal battle will cost both the organization and the state of North Carolina money that could be better spent elsewhere. Every dollar that Planned Parenthood spends defending itself against right-wing attack legislation is a dollar they could be spending doing something that no anti-choice politician has ever done: preventing unwanted pregnancies (and abortions!) by educating and providing contraceptives to the population. North Carolina's money would be far better spent addressing certain important educational and employment issues facing the state, but apparently anti-choice grandstanding is more important to state Republicans than addressing our almost 10% unemployment rate and moving our schools out of competition with Tennessee and Mississippi for "Worst Schools in the Entire Country."

It's worth mentioning that the budget in question also made dramatic cuts to education.

If you're in Asheville, there's going to be a rally against this action on July 4th, 11 AM - 1 PM at the Vance monument downtown. I may or may not be there due to my job, but I'll try to make it if possible. There's a facebook event page here.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Sometimes you're the windshield, sometimes you're the bug.

Today has definitely been a bug day. My family received some very bad news about one of my cousin's health, and I'm kind of lost for words-- about that and everything else.

Maybe I'll have something to say tomorrow.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Book Review: Thursday Next: First Among Sequels by Jasper Fforde

I read the fifth installment of the Thursday Next series at the beach immediately after finishing Something Rotten. Turns out it wasn't necessary; Thursday Next: First Among Sequels takes place some fourteen years after Something Rotten ends. Thursday and Landen are still together, but everything else has changed: Friday is now a sullen, lazy teenager who refuses to fill his destiny within the Chromaguard, they have had two other children (or have they?), Tuesday and Jenny, and SpecOps has been disbanded (or has it?), forcing Thursday to take a job laying carpets.

Over the course of the novel, Thursday must deal with the usual difficulties. The carpet-laying business is a front for the old SpecOps; however, since ReadRates have fallen dramatically, she spends the bulk of her time helping her friend Spike battle the undead, smuggling illegal cheese in from Wales, and, of course, working for Jurisfiction. The BookWorld has fallen on hard times due to the lack of readers, and Thursday must foil a number of desperate schemes by the Council of Genres, one of which seeks to turn Pride and Prejudice into a reality series while dealing with her fictional alter-egos: Thursday 1-4, a violent, power-crazed narcissist and Thursday 5, the softer, dirty hippie side of Thursdays. All of this, of course, she must hide from her family, who think she's a carpet layer.

All in all, I really enjoyed Thursday Next: First Among Sequels. Fforde manages to keep the characters and plots familiarly entertaining without becoming dull or formulaic. As always, I love the surreal silliness-- especially when exploding cheese is involved. 4 out of 5 stars.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Friday, June 10, 2011

Book Review: Something Rotten by Jasper Fforde

I've finally started back on the Thursday Next series. I'd avoided it for a while, mainly because I didn't want the series to end. (I'm still a little sad about the end of Harry Potter, which will happen in a few months when the final installment of the films is released.) So far, though, there hasn't been a definitive announcement of the end of the series. Due to Fforde's other projects, they're being published with longer periods of time in between, but I can handle that. What I'm really looking forward to now is the next installment in the Shades of Grey series, which should be out in 2012 or 2013.

Anyway. Something Rotten. It's the fourth installment of the Thursday Next series, and picks up about two years after The Well of Lost Plots ended. Thursday, tired of living in the Bookworld, returns to the real world with her two-year-old son, Friday, and must confront a number of difficulties related to her husband's ongoing eradication and her two-plus year absence from Swindon in addition to new problems in the form of Hamlet (yes, that Hamlet) coming for a visit and the return of Yorrick Kaine, the fictional villain Thursday vanquished in The Well of Lost Plots. On top of that is the matter of procuring reliable childcare for Friday and fending off yet another world-domination scheme of the Goliath Corporation.

Overall, I quite enjoyed this installment. The Thursday Next series continues to be highly amusing as well as intelligent, and the development of the characters and Thursday's world is excellent. 4 out of 5 stars.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Dumbass Moment of the Week

Apparently, if you stick a bottle of white wine into the freezer to make it get cold extra fast and forget about it, it will freeze. Then, when it has thawed out, it will have a strange, sandy sediment at the bottom.

It doesn't taste good.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Tales of the Gym

I've worked out the last three days. Consequently, my legs are incredibly sore and crampy, partly from my being out of shape, and partly because I hate bananas and refuse to eat them.* There's always avocado, as far as potassium-rich, cramp-killing produce goes, but I suspect inhaling large quantities of guacamole with corn chips (I can't not do this when I buy avocados) is more than a little counterproductive. Instead, I will eat my usual food and fret that the pain in my leg indicates imminent Death by Birth Control (I could kill the individual who "helpfully" linked me to an article about the nuvaring being dangerous in a you'll-stroke-out-and-die kind of way).**

Soreness-induced hypochondria notwithstanding, I think I'm hitting my stride where the whole working out thing is concerned. I'm still sticking to the elliptical, as my hips*** continue to have off days (I've been getting pinched nerves that are pretty epically awful) and Matt has been too busy house-hunting and playing Dragon Age to go swimming with me. I'm also enjoying some new reading material while there. I've found that books that are around two hundred pages long are just the right size for the little reading shelves on the display, and have liberally stocked up from the social sciences section of the library branch that's located right near the gym I frequent. I still have my nook, of course, but turning it on means acknowledging how dreadfully far behind I am in the Victorian literature challenge I'm working on.**** I've found that shiny new reading material helps to motivate me to go.

My main gym-related challenged these days involve finding time to go. My work hours haven't gotten longer, but they have become progressively less conducive to hitting the gym afterwards (especially since I do 90% of the cooking around here), and we all know how I feel about getting up early. I'm hoping that a potential shiny new job that's located closer to my gym will help matters. I really want to get back in shape, and I'm sort of hoping that taking off some weight will help with the hip thing.

We'll see, I guess.

*The list of dietary idiosyncrasies grows ever-longer.
**It was pretty uncool. The nuvaring is the only kind of hormonal birth control I can take without turning into a moody-riffic freak show. More so than usual. It's not pretty. Also, I throw up a lot.
***I don't recall if I've ever mentioned it here, but I was born with double hip dysplasia (thanks, Cherokee heritage!). I'm very lucky in that I haven't had mobility issues thus far; however, I do occasionally get pinched nerves when the cells slip into the backside of my hip joint. It probably goes without saying that it hurts like hell.
****Freakin' Vanity Fair.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Book Review: God Dies by the Nile by Nawal Saadawi

God Dies by the Nile is June's selection for the Classic Feminist Literature Challenge I've been working on. As it's only one hundred and thirty pages long, I finished it rather quickly, even though it was a very difficult book to read.

Part of that is due to my own cultural biases: not only am I American, but parts of my family have been here since before the Civil War (my mother's mother's family), before the Revolutionary War (my father's mother's family) and before any white people were here at all (my father's father's family). I don't say that to be American-er than thou, much as I enjoy offering to help racist, immigrant-hating white people pack their bags for their trip back to Europe, just that I haven't been exposed to any cultures other than my own and I don't hail from any fresh-off-the-boat groups. Beyond that, there's the issue of translation, which I have a long-standing beef with; it can be difficult to disentangle the words of the writer from the translator's interpretation of their words.

The remainder of my difficulties stem from the narrative style, which bears a strong resemblance to Toni Morrison's Beloved. While I enjoyed Beloved and God Dies by the Nile, both were somewhat incomprehensible due to the stream-of-conscious narration that jumped from character to character. Luckily for me, I read a lot of post-modernist literature, so that kind of thing doesn't throw or frustrate me. It just means I have to read some paragraphs a few extra times and flip through previous chapters to make sure I got the details right.

The similarities between God Dies by the Nile and Beloved don't stop there; thematically, the two are quite similar. God Dies by the Nile depicts an act of incredible violence perpetrated by a poor Egyptian women against the mixed-race, blue-eyed Mayor of her town, Kafr El Teen, who has sexually exploited both of her nieces and imprisoned her brother and son in order to conceal his actions. Beloved tells the story of an escaped slave woman who attempts (and succeeds, with one) to kill her children rather than subject them to the brutality of slavery. Both women, Zakeya and Sethe, live incredibly hard lives, surviving through their wits and hard, physical labor, and are constantly tormented by the inequalities that surround them. Both Morrison and Saadawi do an incredible job of rendering even the most violent, desperate acts understandable and those who commit them human.

As far as the feminist implications go (as I guess that's the point of reading this!), Saadawi manages to touch on a number of issues that affected Egyptian women in the 1970's, from FGM to sexual assault to having their lives and freedoms dependent upon the will of men. She also touches on the consequences of extreme abuses of power that stem from the divine right attitude that the Mayor and his cronies possess. It's easy to see how and why her writings landed her in jail; writing that threatens the status quo so obviously seldom goes unpunished, particularly in repressive regimes. I look forward to reading more of her work in the future.

4 out of 5 stars.

Monday, June 6, 2011

FO: Aeolian Shawl

It's finally finished! It took less than a month, but it still feels like forever.

Pattern: Aeolian Shawl by Elizabeth Freeman, available here.
Yarn: malabrigo lace in azul bolita, just over one and a half skeins. Maybe 800 yards?
Needle: US #7
Finished Size:  60" x 30" 
Notes: Since the shawl is modular, I changed the charts up a bit: one set-up chart, then six repeats of the yucca chart, then one agave chart, then one final agave chart, ending with the alternate narrow edging, as I didn't think I had enough to complete the original. I definitely made the right call; the last few rows of the edging and the bind-off eat yarn. 

I'm pretty sad it'll be a while before I can wear it. I got hot just carrying it around and posing it on my arm outside.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Casting off forever and ever and ever and ever...

...and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever.

I've finally arrived at the end of my Aeolian shawl. All that stands between me and bright blue totally out of season shawl-y bliss is 439 (note: I'm about halfway through. All said and done, the shawl had 877 stitches at the end) stitches of stretchy purl bind-off. I guess it goes without saying that the dull repetitiveness of the bind-off is causing me to lose my ever-loving mind, and I'm therefore having to force myself to work on it, lest it sit in a drawer forever. Not that it really matters at this point. It'll be months before I'm able to wear it.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Book Review: Superfreakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner

I read the first Freaknomics back in 2007 and really liked it, but it's taken me a while to get to this one. I guess it's probably a good thing I waited; had I read it too soon after the first one, I would have been pretty disappointed.

For the most part, Superfreakonomics amuses and delights in the same way that the original did: discussing the law of unintended consequences in seemingly unrelated fields, often exposing flaws in conventional wisdom. For the most part, I found the discussions in Superfreakonomics quite thought-provoking, particularly the ones about the economics of prostitution (and the circumstances under which it can be a valid career move) as well as identifying criminals and terrorists based on their bank activities. Similarly thought-provoking was the possible upside of the exportation of American values through television: eating disorders and Big Macs on one hand, but better educational opportunities for women and less wife-beating on the other.

I do, however, have a gigantic rant about one line: advocating circumcision as prophylactic against sexually transmitted diseases, especially HIV, is not only moronic, it's irresponsible and dangerous (it's also not applicable to American sexual behavior: studies that demonstrate that were conducted in Africa). Given the rates at which HIV transmission via heterosexual contact is climbing in the United States these days, the very last thing we need right now is to give people cause to say, "Oh, don't worry, baby, I'm cut," and avoid condom use and routine screenings because they don't think they need them anymore. GAH.

Sorry, giant public health-related pet peeve there. I have this thing about us not needlessly giving each other crotch rot over stupidity. Moving along...

Overall, I didn't like this as much as the previous one. A lot of the content was re-printed from the Freakonomics! blog and other articles the authors had published. It was also less coherent and far less organized than the original, and I also felt that the research on some subjects was pretty lacking. So while it was fairly entertaining, I'm only going to give it 3 out of 5 stars.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Things I've Learned About Buying a House in Asheville

It's looking like Matt's hunt for a shiny new house is drawing to a close. He found one he really liked yesterday, and has a list of ten promising ones to view today. Before he left, he told me that he intends for today to be the last day he spends looking at houses. He's very, very tired of running internet search after internet search and trudging through house after house and is ready to just be done with it. I agree completely: I'm definitely tired of spending hours and hours looking at computer screens, scrutinizing details, and climbing stairs after stairs after stairs of potential (usually  un-air conditioned) houses. Yes, I've discovered something new about myself: house hunting makes me hot, tired, and incredibly crabby. It seems to have that effect on most people.

Anyway, we're entering the third months of looking for houses, and I've come up with a few observations concerning the state of home buying in the greater Asheville area:

  1. Bubble? What Bubble? Despite a steep decline in prices, houses are still pretty expensive here. Apparently, the bubble bursting led to housing prices going from exorbitant to merely absurd, particularly for a town this size in the South. Houses here cost almost as much as similar ones in Nashville, and that's a major city. Houses in Knoxville (which is larger than Asheville, but not by as much) cost substantially less. Matt bought his current house at the same time my mom sold her previous one, and they went for the same price despite the fact that my mother's house had over twice the square footage, garage, and lot that Matt's does. 
  2. No, seriously, it's nuts. Basically, it's impossible to find a house for under $100,000 that's in a decent neighborhood and/or not broken. Pretty much all the cheap houses we looked at were in varying state of disrepair, or were in pretty unfortunate locations (right next to the interstate, in a bad neighborhood, etc). If you want a three bedroom house, expect to pay at least $150,000 for it. If you find a house with that much (or more) space for under $150-200,000, you should be suspicious, because...
  3. Holy Foundation Issues, Batman! I would say that close to half of the houses we looked at had visible foundation or retaining wall problems. One of the realities of living in the mountains: lots of houses get built on uneven lots or into the sides of hills, and if the foundation's not done properly, it will start to crack and slide out of place. Interestingly, it was the newer houses that had the most obvious problems. After the first few trips, we started bringing a flashlight to examine crawlspaces and basements, and it really helped to narrow the list down. It's worth mentioning that every last one of the Too-Good-To-Be-True priced houses had obvious foundation issues of some kind.
  4. Speaking of Foundations, Will My Basement Become a Lake the Next Time it Rains? Asheville backs up to a temperate rainforest. We get a lot of rain here, and with lots of rain comes lots of flooding, even if you don't live near a body of water. Proper drainage is therefore very important. We had to give up on an awesome house because a detached garage previous owners had build uphill from it's gutter system poured directly at one of the foundation walls which, you guessed it, meant that that wall in the basement had water intrusion. It wasn't hitting the floor (yet), but the wall was seriously damp and had black mold on it. We're very lucky we visited the day after a big storm, or we might have missed it. Water intrusion can be a big issue with lots of houses, so checking for damage is a good idea.
  5. While We're on the Subject of Environmental Toxins... I don't want to say that black mold is a huge problem here because we only ran into it once; however, it's something you really don't want to have to deal with, so don't purchase a house with a dampness-prone basement unless you have the cash to spend on fixing any drainage issues and drying it out. A bigger problem in this area is radon gas. Most basements, especially in older houses, are going to have some kind of radon issue. It's probably unrealistic to hope for one that has no radon at all, but it is a good idea to get the levels tested ASAP (preferably before you sign the final contracts) and determine whether or not you'll need a mitigation system. Some houses already have them, but most don't, and if you plan on finishing or spending lots of time in the basement, it may become a necessary investment.
  6. Air Conditioning? We Don't Need No Stinking A/C! A lot of houses down here do not have air conditioning. It didn't used to be hot enough to where having it was necessary, but if the last two summers are indicative of anything...yeah. It's kind of important now. Depending on how old and big the house is (along with the extent of any existing ductwork), installing a new air conditioning system can set you back as much as $20,000. It's something to keep in mind when looking at airy old farmhouses.
  7. Buying Foreclosures is a Pain in the Ass. Fortunately, there aren't a lot of foreclosures around here. North Carolina has had laws against predatory lending since the nineties, so the housing crisis and credit crunch didn't do quite as much damage here as it did elsewhere. We've still looked at a few, though, and have found that buying one can be pretty fraught. There are about a million extra hoops to jump through when you're obtaining financing, which is a pain. They're also often sold as-is, meaning that if there's something that needs to be fixed, you have to arrange it because the bank's not going to do it. While you may be able to get them to knock off a few grand to compensate, you're still stuck dealing with most of the trouble associated with fixing existing problems. When looked at closely, the work a lot of the foreclosures required either eclipsed or came close to eclipsing the low price. 
Needless to say, this adventure has really been eating into my headspace and free time. Hopefully, it'll be over within the next few weeks.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

How to Make Fitted Fingerless Gloves/Armwarmers, Part 3

You can reach parts one and two here and here, respectively.

We have now arrived at Part 3: Converting the Numbers into a Pattern. 

I know that it sounds intimidating, but translating numbers into a pattern is surprisingly easy. All you have to do is plug the numbers on your hand turkey into a series of simple formulas. First, though, you have to make a couple of decisions: whether to have individual fingers or a ribbed cuff at the top, and whether to start from the top (at the fingers) or the bottom (at the wrists). Each option has its pluses and minuses. Individual fingers are fiddly, but warmer than a cuffed top. They can also be made longer without sacrificing dexterity. Most knitters find it easier to work mittens from the wrist to the fingers, as it's easier to visualize and try on the mittens as one goes, but knitting fingers to wrist ensures that less yarn will go to waste (some of us really dislike having thousands of tiny balls of sock yarn floating about the house). At the end of the day, it's a matter of personal preference.

For the purposes of this exercise, I elected to do a ribbed cuff at the top, working from fingers to wrist. Numbers in (parentheses) are ones that I pulled from my hand turkey. You should make sure to use your own!:

  1. Cast on the number of palm stitches (52) with a needle one or two sizes down from the one you intend on using for the main part of the glove, and work 5 rows of 2 x 2 (knit 2, purl 2) ribbing. 
  2. Switch to larger needles and work (15) rounds of palm stitches to obtain the desired length of mitten between fingers and thumb opening.  
  3. Using waste yarn, cast on the (13) stitches needed to bring the stitch count up to (65), in order to accommodate the wider part of the palm/thumb.
  4. Take a break to calculate the gusset. I'm starting with (65) stitches, I need to get down to (48) stitches for my wrist, and I have (2.5) inches, or (25) rows, in which to do it. (65-48 = 19) stitches to decrease. Since I'll be working one decrease on each side of the gusset, and losing 2 stitches each decrease row, I'll need a total of (9) decrease rows (plus an extra at the end). Rounding up to (27) rows to make the math easier, I'll need to decrease every (third) row. 
  5. Once my calculations were finished, it was time to place the gusset. The (13) cast-on stitches would form the center of it, but a few of the palm stitches would need to be incorporated in order to get to (48) at the end. Starting at the midpoint of the palm stitches (in between 26 and 27), count (23) stitches on each side, placing a marker at each spot. 
  6. Work the gusset by knitting (2) rows, then a decrease row, until you have reached the number of wrist stitches you need (48). I prefer to use mirrored decreases (ssk on one side, k2tog on the other) for reasons of symmetry, but that's a personal preference. Either way, the decreases are placed on the first two stitches inside the stitch markers. You won't need to move the markers at all. 
  7. Once the gusset has been completed, it's time to calculate wrist increases using the same method as the gusset decreases. Since I'm going from (48) to (56) stitches over (3) inches and my increase rows increase two stitches at a time, I'll need (4) increase rows over (30) rows, so every (seventh) row (and I'll work a few extras at the end to make up the difference to (3) inches. As far as placement goes, I divide the number of stitches in eighths, and place the increases in the 7/8ths spot. For a (48) stitch wrist, I place the increases around stitch (40). I use mirrored M1 increases, but it's not necessary as the decreases will be on the underside of the wrist.
  8. Once the wrist increases are complete, switch back to the smaller needles, work 10 rounds of k2, p2 ribbing, and cast-of using a stretchy bind-off. Personally, I like Elizabeth Zimmerman's sewn cast-off.
  9. Now it's time to go back and finish the thumb. Unravel the provisional cast-on, placing the (13) stitches on two DPNs. Using a third DPN, cast on (7) stitches to get to the number of stitches (20) you'll need for the thumb, amking sure to leave a fairly long (4-5") tail. Work (5) rows in stockinette, then switch to smaller needles and work 5 rows in k2, p2 ribbing. Cast off loosely.
  10. After that, it's all finishing! Weave in ends and sew up the gap between the cast-on edge of the thumb and the palm stitches using the tail of the cast-on edge. 
  11. Make another, making sure to place thumb gussets and wrist increases on the opposite sides of the glove to achieve symmetry. 

To do the same pattern from the other direction (wrist to cuff), do the same thing in reverse, doing increases instead of decreases, and placing thumb stitches on a stitch holder instead of using a provisional cast-on.

When knitting gloves with individual fingers, it's a lot easier to knit them wrist-to-cuff, simply because the only way I've been able to do fingers-to-wrist gloves with individual fingers is as follows:

  1. Before casting on, set aside ~20-30 yards of yarn, depending on gauge and finger and palm length.
  2. Provisionally cast on upper palm stitches.
  3. Work half of the number of rows needed. 
  4. Place live stitches on waste yarn or stitch holders (or else use a second set of double-pointed needles for the next step).
  5. Unravel provisional cast on, placing stitches on DPNs. 
  6. Using second ball of yarn, knit the second half of the number of rows needed for the palm.
  7. Work the fingers, still using second ball of yarn.
  8. Pick the stitches on waste yarn/holders/first set of DPN's up and complete pattern as normal.
In short, it's kind of a pain in the ass, and I'd rather have yarn scraps. 

So, cast on from the bottom and work as you would for a normal wrist-to-fingers glove. Once the palm stitches are finished (they should be flush with where your fingers separate), you're ready to start.

First, though, a bit of math. You already know how many stitches each finger requires from Part 2. Now, you need to incorporate those numbers into the live stitches. You can't simply divide them evenly, as fingers are different sizes and the ones on the ends of your hands (pinky and index) will require more of the palm stitches.  Figuring this out sounds complicated, but it's quite simple once you think about it. 

While fingers are circular, for the purposes of this exercise, it's useful to think of them as a series of rounded squares (individual stitches) within a larger rectangle (the palm stitches). I start with the index finger and the pinky finger and work my way to the middle as follows:
  1. The index finger is a square that has a perimeter of 19 stitches. As three-quarters of the sides of this square are part of the larger rectangle (palm stitches), I will need to use 14 palm stitches (7 on one side of the beginning of the row, and 7 on the other) and cast on 5 stitches of my own. 
  2. The pinky is a square that has a perimeter of 16 stitches. Three-quarters. of sides of this square are part of the larger rectangle. I will need to use 12 palm stitches (6 on one side of the halfway point of the row, and 6 on the other) and cast on 4 stitches of my own. 
  3. At this point, I have used 26 of the 52 palm stitches. 26 remain. 
  4. Both the middle and ring fingers are squares that have two sides that are part of the larger rectangle. Since my middle finger is slightly larger than my left finger, I will use 14 of the edge stitches, 7 on one side, 7 on the other, and will cast on two stitches in between each side to connect them. 
  5. This means there are twelve stitches left for the ring finger, so I'll need to cast on two stitches in between them as well. 
If that sounds a bit confusing, here's a simple MS paint diagram I threw together:

I knit the fingers one at the time, keeping the unused edge stitches on waste yarn or a stitch holder. When finishing, it helps to use a less stretchy bind-off, as these help to reduce curling. Just don't cast off too tightly; I don't want to be responsible for any blue fingertips! As for the seams created by the cast-on edges, simply sew them together like you did with the thumb. Weave in the multitude of ends, and you're done!

Here endeth the lesson.

Coming soon: Part 4: Knitting!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Book Review: Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men by Lundy Bancroft

I'll admit it: I feel woefully unprepared for grad school. There are a variety of reasons for this, and I'll go ahead and list a few:

  • I didn't major in the social sciences in undergrad. My degree is in literature, and while I have a minor in women's studies that involved taking several sociology courses, the sum total of my knowledge of psychology and human behavior comes from having dated a therapist who specialized in treating personality disorders. Useful, but far from comprehensive. 
  • I haven't been in school for four years. I feel out of practice.
  • I'm Type A and will feel unprepared pretty much no matter what.
Most of my insecurities are reflected in the first bullet point, though. I'm sort of worried there's going to be a gigantic knowledge gap in between my classmates, who may have actually studied things germane to social work, and myself, who is haphazardly-read in the social sciences at best. I never took classes in psychology or anthropology, and have read very little in those fields. I'm more at home in sociology, particularly the branches that focus on women's rights, racial issues, healthcare, and public policy as it relates to those three things. In short, lots of depth, not a lot of breadth.

I've decided to read some psychology/behavioral science-oriented books during the summer to make myself feel slightly less neurotic about my educational prospects come this fall. Why Does He Do That? is the first book in the docket. From what I've seen in court as part of my volunteering duties, domestic abuse (sadly) plays a big role in family court cases. In the state of North Carolina, exposing one's children to spousal abuse or other forms of domestic violence constitutes neglect, and can result in the children being removed from the parents' custody if they do not take appropriate steps to ameliorate the abusive situation. I therefore thought gaining some insight into domestic violence and those who perpetrate it would be a worthwhile endeavor.

I enjoyed Why Does He Do That? for a variety of reasons. Foremost among them is that Bancroft doesn't fall prey to political correctness* in his descriptions of abuse or his analysis of it. He doesn't shy away from the fact that men comprise the vast majority of abusers, nor does he fall prey to the notion that homosexual relationships are inherently ideal and violence-free in the way that so many progressive activists tend to. More importantly, Bancroft doesn't fall into the trap of allowing abusers to shirk responsibility for their destructive behaviors by blaming their actions on others. He carefully elucidates what many anti-DV advocates have known for a long time: abusive men are assholes, and they behave that way because they benefit from it. They're not crazy and they're not victims themselves: they're master manipulators who will do or say anything to justify the way they treat women. 

Bancroft reiterates time and again that it's the attitudes and belief structures of abusive men that need changing. They don't require therapy (at least, not the conventional type), love, care, or someone to listen; they need to be compelled to un-learn their beliefs about women (and, sometimes children). The root of the problem, Bancroft argues, is entitlement. Abusive men feel entitled to absolute control over the people they consider to be "theirs." Until they stop regarding women/their children as their property, they won't change. Conventional therapy can't fix that kind of entrenched misogyny, in fact, even the special therapy that Bancroft has pioneered doesn't have a high success rate because men are offered so few incentives to make meaningful change. The best thing that women in that kind of a relationship can do, therefore, is to get out as soon as they can safely do it. 

Why Does He Do That? is an invaluable resource for several reasons. Apart from explaining the motivations of abusive men, Bancroft also details different types of abusers and delineates the different methods they use to terrorize their targets. He also does an excellent job revealing the long-term effects of psychological (and physical) abuse on women and children, along with providing resources for women in abusive relationships and those who know a woman who may be in one. I found it both easy to read an highly informative. 5 out of 5 stars, though I still feel pretty unprepared.

*I hate using that term, but it's the only way I can think of describing the gendered white-washing of domestic abuse.