Friday, August 31, 2012

Something Special: a product review

The original intent when I began this blog was to create a space to post my original knitting patterns. Now, over 3 years later, I had no idea it would become so much more, a space for poetry, advice, stories and photos of my ever-changing, artistic life. However, today I thought I'd get back to my roots and review a new yarn and knitting pattern we just got in at Nina: a well-knit shop. Knitters, enjoy! All others, ignore or... better yet, get some needles and become a knitter. It will clear your pores and help you find love. Guaranteed.

BUCKINGHAM HAT, a blue sky alpacas royal petite knitting pattern

Completed hat, pattern, alpaca picture and leftover yarn.
First of all, the marketing of these new patterns is brilliant The pattern comes in a petite, sweet folder. All the designs have a vintage sketch of a handsome 1950's model on the front, echoing old Vogue dress patterns and Mad Men. They remind me of something innocent and lovely from my childhood, like my Playmobil Victorian dollhouse or a piece of sweet candy wrapped in pale pink cellophane. Simply put, the patterns are cute as can be! Inside the folder is the pattern and a picture of one of Blue Sky's very own alpaca. The Buckingham Hat pattern contains the proud image of Colonel Mustard, "a handsome boy with beautiful fawn colored fleece." Each pattern, depending on the garment, takes one, two or three skeins of Blue Sky Royal Alpaca. The yarn, oh the yarn, is so luxurious!! I loved knitting with it and I recommend using metal needles.

Practically, the pattern is written very clearly and the directions are easy to follow, but please read them twice or three times. I made a few simple, careless mistakes because I had not read the pattern carefully. I love that the pattern includes a ruler on the page so that I didn't need to carry around my tape measure. This is a company that knows that excellence is in the details!

On Nina's suggestion (she had made the hat in black/brown as a shop sample) I did make a few ALTERATIONS to the pattern:
  • The hat is intended to be quite short, as you can see on the cover of the folder. It ends well before the gentleman's ears. I wanted a longer version, so I knitted the hat to 7 inches before beginning my decreases.
  • The pattern also calls for the decreases for the head shaping to be done using ssk (slip,slip,knit). I used knit 2 together, which worked just fine.
Blocking is absolutely necessary with this hat. Don't skip this step! Blocking really evened out my ribbing and the transitions between knitting and purling. The cascading ribbing is very unique, most hats for men are rather dull, but this one has a little flair.

This product also makes a unique, affordable gift. You can buy your favorite knitter everything they need to make a complete project for only $25-$50. The projects are classy, classic, and simple designs which are likely to complement any one's style. Knitting one of these patterns feels like an experience, start to finish. I made the hat for my boyfriend, Scot, who posted on his Facebook: "When you purchase wool from Colonel Mustard, you receive a picture of him standing resolutely on his farm, keenly surveying the distance. His noble countenance fills one with confidence that it will be a quality hat which will protect my head from the possibly brutal upcoming Chicago and Iowa winter months." If a man can be so moved by a knitting pattern, Blue Sky is doing something right.

A "petite luxury" indeed. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

On (good) habits formally known as bad habits.

Confession. I have a bad habit.  For at least 20 years or so, I've been a nail biter. Not proud of it. It's gross. But I'm not sure I can help myself. I've tried to quit; knitting or painting my nails helps a little. But a stressful day or scary movie sends my fingers to hide inside my mouth... because we all know that it is easier to win a argument with an official of the Chicago Department of Revenue or keep everyone alive in Inception if you have no fingers. In my defense, my nails are weak, so it's not totally my fault. All excuses aside, I may have to accept that I, Maura Elizabeth Clement, will always have the nails of a dirty, eight year-old boy from Fagin's gang. This is me accepting the things I cannot change... serenity prayer, right?

Truthfully, I have a number of bad habits. But I am not writing about those today because I want to explore a number of new good habits I am trying to develop out of my current bad habits.

Eating vegetables:
Actors (and everyone ever really) (blerg, we actors are so self-centered, another bad habit) seem to think that we have little control over our lives. As a result of late rehearsals, droll day jobs, pitiful stipends and general self-loathing, we eat most of our meals standing up, out of bags, with our hands. In the words of Valerie Mudek, "You eat what you find." Actors of the world (and everyone ever really), we must take control. Like our parents before us, we can sit down to a meal of different colored food, served on plates someone named Kurt left at our apartment before we moved in, at a table we bought on craiglist. It is our right. It is our privilege. It will help keep us from going slowly insane.

Have you tried ORANGE BEETS? I've been buying these orange beets from the Wicker Park Farmer's market. $3 gets you one bunch of beets which is enough for three meals at least. I've been dicing the beets and cooking them in olive oil, garlic, onions and kale. I know I'm like the last hipster in the world to discover kale but let me take a moment for my new found obsession with this crunchy green vegetable. It has the best of what broccoli and spinach have to offer! [While typing that sentence I discovered that I have no effin idea how to spell broccoli. I am no longer smarter than a fifth grader. Technology is making me dumb. See below.] Another confession: After I moved back to Chicago I only had butter to cook with. So when I say olive oil, I mean butter. But I ate my butter on a plate while sitting the dining room table. I even bought napkins. Fancy me.

Telling my technology to shut up:
 I recently noticed that upon waking up in the middle of the night for one reason or another, I reach for my iPhone and check for messages, Facebook notifications and e-mails. This is a bad habit if there ever was one. My body seems to stay the tiniest bit awake so I didn't miss any comets from cyberspace. This slightly conscious sleep feels similar to the unrest I feel when I have to get up very early for a flight or a big audition. I wake up and immediately reach for my phone... but unsurprisingly nothing important has happened since I fell asleep. Turns out, Broadway does not call at 2 AM.

I have replaced this bad habit with a new, good one: I now turn the phone off when I get in bed and do not turn it back on until morning. Unfortunately, on the iPhone, the alarm doesn't work unless the phone is on. So on nights when I need to set an alarm, I put the phone on silent, face down and across the room. Although I have no way to prove this, I'm pretty sure I'm sleeping better. My body now knows that no shooting stars of information are going to be flying through my room on North Avenue, so we can all actually sleep. Ride, Sally, Ride.

Even during the day, I am a Pavlovian dog slave to my cell phone. It goes bing and I jump up to see what delightful tidbit has come my way. My reaction to it has become unconscious:
Bing. Jump. Blerg. I'm in love with a robot that has no feelings.

I am now practicing rules like:
No checking the phone during dinner.
Phone always on silent when reading.
Phone stays off during the intermission of plays.

Our brains have become schizophrenic. I've barely typed a paragraph of this post and without thinking, I just opened a new tab to check my email. WHICH I JUST CHECKED NOT FIVE MINUTES AGO. Tabs will be the death of me. I know I'm the billionth voice in the "don't let the robots rule our lives/cell phones are making us dumb/i'm afraid of the technology my children will have/sexting makes me really uncomfortable" dialogue. But seriously, try turning your phone off at night. It'll make you sleep better which in turn will make you look more attractive which will increase your ability to actually get someone's phone number. You can then call them on your iPhone, before 9 pm.

Sending thank you notes:
When a house manager, a stranger or a friend of a friend gets me into a show for free or at a discount, I promise to find out who to thank and thank them. I made their job just a little more complicated that day and they saved me money. I want our industry to continue to provide opportunities for artists to experience work they otherwise could not afford. If I say nothing, my ambivalence could make them feel taken advantage of or unappreciated. On the other hand, my thanks might ensure that the artist after me also has a chance to get to see the play.

Remembering that my siblings can also be my friends:
This one is simple. My siblings are the only people in the whole world who know who exactly the Knights of Shanara were or what anoxeric Peter looked like or where Secret Beach was or what the lunches that Jenifer Clement made tasted like or how Dave Clement looked at you when you were in trouble. Our siblings are the only people who perfectly understand the world which made us. So why is it that so often our siblings are the last people we go to for advice or to share about our lives? Are we afraid that they will judge us... or worse, tell our mothers what we've been up to? Over the last year, I made a promise to myself to include my siblings in my life. I mean my whole life. I want to tell them the things I would tell my friends. The things I don't write about on this blog because I may want to teach children or run for president (of a knitting club or thespian [not lesbian] society) one day. Relationships are built out of habits. If you get in the habit of not talking about the important things, eventually you will stop talking about anything important. I didn't have a big sister to explain the hard stuff to me. I was on my own for the first time I got sick at a party, or left the party alone, or worse, left the party with the wrong person. So if you are a big sister or brother, make sure your kidsiblings know that, in the words of Irving Berlin, "Anything you've done, I've done worse..." That's how that song goes, right? 

Especially during a time when so much senseless violence is plaguing our country, the best habit of all is gratitude. When I feel let down or indignant or sad or selfish, I must remember that I am grateful for the farmers who grow the vegetables I eat. I am grateful for my family that loves me enough to tell me when they think I am wrong. I am grateful for my job at the yarn shop where I get to teach people how to do something with their hands. I am grateful for my boyfriend who believes in me and inspires me to create art. I am grateful for the technology which makes my faraway friends appear in the palm of my hand. I am grateful for the art which surrounds me in this amazing city. I am grateful for the god who gave me this one precious life.

And, dear reader, I am grateful for you. I wish you good habits and happy days.

Along Lake Calhoun, Minneapolis August 2012