Archive | April, 2007

The Cop From Hell

26 Apr

No, I haven’t been arrested (although I did get caught by one of those &%$#^ red-light-no-yellow things the other day…). This is instead a tale about greed. The sort of greed that stems from the desire to spin lots and lots of yarn on a drop spindle in one go.

It all began when I had dyed some really beautiful roving (see blog header and this post) and thought longingly about how I wanted to use it. My hope, or rather, my desire was to spin enough to make something with it, perhaps a scarf or a pair of mittens.

I spun as finely as I could, given the spindle weight and wool. Thinly made singles laying one on top of the other. Carefully wound onto the spindle so that they could easily be unwound for plying. As my rapacity for twisted fiber kept growing, so did the cop on my little spindle, with each turn, ever fatter and heavier. (Much like the cliched human ‘cop’ gets from eating donuts…) Little did I know that I had over 260 yards of singles waiting to be plyed.

Once I started to ply, I realized where my avarice had taken me. I knew that Andean-plying wouldn’t work, for nothing, even the lure of freshly spun wool, is worth losing my circulation. But, despite this, my impulsiveness took hold of me and I began winding the singles unto my hand. Winding, coiling, wrapping. On and on it continued, my hand turning a slight shade of blue. I thought it would never end until…

The Tangle.

My beautiful singles, so lovingly spun with such passion and desire decided to rebell. No longer aligned neatly next to each other, despite my carefully and consciously constructed order. Instead they were crowded, vying for space, clinging to one another, like commuters on the Tokyo subway. Becoming a tangled inseparable mound.

The desire to spin so much yarn so quickly had slowly turned into a lesson. One in patience. One in which I had to realize that getting so much done all at once leads not to triumph, but often, instead to a snarled mass of confusion. The gains I thought I had made were quickly lost. In untangling my cop, I had to divide it into two. Carefully coaxing the knotted singles out, freeing then from their constricting, limited space. Hoping that in time their liberation would allow me to try plying once again.

Although I was eventually able to ply, it took a long time. It was ultimately, however, a lesson well learned.

GVB roving 2


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Share Your Art Day

23 Apr

One of my favorite knit/craft blogs, She Who Measures posted the other day about something another artist is doing to make art more accessible to each other today, April 23, called


International Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Day

in which we post professional quality creative work on our website/blog and then link to this site…

So, I thought I’d post two of my favorite poems about cyberspace and relationships, both written while I was living in Japan (the visual spacing is really important to me, but I’m pretty limited in what I can do within wordpress, which is making it pretty wacky…so they’re not entirely like the original…)

Cyberspace

A few words
Typed, deleted
In a space that doesn't exist No touch No sensation No image comes to mind - Only a white screen with black letters. (12/99)

Untitled

The first time I read
your words
They have all your power
and force
and energy
I am overcome. The second time I read your words They are filled with doubt and speculation and second-guessing

I am not sure what they mean. The third time I read your words They are symbols and letters and sentences I am lost. (12/99)

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Problem Students Aren’t The Only Problem

19 Apr

The recent shooting at VA Tech has taken me back to some of my more troubling teaching experiences, which, when I tell them to my teacher trainees seem almost unbelievable. It can be so easy to blame the teachers or faculty in cases like this, but the problem seems to be much more incidious and pervasive.

Having taught international students here in the States, I have seen some disturbing things happen throughout the years. Even though I have worked with hundreds of students and have been lucky enough to help so many great people further along in their academic careers, there have always been a few who stand out — mostly those who come from societies that are more socially conservative and demanding. These students are either those who are unsuccessful academically or overlooked and/or outcasts in their own cultures, and, because they don’t fit in, sometimes see studying in the States as a solution to their problems (or at least their families, do). Perhaps they are hoping that more cultural and social diversity might make their lives easier or that some element of our culture will help them fit into a social group better. Certainly this has been the case with many of my students who have become the most successful language learners. But, unfortunately there are always those students who are not accepted even by their fellow international students, those whose problems may not be initially apparent because of language barriers, but who, after a few class sessions, truly show that they have trouble interacting with others regardless of their language proficiency.

Unfortunately, most language teachers are not equipped to deal with such problems and, the university structure is such that there are few resources available to assist either the the student or teacher. One of the main problems, as I have seen it in at least a couple of cases, is a sense of indifference to the problems of international students. First off, there are few resources on campus for them in terms of counseling. Secondly, the paperwork required to get such students into the system is often so overwhelming that adminstrators and teachers often give up, and finally, many of these students do not have student loans, so, in essence, the upper eschelons of the adminstration are wont to suspend them for fear of losing revenue.

This is all sad, but, unfortunately true.

An example of how some of this played out in my career happened about 10 years ago when I was teaching at a small private university in central California. I had a student, Nori, we’ll call him, who showed up unequipped to communicate and interact in English. He came to our English as a Second Language (ESL) program in order to get his English up to speed enough to study in grad school. In fact, he was slated to be a TA for undergrads. We all noticed this student had problems. Other Japanese students would avoid him when doing groupwork. He was belligerent and sent nasty emails to many of his female instructors. With me, however, he acted differently.

Behind my back he’d tell the other students that he wanted to marry me, that I was the love of his life. I didn’t find out about this until several months later, after he, unfortunately, had attended a small gathering at my apartment for students at the end of the semester. Come Valentine’s Day, he appeared at my classroom with a big box of candy and a large bouquet of flowers, declaring to all the students his love for me. I refused the gift, said that his actions were not appropriate and that I had no interest in him and subsequently told the head of my department.

Despite being given a warning about his aggressive behavior and the inappropriate nature of his crush on me, my administrator did not take any disciplinary action, save to write him a letter telling him that he needed to change. Fast forward to four months later when I come home to find a gift on my doorstep and several emails in my inbox. Of course, I reported this right away, again to my supervisor, but nothing happened. This student was creeping me out. Somehow he’d found my phone number and started calling me. With no support from my department, what else was I supposed to do?

My decision to break the strange and inpenetrable wall of inaction in academia arose as a way to protect myself, for part of me knew that unless I did something, this student would never leave me alone and that his unrequitted love may turn into something far more dangerous. So, I went to the police and filed a report detailing that this student was stalking me, that my boss wouldn’t do anything. I wanted to have something on record outside of the school in case anything happened. I also wanted to have some protection for my own personal safety. It being a small city, the police were extremely responsive, putting out a restraining order on this guy and threatening to arrest him if he ever contacted me again.

Lucky me. Unfortunately, Nori wasn’t kicked out of the program and went onto a college in the Midwest to be a TA. My hope, much like Professor Roy at VA Tech, was to keep this guy out of the system, and like Dr. Roy, my boss wasn’t willing to even consider further action seriously (such as counseling) as an option.

At this particular school we also had a student from the United Arab Emirates threaten another student outside of class with a machete. The student from the UAE claimed it was done in jest, but what kind of joke is it to wield a knife at another student? This student also remained in our program for a year.

Neither student was dismissed because, it being a small school, losing them would mean losing money. Personal safety took a backseat to the almight dollar.

When I worked at a larger university here in Los Angeles, I was lucky enough to have some support for such students, although there was little we could do outside of our department. In past years we had had enough issues with student behavior to set up a system in which we reported each belligerent outburst to our Office of Judicial Affairs (known to us as Student Conduct). We employed such basic strategies as behavior contracts and a three strike rule (if students were reported 3 times, they automatically failed our classes). While this worked as an ex-post-fasto solution, it didn’t prevent problems in our classes nor did it mean that students were accountable for their behavior in their mainstream courses.

I’ve had students yell at me, one so loudly during a one-on-one writing conference, my whole building heard him. I remember a host of other students, like the one who tried to bribe me to either release her from a class or to change teachers. When things didn’t go her way, this particular student made her teacher (whom I supervised) and fellow students’ lives miserable. But, because there was nothing threatening or overtly distressing about her behavior, she had to remain in her class.

Then there was the case of another student who plagiarized, made a stink with the dean, calling in her fiance from another state. While en route to a class in her major, she had a mental breakdown and her advisor had to spend the evening with her at the hospital. She came into her ESL class the next day looking wild, doped up on tranquilizers, and with the IV feed still in her arm. Like the VA Tech student, we had decided that this student was distracting enough to the whole class, that I, as her teacher’s supervisor, would tutor her instead. Fortunately, we were able to prove that she plagiarized and she failed the class. Unfortunately, although she wasn’t allowed to teach without permission from our department and completion of her English requirements, she still got away with it — the next semester I saw her on campus. She had become a full-fledged TA.

It’s not only an ineffectively bureaucratic system that allows this to happen. There are also few resources that international students can turn to. Many of them come from cultures where counseling is considered taboo. Some of my students would never exhibit their problems openly in class, preferring instead to remain aloof and particpate sparingly. These students are the most difficult to help and to get help for. When one of my students in Japan wrote about the pressures she was under in a journal (an entry that seemed like a ‘red flag’ to me) there wasn’t any real way I could report it. I mean, what truly constitutes behavior that requires help? I could encourage her to go to a counselor, but aside from that, in Japan at least, my hands were tied.

More recently when a student who had failed an assignment wrote me an email threatening suicide two years ago, I had to decide what to do. In talking it over with the department’s student advisor, we realized that there was no system in place for this. Neither one of us was qualified to diagnose this student’s behavior in any way, such as whether or not it was a threat or an attempt at manipulation. We determined that the best course of action was to take her to a counselor and decided, even if it meant problems for us with the larger university adminstration, to personally escort her to the counselor after class with the rationale that her behavior could endanger herself and quite possibly others. Since this student’s English was limited, we were also limited in the amount of help we could provide — no one in the counseling center spoke Korean, despite the fact that a large percentage of the international student population were Korean native speakers.

Needless to say, this student continued in the program and did the same thing the following semester. I don’t know what happened to her, because soon after I resigned, in part because I was tired of coping with issues above and beyond the scope of my job and my capabilities.

I have such great empathy for not only the victims and their families, but also the faculty at VA Tech. We have this idea that teaching university-age students is a dream job, but in reality, many of the problems that exist in K-12 don’t just go away. Most of the identity and language troubles of international students and generation 1.5’ers are only viewed through the lens of their academic work (often writing) and not in terms of their own personal problems with socialization into the mainstream academic environment. Given the growing numbers of students from these populations, universities must own up to this fact and find a way to not only heal the wounds created by this incident but to prevent them from happening in the first place.

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Aching To Get Behind The Wheel

19 Apr

So, before the magic egg incident, I did have some fibery crafty news to share. I was all planned to tell my mom the weekend after ‘it’ happened, although I had a certain amount of caution mixed with elation, not sure if she’d be happy about my news or ‘tsk’ at it. For, 4 days before my world changed so completely….

I got a wheel.

It was about a week after the anniversary of my dad’s death and I had a little cash tucked away that was from him. I was surfing at my local fiber shop, Stick and Stone Fiber Arts, just for kicks when I saw that they had a Clemens and Clemens wheel for sale for only $125. I had been debating about getting a wheel, since I really love my spindle, but I’d also like to spin larger amounts of fiber at a time, so I impulsively got into my car and drove on up there.

Needless to say I didn’t get the Clemens and Clemens since someone else had already claimed it. But I did come home with the long-time (or at least since I’ve been spinning) object of my desire – a Lendrum…

Wheel 2

I was so excited! Here was something I could try out that actually fit in my tiny apartment. Even though my dad wasn’t into fiber stuff, I think he would’ve appreciated my spending a little on a passion that I had, so it felt like a nice way to honor his memory.

The only thing is that since April 8, I haven’t had the time to use it. Between taxes (took me two and a half days this year, the tax people I tried out were useless), working 3 jobs, and wedding planning (gasp, never thought I’d say those two words!), I haven’t been able to ‘get behind the wheel’ at all.

When I told my mom about it in the middle of last week she was psyched and asked why I hadn’t said anything earlier. Well, I said, you know there were much more important things to talk about than a simple wheel, namely the beginning of a new part of my life.

Even though I haven’t had a chance to really use my wheel yet, it’s ok, because a wheel lasts for a lifetime –I’ll be able to use it for a long time. But, I’ll only get engaged once!

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So Little Time… (To blog, that is)

15 Apr

I have had a lot of random and not so random thoughts running through my head this week. But, it’s tax season (I owe, major stress) and I started teaching a training seminar this week (8 hours almost straight a day), so I think I’ll keep this short (or rather, ‘vertically challenged’ if I’m being PC).

First, I just got the edited copy back of an article I wrote about being a beginning spinner. It’ll be published in Spinner’s Quarterly. More on that as the publishing date gets nearer. It’s my first fiber-art editorial/reflective type piece being published, so I’m pretty stoked.

Next, I haven’t had a chance to do much crafty stuff this week (what with ring, work, and aforementioned taxes…). But I do have a few pics of some finished spinning. I call it my ” almost Dr. Seuss” colors. I really wanted to go for a bright neony green and purple, but this is what I got…

Purple & green dr. seuss

It didn’t turn out as expected — the purple mutes the green and because there is so much color variation in the purple, I’m glad that I only spun up this sample (plyed on a heavy spindle…)

So then I decided to dye some neon blue (using Koolaid — I think Berry Blue) and ply the green and blue together. This is closer to what I really wanted…

Koolaid blue green dr. seuss

(The color isn’t completely true in the photo, but in real life it looks pretty cool.)

The purple singles had so many rich variations that I decided just to ply it onto itself (and got about 100 yards). Unfortunately I had already wound it into a ball before I realized that I wanted a picture of it. But, here it is…

purple dr. seuss
(Fairly close to true colors.)

So, that’s it for now. Until taxes are done I’m on a self-imposed crafting diet (or, rather fast). It’s hard, since my hands are aching to get cracking on the back of a sweater I started 10 days ago (with free yarn, the best kind!), some spinning and a couple of pairs of socks.

But what can I do? If I don’t work, I don’t get paid, but then again if I don’ t get paid, I wouldn’t have to pay taxes!

Hmmm…. What a conundrum. Hey, maybe doing my projects isn’t such a bad idea after all???!

The Magic Easter Egg

9 Apr

Dyed eggs

I haven’t celebrated or done anything special for Easter since I lived in Czechoslovakia (where we threw water on the boys and got beaten by sticks and, of course, drank a lot…).

But, this year Doug ‘hatched’ a plan — dyeing Easter eggs.

I was down with it because mom had sent a link to a blog where a fiber artist had tried out the Martha’s technique for dying eggs using silk ties. Inspired by the chance to craft with the boyfriend (always fun with a fellow creative artistic person) I was all for dyeing something other than roving.

So, we waited in line at Goodwill for about 30 minutes to get silk ties. Doug went and got the eggs and some regular egg dye just for fun and when we got home from our movie Saturday night, we got down (not in that way) to business.

The silk eggs turned out really well. The first batch Doug hollowed out and the second batch I decided to mix and match fabrics for some visual interest…

silk eggs 2

We then did some plain ol’-fashioned dyeing (and I was tempted to put the left-over dye in the crockpot and dye up some roving, but restrained myself, it being 11 PM and all!)…

fde

It was fun and we had a great time. The next morning I was stoked to wake up and see our eggs glistening from their canola oil shellac. Life was almost ‘eggsactly’ (gotta get one cheesy expression in at least!) perfect, I thought nothing could top the feeling I had the moment I looked at the eggs we had created. That is, nothing until the arrival of the magic egg onto the scene….

The Tale of the Magic Egg

At about 10 AM, Doug says something about a magic egg being in our basket of eggs and that I should crack open one of the silk-dyed eggs to see what’s inside.

My first reaction was, “Like, if you want to eat an egg, why don’t you crack open one of the regular-dyed ones, since the silk ones are so pretty?”

Doug keeps on insisting on one of the silk-dyed eggs.

“But it took so long to dye these & they are so cool!”

No really, he says, it’s a magic egg!

(Ok. At this point, any self-respecting 30-something-dating-a- wonderful-guy-grrl would be a little suspicious, but no, not me. I can be a little thick-headed at times & the thought of breaking something created by crafting overrode any semblance of reason…)

“Is this a tradition that you grew up with or something? What is it with this magic egg bit?”

At this point, poor Doug’s getting pretty insistent and starting to look a little stressed.

“OK, we’ll do it, just part, so it’s not destroyed.”

I try to crack it, but can’t. (I’m freaked by the cracking-egg-thing having grown up on egg substitute all my life…)

“You crack it.”

No, Doug says, you’re supposed to crack it.

“I can’t.”

So, Doug takes it, cracks it a little and hands it to me.

“Eww. It’s gunky. Don’t get that gunk on the sofa!” (Boy, can I nag!)

Don’t mind the gunk. Just look inside.

“Oh. There’s something in there. Is it like part of a dead chick?” (Again, that fear of eggy things rearing it’s ugly head.) “You get it out!”

So, Doug takes the egg and pries loose whatever’s inside. It’s a bluish bit of something about the size of a matchstick. He asks for a toothpick and a pin to get it undone.

“Here, I’ll do it.”

We both tangle with whatever it is. By this time I’m finally beginning to clue into the fact that this might be something Doug actually put into the egg. (Yes, before my decaffeinated coffee, I am really clueless — it’s called the placebo effect…) I unwrap it and notice that there is the word “Katie” at the top in Doug’s writing and “love” somewhere else on the paper.

Lightbulb!

I think a few thoughts to myself ranging from…

“Boy, am I an idiot!” to….

“Oh, that’s why he wanted me to open the egg!” to…

“I gotta play this cool.” to…

“There’s eggy stuff on this piece of paper! Yuck!”

By this time Doug’s looking a little worried. Like his plan really isn’t working, or fearful that his note’ll be destroyed by gross wet egg-innards.

We manage to pull apart the rest of the note. It’s a little soggy but intact. Here it is…

 

Magic Egg 1

Ok. Now I’m kinda getting it. This is a romantic moment. Doug’s been trying so hard and I’ve been pretty uncooperative. We move over to the sofa and he asks…

THE QUESTION

Tears flow into my eyes. I’m a little overwhelmed (and the decaf is beginning to kick in…) My answer is…

OF COURSE!

Easter egg dyeing will never be the same again!

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Kumochan — The Easy Version

6 Apr

Kumochan in tree

As promised in the tutorial, here is the Kumochan (little spider) knitted amigurumi pattern.

Yarn: Naturespun Worsted (but any worsted acrylic, wool, cotton or blended yarn will do)
Needles: 4 DPN sizes 6 & 3

Head
Size 6 DPN

CO 6 sts, place 2 sts on 3 DPN

Rnds1 & 2: k6

Rnd 3: M1 every st (6 inc made, 12 sts)

Rnd 4 & every even rnd: k

Rnd 5: k1, M1 6 times (18 sts)

Rnd 7: k2, M1 6 times (24 sts)

Rnd 9: k3, M1 6 times (30 sts)

Rnd 11: k4, M1 6 times (36 sts)

Rnd 13: k5, M1 6 times (42 sts)

Rnd 15: k6, M1 6 times (48 sts)

Rnds 16-22: k

Rnd 23: k2tog, k6 6 times (42 sts)

Rnd 25: k2tog, k5 6 times (36 sts)

Rnd 27: k2tog, k4 6 times (30 sts)

Rnd 29: k2tog, k3 6 times (24 sts)

Rnd 31: k2tog, k2 6 times (18 sts)

Rnd 33: k2tog, k1 6 times (12 sts)

BO

 

Body

Size 6 DPN

CO 6 sts, place 2 sts on 3 DPN

Rnds1 & 2: k6

Rnd 3: M1 every st (6 inc made, 12 sts)

Rnd 4 & every even rnd: k

Rnd 5: k1, M1 6 times (18 sts)

Rnd 7: k2, M1 6 times (24 sts)

Rnds 8-12 : k

Rnd 13: k3, M1 6 times (30 sts)

Rnd 15: k4, M1 6 times (36 sts)

Rnds 16-18: k

Rnd 19: k2tog, k3 6 times (24 sts)

Rnd 21: k2tog, k2 6 times (18 sts)

Rnd 23: k2, M1 6 times (24 sts)

Rnds 24-26: k

Rnd 25: k2tog, k2 6 times (18 sts)

Rnd 26: k2tog, k1 6 times (12 sts)

BO

 

Legs (8)
Size 3 DPN

CO 3 sts

Work i-cord for 3 inches

BO

Finishing
Stuff body and head with polyfil or cotton batting. Join with mattress stitch. Using 2 small round black buttons (or safety eyes) sew eyes on side of head 2/3 from top). Embroider mouth and eyebrows. Attach legs to body.

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