Monday, November 15, 2010

In My Copious Spare Time

So my latest little project is to try to learn at least a teensy bit of Spanish using the Pimsleur method, not just because we're spending Spring Break in Mexico (where everyone at the resorts will speak English), but because it will be really useful at the hospital if I ever get up the courage to try to use it.

I've downloaded the first five lessons from Audible. Lessons One and Two were really fun -- one does this a little bit a day, for about half an hour -- but today I repeated Lesson Three, because I keep using the wrong verb conjugations and noun endings. Also, I'm getting tripped up by having studied French, which I didn't even think I remembered (hi, Jean!), but which is definitely affecting my pronunciation. Of course, my pronunciation is so rocky anyway that it may not matter.

At least I'm trying.

I gotta say that languages with masculine and feminine nouns are really annoying. "Morning" in Spanish is masculine; "afternoon" and "evening" are feminine. What kind of sense does that make? (Gendered nouns always drove me crazy in French, too.)

I mentioned this project to a friend who's moving to Miami, and she said that a mutual acquaintance was raving about Pimsleur, which she used to teach herself Hebrew and Greek before traveling in Israel and Greece. So I think my friend's going to try to learn some Spanish while she drives herself and her dog across the country.

Meanwhile, after two false starts -- which had me nearly in tears last night, and also up way past my bedtime -- I think I've finally succeeded in starting a knitting project with the qiviut yarn I bought in Alaska in May. Longtime readers will recall that I made a very messy scarf for my mother, from pure qiviut, two years ago. Working with that was so difficult and nervewracking -- it's like knitting with very fine, fuzzy cobwebs -- that in Alaska I was careful to buy qiviut blended with wool or silk, hoping the other fibers would make the stuff easier to handle. (The blends are also slightly less expensive, although certainly not cheap: last night I wasted some yarn I couldn't frog successfully, and it hurt!)

Tonight I knit two un-messy inches of a scarf which will, if I can keep going successfully, be very lovely, if I do say so myself. (It's a Christmas gift for someone, but I'll post pictures after Christmas if the project ends well.) I've discovered some secrets of knitting with qiviut, at least for me:

* Using the blends really does help.

* Good light's essential. Also, make sure you're calm and rested, and don't knit too much at once. If I can manage two inches a day on this scarf, I'll be happy. Fatigue leads to mistakes. Mistakes in qiviut knitting are an unmitigated disaster.

* Along with good light, contrast matters. Because I'm using dark yarn, I'm using pale needles, so I can see what I'm doing.

* Divide the pattern into very small sections with stitch markers. That way, you can make sure you have the right number of stitches in each section before going on to the next. This is especially crucial when knitting lace, which is what I'm doing and is what most people do with qiviut, because lace patterns make this oh-so-precious yarn last a bit longer. If you've just knit a lace panel, make sure you have the right number of stitches in that section before you go any further! A missing or extra yarnover is still fixable at this point, if nerve-wracking. Later, it will cause you a world of hurt and may necessitate frogging the entire project.

* Frogging qiviut, while possible, isn't easy or fun (see above): the fiber's so fuzzy, even in a blend, that it's very difficult to see what you're doing. So being slow and careful is the ticket.

* Although I usually like wooden needles, I'm using a pair of plastic circulars my mother gave me. The smoothness of the plastic, and the fact that the needles and the cable are all one piece, means there's nothing rough to snag the yarn.

* Qiviut knitting is best done without cats on the premises.

Knitting's so relaxing, isn't it? Yeah: this is what I do for fun. (I'm also knitting a really easy pair of socks for myself, on big needles with worsted yarn. That's my decompression/TV knitting, since I don't have to look at it.)

Speaking of cats, Gary and I are concerned about Bali, who's been shedding large clumps of fur. He has so much fur that it doesn't look like much is missing -- although tonight I saw a bald spot on his belly which seemed sensitive to the touch -- but we've been finding clumps all over the place. So tomorrow I have to call our vet. Both cats have been very anxious since Harley died, and I know anxiety can create skin problems for cats, so I suspect that's what's going on, but I still want to talk to our vet about it. The problem is complicated by the fact that he fears his carrying case above all things, so if the vet needs to see him, she'll need to make another house call.


On a happier note, last week my friend Claire sent me this wonderful story about a program that uses babies to combat bullying in grade school: during visits with babies, older kids learn to empathize with the baby and be gentle with it, which makes them kinder and gentler with each other, too.

Dang. As Claire said, how great a rickety contrivance is that? If my junior high school had had this program, maybe I wouldn't have gotten beaten up every day.

The story's also a wonderful riff on Christmas: God sent us a baby so we'd be nicer to each other. Works for me!

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous7:50 AM

    Hi, Susan!

    When I started learning German, it took me back to French - and then back to Latin! Every time I got to a period or a comma, I found myself switching languages. I got through that after a while, though - and I'm sure you will too!

    As to your French Spanish accent, I used to have a theory that everyone has two accents - their native accent and the one they learn with their first foreign language and apply to all the others. I developed this theory during a series of dissertation years when my friends included an American housemate who spoke Russian with a French accent and an American partner who spoke French with an Italian accent. When I left Paris for Vienna myself, I discovered that I spoke German with a French accent and French with a Parisian accent.

    Good luck with the lessons,



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