Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The questions we ask

I'm starting to think about the questions my dissertation asks, and the problem I see with the existing scholarship in my field is sometimes not that it answers important questions incorrectly, but that it asks the wrong questions.  Like a cat who likes to sit squished between both a window screen and a couch, the scholarship is awfully comfortable and doesn't want to go anywhere.  (Is that too much metaphor to put on one cat?  Sorry.  Had to work in the cat photo somehow).

I've been going round and round in trying to frame my dissertation, because I do find the way that the current scholarship answers the big questions to be wrong, but I also find the questions wrong in a way I couldn't articulate until recently.  Graduate education, or at least my graduate education, has focused on learning to engage with the terms of debate as they stand in the field.  There's nothing wrong with this; I think it's necessary to know how to engage a discussion as it stands in order to recognize your position in it and the limits of that debate's frame.  What it doesn't teach you is how to reframe the debate.  Some of the best scholarship does that, and while it may be overly ambitious for a dissertation project, at least in my subfield, the terms of debate are so broken and retrograde that I'm beginning to feel they're unusable for what I think my evidence is telling me.


Monday, May 30, 2011

Summer Goals

Monday was Memorial Day in the US; it's officially for reals summer here (90F helps prove it), so it's time to solidify summer research plans and other things.  On the slate for summer blogging plans:  Me Made June, the Summer Book Club, and Notorious/Another Damned Medivalist's Summer Writing Group.  I think I'm going to loosely tie the book club and the writing group together: my reading list (and book club related posting) is going to be heavy on sci fi/fantasy with a feminist angle, along with some more generalized posts on race, feminism, and material culture provoked by my more heavily theoretical reading for my writing project, a first draft of a dissertation chapter.  (omg)   A lot of what interests me about my dissertation topic is the systemic creation of the consumer culture we engage with now and the personal creation of identity through clothing; I hope the intersection of theoretical issues with consumerism and identity making might interest you as well.

In non-theoretical news, J and I spent the hottest day of the year (so far) biking and picnicing at Snooty U's arboretum.  By my conservative estimate, we biked around a thousand million miles, but J says it was more like ten.  Except for a broken shifter on my bike when we were almost home, it was basically one of the most perfect summer days you could ask for: homemade beer, at an empty park, eating fancy cheeses and warm strawberries with a nice boy.  More picnics are also on the summer to do list.  

Saturday, May 28, 2011


Deaccessioning is a good word I learned while working for and later researching at museums, and it's how I'm trying to think about the move.  It means that, rather than getting rid of something or throwing it away, you deprioritize it out of the primary research or display rotation, and move it on to somewhere that will value it.

We're currently in the process of deaccessioning books and furniture, which was stressful to begin with, like the plants, but is now becoming less stressful.  (I think I got stressed out about the plants because they were one of the last things I had yet to realize we had to move).  The furniture stressed me out to begin with because so much of what we have is thrifted and we've put a lot of work into making it ours.  Painting, reupholstering, building, it's all too big to move with us, but like handmade clothing, something with that much work put into it is hard to part with.  Additionally, I think what stresses me out about the thought of moving is my associations:  although all of my own adult moves have been very smooth and relatively stress-free, I never moved as a child until my parents divorced, so it doesn't have the best memories for me.

Part of what consoles me about deaccessioning furniture which we've put a lot of work into is the thought that if we did it once, we can do it again.  It won't be the same, but that's part of the fun of handmade, that you can make it better next time.

So what does this have to do with all the pattern photos?  We've been making a conscious effort to stop buying books, fabric, dishes (I collect vintage/antique serving pieces) and other bulky things, but without really thinking about it, I've shifted my aimless buying to patterns.  I was never really interested in accumulating a lot of patterns until the past few months.  I started drafting my own patterns two years ago, and stopped buying new patterns unless I had something in mind I wasn't sure how to draft.  But there's something consoling about buying vintage patterns: some of these, like the ones in the top photo, have pretty heavy wear but they're still in good shape, and they all have so much potential.  They're part of my effort to shift my thinking about the move as a break from what I've made in Overcast to thinking about the move as a bridge to something new and exciting.

And the news about the move?  Next week.  Or at least that's what they say.  That's two next weeks that the granting agency has pushed off the decision.  Their original notification date was 10 May, and it's nearly June. I guess when you're the one handing out the money instead of the one asking for the money, you can call deadlines however you want.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Summer book club

For anyone who, like myself, needs a little motivation to do more than stare at the book shelf, Freezedried is doing a summer book club.  I haven't put much thought into my list, but I have a stack of economic/race theory books I need to read and a stack of sci fi/fantasy I want to read.  Hop on over to let her know if you're interested.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Plants Inside and Out

As part of my defiant homemaking, the gardening continues.  This is the first year I've had a successful garden--our last place only allowed containers, and it was too shady for even lettuce.  The half nearest the viewer is the neighbors'; the half towards the back is ours.  We'll have some leeway on when we move (J's job goes until mid-September, so we have to be here at least that long) but the neighbors may end up getting the last of our garden. I'm becoming ok with that--they're nice people, and the garden is already worth it for the relaxation I get from it.

Remember this guy?  The little airplant we got in Brooklyn earlier this spring?  It's apparently very happy, since it started blooming all over.  It's very entertaining to watch, since it changes from breakfast to dinner and puts out more flower buds every day.

It is also one of the things I'm least worried about packing.  We're starting to get rid of books and furniture, since we'll be moving by January no matter what happens.  Right now it feels like bailing out the ocean with a teaspoon, since we have so much stuff.  I don't know how to begin thinking about which houseplants to move and which to leave.  If you've seen my second ever post, you know I have a lot of houseplants, and that's not even all of the houseplants.  When we moved across town last summer, the plants alone took a car trip by them selves to move, and I've gotten more since then.  (Whoops).  There are a couple that I'm looking for the excuse to get rid of (over grown rescue plants and office plants) but my plants are as much of a collection as anything else.  It's taken me three years to find and cultivate what I have, and it makes me sad to think of giving them up.  Something like my books can be shipped and sustain a little damage, while my collection of antique dishes can be packed relatively compactly and be taken with us in the car.  The furniture is mostly going to be sold.  But the plants--they take up so much room, won't ship well, and I don't know what to do with them.  That's honestly what's stressing me out the most about the move right now.  I don't care where we go, just let me take my plants!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Beer and Working from Home

Not a full beer post, but here's some pics from the bottling of our most recent beer.  Both me and J's families are full of medical professionals and engineers, so making beer is basically the only time we get to feel like scientists. The above photo is the post-fermentation measurement of the alcohol content: the floating thing is a hydrometer, which floats higher or lower depending on the density of the liquid.  The higher it floats, the denser the liquid, the higher the remaining sugar content.  Floating lower means more of the sugars have converted to alcohol. 

And here's our bottling set up.  The top jug is emptying into the bottom jug to mix the beer with the priming sugar (what gives the beer its carbonation after it's bottled) in a controlled way, but the priming sugar can be added straight to the first jug if you don't have a lot of glass jugs lying around.  (Which we do).  Mixing your beer with your priming sugar this way lets you get less of your dead yeast in your bottles. (See that pale layer in the jug on the chair?  That's about an inch of dead yeast sludge.  High in B vitamins, but gross tasting and looking).  

So why have I not been posting?  (The beer certainly hasn't needed any supervision).  I've made the transition to summer without making the transition to summer schedule.  This is the first summer in grad school that I haven't had a clear direction to point in: the first summer, I had a finite research project to work on, and the second summer I had exams to prep for.  This summer (and, let's be honest, basically since I finished my Master's exams) I've been at loose ends for a direction to go in.  Writing fellowship apps helped, because although I hated them, they were a direction to go.  This limbo (still haven't heard about where or when we're moving) certainly doesn't help, because I can't buy plane tickets for research trips six months from now if I don't know where we'll be 6 months from now.  That really shouldn't keep me from working on near-term goals, like going through photos from research trips I've already done, but that's so boring compared with planning trips to places I've never been.  

Which is all to say: working at home is hard, and snuggly cats don't help.  Pout.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Grading and Moving

The picture is of VERY early iris at the arboretum in Overcast; my iris at the house are up but not even budded (it's still tulip and daffodil season at home).  The arboretum is one of the things which has made me feel grounded in Overcast . . . it has been a place to go to figure out what's native, what's invasive, and what varieties will grow well here, so thinking about moving sometime in the next year, it feels sad to visit it.

This weekend was spent antiquing and plant-buying with my mother, so expect a few catch-up posts on that.  The next few days will be spent in a blur of grading and waiting in anticipation of news.  The deadline on the grant which will tell us the date of our move is this week, but as with all things academic. I'm not holding my breath that this will be done on time.  J is casting a wider geographic net in his job search, which I think makes us both feel better about our prospects for next year.  This week with my mother here has made me want to be back in Snowy State, but also made me realize that a year in Snowy State would mean very little research or writing.  Keep your fingers crossed for us this week . . . a no on the grant will mean a semester of pure research and writing, but a yes on the grant will mean an extra semester of support from my university.  A funny place to be in.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

To restore, or not restore?

Now that blogger's back, here's some photos of the poor decisions I hinted at last post.  There's a small, very reasonably priced antique store/jumble shop near our house, and usually I go there for costume jewelry, goofy tie tacks for J, and bits of lace.  They frequently have a couple of jumble tables covered in vintage textiles, which is where I found the lace, but this time I found these beauties:

Friday, May 13, 2011

A lovely day and a foolish decision

My mother's visit so far has been great: yesterday a brewery tour at Ommegang, the highlight of which was definitely their restaurant.  It was a bit of a drive from Overcast, but it was a great day for a drive, and we stopped at this (ridiculously over-priced) barn full of antiques arranged into little rooms with creepy mannequins posed in all the rooms.

Today was a visit to the local arboretum, where all the crab apple trees were in bloom, picnic under the apple trees, and then antiques.  The crab apples were just at their peak, and the arboretum has a whole hillside covered in them, so we had a good workout climbing the path-less hill to find the perfect place to sit for lunch.

At the antique store, a local place which is a little more of a jumble shop and has very reasonable prices, some very foolish decisions were made.  I'm going to do a full post on my poor decision making tomorrow, but to give you a hint, here's a photo of one of the foolish choices:

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Jacket Success!

I trimmed down the seams of the RTW jacket, and it's looking much better.  It's pulling a little oddly, but I'm hoping that's just from being pinned and from the facing kind of drooping because the lining isn't holding it in place.  But the fit is SO much better.  It may make the jacket unwearable if my body changes much (my mother pesters me to "make clothes that you can wear after you have babies") but I'm ok with that.  Here's the before and afters:

Vogue 8333

It has a much more tailored fit now--thanks to almost a 1/2 inch taken off every seam except the center back and center fronts.  I'm not really looking forward to making both of these modifications to the lining, since I didn't make great notes about what changes I made, but really, it's just shaved down on all the seams.

Posting may be light the next few days, since my mother is in town to visit for the week.  I'm hoping to get some pictures up of the garden and the farmer's market, but we'll see whether my digital camera wins out over her grocery store instant in number of photos taken.  It usually loses, but I'll try to take some photos.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Blog note

I'm having trouble posting comments on blogger blogs the last day or two; I can't even reply to comments here.  So if you've posted a comment here, or haven't seen me commenting around lately, I apologize!  I have been reading, and hopefully I'll get my comment situation figured out soon.

Boudoir Photos

Not really, but here are some pictures of the beds in our house.  J and I went to an awesome party on Saturday for some friends who finished their Master's (Mistress) degree exams, and we had a little bit too good of a time.  So on Sunday, we headed out to the greasy spoon near our house for some pancakes, eggs and fried ham, but that didn't quite settle my stomach.  J, knowing me, suggested that the thriftstore next door could cure what eggs and toast couldn't, and indeed it did.  There's several thrift stores in Overcast, and this one specializes in furniture and local art (new, not resold) so we don't usually get much, but we got two amazing finds. 

We found a quilt and a quilt top--the quilt for 80$ and the quilt top for 40$, both hand sewn.  My mother has a house full of quilts she got when she was my age, back before antique quilts were collectible, when she would pick them up for ten bucks at garage sales.  But I haven't seen any in my price range at all, and I've been looking for several years.  Most of my vintage table cloths are ones picked up for a song, but I've never seen quilts for less than 100. 

Here's the quilt top on our guest bed, spread out so I could see how big it is.  It must be around a king, since it reaches to the floor on both sides of the full guest bed.  It's not a color combo I would have picked, but it's really fun without being overwhelming.  I've never made a quilt before, but I think I'm going to at least figure out how to back and bind this one, since it's too pretty to leave folded up.  I have no idea how old these might be--the pink and brown looks and feels like it's all quilting weight cotton, and it's a little 70s in the colors and prints, but I really don't know.  The white and pink looks like it's pieced from garment fabric, and the white fabric is several different kinds, and none of it feels like synthetic.  Don't know.

The white does have this odd header/footer band which looks like it must have been added later.  When we first bought it, I thought it must have been added because the maker ran out of blocks to make a bed-length quilt, but after getting it home, it looks like the band was added right over the quilt blocks at both the top and bottom.  From what I can feel through the fabric, it feels like the blocks are intact, so I'm thinking of snipping a few threads to see, but I'm not sure if I should take the whole thing off or not.  We'll see.  Expect some unscheduled quilting adventures later this summer.

In scheduled sewing adventures, the RTW jacket continues to vex.  It at least looks like a jacket now, and the lapels look great after all that work, but the fit is terrible.  I made my muslin modifications, but it still feels huge.  There's a lot of extra room in the underarm, which pulls on the front oddly.  I may make another go at widening the seams in the front princess seams, the back sides, and all the underarm seams, but the pieces in the underarm are so small already that I'm afraid of narrowing them too much.  At least the lapels and the pockets look ok.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Sewing and Errands

I've finished the handsewing for my RTW jacket (all the padstitching and interior taping) and it looks ok.  I think the interfacing may have been a poor choice for this project, because it's delaminating around the edges of the pieces which have spent a lot of time in my bag, but it'll be sewn into the seams, so hopefully that will keep it from coming all the way off.  Plus there's plenty of interior sewing holding it to the shell fabric. 

I don't quite know if my pad stitching is going to do what it needs to do, since this is my first time padstitching anything, and I'm not sure if I helped it roll or just puckered the fabric.  I suppose we'll see when it goes together.

I thought today was going to be spent sewing and doing some research work, but that's not to be, because I need to find a new power cord for my computer.  The computer is fine, thankfully, but the powercord no longer transmits electricity, so but I need a new one in order to use my computer.   I finished my current round of grading, though, so at least I'm not pressed for time until exams come in in about two weeks.

Speaking of grading:  I usually try not to take student misbehavior or slacking personally, since 9 times out of 10 it's due to something non-academic, and I did my own fair share of it in college.  But without getting into the specifics, I'm more than a little annoyed at a paper that a student turned in.  The paper is about a politically sensitive subject, and bases a rather vague but well meaning argument off of a lot of fundamental misunderstandings about the nature of American government and about religion.  The problems of the framework are not wrong because I disagree with them politically: they're just factually wrong.  

This is bad enough, from a graduating senior who is an American, and, presumably, is qualified to vote.  But the students also had to turn in a proposal on which they got feedback early in the semester, and I spilled a lot of ink informing the student of the errors in hir* framework for understanding the interaction of religion and government, and explaining in a basic-civics kind of way how the American government actually works.  I also met with the student in person a few times, and we discussed at length how religion and government interact in relation to the student's paper topics, the student asked questions, and kind of sounded like zie* got at least the basics of how the Supreme Court is in fact different from the legislative branch, and does different things.  

But, I get the paper, and the same fundamental misunderstandings are right there, and underpin the whole argument of the paper.  IF those the student's assumptions were true, it would still be a bad paper due to poor writing, lack of sources, and vague argumentation.  BUT it also has these deep factual errors, making it both wrong and incomprehensible.  

Normally I would chalk it up to just not getting it and move along, but I met with this student on a number of occasions, talked hir through the problems of hir framework, and made detailed suggestions about where to look and how to reframe the topic so it was based on factually true things.  And the student did none of them, so I was kind of pissed while grading the paper.  I've assigned a grade, but I'm going to wait until grades are due to put an official grade in for the paper, because I'm not sure if I'm being more harsh because I spoke with the student so many times than I would be if I hadn't spoken with the student.

*What's all this "hir" and "zie" business?  If you haven't come across it before, hir and zie are used as gender neutral pronouns.  I prefer them when talking about students or about anyone else I want to keep anonymous.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Gardening and Rain

We live on the second story of a house which has been split into two apartments, and we share the backyard with the neighbors, and this is the view from our kitchen window of the yard.  We also share the garden and the picnic table, which you see here being supervised by the neighbor's dog.  Why is the garden diamond shaped?  I don't know.  Why does the neighbor's dog sit on the picnic table all the time?  I don't know.

Everything is looking pretty tough right now because we had just enough sun and warmth for the weeds to shoot up, but then the temp dropped again and it started raining so it's been too yucky to go out and put anything besides peas, lettuce and kale in.

My last few years of gardening have been in containers on the porches of apartments, and they have been dismal years.  Part of that was heavy rain and not enough sun at the apartment, but I'm kind of worried I have a black thumb.  We've also joined a CSA, so we'll be sure to have enough veggies.  Joining the CSA was also sort of a protest against the powers that be trying to push me out of Overcast with their draconian funding rules.  If things don't go according to plan and we have to move before Fall semester starts, the CSA share will go on after we have to move, but really, planting the garden is just as risky.  This is the first summer in three years that both J and I will be in Overcast all summer--we've both had exciting and career-building things which have taken one of us out of Overcast for at least a few weeks at a time the past few summers, but not this year, so I'm bound and determined to plant the garden.

I'm of a mixed mind about canning this year, though.  Whether it's August or January, we're moving sometime soon, and a bunch of glass jars won't help that.  (Although I guess we really wouldn't be canning if we moved in August).  I suppose worst case scenario is that all of our friends end up with a bunch of free home canning, or we'd try to only can a little and make room for some of it, but it seems like a lot of hassle.  I'm sort of inclined to do small batches regardless, since J and I have had good luck with small batch pickles, but I'm not sure right now.  Really, this funding uncertainty isn't so bad except when you try to plan more than two months ahead.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

In which links are substituted for content

Today is a sewing, errands, and perhaps even reading day, so here are some links that I'm thinking about.  The insightful Ethel Louise has a very smart post on the recent celebrations over Osama bin Laden's death, and her discomfort (which I share) regarding both the message such celebrations send abroad and their meaning for policy and thought at home.  While I saw my facebook overflow with the kind of nationalistic celebration at the news which is being reported in the media, I'm skeptical regarding the extent of such celebration.  The reports I've seen, at least of the street celebrations, seem to have been small in number and in participation, making me think that they are being reported out of proportion to the number of people participating in them.  Which makes me wonder why the media finds it important to focus on these celebrations--perhaps to convince viewers that the news of bin Laden's death is more important than it is, both symbolically and strategically?  EL has much more on the symbolic importance of the news.

Tenured Radical has a provocative piece on the intersection of war abroad and the war on women, responding in part to a piece in the Nation on the recent rollback of American women's access to basic health and reproductive services.  While teaching the 20th century history course this semester has been very difficult given my background, that course and the Obama administration's ambivalence towards the attack on half the nation's (and, through foreign aid spending policy, half the world's) population have convinced me of the conservative turn of both the GOP and the Democrats.  When Eisenhower, Nixon, and even Reagan look progressive compared to the sitting Democratic president, you know the left in this country is in trouble.  Which makes the use of socialist as a political slur all the more infuriating: what we have seen is the expansion of state power without the expansion of state protection.  Given the erosion of citizens' access to government after the Citizens United SCOTUS case, the non-wealthy in this country, especially women, are increasingly subject to the will of the government without a voice in its implementation.

In less upsetting news (or possibly more, depending on how you feel about sewing), I'm going to do So Zo's Me-Made-June challenge, and try to wear one item of self-sewn clothing during the month of June.  I'll be trying to take daily photos of what I'm wearing, but I'm only going to do weekly posts of the photos.  I like the idea of trying to move more away from purchased clothing, and I think I finally have enough clothing made to go for a month.  I'm planning on making a top or two to round things out, though, because I have a lot of dresses and skirts and not much else.

In RTW news, the jacket is coming along, but I'm stumbling on the handsewing in the jacket front.  Well, not so much stumbling as taking a long time.  I'm cheating all over the place by mixing methods.  I'm doing some of the RTW techniques, like the block fusing for some pieces, but the jacket front has different interfacing requirements, so I'm doing a mix of the pattern's couture methods and the pattern's suggested RTW methods.

Blog Pictures 384

As you can see in the photo, I'm doing fusible interfacing but also handstitching things like the tapes for the roll line and the pocket fold, as well as the pad stitching for the collar.  I also forgot somehow that the couture method requires an underlining (a layer between the outer shell fabric and the regular lining) to provide body, so I had to rip some seams and put in the underlining, which took some time.  It's also not benefiting from being schlepped around in my bag, which is the primary reason my knitting is on hold, because the second little sweater has suffered a few too many dropped stitches in my bag going from home to class for me to want to pick up for a while.  My jacket fronts were stuffed in my bag yesterday for between-class sewing, and suffered quite a bit of wrinkling in the interfacing.  It doesn't translate to the outer surface, but I hope it doesn't mean the interfacing will peel off at a later date from wash or wear.  Has anybody found a way to keep your bag from eating your projects?  (Or a way to follow the news without becoming totally disenchanted?)

Monday, May 2, 2011

Sewing and Beer

Not together, unfortunately, since the beer was last night and the sewing is this morning before class.  Although it's the last week of class, I'm sure the prof would mind if the TA showed up tipsy.

The RTW jacket is coming along, but I'm trying to be much more careful in the sewing than usual, which also means going much more slowly than usual.  There's basically a million pieces to this jacket, and almost all of them are interfaced and/or underlined, even the facings, so that part is taking me quite a while.  It's gotten warm enough to keep the windows open, so the cat is helping by keeping things weighted down and not blowing around.

Things for the pot
J and I pitched a British bitter last night, a brown ale type with a lot of floral hops but not too much bitterness. I was going to do a tutorial-type post, but we got rolling and I forgot to take pictures.  We ordered a kit from Northern Brewer, along with some new equipment, which made life much easier.  The kit was about USD45, and came with everything necessary except for steeping bags for the hops (that's the little pile of cheesecloth and kitchen twine on the far right).  This recipe had both dried malt extract (the big white bag), actual grain, and malt syrup (the jug on the right).  The two silver bags are the hops and the inflated blue/black bag in back is the yeast, which we activated in-bag by popping the nutrient capsule the morning before brewing.

Things which need sanitizing
Yes, we sanitize in the bathtub.  We use bleach because it's cheap and easy to get, and doesn't foam up like dish soap.  There are specialty sanitizers you can buy from brewing supply houses, but bleach is at the grocery store and hard to run out of.  

Despite having dried malt extract, malt syrup, and grain, the recipe was actually very easy.  If you can make soup or tea, you can make beer, because the grain steeped at one temperature for 20min, the extract and syrup were mixed in at a higher temp, and the whole thing with hops was boiled for an hour (mostly to pasteurize).  We bought a candy thermometer for this batch, which was much easier to use than the digital meat thermometer we've been trying to use before.  Made life much easier, and was two dollars instead of twenty for the digital thermometer.  Also wonderful: cheesecloth bags which keep the grain and the hops neatly contained and easy to get out.

After everything was boiled up, the pot was chilled down in the sink full of cold water, and then poured into the carboy (big glass jug).  More cold clean water was added to the carboy to bring it to room temperature, and after everything was aerated (sloshed around to bring in oxygen and mix the different density liquids) we siphoned out some liquid to test its density (there's a special, but cheap, tool for this called a hydrometer that makes you look like a scientist), poured in the yeast, and put the beer away to do its thing.  

Sounds easy because it is.  This one will be done fermenting May 14; look for a bottling update then, and it'll be ready to drink May 28.  For today, I'm off to work on the RTW jacket.