Charting the progress

I just printed a bunch of index cards with little progress charts for different activities. Billable hours, housekeeping, new habits for the businesses I’m brewing. The charts are very cute! Tiny boxes on little cards. Mmm.

It felt beyond nerdy to print these out. Bordering on unhealthy. I don’t want to obsessive or over-regimented. But the chart I’ve been keeping for kung fu classes has really helped me remember to go, and stay motivated. I get a lot more out of lists of accomplishments than I get from schedules or to-do lists. I like the open-ended intention of a chart. “Here is something worth measuring. Do what you will.”

Previous charting attempts have been hit and miss. I can remember making charts for things since I was about 10 years old, and this kung fu chart is the only one currently alive.

Judging by this kung fu chart success, I’m guessing that being able to see patterns at a glance helps me stay with a chart. I have a steady stream of Xs in the Wednesday column but Monday kung fu has been erratic— that’s real information. I tried to build this latest batch of charts to show some kind of result on both the rows and the columns, instead of only along one axis.

Now I need a chart to chart the success of different kinds of charts! If my charting were about scientific discovery and not about personal motivation, I’d be right on that.

Toothpaste book… awesome/crappy ratio

My copy of Drew ‘s Toothpaste for Dinner book arrived on Monday, among other packages addressed to birthday boy Galen. Hooray! Some things:

  • I laughed when I saw the signature. Drew was signing thousands of copies in the first couple of weeks, and it kinda shows. I liked the minimal scrawl.
  • The proper binding and commercial design of the book freaked me out a little bit. On the one hand, I was happy that one of my preferred web comic guys had a great looking book out. Good for him! On the other hand, the main reason I like Toothpaste for Dinner is that it is so spotty: a lot of the funniest comics are working the “so unfunny it goes around the corner to funny again” factor (i.e.). I hadn’t realized until now how suitable the “so ugly it goes around the corner back to awesome” design of the website was. Reading endearingly patchy comics from a shiny book is disconcerting. It’s like… did the publisher know this was awesomely crappy, or did they just think it was what the kids call awesome these days?


I want someone to write one of those comprehensive, cross-disciplinary books about the pure joy of the word fuck. I’ve been getting a lot of satisfaction in the last few days. My favourites, overall:

Monster babies

Last weekend I hung out and watched bird documentaries with some buddies (good idea, Anya!).

My favourite part was how each of us apparently had a favourite bird fact, and each of these facts featured in the documentary.

Rebecca’s highlight was the breeding habits of cuckoos. In case you never took a biology overview in University, a cuckoo lays a single egg in another bird’s nest (hence the term cuckolded), and when the baby cuckoo hatches it pushes the other eggs out of the nest.

Most parasitic cuckoos lay their eggs in the nests of smaller birds, so a cuckoo baby grows to monstrous proportions— sometimes bigger than its fake parents or even the nest— and drives its surrogate mother crazy with incessant food requests. The cry of the baby cuckoo sounds like a whole nest full of normal baby birds. Just imagine that for a second: a huge baby that sounds like 10 babies. That’s like something that got edited out of Alice in Wonderland for being too scary.

Among the million things I like, I like monster babies, and really any sort of monster reproduction. Monster sex, monster pregnancy, monster birth, monster mate-wars, monster parenting. I think what I like is complicating love with grotesque evil.

This is all a very long introduction to some comics by Natalie Dee, who I think might be even more into monster sex and evil babies than I am:

Stash dilemma / fear of variegation

Stash item: yarn. 225yds Lorna’s Laces Shepherd Worsted in color 37-forest (greens and blues).

If I were blind, I’d love this yarn

Photo close-up of blotchy stripes in my Clapotis. I like stash stories, so I will note that I scored this yarn as part of a $1 bag of odd balls at a thrift store in Seattle. I reached through a barricade of unsorted furniture and parts of vacuum cleaners for a bag of unidentified but potentially worthwhile yarn. I felt suitably triumphant once I realized it was not only 100% wool, it was brand name artisan yarn. Word. I love thrift scores.

The wool is very, very soft, and machine washable to boot. I understood immediately why Lorna’s Laces had a reputation. Way to go, reputations! Helping me make $1 purchase decisions.

The only catch is that I’ve never liked variegated yarn. It looks lovely in a skein or ball, but the blotchy, broken stripes that happen when it is knitted up remind me of all the knitting I hate. It looks like church sale dishcloths or acrylic slippers.

To me, there’s a reason you never see commercial clothes made from variegated yarn. Tweedy, sure. Striped, sure. Even space-dyed. But blotchy? No. Variegated colourways are one of my warning signs of knitting for knitting’s sake, of knitting things that are only cool to people who know how knitting works, of giving in to the hype.

Can Clapotis save me from variegation?

Since this yarn feels so nice, I decided to keep an open mind and try it out by finally making a Clapotis. Clapotis being another item with a glowing reputation: a scarf with dropped stitches, which uses variegation to create diagonal stripes.

I got through the set-up rows only by virtue of my determination to give this yarn a chance. Blotch city.

After dropping the first stitch to make a ladder down the middle of the fabric, I thought Clapotis might save me after all. The column of stitches left intact was short enough that the variegation looked like real stripes. Most of the stripes stretched across the entire column, without looking too broken. Cool!

But. Once I got about a foot into the scarf, the piece got large enough to start manifesting larger-scale colour patterns and it blotched up again.

Can I save Clapotis from myself?

It was a drag to lose motivation at that point. I’ve had a lot of knitting momentum since the weather became obviously autumnal a few weeks ago. If I had photos, I’d tell you about the cool scarf and hat I invented, but projects with no images are boring.

I had a little executive meeting with myself about this blotchy Clapotis. I couldn’t think of anything else I would want to make out of the yarn, so there was no point saving the yarn for later. It would be silly to try to sell one ball that had been partly knitted up, so again there was no reason to unravel the project.

Someone would probably like this scarf— strangers on the bus said they liked the colours. (Strangers on the bus love to talk about knitting. Oh man. “What are you making there?“) Maybe I should finish it.

It would be satisfying for me to get this entire unit of stash to the fledgling stage, and at that point it would probably find a home one way or another. Mainly though, it would be out of my stash closet.

Most of all, I’m committed to depleting my crafting stash. I love ambitious super-projects such as documenting just how much crafting potential was contained in my closet when I declared a moratorium on new purchases in September 2005. Even a variegated (but reputable) scarf could contribute to the super-project.

Can I save Clapotis and me from my knitter’s ego?

Someone will get this scarf for Christmas, I guess. It will be a lovely present but it seems like a generic choice. And I don’t think of myself as a knitter who gives the gift of variegated scarves. I give the gift of custom-designed complicated shit that doesn’t rely on gimmicky yarn!

Zing— maybe this needs to be an exercise in humility! That is actually more motivational that the prospect of giving this scarf to a loving home.

In summary, priorities are hilarious.

House of 100 jades

I popped awake at a productive hour this morning, and settled in to repot a bunch of plants. My favourite plant care activities are the radical rehabilitation procedures. Put all the potted plants in the shower together, for example, or prune the shit out of something.

Most of all, I love how much the plants love these treatments. I freely admit to being thrilled to see a plant go from dusty and withered to shiny and covered in buds. I don’t think you can get that kind of immediate gratification by watering a cat or whatever. (Maybe you could, if you let the cat get dusty and withered first?)

Today’s surgeries mainly involved our 400 jade babies. The sprawling jade plant in the kitchen has been slowly shrivelling up with some weird rot that starts in the middle of branches, so I had accumulated a lot of twigs and cuttings in my attempts to prune the evil out of it.

It finally became clear (through a shower experiment) that the chief jade was suffering from compacted soil and water wasn’t getting to all of its roots. Time to excavate, amputate and bandage it with nice new dirt. It was a good opportunity to prune off some of the large, tangled branches and plant them in more balanced positions. I have yet to grow a houseplant that is properly pruned with unencumbered limbs, but that’s definitely a goal.

For several years (about 2001 – 2004?) I frequented the You Grow Girl forums and was really into growing exotic and rare houseplants (tropical fruits, carnivorous plants, mimosas that move when you touch them, etc.) but through all the experiments and casualties, I’ve never gotten tired of the lovely old jade plants.

Galen brought a small, bushy one into our relationship, which has become the squid-like kitchen jade. His mum gave us one of her huge, semi-trailing jades in a pot about 2 feet across, for Christmas one year. The rest of our jade farm was spawned from those two. Some of them are so excellent right now that I’m tempted to name them. One in particular would be “Teen Heart-throb.”

Growing up I never saw jades at other families’ houses, so I still have the feeling that they’re kind of special, even though you can buy a 6 inch pot for like $5 at any corner grocer. They want to live. That would be a big credit to a plant even if it didn’t have cool succulent-spoon leaves. So we’ve agreed that having 10 jade plants in every room in the house is not only acceptable, but desirable. I’m glad that Galen is into having a zillion jade plants too. By the time I’m any good at kung fu, we’ll be able to refer to our apartment as The House of Potted Jade.

All these foxy new pots of jade are giving me the houseplant itch. I need to buy lemongrass anyway, so maybe I’ll plant a stalk. And maybe some tamarind seeds. Those were the hottest seedlings I think I’ve ever seen— their first real leaves are these big fronds of pinnately compound leaflets, and they develop red, peeling bark right away. I managed to grow three I think, but they died when we went travelling. (No blame on the plant-sitter; tropical seedlings are hardly a fair thing to impose on a helpful friend. The jade did fine.)