Sunday, March 28, 2021

When architecture is Brutal -- and where it's not.

I'm no expert in architectural styles. But I lived in the Washington, DC, area for enough years that I can spot a Brutalist building on sight, and I freely admit that I'm not a fan.

So the title of an article in the Washington Post caught my eye this week: "Brutalist buildings aren't unloveable. You're looking at them wrong." Well, maybe. Anyway, I was willing to entertain the possibility long enough to read the article.

Brutalism was kind of a fad in the middle of the 20th century. The article describes it as an "architectural style characterized by unfinished concrete, recessed windows, top-heavy design, and a proclivity for bulk and heft". The term doesn't come from brutal, by the way -- it comes from the French phrase b├ęton brut, or "raw concrete." The author of the article notes the Brutalist style gives buildings a sense of permanence and stability -- perfect for government buildings in the nation's capital.

It also makes them kind of blocky and ugly, if you ask me. But sometimes an architect will figure out that you can make more out of concrete than a big box. Take, for example, the Hirshhorn Museum in DC. 

Valerie Hinojosa | Flickr | CC 2.0
The Hirshhorn is part of the Smithsonian Institution, so admission is free. Its collection concentrates on contemporary art and its sculpture garden is a lot of fun to visit. (The museum building is closed right now due to the virus, but the sculpture garden is open.)

Look at that cylindrical shape. It's unusual, right? Substantial, certainly, but also almost organic?

It occurred to me at about this point in my reading that I know of another city that features a distinct architectural style that uses organic shapes, yet gives the appearance of stability and permanence. 

Give up? Here's a hint:

copyright Lynne Cantwell 2020

This is the New Mexico Museum of Art on the plaza here in Santa Fe. This style of architecture -- with the flat roof, visible ceiling beams (they're called vigas), and adobe exterior -- is called Pueblo Revival. It's meant to mimic the sort of architecture you see at Indian pueblos in New Mexico, including the iconic Taos Pueblo

Wikimedia Commons | CC 3.0

(You can tour Taos Pueblo, but it's closed right now due to the virus.)

I recently learned that Santa Fe didn't always look the way it does now, architecturally speaking. In the 1800s, the city fathers pushed for a more traditional American downtown. The city never really went for Victorian gingerbread, but Greek Revival style was big. Anyway, then the powers-that-be realized if the city wanted to attract the tourist trade, it ought to give tourists what they expected to see in the Southwest -- and in New Mexico, that meant Pueblo style. So a lot of building facades were converted in the early years of the 20th century, and newer structures like the art museum went with the Pueblo Revival style from the get-go.

Here's another thing that occurred to me: Pueblo Revival and Brutalism both reflect their surroundings. Pueblos are built with adobe and adobe is made from earth, so of course the structures are the same color as the earth where they're built -- brown, tan, or terra cotta. And Brutalist buildings are made of concrete, which is gray -- again, kind of perfect for housing government bureaucrats.

I was happy to give DC's Brutalist architecture another chance. But upon reflection, I still prefer Pueblo Revival.


These moments of architectural blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Don't unmask yet! Keep social distancing! 

Monday, March 22, 2021

Now commencing: Retirement 2.0.

Yurumi |

I'm sure you've heard the word by now: This past weekend was the spring equinox in the Northern Hemisphere, also known as Ostara. We are now officially out of the dark half of the year that started in September at Mabon; the Oak King has vanquished the Holly King, if that's the Pagan mythos you follow, and will reign for the next six months.* 

Regardless of your spiritual bent, though, for everybody north of the equator, the hours of sunlight will keep increasing until the summer solstice -- and unlike in the days just after the winter solstice, the increased daylight is more obvious now. This is the season for planting seeds, both physical and spiritual/mystical, in the hope that they will bear fruit come harvest time in the fall.

So it seemed fitting to me that the temp job I've been working since the beginning of November ended at noon on Saturday, the day of balance. Having labored for the Man during the darkest part of the year, I am ready to take a significant amount of time off to rest. I'm calling it Retirement 2.0.

Oddly, I now find myself experiencing some of the doubts that keep people in their later working years from retiring at all. 

In the last few years leading up to my retirement from the law firm, I was driven so hard by my need to get out of the job and get out of DC that I was in "by any means necessary" mode. It didn't matter to me how much I had in my 401(k) or how I was going to fill the endless amounts of time I'd have without a job to show up for; I had a plan to execute to get to Santa Fe, the pool of money I had would work if I got a part-time job, and the rest would sort itself out.

So here I am, almost eight months post-retirement. The move has been executed; the part-time job I'd envisioned as being a few hours of work per week throughout the year got slammed into a few intense months; and now I'm out the other side, shell-shocked but standing, blinking, in the sunlight.

In retrospect, I think I may have jumped into the part-time job too soon. I got out here at the tail end of July and started training for the legislative proofreading gig on November 1. I had only three months to decompress before I started working again, and these past two months have been particularly intense: seven days a week, nine hours a day on weekdays and slightly shorter hours on weekends, and no breaks during the day. By the halfway mark, it had stopped being fun. In the final two weeks, I resorted to adding stickers left over from my retirement planner to the wall calendar to help me mark the days 'til the end of session.

Still, the money was good. And that's the lure, isn't it? You show up for the job and in return the company deposits money into your bank account every couple of weeks. What happens when you lose that security blanket?

Not to mention how much people invest of their self-image in the work they do. I thought I'd escaped that mental pitfall; I was always very clear that I wasn't a legal secretary -- rather, I worked as a legal secretary. For the past few months I've worked as a legal proofreader. But now I'm...not working. 

Oh, I'm still an author and editor, but I've done nothing with either of those since NaNoWriMo ended in November. I have the first draft of the NaNo novel to edit and publish (still aiming for Beltane!). That will be my CampNaNo goal for April.

By May, I hope, I'll be vaccinated, and all the things that have been closed since I got here (the performing arts theater a block away, the bookstore and coffee shop across the street) will have reopened. 

For now, though, I'm going to treat myself to a soak in a thermal pool and the luxury of not setting an alarm. After that, I guess I'll let things sort themselves out.


* In some Pagan traditions, the Oak King and the Holly King trade off at the summer and winter solstices. From the standpoint of the annual cycle of sunlight, that makes more sense -- but in terms of the growing season, it makes more sense to put the handoff at the equinoxes. And lots of Pagans don't incorporate the myth into their traditions at all. 


These moments of balanced blogginess (and only a day late!) have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Keep masking up and social distancing! We're gonna beat this thing together!

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Flora gets dressed.

My life these days has been reduced to three things: the seven-day-a-week legal proofreading job, trips to the grocery store, and making accessories for Flora the llama. (Well, and spending too much time on social media, but that hasn't changed in years.)

 You remember Flora, right? When I introduced her last week, I said it wouldn't take me long to weave a little blanket for her back -- and I was right. Here she is, nearly there but still a work in progress.

I had a discussion with some friends online about the color to use for the tassels on the blanket. A couple of folks suggested that I make each one a different color, and I liked that idea a lot. But in the end I went with gold, because I ended up not using it anywhere else in the project.

The item next to the basket on her back is a butterfly pin crocheted by Kitty.

The choice of headgear was a bigger challenge than I expected. My first thought was a knitted hat, and I may make her one for next winter, but right now I'm thinking spring. So I thought maybe a straw hat, but the only straw hats I've seen are sized either for adults or Barbie dolls. Her head circumference is twelve inches -- bigger than a Barbie but way too small for an adult hat. So I settled for a garland of knitted roses. I think it turned out pretty well.

She needs one more accessory: something for her neck. With pompoms, because c'mon, she's a llama. Tassels and pompoms are required.

I started knitting the band while I was working today. I'd be farther along, but it was giving me fits -- mainly because the pattern I'm using has one of those weird lace moves that cause knitters to tear their hair out. This one calls for a yarnover (abbreviated as YO) right before you purl two stitches together through the back loop (abbreviated, in this pattern, as p2 tog tbl). I think purling through the back loop is pretty easy for English-style knitters. But as a continental-style knitter, I can tell you it's no fun at all. There's contortionism involved. And every time I thought I had it nailed, I discovered I'd lost the YO.

At last I figured out a workaround. It involves an extra step or two, but the stitch comes out right every time and I haven't pulled a muscle yet. If you ever find yourself in similar dire straits, here's what to do: 
  1. If the pattern calls for a YO right before the p2 tog tbl, don't do it yet.
  2. Turn your work slightly so you can see the side of your project that's normally facing away from you.
  3. Insert the tip of your right needle into the second stitch on the left needle. The right needle needs to be pointing toward you. Slip both that stitch and the first one onto the right needle. In that order -- first the back leg of the second stitch, then the back leg of the first stitch. So far, it's just like you would do a normal p2 tog tbl.
  4. Okay. Slide the stitches off the left needle and turn your work back. 
  5. Now the two stitches are on your right needle, and they're twisted. Keeping them twisted, slide them both back onto the left needle.
  6. If the pattern calls for a YO before this stitch, make your YO now. 
  7. The back loops of the twisted stitches are now facing you, so do a regular purl 2 together (p2 tog). And you're done. Perfect every time. You're welcome.

This coming week is the final one for the seven-day-a-week legal proofreading gig. I may or may not have the energy to post next weekend. If I do, here's hoping I'll have something more interesting to talk about than llama wear.

For those who care about such things: The rose pattern is from 150 Knitted Trims by Leslie Stanfield. The pompom band pattern is called "Single Faggot Stitch" and it's from the same book. Directions for making and binding a tassel are in there, too. It's a pretty great reference, all in all. 

The band for the roses is a seed stitch I-cord and the pattern is in Knit Edgings & Trims: 150 Stitches, edited by Kate Haxell.

These moments of whimsical crafty blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Still wearing a mask and washing my hands while awaiting my vaccine...

Sunday, March 7, 2021

A knitting post? Don't mind if I do.

Enough with the heavy, navel-gazing topics already. I'm ready for a crafting break -- how about you?

In our last exciting episode, which was back in November, I introduced you to a gizmo called a Norwegian knitting thimble and showed you the project I was knitting with it: the Community Tunic, a pullover sweater with a colorwork yoke. You may also recall that the yellow-green yarn I picked for part of the colorwork was too pale and didn't provide enough contrast with the main color. And then I made an offhand comment to the effect that I was going to have to go over those stitches in duplicate stitch with a better green.

Now, it usually takes me about a month and a half to knit a sweater. I started the Community Tunic in October. Guess when I finished it? 

Give up? 


The holdup was those 14 rows of duplicate stitch. I needed a really bright light to make out the pale green against the gray, so I bought a new table lamp. That was in December, I think. Then I started going around and around, row by row. I got the fourth row partly done before I abandoned that line of attack. It seemed to be taking forever. Then I started working spoke by spoke, which was better, but still so tedious. 

Finally I signed myself up for Great Courses Plus so I could stream lectures to listen to while I worked at the sweater. And at last, I finished it the duplicate stitch. All that was left was to sew on the pockets I'd knitted weeks ago. Of course, I screwed that up, too.

The column of stitches in the circle on the right has five stitches between the bottom edge of the pocket and the start of the ribbing. The column in the circle on the left, alas, has only four stitches from bottom of pocket to top of ribbing. I'd managed to drop down a stitch without realizing it.

There's a saying among knitters: It's not a mistake -- it's a design element. 

A knitting friend picked up a similar saying at a conference: If a man riding by on a horse won't notice it, just keep going.

Normally I would have -- but not this time. Not after the yellow-green yoke debacle. I ripped back to where I'd made my mistake (it wasn't very far) and redid the sewing, carefully counting each column of stitches before taking each new stitch. 

It worked. Attaching the pockets took no time after that. And now the sweater is done -- and I still have time to wear it before it gets too hot. 

The green might be a little too bright compared to the purple, but I am not doing anything else to this sweater. I am done. 

I did finish one other project this winter: a blanket/wrap/thing that I wove on the ginormous loom. Here's what that looks like. It's really long.

Getting that done allowed me to fold up the ginormous loom and gain a bit of real estate in my bedroom, which made me happy. Getting that sweater done and off the couch, where it's been silently rebuking me since Samhain, also made me happy -- it cleared the decks so I can work on accessories for Flora, who arrived yesterday. 

Isn't she adorable? I was going to knit her a hat, but I don't think it will fit properly, given the shape of her head. However, lots of llamas wear pretty woven blankets  and baskets on their backs. And I happen to be extremely close friends with somebody who owns a loom. And I know of a store that sells cute baskets. 

(I haven't gone completely around the bend. I know that Flora's just a statue made out of resin. But she was too cute to pass up. Plus she's cheap to feed, she's potty trained, and the landlady can't complain that I have a pet in this pet-free building.)

The little blanket for her back will take no time at all to weave. I'l show you when it's done. 

These moments of crafty blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. I know it's been almost a year since we all went home, but keep wearing a mask and social distancing. We're almost out of the woods.