Icy purple baby blanket

I did not expect to be posting another crochet project so soon after the last one, but this one whipped itself up incredibly quickly, taking maybe five hours all told.

These were two more yarns from the church stash: the purple is Baby Bee Hushabye Solid in the colourway “sugarplum” and the blue-white is Loops & Threads Snuggly Wuggly in the colourway “baby denim marl”. I wasn’t crazy about either of these yarns on their own, but I had a hunch that they would look good together. The result is a nice mixture that’s a little icy and not overly feminine, with some extra visual interest from the random yarn pooling throughout.

The blanket was worked in moss stitch (what else?) using both yarns at once on an N (9mm) hook. That’s what made it work up so quickly: both yarns are light-weight but using them together made it more like a bulky yarn, and combined with the large hook size that gave me a lot of bang for my buck in terms of row height. I used about 2/3 of a skein of the denim marl, and somewhere between 1-1/3 and 1-1/2 skeins of the sugarplum. They were fairly uneventful to work with, except for a few knots in the second sugarplum skein. Well, sometimes there’s no avoiding that!

This was a fun one to make, not least because it came together so quickly. I may experiment more with using multiple yarns on the same hook — as it turns out, it’s an effect I rather like.

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Weekend Reading: tech and our children, social justice and the Holy Spirit, and caring for cast iron

Weekend Reading is a weekly collation of 3-5 articles that have caught my attention, published on Saturday mornings. Previous editions can be found here

1. The Tech Industry’s Psychological War on Kids (medium.com)

What none of these parents understand is that their children’s and teens’ destructive obsession with technology is the predictable consequence of a virtually unrecognized merger between the tech industry and psychology. This alliance pairs the consumer tech industry’s immense wealth with the most sophisticated psychological research, making it possible to develop social media, video games, and phones with drug-like power to seduce young users.

These parents have no idea that lurking behind their kids’ screens and phones are a multitude of psychologists, neuroscientists, and social science experts who use their knowledge of psychological vulnerabilities to devise products that capture kids’ attention for the sake of industry profit. What these parents and most of the world have yet to grasp is that psychology — a discipline that we associate with healing — is now being used as a weapon against children.

This piece is absolutely worth a read, especially for parents, although it’s something that should concern all of us.

2. Powers and Principalities: King and the Holy Spirit (plough.com)

Yet in some ways BLM is an example of George Santayana’s axiom that those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it. For the most part, BLM activists – like the post-1965 SNCC activists, the Black Panther Party, and assorted other radical black groups before them – exhibit little interest in, or comprehension of, the larger lessons of history. This is because they lack the deep spiritual and moral insight that must be the grounding for any sustainable movement. Having rejected the God of their fathers, they have also rejected the fatherhood of God.

This philosophical rejection is an act of spiritual and cultural suicide. Failure to discern the demonic character of white supremacy limits these activists’ ability to understand the fight they are engaged in, and hinders their efforts to develop long-term strategies. They can only describe the sadistic violence they witness and never fully understand or conquer it, so long as they ignore its spiritual source.

More importantly, they fail to use the only means of combatting the demonic: intercessory prayer. Instead, they are easily sucked into the spirit of the demonic themselves as they resort to violence, anger, and hate – a failing less common in the BLM movement than in Antifa, though the danger applies to both.

This piece from Eugene F. Rivers III is a powerful reminder of the spiritual realities that under-gird social conflict, and the only means by which they can truly be dealt with.

3. The Truth about Cast Iron (seriouseats.com)

There are a lot of myths about how to properly treat your cast iron pan, but thankfully, Kenji is here to set us on the right track. It turns out that using cast iron is easier than we all thought, and I’ve really enjoyed upping my cooking game with mine.

The pleasures of competence

I read an article recently about social media and its effect on the growing brains of children and teenagers (look for it first on the list of Weekend Reading tomorrow). One of the minor points that stuck out to me was a line about the brain — particularly the adolescent male brain, but of course it applies more broadly — being naturally driven to accumulate competencies, and the danger of video games and their ever-more-rewarding levels replacing the real-world competencies necessary to living as a functional adult.

Now, I’m not anti-video game. I played a lot of computer games growing up, and there are a couple that I still play from time to time when the mood strikes (Roller Coaster Tycoon 3 and West of Loathing) and one that I play daily (Kingdom of Loathing). I enjoy playing them; it’s pleasant and rewarding to beat a level or solve a puzzle I’ve never been able to before, or to get faster at my runs through the game. I’ve been playing KoL on and off for more than twelve years now — longer than some of its player base has been alive — and it still provides enough interest for me to keep coming back. Video games are not inherently the problem; as with most (or perhaps all) tools and technology, it’s not the thing in itself, but how we use it.

This is equally true in the analog world, as we know. A hammer can be used to build a table or to knock down a wall. A water hose can be used to irrigate a garden or to flood a basement. A knife can be used to take a life, or in a surgeon’s hands, to save it. Like they used to say about fire, all of our tools and technologies — whether analog, digital, or some combination of both — are good servants, but bad masters.

Video games are no exception. They are amusing servants but bad masters, and the trouble with virtual achievements is threefold. First, they are too easy, which is a big part of what makes them so seductive. It doesn’t take much mental effort to progress in a video game — not zero effort, certainly, but not much compared to, I don’t know, learning to knit, or moving from algebra to calculus, or writing a technically correct sonnet, or becoming fluent in a second language. And humans are lazy. Calculus is hard; why work to master it when I can just build another virtual roller coaster or finally beat my Tetris high score? Video games offer us constant ways to measure our progress and to master our skills, hitting those dopamine centres in the brain and keeping us engaged with the game for as long as possible. The brain naturally wants to achieve competence in what it’s doing; video games provide a way to do just that, but one that I can only describe as counterfeit.

The second problem is that video game competencies are ephemeral. As I grow older I have come to value more and more the tangible labours of my mind and of my hands: real writing on a page, real dinners on the table, real yarn transformed into real blankets. I spent around two years writing a 130-page thesis for my master’s degree, and outside of parenting my children it may have been the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It involved countless hours of research, writing, revisions, and brainstorming; as I worked I swung wildly between elation and tears depending on how the work was going and how exhausted I was (for the record, I recommend writing theses and having babies consecutively, instead of concurrently like I did). But I wrote it, and defended it, and now I can hold a library-bound copy in my hands. It was a tangible achievement, and I learned and I grew a lot in that process in ways that translate fairly directly to other areas of my life. I can’t say the same for getting more efficient at farming KoL’s in-game currency.

Finally, video game competencies are designed to encourage total mastery rather than just “good-enough-ness”. I will admit that this doesn’t sound like much of a problem — but hear me out and I will try to explain my thinking here. In my life I have achieved what I would call a basic or partial competence in a lot of different areas. I can sight-read music quite well if I’m singing, and with difficulty (but eventually) if I’m on the piano. I can put a dinner on the table that is reasonably healthy and basically tasty without too much stress. I’m not a brilliant housekeeper but I can keep things around here more or less clean. I’m competent. I’m not a master, but I’m good enough. That’s actually a surprisingly comfortable place to be.

With video games, however, competence isn’t good enough. They work more on an all-or-nothing model: if you’re not the best, then you’re not good enough, end of story. Think about a high score table: it tabulates not only the highest scores, but by implication, whether or not we are measuring up to the standard that the best players set. The goal isn’t even to have fun; the goal is to get to the top of the board, and then to defend your slot there. Competence doesn’t matter. Winning matters.

I will never completely master most of my skill areas, not by a long shot. Take cooking, for example: I do most of the cooking at home, but it’s not something I particularly relish — I cook because we need to eat, and that’s pretty much the end of the story. I don’t think “oh boy!” when the time to start dinner comes around every afternoon. I will never be a brilliant cook, having neither the passionate interest nor the culinary imagination necessary. But even though I won’t achieve mastery in cooking, or maybe even ever start looking forward to it every afternoon, I have discovered nonetheless that building my competencies in cooking is pleasant and rewarding. I like tinkering with an ingredient until I know exactly what to do with it. I like having go-to recipes under my belt, being able to make biscuits or meatballs or a basic roux from scratch without needing to look anything up. Being the best at cooking is not on the table, but that shouldn’t detract from what I am achieving in the kitchen. There are no levels or high scores here, but there is the pleasure of competent good-enough-ness.

Unlike in a video game, as well, a competency that I’ve achieved is mine forever, barring dementia or some sort of traumatic brain injury (and granting that practice may be needed to maintain it). If the fine folks at KoL pulled the plugs on all of their servers tomorrow morning, I’d be left with some memories of a game I used to play and not much more than that. But in the mean time, I know how to read a crochet pattern, test a cake for done-ness, translate French, drive a car, read a map, and remember five verses of Abide with Me. I may not be running up high scores, but nobody can take those things away from me either. I’ll take that over a virtual accomplishment any day.

Video game achievements can supplement our real-world competencies; let us just take care that they do not substitute for them instead.

In which I come out of a particularly Canadian closet

Although my husband and I have been living in the United States for about five years now, we are Canadian, and occasionally manage to get back home to Ontario to see family and all that jazz. We just got back from a lovely week-long visit, seeing various people in various cities, and it’s given me some things to mull over.

I had forgotten the strong undercurrent of anti-American sentiment that runs through Canadian culture. Or not forgotten, exactly, but I had been able to put it aside for a time while living in this country that, for all its faults and for all that I remain exquisitely conscious of being foreign, I do very much enjoy. But when people found out that we live in the US, the questions immediately followed as to why we were living there and what we thought of the current president — mostly from strangers, and seeming less from curiosity than with an interest in having us prove our credentials. (I was also reminded that geographical ignorance runs both ways, when a parking lot attendant in a border city asked us where our State is located, while completely butchering its pronunciation.) Strangers felt comfortable saying things about America and Americans to us because those things are generally comfortable to say in Canada. We can rattle off the stereotypes pretty easily: Americans are loud, boorish, arrogant, jingoistic, outrageously fat, ignorant, racist, monolingual, radically capitalist gun nuts.

It’s amazing to me both how pervasive and how subtle this can be. When we moved to the US five years ago, one of the things that surprised me was how nice everyone was. The Americans we were running into were, on the whole, pretty kind people. They were easygoing, open, and friendly. Many of them have been extraordinarily generous to us. Are there Americans who display some of the stereotypical qualities outlined above? Of course there are. But in my experience, they’re not the majority, not by a long shot. I shouldn’t have been surprised that I was running into pleasant Americans. I should probably have been more surprised at my surprise.

It’s not like I hadn’t had contact with the United States before coming to live here. Good grief, half my family is American. My mother was born in Maryland; surely that means I am partly American myself, by heritage if not by citizenship. But it’s something I’ve tended to downplay, because admitting that you like Americans or that you are one is often met in Canada, if not with hostility, at least with a certain degree of suspicion. My mother, emigrating with her parents in the early 1970s, was met by her classmates with cries of “Yankee go home!” In forty or so years, I’m not sure how much has changed.

But this is where I live if not for the long term, then at least for now. Some of our dearest friends are American, as our three quarters of our children’s godparents. I have a Canadian brother-in-law who took American citizenship. Half my extended family lives here or is from here — and of course, our children were born Stateside and so are dual citizens (Canadian through us, American by birth). I like America. I like Americans. There, I said it.

This is not to say that I think the United States is problem-free. Do I think that a two-party system of government is completely bananas? Do I think that American healthcare is deeply broken ? Are America’s lingering racial wounds sometimes all too obvious? Yes, yes, and yes. We have run into our fair share of cultural differences here, some of which have been truly head-scratching. But just like you can love a family member without loving all of the decisions they make, you can love a people without loving all of the institutions under which they abide. I don’t think there is any inherent conflict there (after all, many Americans don’t love all of the institutions that shape their country either). Liking Americans shouldn’t have to mean approving of everything about America. Similarly, disapproving of certain things about America shouldn’t have to mean automatically disliking Americans.

And so I’m coming out of this particular Maple-emblazoned closet: My name is Christine. I am Canadian. And I think that Americans are pretty ok.

Colour-panel baby blanket

Another month, another crochet item, this time back to a baby blanket. I had no plan when I started this, but I chose two yarns from the stash at church that I thought would look well together, and off I went. Not without a false start; I was going to do alternating stripes but ended up tearing it all out again. But I am pleased with the result on the second go-round:

The two yarns I used were Bernat Soft Bouclé in colour 26949 — at least, that’s all it says on the label. As it turns out, the yarn has been discontinued, but after some searching I found it on Ravelry; the colourway is called “Westport” and is a nice blend of blue and brown. The border yarn is Vanna’s Choice Baby in the colour Lamb.

I worked the whole project using a J (6 mm) hook, but used a few different stitches. The centre blue-brown panel is done in my beloved moss stitch. It looks like a pretty tight weave (especially combined with the nubbiness of the bouclé yarn) but because moss stitch is always working in gaps in the row below, it’s deceptively light and drapey. For the border, I started a row of single crochet to anchor it, and then two rows of triple stitch to give it some width. This was important because my centre panel ended up a bit smaller than I had envisioned, and I couldn’t get any more yarn because of its discontinuation. I then finished the border with a wave pattern, following this tutorial from Bella Coco:

My border didn’t end up as neat as hers and I definitely fudged the corners (you can see in the first picture that they curl up because I didn’t add enough extra stitches) but I won’t blame the tutorial for that. I was also finishing up during a long car ride, so I couldn’t have gone back to check, anyway.

All in all, though, I’m pretty happy with how this one turned out. It’ll go in the pile and await a suitable baby boy to be born! And in the mean time, I’ve picked out the yarn for my next project…