(Don’t) Lower Your Expectations

Last winter, I made myself this hat.


I was disappointed with it, at the time. I wanted a slouchy beret, and I hadn’t made it long enough or large enough. Blocking it with a plate inside didn’t help. The color was wrong, not warm enough against my skin. I believe I told Twitter that it made my head look like a mushroom.

It wasn’t what I expected.

This wasn’t going to be a post about a hat. It was actually going to be a post about a conflict Jon and I had last week over what “doing the dishes” entails, and who should do them, and when, and how. But that made me feel petty and ridiculous, and I didn’t have any pictures to go with it, so here’s this hat.

I think, “Lower your expectations,” is terrible advice. I know the idea is that if things go well, you’ll be pleasantly surprised and if they don’t, you won’t be disappointed, but that’s acting as if your expectations don’t influence the way things go, and they absolutely do. I expect myself to get good grades, to be at work on time, and to speak kindly to people. If I didn’t expect it from myself, do you think I would do those things? Because I think I’d lie on the couch marathoning Battlestar Galactica for the third time and telling my family to leave me the hell alone. Thoughts have power. Lower your expectations and you won’t get anywhere–or knit anything.

On the other hand, you can’t quit knitting because your hat didn’t turn out quite as planned, and if half a sink full of dirty dishes makes you want to throw something or start to cry, you clearly need to reconsider something about your life. So where’s the middle ground?

When you join the Peace Corps, they spend a lot of time during pre-training and training telling you not to have expectations. You have no idea what you’re about to get into, and whatever vision you’ve constructed in your head about your future home or work is, assuredly, wildly off-base. Better just to not expect anything at all, right?

I always thought that was such a load of crap. How is anyone supposed to not have expectations? That’s some Buddha-level shit, right there, and let me tell you, nobody joining Peace Corps is anywhere near Nirvana. But, seeing the merit of the reasoning behind the advice, I tried the next best thing–having expectations, but acting like I didn’t. I didn’t waste time frantically trying to prepare for the unknown. My bags when I left were 20 pounds below the allotted amount, and I spent the next two years trying to convince future volunteers on Facebook that they would be just fine without quick-dry towels, or anything else from REI.


I think the trick is knowing how much to invest in your expectations. How much are you going to let them affect you? With Peace Corps, I was well warned to invest almost nothing in them–I read all the blogs, all the Wiki articles, even, “So You Wanna Be a Peace Corps Volunteer?” I internalized all the good advice about how Peace Corps is unpredictable and you need to be able to bend and not break. In the rest of life, I’m not always so well prepared.

The hat went into storage for the summer. When the weather got chilly and I found it in with my other handknits, I couldn’t imagine why I didn’t absolutely love it last winter. A few months took the edge off my emotions, and now I love the warmth of the thick cables over my ears. I love the wavy line where the hat springs directly from the cables. I love the near-perfect kitchener graft I did to join the cable band (visible in the above photo; I’m sure a knitter can spot it, but it’s almost invisible). The hat even makes my hair look good! It’s still not terribly slouchy, but why does it need to be?

On Saturday, Jon went out in supremely nasty weather because I was mired in homework and craving the warmth and comfort of red wine. He doesn’t even particularly like red wine–he just wanted to take care of me. And I’ve been doing the dishes myself, because for crying out loud, it takes ten minutes, and I do them exactly the way I want them done, and why should I expect anyone else to do that? I’m learning that the world doesn’t operate within the parameters of my expectations. The things I focus on aren’t the only things there are. Sometimes I forget that. I’m working on it.


The hat is Scathach’s hat by Mona C. NicLeĆ²id–it’s a free pattern, and I recommend it. And the scarf, well that’s a subject for another post. (There may be another post. Blogging twice a year is still a schedule, right?)

In which we remain geeks

Of course, as part of my visit, I had to trek down to Sweet Briar College, my alma mater, and along with my home town in Colorado, one of the places dearest to my heart.

Julia and I walked all around campus and revisited all our old haunts (and ran into some favorite professors). I didn’t take photos of that, though; I have plenty of Sweet Briar photos.

We ended by visiting the Honors Center, where we admired our Honors Theses on the shelf.

I found a fantastic hat.

And we reflected on what geeks we were that hanging out in the Honors Center post-graduation was a delightful good time for us.

After Sweet Briar, we went to dinner with two of our favorite professors, Cathy Gutierrez, and Eric Casey (who is sadly blogless), and fellow alumna Ashley. Cathy is an incredible cook, and prepared a to-die-for Ethiopian spread. Sadly, I did not take photographs, because I have a policy of actually experiencing my life, instead of watching it on an LCD screen.

Cathy and Casey (as they will forever be known to me; somehow I cannot bring myself to say “Eric”) allowed us to sleep there instead of driving back up to D.C. that night. (We were full of food and wine, and it was late.) It was incredibly pleasant; I was provided with perhaps the softest sheets I have ever experienced. A beautiful thing.

After Sweet Briar, Julia handed me over to Jessica, which is where I am staying now. Tomorrow, you get to hear about my D.C. adventures.

My fantastic alpaca beret

Last summer, during a fiber emergency, I bought 7 oz. of gorgeous brown alpaca top, and promptly spun it all up. It was a dream to spin. Luscious. I chain-plyed it and ended up with about 220 yards of worsted weight alpaca.*

It looked like this:

It took me a while to decide what to do with it. I mean, 100% alpaca yarn is definitely a luxury–it’s rare because alpaca is expensive, and also because alpaca doesn’t have the natural elasticity of wool, meaning that whatever project I made had to be okay with a lot of drape and not a lot of ability to bounce back into shape.

I finally decided on a beret. I was in need of another hat that was cute but also warm enough for winter wear. I have warm hats, and cute hats, but not many warm AND cute hats. Fortunately for me, alpaca is an exceptionally warm fiber, because the individual hairs are hollow and thus insulate better than wool.

I didn’t use a pattern–I’m sort of allergic to patterns–though I did read a few beret patterns to see how other people had done it. After a few false starts, this is what I got!

I knit it from the center/top down, increasing with yarn overs to make pretty little ladders of holes spiraling out from the center of the hat. It took me a few tries to realize that I needed to twist the stitches beside the yarn overs–otherwise, the neighboring stitches would eat up the extra yarn there, and instead of a hole next to neat columns of stitches, I’d just get a few very loose and messy stitches.

(If you look at the full-size version, you can see how I inadvertently created a little flower at the center of the hat. It was an accident, but it’s one of my favorite things.)

It’s a nice, slouchy project that is for the most part totally okay with not having a lot of elasticity. The only place I really needed elasticity was the ribbed cuff. So I went down to the craft shop, and bought a little spool of knitting-in elastic (literally: that’s what it said on the package), and knitted it right into the cuff.

Knitter nerd note: I actually only knitted it into the knit stitches of the k1p1 rib. For the purl stitches, I just stranded it along the back. I figured I would get more pull inward that way than if I knitted it with every stitch (thereby increasing the length of the elastic around the brim, and decreasing the amount of inward pull). It’s just a theory, so I’m not sure it made a difference, but the cuff is springy and snug, so something worked.)

I can’t tell you how much I love this hat. The yarn is beautiful and soft and luxurious, the color is great, it’s warm (because of the alpaca), but also suitable for warmer weather (because it doesn’t cover my ears). And it’s cute!

And the best part is, it only used half of my skein of alpaca, so now I can use the rest for something else! I’m thinking maybe wrist-warmers, or a skinny scarf.

* Incidentally, to all you non-fiber nerds, I’m sorry the posts are so full of jargon. I just sort of decided not to gloss everything. That’s what Google is for, after all.