Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Reviews of Christmas from Various Points of View

Hoover (the Labrador): Santa Claws was here! He left stockings full of stuff! My stocking had a huge, wonderful, tasty rawhide chew bone in it! I could smell it! I smelled it for hours, and I got all worn out from the smelling and zonked out on the couch. The humans took forever to get up and hand out the stockings, but when the oldest boy handed mine – I could tell it was mine because I could smell the goodies – to Dad, I followed it the whole way! Dad barely had it in his hand before I grabbed the chew bone, which was sticking up out of it, and worked it free. I showed everyone my marvelous, wonderful, fabulous bone! I was wagging so hard I could barely walk straight, and if the human I was showing it to didn’t admire it aloud, I walked by them over and over again until they said how wonderful it was! The liver treats were good, too. What’s a “Shed Ender”? (Wanna see my wonderful bone?) Beef smells at dinner.

Spawn: Duuuuuuude. Quake. Rome. Pants. Doom. Nintendo rocks! Got Dad a Fathead poster of his favorite NASCAR racer. Mom wouldn’t let us put it up in the living room, but it looks excellent across one entire wall of the basement. Jelly Belly jellybeans. Goddamned braces.

Bunny: A Computer of My Very Own! Wireless, High Speed Internet! Must Send Emails to Friends, Right Away! Oh, man, I can’t believe Santa brought me a laptop! I’ve been dreaming of one for ages. I always thought we were SO behind the times, and now I’ve finally got one! I’m never going to have to leave my room ever again! Now Mom will never have to fuss at me about being on the family computer too much, and I can stay on mine for as long as I want! OHMIGOSH! (much happy squealing) I know there’s not really a Santa Claus, I know it just has to be Mom and Dad, but I can never really catch them at it. They’re SO sneaky! I got chocolate-covered strawberries, too! My Own Computer!….

Doodle: I must now surrender to the local forces of love and goodness. For years I, as a cyborg, have been maintaining a distinct distance from my so-called parents and siblings. I have been waiting for others like me to appear and take me back to their planet. It has sometimes been hard to maintain a human façade. I was betrayed earlier this year by my organic exterior, which grew unexpectedly quickly, causing the maternal parental unit to supply me with drab male-appropriate fabric coverings for my lower limbs, in order to keep, as she puts it, “my ankles warm.” Ha. Cyborgs do not feel the cold. Yet she insists on covering my unit in fabric and knitwear. Nonetheless, this formerly pagan holiday has caused me to reevaluate my status here on this planet as potentially permanent. I was given many colorfully wrapped packages containing items that caused sensations of glee and, I must admit, outright happiness in my circuitry. It is not so bad here, as long as I continue to avoid the violent and only partially-sentient component of my chronological cohort. All of the mammals in the home were pleasant and kind to me today; they allowed me to fully indulge in my deep needs for contact with high-tech items and minature building materials. I feel….content. I must examine these emotions further during my leisure time before programmed instruction begins again.

Hawthorne: I got cheated out of a Grapple. I specifically asked for a Grapple, and I didn’t get one. I did get other lovely chew things, but Santa Claws did not bring me a Grapple. I will need to yell this many times today, so that Mom and Dad send Santa a nasty email. Perhaps I should chew on Mom’s kitchen pictures while I think about the best way to get Grapples in the future. (Mom note: They were out of Grapples at the grocery store, for Pete’s sake. Get away from those darned pictures, you little feathered handful!)

Hubs: HA! The Christmas Buffalo has been successfully hunted and captured! I am the warrior! Oooh, high tech crap. Things with parts and things that need batteries! And BEEF! I love beef. I love my wife’s beef. I love my wife when she cooks beef. I think I’ll lie down on the couch now and digest my beef. Where’s my dog? I need to scratch my dog while I fall asleep. Nobody eat my beef leftovers while I’m sleeping!

BoS: Well. There we go. Did the religious thing Chrismas Eve, which always makes me feel both melancholy and happy, watched Christmas movies and listened to happy holiday tuneage for the preceding week, got all the shopping, wrapping, receipt saving, cooking, etc. done. The kids were a huge help this year, making cookies, doing their best to be on good behavior – I think that their being teenagers makes them a little calmer. Stayed up until 2 am on the Eve, ostensibly playing Sims, but mostly waiting for the kids to finally go to sleep, and I could do the sneaky thing which none of them believe anymore, but we like to pretend. Hubs helped with the hauling (my back is not up to par yet) which was very nice of him. Got the elf positioned putting a last item in a stocking. Everyone was thrilled; there were no disappointed faces or noises this year. That was nice. Really scored big hits with Bunny and the Doodle. And Dad got a good meal in him and liked his small gifts. He’s so feeble and shaky now that he can barely feed himself and has to drink out of a sippy cup, but he ate like a horse, and with any luck, he gained a pound or two today. I hope he remembers tomorrow that he was here today. Spawn was excellent with Grandpa today – keeping him company while I was flitting off to finish cooking. Big points to Spawn. Good Christmas this year – everyone pitched in, everyone helped, nobody stressed out, no questionable incidents, and I am going to sleep like the dead.

“She lay on the couch, to the family gave a nod,
Stretched out her legs, and mumbled, ‘thank God’,
But we think she exclaimed, as she sighed one last sigh,
“ ‘Twas a nice Christmas for all; I’m just resting my eyes.”

Oddball Word of the Day

redivivus (re-duh- VIE-vuhs): adj. revived; living again; reborn

(from the MMMW, edited by Laurence Urdang)

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Christmas Eve Special: Birdie Wishes

Yesterday I asked my parrot, Hawthorne, what he wants for Christmas.

H: I wanna Grapple

Me: You like Grapples?

H: And cheese.

Me: Anything else?

H: Chicken breast on bread

Me: So, for Christmas, you want a Grapple, a chicken sandwich, and some cheese?

H: Cheese on a cracker.

Me: Seems like birdies think with their stomachs, like Labradors. Maybe you’re a Labrador!

H: (big razzberry noise) Chirping birdie! Chirp! Chirp! (He says the word “chirp”.)

Me: Well, I’ll get the message to Santa.

H: Perch, too.

Me: You want a new perch?

H: Blue perch for birdie (bobs head) (aside: blue perches are made from calcium and other safe consumables and help keep toenails trimmed and birds like to scrub their beaks on them)

Me: You must think you’ve been really good this year.

H: Hawthorne’s a good birdie! (loud whistle) A GOOD birdie! (many chirps)

Me: Oh, my!

H: I’m a good boy.

Me: Yes, you are.

H: Mommy?

Me: Yes, Hawthorne?

H: I’m a good boy?

Me: Yes, Hawthorne, you’re a very good boy.

H: (big happy whistles) Pretty Hawthorne, pretty birdie! Yo ho ho ho ho ho ho!

Me: Very pretty Hawthorne.

H: Love the birdie! (smooching noises)

Me: I love you Hawthorne. Kisses for Mommy? (kiss him on the beak)

H: Wanna Grapple.

Me: I won’t forget.

Yes, in case you’re wondering, I am sappy and sentimental enough to have knit stockings for my pets – I try to match them to the personality or appearance of each entity – Hawthorne’s is gray with a white toe and cuff and a red heel.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Five Good Christmas Memories

1. Rabbit Fur Coat: When I was 17, it was 1977. Rabbit fur coats were all the rage for teenaged girls and young women that year. That was a year after I moved in with Dad and Ellen in Chicago and I had only a token winter coat, having come straight from much more moderate temperatures in Virginia. My best friend had a rabbit fur coat, as did a couple of other girls at school. I had borrowed my best friend’s coat a couple of times and thought how warm and trendy it was. I felt so cool, so sophisticated and uptown wearing it. I never nagged Dad and Ellen for anything; after all, they were providing me with a home away from the Sturm and Drang of living with my mother, I was in a whole new city with cool things to do, and they were so very loving and so good to me.

With my Dad being a cost accountant with the Federal Reserve Bank, we lived, and often talked about, budgeting, the importance of living within one’s means, and I even had a monthly budget. My folks gave me a generous allowance, and with it I could buy whatever I wanted, but the only way to get more money was to get a job. I was fine with their boundaries and limitations, and I was already living so much more peacefully and with so much more joy and love in my life than I had ever expected that I never even dreamt of any extravagant gifts. They’d already given me so much, and I knew they were saving for retirement.

They always had a real tree, a small one, which they put on an end table and we decorated and put our modest presents around the base of the table. Stockings went on the back of the couch, and we opened stockings on Christmas Eve. Well, I got some lovely things in my stocking, perfume, I think, and toe socks, and lip-gloss or something. On Christmas day, we opened our presents. Dad always gave Ellen a piece of interesting jewelry, she’d give Dad some appliance, I gave small (affordable) gifts that were usually in the nature of curios. I think they gave me a gorgeous sweater and some fancy jeans. I was very happy and started picking up wrappings to discard.

I was halfway to the kitchen with a handful of paper when my Dad said, “I think you missed something.” I turned back and checked to see if I had dropped some ribbon or something, couldn’t see anything and said, “Oh, where?” He said, “I think there’s still something behind the tree.” He and Ellen exchanged a furtive glance. I still didn’t get it, and I thought he was talking about maybe a piece of wrapping paper that had somehow wound up back there, and I said I’d come right back and get it once I threw out what I had in my hand.

When I checked behind the tree, there was a large clothing box there. “Oh,” I said, “I’m so sorry I missed this.” Then I checked the tag and saw it was for me. I hadn’t been expecting another gift, so I know my mouth was hanging open a little, and I looked at Dad and then at Ellen, and I said, “Oh, it’s for me?” Dad said, “Sure! We hope you like it,” very matter of factly.

When I opened the box, and folded back the tissue paper, I saw rabbit fur – all browns and grays and taupes and black with very little white (at some point in time I must have mentioned that I liked the darker coats more than the ones with a lot of white in them). Tears started to pour down my face, and I had to sit down. I pulled it out of the box and held it up. “It’s for ME?” I asked, shocked. “Yes! Try it on!” said Ellen, with a huge grin on her face.

I pulled on the coat and hooked up the front, wiping tears from my face. I couldn’t believe it was really for me. Ellen checked the fit and told me how great it looked, Dad felt the sleeve and said it was so soft and looked nice and warm, and I think I spent the next hour alternating between thanking them and touching my coat to make sure it was real and putting it on again, then taking it off to look at. I don’t think I’ve ever been happier over a gift in my whole life.

I called all my friends to squeal and brag over my coat, and they squealed with excitement for me, so loud that Dad and Ellen could hear them, too. I knew I couldn’t wear it to school because it might get stolen, and my folks said I could invite my friends over, if I wanted, during vacation, to show off my coat. I did.

I know that coat made my Christmas, and I think my excitement and joy and appreciation for it made that Christmas for my Dad and step mom. It was really great. And I wore that coat for years, until it was damned near bald.

2. Indoor Lights: Spawn was born in early December, and by the Christmas a year later, I had quit my job and was still incredibly tired. I did some shopping, and mailed out gifts to the far-flungs. We were fairly penny pinched at the time, and hubs was suffering his Christmas blues, despite having a new son. I did convince him to get a tree, and, I decorated it. There were only a couple of gifts under it, but that was OK, I was tired. We hadn’t put up any other Christmas decorations. I moped a little at hubs. He glumped at me. I figured the tree was going to have to be it.

I was grabbing a late afternoon nap one day while Spawn slept, and when I woke up, hubs had on a drug store Santa hat and was lurching around the living room making stapling noises. Our bedroom was on the first floor, so I lay there for a few minutes, thinking, “Oh, what the hell is going on out there?” and “Geez, I think I’ll try for a few more minutes sleep.” It didn’t work. I got up to go to the bathroom, and lo and behold, hubs had strung lights in garlands all around the ceiling of the living room, the windows, and down the hall. I followed the lights, and they led to the kitchen, where there were lights around the window, and a star hanging in the window itself. All inside. He said, “Oh, I was hoping to have all this done before you got up.” I looked around in amazement. He turned off the lights, leaving only the Christmas lights shining. It was beautiful.

“I didn’t want to hang lights outside because it’s too damned cold,” he said, “but these should be OK indoors.” I hugged him and thanked him and really, really appreciated it. Those lights made me smile, and I realized that Spawn could enjoy them this way, too. They were pretty, and fun, and there was no damage to the walls or anything other than a few staple holes. I was a little sorry when we took them down at the end of January.

In good years, we still hang a star in the kitchen window. On the inside.

3. Children Around the World: I don’t have a lot of good memories about Christmas before I moved in with Dad and Ellen in 1976. Life was difficult, often dangerous, and always stressful with my mother. I was not the favorite child, and that showed up even more glaringly and publicly than usual at Christmas. But, not everyone treated me that way. When my sister was a senior in high school, and I was 9 years old, she was dating a very handsome (I thought) fellow named Brian who always treated me like I mattered. If I answered the door, he talked with me as if I were important and he didn’t act like he was in any hurry to get away from me to schmooze my sister. He had been a lifeguard at the pool I went to in the summer, and he and I were kind of friends, as much as a 9 year old and an 18 year old can be friends. I suppose, looking back at it, he probably felt sorry for me – I spent all day, every day, at the pool, weather permitting, not even going home for lunch unless I was forced to do so. The lifeguards sometimes had to ask me to leave in the evenings, too.

Anyway, that year, it was a couple of days before Christmas and Brian came over. I answered the door, and there he stood, so tall, so strong-looking, so grown up to my 9 year old self. He had a package wrapped in Christmas paper in his hand. I said, “Oh, I’ll get my sister,” and started to turn away. He said, “No, this is for you,” and he handed it to me. I was tongue-tied and just looked at it, then at him. I managed to choke out, “thank you” and then asked if he wanted to come in. He said he didn’t and wished me a merry Christmas and went back to his car and drove off.

I stood there in the foyer, holding the package. I knew it was a book, but I couldn’t believe it was really for me. When I did begin to believe it, I thought about how just having received it was likely to complicate my life – what kind of crap was my sister going to put me through for getting a book from HER boyfriend, what was my mother going to do to me for not making sure Brian came in to flatter and admire my sister and my mom, just what was the price I was going to have to pay for getting a gift from someone who my mom and sister believed should be so totally absorbed in my sister that he couldn’t even see anyone else. It was going to be ugly, I was sure of it. So I hid the package in the closet.

I couldn’t stop thinking about it – worrying what would happen if someone spotted it and started asking questions; I didn’t want to get Brian in trouble, too. I couldn’t understand why he’d give me a gift, when I knew he hadn’t given my sister one yet. I wanted that book so badly; it would be the first book anyone ever gave me, despite the fact that I read obsessively as a child. But I was afraid of it. I knew I couldn’t give it back because that would be rude and horrible, but I had almost convinced myself that I would have to find someway to do that to keep the backlash to a minimum.

Then Brian took my sister out for a romantic Christmas eve dinner, gave her some jewelry, and I was able to figure out that if I took the gift up and put it under the tree, I’d be able to pass it off, without directly lying, that he had offhandedly given it to me while picking her up, instead of having made a special trip to drop it off for me. So, I did, and my mom was so preoccupied with her speculations and whatever, that I didn’t have to answer any questions. My sister was so pleased with her fancy dinner and her jewelry that she didn’t even notice or lay into me for it either. I breathed a sigh of relief.

When I finally got to open the package on Christmas day, I was overcome. It was a beautiful, coffee table quality book on children around the world, and he had even written in it, “Merry Christmas BoS from Brian”. I probably developed a full-fledged crush on him right then. There were illustrations of children and ethnic dress and housing and customs for dozens of countries. There were long, long passages with nice, big words in them. It was really a book that should have been over my head, at age 9, but it wasn’t. Whether he knew it or not, it was a book that spoke to who I was on the inside – curious, intelligent, and a voracious information hound.

I made a point to thank him profusely the next time he came over. I read and re-read it; I probably memorized portions of it without even realizing it. It probably planted the first seed for my lifelong interest in foreign languages without anyone ever realizing it. It was a wonderful gift, and he was the nicest person my sister ever dated, at least as far as I was concerned.


4. New House Christmas: When we first moved into our current house, Spawn was 8 going on 9, Bunny was 6, and Doodle was 4. We had comparatively little furniture, and most of it was pretty crappy. We had a big, empty, beautiful living room with marble flooring and a fake fireplace with a carved wood mantle and edifice around it. So, we put our tree in the living room. There weren’t a lot of presents from us, but my sister has always been very generous and her gifts made the presentation quite splendid looking. My parents and in-laws were still sending gifts instead of checks at that time, so there was no shortage of stuff for any of us, especially not the kids. Since we didn’t really have any seating, that first Christmas, I spread blankets on the floor and brought in a big box for the wrapping paper.

It was a riot watching the kids rip through the paper and fling it haplessly around, then run around the big living room, squealing with delight, playing with their new toys and hopping and laughing and singing. It was very carefree and wild, filled with laughter, and wonderful because of it. Yes, my butt got cold from sitting on the floor, but when one of the kids launched at me to hug me and knocked me backwards, we both lay there laughing and chortling. We all sat on the floor together, which was nice, too. And they were so little, so uninhibited, and so happy with all their gifts, in that little kid way, that it made Christmas very fun, just the way I like for it to be.

(I’m trying to cut things short here, since I went on so long before.)

5. Burnt Slam Up: One year I was making fudge for my far-flungs and burnt the living snot out of my right, dominant hand. I was in the hospital, shaking with adrenaline withdrawal, on serious drugs. It was horrible, and, worse yet, it was three weeks before Christmas. I was not going to be able to get all the cookies made from the four different doughs I had already made, the fudge disaster had melted not only the a significant percentage of the skin right off of my hand, but the trash can I dropped the boiling mass into melted, too. I was restricted from touching my youngest, who was still a diapered baby, due to his germy bottom, and I was helpless for everything functional. Things really seemed to stink to high heaven.

It was the only time in my adult life that I have ever been that helpless, and I was, somewhere under the Vicodin, scared to pieces about what was going to happen with my kids, if I’d ever really get full function back in my hand (I did), and what was going to happen for Christmas. I can’t say as I actually remember that Christmas. For all I know, I got a bag of pressure wrapping for my fingers.

When my husband came and got me, and took me home, somewhere in the haze of extreme painkillers, I’m pretty sure I heard him carelessly say, “Don’t worry, I’ll do all that stuff.” For a workaholic, that’s a pretty rash statement to make to a very busy full-time SAHM. I figured it was the drugs, since they were pretty tasty, so to speak.

I slept a lot and watched Monty Python marathons for the healing effects of humor, and still, to this day, don’t remember much of them, also due to the drugs.

What I do remember is lots and lots and lots of wonderful cuddles from my tiny kinder. They crawled all over me like ants on a big jelly sandwich at a picnic. I also remember that my husband baked a bazillion batches of cookies from all that stored up pre-made dough. I won’t say he did it well because there was some scraping necessary, and I was in no fit state to issue any reminders about quirky ovens and how to compensate. But, he got off his work pony and came home and baked cookies and diapered the kids and hired a maid to clean the house and did what he could to help out otherwise.

Once the drug and pain haze cleared, and I was able to hunt and peck type with my left hand, I told my email group what had happened. What a wonderful outpouring of tasteless and therefore hysterically funny jokes, puns, and commentary they offered, as well as real-space help, sympathy, compassion, and general fun.

So, between my husband being such a good helper, my kids loving me to bits, and my e-space friends sending good wishes and bad jokes, it was a pretty good Christmas. And you can’t even tell I burnt my hand that badly – just a few spots with no pigment and some unimportant numbness in the pinky finger epidermis.

and MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Oddball Word of the Day

ensconce (en-SKONS): v. to make snug and safe

(from the MMMW, edited by Laurence Urdang)

German Idiom for Friday

vor Freude aus dem Haeuschen sein: to be beside oneself with joy

zB: Als die Mannschaft im Pokalendspiel das Siegestor schoss, waren ihre Anhaenger vor Freude aus dem Haeuschen.

auf Englisch: When the team scored the wimming goal in the cup final their supporters were beside themselves with joy.

Origin: The reference is to a state of ecstasy spoken of by mystics in which the soul leaves the body (Haeuschen).

(from the Guide to German Idioms by JP Lupson)

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Last Minute Hat

Right. Despite my dire warnings, or intended dire warnings, to avoid all knitting for Christmas gifts during the month of December, you’re still insistent on making something.

List of things it really shouldn’t be:

1. Anything with fancy stitches – you’ll make a mistake and wind up compromising or feeling like poo because you left a mistake in just to finish in time.

2. A sweater. It’s too late, and the Fates will make sure that it does something awkward somewhere, like have really long arms, pinch in the pits, or droop at the neck. Plus, you’ll run out of yarn somewhere vital.

3. An afghan. No. You weren’t really thinking of this, were you?

4. A real scarf, “real” being defined as “something long enough to go around the neck and stay there, plus it looks OK.” There just isn’t time to knit that fast unless you’re using bulky or super bulky yarn, and I have news from the consumer front that pretty much everyone is sick to death of bulky and super bulky knitwear, so it won’t be appreciated anyway. Use it to make a bathmat for the New Year.

5. Gloves. Too many fingers, hence, too many potential gaps and ends to weave in.

List of possibilities:

1. A pair of ankle socks or slippers in an average (defined as “standard on the printed pattern you already have”) size. You’ll need to be speedy to get both of them done in time. HINT: Work down past the first five heel gusset decreases on each sock first, then finish them one at a time. That way, you get the tricky part out of the way sooner and have only mindless knitting left for the stress-monkey days.

2. Wrist warmers: generally mindless knitting, which makes it possible to put them down and pick them up again without freaking out over where you were.

3. Mittens: fast and easy

4. My favorite: a hat, a simple watch cap style hat. It’s almost completely mindless knitting except for the casting on and the final decreasing, and neither of those parts takes very long. You can use virtually any weight yarn you have on hand, and one skein is almost always enough for a head-fitting cap. And, for so very little effort, it could very well wind up being the most used, lovingly worn item you make all year. And, hats, like socks, need negative ease (about 10% smaller than the projected head size) because they need to stretch to fit, and unless your knitting is rock hard, if you knit to size, the hat will be too large – which means fewer stitches and less time required.

So, the Last Minute Hat pattern:


Fits teen through adult (stretches to about 22”, but will fit down to a 16” head)

1 50 g ball of heavy sock yarn or DK
1 set size 4 dpns (or 16” circ)
1 set size 2 or 3 (depending on whether or not you are a loose or tight knitter) dpns or circ

Using larger needles, CAST ON 90 stitches. Rib (your choice, I like k2p2 or k3p3 for hats) for 3 inches. Change to smaller needles and in stockinette stitch, knit straight for 5 inches.

DECREASE for top as follows:

Row 1: (Insert marker to identify beginning) K2tog, k13 6 times (84 stitches)
Row 2 and all even rows: K even around
Row 3: K2tog, k12 6 times (78 sts)
Row 5: K2tog, k11 6 times (72 sts)
Row 6: K2tog, k10 6 times (66 sts)

You get the idea. Continue decreasing 6 sts every other row until you have 12 stitches left. You can even stop at 18 stitches, if you want. Pull yarn through, pull tight, knot. Pull knot to inside, weave in two ends. Done.

I can make one in a day, if I’ve got the time. Otherwise, it takes me a couple of days of early morning knitting (about ½ hour) and maybe an hour after dinner one night to finish it off. Could be a little more, but it’s mindless, so I don’t really monitor the time that closely.

For changes in size – to go to a larger head, add 12 stitches to the cast on and the first decrease row will be k2tog, k15, etc. For a small, early teen or late kid years hat, cast on 78, and the first decrease row will be k2tog, k11.

As I said, you can do this with any weight yarn. You will need to adjust the number of stitches to fit your gauge. The most important factor is to keep it divisible by 6, for a smoothly rounded top. And, if you gauge comes out not quite on the 6, round up, rather than down.

I’d post a picture of the latest one I made, but my daughter took my camera to school to take a picture of a cute exchange student today!

Happy knitting!

Oddball Word of the Day

vatic (VAT-ihk) adj. of, relating to, or of the nature of a prophet

(from MMMW, edited by Laurence Urdang)

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Physical Therapy is Not for the Weak

My apologies for the lack of daily posts to anyone who's been checking in regularly. I have been having some back trouble and asked my GP to give me a recommendation for PT. Well, PT is grueling, and will hopefully be showing some good effects soon, but in the meantime, it lays me out as flat and useless as a jellyfish on the beach for a while afterwards, and then there's the rest of holiday life to deal with!

On the Good News front, I'm basically in excellent shape, in terms of muscles and strength in all the areas I've been able to work on -- legs, upper and lower arms, good hamstring stretching, and my upper back and upper abs are just fine. It's the lower abs and reciprocal muscles in the back that are sound asleep and causing me to have trouble, and that's what we're working on.

Hope to have a knit post ready for tomorrow and I have one already written for Friday. Hang in there!

Friday, December 15, 2006

A Christmas Stocking For Clueless Newbies

(This is a picture of one of the very first stockings I ever made, nearly 30 years ago. I free styled it, and, as a result, it’s not quite as nice as the stocking you’ll get from the pattern below. Many of the same techniques are used, though, so it will give you some idea of your final result.)

It’s your first Christmas as a knitter, or possibly your second, and you haven’t knit as much as you want to, and you’d like to make a stocking. It doesn’t have to be complex; you’d just like to know how to make one. Without too much damned complexity, please. OK, here’s your pattern!

Supplies:

1 pr knitting needles, your choice of size, usually 7’s or 8’s
1 crochet hook, slightly smaller in diameter than the knitting needles
1 plastic kids’ yarn needle (available in packs of 2 at Wal-Mart for 49 cents)
1 8 oz. Skein worsted weight yarn – main color
At least 4 oz worsted weight yarn – contrast color
2 yarn markers (or safety pins or loops of yarn in different color)

(Notes: There will be sewing. Trust the pattern. The toe, heel, and cuff will be in the contrasting color.)

Leg: In MAIN color, cast on 48 sts, leaving about 2 feet in a long tail; knit in stockinette for 10 inches.

Heel space: cast off 12 stitches, knit to end. Cast off 12 stitches, purl to end, cast ON 12 stitches. Knit the 36 stitches; cast ON 12 more for a total of 48 stitches. Your work should now look like a raggedy dishcloth.

Foot: knit 5 inches in stockinette; on right side, switch to contrasting color, insert marker after 12th stitch and after 36th stitch.

Toe: (in contrasting color) Depending on your comfort level, you can decrease where you choose. If you’re not very good yet, randomizing the decreases may be your best bet so nothing looks bunchy. If you are OK at decreasing, decrease before and after each marker. On each knit row, decrease 4 stitches (before and after each marker). Purl back even. Continue decreasing until you have 20 stitches left total.

Closing the toe: Leading with the BACK end of the crochet hook, feed the hook back through all the stitches, pulling out your knitting needle as you go. Tight up the yarn on the first stitch, which has the yarn dangling through it, and pull a loop of yarn through all stitches. Brutally tighten this loop until you can’t even get a finger through the hole, and make a tight slipstitch in the yarn with the crochet hook. Cut yarn at 12 inches out from slipstitch and pull through and tighten. Using this tail, sew the toe area together on the backside.

Heel: (2 pieces made the same) Cast on 12 stitches in contrasting color, knit in stockinette for 14-15 rows (whatever looks pretty square to you). Cast off all stitches. Do another one. In the area where you cast off and then on again, you will sew in each patch along two adjacent sides, leaving two sides free (to be sewn later). You can match stitch for stitch along corresponding cast on or cast off sides, but you’ll need to do a little adjusting along the vertical side of the heel patch. That’s OK, it’ll be fine.

You will now have a long, kind of ruffled piece of work with a toe drawn closed and bunched, and sticky-out bits at the heel areas on each side. That’s right.

Cuff: In contrasting yarn, pick up 48 (or so) stitches at the very beginning cast on edge, on the right side. If you want your cuff to flap down, you can pick up 4-8 more stitches, or add them in along the way. If you want your cuff to stand up, use 48 stitches or fewer (no less than 44 stitches for now). Knit in GARTER stitch for 20 rows (10 ridges). Cast off all stitches. Leave a 1-1/2 foot tail.

Hanging Loop: With that 2-foot tail from the LEG, make a slipknot as close to the body of the knitting as possible. This is very important because this piece of yarn has the responsibility for holding up the weight of the stocking and all its contents. Now, chain stitch about 25 stitches and then make ONE single crochet stitch back through two stitches next to the beginning of the chain – it should be very firm, and BELOW the cuff, INSIDE the stocking. (This prevents the top of the cuff from getting all stretched out and icky and puts the stress on the part of the stocking most able to handle the load.) Pull yarn through loop to fasten off, weave in end (do not cut, if you do, your stitch will come loose at some point and the stocking will fall down).

Last step – sewing the stocking: You are sewing along the backside of the stocking from the cuff to the toe. For cuff flapped down, sew the cuff on the OUTSIDE (which, when flapped down, will not show); for cuff up, sew on the inside of the stocking.

Using the cuff tail, sew the cuff seam. Sew ONE stitch into the main body for strength, knot off yarn, turn stocking, such as it is, inside out to sew on the INSIDE of the stocking. If you know how to crochet, feel free to crochet the seams, except for the heel.

Using about 3 feet of MAIN color, sew down to the heel patch, knot yarn and cut. Using CONTRASTING color,

!!! WARNING !!! Tricky part with short explanation!

Heels may look square, but they’re not, they’re actually a little rounded around the back. If you just sew straight along the outer edges of the heel, it will be much more square than you want it to be, and you’ll be disappointed with the resulting heel. Therefore…

Knot the tail of the sewing yarn to the previous section to prevent gaps. Sew straight along the edge for HALF the first side of the heel patch. Sew in an arc across the heel patch, right through the knitting, to the halfway point on the second side of the heel patch, then sew straight down to the color change. Knot and cut contrasting yarn.

Using about 2 feet of main color, sew foot closed and secure yarn with toe seam. While the stocking is inside out, give it a couple of yanks along the seam to make sure that there are no gaps or places you might want to tighten up.

Turn stocking right side out – you’re done!

Oddball Word of the Day

zori (zoree) n., pl. a flat-soled Japanese sandal held on by a thong passing to each side of the foot from between the big and second toes

(from MMMW, edited by Laurence Urdang)

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

As Seen On TV

Well, I am officially one of those people who takes drugs advertised on TV now. I’ve watched the ads for years, wondering what the hell it was that purple pill did and why there was a sneezing bee, and what on earth anyone would want with a luminescent Moth of Death (or possibly sleep). Pharmaceutical ads can be confusing when you watch them with the sound off.

So, if you’ve read my prior postings, you might have noticed that I, despite being female, have been having the feminine equivalent of prostate trouble – stress and urge problems, having to get up in the middle of the night several times to wee, even having wee problem dreams. It just got worse. Finally, I decided that it was not going to go away, that I could face a doctor to discuss it, and I did. I’m now on Detrol LA, for overactive bladder.

I couldn’t be happier, and if there’s anyone else out there who’s wondering if they can afford to spend the last 30 years of their lives trying to avoid life in Depends, I urge you to go talk to your doctor about it. It has been and continues to make a huge difference in my quality of life. I can drive further away from home without obsessively scooping out all the likely emergency pee stations along the way, I can shop without worrying, I can bend over and stretch out my back without steeling my courage in advance, and I can cough or sneeze or lurch to my feet unexpectedly without certain consequences. I can even sleep in large enough chunks to count as actual rest, like 3 and 4 hour stretches now, which was unheard of for me for the last couple of years.

That lack of sleep, in addition to the need to stop frequently, was seriously affecting my enjoyment of my life. I was tired all the time. I had such tremendous problems with initiating any task because of my state of perpetual exhaustion that less and less got done, and I could fall asleep sitting at dinner, with the food still steaming on my plate. I missed 90% of West Wing – all seasons – due to zonking out for 20 and 40-minute periods. And the embarrassment and socially isolating behavior that was a consequence was no good for me either.

So, bit by bit, I feel better, I’m getting more done, I feel more rested, and generally happier. And feistier; I missed my feistiness, perhaps most of all.

We women do this, you know, and we teach our daughters to do it too, in so many ways. We teach them to make do and compensate and accept lousy conditions and bad circumstances. We teach them to put up with male chauvinist doctors that think all women are hysterical complainers, instead of teaching them to look the wankers in the eye and fire them for incompetence. We teach them to put up with lousy mates and crappy conditions and shortchanging themselves for the “family” good. We teach them to deal with physical deterioration instead of fighting and investigating to make it better, to be heard, and to be treated properly. We teach them to give up and give in, and we don’t even notice when we’re doing it.

So, not now, not today, and not about this. I have something else to teach my daughter instead. And all my new female doctors are great.

Oddball Word of the Day

gonfalon (GON fah-lahn) n. a banner with streamers, hanging from a crossbar

(from MMMW, edited by Laurence Urdang)

Hell Has Gotten Colder

I won’t say it’s frozen over yet, but the temperature has dropped. And a good thing, too.

This weekend hubs put up our outdoor Christmas decorations. It’s always been hit or miss as to whether our outdoor decorations go up or not, depending on a) his mood, b) the weather, and c) if they work or not. About 8 years ago, our outdoor lights were spectacular, then they went through a steady slide downward until the last couple of years there just weren’t any.

Sometimes, rarely, I have done a few outdoor lights, as long as I didn’t have to climb anything to put them up. Since I have always been a seriously acrophobic person, there was never any chance that I’d put lights on the eaves or gutters, or a Santa on the roof or over the garage door. I put wreaths on doors, maybe I’ll put a light up in a window on the inside some years, but if I have to climb anything, it ain’t happening.

So anyway, weather maven and general optimist that I am, this past Saturday I checked the local forecast and made cheerful mention, over our early morning coffee, that the weather was going to be in the high 30’s and low 40’s this weekend, so it might be a good time to put up the outdoor lights, and would he please consider it. He snarled back that I could do it if I wanted them up, so I smiled at him and said I’d consider it. I knew this would drive him nuts because the lights and doo-dads are all stored in “his” barn – which is kind of a large storage garage for crap he won’t throw away and stuff that would make our cars kind of crowded if we put it in the “real” garage. He hates it when anyone messes in the stuff in his garage. A few minutes later, I pondered aloud that perhaps the kids could help me. He gave me a nasty look.

After the caffeine had hit his system, I started asking for help in getting the multitude of Christmas errands run – the kids had to be taken out shopping for each of us and each other, then I needed to get stocking stuffers, buy Christmas gifts for the pets (yeah, I do that, sentimental poop that I am), and the total tally for the week looked like it would be six trips, some of which we couldn’t do with each other because that would spoil any secrets, see. He looked even more depressed until I remembered that I have a son who can and will drive! Whee! Spawn could take his siblings out shopping, and go cash a check at the bank, and take them to lunch! We could palm off some Christmas duties on Spawn! That cheered both of us up.

That worked out great – Spawn took Bunny and Doodle shopping, each with a small wad of cash, and they went out for lunch afterwards, too. Meanwhile, Hubs sat around waiting for some workmen to show up to estimate whether or not we could finally get wireless. I trundled off and ran some errands, and the workmen never showed up.

Sunday, lo and behold, Hubs rounded up the kids, medicated the ADHD contingent, and set them all to work hauling spiral trees and inflatable penguins and snowmen into the front yard. They scurried to and fro and plugged things in and now we have a decorated yard. Hurray!

Later, dropping the temperature in Hell a few degrees lower, hubs even brought in the prelit tree and moved stuff around in the living room and erected it and plugged it in. The prelit tree was an issue for me about three years ago. We’ve always had real trees because I insisted. I like real trees; they smell right, I don’t have to shape the individual limbs, I like the way they relax and spread with decorations on them, and I don’t mind watering them or cleaning up needles. Until one year when one edge of the tree blanket slipped into the water reservoir and wicked all the water out, drenching Christmas presents. Even I wasn’t happy that year, so the next year, much to my partial disgust, we got a prelit tree. I suppose I’d rather have a plastic tree than gifts ruined by water damage, so I’m trying very hard to be OK with it. I’d like more lights, though, but that’s not going to happen unless I do it.

Which brings me to homeostasis. Not the destination you would expect, I imagine, but that’s where I’ve wound up. It’s the “I do more, you do less; you do more, I do less” dynamic of most relationships. It happens. It always happens. It’s a thing that is. It can be bad, it can be good, and the overall goal, as we’ve discussed in my women’s group, is to try to keep it balanced so that the whole burden of maintaining the relationship doesn’t continually fall on either party. For years it fell on me. It was crushing me over the last few years, and I just couldn’t take it any more, which is one reason why our marriage wound up on the rocks a year ago, and I wound up in therapy, squished and worn to an angry shadow.

Sometimes it shows up in little things, like planning for a holiday, decorating, gift buying, meal preparation, etc. And, for years, I did it all because he wouldn’t. Sometimes it felt false and/or I felt resentful or militant and angry about “having” to do it all to keep Christmas nice for the kids; sometimes I didn’t notice it as much because I had become inured to doing everything and was able to pretend it didn’t matter.

Last year, it mattered, and I did only enough to keep my head above the waters of bleak depression, and the kids from having an emotional brownout. It showed in some ways – I had even gotten to the point where I had previously bought gifts for myself and labeled them from hubs so that there’d be something under the tree for me; I took the kids shopping for me; I did everything. I couldn’t do it anymore last year, and consequently, I didn’t get much for Christmas. I got nothing from hubs because I didn’t get anything and label it from him. I didn’t feel like getting him much either, so I got him a couple of token gifts. He was in shock, which showed on his face, but he didn’t say anything. It eventually came up in couples counseling, and got discussed. I don’t know that we’ve resolved it, but some things changed.

And, mostly, what’s changed has been me. I’ve gotten better at asking for help, and if I don’t get any, then I just don’t do the thing. No more compensating. If I truly want to do something, I do it, and if I don’t, I don’t, and I don’t feel any pressure to do things to make my husband look like he cares; he can just do that himself. And maybe, just maybe, that little bit of homeostasis is working positively this year. We have lights, we have a tree, the decorations have been pulled out of storage, and I’m not shopping for myself. That all seems pretty good to me.

Oddball Word of the Day

cafard (kah-FAR) n. a mood of melancholy or deep depression

(from MMMW, edited by Laurence Urdang)

Friday, December 08, 2006

German Idiom for Friday

wie ein Murmeltier schlafen: to sleep like a log

zB: Nach einem langen Spaziergang am Abend schlafe ich immer wie ein Murmeltier.

auf Englisch: After a long walk in the evening I always sleep like a log.

(from the Guide to German Idioms by JP Lupson)

Five Things That Say Christmas to Me

1. Santa Mugs: You know those ceramic mugs, which, back in the 60’s, were probably manufactured with lead-based stuff and highly toxic if you put anything hot in them? They were bumpily shaped like Santa’s head and garishly painted, so that his eyes were unnaturally blue. After a few hand washings, bits of paint would flake off, and by the second or third Christmas, I was drinking out of a blind, olfactorily-challenged Santa with perhaps only a few teeth left. I still like those mugs anyway, and I think they’re a little more durable and less toxic these days. I remember that when the Santa mugs came out during my childhood, Mom was tolerable towards me, and I might even get hot chocolate or hot apple cider. It was the only drinking vessel I wanted to use – for juice, milk, water, anything. These days, the kids can have hot chocolate or cider whenever they want, as can I, but I still like a good Santa mug for the weeks leading up to Christmas and a little while afterwards, too.

2. Curling ribbon: I first met curling ribbon sometime in the 70’s and loved it right away. Those fancy folded over bow events were beyond me, but even I could put scissors to one side of curling ribbon and arrive at something festive and frothy! Hurrah! A signature gift decorating method is born! I like the way it makes me feel – like a little kid all over again, when I curl ribbon, and nowadays there are so many more colors and reflective surfaces and widths that it’s even more fun than ever.

3. Looking up through the tree at the lights from underneath: I like the tree just fine, but when I was little and before the gifts were put under the tree, which was usually Christmas Eve, I’d squiggle my little self under the tree and look up into the branches at the lights, kind of like looking behind the curtain, y’know? There would be the knobby, rough trunk and some of those big, old, heat-producing lights. One of my favorites was a pink blinker. The glass on it was transparent and it was a dark, fuchsia pink. I could see the element in it, and the blinking was a little erratic, so I would play tiny little head games to see if I could look away from it before it blinded me.

Other lights were nice, too, with their colored frosting that was sometime a little chipped away, and I liked seeing what the decorations looked like in the “other” order, if you know what I mean. I could smell the pine sap (and check the water level), and it was somehow private and quiet. My family used to make fun of me, and I suppose I can’t blame them. They’d come traipsing through the family room, and there would be the tree with my feet and legs sticking out from under it. Must have been a funny sight. I know I’m not the only kid who ever tried it because my kids have done it, too, without me ever having reminisced at them. I just smiled and backed away to let them commune with the tree.

4. Gingerbread men and houses: You knew we’d get to food eventually, right? Gingerbread men and houses only taste right at Christmas time. I can eat gingersnaps in July and actual gingerbread any time, but the men and houses are just exactly right at Christmas. I found a great gingerbread recipe a few years ago that makes the perfect gingerbread man, at least in accordance with how I always thought they should be. When the kids were littler, I’d make about two dozen naked gingerbread men the week before their vacation from school started. Then I’d make plain white frosting the weekend before and store it, and when they were home all day, I’d cover the table in waxed paper, color up bowls of frosting in many different colors and haul out paintbrushes from kid watercolor sets. I had cinnamon hearts, little silver and gold decorating balls, raisins, gumdrops, all kinds of sprinkles and jimmies, and I’d set them to work.

They’d make one for each grandparent, one for a friend, and so on. They were a riot – sometimes we had space monster gingerbread men, other times Mr. Gingerguy was totally blue and depressed, and sometimes we’d put stuff on him so that he was dressed in drag, or, really, Mrs. Gingerbreadperson. Some were works of surreal art with no faces or features, but they had lots of multi-colored swirls and exclamatory spots and dots. Sometimes the gingerfolk were physically challenged by having lost a limb, but we decorated them anyway. After the frosting dried, we wrapped them in Saran Wrap and tied the top with curling ribbon (of course!) and would drive around to give them to friends and family. We hung some on the tree. It was big fun.

We’ve also done houses, and my daughter and I especially like doing those. If we can’t get the house sides to stand up right, we just put a box inside and continue to glue stuff on with frosting anyway. They can get pretty extravagant and wild. One year, Spawn made a Gingerbread House of Horrors, using little Lego figures with their heads pulled off and left near a tiny Lego battleaxe, and the snow near it was stained with red frosting. There were candy skulls fashioned out of nearly dried frosting, and a reindeer had committed a number of digestive insults in the yard with Tootsie Rolls. It was still festive (and funny as all heck).

5. Oranges: One of my mother’s pithy tales from her own childhood, which was during the Great Depression, was about how they were so dreadfully poor that the only time they ever got navel oranges was at Christmas time. Her mother put out a “goodie box” with nuts, some hard candies, a couple of big red apples, and just enough navel oranges for each of them to have one. Of course, it was “Santa” who brought the goodies, but her Mom put out the box on Christmas Eve. My Mom did, too, and it was the only time of the year we got any navel oranges either.

They always smelled so good – I can remember them shining away in a box full of nuts, a couple of red apples (which, as we lived in Virginia, were never in short supply), and I just loved to smell them so much that I almost hated to eat them. But I did, a few days after Christmas, with the peel spurting orange scent into the cold air, overpowering any other food or other scents; I’d watch the spray in a sunbeam in the kitchen. Every segment was a delight (until the year Mom bought juice oranges instead and the seeds were an icky surprise), and I really, really savored those oranges. We don’t “do” a goodie box, since I’m a big advocate of fresh fruit being available at all times. Navel oranges, the big, fabulously delicious ones are still only available during the cold months, and for me, the smell of oranges in the air still means Christmas, no matter what the month may be.

Oddball Word of the Day

agio (AJ-ee-oh) n. pl. agios. a fee charged by money brokers for exchanging coin for paper currency or one currency for another

(from the MMMW, edited by Laurence Urdang)

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Knitting and Cats… and Sock Tips

I don’t have a cat. I had one when I was a child, and I found that I have no particular liking for cats. The cat I had then was a Persian, and its greatest accomplishment was shedding long, white hairs into my tomato soup. A handful of cat hair in my tomato soup was enough to convince me, for infinity, that I am not a cat person.

Other people’s cats adore me. If an animal, I don’t care what it is, it could be a lemur or a ferret, or a snake (but not anything buglike, such as a friendly tarantula) presents itself to me as benign and in need of scratches in some non-sexual part of its anatomy, I generally will oblige. I don’t mind. It keeps my hands busy. Other people’s cats (OPCs) love me. Perhaps they can smell the non-cat-person-ness of me and are on a feline crusade to convert me. They wind around my legs. They roll in my lap. They sleep on my neck. They follow me into the bathroom and observe my assorted procedures. They can’t get enough of me.

I have made mean jokes about cats over the years, possibly as a method of fitting in with other not-cat people. I don’t actually hate or loathe cats; they’re like squirrels – cute elsewhere but not in my house. My husband and two of my children are allergic to cats, so that has made the decision to live cat-less pretty easy.

It would appear, though, from a generally lackadaisical perusal of blogs and knitting lists, that I am the only person in the known universe who possesses yarn and no cats. I like stories about good knitting experiences, bad knitting experiences, needles people like, yarns to avoid, new techniques, old techniques that someone is really enjoying, good projects, projects from hell, pretty much the full range of crap that can be written about knitting. I am, however, sick to death of cats and knitting.

I try not to bore the snot out of people with stories about my Labrador. He’s cute, we love him, he could get more exercise, and he’s spoiled rotten. So’s my bird, and he talks and editorializes and helps parent my children. But, frankly, endless cat blogs give me a tic in my eye. When the occasional knitting post graces a blog that is 99% cat, it does not make it a knitting blog, it just irks me.

One of the reasons I quit the Knitlist years ago was the ceaseless parade of “my cute cat and some yarn” stories. I could not conceivably care less. I think there should be a completely separate list for cat/yarn posts and anyone who violates it should have to forfeit their favorite pair of needles for a year. And before a cat-adorer thinks it’s a horrible thing to be prejudiced against cats and PETA should storm my house and force cats upon me so that I can see the error of my ways, I should probably admit that part of my aggravation has to do with the kitschiness of cats+yarn. It’s like the “only grannies knit” thing, or all Grandmas smell of oatmeal cookies (or ammonia or lilacs or bad shampoo), or whatever trite imagery you can come up with. There’s just nothing… original about it, and possibly that annoys me more than the cat aspect of it.

But then, I’m kind of a jerk about some stuff, and I admit it. I will often leave the room rather than let anyone see my eyeballs rolling about stuff because I know it’s rude and it’s my problem, and they’re entitled to their enjoyment of cats+knitting, or “knitty gritty weird crap” knitting (oh, and you just spent HOW many hours knitting something that no one will ever use and which is not only unwashable but generally unpleasant looking and kind of crappily textured?), or letting myself get drawn into an argument on the merits of various yarns and fibers. I’ve got better stuff to do than engage in either being a twit or a target.

So, then, you wisely ask yourself, why the hell are you snarking off about cats?

Er, because I am bummed that one of my former favorite knitting blogs has spent the last month publishing cat pictures, and I feel neglected and cranky. Mope, mope, mope.

So, back in the saddle for me. A new, experienced knitter has joined my Chix group, and she had some great tips on sock making, which I’ll share with you:

1. If you tend toward large ankles, or just don’t like tight ribbing, use one or two sizes larger needles on your ribbing.

2. Make the foot width and length 10% smaller for a better fit (tighter, less likely to flop in the toe or slip around your foot).

3. This necessitates making your gusseting area greater than is usually listed in the pattern. For example, if you would normally pick up 20 stitches on either side and leave 28 across the instep, you might put 2 instep stitches on each side needle (instep now 24) and decrease those, too, in order to get down to the slightly smaller measurement for the foot.

4. I’ve tried these tips on two pairs of socks for myself and an very, very happy with the results.

I’ll have an original pattern later this month, and I promise to try very hard to get off the snark wagon.

Oddball Word of the Day

biggin (BIG-in) n. a silver coffee pot with a separate container for holding the coffee while it is being heated

(from MMMW, edited by Laurence Urdang)

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Holiday Stress

My women’s group is growing, seeing as the holidays are here. It gets this way every year, so far, because so much of the burden, it seems, rests on women’s shoulders for making the holidays a success. Starting with all the cleaning, cooking, inviting, and serving on Thanksgiving, we take on too much, generally speaking.

My husband suffers from SADD in addition to his usual depression, and he hates Christmas. I mean, he really hates Christmas. Not in a funny, Scrooge type way; he hates Christmas the way someone who was ridiculed for his or her gifts as a child hates Christmas, because that’s what happened to him. He was the youngest by several years, and his brother and sister were working part-time during the years he remembers, so they had a little money to spend on their gifts. He was a kid in school, and basically, he had to save his allowance (and I think we all remember that a quarter or even a dollar was a huge amount for a kid in the 60’s) or make stuff in art class in school. Sometimes he could do a craft at home, like wood burning or something like that to make a gift.

I know his Mom and Dad were gracious and loving about whatever he gave them; after all, they grew up in the Depression, and from what my Mom has told me, getting a fresh orange at Christmas was a big deal then. But he was always made to feel, somehow, through the family dynamics and mere circumstances of birth, that his gifts to others were inadequate. Which sucks. I also think that maybe he never really got one thing that he truly wanted for Christmas – he got frugal gifts from his parents and thoughtless ones from his siblings. They still gift that way. Sometimes the gifts are so bad, they’re comical. BUT, the thought was there, at least for some, and that’s what counts to me and my kids.

In addition, we have two birthdays this week. Spawn and Hubs have birthdays, and both of them detest having their birthday gifts or celebrations commingled with Christmas. They feel it’s not their fault for having been born in a big holiday month, so they shouldn’t have to be penalized for it. I have to agree. So, we don’t even put up the tree until the birthdays are past, and woe betide us if we wrap their birthday gifts in Christmas paper!

I kind of like putting off the preparation until the second week of December. The holiday gets so hyped and so pushed and people start talking about it in October and November, and this is a way of putting it in perspective. Sure, I shop ahead, I wrap in advance, but I don’t even think about decorations and lights and get that mad shopping urge until the month is well advanced. It’s nice to make cookies and treats close to the holiday rather than trying to figure out how to keep them fresh until the big day.

I like Christmas. I like stupid Christmas songs with chipmunk voices, I like mopey ones like Elvis’ “Blue Christmas”, and I like instrumentals. I like the scent of pine, wrapping gifts, and having a bowl of fresh nuts for cracking on the coffee table. So, I make up for what my husband doesn’t want to do, and most of the time it doesn’t bother me. What has bothered me in the past was dealing with his depression – how it made my Christmas stinky and made the kids feel guilty for feeling festive and upbeat and anticipatory. I hated that about him and his behavior.

Last year, with the help of my women’s group, I overcame his mopery. I held strong to MY liking for the season and indulged in my favorite things. I turned on the Christmas tunes on the CD player as soon as he left the house, I bopped happily around the house, I bought or made Christmas cookies, I put up the tree where I wanted it to be, and the kids and I had it all decorated in one day. I laughed, I giggled, and I watched stupid Christmas movies on TV over and over with the kids. They laughed at me and my sentimentality, but, you know, they watched, too. I’ll bet they won’t admit that to their friends, though!

Anyway, it worked. Anytime hubs had the glums, I turned up the tunes and wrapped. I invited the kids into the kitchen to stir up frosting to make sloppy gingerbread houses with, and we drank spiced cider and ate up all the good gumdrops. WE had a great time, and a really good Christmas. Mopester sat on the sidelines.

I can’t make him better. I can’t. No matter how much I wish he could enjoy the holiday, he doesn’t. I can’t change what happened in the past, I can’t change his biochemistry; I can’t change his stinginess or his selfish actions. But I can change how I respond, if I respond.

So, it’s off to women’s group again today for me. I can use what I learned last year, and I can learn some new things today. I’m looking forward to it, and, for once in a long, long, time, I’m looking forward to Christmas with joy and happiness instead of dread and the subconscious urge to “fix” things for anyone. It’s me and my tinsel and glittery crap, and whoever wants to can come along for the ride, or they can get out of my happy way. Whee!

Oddball Word of the Day

threnody (THREN - eh-dee) n. a lament; funeral song; dirge. Also THREnode.

(from the MMMW, edited by Laurence Urdang)

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Spawn’s Small Town

I figured you all had had enough of my funky viewpoint about small town living for the time being, so I asked Spawn what his favorite and least favorite things about living in a small town are. He’s lived here for 10 of his 19 years, and I figured his perspective would be different from mine.

Spawn is glad that no one has offered to sell him drugs or mugged him. (It’s nice to see a baseline of sorts, I think.) He says he likes that he can walk around pretty much anywhere in town and feel safe, that there are no really bad sections or scary sections of town. (He’s right, there really aren’t any unsafe spots in a town this small and as well-policed as it is – by cops AND aggressive little old nosy ladies.) And, he thinks the traffic is definitely bearable and that our downtown, old-fashioned shopping district is kind of cool. (I agree, lots of small town merchants with one-off shops in 1920’s buildings and lots of eager clerks.)

The things he wishes were different include more and a wider variety of jobs for teens. The ones available now are either fast food or retail clerking, and virtually none of them offer the option of full-time employment for the kids who are taking a break from school or who are not heading off to college right away. For teens, there’s really no where to hang out that isn’t religious-themed, no juice bars, no discos, no kid-friendly bookstores or coffee shops, no computer stores or internet cafes. Consequently, since there are only so many times a teenager can go bowling, and he’s not a sneaky drinker, there’s not much for him to do other than his college class work (which he could be more attentive to, ahem), play computer games, and work in fast food.

Spawn also thinks the people in our town are weird. He admits that it may just be our small town where the long-term residents and descendants of early residents are so darned mean and unfriendly, but it’s definitely something he’s noticed and had to deal with as a kid in the schools. A few years ago, when I kind of named this phenomenon the “I’m From Mxxx, and You’re Not, So Buzz Off”, the kids all got a look of wonderment on their faces. One by one, they all agreed that their friends were all from somewhere else originally and THEY thought the townies were clinkers, too. Maybe I shouldn’t have said anything, but it certainly seemed to make the kids feel better somehow.

And, then there is the small town focus on sports. High school sports are particularly important, and if you want to see a big crowd turn out for a school board meeting, just mention something about some sport being in danger of being cut for the year, and the town crowd pours through the meeting hall doors like they were offering free pizza and beer.

Spawn is a nerd, like my whole family. We all wear glasses and have since our elementary school years. People with glasses don’t like sports involving projectile objects, such a footballs, basketballs, or baseballs, unless their parents are wealthy enough to supply them with an endless amount of chic, upscale eyewear. We are not such a family, so we all have to be careful of our glasses, which means we’re kind of congenitally sports-averse.

Spawn could stand being hammered with a few hostile dodge balls, and has, but it was the overwhelming, crushing dominance of sports and jocks in high school that really turned him against the high school. It wasn’t just the kids who were obsessed, it was also the teachers, many of whom are coaches, the administrators, the endless pep rallies; and the nasty corrupt version of social power that accompanies a sports-dominated high school really curdled his gizzard.

There was, during the long, long tenure of a particularly beloved football coach, an entire clandestine “track” for jocks, which guaranteed them passing to good grades, nice transcripts, and disciplinary free rides for those times when the testosterone got out of hand. Consequently, if Spawn signed up for something, like German, and walked in and found the class full of jocks, he knew he’d just wasted 7.5 hours of his time each and every week (on the block schedule). That just broke my heart. Not one of those students learned enough German in two years to introduce themselves or say where they’re from. It was pathetic. Other “jock-friendly” classes were heavy on worksheets, instructors who had given up standards for tenure, and do-nothing “B” grades. Really, it was an academic nightmare and a total disappointment for Spawn.

There have been repercussions for Spawn. Being bright, he essentially wasted at least 2.5 of his 4 years in high school, since so many of the courses that were supposed to be “good” had a plethora of jocks in them and had been dumbed down. As a result, his study and work habits for college stink. They just stink. He’s been kicked in the pants a few times this year, with his grades not being the A’s he was used to in high school for slap-dash, haphazard work. That’s been good for him. He’s actually enjoying the stricter, higher standards and feels like he’s finally getting the education he wasted so many years hoping for.

He made friends among the other nerds and outcasts and met a wider variety of people than he would have had he been a jock. I wonder if that isn’t the same in all schools – anyone who isn’t a super-peppy cheerleader or jock learns what the real world is like early on – that you make friends with the people who make you laugh and you avoid those who are too stupid to breathe or too quick with their fists and their abuses of power.

So, there we go. View of a small town from a post-high school teenaged boy. At least as much of it as he would tell his mom.

Oddball Word of the Day

whiffler (HWIF-lur) n. 1) a person who frequently shifts his opinions, interests, etc.; a person who vacillates or is evasive in an argument; 2) an attendant, usually carrying a staff or sword, formerly employed to clear the way for a procession

(from the guide to MMMW, edited by Laurence Urdang)

Monday, December 04, 2006

Potpourri

But first, a moment of Snark: (Must be nice to be a newbie gay knitter with all the financial freedom, schedule flexibility, and uniqueness that implicitly conveys. Meanwhile, those of us who’ve been outfitting families for years with our knitting continue to labor in obscurity. Snark, snark, snark.)

Anyway, I’ve got a mishmash of stuff on my mind, so I guess I’ll haul off and share.

Far Flung Families: I was doing some online ordering this weekend for the far flung members of my family – my sister, my Mom, my sister-in-law and her fiancé, my brother-in-law, and thinking about the evolution of gift giving over the years. When I was in my twenties, I generally gave things I could afford – either I handmade things or I bought small stuff that didn’t strain the budget and which I hoped the recipient would enjoy. I’m pretty sure that most of the purchased stuff has gone on to either greener pastures or dumps, which is the way of many things. In my thirties, with the kids being small and money being even tighter, I got kind of stingy. I, again, gave what I could afford, but sometimes there wasn’t as much thought in it as I’d have liked – an FTD potted poinsettia or something like that. I didn’t have much brain power left at the end of a day with small children.

Now I’m in my forties, the kids are older (but still needy, of course), and I send consumables. I’m the youngest in my family, my husband is the youngest in his, and all our relatives have all the clothes, appliances, and general doo-dads they want or need. They can buy things for themselves, and giving really big-ticket items to adults isn’t the way I was brought up. I was taught that you gave people something they could really use, and in my forties, and other people’s fifties, seventies, and eighties, that’s food.

I’m the only housewife in my family, everyone else is working (and I would be, too, if the market were worth spitting on out here in the boonies), and the one thing they always fuss about is not having time to cook good meals or grocery shop. Sometimes, when it’s just one of them in a household, they don’t cook at all – they live on prepared food from elsewhere. So, I send wine baskets, or bakery baskets, or ham and cheese baskets, all prettied up by someone else who can get it there faster and more professionally decorated than I.

For our parents, I make sure to adhere to their dietary restrictions, if any, and send something they might not make or select for themselves. They’re all on fixed incomes, so specialty teas and cookies and precious chocolates aren’t in their budgets. So, they get those kinds of treats.

On good days, I feel like I’m taking them out for dinner or drinks by remote. That seems OK. On other days, I wonder what the hell I’m doing and why.

Pumpkin Pie: And speaking of what the hell I’m doing, I wanted to send my sister a pumpkin pie as a surprise for Christmas. Pumpkin pie has always been her secret passion, and hence, kind of a family joke. She used to sneak downstairs and eat up all the pumpkin pie after holiday meals, and, sometimes, before!

I knew I wouldn’t be able to make and appropriately send one on my own, so I looked online. $44.94 for a damned pie, plus shipping. I don’t think so. Plus, my sister has been “Secret Squirrel” for a long time – she never gives any of us her address, as if we were going to show up unannounced, dressed in horse-manure-scented overalls, toothless, and illiterate, and embarrass her beyond all salvation. It’s really annoying, particularly if I’m trying to contact her due to family illness, or, as in this case, pie-sending. She has a PO box, in one of those stores where you can buy a mail drop box, and even if I were to send her a scandalously expensive pie, it could well be green and fuzzy by the time she wandered over to the PO box to get it. So, as my husband put it, “Secret Squirrel screws herself again.” Oy! So, she gets a whine and cheese box, plus I’ll put together some other stuff that’s nifty and send it. Hey, she’s my SISTER!

Cold Weather: Damn, it’s cold here today. When I got up at my usual time of 4:30 am (HEY! It’s quiet; I get to drink my first cup of coffee alone and with the dog lying on my feet.), the thermometer said it was 8 degrees out. Brrrrrr! Glad I’m inside with the warm dog, oven, bread machine, and my blankies – at least until it gets above 10 degrees.

I made my kids promise to wear knitted hats, mittens, scarves, and tried to urge them into wooly socks and sweaters under their coats. Like maybe their schools aren’t heated and there’s no heat on the bus. Urk. I even inspected their winter wear before they left. My daughter loves her knitwear accessories. She wore (oooh, it’s today’s Nanook Fashion Report) a double knitted (small gauge, can you believe it) hat, felted mittens, and a nice, bright, real wool scarf along with her parka. She looked so happy that she found her ultra-cold gear. Doodle picked out a black hat with blue waves, a double-knit scarf in very masculine blues, and some mittens his aunt sent – leather with a full-sheep fleece lining. He opted for a sweatshirt over a t-shirt and did go for the wooly socks.

Both of them gave me the same look that the younger brother in “A Christmas Story” gives the mom… the “I can’t put my arms down!” look. Just before they smiled at me and toddled warmly off.

No great hopes for Spawn to dress warmly. He’s too busy being studly, and apparently studly older teen guys like frostbitten ears and fingers.

Alzheimer’s: Week before last I mentioned that my Dad has hit a new phase of Alzheimer’s. It’s starting to rob him of recent important memories, and he forgot, for two nights running, that his wife had died 5 years ago. He called me, late at night, very upset, wanting to know where she was and was she OK. Both times I had to relive her passing in order to explain to him that she had died. That was hard on me; I can only imagine how hard it must have been for him to have to deal with news that came as a surprise to him.

I went in the next day, just after lunch and sat down for a talk with him. As an aside, one thing I’ve found out in my odyssey as caretaker for an elderly person is that doctors do not routinely tell their patients that they have Alzheimer’s. I don’t know why; I would speculate that it’s because they don’t want to frighten them, or possibly cause them to make unwise and possibly terminal decisions while they still have a few good years left. But, really, I don’t know why. I do know that the statistics that I’ve read indicate that if you’ve made it into your 80’s the chances are 80% that you have some degree of Alzheimer’s. But the doctors don’t tell the old people that.

So, there I was with my 82 year old Dad. I knew he had been frightened by forgetting Ellen’s death – not only because it was such a shock to him that she had passed away, but also, the very fact that he had forgotten it frightened him. He’s always been a fellow who deals with straightforward information pretty well. He still knows me without hesitation, he can do basic math calculations, and he likes the news and is aware of the president on his good days and stuff like that. His personality is still there, is what I suppose I’m trying to get at. So, I told him he had Alzheimer’s.

I made it as clinical and as gentle and as objective as I could. I compared it to plaque in blood vessels, explained that he was on meds to slow it down and do as much as possible to prevent it from progressing. I lied a little, telling him he was in the fairly early stages and that the plaque was building up, tiny bit by tiny bit over neural net areas and that, in the case of Ellen’s death, he’d had kind of a plaque-out. I talked about his other health conditions. He asked me questions, including when he was diagnosed. He asked me that question 4 times.

When we reached the end of the information phase, I asked him how he felt about my telling him. He said he was relieved; not that he had it, but that the reason for his forgetfulness had a name and that he wasn’t going nuts. He said he had heard of Alzheimer’s, and it was something he felt he could learn to understand or at least accept. He really did seem calmer and less stressed, and we ended our visit on good terms, and with him ready for his afternoon nap.

I haven’t heard from him since about Ellen’s passing. He was here for Thanksgiving, and the signs of Alzheimer’s progression were clear and obvious – repetitive sentences, loss of train of thought in mid-sentence, not really following the conversation, particularly if more than one other person was involved, etc.

But he ate well, he knew us and showed us his love, and he liked being here. And that’s what counts.

Oddball Word of the Day

epistolize (ee-PIHS-tuh-lize) v. to write a letter to (someone)

(from the MMMW edited by Laurence Urdang)

Friday, December 01, 2006

Five Things to Do on a Snow Day


I’ve been taking a little vacation from my blog lately because of Thanksgiving and the aftereffects –some good and some thought provoking. Maybe I’ll talk about them later, if the spirit moves me.

Meanwhile, we’ve had sleet and lots of snow, which is still coming down, so for the first time in a very long time, all three kids have a snow day from school. Hurray! So, for a snowy Friday…

1. Sleep late. Is there anything more cozy than lying in bed, all warm from a full night’s sleep, wearing your pjs, covers pulled up to your chin, and looking out the window to see a winter wonderland, then knowing on top of that that you can lie there, dreaming and dozing until you are completely done sleeping? Oh, baby, what a feeling of relaxation the mere thought induces in me.

2. Make cookies with the kids. I’ve stopped making cookies very often over the last few years. It seemed like a lot of work for something that wasn’t good for any of us anyway, we don’t exchange cookies at Christmas, and there has been no help and little enthusiasm for helping from the kids, who eat the cookies in the first place. I tried getting them to make their favorite cookies themselves, with some help from me, and they weren’t enthused. I think the smell of cookies, gingersnaps, gingerbread men, sugar cookies, chocolate chippers, something, might be just the thing today with the snow still showering down from the sky on us and the roads all slippery and scary.

3. Make beef stew or chili for dinner in the crock-pot. Oh, warm and beefy dinners on a cold, snowy day. What a great way to fill their bellies (along with some cookies) and make them all feel warm, nurtured, loved and replete. Whenever it gets cold out, I make chili. Unfortunately, I am the only person in my house that likes chili. The rest of the family doesn’t eat it, not just my chili; they don’t eat any chili anywhere, so I try not to take it personally. But, they will eat beef stew, and I have everything we need right now, having gone grocery shopping two days ago. I can get it all in the crock pot and forget about it until dinner. I like that part, too.

4. Romp in the snow. It’s time to put on the duck boots and warm woolies I’ve spent all year knitting, get the dog all worked up, and go romp in the snow. Boy, if there’s a dog that has more fun in snow than a housebound Labrador, I don’t know what it is. My lab loves to jump and run and fall down and dash in circles and kick up snow and chase snowballs, and laugh until he can’t stand up any more. And, let me tell you, a pair of handmade wool socks inside my boots and some felted mittens, and I can endure the cold right along with him.

5. Knitting. Well, of course. It has to be! Snow falling, warm house, tummies full of beef stew and cookies, a cup of after dinner coffee, and knitting as the day winds down. I knit in the mornings, too, a little, before I get the kids up and send them off to school. I suppose it’s a small stress intervention thing. But at the end of the day, when the kids are lollygagging around, hubs has returned from a day at work or doing yard work around here, and I’ve done the chores, it’s just the right thing to keep my hands busy while the rest of me unwinds. I’m doing socks right now, for myself, for a change. Nice and wooly, in “simple stripes” from Knitpicks, which was on sale (aargh) so I have plenty.

Enjoy your day, too, whether it’s snowy or not, and if you can figure out what happened to my mailbox (from the picture), let me know!

Oddball Word of the Day

tumbrel: n. a cart in which condemned prersons were carried to the guillotine during the French Revolution

(from MMMW edited by Laurence Urdang)

German Idiom for Friday

Geld wie Heu haben: to have pots of money

zB: Ich kann es mir nicht leisten, zweimal im Jahr ins Ausland zu fahren. Geld wie Heu habe ich nicht.

auf Englisch: I can't afford to go abroad twice in a year. I haven't got pots of money.

(from the Guide to German Idioms by JP Lupson)

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Letters to the Editor

In my prior life, before marriage and children, I lived in or extremely close to real cities – Washington, DC, Chicago, Vienna, and I was used to their newspapers. I was a teenager during the Watergate years, and my mother worked for the Washington Post under Ben Bradlee and Katherine Graham. She wasn’t a reporter; she was support staff, but she remembers all of them, including Woodward and Bernstein, during that very exciting period of time in the newspaper industry. Since I lived with her, I got dribs and drabs of information that she would talk about, and, really, as a teenager I wasn’t nearly as interested in it as I would be now.

We lived in Arlington, VA, then, later in Alexandria, in the Old Town section. It was suburban, bordering on urban, with lots of traffic, public transportation, and incredibly good newspapers. Everyone got the Post. There wasn’t even a need to call it the Washington Post. Every time someone mentioned the Post, my imagination gilded it with gold edging on the letters, and I’d feel a sense of excitement and interest. Even in elementary and junior high school, we were expected to be familiar with the newspaper and had to use it for some assignments.

When I moved to Chicago, there were two good newspapers, the Trib and the Sun-Times. I was still a teenager, and the need to read the newspaper for schoolwork was considerably less, but I still read sections out of habit. Not a bad habit, I suppose, although it lead to tsking and head-shaking, laughter, and disgust at politicians and other silly people. It was also a source of material to open discussions with Dad and Ellen, and to argue with the evening TV news. We’d even check the paper on facts, then point our fingers at the TV, tsking some more.

In my very small town, we also have a paper. It’s a lot different from the Post, the Trib, or the Sun-Times. We have classified ads for livestock and truck drivers, farm property and fireplace wood by the cord. Our little paper, the Herald News, has two sections, Sports (and classifieds) and Other. On Fridays, it has a section called “Detours” which is where they let young people, some of whom may have studied Journalism, write articles for the paper. As I get older, I find myself less and less interested in what video or computer game may be the new “bomb”, or which teen angst book is currently popular. I have my doubts about their book review teams, anyway, as it seems they’ve never read a book they don’t like.

The Sports section features updates on all the local high school teams for 5 or 6 small cities around us on a regular basis, with big, color pictures of sweating, harried teens in motion. It reports on a few other teams when “our” teams play against them, and it uses typical warlike, aggressive lingo, i.e. “Warriors Stomp Cats,” and “Dynamic Diamonds Crush Lady Moose”. The Sports section also covers Nascar racing and some professional baseball from time to time.

Our “Other” section probably calls itself the “news” section. I don’t. There just isn’t that much news going on around here. It has comics, the agony aunt column, a crossword puzzle, a Sudoku puzzle, the police report, obits, information on marriages, divorces, births, a social event calendar, and features. For a couple of years, the features were scraping the bottom of the barrel, considering they even put my knitting group, which at the time had all of three people in it, on the front page with a 4 X 6 color picture of us knitting. Possibly not their most exciting edition.

There’s also one full page of OpEd stuff. There’s usually a syndicated column on an issue of political or national importance, there might be a column from another paper in the state on a state issue, and one column is written by staff reporters, on a rotating basis, which leads to some screamingly funny differences in quality, topic, and style. One was so heinously bad that I wrote a scathing reply to the sports reporter who dunned the nerds in his college as brownnosers. My letter was a big hit. And that probably clearly exemplifies the biggest difference between, say, the Washington Post and the local Herald News – letters to the editor.

Big city papers have letters written to the editor by college professors, titans of industry, learned individuals from all walks of life, and an occasional very erudite ordinary person. Small town papers have letters written by annoyed people and people who want money. They have a much wider range of education and writing skills, and they very seldom address national or state issues with any coherence or memorably good phraseology. We get a lot of letters on the doltishness of school boards, written by annoyed people whose kids didn’t make the team, or who think the board is spending money fecklessly, or who are board members themselves and want to make a point separate from the rest of the board. We get letters from old-timers driven to take up pen and paper by the egregious behavior of the county board over funding the nursing home, or by charity directors stumping for yet another wad of my cash.

Then there are the rest of the letters, which really cannot be categorized, and which afford me the greatest human entertainment of my day. There are letters dunning the charity basketball coordinators for unfair refereeing, using any number of tenses, indignant from tip to toe, threatening, oh, woe, to reduce the crowd by one next year. Letters which correct errors in reportage in the paper are invariably smoking with the writer’s rage over having been misquoted, misrepresented, or misunderstood. Sometimes they use complete sentences.

Thank you notes, cautiously written to a single person or reporter, or to a small group of people always make the Letters column, and they are sweet, or bittersweet, or just thought provoking. There are letters written by people who are desperately trying to support a point on an issue greater than their skill in writing; a recent one addressed the topic of “Wal-Mart supporting the homosexual agenda.” This particular pastor of a tiny church intends to protest with a small band of people with nothing more pressing to do, on the day after Thanksgiving, handing out pamphlets, undoubtedly larded with misspellings and inaccuracies, while standing on Wal-Mart property. His letter generated a few of my favorites – letters poking fun at damned near anything.

I like those letters. They show a sense of perspective that I generally agree with, about people taking themselves too seriously, about being a little more compassionate towards our fellow citizens and their foibles and mistakes and attempts to do good that go wrong somehow, and they are usually pretty well written. I write some like this myself. Sometimes I even send them in. Just for kicks, here’s the one on the brown-nosing nerds that generated several hilarious, supportive phone calls to my home. As a nerd myself and proud mother of nerds, I had a position, and I was annoyed, which qualified me right off. Ahem…

Dear Editor,

“My kid beat up your honor student.” I was reminded of this particularly nasty bumper sticker last week when reading Mr. Johnson’s epistle on the evils of education. Mr. Johnson stated that he is finishing his four year undergraduate degree in five years, after enduring endless torturous hours of confinement in tiny cages with his hapless, lackwitted, uninspired, waste-of-hair cohort, all of whom have been bored into drooling comas by fifty-something professors droning ceaselessly about nothing in particular. He hopes his Bachelor’s degree in Attendance (for I can find no other indication of specialization or skill in his writing) will land him a big job and big bucks.

I do wish him the very best of luck. He’s going to need it. I certainly hope he doesn’t continue to promote himself as a scholar because he isn’t one. Scholars enthusiastically study their topics of interest for years, learning their material deeply and comprehensively, something Mr. Johnson has, by his own account, been assiduously avoiding at all costs. I do wonder what the administrators and professors of L**** University would think of Mr. Johnson’s essay. Probably not much; I’m sure they’ve heard it all before, most likely with the same lack of creativity or zest.

Mr. Johnson, instead of finding a major which sparks his interest and attention, prefers to hamfistedly lump smart, enthusiastic, engaged students into one dismissive category, which he and others of the species Homo bardus stolidus predictably call “nerds… brown nosing for A’s.” It has apparently never crossed his sports-addled brain that many, many people actually like to learn new things. They like to find out new information, techniques and methods, and to develop skills in order to accomplish their own goals. That their mastery of the subject matter is recognized in academia by good grades is generally secondary. They are, in fact, pursuing their own interests with little or no regard to Mr. Johnson or his posse. I hope Mr. Johnson learns that envy is a very unappetizing trait, and that insecurity dressed as boredom is even less appealing.

It seems remarkably hypocritical for Mr. Johnson to have lauded the behavior of those who try to achieve their personal bests in sports in his previous articles, yet in this particular essay he denigrates those who do so in the classroom or other academic settings, calling them “brownnosers” and “nerds”. Perhaps he has yet to learn the definitions of the words, “extrapolation,” “epiphany” or “objectivity.” He does appear to exemplify, perhaps unintentionally, undiluted “egregious lack of insight”.

Nonetheless, I would like to thank Mr. Johnson for his opinion piece. He has made it abundantly clear why the US ranks in the bottom one-fourth of developed nations in both mathematics and science, as reported by the TIMSS (Trends in Mathematics and Science Study) and the PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) report. He has also implicitly demonstrated why recent NEAP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) reports indicate that only 32% of Illinois students score at “proficient” or “advanced” levels in reading and a mere 24% of all students nationally score at or above “proficient” in writing. Finally, I’d like to thank him for helping me understand why 70% of community college freshmen and 38% of four-year college students require remediation at an annual national cost of over $1.4 billion. It’s always nice to have new data, anecdotal or incidental as it may be.

Oh, in case Mr. Johnson was wondering, nerds like summer break, too; they are not forced to sit small classrooms in polite silence while their time is wasted by pointless, inattentive questions or comments posed by posturing, puerile seatwarmers.

Oddball Word of the Day

perpend (PUR-pend) n. a large stone built into a wall so that it passes through the entire thickness. Also "parpen," "perpent". Also "through stone."

(from the MMMW, edited by Laurence Urdang)