Friday, June 30, 2006

Friday Five: Five Books on a Theme

Well, it seems to be self-help/healing journey week here in the House of Strudel, so I think I’ll recommend five books that have been useful for me. Maybe they’ll strike a chord for someone else, or give an idea for suggestions for someone you know who might get some worth out of them.

1. I think the first book that really gave me a significant helping hand years ago, was Susan Forward’s Toxic Parents. There are forms of child abuse that are unmistakably abusive – physical and sexual abuse, the abuse sequence resulting from alcoholic parents, neglect, etc. There are also more insidious forms of abuse, and depending on the intensity of what one lived with as a child, and how the abusive parent continues to abuse the adult offspring, effects can really warp a person’s life.

I think this book does a good job of presenting baselines for what’s normal, showing some fairly mild (and some not so mild) case examples, not of child abuse, but of how those abuses effect adults, and how parents who are abusive will continue to find new, maliciously creative ways of continuing to try to keep the abusive system in place. The author also offers proactive means of counteracting those nasty “strings” that abusive parents use to tie their kids to the dysfunctional system, and she offers some good, helpful, motivation-bolstering self-talk for breaking the bonds of abuse so that they do not interfere with one’s daily adult life.

And it gives things a NAME. It’s important for things to have a name. Things that are named can be researched, discussed, healed, identified, raged at, spurned, examined, rejected, and overcome. Until they are named, they feel like amorphous failure, like something shaming or wrong within you. Once named, they can be excised, like a tumor, and you can take back control, set up systems to avoid them in the future, and de-intensify them and their effects on yourself.

As a parent, I re-read this book periodically to make sure that I am not visiting my mother’s demons upon my children inadvertently – as a self-check to make sure I’m living up to my goal of doing as little damage to my kids as possible, keeping it honest and real, admitting my areas of short-comings so that my children don’t think things are their fault, etc. It also helps me understand the pressures my husband feels from his parents and that whole system, which was less overtly damaging but which has affected his adult life as well.

2. Grace Mitchell’s A Very Practical Guide to Discipline with Young Children. Before I had kids, I knew that I would need help raising them, beyond the help any parent ordinarily needs. I had no good examples for parenting young children up to the teen years. From the teen years on, I had excellent examples to draw from – my Dad and Stepmom were fabulous at parenting me, the teen, but those early years were going to be a problem for me. I asked my spouse and my friends to let me put them on my “call” list, reminded them I had issues from being an abused child, and that I would need consultants to keep me on the path of good parenting, and did they feel up to being there for me. They did, and it did help. However, sometimes their answers didn’t seem right either.

I had read the usual monstrous library of parenting books handed out to new moms, the free stuff that comes in the mail, and everything in the library. This book was the hidden diamond for me. Written by a long-time preschool director, mother, and grandmother (all the same person!), it combines information on ordinary child development with strategies for coping with things that may be difficult, offers a mnemonic for addressing problems (AHIC), and urges compassion and understanding. It’s a very human book, and it gave me a paradigm shift in thinking about discipline.

I had been afraid of discipline because with my upbringing, discipline meant punishment. I didn’t want to be a lax parent with my children running amok either, or so afraid of myself that I could not rationally address this necessary aspect of parenting. Here is the phrase that helped me stop being afraid of myself and helped me become a confident, and I think, a pretty good parent:

“Discipline is the slow, bit-by-bit, time consuming task of helping children see the sense in acting in a certain way.”

And the follow up:

“Whether they deserve it or not and whether they like it or not, [parents and teachers] they wear the halos of heroes. Every child really wants to bask in the sunshine of approval of a favored adult…The word ‘discipline’ stems from ‘disciple’ and a disciple is one who identifies with his leader, and who consciously tries to follow in his footsteps…”

Bingo moment for BoS – discipline is not, as is commonly misinterpreted, punishment. Discipline is modeling appropriate behavior, teaching kids to make reasonable choices, teaching them to take care of themselves and teaching them why. And it takes time, patience, dedication, maturity, open communication, clear and appropriate consequences, etc. I could do that, and to the best of my ability, I have tried to stick to it, too. Sometimes I bore the crap out of myself as well as my kids as a result, BUT! It works, it fits within my conscience and my comfort zone, keeps me pretty calm, and the results are fine, indeed, for all of us.

On a highly personal level, the Practical Guide pointed out how many places my mom had gone wrong, so I knew what areas would be particular danger zones where I’d need to pay special attention to learning new, better, appropriate means of dealing with things.

3. Beyond Codependency by Melody Beattie. I came to her works within the last couple of years. I knew about codependency before this, about enabling, about dysfunctional systems, etc. I read the original book, and if I were at a different place in my life’s journey, I might have gotten more out of it than validation. This one, though, is pretty well-organized, points out that sometimes those of us who were codependent (and all survivors of abuse are, to some extent) can fall back into it without realizing it. It gives action plans, identification strategies, baselines, etc. It speaks to me as a peer, as a survivor, as a person of compassion towards others and towards myself. It’s a good reminder book. There’s a worthwhile companion book of daily meditations, which I also make it a point to read, but if I had to put out fresh money on one or the other, it would be this one.

4. NOT “Just Friends” by Shirley P. Glass. The term “emotional affair” has come into vogue over the last few years, and the author does a darned good job of defining it, giving some case examples, and talking about how to deal with it. She also goes further and discusses affairs of the physical kind. I have found this book useful because it gave me permission to be angry, which is something abuse survivors usually have problems with. Heck, I think women, in large measure, have been socialized to avoid or deny anger for one or another reason. That’s a misidentification, too. Rage is dangerous. Rage is out of control-ness and serves no one. Anger is my psyche’s way of telling me I’ve been violated somehow – whether it’s my trust, my person, my finances, or whatever. Anger, I need to listen to, and I have every right to express. Shirley reminded me to pay attention to my anger.

5. Emotional Blackmail by Susan Forward. There are a lot of people roaming around with some damned bad habits in their interpersonal relationships. I am related to some of them by blood, some of them by marriage, I’m exposed to some by proximity and frequency of contact, and I’ve worked for some others. At some point, they have pissed me off and left me feeling either taken advantage of or mean for expressing my desire not to be conned or pressured into something. Once again, Forward defines terms, gives baselines, and offers concrete, immediately useful strategies. She offers words and phrases to use, too. I have even given this book to Spawn to read when he had a problem girlfriend. He found it very enlightening and helpful.

OK, that does it for me for the week. Hopefully, next week I’ll be back to fun and frolics and adventures in the butt-end of nowhere! But, whatever happens, I’ll be me, happy to be me, lucky in having great kids, knitting daily, and lurching forward into the future in my own loud-mouthed, peculiar way!

Friday Bonus Round: German Idiom

Etwas vershlaegt mir die Sprache: words fail me

zB: Dieses Hotel is furchtbar. Es verschlaegt mir dir Sprache.

(This hotel is dreadful. Words fail me.)

from: Guide to German Idioms by J.P. Lupson


thieves' vinegar: a kind of vinegar made by digesting rosemary tops, sage leaves, etc., anciently believed to be an antidote against the plague. It derived its name and popularity from the story that four thieves who plundered the bodies of the dead during plague ascribed their impunity to this preparation.

(from The Word Museum by Jeffrey Kacirk)

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Working on My Bias

Aka: Diagonal knitting

With basic diagonal knitting, you start at one corner with one or two stitches, and increase on either side by one stitch each side. The next row, you just knit back across. Continue in this manner until you have reached the diagonal width you wish to achieve, and begin decreasing one stitch each side on one row, then knit the next row plain until you are down to your last two or three stitches, knit them together, and bind off. This yields a garter stitch diagonal square.

You can create rectangles by continuing to increase on one side and decreasing on the other (to maintain the same stitch count from row to row), after you have reached your desired width.

Since it’s nice and warm out, and we are all enjoying a frosty (and sweaty) glass of iced tea or other beverage, here’s a really quick pattern for a coaster with a little border around it which is knitted as you go.

Diagonal Coaster

Peaches N Cream cotton yarn
1 pr. No. 7 knitting needles
crochet hook.

Cast on 1 stitch.

Knit 1 in front (abbreviated to K1F later) and knit 1 in back (K1B), turn.
Knit across.
K1F, K1B, K1, K1F, K1F (5 sts)
K2, YO, K1, yo, K2, turn.
Knit across.
K2 yo, K3, yo, K2, turn.
Knit across.
Continue knitting in this manner, with 2 more stitches in between yo’s, every other row, until there are 23 stitches between the yo’s. (Total of 29 sts on the row)

K1, K2together, yo, k2 tog, k19, k2 tog, yo, k2 tog, k1 (decreased 2 sts, one at each side)
Knit across
K1, k2tog, yo, k2tog, k17, k2tog, yo, k2 tog, k1
Knit across
Continue in this manner until there are 9 sts total left.

K1, k2tog, yo, slip 1, k2tog, psso, yo, k2tog, k1 (7 sts)
Knit across
K1, k2tog, k1, k2tog, k1 (5 sts)
Knit across
K1, slip 1, k2 tog, psso, k1 (3 sts.
Slip 1, k2tog, psso
Bind off 1. Pull yarn through last stitch, leaving a 3” tail, cut yarn. Weave in all ends.


roozles: wretchedness of the mind; the "miserables"

(from The Word Museum by Jeffrey Kacirk)

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

It's Not Taxes...

My father-in-law died last Saturday. It was not a surprise as he was 85 years old and suffering from the end stage of Creutzfeldt-Jakob’s Disease. It was not a pretty or pleasant death, and a swift end was the best outcome. I am glad that I have reasonable certainty that he did not feel any pain, and that he was in competent medical care at the time.

While no one was surprised, the rapidity of the progress of this disease was astounding. Within 6 weeks, he went from being able to dine out with his wife and make minimal conversation, to word salad and dementia at 5 weeks, then to bizarre behavior and incontinence at 4 weeks, to an inability to walk without assistance or sign his name at 3 weeks, to losing the ability to swallow, and seizures at 2 weeks, and then death. I have never seen anything this swift before in my life.

I am the youngest in my family, and my parents were the youngest in theirs. I have seen a lot of elderly people on the slow road to death, via Alzheimer’s, senile dementia, cancer, and the like. I have attended a lot of funerals. I have seen my grandparents, aunts, uncles, even cousins to their final resting places. I buried my stepmother 5 years ago, and two of my remaining three aunts have passed away since then. I am no stranger to dying nor to death.

Nor am I a stranger to the pettifogging, rumor-generation, and general foolishness that generally ensues when a great many family members try to stick their fingers in the pie and stir things up. It has begun, and I have upped my daily yoga time from ½ hour to 45 minutes. I don’t think it’s enough. I may have to add some time in a sensory deprivation tank or in primal scream therapy. Frankly, that’s starting to sound more and more appealing by the moment and standing out in the yard hollering just might do me a world of good.

I’m just too close to this one, in the wrong way. I get to be downwind of everything my husband is receiving, and I have no authority, nor am I the one getting the phone calls. I get a lot of third-hand word farts that are bothering my spouse, and a few background eddies that circle through tertiary family members, blow up into tempests, and then it turns out there isn’t even a teapot, but people sure did make a fuss. Today was an especially blustery day.

There’s dithering over when, and who will be doing what, and if the service should be put back so this distant family member can make it, or that long-time friend, or whatever. There was, but luckily is no more, dithering over the resting place. There’s fretting and consternation over the widow, who, as far as I can tell, is doing just fine and has lots of friends and neighbors helping her out with learning to be on her own. God forbid anyone should say such a thing to the fretters and worriers, though! Heavens above.

Ack. I need to come up with a meditation phrase, something calmative, like industrial-strength word Valium to intone to myself when all this dust kicks up. I’d like something gracious and soothing to say to the worriers, too. I’ll take any suggestions. Even bad ones. Especially bad ones, as they’ll probably make me laugh.

Any takers?


pilgarlick: one who peels garlick for others to eat, who is made to endure hardships or ill-usage while others are enjoying themselves at his expense. Said originally to mean one whose skin or hair had fallen off from some disease, chiefly a venereal one, but now commonly used by persons speaking of themselves, as, "There stood poor pilgarlick," there stood I.

(from The Word Museum by Jeffrey Kacirk)

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Dogs and Cats and Getting Through the Day

My small town is really a hub for all the local one-hound dog towns. We have a super Wal-Mart, a chain grocery store, several gas stations, a few restaurants, a newspaper, about three car dealerships, and a hospital. We also have the only mental health clinic this side of a large city. It’s in a strip mall along with a renal care center and a veterinary clinic.

I have been attending women’s group therapy meetings at the clinic for over a year as part of dealing with my husband’s midlife crisis and in order to deal with some issues from my childhood. I have come to the conclusion that in our area, if your head’s not screwed up, either your kidneys or your dog are. I see everyone from miles and miles around in that parking lot. People from three towns away are there either getting a rabies shot or a prescription for Xanax, along with locals in need of dog tags and Lithium. The vets are local, but the people doctors are imported from elsewhere, much like exotic foods.

During the women’s group meetings, I often hear newbies worrying about others “finding out” they’re having problems. My stock answer is to tell them that if they are that concerned about their cars being spotted and recognized in the parking lot, they can always tell people they were checking the “free pets” bulletin board at the vet’s.

The other thing I’ve noticed is that pretty much everyone shows up at the clinic at some point or another. It’s the only place to go if your child is going through a rough patch, has a learning disability, or needs diagnosing or ongoing treatment, the state DUI programs are held there, many, many couples going through life transitions go for marriage counseling, and parents whose children are deployed overseas in the military go for stress reduction or just to find someone to talk to about their concerns. I’ve met parents of my children’s friends out in the waiting room, my husband’s insurance clients, neighbors, knitting compatriots, and familiar faces from the grocery store, too.

I can tell which doctors are rotating through that day by the clientele. As two of my sons have ADHD, we parents have frequent reunions in the waiting room on Tuesdays and Thursdays, when the child psychiatrist is in. Marriage counseling, which I have also attended, tends to be on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.

My group meets on Tuesday afternoons, and we’ve recently gotten so large that we’ve gone to meeting for an hour and a half instead of just an hour. It could be kind of a sad thing, since we have mainly three things in common -- we’re women, we’re all survivors of child abuse, and we all want to get better. It would be sad, except that we have a hell of a time. Yes, we do cry, we do trade some horrendous stories of things we have lived through, things we are going through now, the long-term effects of child abuse, and what caused us to show up, frightened and discombobulated on the doorstep. But we also tell funny stories of coping, trade jokes, share anecdotes about good things in our lives, award prize stickers to each other for acts of courage and signs of strength, we celebrate birthdays with cake and gifts, and we hug and laugh. Sometimes we go out for dinner together afterwards.

We laugh so much sometimes that some of the very sad, very embarrassed, very distraught people in the waiting room wonder if the clinic is renting out the conference room for parties. The front desk staff refers to our group as the one everyone likes to go to, and they sometimes mention they’d like to go to a meeting or two also. The clinicians take turns visiting us, perhaps for insight into our shared pathology, or perhaps in the hopes of being there during those many good moments as a respite from an endless daily parade of distress. We get trainee shrinks, too, sometimes. They are very stiff and professional, try very hard not to show that they are taking highly specific mental notes, and wind up looking a little daffy themselves in their distractedness.

The sad part for me is not that there are so many of us, nor that we are all in need of some help. The sad part is that so many other places, institutions, and people have failed us, and that we have only this one place to go for the companionship, the openness, and the sharing that we all need, and that builds friendships. Most of us have been disappointed or ignored by our churches, our partners, our jobs, and our circumstances. We have held sinking ships together, been coping as fast and as hard and as diligently as we could, and, finally, one day, we could cope alone, unsupported, no more and reached out for help and found each other.

I really don’t know why I’m holding forth about this today, other than to say that it’s Tuesday, and I’m glad I have group to go to. I don’t have to be a mother, a wife, a child, a daughter-in-law, or a daughter there. I can just be myself, and I need that right now. No expectations piled on me, no constraints or restrictions, no prohibitions against too much or too little displayed emotion, no dealing with someone else’s problems because they’re afraid of them or don’t want to face them… I’ll just get to deal with my own, and I’ll get to share a shoulder, or a hug, or a laugh or have them shared with me.

And, as for worrying about who might recognize my car in the parking lot, and what they might think, I wish I had a bumper sticker that said, “Ask me why I’m here. I’ll bet you wish you were, too.”


yaffle: to talk indistinctly, mincing the breath, as in the case of toothless persons

(from The Word Museum by Jeffrey Kacirk)

Sock O’Nickels

It’s hard to discipline a teenager. They’re real people, they have concerns that are different from the ones I grew up with, they relate differently to parents, each other, teachers, and the world at large. One constant, however, is a need for courtesy within the family. Spawn has not always excelled at this, to state it mildly, and as he has grown older, it has been harder and harder to try to make the point to him that it is important to be nice to the people he lives with.

A couple of years ago, my husband and I and the two younger kids were watching “Ella Enchanted” on DVD on the TV. It was a family movie night, with popcorn and red Hawaiian punch, and we were enjoying the movie. Spawn had a couple of friends over, and they were in the basement watching Japanese anime and hooting over teenaged things. Spawn came up a couple of times in order to replenish their snack supplies, and each and every time, stuck his head into the family room and made some completely uncalled for snarky remark. My temper frayed, and so did my spouse’s. Bunny and Doodle were pretty disgusted, too.

Our movie ended, we started clearing debris, and a few minutes later Spawn’s movie ended, too. He and his friends came upstairs, and he made some more snarky remarks and then told us he was going to drive them home. We pulled him aside, and privately told him that we didn’t appreciate the snarky remarks, and that we’d like him not to do that again. His temper exploded, and he made a huge deal out of being spoken to. There was no way his friends couldn’t have heard his yelling or stomping, and that pretty much snapped my temper, and my spouse’s as well.

Hubs and I looked at each other and decided that maybe it was time for some creative parenting. We told Spawn that while he was returning his tape to the video store, he could return “Ella Enchanted” as well. Both tapes were going to be a day late, so we knew there’d be some money due. He was going to drop off the tapes and then his friends, and so we gave him a tube sock full of nickels to pay for the tapes. We put in another 10 pounds of nickels and told him to pick up a pizza while he was out. As his friends were rolling on the floor in laughter, and Spawn stood there with a stunned look on his face, we advised him that he was to stop off at the video store first, and, in company with his friends, make a point of telling the clerk there that he “and his homies really enjoyed ‘Ella Enchanted’,” as he paid the late fees in tube sock nickels. We advised the homies that we’d like them to call when they did get home and verify that our instructions had been carried out.

There was no way out for Spawn. His friends thought this was the funniest thing they’d ever heard of, and they were eager to be a part of it. So, fully alert to his need to maintain his honor with his friends and not get in any more trouble with his parents, Spawn manfully clutched his tube sock full of nickels and sallied forth. We heard from his still-snickering friends that he had, indeed, told the video store clerk that he and his homies enjoyed “Ella”, and then he counted out nickels from his tube sock for the late fees. He went on to the Pizza Hut and made the counter girl’s evening by getting into the spirit of the thing and buying a pizza with sock nickels. She asked him why he was doing that, and he told her the whole story, and she thought it was a riot, too.

Spawn arrived home, a lightened tube sock in one hand, and a pizza in the other, with a smile on his face. He apologized for being snarky and for exploding, and he said that we had given him a story he could tell to all his friends in school on Monday morning. We asked if he thought he’d make it necessary for us to send him out with another sock full o’nickels at some point, and he said no.

He’s been pretty good about holding back on the snark ever since. I don’t know if it was good parenting or famously bad, but it does seem to have worked.

Monday, June 26, 2006


faffle: said of work which occupies much time, the results not being satisfactory or commensurate with the labour and time expended on it.

(from The Word Museum by Jeffrey Kacirk)

The Good, the Bad, and the Mundane

In response to requests, here are the gargoyle,

the hedgewitch,

and the finished Fiesta sweater.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Five Great Things about G.R.I.T.S.

(Girls Raised in the South)

1. GRITS have Manners – “Yes, sir,” “yes, ma'am,” “please,” and “thank you so much” are so ingrained in our speech patterns that we will even thank police officers after being issued a ticket, surly clerks who have just refused to take back a faulty appliance, and doctors who have told us we are dying of something awful. No Southerner thinks this is odd. It has the added benefit of making the exchange end well and leaves the other person either with a sense of relief or a sense of regret for having treated someone badly who is obviously so nice.

Your average GRITS will only withhold thanks under extreme offense and will say why, to make it clear she was not raised in a barn by rabid, mange-ridden wolves. An example of such a breach of etiquette might be, “Well, Sadie, I won’t be thanking you for telling me my daughter is a slut, as I don’t believe it, and I do not appreciate your foul tongue, nor your nasty little mind.” BETTER GRITS response: “Thank you so much for taking that no-account husband off my hands. I was tired of having to go to the doctor for penicillin. I wish you as much happiness with him as I had.”

2. GRITS know Food – Sadly, not quite as many modern GRITS can cook as well as their predecessors, however, they are still acquainted with the principles of what constitutes a good meal versus a Sunday dinner, and it is a point of honor to develop the skills and knowledge to be able to produce at least one food item so well that consumers thereof think it should be named in their honor. Typically, this food item would be a dessert, such as a cake or bar cookies.

I have known Southern mommas who were so insistent that their daughters learn to cook at least one dessert, that they would dedicate every weekend for a year or better to teaching them over and over and over again how to achieve the perfect Orange Dream Cake, including getting the frosting to look professionally done. The family seldom objects after the first two attempts, as they get to eat the trial runs, which may look nasty but taste great.

And, what Momma knew and baby girl didn’t, was that while she was teaching her daughter how to make that perfect cake, she was also teaching her confidence, building the kitchen skills necessary to be able to cook pretty much everything else she’d ever want to cook, and how to take pride in her accomplishments and not devalue “women’s work.”

3. GRITS know the value of manual labor – Every real GRITS has, at some point, stood out in the hot sun, grubbed in dirt, swatted sand flies, mosquitoes, and gnats, and done so for a good long stretch of several hours. Whether it was working in Momma’s rose garden, picking field peas for dinner, topping corn, de-worming tobacco, digging up new potatoes, picking peaches, or setting out tomato and zucchini plants, this is an absolute given in southern female life. Your GRITS may have done so only once as a tiny tot, or may have done so every growing season, but I can guarantee you that it’s been done. It’s as important as wearing a bra to church.

Consequently, GRITS are very sympathetic to those who earn their livings as farmers, landscapers, arborists, truckers, etc., and you are very likely to get an Orange Dream Cake as your just desserts (no need to pardon the pun) after having worked outdoors in the hot sun all day in appreciation of your efforts.

Conversely, GRITS will view anyone who has not engaged in manual labor at some point as some kind of aberrant sissy, male or female. Be warned.

4. GRITS are experts at Cussin’ – you have not been properly cussed out until you have pissed off a GRITS. True GRITS will abstain from the use of obscenities while in the full throes of a southern snit. Unless you yourself have lowered the tone of the disagreement, such epithets are not likely to enter the room. A typical string of cussing will include hyphenated words, evoke comparisons to disagreeable wildlife, cast aspersions on your heritage, and refer to your inability to function adequately in some major area of your life. It is not required to make logical sense, but rather to make stunningly clear just how egregious your behavior or statements have been. Your GRITS will demonstrate the breath control and volume of a professional opera singer to such an extent that you will be rendered mute and deaf by the end of her tirade and will probably have lost the ability to stand without assistance or without staggering around to regain your balance.

At typical tirade might be: “You mule-skinning, snake-licking, no-‘count, pea-flickin’, yellow-bellied, sorry son of a white trash, trailer-dwellin’, ‘gator-rassling’ carpetbagger! What do you MEAN, you are not going to pick up your nasty, smelly, stinkin’, mud-encrusted, filthy, damp, slimy, disease-carryin’ socks offa my living room floor? Were you raised in a BARN? I know your Momma, and she taught you better than that, and I know she’d be ASHAMED to call you her son, and if you don’t get your wide, old, lazy trailer-tail offa that couch, and pick those dag-nabbed socks up, AND put them in the hamper, where decent people put their disgusting, dirty clothes, so’s I can haul them off to the Washeteria and sanitize them before we all come down with the mange and I don’t know what all, I am going to call your Momma and have her drag her tired, long-sufferin’ tail feathers on over here and take you home and get you trained right before I EVER let you back in my house again!”

Or thereabouts. Oh, and you are expected to hop to it, get it done, and later apologize for doing whatever it was that upset her so badly, then she can apologize, and you can all have a good laugh at her creativity. For the target of such a tirade to reply in kind would be trashy and inappropriate, as well as being a horrendous misreading of the situation.

5. GRITS can become Mommas – Mommas are the court of last resort, the ultimate arbiters of disputes, unchallenged, saintly, reliable, calm, sassy, emotionally strong, unafraid, good cooks, practical, fun-loving, realistic, resourceful, revered by the pastor, generous, understanding, and are never, ever, ever to be referred to in any negative manner whatsoever. Even if, in their dotage, they wander down the street naked, covered in cake frosting, cussing up a blue streak, no one ever says anything bad about them publicly. Mommas are what hold families and homes together through thick and thin.

In return for such social homage, Mommas have a lot of duties. The house must have at least one room suitably clean for receiving august personages, such as the preacher, and all visitors should be offered libations appropriate to the time of day. Mommas are responsible for teaching their children how to live decently, be polite, learn to be adaptable to strange or scary situations, how to cook and clean for themselves, to behave and do well in school, show respect for their elders, and develop good life habits in general. Mommas must not spend to excess, and, in fact, are sometimes hilariously frugal – I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a Southerner who has not, at some point, heard “Don’t you throw that rubber band/egg carton/used Popsicle stick/piece of string/etc. out! I can use that in my garden next spring!”

Mommas are also expected to master at least one thing in each of the major domestic skills areas – it might be fried chicken for dinner, or it might be Mud Pie; it might be sewing, knitting, tatting, or crochet; it might be having the cleanest house in Christendom or being a creative decorator or being one helluva bargain hunter, and so on. Above all else, a Momma makes her children feel loved and accepted and safe.

Momma-hood is a journey, and it is considered a true, meaningful compliment to be called a “good Momma”. A good Momma can make all the difference in the life of her offspring and her spouse. A bad Momma is not a real “Momma” and will ruin everything and damage everyone. It is possible to become a Momma without having any children – by being a good person to whom others turn for advice, comfort, help, and reassurance. No man can ever really be a Momma, but he can be “near as good as” one.

Friday Bonus Round: Fun German Idiom

jemandem den Kopf waschen: to give someone a piece of one's mind

zB: Dafuer, dass er so spaet in der Nacht nach Hause gekommen ist, hat ihm seine Mutter den Kopf gewaschen.

auf Englisch: His mother gave him a piece of her mind for coming home so late at night.

(from the Guide to German Idioms by J. P. Lupson)


exophagy: a custom of certain cannibal tribes, prohibiting the eating of persons of their own tribe.

(from The Word Museum by Jeffrey Kacirk)

*I'm sure that one will come in handy some day!*

Thursday, June 22, 2006

On the Needles...

If you’re familiar with the Knitlist, you’ll know it as “OTN”, a stock phrase used to introduce a part of one’s post making it eligible for posting to the List. On the Needles – I suppose for new knitters or extremely organized knitters, or perhaps a great many knitters of various categories, the list of what’s “on the needles” is short. I am not one of those people.

I’m one of the many knitters for whom “on the needles” requires a follow-up question – In which room? With which yarn? At what time of day? My answers can include, “Depends on the weather,” “Well, in the den…” and “For Doodle, I’ve got a … going, and for Bunny, it’s a …, and I’m waiting for Spawn to get cold and ask for something, but I did pick out this nice Australian blue merino, which would look good with this avocado yarn for a modest chest stripe…”

I suppose it would be easiest to go by room. Upstairs in the master bedroom, I have a pink and white baby blanket in rev. stockinette/stockinette squares with a garter stitch border going. I can work on it in the dark or low light if I wake up (thanks, menopause) in the middle of the night and don’t want to go through all the folderol of turning on lights.

The living room has three projects going – the first is a nearly completed size 12 K4K sweater in fiesta type orange – I call it that because every time I see the yarn, I mentally yell, “Ole!” It’s down to the last 1/3 of the second side of the bodice region. The living room also hosts an interim garter stitch scrapghan; I take the leftovers from the sweaters and knit onto pre-existing work until I haven’t enough yarn left to knit another row. I suppose it’s a “memory” scrapghan, much like quilts made from scraps leftover from clothing made for children, in days gone by. And, there’s a stalled crochet afghan in there – I still have the yarn for it, I did 9/10 of it, and then my husband ran off with it. Now it needs to be washed before I can finish the last panel, sew it on and do the border.

The den holds my small projects, or those that I photograph for this blog. I also have a crafts table where I mount my swift and ball winder and gaze out the big window to meditate and ponder the project for which I am winding yarn. Sometimes I just wind yarn up because I need to wind down, and I think about all the nice things that particular yarn could be used for. Currently, I have a shawl in horseshoe print (aka “fishtail lace”), which I might wind up frogging (pulling apart) because the texture of the yarn obscures the lace. There’s also one sweater of Bunny’s, which needs darning across a color-patterned panel, and I need to scare up the remnant yarn to get that done.

The dining room is currently my main workroom. I do hope to move the majority of my “operation” to the den someday, but for now the dining room provides the best seating, lighting, and accessibility. OTN/dining room are: a plain garter stitch scarf in forest green boucle for charity, a blue flame stitch one-piece afghan in a wool/acrylic/mohair blend for Doodle (we have a deal, when he makes his bed before school, I do at least one full pattern repeat on it during the day, and with school out, I’m not working on it), a mitten cuff waiting for me to get inspired and create the mitten to go with the Stained Glass Hat I posted about a month or so ago, and this:

Which is a top down raglan (tips in an earlier post) made from donated black acrylic yarn and three strands of white “Ice” yarn (which comes in bulk in single ply – acrylic). I picked up the Ice yarn on Ebay, and then spent a good three weeks winding the enormous quantity of it, which was somewhere in the neighborhood of 12 pounds, all single ply, in four colors. The raglan will be going to charity, too. The patterning will probably be just across the entire yoke, and the body and arms plain black. I may wind up putting a couple/three corresponding series of patterns near the cuff and hems. We’ll see how it goes.

This pattern, “Candlelit Windows,” is from J. Fee’s The Sweater Workshop, and it’s credited to Janetta Dexter. I happen to like the philosophy behind her patterns – no floats longer than 5 stitches (I actually don’t much like floats beyond 3 stitches because they slow me down too much and tend, over time, to be the weak points in a garment for snagging or becoming holey or pinched), easy to memorize, nice looking, not really gender-specific.

For the record, here are the latest two sweaters completed for K4K. It’s nice to NOT be working with purple right now! Oh, and for anyone worried about flashing or pooling with stock variegated yarn in stockinette, I prevented that by including a line of plain purple every fourth row to "break" any pooling/flashing in the sweater in the back.


begrumpled: disgruntled

(from The Word Museum by Jeffrey Kacirk)

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Parrot Tales

I have an African Gray parrot named Hawthorne. I’ve had him for over 20 years now, and he’s like a fourth kid. A very messy, loud kid that I cannot discipline, cannot educate, cannot potty train, and would hate to live without.

When we first got him, his eyes had just changed from brown to yellow, so he was pretty young. Our little family consisted of just myself, my spouse and Hawthorne. For months he said nothing, made no noise whatsoever. I started to think we had purchased the dud of the parrot world.

One day, coming home from a long day in corporate America, my husband working late at his sales job, I approached our apartment door to hear sounds of Tarzan movies whooping through the door. I thought to myself, “Damnit! Hubs left the stupid TV on when he left this morning.” Grumpily, and with some embarrassment, I opened the door, and the sounds promptly stopped. No TV, no radio, even the fish tank was relatively silent. Hawthorne was sitting on his perch, mutely preening. I eyed him. He played with his toes and ignored me.

I went off to change my clothes, and no sooner did I pull off my shoes, two rooms away, than I heard an ear shattering “AWWWWWWWWWWK.” I went back into the living room to see the bird pretending to sleep, with his head tucked back under his wing. I went up closer and noticed he was looking at me and only feigning sleep. I pointed my finger at him and said, “I’ve got your number, buster, you’re a prankster!”

It took months of careful work to get him to start making any noise at all in front of us. I wound up making a makeshift xylophone from glasses with varying amounts of water, which I played with a spoon in front of him, which showed him that humans could make interesting music, not just mumbling noises. I would sneak into the bathroom and whistle the Andy Griffith theme song, Camptown Races, and a lot of other summer camp songs. He finally decided to play whistle games with me, but still no words.

Despite the fact that we were handling him, petting him, cuddling with him, and allowing him lots of time to roam around safely, it was hard to love him. He didn’t seem to love back, and he made a huge mess – seeds, feathers from molting, dander, half-chewed fruit flung all over the place, pecked fingers, chewed t-shirts, and bird crap on the couch or floor or me, it was an uphill road. I almost gave up hope of ever having any kind of a rapport with him on a “pet” level, and had started considering him a form of living room d├ęcor with minimal potential.

My husband’s workload became heavier, and Hawthorne and I spent a lot of time alone together. I was depressed, constantly watching my weight, and kind of moping. I was feeling particularly fat one day, wearing sloppy sweats, hair a mess, no makeup, and we had a breakthrough. I was rooting under the couch for something, large butt in the air, and I heard a construction site quality wolf whistle.

I backed out from under the couch, looked at Hawthorne, and I could swear he smirked at me. He looked at me sideways and bobbed his head. “That was YOU, wasn’t it?” I asked. He clicked his beak and turned away.

I went back under the couch for the missing whatever. Big wolf whistle again. I jerked back out and we eyeballed each other. I gave in. “Thanks,” I said, “I needed that ego boost. Want a peanut?”

“Lu,” said Hawthorne.

“Is that yes?” I asked. “Peanut?”

“Lu. Woo-woo-woo,” replied the bird in a flirtatious manner.

“Are you telling me I’m a hot chick?” I prodded.

“Wacka-doo,” said Hawthorne, “Woo-woo-woo.”

“You definitely get a peanut. I get this whole decoding thing. I speak four languages. Now I get to learn ‘Transition Parrot’, too,” I answered, as I handed him a nut.

He threw it at me.

“Hard case, eh? Not going to take nuts from the hot chick? Wanna ride on my finger, big boy?” I said, and wiggled my eyebrows at him.

“Lu,” he said, and waved a claw at me. I picked him up, and he promptly started cuddled up against me.

“You’re definitely a guy,” I said, “let’s watch some tube. I’m feeling better now. Maybe there will be a nature show on.”

That was the beginning of a beautiful relationship. Much like a toddler, as soon as he got the hang of creating syllables rather than whistles and clicks, he talked and talked and talked. He yells, he sings, he warbles, he editorializes, he reprimands the kids and nags them, and he adds input as to our dietary choices.

“Chicken waffle,” he’ll insist from his cage in the kitchen, “graham cracker.”

“No, I was planning on making meatloaf and mashed potatoes,” I’ll answer.

“Oooooooh,” he’ll say, “corn, corn, corn.”

“Lima beans,” I’ll say, to which he responds with a big razz berry.

He comes up with sentences and phrases that keep all of us laughing, too, and on a pretty regular basis. One morning I was putting away the milk after breakfast, and, very clearly and distinctly he announced, “I don’t have any pants.”

I looked at him and said, “Well, you have little gray feathers on your legs,” and I looked at his legs. He looked down towards his legs, too, and said, “Oooooooh. Ok,” and went back to chirping, clicking, and bobbing back and forth.

Some of our family favorite Hawthornisms are:

“I’m driving a bus called the MS Chirples.”
“Doodle, there’s a bug in my water!” (It was a seed hull that he’d thrown there himself)
“Don’t leave the house without teeth.”
Saying the word “chirp”
“Hey, old fart” (said only twice, to my father and father-in-law)
“You’re a wharf rat” (usually said to someone who tells him he’s messy)
“Give me a dollar, and I won’t watch”
“I’m a dinosaur”
“Chew, chew, chew, I love to chew, chew, chew. I love to chew, chew, chew, chew (musical pause) chew, chew, chew.”

There are a million of them. But there’s only one feisty little Hawthorne. Long may he chirp.


alectromantia: divination by a cock. Draw a circle, and write in succession round it the letters of the alphabet; on each side of it lay a grain of corn. Then put a cock in the center of the circle, and watch the grains he eats. The letters will prognosticate the answer.

(from The Word Museum by Jeffrey Kacirk)

Note: Wonder if this would work with parrots?

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Of Yard Art, Water, and Wildlife

I often quack about how dull and boring life is in a small town, with neighbors in each other’s business too much, not enough books at the library, and so on. There are nonetheless advantages to living in a small town. I am always part of a group when it comes to investigating loud noises late at night, we band together to harass any business that tries to intrude on our neighborhood more than we think is fitting, and between one end of the street or another, we can pretty well round up stray dogs faster than the pound can get here. And we feed them and water them and calm them down, too.

Another advantage is being able to have yard crap. When it’s someone else’s stuff, it’s crap, an eyesore, a real “what were they thinkin’?” moment in their lives. When it’s in my yard, it’s lovely. Or if it’s not lovely, I can blame it on the kids and then anyone who was thinking of complaining will say, “Oh, OK, science project, eh?” or they’ll nod sagely and say, “Teaching them about the wonders of nature and caring for live things, right?” Whatever reason they come up with, I agree, and we both go on with our lives. We all have different ideas of what constitutes yard crap.

My across the street neighbor likes French country yard crap. Little verdigris faux chairs or benches with potted plants reclining on them decorate her walkway, along with a baroque bird food dish out under her crabapple tree and little Beatrix Potter type ceramic critters right at the door. Another lady has that cement goose fetish thing going on, changing its costumes to suit her moods, the weather, and what’s on sale at where ever the heck they sell clothes for those things. Maybe she makes them, I don’t know. Still another neighbor has a distinct liking for 12 foot tall illuminated fake cacti. Thankfully, he puts them in the back yard and only lights them up for the Christmas season. The outlines stay there year round, and they do kind of go with the horse corral fencing he put up around his back yard.

I like weird stuff. Oh, I have the usual shepherd’s crooks with hanging Wave petunias or oddball dangly plants, and I have bird feeders, some of which I’ve chosen myself, and others that the kids have made and which we display until they rot out, or the kids forget them, or the next high wind takes them on a permanent field trip. One of my particular favorites, however, is the gargoyle on the mailbox.

The mailbox didn’t come that way; it was your average plain black rural mailbox. My husband and I were mad at one of the neighbors, and I found a nice 18” tall resin gargoyle in the garden center one year. I just couldn’t see him well enough anywhere in the flower beds, and no one but us could see him if I perched him on the rock next to the driveway, so my husband screwed him to the top of the mailbox. The kids on the school buses like him; they wave. When my kids are waiting for the bus, they rub his head for good luck and courage. And one time when the mail carrier stopped off to deliver packages, she informed me that he looked a lot like our postmaster. So there he squats, an easy landmark to mention when giving directions for anywhere along the street.

Another of my favorite pieces of yard crap is my hedge witch. It’s also about 18” high and made of resin, but it looks like a happily insane daylily plant. Only from one angle can you see its large, crude face, laughing, its tongue hanging crazily out. I have a circle of stonecrop (sedum) at the base of the maple next to the driveway, and for some reason, the stonecrop won’t grow in one spot. So, I put the hedge witch there, and he greets all our visitors as they drive up along our house.

I also have a fountain. I really don’t consider it yard crap, since it’s unobtrusive, fairly organic looking, and lends the sound of splashing water to our outdoor experience. It serves as a source of water and a gathering place for the birds in our yard. It also has a frog. A real, live frog, which moved in of his own accord and eats all the mosquitoes and other bugs that wander by. We call him Stanley, and he doesn’t mind his fountain being soaped and washed, but he sure does get cranky if we power wash the fountain to remove algae.

I’m hoping to get a fake lawn gator next year. Like that famous “man in the sand” art in Virginia, the lawn croc only emerges in segments, looking like he’s swimming through the yard. I think I might put it near the fountain. Hope it doesn’t scare Stanley off.


vocating: going about from place to place in an idle manner.

(from The Word Museum by Jefrey Kacirk)

Monday, June 19, 2006

Barbies and Little Girls

After I’d had my daughter, in 1990, I started worrying about the effect of Barbie dolls on the self-esteem of little girls. Society worried right along with me. There were lots of books and talk show episodes based on the idea that having Barbie dolls caused little girls to feel physically inadequate in comparison and that that feeling would pollute their entire adult lives.

My sister and I had Barbie dolls when we were little; in fact, I got her hand-me-down Barbie. My sister didn’t have much to worry about in comparison – she was blond, thin, not all that tall, and she had her boobs enhanced. I was 8 years younger, and I did figure she looked more like Barbie after the boob job. She also had her nose fixed, and I wondered if that had something to do with idealizing Barbie’s looks.

I was never going to look like Barbie, being of olive complexion, brunette hair, and pear-shaped. Society, glamour magazines, hair magazines, and fashion designers continued to design for Barbie women, which was frustrating for me. So, I tended to lean towards the “no Barbies for healthier girls” camp, naturally.

We managed to keep Barbie out of my daughter’s life for six years or so. Then, at a large birthday party for her seventh birthday, someone gave her a Barbie. We could not be ungracious and run it through the garbage disposal then and there, and my daughter seemed intrigued by it. It was different from her baby dolls, her Polly Pockets, her stuffed animals, and dollhouse family. Plus, there were clothes! And little plastic shoes! And she could monkey with her hair! It was a very entertaining toy for her.

I worried. I worried that she was comparing herself to Barbie. I worried that she was becoming obsessed with tacky, hooker clothes and shoes that looked great but murdered feet. I worried that her idea of what a woman should be was becoming focused on external appearance and clothing. There were more talk shows on the evils of Barbie, including one on a woman who had spent some unspeakable amount of money on plastic surgery trying to remake herself into a living Barbie doll (and failing miserably). I chose not to intrude and to wait until some obvious sign of mental harm or warped thinking arose from my daughter playing with her Barbie.

One winter weekend, my daughter had a sleepover. She and 6 of her closest friends from second grade squealed and played and ate popcorn and watched Disney movies in the basement. They would scamper up and down the stairs wanting soda pop or to peek in at my sons and squeal with feigned surprise or faux fright, and they wanted to ask me questions or merely say things to me, as little girls do. They also had all brought their Barbies and clothes and were having a huge Barbie Fashion Show, which consisted of trading clothing from one Barbie to another and seeing what clothes they’d like to wheedle out of their parents at the next holiday or birthday.

I was sitting at the dining room table, reading or knitting or some motherly thing, and all the girls trooped up and presented themselves to me at once, their little pajama clad persons as cute as a Care Bears movie, hair tousled, and lots of little background snickers going on. They each had a Barbie in their hands, and my daughter was at the forefront of the crowd. She looked at the others, getting nods of agreement over something, and then opened her mouth to speak.

I thought to myself, “This is it. This is the big moment, and I’m going to have to make a remark that the mothers of ALL of these girls will find appropriate and non-objectionable. Holy crap, what am I going to say?” I smiled gently and waited with trepidation.

My daughter said, “Mom, why does Barbie’s head come off easier than Ken’s?” and, as one, each and every little girl yanked off her Barbie’s head and held the headless, over-dressed bodies towards me, with little Barbie heads dangling from their other hands. This was not the question I was anticipating, but it was much, much better.

I gave them a wry grin, took a deep breath, and spontaneously answered, “I think Barbies’ heads are made of softer plastic than Kens’ heads are, and the neck connection is a little different, too. Let’s look. Did anyone bring a Ken?” So, we reassembled Barbie and squished her head, then we yanked off Ken’s head and squished it and passed it around. We looked at their protruding plastic neck mounts and squished those, too. We pulled off Barbie heads a few more times, and the consensus among us was that the softer Barbie head and narrower neck mount made her head come off easier. Which, by the way, was what they had been doing downstairs during the fashion show in order to make changing clothes easier.

Seven little girls gave me some valuable reminders that night – that children don’t see things the same way adults do, that they are resilient, adaptable, and focused on what is important in their lives from their perspectives, that they are more curious about the universe and how it works than most adults give them credit for, and that sometimes a toy really is just a toy. My daughter is not now, nor has she ever been, emotionally damaged by having a Barbie doll. Teen magazines, TV, and peer pressure are much bigger influences than plastic dolls with easily removable heads and loud clothing, and Moms are the biggest influence of all.

Probably in part because I listened to her concerns about the Barbies without promoting my own adult concerns and answered the question she asked, not the question I wanted to answer, she trusts me now as someone who will listen. We talk about peer pressure, about things she sees in magazines and on TV. Now that she’s older and more aware of the larger world, I wait until she asks before I hold forth about the evils of appearance-worship and other topics of that ilk. We have a pretty darned good relationship for a mother and her teenaged daughter.

And, on some level, I think I have Barbie to thank for that. Just a little.


witworm: one who feeds on or likes wit

(from The Word Museum by Jeffrey Kacirk)

Friday, June 16, 2006

Friday Five

Five Ordinary Things I Like to Keep Handy:

1. Canned chicken broth -- makes food taste better, it's cheap, nutritious, and makes fixing "home made" chicken soup when *I'm* sick remarkably easy

2. Stridex Facewipes to go -- Geez, what a refresher in hot weather, particularly after yardwork. Not at all harsh, even on menopausal skin, just enough evaporative qualities to be cooling and soothing, contains aloe. You've gotta love stuff with aloe.

3. Hand and body lotion by the computer -- as I wait for all kinds of stuff to load, I can use it on myself (hey, in appropriate ways, of course). I can also clean my oven while I'm waiting, but that's a lot less likely.

4. A size E crochet hook -- you think I'm kidding, don't you? It can be used in all kinds of knitting applications, of course, for finishing or repairing dropped stitches, but it's also handy for pulling/pushing laces without grommets through the holes on shoes, pulling lost drawstrings back through their casings, levering something repulsive up to see if I dare touch it, fishing things out of the drain that out not to be there, etc. It's like having a really long, sterilizable kid finger around.

5. Safety pins -- of course. I'm a mother. I'm a woman. I wear bras and slips and carry purses and bags and totes, and things are more cheaply constructed than ever.


abcedarian: a person or book that teaches the alphabet. A word formed from the first four (or five) letters of the alphabet.

(from The Word Museum by Jeffrey Kacirk)

Friday Bonus Round: Fun German Idiom

viel um die Ohren haben... : to be rushed off one's feet, be up to one's ears in work, to have a lot on one's plate

zB: Leider kann ich heute nicht mitkommen. Ich habe viel um die Ohren.

(" 'Fraid I can't come with you today. I've got a lot on my plate.")

from Guide to German Idioms by J. P. Lupson

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Drawstring Doodad Bag - Knit

Ahh, leftovers and oddballs. What to do, what to do? One of my favorites is making wee drawstring bags for the kids (and myself). They don’t have to be fancy or even particularly pretty. Kids love to use these little bags to carry their treasures around in, to store little things, to take on hiking trips for collecting spiffy rocks, or to take to the beach for storing seashells. The size of the bag also limits the amount of junk brought home on any such excursion, so I have been known to hand out these handmade delights for just that reason.

The bags can be embellished with ruffles at the top, fringe at the bottom, tassels, turned into extravagant modern versions of Edwardian reticules, or made huge enough to be duffel bags, laundry bags, pajama bags, or possibly even sleeping bags. You can decide yours is too plain and pick up stitches at the top after it’s all already done and add lace, edgings of many varieties, fringe, whatever.

There are two main principles to consider in making a drawstring bag. If you want it to sit relatively flat, it will need a flat bottom. That means thinking ahead as to your chosen means of ending the bag – square? Round? Roundish? Other? The other principle is to remember that you will need drawstring holes in matched sets of four in order for your drawstrings to be evenly distributed so that it closes properly. This in turn means thinking in terms of the number 8. A very handy number, as it turns out, for making sure the bottom is flat as well.

For newbie knitters, this is a good practice pattern for getting comfortable using double-pointed needles. No one will give a hangnail if his or her doodad bag is a little off. They’re putting rocks and shells and magnets and buttons and Barbie clothes in it anyway! And, unlike a sock or some more demanding pattern, there are only a couple of techniques to learn, the rest is all handling your needles competently, or learning to do so.

A basic vanilla pattern follows.


Set of dpns, your choice in size, I used 4’s

About 2 ozs yarn, your choice, doesn’t need to be matching leftovers, I used worsted weight cotton

One small crochet hook, I used an E

Cast on a multiple of 8 stitches. I used 32. Join.
Knit one row. Purl one row. This completes the “neck” area above the drawstring holes.

Drawstring holes:
Knit 2 together, ***move this stitch back to the holding needle and knit the new stitch again***, yarn over, ***knit 2 together again, move this stitch back to the holding needle, and knit the new stitch again***, yarn over. Repeat around. (The reason for this is that your hole – the yarn over – expands the stitch depth twice. In order to make a nice, even, non-snagging hole, you essentially need to match that depth in the stitch between the holes. See picture.) 32 sts. 16 holes. (8 for each side) Knit one row plain. This completes the drawstring hole area.

Body of the bag:
Next row, increase evenly by multiples of 8. For example, I knit 4, increased one by the M1 method around for a total of 40 sts. If I wanted a fuller bag, I could have increased by knitting 2, then increasing, all around. I also chose to increase in the next row as well, for a total of 48 sts. Try to make these increases within the top/next two rows. (The reason for increasing is that your drawstring holes have expanded the width of the bag. If you don’t increase, the drawstring area will be noticeably wider than the rest of the bag, which is kind of weird looking, and when the bag is open, it will flop out too much at that point. Increasing by at least one multiple of 8 makes a visually proportionate bag.)

Knit 10 rows even. Measure top of bag. Mine was 4.75 inches. (See picture)

Bag length should be between 1 and 1.5 times the width of the top above the drawstring line in order to look proportionate, sit well, and be useful for storing trinkets and treasures. If it’s shorter, the puckering when the drawstring is pulled will considerably reduce the interior storage area. If it’s longer, it looks like a sock you gave up on, and the kids will bring home too much crap in it anyway.

Knit even to desired length. Mine was 6 inches.

Decrease for bottom:

Conventional wisdom is that decreasing by factors of 6 or 8 yields the closest to “round”. (Note: you can also INCREASE by those factors if you want to make something round in the opposite direction – starting a bag at the bottom, or making a round blanket or doily) Divide stitches by either; I used 6 as my interval, and decreased as follows:

1st row: knit 4, knit 2 together around
2nd row: knit 3, knit 2 together around
3rd row: knit 2, knit 2 together around
4th row: knit 1, knit 2 together around
5th row: knit 2 together around.

This should yield 8 swirls, leaving 8 stitches unworked. Using the crochet hook, pull a loop of yarn through, pull tightly, fasten off. Leave a 4” tail and pull that inside the bag.

Note: If you choose to decrease every other row, your bag will have a conical bottom. Also, a little of the even part of the bag will act as the outer edge of the bottom usually, but the important part is having it sit flat, which has been accomplished.

Drawstrings: (make two)

Using the crochet hook, leaving a 4” tail, put a slipknot on the hook, and draw it relatively tight. Pull a loop of yarn through. This is your first chain crochet stitch. Repeat to desired length, I recommend at least 2.5 times the measured width of the top of the bag, or at least enough to go around the wrist plus 2” of ease for where it’s in the puckers. Leaving a 4” tail, snip, draw yarn end through last loop and pull tight.

Fold your bag in half lengthwise and feed the crochet hook down into the first hole, up through the next one, etc., until you get to the halfway point. Wrap that 4” tail around the crochet hook and pull the drawstring back through the holes. Using the same drawstring, repeat on the other side with the other end of the same string. You should now have a drawstring completely circumnavigating your bag, the ends coming out of holes next to each other with only one stitch bar in between the two ends. If isn’t right, don’t panic, this is not your presentation gift for the queen, it’s a doodad bag for rocks and Barbie shoes. Any problems were probably due to not believing me when I said use multiples of 8.

For the second drawstring, count to the middle and pull your drawstring over the other one, through the same holes in the same order, but such that the string ends emerge approximately or exactly halfway around the bag. Weave yarn tails back through the chains, snip off excess, tie ends together. I just use a half hitch knot.

Pull both ends. Voila! Drawstring doodad bag! Give to beloved child, or let siblings duke it out over the finished product. Or store necklaces in it.


tootle: to try the notes in an under tone, as a singing bird, before beginning the whole song.

(from The Word Museum by Jeffrey Kacirk)

HEY! I still use that word! Maybe I'm dead! Aaaaaaaaargh.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Crossword Puzzles

When my Mom and Dad were married, they didn’t do puzzles, play board games, or have much consistent fun. They sometimes played cards, but their banter always seemed mean-spirited. Life with them as parents tended to be grim, serious, and full of arguments, dark looks, fights, and lots of other gray, gritty stuff. Two years after my parents’ divorce, my Dad married my step mom.

I was twelve, afraid of, or mad at, (or both) pretty much everything. That included Ellen, my new step mom. I was afraid she’d be mean to me or resent me or eat up all my weekend time with my Dad, which was the one bright light in my life in those days. She didn’t. She taught me how to do things as a family instead, something that was completely new to me.

I remember the first weekend I spent with Dad and Ellen. Sunday rolled around. I got up and grumpily wandered around, wondering if I was supposed to fix my own breakfast or what, since neither of them was up. I moodily sat on the couch, feeling sorry for myself. My Dad wandered past in his bathrobe, got the paper, and went back into the bedroom. I was kind of ticked, which doesn’t take much for an already moody twelve-year-old, and I figured that, by gum, I’d just go knock on their door and ask for the comics.

Their bedroom door was open, they were both decent in modest nightclothes (so much for my Mom’s ranting about sirens and houris and man-stealing sluts, but she was kind of a loon anyway), and they were sharing the newspaper and talking. They invited me in with smiles, their hair all disarranged and their faces still sleep-creased. This was new to me; it felt intimate and different.

I edged in, wary as a wild cat, and asked for the comics, ready to bolt at any second. My Dad peered over his half-glasses and his paper and said, “Sit down, you can read in here with us.” I sat on about 2 inches of bed, reached carefully for the comics, still ready to run hell for leather, just in case.

My step mom finished with her section of the paper, declaring, “Geez, some people are complete NUTS,” and looked at me and said, “I just can’t believe the things these celebrities get up to. Do you want to look at this section?” She handed me the features section, very matter-of-factly, and started rooting through the rest of the paper.

“Where’s the crossword puzzle?” she asked. “I like the Sunday crosswords because they’re harder,” she told me. Dad rummaged through the paper, too, they found the section with the puzzle in it, and she folded the paper, took out a pen (a PEN!) and started to work. I could barely concentrate on Snoopy or Prince Valiant or B.C. in my comics because this was all brand new behavior to me. It was so… nice.

“Hey,” said Ellen in her legal secretary’s voice, “do you happen to know what a 6 letter word for rotten is?”

“Are you asking me?” my Dad asked.

“Anyone,” said Ellen.

This was the moment I had been dreading. I thought, if I can’t come up with the answer, I will feel stupid and they’ll be disgusted with me and things could get ugly. I started to inch off the bed.

“Putrid,” said my Dad.

“Oh, that fits,” said Ellen, and she scratched it in. I stopped inching away. I read some more comics, feeling more at ease. My Dad mumbled stuff about whatever he was reading, Ellen would occasionally blurt out, “Oh, it can’t be, that’s just DUMB,” at her crossword puzzle, or ask if we could think of a word that fit. It was easy, it was intimate family time, and I began to relax. Ellen got fed up with lying in bed, handed the puzzle off to Dad, and she went off to make breakfast.

“That was nice,” I said to Dad as he studied the puzzle.

“She’s a nice lady, BoS,” said Dad, “I have a lot of fun spending time with her, and I think you will, too.”

He was right. I treasured those Sunday mornings with the three of us lounging around in our nightclothes on their big, king-sized bed, the newspaper spread all over the place. Over the years we talked about a million things, laughed, poked fun at each other and at life, and shared many thoughts as well as space and time. Dad and I were always impressed by Ellen’s knowledge of arcane or bizarre words. She would tell me bits about her first marriage, or about when her son was a little boy. I told them both about school things, Dad would share funny things about events at work. Ellen always had first dibs on the crossword puzzle, which she always did in pen, declaring jokingly that people who did them in pencil were amateurs.

I didn’t realize how much those Sunday mornings meant to me until I went off to college. Those, and Ellen’s chili, were things I longed for every weekend I was away and even after I got married. My husband is not much for newspapers or crossword puzzles, so I kind of drifted away from the particulars of that experience over the years until a few years ago.

Ellen died in November of 2001, and the first thing I did was buy a crossword puzzle book, the day after the funeral. I sat at the dining room table early the next morning, filling in blanks, in pen, crying and missing her terribly. By the time the kids got up, I was done crying but I was still working puzzles. My daughter asked, “What are you doing, Mom?” I looked at her, then 11 years old, and so much like me at that age, and I smiled. “A crossword puzzle. Ellen used to do them all the time. … Do you know who Jacob’s eighth son was?”

“Nooooo,” she answered, giving me the “you’re such a goof” look, “but I can give you a big hug!” And she did.

We have a five-year old ritual now, where one of the kids brings in the local paper, we share it around the dining room table before dinner, and I get first dibs on the crossword. I do it in pen because people who do it in pencil, well, they’re amateurs. The kids think my vocabulary is amazing.

I miss you, Ellen, and thank you so much for everything.


restial: a fee for burial within the Church, including the charge for tolling the bell

(from The Word Museum by Jeffrey Kacirk)

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

LOST in the Wide Open Prairie

One year, a few weeks before Christmas, things got tense around the house. I needed to get out before I lost control and bit someone, so I decided to follow through on a postcard I’d gotten from my Mary Kay lady and go shop at her in-home bonanza.

I asked my husband for directions to her house. I didn’t know my way around here very well, and he’d been working in the area for several years. He gave me guy directions, “head west on 80, take the Marshall exit, and it’s right there.” That sounded simple enough. I should have known better.

Off I headed, westward ho! Glad to be out of the house, the van radio cranked up good and loud, a half an hour later I saw the Marshall exit and took it. Then things started to go bad. At the top of the exit, I was confronted with a choice. The sign directly in front of me had an arrow pointing to the right, captioned “Hereford Cows”. A left-pointing arrow indicated, “Trailer Park”. Luckily, traffic was non-existent, so I pondered for a moment. In which direction was I more likely to find a Mary Kay lady – the Hereford Cow direction or the Trailer Park direction? I decided on Trailer Park.

I turned left. Now, I live in a state known for its phenomenal flatness. International writers have been known to refer to my state as proof that Columbus was wrong; that the world truly is flat. So, I was tooling along at my flatlander speed and WHOMP, my van leapt off a hill, landing awkwardly several yards ahead of where I expected to be. Damn! A hill! A real hill! Just like the kind I grew up with in Virginia! I pulled to the side of the road to get my bearings and calm down a little, then continued down a winding road, through dense brush and tree growth, hoping to at least spot that Trailer Park. There were no road signs, no signs of life whatsoever.

Twenty minutes later, I encountered my first signs of human habitation – rusted out refrigerators and Chevrolets in front of a ramshackle formerly white clapboard house. That seemed positive, so I kept driving. More hills, more heavy forest, more winding road. I emerged, quite suddenly, into an intersection with a bank on my left, a junkyard on my right, and across the street was a gas station.

“AHA!” I thought to myself, “Civilization! I’ll ask someone there how to get to the Mary Kay lady’s house.” I pulled in, parked, and walked into 1935. There was a little old man sitting in a plastic-covered diner chair, drinking coffee from a chipped white mug, another toothless old man in greasy overalls behind the counter, also drinking coffee from a chipped white mug, and they both looked at me like I was a circus freak. I smiled, determined to be nice and asked, “Do either of you gentlemen know how to get to 135 S. Marina Drive?”

The old guy in the chair wheezed in a breath, smacked his lips and announced, “Well, I wouldn’t know. I haven’t been able to find a damned thing since they named the streets around here.” His greasy cohort grunted in agreement. I was stunned into silence, pondering the idea that naming streets might cause them to disappear or move around when you weren’t looking, or wind up in different places once you went down them.

The fellow at the counter snorted a few times, blew his nose into his greasy shop rag and said, “Well, you could always ask at the police station.”

“Where is that?” I asked.

“You go back out to the intersection; mind the traffic, it gets heavy,” he said (I had yet to see another car capable of motion since I’d turned off towards the Trailer Park), “take yer first right, then turn left at the furniture store, and it’ll be on yer right. You can’t miss it.” I opened my mouth to ask for more specific information, then thought better of it when I noticed that the old fellow in the chair had a cobweb connecting his shoulder to the wall of the gas station. I figured I should get the hell out of there before I forgot how to find named places, too.

Back into the van I went. I took the first right and opened my eyes wide, looking for the furniture store. I didn’t see one, and wound up driving smack into a parking lot full of rusted pickup trucks outside of a bar. I turned around and drove back along all three blocks of the downtown area. The only thing I saw that resembled a furniture store was a big window, no name overhead, with a rocking chair on display. I figured that must be it, so I turned to the right (since I was heading the opposite direction now) and starting looking for a police station.

I saw a couple of warehouse type buildings and then a distinctly residential area ahead of me. I pulled into a warehouse parking lot and thought. I had grown up in a suburb of Washington, DC. My idea of a police station was a municipal looking building with the words “POLICE STATION” or “[city name] POLICE” clearly identifying it located ON the building somewhere. I figured that might be asking for too much in this particular small town, so I decided to creep back and forth through the non-residential areas looking for something else that might look police related.

Ten minutes later, I found a building with a cardboard sign, hand lettered, spelling out “Coroner”. I figured the police station couldn’t be far off, and a little more investigation proved me right. In front of a short strip mall kind of building was a parking space labeled, “Police Parking Only”. I parked next to it, got out of my car, and started looking for signs of life.

The cold winter wind blew fiercely behind me, chasing bits of cardboard, paper, and occasional bright colored strands of discarded plastic streamers down the street. I wandered back and forth, peering into windows, and finally I spotted a pamphlet rack through one of those windows. In front of the door was a homemade metal box with a single button and a speaker grid. I crossed my fingers, pressed the button, and yelled, “is this the police station?” into the box.

Much to my surprise, I head the rustling of paper coming through the speaker grid, and a female voice, muffled by sounds of sandwich-eating responded, “You need something?”

I yelled back into this box, “Yes, I’m looking for 135 S. Marina Drive. Can you tell me how to get there?”

The box answered, “Where is that?”

I felt my right eye developing a nervous tic. “Well,” I said, “I don’t know. That’s why I asked you.”

“Whachoo want there?” asked the box.

“I’m looking for my Mary Kay lady. She lives there. I want to buy some foot cream for my sister.” I replied.

“Mary Kay? What’s her name?” shrilled the box.

“Louise Turner,” I said, standing there in the frigid winter air, wondering how the hell I had gone from driving along an ordinary interstate highway to standing in front of a faceless metal box in Stephen King’s nightmare version of a hometown, “Can you tell me how to get to her house?”

“I think my sister knows her. Hang on, I’ll call her and find out,” said the box.

I waited. The box finally crackled to life. “My sister goes to church with her but don’t know where she lives. I’ll call the preacher and find out. Hang on another minute.”

I laid my head down on top of the box. I couldn’t believe this was happening. Not only was I completely lost, standing outside in the wind, screaming into a box with no name, but now the police were tracking down my Mary Kay lady through her minister. I wasn’t sure that if I did somehow manage to get to her house, that she’d be real pleased to see me, but I figured I’d better stick it out.

“Breathe, BoS, breathe,” I told myself. It seemed like another half an hour passed before my box rustled again. “OK, I found her,” it said, “do you want to go the scenic route or more directly.” I nearly screamed with frustration.

“Well, I’m kinda lost already, so I think the more direct route would be better,” I answered.

“You sure? The scenic route’s real purty this time of year,” said the box.

“I’m sure, but thanks, maybe next time,” I said.

Well, the box gave me a bunch of directions, none of which involved street names, but included looking for a shop with a “FRESH BAIT” sign, a witch ball in a front yard, and a bridge. I thanked the box and climbed back in my van and laid my head down on the steering wheel.

“Holy crap,” I said to myself, “oh, holy crap. Louise is going to be SO pissed when I do finally get there.”

Fortunately, the box’s directions were very good, and I arrived, with loins appropriately girded, at Louise’s house, which had neither a street sign nor a house number to identify it. As I approached her door, she opened it, her eyes as big as saucers, and said, “Jesus Christ, I’m glad you found me! The police AND my minister called me!” I apologized and wound up spending about twice as much time and money as I had intended out of guilt.

Before I left, I said, “Is there an easier way for me to get home? I’m not sure I can reverse my route and not get lost again.”

“Oh, sure,” she said, “just turn left out of the driveway and go straight until you get to route 47, then go north.”

“Are you kidding me?” I asked.

“Oh, no,” she said, “That’s why I was so shocked that you had called the police to find me.”

“Well, thanks,” I said.

Sure enough, it was that easy getting home. I walked in the door, three hours after I had left, on a trip I expected to take no more than an hour, and fixed my husband in the eye with a masterful glare.

“YOU!” I said. “YOU gave me GUY directions!”

“Yeah,” he said, sitting there warm and comfy in his plaid flannel shirt, holding our youngest on his lap, in front of the TV, watching Nascar racing. “Was there a problem?”

“Grrrrrrrrrrrrrr. MEN! I need tea,” I said, “nice, hot, Constant Comment tea. By the quart. And a cookie. Maybe FIVE cookies.” And I glared at him some more because it seemed to be calming my nervous tic.

“OK. What’s for dinner?” he asked.

“A long, aggravating, dumb story,” I said, “and probably soup.”


rumbustical: to make a clatter or disturbance

(from The Word Museum by Jeffrey Kacirk)

Monday, June 12, 2006

Monday Morning Mothering

My Daughter – The Cat Lady

My sixteen-year-old daughter was having a mope over dinner last Friday. She put on her depressed face and announced that she expected to become a spinster lady with 17 cats and neglected bowls of dusty, spent potpourri littering her hermit hut. She gazed forlornly into her dinner plate of German meatballs over rice with a side of green beans and waited for appropriate parental protestations and self-esteem boosting remarks.

There was just one little problem. We’d heard this particular lament a number of times before and had tried all the warm, fuzzy parenting, only to receive teen girl glares and occasional snarky retorts. We’re a little tired of hearing how pathetic her life is, how no one loves her, how she’s unlovable by her peers, and how she’s going to go out in the garden and eat worms and die.

I know why she does this, she wants sympathy and reassurance that she’s lovable and fine just as she is. She gets plenty of that. I know that she feels down and out sometimes because, like every other teenaged girl, she doesn’t fit the Hollywood couture mode of perfection which makes all teenaged girls feel like crap. She’s fluffy, she wears glasses, is smart, has long brown hair, doesn’t like makeup, and thinks other teens are in too much of a hurry to grow up, get pregnant, screw up their marriages, and get divorced and be pathetic all over again. Nevertheless, from time to time, she still gets hit with a cultural frying pan that tells her she’s not good enough the way she is.

Well, my husband rolled his eyeballs, shoveled more meatballs into his face and gave me the look that passes as an official parent handoff. I was kind of stuck. I wasn’t in the mood to join a pity party, we had had a great day together with lots of laughs and giggles and fun and getting stuff done, and there are just times when I prefer to do something unexpected to break a bleak mood.

So I suggested she collect dogs instead. Not dustmop dogs – you know, the little ones with long hair, that, if you stuck a pole on them, you could use them to clean out from under your couch. No, I suggested that if her intent was to age gracefully, that she take up collecting large dogs – Newfies, afghan hounds, Labrador retrievers, wolfhounds, St. Bernards, etc. I pointed out to her, as she gaped at me in astonishment, that this would eliminate the need for potpourri as well, as the dogs would gladly crap in her backyard instead of in catboxes in the house. Besides, big dogs are friendly, helpful, and there’d never be any crumbs on her floor, and no leftovers to deal with either.

Having found myself on the soapbox, I continued to hold forth, as my husband shoveled in meatballs at a frightening pace so as to avoid saying anything, and Doodle, the youngest, snorted into his beans. (Spawn was off doing a teen boy fake fighting thing with a friend.) I told Bunny that women with big dogs were no-nonsense achievers who were very rarely burgled, another advantage, and that if she really wanted to study Marine Biology, they were much less likely to eat her samples than a lot of mangy old cats.

She started to splutter. I kept talking, mentioning that I was sure her dad and I would pitch in and get her an industrial strength shop vac to keep ahead of the shedding as a housewarming gift, when she set up her dog-intensive abode, and that since we like dogs, we’d be visiting her a great deal, so she wouldn’t be alone as much as she thought. I recommended she watch Cesar Millan, the Dog Whisperer, with us, since we’ve developed a sincere liking for his show and his stupid human clients.

By this time, she’d had enough. She gave me a partially bemused look, mixed with indignation, and said, “I can’t believe you think I’d REALLY become a dog-loving hermit! How come you didn’t tell me ‘that’s nonsense, you’re lovable and wonderful the way that you are’?”

I replied, “Do YOU think you are lovable and wonderful the way you are?”

She answered, “Well, yeah, mostly,” and frowned meaningfully at me.

I gave her a big, shit-eating grin and said, “Mission accomplished. And, by the way, anyone who can make perfect German meatballs in sour cream and dill sauce over perfectly cooked rice is NOT going to have any trouble finding people to spend time with her.”

She gave in, shook her head, and giggled at me. Sometimes I don't completely suck at mothering.


wordify: to put into words

(from The Word Museum by Jeffrey Kacirk)

Note: I'm pretty sure this one isn't dead. I'll bet a nickel that if I went back to my old Southern stomping grounds and said some preacher was busy "wordifyin' " that everyone would know what I meant.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Friday Five

Five Things on My Mind Today:

1. My father-in-law: We now have a tentative diagnosis of Creutzfeldt Jacob Disease, which explains the incredible rapidity of his decline. Family stress just hit defcon five (or whatever the right high level number is). No one knows how much longer he has, but it's not long. His condition is horrible, and my mother-in-law is still in denial and acting spacy. Or maybe she's just protecting herself, which, when I think of it, isn't all that bad.

2. My spouse: I wish I knew the right words to say to make his father's illness less painful and disturbing for him, but I don't. It's not a journey I can or should make for him, but I do wish I could find the right thing to do to notch his stress/distraction meter down a few pegs.

3. Keeping things reasonably normal for my kids: We've been doing group yard work for two weeks now, and they like it more than they will admit, as it gives purpose and accomplishment to each day. I need to keep my OWN head on the straight and true and keep things stable for them, which means figuring out yardwork for today, finding cheery, joyful, fun things in the day, and not brooding. Probably one of my worst/best habits is brooding over things, which leads me to lots of valuable research and insight, but it also can make me emotionally unavailable, which is a Bad Thing.

4. Knitting, Stress, and Letting Go: When we were hanging around in the hospital last weekend, my fil was so confused and distractable, and there were so many strung-out people in the room that he seemed to be getting nauseous from just trying to keep visual track of so many things. Luckily, I had brought a bag of knitting with me, so I retired to the waiting room, plonked myself in front of the Perpetual Animal Hijinks channel running there and knit. And knit. And knit. Which is how that black K4K sweater got finished. It was a blessing -- not complicated, something to do with my hands as my head went all over the map, and calming. I think it was how I was able to jump in as needed and make phone calls, feed fil Jello with great patience, and feel like my day was somehow still productive and sane. I foresee record swiftness in reaching my goal of 10 K4K sweaters.

5. Enjoying the Moment: Not something a person with a quick mind generally does -- I'm usually so busy researching, problem-solving, anticipating the next need or crisis and setting events and options in place to deal with those that I often miss the peace and happiness of the moment. Fortunately, all the yardwork we've been doing has given me the gift of an oasis -- weeds are no longer screening my fountain, so I can listen to the gentle splashing of water and smile at the birdies who come there for a drink, a natter, or a happy bath. Our hummingbird is back, and it's fun to watch him and his antics. Spawn made a windmill, a really great one, in his last metal shop class, and put it proudly in the front yard. When the wind comes up, the propeller reflects light into the house in a strobing motion, which can be soothing to watch.

We made the hard decision to remove some specialty trees which were no longer lovely, so now I can go out on my front stoop where the fountain is, and smell freshly cut wood, freshly turned earth, and think slow, focused thoughts about what pleasant thing I or my kids might like to have there in that now deserted spot. I hope something bright blooms today -- I like to watch flowers as they sway in the breeze, what bugs come to visit, if they move in response to sunlight, if they open or close much as the day progresses, and how the light and shadows change across the flower and the leaves and the earth around them. They smell nice, too.

Guess where you'll find me if you come looking today? ;)

Friday Bonus Round: Fun German Word

der Dauerbrenner: an enduring, long-running hit, or a long kiss


stampointed: bewildered, overcome with astonishment; a hunted rabbit in its fright is said to be stumpointed (yes, that's right, a slightly different spelling).

(from The Word Museum by Jeffrey Kacirk)