Thursday, August 31, 2006

Oddball Word of the Day

orthogonal: (ohr-THAHG-uh-nl) adj. relating to or containing right angles or perpendiculars

(from MMMW, edited by Laurance Urdang)

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Juan Valdez to Lost and Found, Please

Hubs and I went to a wedding this past weekend, a backyard barbeque wedding, way out in the country. It was the second marriage for the wife and the first for the crabby groom. He wasn’t crabby because he was getting married, he’s always been crabby, it’s just the way he is. The wife came to the marriage from her first husband with three kids, aged 2-1/2, 1-1/2 and 9 months.

It was a drizzly, gray, humid day, which wasn’t a good omen. The bride was freaking out, wondering what to do with the 20 or so guests who’d been invited, the groom was trying to calm her down, and the mother of the bride was wondering what the problem was. Father of the bride was doing his best to keep the three kids under control, and, while he looked like Mr. Perfect Grandpa, my eternal Mother eyes noticed that everyone’s paper diaper was already telling tales of extreme liquid evacuation. I took my eyeballs out in the backyard with me.

It really wasn’t bad. They have a vast number of trees, and the groom had made a special effort to erect a very nice deck under the shelter of several of them, contouring the deck around tree trunks, adding benches for seating, so we all had places to sit, and the trees prevented anything more than an occasional drip from hitting us. The ceremony was nice, except for the part where the middle child wandered off towards the fishpond, going out of sight through the garage, and no one noticed but me until after the presentation of the new couple. I was keeping my ears open, listening for splashing or screaming. It did kind of detract from the applause greeting the newlyweds to have a brother in law scampering off, yelling out the child’s name and “COME BACK HERE” at the top of his lungs.

They grilled steaks, and we all had a reasonably nice meal. Truthfully, as they’d already been living together for several months, it kind of felt like they were just going through the motions, which was a little, oh, I don’t know, uninspiring. And small children at a wedding, particularly when no one has been designated to watch over them, are always problematic. It’s boring as all heck for them, the adults are preoccupied, so they do what they want unless checked, and that often involves dirt and noise, so they’re either lost or filthy when it comes time for pictures.

In all, it was better than it could have been, and about what I expected. The ride home, however, was an eye opener. I should mention that on the way there we had to travel through quite a bit of second growth forest, and we were watching for two signs, which presumably marked the turnoff to their house. The first sign, which says “TOMATTOS – CHEAP”, was missing, but the “CAMPING รจ” sign was still there, so we had reasonable confidence we were going in the right direction. We took a different route home.

It was a little like going back in time, only with indoor plumbing. There were a couple of fine examples of rural yard crap – a lovely petunia garden, made three-dimensional with the strategic use of a bicycle spray-painted white, including tires, and another floral display which incorporated the front half of a small school bus, in traditional orangey-yellow, with the word “COOL” painted on it in big, black, block letters. Exotic grasses and a selection of colorful annuals surrounded it.

The real winner, though, included donkeys. Now, mind you, we were tooling through a tiny group of relatively nice houses – not Appalachian corrugated tin shacks. These were fairly new, fairly large, well-maintained suburban type houses made of brick and aluminum siding and so forth. As we rounded a curve, I noticed that one house had a very large fenced in paddock area with a number of….donkeys in it. I’m used to seeing horses from time to time, but the donkeys were a surprise. Especially since the owners appeared to enjoy periodically communing with the donkeys, which I am inferring, as they had left their yard furniture in the paddock.

A particularly placid donkey was standing in a swing. You know the kind – it’s got two bench swings facing each other on an A-frame, with a little platform in between them. I used to play on those when I was a kid. Well, there stood a donkey, his (or her, perhaps) front legs on the platform, not moving, just staring at us as we drove by. I said to my husband, “There’s a donkey in a swing in that yard.” He squinted at me. “What?” he asked. “A donkey in a swing. Back there. He had friends. They were not swinging.” I answered.

Hubby slowed down and then backed up. He eyeballed the swinging donkey. “Yep,” he declared, “That’s a donkey in a swing alright.” As he was unnecessarily confirming my statement, I noticed the other yard furniture in the paddock – a bench glider, which was sans donkey, and a couple of outdoor end tables, also not currently in use. We drove on for a while in silence.

“I wonder why those people put their yard furniture in the paddock,” I said.

“Maybe they didn’t want it any more,” responded hubby.

“Wouldn’t you think it would be a hazard for donkeys and their skinny ankles and hooves and all,” I pondered aloud.

“Looked like maybe that one donkey was stuck in the swing,” answered hubs.

“He didn’t look stuck,” I said, “he looked bored. Maybe donkeys don’t know how to swing.” My husband just gave me a look.

“Will we be driving past any more unusual livestock engaged in leisure activities, do you know?” I asked.

“Just beans and corn, I think,” he answered.

“Probly best,” I said, “I think that donkey’s gonna stick with me for a while.”

So, now, with my memory being the complete repository of whimsy that I know it is, the wedding we went to will be forever memorable, not because of the toddler heading for the fishpond, not for the couple who got married, not on account of the people we met, but because that was the day I saw a donkey in a swing. AAARGH!

Oddball Word of the Day

execrable: (EK-seh-creh-bul) adj. horrible; detestable; accursed

(from MMMW, edited by Laurence Urdang)

Monday, August 28, 2006

Holding Forth for Better Learning

Bunny mentioned to me last night that she’s really glad she has me for a mom. I like it when she does that, but I did wonder what happened to pass through her mind to cause her to say so. So, I asked. She told me that when she was in first grade, all the other kids in her class went to Speech class during the week, but that she didn’t, and she felt a little left out. One day, the speech teacher came in and asked her a few questions and seemed pleased and surprised by her answers. Bunny asked her how come all the other kids had Speech class and she didn’t. The teacher raised her eyebrows at her and answered that she didn’t need it. Bunny said she thought that was cool and then she asked me how it was I taught them to speak so nicely and understand words and letters and how they related.

I gave her the short version. I was a conscientious parent. I read all the stuff I could lay my hands on about parenting and followed it to the best of my ability without driving either of us nuts or making either of us feel as though life was a grind to be endured. I loved reading to them all, I talked and cooed while I nursed them, we had fun tickle and giggle conversations when I changed their diapers, and I talked. I used real words, and I spoke to them as adults, even though I knew they wouldn’t understand most of it because, really, what tiny baby understands adult conversation? I knew they would get used to hearing sounds, long words consisting of sounds strung together, the cadence and music of ASE (American Standard English), and that that was considered vital in preparing them to speak. I often used my “storyteller” voice with them – extravagant changes in intonation with changes in facial expression and accompanying body language and gestures.

I also spoke German to them, and what little French and Spanish I could remember, and even a little Japanese I picked up off the TV. I had read that all children are capable of speaking any language, and that for future foreign language skills it would be a good idea to get them familiar with the wide range of sounds needed to accurately reproduce another language. I decided to quit speaking quite so much German to them when they started speaking German to my husband, which frustrated the tar out of him.

And, of course, I got the Disney books on tape for them so that when my patience was worn thin or I was unable to read to them, trained, paid voices could do so.

I also corrected mushy or sloppy speech. I would open my lips wide so they could see what was going on in my mouth (and they would sometimes stick their little fingers in there) to show them how to alter their tongue positions to change sound. I liked their baby talk, and occasionally copied it, but I didn’t make a habit of it. And I suppose that without even meaning to, I brought some of the skills of crisp enunciation over from having learned German and used those, too.

Bunny gave me the look. The good look. The look that says, “Damn, we were lucky kids.” And she thanked me again. I gave her a hug and said she was a great kid and it was and still is fun being her mom.

All that reminded me of an article I read several months ago, which was written by a specialist in early language development. It indicated that children who start school with an enriched vocabulary do better in school. They have heard, on average, almost twice times as many words as the child from an average home, and three to five times as many words as children from deprived homes. He argued that it’s not even really knowing the exact meanings of the words they have heard, that simply having heard the words is often enough to create a more learning enabled child.

When I was blabbing my lips off to my kids, I wasn’t really thinking about how it would make them better students. I was hoping they’d learn to enjoy foreign languages someday, and that we would be able to have conversations around the dinner table that included real words and not mushy, flabby, meaningless syllables and indistinct sounds. I also am kind of a talker. I didn’t know without a doubt that it would turn out well, I just hoped.

It’s interesting to see that the results of my gassiness have proven to be beneficial and that there’s a body of research to back it up now. Twenty years ago, it was more like odd notations in obscure bits of writing.

So, talk on, Mommas! Hold forth and let loose the verbose dogs of learning! It’ll work out just fine.

Oddball Word of the Day

termagant: (TUR-meh-gehnt) n. a violent, overbearing, or shrewish woman

(from MMMW, edited by Laurence Urdang)

Friday, August 25, 2006

Friday Five 8/25/06 - Funky Appliances

aka Five Funky Appliances I Have Lived With

I think all of us wind up with bits of machinery in our houses that don't do what we want them to do, don't work as advertised, or which surprise us with their mechanical quirks. Here are my most memorable five.

1. NASA's Toaster: When I was a kid, we had a toaster that worked just fine until one day it started launching toast around the kitchen. I don't know how or why, but the spring seemed overwound, and it would shoot toast a good two feet up in the air, invariably with some kind of spin on it. If we wanted toast for breakfast, we had to stand on alert as it crisped up the bread, ready to lunge left or right to catch our toast before it hit the floor. We tried moving it farther back on the counter, but this was in the good old days when toasters emitted serious heat, and I think it was scorching the underside of the cabinet. Anyway, it toasted just fine -- no burning, no undercooking, so we just put up with the the toast launches until it finally gave out several years later.

2. Beano Baby Coffee Maker: Our first coffeemaker as a married couple was flatulent. It would get off to a rip snorting, perking good start but always ended with about five minutes of wet, nasty sounding mechanical farts. And woe betide us if we interrupted it before it was finished farting because those really were wet farts and it would spit scalding hot water at anyone foolish enough to try to grab a cup of coffee before it decided it was done!

3. Cha-cha's Cheap Vac: I am probably responsible for the fact that one of my early vacuum cleaners decided to set up a Latin rhythm every time I used it. It started off OK, noisy, but normal. Then some manufacturer came out with those scented foam beads that were supposed to make your room smell fresh and lovely, so I was bacon-brained enough to use them. I never got all of them out of the machine. Somewhere in the works, a tiny mysterious pouch evolved and kept the beads from being sucked into the bag, so that every time I'd start up the vacuum cleaner, it would suck normally for a couple of minutes and then, cha-cha-cha, click, clickety, click, cha-cha would issue from it. It would cha-cha for the remainder of the time I used it, and when I turned it off, it would give a big band finale of cha-clickety-cha-clickety-cha-cha-cha, whoosh. Sometimes I just danced to it. Gotta get some fun out of chores somehow!

4. Idontwanna Blender: I purchased my first blender about 15 years ago. It was a name brand, fairly expensive small appliance, and I got it at a reputable store. I thought it was great, all chromed up, lots of intriguing buttons, but I didn't reckon on it being tempermental. Then I tried using it. It would whip eggs with no problem, but anything denser was hit or miss. I'd put milkshake stuff in it, push a button and it would make "I'm blending" noises, but nothing would happen. I tried it with just milk first and that worked. If I added so much as a tablespoonful of ice cream, it quit. It sulked. It moped. It refused. I could mash cooked pumpkin in it, but not cooked apples. I have no idea why it developed aversions to various substances. I took it back to the store, they sent me to the manufacturer, and the manufacturer sent it back to me saying they'd examined it and nothing was wrong. I finally just used it for whipping eggs. Most expensive eggbeater I ever bought. I think my husband killed it trying to shave ice. Maybe he just pitched it out of frustration.

5. The Roman Vomitorium Dishwasher: When we moved into our current house, the existing dishwasher was on its last legs. We got about two years' worth of use out of it and then it didn't even pretend to wash any more. It was out of warranty and for good reason. I sent my husband out on a quest to buy a new dishwasher that was a) easy to service, b) cleaned the damned dishes, c) not heinously expensive, and d) from a reputable maker likely to remain in business until the warranty expired. He scored on all counts -- from Sears, all stainless steel, all replaceable racks, nice spray arms. It washed the damned dishes. It looked like a winner.

For about a year. Then, for no particular reason, it began spewing gray and beige grit onto the dishes. We hosed it out, ran dishwasher cleaner through it, ran a little bleach through it, took out the racks and pulled out the screen and cleaned that. It spewed more grit. We called for service. The service man did everything we had done and pronounced it fine. It spewed more grit. The service guy blamed our plumbing. We called the plumber. He said it wasn't the plumbing, that there was something wrong with the dishwasher. We ran a week's worth of empty loads, wiped the grit from the walls inside the dishwasher until it ran clean and tried again. It vomited washwater onto the kitchen floor. The seal had come loose. We fixed the seal and it drooled washwater onto the floor. We fixed the seal some more, and it spewed grit.

We decided we could live with grit but not drooling and vomiting, so we still wash our dishes in it and keep a close eye on the seal. We get maybe three out of five loads grit-free per week, and it hasn't barfed water for a month or so. Every six months we need to put a new seal in it because it starts dribbling again, and my husband swears he'll never get another one once the kids are grown and gone. I can't say as I blame him.

What are your quirky appliance stories? I'd love to hear them!

Oddball Word of the Day

synergy: (SIN-urr-jee) n. cooperative activity, esp. of two or more muscles, nerves, drugs, hormones, or the like.

(from the 1972 MMMWords edited by Yurtle the Turtle)

(just wanted to see if you were looking. . . edited by Laurence Urdang.)

Friday 8/25 Bonus Round: German Idiom

ein Haar in der Suppe finden: to find something to moan about, to find fault with something

zB: Immer musst du ein Haar in der Suppe finden.

auf Englisch: You've always got to find something to moan about.

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

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Elfin Slippers - Free Pattern

Elfin Slippers
(Free Knit Pattern)

VERY EASY – fits adult female; very stretchy, so they’re good for people whose feet swell or as bed socks

1 skein Knitpicks Sock Memories “Flyfishing” (or any other DK, light sport or heavy wt sock yarn)

1 pr. #3 US knitting needles


CO 2 sts. Increase in this and every first stitch, every row, as follows: knit one in front and one in back of first stitch. Knit to end.

Continue in this manner until you have 90 stitches on the needles. You have a garter stitch triangle.

You will now be working up the back for the heel, joining stitches on either side as follows.

Knit 39 stitches (this is one side of the slipper). Heel: knit 11 stitches, knit next two stitches together (51 sts worked, 38 sts unworked, 89 sts total). Turn work.
Knit 11 stitches, knit two stitches together, turn work. (88 sts total)
Continue in this manner, knitting the twelfth stitch of the heel together with a stitch from the side) until all side stitches are used. You will have 12 stitches left. BO.

Fold slipper in half and sew from pointed toe 4.5 – 5 inches up top of foot. Crochet or knit a border if you wish.

(It should now look like the slipper here)

Fold down cuff at heel and along side of slipper.

(Slipper on swollen foot and ankle!)

Oddball Word of the Day

I'm switching to a different reference book, as I do not wish to reproduce Mr. Kacirk's very entertaining reference book, The Word Museum, to excess or to his detriment. I will be using an old, 1972, edition of The New York Times Everyday Reader's Dictionary of Misunderstood, Misused, Mispronounced Words for our mutual edification. Since that's pretty cumbersome, I'm opting for "oddball" as a descriptor, with no negative connotation.

arrack: (AIR-ek) n. any of various spirituous liquors distilled from molasses, rice, etc.

(TNYTERDMMMW edited by Laurence Urdang)

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The Mind of Spawn

Spawn started talking when he was nine months old, and, as far as I can recall, talked non-stop whenever conscious, until he went into kindergarten. Being Spawn, he didn’t spend much time on single words. He was into five word sentences before he could walk without help, and onto complex, compound sentences by the time he could reliably eat solid food. It was a little disconcerting for everyone.

I could tell when he got up in the morning because I could hear a piping voice coming down the stairs towards me. I never needed a baby monitor with him because I could hear him talking in his bedroom above the living room. I’m pretty sure he was telling his favorite teddy bear stories, and then he’d fall asleep in the middle of them. I’ll bet a nickel he started up in the morning where he had left off the night before.

Trips to the pediatrician were challenges to my medical vocabulary.

“What’s dat?” he’d ask and point with his stubby little finger at something.

“A sphygmomanometer” I’d say, “it measures your blood pressure.”

“Oooh, dat’s a good word,” he’d reply, “say it again, Momma.”


“Spigomnetter. Pigsometter. Spiggometer.” He’d say.

“Pretty close,” I’d answer.

Then the pediatrician would come in, and the first thing Spawn would say, sitting there in his diaper, was, “Are you gonna use de spigomanometer fing on me?” This stopped the doctor in his tracks. He’d look at Spawn, then look at me; I’d shrug and grin wryly, and then he’d look back at Spawn.

“Do you know what that is,” he’d ask Spawn.

“Sure. It’s dat fing over dere. It measures my blood pressure. I have blood pressure, don’t I, Momma?” Spawn would say.

“Er, yes, of course you do,” I’d say.

So, the doctor would use the sphygmomanometer on Spawn, tell him what his blood pressure was, check his height and weight, and if the two of us could talk him into it, he’d get his immunization or whatever was necessary on that visit. There was always something new on each visit. Sometimes Spawn would carefully study a chart of the human eyeball, disassemble and reassemble a plastic brain model that was sitting on the desk, ask me to read the posters to him, or start examining the medical equipment with great attention. The nurses didn’t have much patience with him, I think they were too rushed, but I do give his pediatrician credit for satisfying his curiosity whenever possible.

I had Bunny when Spawn was just barely two years old, and I was on motherhood overload. She was a frequent and enthusiastic nurser, and Spawn didn’t cotton to sharing me enough to let me read to him while I nursed Bunny. He wanted to be read to first, and I should just let that loud baby cry until he was done with me. It didn’t work out that way. Things were getting a little unfriendly, and then I remembered who had read to me and, really, taught me to read, when I was a child – Disney recorded books.

I got Spawn a full set of Disney kid books on tape. He listened to them over and over. He memorized “Bambi” completely, front to back. He moved on to other books and memorized them, too. Disney taught him to read, just as it had me, only much earlier for Spawn. By the time he was three, he could read most children’s books, which I found out by accident one day.

I had picked up a copy of a “little critter” book; these were, and perhaps still are, very popular children’s books in the late 80’s. I gave it to Spawn, then the cry of the hungry occurred, so I didn’t get a chance to read any of it to him. By the time I was done nursing Bunny, Spawn returned, handed me the book, and said, “I like the part about the spider.” I smiled at him, he scampered off to eat cheese cubes, and I put Bunny down to sleep.

While Spawn and I were sitting at the table, I paged through the book, and we were conversing about nothing in particular. I didn’t see a picture of a spider. I looked again. There was no picture of a spider, but at one point Little Critter mentioned having a spider as a pet. I checked again for a picture. I looked at Spawn, happily eating cheese, and said, “Can you show me the part about the spider?”

Spawn took the book, turned to the page with the corresponding text and pointed, “there it is, Momma.”

“Can you read that to me, please,” I asked, “my eyes are a little tired from not enough sleep.”

“Sure,” he said, and read me the page. Without a single mistake. Without stumbling over any words. I told him that sure did sound fun, and took a deep breath.

“You can read now, can’t you?” I said.

“Yep. I can read all the children’s books,” he said, “I like reading.”

“I like reading, too. I have some other books you might like, would you like to pick some out?” I asked.

“Sure! That would be great!” he replied.

So, Spawn began reading science fiction, Grimm’s unabridged fairy tales, magazines, and humor books at age three. I took the two kids with me to the book store one day, and set Spawn loose. He left the children’s section, wandered politely through the rest of the store and came back with a copy of a book on human anatomy.

“I’d like this one,” he said, and handed it to me.

I paged through it, and there was nothing noticeably naughty or objectionable in it, it was a layman’s guide to medical terminology about human anatomy, and pretty detailed.

“Are you sure?” I asked.

“Oh, yes, I’m sure,” he said.

We got the book. I mentioned it to my husband over dinner that night, and he took a look at it, shook his head wonderingly and agreed that it seemed OK.

The next morning, Spawn was still asleep long after he usually awoke, so I went to check on him. Sure enough, he had stayed up late and then fallen asleep reading his anatomy book. His head was stuck to the page with the cutaway of a female breast, with details on mammary ducts. I dreaded any discussions we might have that day as I nursed Bunny, but the book seemed to have demystified the process for him, and he never asked or objected again.

The next trip to the pediatrician was a real pip, though. I don’t think Dr. H. will ever stop looking a little dazed, and it’s been better than 15 years now. At least it cut down on my needing to have a lot of long, detailed conversations about reproductive organs with Spawn.

The other kids have enjoyed the book, too. I’m just glad I didn’t get him a Merck manual, or I’d have spent the last 15 years trying to convince him he didn’t have Beri-beri!


abracadabrant: marvelous or stunning; from abracadabra, a magic word used as a spell in the US

(from The Word Museum by Jeffrey Kacirk)

Tuesday, August 22, 2006


Sorry for the break in the action -- back to school time is busy, busy.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Five Things I’m Hoping for This Fall

1. School: I hope that all my kids will find their muses and personal magic and do well in school this Fall without too much Momming from me. I hope there will be no bullying, lots of personal growth, lots of confidence building, and that they find their academic voices without too much trouble. I hope they will have fun doing so.

2. Marriage: I hope things keep becoming more positive so that I can mentally and emotionally move away from my somewhat self-protective stance. I hope I can learn to take some things, not for granted, but as standard givens again.

3. Finance: I hope things continue to go well with my husband’s work and that I can find a part-time job. He has a good secretary now, who seems eager to learn and interested in keeping her job (which is a real change for him). I’m having a booger of a time finding part-time work. There are lots of obstacles – this is one of the downfalls of living in a small town, in part, not a lot of jobs that are not either “stand all day” retail, which also involve lots of lifting (not things I can do with my hinky back), or “be my mini-me” office jobs with lots of down time in small two-people offices. I wouldn’t mind the latter if I were able to keep productively busy all the time. Down time is depressing. And, then, there’s the problem of commuting for part-time, combined with gas prices. At some point, it becomes a hobby more than a job because of the cost of commuting. I’ve checked temp agencies, I check the local workforce board daily, and I keep my eyes on the want ads. I just need to keep looking, I guess. Opening a business of my own is not an option at present due to capital outlay and lifting constraints. Poo!

4. Old People: My Dad’s generator replacement went well, and he seems to be maintaining pretty well cognitively and physically. He’s still feeble and dotty, but no more feeble and not much more dotty than last year at this time. I hope I have him around for quite a while longer to love and continue to learn from. He loves me, too, and I would miss that if he were to pass on.

I hope my mother-in-law can come to grips with her own talents, skills, and limitations. There are some worrisome things there – she can’t retain new information very well – asks the same question over and over, despite having had the answers given to her verbally, in written form, and sometimes graphically (pictures). We’re up to six repetitions on the pension arrangement now, and she still doesn’t remember. She doesn’t remember when she gets important mail and piles it up in a hellbound-for-disaster hodgepodge. Her health is fine, and she’s feisty, both of which are good. Unfortunately, she’s also one of those people who thinks she understands finances better than she actually does, and it is already getting her into a little trouble, which is a looming crash. She also gets… notions. I don’t know if anyone other than Southerners would understand that word the way I mean it. I suppose the best way to say it is that she develops unreasonable prejudices against bizarre or petty things or people, and nothing will shake her from them, not even clear and obvious mountains of evidence to the contrary. “Notions” also include preferences for things that are not good for her but which she believes in wholeheartedly and defends. We all do this, I think, but under a certain age they seem less set in stone. She’s not under that certain age.

Oh, well. It’s not my thing to get het up about, and if bad stuff happens, it’s really only going to affect me indirectly anyway. But I can still hope for good and better things to happen for her.

5. Health: I’m doing pretty well at sticking to my piddly exercise routine, but I have some issues of midlife and menopause that are slowly but surely getting to the point where I need official medical diagnoses, treatments, surgeries, or whatever. Some of it’s embarrassing, some of it’s merely annoying, but I’d like to not have to think about it or have an “official” means of coping or rehabilitating. Which means I need to get off my wide, reluctant tail and start looking for doctors. Another small town factoid – local g.p.s, ob/gyns, and the like are usually booked to the point where they refuse new patients, so this’ll mean adding an out of town trip for every appointment. Like I need another excuse to avoid doing it! (snort).

Dentists, too, although not to the same extent. We also wind up with orthodontists or other specialists who rotate through one or two days a week, which means that if I can get an appointment, it’s likely to be six months from now. Which sucks. Fortunately, I went through the whole tooth drama a few years ago, and now I’m just brushing, flossing and mouth washing to keep the choppers I’ve got. I’m also digressing from the medical thing (did you notice how smoooooothly I did that, though?!) Anyway, I hope I can find some doctors who turn out to be truly reasonable people and who will make my irrational dread evaporate into nothingness.


Hope you have a great weekend – I think we may cash in the cow this weekend and do a family night at the movies. Any suggestions?


wink-a-peeps: the eyes; see also Billy-winks

(from The Word Museum by Jeffrey Kacirk)

Friday 8/18 Bonus Round: German Idiom

ueber Leichen gehen: to stop at nothing

zB: Er wuerde ueber Leichen gehen, um sich im Beruf emporzuarbeiten.

auf Englisch: He would stop at nothing to get on in his career.

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

Last CQA Tutorial: Triangles, Oddments and Endings

Two types of triangles:

The dark pink triangle was worked as follows:

Pick up the same number of stitches along each side. Working along the bottom or side, decrease one stitch every other row while knitting the last stitch in that row together with the next stitch on the perpendicular. This results in a triangle which, in this case, is ten ridges high and ten stitches wide. It will look a little skinny until you work another triangle to complement it, creating a square.

The variegated triangle was worked as follows: Cast on 10 (or however many stitches you need), then work one row even. Decrease one by knitting the first two stitches together on the second row, then decrease similarly every THIRD row thereafter. I decrease every third row in order to extend the triangle to 10 ridges (or however many I need to make it match up the the triangle to which I will be joining it). When I have decreased down to three stitches, I check my ridges, which are at 10, and knit the last three stitches together. I did sew this one to the pink triangle, but that's not necessary. I could have just as easily knitted the last stitch together with the bar between ridges on the pink triangle.

You will notice that at this point, things are looking lumpy and uneven. That would happen, perhaps not to this extent, but still somewhat, in any knitted area where I've got three separate things coming together with bind offs, decreases, bits of ending tail, etc. No worries. I already know how to even them out -- one thing that will help is further joinings, another is washing and blocking. An "equalization" strip is shown at the end of this post.

Four Miter Square: Sometimes this makes for a nice change. It can also add interest if I change colors in the center, making it a square within a square. There will be purling. :)

Pick up the same number of stitches along each side of the existing knitting (it could be one, two, three or four), casting on a like number over any open sides. In this case, it's ten on each side. Using dpns, join (make sure to keep the cast on edge even) and purl the next row even. Place markers at the center of each corner if you like. Next row, knit, decreasing as for any mitering -- you can even just k2tog before and after each marker if you like. You are decreasing 8 stitches each knit row, so this really zooms to nothing in no time. Next row, purl even. Next row, knit, decreasing each side of each marker. If you are going to change colors, do so at the beginning of a knit row. When you are down to 4 stitches total, fasten them together, cut a 3 inch tail and pull through, then pull the tail through to the back side.

Equalizing row or First Log Cabin Row. At this point, things are looking uneven. As I said above, this happens anytime you are joining a number of bits together or have lots of decreases happening in the same area. When I'm making a CQA, I sometimes add in a strip that evens out the tops of the squares or triangles and gives me a stitch count, so that I know things are staying relatively equal along the sides. Just pick up completely across the top. If there are gaps between joins, pick up the stitch over the join by putting the needle through the last stitch of one, the first stitch of the next bit and pick up ONE stitch total to pull them together. If you happen to have a big stretch of yarn for some reason, pick that up as if it were an M1 -- by twisting it on the needle before pulling the new yarn through; that usually takes up any slack. Work a couple of rows in garter stitch, and even the work out on your needles to make sure it doesn't look bunched or overly stretched and continue working. I usually work about six ridges, but there is no set formula.

It's also a good idea to count before you pick up the stitches (in this case, I figure I'd pick up about 42 stitches across), then go to the opposite side and count those. If the difference is more than three, there's a problem, and now's the time to look over your work with a critical eye and see what went a little off on you. If it still looks fine, then write down the count on either end. On the narrower end, say it was 37 stitches, you'll want to add in about three stitches as you knit an equalizing row, where ever you like. On the broader end, you'll want to decrease down to your chosen number, wherever you like. This particular stripe really makes a difference in keeping the overall afghan even as you work your way through it.

You might choose to "log cabin border" separate blocks of work to even them out, then sew or knit the separate blocks together after you have several. That works out great, too, particularly if you are making bits on the road. There is nothing unique about the technique. Choose a number of rows/ridges that you can easily remember, pick up stitches along one side completely from one side to the other and then knit your chosen number of rows/ridges. BO. You can bind off that last stitch, or leave the loop live to work the next row. Rotate the work 90 degrees so that the tail or last loop is on your chosen beginning side (works for right or left handers), then pick up across the just-knit ridges, and all along the next side completely. Knit the same number of rows/ridges as previously. Repeat for each of the four sides. It doesn't have to be in the same color, not by any means. What makes it "log cabin" as opposed to just equalizing stripes is that a) the stripes are the same width, and b) they are worked one immediately after the other until all four sides are done. Each new stripe overlaps the preceding one and is your chosen number (times one until the last stripe, two for the last stripe) longer than the one on the opposite side.

I recommend using the "log cabin" method for finishing a CQA. I generally use the same color on all sides to "frame" the work uniformly, but that's not necessary and you may choose otherwise. By knitting side after side, there is no need to use several circular needles all at once for a massive, circumnavigating number of stitches; it's just one side at a time and easy as pie. Time consuming, but easy.

Weave in all loose ends. (It will take a long, long time, depending on how many tiny little bits are in your afghan. I either do it as I go or sit down in front of a movie and do it for the length of the movie. It's the most tedious part of the whole afghan process.)

That's it! Please feel free to contact me with any questions, send me pictures of your work, rail at me if my instructions don't work out for you, or simply point at my blog and hoot with derisive laughter. ;) Whatever floats your boat!

Happy knitting!

Thursday, August 17, 2006


felth: the power of feeling in the fingers

(from The Word Museum by Jeffrey Kacirk)

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Trigger Is Not Just A Horse

We had a smaller group yesterday for my women’s therapy meeting. It was just us old-timers, those of us who’ve been there a year or so. We talked about old issues, new issues, and triggers, and I don’t know if anyone reading this blog has had experiences like the ones that have so profoundly affected us, but I thought I’d bring up some of the things we talked about, just in case, so you know you’re not alone.

Noise: Too much noise is a trigger. For some of us, it starts as sensory overload, which then leads to emotional memories, and it becomes an emotional overload, too. I can handle moderate groups, but when group size hits about 15 or 20, there are loads of conversations going on, the noise level ratchets up, and I start getting an itchy feeling along the back of my neck. If there’s drinking going on, too, like at a cocktail party, I can feel my adrenal system kicking into early alert because subconsciously my reptilian brain (or a part closely related to it) is thinking, “drunk people are unpredictable and unpredictable people can be dangerous”.

I can still handle cocktail parties, although I’m at an Orange Alert level, but if a heated argument starts up, I need to be right next to the door. And if that argument gets physical, even just arm-waving and aggressive finger-pointing, I have got one foot out the door, or I find an excuse to leave the room – potty trip, call the kids, a sudden headache, something. It’s just too many triggers hitting all at once for me.

The weird thing is, I don’t get anywhere near that hinky if I’m the one involved in the argument – that’s a different set of triggers, if any. And, if there’s no drinking, it doesn’t bother me as much either; I suppose somewhere deep inside, I harbor the belief that sober people are more likely to get themselves under control during an argument than people whose inhibitions have been loosened by alcohol.

In a group situation, though, I will always have an exit planned, with backup plans if possible.

Conflict: Most of the gals in my group are working very hard to overcome their resistance to situations of conflict. For some, being disagreed with or even overhearing others disagreeing sets off a flush of shame, followed by fear. It’s incredibly tough for them to be in the same room with a debate, let alone a heated debate, even knowing it’s being monitored and proctored, and even knowing that whatever that triggers in them is no longer the case. They’re not in danger, but knowing that doesn’t make the alarm bells stop ringing. Sometimes I feel that way, but most of the time I don’t. This isn’t my first experience in facing the long-term effects of my childhood abuse, so I’m a little more immune to, or at least desensitized to this particular very hairy trigger.

Fear, Phobias and Avoidance: I’ve noticed that for everyone in my group there are specific fears and things they avoid that are directly related to the types of abuse and situations they’ve encountered. We also have some shared fears and phobias. I’ve noticed acrophobia is present, in varying degrees, for most of us, as are problems with driving – either feeling claustrophobic in heavy traffic or having a fear of driving to unknown places. Sometimes the distance to be driven is the problem.

We have become, consequently, very creative in avoiding situations that include things that trigger us – having someone else drive while we ride co-pilot while going to somewhere new, calling one another while stuck in traffic, or finding people to get things down from high shelves for us.

One of the things I avoid is wrought iron stair railings. When I see one, I start gritting my teeth, and it’s all I can see. I will walk around the block, defy rules and walk across a pristine lawn, split from the group I’m with to take a stairwell instead or an elevator, or do any number of things to avoid being anywhere near a wrought iron stair railing. I have tried to desensitize myself, and, if I really address it, take a deep breath, and grab hold of it with will power and fierce determination, I can walk down stairs with wrought iron railings, but it will be the only thing I’m thinking of the whole time I’m on the stairs. I can’t hold a conversation, I can’t look away from the part where the stairs and railing join, and I’m mentally cataloging all the sharp edges and places where an arm, a leg, a foot, a hand, an ear, or other body part could get caught if I were to stumble or get pushed and lose my balance. It’s not impossible, but it sure is damned hard for me to face one. And for each of the women in my group, there is a distinct set of similar triggering items. Sometimes, we haven’t even consciously identified them yet. It does make things interesting. Ahem.

Nudity: I know this issue is not unusual for women in our society. We grow up with the subliminal message that if our bodies are not perfect, they are so imperfect that we need to keep them under wraps. It goes to a whole new level when there has been some form of abuse in many cases. I knew one gal, not in my group, but from years ago, who could not even bathe herself or take a shower without wearing a t-shirt. She was terrified that someone would break into the bathroom and begin shaming or abusing her. She took a lot of sponge baths, part by part, too. I lock the door when I’m in the tub or shower, and it was a real eye opener to find that the other ladies in my group do, too. There’s too much vulnerability there – nude and wet, and complete unarmed in case of a threat. I didn’t even take showers in high school because they were group showers. Couldn’t do it. Still wouldn’t.

Doctors and Medical Care: Huge issue and frequent trigger. One thing that abusers, particularly if they were parents, do is change pediatricians often. That way, the kid’s doctor doesn’t get a feel for how often the child has been injured, doesn’t learn to read the nonverbals of a given child, and will take the parent’s word for why an injury or problem has arisen, rather than probing further with the kid. This was much more the case when I was a child than it is now, but I doubt abusers have changed their general strategies much. Consequently, we often view doctors as part and parcel of the abuse cycle – they didn’t listen, they believed the lying abuser, they didn’t care, whatever – and we avoid them, often to our physical detriment. In essence, the medical system becomes a secondary abuser to us. This is one hell of a thing to try to get over. For some people, they can’t even speak clinical words referring to body parts that may be in pain or malfunctioning because it sets a whole chain reaction of shame going inside of them, or they fear additional abuse or belittlement or rejection of what they’re trying to say.

I don’t have a problem with clinical language. I think I was enough of a science nerd in my school years to get past that, and I wasn’t sexually abused, so I don’t have that hindrance blocking my way either. I do, however, avoid doctors, especially new ones. I get a whole series of objections and ridicule going on in my head, a truly detrimental sequence of imaginary conversations that have nothing to do with probabilities, that cause me to feel an immense reluctance to “expose myself” literally and figuratively to an unknown doctor. One thing that helps me is to research the living daylights out of my symptoms to get some idea, in advance, of what language I might be hearing, to have an idea of the body systems I’ll be discussing, and to look at treatment options or therapies in advance. When I do that, I feel like I’ve “armed” myself a little and can ask questions, which opens up the potential for dialogue, which, in turn, changes the dynamics of the power structure in an examining room. Then, I can cope. Being helpless and voiceless is too scary, so I work to pull the power of the situation back to myself as much as possible.

That probably sounds strange to people who routinely go in for annual check ups, pap smears, mammograms, when they have the sniffles, a cough, a swelling, or indigestion. I envy those people sometimes; I wish it could be that routine for me, too.


So, I don’t know. I don’t have any answers. The things I’ve mentioned above do not cripple me, but I know some people are seriously hampered by them. I do have issues, I have triggers, and I work on all of them as I can. It’s all I can do about them.

I can remember, as a child, feeling so alone. Feeling isolated in my unloveableness, so shamed by having been abused, so alien from the kids I went to school with and from other families I saw sharing laughter and fun together. In my teen years, after I moved in with Dad and Ellen, I started reading books written by survivors of child abuse, and I didn’t feel so alone any more. I could cry for them, in the quiet of my room, and I could cry for myself as well. I felt a kinship with them that I had never felt with anyone in my family, with any of my childhood acquaintances, or with anyone I had ever met. Between the pages of those books lived my brothers and my sisters, and I wasn’t alone anymore.

When I write something like this, it’s not because I want sympathy or pity. I don’t; it would freak me out and make me feel uncomfortable. I do, however, want to reach out to those who’ve been there, regardless of the degree to which they were forced to live on the dark side as kids, and let them know, too, that they are not alone. They may have been alone then, but they are not alone now. Neither am I, and I will never feel that way again.

Damn, that’s depressing! Time to go eat pork rinds and make motorboat noises in my cranberry juice!



woonkers: interjection expressive of wonderment or surprise

(from The Word Museum by Jeffrey Kacirk)

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

A River Runs Through It

My town is divided by a river, which runs east west. North is the “town” side, where all the shops, gas stations, and town facilities are. South of town is a residential and rural zone. I live south of the river.

For a while, we had a really elderly, rickety iron bridge. It had to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 65 years old, and, man, that was a scary bridge to have to drive across to go grocery shopping or pick the kids up from school. Lots of townies wouldn’t go south of the river because that would mean crossing the scary bridge. Those of us who live to the south had no choice.

About 4 years ago, we finally got funding for a new bridge and construction began. That was freaky, too, since they built one side of the new bridge next to the old one, then blew up the old bridge, then built the second half of the new bridge. The whole time, the construction crews used temporary barriers at the sides, which I found really scary. I had to seriously gird my loins before driving across the bridge, since the very thought of maybe skidding on ice and doing a slow, permanent swan dive through the temporary barriers terrified the grits right out of me. We now have a modern bridge, and I can’t see over the edges of it, which suits my acrophobic self just fine.

The river also changes the weather. I know that sounds strange, but it can be raining cats and dogs on us, here to the south, and it’ll be sunshine and blue skies over the town. And we’re not even a full mile from the southern edge of town. This has led to some odd-sounding phone calls between my husband, from his in-town office, and myself, homemaking in the south.

“You guys had better get flashlights and a jug of water and head for the basement,” he said one day when he called.

“Why?” I asked. “It’s gorgeous out!”

“It looks like tornado weather here,” he replied.

“It looks like gardening weather here,” I responded. “Maybe YOU should go down to the basement.”

“Tornadoes jump rivers, you know,” he said sternly, “you should go to the basement.”

“I think you should put on a sweater,” I said.

“Why?” he asked, astonished.

“Because I’m cold,” I said.

“I hate it when you do that,” he said.

”What?” I asked.

“Use reverse logic,” he said, “it really irks me.”

“OK, I’ll go put a jug of water and a flashlight in the basement,” I answered.

“And I hate sweaters,” he added.

“I know,” I said, “which is why I don’t knit for you. Thanks for warning me about your tornado.”

This strange weather division has also led to bizarre moments at the dinner table. It’s almost as if we were two parts of a commuter marriage.

“What did you do today,” hubs would ask.

“I stayed in the basement with the dog,” I’d say.

“What the hell were you doing the basement,” he’d asked, surprised etched large on his face.

“Checking for water leakage and damage, and keeping the dog company,” I’d reply.

“Is there something wrong with the washing machine, “ he’d ask, amazed and worried.

“No,” I’d say, “It was the thunder and lightning and incredibly heavy downpour. I was worried that we’d get that leak on the south side of the house again that ruined the wallboard and stunk up the carpet.”

“What downpour?” he’d ask.

“Oh, lordy, it rained like crazy here today,” I’d answer.

“Didn’t get a drop. 93 degrees all damn day. Cost me a fortune to air condition today,” he’d say, and shove more casserole in his face, looking for all the world like he thought I periodically hallucinated thunderstorms just to confuse him.

Now that we’ve got a decade of experience with the river’s effect on our weather, we’re usually a little more cautious conversationally. Discussions might start with “did it rain in town today?” or “it was 99 degrees at my office today, what was it like here?” But, it still amazes us that the weather can be so different over a distance of less than a mile.

Monday, August 14, 2006

New Beginnings and Old Ghosts

Well, this month the kids start back to school, and my husband and I will be celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary.

Spawn is not showing any anxiety about starting college, but he might be covering it up. He’s been a little reluctant to go and get his books, is borrowing some from a friend who’s a year ahead of him at the same campus, and is generally trying his 18-year-old darnedest to be manly and unconcerned about college. I’m not buying it. My husband and I drew up an agreement for him, so that we would all be clear on our expectations and responsibilities and his responsibilities. It was very specific, including what he can expect if he flunks a class, if his GPA drops below a B (increased car insurance costs!), in terms of transportation, overall contributions from us, and what we expect him to contribute. He seemed very surprised and extremely pleased. He’s one of those kids who likes to have everything explicitly spelled out for him, and I can’t blame him. In many ways, I’m like that, too.

Bunny is entering her high anxiety phase. She’s gotten this way every year she’s been in high school, and now, entering her junior year, she’s moping and stressing out again. I have been talking to her in comforting tones, using motivational and reassuring words, but I don’t think it’s working any better this time than it usually does. Maybe I need to try a reversal, like I did with the “Cat Lady” thing. I’m just afraid that it would backfire and she’d run off to her room, slam the door, and weep copiously and dramatically before announcing to me in a trembling and damp, sniffy voice, that she doesn’t think I’m very DARNED funny. I’ve tried putting myself in her shoes, but my 16-year-old shoes were nothing like her shoes, and I just can’t figure her out all that well with this anxiety thing. I always looked forward to school starting. Summers were boring for me, and I had hopes of learning something new, perfecting and refining old skills, and maybe meeting some new people to hang out with. I do know she suffers from school-induced math anxiety, brought on by a lousy teacher in 7th grade. She’s been very afraid of math ever since, even though I worked her through that period. I thought I had her confidence back up, but I was wrong. If anyone has any suggestions, I’d love to hear them.

Doodle is cruising amiably into his 8th grade year, the same way he has ambled into most years in school. He’s in no hurry, which he never is, and he’s not worried or excited nor does he have any particular feelings about it. He’s got his supplies assembled, he knows he’ll be seeing the same crowd, and he is bumbling happily along, being himself. There’s something very comforting about his acceptance of himself and his surroundings.

As for me, I never thought I’d feel so ambivalent about my 25th anniversary. I thought I’d see a quarter of a century of marriage as a real milestone, something to celebrate, something to invite people to share with me, something bigger than it feels like it is. I don’t even want to send our newlywed photo in to the local paper for their “Milestones” page. I just don’t care that much. The last few years have been tough. I’ve had health problems, there’s been my husband’s midlife crisis, my father-in-law’s death, my dad’s ongoing decline in health, my mother-in-law’s daffiness, and I feel detached more often than not. There just doesn’t seem to be much to celebrate other than enduring this long. I haven’t made any plans, and I seriously doubt that my spouse has, it’s not his thing to make plans to celebrate anything. Heck, I’m the one who pays when we go out for our Thursday lunches.

We spent last year, our 24th anniversary, on the brink of divorce. Neither one of us acknowledged it, but I was done putting up with his nonsense, and he was busy punishing me with his misery and anger, making mope faces at me, giving me the silent treatment, pushing me away from him emotionally, and I detached then, too, trying to stay upbeat and keep things normal – ish – and reasonably together for the sake of the kids, getting through one day at a time. It was a year I would not care to repeat.

It has been hard, trying to learn to trust him again. He seems to think he’s entitled to my trust, just because he wants it that way, but that’s not the way things work. Normal people don’t immediately give their trust right away, upon demand, and it’s a lot harder for someone like me, who was seriously abused as a child, to trust again when there has been betrayal of trust and/or too many of the wrong kind of secrets.

It’s been hard, trying to find joy or happiness with him again, instead of just more work. It’s been hard trying to re-engage emotionally instead of remaining safely distant. That’s another holdover from my childhood – it was safer and easier to go numb and absent than to be there, feeling everything. And it's a very long road back.

One of the hardest things has been finding out that he was so far outside of himself that he has no memory of many of the hurtful, damaging things that he did and said during the worst of his crisis. The only place I’ve had where I can talk about them, cry over them, and try to heal has been with my women’s group, and there are only so many sessions I feel comfortable monopolizing with my baggage and woes.

And it’s been hard working to avoid falling into self-defeating traps like remaining silent when I need to speak up for myself, or not questioning things that I have every right to question. Old habits may die hard, but old BAD habits seem nearly immortal sometimes. I do know that things are better this year than they were last year, despite my father-in-law’s passing and the effect that has had on my husband and our marriage.

I guess that’s all I can reasonably hope for, really. Real life has very few moments of incredible joy or despair, the vast majority of it, married or not, is somewhere more moderate on the continuum. I really don’t know where this anniversary falls. I guess I’ll figure that out when it arrives. All I can do is to keep working on my own problems and plugging away. Meanwhile, the kids make me happy, so I’ll enjoy my last few days with them before they go back to school!


twee: to "be in a twee", to be overcome with fear or vexation

(from The Word Museum by Jeffrey Kacirk)

Friday, August 11, 2006

Five Things I Love About My Kids

1. They love to read. We share books, the newspaper, magazines, whatever. We talk about what we’ve read – what we thought, interesting phrases, nifty concepts, and we critique stuff, too. Even (gasp) poetry!

2. They can cook. I know, I taught them. I have bragging rights. I, therefore, brag at will. I astound grandmothers who want to complain about their kids and grandkids that live out of things in boxes or frozen dinners. People from other states send me nice things for my children, who are so talented and alert as to be able to cook for themselves!

3. They all hug me daily without my having to ask or even
look pathetic. Even Spawn, who, at 18, is quite sure that he will lose man points if he’s too nice to me, will stop and hug me without immediately asking for a privilege or money. Bunny hugs me every morning when she gets up, before she goes to school or leaves the house for any reason, at least one other time, and then before bed. Doodle still cuddles with me on the couch, although not as often as he used to. He wanders over to me periodically and body slams me, followed by an immediate hug. Heh. I think it’s great that they still hug me; I would miss it if they stopped.

4. They help around the house without complaining. Well, not often and not much. Really! They’ll go grocery shopping with me, load the groceries in the trunk, bring them in, and put them away. That might just be so they can eyeball all the food we got so they can see what they want to snarf up, but still. They do laundry, sometimes all on their own, wipe counters, empty garbage, haul garbage to the curb, set the table, load the dishwasher, and so on. If I ask them to help with a chore, such as cleaning the bathroom, they do it without hesitation. When we work as a team, we can really storm through a room like a passel of Merry Maids!

5. They save their money. Oh, not like hysterical scared people, but reasonably. Part of it is, we have a ceramic cow bank on the dining room table. All year long, the kids and I chuck our change in the cow. When the cow is full, Spawn takes the cash cow over to the bank and has them count the coins and return folding money. Then we pick a movie and go all out – popcorn, sodas, and a movie for all of us. (And if you don’t think that costs nearly a hundred dollars for a family of five, you haven’t been to the theater lately!). They also have savings accounts, and it has become a matter of habit for them to put half of gift checks in their savings and use the rest for purchasing a present for whatever occasion. They are all very, very proud of watching their accounts to see how much interest they are earning, and they strive to save more if they can’t think of something to buy with the other half of the gift money. Spawn has also started contributing to his annuity (by the way, you can buy a flex annuity for cheap and just add money whenever you want, you know, you don’t have to be a Rockefeller) of his own volition. I hope the habit of saving money sticks with them for life. I hope their spouses are savers, not spenders, too.

Have a great weekend!

Friday 8/11 Bonus Round: German Idiom

Darueber ist laengst Gras gewachsen. It's dead and buried. It's long forgotten. It's over and done with. It's a thing of the past.

zB: Niemand spricht mehr von dem grossen, politischen Skandal, der sich vor etlichen Jahren in unserer Stadt ereignete. Darueber ist laengst Gras gewachsen.

auf Englisch: No one talks any more about the great political scandal that occured some years ago in our city. It's a thing of the past.

Thursday, August 10, 2006


Mother Nature is telling me I need to get the heck off of the computer ASAP, so, rather than try to upload several pictures and text to continue with the Crazy Quilt Afghan, here's a shortie... My contribution to the Save the Children Newborn Hat Campaign. The top three hats are Moda Dea Sassy Stripes, colorway "Lucky", the next two, also Moda Dea SS, colorway "Rave". The middle hat is Paton's Astra (don't remember the name of the colorway), the next two are Red Heart, and the bottom three are Lion Brand pound of yarn, baby something.

Back soon with triangles and log cabin border for the CQA.


naufrage: when, by the violent agitation of the waves, the impetuosity of the winds, the storm, or the lightning, a vessel is swallowed up or so shattered that there remains only the pieces, the accident is called naufrage.

(from The Word Museum by Jeffrey Kacirk)

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Project Runway

A gal at Chix with Stix is really into this “reality” show. I pooh-poohed it for a while, since I generally find reality shows icky. Most of them involve eating bugs, entrails, or dung, and if they don’t involve ingesting revolting substances, then the contestants either have to play very mean tricks on one another or jump from great heights. In addition to being a nice person who eats ordinary food, I am acrophobic, so I guess you can see why the usual run of reality shows is not my main TV fodder.

I asked my Chix friend why she liked Project Runway. Turns out, she was a theater major in college and worked mainly in costume design, so she really enjoys that aspect of it. Also, she told me, it shows more of the real aspects of being involved in the design industry, as she interprets it – short deadlines, projects you don’t really have any interest in, stupid or strange models, financial limitations, rivalries, and lots and lots and lots of sewing.

I’m not good at sewing. Well, I might be good at sewing, but I do not care for ironing, and all the seamstresses, tailors, and home ec. classes I’ve ever known or been involved in or with insist that ironing is even more essential than setting stitches. So, I steer clear of it. I do admire people who sew well and with confidence, but I don’t want to be one of them.

So, after listening to and sometimes tuning out my friend at Chix, I finally gave in last week and watched Project Runway. Now I’m hooked. I got my husband hooked, too. He actually does sew, although he would probably not admit to it in front of a group of men. He sews better than I do, which isn’t saying much.

I think he just thought he was being magnanimous with the remote control at first on a Saturday afternoon. After all, he does watch an awful whole lot of bang-clang men’s TV – you know the stuff, Do It Yourself shows with power tools, This Old Ramshackle House Owned By People With Far More Money Than Sense, History’s Biggest Mechanical Items, Dirty Jobs (which always seem to involve machinery), that kind of guy stuff. So, we tuned into Project Runway.

We laughed, we were amazed at some of the creativity and vision, we were appalled at some of the dreadful items produced and paraded down the runway, we listened to critiques from the fashion gurus, and we chose favorites and least favorites. Neither of us cares for the very affected female host, who really needs to lose touch with her inner Hooker, but we like the design house overlord (or whatever the heck he is) who comes in and tells people, as politely as he can, that their work is either boring, crap, or boring crap. He is also quick to hand out praise and to admit that even if he doesn’t like something, it is in style and could sell well. Good management, I think.

Anyway, last night, there we were, a middle-aged Midwestern couple, sitting around in our comfies, watching the high fashion wannabees sew, iron, and strut their stuff. During commercials, we talked about what had just happened, and I said to my husband, “who’d have thought we’d wind up enjoying this show so much?” He got me right smack dab in the funny bone when he said, “Where else am I going to see three men sitting at sewing machines, bitching about pushy women?”

He’s got a point. It's always the human drama and foibles that are the attraction in TV shows. Plot, settings, fashions, props may vary, but the value in any show, let alone reality shows, has to do with the quality of human interactions and perceptions. So, press on, PR, for as long as it works.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Big and Beeble

A lot of things the kids said when they were small have stuck and become part of our family lexicon. I think this happens in most families. Sometimes it’s something as simple as using “w” or “y” instead of an “l” in certain words. Other things are a little harder to explain to outsiders. We have a couple of favorites.

When my daughter was about two and a half or three, she started measuring the world and the things in it in comparison with her head. We’d tell her we had a surprise for her, and she’d ask, “Is it bigger than my head?” It made for an interesting perspective – a cantaloupe was about the same size as her head, a watermelon was bigger, but a navel orange smaller. We’d watch her from the corners of our eyes as she checked as to whether or not things were bigger than her head. She’d hold a serving spoon up to her cheek and attempt to peek at it out of the corner of her eyes to see if it was bigger or smaller. She did this with bouncy balls, dolls, food, pretty much everything. Spawn started doing it, too, only instead of using his own head, he’d use Bunny’s.

“Hey,” he called out to her one day after he’d gotten a new little red wagon, “c’mere.”

She toddled on over to him, hair in a topknot, flowered sundress on. “What?” she asked.

“Stick your head in this wagon and see if it fits,” he commanded. So, she did.

“Bigger” he pronounced, “definitely.”

She came hopping over to me and proudly stated, “Spawn’s new wagon is bigger than my head!”

“I would hope so, “ I said, “maybe he’ll take you for a ride in it.”

She hopped back over to Spawn and said, “You have to take me for a ride in your wagon.”

“Why?” he demanded.

“Because it’s bigger than my head,” she replied with great confidence.

“Oh,” said Spawn, and pondered for a moment, “OK, get in.”

We gathered from various similar situations that anything that was bigger than Bunny’s head a) was a good thing, based on size alone, and b) was supposed to be shared. Like the evil parents we are, we used this to our advantage, me especially.

One day I put out a tray of veggies and dip.

“Mine!” yelled Bunny.

“Nope,” I replied, “you have to share.”

“I don’t wanna!” she said and screwed up her face to cry.

I raised an eyebrow at her and said, “The tray is bigger than your head, isn’t it?”

She eyeballed the tray. She measured her head with her hands, just to be sure, and then held her hands over the tray, a head’s width apart. She sighed. “Oh, “ she said sadly, “OK, I’ll share.”

Bunny picked up a carrot stick and looked at it, considering. “This isn’t bigger than my head,” she said, “so I don’t have to share it.”

“Right,” I said, “it’s all yours.”

“OK,” she said and looked much happier.

Another toddler-based addition to our family language is “beeble”. When Doodle was a year and a half old, he loved to sneak up on Spawn and startle him while he was engaged in some very serious five and a half year old task, like building a Lego village. This drove Spawn nuts, and then he’d chase Doodle, Doodle would run over to me and grab my legs, I’d protect him, and there’d be Spawn – all wound up and no one to poke. It started to get on Spawn’s nerves pretty badly, having his concentration interrupted and then his revenge thwarted as Doodle peered at him from behind my legs, grinning mischievously, so Spawn stopped calling him by his name and simply called him “Evil Baby”.

One morning I was innocently enjoying the last half of my first cup of coffee at the dining room table before the kids got up. Or so I thought. I heard thumping and thudding overhead, then a shout of dismay and the sound of small feet charging down the upstairs hallway, down the stairs and through the living room towards me. Spawn was in the lead.

“THE EVIL BABY IS CHASING ME,” he screamed, running and hiding under the table, “Help! Stop the Evil Baby!”

I blinked and looked over towards the living room. Sure enough, here came Doodle, and he had a wet washcloth in either hand and one hanging out of his mouth. He was grinning maniacally. Around the washcloth he mumbled, “I’b the Beeble Baby, an’ I’b gonna get YOU!” And he flailed the washcloths around and around like medieval maces, droplets of water spraying all over.

I snorted coffee out my nose. Even Spawn thought that was pretty funny and started laughing. So, of course, from that day forward, any naughty behavior has been summarily labeled “beeble.”

And on that note, may your day have joys much bigger than your head and nothing the least bit beeble in it.


batterfanged: beaten and beclawed, as a termagant will fight with her fists and nails

(from The Word Museum by Jeffrey Kacirk)

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Five Wild Critters I Think Are Kinda Cool

[ISP was down almost all of yesterday and last night. Sheesh!]

1. Poison dart frogs: I got to see an exhibit of these little shavers when they were at the Shedd Aquarium a number of years ago. They’re really brightly colored – red, neon green, bright cobalt blue, and they are tiny, tiny, tiny. One of them, I think it was the blue one, also had a box shaped torso. It was like a little Lego turned frog. Apparently the ones in captivity are not poisonous, since their toxicity depends on their diets.

2. Seahorses: These were also part of the exhibit with the poison dart frogs. I had no idea there were so many different kinds! Some of them look like fancy seaweed, with no discernible (at least to me) eyes or moving parts or bits that look like they belong to a critter instead of a plant. The ones that were obviously moving around were so beautiful, delicate and graceful, almost like they were existing in a dream state and had just flickered into view for a moment…fairies of the sea.

3. Penguins: I liked penguins long before the wonderful movie, “March of the Penguins.” I like the way they are so graceful under water and so completely humorous waddling around on land, I like the fact that they are flightless aquatic birds, which seems like an oxymoronic concept in and of itself, and I like their goofy noises and curiosity. I was horribly upset when, during news reports from the British war in the Falkland Islands, it was said that Falkland soldiers were slitting open penguins and putting their feet in the bodies to keep warm. ACK! No! Not to penguins! Vultures, maybe, albatrosses, sheep, even, but not little penguins! Of course, the entire idea is putrid, but, really, not penguins.

4. Bats: I don’t want them in my house (I also don’t want seahorses, poison dart frogs, or penguins in my house), but I think they’re kind of neat. I appreciate that they eat bugs, particularly mosquitoes, I think the whole sonar thing is way cool, and if I don’t look at them tooooooo closely, they’re almost cute. I’d rather have bats eating my resident bugs than spiders because spiders just seem ill-tempered and mean to me. Bats are also much tinier in real life than in the movies, and they seem kind of helpless when you find one stranded or injured.

5. Seagulls: Not the most romantic of birds, but I like them. They have it all; they can float and swim and dive a little, they fly spectacularly, they perch and nest wherever the heck they want, and they have an attitude. They’re survivors and adaptors, and I respect that. They can live on garbage, which makes them tough and pragmatic in my eyes, they have enough functional brain cells to know to drop shellfish on rocks to crack them open so the innards can be eaten, and if you tick them off, they are obnoxious and aggressive. I have no idea why I like that so much in a bird. I guess I like feistiness.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

CQA, Tutorial continued, part 3

[I am fed up with Blogger. I've tried 6 times to get the corresponding photos to upload here and it just won't take them. I have uploaded them to flickr instead. All the photos for this tutorial are at: and are labeled as to what they're showing.]

The two-miter rectangle or square...

For the two-miter square you will be working along three sides. Cast on your desired number of stitches for the height you want, place a marker, cast on an even number of stitches for the bottom of the square, place marker, and then cast on for the third side which will have the same number of stitches as your first side. Knit the first row even. Next row, a right side row, knit to two stitches before the first marker, slip one, knit one, pass slipped stitch over, slip marker, k2tog. Knit to two stitches before the second marker, slip one, knit one, pass slipped stitch over, slip marker, k2tog, knit to end. Knit next row (wrong side row) even. Continue in this manner until you have two stitches remaining in the bottom section of the square. Knit one last wrong side row Arrange stitches so that both needle points are pointing outward, where the live yarn end is hanging. Both needles should have the same number of stitches.

…and the three needle bind off

With wrong sides out and facing you, begin three needle bind off as follows: insert needle through the first stitch on the first needle, then through the first stitch on the second needle, pull yarn through, drop stitches. This is your first bound off stitch. Repeat, knitting a second stitch through the second stitch on both needles. Pull the first knit stich over the second knit stitch, as for regular bind off, continue across row until all stitches are bound off.

…using the two-miter idea to join two blocks together
( with a three-needle bind off)

You can use this method to avoid sewing blocks together, if you have made separate blocks – while traveling or while away from your main afghan section. With right sides facing you, pick up stitches along the shortest block edge, insert marker, cast on an even number of stitches for the bottom, place marker, then pick up the same number of stitches as in the first section along the edge of the second block. Continue as above. You have now knit two blocks together instead of sewing them.

…and an alternate method of joining two strips or filling in a gap (pick up perpendicularly or PUP).

Finally, there is a very simple but somewhat cumbersome method of knitting two blocks together or filling in a gap.

Let’s start with filling in a gap. In this case, you have a short side and a long side, you don’t want to do any mitering, you just want to do something simple. If the short side is on the left (or the same side as where you would start picking up stitches), pick up your first stitch as follows: insert needle through the first bar or stitch on the short side, then, without picking up your yarn, insert the needle through the first stitch or bar on the long side. Knit these as one stitch, continue across the long side as usual. Knit back across evenly. For the next right side row, repeat the above – i.e., pick up one bar or stitch from the short side and knit it together with the first stitch from the long side. Make sure your stitch count remains the same and does not increase.

If the short side is opposite the end on which you will begin picking up stitches, then you simply knit your last right side stitch together with the lowest bar or stitch from the short side. Next row is knit even. Repeat.

Now that you know how this is done in both directions, i.e. when picking up on the right side or the wrong side, you can see where this applies to knitting two strips or blocks together. You would simply join in the lowest bar or stitch from the block on each side, one at a time, one join per row (not ridge) until the blocks are completely joined by a strip of knitting running up the middle. The reason this is cumbersome, in my opinion, is because it takes a little longer. That’s all.


walapang: in Lombardic law, to diguise one's self in order to commit theft

(from The Word Museum by Jeffrey Kacirk)

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane! No, it’s a … Lawnmower?

It was a hot, sunny day much like today when I realized there are times that I am a complete clod. It was a Sunday morning, and I was out on our riding lawn mower, virtuously mowing the back yard, which we refer to as the “back forty” because of its large size. The back forty is about 60 percent weeds, but they’re green weeds, so we mow them. There are no trees whatsoever on the west and north sides, the south side is bordered by our house, and along the east side is a thicket of black locust trees, some of which are extremely tall.

We had put a tire swing for the kids on a sturdy branch on one of the locust trees. They were still pretty little, so it hung about 3 feet off the ground. I was mowing my way from west to east, north to south. I was barely paying attention to what I was doing; instead, I was enjoying the fresh air, the sunshine, and the feeling of doing an outdoor chore that I don’t normally do. The mower was roaring happily along, chomping weeds, cutting grass, bumping over ruts, and spewing clods of clippings out one side. I was concentrating on distributing the cuttings evenly more than anything else, I suppose.

The sun was in my eyes despite my baseball cap and sunglasses, and there I was, putting steadily along, when I decided to make a couple of passes along the east side, which was in shade, to get a little relief from the heat. I rumbled down the farthest edge, did a little figure 8 to turn around and headed back along the east side. I was looking out towards the center of the yard, vaguely estimating how much more time it would take to finish the lawn, when it dawned on me that I wasn’t making much forward progress.

I looked down next to the mower to see if I was stuck in a rut somehow. Nothing next to the back tires, although they weren’t moving forward much. I looked at where the front tires were supposed to be. They weren’t there. In shock, I looked upwards a little, and noticed that my front tires were slowly but surely rising into the air.

Holy crap! I grabbed the steering wheel, and, peering through the sweat running into my eyes, through my steamy sunglasses, and under the brim of my cap, I traced the front of the mower upwards. For some dumb*ss reason, I had not turned the mower off or into neutral, no, it was still attempting to move me forward. Into the air. Because I had absentmindedly driven straight into the tire swing, which had neatly snagged the front end of the mower, and the more the back tires tried to propel me forward, the further out the tire swing went, pulling the front end of the mower higher and higher into the air.

Holy crap, again! I leaped off the mower, unscrambled my feet and lurched out of the way so I wouldn’t get my feet chopped off by the mower blades. My legs were shaking as I watched the mower grind its way to perpendicular much more swiftly, now that it wasn’t hampered by my weight. My mouth was hanging open, just for a second, and then some brain cell finally fired, and I reached over and turned the mower off.

I stood there, dripping sweat and curse words with equal ferocity for a minute or so, then unhooked the tire swing from the mower. I managed to get the mower back down to the ground without damage to me or to it, and then stomped inside.

My husband innocently asked, “Done already?”

“No,” I replied, “don’t ask.”

I poured myself a cup of coffee, sat down at the dining room table and silently bitched myself out for being a total idiot. I lay my head down on the table and said aloud, “I can’t believe what a total dork I am.” My husband had ambled into the kitchen and overheard me.

“What happened?” he asked.

“OK,” I said, “I guess I can tell you now, and we can both have a good laugh at me. I just want you to know, before I get any further, that I’m fine, so is the mower, and there are only a couple of new ruts in the back forty.”

His eyebrows lifted in surprise, and he sat down at the other end of the table. He gave me a speculative look. “Ooooookaaaaaaay,” he said, “ what happened?” I opened my mouth to explain when the totally ridiculous nature of the entire event hit me. What must I have looked like to anyone observing? Just sitting there, stupidly staring off to the side as my mower was slowly being pulled vertically? What kind of a picture would that have made for anyone, calmly sitting on their back patio, having a relaxing cup of coffee, maybe reading the paper, still in their bathrobe, slippers on their feet, thinking only ordinary Sunday morning thoughts?

I started snickering. Then I snorted, and then I let loose with a serious belly laugh. Tears started forming in my eyes, and I kept laughing. I still hadn’t told my husband a thing, and he had a look of alarm mixed with humor on his face, but he waited patiently. I got myself under control and explained it to him, occasionally interrupting myself with hoots and snorts of laughter.

He started laughing, too. I gave it the full humor treatment from start to finish, and at the end of the story, he and I were both doubled over, holding our stomachs, laughing like hyenas, swiping tears from our eyes.

He asked, “Does the mower still work?”

“I’m pretty sure it will,” I said, “it was running just fine when I got it down from the tree.” Which set both of us off again. We both went outside to make sure the mower would still run, and it did. He slapped me on the back and offered to finish up the back yard for me, but I refused.

“I think this is one of those times when I ought to get right back on the horse that threw me, so to speak,” I said.

He grinned and said, “OK. This time….”

I grinned back and said, “Yeah, I know,” and I rumbled off on the mower, neither of us worse for wear. I did finish the yard. Horizontally, of course. But whenever I get to thinking I know what I’m doing and I’m just the cat’s meow at something, a little imp in my head will send me a quick flashback snapshot of that mower heading for the sky, and it reminds me that no matter how confident I may be of my ability to do something, it would probably be a good idea to pay attention.


megrim: a pain in the head, supposed to arise from the biting of a worm, hence, as caprices were also supposed to arise from the biting of a maggot, the name megrim was also given to any capricious fancy

(from The Word Museum by Jeffrey Kacirk)

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

The Masked Veggi-Nator

It is blisteringly hot this summer, which always makes me think of beefsteak tomatoes. My uncle, who passed away about 4 years ago, grew fabulous beefsteak tomatoes. They were the size of cantaloupes, as big as a child’s head. He used no chemical fertilizers, just natural soil enhancements such as compost and rotted dung. He also had some of the best, loamiest soil around in which to grow them. I loved those tomatoes as a child.

I remember that when we’d go to visit him in North Carolina in the baking heat of the summer, he’d always take me out to admire his tomato plants. I was little enough that they reminded me of Jack’s beanstalks, stretching up, up, up into the sky. He used old pieces of lumber as poles and tied the plants up with bits of used up ladies’ stockings. Those plants had leaves as big as parasols, the thick stalks straining to hold the weight of massive, gorgeous tomatoes.

He picked them before they were completely ripe and then set them on an old picnic table on the east side of his house, so that they could finish ripening in the gentler morning sun. He told me that if he left them on the vine to completely ripen, the birds would get at them and then “they warn’t no good no more”. If our stay was longer than a couple of days, I would make sure to go and check his ripening tomatoes every day, my mouth watering at the thought of a plate of beefsteak tomatoes, heavily seasoned with good, coarse black pepper and a thorough sprinkling of salt, blood red juice filling the plate around the slices, and a heavenly, coppery, organic tomato smell reaching up to tempt my nostrils.

When the tomatoes started ripening en mass, we’d eat them at every meal. Tomatoes on the side with breakfast eggs, tomato sandwiches for lunch made with real mayonnaise and soft white bread, and two or three slices of tomato dominating the plate at dinner, making whatever meat was being served insignificant in comparison. Man, those were some tasty tomatoes!

I tried growing tomatoes here when we first moved in. Our soil is sandy and we were in the middle of a decade long moderate drought, so they didn’t fare well. We got maybe two or three seriously big beefsteak tomatoes from my fledgling garden, and I liked them more than anyone else, so I ate them up myself.

Across the river, the soil is much better, dark, rich with humus, retains water; I envy that soil. One of my husband’s friends has a little garden, and the first year he grew vegetables, he planted zucchini and several types of tomatoes. They grew like they were crazed on adrenaline and amphetamines – all over the damned place, into his neighbors’ yards, over the fence, stretching out behind his garage; it was madness. And all of them fruited like mad, too.

He had no idea of what to do with all the zucchini and tomatoes his garden had produced, since his small family could only store so much zucchini bread and eat so many tomatoes. He was kind enough to share a couple of bags of each with us, and he told us about how he still had four or five bags of each in the backseat of his car that day, more ripening on the vines, and he was driving around, trying to think of who he knew who might not have a bounteous supply of their own and who might be happy to get some tomatoes and zucchini from him.

“It’s gotten to the point where I’m thinking of checking parking lots for unlocked cars!” he stated. It took me a minute to put the two things together in context, and then it dawned on me that he was joking about anonymously giving his veggies to anyone who left their cars unlocked in parking lots around town. I thought that was one of the funniest things I’d heard of, and I laughed about it off and on over the rest of that summer.

I don’t have a vegetable garden this year, more’s the pity. It probably would have done really well, what with the heat and the rain we’ve gotten. I sure do miss those beefsteak tomatoes – they speak of summer to me even more eloquently than watermelon and picnics.

Oh, in case anyone’s wondering, and, John, if you’re reading this – I’ll be at the Big R store today around three today, and I don’t think I’ll be locking up the car!


ramfeezled: to exhaust oneself with work, to wear oneself out; used only in past participle

(from The Word Museum by Jeffrey Kacirk)

Knit Installment: Part Two CQA

[Note: Blogger tends to give me trouble if I try to upload too many photos at one time, so I'll be uploading individual blocks for guidelines on the Crazy Quilt Afghan as I can. I will consolidate them under the "Knit with Bos" sidebar heading when I'm done. Sorry for any inconvenience.]

Part Two: The Mitered Square

Mitered squares are covered pretty thoroughly elsewhere on the web, so this is a very brief rundown...

One-Miter Square: Cast on an even number of stitches, inserting a marker or loop between the two center stitches. Work as above (decreasing on either side of the marker on the right side rows only) until you have two stitches left on either side of the marker. Decrease the same way again, on the right side row, and on the wrong side row, knit the last two stitches together and pull the yarn through. Voila!

If you wish to pick up a square, as opposed to a rectangle, do it exactly the same way as the rectangle, working the decreasing the same, but finishing as above for a square.

Next installment will be: The two-miter block as a means of joining blocks; three-needle bind-off