Friday, September 29, 2006

Friday Five 9/29/06 - Five Things I Wish I Could Undo

While I rarely engage in regret-fests, there are things I do wish I had done differently now that I know what I know, so to speak. I’m still pretty sure that, like all of us, I did the best I could at the time, given the information and resources available to me, except for…

1. I dumped a boyfriend without a good explanation in my teens. He deserved better. He was a good person. I was being stalked by a very scary person, and I excused myself from all regrets at the time, believing that I was doing my best to get him out of harm’s way – didn’t want the stalker to target him. It really wasn’t an altruistic move, even though I thought so then. It was cowardly, and I would have been better served to confide in people and let them help me out. I was too busy trying to isolate the problem and didn’t look in the right places for answers. I really think I ought to have let him make the choice for himself; he was not a feckless person and probably would have chosen to go on his merry way until things were more advantageous. I hurt his feelings badly, and when I was finally able to apologize to him, 16 years later (!) I felt better, he felt better, and it straightened out over a decades’ worth of misunderstandings.

2. I’d have gotten more second opinions from doctors. I wasn’t raised to do that – the doctor might be insulted! As a consequence, I’ve had some bad medical advice over the years – from morons with medical licenses, from male chauvinists, from generally oblivious doctors, and the like. I am still more reluctant than I like to be in this regard. I honestly don’t know how to read my own reactions well enough to decide if I need to seek a second opinion. I can remember some spectacularly bad advice – one doctor recommended an all-vegetarian diet and particularly abjured protein sources. I actually tried that for a couple of months until I was too tired to lift my arms and couldn’t stand the sight of cabbage or tomatoes for quite some time.

Another doctor, when I went in after I had had my third child and my husband had a vasectomy, advised me that there was nothing he could do about my diastasis recti unless I were voluntarily sterilized because (this is a real beaut) I might get divorced, and I might remarry, and I might choose to have another kid with the new hubby. I was stunned speechless at the time, and so was my ob/gyn that I went to see yesterday to talk about it. I was also hamstrung by HMO/insurance requirements at the time. So, here I am, 13.5 years after the fact, suffering the consequences of taking advice from a chauvinist idiot. Pfui! Sometimes, I really piss myself off!

3. I’d have gotten more babysitters while the kids were little. I don’t care if I went out somewhere with hubs or not, I needed the time away, and I didn’t get it. I lost the chance to get into the groove of taking better care of myself early on in the motherhood experience, and it’s taken me more years than I like to admit to find my way back there again. I can list all the excuses still – not enough money, too tired, nowhere to actually go to, etc. I still feel I could have done it differently, and it might have worked out better for all of us.

4. I’d have thrown more of other people’s stuff away, then thrown more of my own stuff out, too. Right now, I’m in a house awash with other people’s crap. My husband even built a barn to store more of his crap in. I hope I die first because I do not want to spend my senior years sifting through other people’s crap. I’m hoping I can get my kids to take all, and I mean ALL, of their crap with them when they move out and move on. So, that’s 3 rooms. That’s not going to come anywhere near solving the problem, though.

When I did finally start sneaking around behind my husband’s back (I was really mad at him at the time) and threw out t-shirts that would no longer fit him and were too embarrassingly threadbare to be passed on, he never noticed. I don’t think he has the slightest mental inventory of his load of crap. I’m not sure my kids will even admit to ownership of some of their junk, even though it’s pretty clear that the manga magazine things and orange stuffed elephants and notebooks full of doodles and notes on who’s mean or nice or a good or bad teacher are not mine or my husband’s.

And, I’ve got no call to stand on a pedestal myself, since I’m still working on moving out a boxful of my own junk each month. I hope that when it’s time to haul me off to the nursing home, I’ll have no more than a few changes of clothes, some knitting needles and yarn, and one set of books I could re-read until I wear the words off the pages.

5. Moving beyond easy commuting distance from a big city. I don’t like it. I’ve learned to live with it, but I miss being either in a big city or near enough to get there by train or bus. I find myself isolated, grumpy, and physically lazy. Yeah, I moved with my spouse, following his jobs, but I could have protested harder, we could have compromised. I miss taking trips easily into the city to visit museums, plays, big stores, parks, etc. I’m an hour away from a train that’s over an hour away from the city. I could drive in in the same amount of time, but at that point it’s become an all day JOURNEY, not a trip that could easily be part of a day with other things in it, too. And, when something gets to be that big of a hassle, I find alternatives. Ick.

Well, I’m done whacking myself over the head, and I’m going to go off and find some things to do that I do enjoy and hopefully won’t regret in the future! AAAARGH!

(PS – I just read another rant against blogs. Geez, do those people ever realize they’re no more obliged to read blogs than they are to watch endless re-runs of Mythbusters? Move on, peeps!)

Oddball Word of the Day

bailiwick: (BAY-lee-wick) 1) the area in which a bailiff has jurisdiction, 2) one's sphere of interest, skill, authority, or responsibility

(from MMMW edited by Laurence Urdang)

Friday 9/29 Bonus Round: German Idiom

das fuenfte Rad am Wagen sein: to be the odd one out, to be out of place or a fifth wheel

zB: Als die Gesellschaft ueber Finanzwesen zu sprechen begann, fuehlte ich mich wie das fuenfte Rad am Wagen. Ich kenne mich auf diesem Gebiet nicht aus.

auf Englisch: When the group began to talk about finance, I felt out of place. I don't know anything about this subject.

(from the Guide to German Idioms by JP Lupson)

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Oddball Word of the Day

sanguine: (SANG-gween) adj. 1) of cheerful and courageous disposition, 2) blood-red, of reddish color

(from MMMW, edited by Laurence Urdang)

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

BoS’s Roll Brim Stocking Cap

Red Heart has a new yarn line, called STRATA. It mimics the self-striping sock yarns we sock knitters love to use, and is very Red Heart – washable acrylic, extremely inexpensive, and available everywhere. I picked some up a couple of weeks ago, and, while my fingers are spoiled by the soft natural fibers available these days, I’m still a penny pincher at heart, and Red Heart yarns are always affordable. The STRATA colors are bold and fun, and kids and whimsical adults (like me) will like the colors a lot.

Since autumn is upon us, and I like to plan ahead, I made a stocking cap from a skein of STRATA, one that I think even beginners can enjoy. I’ll be square here, this is not a hat for many millennia – it’s entirely possible the pom pom will fall off at some point, either in vigorous washing or vigorous play, the yarn will eventually become too scratchy for use, but by that time the kids will have gone on to more sober colors and designs.

But knitting is not just about creating archival museum pieces for a whomptillion dollars. That may suit some people, but I like to do fun stuff, stuff I’m not so emotionally attached to that I will tear my hair and wear sackcloth and ashes if the wearer does not treat it with the proper respect. Accordingly, I make stuff that is easy, that I can make several of, that I can give away to someone with a cold head or cold hands who is unprepared and nearby, or as a little generous gesture to someone who expresses a liking for it, with no qualms whatsoever.

Stocking caps are fun. They speak of winter, snow, snowmen and angels, children romping through cold weather and coming home with red noses and cheeks, wet socks, and happily demanding cocoa with marshmallows, or hot soup, and then sleeping deeply, peacefully, and with smiles on their faces all night long. A roll brim hat is particularly adaptable to different head sizes; the wearer can just keep rolling up the brim until they get to the part of the hat small enough to stay on their heads!

For those not interested in knitting circularly, just follow the directions below working back and forth, cast off when you get to about 4 stitches, and sew a seam up the back. I’ve included a little tidbit about working I-cords for anyone unfamiliar with that technique.

BoS’s Roll Brim Stocking Cap

For teens and women, 17” circumference unstretched, 20” long plus pom pom

Size 7 16” circular needles and dpns
1 4-oz skein Red Heart Strata, color POGO

Cast on 70 sts, join and knit for 6-1/2” in stockinette stitch.
K2tog, k9 around
K6 rows even
K2tog, k8 around,
K6 rows even.

Continue in this manner, decreasing on the 7th row in decreasing intervals until you have reached the row where you K2tog all around. Do so. When the stitches become too stretched on the circular needle, switch to dpns
K6 rows even
K2 tog twice in next row, k6 rows even,

Work as I-cord (using only two dpns and a minimum of stitches [fewer than ten, usually,] knit across. Push the stitches back across to the working end of the needle, stretch the yarn across the back and knit across again. Repeat until you reach the requisite number of rows. There will be a ladder of overstretched looking stitches were you have ended one row and begun another. This is perfectly normal. One quick longitudinal [lengthwise] yank and those ladders disappear like magic. It really, truly does work!)

or on 2 or three needles, as desired – K 6 rows. Repeat until you have only 5 or 6 stitches left.

K2tog, K to last 2 sts, K2tog.

Cut 6” tail, pull through and fasten off. Attach pom pom to string; if you leave a little bit of string between the hat and the pom pom, it will be nice and wiggly and bounce nicely while the hat (and wearer) are in motion.

POM POM PRESERVATION NOTE: When washing in the washing machine, turn hats with pom poms inside out and jam the pom pom deep into the hat. With any luck, it'll stay that way and the strings won't get caught in anything or directly agitated, thus extending pom pom life.

God-Mad Junior Jihadists

OK, I probably ought to give an explanation to anyone who is wondering about the message I posted last Thursday. There is history, so I’ll do this chronologically.

When Spawn was in 7th grade, he was having a bad year. We all were. That was the year that my Dad and Stepmom had their geriatric meltdown, I was working in my husband’s office, and finishing up degrees. I was busy, my husband was busy, and to be brutally honest about my own shortcomings, I was not paying as much attention to the kids and their problems as I would wish I had. It was also the year I began my endurance crusade to get Spawn a 504 plan for his ADHD with a district known for its reluctance to even serve kids with very serious disabling conditions.

The school year started off badly for Spawn. He was baldly resistant to putting any effort into his schoolwork, his handwriting was awful, he was a snotty boogerhead at home, and it’s a good thing I couldn’t shoot daggers out of my eyes. He also had one of the nastiest teachers I’ve ever met in my entire life, who was arrogant, petty, and oblivious. This was a person who should never be in charge of children for any reason, and he had her for four classes. Inevitably, Spawn wound up in the assistant principal’s office, as did I. I began my quest for a 504 for him that day.

Fast forward to about 10 months later: Spawn’s been denied a 504, I’ve been to at least 20 meetings with respect to the matter, written a letter to the editor regarding the behavior of the nasty teacher (and gotten wonderful phone calls about it), I’ve filed complaints with the state BOE, the Office for Civil Rights, and we’re one week away from a mediation hearing. My sister is looking after my parents and bulldozing them into a rehab center to get properly assessed, but we all know they need assisted living care, it’s 4 million degrees outside, and the district caves. I get a call from the director of the SPED cooperative; we come to a meeting of the minds, meet and draw up a 504. I bring it home to share with Spawn.

And he hits me with, “I probably should have told you about this before, but there was also a group of kids in my gym class who bullied me.” I ask more questions and what distills out of our conversation is that he was repeatedly being physically backed into a corner, in full view of his gym teacher (also a rotten piece of work, but not as bad as Nasty Broad), screamed at, taunted, pushed, kicked, and abused…all because in one summer honors class the year before, when they were discussing evolution, some other kid brought up creationism, and Spawn said he didn’t believe in God. The bullies were screaming at him about not believing in God, threatening him with going to hell, and raining brimstone and fisticuffs on him with equal ferocity, all in full view and with the tacit approval of the gym teacher. My head exploded.

I called my husband, then I called the assistant principal, and all four of us, Spawn, hubs, AP, and I all met in hubs’ office. Hubs and I sat by, visibly simmering with rage, as Spawn and his AP discussed the matter. When he mentioned that the gym teacher had been in the vicinity each and every time, the AP’s head exploded, which was extremely wonderful to see; a great relief for hubs and I, that someone else would be as upset as we were. Spawn was also immensely relieved, and perhaps delighted, that his problems and concerns were, really and truly, going to be taken seriously for once.

I have no idea what went on behind closed doors. I do know that the gym teacher did not return to work in our district that year or since, and the NB teacher left midyear for a position elsewhere, much to the relief of many more than my family and myself. She was not well-liked by the district either, and I provided enough ammo for them to can her, if the grapevine is correct.

So, over time, Doodle meanders his quiet way up into the middle school. Sixth grade, he has a nice 504, everything goes pretty well. Seventh grade, much the same – a few quirks and twiddles along the way, but everything seems to be in place. Then, last Wednesday, the phone rings at the same time that Doodle comes in the front door from school. It’s the AP, who wants to discuss an “incident” wherein Doodle punched a kid on the playground during after lunch recess.

This is so unlike him, because he’s really a very quiet, smiley, cuddly person that my eyebrows go up and my antennae start to twang lightly. As she continues, it becomes clear that she feels she has not gotten the entire story from Doodle, and she thinks there may have been some provocation and would like me to talk with him further. Doodle walks by while I’m still on the phone, and I notice he has a bruise over one eye, which I tell her about. She stops cold and says, “There’s definitely more to this. Let me know what you find out.”

As Doodle snorks up cookies and Kool-Aid, out comes a familiar story. He’d been asked by some evangelizing tweenie about his beliefs; he stated he does not believe in God, and the next day he’s surrounded at lunchtime by kids yelling at him about not believing in God. He yells back, manages to get away from them and reads his book and doesn’t think anything more about it. Until the next week, when there are more kids, they start hemming him in, the intimidation level escalates, but they break up, probably due to getting the attention of a monitor. And finally, on the day of the “incident”, there’s a crowd of ten surrounding him, hemming him in, making it impossible for him to escape without coming into contact with one of them, the ringleader is screaming into his face, emitting spittle, and Doodle cracks, punches the kid in the shoulder, a bystander makes tracks for a monitor, and it’s Doodle who winds up in the AP’s office. Go figure.

While Doodle was relating this story, Bunny and Spawn were drawn in. Spawn in particular began to look mad as hell, and I was so proud of both of them – when I offered to go sit with Doodle during the next day’s recess, so did both of them – they were eager to do so, to stand by their kid brother and protect him from bullies and the mob that had cloaked themselves in false Christianity as an excuse for appalling behavior. Doodle looked amazed, relieved, and delighted all at once. I fired off an email to the AP, including adding in that I would be there the next day, possibly bringing the entire family along, to protect him from this crowd of bullies.

When I told hubs about it, he went ballistic. After we all cooled down, we decided to give the AP a chance to do her thing, and that I would go in, as promised, and watch over my Doodle. I did. The AP came out to let me know that she was conducting extensive interviews, that the culprits, as many as could be identified, were being dealt with, and that I was welcome to come and stay with him whenever I wished, as long as I let her know in advance. Doodle was glad to have me there, and there were no incidents. Doodle has not been assigned any “consequences” for defending himself, so far, and the culprits have been handled. I asked the Doodle if he wanted me or any other family member to come sit with him each day since, and he says he’s fine.

It’s a nasty, bad world when children think they can use the excuse of being missionaries or God’s warriors to abuse, intimidate, humiliate, and harass other children. If I had the names of the children, I’d be calling their parents and their pastors to have some Large Words with them about the true meaning of Christianity and appropriate behavior for children.

But really, it’s not, nor has it ever been about religion. It’s about bullies finding new excuses for the inexcusable. My son’s AP has my heartfelt gratitude and, even more importantly, the well-deserved trust of my children for handling this matter, and the one that Spawn had, with ethics, professionalism, dispatch, and honor.

Rock on, Ms. P. Long may you prosper.

Oddball Word of the Day

salubrious: (sah-LOO-bree-us) adj. promoting good health; health-giving

(from MMMW, edited by Laurence Urdang, because that's all I can easily remember and I'm a lazy middle-aged hag)

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

In the Land of Nod

Yesterday I had a bunch of great ideas for things to blog about. Then I fell asleep. Or, maybe I woke up and had only dreamt I had great blog ideas! Which leads me to… strange dreams.

My kids and I talk about our dreams if we remember them, and my husband looks at us as if we were discussing the best ways to dismember grandmothers. He is utterly shocked that we can remember them, and he appears to find it very weird that we would discuss them. I’m pretty sure his birth family didn’t. Although, and this is quite unrepentantly snarky of me, I’d be hard-pressed to come up with something his family DID talk about. As far as I can tell, they sat around, not talking, for the first 22 years of his life, and then he married me, and it’s been a real roller-coaster ride of conversation every since. I suppose I can’t blame him for looking dazed most of the time.

ANYWAY, we talk about our dreams. They are very rarely grandiose, having instead components of our daily lives juxtaposed into odd situations. Or sometimes not – one morning Doodle got up, came out into the dining area, looked me in the eye and said, “I dreamt I was eating a piece of ham.”

“Was it good ham?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he said.

“Well, we have some in the fridge. Maybe you could eat a piece of ham for real.” I said.

“OK,” he said, and ate some ham. His dreams are usually kind of like that – he’ll dream of something he wants to do, and can do in real life, and then go do it. I’m hoping that one of these days he’ll dream of how to invent a teleporter and share the wealth with his parents. OK, that’s my DAYdream.

Bunny dreams of the pets and her friends, and when she tells me her dreams, she sometimes forgets to preface her narrations with the fact that they are dreams.

“Last night I wanted to go to Chicago, so you bleached my hair,” she said one morning.

“That doesn’t sound like me. I’d be more likely to want to come with you,” I replied.

“Then Whitney wanted to eat pizza over here, so you called her mother and told on her,” said Bunny, “and then Hawthorne said he’d drive both of us to Chicago in his bus.”

“Really, now,” I joked, “I’m just not that much of a fink, and Hawthorne’s a lousy driver!”

“Mom, I was just dreaming,” she said.

“Thank God,” I said, “I thought maybe menopause was affecting me more than I remembered!”

Spawn generally dreams about eating things. Since he’s gotten to be an older teen boy, this doesn’t surprise me because he seems to spend about 85% of his waking hours eating, anyway.

“I dreamt I was in a hot dog eating contest, except I was eating pie,” he said a weekend or two ago.

“Was it good pie?” asked Bunny.

“I’m not sure, but it must have been because I ate 28 of them and won,” he answered.

“Where were you when you were eating the pies?” asked Doodle.

“On a stage, and it was snowing everywhere except on the stage, and I was only wearing my pajama pants because I didn’t want to get pie on my Pizza Hut uniform shirt,” responded Spawn.

“Maybe you were cold and the pies were warm, and you were eating them to keep from shivering,” Bunny suggested.

“No, I think it was just because I like pie. Now I want some. Mom, do we have any pie?” asked the bottomless gullet.

“No pie. Toast and jam,” I told him.

“Oooh, toast!” he said.

I used to have much more interesting dreams, and when I was pregnant, they were in color, and I’d get very emotional and wake up either in tears, angry or needing to run off and check on something. In one particularly vivid dream, my spouse left me, on a Harley motorcycle, for an elderly bag lady wearing violent purple, drapey clothes and obnoxious red lipstick. I woke up and whacked him on the shoulder, waking him up, and asked him what he meant by running off with bag ladies when I was pregnant with his heir. He couldn’t decide whether he should be mad or laugh hysterically, so he settled for telling me I wasn’t quite awake yet, so I went back to sleep. I’m pretty sure I apologized to him later.

Before we had kids, we had a mutual moment of dream state stupidity. We were lying there, side by side, in our apartment, which was next to a creek. It was autumn, and the air was cool and moist, and we were both just dozing off, when, across what was left of my conscious mind, the word “quack” imprinted itself. I dozily pondered that for a moment, then lazily asked, “Did you quack?” My husband, also 9/10ths asleep, smacked his lips, drew in a slow breath and sleepily replied, “No. (pause) Did you?”

These days, menopause has made my dreams strangely consistent, yet anxiety producing. It seems that I dream mostly of trying to find somewhere to pee, and, no matter where I am, even if I find a bathroom, the toilets are stopped up, I have to run gauntlets of spiritual hauntings, labyrinthine, torturous, dank corridors designed to drive one insane, or figure out bizarre, extra-terrestrial potty designs to find somewhere to go. Right about the time I’m pretty sure I’ve found an item that will flush, it triggers something that wakes me up in a mad panic, and, sure enough, I have to run off to the real bathroom, lickety split. This is kind of annoying because, in order to wake me up, apparently my body decides to flood my system with adrenaline, so I can’t get back to sleep right away, seeing as I’m all set to run a sprint, even after I make a pit stop.

At least I seem to be past the hot flashes part of menopause, but there are nights when I wish the bag lady and the quack would come back, just for the sake of variety.

Oddball Word of the Day

vitiate: (VISH-eee-ate) v. to impair; to corrupt; to invalidate in law

(from MMMW, edited by Laurence Urdang)

Friday, September 22, 2006

Friday Five 9/22/06 - Five Financial Things Women Need to Do

I grew up in a family of financial analysts, certified public accountants, and tight-fisted survivors of the Depression. I worked in financial analysis myself for several years before becoming a SAHM, and there are things that I do routinely that I’ve found a lot of other women don’t. So, here are my suggestions.

1. Keep both a checking account and savings account in your name only. If you’re married, your husband should do the same, and then the two of you can have a joint checking and a joint savings account. It sounds like a lot of paperwork, and, on the front end, it is. Once the accounts are opened and the distributions determined, it is easy for life. This way, you each have your own financial history as well as one as a couple. Decide on a percentage of the family income that goes into each personal account, then put the rest in the joint accounts. You take care of your own accounts, reconciling them, adding to the savings, etc., but make them and the management of them your responsibility. Contrary to some weirdo mythology out there, this is not “preparation for divorce,” it’s an offshoot of maintaining your own identity, a safety net for emergencies, including the death of your spouse, and it’s a little something to give you a separate credit rating and emergency fund or fun fund that doesn’t detract from the family needs and finances. Speaking of which…

2. Have at least two credit cards in your name and your name only. Use them only for your personal expenses, and pay them off IN FULL every month. This helps you maintain an excellent credit rating (and each partner in a marriage does, in fact, have their own credit rating, if you check yours, you’ll find this out), and again, in case of emergency or death, you have something to draw on until everything stabilizes again.

You can also buy Christmas gifts (AND PAY THEM OFF) without having to explain either your extravagance or parsimony. It helps if every time you buy something on credit, you immediately write a check out to the credit card company and keep all the checks until the statement comes in. Total them, stick them in the envelope, write on the stub how many checks are included in big red marker and send it off. Voila! No interest or finance charges, and you don’t overspend and get yourself in hock because credit is easy – you’ve already spent the cash for those purchases out of your checking account. The credit card company couldn’t care less how many checks you send them as long as they’re all good.

3. Track family and personal cash expenses on a little spreadsheet by category on a monthly basis. It’s too easy to piss pocket money away, refresh it from the ATM, and then wind up with too little money to pay the bills at the end of the month. If you track it, over a period of months you’ll see patterns emerge – that you are spending a whole lot on prepared lunches or pantyhose or nasal spray or something, which might cause you to change your spending habits or go to the allergist. Or not, but at least you will know and be making decisions from a position of knowledge, not from ignorance or emotions.

4. Take the emotions out of financial decisions. Marriage counselors, family counselors, everyone agrees, this is the number one divisive issue for couples. More fights are about money management than anything else, and it’s really crucial to be able to approach financial issues with extreme objectivity and maturity. Even if you’re single, it’s important to be cold-eyed and hard-hearted when it comes to looking at your own finances. Sure, everyone would like to have enough money to spend without regard to a budget or plan, but even those who are wealthy enough to do so generally don’t.

Being the manager of your money instead of being at the mercy of it is an important paradigm shift. If you want to make a luxury purchase for yourself, that’s what your personal accounts are for – budgeting and money management are not about making you feel bad or inadequate, they’re for giving you the power instead of you feeling helpless in the face of debt versus wishful thinking. If you can set the example for your feckless, emotional spouse about how to deal with money matters in a matter-of-fact, non-offensive, partnership decision-making kind of way, you’ll avoid lots and lots of stress and lots and lots of nasty surprises. If your fiancĂ© refuses to discuss finances, put the wedding date back or off; this is even more important than deciding, in a love-smitten way, what you’re going to name your four brilliant, gifted, as-yet-unborn children. No dreams, just friendly reality when it comes to money matters. People can be incredibly territorial about their earnings (and their spending!), so be advised that this will be one of those issues where you need to stand your ground unapologetically and wisely.

5. Forgive yourself for past mistakes and start fresh today. Everyone makes hasty decisions with money. It happens. Even people who you’d think would know better get in a crunch and run up their short-term debt or invest unwisely on bad advice. It’s going to happen. There are hundreds of books, seminars, church programs, and so on about how to get out of debt and create wealth, and blah-snarkety-blah. Whatever. Be it the envelope system, the debt-free-living system, the family-taxes-in-a-coffee-can system, the underlying premises are the same. Save more, spend less, analyze your spending, pay yourself first, be more conservative, less emotional, etc.

But first, forgive yourself. You won’t get anywhere by kicking yourself in the butt and weeping over the stack of bills. Sure, take a moment, give a big sigh, shake your head a couple times, then move forward. Dive into the business side of having a life, determine some patterns, decide what to do, then do it and stick to it. Open up that savings and/or checking account, and check the couch cushions for enough lost pocket change to buy a little green ledger pad to start tracking those cash expenses. Make a list, and pat yourself on the back for taking charge TODAY and henceforth. In a year, you’ll look back at the progress you’ve made and be really, really glad you did, which will reinforce your decision to continue doing so. It’s truly worth it, in real dollar terms as well as emotionally, in the long run.

Friday 9/22 Bonus Round: German Idiom

aus der Reihe tanzen : to be differen, to march to a different drummer

zB: Er muss immer aus der Reihe tanzen. Egal was wir vorschlagen, er will das Gegenteil tun.

auf Englisch: He has always got to be different. Whatever we suggest, he wants to do the opposite.

(from Guide to German Idioms, by JP Lupson)

Oddball Word of the Day

stodge: (STOJ) v. to eat greedily; to gorge; to stuff, esp. with food

(from MMMW, edited by Laurence Urdang)

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Gash Darn It!

No real entry today, since I need to head off the school to protect Doodle from the god-mad inchoate Christian jihadists-in-training who have been harassing, bullying, and intimidating him during recess. I'm mad as hell, and I'm not leaving until every last one of those little bastards have been suspended and referred for a mental health review. This is NOT going to happen to another one of my children! I may also have some spicy words for the monitors who have been turning their backs on this crapola.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Oddball Word of the Day

pedant (PED-nt) n. 1) one who shows off his knowledge excessively, 2) one who adheres strictly to petty rules or details or to theoretical knowledge, ignoring common sense

(from MMMW, edited by Laurence Urdang)

Women's Lib

My generation of women was going to be liberated. We were going to go to college to learn to be scientists and doctors and mathematicians instead of teachers and nurses and stewardesses. We were going to share housework and cooking equally with our enlightened spouses who would willingly vacuum, wipe, dust, iron, do laundry and cook whenever it was needed, not just when they were asked, and never grudgingly. We were going to learn to fix our own cars, our plumbing, and raise barns. We were going to be able to do all of this because we’d be sharing the domestic and child-rearing duties with men who wanted to learn to do all the things we women had had all to ourselves for so many years, and who wouldn’t mind or protest being Mr. Moms. We were the “Enjolie” generation – if you remember the commercial – “I can bring home the bacon! Fry it up in a pan, and never, ever let you forget you’re the man. ‘Cause I’m a woman….Enjolie!”

It hasn’t worked out that way. Oh, sure, lots of inroads were made, and I certainly don’t want to cast stones or aspersions on women who forged the way into previously male-dominated careers. It is now possible to have a full roster of female doctors at one’s beck and call, send your daughter off to the Navy or Army or Air Force, to have women as bosses or employees in pretty much every field, and go to private female only schools and colleges with excellent reputations and results. It’s possible, not the norm.

It was a huge fight and lofty dream. That anything at all was accomplished in the face of male resistance, female reluctance, habits that have endured for centuries, and political and religious fury against upstart women, is a wonder. Women were fighting for equality at the same time that minority races were fighting for equality, and I sometimes wonder if we didn’t all settle for what we could get, rather than what we deserved and hoped for.

Women are still getting paid as little comparatively as they were when the women’s lib movement started. The burden of domestic work and child-rearing still falls to women, whether they work outside the home or not. More fields are open to women, but there’s more exploitation and use of women in the workplace than there was before. Courtesy between the genders, and respect for one another seem to have hit all time new lows.

Now instead of being honored for holding house and home and family together, women who do so are considered to have settled for less, as if work that was previously exhausting, time-consuming, and unpaid now has even less merit than it did before. We’re expected to work all day in a job for 2/3 pay, then come home and do everything here, too, and we’re supposed to be pleased by this change in our circumstances – that now we have twice as much work and stress, and less than half the respect; I suppose having an income is supposed to make up for that.

I know it’s not like that in every household, but it’s like that in more households than anyone really wants to admit to, I think. Particularly with respect to housework and childcare. I have yet to meet a significant percentage of men who talk about doing housework routinely; I never meet any in the cleaning goods and laundry soap aisle, and I have yet to see one carrying a broom that is not a shop broom. I don’t see men with children on any days other than Saturday or Sunday, unless it’s a school event, and I don’t see them grocery shopping for a family, only for one person or for emergency items, like milk or cream of mushroom soup.

In the thirty-odd years since women’s lib first came across my consciousness, I have met one househusband. One. One man who actually does not work outside the home, who has raised the three children in his family from infancy, one man who does the laundry and considers it his responsibility, one man who grocery shops and cooks and helps with homework every night. His wife works and helps out around the house, too. One.

In contrast, I have met thousands of housewives, working wives, single mothers, women swimming in a combination of guilt and anger at the double load they are now carrying of working outside the home and inside it with equal dedication. And they are exhausted, tired in their souls, and feel shortchanged and taken advantage of, and eventually, they become numb to their own situations. I have also met men who seem to carry the entire burden of work and family life, but not in the same proportions.

It really saddens me to see how badly awry women’s lib went, and the unintended consequences that predominate our lives, decades later. I’m no exception. When I first got married, I worked. I hadn’t graduated college yet, so I had a crappy secretarial job, followed by other crappy office jobs as we moved to follow my husband’s jobs. I handled the bills, I did the laundry, and my husband used his domestic ineptitude to get out of doing chores, and I let him get away with it because all of that stuff needed doing. The less he did, the more I did. I dug my own hole.

By the time we had our first child, I was working full time in the financial field, and it was my health insurance that covered my pregnancy and delivery, since my husband was in commission only sales at the time. I was commuting an hour or better each way for a job that no man would take, and certainly not at the salary I was getting, and I was dropping off Spawn at a babysitter, picking him up, doing the grocery shopping and the cooking (if I wanted anything to eat other than tuna casserole, my husband’s one culinary capability), all the housework, all the laundry, and nursing Spawn. I would fall asleep on the toilet, standing up, leaning against the wall, holding Spawn in the middle of the night, I was so tired. Day after day, hour after hour, it ground me down.

I finally quit my job, knowing full well that it was going to make our financial situation dicey at best, but it was that or a nervous breakdown for me. I had asked for help, but my husband just didn’t get that I wanted REAL help, not token help. He just wouldn’t pick up the reins, and I couldn’t hold them anymore with all I had to do. He was, I think, deliberately oblivious to the amount of work involved in keeping house and home together, especially with child care added in, and I got tired of asking and pleading.

I felt guilty, like there was something wrong with me for not being able to do it all, for not being the “Enjolie” gal who could do it all and dance around, smelling great and being svelte. I felt like I had disappointed myself first and foremost. My expectations for myself had been swollen to unspeakable heights, powered by the vague promises of women’s lib and society’s revised expectations, and disguised by the ungrounded optimism of youth. I had bought into unrealistic expectations and found myself wanting, rather than finding those expectations flawed.

It was years before I got over believing my worth would only be validated by a paycheck. My husband, like so many other men, was the same way. He’d come home from his job, and there I’d be, taking care of two tiny children, both in diapers, having not had enough time to change out of my nightgown or comb my hair, and ask me, in frustrated and angry tones, what I had done about starting a home business, so that I could contribute. In retrospect, I almost wish I had hit him with a frying pan and walked out for a week. It made for some unhappy times.

By the time Doodle arrived, I had settled into valuing myself, realizing that if my husband wanted to be oblivious and horrible and snotty about my very real, very important, very unrecognized contributions to our family, he could just keep his crap to himself. I’m pretty sure I told him off a few times; I know I got pissed as all hell one year and went off and stayed in a hotel for three days (after Doodle was weaned), and I never heard another word about starting a home business after that – he needed the experience of trying to concentrate on adult things while taking care of three children under 6 to realize that he was asking the impossible.

One time when he came home from his job long after the dinner hour to find we’d eaten, I’d cleaned up and put the kids to bed, he had a meltdown about how he deserved a hot dinner, etc., etc., after a long day at work. I looked him square in the eye and told him he was being ridiculous, that there was no reason in the world for the rest of us to delay our lives and all that that comprised, just because his schedule was erratic and unpredictable, that he could show up at 6 for dinner, or he could heat his up in the microwave, but that I was done joggling the kids meals and bedtime around, just so he could play Daddy at them at his convenience. I thought his head would explode. He stormed around the house and then out of it. I went to bed. When he came back, he woke me up to yell at me some more, and for several days, I got the cold shoulder and silent treatment. Then he called his mother to complain, and she read him the riot act. Twice, if his subsequent behavior was any indication. I never heard another word about his entitlements with respect to dinner and the children’s attendance upon him.

Dealing with my own unrealistic expectations and altering them has been hard. Dealing with my husband’s unrealistic expectations has been harder. It’s been, without question, a rocky road for both of us, and women’s lib is not entirely to blame. The strange thing is, I don’t know what it was that men got out of the women’s lib movement, other than that they were not to open doors for women any more, nor were they supposed to dislike ambitious women who worked for pay. I think the whole question of keeping home and family together got left out of the discussion and has been glossed over and ignored for decades now. Maybe today’s young couples are doing a better job of working it out, but it sure doesn’t look like it from the rants, raves, and weepfests I hear or read about.

I think we would have had many of the same arguments and struggles one way or another, and I know for a fact we’re not alone. I hear this same thing every time women gather, along with the same worries, the same reluctance to admit we can’t do it all, not the way we had hoped to anyway. I don’t think my husband was any different from any other fellow of his generation, our generation. Nobody gave him an instruction booklet either. We just have to write our own as we go along, as best we can.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Walla, Walla

My youngest son has always had problems at school. It’s not that he’s not bright, he is. It’s more often social problems. He’s just not interested in throwing things or kicking balls or having things thrown at him during recess or for any other form of entertainment or leisure activity.

I remember one day getting a call from the school social worker.

SSW: “Mrs. BoS, Doodle is having problems during recess.”
BoS: “Oh? What kind of problems?”
SSW: “He’s not playing with the other children.”
BoS: “Are they playing with him?”
SSW: “No, you see, he doesn’t want to play with them.”
BoS: “What are they playing?”
SSW: “Um, well, they play on the jungle gym, and they play tag.”
BoS: “And Doodle doesn’t want to do that?”
SSW: “No, he just stands off to one side.”
BoS: “Have you asked him why he’s not participating?”
SSW: “Yes.”
BoS: “Well, what did he say?”
SSW: “He said he didn’t see any point to running around waving his arms in the air, yelling, ‘walla, walla, walla.’ “
BoS: “Neither do I. Did he give any indication of wanting to do something else?”
SSW: “He said he’d like to play chess or practice archery.”
BoS: “Is there a problem with either of those?”
SSW: “We don’t have archery here, and no one else his age plays chess.”
BoS: “Are you asking for donations for equipment?”
SSW: “NO! I’d have to get clearance from the principal for either of those!”
BoS: “Well, I can understand archery needing supervision, but why not chess? Chess is not usually considered a dangerous contact sport.”
SSW: “But, it’s RECESS. They’re supposed to be running around and enjoying the fresh air.”
BoS: “He could play chess outside and still be getting fresh air. There could be one of those giant chessboards drawn on the playground, and he would have to walk his big chess pieces around.”
SSW: “That’s not it.”
BoS: “You want him to run around, waving his arms, yelling ‘walla, walla, walla’? That is the only acceptable recess activity?”
SSW: “No. Yes. Well, sort of.”
BoS: (silence)
SSW: (sighs) “My point is that he is not interacting with the other children.”
BoS: “He would if they played chess. He likes other board games, too. And, apparently, archery.”
SSW: “Doesn’t he play ANY games like baseball or basketball or football?”
BoS: “He’s been wearing glasses since he was 5 years old. The rest of us all wear glasses, and none of us likes projectile sports all that much because we’ve all gotten hit in the face by carelessly thrown projectiles, which results in a week of squinting at the blackboard while we wait for our new glasses. It’s probably partially that.”
SSW: “I hadn’t thought of that.”
BoS: “He might go for badminton. Can’t break a pair of glasses with a shuttlecock. I suppose someone might whack him in the face with the racquet though.”
SSW: “Oh.”
BoS: “I do see what you’re trying to tell me. You’d like for him to show more interest in interacting in a physical manner, with play, with other children. You are defining play as being physical activity only, and you want him to engage in that.”
SSW: “No, no, I’m not saying that only physical activities are considered ‘play’.”
BoS: “Well, what else would be considered play?”
SSW: (sighing hugely) “Board games, word games, non-competitive sports, playing on the jungle gym…”
BoS: “What ought he to do on the jungle gym? What is it the other boys are doing?”
SSW: “They play chicken where they hang by their arms and try to kick each other off the bars.”
BoS: “That doesn’t sound very pleasant. Why should my son kick other children?”
SSW: (big pause) “I’ll talk to the principal about making a space available for board games.”
BoS: “Thanks. I think you’ll find other children would like to play them, too.”

So, when Doodle came home that day, I talked with him about recess. He agreed that he didn’t like games that involved getting hit in the face, kicked, or which involved getting pushed or yelling dumb things at each other. I suggested “duck, duck, goose” which he had tried and wound up being tripped by the other participants. I suggested “hide and seek” but apparently there was nowhere to hide on the playground. I suggested a few other things, only to find that they were either prohibited by the playground monitors or had previously resulted in injury to him, so I told him I’d talked with school officials about board games.

He was much happier, and spent the next several years playing chess, Risk, and Clue with other kids during recess. He even showed the younger ones how to put map puzzles together. The board games have been a big success at the elementary school, especially for kids who wear glasses or who are tired of getting bullied.

And we still haven’t run through the back yard yelling “walla, walla, walla” for any reason.

Oddball Word of the Day

facile: (FAS-eyel) adj. dexterous; fluent; moving or acting with ease

(from MMMW, edited by Laurence Urdang)

Friday, September 15, 2006

Friday Five 9/8/06 - Five Things I Don’t Regret

1. Dumping bad boyfriends when I was a teenager. At the time (s) that I did it, I was soooo concerned about how they’d feel, or if I was the loser for not wanting to be so-and-so’s girlfriend. I’m pretty sure they got over it right smart quick. I did, too. It needed doing, and I needed the practice in not letting wieners suck up my life. One guy was still tied to his mom, another was too much of a druggie, another was a closet Satanist (!), others were just jerks on some level or another. My beloved and wonderful stepmom was a big help in talking me through the feelings afterwards, too. She made sure that I knew there were more fish in the ocean, that I had been polite and straightforward (for my own conscience), and that I had as few regrets as possible. She would also give me the business if she thought I was being mean to one for no good reason.

2. Moving to the Midwest: I grew up on the east coast, and I had a seriously crappy childhood. I sometimes wonder if I had stayed there, if the memories would have been overwhelming merely because of proximity, and I kind of think they would have been. Chicago is a nice town to be a newcomer in – people will help you figure out what bus or el train you want to take, the downtown area is laid out in a grid, the lake is always EAST, so you can find your way around, and it was a good place to be a teenager in the 70’s. Burbs are burbs everywhere, but I do think that the people here are a degree more outgoing (if not nicer) than they were back east. I’m also not an LA, movie-star-worshipping kind of a person; in fact, I may like to read gossip magazines in the dentist’s office, but I really couldn’t care less about celebrities, their babies, their foibles, their clothes, etc. Nothing they do is going to change my life! I miss the south, but that would have been too much like remaining in the east.

3. Having kids: Yes, it hurts, pregnancy is weird, nursing is kind of a drag sometimes, and it’s years before they become interesting enough to really talk to. It’s an endurance/marathon life, one in which you learn more about yourself while caring for the needs of another. There are no breaks, no vacations, no days off, no rest stops, no pay or raises or promotions, and just being a woman with children costs you 20 points in social ranking and far more than that in desirability. F*ck all of that. I’ve learned that I can cope with anything – Rosemary’s Baby delivery rooms, New Year’s Eve projectile vomit, all kinds of alarming stenches and substances, sleep deprivation that spans years, physical exhaustion, debilitation and injury, bad medical advice, poverty, anything you can think of. And I can love my kids through it, keep them smiling, which helps me smile, and offer hope to them by believing in better things myself. I’ve learned that I’m nicer than I thought I was, tougher, more resilient, and can be meaner and more relentless in defense of my kids than I would have been comfortable with had I not had them. Boogey on, Momma!

4. Going back to school for my degrees: I struggled for so many years to try to accumulate enough credit hours in the right field to get a degree. Something always got in the way, and I felt crappy on a low-level, ongoing basis about not achieving what I had expected of myself. I wrote about it in Midlife Crises in more detail. I found some things out, though. The first is, that I can do it. I am hardworking and smart enough, and my brains didn’t turn to oatmeal during the kids’ toddler years, I really did and do have it in me. I don’t feel like I wasted any money, and, looking back down the long, long trail that led here, I learned a great deal more than what helped me pass the academic tests. Time, itself, helped – it helped the right people get into the right places so that credit hours that had been lost abroad could be recouped, it helped me develop a motivation so unstoppable that nothing was going to get in my way, and it helped me learn to trust myself and stop wimping out to authority figures and naysayers.

5. Knitting a lot: I don’t paint, I can’t draw a stick figure that doesn’t look deformed, I don’t sing any more, and I’m a danger to the planet if I dance. I also am the world’s most unpredictable interior decorator, and my love of the bizarre and sometimes odd leads to some interesting choices in gardening. But, everyone needs outlets for their creativity and something to absorb sublimated energies while the mind ponders. I knit. I have knit some supremely beautiful things, and I have knit some dog crap on a soggy paper plate (not literally). I like it, it makes me happy, it makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something, and I like to see the results as well as use the process to deal with twitchy fingers. I like that I can see my creativity in every room in the house, including bathrooms. I like that my kids immediately head for Mom’s Hand Knits when they’re cold, sad, upset, or need a woobie. I like that they will snatch stuff right off my needles before I’ve woven in ends because they like whatever it is so much. I like that they brag to their friends and feel special because they are wearing hand knit stuff. I like that every single dog we’ve had has adopted an afghan and made a lifelong nest in it. I like the sound of the needles clicking – like water in a garden, and I enjoy the susurration of yarn speeding through my fingers. I like the dexterity it gives me. I would wish that everyone finds a hobby to bring them this much joy and peace.

Have a good weekend!

Oddball Word of the Day

miscible: (MIS-eh-bul) adj. capable of being mixed

(from MMMW, edited by Laurence Urdang)

Friday 9/15 Bonus Round: German Idiom

Es geht um die Wurst: It's do or die; it's the moment of truth; it's now or never.

zB: Welche von den beiden Mannschaften heute das Spiel gewinnt, wird Meister. Jetzt geht es um die Wurst.

auf Englisch: Whichever of the two teams wins the match today will be champions. It's do or die.

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

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Sock Monkeys and Elves

I have, for some inexplicable reason, developed a serious urge to knit a sock monkey. I have no idea why – maybe it’s that the words “sock monkey” are so silly, maybe I saw one in my peripheral vision lately and thought, “gee, I never had a sock monkey as a kid, and I’d kind of like one now,” or maybe I just want to knit cuddly toys.

I’ve been through toy knitting phases before. I’ve done pocket-sized dolls and clowns, puffy, pillow-sized dolls, a large mouse (it was supposed to be a bear, but then the ears ran away with me and I decided not to make a tail, so it’s a tailless mouse), bunnies from simple squares, a lovely frog, teddy bears – with variable success, and a striped cat. I even made a Christmas elf.

I’m not sure if I’ve told the story of the elf before. Many years ago, when Spawn and Bunny were tiny and Doodle wasn’t here yet, I got an urge to make socks. We were disgustingly low on ready cash, so I had to try to wing it without a pattern (and no online support at that time) and with only the yarn I had on hand. The socks, black, were stubby, and they weren’t going to fit anyone, but I liked them, so I knit upwards and gave each sock a leg. It would have been a little demented just to have knitted legs with black sock boots on them lying around, so I knit them together into pants, put a black belt on it, knit upwards to a sweater, and then dug some elderly peach yarn out and made a head and some hands.

The results were vaguely alarming, although I did think I did a good job on the nose. I had some crafty white fun fur around, so I made a beard and moustache, added a hat and so on. Voila! Un elf de Noel!

The kids (however many I had at the time, it’s really been so long I don’t remember) loved him. I knew he was pretty delicately made, and I wasn’t sure how being played with and loved would affect his knitted stability, so I pondered. It was fairly near Christmas, and our tree was up, so I stuck him under the tree, and with creativity spurred by worries about bad knitting, created a family tradition.

I told the kids that he was a magic elf. I said that on Christmas Eve, as soon as Santa showed up, he would come alive and help put the presents around the tree, and then he’d be so tired, he’d need to rest up until next year. Magic really takes it out of an elf, y’know. But, he couldn’t come to life until they were asleep, which was also Santa’s cue to show up, and then, as soon as Santa left, the elf would scamper to somewhere he could rest and go back to being inert. They listened to me with wide eyes, clasping whatever soft stuffies they had at the time. I don’t think they believed me, but once I had spun this tale, I needed to make it work.

On Christmas Eve, the kids went off to bed. Like most kids, they thought they were being quiet, but hubs and I could hear them thumping around and shushing each other, breathing stealthily and looking down the stairs. The elf remained a knitted entity. At one point, my husband said, quite theatrically, “I wish those kids would go to sleep.” I responded, “I know, me, too. Santa can’t come until they’re asleep, and the elf can’t come to life either. Just look at him, sitting there, all sad and slumped over under the tree!” The kids scampered back to bed.

Hubs gets up early for work, so he gets sleepy early. It falls to me to put out the gifts most of the time, and I waited up until I was good and sure the kids were out. I put the presents under the tree, then moved the elf to the bottom of the stairs with a little pillow under his head and a blanket over him. (I also bit the carrot, ate half a cookie, and drank most of the milk, like the rest of the parents out there.)

We awoke to much gleeful squealing the next morning. “Oh, Mommy, it was just like you said! The elf came alive and helped Santa, and then he was so tired, he went to sleep on the stairs! That’s how we knew Santa had been here!” said one or the other of the kids. I smiled at them, pleased as punch that my tale had sold so well.

Every Christmas since then, the elf goes under or near the tree during the week leading up the Christmas. Every Christmas morning, he’s been moved to somewhere else, and he is draped in such a way that he looks pooped.

I was right, he hasn’t held up all that well. I overstuffed him in some areas, the moths got at him, and he’s so pitifully patched and darned at this point that I almost threw him out last year. That didn’t go over so well with the kids – they protested that he had to help, and how would they know that Santa had been here (we all know it’s a myth, but we like to pretend anyway), etc. So, I patched and darned him some more and put him on the floor under the tree.

So, I suppose the moral of this knitting story is that there’s something good to be gotten out of even a very bad pair of socks. Knit on!

Oddball Word of the Day

maunder: (MON-der) v. to talk or walk in a rambling, confused manner

(from MMMW, edited by Laurence Urdang)

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Friendly Faces

One of the nice things about having lived in a small town for the last decade is that my oldest son’s friends are now working behind counters and cash registers around town. It’s always a nice surprise to see these same kids wearing uniforms and serious faces, doing their diligent best to earn some pocket money and college tuition.

I wondered, the first time it happened, why it didn’t make me feel old. I was just happy to see them there, familiar faces – more grown up now, and different from when they’re sporting around with Spawn, heading out for pizza or off to a juice-only disco out of town.

The first time this happened was at the local Jewel grocery store. I had loaded my groceries onto the conveyor belt, mind only half on the task, as one gets after the quadrillionth time doing it, filled in as much of my check as I could without the total, and somewhat numbly waited while the gal ahead of me checked through her stuff. Then I heard a familiar voice, I looked up, and lo and behold, there was one of my son’s dearest friends for the last several years, Billy. He smiled briefly at me and kept checking out the other lady.

When it was my turn, he beamed at me, and I beamed back. He quickly got to scanning the groceries while carrying on an “oh my goodness” conversation with me. You know the kind – “Oh, my goodness, how nice to see you here! Have you been working here long? Does it pay well? Are you going to school in the evenings? Are they being nice to you? Do you like it?” He was, as he has always been, very polite and a little shy, but I could tell he was happy to see a familiar face that meant him well. In between concentrating ferociously on his job and answering my chatty questions, he caught me up a little on his family’s doings since I had last seen him, and when I was all checked out and bagged up, he made sure to get a bagboy to help me take my stuff out to the car. I promised to have Spawn give him a call.

A couple of days later, Billy dropped by to shoot the breeze with Spawn and told me how nice it had been to see me. He’d been having a rough day, his bosses were being stinkers, the computer hadn’t updated, and as a result, he’d had to manually enter a huge number of codes, etc. I looked at his still very youthful face, his tall person, and I still didn’t feel old. I was glad to have brightened his day a little, and hearing him talk about his job reminded me of my first entry level job – how seriously I took it and every word uttered by managers who were, at that time, so much younger than I am now. I reassured Billy and told him to let me know if there was anything I could do, as a customer, to give him a good “rep” and let the managers know he was a good employee. He smiled and said thanks and he and Spawn headed off to solve knotty computer game problems.

Similar encounters have been happening since then with increasing frequency. I’ll hand over a check at the WalMart and the little checker will say, “Oh, are you Bunny’s mom? She was in my French class!” Or I’ll stop in to pick up a bag of fast food for our one night a week of fast food dinner and hear a greeting from somewhere in the back, “Hi, Mrs. BoS! How’s Spawn? Where’s he working these days?” It’ll be some little gal he dated for a while, and I’ll have a heck of a time remembering her name, so it’s fortunate that these kids usually have to have their nameplates pinned to their shirts. We’ll chat for a minute or two, and then I’ll toddle off with my burgers or chicken and bring up the encounter over dinner. Spawn usually already knows where all of his friends are working, and he’ll update me with what else he knows.

And I still don’t feel old. I think I just feel maternal instead. I’ve known these kids since they were middle schoolers or elementary school kids; they’ve overnighted at my house, swum in my pool, eaten popcorn in my living room while watching movies, played with my parrot, scratched my dog, and been polite at the dinner table. Sometimes they’ve even misbehaved and been spoken to and forgiven. I think that makes a difference.

There are times when I do feel my middle-age – when I go to see a doctor who’s ten years younger than I am and looks twenty years younger, or when I see a fella in a police uniform who looks more like Doogie Howser than someone from Adam 12 or Dragnet. Some inner angel stops me from speaking while what runs through my mind is “Oh my God, did you even finish Organic Chemistry yet? Who was your professor? I hope to crap you passed Calculus.” Or a mildly outraged, “Holy crap! You don’t look old enough to be in Driver’s Ed! What are you doing with a gun and a nightstick? Jeepers!”

I’m saved again because my husband, an insurance agent, has many of them for clients. I’ll know their names when I see their badges, or they’ll ask me if I know him, and that does ease things a bit. Sometimes I feel a little peripheral, though, as if my only proof of existence is being related to someone they really do know. That feeling goes away when I hit the doors of any of the schools in town, where they know me quite well, and some either appreciate me or fear me, but, in general, they all know and respect me, what I’ve done for my kids, and what I’ve done in encounters with them previously.

In my own little local sphere, it’s acknowledged that I’m an excellent mom, that I know more about IDEA and 504 (special ed) law than anyone in the school system, and that if you need a math tutor to pull a particularly tough kid through the standardized tests, I’m the person to call. Teachers know me because my kids are always at the top of the class, I show up for parent-teacher meetings with more questions than they can answer, I do what I say I’m going to do, I don’t grade grub for my kids or make excuses for them, and I don’t waste their time.

Even teachers who haven’t had my kids know me, and they usually have something nice to say to me. Principals usually dread seeing me, if I’m the one calling for the meeting, but they know that if they call it, I’ll be reasonable and understand their concerns and limitations. The Special Ed Co-Op worries that I’ll send notices to the paper about ADHD being 504 relevant, which would result in them being swamped in excess of their budget. If I show up for school board meetings or NCLB mandated community liaison meetings, I always get asked what’s up by one of the principals. These same people wouldn’t know my husband from Juan Valdez’s donkey, so I guess it evens out.

Which brings me, circuitously, back to Spawn’s friends behind counters. It’s been ten years of feeding them, watching them play with my children, driving them home, talking with their parents, and listening to them complain about school. I’ve seen them in school, my backyard, the playing field, and now at work. They feel at ease with me and they trust me, and I feel at ease with them, too. Maybe that’s why I don’t feel old when I see them grown up and earning a living.

There are different problems and rewards all along the way with the motherhood gig, and this is one of the good bits. I’m OK with this part of growing older; it’s pretty nice, all told.

Oddball Word of the Day

benignant: (bee-NIG-nehnt) adj. kind, gracious; beneficial

(from MMMW, edited by Laurence Urdang)

Monday, September 11, 2006

Bird Witted

Hawthorne’s been chatty lately. Just as an FYI, he likes to let loose with words that are easy for a critter with no lips to say – words with hard, crispy sounds are easiest for him, so he makes up his own compound nouns like chickenwaffle or turkeycracker. He also likes higher tones and sliding up and down the vocal scale.

I’m not going to anthropomorphize him to the extent that I think he truly understands conversation. I do know that he associates certain phrases with certain people and certain times of the day. He also seems to be pretty good at understanding the sequence of question/response that we non-befeathered entities practice regularly.

Here are some little Hawthorne moments we’ve recently enjoyed:

(Doodle in kitchen getting a snack)

Hawthorne: I want some chirp wappies.
Doodle: What’s a chirp wappy?
Hawthorne: It’s a turkey nibble.
Doodle: I don’t have any. Where would I find turkey nibbles?
Hawthorne: On a cracker.
Doodle: Which cracker?
Hawthorne: Graham crackers.
Doodle: I don’t think we have any. No graham crackers, Birdie.
Hawthorne: Waffles.
Doodle: We’re out of waffles, too.
Hawthorne: Chicken.
Doodle: What kind of chicken?
Hawthorne: Chicken breasts.
Doodle: I don’t know that we have any cooked already.
Hawthorne: Wet chicken breasts.
Doodle: That’s nasty.
Hawthorne: (laughs uproariously)

(Hawthorne alone in kitchen, Bunny in her bedroom off the kitchen)

Hawthorne: BUNNY!
Bunny: What?
Hawthorne: C’mere!
Bunny: NO!
Hawthorne: OK. Brush your teeth and take a shower.
Bunny: Geez, no, I’m reading.
Hawthorne: GO TO BED!
Bunny: No, Hawthorne, it’s too early!
Hawthorne: Do your homework.
Bunny: I already did it, you whacky bird!
Hawthorne: C’mere!
Bunny: No, I’m reading! I already told you that!
Hawthorne: (sounding upset) I don’t have any hair.
Bunny: (busts out laughing, gives up and comes into kitchen) No, you don’t.
And you don’t have any pants, either! Silly!
Hawthorne: Aw. Uh-oh.
Bunny: You have soft gray feathers all over your body.
Hawthorne: Kiss the birdie.
Bunny: No, you’ll bite off my lips!
Hawthorne: You’re a sweetheart!
Bunny: MOM! The bird’s flirting with me!
Hawthorne: (chuckles) Almond. Almond for birdie?
Bunny: Honestly. Why didn’t you just ask for an almond in the first place?
Hawthorne: I’m whacky! (flaps wings, bobs up and down and laughs)

(Spawn, early in the morning, just exiting bedroom, which is within Hawthorne’s line of sight)

Hawthorne: SPAWN! C’mere!
Spawn: Hey, Chirpmasta, how’s it going?
Hawthorne: What’re you doing?
Spawn: Getting some milk.
Hawthorne: (makes blooping noises)
Spawn: (laughs) Yep, I’m thirsty.
Hawthorne: Thirsty birdie.
Spawn: Want some milk?
Hawthorne: (more blooping noises)
Spawn: (puts glass of milk where Hawthorne can slurp some up and he does)
Hawthorne: (belching noise)
Spawn: Pretty good, eh?
Hawthorne: Cheese.
Spawn: Tastes like cheese, or do you want some cheese?
Hawthorne: Cheese and crackers.
Spawn: MOM! Hawthorne wants cheese and crackers!
(Me: Well, give him some! Spawn gets a little piece of cheese and a cracker and holds them out to Hawthorne)
Hawthorne: (munches cheese, throws cracker on the floor of his cage) AWK!
Spawn: Not the right cracker?
Hawthorne: Graham cracker.
Spawn. Cheese and graham crackers? That’s yucky!
Hawthorne: Chicken.
Spawn: It’s 7 o’clock in the morning! I’m not making you any chicken!
Hawthorne: (makes a razzberry noise)
Spawn: No. No chicken. If you edge over here, I’ll give you a little poke, though (said in a very sweet voice)
Hawthorne: AWWWWK! Kiss the birdie!
Spawn: No bird kissing.
Hawthorne: Chicken.
Spawn: No, gosh darn it! No chicken and no bird kissing! It’s too early!
Hawthorne: Gimme a dollar.
Spawn: WHAT? I don’t have a dollar! What would you do with a dollar anyway? You’re a bird! You’re in a cage.
Hawthorne: (mumbles a little) Chicken.
Spawn: Oh, you’d use the dollar to buy chicken?
Hawthorne: Uhn huhn. (bobs head)
--at which point, Spawn can’t hold it in any more and laughs so hard he has to sit down on the floor—

Spawn: You sure are a smart birdie.
Hawthorne: You’re a sweetheart.

Oddball Word of the Day

phlegmatic: (fleg-MAT-ik) adj. not easily roused to act or to feel emotion; sluggish

(from MMMW, edited by Laurence Urdang)

Friday, September 08, 2006

Friday Five 9/8/06 - Five Favorite Beverages

1. Coffee: OK, I’m actually kind of picky about coffee. I blame it on having lived outside of Vienna for a year, Vienna being the coffee connoisseur capital of the known universe. There’s nothing like a Wiener MĂ©lange. I remember when I came back to the States, Starbucks hadn’t reared its over hyped head yet. In fact, it was at least a decade before I ever even saw one. If I wanted European style coffee, I had to find some obscure restaurant where only spotty English was spoken, but I could get a REAL cuppa. I think Gloria Jean’s was the big franchise for specialty beans, but I didn’t buy any there because the quality was dismal. GJ’s is responsible for my prejudice against pre-flavored beans – often the flavoring is added to beans of substandard quality or which have been ineptly roasted. I’m not all that impressed by espresso roasts, either, unless they are, well, espresso! I’m one of those people who can tell by smell whether the coffee is decaf or not, and if it’s over 20 minutes old. Very annoying for your average hostess, although I go out of my way not to wince or say anything.

Anyway, my favorite coffees are
#1 Jamaican Blue Mountain – the Hope Diamond of coffees (a hair cheaper, though) for its marvelous mocha undertones and light flavor,
#2 Gevalia’s Costa Rican Peaberry, which comes the closer to a gold standard than any other readily available coffee can – nice fruity nose (no, really, I don’t drink wine anymore, so I have all these leftover wine words…), brews a hearty cup without being tarry, properly roasted, vacuum packed, available by mail,
#3 used to be Melitta’s regular roast, available in cans in the grocery store, but I can’t find it anymore, so now it’s Maxwell House regular blend. Yep, I named a standard brand (gasp). It’s a little under roasted, but if I’m expecting that, then I’m getting what I was after. Otherwise, it has a nice flavor that is not distractingly bad first thing in the morning, which I find a lot of popular brands to be. Folger’s classic roast is OK. I always add some Gevalia Peaberry because otherwise it seems to me to have insufficient flavor, but my husband likes it, and his tastes count too. Brewed on it’s own, it’s a little insipid.

Yes, I've tried Kona coffee, and I'm not impressed.

And, NO FLAVORED COFFEES! The flavoring changes the brew chemistry! If I add flavor to a coffee, I use either flavored sugar or separate flavoring, such as a light syrup or actual piece of fruit or chocolate or whatever. No instant coffee. Ever. Instant tea before instant coffee. Death by dehydration before instant coffee…

2. Iced Tea: I like my homebrewed the best, but I actually like Lipton’s with the whole sugar and lemon thing, too. Perfect on a hot summer day.

3. Water: I don’t buy bottled because I have well water and a reverse osmosis filter on my kitchen tap. I probably drink 24 oz. A day without even thinking about it.

4. Mountain Dew: If I’m going to have a soda, this nightmarishly bad for me soda is the one I pick. I like the citrus flavor. Plus, I get to stay up all night and watch bad TV!!!

5. Cranberry Juice: Probably this will weird you out, but I like to mix it with the Mountain Dew. Yo, BoS, Pucker UP! I like it on its own, too, or with whatever the manufacturers choose to mix with it. I drank a watered down version of this during labor with all of my kids, and it was incredibly refreshing. I think it’s a good palate cleanser, too. Also, it has that nice thing about restoring the right pH to knock out UTIs.

Bottoms up, and have a good weekend!

Friday 9/8 Bonus Round: German Idiom

von etwas die Nase voll haben: to be fed up with something or to be sick of something

zB: Von seiner staendigen Frechheit habe ich die Nase voll.

auf Englisch: I'm fed up with his sass/cheek.

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

Oddball Word of the Day

ebullient: (iBOOL-yent): adj. full of enthusiasm

(from MMMW, edited by Laurence Urdang)

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Cotton Fugue

Oh, crap, it’s finally happened – I’ve turned into a knitting granny. Nope, my kids are not doing it to me; I’ve gone and done it to myself. I’ve gotten obsessed with knitting dishrags and dishtowels. It started innocently enough. I realized I had a goodly amount of cotton yarn in my stash, most of which I inherited from friends and family members, some that came along with estate auction purchases, and maybe two small balls of Peaches ‘n Cream that I picked up for making girly scrunchies for myself and Bunny. Then I realized I hated all my washcloth/dishrag patterns and bought Mason-Dixon Knitting, not just for the “warshrags,” but also for the warshrags, if you get my drift.

So, I went through my stash, never an easy undertaking, and pulled out all the obviously cotton yarns and started knitting dandy little squares. I used the Ball band pattern from Mason-Dixon Knitting and found I really liked it. So I extrapolated and made Ball band patterned dishtowels with toppers. Then I found some nubbly cotton and made a dishtowel and a dishrag from that. Then I realized I had some thinner, mercized cotton around and some elderly braided cotton stuff, and adapted the Burp Cloths from MDK to make towels and rags.

That wasn’t enough. I have now made honeycomb dishrags and am working on a dishtowel of the same pattern. I have knitted dishtowels hanging from the handle on my oven, my refrigerator, next to the sink, and balled up and hidden in the terrycloth dishtowel bucket. I’m using a dishrag as a giant coaster in front of the coffeemaker. I had some ends and pieces leftover and made coasters. It’s getting very colorful in here, and other people chose most of these colors, so it sometimes feels like I’ve landed in someone else’s circus!

I thought I was getting to the end of the cotton supply, but lo and behold, I just found four skeins of slubby, blue-toned cotton that I can remember buying early in my sock-knitting era. I thought I might want to make a pair out of cotton. Turns out I was wrong, and I’m going to wind up mopping up spills with it. I am also convinced that I have a cone of medium blue and a cone of red lurking somewhere, and I can’t find them, by Gad, and that’s niggling around in my head, making me fret. I know Murphy’s Law and its corollaries too well to not believe that the minute I’ve finally knit up the last of the visible cotton, a small thudding noise will draw my attention. I’ll go to investigate it, and there will be a cone of either red or medium blue cotton yarn, chucked out of the netherworld into my hallway, silently mocking me for thinking I finally used up all the cotton yarn in the house.

I am actually contemplating making cozies for my small appliances, a thing I have avoided on purpose my entire life, since I can’t figure out why I’d need them. I’ve websurfed for toilet paper roll covers that look like deranged poodles (for the kitsch factor) and obscenely complacent looking Victorian doll tissue box covers. And doilies. I’ve been looking at doily patterns lately, too.

This is what comes of being the child of parents raised during the Depression. For them, if they had something they could use, they used it. If they thought they might be able to use it in the future, they saved it, sometimes for decades, until it might become useful. As a result, they passed on this annoying mutation of frugality to many of us, their offspring. I know perfectly well that I could drop off my cotton yarn supply at the thrift store and someone else would make good use of it, and it would be out of my hair and mind. But either I paid for it, or someone I know paid for it, or I promised someone I’d get some use out of it when they offered it to me, and, by gum, that just makes it hard to let go of!

I’m hoping I’ll max out soon on using up the cotton and take the rest of it off to St. Vincent’s. But, you know, those dishrags really do work well, and there’s something so nice and soft and homey about the towels…..

Oddball Word of the Day

fenestration: (fen-istrAY-shun) n. the arrangement of windows and doors in a building

(from MMMW, edited by Laurence Urdang)

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Ramblin' BoS

I’m not usually much of a casual explorer. I suppose that because I grew up in a bedroom community outside of Washington, D.C., then moved to the north side of Chicago in my teens, and lived overseas for a while in a town just outside of Vienna, Austria, I am, at some level, used to everything being either within walking distance or a mere bus or train ride away. This whole “need a car to get around” thing for the suburbs and rural communities still feels new to me, even after 25 years of it. As a result, I generally don’t just hop in the Buick and cruise around to see what’s what and what’s where, I need a goal or purpose first.

Since we’ve been out here in the sticks, whatever isn’t right downtown is usually at least a 30-minute drive and a seemingly endless series of cornfields away. So, I’ve kind of gotten in the habit of killing two birds with one stone – someone will tell me about a great place to get a bargain on something, and in order to find out more about this area, I’ll also ask for directions and eventually drive there. It didn’t work so well with finding my Mary Kay lady , but I’m still game.

A few summers ago, my husband was visiting a client in a small town north of here and picked up some really spectacular cuts of beef at a butcher shop while he was there. I asked him about them, and he gave me directions. (Note to self: I really need to stop thinking his directions are going to look anything like my expectations.) He told me to drive due north on Route 6 and I couldn’t help but find the town and that the butcher shop was right in the small downtown area, right across from the post office.

A few days later, the kids and I were bored, so I stuffed the two youngest in the car and headed off to buy beef. I drove north on Route 6, admiring lush fields of corn and soybeans, wondering at the different houses, some really nice with neatly trimmed lawns and lovely flowerbeds, and some kind of ratty and rundown. Then I got to a Y-intersection. I didn’t remember anything in my husband’s directions about a Y-intersection. I stopped, even though I didn’t have a stop sign, and eyeballed the road signs. “Rt. 143” said one. “Rt. 52E” said the other. Hmmm, no Route 6, no indications of the town I was heading for either. I went down “Rt. 143” with high hopes.

More cornfields, more soybeans, more ratty farmhouses with pristine barns and silos next to them, a few whiffs of pig farms, and 20 minutes later, I wasn’t anywhere. I was just deeper into the rural Midwest. I drove back to the Y-intersection, made an awkward, if not illegal, turn onto Rt. 52E, and hoped I’d find the town and the butcher shop this time. We passed two of those mysterious industrial outposts, which often make me wonder what the heck they are. I don’t know if you’ve seen them – there’s usually a large metal box, locked, with some commercial piping sticking out from it either along the sides or the top or both, then a 10 ft. high cyclone fence with a locked gate, and a short gravel drive leading from the road to the outpost. I have never seen anyone in one of them, nor any service trucks of any sort, so I have no idea what’s going on back there. For all I know, they could be missile silos. I think they’re a little unnerving.

Anyway, there I was, tooling along as the day got hotter, past missile silos (or whatever), corn and beans, and I was feeling a lot less friendly towards my husband and agriculture, when all of a sudden, a main street appeared. No stop signs or lights, no warning whatsoever. There was just, right on the other side of walls of corn, a well-equipped playground to the west, a short street full of ordinary houses to the east, and ahead of me was a cluster of obvious stores. They were a little run down, too, but I’m OK with that, I think it’s homey.

So, I realized I was finally in Lisbon, which is where I meant to be, and happily proceeded straight ahead, and one block later ran out of town. That felt a little weird, so I drove a bit further and found an elementary school amid corn, and then another one of those alarming missile silos, so I turned around in the gravel drive and went back to what there was of Lisbon. This time, I slowed way down, so I could read the signs.

“CLOSED,” said one, which looked a little like a hairdresser’s. “BAIT, United State Post Office, Ring Bell in Back,” said the sign on a white clapboard house no wider than my Buick is long and which had drooping eaves and rusty gutters. Another shop had “Grandpa’s Workshop,” in multi-colored letters across the window, and “Closed” on the door. And, finally “Bacon” said a sign on the last shop’s door.

“I think we’ve found it, kids,” I said.

“Which one is it,” asked Bunny, “the one that says ‘Bacon’ or ‘Grandpa’s Workshop’?”

“I’m betting on ‘Bacon’,” I replied, ”Let’s pull in and find out.” Which led to the next problem, which was a complete lack of parking spaces. Yep, that’s right, there were no parking spaces, the street just ran right next to the storefronts, so I went and turned down a side street, looking for parking. I found a lot of “NO PARKING” signs instead, drove down more streets, all 4 of them, all filled with “NO PARKING” signs.

“This doesn’t make any sense,” I said, “how come I can’t park anywhere?”

Doodle piped up, “Maybe nobody ever comes here, and the only customers all walk.”

“Nuts,” I replied, “You’re probably right.” So, I drove around some more, trying to find somewhere to legally park. No luck. I gave up and parked in front of the “Bacon” sign, only to find that another, smaller sign on the door listed a bizarre collection of hours when the store was actually open – like Tuesdays from 6pm-8pm, Wednesdays from 9 am to 3 pm, and Saturdays, 7am to 11 am. None of which happened to coincide with the current day of the week, let alone time of day.

“Well, nuts,” I said, “looks like we’re out of luck.”

“No bacon for us,” sang Doodle from the back seat, “let’s go to Grandpa’s Workshop instead and see what they have there.”

“We can’t, “I said, “It’s closed, too. So is everything else.”

“Maybe we could go to the Post Office and Bait shop” said Bunny, “I think I saw a cat in the window!”

“It’s probably after the bait,” I said, thoroughly disgruntled. I stared at the likely butcher shop some more, hoping vaguely that it would magically open and have nice cuts of beef, cheap. A police car, the only other sign of human life in town so far, pulled up beside me. The policeman gestured for me to roll down my window, so I did.

“You cain’t park there,” hollered the cop.

“I can’t park anywhere,” I said, “this whole town is one ‘NO PARKING’ zone,” I hollered back.

The policeman pondered a minute, sticking a piece of chewing gum in his mouth to loosen up his brains or something. “Nope, you cain’t,” he said, “Hadn’t noticed that before. Best move on.”

“Thank you, officer,” I replied politely, as we GRITS do, and turned on the car, backed up and headed for home.

“No bacon, no bacon, nobaconnobaconnobacon,” chanted Doodle as we drove back towards home.

“No ‘Grandpa’s Workshop’ either,” said Bunny wistfully, “I wonder what he had in there.”

I let out a snort of laughter. “You’ll probably have to get your Dad to find out because sure as we’ve got no bacon, I’m not going back to THAT weird little ghost town again,” I said nastily.

“Awwwww, bummer” they replied in unison. “Can we stop and get some chicken nuggets once we find a town again?” asked Doodle.

“OK, I guess we can,” I answered.

In the 10 years since we’ve lived out here, more of my hopeful road trips than not have ended in somewhat similar ways. I keep hoping, though, that at some point I’ll find somewhere where the stores are open at predictable hours, there are live humans wandering around and driving cars and parking in convenient places, and that whatever I went there for will not only be there, but also be on sale.

Meanwhile, I’d better head for the local Jewel. I’ve got kind of a yen for bacon.

Oddball Word of the Day

wampus: (WOM-puhs) n. a strange or disagreeable person; a lout

(from MMMW, edited by Laurence Urdang)

Friday, September 01, 2006

Friday Five 9/1/06 - Five Things I Want to Knit

(in the next 12 months)

My Dad worked in accounting for my entire childhood, and when I haven’t been in school, my kids have been, so between the fiscal year for Dad, which meant big honking projects that he always had to bring home, and getting new pencils and notebooks, September always feels like the beginning of the year for jobs and projects to me. Plus, the weather will become cooler, which always motivates me to knit, so I usually start planning major knit undertakings in the Fall.

1. Peacock Feathers Shawl: I picked up the pattern and yarn for this some months ago. I am not too familiar with working charts, especially not those split between several pages, so this is going to be a challenge. I’ve held off starting this so far. I still want to finish up some other goals first, but maybe right after Christmas, I can set aside some time to really study the charts and get it underway.

2. Sanquhar Gloves: I got the patterns for these through wonderful friends and group connections. The only genuine patterns available have to be ordered from a women’s group in Scotland and paid for in Euros or whatever. No Paypal, no credit cards, they want a UK check or money order. A friend of mine through Mensa contacted a friend of hers in England, who then contacted me and agreed to purchase the patterns. He then scanned them in and sent them via email, AND sent me the patterns via snail. I think I owe him a pair of gloves. Ain’t technology grand? I’m looking forward to cussing up a storm over tiny needles as I work on these. No, I really mean that. A little knitting frustration makes the rest of the day seem easier, and then, when I DO get it right, I feel really successful!

3. A felted chair pad for my favorite chair in the dining room. Doesn’t sound like much, does it? Unless you’re picky about it, and I know that once I get around to seriously addressing the issue of whereupon my butt parketh itself regularly, I will be likely to become disgruntled if the chair pad isn’t right. The chair’s got one of those seats with a rounded back edge and wider, flattish front, and I really don’t want too much uncovered. A quest for the perfect pad will no doubt use up a great many otherwise productive hours. Snort.

4. More kitchen crap: I’ve been making and mutating Ball band dishcloths for a couple of weeks now. I am, apparently, congenitally unable to use the exact yarns called for in any pattern, nor can I bring myself to make it to spec and leave it alone. Something always needs a customized border, or I want to turn an overly wide dishcloth 90 degrees, add a gather and a loop and hang it on my frig as a towel instead. And so on. So, now, of course, I have three dishcloths and three towels with custom toppers. Somewhere, deep in my “I like to make crap” soul, I am convinced that I need more. Maybe they all need matching felted potholders, a toaster cozy, and my folk art chicken might need a neck warmer and hat. I’ll find out when the kitchen crap gods visit me, late in the dark, strange night…..

5. A cardigan for myself. I’m like the shoemaker’s kids, only towards myself. (You know, the shoemaker’s kids never had any shoes because he always made them for other people?) Mechanics are like that, too, they always have the crappiest cars on the block because they can fix up their own beaters and keep them running, well into the next decade, so they do.

Every few years, I decide to make myself a new cardigan. I get halfway through making it, have an epiphany that so-and-so might like it a whole lot, so, so-and-so gets a gorgeous sweater. Or I get bored, set it aside for too long, then when I pick it up again, I don’t want a sweater made out of THAT anymore, so I frog it. My entire family stood by in shock one year, staring at me with gaping mouths, as I frogged a gorgeous Norwegian, intricately color-patterned sweater I had made for myself because I decided after trying it on for the umpteenth time, that I didn’t like the yoke after all. It was too loud. Urg!

I have one mangy old sweater that I made over 20 years ago for myself, which I have worn to death. It’s all over pills and the sleeves have shrunk up above my wrists. It’s perfect for working in the garden or other dumb stuff because I don’t care if it gets filthy or snagged. The damned thing wears like iron. I know if I make a super-spiffy one, I’ll find excuses NOT to wear it because I won’t want anything to happen to it, and, frankly, I don’t live a tea party life. So, I’m just going to have to have a talk with myself and decide on a practical sweater to make and then do it, by gum! Wish me luck!

Have a great weekend!

Friday 9/1 Bonus Round: German Idiom

ins Wasser fallen: to fall through

zB: Das geplante Fussballspiel gegen die Nachbarstadt fiel ins Wasser, weil viele unserer Spieler Grippe hatten.

auf Englisch: The planned soccer game with our neighboring town fell through because many of our players had the flu.

(from Guide to German Idioms by JP Lupson)

Oddball Word of the Day

arriviste: (AHR-eee-VEEST) n. one who has acquired success or money by dubious methods

(from MMMW, edited by Laurence Urdang)

Mindful Yarn

When it’s rainy out, I wind yarn. I got myself a ball winder about two years ago for my birthday, along with a swift. I got the cheap versions of each, since I only wind periodically, and they’re just fine for my intermittent use. It’s a time for mindfulness for me because I’m usually alone, the weather is not distracting, and if I don’t pay attention when I wind yarn, something snarls or I get to feeling impatient.

Mindfulness is one of those things that can be all wrapped up in a New Age religious wrapper, or it might sound like Eastern philosophy, or even seem reminiscent of the 60’s and 70’s and the Beatles in Nehru jackets. It just means being completely present in the moment, not allowing yourself to be distracted or fretful or thinking beyond the perimeter of what you are doing. Doing dishes is another such activity for me.

Anyway, when I wind yarn, off of a cone or a hank, I enjoy the feeling of it running through the fingers of one hand while the other hand rhythmically turns the crank on the winder. I listen to the sound of the winder, whirring away, I watch the yarn ball grow and I watch the hank or cone diminish in size, and the world seems to stop all around me. There is nothing else – just the simple, very simple motion of changing the storage shape of something I like from blobby or conical to a cylinder.

I can tell whether or not I’m going to like knitting with the yarn by the way it feels running between my forefinger and thumb. It might be very soft and need a light hand to control the winding, it might be harder or more tightly spun and need a firmer hand to keep the tension right so that the ball winds properly. If my hands or fingernails are rough or have nicks in them, the yarn finds them for me and sometimes smoothes them out.

I become more aware of my posture, how straight my back and shoulders are, whether my upper arms are weak or strong, my breathing, and whether or not I have a cramp somewhere. I have knitter’s forearms – very strong, particularly around the wrists. I don’t know why, but I take my shoes off when I wind yarn, so I can feel the short nap on the area rug in my den. The fan whispers overhead, the rain makes white noise in the background, and I am encapsulated in a space and time dedicated to the act of winding yarn.

I enjoy knitting, there’s no doubt about it. I’ve been doing it for so many years now, though, that I knit mindlessly. I often read while I’m knitting, with my book in a book holder, stopping my stitching only to turn pages or take a sip of coffee. There aren’t a lot of challenges left for me in the techniques of knitting, unless I choose to make some things up just to push my limits. I don’t always want to do that, I just like to make things, useful things, pretty things, well-crafted things, things from yarn that someone else didn’t want, things of beauty and practicality to be given to charity, things to keep my children warm when they’re cold, or to add a hug or a sense of my presence and support when I’m not with them. I’m a process knitter.

But winding yarn is mesmerizing and calming for me, more so than knitting. I’m done when I choose to be done winding yarn. A ball of yarn does not need a sleeve, it doesn’t need the ends woven in, and it always matches itself.

The same year that I bought the winder and swift, I picked up a three-panel screen at the thrift store. My den doesn’t have a door, it has a 5 foot wide opening, and I wanted to create the possibility of privacy. I remade other aspects of the den into things that I like, without regard for what others may prefer. Of all the rooms in the house, it’s more mine than any other, and I do have hopes of it becoming completely mine over time. So that’s where I go when I want to meditate with yarn. I rarely pull the screen completely across the den entrance; I don’t need to, I just needed to know that I could if I wanted to.

Winding yarn brings me a sense of peace and a sense of presence and focus that I often need dealing with three kids and life in general. I’m glad I bought the winder; it’s paid for itself in many ways.