Monday, December 27, 2010

Happy Anniversary, Brewster!

[This letter was sent to PALS Animal Rescue for inclusion on their "Happy Tails" webpage. Read about Brewster's old life and early days at our house at Brewster Facts. If you don't enjoy sappy stories about rescue dogs, stop reading now, Grinch.]

Brewster (known to PALS as Wally) joined our family on December 27, 2009, and I'm writing to celebrate his 1-year anniversary! After a pretty tough start in life, Brewster has settled into our home and feels safe and happy. Brewster is not big on playing with toys or chasing balls, but he LOVES to "snuzzle"--he buries his head in a blanket and wiggles around while the closest available human scratches his back or tummy. He loves to go for walks and car rides and he doesn't mind staying home, either, as long as he has a well-stuffed Kong to work on. When I'm working on the computer, he snoozes in his bed beside my desk (or in my lap), and when I move around the house he follows right behind to make sure he doesn't miss anything interesting. He's also a superb watch dog and lets me know anytime a stranger comes near our house. (Some people might think he's a little too vigilant, but after our neighbor's close call with a thief, I feel much safer with Brewster on the lookout!) Most importantly, Brewster makes me laugh every single day. I am so grateful to Brewster's foster mom, Kris, for seeing potential in a scraggly, timid, underweight mutt and giving him the time and affection he needed to become the happy, healthy dog who has become so important in my life. Brewster and I send our thanks and love to Kris and all the PALS volunteers!

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Christmas Eve To-Do List

1. Laundry.--Check.
2. Clean kitchen.--Check.
3. Assemble neighbor goodies.--Check.
4. Small, fiddly sewing to finish a present.--Check.
5. Wrap presents.--Eh. The ones I need first thing in the morning are done. We'll call it a check.
6. Clean office.--I crack myself up. Not sure why that one even got onto the list. The office looks like a yarn bomb with accompanying patterns exploded. A stranger might believe I work at home, but would assume that my job has something to do with yarn.
7. Take Mom to dinner for her birthday.--Check. 
8. Go to church, greet, hand out candles.--Check.
8a. Slather hands with sanitizer.--Check. I am NOT getting the stomach flu that's going around. I don't care if it is all the rage on Facebook.
8b. Sing The First Noel.--NO CHECK. What the heck? How do you get through a Christmas Eve service without singing my song? I had to sing it to myself on the way home.
9. Bake chocolate cake while listening to Louis Armstrong Christmas CD and drinking tea with a generous shot of whiskey.--Check.
10. Clean kitchen. Again.--The bowls are soaking in the sink, so that one's a half-check.
11. Make annual resolution not to procrastinate next year.--Check.
12. Remember that the people who love me don't give a flying you-know-what if my kitchen is clean or their presents are wrapped or I'm wearing clean clothes. Relax.--CHECK. 

(Carrie probably does care about the cake, though. She loves chocolate more than she loves me. I can accept that.)

Merry Christmas!  

Sunday, December 12, 2010

How to Give Your Human a Heart Attack (a message from Brewster)

This is a really great joke to play on your human, but it takes a bit of preparation. First, train your human to expect you to jump on her every time she walks in the door. Do this for almost a full year. Make sure she is totally taking for granted that she will be greeted with exuberant puppy bouncing every single time she comes in after being gone for more than 2 minutes.

Then, when she's completely used to the happy-joy-bouncing-puppy dance, stop. Just don't come to the door. When she calls, make no noise. Don't even jingle your tags. She will leave the garage door wide open, toss her Arby's onto the kitchen floor, and go running through the house to find you. Visions of terrible tragedies will run through her head, the foremost of which will be that the cat, who is "plump," finally got tired of the barking and decided to sit on you.

When she gets to the living room and finds you sitting on the couch in your usual spot, use your expressive eyes to say, "What? You think you're so great that I'm going to do the happy-joy-bouncing-puppy dance every single time I see you? I mean you're nice and all, but you're not all that. Get over yourself."

Try to hide the giggles behind your paw. Bonus points if you can get to the Arby's before she's recovered enough to pick it up.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Dear Stephanie (in which I am a fawning fan)

[A real fan letter I e-mailed to Stephanie Pearl-McPhee.]

Dear Stephanie,

In the fifth grade, our class was assigned to write a letter to our favorite author. I have absolutely no recollection of the author I wrote to, but I do remember that my best friend, Kendra, wrote to Carolyn Keene. Unfortunately, the return letter informed us, Keene had passed away several years before. The return letter lied. In reality, "Keene" turned out to be almost a dozen writers writing under the Keene pseudonym (which incidentally explains the mystery of why I loved some of the books, others not so much). That experience pretty much put me off writing fan letters. What if Beverly Cleary turned out to be a fake? Did Laura Ingalls Wilder really slide down those haystacks? Clearly the potential horror of learning that authors I idolized were actually hacks writing children's fiction for a paycheck while trying to make it as a "real" author was too great to bear. So I've never written another letter until today. I am trusting that you are a real person and a real knitter. If that's not the case and the person reading this is a corporate drone whose job it is to answer all the Stephanie Pearl-McPhee letters, please don't disabuse me of my fantasy. Just send me the "signed" form letter thanking me for my interest and wishing me the best of luck in my future endeavors.

If you are a real person, then I owe you a thank you. I found your blog three or four months ago, and since then I've been reading it from the beginning a month at a time whenever I have a few minutes here and there. Imagine my chagrin when I got to September 2007 and found out that you came to Wichita before I even knew who you were. I hope you come back someday. Or how about Kansas City? I'd drive to Kansas City. Or Oklahoma? Nebraska? Not Colorado, though. Colorado's a little far.

I finished reading the day before yesterday, and I seem to be going through some kind of withdrawal. I keep going back to the site and poking around as if there must be more somewhere that I missed. How will I kill 20 minutes while I eat my lunch now? What am I supposed to do while I wait for my favorite TV show to come on? Crazy Aunt Purl is funny, but she's just not the same. Anne Hanson's designs are beautiful, but she doesn't seem to want to make me giggle.

In particular, I want to thank you for one bit of inspiration. I bet you think I'm going to thank you for teaching me that it's "just knitting" and it's okay to be brave and take risks, or that it's important to laugh at myself, or to have courage to try a really challenging pattern. You are seriously underestimating my superficiality.

I want to thank you because I recently taught myself to do plain knitting by touch, a skill I was inspired to practice when I read about you working on socks while you check your e-mail. (I believe there was some mention of putting the keyboard on the floor so you could page through e-mails with your toe.) I closed my eyes and gave it a shot and was amazed to find that I can knit without looking! Which means that I can read and knit at the same time! With eyes open, of course. This makes me practically faint with happiness. Being able to read again is a huge relief since my voracious reading habit had to take a back seat to my new-found voracious knitting habit. That particular bit of inspiration is probably the most important thing I've gained from your blog, and I've sworn to always keep some sock yarn on hand so I can have a "reading sock" handy.

So I want to say thank you for that piece of inspiration, and for the blog and your books in general. (For the record, I did take the "be brave" thing to heart. You should see what I did to a hat with a miscrossed cable. Scary.) Reading you has been a load of fun, and I'm looking forward to reading a lot more--while knitting socks.

Hoping that writing this letter will provide some closure so that I can stop clicking around your blog like a forlorn puppy whose favorite chew toy is stuck under the sofa,
Noelle Kathleen Barrick

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Love Letter to a Sock

Dear Chocolate Sock, 

MSP 70
Thank you so very much for helping me get through 60 manuscript pages in 4 hours. That is wicked fast even for a very light edit, and I couldn't have done it without you to keep my fingers busy and stop them from straying over to Facebook and this blog and that blog and maybe that neat looking computer game over there. Thanks to you, while my fingers went around and around and around, I was able to keep my brain on the manuscript. Thanks to you, I was able to sit quietly at my desk and not resent my friends who were hanging out at the yarn shop without me. Much. 

MSP 130
You rock.


P.S., I love that your stripes are actually swirling instead of striping. I am charmed.
P.P.S., Your chocolate color is lovely, but I will have to remember not to work on you right before dinner. You're making me hungry. 
P.P.P.S., Hey Blogger, I don't know what's up with the itty-bitty font when I clearly selected "Normal," but it sucks. Fix it. 

Friday, December 3, 2010


I finished the cabled hat last week.


I'm naming this hat "Evidence" because it's proof of a couple of things. For example, it is proof that I can knit cables. I might need proof of this in knitting court because I don't particularly enjoy cables, and you won't see them popping up on many of my pieces. Should anyone doubt my cable-knitting abilities, I will refer them here. 

It's also proof that I don't believe in gauge swatches. This hat was supposed to be a tam for me. What it turned out to be was a cap . . .

. . . for someone with less hair than me.

Mom really likes it. I'm thinking about getting a hair cut. 

Info: The pattern is Brambles from Knitty, and the yarn is Cascade 220. 

Monday, November 29, 2010

I May Be Crazy, But I'm Not Lonely

This obsessive knitting thing is relatively new to me. I actually know the precise date and approximate time the bug bit: It was my birthday in 2009 in the mid-afternoon when my mother innocently gave me a copy of Stitch 'N Bitch. We're hauling up to the 1-year anniversary.

Since I'm a relative newbie, I'm still catching up on the thousands of years of knitting culture that I've missed. Of course I'm starting with the newest first (I'll get to ancient Egyptian knitting sooner or later), so I've been reading Stephanie Pearl-McPhee's At Knit's End a few pages at a time for the last few days. Recall yesterday's drama with the miscrossed cable. Today I read this:
Faced with a major knitting mistake, such as a miscrossed cable, I have three basic choices. I could ignore it; pull the work back and re-knit it; or go wild, drop the offending stitches, and painstakingly spend hours with a crochet hook tediously fixing just those few. . . . It's not necessarily the smart thing to do, but there's really nothing like conceiving and executing an insane feat of repair and having it work. (102)
See that?! Stephanie Pearl-McPhee--the Great Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, one of the premier knitting gurus of our age and the only author of a blog on any topic that I've loved enough to read the entire blog from the beginning in chronological order--suggested the same three solutions I did. Okay, you say, that's because those are the ONLY three solutions. "Not impressive, Noelle," I can hear you saying. And you know what? You're right. It's not impressive that I came up with the same three solutions that literally millions of knitters before me have already thought of. But it does prove this: I may be crazy, but I am not alone.

I'd also like to point out that SPM suggests using a crochet hook to pull up the dropped stitches. I didn't wimp out and use a hook. I actually re-knit the stitches. I'm pretty sure this makes me more hardcore than Stephanie Pearl-McPhee.

You heard me.

(But please don't tell her I said that.)

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Um, Never Mind.

Working needle pointing to formerly miscrossed cable,
which now looks like all the other cables.
Ta Da!
We'll just file that one under "less intimidating than it looks." Don't you love it when life works out like that? I still feel awesomely brave. And, yes, I'm looking forward to performing an appendectomy with a table knife.

Holy S#*t (in which I am brave)

I'm working on my first cabled project, a hat. I did cables once before on a square, but it was just an experimental thing to figure out the construction. This hat is the first time I've ever put cables into an actual item of clothing. I've just started the decrease rounds, and at this stage it's supposed to look like this:

Unfortunately, the other side does not look like this. It has a miscrossed cable about 10 rounds back. If I had better photo editing skills, I'd draw little lines on the hat to show you how one of the cables went awry. But I'm a knitter, not a photo editor (hello crappy lighting), so you'll just have to trust me when I tell you that one of the cables that's supposed to be angling from the right to the left is actually angling from the left to the right. Fellow knitters will know precisely what I'm talking about, and even the most decorous knitter can sympathize with the title of this blog entry. "Oops" and "oh darn" are not the first words that spring to mind.

Now this kind of thing happens all the time. I am by no means the first knitter to make this mistake nor to face the dilemma of what to do about it. There are three general options:
  1. Ignore it. The miscrossed cable is right above the tail, which I will designate as the back of the hat anyway. This is a tam. It's supposed to be slouchy. I'll just squoosh that part up so that no one will notice it. This option is extremely tempting. 
  2. Unknit all 10 rows and start over from this point. This option, essentially knitting backward, is known in the knitting community as tinking. Tinking sounds a lot cuter than it actually is. It's easy enough. In fact, if you're learning to knit by yourself from a book or the Internet, you're likely to find that it's actually instinctive. And if it's just a few stitches, or even just a couple of rows, it isn't so bad. But tinking 10 rounds would be a total pain in the . . . well. I suspect that the person who came up with the name tink is probably the type of person who would bring home a feral cat and name it "Snuggles."
  3. The third option is the scariest. It involves taking only the six stitches involved off the needle and ripping them back to the row before the mistake, then rekniting them in the right order all the way back up to the top. I've seen it done (once) and read about it a couple of times (not with instructions, just in the narrative sense of "I removed those stitches and then knit it back up"). I  have never done it myself. The person I watched was a yarn shop owner, a woman who really knows what she's doing. And she only had to go four rows down, and it was a very simple lace pattern, not cables. In fact, she was fixing a shawl I had screwed up not nearly as badly as I have screwed up this hat. If I, a mere mortal, attempt to rip back this hat, I could screw it up to a point from which there is no return. This is the knitting equivalent of me walking up to someone with a mild stomachache and saying, "Hey, I copyedit medical textbooks and I've read about appendectomies, so hand me that table knife and go lie down on the table. I'll have that sucker out of there in no time."
Of course, this is a hat, not a human, and it's good to try new things. So now the hat looks like this:

Holy S#*t.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Recipe for a Bad Day

1. Before running errands, let dog out to pee. Don't pay attention to what he's doing, let him in, leave.

2. Go to copy shop to ship art back to client and fax invoice. Realize that you only have the client's old address and can't ship art. Let the wind catch the invoice and blow it under the car into someone's dumped . . . something. We're going with the assumption that it was food.

3. Crawl under car, retrieve invoice (at least being stuck in the brown muck prevented it from being blown away), clean it up, take it in.

4. Deal with snotty copy shop guy when fax won't go through because client changed fax number without bothering to alert anyone.

5. Call client, maintain a pleasant phone voice, get correct fax number, give to snotty copy shop guy who deserves a pop in the nose because he is just that snotty. Go home.

6. Discover that when you let the dog out to pee before you left, he rolled in something evil. I mean this smell is morally reprehensible.  This smell indicates that you need to go search the yard for the dead squirrel or bird that must be out there somewhere.

7. Realize that dog has been unsupervised in the house for the last half hour and has almost certainly been sitting on some piece of furniture, transferring his very special scent. Decide that you just can't face sniffing the furniture right now, and will let it be a surprise. (Pray that it isn't the bed.)

8. Plop the dog into the tub. Lather, rinse, repeat FIVE TIMES. Do not completely eliminate smell. Determine that mere Pet Smart brand shampoo is powerless against this scent and that you have tortured shivering dog enough, take him out of the tub.

9. Realize that you have neglected the absolutely vital step of getting an old towel out of the closet before putting the dog in the tub. Chase dog around the house and catch him seconds before he starts drying himself on the heirloom afghan crocheted by your great aunt who died when you were three years old.

10. Accept this tiny victory. Decide the universe can kiss your ass and spend the rest of the afternoon knitting a sock.

ETA: Prescription HyLyt vet shampoo with a subtle coconut scent seems to have conquered almost all of the funk.  Will sniff again tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

If Only (in which I have regrets)

The college basketball pre-season started last night with KU soundly trouncing Washburn. That's not newsworthy, but it got me thinking about sports in general. Basketball is the only sport I have ever cared about at all. In particular, I despise football. It's boring. It's grown men running around trying to knock each other down on purpose. Although I recognize that most sports have a "warlike" element to them, it seems really obvious in football, and it makes me kind of ill. Being forced to watch football makes me twitchy.

When I was a young teenager, I belonged to a church youth group that had a Super Bowl party every year. I only went one year, was deathly bored, and never went again. I hated football so much that I simply could not endure four or five hours of it, even if it meant I was hanging out with my friends.

But now (you knew I would work around to this) I knit. Knitting makes so many boring things bearable. Recently, I went over to my mom's for dinner and she had golf on the television. My mother likes to watch golf. I don't know why. I think she's secretly jealous of the perfectly green lawns. I do not like golf. Normally I would immediately start whining: "This is booooring. There has to be something better on." As soon as I could, I would snag the remote and check TCM. The stupidest old western is better than golf. At least there's a story, no matter how inane.

But on this day, I had my knitting with me. I don't remember what I was working on, but I pulled it out and started stitching. And suddenly golf didn't suck. I got involved. I watched the players. I appreciated the beauty of the swing, was happy for the players when they made good shots. I was downright gleeful when one of them knocked the little white ball in the small hole and the announcer informed us he was "under par," whatever that means. Apparently it's a good thing, so I was happy.

Eventually I came to a stopping place on the project and it was almost time to start dinner, so I put my knitting down.

Suddenly golf sucked again.

I hated it. My fingers, no longer restrained by yarn, started twitching toward the remote.

I don't understand the effect that knitting has on brain chemistry, but there's no doubt that it is calming. Occasionally someone will make a comment to me about how they would never have the patience to knit. "I don't knit because I already have patience," I tell them. "Knitting gives me patience."

All this makes me wonder whether I could've borne those youth group Super Bowl parties if I had just known how to knit. If I had learned to knit sooner (or at least taken it seriously; technically I already did know how to knit), I might've been able to withstand five hours of grown men knocking each other down. Although those teenagers (one or two in particular) would've given me grief for doing something as dorky as knitting, the knitting itself would've given me the grace to smile serenely in the face of good-natured taunts, and would've made it possible to spend that time with my friends and maybe learn to see what they saw in football. More importantly, it might've given me the space and time to learn what was worthwhile in them, something I was too impatient to bother with at the time.

I hope someone invites me to a Super Bowl party this year. I figure five hours of people running into each other on national television is probably worth a little over half a sock.

Monday, November 1, 2010

How to Get a Pair of Socks (in which my evil genius is revealed)

A mark friend asked about socks, so I came up with this plot plan to sucker my friends out of free yarn exchange yarn for socks. If you would like a pair of hand-knit socks, follow these simple steps:

1. Go to a yarn shop in your area. (For example, someone who lives in the Washington, D.C., area could go to any of the many fabulous shops in Maryland or Virginia.) Do not, under any circumstances, go to a Hobby Lobby. I will know. If you send me $3 yarn, you will get $3 socks.

2. Buy two skeins of sock-weight yarn (also called fingering weight; the yarn shop ladies will help you). Get two skeins of 400-450 yards per skein or four skeins of 200 yards/skein in your choice of color and material (washable--acrylic or superwash; I refuse to hand-wash socks, and don't want you to, either).

3. Mail me the yarn (remember, that's 800-900 total yards), your shoe size, and some general style preferences (e.g., lacy? ribbed? cabled?). I reserve the right to overrule your style preference if it doesn't match the yarn you sent (e.g., self-striping yarn is best in plain knit stitch, usually still pretty cool in ribbing, and looks downright dumb in fancy-pants lace and cables; ask me how I know).

4. One ball of yarn will be returned to you as a pair of socks.

5. The other ball will stay home with me where I will pet it while giggling maniacally at my own evil genius because I tricked someone into sending me yarn.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Nightgown (in which I convince myself that polyester pants are a good idea)

I've done it. I've solved the mystery of how a reasonably stylish young woman turns into a dowdy old lady. It goes like this:

A little girl spends her childhood looking at her grandmother's frumpy nightgown and thinking how the little purple flowers are kinda cute, but how hopelessly out of date it is. When she informs her grandmother that the nightgown just isn't cool, the grandmother doesn't seem offended. She just states that she--gasp!--doesn't care. No one outside the family is going to see her in it anyway, and it's very comfortable and practical.

Years pass. One day the granddaughter, grown, is walking through a Sears on her way to somewhere else. She is not looking for clothes, but she is suddenly brought to a complete stop in the lingerie section. Now keep in mind that this is Sears. The "lingerie" is Playtex bras and packages of tube socks. But what has stopped the granddaughter cold is not a bra designed for women with breasts shaped like torpedoes. It is The Nightgown, a cotton summer nightgown almost identical in style to the one she disparaged so many years ago, complete with little purple flowers and lace detailing on the front.

As the granddaughter looks at this nightgown, she is transported instantly to summer mornings in her grandmother's kitchen. The smell of Grape-Nuts and hot Constant Comment tea suddenly fills her nose. She can hear her grandmother's voice making her morning telephone calls, smell her grandfather's pipe smoke wafting up from the workshop in the basement, feel the tubby poodle's warm breath on her feet as she waits patiently for a toast crust to be slipped under the table on the sly.

In the grip of uncontrollable nostalgia, the granddaughter buys the nightgown, takes it home, and wears it. No one's going to see her in it anyway, she reasons. And gosh darn it, it really is comfortable and practical.

And, slowly, like an infection taking hold, the granddaughter's fashion sense starts to change. She's already picked up her grandmother's knitting habit, all the while reassuring herself that knitting is really trendy and hip and retro. Now she starts wondering whether it wouldn't be a good idea to knit herself some dickies. (You know, the fake turtlenecks that are nothing but neck and a little bit of fabric you tuck under your top so that people think you're wearing a turtleneck, but the joke's on them!) And maybe she should pick up a couple of sweatshirts showing scenes of adorable woodland creatures. Maybe the dickies could be sewn into the sweatshirts! Now that's just genius. And the dickie-sweatshirt combo would look awfully cute with some colorful polyester pants. Bright green would be lovely.

The granddaughter recognizes what is happening, but seems powerless to prevent the descent into practical, comfortable clothing. She wonders how many generations of women in her family this has happened to.

So if you see a woman on the street who looks a little frumpy, don't blame her. Blame her genealogy. Understand that somewhere in her past there is probably a cotton nightgown with little purple flowers. And don't waste your time pitying her, either. After all, polyester pants really are comfortable and practical!

Friday, October 22, 2010

A Life in Chinese Food (in which I provide unwarranted free advertising)

I've been thinking about my life history as reflected by the Chinese restaurants I've known and loved over the years. Each restaurant has a dish it does best.

When I was a little girl, my first Chinese restaurant was Chin's, in El Dorado. They had the most delicious egg rolls I have ever tasted. At Chin's they cut two egg rolls into four slices each, and everyone at the table got at least one slice. Chin's is where I learned how to share something that I really, really, really didn't want to share. That's a pretty tough lesson for a kid who was an only child until the age of 7. Regrettably, Chin's has been torn down. I think it's a bank now. But I can still taste the egg rolls.

When I moved to St. Louis to go to Webster University, I discovered Webster Wok in Webster Groves. Their egg rolls left something to be desired, but their shrimp lo mein was the stuff midnight cravings are made of. Unfortunately, they closed at 8. Near my apartment, there was a place on the corner of Manchester and McCausland in St. Louis that had superb shrimp fried rice, although every time I went in there, I had to squint my eyes just a bit to avoid seeing the less-than-spotless decor.

When I graduated from Webster, I took my English degree out to Maryland Heights, a St. Louis suburb, and starting working for a publishing services company. In Maryland Heights, my colleagues told me about the place on Dorsett just west of 270. They had a particularly great chicken with mixed vegetables, and my favorite crab rangoon. To this day, I haven't found a crab rangoon to top theirs. Plus, they delivered with no minimum delivery fee. You could order one $5 lunch special and they'd bring it to you for nothing but the tip, which meant on those days that I couldn't take time off for lunch (which was a lot of days), I still got a decent meal that held me until I went home at 6pm. Or 7pm. Or 8pm.

The thrill of cheap Chinese food delivery eventually stopped making up for the insane schedule I was working, which, I realize in retrospect, was literally driving me crazy. So I decided it was time to leave that job and go back to school. In Lawrence, I found Plum Tree just up the street from my apartment. And while sitting on my new friend Priscilla's couch, I simultaneously learned to love KU basketball and Plum Tree's spring rolls. There are a lot of things I miss about Lawrence, and at the very top of that list is eating Chinese food with Priscilla while shouting at the TV and laughing hysterically at the opposing teams' faces as Russell Robinson or Mario Chalmers executed the umpteenth turnover in a single game.

Back in Wichita, Master's degree in hand (okay, really, it's sitting unframed on the piano music stand), I'm working in publishing again, teaching, trying to cobble together some kind of life, and eating the szechuan shrimp from the Great Wall at 21st and Amidon. And their egg rolls . . . Well, I can't say that they're as wonderful as Chin's, but they're pretty close. It just figures. I spent 12 years wandering, but couldn't find what I really craved until I came back home.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

I Am a Process Knitter (in which I use the word "Gee-Whillikers")

I have knit a lot of stuff in the past few months. I mean a lot. I spend time knitting when I should be working, knitting when I should be doing yard work, knitting when I should be doing the dishes or cleaning the house. I knit in restaurants and in the car when I'm caught by a train. The one good reason I can think of to move to a big city with good public transportation would be so that I could dump my car and knit while riding trains and buses. When I'm working with adults, I knit while I tutor. When my computer starts acting up, I run extensive automated clean-up procedures even though a simple restart would probably do the trick, and use the downtime to knit a few rounds. I am trying to get good enough to knit and read at the same time, at which time I will probably disappear completely from human society.

All this knitting has produced a lot of stuff: three shawls, some hats and scarves (some lacy, some plain), and socks--five pairs of socks this summer. Imagine my surprise when it got cool enough to actually wear them and I suddenly realized that although I spent my summer making purple socks and blue socks and pink socks and red socks and pink-and-red socks, what my wardrobe actually calls for are brown socks and cream socks and maybe the occasional dark green socks. Red socks? No.

But I still love my socks and might even adjust my wardrobe accordingly. I just love socks. I love the skinny yarn and the way it feels as it glides over the ring finger on my right hand. I love the tiny little double-pointed steel needles and how they clink together as they make tiny, perfect stitches. I love heels. I mean, really, who would expect that you could make fabric turn a corner?! Perhaps more to the point, who would expect that I could make fabric turn a corner? Socks have some kind of weird magic. I don't want to be one of those knitters who only ever knits socks, but I fear that's the direction I'm heading. So I started looking for projects that have the same elements I love in socks but that are not actually socks.

Enter the long-sleeved fingerless gloves. They're knit in the round on small double-pointed needles in fingering-weight yarn. They're just like socks except instead of a heel, they have a thumb. Thumbs are not as awe-inspiring as heels, but they're pretty cool. And this is a very practical project for me. My desk is against an outside wall, and the desktop can get uncomfortably chilly. Some long-sleeved, fingerless gloves that keep my forearms warm while still allowing me to type would be perfect. ("Wear one of the 83 sweaters in your closet," you say? "Shut up," I say. "There's no fun in that," I say.)

So I have knit these gloves. Or rather this glove. Singular. I should have two by now, but I have a congenital inability to accept the obvious. I cast on on a Saturday. As I was knitting, I kept trying it on and thinking things like, "Gosh, that's kind of tight" and "Golly, that's really tight" and "Gee-whillikers, every time I try this on, my fingers start to tingle." On the following Wednesday, at which point I had already knit the entire arm and half the hand past the thumb (i.e., I was an hour or two from being done), it finally dawned on me: "This glove is too tight. If I actually try to wear it, it will cut off the circulation in my arm and my hand will likely turn black and fall off."

This is when I discovered that I am a Process Knitter. When a knitter knits 16 inches and then discovers that what he or she has knitted simply will not work, the knitter will experience some combination of two basic reactions. The first reaction is overwhelming rage that will cause the knitter to yank the object off the needles and start using it as a dust rag until it unravels to the point that it must be thrown away. Knitters who experience this reaction are Results Knitters. They don't particularly love the actual knitting. To them, the point is to get to the finished object. When they are thwarted, they are likely to give up. When a Process Knitter faces the same scenario, on the other hand, he or she giggles gleefully because having to start over means that the knitter gets to knit some more! Yay!

Most knitters are some combination of Results and Process. I swear to you that I did not giggle gleefully. In fact, I was pretty darn annoyed. But I--and this is where I shocked myself--was not angry. I was irritated because it is likely that my hands are going to be cold for another week before I get this set of gloves finished. (In my world, there are no other options like wearing sweaters or turning up the furnace. In my world, I must knit gloves.) But the idea of having to knit the entire first glove again did not bother me a bit. Except for the 2x2 ribbing at the cuff and fingers. I am not fond of 2x2 ribbing.

So I calmly--yes, really, calmly--put down the glove and spent the rest of the evening working on a Christmas gift that shall remain unnamed at this time.

I took the boa-constrictor glove to SnB on Thursday and had a heart-to-heart with Shelley, who pointed out that, although my gauge was dead-on and I was knitting exactly the size specified in the pattern, the model wearing the thing in the picture was a skinny bi . . . well, you know. She really is, too. This woman's neck and head look like a toothpick holding up an orange. For the glove to fit me, a regular human-sized woman, it would be necessary to add a lace repeat or go up a needle size. I opted to go up a needle size, which is a fairly predictable move for me. Adding a lace repeat would've required some math; going up a needle size required buying a new set of needles. Duh.

I then toted my doomed glove and my new needles over to the table, and let the other SnBers sigh sympathetically as I ripped back 16 inches of knitting. (I have to say, ladies, you need to work on your sympathetic sighs. They sounded a little bit like muffled laughter.) They then had to listen to me muttering to myself about how stupid 2x2 ribbing is and whining at the end of the night that I had accomplished only 1 inch of it.

So here I am, ten days on from the start of this project and five days on from the second cast-on for the first glove, and I have one whole glove. It fits. I'm wearing it as I type this, and it does a lovely job of keeping my forearm warm while leaving my fingers free to type. I was worried that the thumb was too long and would interfere, but it seems fine. My left arm is feeling left out, not to mention chilly, so I've already cast on for the second glove. Once again, I have 1 lonely inch of 2x2 ribbing. The only good thing about 2x2 ribbing is that it is not 1x1 ribbing.

If You're Interested:
The pattern is Sparrow Fingerless Gloves, and the yarn is good old Berroco Comfort Sock, the workhorse of sock yarn.

The SnB is at Twist Yarn Shop and Shelley is Shelley Stilger, Resident Yarn Genius.

Why did I put the glove on my right arm and use my awkward left hand to take blurry photos when I could've reversed it and taken decent photos? I don't know. All I can say is that I took them when I got home from school last night and it was the end of a 13-hour day. The critical-thinking part of my brain had long since stopped functioning.

UPDATE: The second glove was finished Saturday, 10/23/10, at 6:44am, 13 days and about 12 hours after casting on the original doomed glove.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Somebody Else's Accomplishment (in which I get just a little bit sappy)


Kim, who I'm guessing is about 35 years old, came to the United States several years ago with her American husband, started learning English, and got a job at one of the airplane manufacturing plants in town. Two years ago she lost her job and hasn't been able to find another because she doesn't have a high school diploma. So of course she started studying for her GED. She enrolled at the Goodwill Education and Training Center about a year ago, and I and other tutors have been working with her all that time.

That she stuck with the program for a year is impressive in and of itself. A lot--maybe most--of the people who enroll come for a month or two and then get worn out and quit. Studying for a GED is hard work. It's overwhelming to realize that you'll have to pass five separate tests on math, science, social studies, reading, and writing. From a purely academic perspective, for most people it's a lot easier to graduate from high school than to pass the GED exam. Earning a GED is a major accomplishment that, as far as I'm concerned, far surpasses a high school diploma. A student who has a GED has shown dedication, bravery, and a great deal of intelligence.

So Kim worked hard for a year. Math comes easily to her, and she was able to master science and social studies once she understood that those questions follow their own "formulas." She wrote dozens upon dozens of practice essays and, although the English grammar was always shaky, she has learned to write good, coherent essays.

It was the reading that kept tripping her up. The reading test provides several selections from English literature from all periods ranging from Shakespeare to Wordsworth to Toni Morrison. This is stuff that native English speakers struggle with. Imagine that you are still learning English and are suddenly expected to tell the difference when the author is being literal or using figurative language, much less understand colloquialisms like "in trouble." We ran across that one yesterday when we were practicing. She had missed almost all the questions on the selection from Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio because she didn't know that when one of the characters said he got a girl "in trouble," he meant he had gotten her pregnant.

That kind of problem was hugely discouraging for Kim. Every time she ran into a colloquialism like that she would diligently memorize it--but contemporary English has thousands of colloquialisms. Throw in the antiquated colloquialisms that we don't use anymore but that show up in literature from Romeo and Juliet to Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and you've discovered the perfect recipe to discourage an ESL student from thinking she will ever be able to pass the GED. I know I was discouraged.

Kim and I worked together yesterday afternoon and then we left, me to hang out with elementary school kids playing soccer and helping them with subtraction at GoZones and Kim to take the reading test for the second time. As we were leaving, Kim asked me to pray for her to pass and I did. I don't go around praying all the time, or admitting it when I do, but oh boy you betcha I prayed. I begged the universe to jump in and help Kim pass her test.

She did pass. Not because Kim and Kim's husband and I and Shawn, the receptionist at the GETC, prayed, but because that woman worked her ass off. She passed because even when she was discouraged to the point of tears, she kept going. Even when I was worried that she'd never be able to pass, she knew she could. I am inspired and amazed by just a few people; the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Ghandi top the list. Getting a GED might seem like a small thing compared with spearheading the Civil Rights Movement or leading a salt march, but Kim is on that list now, too, because, just like them, she looked at something that seemed impossible and did it anyway.

See, I told you I was going to get sappy.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Motivation by Public Humiliation

There are a million things I want or need to get done this weekend, but, if history is any guide, there's an 83% chance I'll spend most of the weekend napping on the back porch. So, in the grand tradition of using a fear of humiliation as motivator, I'm posting my to-do list publicly.

1. Send sample edits and cost estimates to two grad students who want their dissertations edited, like, yesterday. (Extra charge for rush!)
2. Mow yard.
3. Put down grass fertilizer and dandelion murderer. (How do those two function together?!)
4. Pull up dead flowers in front yard flower bed.
5. Start turning earth in backyard garden for my first ever fully functional vegetable garden!
6. Put up faux "privacy fence" made of trellis (to disguise the vegetable garden when I go 6 weeks without weeding it).
7. Write multiple blog posts on knitting, book review, why I think Christopher Hitchens is not very good at his job.
8. Make significant progress on current knitting project.
9. Learn to knit a sock.
10. Take Brewster on AT LEAST one walk, if not two.
11. Clean every single floor in this house, including the basement.
12. Balance checkbook, pay bills.

That's it. Not all of these will happen and some of them have to happen. And the sock one is actually a class that's already paid for, so that will definitely happen. I'd say if I get six to eight tasks checked off this list, I can call myself successful, and might still have time for a really satisfying nap.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The "This-Summer-Scarf-Totally-Rocks-My-World" Scarf

So, some of you may have noticed that I've been knitting a lot lately. My grandmother was a prolific knitter and my mother also knits, and they both taught me several times, but it never stuck. I finally figured out on my own how to knit about five years ago. Okay, I didn't so much figure it out as learn it from a book. Okay, it was a children's book called I Can Knit! But it worked, and I've been knitting on and off ever since. For my birthday last December, my mother gave me an excellent book recommended by a friend of a friend called Stitch 'n Bitch. Since then I've gone from a casual, I'm-bored knitter to an obsessive, I'd-rather-knit-than-read knitter, which is a little strange for me, since reading has been my favorite thing to do since I learned to do it. It might have something to do with having recently quit smoking and needing something to do with my hands. Who knows? You can figure out the psychological motivation if that's your thing. In the meantime, I'll keep knitting.

That little story is just an introduction to explain why I am so excited about this scarf pattern that I feel compelled to write about it. (See the discussion on "obsession" in the previous paragraph.) The pattern, designed by Twist's own Susan Gilroy and Shelly Stilger, is available for free on the Twist Yarn Shop website at They call it the "Double-Wrap Stitch Scarf." That name is certainly descriptive but a little prosaic, so I have decided to call mine the "This-Summer-Scarf-Totally-Rocks-My-World" scarf. I hope they won't mind!

There are three basic reasons why I love the Rocks-My-World scarf. First, it's fast. I may have been slightly influenced by the fact that the scarf I finished just before this one was about 7-1/2 feet and made entirely of seed stitch. It looks wicked cool, but it took about 2 weeks to make, and that was after a week of false starts while I decided whether I wanted ribbing, garter, to combine two colors, etc., etc., ad infinitum. The Rocks-My-World, on the other hand, took 3 days! Many of you know that I'm an instant-gratification kind of girl, so I practically started drooling as the Rocks-My-World spooled off my needles inches at a time. I started it on Saturday evening, as a balm to my shattered nerves after KU lost the second round, and finished it on Monday evening. I did spend most of Sunday working on it. Someone who knits at my medium-steady pace but is less obsessive would probably take about a week to finish it.

Second, the Rocks-My-World is very easy, although people who don't know anything about knitting will think it looks very complicated. I had one of the helpers at Twist (I would like to credit her, but I never caught her name) show me two stitches that I hadn't used before, but I had actually already figured them out myself. I just needed her to reassure me that I was doing them correctly. The whole scarf is just variations of the knit stitch, the simplest stitch.

Third, the Rocks-My-World is FUN! "Fast" and "easy" certainly influence the fun factor on this scarf, but it's also fun because you can use any kind of yarn to achieve any kind of effect. For this incarnation of the Rocks-My-World, I used approximately 2.5 98-yard skeins of Borroco Origami multicolored yarn in an overall reddish hue to achieve a 5-foot scarf. It's pretty stretchy, so it wears more like a 6- or even 7-footer. The summer theme is apparent not only in the loose-weave design that probably wouldn't be much use in winter, but also in the multicolored yarn, which is simply beautiful. It has every color you'll ever see in a summer sky, from a sunrise to the moments before the hail starts falling.

For future projects, I plan to use a monocolor ribbon yarn (like the bamboo yarn the pattern recommends) to make a more sophisticated version. Actually, I intend to make multiple versions in as many colors and yarn weights as I can get my hands on and can afford. The next time you see me, odds are good that I will be wearing one of these scarves. And, yes, women in my family should not be shocked to find a Rocks-My-World among their Christmas gifts next year. Send me your color preferences now, ladies.

I'm also going to try making a skinny, short version of this scarf to use as a head band/doo-rag/something-or-other-for-hair-containment device. I've got several different ideas for how to do that, but when I try to design things myself, silly things happen like spending 2 weeks on a seed stitch scarf, so we'll just have to wait and see on that one.

In conclusion, the Rocks-My-World Totally. Rocks. My. World. If you're a knitter, it can rock yours, too.

P.S., If you live in the area, go buy something at Twist, even if it's just some fancy stitch markers for your grandma! No, I don't work there. I just love them.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

This debate never gets old. Really.

(Originally published on my NAIWE blog on March 25th, 2009.)

If you’ve perused my Profile page on this website, you know that I am about (I hope!) to finish my Master’s degree in Religious Studies. Religion fascinates me because it influences so much of our behavior, even if we are nonbelievers. I was planning to write my first post on religion about the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS), but I was just watching the 10pm news, and saw a story about something that I simply cannot resist commenting on. Here it is, 10:30 at night, and instead of getting ready for bed, I’m doing research and pounding furiously on the keyboard. Yes, furiously!

Here in Kansas, you can’t put your big toe out the front door without stepping smack in the middle of a religion controversy. Ah, Kansas. Home of Operation Rescue and the creation versus evolution controversy engendered in our state Board of Education elections. After every election, the balance shifts and the science standards are re-written. At the moment, we are pro-evolution—which makes this particular “controversy” somewhat surprising.

Tonight one of our friendly local news anchors informed me that a new billboard has just gone up here in town celebrating the 150th anniversary of the publication of Darwin’s Origin of the Species. Wow, I thought. That’s weird but cool. Darwin certainly deserves to be celebrated. But as I scanned the billboard being flashed on the screen, I sighed. This is not a celebration of Darwin. It’s a manipulation of Darwin used as an excuse to b***h-slap people of faith.

“Praise Darwin,” it says. “Evolve Beyond Belief.” The sponsor listed at the bottom is the Freedom From Religion Foundation. (You can see an identical billboard in Colorado at

Here in Kansas we spend so much time fighting this creation/evolution battle that I pretty much have my response down pat. So here goes. Again.

For many of us, faith is not an either/or proposition. Of course some folks will tell you that if you don’t believe that the earth is 6000 years old and if you don’t accept Jesus as the Christ, then you are going straight to the hot place. But—and please pay attention FFRF—we don’t ALL believe that! In fact, judging by the latest ARIS survey, which I really will get around to writing about one of these days, fewer and fewer of us believe that.

When you attack all believers without discrimination, you attack many people who would otherwise support you. Let me share what is apparently a well-kept secret: It is possible to be a person of faith and to believe in the scientific evidence that surrounds evolution. Yes, that’s right. I am a religious person AND I believe in dinosaurs! (And the Flying Spaghetti Monster, but that’s a story for another day.)

It is possible to be a person of faith without insisting that everyone around you believe exactly the same way. It is possible to be a person of faith without insisting on literal biblical interpretation, prayer in schools, nativity scenes on public property, or posting the Ten Commandments on anything or anyone that will hold still long enough. I am a person of faith, and I am opposed to all of those things. Furthermore, it is possible to be a person of faith and to simultaneously support legitimate science standards, common-sense sex education in schools, and the right of every individual to practice his or her faith or non-faith as she or he sees fit. I am a person of faith, and I believe in all of those things.

In fact, my beliefs might conceivably lead me to offer support to an organization like the FFRF. I poked around on their website a bit (, and, once I got past the offensive proposition that only atheists are ethical and intelligent people, I found that their aims and most of their methods appear to be good ones. (I particularly appreciate their legal page, which gives accurate interpretations of current law and advice about what to do if you believe you are experiencing religious discrimination.)

But, given that they arbitrarily dismissed and insulted me because I have “Belief,” I guess I’ll just have to keep sending my money to the ACLU instead. Maybe the FFRF can Evolve Beyond the Need for My Donation.

UPDATE: I sent a shorter version of this post to The Wichita Eagle as a Letter to the Editor, and it was published on Sunday, March 28, 2009. See the online version at

Review: Mistress of the Art of Death

(Originally posted Tue., Feb 2, 2010, on Facebook.)

Ariana Franklin’s Mistress of the Art of Death is a historical thriller set in twelfth-century England. Cambridge is the scene of four gruesome child murders. The Jewish community has been accused of the crimes and has been forced into hiding, which displeases King Henry II not because of any religious tolerance, but because he stands to lose substantial income if the Jews are banished from Cambridge. Adelia, an Italian-trained forensic examiner, is sent to Cambridge to discover the real killer and in the process almost becomes the next victim.

The controversy about Mistress seems to center around whether there could really have been a female doctor at that time. Why not? Most of us are comfortable with the idea that women and minorities in the Western world played a much larger part in history than they are given credit for. I'm willing to bet that there were at least a few women trained as medical doctors. So it doesn’t bother me that, among a band of Crusaders returning to England, it is a woman who knows how to relieve the Prior's distress by inserting a reed into his, ahem, "pizzle" to allow him to urinate despite an enlarged prostate.

I do wonder whether forensic science had advanced so far. Franklin provides a convincing description of Adelia’s training studying pig carcasses and eventually human cadavers, but the scene in which she examines the murder victims reads as if it had been picked up from a CSI script and rewritten for the twelfth century. Another point that makes me uncomfortable is Adelia’s apparent understanding of germs, which, of course, she could not have had. Often, authors of historical novels have such great respect and love for their characters that they attribute them with knowledge far beyond the learning of the appropriate period. Adelia’s insistence on washing her hands in expensive brandy while she cares for patients with cholera borders on ridiculous.

But in the grand scheme of the novel, these are minor points. The book is engaging and well-written, with only a few stumbles in rendering contemporary English into a twelfth-century idiom, usually when Franklin employs a cliché or overuses the word "indeed." Indeed, read enough historical fiction and you’ll end up thinking people before the twentieth century ran around “indeeding” each other to the point of indecency. But at other times Franklin’s writing is downright lyrical:

Her attention was on the countryside. Having lived among hills, she had expected to be repelled by flat land; she had not reckoned on such enormous skies, nor the significance they gave to a lonely tree, the crook of a rare chimney, a single church tower, outlined against them.

Of course, I’m particularly attracted to a description that could as easily be applied to my own beautiful Kansas, but there are other moments of equal beauty and unexpected humor, as when young Ulf, pressed by his grandmother into service as Adelia’s page for a fancy dinner, finds himself scrubbed clean “with his flaxen hair bobbed around a face like a gleaming, discontented pickled onion.”

The character of Adelia is itself an ingenious device to introduce twenty-first–century readers to the twelfth century. Adelia has been raised in Salerno, Italy, by a humanist, nonobservant Jewish father and a Christian mother, both of whom are practicing doctors. She has participated in the intellectual life of her cosmopolitan community and trained as a doctor. The only important aspect of Adelia’s life that differs from any twenty-first–century woman’s is that, to participate in the intellectual life, she has had to choose celibacy and remain unmarried (a problem that is, predictably, rectified by the end of the novel). If Adelia were plucked from the pages of the novel and dropped into any twenty-first century environment in the Western world, the only thing that would confuse her is the iPhone. (But then, when I borrowed my sister’s, it confused me, too.) Thus when Adelia travels to England, we are introduced to the repressive, traditionalist, superstitious country through eyes as unaccustomed as our own. Using Adelia, Franklin does not have to try to write as if it were normal to try to use a saint’s knuckle bone to cure disease; as Adelia is appalled, so are we.

As a mystery thriller, Mistress succeeds easily. The murders are particularly horrible, and the suspects are everywhere. Franklin adheres to the age-old device of making the killer the character you least suspect. (No, it’s not Adelia.) And even when the mystery has been solved, the suspense continues for at least another fifty pages.

My only caveat against this novel is for parents of young children. The murders are gruesome and no fun to read about. Reality is bad enough without contemplating fictional horrors as well, and if I had kids, these are not images I would particularly want rattling around in my head. Otherwise, pick up the book, skim the descriptions of the murders, and wallow in the mystery.

Brewster Facts

(Originally posted on Facebook on Wed., Dec. 30, 2009.)

I've had several questions about Brewster, so here is all the Brewster information I possess in one place. Clearly this will be a popular site, so please be patient if your browser is slow. It is undoubtedly due to increased traffic resulting from phenomenal Brewster interest. ;-)

Brewster was adopted from PALS Animal Rescue. His foster mom, Kris, found Brewster on her front porch during a thunderstorm this last August. Normally, PALS rescues dogs from the Animal Shelter that are adoptable but that have been there too long and are about to be put to sleep. Brewster was lucky to wind up on a PALS volunteer's porch because the Animal Shelter would never have considered him "adoptable" and PALS would never have even known about him.

Kris named Brewster "Wally," a very nice name. But I thought he deserved something that sounded a little more dignified. Plus my dad has already made several annoying jokes about the Beaver's older brother, so it had to go. Brewster's name comes from one of my favorite movies, Arsenic and Old Lace.

Brewster is a "mystery mix." He definitely is part terrier and others have also suggested pomeranian and chihuahua. I think chi is more likely than pom. Ultimately, it's silly to try to classify him. He's just himself, an original in every way. He weighs just shy of 6 pounds and has a wiry black topcoat, a soft undercoat, and very soft, floppy ears; he also has a white mohawk. He is probably somewhere between 3 and 5 years old.

We have no information on Brewster's life before he showed up on Kris's porch. He had either been very neglected or had been a stray for a very long time. The fur on the top half of his body was long and matted, and he had no fur at all on his lower body, probably because of a severe flea allergy. He weighed less than 5 pounds, and had internal parasites. Once Kris got the parasites taken care of and got him eating good food, he became the healthy, handsome gentleman you see in the pictures and has no apparent health problems.

Brewster is EXTREMELY shy. He does not have a good reaction to people coming over to the house, so right now we're working on confidence and feeling secure. Every time the doorbell rings, we have to go through a ritual in which he gets in his crate, I let the person in, the person sits on the couch, and then I let Brewster out on leash to slowly approach the person. This procedure seems to work. He's been anxious to become friends with everyone who's come by since we started doing this. If you stop by, be prepared for some Brewster-related delays. I've just signed us up for obedience training, so that should also help him feel more confident and secure, and will hopefully streamline the process.

Brewster and the cats have not exactly bonded, but at this point they can all sit in the same room, which is a huge victory. In fact right now Kudra is sitting on the desk watching the birds through the window while Brew snoozes in his bed beside the desk. She came in, they looked at each other, and they decided to ignore each other. That's a lot better than some families, right?