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?