Thursday, November 29, 2012

Playing nursemaid


Thanksgiving morning O woke up feeling terrible. Not surprising since DH had been sick with a severe cold for over a week. So we ended up staying home for the day instead of having dinner down in Connecticut with my family. The good news? None of us are huge fans of Thanksgiving food so the disappointment on the food front was minimal. O felt better that evening so we drove down to my father's house and spent the rest of the weekend there -- taking long walks with my brother's Golden Retriever, watching Animal Planet, and I, of course, got a lot of knitting done, as well as discovered a lovely yarn shop not ten minutes away. The cat in the picture above is Purry, my father's lab cat; my father is a cat-loving chemist. My father let O name her when she was a kitten and it's a credit to his good natured attitude as a grandfather that he didn't argue about the name. Purry is a lovely affectionate lap cat, which was such a pleasure for me as our own two cats will only bear the occasional ear rub. Purry's only character flaw is an aggressive nature around yarn while it's being knit. Grrr.

When we returned to Boston on Sunday, DH was no better and then O started feeling crummy again. Both of them have this dry cough that gets worse at night. O ended up missing three days of school this week, and -- yahoo! -- today he returned. He seemed pretty happy when I dropped him off this morning for his student council meeting; I think he misses his friends.

I haven't gotten much work done while playing nursemaid ... certainly no time to blog. When O was cuddled up on the couch, he asked if I'd sit next to him and knit. Now how can I refuse a request like this. I ended up finishing a pair of cozy wool socks and starting the pair of Norwegian stockings from Nancy Bush's Folk Socks. I'm about 1/3 of the way down the leg; the stocking looks huge! But I tried it on and it's snug around my calf so ... I guess it's because I remember buying argyle knee socks when I was in high school and weighed about 110 lbs. Those 80s socks were certainly smaller!


I have some more finished objects to show you, and if O cooperates, I hope to have them modeled and photographed later this afternoon.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Doorbusting leads to headbusting

You can't sit in front of the tv with a nice cup of tea and a lapful of knitting without a reminder that this Friday -- the day after U.S. Thanksgiving -- Americans are encouraged to drive to shopping centers and malls, kick in their doors, and scramble over their neighbors and store employees for great deals on everything they probably don't need.

They're called "doorbuster sales" and typically occur on Black Friday, the day after we've given thanks for family and friends around tables groaning with the weight of the turkey, squash, mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy, pumpkin pies, and a host of other traditional dishes. I'm in my late 40s, and I remember Thanksgiving Thursday being one of the holidays when nothing was open. I mean nothing. It was always eerie driving back from my grandparents' house and seeing our downtown transformed into a ghost town. No lights on, no gas stations open, even McDonalds was closed. And it wasn't long ago that the day after Thanksgiving marked the official start of the holiday season in a more gentle fashion than we see these days. The stores would open around 8 a.m., maybe a couple hours earlier than normal. The Christmas decorations would be up for the first time, and the holiday music playing in the background felt appropriate. The stores were brisk with business, but not mobbed.

It's not so today. I was watching tv the other night and saw that some of the big U.S. retailers are treating Thanksgiving Day as the new Black Friday. Almost every major retailer will be open on Thursday and they're all pushing sales. On top of this, the Black Friday sales, which used to start at 8 a.m., have started earlier and earlier each year ... 6 a.m. ... 5 a.m. ... 3 a.m. Now some of these stores aren't even bothering to close once they open on Thanksgiving.

Frankly, it disgusts me.

Personally I can think of nothing more distasteful than shopping with crowds of people at a department store. I already get stressed out trying to park in the parking lot at some of these places on a Tuesday a.m. (fewest shoppers according to my non-scientific observations), and when I consider I might get a karate chop to the head should I not move fast enough or be in the way of someone who wants a $25 microwave, the appeal is even less so. But hey, some people like to shop and Black Friday is something they look forward to all year, so we can agree to disagree.

But what really bugs me is that come Friday -- heck, maybe even tomorrow! -- we're going to be hearing "shocking" news reports about security guards being trampled, fights breaking out between shoppers, injuries and even deaths because of lax crowd control. And what do retailers do to discourage these kinds of incidents? Very little. In fact, I'm surprised they haven't yet been sued for inciting violence by producing print and television ads touting "doorbuster" sales. What kind of image goes through your mind when you hear the word "doorbuster"? I'll bet it has something to do with pushing, kicking and shoving, some glass breaking, and maybe if you're hyper-imaginative, you see people being trampled upon as the door busts open.

I'll end my rant by pointing out the irony that Toys 'R' Us has doorbuster sales. So much for teaching our children not to hit others to get what they want.


Sunday, November 18, 2012

Geography and temperament

A couple days ago I was on the phone with a friend who moved south fairly recently and was lamenting how unfriendly her neighbors were. They'd all gone trick-or-treating as a group, but didn't invite her child along. Then she complained how no one was getting back to her to set up a playdate and she was starting to feel lonely.  Her kid is a great kid and she's nice, so I knew this wasn't because he's a biter or that she gives off the crazy vibe. I comforted her by saying, "Geez, I thought people in the south were friendly and welcoming."

I have another friend who lived in the south, and when she moved up to Boston, she was horrified by how unfriendly everyone in her neighborhood was. I imagined the neighbors driving by, flipping her the bird in the morning, or at the very least, driving over her flowers on their way home. But no. The problem was the neighbors didn't introduce themselves and come over with "welcome to the neighborhood" casseroles when she moved in.

"People around here don't do that," I said. "New Englanders are reserved. They'd feel like they were interrupting or being nosy." I'm such a hard-nosed New Englander that if my new neighbor brought me a casserole, I'd wonder if she were trying to poison me.

It's funny the associations we make about people based on where they live. New Englanders are cold and unfriendly. If you're from the south, you're warm and friendly. From the west coast? A little too friendly with some woo-woo thrown in. Midwesterners, as we all know, are straight-shooting salt-of-the-earth folks. Texas? You're in a country of your own down there. Except if you're from Austin. Austin's a little island of coolness. Americans make assumptions about Canadians (Mad about hockey! Like beer! They're like Americans, but with cheaper healthcare!) In England, there's a bit of north vs. south going on, too.

When I was India in 2008, the locals kept assuming I was British, an easy assumption given my fair skin, reddish hair, light-colored eyes, and Yankee* reserve. Plus, how many Americans travel to India on vacation? Not many. I was pleased with the mistake until I got into a conversation with a tour guide, who gave me a rundown on what Indians think of different nationalities.

"Americans," he said, "are friendly, very kind and friendly people." (He knew we were American. And tipping him.) "The British ..." He shook his head. "British tourists are very demanding and complain about everything."

My face began to burn here. Had I been traveling around India bitching and moaning about the spicy food? The poverty? The traffic? The heat? Suddenly I very much wanted to be on Team America, even if my teammates behave like untrained Golden Retrievers because after all, Golden Retrievers are kind and friendly. My traveling companion may have comforted me by pointing out Indians have a hard time telling an American accent  apart from a British one, and there's that troubled Anglo/Indian history one must factor in. For the rest of the trip I tried to be more friendly and project my voice more. From then on Indians thought I was Australian.

Generalizations can be good, just as they can be damaging. For example, when I travel to England I just assume that the British are going to be more polite. Why? Because the British are polite in my mind and my assumption, erroneous or not, makes for a more pleasant trip. When I meet the occasional British ass clown, he becomes an anomaly instead of a representative of temperament based on geography.

Do you have beliefs about how people are supposed to behave based on where they're from? Please add your comments below. Even if you're from the south. I know people from the south talk a lot, but here talking's encouraged.

*Note to my British readers. I know you call the whole lot of us "Yanks," but in the U.S. a Yankee is someone born and bred in New England. Or as E.B. White said, "To foreigners, a Yankee is an American. To Americans, a Yankee is a Northerner. To Northerners, a Yankee is an Easterner. To Easterners, a Yankee is a New Englander. To New Englanders, a Yankee is a Vermonter. And in Vermont, a Yankee is somebody who eats pie for breakfast."

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Our dining room visitor

Last night I kept hearing rustling in our dining room. We have cats so I figured it was one of them chasing a dust bunny or licking a bag ... one of my cats likes to lick plastic bags. Need to research that.

A little later, O and I were watching "Survivor." During a commercial break, we both heard some loud rustling and scratching coming from the dining room. We looked up and saw this:

(Sorry for the crappy photo -- O was pretty excited and jumping around. That's my husband's hand and bucket. He was urging our friend to jump in the bucket, not on the bucket. LOL!!!)

A flying squirrel! O and I both looked at each other and had the same reaction.


Yeah, we're nuts. Almost everyone who has heard this story says they would have run screaming from the house. O and I have such a deep love of animals and wildlife that I often wonder what our reaction would be if we discovered a cheetah sleeping on our couch. ("It's our lucky day!")

My second thought was how do we get him out of here without the cats seeing him? Weirdly enough, both cats were sleeping elsewhere and never came out to feed investigate. It took my husband about 20 minutes to get the squirrel off the curtain. First our visitor showed off a bit by flying from the drapes to the top of my ironing board back to the drapes and then flew to our hutch. Very impressive flying skills! Then he dropped the floor, ran through the kitchen, and out the back door, which I was holding open for him.

The next question was "How did he get in the house?" Our house is older and has lots of holes, nooks, and crannies, but up until now, we haven't seen anything except for lots of mice and one mole in the basement over the winter. I looked around the dining room for awhile, spotted my rosemary plant, and it all clicked. A couple nights ago, I brought the big potted plant inside because we were supposed to have frost. The pot has a large self-watering reservoir underneath it, so our little friend must have had a nest in there. For the last few days the scent of rosemary filled our dining room, which struck me as a little strange because rosemary only smells when something rubs up against it to release the oils. Now we know why I was smelling rosemary.

I put the plant back out on our porch and my fingers are crossed our little visitor found his home again. I did some research and flying squirrels are an endangered species, so I'm pleased they're living in our neighborhood.

Let's just hope we don't get more in our dining room.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Thank you Jeff Kinney

I'm just about to hop on my bike, pedal down to the bookstore, and make O very happy today. The latest in the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series was released on Tuesday, and before you roll your eyes and scoff at my son's reading choices, hear me out.

One of my biggest hopes -- nay expectations! -- was that any child I birthed would be a reader. Of course he would! Both my husband and I are bookworms. My husband read more books than any other kid one summer and won a trampoline through the public library. I learned to read when I was three, and my childhood is one long, hazy, pleasant memory of gorging on everything from Nancy Drew mysteries and Little House on the Prairie, to biographies of doomed European queens (Marie Antoinette and Anne Boleyn were particular favorites) and books about faraway places I longed to visit (Japan, India, England of course). I was the kid who read under the blankets with a flashlight, whose parents claimed I'd go blind for reading in the dark. When I had my own child, I dreamed not only of the books we'd read together before bedtime, starting with Goodnight Moon and Richard Scarry, but I even held off reading all of the Harry Potter books so we could read them in tandem when he was old enough.

You probably see where this is going.

O has never been a reader. He resisted learning how to read, and I swear, he only liked me reading to him at night because it gave him an extra 10 or 15 minutes before we turned out the light. I offered to buy him any books he wanted; there was no limit to what I'd spend. Instead, he'd ask if he could turn that largesse into Legos or stuffed animals or anything besides a boring old book. When his teacher in second grade noted that he read far below his grade level, I cringed. No, I'll admit it. I was embarrassed. I wondered if she thought we were one of those families who didn't read. You know, you walk into their house and the only book you can find is the phone book, covered in dust, because who really needs a phone book anymore now that there's Google? I felt the need to tell her that when we moved to Massachusetts, I got an upcharge from my mover because of all the books I owned. That I've written three books; I practically read for a living! That our town librarians know me by name, as do the cashiers at Barnes & Noble ... in multiple locations. even used to send me plastic travel mugs at Christmastime for being such a valuable customer.

I may have even come home and ordered O, "You're going to start reading, dammit, and you'll like it too!"

During one trip to Texas a few years ago, I told O that we needed to stop by Barnes & Noble. He must have been in a good mood or wanted something at Target because he agreed to go. Wandering around the children's section, I noticed The Diary of a Wimpy Kid display and picked up a book. It was written in big type. It had pictures ... well, line drawings, but enough to break up the type. I brought the book over to O and gingerly asked if he wanted me to read it to him. Much to my surprise, he said I could. We read a chapter and he asked (cue angels singing), "Can you buy it for me?"

(And the devil in me replied), "Only if you promise to read some of it yourself."

He said he'd try.

I read the book to him the rest of the week we were in Texas. He read it again -- by himself -- on the plane ride home. When we arrived in Boston he asked if I could buy him the next book, which I did. That night. When he found out the third book wouldn't be released for several months, he cried.

Mental stadium cheer.

I've talked to a lot of parents who scoff at these books. They're not Literature, they contain poop jokes, they don't offer valuable life lessons for children ... oh please, I want to interrupt. Just stop it. O now reads far beyond his grade level; in fourth grade he was spelling and reading at the sixth grade level, and this year I've caught him reading The Hunger Games and The Hobbit, not to mention encyclopedic tomes on wildlife. Books like Kinney's get kids who don't like reading to read. And then they talk to their friends about what they've read and those friends recommend books they like. And they start wondering what else is out there to read. And even -- I kid you not -- they talk about writing a book of their own and would I mind if it contained a poop joke or two?

Do I mind? You're talking to someone who enjoyed reading about queens who got their heads chopped off. What's a little poop?

ETA 6:15 p.m.: O has been reading The Third Wheel steadily since 4 p.m., taking a break only to eat a jelly sandwich. :)

Looking back

Last night my husband arrived home from work with my birthday treat, something I look forward to all year long:

My annual treat

Don't laugh. It's very tasty. It's a long-standing tradition in my family that I get a Pepperidge Farm Coconut Cake on my birthday. It stems from one year when my mother forgot to make me a birthday cake and all we had on hand was a frozen Pepperidge Farm one in the freezer so that's what I got. DH came home very late last night so I'll work on devouring my cake today (no one else in the house loves cake like I do). I give myself a day to scarf it down because my digestive system doesn't tolerate wheat and sugar the way it used to. I'll be paying for this debauchery tomorrow.

With birthdays I guess it's "traditional" to look back. I didn't do much of that yesterday, but it has been one of those years where my past has knocked on my door and invited itself in for a visit. In most cases this isn't such a bad thing, but it's not comfortable for me. I'm not one who spends a lot of time looking over my shoulder. No, I'm the one in my family who's always eagerly anticipating what's around the corner and urging others to stop living in the past. Maybe because the future hasn't been as shiny and bright for me as it has been in other years (sorry if that sounds mysterious and morose; life isn't that horrible!) that I'm lulled into thinking it's not so bad to trip down memory lane.

A few months ago I learned that my 30th high school reunion would be held in November, just a couple weeks from now. I've never been to one, nor have I had any desire to attend. High school wasn't  a happy time for me. While I wasn't unpopular, I, like of lot of kids, never felt like I fit in. There was a definite clique element in our school that I had no part of and it was pretty clear early on I'd never be part of. Fresh off my parents' bitter divorce, I struggled through those four years and went through great lengths to hide my misery, which, in retrospect, I failed miserably at hiding. Throughout high school I was always looking forward, planning my escape into college and adulthood. However, in the last year I've reconnected with several of my high school friends (thanks Facebook!) and it has been -- well -- nice! To my great pleasure, I found out that my instincts picking out friends in high school were pretty good. They all grew into kind and interesting adults, with productive and interesting lives, people I'd associate with today and not just because I sat next to them in 10th grade English or that we liked The Cars.

And funnily enough, none of them are attending the reunion either. Hmm.

My 25th college reunion is also coming up, and this I may attend. Visiting my alma mater is always a pleasure; my years at Smith were some of my happiest, and I love walking around the campus, letting the nostalgia wash over me while alternately marveling at all the changes -- houses gone, new buildings up, feeling so youthful inside but looking around and realizing I'm the oldest person sitting in the cafe who's knitting. (Northampton, and Smith in particular, is filled with knitters and not just because WEBS is down the street!) It's a strange feeling, but one that doesn't bother me.

This year I've had a couple ex-boyfriends look me up; not surprising as we're all approaching/have passed the half-century mark and I suppose it's natural to want to take a last look at what you passed up before it shrivels into raisinhood. These exchanges haven't been unpleasant either. A few years ago I would have ignored them. Now it just feels silly to hold grudges or wonder "what if." What's done is done ... move on.

But I'm still not going to my high school reunion.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

A strange week for women

The past week has been a strange one for women. Writing about the 2012 election season, New Yorker writer Margaret Talbot wrote,“If there was a war on women this year, it looks like the women are winning" with a record 20 women taking U.S. Senate seats next year. Candidates who made extremely unpopular (and I must add offensive) remarks about women and rape did not win their elections. In this respect, it was a good week for American women.

Then I read Expat Mum's blog yesterday, who alerted me to the delicious irony of Liz Jones. Jones had been invited to speak at a mom-blogging event in London and really put her foot in it declaring herself not a writer but an artist. In her column she ridicules the women who stay home with their children and blog for income. Because, you know, brand-dropping, divulging one's marital woes in excruciating detail, and insulting one's neighbors in newsprint is what real writers -- I mean artists -- do.  Given the chance, I think Liz Jones would defend Todd Akin if she knew it would give her more page views.

And today? Back across the pond we've got a massive DC sex scandal that gets stranger by the day. At the center, two women, one who had an affair with the head of the CIA and the other, it's reported today, was dallying with the top U.S. general in Afghanistan and who also happened to be the target of hands-off-my-man e-mails from the woman who had the affair with the head of the CIA. The mind boggles! The older I get, the more I believe that some women never evolve past seventh grade and men, no matter how smart they are, are guided by the heads in their pants. Anyway, I think this sex scandal is going to be a potboiler. I sense offers from Playboy for the two women. Two steps back. I can't help but wonder what U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton is thinking of all this as she's traveling in Australia with the U.S. Secretary of Defense today?

Today I'm 48. Here's one of my birthday presents from a secret admirer, a skein of sock yarn from The Woolen Rabbit in New Hampshire in the most appropriate colorway, Scottish Heather. Sorry for the cruddy picture but it's very dark and gray here today, a common occurrence on my birth day. I love the muted purples and heathery greens of this yarn; it will make a perfect cowl to go along with my gray down jacket.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Carless in suburbia update

I survived October without a car!

So far, I haven't really missed not having one during the week. We had a fairly mild October, except for the last week with Hurricane Sandy. When the temperature drops below 45 degrees F, my exposed skin gets very cold. I was going to knit a balaclava since I couldn't bring myself to spend $50 to $75 (!!) on the ones I saw at our local bike shop, but then this weekend I spotted one for $15 in Ace Hardware of all places, so DH bought it for me as a birthday present. Awww. The last two "skin-saving" items on my list are gloves (can I knit them? Maybe lobster claw-style ones?) and goggles, which I'll have to buy.

A couple weeks ago I decided to visit my  mother on the Connecticut shore. A perfect opportunity to test run a car rental! I rented a Toyota Yaris through Hotwire. We picked it up on a Saturday morning at the Enterprise rental location, and returned it on Sunday around 9 p.m. The total cost came to something like $45 plus $26 in gas costs, which my husband says we shouldn't count because I would have spent that much (probably more) driving down with the Subaru or his car. Not bad -- and this included insurance. The Yaris was one car I wanted to test drive during my carless experiment. The best thing about it was the gas mileage, and it had good zip. Unfortunately, the seat wasn't very comfortable (I'm spoiled with my Subie's plush leather *heated* seats) and there was a lot of road noise especially on the highway. When we dropped the car off Sunday night, I noticed that someone had returned a Fiat. I love the look of the new Fiats, so I hope I can test one out at some point.

The difficulty I'm having with my carless experiment right now is that I have to get out early on my bike because it starts getting dark so early. My goal this month is to get a little more organized about my errands so that I don't have to kick myself around 4 p.m. for not getting down to the store to pick up milk. The new bike bag has made grocery shopping a lot easier so I'm feeling better about spending the $80.

I also resolved another challenge last week. My cats' vet is a half-hour away and their weekend hours are spotty. I can't ask my husband to take a day off from work so I can take the cats to the vet, so I found a new one down the street that has Saturday hours and is close enough so that if I had to walk (with a pissed-off cat in a cat carrier in hand, ugh!), I could. I felt bad leaving my old vet since we've been going to her for years, but they understood our situation and were kind enough to fax our cats' records to the new vet for a Saturday appointment.

O has a student council meeting every other Thursday at 8 a.m. We were lucky that my brother had left his truck at our house when the last meeting occurred, but now he's down in Staten Island doing hurricane relief work. We may actually have to walk to O's school this Thursday, but my husband said he may be able to go in late. Fingers crossed!

And speaking of my brother ... thank you today to the veterans who've put their lives on the line to defend our country. In my family, that's my brothers Matt and Kevin (U.S. Marine Corps) and my father and stepfather (U.S. Navy).


Saturday, November 10, 2012

Queuing up

My mother called yesterday wondering if I'd like a gift certificate for Christmas so I could buy more yarn. Normally, my heart rate quickens at the promise of such a gift. But I heard myself telling her, "You know what, Mom? I have plenty of yarn, so no thank you, not this year."

I explained to her that I have so much yarn packed in a glass-fronted bookshelf that I have trouble matching skeins to projects. I've found that I like knitting with a plan. For the rest of the year, as well as into 2013, I'm going to make a list of projects, prioritize them, and hopefully by the end of next year I'll have piles of knitwear instead of bookshelves full of wool.

My stash is quite modest by most knitting standards; still, I get antsy and ADD when I have a lot of wool staring me in the face. I find I'm less tolerant of "stuff" these days ... it ties into the rampant consumerism that bothers me. OK, it's just wool and it's useful, but I do I really need more than I could ever knit in my lifetime? It bugs me when I pull out a couple skeins, knowing that I'd earmarked them for a specific project, but time and the allure of new projects have me completely befuddled what exactly those skeins were for.

So here are my knitting goals for the rest of 2012:

* Finish the projects I have on my needles, including a Simplest pullover, pair of socks, and another Gaptastic cowl.

* Knit a balaclava for biking from stash.

* Knit Thorpe hat from Rowan Colourscape Chunky just purchased from Wild and Woolly in Lexington.

* Knit another pair of Toasty fingerless gloves for biking in CEL Portland Tweed in stash.

* Knit Norwegian stockings from Folk Socks (yarn purchased at WEBS in September).

* If I have time (LOL) maybe knit a new pair of felted French Press Slippers.

I'm sure I'll add more to this list, but for now this gives me some direction.

My brother Matt is heading over to pick up his truck so he can head down to NY/NJ to help with the storm cleanup. He told me this morning he was in Rockaway last weekend and it looked like a war zone. He does not use those words lightly since he's actually fought in Iraq and Afghanistan as a U.S. Marine. Anyway, it will be nice to see him, if only for an hour or so, since he's been so busy with school this semester.

And tomorrow morning, my husband, son and I will catch the early showing of Skyfall -- only $6! -- as our birthday presents to each other. We all happen to have birthdays in a three-week period so this will be a fun way to celebrate. O is excited because it'll be the first time he gets to go a PG-13 film, woo-hoo! Then Monday there's no school because of Veterans Day, so we'll be thinking of all the men and women who have put their lives on the line to defend our great country.

What are you doing this weekend? Have you seen Skyfall yet? What did you think?


Thursday, November 8, 2012

FO Friday: Snöflinga Hat

I'm trying to get more comfortable in front of the camera for the sake of family history. Over the last year I've been going through our family pictures and realized I'm hardly in any of them.  There's not one of me and Oliver since he was a baby. How sad. My husband hates taking photos and I am not thrilled being photographed, but things need to change. I love looking at pictures of my parents when they were younger and it would stink if O were denied that same pleasure. Plus, I don't want my photo phobia to rub off on him.

Luckily, Oliver loves to take pictures so I "hired" him for a photo shoot earlier this week. He's good at getting me to smile naturally. Here, he said, "Mom, are you really just 45?" (I'm about to turn 48. What a little charmer he is!) I love Jenny Gordy's (aka Wiksten) style -- her Tova blouse pattern is in my "to sew" queue -- so when she offered her Snöflinga knitting pattern for sale, I snapped it up and immediately cast on.

Snoflinga hat

It's a very simple hat, but like most things in life, simple is better. A garter stitch brim, some fun bobbles for details, a swirly decrease pattern at the crown ... what more could you want? I was iffy on the yarn I was using -- Patons Classic Wool, it was the only worsted weight I had on hand -- but it ended up an excellent choice. The marl actually feels like a blend of merino and cashmere, and it's so soft and warm, like a hug for my head. It took two nights to knit, and the only bit that gave me any trouble was the crocheted thingy at the crown. Next time I'll just skip that. And there will be a next time because I'm ordering some Brooklyn Tweed Shelter for another version ... maybe in Hayloft or Fossil?

Eleven years ago today ...

... this little guy changed my life forever.

I can hardly believe he's eleven. He has grown into such a fine young man: caring, compassionate, wise, and funny. He's the boy you can count on to make sure a shy child feels welcome. Little kids love him. Big kids think he's pretty awesome for a little kid. He is a complete joy to be around ... well, 99% of the time.

He can do an amazing Steve Irwin impression and eat copious amounts of Jell-O in one sitting.

In fact, he asked for Jell-O for his "birthday cake" this year.

His knowledge of varied subjects such as Minecraft, big cats, domestic cats, Legos, Mac keyboard shortcuts, time travel, plane crashes, helping-Mom-understand-her-cellphone, and the Guardians of Ga'hoole is encyclopedic.

He delights in the absurd much to my delight.

He was the best early birthday present I've ever received.

Happy 11th birthday, O!!!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The sweet things he does

My husband and I, like many couples, don't see eye-to-eye on a lot of things. We're both on the same page when it comes to politics, raising our son, the pursuit of education, and world travel. But on a great many other things, forget it. Mr. Left Brain, meet Ms. Right Brain. He thinks rationally and rarely shows emotion; I am ruled by emotion and feeling, which makes for interesting "discussions." I pinch pennies (stingy!); he's quick to open his wallet (generous). He likes happy films with happy endings; I like my movies dark, filled with characters of ambiguous morality. Where I discover hilarity, he finds nothing funny. We are totally food incompatible. He is Mr. Meat and Potatoes, while my diet has ranged from strict vegan to semi-vegetarian in the 15 years we've been together. The mere whiff of garlic, onions, and coffee makes him ill; I can think of nothing more perfect for breakfast than a garlicky tofu scramble served up with a steaming mug of java. He doesn't understand why I like to knit and sew when I could simply run out to the store and buy a sweater or a skirt to wear. I don't understand how he can work as hard as he does and not have a hobby to relieve stress.

I often wonder what keeps us together.

Every day, I've been checking the bike trail to see if the trees that fell down have been cut up and moved away. I can bike most of the trail, but there's one part that's totally blocked so I have to take a secondary trail and walk my bike across a couple fields to get back onto the main trail. It adds about 10 or 15 minutes to my ride, and truth be told it's tiring when my bike is loaded with groceries and packages from town.

Every day I've been keeping my husband posted. One small tree was cut up and removed, but the rest remain.

Yesterday I came home and found an e-mail in my inbox. My husband had made phone calls to people all over town until he found the person who could tell him what the plan was for the fallen trees. It didn't look good; the town has other priorities, which is understandable. So my husband called around to pull together a group of townspeople who can get together and help him cut the tree apart (our chainsaw is electric; we need gas-powered to reach the damage). It's going to take a few more calls, but maybe by this weekend the tree will be dismantled (ETA - only one big tree remains!)

He has been so busy at work, under a lot of pressure to get a project done, that I was touched he spent that much time making sure his wife can bike without too much disruption.

And I'm reminded why we're still together.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Election 2012

It's finally here. Election Day 2012. After months of sitting through the interminable television ads for candidates, chiseling out legitimate mail from our mailbox jammed with postcards from the Democrats, the Republicans, the Greens, the Reds, and political issues vying for our attention, walking and biking past lawn sign after lawn sign, listening to my mother rant about the Evil [insert political party that shall not be named]s, blocking discord mongers on my Facebook feed, and waving off pollsters at grocery stores, today I can take a nice bike ride down to the middle school, cast my vote, and be done with Election 2012.

I hope.

It's not all over but the shoutin'. I've read reports where we can expect recounts and charges of voter fraud before one side can claim victory. So much money has been spent on this presidential election, yet most people I talk to are voting to prevent "the other guy" from winning or they're picking the candidate who's least objectionable to their beliefs and values. I've yet to meet anyone who's genuinely crazy (in a good way!) about their candidate. I'm not someone who believes one party or presidential candidate is the be-all-and-end-all solution for our country's problems, but I do like to see citizens charged up for change. It  feels like people have, I don't know -- given up? don't give a rat's ass? -- about who gets in because we're heading for another four years of Been There, Done That, Drank the KoolAid. In fact, I know a few folks who've grown so apathetic and discouraged they're not even bothering to vote this election.

I'm always curious how other countries view our election process and what they think of our candidates. The Guardian has a geographic roundup of perceptions of U.S. presidential candidates. Bottom line: the apathy I've noticed on the domestic front crosses international borders.

What do you think of the U.S. elections this year? Are you ready for election season to be over already? Hopeful for the future? Add your comment below.

Meanwhile, I do have an election first: I'll be biking over to the polls instead of driving. :)

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Stinging nettles

Every spring I keep my eyes peeled for patches of stinging nettles but rarely have any luck finding them. We had a small patch in the side yard of our old house one year, but in following years the nettles never re-emerged. Now those of you who know stinging nettles as a noxious weed are thinking, "What on God's green earth does this woman want with those dreadful plants?!?"

Why, I want them for dinner!

Several years ago I swooned over a some nettle soup I was served at a foraging dinner in Boston. First off, the color was lovely; you all know how I feel about green food. The soup happened to be delicious, too -- it tasted slightly of spinach, and with a shaving of nutmeg and Parmesan cheese, the humble soup sent me to Nirvana. I could hardly believe the flavor came from a plant most people consider a nuisance, even though I'm well aware how delicious foraged foods can be.

Stinging nettles are easy to identify. They tend to grow in lush patches and their dark green serrated leaves look distinctive to me, but if you're not sure, give the stem a light pinch and ow! Feel that nasty sting? A sure sign you've got yourself some nettles.

Last week I was biking over to Lexington and I noticed great patches of stinging nettles:

Autumn nettles

This ground was barren throughout the spring and summer, but now in late fall, it's teeming with nettles. When I got home I did a quick Google search and learned that stinging nettles frequently emerge before winter, and that their tender young growth dies off with the first hard frost.

So yes, later that day I was back over in the patch with my scissors, gloves, and plastic bags. I picked enough nettles to make a huge batch of nettle pesto. Oliver, a picky eater, devoured it when swirled through a plate of pasta. I did not enlighten him that the green stuff did not come from my garden.

Does the pesto sting going down? Good question! Before using nettles in a recipe, you must blanch them in boiling salted water for a couple minutes to remove the stinging hairs/chemicals on the leaves and stems. Two minutes seems to do the trick, then I give them a cold water bath to keep the leaves bright green.

I don't have a formal recipe for my stinging nettle pesto, but here's a general guideline.


One plastic bag filled with stinging nettles (including stems and leaves)

1/2 cup walnuts (or pine nuts -- I avoid pine nuts since most originate in China and I avoid buying food from China)

2 cloves garlic, minced (more or less to taste)

2 ounces Parmesan cheese, crumbled

Extra virgin olive oil, about 1/2 cup

Salt and pepper to taste


1. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Wear gloves to place the stinging nettles, stems and all, into the water. Cook for about two minutes, drain, and rinse with cold water. Now you can take your gloves off. Strip the nettle leaves off the stems; toss out stems. Squeeze water out of leaves and place them in a bowl of a food processor.

2. Add the nuts, garlic and cheese to the bowl and process. While the processor is running, slowly pour the olive oil through the feed tube and process until you have a pesto that meets your consistency requirements. (I like mine a little chunky -- you might like yours smooth and silky, which may require lots more oil.) Add salt and pepper to taste. Go forth and serve!



Saturday, November 3, 2012

Always look on the bright side of life

When I was sick last year, the soundtrack to Monty Python's Spamalot got a lot of play on my iPod. Recently I found this video featuring (a much older) Eric Idle reprising the brilliant end song from Life of Brian, a song that's featured in Spamalot. Bonus: there's a quick cameo of my favorite Python member Michael Palin. Hope you enjoy watching it as much as I did!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Weekend roundup November 3, 2012

Here are links to blog posts, sites, videos and other stuff on the web I enjoyed this week:

1. Another Henri video! Our feline friend riddled with existential angst takes on Halloween:

2. I've been admiring Gudrun Johnston's pattern contribution to November Knits, the latest book from Kate Gagnon Osborne and Courtney Kelley. (Actually, this is one book where all the patterns are pretty darn awesome.) What I love about the Trefoil cardigan? It reminds me of the Fair Isle sweaters I collected and wore in the early 80s. And this one is knitted with pockets. Awesome!

© Interweave Press


3. Debi over at My Happy Sewing Place wrote up several blog posts earlier in the summer detailing her adventures sewing a Bonnie Prince Charlie jacket for her husband's graduation in Scotland. Actually, that's incorrect -- her husband also put a great deal of work into it. Theirs is a wonderful story, filled with pictures. Even if you don't sew, please check it out. You'll find three parts: Part 1 written by Debi, part 2 written by David her husband and part 3, how it all turned out. Love it!

4. Who's got the best bangers in Britain? The Guardian reports that next week someone will win the coveted Mr. Sausage award during British Sausage Week.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

FO Friday: Unicorn socks

Finished these a couple weeks ago. Just a plain "vanilla" pair of stockinette socks. I bought the yarn down in Houston this summer; each skein was something like $3 so I couldn't resist.

My son gave my socks a very rude name, so the nice name I picked for them is Unicorn Socks. We'll leave it at that.

Ravelry details here.

November, November


November is not my favorite month. After the autumn colors of October, it feels so stark and dreary to me. Even the word November sounds cold and lonely, maybe because it rhymes a bit like "woe" and "slow" and "snow." I also struggle with seasonal affective disorder thanks to my northern European genes coupled with living in the northeastern U.S., and November is when it seems to hit me the hardest.

I have high hopes for this November, though. I'm focusing on all the wonderful things about the month. First, it's my birthday month. I used to dislike celebrating my birthday, but the older I'm getting, the more I appreciate every year I have on earth. There's still so much I want to do and see. Two years ago when my doctor told me I had cancer, the first thing I thought was, "But I still have so many things I want to knit!" Silly to say, but that thought pulled me through some dark moments, and today it guides me toward a more productive life day after day, whether knitting, writing, cooking, or traveling.

It's also my son's birthday month, and he LOVES his birthday. His enthusiasm is always contagious.

November delivers some great books and movies. This year it's a new Bond film and Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln, and while it came out in October, I'm eager to see Ben Affleck's film Argo. As for books, I have new releases from Barbara Kingsolver and Ian McEwan to enjoy.

All the great produce is gone from the supermarkets, but November has some food gems. I'm happy to see the nuggets of candied fruit for fruitcakes, large bins of mixed nuts, peeled chestnuts, bags of fresh cranberries, and tiny orange clementines piled high in the stores. O and I can begin looking for Candy Cane Joe-Joes at Trader Joe's. And closer to Thanksgiving, one can start looking for stollen in the bake shops.

Unlike summer when it's light out until 9 p.m., I don't have to feel guilty about plopping myself down on the couch to knit an hour or so before bedtime. In the summer I spend my knitting time fretting about dozens of garden tasks I should be doing while it's still light.

November is a month for slowing down, no permission needed. Taking a nap on a summer afternoon always feels so indolent to me, but during a chilly Saturday, tucked underneath a down comforter? No one raises an eyebrow.

Any other sweet spots in November?

I leave you with this picture of O and his best friend L from last night's Halloween festivities. O went as a medieval ninja, and his friend is a scary book character whose name I can't recall. I was very impressed with L's costume, though. When O and I arrived at their house, his parents were madly tacking on strips of ripped fabric to his clothes. L had forgotten the costume he'd planned to wear at school, so this was improvised. I think they did a fantastic job! (P.S. I couldn't stop giggling at the size of O's feet. He's at that age where his feet are humungous and his body hasn't caught up.)