2007: Still tired from the move

In 2007 my husband got a new job, in Fort Atkinson. I am not kidding you when I tell you that we looked desperately for an affordable house in Fort Atkinson. And in Jefferson. And Watertown. And Lake Mills. And Beaver Dam. And Horicon. And south Janesville — or was it Beloit? Maybe it was Beloit. We could find nothing. Our real estate agent apologized for not being able to find us a house on our budget, and gave up. (He’s still working in this area. I can give you his card if you’d like.)

For a while, my husband drove from Stevens Point to Fort Atkinson every Monday. If my memory serves (and it may not), I think he stayed with a friend during the week and returned home on the weekend to find a stressed-out wife melting to the floor and four hyperactive children bouncing off the walls. We couldn’t go on like this for much longer.

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Eventually — finally — a metaphorical, Simpsons-like beam of sunlight broke through the clouds and we drove to a farmhouse ten miles east of Jefferson. It was a rental that had just become available. It was an old, old house that had been updated over the years. It had a big red barn out back that had once held beef cattle. It was surrounded by cornfields and hayfields. The landlord and his wife lived right across the street; they had raised their own four children in the farmhouse and then built their dream house once their kids had grown. (I’ve met one of them. He’s still a bit peeved at this.) I think the fact that we had four small children in tow, then ages 1, 3, 4, and 8, softened their hearts a bit.

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We took the house and enrolled the two oldest kids (in our family we call them kidlets) in school in Jefferson. How we got everything moved down here I really don’t remember. It must have taken many, many trips with family cars and a rental truck. We were surrounded by boxes for months. By now we were down to one dog; the aging collie/shepherd mix was eased over the Rainbow Bridge while we were still in Point. We knew she wasn’t in any shape to handle another move. The second dog, the omega-dog of all omega-dogs, didn’t know what to do without his bossy-big-sister alpha to keep him in line. He whimpered, whined, and began chewing on everything. He couldn’t be left alone outside when we went away; he howled so piteously. He couldn’t be left alone inside when we went away; he gnawed the plastic window framing until it broke into shards.

As I wrote when I originally blogged about this momentous event, I was particularly excited because we were moving just in time for me to be able to attend my first-ever Wisconsin Sheep and Wool Festival. I wasn’t able to go until Saturday. I was thrilled to see all the yarn, the fiber, the spinning wheels, the sheep, and all the other knitters. I probably bought something — goodness knows what — but it’s just as plausible that I simply wandered about in a daze. I returned abruptly to consciousness at 5 pm, when officials came to shut and lock the doors of the vendor barns. Just like that, fun time was over. I remember wondering, “What are we supposed to do NOW? There should be somewhere else to go.”

And I got an idea….


Knitwise, I actually did some knitting on the current project last week: two, or was it four, rows at Yarnhawks and then what felt like a massive amount of knitting while I watched the Brewers play the Dodgers on Friday and Saturday. I am calling it a massive amount because I finally transitioned from Skein One to Skein Two, which is a tremendous psychic difference. Even though each repeat knits up in twice as much time as the one before, you labor under the fantastic illusion that you’re actually nearing the end of your project, getting closer to something. (You’re not. It’s all a lie.)

Somehow, though, it does look a little bit bigger than it did a week ago. I can’t prove it because I took two pictures of it just now, and the one which will actually load into Flickr is the one showing the stitch detail rather than the overall size.

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So here’s some stitch detail.

Accordingly, this weekend I visited a new-to-me yarn store in Madison and picked up a skein of gorgeous yarn and a locally written pattern for something elegant to do with said yarn. Here I must admit that the store was the only new thing for me about Knitcircus, as I had purchased yarn from them just last year at the Wisconsin Sheep and Wool Festival. I had also done some copy editing for them several years ago when they were a printed magazine, which was before they were an online magazine, which was before they realized they were genius yarn-dyers and colorway-namers and needed to have a shop.

I didn’t get too far into the shop, because the colorway of yarn that I wanted was sitting at eye level on the first shelf I saw when I came through the door. I grabbed the yarn, received a hug from magazine-editor/shop-owner Jaala, and took her recommendation of a shawl pattern. (What else did you think I was going to make with the yarn? Honestly, people. It’s as if you don’t know me at all.)

And one last question: Have you seen this bear? Where is he going?

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2006: The Statewide Craft Store Guide

During 2005 and 2006 I was publishing a monthly email newsletter called Wisconsin Crafter; besides my possibly entertaining editorial note it included notices of new products and a gradually expanding list of classes and other events held by craft stores and museums in north central Wisconsin. I wasn’t charging for subscriptions and I didn’t sell ads. The goal was to share information and to let crafters of various sorts know about shops and events that they might otherwise have missed.

I covered beading, quilting, stamping and scrapbooking, knitting, and fiber-related venues such as alpaca farms and woolen mills. I printed up business cards and handed them out at craft shows and left them at quilt shops. It was a terrific personal project for someone who liked to organize and color-code and enjoyed an excuse to buy lots and lots of hanging folders. My experience with editing the Calendar column at Materials Evaluation in the mid-90s made this easy work. I gave myself a deadline and tried to be entertaining as well as informative.

Soon, my mind conceived of a larger and grander project. Crafters like to travel, I mused, and they love finding a new store when they travel. What if I compiled the information necessary to create a guide to every craft store in Wisconsin? I could list contact information, their inventory, and the classes they offered. Every crafter in the state would want one! I could update it every year. I would call it…the Statewide Craft Store Guide.

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I bought boxes of pocket folders, and designed a form to staple to the front of each folder — one for each store. (One for each branch of Ben Franklin, each Jo-Ann Fabrics, each Michael’s…. you get the picture.) I converted the information I already had into contact sheets, organized my craft store list alphabetically by city in a three-inch binder, and started calling stores to get the rest of the information I needed. (I don’t know when I did this exactly, with a grade schooler, two toddlers, and an infant in the house, but somehow I did.) I commissioned a professional knitter to create a knitted Wisconsin to be the image on the cover. (I’ll bet that, by the time she finished, she wished that I lived in Wyoming or Colorado.)

Some of the store owners shared my enthusiasm for the project; they put me on their mailing lists and kept me supplied with class listings for Wisconsin Crafter. Others thought I was selling them something or trying to involve them in a nefarious scheme; one Ben Franklin manager smelled a rat, refused to tell me his store’s address, and hung up on me.

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That may have been when my enthusiasm began to wane. I meant well, but getting it all together was more than I could do by myself and I couldn’t hire anyone to help. And if I could have looked into the future I would have thought beyond a printed product that had to be updated continuously and would therefore be out of date whenever it went to print. It also didn’t occur to me that I might get busier as my children grew older, and I might have less time for self-publishing, marketing, sales, and cold calls that backfired.

I started working on the Statewide Craft Store Guide in 2005 and puttered away at it until spring of 2008. At my last count I had identified 533 different craft stores across Wisconsin. It hurt to give up on the project — especially when I started to see Quilters’ Travel Guides showing up in local yarn stores — but I just couldn’t manage it. I was still encouraged when I heard about a new store opening up, and to this day I’m sad when a store closes. I wonder what the total number of craft stores in the state would be now, given the waxing and waning in popularity of the different crafts. Most scrapbooking seems to be digital now, and the alpaca boom has gone bust. Yarn and fiber might be holding steady, or at least back to the levels they were ten years ago, but I haven’t been keeping close enough watch to be sure.

It sure would make a great app, though. You could search the inventory to see which store had that skein of discontinued-colorway Noro Kureyon. And you could link it to the GPS in your phone, and Google Maps could give you turn-by-turn directions to the closest craft store….


Knitwise, has anyone even seen my knitting? Last week at work I finally remembered to remind my fellow Yarnhawks that we would be meeting on Wednesday. Bring a project! Be there or be square! And then things came up in my office and I had to proctor a test and then my window for lunch was going away…and the meeting time came and went. (To be fair, I don’t know if anyone else was able to show up either.) We’ll try again this week.

I did make some progress on the current project last week at knit night, doing a few repeats before I was overcome by the hour of the day. Since then, events have transpired such that the project will be welcome any time it is finished, so I’d better find my project bag get back to work right away!

Published in: on October 8, 2018 at 7:24 pm  Leave a Comment  

2005: I’ve said it before

This was the year I learned how to knit, and though I could have told the story anew I have decided not to reinvent the wheel this evening. (Maybe tomorrow, when I’m at knit night.) I scrolled to the first posts on my blog, read a few choice entries, then saw that I had narrated my knitting-origin story before. For those of you who don’t like to click on links, I will reprint my own story below.


Tangled up in Yarn (August 2005, Wisconsin Crafter)

For a few years now I have defined myself as a crafter by explaining, “I scrap, I stamp, and I quilt.” By the time you read, this, however, that may have changed. We’re going Up North this weekend, and I’m bringing a crochet hook and (optimistically) four skeins of yarn with me. Let me explain.

I don’t have a big history with yarn crafts, nor does it seem to run in the family. (However, my mother still has a few of the wall hangings and plant hangers she macramed when she was a stay-at-home mom in the 1970s.) I have a little beaded macrame bracelet I must have made in the Camp Fire Girls, but I’m sure it wasn’t my idea. I’m not much of a jewelry person, and I rarely wore more than a wristwatch.

Knitting just didn’t attract me. I wanted to be a professional baseball player when I grew up, not a woman who sat around knitting things.

But somehow, last year, Martha Stewart dragged me into the whole yarn thing. I was reading Martha Stewart Kids magazine (now called Kids) and turned to a page that described easy crochet projects that kids could do. A potholder, a hat, a scarf. The line drawings looked clear, and the instructions seemed comprehensible. I stared at them for days before I got the nerve to visit Martha’s Yarn Emporium (no relation to the other Martha, I’m pretty sure) and select a crochet hook.

I already knew the project I wanted to make — a Harry Potter scarf for my son, in Gryffindor colors. A Christmas present. It was September, so I thought it was feasible. Martha made sure I got the right colors (burgundy and gold) of yarn in a weight I could handle, and the right size hook.

I took it all home somewhat guiltily. Here was another set of craft supplies I’d brought home, and I didn’t even know if I could do it. Stockpiling rubber stamps and scrapbook supplies was one thing, but this was definitely new territory.

Then I got out the magazine, pulled out a burgundy skein and the little gold-colored hook, and got started. After several torturous minutes I figured out how to start my chain stitch. I made a few stitches, then ripped it all out. I tried again and soon got into a groove: stitch – rip – repeat. After half an hour I wanted to flush the yarn down the toilet and stab myself in the heart with the hook. I was following instructions written for children and could only produce a row of chain stitches that looked as if a different person had made each stitch. Plus, I didn’t know when and how to turn the corner, go back the other direction, or anything else. Which loop of yarn was I supposed to be putting the hook through? How tight was I supposed to be holding the yarn? Was I doing single crochet or double crochet? What was the difference? And why couldn’t I JUST DO THIS?

It was definitely NOT relaxing. But I did not flush the yarn. I did not stab myself. I did, however, decide to set the project aside until I had calmed down a bit.

Nine months later, I figured out what to do. I needed to borrow someone else’s grandmother. Mine wouldn’t do, since she lives in West Virginia and doesn’t crochet. But my husband’s grandmother — now there was a woman with a history of needleworking who would give it to me straight.

In the meantime, a few things had happened to soften me up towards picking up the crochet hook and trying again.

One was meeting a couple of young girls at a Stevens Point arts festival last year. They were sitting and knitting while people came and bought their finished ponchos, hats and scarves. When I asked them if they crocheted, they quickly responded, “Gosh, no. That’s so HARD.” (They were about ten years old, but I respected their opinions as equals.)

Another was when I bought a Sunset book on crochet at a rummage sale. They devoted several pages to line drawings of crochet in progress, showing many different stitches AND the different techniques that should be used by right-handers and left-handers. (Perhaps Martha Stewart’s instructions were overly simplistic, I thought, even though I am right-handed and they were probably written for me.)

Lastly, I was scandalized to read that Martha Stewart had never known how to crochet. This gap in her knowledge of the domestic arts was shocking, at least to me. But by the time I discovered she didn’t know how to crochet, she had already been taught — by a fellow inmate at Alderson Prison.

Maybe she was somebody else’s grandmother.


To follow up on my origin story, the crochet lessons definitely didn’t take hold. After frustrating myself for several weeks, Eldest turned to me and said, “Mom, why don’t you just learn to knit?”

I returned to Martha’s Yarn Emporium and bought two pairs of straight bamboo knitting needles, in sizes 7 and 9. At the time, I reasoned that since those were the size needles I would need for the yarn I had, they were the only knitting needles I would ever need. (N.B.: I don’t have any idea how many needs, patterns, or skeins of yarn I now have. Caveat craftor.) And I picked up a few skeins of black-and-rainbow yarn that Martha had on clearance.

Then I went to my local public library and checked out a book called Knitting for Kids. Or maybe it was Knitting for Idiots or Teach Your Infant How to Knit in Two Simple Lessons. Anyway, after renewing it once or twice I began to catch on. I cast on in the rainbow yarn for a scarf that, in my head, I called a Doctor Who scarf; all I remembered of the actual Doctor Who scarf at this point was that it had a lot of different colors. I couldn’t have been more wrong about the Doctor, but I plugged away on this first scarf for a long time. I remember taking it with me to prenatal doctor visits when I was pregnant with my fourth child; on one such visit I stopped knitting in mid-row and later resumed knitting in the wrong direction. The scarf has inadvertent short rows, dropped stitches, mysterious holes, non-mysterious holes, and different dye lots, but it also has a beginning and an end (I learned a simple bind-off).

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My first knitted item, from 2005.

On a trip to Ohio, knitting in the car, I started teaching myself how to purl. A small sample project was all I needed to convince myself that I had added another tool to my toolbox.

Finally I cast on for a stockinette Gryffindor scarf with deep stripes, and I knitted carefully away. I was frustrated by the yarn’s tendency to curl at the edges, but I wasn’t completely demoralized. Surely I will be able to block this out, I thought, even before I had ever heard of the concept of blocking. When the scarf was finished I moistened the wool/acrylic blend, stretched it flat, and pinned it down. When I removed the pins a couple of days later, of course, the scarf immediately rolled back onto itself. I had learned an important lesson: It is the nature of stockinette to curl. (I think it’s fair to say that I did not appreciate this lesson at the time.)

For some reason I wanted to keep trying and to keep getting better at this. I tried to learn one new thing — but only one new thing — with each new project, and gradually I worked my way up to Average Intermediate. And yes, the first year, everyone I knew got a hat for Christmas. Some people were even kind enough to wear them.


Knitwise I haven’t done anything since last week, or was it the week before? It’s a dark and stormy night here — good for knitting, but perhaps I should light some candles first, just in case.

Published in: on October 1, 2018 at 7:30 pm  Leave a Comment  

2004: In stitches

“Mom?”

“What, Jack?”

“Are you going to write about the time I ruined Dad’s first day at work and got the doctor wet?”

Well, it is a pretty good story and it did take place in 2004. But it is Jack’s birth story and I’m not sure that everyone would feel comfortable with my imposing it upon them.


We liked the house we rented, but we had also been looking for a property to buy. In the space of two years we had looked at perhaps a dozen houses from Stevens Point to Polonia and back. A newspaper editor’s salary that now fed a family of five, not counting two largeish dogs, didn’t lead us to very many affordable homes; most (if not all) of the ones we saw in our price range would have required additional time and labor for repairs and updates. I also don’t remember seeing any of them and thinking, “Whoa, this one is waaaay too big for us.”

I had worked for a short while at the YMCA in their drop-in child care area, pulling upon my experience at the day care where I had worked before my first child was born. It brought in some extra money, got me out of the house for a few hours, and gave me the opportunity to speak to other adults (or at least non-children). But when my third child arrived, I was too busy looking after my own kids to be able to concentrate on anyone else’s, and I stayed home again.

Freelance writing presented itself as an opportunity, since the paper needed a regular supply of features for the business page. I interviewed several husband-and-wife businesses in the area, starting with a couple who kept bees and sold honey and ending with a couple who ran an ostrich farm. I also did some news features, including a story about the play equipment that the YMCA had obtained from the newly remodeled Burger King. I have a pretty nice scrapbook of clippings for a writing major who never wanted to work on a newspaper; it also includes an interview with the owners of the downtown scrapbook store, where I spent much of my time and a good bit of my money. You can find 18 stories under my name in the online archives of the Stevens Point Journal, if you know what name you’re looking for.

My craftiness began to creep into other areas as well. I began with scrapbooking, rubber stamping, and cardmaking, and then became interested in quilting. For someone who hated to sew, this was moving out of my comfort zone. I think my interest was piqued by an article in Backwoods Home Magazine that gave instructions for making a sturdy quilt from old pairs of jeans. When I watched a video about a husband and wife who were both quilters, I learned that it was possible to piece squares while riding in the car. I spent almost no time driving when we travelled by car, so this was very attractive to me. Instead of just sitting in the passenger seat and waiting for the driver to get too tired to drive, I could do something to stay busy.

I sketched out a design for a quilt top, collected the supplies, and started hand-piecing the denim squares. It was a multimedia effort, with some cream canvas squares decorated with shamrocks and some areas decorated with hand-stitched embroidery. I attended meetings of the local quilting guild — until the babies were too old and fussy to sit still through the meetings — and carried a bag of squares with me wherever I went. I read quilting magazines and attended a huge quilt show in Marshfield, taking pictures and making mental notes on what I thought was well-done or particularly clever.

It was a crazy idea to make a quilt out of canvas and cotton duck cloth — and it certainly didn’t need much batting — but eventually I finished the top, quilted the layers, and sewed up the mitered border. I even entered it in the local quilt show and took home a blue ribbon. But it wasn’t easy to quilt when I didn’t have a room in which I could safely keep my supplies.

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Detail.

At some point we heard about a house for sale in Stevens Point, and I decided to drive by and take a look at it. I remember thinking that I liked the green house next door, but was not impressed by the one that was actually for sale. We took a second look anyway, at the two-story wood-framed house that was on a corner lot and approximately the color of burnt pumpkin. It was an odd house with an oddly connected garage-and-workshop, but it had a fenced yard and some nice old woodwork inside. We made an offer, negotiated, and eventually became homeowners. The sale must have been completed before autumn, because if we had seen the amount of leaves that were shed by the mature sugar maple trees and even vaguely comprehended the amount of raking the small yarn would require, we might never have purchased it.

Orange house front

Painted in schoolhouse colors, it could have been cute.

Orange house side

We never painted it in schoolhouse colors.

We moved the boys’ beds into the room that had previously been the master bedroom, gave our daughter her own room, and moved ourselves into a cramped bedroom just off the kitchen. There was room for the bed and nothing else. The dogs were not allowed in the main part of the house, but hung out at the top of the stairs between the kitchen and the door to the garage.

The first winter in the house, I started to grow stir crazy after staying home with the kids and two largeish dogs while my husband went off to work every day at his new job in Iola. To give an example of how I spent my time, at one point we watched a VHS tape of Beauty and the Beast every single day for three weeks. Then one day my daughter pronounced the film “too scary” and we never watched it again. I was also working on a craft room in the basement, painting the sheetrocked walls and moving my crafting supplies downstairs. The day the paint dried on the walls, I came upstairs to find that my middle child had figured out how to get over the baby gate. No more alone time for me.

One snowy day I had had enough. I dressed the baby in a snowsuit and got ready to go out. To get out, one had to swing one’s leg over the baby gate at the top of three steps  at the top of the basement stairs — that led from the garage to the kitchen. On this occasion, babe in arms, I didn’t quite get my leg over the gate. Down I went, unconsciously twisting my body to keep the baby out of harm’s way. After a crash I sat, dazed, with blood running down my chin from where I’d smacked it into the metal garage door. The two largeish dogs hovered nearby. I called for my eldest, home from school, to call 911 for me. Instead, he brought me the phone and insisted that I do it myself.

I called 911, then called my husband to let him know that I had called 911. After he came home I drove myself to the emergency room and got stitched up. And I even got to talk to some EMTs.


Knitwise, I have started a shawl for a member of my department. The cast-on was quick, the yarn was lovely, and it started to work up well. All I need to do, I told myself, is to knit eight rows a day and I’ll totally be on track. Last Friday I knitted eight rows and I haven’t touched the project since; maybe I need to put it where I can see it.

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Why am I not knitting this?

 

 

Published in: on September 24, 2018 at 9:21 pm  Comments (2)  

2003: Stay at home

A look at the top movies, songs, and television shows of 2003 reminds me that I was a mother of two young children at that time. I wasn’t exactly going out to new movies or dancing at clubs until daybreak. (Then again, I never did those things anyway, so I’ll never know what I was missing.) I recognize exactly two songs from a greatest hits list: “Hey Ya!” by OutKast and “Stacy’s Mom” by Fountains of Wayne. From the list of movies I see films that I watched later but certainly didn’t see in the theaters (Kill Bill, School of Rock, Elf, The Italian Job); I do remember taking the kids to see Finding Nemo and watching the first teaser for what would become a very important movie in our family: The Incredibles.

A clue

A clue! A clue!

I did a bit better when it came to TV shows because, well, I was already at home. I probably watched “Blue’s Clues” and “Dragon Tales” more than anything else, but there were some memorable shows that were slightly more adult oriented. Because of my husband’s schedule at the newspaper, he was home in the midmornings and we got into the habit of watching “The Caroline Rhea Show.” Her mini game shows and interviews were a hoot, her friend Wayne Brady was often on the show, and we were introduced to the incredibly talented Chris Botti. To this day when I have the Smooth Jazz station playing on my television, I can identify a Chris Botti performance in about four notes.

It was tough finding a representative Botti performance on YouTube that was under ten minutes. In fact, here someone has looped “When I Fall in Love” for two hours. And here is a duet of Chris Botti and Michael Bublé. You’re welcome.

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There’s always money in the banana stand.

And on the family oriented but not-necessarily-family-friendly side, “Arrested Development” premiered in 2003. We were huge fans but soon realized that as the kids got older, that 7pm Sunday evening time slot was going to be problematic. This wasn’t exactly the Wonderful World of Disney we were watching.

“I’m looking for the man they call…hermano.” — Gob Bluth

Television brought us sadness that year as well. In late January my husband and I decided to watch all the movies we had on tape, in alphabetical order. The first one up as Apollo 13, which we watched on the evening of January 31. When we watched the news the next day and saw clip after clip of the breakup and crash of the Space Shuttle Columbia, I was terribly confused and disoriented. The feeling that we had somehow jinxed the mission, even though the damage to the shuttle had been caused several days earlier, was hard to avoid; we abandoned the movie-watching scheme.

And after calming and reassuring us in the aftermath of September 11, Fred Rogers passed away in February 2003. I was so saddened — and concerned about the reaction my son might have — that I didn’t tell the kids for a year or two. Right now I have “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” waiting on the DVR for me to watch with all of my kids, whenever we’re together on the same weekend. I had enjoyed kind and gentle children’s show hosts such as Mister Rogers and Captain Kangaroo when I was little, and we’re not likely to see their equal on the small screen. In fact, just try finding a decent clip of the Captain, let alone a DVD set.

Fred and Kangaroo

Who wore it better?

I was home with two small children and another one on the way, gradually filling up a huge old house that boasted an icebox, a laundry chute, and a creepy basement. It also had built-in bookcases and a set of kitchen cabinets mounted right up by the ceiling; I don’t know what I was supposed to store up there or how I would have gotten it down. Our lovely landlady lived next door and would sometimes play her grand piano while my children toddled around on her carpet. Our other neighbors were the family of my husband’s boss at the paper — his wife and two young daughters. We were within stroller-distance of a natural foods co-op where I could buy freshly ground peanut butter. And we lived right across the street from a convent where the Newman congregation of Stevens Point held its Sunday mass. Who could ask for anything more?


Knitwise, we’re getting it together! At last week’s Student Involvement Fair I helped staff a table for the UWW Yarnhawks student knit and crochet group. I answered questions, knitted in public, and listened to about a dozen students as they told me about how their grandmother had taught them how to knit (or crochet) that one summer. We were hoping for five interested students, and fifty signed up for the mailing list. The first student meeting is Wednesday night, and we’re scrambling to provide enough yarn, needles, and hooks to get everyone started on our service project: cold-weather accessories for cold college students. (I wonder if we should tell them about Ravelry.)

I have the Secret Gift Project to work on, plus a gift for a mother-to-be that’s going to use some sweet superwash Merino from Hearthside Fibers that’s been waiting five years for the perfect project. My colorway (Victorian Rose) is long out of stock, but you’ll be able to find a beautiful color that calls to you. That self-striping sock is in a project bag somewhere around here. The one-row handspun scarf I started in Ohio is in my office in case I run into some down time. And of course I have many, many more projects on which I could work if I chose. All I have to do is pick up my knitting. All I have to do…

Published in: on September 17, 2018 at 9:24 pm  Leave a Comment  

2002: The Fourth of Four Elephants

This was a busy year: I got married (in Indiana), moved to Indiana, moved back to Wisconsin, and gave birth to my second child (in Wisconsin). The Indiana interval also included the demise and sale of my little Audi 80, both flood and famine, a dogbite, and an afternoon earthquake. The day we moved out, the tornado sirens went off.

As I think back about the year, car stories come to mind. The aforementioned Audi, a gift from my former father-in-law when my former husband and I had moved from Ohio to Wisconsin, began to develop transmission problems when I took long drives between Wisconsin and Indiana to visit my fiancé/husband. On the last return trip I was on the Illinois Tollway when I heard a horrific THUMP; the car was anemic after that point but I made it safely home. The transmission was ruined. For safety’s sake I started taking the bus to work instead; I remember passing the time by reading a memoir by Neil Peart.

When it was time to move to Indiana, though, I wasn’t quite ready to let go of the Audi. I drove it hundreds of miles, carefully, and parked it in the new lot. It never started again, and it sat in the parking lot for the three months we lived there, only to be sold for scrap. I still have my keys.

Audi keychain

So when it was time to move back to Wisconsin, I would have to drive something else. My husband had a Saturn with manual transmission, so at first the plan was for me to drive the moving truck and for my three-year-old son to ride with me. When I test drove the truck, however, I didn’t like the handling. The plan changed; my new husband gave me two nights of stick-shift lessons in the parking lot of the Vincennes KMart until he was confident that I would be able to drive the Saturn to his parents’ house east of Milwaukee.

That Saturday morning, with the truck and the Saturn packed to the brim, we set off just after an unexpected sounding of the tornado siren. No one in the area seemed to be concerned about this. I followed the moving truck to the main intersection in Vincennes; we would turn left at the light and head north through central Illinois. My husband and son made it through the yellow light; I did not.

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In fact, I didn’t make it through the next three cycles of the light. The drivers behind me weren’t pleased, which did not enhance my skills with the clutch. By this time my husband noticed that I was not, in fact, behind him; he returned to Vincennes in the truck to find me. While he was doing this I eventually managed to shift into first and make the left turn, after which I hurried north in order to catch up with the truck. I kept looking ahead for the truck and he kept looking behind for the Saturn, which meant we didn’t see each other again until we arrived, separately, in Milwaukee.

This meant that he missed my moment of glory in Effingham, Illinois, when I stalled seventeen consecutive times at a traffic light outside of a truck stop. I can’t tell you why the trucker behind me didn’t run me over out of sheer frustration. Sir? If you are out there and reading this blog post today, thank you for your incredible patience.

Once I was on the highway I was perfectly fine, and I learned to stop at rest stops on hills so that the descent would aid my shifting when I left. I even stopped for gas once and got the car going again, and I managed to make it through a toll near Beloit by rolling slowly through and not actually stopping.

On the leg from Milwaukee to Stevens Point the following day someone else drove the Saturn, and I was content to be a passenger again.

A few months later we were in the Saturn again, heading for a family reunion weekend Up North: my husband, my son, myself, and two somewhat large dogs. We were in Marinette when a woman on a side street turned left into route 41 and hit us on the front quarter panel, breaking the axle and disabling our car right in the middle of the intersection. My husband stayed with the car as it was eventually towed to a side street; my son went with me to the hospital, where I had an emergency ultrasound; a kind stranger took the dogs to her house so we could pick them up later.

Eventually we were all reunited in a rental car, we found the house with our dogs, we made it the rest of the distance to the farm, and I had a secret that the ultrasound had revealed: I was going to have a daughter.

 


 

Knitwise, I haven’t been doing much. My focus has been on home improvement, to such an extent that last weekend was the first time I have missed the Wisconsin Sheep and Wool Festival since I moved to Jefferson County in 2007. I did manage to drive past the site on the route 26 bypass, and it was a little heartbreaking. I know I had friends there amongs the vendors and organizers and attendees. I hope they had a wonderful time.

This Wednesday, however, I will participate in the UW-Whitewater Student Involvement Fair, as co-advisor of the UWW Yarnhawks student organization. My shift is from 11 to 12 and I’ll probably be knitting on something geeky. If you’re on campus then, please stop by and knit a few stitches with me.

P.S. L’Shana tova and have a sweet 5779! I’m going to go make an apple cake now.

Published in: on September 10, 2018 at 9:06 pm  Leave a Comment  

2001: The bluest sky

 

In 2007 I wrote near the end of this blog post:

…from time to time the skies here are SO blue and clear that it stops you in your tracks. Another day like that was September 12, 2001. All flight traffic was banned for two days and I have never seen a prettier sky. Unfortunately it only served to contrast the fact that, while my co-workers had nobly stood in line for hours to give their blood to the victims of the terrorist attacks… none of it would be needed. Here was beauty, all around us, and over there in that pile of dust was such pain and anger and sorrow.

It’s easy to say it was a symbol of hope, or that things were going to get better, or that there is always beauty in the midst of despair. A little too easy and pat. Douglas Adams wrote that intelligence was the ability to hold two diametrically opposed concepts in your brain and not crack. (I’m paraphrasing. I know someone else will remember this and put the real quote in the comments — it’s from HHGTTG.) In the post-9/11 days, this kind of intelligence was tough to find. It was easier to raise a flag or say a prayer, and those things are worth doing, too.

Now, beautiful blue skies have a dual ability. They give me hope. And they remind me of unspeakable tragedy.

I haven’t changed my feelings about this much over the years. A pure blue sky still hits me with an almost physical force. It makes me think of the skies in the days before airplanes, and it reminds me what it was like on those few days when airplanes were forbidden.

I thought that I had written on this topic at more length, but tonight a shorter entry will have to do. Tomorrow is the first day of school, and for the first time my four children are attending four different schools. Eldest moved into his new college dorm room at noon today, and I drove my daughter over to her father’s house late this afternoon. Our new living arrangements are too complicated to go into, but I’m sure that we’ll soon get the hang of it…perhaps by November or so.

Tomorrow will be a wild ride, and no one with whom I’ve spoken in the last two weeks or so seems prepared for it. But another first day of school starts another new year, and I’m sure that we’ll move forward and carry on.


Knitwise, I got to the foot part of the first sock and then was almost immediately drawn into other projects and attractions/distractions. I’m sure that I will return to it now that it’s in an easy phase. But the first-day-of-school excitement is taking over and making the knitting sound prosaic.

Last Friday I had the opportunity to rest after a lot of hard work in preparation for a work-related event. When I wasn’t needed for an hour or so, I was able to sit on a rustic bench under a towering, graceful willow tree and cast on for a new project. Let’s hope that it may be finished before the winter holidays.

In honor of the first day of school, which may in fact be the last first day of school on the planet for 2018-2019, here are a couple of videos that I used to post on my Facebook wall when that much-anticipated First Day approached. This summer I stepped away from Facebook a bit, and have only occasionally visited it since. (This does not seem to have caused me irreparable harm. As we say on Ravelry, however, YMMV — your mileage may vary.) At any rate, WordPress is as good of a place to embed these videos.

What’s more fun than shopping for school supplies?

It’s certainly more fun than shopping for school clothes with an insensitive parent. I heard this song today and I cried laughing.

Have a wonderful school year, everyone!

Published in: on September 3, 2018 at 11:09 pm  Leave a Comment  

2000: The Longest Year

Despite all the hype and fear surrounding the year 2000, for many people it wasn’t even the actual start of the new millenium — that wouldn’t come along until January 1, 2001, after 2000 was complete. (See here for some detailed and rather pedantic commentary on various perspectives upon the situation.)

Boy, did 2000 take a long time to complete. For me personally, I had an enjoyable but challenging full-time job, an unravelling marriage with someone I had long considered to be my soul mate, and an infant/toddler to raise at the same time. I was also hundreds of miles away from my family, and the work-friends I had now weren’t the same kind I’d had in Ohio. In fact, Wisconsin as a whole — though certainly friendly — remained somewhat of a puzzle to me. I wasn’t sure how to make friends or how to find time to just have fun or even relax. I certainly didn’t feel like sharing my doubts and troubles with my co-workers (unless they shared theirs first), so in the end, I kept them to myself.

What began as a fun and rewarding job in a beautiful new apartment became, in a matter of months, a daily struggle that included missteps at work, attendance at twelve-step meetings, and a succession of day cares for my son. Everyone in the immediate vicinity was frustrated, tired, contentious, disappointed, disillusioned, and just plain worn out. When I became a single mother I also became sleep-deprived, angry and resentful, even though I couldn’t see any better choices than the ones I’d made. I wasn’t as good at any of this stuff as I had hoped to be — work, marriage, motherhood, or just plain life.

When I look back now, it seems obvious that I should have gotten into some sort of therapy and taken a break from relationships for a while until I had achieved some sort of stability. (Spoiler: That’s not what I did.)

On top of all this, it was yet another election year in the United States, with George W. Bush, the son of former President George H. W. Bush, campaigning against Al Gore, Jr., “inventor of the Internet.” Though by this time we had become more accustomed to mudslinging and libel being just part of politics as usual, no one could have imagined the way this race would turn out — a whole night of “too close to call.” Wikipedia sums it up rather bloodlessly:

On election night, it was unclear who had won, with the electoral votes of the state of Florida still undecided. The returns showed that Bush had won Florida by such a close margin that state law required a recount. A month-long series of legal battles led to the contentious, 5–4 Supreme Court decision of Bush v. Gore, which ended the recount.

That summary doesn’t reflect the shock and disbelief I felt when I saw a Time magazine cover, in the Marquette University student union, that made it clear that Gore had lost. I felt numb, lost, and confused. Since then I’ve compared that moment to the scene in Back to the Future II where Doc tries to explain to Marty how he has arrived in a dystopian version of the 1985 he knows.

Winning the popular vote didn’t ensure the presidency, which was a bit of a shock. (Yes, this bit had happened before, but I hadn’t voted in the Grover Cleveland election.) But here we were, living with the consequences of a tightly split Supreme Court decision. This was the new reality, and it felt rather tenuous for a while.

A side effect of the election night drama was the political color-coding of America that persists to this day. This is explored in the Wikipedia link above, in the “Color Coding” section just before the footnotes. We collectively lingered on red states for Republicans on our TV screens for so long that we couldn’t break the association… and here we still are. Though this was never intended to be a political blog, we all do have political views. I assume that most of us want to believe that it is our votes that will decide the winner of an election, and not some other process. Coming to terms with the the other processes that do, occasionally, make those decisions for us can take some time. Perhaps at some point we’ll decide together to remove those processes from the picture, and perhaps we won’t. I’m clearly poor at predicting the future, but I’ll stick around for the roller coaster ride even if I’m sometimes grumpy for the first few turns of the track.


Knitwise, I did a few more inches on the purple scarf last week, then left it in my office. Why? I missed knitting two weeks ago because I was out of town, missed it last week because I was taking a new staff member on a campus tour, and I’ll miss it this week because I’ll be attending a College retreat off-campus. This week is a frantic patchwork of the tasks needed to help prepare a whole academic department for the start of classes, and it’s doubtful that I’ll have a spare moment for the scarf. But if I do…I’m ready. I’m just not ready to take another progress shot.

At home, I picked up the sock and got heckin serious on the heel flap. Over the weekend I turned the heel and started working the gusset. I don’t know what part of the sock is the most exciting to work — I suppose you could make a good case for the cast-on — but from here I can see five inches of plain knitting, a toe, and a Kitchener, and I start wondering if I’ll be able to cast on the second sock at the point that will produce an identical self-striping twin. Maybe it’s not exciting knitting per se, but it’s at least a hopeful vantage point, like finally seeing the peak of the mountain you’ve been climbing all day, and thinking, Maybe I can do this. And maybe I’ll want to do it again.

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Are your feet this size? Call me!

What else do I have to knit? What else don’t I have to knit? But that’s not important right now. What matters is that the weekend after Labor Day (golly gee, wouldja have a look at the calendar?) is the weekend of the Wisconsin Sheep and Wool Festival. I won’t have an event to host on Saturday night; I’ll have all my kids all weekend. But surely at some point I’ll get that weekend wristband and visit, and visit, and visit. I try not to shop at booths where I have (a) previously bought yarn/fiber/tools that I (b) haven’t yet used. Does that mean I’ve run out of booths to visit? You know, that’s a good question.

Published in: on August 27, 2018 at 9:36 pm  Leave a Comment  

1999: 1999

Back in 1948, George Orwell may have felt that 1984 was far away. And in 1984, Prince hinted about the interval to 1999. I’m not sure that we paid sufficient attention in either case. But in 1999, everyone was definitely fixated on 1999 and what might not happen next.

They say Two thousand-zero-zero, party over, oops, out of time

But I didn’t party in 1984 — though I did go to the prom — and I wasn’t partying in 1999 when my son was born, I left my job at the day care, and I got a new editorial job that required that we all move to Wisconsin when he was less than four months old.

We made the announcement of the new job to my extended family at the reunion at the end of June, and the general consensus was that we were moving to either Canada or to the mythic land of Lake Wobegon. Not understanding why anyone would ever leave Ohio may have blurred the details of our young family’s destination.

Despite my best intentions that my son would never see the inside of a day care center, he was enrolled within a week of our Fourth-of-July-weekend relocation when his father landed a job at UW-Waukesha teaching his passion, Freshman English, literally while the moving truck arrived to unload our possessions into our new apartment.

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The year 2000 (Y2K) was drawing closer, and because society had grown so dependent upon computers nobody was sure what would happen. To save space and time, computer programmers had adopted the shortcut of coding dates in six digits rather than eight, entering 01/01/00 rather than the more explicit but storage-consuming 01/01/2000. What would happen when the world’s calendars (well, most of them) changed from 1999 to 2000?

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Speculation over the limits of the imminent disaster was, well, rampant. The thought of the world’s temporal odometer turning over to almost all zeros was enough to panic several religious subcatergories, but the prospect of having placed our destruction in the hands of computers due to a misplaced trust in technology was even worse. (Every SF writer ever born had seen this coming multiple times, but did we listen? No!)

Now that I had a child to be responsible for, the shaky nature of the future became a bit more important. Should I be worried? What might actually happen? I mean, I knew programmers and the shortcuts they took. They’d never make space for four bits when two would do, and their documentation left much to be desired. They might have a major sugar crash on the other side of a Jolt-and-Twinkie binge, and then where would we be? Maybe I should be worried. Still, I didn’t think it was necessary to build a bunker, stockpile water, and lay in wait for armageddon.

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By the end of the semester my young son was out at the campus day care and was in at a day care at the entrance of my office park. He was having a great time, but apparently some of the parents were growing concerned about the Year 2000 Bug — or at least Corporate thought we were.

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Perhaps I’m misremembering, but even though I worked for a publishing company that was increasingly dependent upon computers, networks, and a variety of software I don’t remember participating in a single discussion of what our magazine staff should do in case of a technological or literary emergency. Perhaps our editor just assumed we’d be ahead of deadline and carry on.

Lenny Bruce is not afraid.

In the end, it turned out to be a lot of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Did the Y2K conversion kits work? Was there really a big problem to begin with? Were the planes ever really going to fall out of the sky? What I remember as the “aftermath” is that someone’s computer in India wouldn’t boot up after a restart. After that, we seemed to put our collective energies into pretending we’d never been worried about anything in the first place. NOTHING TO SEE HERE! MOVE ALONG! The errors that did crop up proved to be, for the most part, both obvious and inconsequential. And some of the fixes to the problem were rather simple.

Anyway, according to this 2014 article in the Guardian we don’t have a thing to worry about…until 2038. And this year is the perfect time to test for bugs in the system.


Knitwise, I have rearranged much of my yarn stash, organized some knitting needles I found in long-forgotten project bags, and basically done everything I could not to do any actual knitting. But look! Here’s a picture of some knitting I did last week!

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All day it’s been suffocatingly humid and now it’s pouring rain at a rate beyond belief (can there truly be this much water in the world?), and I have so much reading to do. But I think I’d better get knitting before Someone (you know who you are) lodges a complaint with Management.

Published in: on August 20, 2018 at 9:23 pm  Leave a Comment  

1998: Movies and Moms

By 1998 I had left my job at ASNT, divorced, and remarried. With the prospect of children in my future I took a job at a local day care center. It turned out to be a good place to learn about babies, toddlers, preschoolers, school-agers in after-school care, and all their accessories. It was also where I learned to hate a certain purple dinosaur with a burning passion, and I did keep my vow to never buy Luvs pull-ups until that annoying Barney had been replaced by dear, sweet Blue from “Blue’s Clues.”

Barney prohibido

I was a floater for a long time before I wound up in the toddler room. Infants are challenging but haven’t had much time to let their personalities develop, and preschoolers reflect greatly on their parents (when they’re not ratting them out), but toddlers are right there in the middle, just starting to be themselves. Sydney has probably stopped biting everyone by now; on the other hand, I am utterly certain that Tyler is now an engineer of some sort. It blows my mind that each of them is probably preparing for their senior year in college right now.

I learned a lot at the day care: that food dye in a two-year-old’s birthday cake will totally stain the table, the chairs, the floor, and the walls. That three-year-olds love to comb your hair with Bristle Blocks, and you probably shouldn’t let them. That four-year-olds, when they can’t fall asleep at naptime, will tell you ANYthing. And that even a five-year-old can have a psychological breakdown so profound that when you break every single day-care regulation to talk him off a [metaphorical] ledge you’ll not be reprimanded. Low-level trauma and frustration was common currency at the day care; I remember one frustrated three-year old in full meltdown being cradled and rocked by the assistant director, who repeated soothingly, “Every day is the same. Every day is the same.”

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At this time in my life I was starting to watch a lot of movies again. My husband and I went out to see “Titanic,” with mixed reactions; I fell for the framing story and the emotional, atmospheric score, while he stated that he would have walked out of the theater if he’d thought I would have followed him. I have to admit that the film’s hero-favoring physics were bad to the point of distraction and I didn’t like either of the young leads. When we left the cinema, we saw marquees for two upcoming films. He was certain that “The Island of Dr. Moreau” would be a hit, but doubted that a spy comedy based on the British swinging 1960s would ever find an audience. I’m not sure if he ever did deign to watch “Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery.” He had standards.

By the end of summer I was pregnant, and our lives gradually began to adjust to the upcoming reality. One bump in the road was the afternoon when I was feeling a bit nauseous and my husband prescribed the home remedy of baking soda and water, without knowing that I had just eaten several sweet pickles. Think back to your high school chemistry class, or perhaps to your fourth-grade volcano experiment, and you’ll know what happened next. We could laugh about it, and it did eliminate the nausea problem entirely.

One sweet thing we did to anticipate the baby’s arrival was to read, aloud, children’s stories to each other at bedtime. We took turns choosing the books. To my surprise, Tales of Beatrix Potter was the clear winner. It was clever, nuanced, and sophisticated. On the other hand, I reluctantly had to admit that Walter Farley’s story The Black Stallion and its many sequences were virtually unreadable out loud. I suspect that the stories still sound just fine in the imagination of any horse-loving child whose mind can invent and give color to flesh out the rest of the story.

Another highlight of this time was meeting a group of other expectant mothers in a place that was unusual at the time: the Internet. A site called ParentsPlace.com hosted a discussion group for mothers with delivery dates in specific months. I found it when researching some minor medical issues, and quickly enjoyed the camaraderie of a diverse group of mothers-to-be of all ages and experiences, from all over the world. Over the years, as the site consolidated the discussion groups and then disappeared, our “March Moms” group migrated to different locations and now exists as a private Facebook group. Not all of the original members are still there, but quite a few of us are still hanging out together, supporting each other in sadness and loss and celebrating (last spring) dozens of high school graduations. Soon there will even be grandbabies. Will we have to change our name to the March Grandmoms?


Knitwise, I haven’t been able to attend my knitting groups in the last couple of weeks because I’ve been busy with other activities. But while on a short vacation recently, my fingers grew restless until I found a pair of needles and a skein of yarn. Soon, yet another example of Stephanie Pearl-McPhee’s One-Row Handspun Scarf began to grow. So far I have knitted about 15 inches of it, and I’m grateful to it for keeping my hands occupied. I’m typing this post on borrowed equipment, but I promise to take and post a picture of the work when I can. (Though if you know me in real life, you have definitely seen this stitch pattern before. I have used it for everything from mitten cuffs to hats, scarves, and an adult-sized blanket.)

In related news, the Wisconsin Sheep and Wool Festival is coming soon to Jefferson, Wisconsin. If you haven’t made your hotel reservation, bring your tent! I’m doing my best to help provide the coffee — more details later.

Published in: on August 13, 2018 at 5:25 pm  Comments (1)