Just get started

A week ago, a town in Wisconsin experienced an unfathomable tragedy. You probably read about it or even watched video footage on the news; I’m not going to recount the details here. It’s not the town I live in now, but it was the town I lived in just over twenty years ago. For a while I lived there with my husband and baby son; for a while longer I lived there with my baby son. I always felt safe. It was the kind of town that was not likely to be in the news unless something incredibly wholesome happened.

While I was living there as part of a little family, my parents came up to visit. I remember watching a parade with my mother, and we were both struck by how pure everything was. The parade theme was Harry Potter, and different downtown stores had rebranded themselves as locations from the books. There were fire trucks and dogs and marching bands, and groups of girls with pom poms, and kids riding bikes that were actually decorated with red, white, and blue streamers. Except for the Harry Potter references, we could have stepped back in time fifty years.

I don’t live there now, but that’s where my congregation is. So two or three times a month I drive back there and lay down new memories over the dusty and sometimes traumatic old ones, rediscovering a simplicity and a comfort that you can find in hundreds of these small (and not so small) Wisconsin towns.

Last week the town held a Christmas parade that ended in unexpected horror. I wasn’t there, but some members of my congregation were participating through other groups to which they belong. Thankfully, none of them were injured. But they quickly checked in on Facebook to let the rest of us know that they were safe. Others organized vigils and wrote prayers. I’ve no doubt that other wrote checks to one or more of the quickly organized fundraisers, visited friends or neighbors in the hospital, prepared meals for affected families, or donated blood.

My first reaction was that I needed to write. For several months I’ve been serving as the editor of the congregation’s monthly newsletter, and I quickly realized that this sad event was going to be my front-page story. I created an email to myself, and I started writing a first draft that I could access from any of my devices.

Writing was a natural way for me to react. To convey information, to sum up, to guide response, came smoothly and instinctively. But it also came instinctively because I’m in the practice of writing every day, whether it’s in the form of a short journal entry or a rather technical email. I seem to take on a new special interest about every six months, but writing is a constant for me. I don’t know what it would feel like to stop writing — or worse, to not be able to write.

The latest special interest, which came to the forefront in the last few days, has been watercolor painting. Recognizing that it would be better if I tried to learn to paint than if I tried to ignore the urge, I spent most of a day watching how-to videos on YouTube and soliciting the opinions of my many artist-friends as to the best paints, brushes, and papers. I checked out several links but didn’t buy anything; this time I’d like to try sauntering around in the vicinity of the rabbit-hole instead of flinging myself (and my debit card) to the depths.

I think I’ll like to be able to paint, after I get over the hurdle of learning the techniques. But I don’t think it will magically turn me into a different person. I don’t think I’ll be a sudden success and shoot to fame and fortune. But I’d like to try, and I’d like to just get started.


Knitwise, last week I cast on for a simple shawl in “holiday” colors — okay; white, red, and green — that I can hang up at work as the new “soft barrier” in my office doorway. I’m using two balls of cotton yarn that’s usually made into dishcloths (or slippers), and I’ve finished knitting up the first ball. A friend is helping me work out the calculations for how many more rows I’ll be able to knit with the second ball of yarn, which will give me a better idea of when to bind off.

The shawl is on a very long circular needle, so it will be tough to take a good picture of it until the work is done and off the needles. But here you go.

front
back

While I’m waiting for the calculations to come in, maybe I could cast on for a hat.

Published in: on November 28, 2021 at 8:36 pm  Leave a Comment  

and fixes on mittens

Perhaps, considering the character of the previous week, it would be best to say as little as possible about it. Let me just note that the full moon is lovely and I’m glad to be on the other side of it. My heart goes out to everyone who experienced fresh trauma last week: you know who you are. Let’s soldier on together, shall we?


This week I’m making plans for what I believe to be my first hosting of Thanksgiving dinner. (That’s code for “we won’t be able to get to Ohio this year” but it sounds so much more grown-up.) The good news is that all my kids will be jammed gathered around my table for dinner. The not-as-good news is that we have to figure out what we want to have on the table, and to prepare it.

Don’t forget the side dishes!

So far our “greatest hits” menu consists of turkey, mashed potatoes, and macaroni and cheese. I suspect that we will probably discover on Thursday that we wish we had more things. It would be nice to do just a bit of time-traveling to find out exactly what we will wish then that we would have done now, then hop back in time to get the ingredients. For now I have to be content with the knowledge that the turkey is now thawing in the refrigerator, and its preparation is proceeding according to the little chart created by the fine people at Butterball. That reminds me, I need to get Marie Callender’s invitation in the mail.


Knitwise, I can say that the Double Rib Toddler Hat is finished in almost every sense of the word. I finished the second earflap, complete with I-cord, last weekend and sewed up all the loose ends on Wednesday. I also found someone with a baby girl in their life who would like to have the hat! I washed the hat today and by the time I publish this post the hat should have gone through at least one gentle cycle in the dryer.

I could wear this all day.

I made some progress on the Stripe Scarf while clearing some old F1 sessions from the DVR last week (not, however, while watching any sessions from this weekend’s inaugural Qatar Grand Prix). I’m into the second skeins for both the blue and the white yarn. I just weighed the remaining yarn on the kitchen scale, and I have three times as much blue yarn as white. You know what that means: blue tassels! But we’ll get there when we get there.

And I did find an old WIP to work on: a set of purple mittens. Well, it will be a set someday. What I had in the Ziploc bag was one mitten with the thumb stitches held on an old paperclip and ready to be picked up and made into a thumb, the rest of the original skein of yarn, the aluminum double-pointed needles I’d used for the first mitten, and the second page of the mitten pattern. It’s not hard to knit a cuff, so I cast on and got started. But a few rounds from the end of the cuff, I noticed that I had misworked a stitch several rounds before. Unfortunately this kind of error won’t “hide” in the ribbing — it will form a hole when the ribbing stretches out, and let cold air through. And having a mitten with a hole in it is almost worse than having no mitten. I have to fix it.

I have a few choices at this point. Method 1: I can un-knit, or tink, all my stitches until I get to the mistake. That would mean undoing more than 500 stitches on double-points, fixing the error, and knitting those 500+ stitches again. Method 2: I could rip out the work I’ve done to this point and start over, paying more attention this time. That would mean casting on again and knitting about 1100 stitches again, but I wouldn’t have to tink each stitch. Method 3: I could drop the stitch in the column where the error is, “run” the stitches down (like a runner in a pair of [knitted] hose), fix the error there, and form the stitches correctly all the way back up with a crochet hook.

I have a preference, but I’d like to know what you suggest. And if you have a Method 4, let me know!

In the meantime, I’ll have to dig around for another portable project that I can work on in waiting rooms. I’d prefer to finish something that I have already started, but if I can’t find anything simple enough I’d be happy to cast on for a grown-up hat. Hats off to you, and have a safe and happy Thanksgiving week.

Published in: on November 21, 2021 at 9:32 pm  Leave a Comment  

Everything that is not David

It’s been a weekend of small epiphanies and gradual progress as I think about everything that I’ll need to do to move into a different and, most likely, smaller house. Saturday morning I was able to visualize what the TV room (which we call the “brick room” because of some brick trim along the outside wall) would look like if I had a loveseat in place instead of the very long futon that’s currently there, flanked by the mid-century side tables I gained after Peter died. Along with a small coffee table, they had been central pieces of furniture in his parents’ house for decades. At the moment they are bedside tables for me, but covered with piles of items and blocking access to the bookcases behind them.

Excited at the thought of getting rid of the metal-framed futon and its lumpy mattress, I went “shopping” right away on Google, Craigslist, and Facebook Marketplace. (While I was looking for sleeper loveseats, I also came across a local listing for a free piano. Alas! This is not the time.)

I found a lot of items for sale that would work for me, but I also realized that I didn’t have to act right now. The futon is long enough to accommodate Youngest when he decides to sleep or nap on it, so it can stick around for the next few years. Monty sleeps on it, too, and he will also sleep on whatever replaces it. Right now I can hold on to the idea of a sleeper loveseat as being part of the living room set of the future, and I don’t have to spend money, sell anything, or drive up to the Wisconsin Dells only to find out that a particular piece of furniture won’t fit into the Forester after all.

So the idea is to plan carefully for the future house and the space that I’ll probably have to work with — and then gradually get rid of everything that doesn’t fit. When I think about it that way, I already have everything that I will need (except for the piano). As the fledglings leave the nest, they’ll be able to take what they need with them — or make now-unnecessary items available for sale or donation.

As usual during these periods of change, everything in the house tends to look much, much worse before it looks any better at all. I moved a cube storage unit around in the brick room so that I could eliminate a cluttered area on the other side of the futon, and I brought out the coffee table to the middle of the room. (Monty, down.) If we don’t break our legs on it while moving through the room as it sits in the center of the traffic pattern, I will count that as a win. I have to have a win because I still don’t have room to move the side tables to the brick room.

And now the dining room table, already covered with mugs and canning jars full of pens and markers from when I cleared off one of the writing-desks a while couple of months ago, now bears a collection of six vintage Apple keyboards (and three mice) that were on the ladder-shelf I moved out of the way so that the cube unit could move. (No one was eating at this table anyway.) The ladder shelf, broken down into top and bottom pieces, is in Secondborn’s room now, blocking virtually anything I would want or need to do in that room. That is, it’s blocking everything until I figure out where to put it. (Do you have any suggestions?)

The computers that go with these vintage keyboards are scattered all over the house — two in the library, three in the dining room, one or two in the Boys’ Room, and a few in the garage. There are also a few Mac laptops around. What I’ll do with them, I’m not sure yet. Perhaps I’ll set up a 1990s-era computer lab in my basement of the future. I may have an HP DeskJet tucked away somewhere, and I’m sure that I have all the cables to set up a network. Floppy disk? Zip disk? No problem! We can even use a modem to provide an Internet connection, as long as you don’t need to surf faster than 1200 baud.

This is actually part of the Mac lab at Microsoft, photographed in 2006.

One small bit of progress, back here in the 2020s: I moved the dead TV from the formerly burdened coffee table to the garage. It’s been hanging out in the brick room ever since it was replaced in May even though it didn’t work. With the new Best Buy membership I’ll be able to schedule it for free donation the next time I go to the store. If I can let go of one thing a week, I should be ready to move by the time I turn 200.


Knitwise, I now find myself completing the final portions of the Toddler Hat. Last Wednesday I finished the cap decreases, seamed the crown, and then picked up the stitches for the first earflap and knitted about one-third of the length before the decreases. This morning I knitted the rest of the flap, which ends in eight inches of I-cord. This afternoon, after a few minutes of pondering exactly where the second earflap should be located, I decided to place it at an equal distance on the other side of the back center stitch. The pattern wasn’t terribly helpful — its exact words were “make the ear flap on the other side” — but this should be the right place. If it doesn’t look quite right, it’s a relatively small section to rip out and redo.

Inside out and upside down.
With ribbing lowered.
With ribbing flipped up for extra thickness.

The cold winds have come now, and though flurries fill the air from time to time nothing has yet stuck to the ground. Everyone seems to sense that it’s going to be much, much colder this winter. After I finish and gift the Toddler Hat, I think I’ll look for another cold-weather WIP to finish, and cast on for a soft, snuggly blanket.

Published in: on November 14, 2021 at 4:28 pm  Leave a Comment  

Housepeeking

This weekend I took my first tiny steps towards buying my own home in the next few years. Over the last year, while others were checking out houses on Zillow, I was visiting realtor.com every day and checking out the house prices in my county and some nearby areas. I ruled out some towns and saw some amazing houses and looked inside some houses I will never want to see again. Eventually, however, I identified a specific neighborhood that I’d like to live in someday. The only problem is that the people who live there don’t sell their houses.

And the market last year was not only crazy, but you couldn’t schedule an open house. By the time I saw an interesting house and contacted a realtor about it, it had three bids and was already in contingency. Because I wasn’t in the market to buy right away, I couldn’t get in to look a property before it was snapped up. (I gave myself a lot of Google Street View tours instead.)

On Saturday, though, I saw a listing for a house in the neighborhood, and in my price range. The house itself didn’t have all of the features I wanted, and it was rather small, but I thought that it might be time to start looking at properties in the neighborhood. So, after going back and forth about it — and making a sketch of the house’s floor plan based on the posted photos — I clicked on a button to indicate that I’d like to schedule a tour of the house. Because I was already planning to attend an event a few blocks away from the house, I chose “Sunday afternoon” as my time of interest.

Hmm, maybe I’ll live upstairs instead.

First, I received a text message asking when I could chat about a time to see the house. Funny, I thought, this is a chat. Do they mean a voice chat? I texted back two more times but didn’t receive a response. Maybe it’s a bot.

I was working at the computer on Sunday morning when I noticed that I’d gotten a call — with a one-second silent voicemail — from the same number as Saturday evening’s text. Here we go. Took a deep breath, called the number back, and was soon speaking with a website employee who was clearly working from home. She asked a few questions and connected me with a buyer’s agent who would be able to show me the house.

The buyer’s agent was clearly not enthused about the prospect of driving to another county to show a relatively inexpensive old house to someone who didn’t plan to be an active buyer for three more years. He did let me know that he had dozens of contacts (I think he said eighty, which would be quite a few dozen) and he would get them moving to find someone who could show me the house, though he personally wouldn’t be able to do it.

I thought this over, too. The house was listed by a local agency. Instead of making someone drive all the way over here for a sale they definitely weren’t going to get, why couldn’t I just contact the local people and ask them to show me the house? After all, in a few years, they would be in the best position to show me the house I wanted.

So that’s what I did. After going to the artists’ reception with Holly and Theo, I drove over to the house and got the full tour — top to bottom, inside and out. And although it was clear to both of us that this particular house wouldn’t be right for me, the agent and I hit it off. Now she has an idea of what I’m looking for and can get me information that won’t be on the websites. I can keep saving money for the down payment, planning for what I’ll want in my empty nest, and getting rid of all the extra things I won’t want to move. (Do you need any things? Let me know. I probably have them here.)

Shucks, I forgot to tell her about the piano. Maybe next time.


Knitwise, I did the first few decrease rounds on the Toddler Hat. These rounds are done in the odd-numbered rows, followed by plain knitting in the even-numbered rows. After a few more paired rounds in this manner, the decreases will be on every round and I’ll need to switch to double-pointed needles (because there will be so few stitches left) to make it to the top of the crown. Then it will be time to make the ear flaps. I’ll take more pictures by that point so you can see what I’m talking about.

I watched all of the Mexican Grand Prix sessions that I could (I still have free practice 2 left for viewing), but I forgot to bring out my knitting. Maybe next weekend, for Brazil, I will work on the Striped Scarf.

Published in: on November 7, 2021 at 11:29 pm  Leave a Comment  

Boo, who?

October is a month of commemoration for me, starting with my mother’s birthday, my late ex-husband’s [would have been] 65th birthday, and the first anniversary of the passing of my father. It culminates in a holiday in which I no longer participate and, frankly, barely acknowledge: Halloween.

I have few Halloween memories of my own. I remember dressing up one year as an elephant in a costume my mother made with cardboard, paper, and paint; the next year, I was a store-bought Snoopy to my younger brother’s Charlie Brown. Most of my memories have to do with dividing up the candy, and swapping Bit O’ Honeys for Smarties if I could get away with it. But I do recall participating in the Halloween parade my elementary school held every year, and seeing my costumed classmates scattered across the playground.

Someone’s about to get a rock.

As I mentioned in a post from 2018, my family moved the summer I turned ten. We lived in an old farmhouse that was not only down the road from a vast subdivision, but far back from the road itself. Nobody could visit easily or accidentally. And certainly no one was going to stop by and go trick or treating at our house. Not to worry — my class was having its own Halloween party at school, and Mom was one of the room mothers. But then my brother came down with a mild case of the chicken pox, and then I caught it from him near the end of October. No school for me, and no Halloween party. (Mom got to go.) I spent a week sleeping on the couch, alternating between feeling miserable and reading My Friend Flicka — and trying not to touch my face.

That year marked the end of dressing up and trick-or-treating for a long time. After college I did work at a couple of jobs where the tradition was to wear a costume on Halloween, and that was fun. One year I dressed as an Army pilot and was convincing enough to be asked to leave the building. (A few years later, with some updates, I became Amelia Earhart and really startled the lady working the drive-through at Wendy’s.)

I’m sure I looked just like this.

I lived in a condo community for a few years, and not very many kids rang the doorbell there, either. One time I decided to hand out individual bags of homemade popcorn, only to see later that the kids had dumped it out in the street. I can’t say that I blame them; I think we were all disappointed that year.

After I became a mother, there were ten or twelve years of dressing up my kids and walking with them through various neighborhoods, sometimes using the same plastic bucket I had carried as a kid. On one spectacular year, the three kids and I went as the Incredibles (I was pregnant with the fourth). But Halloweens in Wisconsin can be rainy, chilly, or downright cold, and it’s smart to design a costume that still makes sense if you have to wear a parka. One year I stumbled around the neighborhood with a shivering little cowboy, carrying him home in tears after he stumbled on a crumbling step in the dark.

Long sleeves, boots, and gloves. Check!

We then moved to our current house, which is just out of walking distance for any trick-or-treaters in the nearby village. We carved pumpkins and set them out for a year or two, but no one ever came and rang the doorbell. I did walk around with my younger kids when they made the rounds with their classmates in the bigger town ten miles away, but that only lasted a couple of years before they started to “age out.” And soon they were at their dad’s house to trick or treat as teens, and my Halloweens became quieter still.

Ten years ago, my ex-husband mentioned in the opening paragraph passed away suddenly, just as school began in the fall. That year in October, after sorting his possessions, writing his obituary, and planning his funeral, I remembered him on his birthday, still in shock. One day I drove to campus and saw a house that had an open casket in its yard as a Halloween decoration. It was too much for me, and I was done. I don’t think I drove down that street in October for the next two years.

Recently I have been learning about Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. It seems strange to me to want to be so chummy, so social with death and skeletons and the dead. But it would be good for me to have a better relationship with death and the dead around this time of year, when we feel our losses the more acutely and prepare to bundle ourselves against our memories and the coming cold.


Knitwise, I’ve added some stripes to the Simple Scarf this week. I have also given away some knitting needles that I was never going to use. And yesterday I looked up the second page of the Toddler Hat pattern and wrote out, row by row, the instructions for the cap decrease. I’m past the age where I can keep all of that information in my head. (Why didn’t I just pull the pattern out of the project bag? Because I left it at work, cf. “past the age,” earlier.)

But I think the best knitting I did last week was when I realized that the people who could come to the session were available at different times. I sat with L as she knitted and relaxed; I ate my lunch when L was gone and B had sent her regrets, and I sat down and knitted some more when P was available. Sometimes it’s not about the community as much as it is about the individuals, and I was glad to have the time to sit and knit separately when we weren’t able to do it as a larger group. And there’s always next week.

Published in: on October 31, 2021 at 8:15 pm  Leave a Comment  

A little squirrelly

This weekend I was chatting with a friend, and after they suggested the possibility — with deliberate ambiguity — of a squirrel psychiatrist, we started thinking about other animals that might serve in humans’ occupational roles. Sort of like “Dogs With Jobs,” but for any animal.

I’ve often described my Welsh Terrier, Monty, as being like a mall cop. He likes to patrol, and he’s a bit suspicious of you if you’re doing anything out of the ordinary. It can make our walks very interesting depending on how he defines “ordinary,” as his definition does not seem to be consistent from one day to the next. And certainly some breeds of dogs seem to easily slot into human jobs: German Shepherds and Rottweilers as police officers, Border Collies as teachers, and bloodhounds as detectives. We’ve probably all seen Disney movies that either reinforced these stereotypes or created them in the first place.

We also tend to think of big or slow animals as either calm or lazy (pandas, bears, hippos), and small or fast animals as anxious or high-strung (squirrels, chipmunks, and Chihuahuas). Animated characters become more memorable when they play against these types, and sometimes they become more frightening: imagine a frenetic elephant or a meditatively calm cheetah, focused on its prey while chasing it at 60 miles an hour.

But what if, asked my friend, the animals were watching us and thinking about what roles we might play in their social structures?

Cats often seem to perceive us as poor hunters, which is why they keep bringing us mice and demonstrating proper stalking and pouncing technique, for all the good it does. And we’d probably like to think that dogs only see us as angels and saviors, or the respected leader of their two-member pack. (It’s probably a good thing they can’t speak our language.)

Do small animals (like mice, for example) think of us in any way other than as impossibly tall monsters? And to animals that are larger than we are, are we anything besides dangers or pests? Somewhere along this continuum, often in the middle, are the animals that seem to be able to make a connection with us on some level: the pet that senses when we’re sick or sad and cuddles up with us; the wild animal that shows gratitude after being freed from a trap; the whale or dolphin that swims beside our boat for miles.

It was at this point that I started Googling various animals. To mix a metaphor, I went down a long rabbit-hole about American Crows. The conclusion I drew after my reading is that I’d really, really like to train up a crow army that would keep me company in my yard, and protect me from intruders, and sense when I was hurt or in danger. They’d only do such things if they liked me and trusted me, and to build that trust I would have to learn to think a bit like a crow. Does that imply that they’d need to think a bit like a human to see any benefits for them in the relationship? And do those benefits exist beyond our provision of food and water? Would we actually be able to satisfy a wild animal’s social or emotional needs? Or would some animals just be able to give us the impression that we had done so? Perhaps simply demonstrating that we are a non-threat is enough to satisfy a certain need for safety and allow them to relax their constant vigilance.

I think my favorite stories have always been about animals and people who intersected and made important connections. Between reading E. B. White’s books Charlotte’s Web, The Trumpet of the Swan, and Stuart Little and watching a fair number of Disney movies, I was almost disappointed not to have bonded with a wild animal friend by the time I was ten. On my walks through the woods and my long bike rides in the countryside, I did everything I could to reassure the animals that they could trust me and need not fear me.

The books I read these days seem to contain fewer talking animals and intuitive animal companions than they used to, but I do spend a fair amount of time wondering what my dog is thinking and how much he can understand. He seems most satisfied when all my kids are in the house for the weekend, but can he count? I watch the animals in and around my yard and think about their behaviors and routines. Do they modify their behavior based on my routines, and change it when I do something unexpected? And I think about the roles that pets and wild animals play, and will play, in the stories I write and the tales that I tell.


Knitwise, the mice in the castle haven’t been helping me with my projects at all. (Lazy selfish vermin.) I have had to make my own progress on the One-Row Handspun Scarf and the Simple Stripe Scarf. Last week I picked up the Toddler Hat and realized that I needed to write out a row-by-row account of the decreases for the crown, so I set it down again. Then I picked up a sock project and realized that I needed to start the decreases for the toe, so I set it down again. It’s not social knitting if you can’t knit and talk at the same time, so these projects will have to go forward without the distraction of socialization. If that doesn’t work, I’ll need to find a simpler work-in-progress to complete — or start a new mindless project.

Published in: on October 24, 2021 at 9:31 pm  Leave a Comment  

Bookish

I’m still sailing on the slow boat to wherever, and I must admit that I can see little gains in every direction. Let’s be clear: I haven’t actually finished anything, but I have kept a lot of things going. And being calm rather than racing from one crisis to the next has left me with (in some cases) the energy to tackle tasks that have waited for a while to receive my attention.

I have been able to keep up with the daily and weekly reading that I’m doing. In the evenings, I make a cup of tea and relax; if I have time, I read a short story from a collection I’ve had on the shelf for a while. Just after I bought the book, I read two stories right away and then didn’t get back to it for a few months. Now, after a couple of weeks, I’m almost halfway through the book. And when I finish the book — brace yourself for the truly radical part — I’m going to pass it on to someone else. I bought this book through an online thrifting community, and after I have read it I’m going to sell it to someone else, at the same price I paid.

Another online community made me aware of someone who was desperately looking for several books I already owned – books that I had either already read, or which were just sitting on my shelves growing dusty. We came to an agreement, and I sent them a few packages of books. They reimbursed me for the shipping and promised to pay the favor forward to the next person who needed the books. So one of my shelves got a bit of elbow room, so to speak, and I felt a bit lighter myself, having done the good deed.

That does not mean that I didn’t buy any more books in the past week. I still have a personal library that will require a few more lifetimes to get through. The important thing here is that I gave up some books and I made time to read in a few others. It’s still progress, I swear. I hope.

Authors’ last names starting with A…

This weekend has been that Perfect Wisconsin Weekend, otherwise known as the “last good weekend.” Sunny weather, blue skies, the temperature crisp but not cold. My neighbors mowed their lawns for what they hoped might be the last time until next spring. Some people went Up North to go camping. I moved bicycles from the garage to the basement and moved the charcoal grill and the folding chairs from the deck to the garage, then Eldest and I put plastic over the house’s three west-facing windows. It doesn’t seem like a lot of work, but it was enough to make me sore all over today and want to curl up with a book and a mug of tea, so that’s what I did. Come to think of it, that would be a pretty good way to mark the transition from summer to fall, whether or not I had done any manual labor. I should put that on my calendar for next year.

My favorite room in the Next House.

The rest of the tasks seem hardly worth mentioning. Hang up my clothes. Launder the winter blankets. Organize a few more of my compact discs. Group some books together so they’ll be better organized when shelf space opens up. Watch some old F1 sessions so that I can delete them from the DVR. Sweep the kitchen floor. Move some outgrown clothes into a bag for Goodwill. Fill the gas tank. Chop wood, carry water….


I’ve also been doing some knitting. The Toddler Hat has gotten to the point where I need to put in stitch markers and start decreasing for the cap; after that’s done I will need to knit the earflaps. The Simple Striped Scarf has almost used up the first ball of blue yarn, so I’m getting ready to attach the second ball of blue yarn.

One washer-width, and growing.

The One-Row Handspun Scarf waits its turn, which might take a while because of the uncomfortable 14-inch aluminum needles I’m using for it. My hands hurt more often these days, and I’d like to move the project to circulars — but I might not do it because that could change my gauge. I’ll probably give the scarf away, and I don’t want anyone to be stuck with a scarf that gets wonky a third of the way through. I have many, many other knitting projects that I want to finish, but I think that I’ll finish one of these projects before I start working on another one.

Nothing to write home about

This week was almost remarkable for its unremarkability. The high school didn’t call me to pick anyone up. Nobody was sick. There was no crisis. I didn’t have to race to the vet, the doctor, the therapist, or the mechanic. I met a friend for lunch and I helped out with a weekend field trip. I knitted on two projects, I kept up with my reading, I stayed on track to catch up on my favorite podcast, I drank my water and my herbal teas, and I got plenty of sleep.

None of this seems interesting enough to write about. The only mystery might be how long I can keep going when everything seems calm and unexciting. I’m going back to my first on-campus yoga session in a year and a half — is that thrilling enough to hold anyone’s attention? To be honest, my balance can be poor, and I might fall over. But I will probably just get up and try again. How pedestrian.

But life isn’t (usually) a blockbuster movie or a high-stakes immersive video game. It’s probably supposed to be calm most of the time and only have a few critical moments. When things are constantly exciting it’s probably because something traumatic happened, and that’s not the kind of excitement you want. It’s actually the kind of excitement that makes it difficult to deal with things that are…well, calm.

Here is a calm, peaceful tree.

Maybe life is supposed to be about washing up after the meal so the kitchen is clean again, keeping up with the laundry, walking the dog three times a day, and steadily making your way through the books you want to read. Maybe you’re meant to pay all the bills on time, keep your paperwork organized, remember to send birthday cards, and dust even when the room doesn’t look dusty. If plans change, you’re stable enough to be flexible, to be calm under pressure and get the job done anyway.

Maybe if I made such even and steady progress on the day to day tasks, eventually I’d find the time to write a novel, or learn how to play the guitar or the piano, or really learn all those languages that I’m studying. Is it possible to break big goals like that down into crumb-sized pieces that will eventually come back together and form an impressive loaf of…. I think I need a different metaphor.

The trouble with plodding along (in addition to the fact that it feels like plodding) is that it makes you feel as if you’re only marking time until things get exciting again. It’s not that you want anyone to get sick or have a car accident or have to move across the country, but those things do pick up the pace.

On the other hand, the people I know who are regular meditators seem to have stable lives and they seem just fine with getting the everyday stuff done. One of them recently shared with his Facebook friends the pictures of his garden, his homemade bread, his re-blooming orchids, and his cross-country trip with his wife. To him, these are just things he does. There is a sense of peace and calm associated with his sharing, as if he’s saying, “These are some things I did this week, and people seem to like seeing pictures of these things. So here are pictures.” He’s not bragging, fishing for compliments, or looking for attention. His Facebook page is a little oasis that comes with no strings attached.

Oasis.

Facebook could use a few more oases. It has enough people looking for attention, stirring up drama, sharing shocking (but unattributed) news, bragging about their kids, complaining about their neighbors, and “vaguebooking.” I suspect that when Facebook went offline for a few hours last week, many of us were just relieved that we had a reason to step away and not try to keep up with everyone else for a while. And we found out that we still had enough to do, without Facebook.

If I check off everything on my task list for the day, that should be exciting enough. If it isn’t, I can reflect on how it feels to be calmly satisfied and I can divert the drama to the novel.


Knitwise, I did work on two different projects last week. I got a few more rounds done on the Toddler Hat and knitted several more stripes on the striped garter stitch scarf. I haven’t been counting rounds or rows other than making sure that I switch to Color A or Color B at the appropriate time. I’m not racing myself or anyone else, just knitting to pass the time when I have that kind of time. I now have three knitting projects at the office and approximately a billion at home (who’s counting?). I’ll keep making steady progress as I can, and I promise to take a picture when I finish something.

Little brother

I’m getting used to the new computer, having just brought myself to the forefront of 2015 Apple technology. The new iMac does, however, link up with my iPhone and iPad and Bluetooth keyboard and goodness knows what else, so it’s taking its place as the center of my Apple hub.

It’s Italian!

The iMacs have turned out to be not identical twins but fraternal twins; more realistically, they’re siblings and one is definitely older and bulkier than the other. I was stumped for names until I did a Google search for “literary siblings.” Peter and Edmund popped up from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and the names just felt right. Peter’s computer can be renamed Peter without much editing at all, and I’ve always felt a certain sympathy for Edmund’s character as he undergoes after he has undergone his transformation of character from a self-centered and greedy boy into a faithful, supportive friend and companion. (I feel a bit more for Eustace Scrubb in Voyage of the Dawn Treader, but he was an only child.)

Peter and Edmund Pevensie.

This afternoon I’ve been entering and changing passwords, moving folders, and renaming computers and hard drives. I’ve rearranged the desk where I write on the computer, and I’m in the process of clearing off the other desk — the desks are arranged back to back — so that I can use it for my handwritten work and correspondence.

Those particular parts of the room are starting to look quite nice. Youngest came into the dining room a few hours ago, before the new computer was here, and commented on how good everything looked. He was completely ignoring the dining room table, which was covered with books, jars of pens and pencils, assorted office supplies, yarn projects, extra keyboards, did I mention books, and stray pieces of paperwork. That’s okay; I was ignoring it, too.

The new computer came with Edmund brought with himself a particularly cheap and tacky Windows keyboard, at which all the Sons have rolled their eyes. We’ll keep it — and the matching wireless mouse — in reserve in case everything else breaks or fills up with cracker crumbs. My plan is to use the Qwerkywriter as my main keyboard and to pair it with the iPad when I want to write somewhere else. Eventually I might even clean out the drawer of this desk — it’s stuffed with items barely used by MiddleSon and Youngest when they briefly used this spot several years ago — but let’s not be too hasty.

Although I feel good about this week in retrospect, it was a frustrating one in the day-by-day and hour-to-hour tasks. I spent a lot of time leaving work and leaving home to be The Mom for sick kids, not-really-sick kids, forgetful kids, and a dog who just needed a quick trip to the vet for some maintenance grooming. To give an indication of how the week went, the vet’s exam room ended up looking like a murder scene after a couple of the nails were clipped a bit too close to the quick. That evening, when Monty lay serenely on my bed, I wanted to take a picture to show to the vet: Yes, he’s capable of relaxing. But if there was ever a week when the Sons needed their Mom to come to the rescue, it was this week. I’m glad that I was able to do it.

In the end, though, I made the edits and published the newsletter. I did my daily and weekly readings. I organized the testing room. I got the Sons to school and from school and to the doctor and from the game and from the soccer practice, and I almost got the jersey and the socks to the game on time. (It’s not my fault that they started the game early.) I paid the rent and did the laundry and picked up the computer. I attended the bar mitzvah (mazel tov!) and went book-shopping for a new online acquaintance whose bookshelves aren’t as full as mine. I drank more water, went to see the physical therapist, took my vitamins, cut back on coffee, and ate a few healthier meals. I drank a lot more tea. I found a wonderful new market to shop at, though it’s a bit out of the way. I listened to a lot of episodes of a podcast I’m trying to catch up on; I should be current in early November if I can keep up the two-episodes-a-day pace.

Knitwise, I forgot to take my toddler-hat project with me to work, so on Wooly Wednesday I worked on the One-Row Handspun Scarf project while I chatted with another knitter. The toddler hat is the project I ran a poll about several blog posts ago. In the end I decided to knit the top of the hat in stockinette stripes, but I need good light to be able to see the difference between the pale pink yarn and the white portions of the multicolor yarn. The light at home is not so good, so I’ll need to work on it on weekend mornings and afternoons or keep the project at work. So far, so good, but I don’t want to push my luck and make a mistake that I’ll have to tink back.

Is Edmund my reward for making it through this week? Perhaps. I really can’t remember the last time I purchased my own Mac instead of using a hand-me-down, and it does feel good to call this one my own.

Temporarily Macless

Well, this is odd. Yesterday morning I dropped off my 2009 iMac and directed the Geek Squad to transfer its contents to my new-to-me 2015 iMac which sat, still packed in a taped-up box, on their store pick-up shelf. (I haven’t even seen the new computer, but since it should be identical to the old one, I suppose that I’m not missing much.) They’re in the process of doing that work, which should only take a couple of days. However, because I’ll want to get the Grand Tour of the new (so to speak) machine and where my files have been placed on it, I probably won’t be able to pick it up until next Sunday.

This might be the longest time that I’ve been without a computer since before I bought my first Mac in 1987. On the other hand, I’m composing this post on my iPad via my Bluetooth Qwerkywriter keyboard, I’m checking my email on my iPhone, and I’m charging up my iTouch Slim watch that counts my steps, alerts me if I get a phone call, or buzzes if I sit in my chair for more than two hours. I also have a PC to use at work and a PC to use at home for my newsletter layout work. So I’m not off the grid in any way.

The empty space on my writing desk is rather shocking. I have now filled it by displaying a compact Mac (an SE dating from 1986) on the computer stand. I couldn’t resist taking a picture of the arrangement with my iPhone and then uploading the image to my Flickr account. [Update: The iPad already had access to the photos I had taken on the iPhone, so I didn’t have to download anything from the Flickr account. I wonder if that’s another paid service that’s now obsolete….]

Before I filled the empty spot, though, I did spend a few minutes sorting through the detritus of obsolete work emails, sticky notes, and receipts that were cluttering up my writing area. Because I’m also in the process of thinking about how to rework the dining room and Secondborn’s deserted bedroom, I found myself thinking about which items really needed to stay where they were and where the other items would go.

I’m also thinking ahead to my eventual move to a new house. If an item isn’t going to make the cut and move with me it would be better to get rid of it now, when I have time to find some things a proper home instead of just tossing them out. Try as I might, though, I’m not able to trick myself into thinking of the current house as the new house. And I don’t know what my life will look like then, and what I will and won’t need. So for now, everything stays (hooray!) and I’m tripping over everything (boo!) because there isn’t enough space for it all.

The general plan right now is to read the books, then return them to the library, sell them, or give them away. Knit up the yarn and finish the projects, then give the items away. Look at what I’ve [literally] stumbled over, and decide whether or not it needs to stay. Of course, these are not quick processes. But I’ve been making some steady progress with books lately, and I choose to be encouraged by that.

Knitwise, I actually cast on for a project a few days ago. I couldn’t find a WIP that I was in a position to finish, but I found enough leftover yarn in two colors that I should be able to make a simple scarf. After coming up with some elaborate ideas for transitioning between the two colors (and back again), I gave myself a talking to and cast on 26 stitches for a very simple striped scarf. It’s just two ridges of white garter stitch alternating with two ridges of denim blue garter stitch, with the colors carried along the side. While I watched free practice sessions for the Russian Grand Prix I completed 15 stripes.

I also have the One-Row Handspun patterned scarf in progress at work, and I can work on that during the newly designated “Wooly Wednesdays.” The yarny student organization I initiated a few years ago went dormant during the pandemic, and a faculty member who works in my building is joining me to brainstorm about how to get the club relaunched by Fall 2022. Of course, we knit while we brainstorm.

Maybe if I incorporate that quieter time for knitting while I’m on campus and see some progress there, I’ll be better able to set aside time to do the same at home as well. It might also provide a bit of motivation for me to clear out that empty nest and spend some peaceful time there before the next bird takes it over.

While composing this post I received text messages and emails letting me know that my “new” computer was ready for pickup. I used an app on my iPhone to schedule my pickup appointment and consultation for next Sunday afternoon. That will give me more time to move things around, make some new spaces, and be ready to set up the new computer in a way that will make it feel more like…mine.

It still doesn’t have a name. Like a new pet or a new car, it may have to earn the right name somehow.