1984: European Vacation

In the summer of 1984, after many months devoted to the completion of paperwork, the applications for passports, the purchase of traveler’s checks, and the sale of many thousands of suckers, candy bars, and assorted marketable treats, several students from my high school’s French and Spanish classes embarked on a ten-day trip to Europe. We flew from Columbus to New York, and then to Madrid and Paris before returning via Brussels.

European Vacation

The movie came out in 1985; clearly we were ahead of our time.

We spent so much time preparing for this trip that I’m astonished at how little I remember of packing, driving, and even most of the flying — the important part was the Being There. I do remember drawing each piece of my cleverly planned mix-and-match wardrobe that would stretch to the ten days of the trip. Nevertheless, it still seemed to take up most of the World’s Largest Samsonite, a monstrous tan (lockable!) hard-sided suitcase with wheels and a snap-in handle that was part of a four-piece set given as a Christmas present from my grandmother. (Deciding to open my largest gift on Christmas Eve was rather anticlimactic in 1983, as much as I needed the luggage.)

vintage-samsonite-silhouette-brown-suitcase-hardcase-and-train-case-with-keys

The smaller piece was called a “train case.”

The most memorable moment of my first day in Spain was when I didn’t quite make it through a too-quickly-revolving door. My arm was caught between the spinning door and the frame, and it throbbed during our walking tour of Madrid. I managed to take a few pictures with my Instamatic as our teacher/chaperone checked on me from time to time. She finally told me that if it didn’t look better in the morning I would have to visit a Madrid hospital to be examined, to see if my arm was broken. Perhaps it was my fear of having inadequate language skills to manage a trip to el hospital Madrileño, but I woke the next morning with no pain whatsoever in my arm, and I never even developed a bruise at the site.

Miguel-de-Cervantes

Our group was arranged into smaller subgroups so that French students were always accompanied by Spanish students, so that in each country we would be able to translate for each other. This worked out quite well in my own experience. I remember practicing several helpful phrases before the trip, some of which we used successfully:

Where is the bathroom?

Can I take pictures in here?

How much does it cost?

One Coca-Cola, please.

The culinary adventure of Madrid was a platter of paella that we all sampled. I remember that it contained rice, mussels, shrimp, many other items, and some tasty bits of meat that looked like small drumsticks. It was delicious, and it took me a day or two to realize that the drumettes were actually rabbit, not chicken. I didn’t tell anyone.

Madrid was a great place for us to overcome as much of our culture shock as possible. The Metro was easy to navigate, and teenagers who might not have ventured outside of Ohio soon were able to buy a subway ticket, hop on a car, and wander a new city on the other side of the world. During a memorable trip to the Plaza Mayor, one of our party decided that a leather bullwhip would make a perfect souvenir; we spent that evening taking turns trying to make the whip crack in the confines of someone’s hotel room. (When we made a day trip to Toledo, someone else bought a sword to take home. It was definitely a different time.)

Bullfighting Ring

Before we left Madrid, most of our group attended a bullfight. Regardless of how one might feel about the ethics of bullfighting, it’s a unique cultural experience and I don’t regret attending it; nerdy me had prepared for travel by reading James Michener’s Iberia and parts of Ernest Hemingway’s Death in the Afternoon. To me, bullfighting is a poetic art form that feeds the poor after each performance. Two of my closest friends felt differently and opted to spend the afternoon exploring El Parque de Buen Retiro, a stunning 346-acre park which no one else was able to see; life is full of choices.

Retiro Park

We travelled from Madrid to Paris by overnight train; I didn’t fully understand our chaperones’ instructions to purchase a meal before we boarded the train, since nothing would be available until we disembarked. I couldn’t sleep in the topmost bunk of our train compartment, just as I hadn’t been able to sleep during the transatlantic flight, and when we arrived in Paris I felt disoriented and half starved. Our first meal was at an elegant restaurant, and all I remember was poking at a beautiful salad composed of pieces too small for me to spear with a fork. Eventually I found something I could eat — probably a continental breakfast with those yummy croissants. And one of the culinary highlights of the entire trip was a meal at a restaurant just off the Champs-Elysées, where courses of delicious food were capped off with a simple dish of chocolate ice cream that truly tasted like chocolate.

Sacre Coeur

Sacré Coeur, Paris, France.

In Paris we shopped, toured the Louvre, bought watercolors and postcards in shops next to the Seine, looked in vain for Jim Morrison’s grave in Montemarte (hint: it’s in Pere Lachaise), had our choice of visiting Sacre Coeur or the Eiffel Tower (I chose Sacre Coeur), saw Notre Dame through a web of scaffolding as it was being renovated, saw the spectacular stained glass windows of St.-Chapelle, and had our choice of visiting Napoleon’s Tomb or the Eiffel Tower (I chose Napoleon’s Tomb and was the only one on the trip who didn’t climb the Eiffel Tower).

Sainte-Chapelle-carre

Sainte-Chapelle, Paris, France.

In the end, we flew from Brussels to New York, or was it Pittsburgh?, before landing again in Columbus. Unlike some of the other students on the trip, I had not sneaked off for American fast food while I was overseas. After my parents picked me up, I convinced myself that what I really, really wanted was a Big Mac. At some McDonald’s somewhere between the airport and our house I placed my order and tried to figure out how much my purchase was worth in American money; my brain had been doing currency conversions for almost two weeks and didn’t understand that a dollar was just a dollar again. What did it all mean, anyway? I was confused, exhausted, and jet-lagged. I didn’t even eat the Big Mac.


Knitwise, I have done somewhat less than the minimum daily required amount of knitting to make progress on the simple grey triangle shawl; it’s not going to knit itself, so I had better find more knitting occasions and start plugging away. Meanwhile, I did cast on for a project I can keep at the office. It’s a cotton washcloth which, by definition, can’t possibly go wrong. Nevertheless, I’m not creating the pattern I intended to make with the stitches that I am using. I could frog it and start over, I could tink it back a bit and write down what I’ve done so far, or I could leave it in its project bag and wait for a third solution to present itself. So far I seem to have chosen Option C.

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Published in: on May 7, 2018 at 10:25 pm  Leave a Comment  

1982: The Book Behind the Desk

The years run together, and much of what I remember from high school is not exactly what my teachers would have hoped for. I was finishing my freshman year and beginning my sophomore year. I experienced my second year of “this one time, at band camp” as we returned to Proctor (of Proctor & Gamble) Farms somewhere south of Mt. Sterling during the hottest week of August.  (It wouldn’t be band camp if you didn’t suffer somehow; my section didn’t haze anyone but others did; my best friend nearly broke his toe on a metal bed frame, and several people regretted not taking water breaks during the post-lunch practice.)

Algebra I turned into Geometry, Life Science turned into Biology, and English 9 turned into, well, English 10. I remember them more for the stories within them than for the content they tried to impart. Algebra I was more filled with story than you might think, as James Clavell’s epic novel Shogun, later a miniseries starring Richard Chamberlain, came out in paperback that year — 1,012 pages of paperback. I’m sure I wasn’t fooling Mr. Mudd when I read that book every chance I had. Each day in class I hoped that he would start on my side of the room when he asked us to answer the odd-numbered questions from the book; that way I would be number 3 or 5 (easy problems) rather than number 35 or 37 (much more difficult problems, which I would have to work much harder to solve). I was obsessed with the adventures of Anjin-San, and every minute spent working out algebra problems was a minute away from making it through the longest novel I had ever read. I put off my math homework until the afternoon bus ride, when I could ask my friend Ben for help with any algebra concept I might have missed while I was busy reading about feudal Japan. We were halfway through the school year when it finally sunk in that his class was using the new textbook and mine the old; he was tutoring me in algebra without access to the textbook that I was using. He has gone on to live a happy and creative life, but sometimes I wonder about the math teach he would have made. And in Geometry? I wrote poetry. Nothingtoseeherelet’smoveon.

Shogun

The texts I read in English class were, as far as I remember, the ones I was supposed to read: “Romeo and Juliet” in English 9 and “Julius Caesar,” “Our Town,” and The Great Gatsby in English 10. Why should I read a book in English class when I was already supposed to be reading a book? I probably had my pinky finger in the back of the textbook, though, to read the stories we probably wouldn’t get to that year.

Great Gatsby

Science class was another matter. I associate Life Science with Jane Eyre, which I loved and read over and over, and Biology with Wuthering Heights, which I didn’t enjoy or understand. I thought Catherine and Heathcliff were dysfunctional and insane with their continual brooding and running around on the moors. What the hell was going on there, anyway? Just last week I had a talk about this with a bona fide literature professor, who asserted that anyone who thinks Wuthering Heights is a romance novel needs some serious therapy. (That conversation was so validating.) I did do some science, though; kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, species. So there. I also dissected an earthworm in tenth grade, then petitioned — successfully — to be allowed to submit anatomical drawings of dissected creatures rather than perform the dissections myself.

Jane Eyre  Wuthering Heights

Math, English, and science? Surely I must have taken something else. Oh yes, there was this one time, in band class… where the woodwind section read horror stories. While the band director worked with the trumpet section, we slipped out from behind our sheet music the “Goosebumps” books from R. L. Stein, V.C. Andrews novels (who else was traumatized by Flowers in the Attic?), and Stephen King works that included Pet Sematary, Cujo, and Night Shift. What can I say? The director spent a lot of time with the trumpet section and we spent a lot of time with our books.

StephenKingPetSematary

I didn’t read novels in the art class I took my freshman year: I was too busy disagreeing with my art teacher over what was art and what was nonsense. She wanted me to learn about abstraction and surrealism, and I thought photorealism was the epitome of artistic skill. She tried to inspire my creativity by making me sketch goat skull after goat skull and produce something that wasn’t a goat skull; I just wanted to draw my horses. I plugged away, refusing to try much of anything new, getting mostly B’s on my report card but somehow receiving the Art award at the end of the year.

At home I was now happily surrounded by animals — Boots, the inside cat; Cocoa and Cricket, my horse and my mother’s; calico Katie and her son Perry, the outside cats (the rest of Katie’s litter having been rehomed). My parents had added on to the house and built a third bedroom, so I didn’t have to share my bedroom with my brother any more; I converted one end of my closet into an admittedly claustrophobic writing space and typed up poems and stories on my manual typewriter, including a horror story that was based on calico Katie and ended with the haunting line “poison ivy grows on the cat’s grave.” Yes, I eventually got better. No, I don’t plan to publish it online.


Knitwide, I set the blue-green rectangle aside and cast on for a simple triangle shawl with a skein of tonal grey bouclé. I have two skeins of this donated mystery yarn to work with, and I intend to use up both of them while I make this shawl. It’s simple knitting and will bring someone comfort, which is a good thing to do right now.  There are plenty of projects to start and finish after I’m done with this one. Who knows, perhaps the next project will be a circle.

Published in: on April 23, 2018 at 9:44 pm  Leave a Comment  

1975: Letters

I loved my years at Westgate Elementary. After conquering kindergarten, I spent two years sitting on the younger side of what were called either “split” or “combined” classes made up of children from different grades. Some fluke of demographics had created this circumstance of first/second and second/third grades, membership in which had been framed as a reward for children who could work independently. Not only did I get to listen to everything the older grade was doing on the other side of the room, but sometimes I was picked to do something like read the spelling test words to the older students. I was absorbing everything I could, and my reading level jumped so high that even the double classroom couldn’t contain it. When it was time to join the new reading group, Joe D. and I picked up our workbooks and went down the hall to read with much older kids.

This was also the year of the Carpenters’ remake of “Please Mr. Postman,” when my father swore I would drive him mad with my constant playing of the Number One single on my box of a record player. I probably came pretty close to sending him over the edge. What can I say? I loved the Carpenters and loved the song. #sorrynotsorry

1975 record player

1970s technology is very 1970s.

Third grade was a wonderful time for me, but I combine a lot of my memories with those of fourth grade; the teachers of these grades were new to my school, they were friends who had taught together at a prior school, and I thought they were awesomely cool. I have happy memories of Miss Rood bringing her guitar to school to teach us the song “There’s a Hole in the Bucket,” of a Christmas play where I got to hide behind the curtain and plug in the Christmas tree at a dramatic moment, of a school visit from a painter who worked from photography, of playing kickball and foursquare and dodgeball on the playground, of Miss Bahorek getting married and including some of my classmates in the ceremony, of a school visit from a published author, and of a class trip to the Columbus Zoo to visit Colo, the gorilla we had raised funds to adopt for a time.

Underwood Leader

My beloved Leader.

It was also around this time that my parents gave me a typewriter. Why? And where did they get this one? Who knows? (Was I an eight-year-old who asked for a typewriter? Do I want the answer to that question?) It may have been the best present ever. I have dim memories of whacking away on a mostly-plastic children’s typewriter, probably from Sears, but this was a real typewriter, a manual Underwood Leader from the 1940s. It was the same model E. B. White posed with on the dust jacket of my copy of Trumpet of the Swan; for me, it might as well have been the very specimen. With it came endless opportunities for storytelling, neighborhood journalism, and labeling; with it also came the occupational hazard of never being able to develop into a true touch typist. The keys required such strength for me to strike that hunt-and-peck became hunt-and-pound out of necessity. Over the years I was able to come up to some respectable speeds. To this day, people who have watched me type at full speed have often called it “interesting.”

This was the typewriter on which I retyped Quotable Quotes from Reader’s Digest, composed newspaper copy, and wrote original (and awful!) short stories. After an incident in eighth grade science class (I hand-wrote an eight-page research paper and developed a callus that never left) I was given permission to use my beloved Leader for homework. I used it constantly in high school and took it with me to college, where it finally locked up halfway through a report on every short story in James Joyce’s Dubliners; I switched to a Smith-Corona electronic typewriter somewhere around page 12, and I held my tongue when my Freshman English professor criticized the inconsistent appearance of the final paper.

I set the Leader aside for several years then, writing on the electronic typewriter until I switched to a Macintosh SE in 1987. From there I went through a series of Macintoshes that culminated in a 2009 iMac, a hand-me-down from my late ex-husband, that I’m using today. The fun bit is that I’m actually typing on a vintage-look Bluetooth-enabled keyboard that has a slight family resemblance to my Leader.

QWERKY Keyboard

“Wine for writing, coffee for editing.”

I have purchased a few other vintage typewriters, usually manuals, in recent years. I still own the Leader, and I even own the little spring that I need to install to return it to full functionality. I have also purchased a complete repair manual for my machine; thank you, Internet! I’ve carried the spring around for over a decade now, but I’ll get around to it. A gift like this, you take care of.


Knitwise, I haven’t been doing very much. I knitted on my Olympic cowl but am still a long way from done. In fact, I made an error early in the last round I knitted and now I must un-knit (so to speak) 110 stitches of [Sl1, P1] before I can again make forward progress. I have looked at a few interesting knit and crochet patterns in the past week, but I know that I am forbidden to cast on anything new until I finish a couple of projects which have been waiting (for an unreasonably long time) to be completed. I’ll take a progress shot of the cowl and get going again. It’s a neat pattern but I would like to FINISH IT and move on to something else.

Published in: on March 5, 2018 at 10:57 pm  Comments (3)  

1973: Here, kitty kitty

When I was little, I desperately wanted a dog. My near-neighbor and default best friend, Joe A., had a succession of dogs: an elegant Collie named Princess and her unworthy and hyperactive successor, a Shetland Sheepdog named Kipper. Though Kipper was probably the right size for a small city house, there was unfortunately no flock of sheep for him to herd. Each time the doorbell rang he flung himself into action, barking furiously as he turned quicker and quicker laps on a short track comprising the living room, the dining room, and the kitchen.

I still wanted a dog. I watched Lassie and Rin Tin Tin on TV — so intelligent! such faithful companions! — and continually lobbied for a dog of my own. Of course I was far too young to think about the more practical concerns of where a dog would stay and who would take care of it. I petted Kipper — when I could catch him — and played with my Ohio grandparents’ dog Simon whenever I visited. Simon liked to fetch but he didn’t like to return whatever it was he had been fetching, so I had to go out into the back yard with two tennis balls at a time: one to throw initially, and a second one to throw to trick him into dropping the first one. Fetching sessions continued until the tennis balls were too wet from dog slobber to try to pick them up.

My West Virginia grandparents had a pair of dogs at this time, but since I only visited a few times a year there was not much satisfaction to be gained. Mickey was a scruffy black terrier mix of some sort, and Annie was a Dachshund. Both of them were getting along in years and not terribly fond of playing with a girl whose other source of fun on vacation was skating on the concrete sidewalk on metal strap-on roller skates.

The memories of my childhood are highlighted by encounters with unexpected dogs — the English Bulldog that Joe D. brought to school for show and tell, the Boxer we found in the park and who waited stoically in our back yard until his owner came to pick him up, when he sprang ecstatically to life. Real dogs, cartoon dogs, storybook dogs, movie dogs — they were all fine with me. I read a book called Follow my Leader that not only offered me practical tips for coping with unexpected childhood blindness but also made me wish, for decades, to raise a seeing eye dog for the blind.

But the dog above all dogs, the dog of my heart, was a Collie. I don’t think Joe A.’s dog was as responsible for this desire as much as the ubiquitous Lassie was. If there was a smarter, friendlier, more beautiful companion on earth I couldn’t think of it, and it seemed a great travesty of justice that I could not have a dog when others could. (Come to think of it, this attitude probably led to my great empathy with Fern Arable in Charlotte’s Web, at just the age it should have.)

Somewhere in the midst of this canine adoration, my father came home one day with a pair of kittens in a cardboard box. They had been left outside the hardware store where he used to work. (Did he still work there every once in a while? Dad always had several jobs as a time, and I’m not sure when some left off and others began. However, when he took me with him to Hilltop Hardware, he was clearly familiar to the current owners.) The other abandoned kittens had found homes, and these last two littermates would be ours: Boots, a grey female with four white paws and a white bib, and Bounce, a male orange tabby. Bounce wasn’t ours for long, as he spent too many of his waking hours climbing up the draperies and being generally incorrigible. But Boots was ours for keeps.

One problem with your first pet is that you tend to assume that its qualities are the qualities of all pets. It turns out that Boots was an unusually jealous animal, exacting a calculated revenge for each infraction you committed, such as petting another animal. Revenge usually consisted of her peeing in an inappropriate location, such as under my bed on the hardwood floor. If you followed her rules, she settled into a kind of benevolent queenship. (Hmm. Now that I think about it, perhaps Bounce was framed!)

Oddly enough, Boots and my father didn’t get along well. She slept on my parents’ bed until one morning when she didn’t get up as usual and my father suspected the worst. “Vickie,” he said, “the cat’s dead. Get a bag and I’ll put her in it.” When the bag was brought over she leapt up with a scream and ran out of the room. They didn’t seem to trust each other after that, and for years the only thing I heard my father say about Boots was, “When that cat dies, we’re never getting another.”

Bootses

Boots and a boot. Get it?

Boots occasionally went outside in the back yard, and though she had all her claws she really couldn’t climb trees. If something spooked her she would race up the nearest tree trunk, then look around as if puzzled at how she came to be there. I’d have to go out and unhook her from the tree to bring her down.

She had an epic confrontation in that same back yard. Both sets of next-door neighbors were retired couples, but while the Meginnesses let me come next door to practice on their piano and sit with them to watch the “Lawrence Welk Show,” the Millers were on the grouchy side. Doc Miller surprised us with his acquisition of an English Springer Spaniel, a young purebred whose name was Sonny. I’m sure that as an active child with neighborhood friends I was an annoying neighbor to Doc Miller, but Sonny was insufferable. Every time he was let outside he would race up and down the Millers’ short sidewalk, barking at everything in existence until he was let in again. Usually I would give up first and go inside to get away from him. One afternoon, however, I was in the backyard with Boots while Sonny was out. Boots sat on the sidewalk that ran up the center of the yard, facing the white picket fence that separated her and Sonny as they fell into a staring match. With the tension at its peak, Boots spat at the spaniel, something I never saw her do before or since. Sonny erupted into a fury of barking, lunging ineffectively at the fence while Boots got up and walked to the house with the calm demeanor of a matador.

Boots went on to tolerate a pet goldfish and a pet hermit crab and, after we moved to the country, our own succession of dogs (none of them Collies, alas). But they were outside dogs, and she ruled the interior. She settled into being jealous only of other cats to which we paid attention, and enjoyed the rare indulgence of a sudden romp down the hallway that recalled her more active kittenhood. When she wasn’t dozing in a sunbeam, or surviving the winter’s cold by seating herself directly over the furnace vent, she accompanied me as I wrote my way through high school and college. I have had other cats and now enjoy the company of a dog, but there will be no cat like Boots.

Boots in drawer

Circa 1987.

Published in: on February 19, 2018 at 10:13 pm  Comments (1)  

1972: Big Time

In the fall of 1972 I was off to kindergarten. It was just a part-time gig, and my time slot was chosen so that I could still watch Captain Kangaroo every day. It was a new routine and I loved it. I must have loved it, because in one of the few pictures of me from this year I am looking deliriously happy while wearing a pink and white crocheted poncho. Trust me, I would have to have been even happier before putting on this poncho. Even at age five I wanted to do all the same things the boys did rather than look for one instant like a girly girl who was too dressed up to be able to climb a tree at a moment’s notice. (Those of you who only know me as a baking knitter who wears skirts almost every day should be warned that in my heart of hearts I still imagine that I’m a tomboy who’s playing against type.)

I’m amused to review the scant materials tucked in the pocket of my “school days” book. There is one extra copy of my school picture (another is glued or taped into the book), but no class picture. There is a report card that notes various qualities I displayed Consistently, Most of the Time, Part of the time, or Not yet. “My Kindergarten Skills” were marked with an X when I accomplished them, and I’m so proud to say that by the end of this school year I could not only say my full name and use a crayon, but I could also tie my shoes and “put on and take off my wraps.” (Who says that anymore?) Apparently I also knew how to use paste. That skill has really come in handy.

In the book I list no less than sixteen “New Friends” and can even remember who three or four of them are. I list my two favorite activities as coloring and reading (we’ve already discussed the reading part). Alas, I doubt that any examples of my highly developed coloring skills have been preserved from this year.

I’m also amused to note that my “school days” book was filled out by myself, and in cursive. Judging from my progressively more mature handwriting samples in the rest of the book, I learned to write cursive in the third grade (I asked Mom to teach me at home so I could read the notes I carried from my classroom to the principal’s office!) and backfilled the pages from there.

As satisfying as all these memories are, I also remember the confusion and disorientation I felt on the day when the morning and afternoon kindergarten classes switched time slots. I can understand why the powers that be thought it was a good thing to do, but boy am I glad they only did it once. It was probably intended as a gentle orientation to change, but a longer period of that kind of change would have exposed my deep reliance on routines that would, in some cases, evolve into ritualistic behavior.

And I remember the fear and nervousness I felt at the thought of the trial I would have to undergo; before the year was up, I would be expected to stand up in class and count aloud from one to one hundred. In front of Mrs. Medland and everyone! I don’t know how many times I rehearsed this act in my head before finally getting it over with. Was I already someone who shrank from the spotlight and avoided attention, believing all attention to be negative? Accomplishing this task sure didn’t make me feel more brave or confident.

I accomplished one other task this year, not that I had much to do with it: having my tonsils removed. Society has not yet come up with an accurate name for my generation — I was born between the Baby Boomers and Generation X — but I was born to that narrow demographic of children whose tonsils were removed at age 5 whether or not they had been troublemakers. This window was so narrow that by the time my brother, born just three years after me, turned five years old they simply weren’t doing this any more. (That was so three years ago.) It really was like being on an assembly line: turn five, go to the hospital, go to sleep on a table, wake up with a sore throat and be told that you could have as much ice cream as you wanted. (Totally worth it.) I recovered in the hospital next to my best friend Joe, who was born two days earlier and lived two houses down the street. (The only reason he didn’t make it to my list of kindergarten friends was because the book asked for new friends.) My mother sat up all night in the same room with us, nervous. Joe’s mom, more experienced than mine at this motherhood thing, had come prepared, and we should probably just leave it at that.

In 1972 the world was busy turning inside out and upside down, but I was finding my groove. My inside world was developing, and the outside world wouldn’t have a measurable impact on it for years to come. There were now books to read, bicycles to learn how to ride, and trees to climb.


Knitwise, I seamed up the four slippers last week and have mailed them off to West Virginia without even a thought as to Actually Taking a Picture of Them for the Sake of Posterity. As a matter of fact, several items got shipped off today. I have good intentions, then I search for the right-sized box, and then somehow it’s five years later and the only thing pressuring me to finally send the gosh-darn whatever-it-is is my remaining shred of honor. Over the weekend I prepared five packages that ranged from almost-timely to three-years-late, and a friend took them to the post office today and launched them into the mailstream. Safe passage, tardy objects! May you be appreciated on the other side. I also pawned off the baby blanket items to my crocheting friend, who will make the rest of the squares. We might have to arm wrestle to see who has to gets to seam them all together for Oliver.

Meanwhile, as an apparent delaying tactic to avoid making the finishing touch to a knitted object begun three years ago, I cast on for an Olympics project. I used to participate in Ravelympics and Knitting Olympics events, but have fallen away. But this year I had to do something, as a high school classmate’s son almost qualified for the Olympic speed skating team (you’ll go next time, Austin Kleba!) and I just felt I had to have a project on the needles while I watched my favorite events. I have habitually watched ice skating in all its forms, and gradually expanded my viewing to include skiing and snowboarding events, but for the last few Games curling has been my new love. I wish I could play. Anyway, I chose the Sochi colorway from Cephalopod Yarns and cast on for a slip-stitch cowl. I’ll try to remember to take some pictures of this one, as the pattern shouldn’t get lost in the admittedly vibrant rainbow colorway.

Published in: on February 12, 2018 at 9:43 pm  Comments (2)  

1971: Before I could read

A few decades ago, my father asked me if I thought it was possible that someone who knew how to read could view text in their native language and not be able to read it. I never asked him why he had asked the question, but I believe that my answer at the time was No – I didn’t think that a literate person could not be able to read something.

I still think that answer is basically true. A stroke or a bout of aphasia could impair your ability to read for a certain amount of time, and acute trauma could impair your perceptions to a degree that might include reading or speech, but I don’t know that personal literacy is something you can voluntarily disable. (Officer: “Didn’t you see that stop sign back there?” Driver: “The red sign? I saw it, but I decided not to read it. Did it say something important?”)

How_to_Read

When I went off to kindergarten at age five, I could not yet read. I remember the thick workbook that we used that year, full of colorful pictures and words and phrases in simple black type. I remember the meaningless, the flatness of it before I was able to crack the code. I also remember the thrill that came over me when I realized that I could do it — I could read the words! I could read all the words, including the ones on the previous pages. Yesterday I was going through the motions, but today I could really read!

Epiphany

Because my birthday is in the middle of summer, I can guess that I learned to read when I was about five and a half. But I had been surrounded by words much longer — probably all my life — and my parents thought I already knew how to read. I was outed during a visit to West Virginia, when I sat with my great-grandfather and we read my favorite book, “Hop on Pop.” Everyone was impressed with my precocious abilities until Grandpap turned two pages at once and I proceeded to recite the text printed on the skipped page. (You would think that my family members would have been even more impressed by my ability to memorize an entire book, but that was apparently not the case.)

After I did learn to read I was rarely without a book, or any other collection of words. I strayed from the shelves of books at my reading level so that I could try something more advanced. At the public library this meant moving from the children’s books room to the shelf just outside that held the Encyclopedia Brown series, and later to a book on how to write Chinese characters. At the school library this meant leaving the Matt Christopher sports series (and exciting titles like Catcher with a Glass Arm and Slam Dunk!) for the thickest book on the nonfiction shelf (which turned out to be a stultifyingly dull book about wildflowers or botany or something; ugh). I read voraciously in the two newspapers that came to our house every day, the Columbus Citizen-Journal in the morning and the weightier and more conservative Columbus Dispatch in the evening. I typed up my own attempt at a neighborhood newspaper on my manual typewriter in the fourth grade (there was only one edition; it’s quite the rarity) and eventually I began writing my own short stories and longer pieces.

Kids these days are a bit quicker on the draw than I was, and all of mine learned to read before I did. My third child, probably out of sheer boredom, taught himself to read at age three by playing Pixar movies with the captions on. His younger brother thought this was normal, and duly copied him. But all four of them have discovered, enjoyed, written, and illustrated stories much more complicated than “Hop on Pop,” to which dozens of homemade chapbooks detailing the adventures of Toilet Man, Captain Chale, and the TIME HOLE attest; the elder two are writing fan fiction and moving on to create their own complex and realistic fictional worlds, for which I occasionally serve as a sounding board and consultant.

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Can they look at something and not read it? I’ll ask them without telling them why I want to know.

 


 

Knitwise, I have finished the two pairs of slippers for my grandmother; I only have to seam them up. That’s close enough to actually being done to let me think about the next project I should finish: Oliver’s blanket. I will have some crocheting to do for that blanket to realize my original vision. (Actually, my original vision called for someone else to crochet the squares.) Alternatively, I could frog the squares I’ve knitted and just knit a regular freakin’ blanket, which might take less time but would have more joins. Where’s the fun in that? (To hasten my work I’ll try to think about how cold that poor newborn child must be during our round after round subzero temperatures, and I’ll ignore all the cuddly, snuggly Facebook pictures already posted by my friend, his doting grandmother.) When I’m done with the baby blanket it will finally be time to finish the Swedish Surprise.

Published in: on February 5, 2018 at 10:15 pm  Leave a Comment  

Part One: Me and the Mockingbird

Recently the American novel To Kill a Mockingbird and its author Harper Lee have received a lot of attention because of the publication of her “sequel,” Go Set a Watchman. This summer I purchased copies of both books with the intent to read them both.

I wasn’t alone; for a while this summer, both novels were Top Ten New York Times bestsellers. But since you know me — either in person or through my writing — you may be interested in knowing my own reasons for doing this. To Kill a Mockingbird is a novel that most American public school students read in the eighth grade. I, however, did not, and thereby hangs a tale.

First, let’s discuss why I did not read this wonderful, amazing, brilliant novel in the eighth grade. There are, basically, two reasons: the first is that I had already read it. The second is that I had the same English teacher for both seventh and eighth grade. And when “Bob” (his real name, but not his full name, as he may still be teaching English somewhere) realized that I had already read the novel, he didn’t think I needed to spend another six weeks (or was it longer?) slowly re-reading it as the rest of the class encountered it for the first time. In retrospect, this may not have been the right decision to make, but his intentions were good.

As I said, “Bob” was my English teacher in seventh grade. He was new to my school district, and — if I remember correctly — this was his first or second teaching assignment. He was 26 years old, and I was 12. I was the daughter of two teachers, a rabid reader, a diligent student, and a budding writer. I got through English classes with one finger serving as the bookmark for the front-of-the-textbook matter that the whole class was reading, and another finger poised to flip the pages to the much more interesting reading at the back of the book, despite the teacher-of-the-year’s exhortations not to read ahead.

“Bob” soon realized that I could read whatever was put in front of me, write papers that were excruciatingly organized, whip almost anyone in Scrabble, and diagram complex sentences until the cows came home. My saved English assignments from seventh and eighth grade are covered with his positive feedback, his encouragement, and his judgment that I could soon be submitting my work for publication somewhere. He gave me extra books to read and extra assignments to do to make sure I kept being challenged. He also gave me what was, apparently, some remnant of his college career — a spring-loaded black vinyl pouch to keep my folders and papers in. I felt honored and special.

Then came eighth grade, and he was my teacher again. This was not supposed to happen, and everyone knew it. To this day, I still don’t know why or how it happened. But everyone knew how the tracking worked. I had had Teacher “A” for seventh grade and was supposed to have Teacher “B” for eighth grade. Most of my friends moved on to Teacher “B.” I still had “Bob.” Everyone noticed, and that’s probably when people started to talk. (This was, incidentally, the year that The Police released the hit single “Don’t Stand So Close To Me” about an English teacher with a crush on a student who was half his age. Thank you very much, Mr. Gordon Sumner. You made eighth grade extra enjoyable.)

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Eyebrows were raised, but my schedule didn’t change. We proceeded through the year with the usual assignments until it came time to read To Kill a Mockingbird. I don’t know if “Bob” asked for a show of hands in class or I discreetly let him know after class, but somehow I let him know that I had already read the book. He soon decided that it was better for me to give me new assignments than to make me re-read the book. And off I went on my own course, doing a sort of independent study while the class plodded through Mockingbird with oral readings in class and quizzes and tests a couple of times each week.

Somebody got upset. Somebody thought there was favoritism. Somebody thought I was getting special privileges. And probably somebody (or somebodies) thought there was more going on between the twentysomething new teacher and the teenaged student than met the eye. There wasn’t, but it was enough that someone thought there was. Meetings were held. My mother was called in to talk things over with the principal to help “calm things down.” It was decided that I would join the rest of the class in following the standard curriculum. I traded my independent studies for a paperback copy of Mockingbird, joining everyone else just as Bob Ewell was called to the stand. The quizzes were easy, the plodding was slow, and that was apparently the desired outcome. I managed to finish eighth grade without receiving any further accusations of misconduct, then went on to the high school and never looked back. What became of “Bob”‘s career, and what effect his decisions regarding my assignments had had on him, I never knew. I never saw him again. But at the end of the year I emptied out the vinyl pouch that I had so treasured, and returned it to “Bob”‘s desk when he wasn’t looking.

I eventually went on to Miami University, where I earned a bachelor’s degree, with University Honors, in the dual major of English Literature and Creative Writing.

Next: Re-reading Mockingbird

Published in: on August 28, 2015 at 10:16 pm  Comments (1)  

Week Sixteen: Decisions and Revisions

The calculus train is barrelling along past Reimann Sum station now, and I’m staying in my seat and taking all the notes I can. I’m keeping up with my homework on antiderivatives, summation notation, indefinite integrals, and definite integrals. There will be an exam in two weeks covering this material, and I’m not scared of it. The biggest problems this week have been (a) slipping on the frosty ramp outside the house and bruising my hip, shoulder, hand, and ego; (b) getting almost to school and realizing I was driving the car that didn’t have the commuter window-sticker; and (c) getting so wrapped up in my homework that I lost track of time and was a minute or two late to class. They didn’t all happen on the same day (but two of them did).

The smaller the interval you measure, the closer you get to an accurate estimate of the area under the curve.

Of course, I know me by now, and when things are going well I tend to extrapolate the success to the nth degree. If I solve one computer hardware issue I think I should work as a Genius at the Apple Store. If I write a haiku I wonder how I’ll ever have time to finish my epic metered saga. One good pot of soup, and I’m thinking up graphic treatments for a cookbook series. If I think of an improved mousetrap design, I fret over my inability to purchase enough warehouse space to store all the inventory. That sort of thing. It’s more amusing now that I can catch myself in the act of making ridiculous or disproportionate future plans, and ground myself gently back in reality.

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Thoughts like these have started me wondering about my academic future. Enough people have asked me if I were going back to school this fall that I started wondering, too. I went from “no” to “probably not” to “maybe” to “I think I’ll change my major to Pure Mathematics and get a full time job too and edit at night and invent cold fusion” in the space of an afternoon. Well, except for the cold fusion. I’m sure someone else has that all worked out by now.

I caught the thought, then I held it and took a more critical look at it. The physics professors seem distressed at the thought of my being a math major. What are you going to do with a math degree? Well, the same thing I was going to do with a physics degree at age forty-coughcoughcough — learn everything I can about what I’m interested in, while I still can. I’m interested in education but not in teaching, but who knows? With four technically oriented kids, being able to teach math might come in extremely handy. I’m interested in the history of math, the history of science, and the history of language. I don’t have five lifetimes in which to read everything, so I need to choose my reading matter carefully. For that, a structured course seems like a good idea. What’s it all good for? Well, it’s going to help me become more like me. That should be the purpose of education — to help you develop your strengths and shore up your weaknesses. It’s your choice as to whether you apply that towards finding a job or not. Personally, I think that this experience and education will eventually land me in a place where I’m making a living, but I just can’t see all the details from here. Not yet.

The math-and-numbers side of me is now being balanced by my words-and-letters side. I’m not just playing Words With Friends and Scramble any more; I’ve gotten a client who would like me to edit his book manuscript and help him get published. While I’m waiting for him to sign and return his contract, I’ll go ahead and hard-copy edit his first two chapters and keep track of my time so I can figure out my rates for future jobs. I’m also editing a friend’s dissertation for chapter-by-chapter publication in an academic journal. I’m reading fiction and nonfiction. I’m writing every day and blogging every week. And I’m still playing Words With Friends and Scramble. Finding point-scoring combinations among the letter tiles isn’t interfering with my “mathing” any more, so I’m just trying to stay balanced.

Then there’s knitting, that combination of wool, coding, artistic expression, and applied topology. I’m doing finishing (weaving in loose ends) on a huge project, turning a heel on a sock, designing a mathematically and artistically geeky scarf, and knitting a lace-edged narrow shawl that’s a therapeutic exercise.  My friend Bonnie has taught me how to do a Long-Tail cast-on — in fact, this patient woman has taught it to me twice so far — so I have a new tool in that particular toolbox.

As usual, all I need is time. T.S. Eliot assures me that won’t be an issue:

Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.
— “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”

Week Fourteen: Art Imitates Art

I am turning to writing more and more often in order to express myself. Given that I have a degree in writing, this should come as no surprise to anyone, especially myself.

However.

I am now journaling every day when I wake up, and just before I fall asleep.

I am now composing my blog posts over the course of several days, and editing them.

I have recently written A Poem. (Be afraid. Be very afraid.)

These are things I have not done for some time. For over a decade I have been occupying my time with (and defining myself by) my children. As important as child-raising and human-socializing and person-educating can be, it doesn’t take away from the importance of my Prime Directive, which is to treat yourself kindly and use the resulting energy to treat others kindly. This life is a bumpy ride, for which I believe we are each issued only one ticket, and we need to be each other’s shock absorbers. (And I’m finding out as I proceed through life that there is a lot of shock to absorb. There is a lot of pain out there, both having been suffered and awaiting the suffering of.)

I have found it interesting over the last few years that when I meet virtually with old friends, they don’t ask if I’m married. They don’t ask if I have kids. They don’t ask if I’m working or studying. Without memorable exception, they have all asked the same question of me: “Are you still writing?”

It gave me pause.

Was I?

Did journaling count? I have kept journals off and on over the years — but mostly off in recent years. (So I was kind of hoping that journaling didn’t count.)

Did scrapbooking count? For a while there I was designing pages and describing events so our memories would be easier to summon in the future.

Did blogging count? I started Chocolate Sheep in 2006? 2007? after writing a monthly e-mail newsletter called Wisconsin Crafter.

Did social media count? I have posted approximately 12,300 posts on Ravelry since I joined the site on September 27, 2007. On that site, which now has over 3 million members, I have started groups, adminned groups, modded groups, participated in groups, and lurked in groups. I have been on Facebook since (apparently, according to Facebook) sometime in 2009. I can’t even count how many notes, status updates, private messages, and comments I’ve written there.

Did they mean, Had I written a novel? or Had I published my short stories? or Had a written something else, something “official”?

I think what they really meant to ask was whether or not I was still myself — whether I had kept on doing the thing that defined me as “me” to them. They were checking in to find out if I were the same person they had known years ago, and whether or not time had changed me. I’m pretty sure they didn’t want to see my unfinished novel (and I’m certain I didn’t want to show it to them). They didn’t want to read my scrapbooks or see the hand-stamped cards I’d made. They were touching base about one thing they were certain was still true.

I didn’t want to disappoint them, so I said “yes.” It seemed very important that I say “yes.”

Exactly why was it important that I live up to [what I thought were] their expectations?

I wanted to be the same person. I wanted to be someone who hadn’t given up her dreams in the face of life and its challenges. I wanted to be that writer who kept on writing, no matter what life had thrown at her. And since nobody was demanding to see any evidence — such as links to articles I’d written for The New Yorker, perhaps — nobody was the wiser.

But really…. I really wanted to be that person. So over time, I have started writing again. I started different blogs in order to focus on different topics. (And I also discovered that I really enjoy the creative process of setting up a new blog. I have set up ten of them. Really, I can stop anytime I want to. It’s totally under control.)

So here I am, writing about writing. And while you can call yourself anything that you want, I personally find it easier to accept the label “writer” after I’ve clicked on the “publish” button.

Myself, many moons ago (1987), editing my own writing with a red pen.

Myself, many moons ago (1987), editing my own writing with a red pen.

I’ve also started reading again — new books, classic books, fiction, nonfiction, intriguing books on display at the library, my kids’ books. I’m getting new stories, words, and writers into my head. Instead of comforting myself by reading my favorite stories over and over, I’m gently reading my way out of my box. I’m also reading books about new ways to think about life, the universe, and everything — including thinking itself. I have purchased three new bookcases for my personal space alone (and applied Eminent Domain to acquire one from my eldest son’s room), and they are spilling over before I’ve even had the chance to bring up the many boxes of books that have been stored in the basement for the last several years. Probably for several years too long. Anyway, they can’t come up into the light until I have somewhere safe to put them, and we’re still pretty crowded here, topside.

So much to read, so little time.

So much to read, so little time.

And yes, I’m still knitting…. looky here! This week it became increasingly obvious that I wasn’t going to have nearly enough yarn to complete Wingspan with even the two skeins I had, so on Tuesday one of my errands was to find a complementary color in the same weight to do the neckline edging. I didn’t get any college scholarship money on my color-matching talents, so I was a little nervous about the skein I’d picked. I took the project and the extra yarn to knit night to set some groupthink on it, and lo! and behold! they said that it was good! I proceeded to join the new yarn and knit six rows as quickly as I could, but with each row taking about 30 minutes, I knew I wouldn’t have time to cast off right then. I took care of that task on Wednesday afternoon, then ever so promptly wove in all the ends. I threw it around my neck and fell in love with it immediately.

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And ah, there is so much more to knit… and to write. But tomorrow I’m going back to campus to study my calculus before it’s too late.

Published in: on April 4, 2013 at 10:12 pm  Comments (1)  

Week Seven: Renewal

After much agonizing, I have decided to renew a library book which I detest. Two weeks ago, there I was at the library, minding my own business, having dropped by to pick up a series of graphic novel-style mathematics books for my 6-year-old son. On my way to check out the books, I happened to notice a new arrival — a book on Euclid and his amazing book, Elements. I thought it would make a good introduction to book and author before I sat down and tackled Elements for myself.

Wrong, wrong, couldn’t have been more wrong. I started hating this book on Page Three.

Don’t even point.

Wait — now that I look back at it, I realize that I started hating this book waaaaaay before Page Three. Because I hate that the quote from Blaise Pascal that appears before the preface is in untranslated French.

I also hate the preface, which gave me my first sense of the author’s writing style.

It got worse from there.

I soon decided that the only proper course of action for me was to write a scathing review of this book so that I could warn off any of its potential readers. Time is precious these days. If I could establish that this book is a waste of both time and space, we could all move happily on to the next item in the queue. However, I didn’t think it would be fair to be nasty about a freshly published book that I didn’t actually finish reading. (Think back to high school. Can you imagine your Literature teacher’s reaction if you had attempted to turn in a book report on a novel you didn’t finish?) So, I struggled forward, trying to keep my temper. It wasn’t my book, so I couldn’t throw it with great force. I did toss it aside often, though. Then I would think, “It’s not that long. I can really get through this” and pick it up again. Then I would yell “I HATE THIS BOOK!” and put it down again. So my progress in the reading of it was not that swift or consistent over the last two weeks.

Yesterday I got an e-mail from the library… the book is due this Friday. I had 48 hours left to read the book, and 96 hours’ worth of more pleasant and useful things to do within that 48 hours.

So I’m going to try to renew it tomorrow. Between chapters, or segments, or paragraphs perhaps, I shall be sharpening my pen and charging up my electrons. I have two more weeks…. unless someone else, perhaps the author’s mother, is on a waiting list for it.

Slop season. Not spring.

Slop season. Not spring.

One might also look out one’s window here in Wisconsin and imagine that spring is coming and this is a time of renewal. Think again, bucko, it’s only mid-February. Just because you can see patches of grass amongst the snow, slush, and mud doesn’t mean the crocuses are coming any time soon, nor should they dare. And you should probably stay inside yourself if you know what’s good for you. Flu, whooping cough, and black ice are laying for you.

So. Until Spring is really here and there are better things to read that don’t have such a tight deadline and bizarre moral imperative, there is knitting to do. The dropped-stitch lace scarf is complete and has been entered on the Finished Projects page. I have cast on for a Wingspan scarf/shawl and gotten a couple of sections done. It has kind of an unusual construction, but the knitting itself is quite easy. So far, there are three of us in my local knitting group who are making them.

Wingspan in progress

(I don’t know why I can’t get the photo to show up. Sorry, just click the link.)

During the past week I have also gotten my oldest child signed up for his freshman year of high school. He is almost 14. He is almost as tall as I am (he checks this every morning). However, he is nowhere close to understanding just how ambitious his desired schedule actually is: Honors English, Eastern Cultures, Science 9, Geometry, P.E., German 1, and Intro to Engineering. I can’t wait until we get started on this in the fall and pour hormones into the mixture, add heat, and see what happens! He is a bright boy — he will just have to work harder at this than he realizes.

And now, a special announcement:

UNWIND 2013

I’m happy to announce that we are in the planning stages for the 6th “Unwind” social event, to be held Saturday, September 7, in conjunction with the Wisconsin Sheep and Wool Festival in Jefferson, Wisconsin.

This event is NOT an official Sheep & Wool event, nor is it an official Ravelry event. It is a private party that you are invited to! The price of admission (which is cheaper, the earlier you register) covers dinner, a goody bag, a chance at a door prize, and the chance to hang out with some seriously fun knitters, crocheters, spinners, and others! And yes, you can and totally should bring your needles, hooks, wheel, spindle, and what-have-you. All the cool people are doing it.

On your registration form you can also choose to purchase a T-shirt. When you arrive at the Festival on Friday or Saturday and check in at our table in the main building, which should be just in front of the fence around the Silent Auction items, you will pick up your goody bag and T-shirt.

We have a cap of 150 attendees, so if you want to come, please sign up early. We can take walk-ins at check-in time at the Festival grounds, but NOT at the event itself.

Updates, discussions, and Q&A should take place in the Wisconsin Sheep and Wool Festival group on Ravelry.

If you would like to help sponsor the event or donate a door prize, please email me or PM me on Ravelry.

I hope to see you there — I’ll be the one wearing the Doctor Who Scarf!

Published in: on February 14, 2013 at 4:19 pm  Comments (1)