The Sounds of Silence

…and it ended not with a bang, but with a whimper. Just when I had finished my Sochi shawl — including the weaving-in, the rinsing, and the blocking, mind you — the provider of my telephone, cable, and Internet access decided, for mysterious and inscrutable reasons, not to put my accounts into my name as I had requested (and had indeed signed legal documents for that very purpose), but instead to cancel all my services.

Before blocking.

Before blocking.

After blocking!

After blocking!

Yes, I was unplugged. Again. And without my home wifi signal, the smartphone I was fortunate enough to own was barely able to catch enough stray electrons to send out a text message. (“Watson, come here; I need you!”) Even more sadly, I was unable to watch the closing ceremonies of the Winter Olympics by any means — though I did finally find time to watch the opening ones. Sigh. See you all in Brazil!

This doesn’t classify as true hardship, as The Teen™ and I still had access to a great many hours of programming on the DVR (we finally watched the mini-movie about the making of “Doctor Who” that had been awaiting us since November 2013, and a Speed Channel special on Dan Gurney that had been waiting patiently since November 2012), and we augmented my Guitar Hero accessories with the purchase of a drum set. (Unfortunately, we can’t try it out yet because I don’t currently have any drum-compatible Guitar Hero games in the house. The day before I bought the drum set, I did. It’s all in the timing.)

So we’ve gone slightly retro here. The Teen™ is working on Lego Star Wars for the Nintendo GameCube. I’m slowly playing my way through a medium-level career on Guitar Hero II. I’ve made chicken soup for a sick friend. And with the shawl finished, I cast on for the second sock of a pair.

20140225_094836

See? I DO knit socks.

My Internet access is still down as I write this post, which I’m composing on an offline (gasp!) Macintosh with Microsoft Word (gasp! gasp!). I could put a brand new ribbon in the manual Smith-Corona, but I’m not feeling quite THAT retro at the moment.

I rather enjoy the relative silence we’ve had, although it has forced us to confront the paw-scrambling and wood-gnawing reality that we have been sharing our home at the end of a long winter with some equally cabin-fevered mice. We spent part of the weekend waging a violent turf war in which one rodentine casualty (so far) has been inflicted by intellectually superior human forces. I suspect that we may also have bats in the walls, but my main line of defense on that front is called “trying not to think about it.” And everyone knows that you dare not fight a war on two fronts, especially in the wintertime.

remy_ratatouille

Rattus rattus.

update

I almost had phone service again on Tuesday evening…but not quite. It took one more visit from another contracted tech guy to get that all fixed up. Funny: Mr. Wednesday took one look at the new phone modem that Mr. Tuesday had installed, and bemoaned my ancient technology [from, literally, yesterday]. He went out to his truck and brought in a single modem unit that he spliced everything into. It’s amazing to think that all this old stuff worked perfectly well on Friday night, then became obsolete as soon as my ISP flipped all my switches to “OFF” on Saturday morning.

Published in: on February 27, 2014 at 7:14 am  Leave a Comment  

Back in the U.S.S.R.

Once upon a time, a Canadian knitter known as the Yarn Harlot created the Knitting Olympics. It was a forum for knitters from anywhere to set themselves a lofty knitting-related challenge, and a place to celebrate when they met it during the span of the Winter Games. And it was good.

knitting-olympic-gold.jpg?w=490

Years later, Ravelry came along, and Rav-folk created the Ravelympics to coincide with the Summer Games. There were serious teams and silly teams, and themed Ravatars, and virtual medals, and events. And it was still good, even when the Yarn Harlot let go of the Knitting Olympics to let Rav-folk do their thing for the Winter Games as well.

Ravelympics 2008

Rose’s Wrist Warmers

2010knittingolympics2

(Then the United States Olympic Committee came along in 2012 with a cease-and-desist order for Ravelry, and thus the Ravellenic Games were born. Or renamed. Or whatever. And it was still good, though yarnies were resentful at the outside interference.)

Ravellenic2012

This year things are a little bit different. This year, the Winter Games are in Sochi, which is swirling more with politics than with snowflakes. The Rav-folk tried to create a Ravellenic Games that didn’t include free speech about the various political situations. I was absent from Ravelry at the time, and only heard about TEH DRAMAZ secondhand, but let’s just say…that didn’t quite work. A couple sets of moderators later, though, and a version of the Ravellenic Games is ready to light that torch.


Brush up on your Catalan….


How the fangirls wish it could have gone in 2012….

Usually, I look forward to each Olympic Games. And playing along with the knitting home version was a lot of fun. It’s easy to putter along and make the things you’ve always made, with the yarn you’ve always used, and following the pattern you know so well you don’t look at it any more. It’s different for someone to say, By God, I’m going to make a cardigan in two weeks. And it’s amazing to do it. But with this year’s Games being so highly politicized, I wasn’t sure what to do. Supporting the Games and its sponsors, and even just knitting along at home, while so many athletes were made vulnerable to the whims of the State, seemed wrong. Executing a personal boycott of the Games punished myself and disrespected the athletes who were representing their countries. I kept waiting for Russia to have a sudden awakening — as if one morning they would just apologize, say a hundred Hail Marys, and sprinkle forgiveness around like fairy dust. It wasn’t happening. So I didn’t really prepare anything.

SochiScarf

In the last couple of weeks, though, my plan came together. (“Don’t you love it when a plan comes together?”) I looked through my stash and found a single skein of Peace Fleece. I searched Ravelry and my pattern library to find the right project for it. And then I took the skein from whence I’d purchased it a couple of years ago, pressed some friends to help me color-coordinate it with a few more skeins of Peace Fleece, and all of a sudden I had everything ready in a project bag.

Then just last week, Cephalopod Yarns, a yarn company I had heard of but never purchased from, made their own statement with a Sochi Pride colorway. I had to have it. It was beautiful yarn, and statement-making. (They also made a colorway named Gallifrey, and a skein of that fell in my shopping cart as well. Oops.) Both colorways are now out of stock, but they do have two skeins left of something named Sontar, and six skeins left of Pompeii. (I love these people. They are hopeless geeks, and unashamed. Read their FAQ.)

SochiPride

So. The deal is that I get to cast on for my project during the Opening Ceremonies, and must finish it before the end of the Closing Ceremonies. What could possibly go wrong?

While you all speculate on that, enjoy this article on defunct Olympic sporting events.

Published in: on February 5, 2014 at 5:21 pm  Leave a Comment  

Mellow Yellow

Recently I welcomed home a dozen or so knitting projects that had taken kind of an extended vacation at a friend’s house. You know that feeling you get when you pick up a half-read book and must scan through it to see what you’ve read, to guess how far you got before the bookmark fell out? Try looking at something you started making, and realizing that not only do you not know when you started it, but also have no idea what it was going to be, where the pattern is, or what convinced you to venture down this path in the first place.

Some projects, of course, I recognized right away. I didn’t even have to open my Apple-store string pack to know that there was a Season 18 Doctor Who scarf in progress inside, on now-out-of-production Lion Brand Chenille Thick & Quick of Purple, Wine, and Terracotta. (I’m still looking for three more skeins of Terracotta or I can’t ever finish this scarf. Does anyone have some?)

Other projects never got past their yarn (and sometimes pattern) being stuffed into a project bag. Those got quickly sorted out and the yarn returned to stash.

A few projects, barely started, had lost their fire. I gave each one a moment of silence, pulled out and stored their needles, then frogged the project (pulled out all the stitches and rewound the yarn ball) and returned its components to stash.

Most of the projects that were well underway seemed to be worth finishing at some point, so they went back into a mesh pop-up laundry basket I had purchased specifically for WIP (work-in-progress) storage. Yes, TARDIS cowl-redesigned-into-lace-scarf, I will finish you someday.

But Brandy, between chuckles at me, was knitting on something and I wanted to knit something too. None of my current projects seemed to fit the bill — Drunken Octopus Sweater and Cozy Slippers were both at the seaming stage and I wanted to knit and talk, not seam new things in poor light in the evening. So I looked over my prodigal projects and found Citron.

A little slice o' lemon.

A little slice o’ lemon.

Citron is a semicircular shawl pattern that came out in the winter of 2009. It’s a distinctive pattern and actually quite simple to make, but it is done with laceweight yarn. Working on it is pretty much like knitting with slightly thick sewing thread. And there are hundreds of stitches on your needle, so you need a long circular needle, preferably with very pointy metal tips so you don’t split your yarn. I have bought some quantities of laceweight over the years, but Citron is the only project I’ve ever used any with.

But first, what row was I on when I stopped?

Check your pattern notes.

The pattern isn’t in the project bag.

Well… check your pattern binders, the shawl volume.

The pattern isn’t in there.

Well… check your Ravelry library.

I got out a laptop and checked. Well, it’s technically in my Ravelry library, but since it’s a pattern from an online source, it’s not a separate PDF.

Well… check the knitting pattern folder on your laptop.

Lots of shawl patterns there, but not Citron.

Well… print it out again from the Knitty site.

I tried, but the laptop was so old and slow it never managed to load Knitty.

Fine then, use the big computer and print it out from that one.

So I did. Now I had the pattern in hand (and soon in a sheet protector). From my Ravelry project file I saw that I’d made it to (or through) Row Six of Section Three. (“You kept notes?” said Brandy. “Good girl!”)

And as quick as that, I was back knitting on a five-year-old pattern that my notes said I hadn’t touched since the fall of 2011. I’m now at the end of Section Three. There are two more sections knit in the same way, then a ruffled edging that is not really my thing but is most definitely the pattern’s thing, and I shall knit it as specified. The joke is that I’m halfway done now, and if you measure by project segments (done with three, three more to go) you could come to that conclusion. But since the middle of each section adds 23 more stitches (twice), the row I’m on has me at 177 stitches and increasing to 348, and the ruffled edging produces 540 stitches that I then must knit in stockinette for 11 more rows before binding off… there’s a lot of knitting left and I’m nowhere near halfway done in terms of time or stitches.

But I’m knitting on it again and I shall finish it. If I didn’t think so, I wouldn’t have bought fresh Peace Fleece yarn for a project to knit during the Winter Olympics at Sochi.

What will it be? Not socks.

What will it be? Not socks.

Week Thirty-Nine: It was the middle one

I found my Doctor!

Marvel Premiere #57, December 1980

Marvel Premiere #57, December 1980

While writing last week’s post and looking for images with which to illustrate it, I came across a set of comic books for sale on eBay. I set up a brand new eBay account (knowing full well that this will create the entrance to a very dangerous rabbit hole, so you don’t have to remind me) and put in a bid. These were the comic books that introduced Americans to The Doctor.

The comic books arrived today, and after the kids were asleep I read through the first one. Nope… nothing familiar.

Marvel Premiere #58, February 1981

Marvel Premiere #58, February 1981

But the second one…. I skimmed it, and flashed on the transformation of the villain Magog from human to demon form. Yes. I remember this. There was also a mini-adventure featuring K-9, and I chuckled as I read through it, knowing this was something I had read before. This was it. THIS WAS IT.

Marvel Premiere #60, June 1981

Marvel Premiere #60, June 1981

Third one? Nope. Never read it before. And interestingly enough, way in the back is an article about the various actors who’ve played the Doctor. It also introduces 29-year-old Peter Davison, best known then as Tristan on the BBC adaptation of James Herriot’s “All Creatures Great and Small,” as the brand-new Fifth Doctor-to-be. This long article was printed in blurred 3-point type, so I’m sure I wouldn’t have read it back then, even if I had had this comic book. But I wonder how reading it might have changed my view of the Doctor; I had watched Davison in that show! There I was, on the cusp of a new Doctor, and he’s one for whom I have yet to watch a single episode. For the want of a comic book….

Oh, and for anyone wondering why the third cover looks so different… the artist of the first two covers found himself in a time crunch when the third issue was at deadline, and the publisher had to call on the artist who regularly drew covers for one of their other titles, “Conan the Barbarian.” But he got the scarf colors right, so I can’t complain.

Knitwise…. do you really want to know?

In my local knitting group, two of us are doing a knitalong of a cardigan that went from Cute Little Project to Annoying Slogalong on the second day. If you knit, take a minute to digest this…. 207 stitches on the needles, worked in stockinette for 7 inches before you do anything else. Yep, 7,452 stitches of stockinette, just in that section. That’s not sleep-inducing at all. I have tried knitting this section by myself in a completely silent room, but I do find I make more progress if I knit on it with other people around to talk with and listen to. By “more progress” I mean “can knit about five rows before my brain starts to melt and I forget, mid-row, how to purl.” But it won’t knit itself… it won’t knit itself… it won’t knit itself…. When I finish it (and I will), it will be the first sweater I have ever made for myself.

The sweater-to-be.

The sweater-to-be.

For the Sheep and Wool Challenge, I have started a project but am temporarily stalled at Row 4. It’s a tricky pattern that needs to be worked in good light, with the benefit of a clear head. For the past week I have not been able to meet those conditions simultaneously. But I am working on it.

Published in: on September 26, 2013 at 9:00 am  Comments (1)  

Week Thirty-Eight: How I Met the Doctor

Recently, Facebook was trying to enhance the quality of its content by finding out every movie, TV show, and book I have enjoyed over the past <<cough cough>> years of my life. The exercise in cyber-feedback progressed from ‘mildly invasive’ to ‘there IS such a thing as a stupid question’ when I came across this screen (click on the image to make it come up, bigger, on its own page):

SeenThis

Have I watched this? Have I WATCHED this? Seriously, how does Mark Zuckerberg not personally know whether or not I have watched this?

I can tell you exactly when and why I started watched New Who. My ex husband said, “Oh look, they’re starting up ‘Doctor Who’ again. Didn’t you used to watch that? Christopher Eccleston is going to be playing The Doctor. You know, the guy who was in ‘Shallow Grave’ with Ewan McGregor.” We watched the series reboot on BBC America and LOVED Eccleston’s Doctor. His leftover rage, his manic energy… perfect! Then, at the end of the season, he regenerated into David Tennant. I was so upset I stopped watching for a year. (If you know me through Ravelry, you’ll know I eventually got over this.)

These days I’m not only all caught up, but I’m re-watching all of New Who with my teenage son. We are almost done with Tennant’s first season (yes, I will have a carton of tissues ready for “Doomsday”) but will swing right into Martha’s year and beyond.

What I can’t tell you is how I met the Doctor in the first place. Ironically, that meeting has been lost to time.

I do know that I’d met him — Tom Baker’s Doctor, the only one most Americans knew back then — by the fall of 1985 when I went off to college. My winter coat was a long black wool coat which I usually wore unbuttoned, accompanied by some sort of ridiculously long scarf. (No, I didn’t have a hat.) And with me I took my beloved 1940s Underwood manual typewriter AND an electronic Smith-Corona typewriter that I probably received after my high school graduation. It was a grey slab of a thing, all angles and no warmth. (I have no idea where it is now, or what might have happened to it over the years. It probably ran away from home after I got my first Macintosh in 1988.)

I named it K9.

How did I know?

Editing with K9 in 1987.

Editing with K9 in 1987.

I did have a little black and white television in my bedroom. There must have been an awesome sale at Sun TV, because all my friends had identical black and white TVs that year. I was allowed to watch it as long as my grades didn’t suffer. (ha!) I watched “Cosmos” on it, and British shows aired by PBS. I remember watching someone’s performance of “The Importance of Being Ernest.” I remember watching “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.” But I don’t remember seeing The Doctor there, and they probably would have shown Doctor Who on midnight Saturday night anyway. I never stayed up that late (I think I watched a grand total of TWO episodes of “Saturday Night Live” during my high school years, and making it to the ball-drop in Times Square on New Year’s Eve was a big deal).

I suspect that I met the Doctor via…comic books. I personally remember buying only copies of Daredevil, the Amazing Spider-Man, and Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-Man (otherwise known as PPTSS). But my BROTHER, now there’s a guy who knew how to accumulate comic books, and I read everything he had as soon as he was done with it. I suspect that somehow, somewhere, the Doctor and K9 snuck into the house in comic book form amidst copies of The Unknown Soldier, Marvel What-If, Sgt. Rock, The X-Men, G.I. Combat (“featuring The Haunted Tank!”), and Warlord.

Ah, Warlord. An Air Force pilot loses his way near the North Pole and flies to not Russia but the primitive inner-Earth land of Skartaris.... ahem.

Ah, Warlord. An Air Force pilot loses his way near the North Pole and flies to not Russia but the primitive inner-Earth land of Skartaris…. ahem.

But, I was talking about the Doctor. Somehow I found him, and somehow I just thought he was cool. And many many years later, when I was learning how to knit, the first item I made was a ridiculously long scarf that I called my “fake Doctor Who scarf.” I didn’t look to see if there was a specific scarf to copy, certain colors, or any type of pattern at all. To me it was Plato’s scarf. I knew it had to be very long, and have lots of colors and fringe, and that was all. Ta-daah!

Not the Doctor's.

Not the Doctor’s.

(Later, of course, I found out there was a pattern. There were very specific colors, and stitch counts, and row counts. So far I’ve made four and have a fifth one on the needles.)

That's better.

That’s better.

Judging from the comic books my eyes devoured, I liked adventure, history, and good winning over evil. The big coat, the crazy scarf, and the tin dog just made it even more fun.

Week Thirty: Slogalong

I’m still cranking away on the mystery giftknit project, which I’m starting to believe is really a black hole for yarn. Projects made with bulky yarn and big needles are supposed to go quickly… aren’t they? This one is sucking up time and yarn as if it doesn’t care what combination of dye lots it’s made from. It it’s not careful, it is going to have STRIPES.

This image was swiped from the Yarn Harlot's blog from a post made in June 2005. I hope Stephanie doesn't mind.

This image was swiped from the Yarn Harlot’s blog from a post made in June 2005. I hope Stephanie doesn’t mind.

I have done lots of knitting projects that turned into slogs. There’s the KAL — the knitalong — and then there’s the slogalong, a group event hosted for people to support each other as they struggle to finish Those Projects Which Do Not Want To Be Completed. They may come about over such decisions as choosing to knit a lace bedspread, or to make one dishcloth a day over the course of the year. Whatever circumstances fostered the poor judgment that brought you to this state, at some point you just have to get your needles out and finish the cussed things. (Or rip them out completely and just make something else. But with this much time already invested, do you really want to rip it all out? I didn’t think so. You’re not a quitter. You can do this. You can DO this!)

(Ahem.)

I’ve knitted, um, more than one Doctor Who scarf. I’ve knitted more than one blanket. And I have made some scarves that look simple on the outside, but actually took years to finish because of how long I had to set them aside between steps. Sometimes the pattern directions are misleading (I’m looking at YOU, “198 Yards of Heaven”). Sometimes the stitches are complicated, and require your full attention at a time when you can’t give anything your full attention. Sometimes you just don’t have good mojo, or flow, or karmic balance. Sometimes Mercury is in retrograde and gets blamed for everything. And sometimes all you can do is slip the darned thing off the needles and calmly say, “I guess the yarn didn’t want to be a sweater.” (Knitters really say these things. Back me up, O People of the Yarn.)

Scroll slowly for maximum effect. It’s 13 feet long.

Projects that aren’t inherently monumental can turn into slogs because you’re bored or something’s terribly, terribly wrong and you just haven’t seen it yet. If you’re bored, you might think, “Gee, I’ll just set this aside for a minute and work on something quick and easy to get back into the right frame of mind.” Sixteen more enjoyable projects later, whether you finished them or not, you still have to go back to that original project and decide what you’re going to do about it. They don’t knit themselves. You have to make a decision and take responsibility for it (and that’s probably what we’re trying to avoid).

On the other hand, if it’s taking forever and you’re not bored, something might indeed be terribly, terribly wrong. Find a trusted friend, get out the measuring tape, and uncork the wine. There might be tears tonight, and the sooner you cry them and start over, the better. A cardigan with two left sides really won’t block out. I’m sorry. So very, very sorry.

I will knit on, hoping this mystery project never feels like a slog to me. It’s being made for the best of reasons and with all good intentions. Every stitch is filled with love. All 600,000 of them.

There’s still time to cast your vote as to how you feel I should celebrate/commemorate my 400th blog post. Just go to last week’s post and click on something in the poll. If you have detailed suggestions as to what you think I should do (AHEM! You know what I meant. Keep it CLEAN, people) then feel free to leave a comment. Or tell me how you’ve celebrated a milestone of your own.

Published in: on July 25, 2013 at 10:00 am  Leave a Comment  

Week Twenty-Six: We Shall Never Speak of This Again

I started this blog somewhere around 2006. We were innocent knitbloggers then. We posted pictures of our kids and used their real names, talked about where we lived and when we were going on vacation, and basically shared all kinds of details about our lives. That changed for me the day I was checking my statistics page and noticed that people were using my firstborn son’s full name as the search term for finding my blog. All right, Search Engine Optimization is one thing, but there are very few people who are on a “need to know” basis for my firstborn’s middle name. At that point I removed a lot of kidly photos from my blog, and tried to share personal information more thoughtfully.

These days I spend quite a lot of time on Facebook, and I wince at the ways people leave themselves bare and vulnerable. They announce with great fanfare when they will be away from home for extended periods of time. They post pictures of their children for all the Public to see. They advertise their preferred bedroom activities in one post, then complain about their stalking ex in another. They complain about their jobs, then complain that they’ve been “let go.” They issue vague, passive-aggressive status reports so that cyberfriends will rush to their emotional rescue. It’s tough stuff to watch, and it makes me that much more aware of any details I post about my own life.

That being said, I marked a very personal milestone last week, and I thought it needed to be mentioned — once and only once. Last week I was divorced. Now, I have been married before, and counting from the date of my first wedding, I have spent 80 percent of the time from then to now in a married state. But I am single now and intend to stay that way.

It’s been a long time since I last called myself single. I’m finding that no matter how much time I think I need to have in order to understand myself, I’m underestimating. (Sheesh. I have a lot of me to understand. No wonder I’m hard to live with.) I also have children to co-parent for the rest of my life. Because they are important to me, and their mental and emotional health is important to me, my blog is not going to be a space where you will see me bash an ex, any ex. Life is tough enough to handle without making it hard on other people with open wounds, petty jealousy, and juvenile revenge fantasies. I may struggle sometimes, but I’m doing my best to be decent to everyone in this situation, including myself. I trust that if I hold myself to that standard, others may eventually reciprocate. (Sadly, I have some prior experience with this type of thing.) But even if they don’t… I won’t regret walking the high road.

Now it’s time to move on. Want to see an artsy shot of the geeked-up Tardisvan?

oooo-WEEEE-oooo.....

oooo-WEEEE-oooo…..

In the last week I’ve driven another thousand miles, attended a family reunion, finished a pair of socks, knitted one slipper for my grandmother, grilled hamburgers (and portabella caps), cleaned and reorganized my rental house’s laundry room (well, I’m almost done), and maybe done another thing or two here and there.

Redskin, I mean, Redhawk hockey socks!

Redskin, I mean, Redhawk hockey socks!

This weekend I have a big plan: to support my knitting friend Bonnie Stedman Dahnert. She’s the honorary chairperson for — oh, heck, read all about it here. Come back when you’re done, and I’ll put the rest in my own words.

I started our local knitting group, but Bonnie is our rock. She seems to know everyone in the county, know what to do on every occasion, and know how to teach any knitting technique you need to learn. She has taught some people to knit, and others how to crochet, and others how to spin. She has given advice, yarn, driving directions, restaurant reviews, prayers, and compassion to everyone who needed them. We half-joke that whenever we don’t know what to do, we call Bonnie. When my youngest son had a stitches-requiring accident last summer and my husband was away, I instinctively called Bonnie and she immediately said “bring the kids here.” She watched my other kids until after midnight, when Tommy finally had his stitches in.

In return we have shared her joys and tried our feeble best to help bear her own fears and sorrows. I don’t know if the newspaper article I linked to fully describes the anxiety our group felt when we realized the toll this second round of chemotherapy was taking on her, and how close we came to losing her. The CaringBridge site that her daughter Brigitta set up for her allowed us a glimpse into the minute-by-minute fight that she gave this second round of cancer. I do know that “she responded well to the treatment” is not the most accurate description of Bonnie’s fall and winter of 2012.

So, Saturday. I’ll be there for her as leads the lap of cancer survivors around the track, and as she speaks to the crowd. This morning at knitting-group she gave us pink-ribbon buttons that say, “No one fights alone!” And she’s right. We all have to fight for each other. It’s a bumpy ride, this short life, and we need to spend our time making it easier for each other.

Week Twenty-Five: Vworp

This week didn’t leave very much time for me to write, but I did do one thing that I wanted to share.

20130620_153158

I’ll be back next week with more than this, I promise.

Published in: on June 20, 2013 at 10:06 pm  Leave a Comment  

Week Twenty-Two: Now Playing

Although I like watching movies, I have significant gaps in what I’ve actually seen. It’s gotten to the point where I can’t actually mention the title of a movie I haven’t seen, because it invariably leads to someone choking and shouting phrases such “WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU HAVEN’T SEEN PRETTY IN PINK?” (sigh) This sad state results from (a) my tendency to re-watch favorite movies over and over again and (b) the lack, at certain points in my life, of a proper movie-going buddy. I’ve also had the misfortune of wasting my time on some pretty lame movies. I have a pretty high tolerance for the mediocre, but if you asked me what movies I’d never want to see again, Against All Odds and Hot Dog are at the top of the list. (Now imagine seeing both of those movies when you’re awkward, seventeen, and in equally awkward mixed company.)

It was even tackier and more embarrassing than it looks.

My past efforts to catch up on my movie-watching have been somewhat unsuccessful. One year my husband and I decided to watch our whole VHS movie collection in alphabetical order, starting with Apollo 13. The next morning we turned on the television and were completely disoriented to see the remains of the Space Shuttle Columbia falling to earth over Texas. I don’t think we watched any of our movies for the rest of 2003, having convinced ourselves that we were the most fatal jinx ever. A couple of years later we decided to watch the American Film Institute’s Top 100 Movies, and may have set a Netflix record for Longest Time Between Receipt of DVD and Viewing of Film (a tie between Lawrence of Arabia, which was very long but very good, and Birth of a Nation, which was ugly and painful). After discovering the travel documentaries Long Way Round and Long Way Down, it was hard to go back to ordinary movies.

Those were still older movies on DVD, though, not current releases. For whatever reason, I just don’t get out too often to see the latest blockbuster. When the kids were little, we rarely had a babysitter, so watching films on DVD was more manageable. But even then, films often lost out to the opportunity to watch, say, the entire run of “Sports Night.” (Dan and Casey, Jeremy and Natalie, Dana and Isaac — I miss you!)

Now I have a bit more opportunity to get out and keep up. For a while, though, it looks like I will be spending a lot of time catching up on entire franchises. Last weekend I watched five movies in four days: Star Trek and Star Trek Into Darkness, and Iron Man 1-3. That was… a bit much. Many, many, many, many objects blew up in my face. New and powerful weapons were invented. Friends in conflict fought each other, reconciled, then fought a common enemy side by side. Rules were broken. And the credits rolled on for so long (and I do watch ALL of them) that after a while, particularly for Star Trek Into Darkness, I started looking for my own name. Everyone else in the world apparently worked on it; maybe I had, too, and just forgot. (I didn’t see it; maybe they spelled it wrong.)

But I am so many franchises behind. Spider-Man, Lord of the Rings, anything with an X-Man in it or a lone Avenger in it….

All of this is completely ignoring the DVR buildup I’ve created over the last five months. Five more episodes of “Castle” to watch. BBC America specials on the Second, Third, Fourth, and Fifth Doctors. About a dozen episodes of “Community” (and when I’m done with that one, there is NO MORE). And the box sets…. I have DVD box sets for five seasons of “Doctor Who” and seven seasons of “House.”

Perhaps I should start with the time travel movies, in case they contain the secret to having enough time to watch movies and have a life.

Published in: on May 30, 2013 at 7:22 am  Leave a Comment  

Week Twenty: Cars I Have Known

Last weekend I got a new car. Okay, a new old car. Okay, a new old minivan. But it got me thinking about all the different cars I’ve owned. Of course, every one has a story. And I think that, somewhere, I have pictures of each of them — but I’ll never find them tonight. For illustrative purposes I’ll throw in some stock photography, then update this post as I locate and scan photos of my own cars.

1. 1981 Buick Skylark

Your first car should be special; I’m sure my Dad intended it to be. I was working at my first real full-time job and it was time for a dependable car of my own, not the 1981 Buick Skylark I was borrowing from my parents. I went to several dealerships with Dad and looked at several cars. I wasn’t impressed with any of them, but I did remember that he had me set the parking brake on one car, then he physically pushed it forward several feet. “Nope.” Finally we looked at a 1983 Buick Century. It was a four-door sedan and I hated it on sight. I didn’t like the color, the fit, the feel, or anything else about it. But Dad was in love, utterly smitten. “Maybe,” he finally said, “we could get this car for your mother and you could have the Skylark.”

“I’ll take the Skylark,” I said.

My Buick, parked at my Grove City apartment in a 1992 summer thunderstorm.

My Buick, parked at my Grove City apartment in a 1992 summer thunderstorm.

The transaction was sealed when Mom handed me the keys to the Skylark and said, “Pop the hood.” She then proceeded to show me how to properly apply Gum-Out.

I was happy with the Skylark for a while, but eventually I realized that it was starting to fall apart. I was spending as much each month on repair bills as I would have on a car payment. One day I was making the one-mile drive between work and home when green fluid started pouring into the cabin from somewhere on the other side of the dashboard. When I turned left towards the Shell service station instead of right for home, I had already decided that this car’s days were numbered.

2. 1990 Honda Civic EX

Not my car… but a twin!

The first car I actually bought was the car I should have been warned about, but I never blamed the car. I loved that little thing. But I’m jumping ahead. Let’s go back to when I was taking cars on test drives.

One finalist was the local mega-dealer. If you are now, or have ever been, from Columbus, Ohio, you know who I’m talking about already. I knew I wouldn’t actually buy a car from them, but I was curious about the process. It was even worse than I had expected. I wasn’t allowed to drive the car on their lot because of liability. I asked to see a manual-transmission car and was shown an automatic in shocking pink. The salesman, while driving, tried to sell the car to me based on the fact that the passenger visor had a mirror on it. When I was finally in the salesman’s cubicle and he asked, “What can I do to get you into this car today?” I could honestly say, “Nothing. I told you I was only looking, and you showed me nothing I wanted to see.” And I left.

Another finalist was the Saturn, which at that time was the new kid in town. There were only a couple of dealerships, so I drove north of Worthington to test one out. The people were very nice, and I liked the “no game playing” aspect of the Saturn experience, but the car itself didn’t impress me very much.

Honorable mention goes to a Subaru XT I drove. This is the car that doesn’t have a steering wheel — it has a yoke like you’d see in a fighter jet. A Google search is failing me now, but I think this is the car I drove. It was really unusual looking, and I remember thinking I’d never get used to that yoke instead of a wheel.

I ended up test driving the Honda Civic at a respectable Honda dealership on the north side, near Westerville. The staff members were very casual about the test drive process; they threw me the keys and said, “Bring it back whenever.” Nobody rode with me to do a hard sell. And I really liked the car. I traded in the Skylark, which probably showed up somewhere on the south side at a pay-to-own lot, and purchased my first car.

After I bought the car, its history gradually emerged. It was a dealer loaner, meaning that customers drove it when their cars were in the shop at the dealership. That wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, but when the transmission started giving me problems and they recommended replacing it, the service history of my car really started to emerge. Turns out there wasn’t much of one; even though the car had spent most of its two years right there on the lot, they hadn’t actually bothered to hit its service marks with much accuracy. And this was the second time the transmission had been replaced. Let me repeat: a two-year-old car was now on its third transmission!

The EX model, too, was very “special.” Every time I took the car somewhere for a change or a part, I heard, “OH. You have the EX.” I once spent a whole work day driving across Columbus and back in a raging blizzard to find the proper set of tires for it, only to get stuck in the snow at the entrance to my condo community at the end of the day.

But I didn’t blame the car. It was surprisingly spacious inside — once I managed to fit four Windsor chairs and a king-size waterbed mattress in it. I bolted a roof rack on it and hauled a canoe all over central Ohio. This person had a similar experience with their (also blue) Civic EX.

Yes, the original photo was taken in black and white with a manually operated SLR. The location is actually Sunset Cemetery near Alton, Ohio.

Yes, the original photo was taken in black and white with a manually operated SLR. The location is actually Sunset Cemetery near Alton, Ohio.

When I got a job in Wisconsin, though, and it was time to move, I had the chance to accept a used Audi from my father-in-law, who was buying a brand new Jetta. I sold the Civic to my brother for a dollar, thinking he’d be able to fill it to the brim with band equipment. And as it went with many things I gave or loaned to my brother, I never inquired as to its final disposition.

3. 1988 Audi 80

Not my car, or my wheels. The rest is similar.

This car always had the biggest snob appeal for me. It was tiny and it was eleven years old, but it was cute. And it was an AUDI dammit. We took delivery of it somehow, and I packed it to the moon with everything I could get in it when we moved to Wisconsin — my newborn in the center. I’ll never forget driving on the Chicago Tollway at 65mph with one hand, using the other to position a baby bottle for a freeway feeding as we passed the O’Hare exit. Fast times!

It was a wonderful little car. Like the Civic, the Audi was also pressed into service as a canoe hauler… but only once or twice. Its only liability was that this shade of grey blended perfectly with things like, oh, asphalt. When it was on the road, it was almost invisible. People pulled out in front of me, or nearly did, countless times. For a while I contemplated having the car repainted Tornado Red just so someone might see it. But it wouldn’t have been right. It was a modest, unassuming car.

I had the car for three years, putting on miles via longer and longer trips, and one day on the expressway I heard a blood-chilling THUNK from somewhere below me. Transmission. Almost gone. I saved the car for only necessary trips and started taking the bus to work instead. When I moved to Indiana, we towed the car behind us. After I parked it in my new town, it never started again. When we moved back to Wisconsin three months later, my only option was to sell it for salvage.

I still have the key.

4. 1986 Ford Crown Victoria Wagon

I have a panoramic photo that does justice to my Crown Vic. Until I scan it in, this car from “Tremors” will have to do.

We were the third owners of this car, which we bought in about 2003 from an engineer in Wausau. He had installed air shocks in the back, which were worked by a rocker switch under the dash. It was in wonderful shape for its age, and when the air shocks were pumped up it had a terrific “stance” to it. It also featured a third seat that opened like a cellar door — the riders faced each other.

The Crown Vic was impressive enough, but one day we were getting some sort of service done, and when they ran the VIN the car was identified as a Mustang! What an engine that car had. Amazingly, nobody got a speeding ticket with it.

I often derive a nickname from my car's license plate, so we called this one "Flash" for a while.

I often derive a nickname from my car’s license plate, so we called this one “Flash” for a while.

Does this angle make my tailgate look big?

Does this angle make my tailgate look big?

I don’t remember what started going south on this car, and it could well be that with more kids in the family, we wanted to get a newer car that could handle contemporary child seats. The Crown Vic only had lap belts, and it took a lot of searching to find a Canadian-style booster seat for JC. (You’ve seen one if you’ve ever watched “Caillou.”) When it did come to the end of its service life it was sold for salvage, all 46 tons of it.

5. 2000 Chevy Venture

You’ve seen this van everywhere before.

This minivan puts the “us” in “ubiquitous.” When my oldest son was in second grade, and I drove him to an elementary school that housed only about three grades, this minivan was one of about SIX matching minivans. And I don’t mean that there were six Chevy Ventures. I mean that there were six Chevy Ventures in this exact same shade of red. Just at that small Catholic elementary school in a relatively small town in Wisconsin. The way we spotted ours was to note the broken left taillight casing. This vehicle was so common that the kids and I played a spy game with it, calling out “imposter!” when we spotted yet another twin. It had dual power doors, which eventually failed; other than that its two best features were the electronic compass and the “info” feature on the radio.

Yes... that's a motorcycle.

Yes… that’s a motorcycle.

I have to admit that it was great for long road trips, and it could haul a lot. But it didn’t really have a distinct personality, being the member of the Clone Army that it surely was. It was sold to some local folks who probably fixed it up and flipped it. Every time I pass one I look for a broken left taillight. Maybe it’s having the time of its life in Mexico.

6. 1994 Buick Roadmaster Estate Wagon

Not my car, but it could be, down to the trim FAIL on the driver’s side.

Now we’re talking CAR! This car puts a smile on the face of everyone who sees it. I’ve lost count of how many times middle-aged men have approached me at the gas pumps to tell me about their memories of family vacations as seen from the third seat (a location we refer to as the “Wayback”). Sunroof. Cruise Control. Hydraglide. A tailgate that opens down… or to the side. And a Corvette engine.

The Really Wide Buick. Really!

The Really Wide Buick. Really!

7. 1997 VW Passat (“Helga”)

Wait a minute… Triforce Motors???

This is the car my husband Peter bought with the insurance settlement money after his beloved VW GTI was destroyed, along with his legs, in a car accident in which we were hit by a pickup truck. His quick reflexes saved both our lives, but broke both his legs. I sustained minor injuries, but he earned himself a free (?) helicopter ride to Grant Hospital and was in a wheelchair for weeks. After that trauma, he couldn’t bring himself to buy a little car again. When he was ready to get behind the wheel again, he chose a manual-transmission Passat sedan with a VR6 engine. He named this one “Helga the Barge.” (The GTI had been “Gertrudis.”) He gave me driving lessons in it in 1999, but I was still under the impression you couldn’t hold down the clutch and the accelerator at the same time, so I was striving for an almost impossible timing, and I never drove it after my lessons were over.

After he suddenly passed away in 2011, I asked to have it. It has some bodywork issues, but I’m gradually restoring it to its glory as a touring sedan and hope to make it my primary car within the next five years.

8. 1999 VW Jetta (“Trixie”)

As tested by Motor Trend magazine!

Peter’s father Clayton bought this Jetta in 1999 and passed along his Audi 80 to me. He passed away in 2009, and Peter made sure to drive it at least once a month and keep it in good condition. After Peter himself died, I asked for this car, too. It’s jointly titled to me and to my son James Clayton, Clayton’s only grandchild. When he’s old enough to own his own car, it’s his. Right now it makes a marvelous commuter car (and takes 87 octane!), but it’s a little small for my family of five unless it’s a short trip.

9. 2002 Dodge Caravan

Not my TARDIS… but almost.

The Roadmaster is now falling apart one piece at a time, and when I realized I shouldn’t try to take it on one more round trip to Ohio (and I have at least two such trips planned for this summer), I started searching online for my next car. I was looking more at Subarus (i.e. a vehicle that would hold all of us, but be short enough that I could get a canoe on the roof rack), but the kids begged, “Please, Mom. Get a minivan, and one made in this century.” I thought that was fine, but really hoped I could find a dark blue van that looked like a TARDIS.

One peek at Craigslist Madison, and there it was, in my price range. Hello sweetie! I’m not done geeking it up yet, but all the kids already refer to it as the TARDIS. (JC is still holding out to name it Eccleston, since it’s a TARDIS and my 9th car. Get it??? Well, if it had black leather seats I think it would be an easier sell. But it doesn’t.)

Allons-y!

And it really does feel bigger on the inside.

And it really does feel bigger on the inside.

Published in: on May 16, 2013 at 3:03 pm  Comments (1)