Recently I’ve been trying many new things, but mostly to slow down, take my time, think about what I’m going to do before I do it, and notice (without judging) how I feel. And while these things are valuable to try to do, it’s not on every day that I’m able to do them. My days seem to swing back and forth between “take your time and find your path, my child” and #notenoughhoursintheDAY. When you have three and a half minutes to be somewhere in ten minutes and you can’t find the car keys which are ALWAYS in the same place but today they’re NOT, and someone just realized you really meant to get in the car NOW (and he is, frankly, pretty pissed off about it), and someone ELSE for some reason can’t find their SHOES even though they were WEARING them when they got HOME half an hour ago and HOW could you lose your SHOES in thirty minutes when WE HAVE SOMEWHERE WE NEED TO GO, there isn’t the luxury of sufficient time for mature reflection and dispassionate self-analysis.

Shall we play a game?

Shall we play a game?

Some days you have to have a different method for figuring out how you’re doing. A good day — no, a great day — is like being at DEFCON 5, or Threat Level Green. That’s the day when I drift around the house, ruminating on my good fortune at being able to breathe freely, make my own decisions, and generally appreciate my relative autonomy. That’s the day when I react to good things by muttering “sweetheart” as I go about my business.

Now, I realize that muttering “sweetheart” to an almost empty house makes no sense. I’m not addressing myself or the dog. I don’t have a sweetheart unless you count the memory of having had one, many years ago. And that really just doesn’t count.

I think I say it — almost autonomically — because I feel happy. Comfortable. Settled. Cuddly. Peaceful. Forgiving. All the things you feel when you’re with your sweetheart and all’s right with the world.

A strange game....

A strange game….

Now, that being said, a more difficult day — a DEFCON 3, Threat Level Yellow Day — doesn’t get the same utterance. That’s the day when I feel I’m moving against the flow, swimming upstream, and generally working at cross purposes with the universe.  That’s the day when the word “asshole” spills from my lips. It’s not a “Fish Called Wanda”-level “ASSSSSHOOOOOOOOOOOLLLLLLLLE!” bellowing, just a kind of muted growl at seemingly constant low-level frustrations.

For a long time, I thought that these were the only levels I had. And then came a DEFCON 1 kind of day. Threat Level RED. An “I can’t go back to bed, so you’d better get out of my way” kind of day.


…the only way to win is not to play.

I don’t remember who or what set me off, or how it ever got resolved. All I remember now is that I was channelling the language of an extremely dissatisfied sailor. Whatever I was wandering around muttering, it probably sounded like “!@#$%ing @#$%s!!!!!!”

I like the “sweetheart” days much better. Pretending I’m not alone. Pretending someone understands completely. Pretending that everything, the way it is right now, is just fine and will never change. Oh, sweetheart, that’s just the way I like it.

Published in: on October 1, 2014 at 11:38 pm  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.


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


(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.)


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.


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.)


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-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):


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-Four: Disconnected

Over the past two weeks, my kids and I started to notice that our Internet connection was slowing down. Not everything was affected equally, but YouTube videos took an insane amount of time to load, and we gradually stopped trying to watch them. (Since a majority of The Teen’s waking hours are spent watching videos of other people playing Minecraft, this was a big deal for him.)

One night a friend sent me a YouTube link on Facebook and was saddened when I reported that, in essence, life was too short to permit its viewing. He then sent me a link to a speed-test site, which revealed that while my upload speeds were in the common parlance “slow,” download speeds were better described as “glacial.”


Maybe we can blame this on Scrat, too.

Now, water always wins, and glacial actions are powerful over time, but this is OUR INTERNET we were talking about, and we needed to see our STUFF. I kept promising myself I’d turn the router off before I went to bed some night and turn it on again in the morning, and everything would be fine. But I kept forgetting. By the time I woke up each morning, the kids were already at the computer and would not be prised off.

So, Sunday night after all the kidlets were in bed and presumably sleeping, I called our Internet provider. I figured it was a simple matter of walking through a modem reset, usually accomplished by following the instructions dictated by an automated voice, and then we’d be back to normal. However, to one of the simple questions I gave an answer that punted me to an Actual Person.


The phone tech, in the nicest possible American Southern drawl, asked me to connect a laptop (do you have a laptop? Baby do I have laptops!) directly to the cable modem, bypassing the router. She started running speed tests on her end while I started my laptop, shut it down, and started it again when I was asked to (oops). After a few minutes of my waiting for the aged iBook to launch Firefox (during which time I completely forgot that I simply can’t access the home wireless network while I’m using the landline, which I was [oops]), I heard her say, “Oh. Y’all don’t have to try to get the Internet. Ah can see a BIG problem from here. We’ll send a technician to your house as soon as possible.”

Good luck, Fred.

Good luck, Fred.

To her, “as soon as possible” means Tuesday morning between 8 and 10am.

I thanked her, hung up, and put everything back to the way it had been before… or I at least tried. I reset everything, and ran diagnostics twice, but I couldn’t connect to the Internet.


If my home wireless network can’t connect to the Internet, my Kindle and my smartphone are going to have serious problems. Remember, I live on a former dairy farm in the middle of Seriouslyrural, Wisconsin. We do not so much have, how are you saying, The Signal.

I can probably make a phone call if I go outside and sit in the car. But until Tuesday morning, I can’t do Facebook. The Teen can’t watch walkthrough videos. The younger three can’t go online to create their own video games on the new gamebuilder site they just got accounts on. I can’t report half my email as spam. I can’t go on WebMD to find out that tweak in my left shoulder is some kind of ligament tumor. I can’t go to allrecipes.com and plug in the amounts of fresh peaches, pears, and plums I have on the kitchen table and find recipes to use them up ASAP. I can’t search unlv.edu to see if that’s where my mathematician-friend Craig will be teaching this fall. I can’t log on to Amazon.com and one-click order that  Cuisinart ice cream maker with which I can start trying out all those Jeni’s ice cream recipes.


I will make it clear that we are not Amish. We do have iTunes, Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. And we do have the Wii, the brand-new-to-us GameCube, the PS2, the PS1, and the Sega Genesis. We have the iPad mini, the Kindle Fire, the old Kindles, the GameBoys, and the DS units. We have cable television and dozens of DVDs.


Frankly, I’m going to spend my disconnected time in the kitchen. (I do have those peaches, plums, and pears to make something of before the fruit flies consume us all.) When I’m not in the kitchen, I have knitting to work on, and a TARDIS bookcase to paint up in primer. My children may be the anti-Amish, but I do have my Mennonite tendencies on which to fall back in times of crisis such as these.

But the children! Think of the children! Will they remember how to ride their bicycles? How to keep journals? How to draw and paint? How to help Mom make chocolate–peanut butter fudge, poach pears, and make homemade pizza? How to read books? How to play in the park? How to read their library books before they’re due?

Right now, very early Monday morning, that amber light is still flashing on the AirPort, and I’m…concerned.

Blink on, blink off.

Blink on, blink off.

In the words of Peter Gabriel, “Dear god…what have I done?”

Published in: on August 22, 2013 at 10:00 am  Comments (3)  

Week Twenty-Seven: Kicking the Bucket

2007’s “The Bucket List” is another one of those Movies I Haven’t Seen (shhh), but everyone is familiar with the concept of a bucket list. Mine has music on it. Sure, I’d like to travel (Canada, Ireland, England, Spain, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, Japan), but seeing bands live in concert is more likely.

My Bucket List of Performers
Barenaked Ladies
Barry Manilow
Those Darn Accordions*
Weird Al Yankovic

umm…can’t think of anybody else right now. If I saw a living legend such as Paul McCartney or Paul Simon or Eric Clapton live I might just explode, so gods like that aren’t even on the wishlist. Keep in mind that I have already been fortunate enough to have seen Don Henley (and Susanna Hoffs!), Pink Floyd, Jackson Browne, Koko Taylor, Bill Cosby, a Cinematic Titanic show on Joel Hodgson’s birthday, They Might Be Giants (twice), and Rush (multiple times). And just writing a letter of appreciation to Tom Lehrer is a bucket list item I need to accomplish. Oh, yeah, I would like to see Lydia Loveless more often, but she doesn’t get to Wisconsin very often. I may have to settle for playing Scrabble against her at Thanksgiving. 😉

Her schedule should be at this link — if she’s in your town, you’ll kick yourself if you miss her.

Last year I actually had tickets to a Barry Manilow concert, but he cancelled it when he realized he wasn’t coming back from hip surgery as well as he’d hoped. That’s totally fair, and I understand, but the rescheduled date didn’t work for us and we ended up selling the tickets. So I still have to hunt Barry down before he stops touring the world and doing shows. (But dang, those tickets are expensive.) I’ve wanted to see him since approximately 1978.

Where I was, and Barry wasn't.

Where I was, and Barry wasn’t.

Well, last week I got to sort of cross one of these bands off my list when I discovered that Weird Al had written a second children’s book and was doing a signing on the west side of Milwaukee. We were so there. Even though we so didn’t plan the evening out completely, and didn’t get to eat dinner until after our books were signed by the gracious Mr. Yankovic at 10:15pm, I call it a success. I would still love to see him and his band in concert, but if it doesn’t happen, I got to shake his hand…and forgot to ask him to sign my “Bad Hair Day” CD.

It's him! It's really him!

It’s him! It’s really him!

This week my list gets even shorter. I have tickets for my oldest son and I to see Rush — the sixth (?) time for me, but the first time for him. That alone should make for a fantastic evening, but then I looked at the festival schedule and saw there was a Rush tribute band performing twice before the Rush concert. (Okay, so we’ll go early and catch that too! Squee!) Then I did a double-take at the festival schedule and saw that Barenaked Ladies will be performing after the Rush concert. (Okay, so we’ll also stay late and catch that too! Double squee!)

They performed this in Grand Rapids on June 30, so there’s a chance I’ll get to hear it!

One of the fun songs from the “Gordon” album. It was hard to pick something representational that wasn’t “If I Had a Million Dollars.” They are so silly here but I love their energy.

The stars don’t align like this every year, which should give me time to recover from the ticket prices and save up for the next passing accordion band.


*I am a sucker for happy party music in any language and from any culture. It can be conjunto, ska, zydeco, Celtic punk, or a Polish-language polka Mass; if it features a sprightly accordion, I’m in! This explains my attraction to They Might Be Giants, Weird Al Yankovic, and Barry Manilow (he was a good Jewish boy and faithfully took his accordion lessons). So, when I heard that there was a whole BAND named after accordions, I just had to put them on the list.


In other news, I finished knitting the pair of slippers for my grandmother, and stunned my knitting group by working on a sock project they hadn’t seen for months. They think I’m all about the lace shawl these days. I like to get them off balance every once in a while.

And when The Teen came with me to knitting tonight, Bonnie started teaching him how to crochet. He’s already doing it better than I do. (They said so. Harrumph!)

Published in: on July 3, 2013 at 8:35 am  Comments (1)  

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?



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.


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: 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.)


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)  

Week Seventeen: Needs More Macintosh

I’m not a person who tends to throw things out. (Michael, I can hear you laughing from all the way over here. Please pick yourself off the floor. You’re excused.) But lately I have had the need and the opportunity to go through my possessions and decide what truly needs to stay and what can go on its merry way to the trash bin (broken toys), the recycling pile (six-year-old shredded utility bills), or a new happy home (so long, dear Olympia manual typewriter!).

Now my surroundings are becoming more of a reflection of all my interests, and I’ve decided to enhance one of those interests with a conscious effort towards a minor-league collection of Macintoshes.

In 1988 I bought (with the assistance of my then-future-mother-in-law’s signature on the Apple Credit application) a Macintosh SE. It was a thing of glory that came with System 6.0.7, and I souped it up as much as I could. It had a whole 1 megabyte of RAM. Instead of a standard Apple 20 megabyte hard drive, it had a 45 megabyte hard drive shoehorned in there. Instead of the standard keyboard, I bought a DataDesk extended keyboard that had the same layout as the IBM PC with which everyone was familiar. (My roommate, a paper science and engineering major, especially liked this whenever she needed to borrow it to write up a report.) I had planned to buy an optical mouse (it worked via a special reflective mouse pad), but the store was out of those when I went shopping, so I had the standard mouse. And I bought the first of many Hewlett-Packard printers to go with it, a DeskJet whose model number I don’t remember. Somewhere along the line I picked up a 1200 baud modem, and I was good to go. No, there was no Internet yet, not that I knew how to get to — but there were university bulletin boards where we hacked into each others’ secret forums, moderated discussion groups of all flavors, and generally had fun outgeeking each other.

Somebody else’s Datadesk keyboard.

Several Macs later, one stupid day I sold that SE back to a computer store. I don’t know what brought me to that day, why I thought it was a good idea for even a second, or even how much money I made on the deal. It couldn’t have been much at all. But I must have been convinced that since I couldn’t upgrade it and keep it current, it wasn’t worth keeping around. WHAT was I thinking? I should have kept it. It was a fine computer and I had many good memories associated with it.

Since then I’ve hung on to each old Macintosh (my mother once chided me, saying there was no such thing as an “old” computer), each tired printer, each set of power cords and A/V cables, every mouse. Michael once teased me (don’t think I can’t HEAR you back there. I said you were EXCUSED) that I had a “Macseum” in the making. And now that I have cleared a little bit of space, I’m starting to develop that Mac Museum concept a bit. Thoughtfully this time.

Last weekend I was killing time by trolling eBay in the “vintage computers” category. The existence of this category on eBay is what makes it an extremely good thing that I can never remember my eBay account name and password, or I would have already purchased a somewhat random nameplate from a UNIVAC. (Just $7.50! It’s a piece of history!)

The UNIVAC operator console, with operator Joneal Williams-Daw .

Thinking locally, in large measure because of the shipping charges needed to make sure a $75 computer could make it to me all the way from Texas, or Florida, or [gulp] California, I turned to Craigslist and found such a deal. Within an hour’s drive was a Macintosh Plus that needed a new home. It worked, and it came with all the parts, plus software (on 3.5-inch diskette) and manuals. And… the seller would throw in a Macintosh Performa 6300 as a bonus. It worked too, and also came with software (on CD-ROM) and manuals.

I went with my teenage son to pick it up, and we were both thrilled. I can’t quite put words to why he was so excited to ride along with his mother to go pick up a couple of old computers, but for me it was a rediscovery of my original love for the Macintosh. Macs were not the first computers I had ever used or owned, but they were the first ones that worked intuitively for me, and the first ones that seemed to have personalities. I wrote on them, tried to teach composition on them, and eventually learned to fix them.

I set up the new computers and took a look around. In one room I had three Macs. In other I had seven. And upstairs…. four iMacs, donated by a friend? I had lost count. They were buried in the closet of a room shared by two very untidy boys, and I’d have to step on quite a few Legos to verify that number. Better keep it vague.

Mind you, other folks have significantly more money, time, and space invested in their Macintosh collections than I ever will. I have seen pictures of racks and racks full of computers that would give you chills. Full garages. Full basements. I’m personally hoping to have working Macs that serve as 90 percent décor, 10 percent “It’s time to play Duck Hunt!” And some of the models on my to-find list are rare enough that I wouldn’t insist they be anything better than a clean doorstop. That includes the original 128K Mac, as well as items like the Mac XL, the Lisa, and the Macintosh Portable, a 16-pound shoulder-stretcher from 1987. They would just be cool to have.

The Mac XL, or “Hackintosh” — Lisa’s body and the Mac’s brains.

And look at this SE — a one-of-eight prototype in a clear plastic case, designed for airflow studies!

While I was researching the technical specifications on the new Macs I’d brought home, I noticed a value called the “Gestalt ID.” This is a whole-number ID given to each distinct release of Macintosh. The original 128K Macintosh has a Gestalt ID = 1. My new old Mac Plus has a Gestalt ID = 4. The Performa 6300 has a Gestalt ID = 42. In real life, it was used to call certain sets of programming functions. For my purposes, it’s like a checklist that writes itself. And no, I don’t feel a need to collect them all. But a showcase of good examples of each of the early Compact Macs would be something to see. I might even sell off some of the mid-range Macs to fund the quest for the early survivors.

So Friday afternoon, I have a date. A date to drive to Monona and purchase a Macintosh SE FDHD. Three down, ten to go.

The first Mac to offer the 1.44 megabyte “SuperDrive.”

Published in: on April 25, 2013 at 12:44 pm  Comments (2)