Friday, March 30, 2007

Wish List

Ever since my brother at the age of 3 asked Santa for blue cheese, wish lists have been an endless source of amusement for me.

A few years later, my brother asked for a real space ship that could really fly, but since he couldn't read yet, he wanted pictures for controls.

* * *

Son has asked for the following for his upcoming birthday:

*won or too Pesis of stirfom [one or two pieces of styrofoam]
*new bathroob
*new tape player [the audio kind that records]
*white paper
*kilt, plaid [a girl's school uniform from the thrift store]
*And I all so want your love from Mama and Papa
*brown slip-on shoes from Land's End
*jester shoes, I dont no war

After reading his list, I was very pleased to see that in addition to the usual material things (and the unusual material things), he wanted parental love and an end to war.

When I read over the list with him, he corrected me: "Not 'no war,' Mama!. 'I DON'T KNOW WHERE!' I don't know where to find jester shoes. Land's End doesn't have them."

Anybody have any ideas on where to buy them or how to make them quickly? (I think I might be able to make up a felted slipper pattern?)

Getting jester shoes might be easier than trying to end war by the end of the month....

* * *


My friend from Scotland had breakfast with me yesterday morning--and asked if when she's next here she could bring Son a "wee bagpipe"--which will excite him to no end. For the last two years, he's been using a homemade bagpipe that he invented: he blows up a balloon, slips it over the end of his recorder, and plays notes as he expels the air through the recorder.

He gets a bagpipe, and I get a nice ear plug...

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Spinning Silk Hankies

My spinning wheel, Annabel Lee, lives on our unheated closed-in back porch. She has been lonely for most of the winter--but this week's gorgeously warm afternoons have me dreaming of unspun fibers.

Today I pulled out a beautifully-dyed silk hankie that Son helped pick out at Rhinebeck.

Then I quickly looked up the very helpful directions I remembered reading on Knitty about how to spin silk hankies.

First, peel off just one thin layer of the hankie. This is one cocoon which has been stretched out to dry on a frame.

Put your fingers through the center, pulling outward to a hold is formed in the middle and the surrounding fibers begin to draft. You can draft so the roving is thick or really quite thin.

Break it apart in one spot and roll the remaining fibers very loosely to store until you spin it up.

My hankie was made up of roughly 10 layers.

Although the Knitty article suggests that this fiber is perfect for spindles, I used my wheel and got just a bit of yarn on the bobbin.

Shall I purchase another few hankies at MD Sheep and Wool to ply this with? Or knit a bit of trim onto something? Or ply with Cormo or BFL or something? I'd love some ideas!

P.S. Some of these photos were taken with sunlight and some with flash. Neither is at all color-accurate. Imagine something in between.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007


7yo Son and his 5yo friend pull out the globe, set it on the coffee table, and plot their journey around the world.

They start in Florida, then visit Cuba to pick up extra supplies to help them get across the Atlantic.

7yo: "Then we'll go up and hit Spain and France. We'll stop and enjoy things, then pick up some ship's biscuits. And wine. Fine wine."

5you: "Then we'll sail across the Mediterranean and down to Africa! We'll visit all the animals. Especially the lions. And observe the desert."

7yo: "Yes. Then we'll travel around India, sail through the islands of Java and Singapore and the Philippines, and then to China. There we will pick up spices. And silk."

5yo: "And egg rolls!"

7yo: "Yes. Egg rolls. Of course."

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Knotty Problems

After my month-long craving for the simple knit stitch (and the resulting not-quite-finished Zimmermann garter sweaters, socks, etc.), I am finally OVER it.

I needed excitement, distraction, complication!

Sivia Harding's gorgeous Diamond Fantasy Shawl fit the bill to perfection.

As did she, I gilded the lily with a variegated yarn. My choice was Helen's Lace in the Buck's Bar colorway.

Somehow I managed to snarl the yarn into what I thought was a slip knot:

I pulled and tugged, untangled with my short fingernails, tried to unknot with a pair of sewing needles, etc. No doing.

Finally, in frustration, I threw it down and picked up Miriam Felton's Seraphim Shawl.

The yarn--what a treat to knit with!--is Mongolian Cashmere in the Deep Denim Colorway.

After about a row and a half, I came to this:

Another knot that wasn't in the yarn when I had it on the ball-winder. Good grief....

Monday, March 26, 2007

On the Menu: Weekend Brunch

1. Mimosas, made with the same kind of champagne we served at our wedding.

2. Wild Rice Pancakes, made from a mix we bought at Eco-Green Living in downtown DC.

For a while we've been thinking about ordering some wild rice from the same people who make this mix: White Earth Land Recovery Project and Native Harvest. Winona LaDuke, former Green Party VP candidate, is the organization's founding director. As their website says, "The mission of the White Earth Land Recovery Project is to facilitate recovery of the original land base of the White Earth Indian Reservation, while preserving and restoring traditional practices of sound land stewardship, language fluency, community development, and strengthening our spiritual and cultural heritage."

The pancakes were delicious! We added the last of our frozen blueberries to some of them. Yummy.

3. Homemade butter. Son and I made it from cream we bought from Farmer Dan, our dairy supplier.

Small amounts of butter are fun to "churn" by putting fresh cream and a marble in a glass jar, then shaking until you can't hear the marble hitting the glass. Shake a few more times, drain off the buttermilk, and press any extra liquid out of the butter. You can add salt at this point, or honey. Or, if you are using raw cream, try culturing it overnight before making the butter. Cultured butter has no salt but lends a savory flavor that I love.

But now, as the week starts anew, we leave behind our leisurely breakfasts for a few days. Perhaps next weekend we can have brunch outside!

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Shopping for a New Car while Knitting

David, Son and I each packed our knitting bags and headed out for a day of shopping. We love our little red Honda Koigu--but after ten years and 110,000 miles, it is beginning to look worn.

We spent the afternoon looking at our options:

We quickly realized that the BMW Cashmere and the Lexus Malabrigo were out of our price range. We needed something affordable--although we were thinking we would splurge a bit more than the Suzuki Acrylic.

The Nissan Merino is really cute but it was a bit too bulky for us. The Mini-Gansey, on the other hand, seemed too small for our family of three.

We considered two American-made cars: the Ford Cascade 220 and the Chevy Alpaca.

After a long day shopping, we're leaning towards Toyota's new hybrid, the Kidsilk. It comes in some lovely colors and, as Greenies, we really like its yardage....

Anybody have any advice about other cars?

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Back When I Could Fly

I used to be invisible, a shape changing magic kid.
I could move at the speed of thought and frequently I did,
But my greatest accomplishment was a slow and looping glide.
I saw the tops of everything, back when I could fly.

I'd take my daily nap on the highest leafy branch,
And follow shooting stars on a comet's fiery lance.
I was quite the prodigy, when I owned the sky.
I never thought I'd have to walk, back when I could fly.

Keep your eye on the ball, your feet on solid ground.
Always sit up straight and tall and never make a sound.
In just a few short years, I learned not to be a child,
And I forgot the things I had when I was wild.

Now, my child, you'll learn arithmetic, coloring and sports.
You'll have a flair for nouns and verbs, and be late with book reports.
But in spite of all the rules that bind your wings so tight,
I hope you won't forget about the days when you could fly.

I'd take my daily nap on the highest leafy branch,
And follow shooting stars on a comet's fiery lance.
I was quite the prodigy, when I owned the sky.
I never thought I'd have to walk,
I never had to try,
Back when I could fly.

Lyrics by Keith & Beth Grimwood/Idlet
Song recorded by Trout Fishing in America

(You can listen to about thirty seconds of the song at the link. While you're there, check out the hilarious "The Window"!)

Tuesday, March 20, 2007


Monday, March 19, 2007

Pairs Pears, #4

Poached pears are an excellent and very flexible dessert:

Peel a pear for each diner. Use any kind of pear, but keep in mind that a firm pear works especially well. Keep the stem intact if you can. If you are choosing in advance and are really picky, try to pick out pears that stand upright well.

Heat a liquid (red wine? cranberry juice? white wine? water? ginger ale?) to a good simmer. (If you use a deep red wine, you'll get an absolutely gorgeous ruby-colored pear.)

Add some sugar (or honey? or molasses? or maple syrup?) if you are using a tart or flavorless or non-sweet liquid. Or don't.

Add some seasonings if it pleases you (ginger? cinnamon? lemon peel? orange peel? vanilla extract?).

When the liquid is good and just bubbling, add peeled pears and let simmer for about 15 minutes. Take the pears out at that point and turn up the heat. Allow the liquid to boil down to a syrup.

Serve the pears and syrup at any temperature--possibly with cream, buttermilk, yogurt, kefir, creme fraiche, whipped cream, or ice cream. Whatever you have. It is also glorious by itself.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Pairs, #3

Knitting and cuddling on the couch:

My sock-in-progress (and foot) on the left, with David's sock-in-progress (and foot) on the right.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Pairs, #2

Two little Tomtems...

one in red, being knit by me with Lamb's Pride for a young friend whose brother and sister love Astrid Lindgren's The Tomten and the Fox:

and one in gray Paton's Classic Merino, being knit by David for another little friend:

Elizabeth Zimmermann and family knitting projects seem to go hand in hand.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Pairs, #1

Baby Surprise--Twins!

David and I each have several projects on our needles. These brilliant Zimmermann sweaters are ready for buttonholes. (D's is on the left, knit from Paton's Classic Merino. Mine is the sweater on the right, knit with Jamieson and Smith's Shetland Jumper Weight.) We both loved Meg Swansen's DVD instructions. There may be more of these in our futures!


After receiving a private message accusing me of supporting evil, I thought I should clarify to all of you that "Not Buying It" in yesterday's post title referred to the book's title rather than my opinions of the author's arguments!

Carry on. Sorry for any confusion. Buy your groceries at the Co-op or the farmer's market or pick up your CSA share. You'll support those who provide your food and also make yourself feel part of a community!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

"Not Buying It"--then Resubscribing

From Judith Levine's Not Buying It: My Year Without Shopping:

Anti-tax pundits would have us believe that we taxpayers are bankrolling the fat wages and benefits package of the public-sector worker, while Wal-Mart is carrying its own weight. In fact, by declining to offer its workers insurance or sufficient wages to buy the basics for themselves, Wal-Mart shifts the bill to the state. After all, the cashier gets sick anyway, her children get hungry. When these things happen, she turns to Medicaid or food stamps, and the rest of us subsidize not just the cashier but Wal-Mart itself.

Levine chronicles the insufficient wages and hours of employees, unfair treatments of suppliers, environmental degradation, etc. caused by Wal-Mart and other big box stores including Target. She then quotes her friend Flavio:

When Wal-Mart tells you they are doing this to give the consumer the lowest price, they are using you as an alibi. Every time you shop there, you have to be conscious of that. It's you that makes this possible. It's not the Big Brother watching over you. It's you.

* * *

But this is news I can really embrace (and put my money behind)! How exciting!

Monday, March 12, 2007

Friday, March 09, 2007

Traveling Forward

We've been on the road a lot in the last two weeks. David had back-to-back meetings out of town and Son and I took advantage of the opportunity to join him.

It was in the mid 70s and gorgeous at Wrightsville Beach:

We drove back through the Outer Banks, stopping for some running around at Jockey's Ridge:

Son was thrilled to visit the memorial dedicated to the Wright Brothers:

On the drive back, we stopped in southern Virginia for the evening and enjoyed a few hours poking around Colonial Williamsburg before we headed back to Takoma Park:

Found a knitter!

And, as we walked back in time from the parking lot to the historic area, we found others who eat like we try to do:

Then back in the car for a few more hours' drive in Maryland. After spending one day at home washing clothes and repacking, we headed up to Philadelphia--and found ourselves accidentally in the Arctic. We trudged through the snow to see Independence Hall...

...the Liberty Bell...

...and, best of all, Stuntmother and Eyeknit! What wonderful women. They made me and my son feel welcome immediately--and they filled me with ideas about some of the issues I wrote about in my last post. Thanks to them--and also to all of you who left comments. I think I am getting to a place of better understanding and comfort.

As much fun as we had, I must say I am glad to be home. The smells of the kitchen are so much more pleasurable than the odors of strong hotel cleansers and chlorine from hotel pools.

Tonight is Shabbat. Right now I'm making chicken soup and challah. These feel to me like symbols of peace and tranquility. And that is what I need right now.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007


When we decided to have a child, I very carefully timed pregnancy. I wanted to conceive in August so birth would come in May--right as the semester ended at my university. That way I could have four months at home with the baby before returning to the classroom in the fall. If pregnancy didn't happen that month the first year, we'd try in August of the next year.

As luck would have it, I did get pregnant that first month, thanks in part to the infinite wisdom of a totally life-altering book (explanation another time). I finished grading exams little more than 24 hours before my son was born.

We settled into a summer rhythm of nursing, napping, reading aloud (historical monographs in a sing-song lilt), and more nursing. Sometimes David would walk in at the end of the day and ask what I did with the day. "Change sides" was all I could think of.

It stunned me that at the end of the summer, I could not imagine going back to my teaching job. I took off a year, then finally quit entirely. I finished my dissertation, turned it into a book--then started another one with a friend and have finished it down to the copy editing.

I am a historian.

No, I am not.

Mine is a job that has to survive on two hours a day most days--fewer when I need the emotional recovery of knitting during part of my son's reading-or-napping time each afternoon, more on weekends or when pushing deadlines. By evening, my brain refuses to participate. And now the second book is basically finished, anyway.

Am I a professor? No.

Do I make any money? Only enough to buy a spinning wheel with my royalties. Not enough to live without my partner's salary should that ever become necessary or desirable.

Could I get an academic job at this point? No. If you come out with a new PhD and get one job anywhere in the world, you have to consider yourself lucky. If you haven't taught in almost eight years, you are not going to be one of those lucky ones.

Have I thrown everything away?

And I don't believe I could find a job that would fulfill me or challenge me as much as time in my own warped brain does or give me what time with my amazingly cool child does.

I feel trapped, unsure of where I am, what I want with my life, unable to make other decisions even if I did know what they should be.

Am I a SAHM? I am the parent at home, certainly. And that used to be an incredibly important job. Back when our son was tiny, he needed constant care and attention. He was nourished by my presence, both figuratively and quite literally.

My son and I have a lovely time together still--and he certainly is not ready to be alone. But this job is a lot less essential than it used to be. It may be just as fulfilling for me, but it no longer feels like what I am giving is all that necessary for my son. I mean, most folks, even SAHMs, send their kids to school by this point.

But wait--I'm homeschooling parent! That is the job, isn't it? Yes. No. I take notes on what my son does, and I go to the required county portfolio review. But he is his own teacher, his own guide. That is how he's chosen to homeschool. Seeing him find his own path gives me great joy, even as it points out how extraneous I am to the whole endeavor.

Am I a housewife? I suppose I am.

It is not the job I wanted, not a job I acknowledge is mine. If you look at the piles of dirty laundry, the dishes, the grimy bathtub, the floors that have not been vacuumed in ages, you'll know that no one in this house identifies with the job of housewife.

These are tasks that I believe should remain completely unshackled to gender.

But then one person--in this story the one who can breastfeed--quits her job to to be home with a child. It is so wonderful, so beautiful, so much better than all the stupid stuff that has to get done at the office, so much more challenging and rewarding than the office, so much harder and exhausting than the office.... Then that parenting at home job starts being less time-consuming, even though it is ever-more mind consuming.

Our plans for completely egalitarian parenting were swept aside. We kept up the good fight within the confines of a more and more traditional life.

Now that I have fewer parental duties, should our commitments to egalitarian housekeeping be dumped too, in favor of the traditional wifely responsibilities?

It is starting to seem like the answer is yes.

It this where all the touted "women's choices" lead? Do we choose one thing--the experience of staying home with our children--and then by habit start falling into a life we had rejected? What kind of trick is this?

Is THIS really the lesson I am passing on to my child? That this is what women are supposed to do, want to do?

Trapped, mostly by things I loved, and still love. I love being home with my son. He and I both love the magic of homeschooling. If I were to work outside the home right now, those things would be lost. I can't imagine that life would be improved in any way.

I don't even think we could step back to the almost genderless kind of identities we used to have before our child was born, back when my partner's better-paying job was matched by the depth of my passion for my career.

I don't have that passion for a university job anymore.

Who am I?

Can I just tell myself I am a knitter and let the whole identity crisis be swept under a rug?

It wouldn't be found there around this house....


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