Monday, January 23, 2006

I Hope Neither One of Them Cries

Some days, the best thing about being a parent is the chance to meet your children's friends and acquaintances.

Some days, it's not so great.

Isaac plays second chair flute in his band, and he's unhappy about it. Later today he will "challenge" the first chair flute for her position. I love my son. I wish him success and happiness. But, due to a variety of reasons, I also know the first chair flute and my heart breaks for her.

I met "B" a couple of years ago when I had a long-term substitute position and she was in one of the classes. She's quiet, somewhat shy, the oldest in a family of several girls, and at the time, had perhaps more than her fair share of adolescent awkwardness. She's growing out of her awkwardness and is hard-working and dedicated to the band. She always smiles and speaks to me when we see each other, and I'm pleased to see her successes. First chair flute was a major success for her.

Now, Isaac is challenging that success.

Isaac has an advantage in that he performs well under pressure. He has thought his placement was wrong since the day it was posted, and maybe he's right. He has worked all weekend on the challenge music and feels that he is well prepared. Undoubtedly B has also prepared well.

I hope that no matter what, my son is gracious. Win or lose, I hope that he will thank the director for his time, and give a fair report to his private lessons teacher (who is B's teacher as well). If he loses, I hope that he will look B in the eye and congratulate her, but most of all, if he wins, I hope he will be kind and remember that his success is not his alone, and that with greater honor goes greater responsibility.

And I hope neither one of them cries.

Culture Shock

Alex was housebound with strep throat this weekend, so I took advantage of his captivity to do something that I'd been threatening the boys with for months.

We watched "Gone With the Wind".

I'd seen it a couple of times in theaters years ago and when Elizabeth was in middle school she and a friend watched it at a sleepover; I think they fell asleep about 30 minutes into the Reconstruction and missed the steamier scenes with Rhett and Scarlett altogether. It seems that most middle school girls spend a couple of weeks somewhere along the way toting around the unabridged version of the book and sighing over Scarlett's adventures. It's probably worth a boatload of Accelerated Reader points and it can't hurt to tie in to a bit of American History class.

But that's girls. My sons were AWARE of the girls toting the book around, but showed no particular interest in reading it themselves. They knew the names of the battles, they knew the names of the generals, but Scarlett and Mr. O'Hara and Belle Watling were mysteries. The gracious plantation of "Tara" was confusing; they have a cousin with that name, but as a location? No. Even the name "Clark Gable" didn't bring any recognition.

So, we settled in for the epic story. It was every bit as splendid as I remembered, and they were quickly caught up in the characters, the places and the occasional lines of text that scroll across the screen. We took it in turns to read the text aloud.

I was amused to find that they knew exactly what a blockade runner was; after all, the Star Wars movies are full of them. They were astonished to hear Mr. O'Hara refer to "House Darkies" and "Field Darkies" and instruct Scarlett in how to properly relate to "inferiors". It is a credit to the society of which they are a part that such discussion shocks them. They were properly offended at the behaviour of the Carpetbaggers and I think appropriately recognized the good that was Melanie Wilkes. They are ahead of me there; when I read the book for the first time, in middle school, I couldn't bear "Melly". Her character appeals more to maturity, I suppose.

Alex and Isaac may never read the book, and that's fine. But someday, perhaps they will have middle school aged daughters, and when I exercise my right as a grandmother to ordain their reading material and send these imagined young ladies an unabridged copy of "Gone With the Wind", they may remember a bit of the magic. Maybe they will take 4 hours and watch the movie again, taking it in turns to read the scrolling text aloud.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Juvenile Storage

I love "Target". If Target doesn't have it, I probably don't need it. (Except for knitting supplies...they aren't too hot on knitting supplies. But everything else). Still, I was a bit disconcerted the last time I was there to see a large sign advertising specials on "Juvenile Storage".


Didn't know I needed someplace to store my children. They have bedrooms, one each, and they seem to be doing pretty well with those. Perhaps I should look more closely into these boxes or closets or what-have-you meant for Juvenile Storage. Could I close and lock them when I was tired of dealing with the kid? Put them neatly away at the end of the day, folded and with all the parts in order? Perhaps a unit with refrigeration, to extend the sweetness of life with an 8 year old boy, or maybe the model with built-in filters to deal with pre-teen eye-rolling and any whining left over from earlier years?

Juvenile Storage. What a concept.

Nothing, however, compared to Feline Storage.

You can't buy that. You can't build it, plan it, ordain it. The Feline will decide.

Monday, January 16, 2006

And a Mary Christmas to All

Mom and Dad sent me a package last week. Carefully packed in a cardboard shipping box filled with foam peanuts to protect the contents, I found a grocery-sized bag filled with labeled file for each year of school. I was vaguely aware that the files existed; Dad occasionally sends a few papers or reports or worksheets from my childhood to my own children when they are of a similar age. Now, Dad was cleaning out the basement and wanted to give me the choice to keep or to toss the contents.

Thirteen years of public schooling condensed into one grocery bag. I'm still working my way through the files, and I'm fascinated. So much I remember so clearly, and so much I have forgotten.

I am delighted to have a research paper from high school on "South Africa". I remember "signing up for countries" in Mr. Rohlfing's World History class, and being disappointed because someone had beaten me to "France". Twenty-some pages from a time when spellcheck programs were not generally available and typing errors were painstakingly rubbed out with a brush-ended eraser and maps were drawn and colored by hand. I appear to have gone that extra mile; each map has a fancy hand-drawn and colored border.

I was feeling pretty good about that paper, and the 74 out of a possible 75 points until Isaac looked through it and found a mistake on one of my maps. I'd like to say I could blame it on ever-changing world politics, but I can't. The map is wrong.

The Christmas card at the top of this post is a relic from 1st grade. It's reassuring to know that catching on to homophones (or rather, NOT catching on) is relatively timeless. I'm impressed today with that manger. I still draw mangers pretty much the same way I did when I was 6. Mary (or "Merry", if you will) most obviously had the hand of God upon her. I've had three babies. I certainly didn't feel as "merry" as she appears, just a few hours after having given birth. "Merry" looks as if she is up to offering hors d'oeuvres and wine to the shepherds. I remember now, looking at the picture, the excitement I felt when I figured out how to draw "swaddling clothes". So excited, evidently, that I graced one of the Wise Men with the same costume as the Babe. Inside the card, a rustic stable is lit by a spidery star and a fully decorated Christmas tree. The second Wise Man there bears an uncanny resemblance to Santa. Christmas has always been religious AND secular to me.

Christmas, and the days leading up to it, have always been my favorite time of year. Thanks, Dad and Mom, for extending Christmas 2005 just a little bit longer.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Mini Christmas Stockings

These little socks have been a part of our Christmases ever since I found the pattern in the Denver Post when I was about 14. I've made anywhere from 2 to a dozen new ones nearly every year since then. It has become a point of honor to only use white, red and green yarns, generally in sport weight on size 2 or 3 needles.

Eventually the original newspaper clipping was lost, but this is the pattern that has settled into my mind.

CO 20 stitches. Work 6 rows in garter stitch.

Change yarn colors. Work 16 rows in stockinette stitch.
(These 16 rows can be in one solid color, or a simple pattern can be worked in this section)

End with a purl row, break off all but one color to work the foot.

On next row, knit across 13 stitches, turn work
Purl back across 6 stitches
Work back and forth on these 6 stitches only for 6 more rows (forming top of foot)

Pick up 6 stitches along side of foot section, Knit across 6 stitches, Pick up 6 more stitches along other side of foot section, knit remaining 7 stitches. You should have 30 stitches on the needle.
Purl back across these 30 stitches.

Decrease rows:
Row 1: Knit 2 together, Knit 12, K 2 together, K 12, Knit 2 together.
27 stitches on needle
Row 2: Purl
Row 3: Knit 2 together, knit 10, knit 2 together, knit 9, knit 2 together.
24 stitches on needle
Row 4: Purl
Row 5: Knit 2 together, knit 9, knit 2 together, knit 9, knit 2 together.
21 stitches on needle
Row 6: Purl

Bind off all stitches, leaving a tail of yarn to sew up bottom of foot and back of leg of stocking.

Seamless iPod Stocking

Nothing coomplicated here, but people who see these think they probably need one. Something about the cuteness factor.

Size 3 double point needles
Small amount of self-striping light weight sock yarn

Cast on 36 stitches, divide onto DP needles and join.
Work 10 rows in 2 X 2 ribbing

Switch to stockinette stitch (knit every round) and work until piece measures 4 inches from beginning. On last round, place one marker at beginning of round and another marker after 18th stitch, complete round.

Dec round 1: **(slip marker, K1, K2tog, K12, K2tog, K1)**, repeat once, 32 stitches
Knit one round even
Dec round 2: **(slip marker, K1, K2tog, K10, K2tog, K1)**, repeat once, 28 stitches
Knit one round even

Divide remaining stitches evenly onto 2 needles and graft the "toe" together using Kitchener Stitch.

Weave in yarn ends.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Engineering Time

Quite a few years ago, I studied to be a chemical engineer. One of my professors taught us the concept of "Engineering Time". It's a corollary of Murphy's Law, I think, and I imagine other professions could claim it as well. Here's how it works.

Engineering Time:
Make your best estimate as to how long a project will take to complete.
Double the number and expand the units to the next higher order.

Project estimation - 2 hours
Engineering Time - 4 days

Depressing? Yep. But all too often true.

I was reminded of Engineering Time when I answered a call to supply a couple of banners for the church. The logic was sound. We have banners for the Liturgical Seasons. Purple ones for Lent. Green ones for Epiphany. Blue ones in Advent. However, we lacked any "General Purpose" banners for "White Days of Celebration". Days that pop up in the middle of Seasons of Color. "The Baptism of Our Lord". Transfiguration. Maundy Thursday. "Christ the King" Sunday.

The need was there, I was confident that I could provide something classic, timeless and appropriate.

I estimated that the project would take 3 weeks.

This was last July. Right. You can probably see where THIS is going.

Back in July, I was in no hurry. I didn't see that we would NEED those banners before Christ the King Sunday. Mid-November. Lots of time. I played with some designs, considered some options, shopped for some materials, made some plans, and then went full speed ahead into Marching Band Season. Suffice it to say that NO banners were constructed between July and November 8 (see November Blog entry about Polishing Shoes). With a Saturday and a couple of late nights, one banner was hanging on November 20, Christ the King Sunday, the last Sunday of the Church Year.

The next week meant Advent, a New Year, a new beginning, and a chance to work on that second banner.

Which would have been fine, except for a shortage of the gold braid needed for the Celtic knotwork design. And some extensive searches for some MORE of that gold braid. And Christmas. And a daughter home from college, and presents to wrap and cookies to bake and general merriment and celebration.

Last Sunday, January 8, was the Baptism of Our Lord. The white banners, BOTH of them, were hanging in places of honor. They were much admired. My work was validated.

The final stitches were put in place on Friday afternoon, January 6.

Engineering Time.
3 weeks = 6 months.

Yes, it does.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

The Boyfriend Sweater

Despite the stigma attached to knitting a sweater for your boyfriend, this one worked. I made it for not-yet-husband Dave for Christmas of 1981. We were married in summer of 1982, so maybe the fact that we were already engaged cancelled the Boyfriend Sweater Curse. I don't know. Just know that the sweater and the husband are still both around.

I know the folklore about "always knitting an error in the design". You're not perfect, only God is perfect, don't tempt the fates, etc, etc. I don't believe I've ever had to put that error in "on purpose". It always seems to find me anyway. What I didn't count on was having the error show up in the closeup pattern photo, too. There you go. Proof positive. I'm not perfect.

Aran weight wool.

The Rogue Sweater

Knitted from commercial pattern "Rogue" by "The Girl From Auntie".

Rogue Instructions

Completed in 5 weeks in January-February of 2004. Made for daughter Elizabeth. The true color is close to the closeup shot of the top of the hood in progress.

Double strand of fingering weight alpaca yarn. I was concerned that the cable details would be lost with the softer yarn, but it was fine.

In my everlasting quest to cut down on work for myself, I converted the flat-knit, seamed sleeves to sleeves knitted in the round.

Using up some heavy sock yarn

Even lightweight wool socks are too warm for this part of Texas, most of the time, so when I had 2 skeins of "Big Mexiko" (heavier weight) sock yarn, I knew I was never going to turn it into socks. I decided to see how the "self striping" aspect would work if I used it on a toddler sized sweater. Not that I have any toddlers or even know any whose moms don't already knit for them. I figured I could always give it away.

I also wanted to try one of the "no seams anywhere" neck-down patterns. This was a good excuse, and knitting something small would be quick.

Of course, 2 skeins wasn't enough, so I ordered a third one, which would SURELY be plenty. It wasn't, so I ended up ordering a 4th. This turned it into a fairly expensive toddler sweater that I hadn't even planned to make.

If I did this again, I'd use a solid color for the front/neck bands.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Foreign Languages

There are many good things about being a parent. The "best thing" changes from day to day, year to year. The "best thing about being a parent" is different when you have a six-year old from what the "best thing" is when you have a teenager.

Today, the best thing about being a parent is the chance to learn foreign languages.

I don't mean the German or Latin that your child chooses to learn that you never studied. That's a small part of the picture, but not the real story. I don't mean the "family speak" that crops up as children learn to talk, make mistakes and the family lovingly takes these new words into the private family lexicon. We refer to a certain striped-tail, masked mammal as a "ratoonka" because that's what Alex called it when his mouth and brain were still learning to connect, but that's not the foreign language I mean, either.

I'm talking about the languages that seem like you should understand them. They're words mostly in the language you speak day-to-day with your child, but they throw in words that might as WELL be German or Latin, because you've sure never heard them before.

With my daughter, the foreign language started when she took up Debate in high school. "Lincoln-Douglas style"? The words sounded familiar, but the way she was using them made no sense. By her senior year, I'd learned a whole new language. Now she studies computer science and lobster neurons and speaks of "Machine learning", and I don't have a clue what she's talking about. But she's teaching me, and I'm catching on.

My younger son took an interest in marine biology and taught me the words "Sirenian" and "Dugong". I thought I already knew the word "Manatee", but he showed me that I didn't know the word at all.

I had no idea that there was a foreign language called "Metal Miniatures", but it seems there is, and my middle child has been teaching it to me. He's played strategy games for years, collected cards, books and dice to help him "play better", but until recently, I hadn't paid much attention to his small metal figures of real and imaginary characters. Suddenly the child who could barely endure classroom "art time" is telling me the differences between "natural and artificial bristle brushes". The child who didn't care if his crayoned skies were blue or purple is discussing the ongoing debate between "metallic and non-metallic paints for simulated metal surfaces". There is, evidently, a large difference between just plain "black" and "Zombie Black", and not just ANY red will do for the jacket of a miniature Cossack figure.

The new language includes a new patience that I never knew he had. The same child who once wept at the enormity of a 3rd grade project that involved tying a couple of hundred plastic strips together to make a Christmas wreath now patiently and carefully paints details the size of the head of a pin on little people and animals no taller than a quarter. It seems there are a lot of other people out there who speak this new language, too. The words "an elephant that went for $900 on ebay" sure caught my attention! I wonder what else he knows?

What new language are you learning today?

Friday, January 06, 2006

Christmas Cookies

I ate the last Christmas cookie yesterday.

One lonely Russian Teacake left in the bottom of the cookie box on a bed of crumpled waxed paper and surrounded by puffs of escaped powdered sugar. As always, it was just a spot too large for one bite, but biting it in half meant a shower of snowy sugar on my face, on my hands, on the floor. I risked the single-bite approach, and I wasn't sorry. The cookie was every bit as good as the first one of the season, buttery, flavored with vanilla and studded with Texas pecan chips.

I had to eat it, you see. Christmas, the season, ended yesterday. Today, we enter the season of Epiphany. The season of revelations, of understanding, of comprehension. Just 12 days of the miracle of Christmas, but we get weeks and weeks of Epiphany to think about it.

If Epiphany reveals one thing to me, it's the fact that Christmas cookies are essential to the season. Not just the Russian Teacakes, either. The love affair dates back to the mid 60's when my grandmothers would mail tempting parcels, brown paper wrapped, string tied, and filled with home made Christmas cookies and candies. Fudge. Divinity. Frosted sugar cookies. Rock hard Pfeffernusse.

My mother added to the mix with Date Pinwheels and pressed Spritz (green trees required, dogs and camels required, snowflakes and flowers acceptable as long as the dough held out). Some years there were new experiments, some years we relied on old favorites. Christmas dinner was not complete without a "cookie plate"; it was the only dessert we planned, it was the only dessert we needed.

My grandmothers' cookie baking days are over, and we all think a bit more about the fat and calories and fiber (or lack thereof) while planning that cookie plate, but there's no way we could give it up entirely. My 17 year old son has emerged as the fudge-making champion of the next generation. The one time we tried to make Grandma's Divinity, the cat jumped on the table and stepped in the pan. I'll accept that as a sign that we were not meant to make Divinity here. We have added and subtracted favorites through the years as time and inspiration have dictated.

It's just not Christmas here without Christmas cookies, and yesterday, I ate the last one.

Maybe tomorrow I'll take down the tree.


Last night, I had the honor of attending a reception for our school district's AP Scholars. An "AP Scholar" has passed 3 or more Advanced Placement exams with scores of 3 or higher. It's exciting. It's an honor. It's also an accomplishment. The AP classes and tests are meant to be on par with freshman-level college classes. An ambitious high school student could, in theory, earn enough "AP credits" to bypass his freshman year at many major universities. Those reaching "AP Scholar" status comprise less than 2% of the students in the nation. Our district offers AP classes in several sciences, calculus, history, English composition, foreign language, computer science, probably other subjects as well.

The young men and women who were there have bright futures ahead of them. They listened as the guest speaker, our local state representative, mapped out those futures, with an emphasis on forward thinking and change and a belief in yourself and your abilities.

This morning, I opened the daily paper to see that the state Governor "Wants to add Intelligent Design to science classes. He thinks the concept is 'valid scientific theory'".

Never mind the fact that the State Board of Education voted down a measure in 2003 to add stickers to current SCIENCE books and reprint future version to include ID. He wants it back in the main arena, and elections are coming up.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

the·o·ry P Pronunciation Key (th-r, thîr)
n. pl. the·o·ries
A set of statements or principles devised to explain a group of facts or phenomena, especially one that has been repeatedly tested OR is widely accepted and can be used to make predictions about natural phenomena.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

New York City on $7 a day

Over Thanksgiving weekend, Isaac and 150 band members and 50-some chaperones and family members went to New York City. The real reason for the trip was to march in a parade, but once that many people go that far, it's wise to stay a little longer and see the sights. So, they did. One night in Philadelphia, 3 nights in Newark.

The logistics of the travel plans are the thing of nightmares. 5 groups, leaving at 5 different times, 5 different flight plans with different layovers and different arrival times. Busses, room mate decisions, box breakfasts. In truth, the trip was very well organized and went off with only minor catastrophes (Isaac's group had an unexpected 5 hour layover at the Dulles airport, one bus got in a wreck, some clowns in the parade heckled the band, borrowed a flag from a flag team member and hit her with it, just minor things). It was an experience that the teenagers and parents involved will never forget.

While the majority of the trip and sightseeing were planned by a travel agency, there were certain activities and meals that were "optional" and up to the individuals. A couple of lunches, snacks, a dinner. There would be time to SHOP on 5th Avenue on the day after Thanksgiving. There would be ample opportunities for souvenirs. All of this meant one thing.

Bring money.

Bring a lot of money.

The band directors and sponsors gave helpful advice. Protect your assets by splitting them; one wallet in your pocket, one in your backpack. Budget your funds. Don't spend it all on the first day. Don't forget to tip the waitperson in a restaurant.

Life lessons.

As most parents did, we considered carefully just how much spending money was "appropriate". We gave Isaac some, he added a generous amount of his own saved allowances. A $20 bill was zipped into his jacket pocket, "just in case". He was reminded one last time to NOT spend it all the first day, or he'd be the kid with no lunch money for the airport on the return flights.

He returned from the trip with all but $35.

Seven dollars a day spent en route to and in one of the major commercial opportunities in the country. He said he could have kept it to $5 a day, except for that layover at the airport...he'd read all of his books and bought a "Star Wars" novel for the return flight.

He assures me that he did not feel in any way deprived. He didn't go hungry, but the street corner hotdog vendor was more interesting than a sitdown restaurant, not to mention cheaper. He saw a lot of things to buy, but nothing he needed. He didn't need a lightup Statue of Liberty, he didn't need a sweatshirt emblazoned with "I HEART NY", he didn't need a keyring, pencil, pen or stuffed animal. He briefly considered a $5 "Rolex" watch, but suspected that it might not be "real" (no pulling the wool over the eyes of THAT kid!)

He doesn't think he'd do anything differently if he took the trip again.

Except, next time, he'd take a camera.

Life lessons.

Monday, January 02, 2006

The Calendar

We always (always, ALWAYS!) have a hanging wall calendar in our kitchen by the phone. It is MESSAGE CENTRAL. I don’t care about your Dayplanner, your PalmPilot, your classroom agenda book. If it isn’t on the kitchen ain’t happening. Needless to say, we start penciling in notes on the NEXT year around September, so I always shop early for the next year’s kitchen calendar ( there IS the yearly offering from our mortgage loan guy, but he tends toward little magnetic refrigerator calendars, which are not the same thing at all). This year, I got lucky (or so I thought). Late last summer, the U-Colorado Alumni folks sent me a gorgeous full color hanging calendar with scenes from the campus. Perfect. Calendar dilemma solved.

Until yesterday, when I started transferring over some notes and pre-arranged substitute dates, and discovered, much to my dismay, that the lovely full-color photos of the campus acted as carbon paper (do they still MAKE carbon paper?), and transferred everything from January to February, everything from February to March. This was not acceptable. No way, no how. So, TODAY, on the second of January, we put out an all-points search for a new calendar. I briefly considered “365 Knitting Patterns”, but bought that only for fun, and for the bill-paying-desk...the desktop style calendar does not work for the kitchen. We also rejected (thankyouverymuch) the “365 Sex Positions” calendar. While it was amusing, somehow we don’t think 2 teenaged boys in the house need any extra help in the imagination department. What to do? I considered borrowing, PERMANENTLY, Isaac’s carefully chosen “The Hobbit – the original illustrations” calendar, but kept looking.

Luckily, Dave and I both found alternatives, concurrently although in different places. I found “Cats and Bible Verses” at the grocery store, and bought it, for lack of anything better (although our own cats are FAR cuter, and I'm not quite sure how the 23rd Psalm relates to felines). At the same time, in another part of the city, Dave found PINK FLAMINGOES, and as flamingoes are my secret vice, he figured that was perfect. And it was. A pencil test proved that the pink ink did not, indeed, transfer to the next month, and we will experience pink birds for the next 12 months.

Why, you may ask, if flamingoes are my vice, did Alex and Isaac team up to give Mom a full sized Canadian Goose decoy for Christmas? Life’s little mysteries. But they did. Even now, it stands proudly in the dining room with red and green bows about its stately neck, seeming to be just temporarily stranded as it waits for warmer weather up North to call it home again.