Thrum Thrum Thrummm

Read the title to the beginning tune of The Little Drummer Boy, just so your afthead is in the same mental space as mine.

Welcome readers.  It’s been hot here.  How about where you are?  Hot too?  (Maybe not if you are one of my southern hemisphere friends.)  Well, nothing makes me feel more comfy in the summer heat than some thrummed slippers.

Total lie.  Thrummed slippers are miserably hot summer footwear, unless you are the nine-year-old member of the Afthead family, in which case you have joyfully spent June and July wearing fuzzy crocs and your mom’s thrummed slippers in 90 degree heat.  Not wanting my slippers to get all gross with kid sweat I cast on so she could have her own pair.

My slippers are boring adult brown and yellow, using up yarn I had no plans for and the cheapest non-itchy piece of wool roving I could find at the knitting store, but I had big plans for my daughter’s slippers.  Rainbow plans….

When my favorite local yarn shop, The Recycled Lamb, went out of business, I bought this amazing tube of roving: Three Feet of Sheep in “Rainbow Twilight” by frabjous fibers, because I had a feeling that more thrummed objects were in my future.  The assortment of colors combined with a red Debbie Bliss Paloma from the stash – chosen because it’s “not itchy” – made an exceptionally colorful slipper.

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For you knitters who haven’t thrummed, be warned that it is putzy and not a travel friendly knitting project.  That said, it’s novel and creates a colorful fuzzy finished product that I love.

Luckily I had a 9 hour conference call and laryngitis, so needed an activity to stave off sleepiness while listening but not talking on my work call.  Thrum making was the perfect activity!  Patiently I separated the balls of roving, tore hunks off, unraveled the hunks into lengths which I folded and twisted into thrums.  The cats had to be locked out of the room during this task, because kitties love thrums.

The thrums did not take the whole 9 hours to make, so I started knitting on the call too.  (Really, if you knit and frequently have boring conference calls, may I suggest that you combine the two activities.  I’m much more engaged on my calls when I’m knitting.  Odd, but true.)  I knit both slipper soles first, because I wasn’t sure I had enough yarn to complete the slippers and liked the idea of contrasting pink tops more than I liked the idea of mismatched pink and red slippers.

In the end, I had enough yarn for both slippers because I shortened the top to only four rows of thrums, which seemed better for the smaller scale of my daughter’s feet and legs.  Also, like with my slippers, I modified the pattern to use an i-cord bind off, because I like how the extra weight of the fabric keeps the thrums from escaping over the top.

As soon as the last slipper was cast off, my daughter’s ran outside in them. Screaming after her, “Not outside with the hand knits,” I noticed the lovely contrast between the new slippers and the concrete.  Therefore, I demanded the ungrateful child take them off so I could photograph them before the slippers came back inside to live.

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So we are all set for sweaty summer rainbow feet at the Afthead household.  For you knitting knerds, I’ve got all the details below.  Thrum, thrum, thrummmm……


Thrummed slipper knitting details:

Pattern: Cadeautje by by Ysolda Teague

Yarn: Debbie Bliss Paloma in Red 42015

Roving: Three Feet of Sheep in “Rainbow Twilight” by frabjous fibers

Ravelry Link for mamma slippers:  http://www.ravelry.com/projects/afthead/cadeautje

Ravelry Link for kiddo slippers:  http://www.ravelry.com/projects/afthead/cadeautje-2

If you are a knitter and never thrummed before, I recommend the Yarn Harlot’s blog post about the topic.  As always, Stephanie Pearl-McPhee is a knitting genius.

Airport Musings

I’m heading out on a work trip, so was able to enjoy one of my favorite airport pastimes: random observation.  Today the focus was airport shopping.

I have always wondered about the airport magazine displays featuring Playboy, Penthouse and, in this instance, 3 other unknown skin magazines.  Who buys these magazines?  What person thinks, “Ah, nothing will improve my four hour flight sitting uncomfortably close to strangers like some tits and ass.”

This is a neverbefore seen miracle of airport shopping.  Three glass display cases filled with sparkle encrusted balls bearing logos from ramdom sports teams!  “One gift will satisfy your sporty son and his high maintenance wife,” you mistakenly conclude.

When I was a kid I would spend a few weeks every summer with my grandparents.  My parents would drive up from Denver and my grandparents would drive down from the mountains and they would meet roughly halfway.  We’d have lunch at this little park and then we children would be transferred.  Grandma would bring treats and one of those treats would be baseball gum balls.  Here in the airport candy shop, is my childhood summer just waiting to be scooped up, weighed, and purchased.  I’ll be the one blowing bubbles on the plane.

#amlearning and #amsharing

The bathtub at Lighthouse Writers Workshop, otherwise known as my favorite place in the world.  I have not yet figured out how to take a bath in this old clawfoot tub, but I did manage to decorate it with a fluffy towel and a bar of Writer’s Block soap.
The past few months have been slow from a writing perspective, but huge from a learning perspective.  I had my eight week apocalyptic fiction class followed by a two week LitFest: both hosted by Lighthouse Writers Workshop where I am a member.  In one of my workshops, my instructor, Rachel Weaver, gave me words to salve my guilt for not writing much lately when she suggested we think of the writing process as seasonal:  imagining, writing, editing, learning, and (someday) publishing.  If all you do is sit down and write, write, write you actually will never publish anything.  There are other seasons.  So here on the solstice of my learning season I wanted to share with you readers some of the most thought provoking lessons of the past 12 weeks.

Finding Scriptures

Jennifer Haigh taught me to find my writing scriptures.  These are works that address one of the challenges you, as a writer, have with a particular work.  Maybe you’ve never written in first person before and your story is in first person.  Find a book that reflects your desired point of view and really break it down to understand how the author accomplished what you want to do.  Learn from them and let their accomplishment teach you how you can do the same.  You aren’t copying, they are your guideposts.  That said, don’t use paralyzing books as scriptures – you know, the ones that are so good that you want to quit writing and go read under a bridge.

Wowing Agents

The Nelson Agency sat for an hour and showed a room of writers how agents read the slush pile.  Each attendee was invited to bring 1-2 pages from a work and the agents would evaluate manuscripts live.  The two agents, Joanna MacKenzie and Kristen Nelson, were brutally honest in their evaluations.  In the twenty five(ish) manuscripts they reviewed only one would have even received a second look.  Was it mine, you ask?  No.  Because I learned a hard lesson this day.  I only provided one copy of my manuscript, while the instructions distinctly said two copies.  Only one copy equals no evaluation.  As writers we are told again and again to follow submission instructions to a tee, and I’m normally very careful, but this day I was in a rush so I messed up.  Next time, when it really counts, I’ll do better.  However I learned from other’s works as well:

  • For your first novel you really only have 1-2 paragraphs to grab the agent’s attention so do not:
    • Spend the whole opening in narrative or telling
    • Jump into backstory
    • Change point of view
    • Create unnecessary confusion with the reader
    • Tell the reader how they should be feeling
    • Have the character not do anything
  • Do:
    • Create an emotional response
    • Create something interesting
    • Create tension
    • Make the readers want to learn more
    • Have a strong voice
    • Anchor your character in place and time
    • Put your reader with the characters.  Remove the distance.

For those of you who despise the idea of writing to a “formula” for an agent, Rachel Weaver put things into perspective.  She said that you only have two paragraphs to get your first agent, so do everything you can to make your debut novel as readable as possible.  Then have faith in yourself that once you have an established readership you’ll be able to be more creative.

Random other tidbits

  • Sometimes you don’t need to edit.  You need to rewrite.  That involves putting your manuscript aside and actually retyping from scratch the scenes you wrote the first time, or making a new scene, or combining several scenes into one.  Not everything can be fixed by moving words around on a screen  – Vicki Lidner
  • You have to earn emotional scenes in your work, otherwise you risk sounding sappy, trite, or melodramatic, which will make a reader put down an otherwise amazing work.  Make sure the reader is invested in the character before you create scenes of happiness, love, nostalgia, or sentimentality.  Never forget that tension, even in these sentimental scenes, adds power so layer happiness and sadness together.  – Alexander Lumans
  • When editing, there is an arc where your writing becomes better, then just different, then worse.  Stop when you are in the different stage.  – Rachel Weaver
  • If you write something and it just sucks, don’t stop.  Call that section a “placeholder” and go back and fix it later.   Also know that early dialogue is always a placeholder. –  Rachel Weaver
  • Introduce your characters the way you would introduce yourself.  Don’t provide pages of backstory and details the first time you write a character or risk him/her being the person no one wants to talk to or read about.  – Rachel Weaver
  • What is the difference between showing and telling?  Envision this.  You are standing outside of a house where an amazing party is going on.  A man approaches and says, “Wow, there is a great party inside.  There is a world renowned DJ and all these famous people are joyously dancing to his mixes.  The food is the best thing anyone has ever eaten and it is paired with delicious drinks.  Everyone there is having the best time of their lives.”  That is telling.  Showing happens when you get to go to the party.  Let your readers go to the party.  – Rachel Weaver

Now, with all that newfound knowledge I #amwriting and I #amediting, and I’m doing both in a way that feels more productive and inspired.  The seasons are changing in Afthead-land.

Unexpected Parenting Nostalgia

Being a parent is weird.  Everything is going along great.  You love your kid and she is growing up, doing amazing things.  Then unexpected parenting nostalgia hits.  It snuck up on me after a doctor’s appointment  that confirmed the ear infection I knew my daughter had two days before at the same doctor’s office, but whatever.  The fateful question came as the physicians assistant was writing up the prescription for the magical antibiotic that would allow her and me to sleep through the night.  “Do you want liquid or pills?”

I was surprised.  My 8 year old could take pills?  I mean, we had practiced swallowing M&Ms whole, preparing for this day, but it was really time for pills?

My daughter was ecstatic.  She hates the “disgusting pink medicine” and chose pills.  I, of course, played the part of the supportive mom.  “Oh, wow, you are so big now.  I’m so proud of you.” Inside my heart was breaking.  The medication of her childhood passed through my mind.  I remembered the tiny syringes of dye free cherry flavored Tylenol for late night teething.  I recalled how the syringes grew along with her and provided antibiotics, or bubble gum flavored Motrin.  The doses increased and we needed the big measuring spoons or cups.  Moving to chewable Tylenol, well that wasn’t a big deal but pills?  This was it.  The final step.  Once she took a pill she was effectively a grown up in the medicine taking realm.  She’d reached the pinnacle.  Sure, she might some day swallow down a handful of vitamins, but plenty of grownups take one pill at a time – like her dad.  With no fear or hesitation my daughter swallowed the giant amoxicillin pill and I checked one item off my list of parenting to dos.  For the rest of her life she’ll be able to take medicine without my help.

I’ve gotta admit, I cried a bit that night and then did a scavenging hunt through all the nooks and corners of medicine cabinets and closets and bins of random crap.  I found all the medication tools from infant until now.  I marveled at how far we’d come in 8 years.  I remembered the horror of infant wails and never knowing what was wrong and the guilt when I gave her Tylenol.  I remembered the endless ear infections.  I marveled at how long ago all that was and how quickly time had passed.  Finally, with pride, I put all the tools back in the bin of random crap, wiped my eyes, blew my nose, and thought, “Nice work mom.  When your kid has a wicked hangover in college she’s not going to need you.”  And that’s good.

Lula the Zombie Hamster

Meet Lula, our hamster.  Lover of grapes; loved by the cats who want to play-with-her-to death; and zombie.  Lula came into our family three years ago and became a zombie last year.  Thus, like Stephanie Plum’s hamster Rex, I expect her to live forever.

Lula is a Russian dwarf hamster and the worst pet ever.  Hamsters are nocturnal, so she only plays when I want my child to sleep.  Given that my kid is the worst go-to-sleeper ever they make a bad combination.  Also, hamsters are smaller on the outside than they appear on the outside.  (Similar to the Tardis, but the opposite.)  Let me explain.  The day we got Lula my daughter was playing with her in the locked bathroom while we parents got the hamster habitat ready.  Lula squeezed under a smaller than a hamster sized space below the bathroom door and darted between the startled cat’s legs and under the smaller than hamster sized space beneath the refrigerator.  Two hours later a feast of sunflower seeds lured her out.  From that point on she was banished to her cage and only released into the clear ball of torture, which allows her to roam around my daughter’s room bumping into things and making us laugh.  The cats watch the balled hamster snack through the crack under the door, which really is too small for cats.

Lula became a zombie on a fateful day last summer when she died.  My daughter and I were watching her play when she toppled over on her hamster ramp, twitched disturbingly, hauled herself up to the hamster ledge using her functioning front legs while dragging her back legs limply behind her.  She then collapsed had another twitching fit, and died.  She lay motionless while I consoled my daughter, got her ready for bed and read her stories.  When lights out came Afthead Junior cried that she did not want to sleep with the dead hamster.  I agreed and put the dead creature’s cage on top of the butler’s pantry to be dealt with later.

After our normal 90 minute dance of go to sleep, go to sleep, GO TO SLEEP my daughter finally fell asleep.  Ignoring the dead hamster problem, I went to the basement to watch some TV with my husband.  Before bed I decided the dead hamster burial/freezing/whatever could wait until the morning and be a learning experience for the child.

The next morning Lula’s wheel squeaked with the running of an exuberant undead hamster.  Lula, making a rare daytime appearance was animated.

Ever since her status changed from hamster to undead hamster Lula has been much more friendly.  She’s almost always out before my daughter goes to sleep and runs to the bars of the cage to sniff my fingers if I put them up.  She even races to the cats if they are in the vicinity: like on top of the cage trying to eat play with her.  No doubt she is luring us humans and felines in so we will open her cage and she can leap out and feast on our enormous brains.  In the meantime, I give her strawberries, cherries and blueberries to try and keep her at bay.

Toothpaste Magic

The Afthead family has a secret, and as a family of scientists and engineers you need know know we are a trustworthy source of this information.  Toothpaste is magically regenerating.  If you squeeze the tube hard enough each toothpaste molecules will split and create two toothpaste molecules.  Do this enough and you will never run out of toothpaste.  You can only really get enough force out of the squeeze when the toothpaste is almost empty, and, of course, even if you did squeeze the tube hard enough when it’s full you are just going to end up with toothpaste all over.  But when you get to the end just keep squeezing.  If you don’t you will be shamed and labeled a heretic for not believing in the magical toothpaste properties.

(I did not throw this tube away, but Mr. Afthead did.  I’m so disappointed in him.)

My parenting mantra?  Sit on your hands.

As the years progress I still think sitting on my hands is my best parenting path. I share this post with you again today in honor of all the moms out there who find their own method for raising their own children in the very best way they know how. Thanks for all the time you’ve sacrificed, prioritized and invested in your kiddos. Happy Mother’s Day!
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Afthead

If you could hear inside my head you would hear the mantra repeated over and over.

Sit on your hands.  She’s doing fine.

Sit on your hands.  You already know how to sew.

Sit on your hands.  She is feeding herself and who cares if there is applesauce in her eyebrows?

It takes literal physical restraint for me to let my daughter do it herself sometimes. I see her struggling and I just want to reach out and help her, to get her past the hard part, to do it for her, but I don’t.  My hands start to move from my side toward her and I stop them.  It is the hardest, most important parenting lesson I teach myself over and over: she will only learn to do it for herself if I stay out of her way.


Friday night she decided she wanted to learn how to knit…

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True Happiness

When I am truly happy it’s a warmth that starts in my pelvis and spreads up through my sternum, but never reaches my heart.  My heart does not burst with cliche happiness.  It’s a much more primal emotion, and feels like someone has spread Bengay on my insides and slightly inflated me, but imagine the best possible feeling that could describe, not the torture version of inflated insides coated in Bengay.  Sometimes the happiness builds enough pressure that it seeps out my eyes.  I can describe this emotion today, because I am sitting here feeling it.

Why am I happy?  My life is filled with extraordinary people right now, and those people have caused a confluence of extraordinary experiences over the past two days.

Yesterday I planned a team outing for the amazing people I work with.  We were going out for a late lunch, partially to remember one of our colleagues who died a few years ago, and partially because we just needed to enjoy a good meal together away from the oppressive angst and uncertainty that currently permeates our workplace.  We also needed to celebrate.  An app 18 months in the making was finally approved by legal and went live on the Google Play store.  Funding that I have been fighting to get in the door for almost a year had arrived, and was enough to pay for two of us for a year.  If the looming budget cuts come, that money will save jobs.

Then my team turned the tables on me, morphing the lunch into a celebration of me, complete with a card, gifts, and a heartfelt gratitude for all I do for the team.  I was emotionally wrought and working off of four hours of sleep, so the fact that I did not break out in tears was a remarkable accomplishment.  Compounding the emotion was that because of Tuesday, I finally understood an additional facet of what I provide to the team.

Tuesday was my last Apocalyptic Fiction writing class, and while I never did accomplish my goal of being able to spell apocalyptic without the aid of spell check, I learned so much more.

  • I saw my own struggle in other’s writings, and through reviewing their work learned how I can improve.
  • I learned that I am terrible at identifying if a title is an apocalyptic novel or a death metal band.
  • While reading a book I despise I learned what I value as a reader and a writer
  • I learned that “bestseller” doesn’t mean “everyone likes this book.”  Related, I learned that I respect and value the opinion of people who like books I hate and people who hate books I like.
  • The utter terror I had sharing my work was replaced by the wonder of having people I trust not just enjoy my work, but provide thoughtful criticism on how to make that work better.  I also learned the value of giving and receiving feedback to and from other writers.
  • I learned that my love of maps can enhance my writing capabilities.  Sigh.  I love maps.
  • Through reading my classmates’ work I now understand why tension is important, what it means to have backstory delivered at the right time, how to convey information by both showing and telling, how to see the structure of a story though the mess of a draft, and why a story that has soul can pull readers in even in the early stages.

All of this was made possible, because our instructor Alexander Lumans built a supportive and encouraging environment where risks and experimentation were encouraged.  Couple that with a group of respectful, creative, engaged students and literal magic happened in our classroom for eight weeks.  Time stopped.  Worlds were built and dreams were formulated.  When there wasn’t magic, there was just great conversation.  We debated about the quality of the books we read and learned from our disagreements.  Beverage was not spewed out noses, but there was enough laughter to make that risk very real.

When the last class was over we spilled out of our couch and chair filled stuffy classroom into the real world and discovered that we liked each other as people too, not just writers.  The conversation flowed through writing, reading, television, videos, circuses, clowns, the cat in the hat, jobs, careers, and life’s injustices until the wee hours of the morning.

Walking to my car with one of my classmates I said, “I’m really glad that by the end Lumans became more than just our teacher.”  Those words came back to me at lunch on Wednesday.  I am wickedly horrible at self understanding, but a keen observer.  Often I have to see something in others before I can recognize it in myself.  Sitting at lunch I could understand how my team felt about me, and I could see ways I could make my work relationships richer through implementing what I appreciated from Lumans leadership in our class.

New friends?  A better understanding of how to improve my work relationships?  True excitement about my writing projects?  Hope of my new friends creating a writing group?  What an absolute gift the universe has given me this week in the form of two spectacular groups of people willing to open up and appreciate each other.  I’m filled with joy, trust and hope.  If that isn’t true happiness, I’m not sure what is.

I am an unconventional prepper

Ah, this writing class I’m taking…  It’s a treasure trove of reading and writing enlightenment.  The homework for our last class was titled Funhouse Mirror and again was from The 3 a.m. Epiphany:  write a caricature of some aspect of yourself.  Blow it up.  Take it to the extreme.

At first I thought I’d take some part of Johanna which is exceptionally vulnerable and see how I felt when I pushed that to the extreme: no one likes me;  I am not actually good at anything I think I am good at; I am selfish.  But those ideas sucked and made me want to cry, so I went another direction.  Below, I present to you, the first – perhaps of many – meet Afthead in the funhouse mirror posts.  Enjoy!


Johanna is a prepper, but her version of the apocalypse appears to differ from those typically found in literature.  In her end-of-the-world scenario the killer bug, aliens, nuclear fallout, or zombies will only be thwarted by soft colorful hand-knit items.  Heads of her family and friends will be covered in zombie proof alpaca toques.  No body part of her child will be exposed to epic flus; instead they will be covered with garments knit from hand-painted yarn produced via sustainable practices high in the Andes, which have known germicide properties.  Aliens will be repelled by the soft glow of angora halos radiating from shawls wrapped around her shoulders.  Pile on enough woolens and radiation has no chance of reaching human flesh.

Anticipating the end of the world, Johanna knows that saving humanity will invariably be hampered by a lack of crafting resources.  Scarcity is common in apocalyptic scenarios.  She knows yarn must be hoarded and protected.  Today she is building best practices by keeping her yarn stash safe from invading caterpillars – well known to eat through woolens.  Her basement stash is displayed in a glass front cabinet for protection and ease in project planning.  However, while glass protects against moths, it is vulnerable to a quick alien smash and grab, so in nooks and crannies of her basement lurk larger stashes of more securely organized knitting raw materials.


High in the dark corner of a closet is the sweater yarn protected by five gallon Ziploc bags.  In these giants of the sandwich bag world lurk yarn quantities large enough to cover an adult torso in stitches.  There are two, or three, okay maybe five such bags on the top shelf.  On the bottom shelf?  An opaque Rubbermaid container of blanket yarn: quantities similar to sweater yarn, but with more color variation.

Most preppers would stop there.  Yarn stored in three discreet locations with the big quantities hidden away for protection, but not Johanna.  No.  Hidden in the storage shelving under the stairs lurks two more large Rubbermaid containers.  These hold the auction yarn.  Yarn that was purchased for a tenth of its value, and while it might have limited use as yarn today – certainly it won’t smell like cigarette smoke anymore someday – everyone knows that aliens hate nicotine, so when the invasion comes she’ll be ready with jewel toned garments which will repel even the biggest eyed anal probe wielding creatures from another planet.  One can never be too prepared.

2012 Sweaters
All set for the end of the world.

When I am an old woman

Tuesday, I was a chaperone for a group of third graders at the zoo, and as we were leaving I met the woman I want to be when I am very old.  Racing to the rendezvous point by our deadline I encouraged the kids, “We’ve made it this far and no one has lost a leg.  Keep going…”  Well the hurrying stopped and the kids proceeded to pretend body parts were falling off.  They limped, dragged and moaned themselves to the exit of the zoo.  Thankfully we had three minutes and I could see the teachers, so I just laughed and kept encouraging them to move forward while the zombie leprosy overtook them.

Of course, while my kids were emulating disastrous disabilities we lurched past a group of really old people in wheelchairs.  Some had oxygen.  All had a helper pushing them.  One was staring at me and my kids.  Her red lipstick both matched the smart red jacket she was wearing and framed the beautiful smile on her face.  She clapped her hands in delight and then held her clasped hands to her chest watching the loud silly kids parade past her.  I don’t think one of them noticed her, but she noticed them, and we noticed each other.  As I walked past she smiled at me and gave me a little wave while she kept laughing.

The kids weren’t being insensitive to people who couldn’t walk, or who were missing body parts.  They were just playing and having fun.  The old lady could have been grouchy.  She could have wished that those loud kids would quiet down so she could enjoy the zoo sounds.  Other old ladies might have shook their heads at me for not making my group of six urchins behave.  But she didn’t.   She recognized the joy of the moment.  The fun that comes after six kids and one grown up have spent the day watching peacocks dance their mating dance, learning about assassin bugs, and picking which fish resembles their daddy.  The excitement of getting to ride back on the bus.  The pride of finishing their whole packet of zoo worksheets before lunch.  It was a great day for us and it was like that old lady had a crystal ball and could see the entire joy of the trip in that last single moment our group had together.

While we were doing our last count of the kids before boarding the bus, the old woman was wheeled past our giant group of 82 kids and chaperones, and still she was smiling.  Even as the kids did obnoxious kid things like play with toys they weren’t going to buy from the gift shop and try to trip each other.  Then she saw me and reached out, so I stepped forward and held her hand, just for a moment, and smiled at her.  As her dry paper skinned hand pulled out of mine I thought, I want to be like her when I grow up.