Meet Nyx

There has been a tiny new addition in our life.  In September our annual renewal to be foster cat parents came up, and I admitted to myself (and to the shelter) that we just couldn’t try again.  After losing four kittens in the first disastrous litter (including one we’d thought had made it) then nursing a cat to heath only to discover his heart was failing, well, the Afthead family’s collective heart wasn’t up for anymore death.

I settled happily into our two cat household.  I started looking for another forever cat for our home.  We’d always been a two cat household, and Adventure and Katie loved each other, but neither one of them was really a people cat.  I wanted a lap sitting purring cat, but my husband laid out a strict rule: we could not get another cat unless it loved our daughter.

Our new cat claimed me on a trip to buy cat food.  PetSmart was having an adoption event and when I walked up to her kennel she stretched up, put one paw on each of my cheeks and started purring.  She didn’t stop purring the whole time I was there.  The clerk said she’d been adopted, but the family decided they couldn’t handle a kitten, so she was never picked up.  I went to pick up my daughter from school and while I waited for her I texted my husband, “Going to go see if our new cat meets your requirement.”  Back at the pet store, the kitten claimed my daughter too.  By 8:00 that night our adoption was approved and our new cat came home.

Her name is Nyx, after the Greek goddess of night.  She’s adventurous,

sleepy,

snuggly,

bathroom loving,

cross-legged sleeping,

water loving,

and adorably two-toned.

She rides our big cats like they are cat horses, waiting until they are sleeping before jumping on their back and biting their scruff until they buck her off.  The big cats do not love her and I’m afraid Adventure is scarred for life.  Her preferred sleeping location is under the covers biting our knees and ankles.  She climbs the screen door and completely wrecked one of my favorite plants, poisoning herself in the process.  She’s recovered and become a fixture in our family.  We love her, and my cat heart is full.  Besides, if we adopt anymore we’ll become crazy cat people.  The rule is that as long as you don’t have more cats than people you aren’t crazy cat people.  It’s true.  I read it on the internet somewhere.

Bloggers are Real People

Ten years ago, I found the SouleMama blog.  I was searching for a knit hat pattern, and stumbled across Amanda Soule’s website.  She talked about crafting and raising three kids; something about her voice and demeanor spoke to me.  I’d return frequently and watch her family and life unfold from afar.  Occasionally I’d comment, and once I submit a piece to her.  But mostly I’d just lurk and read and imagine how if I’d made different choices along the way – like a different husband, because my beloved guy is not a farmer – I could have lived a life like hers.  My baby girl was born right before her fourth kiddo, and my bond with her grew watching our kids grow up together.  Funny how that “kid the same age” bond works with virtual friends too.

 

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Well, Amanda Soule is visiting Colorado this week!  She’s got a new book out and her publisher is up in Boulder, Colorado.  There are a host of events planed and I targeted the Horseshoe Market book signing and an open craft night as possibilities for me to attend.  Luck would have it that Saturday between taking the kitten to the vet, a soccer tournament, and readying our yard for winter I had a sliver of time and was on the right end of town to meet this lady who had no idea who I am, but who I’d known for years.  During the drive I vacillated between feeling like a weirdo for visiting this stranger and being excited about meeting the real live human being Amanda Soule.

After meandering around the market, I found Amanda’s tent and awkwardly waited while another lady chatted.  When my turn came, the introduction went like this, “Hi Amanda, my name is Johanna and I’ve been following your blog for years and I totally feel like a creepy stalker but I wanted to come by and introduce myself and tell you how much I enjoy your work and watching your kids grow up, I mean Harper – isn’t it weird that I know his name – is the same age as my daughter and I’m so glad to meet you.”  That was me.  Spilling out every detail of my life without breathing in hopes that my oversharing would somehow made up for my creepy overly developed one sided relationship with her.

Amanda replied, “You aren’t a stalker.  I put it all out there.”

True enough.  The short conversation proceeded a bit more normally after that, especially as it evolved to commerce.  She told me about the delicious lunch she’d had, and I renewed my Taproot subscription – Amanda is the editor – and bought a copy of her new book which wasn’t officially released until yesterday.   With the magazine renewal I got a free totebag, which doubles as a cat toy.  (Note below cat is not the new kitten who got an emergency visit to the vet this weekend.)

I wasn’t there for more than five minutes, but I did mention that I might bring my mama and kiddo to her last Denver event.  It’s at Fancy Tiger, a nearby craft and yarn store I love.  I confided in her, “Make a budget, because they have beautiful stuff and you’ll spend more money than you want if you aren’t careful.”  United by the call of expensive yarns and notions she thanked me, and then moved onto her next stalker/customer.  That last exchange felt completely real and friendly, and I was glad I had stopped to meet this woman whose writing I have so enjoyed the past decade.  Hopefully, if I make it to the next event, my interactions will be a little more natural.  After all, Amanda and I are real life acquaintances now.

Gold Star – 100%

I am a grown up.  My life is measured in vague shades of grey.  At work, the exceptional ratings are saved for the top 5-10% and I’m lucky to see one every 5 years.  (And due to recent changes, I’m certain to not see an exceptional anytime soon.)

As a parent, it turns out there is no “mom of the year” award.  Even if there was, I wouldn’t win it.  While I’d score high marks on basic measures like my daughter being alive and her not getting called into the principal’s office, I would get zero points on unexpected top-mom qualities like “make myself a priority”.  I need to lose 10 pounds and am too frequently unshowered in public.  (True story:  I picked up my daughter braless the other day.  I mean I had a shirt, a sweatshirt and a coat on, but no way do free breasts get you mom-award points.)

Then there is my writing persona.  My short story came back last week with a kind but brief rejection: “We appreciate the chance to read it. Unfortunately, the piece is not for us. ”  I ignored the tiny voice in my head that said, they seem nice, so reply back and see if they know who it IS for.  That would be helpful.  Instead I did what I’m supposed to do:  submit again to a new journal and not be disgruntled.  I’m trying, but so far my publishing career score would be a 0%.

Then there’s graduate school.  Given the vague I’m doing okay, or at least better than nothing scores in the rest of my life, I probably shouldn’t have been surprised when my first homework assignment grade gave me a thrill.  I mean, it was just 1 out of 1 – I just had to turn the dumb thing in – but I got 100%.  Now three assignments in my grade is 21/21, still 100%.  My homework grade is perfect.  I have an app on my phone for school, and I can pull up my class for anyone to see and show them that I am perfect at something.  (No, I do not show anyone my perfect grade.  Okay, except my husband, and kid, and a couple of friends at work.  Well, and now all of you readers, but that’s it so far.)

A friend told me I should print my homework assignments out and put them on the fridge, just like I would do with my daughter’s good grades.  I haven’t gone that far yet, but I am wearing my little virtual gold star around proudly.  Only six assignments left.  Gotta go finish my reading, so I don’t break my perfect streak.  100%, just in case you missed it.

Midlife Experimentation

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I was almost 15 years old when Dead Poet’s Society came out.  It was a movie that spoke to me.  I was deep into my persona as a thespian: on my way to playing Helena in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Juliet in Romeo and Juliet.  Simultaneously I was moments away from diving into AP Chemistry and Biology.  There was nothing I couldn’t do.  The world was pure possibility.  I would make my life extraordinary just like Robin Williams character demanded of his students.

A month ago I turned 43. For the past few years I’ve found myself desiring change.  Not little change, like a new shampoo, but big fundamental change:  a new house, a writing career, or at the very least a new office at work.  Being a responsible adult married to a super-duper-risk-adverse responsible adult meant the change has been slow coming, but incrementally it’s come.  First, I decreased my work schedule to 32 hours a week, so I had a day to focus on my writing.  That has been going well.  I submit my first completed short story to a journal this past Thursday, and have another short story in the works.  Meanwhile, the first draft of my novel is slowly becoming a second draft.

Tomorrow the next phase begins.  I’m starting graduate school at a local university with a college that’s dedicated to working adults.  My degree program is in Geographic Information Systems (GIS).  For the lay person that’s a degree in making maps using computer software.  The college I’m going to has a master’s in creative writing, and while that’s intriguing, it doesn’t help me with my day job, and my day job is the one that allows me the ability to both pay for my degree through tuition reimbursement and write one day a week.  (Also, don’t tell anyone this part, but I have a non-fiction work I want to write that’s very dependent on me honing my GIS skills.)  So I’m starting with a practical degree to see if that quiets my need for change.

My mom went back to school later in life.  Interestingly, as she and I were chatting I realized that she started her undergraduate degree program at 42.  Isn’t that weird?  That we’d start such a big change at the same time in our lives a generation apart?

No.  It’s not weird.  I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, and the truth of the matter is, our American middle-class lives are built around 20ish year cycles.  Your first 20 years you are educated.  If you only graduate high school you are done in 18.  If you do post-graduate work, it might take you 28 years.  But in general, you complete the education phase of your life around 22-24 years old.  Then you start the work phase.  

I graduated college at 23.  Now, 20 years later I’ve done the working thing and understand how to succeed in the workforce.  I also know what would be required of me to become a high level manager or director.  With that knowledge comes a complete lack of interest.  For me, the rewards do not balance the required sacrifices of time and family.  My next phase of life will not be a slog toward executive.  On the other hand, while I like my current job, I can’t imagine doing what I do now until retirement without new opportunities to grow and change.  I’m wondering what the next 20 years holds.

Of course, I’m not the only one to get antsy when my early 40s show up.  The words mid-life crisis exist for a reason.  My need for change makes me empathize with the stereotypical 40-year-old male of my parent’s generation.  If I was the sole breadwinner with a house full of kids I might have purchased a sports car or had an affair with my secretary to force a change from the inevitability of 20 more years of sameness.  My own desire for something different felt like a crisis a year ago.  But then a wise woman (our family therapist) told me that now was the time to make a change.  While my daughter wasn’t a teenager.  While my husband’s depression was stable.  Because, she said, you never know when life is going to throw you a curveball and you won’t have the opportunity to make your life better.  I know now that she told me that while facing her own cancer diagnosis.  She died earlier this week.

Her legacy to me was allowing myself to enter an experimentation phase of my life.  Will I make it as a writer?  Will I get a break and be a novelist for my next 20 years?  Probably not, since few people make it as a writer, but I don’t want to close that door before I try to open it.  Will I be a geospatial data expert and solve the world’s future transportation problems using maps and visualizations?  That’s a direction I can see pivoting my current career.  Maybe I’ll make amazing connections at my university and become an adjunct professor in addition to my current job.  When I graduated with my bachelor’s degree 20 years ago I was voted “most likely to become a professor” so maybe my classmates knew something I didn’t.

I’m so thankful I live in an enlightened time  and work for an enlightened company so I can take the heartfelt advice of a trusted advisor.  What will I be when I grow up?  A writer?  A professor?  A map maker?  All of the above?  In some ways I feel like my decision will be a tribute to a woman who guided me through the hardest times of my life.  I want to do right by her last words to me.  I do not want the second half of my life to be a story of quiet desperation.  I want to accomplish another iota of what I am capable.  I want another opportunity to strive for extraordinary.

DPS2


Quotes from Dead Poets Society (1989) and screenshots taken from IMDB – http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0097165/quotes.

 

Tales of the Fourth Grade Crypt

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I have vivid memories of fourth grade.  Not long drawn out memories, but vignettes that have retained clarity over thirty-four years.  First was sitting down in the front row of class and realizing that I was out of rows.  My inching forward year after year had led me to a front row seat and a still blurry chalkboard.  I could see nothing.  Finally admitting my handicap to my perfect-vision parents meant starting the year in the front of the room with my chubby face famed by brand-new large plastic framed glasses.

I don’t remember when in the year the spitballs began.  Mrs. Busick – a teacher name worthy of a Stephen King novel if there ever was one – would turn to the board and about the time the chalk dust scent reached me I’d hear the fwwt as tiny wads of spitty paper balls were blown through the barrels of Bic pens at the ceiling above my head.  As Mrs. Busick scratched her lessons some of the spitwads would miss their mark and go careening around the room.  Others wouldn’t be sticky enough and rain from the ceiling-tiles marked with holes like giant incomprehensible braille messages.  However, when the projectiles hit their mark the bulbous white insect larvae would dangle above my head waiting to drop and infest my hair and clothing with their sticky bodies.  Throughout the day I could hear them plop down around me, and each morning my desk and chair were littered with the dried husks that fell overnight.

My best friend’s younger brother was in my class, and I remember his guilty confession one night at her house, “I’m sorry about the spitwads, but everyone else is doing it, so…you know.”  I did know.  He felt bad doing it, but not so bad that he wanted to risk being the next target or not join in on the fun.

At some point the year got better.  Maybe Mrs. Busick finally put an end to the shenanigans, or maybe the boys moved onto someone or something else.  While the spitballs are one of my sharpest memories of fourth grade they weren’t life altering.  I haven’t spent hours at the therapist talking about those mean kids.  In fact, it’s only been the past few years that I’ve given the episode more than a casual thought, normally brought on by ceiling tiles in antiquated bureaucratic buildings.

The memory is important now, because tomorrow my daughter starts fourth grade.  I know we are different people.  She has perfect 20/15 vision – I never say “no” when our pediatrician asks if we’d like her vision tested even though she’s always had perfect sight.  (This 20/400 vision mom has the opposite bias of her own parents.)  I also know my daughter’s school would never allow systematic bullying of one girl… well… not for long anyway.  The memory matters because this is the year I expect kids to get mean.  I expect them to flex their intimidation muscles and try inflicting some pain.  This is the end of the nice years and the beginning of real life, and I want to prepare her but not scare her. How do I give her the resiliency my parents gave me, so that if she is the target she will be bothered, but not damaged?   What if she decides to be on the other end of those hollow pen barrels?  How do I teach her crappy she’ll make other people feel before she inflicts that pain?

Ah parenting.  What a journey this little person has brought me on, and how unexpectedly she’s forced me to relive my own past.  Fourth grade here we come.


Photo by JJ Thompson on Unsplash

Catastrophic Knitting Mitigation – The Lifeline

I am realizing that having a knitting project last a year and a half correlates to a large number of blog posts written about it.  Not just blog posts where the publish button has already been clicked – that total is three, not including this one – but blog posts which have been languishing in the drafts folder.  Now that I’ve finally finished my epic cowl, I can stop being embarrassed of my failure, stop hiding my old posts, and bring new found knitting knowledge to the light of day.  So now, let me tell you about the joys of knitting lifelines.  They sound important, don’t they?  Oh my knitting friends, they are crucial if you want to enter the world of crazy stitch patterns.  Read on…


Post started October 8, 2016

I have a knitting project that has been languishing.  It’s not because I don’t love it, because I do, but somehow other priorities keep popping up.  There was my daughter’s requested blankie, the 100th birthday present, and a new baby layette (for a welcome niece on her way).  All really legitimate reasons to take a knitting break from a complicated project.  However I’ve finally started to make some consistent progress on the Purl Soho cowl.  The days are getting cooler and in no time the weather will call for me to wear this beauty.  (Future me – ugh, I missed an entire winter!)  Thankfully my fingers have memorized the pattern and I can knit while watching my daughter’s soccer practice or television.

This week was full of problems at work.  Anticipated problems.  Surprise problems.  Big and little problems.  I was looking forward to the distraction of spending Friday night watching Grey’s Anatomy and getting a few rows knit.  Just about the time the whole Alex Karev thing blew up (Future me – I’m not really sure what the Alex Karev thing was all about, but it apparently drew my attention away from my stitches)  something felt funny in my knitting.

If you aren’t a knitter this might sound strange – felt funny – but I assure you when your fingers know a pattern you can feel a mistake before you see it.  The “knit in the row below” stitch felt too bulky.  Then the next knit stitch felt weird.  I took a third awkward stitch before my brain screamed “stop”!  Something was wrong and things were about to go wronger.  My desire to escape from my problems was being complicated by a new knitting problem.

Can you see the mistake?  The place where the pattern goes awry starting at the fourth stitch from the last one on the needle?  Here, I’ll show you a close up too.  This is not a good situation.

But do you see those odd blue and yellow strings hanging out the edges of my cowl in the not-close-up picture?  Smarty smart me put in a lifeline a couple of rows before the mistake, so the issue is fixable.  Problem solved!

Lifelines allow a knitter to go back in time to a row where the pattern is correct and start over, even when there is a complicated stitch pattern.  You just take your needles out, rip all the stitches out, and begin again.  When your pattern has a repeat, like this one does, it’s best to put the lifeline at the end of each repeat, unless it’s a big repeat, then feel free to put in lifelines mid-repeat.  Basically you’ll want to weigh the annoyance of putting in a lifeline against the annoyance of ripping out more rows if you make a mistake.

Right before I started the checked rose section of my cowl, I learned about lifelines.  See, the first section of the cowl, the rambler pattern, was knit painstakingly.  I knew that using the knit into the row below technique meant that any mistake would be next to impossible to fix.  It’s hard to make stitches come back when the stitch itself depends on you removing every other stitch from rows to make the fabric.  So I only knit the first section when I could pay close attention to my knitting, but that severely limited my knitting time.  My preferred method is to multitask knit.

Online knitting searches led me to the lifeline idea.  Basically you either:

  1. Thread a piece of scrap yarn – in a contrasting color and with a smooth texture – into the completed last row of your pattern repeat using a darning needle.  Just finish the row and thread your scrap yarn through the stitches.  (I used a circular needle, so just threaded the waste yarn where the cord was.)  Make sure the yarn is substantially longer than the garment you are making, so it doesn’t get pulled through.
  2. Some needles – not mine – actually have little holes in the needle which allow you to thread waste yarn into the hole before you start the last row of the repeat, and as you knit the waste yarn will automatically be pulled through the stitches.  Sounds cool, but not possible with the tools I have.

Post Continued August 10, 2017

I didn’t really understand how this lifeline magic worked, so I made a swatch!  (I swatched more with this project than all my other projects combined to date.)  This helped me figure out how to place a lifeline and how to use it to recover from mistakes.  Here are the steps of creating and using a lifeline.

  1. Begin knitting your pattern.
  2. Remove the cat from your work.
  3. When you’ve completed a repeat of the pattern – 6 rows in this case – take your darning needle and thread scrap yarn through each stitch of the completed row.  Leave the stitches on the needle as you do this.  In the below image you would thread the yarn where the bamboo needle is: through the green stitches.  img_5179
  4. Start knitting again.  The next time the pattern repeat ends, put in another lifeline.  When you are confident there is not a mistake in a section you can pull out the lifeline for reuse.  My rule of thumb was rotating three lifelines.
  5. Now, oops, you made a mistake.  Take the needles out, and rip back to the lifeline.  Rip away!  Don’t be shy.  The waste yarn will keep you from unraveling too far.
  6. Take your knitting needle and follow the waste yarn through the stitches. 
  7. Now just start the pattern again.  I was worried that I’d need to adjust the pattern –  just do a simple knit row or something – since the pattern involves knitting in the stitch below, but somehow magically this technique just takes you back to exactly the same place you were when you finished the row.  It’s like all those hours of knitting after the waste yarn went in never happened.

This technique is great for complicated stitch patterns, lace, and cables.  It’s an invaluable technique that I anticipate making me a braver knitter, because I’ll know how to recover from a mistake.   Let me know if you’ve ever used the lifeline technique and how it’s worked for you.

 

Knitting Friends

This cowl.  I’m not one to let knitting projects languish.  I start them, knit, bind off, weave in ends, then start a new project.  Occasionally I’ll have two projects going because one is big, or otherwise not travel friendly and I do not travel sans knitting.
This cowl was started with a knitting friend.  Together we decided to buy the expensive kit, and marveled over the magic stitches produced by “knitting in the row below” and the resulting fabric variety produced.  After finishing the first solid-color rambler section, I ditched my purchased color 2 and 3 and called on my knitting blogging friends to help me choose a new colorway.  Then, when the two-color checked rose section was complete, I called on blogging friends again for the final color decision for the english rose tweed section, using the world’s longest swatch to guide the discussion.

This cowl, oh!  I loved planning it, swatching it, playing with colors, and learning new techniques.  When I was done I couldn’t wait to wear it.  It was beautiful, soft and warm.  After researching others’ processes I blocked it before doing the final graft.  Then I got stuck…on February 6, 2017.

This cowl, ugh!  As directed, I had started with a provisional cast on – in March 2016 (the knitting took almost a year) – and all I had left to do was to pull out the waste yarn, pick up the live stitches and use kitchener stitch to turn the scarf into a cowl.  Easy peasy.  I’d done it many times before, except I’d never done it with a provisional cast on that went immediately into this crazy honeycomb looking stitch.   Also, I might have created some problems for myself by chosing a brown tweed yarn for my waste yarn.  Knitters, we all know to chose a smooth contrasting yarn for our waste yarns.  What was I thinking?  (Non-knitters, the bumpy multicolored tweed yarn made it both hard to see the waste yarn, and hard to pull out.  Tweed has qualities good for knits, but bad for this technique.)

This cowl…it was so close to being done.  I tried to just yank out the provisional cast on, and it wouldn’t come.   I made four swatches with the provisional cast on in the appropriate yarn weight and color.  Each swatch was examined every which way, but I couldn’t see how to remove the waste yarn and insert my needles.  I tried to figure out where the stitches were, and I couldn’t.  I even posted a comment on the pattern on Purl Soho requesting help.  While Adam seemed lovely, he also seemed to be explaining the basics of a provisional cast on to me, which I understood, but I didn’t understand this particular variation of the provisional cast on – although in hindsight he was leading me in the right direction.

PurlSoho comments

This cowl sat in a bin for five months.  I thought about just sewing it up with an ugly seam on my sewing machine.  After the completion of each subsequent knitting project, I would pull the cowl out and try to puzzle how to get those stitches on a needle and remove that waste yarn.  Each time I gave up, folded it up, and hid it from my eyes.  Then another knitting friend came to the rescue.  Back from a year abroad for a few short weeks we agreed to meet for drinks and knitting.  Of course we brought our current knitting projects, and on a whim I brought my cowl.  After a few sips of cider, I pulled out the offending cowl and asked for help.  “I just can’t see where the stitches are, and yes, I know the tweed was a bad idea.”  She lovingly took my project into her hands, and evaluated the situation with the care only a fellow knitter is capable of.  Finally she said, “It’s lovely.  If it were mine, I’d take a size 1 needle and try to follow the cast on yarn stitch by stitch.”  I turned the idea over in my head.  I hadn’t tried that technique yet.  That was July 10th.

This cowl is done!  I traced the stitch pattern through with a long tiny needle three times before I was confident enough to pull out the waste yarn.  With each stitch I would insert my needle where the waste yarn was, then pull out one stitch.  At the end I had 52 live stitches to graft, and I was supposed to have 51.  Any knitter will tell you that is a success.  I can graft one extra stitch no problem.  After reminding myself of the kitchener knit-purl-purl-knit pattern, I lined up the two sides, made sure the cowl wasn’t twisted and started grafting.  As I went along I fixed stitches that were twisted and puzzled where I’d messed up the undoing of the provisional cast on, but in the end, it would take a pretty serious knitter to see where my graft was off.  (Yes, I can see it.)

This cowl’s first picture, with yarn ends hanging out all over waiting to be blocked, went to the original knitting friend.  She’s not through the second panel yet, but I assured her that when she got done I’d be able to help her graft the sides together.  (My frustration may have influenced her decision to stop knitting.)  The second picture of the final product cowl complete with ends woven in went to the knitting friend who saved me.  She’s across the world again, but at roughly 11:00 p.m. for me and a.m. for her I sent her a picture and a text.  “It’s done.  You are a genius.”  She is, and I’m so grateful for my knitting friends who push me to take on challenges, help me resolve design issues, and give me ideas when I get stuck.

This cowl cannot wait for the temperature to turn cold.  It’s been waiting years to make an appearance.


Knitting Details:

Pattern: Purl Soho Stitch Block Cowl

Yarn:

Color 1: Purl Soho’s Worsted 9832 Twist in Sea Salt

Color 2: Madelinetosh Tosh Merino in Shire

Color 3: Purl Soho’s Worsted Twist in Moody Green

Ravelry link: http://www.ravelry.com/projects/afthead/stitch-block-cowl

Which world problems?

When the #FirstWorldProblems hashtag started trending, I entertained myself by categorizing my personal issues.  It helped me assign an appropriate weight to frivolous problems, but also recognize when something wasn’t trivial.  Lately, I feel like I’ve got a host of problems that are defying neat and tidy categories: originating in #FirstWorld, but relevant beyond my upper middle class life.

Rats

Our backyard is plagued by rats.  They arrived as our street was ripped up to install new sewers and have thrived because of our chicken coop.  Chickens provide lovely containers of “rat” food and “rat” water and a handy structure under which to build a rat-opolis.

Compounding the base EEEWWW issue is the fact that our family does not kill things.  We’ve allowed the mice family to live on our porch for years; the only one that died mistakenly ran in a screen door left open only to be played with to death by our cat.  We capture bugs in the house under cups, and carry them outside rather than squish them.  But now we are rat murderers.  Two kinds of traps have killed 10 rats this summer, and now our neighbors have decided that exterminators should be called in, and I can’t disagree.  The lovely people who live next door are on the brink of moving due to the wife’s hatred of rats, and I worry about the health of my family if there are still rodents running around.

Unquestionably, our rat problem was created by first world sewer replacement and exacerbated by our first world urban farm and will be manged with our first world dollars.  However, our infestation has built my empathy for families that keep chickens to provide food for their family, but have no way to manage the pests and, even worse, no way to protect their families from the rodents and the diseases they carry.  At least I have a house so the rats are in my yard and not running over my sleeping child.

Pending Unemployment

Like many people, this new presidential administration has me reeling.  I’m horrified by the idea of children losing their free lunches at school, threats to our clean air and water, and friends losing health insurance.  Underlying all of those worries is a selfish concern about my potential job loss.  As someone who works in renewable energy whose job depends on funding from the federal government,  I spend many work days figuring out how to save the jobs of my team and myself.  No federal budget has been passed yet, and likely won’t anytime soon, so the dark cloud of unemployment looms as budget requests shrink.  This unemployment fear is heightened by my fear of Obamacare going away, because if I lose my job who is to say my family will have health coverage?

Granted, my husband has a job, he has health insurance, and we have plenty of savings.  I’m better off than many who are already unemployed, don’t have a job and really will have no insurance if Obamacare goes away.  As a result, I’m know I’m awful-izing, but the distance between me and a bad financial place are closer than they have ever been, and that’s scary.

Mental Health

As I’ve mentioned before, my husband struggles with depression, and he is in that cycle again.  Thankfully we caught it early, and are hoping that early intervention will keep him from entering a downward spiral, but our family’s fears are enlarged when “Daddy isn’t happy.”  Also, when daddy isn’t happy the fears of not just my job loss but his job security, pre-existing condition clauses, and poverty become larger than life in his head and in my ears.  Mental health impacts all people, regardless of financial standing, and we are so fortunate to be able to get help for him, but I cringe knowing how hard this is for our family, when we are the lucky ones.  What do down-on-their-luck families do?

Physical Health

Of course as my husband was admitting his depression to himself and me, I got news of an irregular mammogram.  After extra screening – which is super comfortable let me tell you – I’ve been assured that what they found is probably benign, but I have to go back every six months for screening.  (Oh, how I’m looking forward to even more super comfy screening.)  I’m probably fine, and I’m so lucky to have insurance so that I can get mammograms in the first place, and afford the additional screenings.  If anything ends up being a problem we’ll find it early, and for that I am grateful.  Other women might not know they have a problem until their sugar crystal sized cysts grew to cancer sized lumps, and even then they might not be able to afford treatment.

That said, I did spend the first few days after my diagnosis facing my eventual death.  I’ve got a young daughter I want to see grow up, parents who are still healthy, a book I want to edit, another book to finish writing, stories to get published, and a whole lot of life I still want to live.  Oh, and jobs to save, remember those from earlier?  The idea of cramming all of that into a few years terrified me, and forced me to think about my priorities.  No big changes are happening yet, but I got a smack in the face that I’m not living forever.

#FirstWorldProblems?

So yeah, all of my problems above are #FirstWorldProblems.  Angry making, worry inducing, miserable first world problems and I hate every one of them.  But we have a rat plan, I do have a job and savings, my husband is getting treatment, and I’m being regularly screened.  We are lucky because we’ve had good jobs, our employers provide health insurance, and we’ve managed our money well.  Right now things are crappy at the Afthead house, but we will be okay.

While that should make me feel better, it also makes current events going on in this country so much more awful.  What about all the people – heck the majority of the people – who are not as fortunate as our white family headed up by two engineers?  Who is looking out for them, and making sure that the difficulties life throws at them don’t make them sick, destitute, crazy, or dead?  Why doesn’t everyone deserve to be safe from rats, job loss, or mental and physical health issues?  For my family’s sake I wish I wasn’t thinking about these questions right now, but for humanity’s sake I wish I had an answer.

 

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.