Thursday, January 16, 2014

You could be my Next Good Friend!

Dear _______________,
Congratulations on being selected as a contender for the role of my Next Good Friend of 2014!  I'm sure you're anxious to get started, but before we begin, I'll need you to fill in the following questionnaire to be sure you're qualified for the position.  Please use a No. 2 pencil and make dark marks - there are a lot of forms to process, and the scanner can't be bothered to look too closely at these things.


1.  Your home is approximately how far from mine?
a) 1 mile
b) 5 miles
c) 20 miles
d) You don't know where you live.
e) You don't know where I live.

2.  You are willing to travel how far to go do something fun on a weekend evening?
a) 1 mile
b) 5 miles
c) 20 miles
d) none - you only socialize at your own home.
e) none - you are an agoraphobic lobster* who doesn't socialize at all, anywhere.

Family life:

3.  Are you married?
a) Yes
b) No
c) No, but you used to be
d) You're not sure
e) Only on weekdays

4.  How many children under the age of 16 live with you now?
a) Zero
b) 1
c) 2-3
d) 4-5
e) You lost count after five, but you're pretty sure there are more than that, judging by the piles of laundry you find on a daily basis.


5.  Please circle all of the fandoms to which you belong:
a) Doctor Who
b) Sherlock (BBC version - indicate whether you ship Johnlock or Sherlolly** _________)
c) Supernatural
d) Star Trek (please indicate which version - original, next gen, DS9, etc. _________)
e) Star Wars (please indicate favorite movie, and if it's Episode I, II, or III, stop the survey now and go shoot yourself in the head ____________)
f) Anything written, produced, directed, or breathed upon by Joss Whedon
g) MST3K
h) Archer
i) Chuck
j) LoTR/Hobbit
k) Avengers, including Thor
l) Avengers, not including Thor, because that movie sucked balls
m) Twilight
n) Hunger Games

6.  There is no question number six **

7. Please circle all of the following hobbies which you regularly enjoy:
a) Fiber arts (knitting, crochet, weaving, spinning, quilting, embroidery, etc.)
b) Tabletop games
c) RockBand-style console games
d) Reading
e) Hiking
f) Gardening
g) Cooking
h) Home improvement
i) Crushing the hearts of your enemies beneath your bootheels

8. Please indicate your favorite companion:
a) Rose
b) Donna
c) Martha
d) Sara Jane
e) Captain Jack
f) Amy and Rory
g) River
h) Clara

9. Please indicate any of the following games which you have played and enjoyed:
a) Fluxx
b) Munchkin
c) Smash Up
d) Ticket to Ride
e) Axis and Allies (please stop the survey now and contact my husband instead)
f) Carcassonne
g) Settlers of Catan
h) Canasta
i) Pictionary
j) Cranium
k) Timeline
l) Cards Against Humanity


10.  Please indicate which times/days you would be most interested in getting together:
a) Never - you only want an online/telephone relationship
b) During the day during the week
c) Weekday evenings
d) Friday or Saturday evenings
e) Saturday or Sunday during the day
f) The third Saturday after the new moon, from 8-8:15 pm, if all goes according to plan.

11.  Regarding any children you have at home:
a) They would love to play with my child, and we will not have to referee them much
b) They would love to play with my child, but we will need to keep a close eye on them or there might be bloodshed
c) They have no interest in playing with my child, but will entertain themselves
d) They have no interest in playing with my child, and may make our lives a living hell if you bring them
e) You have no intention of involving children in our relationship


12.  Which trait do you think is the most important part of your personality?
a) Snark
b) Sarcasm
c) Dry humor
d) Expertise with profanity
e) None of the above
f) All of the above
g) Sweetness and light (please stop this survey and go punch yourself in the face for me, mmm-kay?**)

** Pop culture references and "in jokes" are marked with **.  Please circle all of them that you understood and/or could explain the genesis of to an impartial moderator.

Thank you for your participation, and don't call us, we'll call you.

Monday, January 13, 2014

A whole new world

When people begin to pursue a new hobby in earnest, it frequently changes the way they view the world.  Take, for instance, three people walking on the beach.  The amateur photographer is noting the direction of the light, and the shadows, and mentally framing shots as he walks along.  The surfer is noting wind speed and direction, gauging the swells, and wondering how long she has to walk before she can head for the car for her board.  And the marine biologist is wondering how long it will take the surfer and the photographer to notice the pod of dolphins a few dozen yards off-shore.  Same light, same sand, same water - but a totally different experience for each of them.

I tend to latch onto my hobbies with both fists and a wrap a leg around them, too, so my approach to many situations is, shall we say, unique.  I'm a writer, so I'm always making note of bits of dialog I like and ideas I might be able to use in the future.  I'm a knitter and a crocheter, so I'm likely to pause a movie for five minutes just to get a closer look at the male lead's sweater or hat.  I'm a cook and a baker, so I'm always on the lookout for ways to try foods or techniques that are too complicated or annoying for me to want to make at home.  I'm a photographer with a love of macro lenses, so I'm always getting up close and personal with the strangest, most mundane things in the world ... and usually making a fool out of myself to find them. 
Like skipping part of breakfast so I could wander around in the rain with my camera sheltered under a plastic bag, so I could photograph a drop of condensed fog on a dead grass stem (with bonus upside-down totem pole inside):

I ignored the beach and the boats and the pool at the resort in Jamaica last November, but I came home with 20 pictures of a flower the size of a pencil eraser:

Well, I didn't entirely ignore the beach (there's lots of fun stuff in the sand, like bits of coral):

I also spend close to an hour in the glass house every time I go to the Botanical Garden, communing with the butterflies.  You'd be surprised how close they will let me come ... my lens was less than an inch away from this guy's face:

But most of all, I'm a blogger, a multi-media photojournalistentertainer whose interests range from the mundane (look what my kid did today!) to the introspective (news flash: depression sucks!) to the humorous.  It changes how I look a the world, and how the world sees me.  It means that when I'm having a particularly funny exchange with my doctor, I'm mentally taking notes to use later.  My friends have learned to shout, "You can't use that on your blog!" really quickly when I get a certain gleam in my eye.  And it means I occasionally find myself trying to document a Monarch butterfly migration while wearing only a towel:

Or, like today, when I decided to take a shortcut across the tree lawn to get from the sidewalk to the street, and I discovered that the ground wasn't nearly as solid as one might have hoped.  I stepped, my shoe stayed behind, and I was left hopping around on one foot in the street, fumbling for my camera so I could get this shot:

There are times when my compulsion to photograph and document and fictionalize is annoying - ask Jason how much fun it was in Virginia when I decided I wanted to photograph as many kinds of moss and lichen as I could find, so every hike took three times as long as it should have.  But most of the time, I love the way I see the world, and I pity the people who just see the surface of everything in life.  I love that I look at a forest and don't just see trees, I see shapes and textures and good places to find rotting logs and cool fungus.  I don't get bored waiting for my Butterfly Whisperer to finish in the glass house, I just take more close-ups of foliage.  And I don't have any problem remembering what I did last year, because it's all in my blog or on my photo stream.  There are certainly worse habits to have.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Be prepared ... and fabulous

I grew up in the age of Civil Defense Drills, during which my fellow students and I would huddle in the halls of our school, kneeling down with our hands over the backs of our necks, talking quietly about how if there was ever an actual nuclear attack, our town would be instant collateral damage to any missiles fired at Washington, Baltimore, or Philadelphia, so there wasn't any point to us practicing how to "duck and cover."  My parents weren't big on disaster planning - anything weather-related we probably would have time to run away from, they figured, and things like fire ... well, I believe at one point I was told I should knock out my window screen, then jump from the roof of the kitchen down to the ground and try not to break my legs when I landed.  Thanks for the tip, guys.

We moved to Japan in 1998, and we were amused to find out that everyone at work had an Earthquake Kit they had to keep in their desk.  These backpacks included such handy items as hard hats (which were too small for our heads), reflective insulating blankets (most of the time we spent in Japan was during the warmer months), a liter bottle of water (which is enough for, like, half a day of survival), and various energy bars and snack foods (which most of the employees snitched during the year, so they would all starve if they actually needed them).  Our employers were kind enough to send two extra kits home with us to keep in the apartment, where we stuck them in the closet by the front door, along with some extra bottles of water and a ziplock baggie of food for the cat.  When the largest earthquake of our time in Japan actually occurred on a cold day in December, I was barefoot and wearing nothing but a sports bra and leggings, having just returned from a run.  I sat there in shock while the building shook and heaved, but eventually I came to my senses and ran to grab the backpacks, while Jason - in his pajamas - spent five minutes trying to coax the cat out from under the bed. A few granola bars and a mylar blanket would not have made much difference in our ability to survive in a post-earthquake hellhole that day.

We moved back to America, and 9/11 happened, and people started talking about sarin gas and biological warfare and stuff, and officials suggested we all stock up on plastic sheets and duct tape, just in case.  We threw a few dropcloths and rolls of tape on the pile of stale bottles of water and canned goods that were gathering dust in the basement.  I didn't make any concrete plans for what we would do in case of a big emergency ... honestly, I'm always halfway serious when I joke that I hope I'm the first to get slaughtered in whatever horrible thing happens in our town, because I'm not constitutionally suited to living through adverse times.  As a kid, I was always somewhat comforted by the idea that our town would probably be obliterated during any sort of attack, so I wouldn't have to worry about surviving the fallout and the famine and the lawlessness.  I am just not designed to soldier on through immense adversity.

We moved to Kentucky, had a kid, and my emergency preparedness focus shrank to making sure I had a spare change of clothes for everyone in the car, because you never knew when a diaper disaster was going to hit.  I cared less about mylar blankets and first aid kits than I did about having enough snacks and diapers to make it through the next 12 hours.

We moved back to Cleveland, and for some reason, emergency supplies just never seemed important.  We were always tight on space at the last house, and when we ended up using our supply of stale bottled water to refresh the backup battery on our sump pump, we didn't replace it.  I canned ridiculous amounts of food, and we always had packaged snack food, so I figured we could probably weather a few days without power if we needed to.  Then there were hurricanes, and tornadoes, and other weather situations that made it difficult for various family members to get necessary supplies, and making up an emergency kit didn't seem like such a waste of time after all.

A few weeks ago a friend of ours was showing off his "bug-out bag," which he has prepared in case he and his family need to make a quick escape in the face of an emergency.  It's got first aid supplies, and water, and food, and a Bowie knife as long as your forearm.  "I call it the 'Zombie Apocalypse Bag,' because seriously, when would we need a knife that big during an ice storm or a hurricane?" his wife said.  "Besides, if it was really a bug-out bag, it would need to have extra gas for the car in it, since we never have more than about 1/4 of a tank in either of the cars on a regular day."  I agreed that no gas + giant knife = zombie apocalypse bag, and the conversation moved on.

Earlier this week the weather was so cold that it froze the intake valves for the water treatment plant that supplies several of the communities near us, including our town.  We were cautioned to conserve water, refrain from taking long showers or doing laundry, because while there was enough water right then, there was no way to refill the storage tanks when all of it was consumed.  By Wednesday night we were told to use water only for essential things like brushing teeth, drinking, and cooking - flushing toilets and taking showers were frowned upon.  Communities near ours were still well-supplied with water because their intake valves were lower in the lake and hadn't frozen yet, and a heat wave was predicted for later in the week, so it wasn't a crisis.  And yet, within ten minutes of hearing about the water restrictions, a friend posted on Facebook that we shouldn't bother going to the grocery store to pick up bottled water, since the shelves were entirely sold out.  All around us, the cold weather was causing power outages and gas supply problems and busted pipes, and people were having to hunker down in their houses for days at a time because cars wouldn't start and the roads weren't fit to drive, even if you could find a store that was open.

It was the first time in my life that I actually thought, Well, crap, I guess we should have gotten that emergency kit together after all.  We had plenty of food in the fridge, and even if the power went out, it would keep in the cold temperatures.  We had propane tanks and a grill we could use if the gas went out, and a ton of frozen food we could thaw.  But water ... that we didn't have much of.  We shut off the ice maker, didn't take showers, didn't wash the laundry, didn't wash the dishes.  We tried not to think about how as soon as you aren't supposed to use water, all you want is a drink.  Jason took the World's Least Satisfying Shower the next morning, and we waited to see if school would have water in the buildings and be able to open.  In the end, the water company devised another way to supply water to the plant, so the restrictions were lifted, and life went back to normal.

Only now I'm thinking that we really should get that emergency kit together.  Water, packaged food, a decent first aid kit, a can of gas for the car, extra blankets and socks, and of course the plastic sheeting and duct tape.  Maybe extra socks and a pair of cheap shoes for all of us (because I don't want to get caught barefoot during the next earthquake I live through, thankyouverymuch). A book on first aid and survival techniques would be helpful, too, since I couldn't actually treat any injury worse than a sprain, and my knowledge of making shelters comes entirely from watching some Mythbusters specials about the uses of duct tape.  I think I'll skip the Bowie knife, though, in favor of an extra can opener, some form of alcohol, and a few days' worth of all the prescriptions Jason and I take.  Because when the zombie apocalypse comes, how can I expect to be one of the first ones put out of my misery eaten if my brain isn't jacked up on anti-depressants and anti-anxiety drugs?  And how will Jason cope with my loss and soldier on if his blood pressure skyrockets and his asthma flares up?  And how will Liza ... well, Liza is healthy as a horse, doesn't actually eat food most days, hasn't willingly taken a drink of water in years, and runs around all winter in tank tops and shorts - she'll outlive us all, no matter what the disaster.

I can't put Liza  in charge of picking out emergency supplies, though - every time we have a winter storm warning or a thunderstorm, she packs her own kit of supplies she needs if we have to take shelter elsewhere.  These kits usually include things like a pillow, 48 books, a granola bar, a flashlight without any batteries, a candle (but no matches or lighter),three extra outfits with lots of sequins and glitter ("so the rescuers can find me"), and a backup toy to sleep with.  Perfect for a sleepover, but not so helpful for the zombie apocalypse, unless you're planning on smothering the walkers with a pillow or pelting them with paperbacks.  She may not make it through the disaster, but with her fashion sense intact, at least Liza will be an attractive corpse.  Maybe I'll go add some mascara and a tube of lip gloss to the emergency kit.  After all, if we can't be prepared, we can at least be fabulous, right?

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Not my favorite kind of parade

This week I got a full physical from my doctor, courtesy of my 40th birthday.  That birthday, mind you, was two months ago, but January was the earliest I could schedule myself in one of the coveted 8am time slots.  Fasting bloodwork + limited number of days in the week = you practically have to kill someone to get a slot for a physical.

The doctor's usual nurse, Rachel, wasn't in that day - the first time ever that I've been in the office and NOT seen her.  Her replacement, whose name I never caught, was competent, but I was disappointed.  If I was going to have to have a female witness on hand for my exam, it would have been nice if I at least knew her name.  I mean, I'm open to meeting new people, but I do have standards.  She could have at least bought me a drink first....

It also happened to be my doctor's week in the "let's have medical students shadow our practicing doctors" rota, and the Nameless Nurse asked if I would mind if a medical student sat in on my visit.  No problem, I said, remembering that 3/4 of the visit was just going to be me answering only mildly uncomfortable questions.  My doctor brought in Eric, who was blandly handsome and looked like he was still wet behind the ears.  He shook my hand with just the right amount of respect and geniality - good training on handshakes at Case, apparently.  Nothing creepy there, no vibe of, "Boy, am I excited I get to look up your hoo-hah today!" so that was okay.

Endless questions.  Who died when, of what?  What do I eat, drink, do for fun?  How often?  Seriously, every time I get a physical - which isn't that often, maybe once every five years? - the number of questions doubles.  Meanwhile, I'm sitting there, hunger and a caffeine headache gnawing away at my insides because I haven't eaten in more than 12 hours.
Dr: "How much caffeine do you drink every day?"
"Not enough today, let me tell you."
Dr: "Okay, on a normal day when I'm not torturing you, how many caffeinated beverages do you drink?"

My doctor isn't much older than I am, and one of my main goals when I visit him (aside from getting my prescriptions re-authorized at the pharmacy) is to crack him up.  It's usually not that hard ... or that intentional, actually.  Can I help it if strong knee reflexes and a pair of slip-on shoes are not a good combination?  Anyway, he's rattling through his standard list, I'm watching him type the answers into his laptop and waiting, because I've got a good answer prepared for one of the questions.  And, sure enough, it came:

Dr: "What type of birth control do you use?"
"Condoms.  Well, condoms and excessive irritability, if you want to know the truth."
Dr: "Nice," he said with a grin.
"Bet your questionnaire doesn't have a code for that one."
Dr: "Nope, but it probably should."

Questions answered, he shined a funky light in my eyes, looked in my ears and up my nose, and explained a few things to Eric the Med Student about how the software was set up to track when various vaccinations were due in the future, so you don't have to calculate them yourself.  Apparently, in 2020 I can look forward to my tetanus booster - awesome!

Dr: "Okay, so we're going to step out for a minute while you get out of your clothes, and we'll do the pelvic exam when we get back."
"So can I leave my top half dressed, or do you need the full monty?"
Dr: "Full monty, including socks.  Gotta do a full skin exam, too."
"Yay. So, do I at least get a drape?"
Dr: "Oh, right.  Here you go," the doctor said, and he rummaged around in the exam table drawer and got a gown and drape for me.  "I thought she had already gotten one laid out.  Be back in a minute."

Well, maybe a few minutes.  It's a good thing I asked for the gown, because I was in there forever.  First, the Nameless Nurse came back to give me my flu shot, while my doctor went in to see another patient.  Then, the doctor was ready, but the nurse was filling in paperwork.  Then they all were ready, but the nurse hadn't laid out the exam equipment that my doctor preferred, so they had to get that set up.

Meanwhile, I'm starving and rapidly approaching being late for work. I was stuck naked in The Most Boring and Chilly Exam Room Ever, texting a friend to set up a play date for Liza and sending messages to Jason to jokingly complain about the physical.
- "Rachel the nurse has the day off so there's a sub, and it's medical student following day.  There's going to be a parade of strangers looking at my privates in the next few minutes.  Yay!"
---"I always say no to that."
-"That's because you hate learning and don't want the next generation of doctors to know what they're doing.  Loser."

Honestly, I thought, I don't care who all is down there, as long as I don't have to see them around town on a regular basis.  I'd much rather have a dozen med students down there taking notes and drawing diagrams, rather than walk around naked in the women's locker room at the gym.  At least the med students I can justify as being for the greater good, whereas walking around in the locker room is just icky.  Then again, maybe I was just a little lightheaded from the hunger and lack of Diet Coke.

The Pelvic Exam Parade eventually was ready to start, and it was even more fun than normal, since my doctor was taking his time and explaining everything he was doing to the student.  I distracted myself by trying to figure out how old I would have been when I gave birth to him if the student was my kid, and the answer was "not that much younger than some of my friends started having kids."  Those medical students are getting younger all the time (insert obligatory old woman cackle here).  This somewhat distressing thought was effective as a distraction, though, because I managed to ignore most of the exam, other than one strangely off-putting comment from my doctor to the student: "Sorry you can't see what I'm doing here, but it's all up on the top floor.  I think you'd have to stand on your head."  Okaaaaaay ....  Time for the patient to ask about something that's been bothering her for a while:

"Oh, I meant to ask you, ."
Dr: "Huh.  Well, that's unusual."
"Yeah, I kind of figured that.  Heck, if I could get a camera up there, I could probably make some money from the video on YouTube."
Dr: "I am so glad you said that, because I was totally thinking it, and I'm not allowed to say stuff like that."
"It's like a party trick."
Dr: "I do not get invited to those kinds of parties."
"Yeah, me neither, so it's kind of a waste."

The doctor filled in some paperwork while I sat on the table and tried to not look like I was ready to gnaw off my own leg.

Dr: "Okay, so here's the order for the lab work, and another for a mammogram.  You get to start having those, now, too, by the way."
"Yeah, I know, all of my high school friends were complaining about it on Facebook in the past year."
Dr: "Really?"
"Yeah, well, it came up a lot.  It's not like they were posting pictures or anything."
Dr: "I hope not."
"Dude, knowing my friends, I'm lucky they weren't posting live video feeds of the procedures."
Dr: "..."
"Again, I could totally make money with that on YouTube."
Dr: "Again, I'm glad you said that, not me.  Go get the lab work done down the hall, and I'll see you in three months."

A few minutes later I was sitting there, trying not to watch the technician fishing around for a vein (mine are dainty) and I looked up when another patient entered the waiting area  ... with Eric the Med Student trailing behind him.  I gave him a faint smile and tried very hard not to concentrate on the fact that he'd been trying to check out my top floor just a few minutes before.  I said thanks to the technician, grabbed my coat, and headed for my car.  With any luck, the Pelvic Exam Parade would not follow me all the way to Subway, because while Eric may know all about my party trick, that didn't mean I wanted him to know what I order on my sandwiches.  Some things are just too personal to share.

Sunday, January 05, 2014

This post brought to you by the makers of Crest, Wellbutrin, and Eos lip balm

My past few posts have been stale, and for that I apologize.  If it makes any difference, the REALLY bad ones never made it online, they're still stuck in my drafts folder awaiting editing or execution.  It's starting to look like an emergency room in there, with all the gory mistakes I've got piling up.  In my defense, I think I've discovered the problem, and I'm taking steps to correct it.

You see, for the last few nights I've gotten REALLY good ideas for blog posts, generally while I'm in the middle of brushing my teeth.  Not just topics, no, but whole paragraphs of comic gold.  I blame these bursts of inspiration on Jon Scalzi and Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, whose books I've been reading at bedtime.  They're just such great writers, and their voices, while totally different, are very much in the same vein as how I'd like my blog to sound.  You could say that, for right now, at least, Scalzi and the Yarn Harlot are my spirit guides, or totems, or mentors, or something equally New-Agey and woo-woo.

Right, so, anyway, I'm standing there at the sink, and I'm all, "Aha!  I can write about procrastination, and how nothing would ever get done in the world if we weren't all fundamentally lazy!  Here's a three-point list of funny examples, and the perfect closing statement."  I'm trying to get in the habit of not staying up until 2am writing, though, so I don't rush off to the computer right then, toothbrush in hand.  No, I haul out my phone and jot these ideas down in shorthand in a blank blog post, save it as a draft, then return to it the next day to actually write it.  I don't feel like typing in everything I've thought of with my lefthand thumb, though, and besides, my ideas are so good, they will surely occur to me again once I start writing, right?

Yeah, um, no.

In the morning, I look at the three words I've managed to save, hoping that autocorrect hasn't mangled them all into insensibility, and I draw a blank.  For example, last night's gem reads "news blackout."  Now, I remember I was going to say something about how when I'm on vacation I don't listen to the radio, so I don't know what's going on in the world, and it only rarely changes how my life runs on a daily basis.  I was going to contrast that with my parents, who always wanted to watch the local news every night, ostensibly for the weather forecast (but we all knew it was so they could tut-tut over the crime situation and how awful whatever the current war had been that day).  There might have been something about Jon Stewart, twitter, Facebook status updates, and stuff I happen to see on the home screen of my computer.  But this morning, I sat there looking at it, and nothing came.  So I closed the file and went on about my business.

So now it's 10:23pm, Jason just asked me plaintively if I'm planning to come to bed anytime soon, and I'm still tapping away on the computer.  I think for the next little bit, until I get back in the habit of writing regularly, I'm going to just have to say, "Screw bed-times, I'm writing when I get the inspiration."  Because it'll be fresher, and full of all the awesome stuff I think off while taking my pills and washing my face.  Eventually I need to find a balance between a) actually writing, b) writing well, and c) a reasonable sleep schedule.  But tonight is not that night.

Saturday, January 04, 2014

Like mother, like daughter

     "Hey, Ashley and some of the other neighborhood kids are playing in her yard across the street.  Want to go see if you can join them?" I asked, sitting down on the floor of her room.  I had to be careful where I sat - the only light came in around the blinds on the windows, and there were ornaments everywhere.  Apparently, I was raising a mole or a bat or something.
     "Nah," she said, looking at the floor.
     "Come on, this is the last nice day we're supposed to get for a week or more.  Get your boots and go say hello."
     "Dad said I had to pack up my Christmas tree."
     "The Christmas tree can wait.  It's 35 degrees and sunny, and there are kids playing outside.  Go take advantage of the opportunity."
     "I said hello to Ashley one day when I was walking home from the bus, and I know she heard me, and she didn't say anything back.  I don't think she wants to be my friend."  She continued the World's Slowest Christmas Tree Un-Decorating, taking one ornament at a time off of the tree, slowly trudging across the room and putting it on her bed.
     "You know, there have been plenty of times in your life when I've said something to you at a perfectly normal volume, and you haven't responded.  Sometimes you didn't hear me, sometimes you were distracted by something else, sometimes you didn't feel like talking.  Chances are, Ashley wasn't trying to shun you, that's just in your mind."  In my mind, I am wincing - how many times had I given up on a friendship with someone over some perceived slight or lack of attention?  How often had that been in my head, rather than an intentional move by the other person?
     "I don't want to go over there.  I feel like I would be butting in."  My heart breaks a little at that statement, which came out of my own mouth about a million times as I was growing up.
     "You don't have to join them.  You could just go say hi, then come back to our yard.  Or you could see if  Ashley wanted to come see your snow cave.  I bet you could both fit in there, don't you think?"
     "We probably could," she said, sounding a little more enthusiastic.  "But I couldn't fit all of them in there at once.  They'd have to take turns."  Then she stopped smiling and slowly moved another ornament over to the bed.  "See, you always do this.  I don't want to do something, and then you start talking about it, and then I start adding on things like I want to do it or something.  I don't want to talk about it."
     "Too bad.  Look, everyone feels unsure when they're meeting new people.  I bet you'd really like to go and play with them, but you're afraid that they won't want to play with you, and that's keeping you from going over.  Haven't you been complaining for the past week that your only friend who lives nearby was out of town?  You're not going to make new friends by hiding in the house, Chief."
     "I don't want new friends.  I want my old friends to be closer.  Can we call K.'s mom again, see if she changed her mind about letting K. come over?"
     "Look, I'm glad you're still friends with K., but that doesn't change the fact that it would be nice to have friends who live closer than a half-hour drive away.  It's important that you meet people in the neighborhood.  and you are running out of time, for today at least.  You want to know my prediction?  You're going to hem and haw and fart around, and then you'll finally decide to go say hello - and they won't be outside anymore."
     "Is this your ornament, or the one I made?" she asked, holding up two clay candy canes.  "See what I'm doing?  I don't want to talk about going outside, so I'm changing the subject."
     "Yeah, that was subtle.  I'm going downstairs," I said, then went over to the window to open the blinds.  The sun streamed in, glittering off of the ornaments that remained on her tree.  "And, oh, look!" I said with feigned surprise, "the kids have all gone inside now.  You're safe once again from making a new friend.  Congratulations."  My stomach roiled and I scowled as I stomped down the stairs, not sure if I was more angry with her for today's Failure to Befriend, or myself for all of my own identical missed opportunities.

Friday, January 03, 2014

Obscure hobbyists, unite!

I got my last Christmas present last night.  It had to be shipped from Scotland, and didn't make it to my in-laws' house before we left, and then there were delays in shipping for New Years, and it took until yesterday to finally show up in my mailbox.

I was so excited to receive it, I grabbed it from Jason and opened the package while I was cooking dinner.  Think about that for a minute.  I grabbed the package and tore into it, right there in the kitchen, while I had food on the stove and a hungry family standing around waiting for dinner.  That's how excited I was about it.  I opened it, and admired it, and played with some of the pieces, giggling hysterically when the magnets brought the pieces together with an audible click.  Then my timer went off, I put the pieces back in the box, and finished cooking dinner.

I got to try my gift out after dinner was cleaned up, and after a shaky start, it worked beautifully.  It's so lightweight and works so smoothly, it's hardly any effort at all to get it to make better product than I've ever made before.  I played with it for an hour, and I had a huge grin on my face the whole time.  Jason got sick of having to admire my results, and he went to bed early.  I was good and went to bed soon after, but all day today, it's been calling to me from its place of honor next to my seat on the couch.  Cooooome plaaaaaaaaay it whispers as I run the vacuum and pick up toys and make lunch.

So, what was my present?  What can inspire this level of glee from me?  Something for the kitchen, to make better bread?  Too plebeian.  Or maybe a new set of knitting of needles that let me knit faster or more evenly?  Nope, not obscure enough.  Here, I'll give you a hint:
(the pushpin is included for scale, not because it's part of the present)

Give up yet?  You probably should, because I've gone into territory that's so obscure, even most of my fiber friends had no idea what it is.  My present was ... an ultralight interchangeable drop spindle set from Almost Alien (  It's made of carbon fiber and 3-D printed plastic, and the assembled drop spindle weighs 6,7, or 8 grams, depending on which whorl I use.  It's perfect for spinning singles to use for plied laceweight yarn, which is what I was doing within five minutes of sitting down with the thing for the first time.  It's so lightweight, I don't need to start the spin on my leg the way I do with my conventional drop spindles, I can give it a light twirl with the fingers on my free hand, and it's on its way.  This means that, if I wanted to, I could easily use this bad boy in the car (as a passenger, of course!).  I luuuuurrrrrrvvvvve it!

I wanted to share my glee last night, but I was stymied with who to talk to.  Most of my Facebook friends don't do fiber-related things, and would probably have no idea what I was talking about.  Even my knitting and crocheting friends are, for the most part, almost completely ignorant about drop spindle spinning, if they know anything about spinning at all.  I texted a photo to the person most likely to give a crap about my hobby, and basically got a pat in the head "that's nice dear," in return.  And I don't have the phone number for the one friend I know would appreciate it, so I'll have to wait to show her in person next week.

This got me thinking about the relative obscurity of my hobbies.  There are millions of people who knit and crochet out there in the world - one popular website devoted to all things knitting and crochet has more than 2 million registered users, and that's just a fraction of the people worldwide who knit.  Heck, I've heard there are more people worldwide who knit than who play golf, it's that popular.  The Craft Yarn Council estimates there are 38 million people in the US alone who knit or crochet.  But somehow, knitting has gotten divorced from our popular culture to the point where very few non-knitters are familiar with its terms and equipment.  

Think about it.  Almost any adult in America could give you a rough definition of an "iron" or "par," regardless of whether they or anyone in their family is a golfer.  But it's hard to find a non-knitter who can easily distinguish between knitting and crochet (hint: if the crafter is using one stick, it's crochet; any more than one, it's knitting), and most people couldn't identify a cable needle or a stitch marker to save their lives.  People benefit from knitting every day - it's what makes your undies stretchy and helps that wool sweater keep you warm - but they don't think about it.  And that's weird.

And if you move on to spinning fibers, well, it gets even more obscure.  Spinning has been going on for thousands of years, ever since people decided that maybe it would be nice to wear something other than a dead deer, or easier to catch fish if there were some sort of flexible thing with holes in it to let the water out and keep the fish inside long enough to eat them.  Despite the fact that we are literally surrounded by spun fibers - from things like the metal cables used to hold up bridges to the cotton in your bedsheets - probably 90+% of the world's population couldn't tell you how they're made, even in the most basic sense.  Hand a layperson a hank of fiber and a drop spindle, and they'd just look at you funny.  Try the same thing with a golf ball and a club, and imagine the difference.  Even in a room of knitters or crocheters, you're much more likely to find someone who knows how to play golf rather than knows how to spin.  There's a reason that people sell bumper stickers that read, "Spinning: because knitting wasn't weird enough."

And yet somehow, that obscurity has never bothered me.  Thanks to the internet, I can connect with people online, watch videos to help learn the craft, and order supplies.  I can find retreats to attend, projects to try, and helpful tips.  Sure, I get blank looks whenever I try to talk about spinning with anyone locally (and even my husband thought I was referring to an exercise class when I told him I was going to Rocky River for a spinning class), and people tend to treat me like I'm a little mentally deficient if they see me spinning in public.  My father-in-law was fascinated by the process I was using to "make twine" as he called it, but I got the feeling that he was about five minutes away from the traditional comment that makes me want to hit people ("You know you can get stuff just like that at Wal-Mart for $5, right?"  Um, yes, I know they sell yarn at Wal-Mart, but if you can find any alpaca/yak/silk laceweight there, I'd be willing to eat it.).

Nope, having an obscure hobby doesn't bother me, until I need someone with whom to share my successes and failures.  Guess it's time to go sign up for a couple of the spinning forums on Ravelry ... in the meantime, got any obscure hobbies you'd like to share with the group? And will someone tell me how awesome my single looks?!?

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Snow Day

Today I find myself taking the adult equivalent of a snow day - the roads were so bad that my boss texted me and told me not to bother trying to come in to work.  Since it had already taken me 10 minutes to travel one mile, I thought that sounded like a fine idea.  Another 15 minutes and I was safely home again, snow boots cast aside and scarves back in the closet, watching the snow fall.  Well, it's not so much falling as it is shooting, given the strong sideways wind we've got right now.  It's coming in at about a 30-degree angle to the ground, which will lead to some interesting drifts by tonight, I'm sure.

At any rate, I have a day unexpectedly free.  Sure, I'll have to go out two or three times to keep the driveway clear (a Sisyphean task if ever I saw one), and make sure the kid and I get fed lunch, but otherwise, I've got about five hours of unexpected free time.  You would think this would be a good thing, but really, I'm sort of dreading it.

It's not that I'm sick of being home with Liza - we were travelling so much over break that we haven't had much time to just sit around and do craft projects and annoy each other.  So I want to take some time to do stuff with her, obviously, now that I've got the time.

Which isn't to say that I'm above parking her in front of a screen somewhere so I can get some time alone ... these blog posts don't write themselves, you know, and they don't happen at all if I'm on "Mom I need a snack Mom I need help with this Mom I can't get my finger unstuck" duty all day.  So she can spend some time online playing the math games she's supposed to work on for school, and I'm sure there's a Mythbusters in our future at some point.  There are worse ways to spend a snow day than that.

But back to the dread.  You see, I spend a lot of my life with a tentative mental schedule in place.  Things like, I have to work on Thursday, so I'll have to wait until Friday to do the cleaning, and the Christmas decorations can come down over the weekend when Jason is home to help out.  Generally, things go according to plan, or close enough that it doesn't cause a problem.  But sometimes - like today - the schedule gets altered at the last minute or due to things out of my control, and that throws me off.

In my mind, I have lots of options for what to do today, and no matter which one I pick, I'll feel guilty or deprived or angry, or some other negative emotion.  For example, today I could:

  1. Do something useful around the house, like put away the Christmas decorations or clean.  Doing any of these things will make me feel resentful that I'm spending my free time doing "work" instead of something I enjoy, guilty that I'm not spending my free time with Liza doing something fun, and grumpy that I have to do it on my own even though I'm not the only one who lives in this house, thankyouverymuch.
  2. Do something just for me, like knit and watch something on Netflix.  This will make me feel guilty for not using my extra hours to do something useful, and ashamed that I'm not getting some exercise or something.
  3. Do something just for Liza, like do craft projects and watch her choice of television all day.  This will make me feel resentful that I'm spending MY free hours doing something for HER, and guilty that I'm sitting around painting butterfly magnets when there's so much that needs to be done around the house.
  4. Work on my writing.  This will make me feel bad I'm not working on housework, guilty that I'm ignoring the kid, ashamed that I'm not getting some exercise, and annoyed that I feel bad about myself when I'm doing something I'm supposed to enjoy.
I'll end up doing some combination of the above, trying to balance the guilt and annoyance equally among all of the categories.  It's frustrating to know that no matter what I do today, it won't ever be right, it won't ever be enough.  There will always be more cleaning, more craft projects, more writing and knitting that could have been done. The only answer, obviously, is to say screw it, drink some cocoa and go take a nap to rest up for my next session with Grunhilde the Snowblower.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Tiny Scrap of Fiction: "End as you mean to go on"

     "'End as you mean to go on.'  What a load of superstitious bullshit," she thought, throwing another load of laundry into the washer.  As if the Fates cared whether her house was clean, her fridge was full of food, or her wallet was bulging at the seams.  Her family had been following the New Year's tradition for as long as she could remember, and it hadn't done them a bit of good, as far as she could tell.  And yet here she was, scrubbing and mending and filing as if her life depended on it.  Ridiculous.
     Truth be told, she wasn't sure she wanted her life to go on at all, regardless of whether it was full of luck and prosperity.  Things had just gotten to be too much - too much work, too much hassle, too much heartbreak.  One setback she could handle, or maybe even two.  But losing her job, and her marriage, and her father all in one year?  There wasn't much left to look forward to in the new year.
     All around her, she could practically hear her neighbors hastily scribbling their resolutions.  Lose weight.  Work less.  Take up a hobby.  Cook more and eat out less.  Nicely defined goals for the new year, with results that could be measured and graphed and analyzed, if they wanted.  Of course, most of her neighbors would have abandoned their goals by February and gone back to business as usual, but that was beside the point.
     What was she supposed to resolve, when so many of her heartbreaks were so big and completely outside of her control?  "I resolve that this year will suck less than last year" wasn't even necessarily attainable, given the way things had been going recently.  She had gone to her oncologist a few weeks ago for a routine check-up, and the look on his face when he reviewed her scans made her heart stop.  Nothing was certain, and it wouldn't be until she had the in-depth tests done in a few weeks, but she knew what they'd show.  It was back - maybe in its old stomping ground, maybe in a satellite colony somewhere new and exciting, but the cancer was back.  That was a great way to start of the new year, with a diagnosis of recurrence after all those months of being cancer-free.
     "Fuck this," she said out loud, throwing the toilet scrubber down in disgust.  End as you mean to go on, indeed.  She poured herself a drink, turned on the television, and called up her favorite episode of Dirty Jobs.  If Death was going to make a play for her this year, she wasn't going to waste her time cleaning.  It could just pick its way around the piles of mail and laundry if it wanted to get to her.  She had more important things to do.