Wednesday, April 29, 2015


Remember that kid in grade school who was always picked last for teams in gym class?  That wasn't me.  I was the other kid.  You know, there are two kids left and one is picked last for a team and the other goes to the second team by default?  And then the team groans because they're stuck with that loser?  Yeah, that was me, By-Default-Girl.  I was a lousy athlete, I freely admit it.  I sucked at catching and throwing and kicking.  I had no arm strength and no aim and was completely uncoordinated.  I was also the fat kid, a double whammy.  I still feel intense resentment over that damn rope they tried to make us climb.  Combine lack of strength and coordination with an over-sized body and you can imagine that little bit of humiliation.

I mention all this because I'm doing the 10K at Cincinnati's Flying Pig Marathon this weekend.  No, I'm not running it.  I'm simply walking, but hopefully at a fast enough pace that I finish just ahead of the last place finishers, probably a group from the local elder care center slowed down by their canes.  My husband asks why I don't jog part of it.  I do jog in short bursts on the treadmill, little one-lap intervals between various walking paces.  The problem is I steadfastly refuse to run in public.  This meme came through as a Tweet from a member of my virtual running group and sums it up perfectly:

The Vulcan assures me I do not look like that.  I'm convinced I do.  I once saw slow motion video of a basset hound running, jowls flapping and flab undulating and I just know that's what I'd look like if I broke into a trot.  And since there may very well be news cameras in the vicinity, I'm not taking any chances.  Just finishing will be enough.  Well, let's say finishing and not being dead last.

My mommy was very proud.
I did the Flying Pig's 5K last year and I still marvel at it.  Not because I had some earth-shattering pace, but just because I did it.  Me.  By-Default-Girl.  In an organized athletic event.  If you had told that rotund kid in phys ed that some day she'd walk 3.1 miles and get a medal for it she would have thought you were nuttier than the ice cream Drumstick she had every day at lunch.  And if you'd said the next year she was going to walk 6.2 miles?  Forget about it.

 To motivate me to walk 25 miles or so on the treadmill every week, I joined the Earthathon.  It's a virtual relay race in which ten teams are running the circumference of the earth.  As a group we are going to put in the mileage equivalent to circling the earth ten times, roughly 250,000.  It's only slightly competitive.  When the first team finishes running the circumference, those members then will help another team reach that milestone and so on until there's one big team finishing the last lap.  When I signed up I said to put me on whichever team needed me.  I could have been on a team like Legs of Passion or Stars on the Run.  My team?  United Snails.  At first I was slightly bummed.  Not exactly a name to inspire.  Then I got to know my teammates through Twitter and they turned out to be so enthusiastic and supportive and fun that I realized I was on the PERFECT team for me.  And, let's face it, the name totally fits.  I embraced my inner snail.  I found a piece of clip art (here) and made it my own personal logo.  I had my sister put it on a shirt for me.  Last week I got out the Shrinky Dinks and made myself a necklace and a charm for one of the 5,017 Rainbow Loom bracelets my daughter made me and a tiny snail for my gym shoe.  Call it snail mania, but for my birthday I got a little silver snail pendant and I bought myself a stuffed snail to put on the shelf over my treadmill.  And I may have a Littlest Pet Shop snail on my desk.  Maybe...

So, at age 45 am I an athlete?  Not even close.  I still can't throw a ball (or catch one).  I'm totally uncoordinated and fall down regularly.  In the summertime I do little in the pool but tread water and the best I can manage on a bike is to stay upright.  Having said all that I can also say that, at age 45, I'm in the best shape of my life.  That's not saying much.  I've always been overweight and out of shape and compared to a real runner, I'm a pathetic mess.  But compared to the me of the past, By-Default-Girl, I'm at the top of my game.  I can't help but feel slightly proud of that, even if my children do tell me I'm past my expiration date.

Monday, April 27, 2015


My daughter, Foghorn, is eleven.  She'll be twelve this summer.  In reality she's thirteen no matter what the calendar says.  This is an infuriating interesting age and is accompanied by mood swings, a fresh mouth, and the unwillingness to wear any clothing picked out by her mother.  It is also wreaking havoc with my smartphone. 

At least once a week I try to take a photo or add an audio book to my phone, only to find there's no room.  In the past this would leave me perplexed and scrambling for an explanation.  Now I know to just go to the photos.  If I'm stupid enough to leave my phone unattended it will inevitably be filled with lovely shots like these:

Then there are the texts.  My husband suddenly finds himself on the receiving end of a barrage of texts allegedly from me.  They are invariably nonsensical, insulting, or are giving permission for Foghorn to do something/buy something that in reality is out of the question.  An example from this weekend:

The Vulcan and I have a secret code word we use whenever there is any uncertainty as to the writer of a text, for obvious reasons.

Foghorn also has a butt obsession.  She thinks Kim Kardashian is the queen of all things because of her larger-than-life derriere, as well as her ability to be rich while having no visible talent.  Since I have contempt for all things Kardashian (Kim and her entire extended family), this causes some mother-daughter conflict.  Foghorn twerks compulsively and talks butts compulsively and I continually find obnoxious things written on my to do lists, chalkboard grocery list, or Post-Its.  This little baby was on my laptop to remind me of where I left off reading on a certain blog and Foghorn decided to add her own touch:

And then there are the times she manages to combine two or more of her favorite annoying habits into one text.  This one to her father...from my account, of course:

Yeah, Foghorn as a real thirteen year old ought to be one big thrill fest.  I can't wait.  Sigh...

Saturday, April 25, 2015


The Cubs came to town to play the Cincinnati Reds last night, so naturally I had to go.  Thanks to lingering rush hour traffic, we were slightly late and missed the top of the first inning.  We raced to our seats, first row of a balcony section and the two seats on the end, and found a guy already lounging in seat number two.  Apparently thinking the occupants of the end seats weren't going to arrive, he and the three females in his group had decided to spread out.  He was nice and quickly gathered his beer and moved down a spot.  He then took his correct seat...and half of mine.  Now, I'm not exactly a lightweight myself, so don't think I'm making fun of this guy.  I'm simply noting that he was tall and hefty and just big.  He was very, very big.  He was Sasquatch big.  He sat with his knees apart, putting his right thigh where my left one should have been.  His ham hock arm dangled over me and nearly rested on top of my scorecard.  His massive shoulder jutted into my space and I was left pinned between him and my husband, trying to make myself as narrow as possible.  The Vulcan thought I was getting all cuddly with him.  In reality I was leaning into him to try to get a breath.  It was like wearing a corset.

Sasquatch had several beers and a bag of peanuts, filling his empty beer cup with the vacant shells.  It was a chilly night and The Vulcan kept asking if I wanted my jacket, but I informed him that I was quite warm.  Sasquatch was generating so much body heat it was like being curled up next to a polar bear.  Plus he was a very effective wind break for the biting late evening breezes.  He topped off his peanuts and beer with cotton candy, putting the empty cone in the cup holder, completely blocking my view of home plate.  My sister's reply to my email of the pic was, "He'd be wearing that cone up his fat ass about then," but he was actually a nice guy and he would have removed it if I'd asked.  Instead, I just leaned forward for a better view.  I had to do that often during the evening anyway.  Whenever he talked to the ladies on his left, he bent his torso forward and effectively obscured the entire infield.  Fortunately for me, he and his companions got up frequently and disappeared for an inning, returning reeking of cigarette smoke.  Sadly, based on his size and habits, I don't think this guy is long for this world.  The highlight of the evening was when Sasquatch decided to take part in the wave going around the stadium (which, I might state emphatically here, I loathe and think should be banned from the ballpark).  He stood and waved his arms and tried to flop back into his seat...and missed.  He hadn't noticed his chair seat had sprung into the upright position.  Towards the end of what turned out to be an extra inning game (but a Cubs win), two of his companions stayed in whatever smoker's paradise they'd found and Sasquatch left an empty seat between us.  He departed for good before the final out and as we stood for the 10th time to let him by, he excused himself again and said, "Thanks for being cool about this."  That's okay, Satchy.   Just watch your ticker.

Besides the inability to take a deep breath, my visit to Great American Ballpark was also cursed with the oh-so-familiar patron -- The Big Mouth.  You can pretty much guarantee that at every game there will be one person, usually a guy, who talks frequently and, naturally, at a volume five levels higher than everyone else.  Last night The Big Mouth was sitting right behind me with his wife and two other folks.  This particular Big Mouth had a Kentucky accent as thick as sausage gravy and he was the expert on all things baseball.  Just to add to his pontificating was his amusement in himself.  Most of his comments were punctuated with a loud guffaw that came out something like "hue-HUH" and sounded for the world like laughter I heard on an old cartoon with hillbilly bears.  Besides his nonstop commentary on everything from the game itself to the ballplayers' ages to Brandon Phillips' teeth, he munched peanuts and in flicking the empty shells managed to hit me in the back of the neck several dozen times.  Whenever Sasquatch and his pals went for their smoke break, the other gentleman in Big Mouth's entourage draped his feet over the empty seats in front of him and I got to sit with dirty boots caked with mud and peanut shells a foot away from my face.  There's a deal with a local pizzeria chain that if the Reds' pitchers strikeout 11 during a game, everyone with a ticket gets a free small pizza.  That was reason enough for Big Mouth to give us, with each hitter, an update on the pizza quest.  "Eight more strikeouts for pizza, hue-HUH!"  "Only need five more for pizza, hue-HUH!" 

In all fairness to Big Mouth, I will say he was the baseball expert within his group of four, as I have never heard so many idiotic things said at one ball game in my life. Those of you who don't like baseball and know little about it can maybe forgive them their ignorance.  For someone like me they were fingernails on the blackboard of my soul.  The best lines of the evening:

Jon Lester, Cubs pitcher, came up to bat.  Like many pitchers, he has yet to get a hit early in this season and thus has no batting average, hits, RBI, or OPS.

Friend of Big Mouth:  What's with all them zeroes on that guy?


Mrs. Big Mouth:  Are all the bases the same distance apart?

Mr. Big Mouth:  Yup.

Mrs. Big Mouth:  Huh.  It always looks a lot shorter from second to third.


With Reds runner on third:

Mrs. Big Mouth (shouting):  Steal home!

Big Mouth:  Naw, he don't wanna do that now.

Friend of Big Mouth:  Is he ALLOWED to steal home?!?

Big Mouth:  Yeah, he can steal home.

Friend of Big Mouth:  Can he steal from first to second? 

The runner was on third as a result of a single followed by two stolen bases.


During the sixth inning:

Friend of Big Mouth:  Do they have half time?

Big Mouth:  No, there ain't no half time.  They got the seventh inning stretch.

Friend of Big Mouth:  Do they switch players?

Big Mouth:  They got guys on the bench they can bring into play if they want.

Friend of Big Mouth:  What do they do when they ain't playing?

Big Mouth:  They watch the game.

My children often hurt my heart with their lack of interest in baseball and some of their questions make me cry.  I now console myself that I could be mother to these folks.  And I leave Friend of Big Mouth with this parting shot, my favorite Foghorn Leghorn moment.  Hue-HUH!

Thursday, April 23, 2015


Laura's statue in the downtown Mansfield
The sister and I safely made the trip to Mansfield, Missouri and back.  My daughter only emerged from her room upon my return when I yelled up that I'd bought her caramel creams at the Cracker Barrel.  My son at least appeared, although a hug was out of the question.  As always I could count on my dogs to welcome me back enthusiastically.  They were loud and boisterous and all over me when I got down on the floor by the couch.  Each got annoyed that the other was hogging the attention of her mother and they started getting nasty with each other.  I noticed various large colored stains on my living room carpet caused by the dogs chewing up markers.  I asked my husband why he didn't clean them and he said he didn't know how and my son yelled, "You know where the carpet cleaner is!"  Smart boy.  The Vulcan said he missed me, but it's always hard to tell if he really missed me or was just glad to have someone take over the household again.

View of Laura's farmhouse from the road.
The trip involved way more driving than I like in much too short a period of time, but it was totally worth it.  Let me say loud and clear if you love the Little House books and/or their authorn the Laura Ingalls Wilder Home and Museum is an absolute must-see.  I had high hopes going in, but it actually surpassed my expectations.  Located on (what else?) The Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Highway, the home site has Laura and Almanzo's farmhouse, a museum building, book store, and the Rock House, a retirement home their daughter built them in the 1920s with all the modern conveniences.  (They didn't like it.)

Unfortunately pictures inside the buildings weren't allowed.  That's a pity since the museum was chock-full of wonderful Ingalls mementos that those familiar with the books would salivate over.  There was a school bus full of kids present and normally a bunch of runts running around a museum would drive me insane.  In this case I had trouble loathing them since they would run up to display cases and holler, "There's Pa's fiddle!" or "Look!  It's Mary's quilt."  I heard one say to another, "This is the best museum ever."  He had a point.

I actually kind of envied those kids who knew the stories well and could point out book-related bits to each other. My sister has only read Farmer Boy and we listened to the last two books in the van on the drive, so I looked at most of the stuff alone, lingering over items that I had pictured in my mind so many times.  There were the name cards so new and fashionable in Little Town on the Prairie, including one belonging to Nellie Owens, one of the real life girls who inspired Nellie Oleson.  There was Laura's lap desk which hid a $100 bill on the trip from De Smet, South Dakota to Mansfield, Missouri, money to be used as the down payment on the new farm.  There was Mary's Braille slate and the bit of hand-knit lace Ida Brown gave Laura on her wedding day.  There was the bread plate Laura and Almanzo had bought in their first year of marriage and was one of the few things to survive a fire that destroyed their home a few years later.  There were dishes and handmade quilts and photographs and dresses.  There was a case of Alamanzo's effects, including his shoe-making supplies, pocket watch, and wallet.  There was a section devoted to their daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, a famous author in her own right.  There were two of her desks and typewriters, examples of her needlework, and souvenirs from her trips around the world.  One boy exclaimed to another, "Hey!  There's Rose's Russian tea set!"

Hanging on Laura's front porch.
The farmhouse was a surprise, although I had read beforehand that visitors were often shocked at how small it is.  Laura was 4'11" and Almanzo about 5'4" and their house was built to size.  The kitchen ceiling was low and the height of the counter by the window where she would knead bread was only about 30" from the floor.  My 4'10" sister thought it was perfect.  The house overall was much smaller than I picture when I hear "farmhouse."  I imagine the big, rambling places like on The Walton's.  The rooms here were relatively small and even the living room, which had looked like a huge open space in books, turned out to be just slightly bigger than my family room.  I always say it's people's little bits and pieces that touch me and this house was no exception.  On their bedroom walls were Currier & Ives prints that Laura had ripped from a calendar and framed.  Next to Almanzo's bed was a little wooden box full of his balms and salves, left there by Laura when he died.  My sister asked about some of the beautiful needlework in the living room.  Most was made by Laura or Rose, but it turns out Almanzo liked to do rug-hooking in the winter.  And next to the fireplace was a container full of his handmade canes.  (After a bout of diphtheria in his early 30s, Almanzo was left temporarily paralyzed and limped the rest of his life.)

The Rock House was built by Rose for her aging parents to live in ease and comfort.  After moving her parents into their new home with electricity, indoor bathroom, etc., she plopped herself in their farmhouse and had an indoor bathroom installed off the bedroom.  After about a decade, she left and her parents zipped back up to their farmhouse where they wanted to be in the first place.  What shocked me about The Rock House is that it is based on a Sears Catalog Home plan -- The Mitchell.  I have an obsession interest in Sears homes and my sister and I whipped our heads around to look at each other with open mouths when we heard this was one.  (You can see the original ad for The Mitchell here.)  Rose made some changes, the most obvious involving the exterior.  She wanted local stones used instead of the Sears-designed wood and she paid local teenagers to dig up the rocks.  From the outside it's a darling English cottage and I loved it.  Inside it wasn't my style.  It had some lovely niches that I adore, but it reminded me a lot of the Spanish-influenced style in California and it's not my cup of tea.  Anyway, Rose designed it with all new furniture.  I could see if Laura's dream house was that cute farm building, this house she would loathe.  It's not good or bad, it's just different and apparently not really what her parents longed for.  The most impressive part, to me, is that she began writing the Little House books while living there, so I tried to soak up any literary juice that might still be lingering.

We couldn't leave Mansfield without visiting the graves, which are in a cemetery at the end of Lincoln Street just outside of the downtown square. 

The Inmates' Uncle Chester in the cabin.

We spent the night at Mansfield Woods, just down the road from Laura's house.  We had a cute little cabin, very clean and with all the modern appliances (I'm not into roughing it).  The only downer, and I knew about this going in,  is that they had no wifi and no television.  Ack!  Definitely not a place to take my children.  I'm not much of an outdoorsy person, so sitting on the deck staring at a pond was not gonna do it.  I ended up propping my iPad on a chair and watching downloaded shows on J.F.K. assassination conspiracy theories while knitting.  My sister decided to write about me in verse on her blog here.  I would be offended if it wasn't, you know, true.  In my defense, I'm extremely allergic to poison ivy and had to be on steroids last time I wandered through a patch (15 years ago).  And I don't like bugs and I swear I swallowed a bug during a nature walk in Cooperstown two decades ago.  And I don't like when it's hot.  And I have really bad sinuses, so sue me for being on alert for pollen-shedding trees...

REVENGE!  My sister had fun managing
the staircase down from our cabin door.

And what would a trip be without a few souvenirs?  I also brought my mother home a little kit for making a quilted wall hanging with red work embroidery of Laura-related pictures. 

An Ozarks Public Television special on dvd
and lotsa postcards (for me).

No, I don't really intend to cook anything, but this
book had wonderful pictures and anecdotes about Laura
and the farm.  On the right is a thin volume
on Almanzo's sister.

My favorite!  An actual piece of a
pecan tree they planed in 1900.
Got to bring a little piece of the
farm home.

Friday, April 17, 2015


I normally dvr everything and thus see relatively few commercials, which pleases me no end especially during election cycles.  Unfortunately I like to watch baseball games live and I really, really like to watch baseball in general, even if it's not my team.  With all that viewing comes the trap of being forced to watch commercials.  And as soon as baseball season starts everyone around me gets to hear my yearly rant on the most annoying of all commercials -- the ones for erectile dysfunction meds.

There are three distinctive styles of E.D. commercial.  The first is geared towards the guys.  It shows a 50-ish woman, very beautiful and fit, talking about how wonderful it would be if you could be all intimate and stuff with your gal.  While the litany of  possible sides effects is rattled off at lightning-speed, the lady is waltzing across the screen in a tight dress and combing her gorgeous locks in the mirror and looking all MILF-ish.  The point of this ad is to make fellas believe if they can get it up, their frumpy middle-aged wives will suddenly morph into this chick.

Interpretation #2 appeals to the ladies.  It shows all these happy, midlife crisis-free couples, looking into each other's eyes and cuddling and going to all these wonderful places together.  The message here is if you help your husband get an erection he'll suddenly hold your hand while watching chick flicks and take you on romantic dates with dancing.  He'll think you're absolutely adorable when you get paint on the front of your shirt or break your high heel as you're getting ready to go out.  This stuff would have annoyed the piss out of him before, but now that he's got these pills he'll find you nothing but charming.  This style particularly annoys my mother, who is of the opinion that any couple married any length of time does not sit around making googly eyes at each other.  She also commented on a couple at a restaurant once.  The lady was chatting away and the guy was concentrating on every word and my mother snarled, "Either they're on a first date or he's having an affair.  No man listens to his wife that intently."

The last version appeals to the guy's inner macho man.  It shows cowboys wrangling horses and working on muscle cars.  The Mad Men folks want every guy, from the construction worker to the nerdiest engineer, to think he'll suddenly be all blue collar studly if he picks up a prescription.  For some reason the most aggravating image of this one is the guy doing a belly flop onto his surfboard and paddling into the waves.  I imagine him with one of those side effect four-hour erections and can't help but think his landing on that board couldn't have been comfortable.

I always find it hard to believe they actually have to advertise to get men with E.R. to take the damn pharmaceuticals.  All you have to do is tell me there's chocolate in aisle #3 and I'm there.  You don't have to coax me into buying it.  You'd think  the guys would rush for those boners-in-a-bottle like I run for Raisinettes.  I suppose there could be that male ego thing at play, not wanting to admit, even to a doctor, that he has a problem.  If he won't ask for directions I guess he's unlikely to admit to not being able to perform.  As for the ladies, I can't believe there's a one who falls for our version of the commercial.  I mean, think back to the boyfriend you had at 20 or 22.  Pretty much a walking erection and yet I doubt he playfully fed you popcorn at movies and played tickle-butt as you were washing the dishes together.  If so, you dated a much better class of guy than I.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015


This week the sister and I are off to "The Land of the Big Red Apple" (as the Ozarks were described in 1895).  I've long been a Laura Ingalls Wilder fan and have always wanted to visit one of the home sites.  Unfortunately her family didn't settle some place close like, say, northern Ohio, so we have to travel west in our covered wagon (also known as a Sienna minivan).  I've had my eye on the Laura Ingalls Wilder Home and Museum in Mansfield, Missouri for quite a while now.  It's not one of the locations in the Little House books, but rather the farm she owned with Almanzo from the late 1800s until their deaths.  She started her writing career there, first writing articles for the Missouri Ruralist about farm life (she was a champion chicken-raiser) and then, of course, her series of books.  This museum is of particular interest to me because a) it's the closest to home and b) it has some artifacts particularly appealing to me such as Pa's fiddle and Laura's lap desk and some of her handwritten manuscripts.

This will be a whirlwind trip, since my husband, The Vulcan, isn't thrilled with being left to take care of two kids, two dogs, and two cats.  Hard to say which couple he finds more difficult to handle.  To make sure the dogs don't chew the entire house apart in my absence he's planning to work from home.  Can't say what he'll do to protect himself from the kids.  I thought I saw him piling sandbags in front of the bunker (i.e., his office) and stockpiling canned goods.

Anyway, we're looking at just short of a 10 hour drive, with only one day in Mansfield before hurrying back home.  In the meantime I thought I'd share a little pictorial evidence of my obsession interest in L.I.W. and the Little House books.  For those unfamiliar with her work (or uninterested), feel free to skip to a more interesting blog.

Quilt made by my mother from the book
Quilting With Laura.

My modern version of Laura's engagement ring.  Hers was
in a gold(en) setting, described as a "garnet, with a pearl
on each side."  I've thought about getting an antique
version from eBay, but bristled at the prices.
Got this Etsy one as a tribute, if you will,
to Laura's ring.

Just like the plate Laura and Almanzo bought as
newlyweds from the Montgomery Ward catalog.

Laura and her sisters each got porcelain boxes,
with a little tea service decoration on top.  My sister,
not sure I'd want want a vintage one enough for the price,
made this one from air-dry clay built over a china box
topped with a mini tea set.  (Then covered with gesso,
paint, and varnish.)

A replica of what they think Ma's china shepherdess
looked like.  This modern statue I ordered from one of
the museum gift shops...probably made in China.

The Laura Ingalls Memorial Book Shelf, minus
the books I already packed in my suitcase.
Yeah, I'm one of those types -- one pound
of clothes and five pounds of books.

Monday, April 13, 2015


Sideways Mystery Mittens.
I'm making futures pairs with a colored stripe
to break up the monotony.
I have to take someone for a colonoscopy today.  I'll spare him/her the embarrassment of mentioning his/her name, but suffice it to say I'm packing up plenty of knitting to keep me occupied.  The last couple Cubs games have been spent working on these Sideways Mystery Mittens from Elizabeth Zimmermann's The Opinionated Knitter for the charity project Mittens for Detroit.  Should be able to churn out another one while at the horse-pital.

Strange as it may sound, colonoscopies cannot be brought up in my family without us reminiscing about my late father.  I could make a joke about my Old Man and a pain in the ass, but that would be too obvious.  Actually, it has to do with a combination of his butchering of the English language and his tendency to tell the same story over and over.  A couple decades ago he went for his first colonoscopy and in his telling (and retelling and retelling) they said, "You have huge, huge, huge polyps in your colon."  (Always three huges and always with the same inflection.)  Except he didn't say "polyps."  He said "palettes."  Huge, huge, huge palettes in his colon.  Remember Archie Bunker and his frequent mispronunciations for comic effect?  Yeah, that was our Old Man.

Just for my own amusement I made up a list of his top ten abuses:

10. Huge, huge, huge palettes, obviously.

9.  He had a pain in his Achilles heel (pronounced uh-chill-ees).

8.  He went to his yearly appointment at the urine-ologist.

7.  He was having trouble with his rotator cup.

6.  He could barely walk because of this ache in his butt-locks.

5.  He just had his prostrate exam.  (He also liked to call it the "finger wave,"
     which he at least pronounced correctly.)

4.  When they first came out, he bought him one of them George Foster grills. 

3.  He often went to the terlet (and thus his frequent visits to the urine-ologist).

2.  He was annoyed by professional basketball player Shageel McNeal.

1.  During the 2008 election season we had many discussions about
     John McCann and his opponent, Barack O'bana.

Here's hoping today's patient is palette-free.  Happy Monday, everyone.

Saturday, April 11, 2015


I've been knitting for about five years and in that time I've done countless pairs of socks, scarves, ear warmers, and hats.  I've done a handful of afghans, lots of bears for the Mother Bear Project, and a few pair of mittens.  I'm always knitting something and have developed a crafty form of ADD which causes the inability to simply watch t.v. or a movie without knitting needles in my hands (a fact which embarrasses my daughter at a movie theater to no end).

The February Baby Sweater
The one thing I had not managed was an adult sweater.  I've done baby sweaters and am particularly fond of Elizabeth Zimmermann's February Baby Sweater from The Knitter's Workshop.  The thought of jumping from something tiny and relatively quick to something that would span my girth was a little daunting.  Last fall, though, I decided to cast on for a sweater of my own.  Six months later I have knit (and unraveled) five of them.  I knit a sixth that is still intact and I just finished the seventh.  Ding!  Ding!  Ding! I think we have a winner.

This gull pattern would have been
so pretty in an adult size.
I'd love to show you photos of my misadventures in sweater-making, but each time I started unraveling the second I realized it was a dud, figuring the quicker I turned the malformed sweater into wound balls of yarn the less time I'd spend thinking how many hours I wasted making it.  Because of my love of the aforementioned Zimmermann baby sweater, I wanted to make an adult version a lady developed.  (Free pattern found here.)  I made it and it was too large.  Not only too large, it seemed to hang off me as attractively as an over sized hospital gown...made of wool yarn.  Immediately unraveled.

All that remains of
The Tomten Jacket.
Next was my attempt at another Zimmermann pattern, The Tomten Jacket.  (Found in Knitting Without Tears or through Schoolhouse Press here.)  I had made a child's version for Foghorn when she was smaller and she got a fair amount of use out of it considering it was about 10% too small and she grew quickly.  Anyway, I knit this baby up in the same burgundy yarn I'd used on the February Lady Sweater above, but added a couple stripes of rose colored yarn around the bottom since this thing was nothing but garter stitch and I thought might be too plain.  I finished.  It was huge.  Now, for the non-knitters let me explain about gauge.  When you see a gauge listed in a pattern, it tells you how many stitches/rows per inch the pattern is based on.  Smart people make a test swatch and see if their gauge matches the pattern.  If not, they need to change the needle size until the correct gauge is achieved.  On the first two sweaters I did not make a swatch, but I did check the gauge after I'd knit a portion of the sweater itself and in both cases it seemed correct.  In the case of The Tomten Jacket, it wasn't just that it was too big, but that I misunderstood that this thing has super deep arm holes, so  when I measured from my underarm to where the sweater should end, my calculation didn't take into account that the armhole starts a good four or five inches below the armpit.  Therefore, this thing was that much longer.  Um, yeah.  It looked less like a sweater and more like a horseman's duster.  I realized, though, besides being too big, this thing was just not going to be my style.  Too boxy and those giant sleeves just weren't going to work for me.  Frogged again.  (For the non-knitter, "frogged" mean unraveling your work.  Rip-it.  Rip-it.)

My third Shalom.  I was
so sick of knitting this color by
then I never even bothered
to unravel it.
The third attempt was the Shalom Sweater, an extremely popular pattern out there on the Interwebs.  (Available free here.)  The problem with the Shalom Sweater is that it's written by an individual, not a professional pattern-maker, and has directions just for her size.  This pattern is for a bust measurement of 32-34". Ummmm, I think my chest was bigger than that at birth.  (Sorry, Mom.)  I found various people on Ravelry (bless them) who had resized the pattern and tried to find one that seemed to roughly match my measurements.  I did.  I knitted it.  It was huge.  Seeing a pattern here?  I decided I would be brilliant and re-knit the same pattern but with smaller needles.  Dud.  Then, and even I'm questioning why I wasn't stuck in a rubber room at this point, I unraveled it and knit it a third time.  And it was a disaster.  Okay, so maybe the Shalom Sweater was not for me.

Hey, it's at least wearable.
I gave up for a few months and then started scouring Ravelry for a new cardigan.  I came upon a Leisure Arts pattern (found here) that, based on the model's jewelry and clothing, probably dates from the 80s.  It was a long, simple, v-neck cardigan.  Not as intricate as my other attempts, which is what I wanted.  Something straightforward and relatively simple.  I was a good little soldier and knitted a gauge swatch.  Still, my tendency to knit big made me go a size down on the pattern.  I finished a week or so ago and I wasn't completely displeased.  It's not overly attractive, I admit.  My husband looked at me as we prepared to leave for my mother's and said, "Aren't you going to change into something else?"  Sensing my wrath (or perhaps catching a glimpse of my Charles Manson eyes) he quickly added, "It's a nice wear around the house.  But why don't you wear something else to go somewhere?"  I actually considered this one a minor success.  It's a little big (cursed again), but it fits like a sweater and it looks like the pattern picture and I even managed to sew all those seams competently.  I slop around the house in it, but it wasn't the home run I was hoping for.

Fast forward to a week ago when, pumped up on Easter candy, I headed to Ravelry again.  I found My Favorite Cardigan from Fancy Tiger Crafts (pattern here).  It was a very simple sweater.  No frills, no lacy pattern, no pockets.  Just a basic cardigan.  The pattern description mentioned that it was adjustable and there were several points during the process when it could be checked for fit.  Revolutionary!  I downloaded the pattern and used the JoAnn gift card and cash given to me by my mother and sister in my Easter baskets to get some yarn.  I so lacked faith that this would work out that I chose Red Heart acrylic yarn in the color Grey Heather, which I'm currently using on a charity project for the Arkansas Special Olympics.  I figured when this sweater-making session ended in tragedy, I'd use the unraveled yarn for the S.O. kids.  By some miracle, that turned out to be unnecessary.

Vintage buttons stolen from my mother.
They were still in package and were originally $.15.
This one actually turned out right!  It's not fancy and it's (dare I admit it) a little on the small side.  I was so certain I would knit it too big, as I had every other one, that I sized down.  Turns out that was a mistake.  My gauge was spot on.  Technically I could button the little darling, but it would look too much like a sausage in a casing for my taste so I'll just let it hang open until I lose those ten or fifteen pounds (which I'm sure is going to happen any year now).  Yes, I made some errors.  It's about an inch too long, as I misunderstood part of the instructions for the border.  And I ended up not liking the look of five buttons on it after I made five button holes.  Pretend you don't see those extra ones.  All in all, though, I'm happy.


Of course, this is the sweater that caused someone-who-will-remain-nameless to shout, "Ahhhh!  Ugly sweater alert!"  Now I know what hand-knit goodness to make the little darling for Christmas.  She didn't really want that new iPod anyway.

Friday, April 10, 2015


Don't take this as a sign of how this week's been or my mental state at the moment.  Just a few observations on my part.  It's a given that:

  •  The dog will get diarrhea on her evening walk if you only have one pooper scooper bag.
  • When you finish a hand-knit sweater you're actually happy with an obnoxious girl will say, "Ahhhhh!  Ugly sweater alert!"
  • Your husband will wait until the light is burned out in the kitchen to write "light bulbs" on the grocery list. 
  • The morning after your dogs kept you up half the night afraid of a storm your teenage son will want to have a serious conversation about his theories on aliens, the afterlife, and portals all combined...before he catches the bus at 6:30 a.m..
  •  The night a beloved t.v. show is having the premiere of its first episode of the final season (to which you have been looking forward for six months), your baseball team will be playing its season opener.  (Just so you know where my loyalties are, I watched Mad Men on Monday.)
  • When you're on the months-long waiting list for half a dozen popular books at the library, three will become available simultaneously.
  • Your husband will wait until your dishes are covered with a hard water film fresh from the dishwasher before writing "water softener salt" on the grocery list.
  • The evening you decide to ease your pain with a Little Debbie brownie you will discover some bastard ate the last one and left the empty box in the pantry.  And all your kids' Easter candy is well as your own.  And you sit typing at the computer trying desperately to talk yourself out of running down to the creamy whip for a medicinal banana split (or what I like to call "Housewife Heroin").

Have a good weekend, everybody!

A week of pouring rain?
Perfect time to roll in the back yard.

Thursday, April 9, 2015


The Professor & Foghorn with
the Ernie Banks statue outside
Wrigley Field in 2011.
Ernie Banks is arguably the most beloved player in Chicago Cubs history, known for his positive, upbeat personality.  The Hall of Famer, "Mr. Cub", loved the game so much that he is known for his catchphrase of "let's play two."  He passed away earlier this year and every Cubs fan is still in mourning.  He stopped playing when I was a toddler, but I loved this man so much I seriously considered naming Foghorn "Ernestine."

In the late '60s and early '70s, towards the end of Banks' career, the Cubs were managed by Leo "The Lip" Durocher.  He had been a member of the St. Louis Cardinals' rowdy "Gashouse Gang" of the 1930s, then went on to manage most famously the Dodgers.  He earned the moniker "The Lip" with his salty tongue and brash manner and is (somewhat erroneously) credited with the phrase "nice guys finish last".  I've always had a thing about Durocher, probably because he appears on an episode of Mr. Ed along with a bunch of the L.A. Dodgers.  And I don't care what anybody says, seeing a horse run the bases and then slide into home, depositing his hoof squarely on home plate is one of the funniest things ever.  Since I was/am a big Mr. Ed fan, I think I developed a fondness for Leo at an early age.

A year ago I read a book about Wrigley Field and the Cubs and it mentioned that "The Lip" was not fond, to say the least, of Ernie Banks.  He criticized Banks' playing, among other things, but I have a feeling we also had a major clash of temperaments.  Banks was light, Durocher was dark.  Banks was cheerful, Durocher gruff.  You get the idea.

Daisy & The Professor
When Daisy entered our lives last year she immediately bowled me over with her enthusiasm for life.  For the first week I caged her at night since I wasn't sure what she might do and when let loose in the morning she would race out, squealing with joy, propeller tail whirling around, and immediately locate the nearest toy.  St. Jimmi would come wandering in so she could go out to potty and Daisy would rush up to her.  I always imagined her saying, "Oh, Jimmi!  It's so wonderful!  It's morning!  And today we get to eat and pee and play with toys!  Oh, boy!  Oh, boy!"  Jimmi would take one look at her and let loose with her howls, a sour expression on her face.  This was repeated every morning.  Daisy was ready to greet the day with a smile.  Jimmi was ready to figuratively hike her leg on it.

Daisy started getting the same surly reaction from Jimmi on a nearly hourly basis.  Jimmi was mad if Daisy tried to play with her or approached her at the water bowl or tried to climb on the couch with her or tried to look out the same window.  Not surprisingly, Jimmi earned herself the nickname "Durocher."  While the nickname of "Ernie" for my basset didn't stick, Jimmi has continued to be called Durocher.  She's mostly adjusted to Daisy, although she's still very vocal, and Daisy's mischievous side has emerged, making her intentionally push Jimmi's buttons.  I always compare Jimmi's anger to a tea kettle put on to boil.  Daisy will be in her face, trying to get her to play or aggravating her on purpose, and Jimmi's eyes will start to get big.  Then her nose and lips start to quiver.  Her chest begins to heave.  And then, whoosh!  Like a tea kettle suddenly whistling, the steam comes out of the dog's ears and she explodes in a howl that could puncture the eardrum.  And Daisy finds that very funny.  She stands wagging her tail and watching Jimmi scream and looks around like, "Isn't this fun?  Let's play two!"

** While I don't have any video of Durocher giving Daisy what-for, I do have some footage of her reaction to a seven year old Foghorn who was being too loud and rowdy:

Wednesday, April 8, 2015


"Adopt Me"
I had no intention of rushing out for another dog when my beloved Frank died.  I was too raw and distraught and we already had St. Jimmi, so it's not like the house was lacking canine energy.  There was also the issue of Jimmi herself.  Jimmi is not mean.  Jimmi is...bossy.  And sometimes loud and definitely opinionated, especially when faced with someone she finds annoying.  Usually this annoying creature was poor Frank, who really never did a thing to her, but that didn't stop her from doing her "fish wife" routine, as my mother called it.  She'd get pissed at him and start this loud, incessant howling that could go on for ten, fifteen minutes sometimes.  She'd get right next to his ear and let him have it.  He'd try to walk away and she'd follow, like an infuriated wife, hollering as if saying, "And let me tell you one other thing..."  The only person who really gets her going is Foghorn.  When Jimmi has reached her limit, Foghorn gets the same howling routine as Frank and if that fails to shut her up, Jimmi trees her on the couch as if she were a two-legged raccoon.  In other words, Jimmi is the alpha dog and that can present difficulties when bringing a new dog into the house.

I didn't actively look for a dog last summer, although I kept an eye on the listings from Recycled Doggies, one of my favorite rescue groups and the folks who gave us St. Jimmi.  Besides needing a mid-sized model with a temperament that could get along with our Bluetick Coonhound's, there was a the small matter of her matching my personality.  My ideal dog would probably be one of those yawning bloodhounds from Hee-Haw.  I like a dog who gets enthusiastic about walks and likes to fetch toys -- but in moderation.  After a walk or fifteen minutes of play, my perfect dog then wants to cuddle up with me for a nice nap.  Hound dogs have always worked out well for me for that reason. 

As I say, I wasn't actively looking, but by August I did find myself checking not only Recycled Doggies but other shelters and rescues on PetFinder as well.  I kept saying the right dog would find me, as they always seem to do.  Of course, that didn't mean I shouldn't keep my eye open...  Then one day I found a dog on the Animal Adoption Foundation's Petfinder page.  Her name was Sandy, found as a stray during a storm.  She was a basset hound mix mixed with probably golden retriever or yellow lab and as soon as I saw those sad, droopy eyes, I thought we had a winner.  Bassets are generally pretty laid back, a nice way of saying lazy.  She was described as getting along well with cats, kids, and dogs, all important in this house.

Getting ready to head home.
I sent an email asking if she was available, which she was, and mentioned that I'd like to come and see her on Saturday.  We arrived at the shelter, a good 40 minutes away, all four of us plus Jimmi, only to find that Sandy wasn't there.  She was out at an adoption event at a comic book store.  Would have been nice to have known that.  I suddenly went from not being in a hurry for another dog to being frantic some Fantastic Four junkie would scoop her up before we could get there.  Back in the car and raced down the expressway and pulled into the parking lot on two wheels.  Okay, I didn't really drive like that, but my husband swears I did.  We walked in the door and there she was.  While she can certainly put on that sad basset face, at that moment we saw her usual face, smiling and cheerful with sparkling eyes.  She stood on four short legs with an "Adopt Me" vest around her middle, her tail going in circles like a helicopter.  I bent over to say hello and she was all over me.  I sat on the floor and in half a second she was cuddled in my lap, happily accepting the pats of my husband and daughter.  The Professor was waiting in the van with Jimmi, so we walked Sandy outside and let the two get to know each other.  Since we weren't on Jimmi's turf it was hard to tell if there would be issues, but we didn't immediately have a snarling fight and that seemed like a good sign.  They mostly ignored each other while the rest of us fell in love with this little blonde beauty.

Orange collar with black name tag to
match The General Lee. 
NO Confederate flag.
We filled out paperwork that day and went to the shelter on Sunday to bring her home.  I had toyed with various names connected with my various obsessions.  Since St. Jimmi was named for a character in Green Day's American Idiot she could have been Billie Joe (for the lead singer) or Whatsername (for another character).  Wrigley was seriously considered for my love of Chicago's Friendly Confines.  And then, of course, she could have been Carol Brady after my BFF.  Ultimately, though, my childhood obsession with The Dukes of Hazzard won out.  Sheriff Rosco on the show had a basset named Flash and although this new dog looked nothing like the traditional brown, black, and white basset, I decided to go with Daisy Duke.  As my sister pointed out the name was all the more funny (and therefore fitting, in a strange way) because she looks nothing like the long-legged cocktail waitress from the series.

Snacking has its challenges.
Daisy is everything I wanted in a dog.  She's mostly easy going and fairly quiet.  We were shocked by her bark when it first came out, though.  It's very deep and is a bit disconcerting given her appearance, kind of like Christie Brinkley speaking with Barry White's voice.  She's a first class cuddler and immediately made herself at home in my bed.  The cats hate her, which is to be expected, but she's not aggressive with them.  She does, however, enjoy chasing them which does not go over well.  Like most hound dogs she's a bit of a hungry gut and despite her stature has managed to steal hamburgers off the kitchen counter.  She's unfortunately a chewer, which can cause problems when she's left alone.  Often I try to move as much as possible to high ground before leaving for an extended period (read:  longer than ten minutes).  Dogs, like people, have their good traits and bad and I accept hers even if I'm not always thrilled by them.  Overall she's been the perfect dog for filling the void left by my devoted sweet Frank.

Within two minutes of entering her new home,
Daisy found the toy box.

Half an hour later, after pulling every
toy out of the box, she was ready
for a nap.

Too bad she can't relax.

And, yes, I do go around singing, "Just the good old dog, never meanin' no harm..."