Thursday, December 31, 2009

The year in review.

Well. It was a heck of a year, here at House o Samurai. We knew going into it that it was going to suck. (I recall mentioning it, sometime during last year's holiday season.) I'm trying to view the year in the "what I survived" context, rather than the "holy cow that sucked".

First off, last year, I went on vactation to Florida with the in-laws. It really wasn't much of a vacation for me, more like boot camp, because I was in charge of the Goob.

I cleaned a silk oriental rug without killing it. Which was good because it had needed cleaned for years.

I set forth determined to finish a lot of projects I've got floating around here. Never finished any that I can think of off hand, but I threw out quite a few in the Great Carpet Beetle Purge of 2009.

We did Sock Roulette. Brace yourselves, because we're doing it again this year, in February.

The husbeast rebuilt an engine for his toy truck, and the Goober helped.

I ordered three pounds (or more? I try not to remember) from Bendigo Woolen Mills. Now to knit it up... It was way too easy. I'm considering more for another sweater.

I got into spinning in a big way.

The Goob was cute. But we knew that.

We moved from South Carolina to Ohio.

And again from Ohio to Pennsylvania.

I spun an entire pound of Purple Trainwreck fiber. It was quite a marathon, but educational.

I spent a couple months living in my home town, and it was less painful than I expected.

Took a spinning class.

My dad died.

Bill Cosby does a whole routine about "Never Challenge Worse" - how you should never say it can't get worse, because inevitably, it WILL - but I'm gonna do it. I can't see how the coming year can be worse than the last. Even if we do have one last move to go. (We're looking for a house. That's when I get all my stuff back from storage in South Carolina.)

Well. This was certainly gloomy enough.

Here's to a better year in 2010. For all of us.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Back from the semi-dead.

I've had a few cautious e-mails asking me if I was all right, what with the emotionally blasted month of December and the holidays and all. In terms of mood, I've been doing pretty good. The real problem - the reason for the lack of posting - has been that I've been down with semi-pneumonia since before Christmas. You know, one of those viral things that fills your lungs with goo, which then sits there until you breathe a stray bacteria and BAM. Pneumonia.

I've played that game about five times now, ignoring the goo and telling myself I'd be fine, only to be hauled into the doctor and told I've got pneumonia. So this time around, I tried to be virtuous and not ignore it and take the medication properly and... my doctor was on vacation and it took three days to convince the wankers at his office that there was a problem, and in those three days the goo turned into... well, yeah.

So I tried to be lively for Christmas, then came home and slept for a week. I'm still in the sleeping it off phase; the Goober and I get up, she watches cartoons, and I nap in the recliner.

For now, some cute photos.

Here's the Goob next to our Charlie Brown Christmas tree; note the hand-made star at the top. The Goober and I made that after she noticed there was 'nothing up there' and insisted we do something about it.

The Goob got a fishing game, with little rods and hooks with velcro on them, and fishies also with velcro. You hook one with the other, and, well, the husbeast joined in to show her how it was done.

Do you like the hat he's wearing? It was a gift from his brother; we suppose a commentary on his new beard and shaggy look. It's got ear flaps with rabbit fur on them that you can buckle up over the top or down over your ears. I'm sure it was intended as a gag gift, but the husbeast says it's warm and has been wearing it to work. If you or I wore that hat out in public, people would laugh in our faces. But the husbeast? No one says a word.

We also did the traditional family dinner, though it was a tad pared-down this year. My mother-in-law and I have been lecturing each other about overdoing for about a year, and this time we decided to listen to each other. So there was a roast turkey, but side dishes were a bare minimum and we ate off the regular plates instead of pulling out the china and crystal and doing a full-on fancy meal. (With the Goob at the table, the lack of crystal does many good things for my peace of mind. And digestion.) The traditional family dressing was made:

That's a pound and a half of butter, melting.

The holiday was pleasant enough, just very low-key, allowing for the fact I couldn't breathe. I'd love to do next year's Christmas the same way, but this time be healthy for it.

Tomorrow I'll try to come up with something interesting.

Friday, December 25, 2009

A joyful, peaceful day to you all.

Regardless of what holiday you celebrate. Even if you're at the office, peace and joy.

Obviously I've mellowed out just a tad since that last post. The thrummed mittens got finished and were given to my father-in-law last night as a thank-you for getting my Jeep fixed two weeks ago. He loves them, and they fit. Otherwise, just the fact that the holiday's here has de-stressed me quite a lot. No more freaking out over what's not done. Whatever it is, it isn't done and I'm done. Everyone is still happy and the Goober isn't a deprived child due to lack of cookie-making, and we'll all survive very well.

The Goober and my father-in-law play a game, where my father-in-law pretends to sleep, and the Goober yells "Cock a doodle doo!" and then he pretends to wake up. So this morning, when my father-in-law slept late, we took the Goober into the bedroom, stood her at the foot of the bed, and had her make the rooster noise. My father-in-law woke up about halfway through, laughing.

Any day you wake up laughing is a good day.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Fuck this holiday spirit shit.

It has been a really beyond-shitty month here at house-o-Samurai and it's taking every last bloody erg of my Christmas damn spirit to keep up something of a good front for the Goob. So you're all stuck listening to me bitch because I've gotta let it out somewhere or it'll back up and kill me. (Or, more likely, back up and I'll snap and kill someone else.)

I have it on good word at least some of you find this sort of thing hilarious. (If I really thought of this as a make-you-all-miserable sort of thing, I'd dump it on the cat instead. Really.) So, what sucks oozing rat ass about the holiday season this year.

Well, you know, first of all it's living in a 700 square foot apartment. With a rampaging husbeast, the cat from hell, and a four year old (who really needs no further description in terms of potential disaster - 'four year old' pretty well sums it up). My furniture is in a box (okay more than one box if we're going to be literal about it) in South Carolina, where it is probably being eaten right this minute by pestilential tides of termites. Every scrap of furniture in this apartment came from the in-laws' basement or GoodWill. I don't really have anything against my in-laws OR GoodWill, it's the principle of the thing. Oh, no, wait, sorry, we've got a table along one wall of the living room, holding the husbeast's computer and printer (taking up 3/4 of the space so as to be perfectly organized) and my office gear (on the other 1/4 and in a milk crate underneath). It's plastic. We bought it at Sam's Club.

Then there's the fact that my dad died. Not to get sarcastic over it (okay, okay, so I am) but it's totally fucked MY attitude. The next person who is aware that my father died two weeks ago, who asks me 'what's wrong?' shall die of a knitting needle to the throat.

As seems to be a holiday tradition for the last five years, I've got doctors (now more than one!) fucking with my medication and not listening to me when I talk. This includes a chronic pain specialist who can't seem to understand I've got TWO PROBLEMS - nerve and bone pain - and keeps telling me what I don't have (thanks, chump) and diagnosing me with things I've never had symptoms of in twelve fucking years of feeling like my arm has been broken. Next doctoral clusterfuck of infinite proportion? We're all sick. The husbeast brought home some germ from hell (we think a virus because no one's got a fever) and the Goob and I caught it. The Goob seems to be fine, other than a tendency to lie about a bit more than usual:

I, on the other hand, spent the entire fucking day e-mailing back and forth to fuckhead the wonder monkey's dumber cousin at the doctor's office (not my usual doc) about how my chest is congested and often when it feels like this it TURNS INTO PNEUMONIA, and I need a decongestant. What's he eventually give me after I nag his ass off for the entire day? Steroids. What is the LAST thing you want to be huffing if worried about lung infection? STEROIDS. HOW IS IT THAT I KNOW THIS AND SOME ALLEGEDLY MEDICAL PROFESSIONAL DOES NOT??!!??

The husbeast just called from the pharmacy where he was picking up some medication (HIS doctor gave him drugs, fucker), and he explained the whole congestion/pneumonia/fuck steroids issue to the pharmacist. The PHARMACIST came through with some 'turned up to eleven' decongestants for me. (Pharmacist's description.) So I get treated, finally, not by the bloody doctor who took an oath, but a pharmacist whose problem I am not. (Though I do appreciate the guy.)

What next? Oh, hell, what isn't next? Christmas is in four days, we haven't made the gift bags yet (the Goober and I are going to 'stamp' some plain brown gift bags with sponges and paint and -shudder- glitter glue), I've got a mitten and a half done, and have TOTALLY given up on the alpaca for my mother-in-law. I'll run up to the yarn store Wednesday (after another appointment with the pain specialist who thinks nerve damage medication is going to make my bones feel better) and buy her some cashmere.

Where was I?

Oh, fuck it.

Anyway. Thanks to all of you for the support over the weekend, with the reviews issue. And I hope to all that is holy (and unholy) that I am not in this mood when it's time to review the next bloody VK. But I know all of you hope I AM. Because you're all evil like that. (Blessings on your holidays. No, really.)

Friday, December 18, 2009

Critiques, reviews, and snark. Oh my.

This is another post that will probably make half my readers leave, but fuck it. I've been brooding on this for years and, well, here it is.

There are a lot of great things about the knitting community, both in real life and on line. People are kind, and helpful, and do nice things, and are fun and funny. But if you dare criticize - even nicely - someone's public work (things that are published or otherwise made public, not project pages on Ravelry or blogs or the thing the lady next to you is knitting), someone will pipe up with how you're a meaniemeanieboogerhead and cruel and unworthy and don't fuckin' get it. The hostility seems to be all out of proportion, and infinitely stronger than in other creative groups.

You Knit What? Got run out of business. Basically they quit blogging over there because they were tired of the hate mail. Sure, they were snarky. Sure, they were bitchy. They also pointed out a lot of really truly awful stuff, and were hilarious. Why is snark and bitch so horrible? Really? Every other creative industry has all kinds of review web sites and blogs and magazines and whatall. If you think everything they say is nice, you live in a different universe than I do. Rose-Kim Knits, with her "Thursdays are for What the Fuck is this?" gets a lot of crap, but so far she has hung in there and is soldiering on. Often she doesn't even SAY anything, just posts pictures. And still the hate mail rolls in. Two days ago I got a comment on the VK Holiday 09 review telling me I was a "snarky bitch" and that it's easier for me to "shit on other people's stuff" than to come up with my own designs. Actually, it's not. It takes me four to six hours to write a VK review. I could certainly write up a simple design faster than that. (We can have a race, if you like.) As for 'snark' and 'bitch', well. I've been snarky and bitchy. Quite a lot. But I didn't think that last review was either. I guess it's in the eye of the beholder.

What I don't understand are the beholders.

I do a lot of reviews around here, not just the VK ones. I once said Miami Vice was the dumbest, worst-looking, lamest movie I'd seen in years. No one piped up to ask me how the actors or producer or director would feel if they saw the review. No one told me I was cruel or bitchy or snarky. It was a movie review and I thought the movie sucked. End of discussion. I once reviewed "20,000 Years of Fashion", said it was dry and long-winded and brutal and implied I was insane for reading it. No one told me I would hurt the author's feelings or that I should shut up and write my own book. It was a review and that's what I thought and everyone went "okay" and that was it. I have continually bitched about military medicine for four years, practically foaming at the mouth and chewing the scenery, and I get nothing but sympathy. (Which I appreciate, really.) I call the guy who screwed up our orders at PSD "fuckhead the wonder monkey" and no one asks how his momma would feel if she saw that. I enjoy some disagreement. Life would be so boring otherwise. I once said Shakespeare was a hack, and people checked in to disagree to various levels, and I e-mailed back and forth with Amy Lane for about a week, both of us giving point and counterpoint and really having a good time and agreeing to disagree. Historic Stitcher and I have disagreed regularly on points of history (both textile and other) and e-mail back and forth about it. It's all good.

Yet I review VK and declare a knitting design unflattering or badly written or just dumb looking, and people come out of the woodwork to go berserk. I don't fuckin' get it. The source of rage seems to come from three different directions.

There is the 'who the hell do you think you are?' response. And my answer to that is, I AM THE ONE WHO PAID FOR THE MAGAZINE. The design was published for the whole world to see. I bought a copy. That gives me the right to determine if it sucks or not, and say so. If you don't like people saying the design sucks, don't publish it. I've been knitting over twenty years. I have knit VK designs (and never once met one without an error of some kind in it). I run this blog in part to educate and help less experienced knitters, and if I can save them from the frustration and cost of trying to knit a screwed up or unflattering pattern, I will.

There is the 'what the hell do you know?' response. Well. See above about knitting for over twenty years. One of the reasons I'm so good at spotting bad patterns is because I got burned by VK repeatedly back in the eighties when I learned to knit. And it was VK (and spending hundreds of dollars on yarn to knit one of their patterns, that I was then unable to figure out) that inspired me to research and learn how patterns are written and how knitwear design works. Which then gives me the knowledge to know when said patterns are goofy. I think the phrase for this is 'hoist by your own petard'.

Finally there is the 'you don't know what it's like' response. I can't POSSIBLY understand what it's like to DELIBERATELY put my work out there for the whole world to see. Guess again. I have published articles - more than one - with Knitty. If you think no one does reviews of Knitty, you haven't looked. Every quarter quite a few people do review it. Some of those people are bitchy and snarky, and they review the articles (like the ones I write) as well as the designs. There are blogs out there that have shredded my articles. I have gotten e-mail running from "I disagree" to "you are an ignorant moron" and beyond. I was accused of plagiarism by someone who couldn't define the word if her life depended on it, over an article that I had footnoted. I wrote an article saying Arabic/Muslim people invented knitting. After 9-11. In a world where a lot of irrational people spaz out at the word "Muslim"; I tell you, there are folks out there who are absolutely enraged by the suggestion that their favorite hobby was invented by the people they think are the boogeyman of the modern world. (For the record: I do not think that.) I've never responded to a review of my work; I do reply to polite e-mails, but that's it (that includes disagreeing e-mail, so long as it's rational). No matter how full of shit I think the reviewer is, I don't reply. It's a review. It's their opinion. Arguing with it will just make me look like an idiot.

I've been wondering for years now, what it is about some knitters that makes them so insanely hostile to criticism. Not necessarily designers. Regular old knitters jump in with the 'how dare you?' on stuff they had nothing to do with. It's like there's some cognitive disconnect. A review is mean, so people get mean in response to them? The cure for 'bitchy and snarky' is to attack? It's like jumping into the middle of a feeding frenzy and biting a shark. It hasn't ever made sense to me. Sure, some of my earlier reviews of VK were bitchy and snarky. The last year's worth, or so, have been entirely to help knitters figure out what patterns are flattering or well written, I've left out nearly all the personal opinion, and yet I get more hostility now than when I was just bitching and moaning. I don't suppose hostility is logical, so I should give up on understanding it. But it's really strange to me.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that I'm allowed to be mean, and no one else is. I've been bitched out by people who, I admit, had a reason to be mad. I was bitchy, they were bitchy. Tit for tat. What I don't get is the current trend of people being mortally offended by a simple review.

So, long story short, there's a new VK out, and I'm going to go find a copy and review the damn thing. I think I'm going to time myself, and then write a generic pullover pattern, and see how long THAT takes, for comparison. But I'm sure, no matter how polite I am in the review, unless i say I love everything, someone will leave some pissed off (and anonymous, of course) comment.

Still don't get it.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The pared-down holiday crafting.

And stuff.

The first thrummed mitten will be done by bedtime. (Come hell or high water.) Right now it looks like this:

Those are the thumb stitches, with double-points stuck through them. The ends are darned in, so all I have to do is knit the thumb, darn in THOSE ends, and it's done. (But for the washing.) Since I did this one in, I think, three days? It's a reasonable goal to have the pair done by next Thursday when we head out to see the family in Ohio.

There were some questions about the thrums. All they are, are tufts of wool (or silk if you're allergic and have the money) knit into the fabric of the mitten. The tufts work much like low-tech fleece lining and are (to quote someone, I don't remember who), "freakishly warm". You can see the thrum lining hiding if you look down the wrist of the mitten.

The photos you see of people wearing mittens with tufts sticking out all over? They're just being silly and turning the mitten inside-out. They do look ridiculous that way.

Last night Sekhmet was helping me with the thrums. (I make a whole round's worth at once.)

You can see what evil little paw there on the arm of the chair, edging up to pat all that woolly softness. She just can't resist soft fuzzies; she got some alpaca top stuck between her toes the other night, sticking that paw into my spinning basket. It was really funny.

And that's the other project, the one I'm sweating:

Alpaca top, loosely spun into a sport-weight two-ply. It doesn't look like much, but I swear this stuff is as soft as cashmere. My mother-in-law is a knitter who is seriously into soft and fuzzy (between her and the cat...) so if I get this done, she'll be very pleased with it.

And I want it done so I can tear into THIS:


There was a question about onions and where they're native to. I was gonna put the long answer here, but I think it needs a blog post of its own. (Plus it's interesting. No, really.) Short answer? There are lots and lots of related species that 'act' like onions, shallots, leeks, chives, or some bastardization thereof. To my knowledge, there are Allium species (that's the name of the family of plants) all over the world. So while native Americans almost certainly had some kind of Allium tangy flavor going on, they did not have what we call onions. Or leeks. Or garlic. I shall research and blather on in much more detail, later. In fact, I'm betting modern onions aren't native to anywhere, but are a human-engineered crop. I KNOW sweet onions are 'made by man', so to speak.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Profanity archive.

There is ongoing (and amusing) debate in the comments on how many "Sekhmet you fucker" posts there have been. By my count, it is thirty-six, not counting things like "Sekhmet, you freak" and the like. The original, first post (as far as I can figure it, without reading the whole blog from scratch) can be found here, dating back to January of 2007.

FYI, the 'you fucker' thing is a Hawaiian slang deal. See, the Hawaiian language doesn't have profanity per se. Profanity is all about tone of voice and usage and expression. So words that on the mainland would cause shock and dismay are flung about with great humor, very casually. I once watched a kid nail his dad with a water balloon, and his dad laughed like crazy and yelled 'you fucker, you!' (it sounded like 'yoo fucka, yoo!') and it was taken the same way as a dad on the mainland calling his kid a goof or a monkey or something. Not a big deal. So, back in 2007 when I found Sekhmet laying on my yarn, well, there you go. I've kept at it over the years because, well, she is a fucker.

My kid is damn smart.

Made a trip to the yarn store today. (Natural Stitches. They remembered the Goober from when we were there two weeks ago for the Fiber Splurge. Good customer service.) I got some Cascade 220 to knit mittens for my father-in-law. The glove suggestion gave me the idea. He still does a lot of car-clearing and walk-shoveling in winter, enough that he'd appreciate something that kept his hands really warm. Plus I've made him a fan of natural fibers. So, well, the obvious choice seemed to be...

Thrummed Mittens. It is an adventure. But I bet they're so damn warm I wind up knitting myself a pair.


Very near the yarn store was a McDonald's, and the Goob's favorite thing is a Happy Meal, because we don't get them often (I try to avoid fast food). She was told if she was good, she could have a Happy Meal. She was good, so the meal was acquired. She ate it on the way home. (I'm instilling those bad eating habits early.) When we got home, I gave her the toy. I thought it was just some dumb plastic horse movie tie-in with Avatar. But no. Within the hour, the Goob had found the on switch, flipped it, and then found the button hidden in the horse's mane that triggered all the LED lights hidden in the thing.

She was quite pleased with it. I was impressed as all get-out, because she'd figured out a toy that I hadn't.

Next she'll be building a plasma generator.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Sekhmet, you fucker.

The Goober was laying in one of the chairs, minding her own business, when Sekhmet jumped up with her.

There was some rolling around, and meowing, and shouts of "Bad cat!" and, well.

Sekhmet won. Fucker.

The state of things.

Back from Ohio (for a while) and settled in to rest and sleep most of the day.

The funeral was Saturday and it went smoothly. Partly because my brother and I deliberately kept it simple (my dad was a simple guy, and really, my brother and I aren't the fancy types, either), partly because everyone was on good behavior. The firebrands of the family seem to have mellowed with age. One of my methods of dealing with huge family gatherings where manners are a priority (funerals, weddings, like that), is to run through possible 'trouble' scenarios and then decide on what I will say before it happens. DAYS before it happens. "If so-and-so starts in on _____, then I will say _____." This has saved me at such gatherings before. (You all may have noticed I tend to shoot off my mouth and get sarcastic and profane.) Long story short, we were driving home yesterday, and the husbeast suddenly said "Hey! You didn't have to use any of your phrases!"

Nope. Everyone was well-behaved and nice.

The elegy went well, I think. My uncle, the retired minister (who has done many a funeral in his day) said it was "beautifully done", so that's all right. I left out all the God Stuff. The minister took care of that anyway. I'd considered putting in a quote from one of the Taoist philosophers about kindness and a simple life (Dad had a lot more in common with the Taoists than he ever knew, and I lean toward that religion myself), but nothing I found was quite appropriate. Most of the Taoist guys make me go "wow" think for three days after even the simplest statement, so I just left it all out. Writing the elegy also had the advantage of getting all the grief out of my system early - I cried for about two days straight before the funeral, getting it written, so by the time the funeral rolled around I was able to carry on in a coherent fashion.

ETA: I didn't read the elegy myself. I wrote it and let the minister read it. I kept it third-person and fairly formal since I wasn't going to be reading it (in fact I told the hub it felt a lot like an over-emotional exercise in journalism class). Then I wrote up some personal memories (including the anecdote about the outfit, and the hilarious tale of my brother spilling a milkshake into my dad's pants pocket) and deliberately kept those funny. The minister then read the elegy at the proper time, and when we had people get up to share personal memories, the minister explained I'd written up some memories and read THOSE, which closed the memories portion with people laughing, as we'd intended. Dad had a great sense of humor and I think he'd have WANTED us to laugh at the service.

Everyone was very kind. My in-laws opened their house after the funeral, to all my family that had come into town (from Indiana). As my mother-in-law put it, "Your family is our family." My father-in-law was a rock who let me babble at him whenever I needed a shoulder, and also got my Jeep fixed overnight (and paid for it) when the idler pully ate the serpentine belt.

My niece and nephew (my brother's kids) took over with the Goober, keeping her entertained for hours. I even got to eat breakfast in peace Sunday, when we all met for a meal before heading back to our homes all over. My niece fed the Goob pancakes and did her hair. Everyone was happy with the arrangement.

A cousin of mine gave the Goober a stuffed pig to play with on the drive home, and truly saved my sanity.

A friend of mine I hadn't seen since high school (but found on Facebook) showed up at calling hours, to offer hugs and kindness.

My father was in the end stage of Multiple Sclerosis when he died, and truly, it was a mercy. The funeral and the gatherings before and after concentrated on celebrating his life. Due to the condition he'd been in, none of us could really regret his passing and the end of his suffering. After the funeral, I toasted him with a beer (Dad was a big fan of a cold beer after a hot day) and said "Here's to Dad. Even when he was a pain in the butt, he was a nice guy." and my brother laughed and said "Yeah" and clanked his bottle to mine. (Dad never saw the sense of getting a glass dirty.)


The Christmas knitting has officially been given up on. With all this, on top of the move and everything, well, really, upon reflection I was insane to even consider it in the first place. (We've never seen me set crazy-stupid deadlines around here before, oh, no.) The in-laws will probably get the lustkofen for Christmas NEXT year. (They were so cute; when my family was at their house, they pulled out all the things I've knit for them, to brag of my skill and show my cousins and aunt and uncle how clever I am.) Which brings me to the dilemma.

I'd like to make SOMETHING for them this year, as a token, at least. I'm going to spin up some Alpaca With A Twist "Handpinner's Dream" fiber into a two-ply sport weight yarn for my mother-in-law. That was always the plan for her - since I taught her to knit, I give her yarn every year.

What do I knit for my father-in-law? He's a practical guy, but he gets dressed up a good bit (he's a retired CPA and pillar of the community). His favorite knit from me, of all time, is an icelandic wool cardigan that he insists he wears over a tee shirt and stays warm as long as the temp is over zero (-18C). So he's a HUGE fan of the warmth of natural fibers. I'm willing to pay a bit more than my usual cheapskate budget for something soft and warm, and can probably find it at Natural Stitches. But what PATTERN do I use? A scarf seems pretty blech, though he'd use it. Anyone have any ideas? If I can't come up with anything else, I'll probably do the lame fallback of a cashmere scarf.


So, things have calmed here. I still have the odd teary moment, and my brother and I still have some details to clear up, but the chaos and shock are done with and now we just move on from here. Thanks to everyone who left comments, e-mailed, and otherwise got into contact with me to offer their sympathies. All the support coming in from all over the world was a great comfort to me. Big virtual hugs to all of you.

I could go for some more plant-freak geeking out. Tomorrow, the spice rack.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Oddly comforting.

I've been sort of elected to write my dad's elegy. See, he wanted his funeral at the family church - which is fine, and the folks at the church have been lovely about it - but they got a new minister about a year ago. While the new guy had been out to visit my dad a couple times (and I really respect him for that), well, Dad's been in really bad shape for the last four or five years and so the new guy really had no sense of who Dad was, whatsoever. The minister was very kind about the service and is going to run it and do scripture and all that. But how could he really say the right things about someone he never knew?

So I said I'd do it.

My brother was relieved, because he had been thinking much the same thing, and he considers me a "really good writer" and hoped I would do the job.

Which leaves me here, trying to write this thing for tomorrow's funeral. I thought it would be difficult, but instead, it's been a way for me to sort of make peace with this whole thing. My usual method of writing something important is to brood for a day or two, jotting down ideas and points I want to be sure to include. Then I arrange all those notes into a coherent order and write up whatever I'm working on. Yesterday was spent thinking about Dad, memories of him, and the way he was, and the things he said.

I'm going to share, here, the stuff that's totally inappropriate for a funeral in a church.

-In my early teens, there was some outfit of the season that I desperately wanted, and my mother wouldn't let me have one, because she thought it was too racy. The whole family was out somewhere, and a women went prancing past wearing the outfit that I so desperately wanted. My mother told Dad "Julie wants one of those." Dad looked thoughtful for a minute, then said "Julie would sure look better in it."

-After I was married, he once brought up the subject of sex and me, before I was married. I asked him "Dad, are you SURE you want to have this discussion?" He nodded and said "You're right. I lost my head a minute. Forget I said anything."

-One night at about three AM we bumped into each other in the dark, both headed for the bathroom. I screamed. He started laughing hysterically. Mom got up and yelled at both of us.

-He loved watching Benny Hill. For Christmas one year I got him the complete Benny Hill box set.

Back to the elegy. I'm really not sure how much god stuff I'm supposed to put in this thing. I'm tempted to leave it all out and let the minister deal with that.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Inappropriate moment of the day.

My brother and I were at the funeral home making arrangements today. My phone went off. The ring tone was the theme from the Addams Family. At first my brother thought it was the funeral director's phone, and told the funeral director "Wow, I was thinking that had to be the most inappropriate ring tone, EVER." and started laughing hysterically. The funeral director joined in, even though the poor man probably has the best poker face ever.

We're a class act.

And then the impeller pully ate the serpentine belt on my Jeep. It's in the shop, so I'm still in Ohio.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

No posts for a bit.

Two nights ago, my dad had what we think was a stroke in his sleep. He passed away today around six in the evening. I managed to get into town and say goodbye first, and I'm glad he's not suffering any longer.

I'll be in Ohio for the rest of the week, posting will likely be erratic for a while.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

More snow.

It snowed again today, but unlike the day after Thanksgiving, it is sticking. There's not much of it, but what there is started turning icy, once the sun went down. We didn't realize it was that bad until we slid sideways into a parking lot; looks like we've got more to remember about this northern winter thing than we realized.

Lately I've got a new thermometer in the house.

That's how I know it's below freezing. Her little bare toes get really cold, poor Hawaiian kitty.


I've begun knitting up the alpaca/silk with the moonstone beads.

That blue glow isn't the flash, its the iridescence of the stone. I'm not sure I like the pattern or not, but there's enough of it knit up that there's no way I'm unraveling and starting over. Once it's done, I'll write up the pattern for you guys as a holiday present. For once I'm actually keeping track of what I do as I knit it.


Otherwise, the silk I got yesterday is soaking in a pot of water with a plate on top of it (to hold it under the water). Maybe I should blog that, as a how-to. Hm. Well, I hope to finish up the sock yarn I'm spinning now at about the same time I finish dyeing the silk, and can get started on the gift spinning (only one, small, mellow project planned).


For those following the plant discussion, Alwen has been writing about paw-paws over on her blog. It's good to know other plant geeks. Heehee. Maybe tomorrow I'll do the spice rack.

Friday, December 04, 2009

I lost my head a little.

Yesterday I was telling the husbeast that I was getting a little squirrelly. He's been working a lot, which means I've been watching the Goober a lot. Doing anything seven days a week without a break gets old. So he gave me a 'mad money' budget and told me to have fun.

I did.

Today I headed off to Natural Stitches, the nearest yarn store (so far as I know). I went, because I knew from their web site that they have spinning fiber. I never did really look at the yarn; I went straight to the wall of fiber and started rooting through it, much like a truffle pig on the scent (but with less mess, I hope). They had some great stuff, and between my mad money budget (more than I usually allow myself), Christmas coming up (I want to spin something for my mother-in-law), and general insanity, well. I wound up with a little over three pounds of fiber. I refuse to think how long it's going to take me to spin it up. Don't tell me.

First, some space-dyed pencil roving.

It's in easter-egg pastel colors, and I want to use it to experiment with supercoil yarn. There's a half pound there, so I should get a good bit of yarn out of it. Should be fun. I've got some bright green wool carrier 'thread' to spin it with. That should work.

I got four ounces each of four colors, to play around with a color blending experiment I want to try.

Pink to orange. My favorites. I wanna keep this and knit something with it. In all the spare time I have from other knitting projects. (Gonna be at least two months overdue with these Lustkofen I'm knitting for Christmas.)

And I got a pound of baby alpaca

and a half pound of silk

that are going to be made into a present for somebody for something. Yes. I'm deliberately vague on that.

I will definitely shop there again. Very affordable. You know, in 2015 when I finally get this stuff spun up.

Now if you excuse me, I gotta go spin like the wind to finish up my current project, so I can start on some of this.


Thursday, December 03, 2009

Maunderings on food and beads.

People have been enjoying the food posts, and leaving really interesting comments, so I thought I'd add on a bit. Tomorrow may be the spice rack; I've been feeling crappy (I knew northern winters would suck) and these sorts of posts are easy and fun for me to do. Since everyone seems to agree, I'll just keep on keeping on. Commenters have given me ideas for five or six more posts in this vein, at least.

-Alwen pointed out that I have forgotten Paw-paws. They are a large, cold-hardy fruit native to N America. They kind of remind me of papayas in size, shape, and color (though the trees they grown on look very different), but they aren't tropical plants, and the fruits (technically berries) have more protein in them than is average for fruits.

-Maple syrup is another food native to N America, and invented (so to speak) by the native Americans. I really should have thought of this one, because it's made where I grew up. Ohio's about the southernmost reach of sugar maple territory, though, and it goes north from there up into Quebec. It's the sap of maple trees, boiled down into syrup, or boiled further until it's grains of wonderfully flavored sugar. Maple sap is 1% sugar, meaning to make maple sugar you have to boil off the other 99% of water. That can take a while.

-Which brings me to honey. Honey bees are native to the Old World. The native people in central and south America got honey from a stingless bee native to that area. So I don't think north America had honey until someone imported the proper bees, either from Europe or further south. I'm not finding much about honey in the Americas on the internet, but NONE of the sources mention any honey-producing bees native to north America.

-Quinoa is native to the Andes mountains in south America. Technically it is not a grain, but a seed. (It is a chenopod, not a grass.)

-I didn't mean to imply that cranberries are inedible. They just can't be eaten in huge amounts, without some kind of sweetener, or your head will turn inside out. They were an important source of vitamin C, but no one ever lived on them exclusively.

-Rule of thumb: Yams are huge, hard, and kind of like potatoes in texture and color. Sweet potatoes are smaller, oranger, and squishier. Different cultivars vary, there will always be an exception, but that's the general gist of it.

-Avocados are native to S America. The Aztec called them "Testicle Trees". I fricking love botany.

I could probably save time and do a by-continent listing of foods, huh? This is my thing, the area of history/botany/agriculture I'm most interested in. I've done piles of research projects on this, to the point of cooking succotash and serving it in classrooms. What really needs discussed is the Polynesian civilization, because they were the only group in the history of the world to support major population densities without a grain/bean combination of some kind.


Yesterday I went into Pigsbird proper to visit with a friend of mine and go bead shopping. I took the Goober with me, and she really loved the bead store. All things considered, she was very good, but she had to touch EVERYTHING. There were some beads made to look like limes, and we had this conversation:

GOOB: I need this green lemon.
ME: No you don't.
GOOB: But I need it for my green lemon collection.
ME: You don't HAVE a green lemon collection.
GOOB: I do too! It's invisible!

Everyone in the store about hit the floor, laughing. She didn't get the green lemon, but I did get her a large butterfly bead to play with, since she was as good as a four year old in a bead store is going to get.

I got beads to spin with. Including some green lemons. Heh heh heh.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Food plants of North America.

Yesterday in the comments, Grilltech asked about what N America had contributed to the produce department, and I'm sad to say, my first thought was "precious little". Off the top of my head, I could think of only two plants native to N America that went on to become major (or at least widely available worldwide) food crops; sunflowers, and wild rice. That's not to say native Americans ate nothing else. But those were the only two crops I could think of immediately that everyone worldwide would likely have heard of. There are more, now that I've done some research, many of them available worldwide, but none of them are what we would call a staple crop like wheat, or soy, or beans, or rice. The ones we've got were often tricky to domesticate, and N America never had a grain-and-legume combo that mankind needed to found advanced civilizations. (Polynesians being the exception to that rule.) See, it's complicated. I'll be thrilled to explain.

No one is quite sure how the processes of plant domestication, animal domestication, settlement, and civilization building happen, and nearly everyone agrees that it varies. Some people domesticate crops first and then decide to settle down, some settle down and find foods to grow, some, we just don't know. In north America, domestication seems to have been low priority because in many places (not all, but many) such as the Great Plains, Eastern Woodlands, and Pacific Northwest, they had such plentiful food that there was no good reason to domesticate anything. If you can walk out your door and pick food off a bush, why in hell domesticate? It's more trouble than it's worth unless people are starving. So, near as we can tell, no great cities were built in N America until the Three Sisters were 'imported' from C America, up along the trade routes. Eventually N America got heavily populated enough to need to grow some food, so people planted the Three Sisters and lived off those. A few other things got domesticated (like sunflowers) at that time, but the Three Sisters were so efficient in terms of calories per acre, that there was no motivation to find anything local to domesticate. And really, there were no grains or legumes in N America that could compete with the Three Sisters, even if they'd tried. Eventually some large cities got founded (some Moundbuilders, Pueblo culture).

I'll give a general list of food crops that are native to N America; many of these were gathered, not domesticated, until after Europeans got here. But they are native, and were eaten by native Americans in the areas they were native to. I'll make comments where I've got something interesting to add.

-elderberries; very small and time-consuming to gather, make good wine.
-American grapes; related, but not identical to, European grape varieties. These DID save the global wine industry. They are the only species resistant to several pests, and to this day, all grape varieties world-wide that are grown for wine are grafted onto American grape vine roots. Every. Damn. Vine. (This could be another blog post if anyone's interested.)
-red and black raspberries
-black walnuts
-assorted varieties of plums, cherries, and crab apples (all rosaceae species)
-cranberries, which are insanely sour without big piles of sugar added; of course native Americans didn't HAVE big piles of sugar
-paypop/lilikoi/passionfruit (there's that folk name thing again)
-prickly pears, the cactus fruit
-lupin seeds, not from a grass and therefore, very technically speaking, not a grain, very time-consuming to gather
-nipa grass, native to arid regions of the southwest, produced a very small but true grain; it is resistant to salty soil, and is being investigated as a 'new' food to be introduced to troubled areas around the world
-wild rice; there are three species native to N America, all were eaten by native Americans, and they have only been grown commercially since the mid 20th century
-cattail; they ate the roots and the pollen - I've read about that for twenty years and still can't quite get my brain around eating pollen
-goosefoot/pigweed; the seeds are about the size of a mustard seed and pretty tedious to harvest (quinoa, the popular 'new' grain food, is a closely related species, but native to S America)
-beech nuts
-acorns/oak trees; really bitter, but edible

While not a food, tobacco is probably native to N America (no one's quite sure; it's native to the New World for sure, there's just debate as to exactly where). It's become a major cash crop world-wide.

American Chestnut trees produce nuts that were eaten by native Americans, but when European settlers came to eastern North America, they brought pigs that were turned loose in the woods to forage on the nuts. In most of Appalachia, the people lived on those pigs and what they could grow in kitchen gardens. When the chestnut blight hit in 1900ish and killed the chestnut trees, thousands of people had to leave the Appalachian mountains and move down into the cities and find work. Many became textile workers in the mills of the south.

So there you go. N America did produce foods that have since been grown commercially, but none of them are a major, immediate go-to food. At least not for most of us. For anyone who is finding this discussion interesting, particularly the relationship between available foods and 'civilization', I suggest reading "Guns, Germs, and Steel" by Jared Diamond.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

The produce department.

(Nothing going on. Plant freak post. I once did a paper on this.)

International cuisine. Fusion cooking. Cross-cultural foods. Lately, we've been acting like this is a new idea, a big deal, something really clever. I'm afraid I sneer about this because, as I've said before, the human race has been doing international cuisine for five, seven thousand years. As soon as we domesticated food crops, and realized we could grow them where we wanted, on purpose, we began passing foods along the trade and migration routes, taking them with us when we moved on to new places. So nearly nothing we eat is native to where we live. (Canoe plants are a great example of this, and a fine topic for a blog post another day.) From a plant freak point of view, the produce department of the grocery store cheers me up every time I walk through. It's fascinating, amazing, the amount of plants from all over the world, grown and gathered in one place. So, for fun, here are some of the more popular things from the produce department, and where they're from. (And in most cases, what they are.)

-Carrots are native to the area now called Afghanistan, though they've been seriously domesticated - bred to be larger, and orange. They were originally purple. They're also fairly recent as these things go, the current, 'modern' orange carrot being bred in Europe in the middle ages. The part we eat is technically the tap root. The greens are kinda toxic.

-Onions are on the opposite end of the domestication scale - they've been found in bronze age settlements, and on back about five thousand years. No one's quite sure where they're native to (they're that old), but probably somewhere in central Asia. The part we eat is part of the underground STEM, not the root. Those layers you peel off? Specialized leaves.

-Celery was found in the tomb of King Tut, the leaves used as garlands to (presumably) decorate it. This is another one so old we're not sure where it's from, but again, likely somewhere in the middle east or central Asia. It was very popular with the ancient Greeks. The parts we eat are the petioles (leaf stems), root (tap root) and seeds that are really super-small fruits.

-Tomatoes are native to S America; they are a new world food. There is argument over who brought them back to the old world, but the first literary mention of them in Europe is in an Italian herbal written in 1544. (Before that, the Italians ate something else on their pasta.) Tomatoes are a member of the nightshade family, and were recognized as nightshades when they appeared in Europe; that's where all the uproar came from, with people arguing over whether they were toxic. The red fruits, which we eat, are not. But the green parts of the plant are toxic.

-Apples are native to central Asia, like so much else. The domestication of them (and many other related fruit trees) had to wait until mankind invented grafting. Apples do not 'breed true' and so you cannot grow new apple trees from the apple seeds. (Or rather, you can, but they won't be the same apples. They are a genetic crapshoot.) I've discussed apples before. They're a cloned crop, with all the problems that come with that.

-Lettuce (iceberg lettuce, not the fancy stuff) is related to daisies and is native to central Asia again. (All of these really old veggies are native to somewhere in Eurasia, but they got passed around the trade routes so early, we aren't sure about any of them.) We eat the leaves, that grow in a rosette formation, botanically speaking. The sap/latex of the plant contains compounds that act like mild opioids, but you've got to let the plant mature to get any real amounts out of it. The fresh, young leaves like we eat are pretty boring, chemically speaking.

-Bananas are native to tropical SE Asia. They are a fruit (look closely; that brown 'vein' that runs down the middle? There are seeds in there) from the world's largest herb. (Botanical geekiness - banana 'trees' have no secondary meristems, meaning no woody growth, meaning they are technically an herb and not a tree.) They're also another cloned crop.

-Artichokes are thistles native to southern Europe. The 'head' is in fact an unopened flower bud. The 'choke', the nasty bit in the center you can't eat? That's the thistle part.

-Cucumbers are fruits native to India. They've been cultivated for at least three thousand years, and had to be bred to remove some bitter compounds. They're a member of the same family as gourds and squash, cucurbitaceae.

-Potatoes are fleshy tubers native to S America. They are members of the nightshade family (like tomatoes) and had to be bred to be edible; the green parts are still extremely toxic and a few people die every year, eating the greens. There is academic argument over these, but genetic analysis shows that potatoes are cultivated for at least ten thousand years. (Which blows a lot of theorized time-lines for settlement of the New World, but the historians need to get over it.)

-Okra is native to tropical W Africa, and was brought to the new world with the slave trade. The part eaten is a fruit, and the plant is related to hibiscus, cotton, and marsh mallow.

-Kiwi are fruits (of course, you can see the seeds easily), native to China. They're related to gooseberries, and were just recently cultivated in large amounts, starting in the twentieth century.

-Cabbage has been discussed around here before, but real, actual, in-a-head cabbage is native to the Mediterranean area.

-Yams are, apparently, native to both Africa and Asia. They have many cultivars (closely related varieties), so it's possible each place domesticated a different cultivar. They've been grown in both places for about eight thousand years. Like potatoes, the part you eat is the fleshy tuber.

-Sweet potatoes are smaller and yellower than yams (there's lots of confusion between the two in the US) and related to morning glories. These are native to tropical S America. And like the others, you eat the fleshy tuberous root.

-Chili peppers (jalapeno, habanero, etc) are all native to C America, no one's quite sure where. All the different varieties/cultivars come from a single species. Technically the peppers are berries. Bell peppers are just another cultivar. These were one of the first plants from the new world to make a big impact in the old world; within a hundred years of the discovery of the new world, peppers had spread worldwide. Which, for the era, was lightning fast.

-Broccoli is in fact a variety/cultivar of cabbage. It's native to Europe. Those funky heads (the little trees) are unopened flower heads.

-Cauliflower is a group of white cultivars of cabbage. Like broccoli, it's the flower head you're eating. There are Asian and European varieties.

-Oranges (and other citrus) are trees native to SE Asia. Technically the fruit is a type of berry, if we're gonna get botanically technical. They were introduced to Europe after/during the crusades.

So I'll stop here, at least for now. Maybe one of these days I'll inventory the local grocery store and take it from there. Or maybe I'll do my spice rack.