Monday, July 31, 2006

The Note on the Dining Room Table

Trip Letter

Voulez-vous tricoter avec moi ce soir?

This a short entry because I have to go shave my head. Around here, that's the equivalent of visiting the colorist or getting a comb-and-blow-out.

I want to look my best, such as it is, because tonight's the "Meet the Bloggers" event at Arcadia Knitting (1613 W. Lawrence). The party officially begins at 7 p.m., though I intend to arrive early and put a considerable dent in an Arcadia gift certificate I got from a lady in my office.

There are going to be prizes and food and who knows what else. Pin the tail on the blogger? I'm tossing two signed and matted cartoon prints into the prize mix.

Unfinished Objects With Which I Am Cohabiting: First in a Series

Don't pay any attention to my little works-in-progress list in the sidebar. It's about as up-to-date as a Vogue fall preview from 1983. I'll get to it, I'll get to it.

What I'm really working on right now is this:

For those who live in the Amazon jungle and go barefoot all the time, it's a sock. Not my first sock, technically, as long ago I did great violence to my soul by knitting one as dictated by the multi-page Queen's English formula in Mary Thomas's Knitting Book. I've always been a fan of working from historic sources, and wanted to knit a sock the way it might have been done in England during World War II. By the time I finished the heel turn I was wishing for a direct hit from a German mortar.

So I took a break, and left socks alone until the last night of Knitting Camp, when I measured my foot and cast on, this time following the more gentle path of Charlene Schurch's Sensational Knitted Socks, a present from good ol' Ted. And wouldn't you know, this time it's fun. So much fun I can't put the thing down. As you can see, I'm on the home stretch for the toe shaping.

While we're on the subject of socks, I'd like to say a word, if I may, to the yarn shop owners out there.

Hi! I'm a man! I'm finding I like sock knitting quite a bit. I am prepared to lay out serious cash in order to acquire good sock yarn for future projects.

Unfortunately, in your shops all I find are self-patterning sock yarns and sock yarns in "fun" variegated colorways.

As mentioned above, I am a man. As a man, I would prefer not to wear socks in "fun" colorways. I do not seek enjoyment from the wearing of my socks. They need not be "fun." On the contrary, I would prefer that my socks conduct themselves at all times with the sober dignity of a Shaker eldress. I have no use for socks with precious little hearts or snazzy lightning bolts on them. I do not wish for socks that recall the dazzling palette of Monet. I want socks that are, for example, black. Or gray. Or navy blue.

No, not black with "fun" variegations of purple. Just black. Or gray. Or navy blue. Brightly colored socks are one of the signs of a cad, and I don't want to give myself away so easily.

Please, for the love of God, consider giving over six inches of precious shelf space to plain, male-oriented sock yarns, so that I can knit socks I can wear. For reference, this colorway is borderline acceptable and will probably still have to live mostly inside a nice, tall engineer boot.

And please don't suggest that I could knit socks in "fun" colorways for my mother and sister. My mother won't wear wool next to the skin and my sister can knit her own socks.

Thank you for your kind attention.

Friday, July 28, 2006

What It Feels Like for a Boy

Probably four or five times in the past I've rolled my eyes at the idea of the "man's point of view" on knitting. Man or woman, you pick up the needles, you cast on, you knit. Unless you have a particularly stupendous bosom or a notably gigantic whanger it's unlikely that either is going to change the way you work stockinette.

This morning, however, I have had a knitting related experience probably unique to the male half of the species. I was drying off after my morning shower and heard the soft click of something hitting the bathroom tile. I thought perhaps I'd lost an earring.

I bent down and found it wasn't an earring that had fallen, it was small orange stitch marker.

Nothing remarkable about that, except that I haven't used those stitch markers since Tuesday when I was knitting in bed. Which means this particular marker must have lodged itself in my considerable chest hair and remained hidden there through two thorough showers Wednesday and Thursday (one in the morning, one after the gym) and another today.

Perhaps I ought to do a bit of searching and see if that #2 dpn turns up.

On the Needles

Marilyn, who takes a motherly interest in my knitting progress, pointed out that it's been awhile since any actual works-in-progress showed up around here. I know, I know. The sad fact is, until I got a shot in the arm from Knitting Camp there wasn't much going on, certainly not enough to justify a post. The few things I was working on were boring me, and I'd rather not show them than risk boring you.

However, several items of mild interest will appear next week when I've had a moment to photograph them.

Darn, I shouldn't have said anything. Now you won't be able to sleep all weekend.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Scenes from Camp

If a picture is worth 1,000 words, I'm about to deliver the Upanishads. Sorry. It was that kind of weekend.

Objects of Inspiration

A bewildering conglomeration of knitted pieces (many from the needles of Meg and Elizabeth) filled one long wall of the classroom. I spent a lot of time rummaging around and turned up several pieces I'd seen before in photographs or on video. It was like running into old friends.

This is perhaps a fifth of what was on display. And according Amy Detjen, there was more piled up under the tables that I never got to.

For Jean Miles: Elizabeth's original rib warmer.

A watch cap, "art socks," and yet more sweaters.

Elizabeth's famous Aspen Sweater. I tried it on.

One of several Baby Surprise Jackets.

Role Models

The teaching staff was nonpareil. We had the pleasure of learning from:

Joyce Williams, a gigantic amount of knitting know-how ensconced in a quite tiny person. The sweater she's holding is an example of Armenian Knitting, one of the techniques we covered. Joyce will be forever in my heart as the woman to whom I lost my steek virginity. She sat next to me and coaxed me through the whole process from crocheting to cutting.

Amy Detjen, who in spite of her breathtaking command of yarn and needles remains gratifyingly down-to-earth. I confess to having been very shy around her, which meant I didn't talk to her as much as I would have liked. I was in awe.

And of course, Meg. You remember Pa Ingalls describing Ma Ingalls in the Little House on the Prairie books as "Wise as a serpent, gentle as a dove"? That's Meg. Except she's also funny as hell.

My longstanding schoolboy crush on Judi Dench has now been transferred to Meg. Judi, you're a fantastic actress and we'll always have Paris, but Meg knits.

My Fellow Campers

Knitters, they're good people. This group took knitting seriously, but not themselves. This became evident during one lesson when the whole crowd spontaneously burst forth in song:
Knitting Camp is one week long,
Doo-dah, doo-dah.
Knitting Camp is one week long,
Oh, doo-dah-day.
Going to knit all night,
Going to knit all day.
Spent all our money on the lace-weight yarn,
Oh, doo-dah day.
And then the lesson resumed as though nothing had happened.

We sat at long tables and I had the pleasure of sitting across from:

Charlotte and Luz, who were both very nice to the New Boy. They didn't try to short-sheet my bunk or anything.

At each day's show-and-tell session, what might have been an exercise in vanity was instead a parade of top-flight workmanship.

A small sampling:

My girl Martha not merely showing her splendid stuff, but holding the swatch she made to get the fine details just right.

My bud Carol Shirley absolutely working the floor. Sashay, chantay.

Carol Shirley and Maureen in matching Fair Isles.

And the charming Pat, who apparently doesn't find modern life challenging enough as it is, displaying her method of knitting socks on two circulars. Four at a time.

There was lace all over the damn place. It was common as stockinette.

Fellow Chicagolander Cathy.

Nancy, in a cuddly summer shawl and one of my Worldwide Knit in Public Day shirts.

Maureen, who let me hang around her even though I kept drooling all over her work.

Shawn and her awe-inspiring wedding shawl. Is that a symbol of committment or what?

Lace-in-progress. Maureen helps Kate block her elegant Violets By the River shawl, done in Koigu.

I was so impressed by all the lace that I asked the lace knitters to sit for a group portrait, and they graciously agreed.

A beautiful group of women if I ever saw one.

You Knit What?

Of course, not everything the knitters showed was Serious Work.

The ladies who took me into their little group had quite surprise for us, in progress since the end of last year's session. May I present: Meg Swansen's Knitted Camp.

Here's the full site set up on Meg's table. The banner is double knitting. The tent has a steeked front opening, and inside is a two-color sleeping bag (also steeked) that's also a swatch for Meg's Baby Russian Prime sweater.

Ready for a closer look? Hang on tight.

They knit the campfire. And the marshmallows.

I'm not sure which of Barbie's friends this is, but I seem to recall that what she's knitting is the start of an Aran cable.

Another camper, wearing one sock while knitting its mate. Note the (wool) daiquiri and tin of needles in handy proximity.

"Dude...knitting fucking rocks," says Ken.

The perpetrators, L-R: Lynn (kneeling), Kate (behind), Carol Shirley, Maureen, and Martha.

When Meg came in from lunch and found what was waiting for her, she lit up like a Christmas tree. Apparently prior to this she had never handled, much less owned, a Barbie doll.

And then somebody pointed out there were three campers and one sleeping bag. The French have a word for that, don't they?

Say Not Goodbye, But Au Revoir

It was all over far too quickly. We'd only just arrived, and suddenly our teachers were standing up for a much-deserved ovation.

There was time for one last conga.

And before leaving I felt compelled to make my intentions clear on the dry-erase board in the classroom.

Patience Is a Virtue

I said I would post the camp photos later this week, and I will. Just cross your legs and wait.

Also, regarding two bitchy comments on yesterday's cartoon, my calves actually do look like that, Jon and Joe, and I would think you might have noticed. I'm quite hurt by your inattentiveness and will require consolation gifts of expensive chocolate and/or yarn.

In the meantime, this is a rough of a possible shop design inspired by my recent forays into the hinterlands of Indiana and Wisconsin.

Whatcha think?


Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Too Tired Make Post

Knitting Camp Aftermath

Home now camp wonderful post pics later this week must lie down with ice bag on head have yarn hangover ow.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

A Bee Drowning in Honey

Dolores made it back to room at about 7 a.m. on Friday, just as I was brushing my teeth. She was wearing an oil-stained work short which indicated that her name was Willard and that she was employed by Greater Marshfield Auto Body and Car Salvage.

"Did we have fun?" I asked.

"We made the natives restless," she giggled.

"Do you not think Willard might miss his shirt?"

"I had to take it," she said. "He wouldn't give me back my muumuu."

Somebody Pinch Me

Allow me to offer a quick sketch of Knitting Camp.

We spend most of the day in the classroom. The classroom is a large, well-lit space with the teaching desk up at the front and a horshoe of student work tables facing it.

As you come into the room, along the right wall are hundreds of finished objects - sweaters, hats, mittens, you name it - knitted by the Schoolhouse Press gang, including Elizabeth and Meg. The original rib warmer is there (I took a picture for you, Jean). So is the aspen sweater, and Lloie's own Baby Surprise Jacket. It's quite moving to pick up something you've seen Elizabeth hold in a video and realize every stitch in it came from her needles.

There are also yarns for sale: Shetland, Icelandic, real Gansey from England, alpaca. And notions. And needles. And books! Sample copies of every book Schoolhouse Press sells. And their line of knitting videos. And $10 bags of mixed whatnot from Meg's stash. (She's downsizing. At least for the moment.) When you want something, you just take it, and record your purchase on your personal sheet in the "brown book" at the back of the room. At the end of camp, you settle your bill.

So you have yarn, you have needles, you have knitting books, and you have samples pieces to fondle and turn inside out. It's basically a yarn store of superior quality.

And you get to live in it for four days. With Meg Swansen.

That's what camp is like.

If you ask me, Disney World pales in comparison.

The Campers

Anybody who imagines us sitting in straight-backed chairs quietly counting "knit one, purl two" has never seen a group of knitters on the loose before. You're thinking Carmelite convent. You should be thinking of the backstage scenes from Showgirls.

The format is quite freewheeling. In the mornings, we go over specific techniques (I'm having a love affair with Bavarian twisted stitch), and Meg answers questions that have been placed in a basket on her desk. Often, getting to the answer is half the fun.

For example, this morning somebody wrote: "Please demonstrate your method of two-color knitting."

And Meg did demonstrate her method. So did our other excellent teachers, Joyce and Amy. Before we got to that point, however, we meandered through invisible cast on, circular brioche, the origin of "faggot stitch," intarsia in the round, yarn thimbles, spit splicing, forthcoming knitting books, "rules" in knitting, and the paramount importance of defending independent thought in today's world.

And I seem to remember somebody telling a slightly off-color joke involving Kitchener stitch and the farmer's daughter.

This is not a church social, kids.

We were knitting away last night after dinner and somebody asked Dolores if the long, tubular piece of cabled knitting she'd created was a Aran willy warmer.

"I am a willy warmer," said Dolores.

My face hurts from laughing, which is a nice change from the pain that comes from banging it repeatedly against the wall of my office.

It's gonna be hard to go home.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Knitting Camp: On the Road

No surprise that dinner with Lars on Wednesday night was a delight, albeit all too brief. Such a good fellow. I can't wait to see him again at Stitches. He's funny, smart, and cool as a cucumber. Even the sight of Dolores suggestively slurping her pad thai noodles didn't seem to phase him.

But we had to say goodnight early, as the next day was our departure for Knitting Camp. Martha and Susan anticipated swinging past our place at about 10:30 a.m. and we did not want to keep them waiting. As it happened, they called up from about thirty miles south of the Loop at 9:30 a.m. and said they were running early.

Dolores freaked; she was only half-finished with her morning toilette in nothing but curlers, cold cream, and a slip. She need not have worried. A combination of cataclysmic construction work and rolling thunderstorms slowed city traffic to a crawl, and the poor dears rolled in half an hour late.

We set off from Chicago in high spirits, although Dolores was miffed when Martha told her not to light up in the car.

"Just little one?" said Dolores.

"No," said Martha.

"It's filtered," said Dolores.

"No," said Martha.

"How about if I stick my head out the window?" she said.

"How about if we tie you to the roof?" said Martha.

Happily, before we even made it to the expressway the Lunesta tablet that had accidentally fallen into Dolores's traveling flask kicked in. She passed out with her head on the armrest and was silent for the next six hours, aside from one somnolent snort to "Viggo" to "do that again, but higher."

As it turned out, I couldn't have been driven to Wisconsin by two better people. Martha and Susan are a hoot and a holler, respectively. And so full of information. Before we even hit the Illinois border I'd been fully briefed on the personalities of the knitters I'd be meeting and what sort of knitterly frolics I could expect. However, as Susan had enabled the child safety locks on the back doors my attempt to leap from the moving vehicle was unsuccessful.

We arrived in Marshfield with just minutes to spare before the opening dinner. Camp is being held at a quiet, comfortable Holiday Inn on the main drag (the one with the traffic signal). There was some trouble checking in. I gave my name and the desk clerk said she couldn't find any record of my reservation.

"How do you spell your name again, please?"


"I'm sorry, sir, " said the clerk. "We have nothing under that name."

"Try looking under Van Hoofen," gurgled a bleary voice from the sofa in the lobby. I glared at Dolores, who gave me a sheepish grin.

The clerked tapped her keyboard. "Oh, yes," she said brightly. "Here we are. Would you care to swipe a credit card for any incidentals, Mr. Van Hoofen?"

"We're not married," said Dolores. "He just likes to play with my fleece."

The clerk pursed her lips. "I don't know what you may have heard about Wisconsin, sir," she hissed. "But this is a respectable hotel and we don't really appreciate that sort of thing."

As I rolled Dolores and our luggage (two suitcases, two knitting bags, three hatboxes, a makeup case, and a dozen assorted California varietals) up to the third floor, she yawned and stretched and smacked her lips.

"I need a pick-me-up," she said. "Does this joint have a lounge?"

"Yes," I said. "I think it's closed, though."


"I did see a bar across the street. But it looked a little grungy."

"Good grunge or bad grunge?"

"Well...there were two rusting pick-ups with gun racks parked outside, the windows are blacked out and the sign says it's called 'Nutz Deep.' "

"Nutz Deep?"

"Nutz Deep."

"See ya," said Dolores.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

All This Meat, and No Potatoes

Hi. It's Dolores.

I don't why this always happens, but Laughing Boy is behind in his packing for Knitting Camp and so he's shoving off the post on me today. Fine. I'm ready to go. I was ready a week ago. Don't I look ready? The tank was a lucky score off the sale rack at Nordstrom. I had to wrestle it away from another customer, but once I got the walker out of her hands the rest was easy.

This is definitely a good time to leave town. In case you didn't know, Chicago's been invaded by gay athletes and frankly, it's starting to get me down. For example, I was walking home from the market the other day since we'd run out of the breakfast cereal His Majesty must have every morning or he gets whiny, and here comes this absolute fleet of male muscle down the boulevard. I put a little extra hitch in my getalong, if you know what I mean, and...nothing. Not even a bat of the eyelashes. And then I realized. All seven of gay gay gay gay gay gay.

And when this happens to you eight or ten times in a day, which it did, a girl starts to feel invisible and that makes her crabby. Especially since the emotional wounds inflicted by Ted's inattention are still so fresh. My therapist said I should stop going after the pansy boys and take a pottery class to sublimate the impulse. But I can't help it. They're so yummy. And washing clay out of wool is a bitch.

A Gathering of the Herd

But enough about me. I just remembered I'm supposed to tell you there's going to be a knitting bloggers shindig at Arcadia Knitting on July 31 at 7 p.m. You don't have to be a blogger to go, I guess they're just going to have some on display in case you want check and see how misleading their photos are.

I'm sure as hell not going to miss it. Every time those girls at Arcadia roll up the rug you are guaranteed an ass-shaking good time. Of course, Whatshisname is going to be there, so they might keep a lid on things out of respect to his Delicate Sensibilities. But we can always lock him in the storeroom or something if he's too much of a wet blanket.

Okay, I have to go. We're having dinner tonight with one of the gay muscleheads, some guy from New York City who is apparently an athlete and a cop and a knitter. I mean, can you imagine? Equal access to yarn and handcuffs. The mind reels, cupcakes. I was thinking of playing up the law enforcement theme by wearing this sweet top I got at Agnès B that has "BAD GIRL" written across the bust in red sequins.

I know. I know. What can I tell you? Emily D. was wrong. Hope is not the thing with feathers, it's the thing with fleece.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Come On Taste the Peaches

If you've been reading this blog for a (very) long time, you may remember the near-trauma I sustained at my first rock concert a little more than a year ago. My stamina has improved since then, but I was still nervous about a full night of Peaches, particularly when I learned she was to be preceded by an act that calls itself "The Eagles of Death Metal."

This is not a music snob's confessional. I like what I like, but I do truly believe that to avoid ruts a person needs to venture into unexplored territory on a regular basis. I was more afraid of being a fish out of water, the same issue that bedeviled me before the Intonation Festival and Lollapalooza.

Happily, when I showed up at the Old Vic my fears evaporated. I found a mostly female crowd in various states of undress, behaving wantonly and giving hearty voice to their innermost perverse desires. Pretty much the same as a Yarn Harlot book signing. And so I relaxed.

C and I had the pleasure of the company of our friend Derek, who is not only a jovial companion but also notably tall. Extremely useful in a general admission setting, as people get out of his way and he manages to wiggle up close to the action. Sure enough, when C and I made it into the house he had secured prime standing room within sweat-flinging distance of the stage.

The opening act, the aforementioned Eagles of Death Metal, were just precious. They are fronted (I believe this is the term) by a man who looks something like a cross between Floyd Pepper (the Muppet) and a 70s gay porn star. He is entirely too sexy for his own good and the only man I've ever seen who can carry off a walrus moustache. If he is reading this, he should drop me a note.*

I'm not entirely clear on what "Death Metal" is, but these energetic fellows played what sounded to me like fairly straightforward loud loud loud jump around the stage and shake your tightly clad tush rock and roll. In particular, I enjoyed a sprightly chanson called "Whorehoppin (Shit, Goddamn)" which is of course a setting of the verses by Goethe.

It didn't take long for me to forget my initial awkwardness and just give myself over to the impulse to shimmy, though I did have to ask C whether it was appropriate to applaud between movements.

After a brief intermission, the house lights went down and suddenly there was Peaches, dressed like Xena the Warrior Princess after she stopped killing bad guys and became a pole dancer in a downscale titty bar, standing on top of the uppermost stage right box.

She sang...I dont' know what it was exactly...I think it was an ode to her crotch.** And then things got a little raunchy.

No, that's unfair. Truly, there wasn't much going on that you wouldn't have seen at a Patti Page concert, except for perhaps:
  • the buxom transvestite dressed as Mrs. Incredible
  • the stagehands performing CPR on the giant inflatable penis
  • the female back-up dancers sporting strap-ons
and of course the anthem "Two Guys for Every Girl," in which Peaches suggests that it's jolly good fun for a girl to bring two guys home with her and then make them do naughty things to each other.

Who am I to argue with that?

Mustn't forget that she also sang an entire song riding round and round the stage on a pink bicycle. I will never look at a banana seat quite the same way again.

I couldn't bring my camera, alas, but C did make this photograph of the primadonna in full cry with his cell phone.

She appears to be bursting into flames. Apt. By the end of the evening, I rather felt that I had, too. In the nicest possible way.

To use the appropriate parlance, the event was both "phat" and "stoopid." Peace out yo, and don't forget to rock the shocker.

*Mr Rock Star, sir, C says it's okay if we fool around as long as I take pictures.

Peaches is fond of her crotch, which was frequently spotlit during the performance. She treats it almost as a valued co-star or collaborator.
The Gilbert to her Sullivan, if you will.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Too Busy to Write Cute Title

It's not a fully-realized idea, and I drew it with a pen I won't be using again (don't like the nib), but the general tone suits a Monday, don't you agree?

Such a week this is going to be. I'm working at warp speed because I owe sketches to a couple of people (I haven't forgotten you, Stitchy) and I still don't have all my paraphernalia together for Knitting Camp. It seems I have to go buy some more yarn. Oh, woe.

Knitting Camp will begin for me on Thursday morning. Martha and Susan are picking up self and sheep after driving in from Ohio. Thence we four to Wisconsin for what I gather is quite a wild rumpus. At least it seems so from the e-mails other campers have been sending me. I want to make one thing clear, ladies: I may agree to dance around the bonfire with you all, but under no circumstances am I taking my top off.

And Speaking of Open-Air Breasts...

Tonight C is taking me to a concert by a performer named Peaches. He trots me out to rock concerts every so often to keep me from actually turning into an Eminent Victorian.

Do you know of Peaches? She's not exactly mainstream, although her following is growing. Peaches is on tour promoting her new album, Impeach My Bush. And if you think I am making that up, she has a Web site, which you should not look at until you're at home with the door locked and the shades drawn.

Keep in mind that this woman used to be an elementary school teacher. Can you imagine what show and tell was like in her classroom?

I showed the site to Dolores, who put a hoof to her mouth and said, "Oh, now that's just going too far."

Need I say more?

Saturday, July 15, 2006


Dolores and I have arrived without incident (for once) and have had a chance to poke around a bit in my parents' new house in Kokomo. It's a pretty place, comfortable but not ostentatious, with a grass airstrip out back (Dad flies small planes) and an actual cornfield, with corn in it, across the street.

The last time I saw the house it was a wreck, in the process of being de-uglified and fixed up. Now that my folks have well and truly made it their own, it would be an earthly paradise if it didn't scare the hell out of me. It's alive.

Nothing in the house works the way you expect it to. Both Mom and Dad are gadget and gizmo freaks, and Dad is an experienced electrician and all-around tech guy. They like to think of themselves as simple people, but the fact is that they can't stop tinkering. There's nothing that works so well that it can't be supercharged in some manner. For a visitor from a backwater like Chicago, the sudden immersion in a fully-wired environment is disorienting.

Upon entering a room, you don't flip on the light. The light switches have been disabled. You have recourse instead to a keypad, which requires you to enter a numerical sequence and an access code in order to enable one of 240 pre-set illumination configurations. Before I sat down write this, I punched in a wrong number and the desk lamp spit out two twenty dollar bills and a receipt.

Everything either beeps, chimes, or talks to you. Weather reports issue automatically from the telephones. The telephones talk to the oven. The washer and dryer offer commentary on world events. Push down the lever on the toaster and the garage door opens. They're going to be ripping out the master bath in a month or so, and installing a toilet that will sense when someone comes into the room and automatically lift its lid.

I don't think I would be able to pee if I felt the toilet were watching me.

I can't turn on the stereo because there are twenty-two unlabeled remote controls on the coffee table, and I'm afraid if I push the wrong one it'll start up the lawn mower or retract the roof.

We've already had a brouhaha this morning when my father's automated recliner shot Dolores across the living room and into the fireplace. As we pulled her out of the flue, covered in soot, she gasped, "I was just trying to check the Weather Channel."

I have to go take a shower now. If you don't hear from me by Monday, you'll know I was eaten by the laundry hamper.

Friday, July 14, 2006

A Salute to My Hero

Happy sixtieth, Pop. This one's for you.

We'll be off to Indiana this weekend to wish you many happy returns in person. Dolores says she has some kind of commemorative dance prepared for you.

I cannot be held responsible.

P.S. Credit where credit is due. Buzz took this picture of me in front of a reconstruction of the Wright brothers' first airplane.

Thursday, July 13, 2006


Angel, Tarquinia, Italy

I had a blog post ready for today, but I've yanked it. The news coming out the Middle East has dampened my urge to amuse. I thought I'd been completely numbed by all these years of Iraq, but no. I feel like I've been punched in the gut.

The world can't go on like this. Although of course it always has, hasn't it?

Fighting has broken out between a land of people I've always admired deeply and the land from which my father's family came.

I read all I could about it, trying to decide whose side I'm on. Can't do it. There are not two sides. People are killing people. Human lives are being disrupted. All that matters is that this must stop.

If you pray, please pray for peace. If you don't pray, go out of your way to put a little goodness into the world today.

Maybe it'll help. Something had better. And soon.

Namaste. Shalom.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006


There's an old corollary to Murphy's Law that says you can make a system foolproof, but you can't make it damnfoolproof.

Le damnfool, c'est moi.

Yesterday, with consummate skill, I located and slipped through a loophole in the Café Press system that allowed me with one click to delete every single item in my shop.

If I only I could extend such a feat of legerdemain to the staff in my office.

Anyhow, I spent about an hour banging my face against the desk, and then decided to suck it up and look at this as a much-needed opportunity to renovate. I never expected the shop to grow the way it has, and it has the gangly look of a teenage girl still wearing her Osh Kosh overalls after a growth spurt.

Rebuilding will be gradual, as I'm just a touched swamped at present. Everything that was there before will be back, either the same or improved. I've already introduced something new that I hope will give you giggle. I'm afraid it may be tough to read at a size that will fit in here, so click it for a larger view if your eyesight ain't what it used to be.

All these signs, by the way, are actual designs in use along American highways. As with so many other things, however, I feel one should be a knitter to appreciate them fully.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Be Where You Are

While on my last trip, I took 2,000 photographs over 14 days that began at 6 a.m. and ended at midnight. I never missed our arrival in, or departure from, any port. I did everything I could to be mindful, drink it all down and revel in being abroad.

And now I'm looking at some of the frames and thinking I can't have appreciated what I was seeing, or I would not have been able to come back to Chicago. I would have jumped ship, sent for my books and my boyfriend, and started life as an expatriate.

Here it's so gray. Raining, humid. The air is murky. Everything droops. Even the green leaves are dull as old paint. Looking at some of these frames almost hurts.

A Square in Mahon, Minorca

Monument at dusk. Mahón, Minorca.

Zen teaches us to appreciate the beauty of what is there, where we are. Clearly, that's the lesson I need to focus on today. As of this minute, I'm flunking.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Sesame Street On My Mind

I just finished doing a most enjoyable portrait shoot and the results are downloading.

Meanwhile, for no particular reason I'm thinking about "Sesame Street," a show from my childhood that was not so much popular as omnipresent. We watched it at home, we watched it in school. We had "Sesame Street" toys and sheets and bedroom slippers and books and tapes. I think there was also a breakfast cereal, but we were strictly a Rice Krispies and Cheerios household.

Do you non-American readers know "Sesame Street"? I'm thinking perhaps you do. I know Basil Brush and "Blue Peter" and Babar, so maybe Big Bird and the rest also have an international following.

"Sesame Street" was, in general, a brilliant educational show. Perhaps it still is, but of late I've not been watching. The aim was to teach basic reading and numbers skills, along with a smattering of ethics and manners. It taught me most of what I know about comic timing, and instilled in me a love of ridiculous lyrics and overblown production numbers that persists to this day. Rare is the morning when my line-up of shower songs does not include a heartfelt rendition of "C is for Cookie" or the club anthem of the National Association of W* Lovers.

Sadly though, some recurring segments didn't quite pack the same wallop. Two come to mind.

The first was a film montage of...something. Usually an animal. Let's say, a cow. There would be various shots of the cow in tight-close up, never revealing more than an ear, or a nostril, or half an udder. Over these shots would be played the extempore rantings of unseen schoolchildren, all trying to guess what the thing was, even though it was painfully obvious. "It's a dog," one would say. "No," another child would counter, "It's a centipede!" At last, after two minutes of this, there would be a full shot and a simultaneous, surprised shriek: "IT'S A COW!"

What a shocker. Hand me the smelling salts.

I always wondered where the hell these little geniuses were from. We lived in suburban Tucson, Arizona and my closest personal experience of a cow was the one in my Play-Skool farmyard set, and yet I could recognize an udder without undue strain.

And then there was the interminable perennial "One of These Things Is Not Like the Others." In case the title's not explicit enough, let me walk you through it.

You are watching a screen that has been split into four equal segments. In each segment is a child. Three of the children are doing the same thing, like sleeping. The fourth child is doing something else, like jumping up and down on a pogo stick or singing "Celeste Aïda."

Over this, the following ditty plays:
One of these things is not like the others.
Come on, can you tell which one?
Can you tell which kid is doing his own thing?
Now it's time to play our game,
It's time to play our ga-ame.
I'm not sure, but I think the lyric is by Ira Gershwin.

Then a voice-over would guide you slowly and carefully from one square to the next. See, this kid is sleeping. This kid is also sleeping. And this kid is...sleeping! But then this kid is making bobbin lace! He's not like the others!

Congratulations all around.

The creators of "Sesame Street" were known for being market-savvy and I can't imagine "One of These Things Is Not Like the Others" would have been repeated in every episode if it had not proven itself popular. But with whom? What person, even at age five, needs four minutes, a jingle, and personal coaching to be able to tell a kid playing ball from a kid eating ice cream?

It might have been interesting if they'd upped the ante. Say, three Sunnis and a Shiite. Or three genuine Rembrandts and a forgery. Or three Republican presidents and an elephant's butt. Never happened.

When either of these gems popped up on the screen, I took it as my cue to go to the kitchen for a glass of milk. I figured maybe they were aimed at the girl in my class who used to space out during storytime and eat her own boogers.

*The letter. Not the president.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Mr and Mrs Habit

Thirty-seven years ago today, my parents got all gussied up and tied the knot in a little Maronite Catholic Church in Detroit, Michigan. To save you the math: 1969.

To do anything in dowtown Detroit in 1969 you had to have two things: guts and optimism. Over the course of thirty-seven years my folks have drawn bucketfuls of both.

Two kids, one of them gay. Sixteen changes of address in eleven states. Three family car trips across North America. Temporary duty assignments, cramped base housing. School tuition, college tuition, lessons in tennis and oil painting. Long division lessons on the kitchen table. First Communions, Cub Scout camp. Inept moving companies, uniforms to iron, dinners to cook, an exploding Plymouth Scamp, Christmas on a shoestring, birthdays on a shoestring, Disneyland on a shoestring, nutty relatives, two senior proms, tomato soup on the kitchen ceiling. And the ever-present knowledge that no matter how comfortable we might be, the next day word might come from the Air Force that it was time to pack it all up.

Never once, never once, did I hear them complain. Never once did I feel poor. Never once did I worry about where the future would take us. With my parents in charge, my sister and I knew things would be fine.

They taught us to hit the ground running, to keep our chins up, and to watch our asses. They taught us guts and optimism, and they're still teaching us.

They were both shockingly young in 1969. Young enough that if the wedding were happening today, people would shake their heads and make bleak predictions.


Ladies and gentlemen, my parents. A tribute to the power of guts and optimism.

Oh, and love.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

A Man Aboot the Hoose

Ted is safely home in Canada, after an all-too-brief visit. He is a model houseguest: polite, considerate, neat, and brings wool with him. Come on back any time, Ted.

I will end the suspense right now and tell you that Dolores did not succeed in adding another notch to her lipstick case. It was not for lack of trying. For most of the weekend she was in constant motion around Ted, doing backflips and pirouettes like an errant member of Cirque du Soleil.

On Friday, we visited the zoo and conservatory in Lincoln Park and she trotted out her "Madcap Maisie" routine. Think 1920s flapper crossed with Cyndi Lauper in the video for "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun."

At first, it seemed like this actually might work. Note this picture in the conservatory garden, in which Ted is obviously enjoying himself.

But then she overshot herself by screaming "I want to live la dolce vita!" and throwing herself into the fountain. Ted got the Anita Ekberg reference, but his inborn Canadian reserve found the gesture just a touch outré early in the morning.

In any case, he was more interested* in the Jacob sheep that live in the Farm at the Zoo. The Jacobs, for their part, were quite taken with Dolores. One of them shouted after her, "Hey baby, do fries come with that shake?" but she just curled her lip and threw a fistful of jujubes at his head.

On Saturday, which was of course Canada Day, Dolores woke Ted with a sunrise serenade: "Maple Leaf Rag" (theme and variations) played on her harmonica. For added frisson she wore my mountie hat. Alas, Ted is not a morning person.

Later in the day, we visited Millenium Park and the Art Institute. Sensing Ted's strong intellectual bent, she tried out her Sophisticated Woman of Culture pose.

But as Ted contemplated Seurat's A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, her feral nature got the better of her and she couldn't resist giving his tuchus a little pinch. He yelped, there was a confused scuffle in the crowded gallery, somebody got pushed into a Van Gogh, and Dolores was once again asked to please leave the Art Institute and not come back.

Once she was out of the way, we were free to explore the museum at length and Ted's eagle eyes spotted things like this weaver (Penelope, wife of Ulysses) on a panel from an Italian Renaissance marriage chest.

He also pointed out this piece of mind-blowing miniature knitting in one of the Thorne Rooms, a series of dioramas that chronicle the history of interior decoration.

That swatch, which truly is knitted, measures a little less than an inch square. It's the only example of knitting we found in any of the rooms, although some include knitting baskets with balls of yarn. Our guess is that after flirting with blindness while turning out this specimen, the knitter told Mrs. Thorne that if she wanted anything else of this sort she could do it herself.

By Saturday night, Dolores had given up the chase and gone to console herself at the Lucky Horseshoe, which was celebrating the Fourth of July Weekend with male strippers dressed as figures from United States history. It must have gone well, because we didn't see her again until Sunday afternoon, when she stumbled in wearing Lincoln's stovepipe hat and Franklin D. Roosevelt's dickey.

I offered to take Ted to see the strippers, as I assume they're not easy to come by in his corner of Canada, but he demurred and instead we did fibery things.

He showed me a small selection of his lace output. Inspiring.

This is the beautiful "Spider Queen" shawl, which I tried to steal.

Ted and the "Rosebud" shawl by Sharon Miller, which he knocked off on a lazy Saturday afternoon during a matinée showing of Maid in Manhattan.

Ted also gave me pointers on my spinning, and then (wonder of wonders) succeeded in getting me to give the spindle another shot. And this is what happened:

It's merino. And I spun it, on the spindle. And it was fun. And it was not difficult, once Ted had helped me grasp the process.

Will you all please join me in asking Ted why he's frittering away his time at some day job when he's the sort of person who can teach one to do this is ten minutes? Where is Ted's book? Why is Ted not teaching full time? Where is the justice in this world?

He had to leave on Sunday afternoon, far too soon, and now Canada has him back. However, we will need to borrow him again soon, so consider who you might like in exchange. How about Alexis Xenakis? Hell, we wouldn't even ask you to give him back.

*Interested in their fleece, that is. Not, you know, "interested."

Saturday, July 01, 2006


We managed to retrieve Ted from Union Station on Thursday night in spite of Amtrak customer service, which told us his train was running 47 minutes late (it was on time) and that it would arrive at one of the Amtrak-only gates (it did not). Although he has no cell phone, Ted did have the resourcefulness to call from a pay phone and leave a message on my cell phone, which I got a mere fifteen minutes later.

Upon learning that our guest had arrived, Dolores and I ran over to the appropriate platform (half an hour late) and there he was, sitting and knitting a sock and doubtless wondering whether we had succumbed to fear of his Canadianity.

"That's Ted?" whispered Dolores as we approached.

"Most likely," I said.

"Rrrowwwrrr," said Dolores.

"Don't you even–"

"Ted!" screamed Dolores. "Allow me to be the first to welcome you to Chicago! Aren't you looking like nine kinds of heaven especially after all that traveling. Was it too awful? You must be exhausted. Well, don't worry, you're in good hands now and I'll take such good care of you. Gimme a kiss, lovey."

"Hi, Ted, it's nice to finally mee–"

"Franklin, why don't you get his bag, and secure a taxi, and we'll meet you outside? Excellent. You're sweet. Ted, honey–a drink in the lounge before we trot along home to bed?"

Ted did not, as it happened, care for a drink and so just a few minutes later we were speeding up Lake Shore Drive in a taxi. Dolores tried to insist it was an usually small taxi and so perhaps she ought to sit on Ted's knee. Ted took it all in stride, possibly because he was too tired to know what was going on.

At home, as Ted freshened up, I pushed Dolores into the kitchen and decided to nip this thing in the bud.

"Knock it off," I hissed. "He's not going to fall for it. Ted bats for the other team."

"You mean he goes up the down staircase?" she said, aghast.

"That's right," I said. "A card-carrying friend of Dorothy."

"Well," Dolores huffed, "I've never let the fact that a studhunk was a confirmed pole-smoker* get in my way before and I don't intend to start now."

"Keep your hooves to yourself," I said. "Or you're going to be a very sorry sheep indeed."

"I'm sorry," she said. "Even if he does sing soprano in the fairy choir, it's too late to stem the flood-tide now. Out of my way and let Mama surf."

It's been a very long weekend so far, and it's only Saturday. I'll tell you later.

*Tip o' the pen to David.