Friday, February 24, 2012

Five on Friday - Everyone Needs Edition

It seems I'm kind of hard up for a blog post these days. I guess my own life is kind of boring (in a good way...mostly), and whenever I get started thinking about various political issues, mostly I just feel white-hot rage (women's rights in reproductive health care, anyone?), so that's why the blog has been quiet of late. So thanks be to Jessi, who has this awesome Five on Friday series that never fails to be entertaining and is often worth ripping off for a topic of my own. Thanks, Jessi!

Today's topic is "Five Things You Absolutely Must Have"...according to me.

1. Old postcards. When I was younger (just writing that is completely depressing) I traveled a fair amount. As a college student, for example, I spent three weeks in London, a week in France, five weeks in Salzburg, Austria and two weeks in South Africa. I've also been on a few major road trips and seen both coasts and a few major cities. I always bought postcards as souvenirs, mostly because back then one still used film cameras and one would have no idea if one's pictures were any good, so buying postcards was a way to ensure decent photographic evidence of having been somewhere exotic and interesting and Not Here. Also, postcards are cheaper than most souvenirs, and they don't fill up your luggage. Now, my postcards are a little musty and packed away in various boxes, but I will always have them.

2. That Kitchen Gadget You Only Use Once A Year. Or never. For some, this might be a wedding present you registered for and got and then felt guilty for never using. Or a gift from a well-meaning relative. Or an ill-conceived spur-of-the-moment purchase of something that turned out not to be useful at all. I was at the big box craft store the other day to pick up some sewing notion or other, and I saw a shelf piled high with boxes containing, I kid you not, the Slice-O-Matic. There was a picture of a sliced cucumber on it. I thought "Who on earth would spend 25 bucks on something that does the same job as a knife?" Sure enough, when I went to check out, the lady in front of me had one in her cart. Anyway, for Stuart and I, the rarely-used kitchen item was a Belgian waffle iron. We got one for our wedding, used it twice, and let it collect dust in the cupboard until we finally gave the thing to the Goodwill. Since then, Stuart has gotten back into making waffles (go figure) and my parents graciously gave us their old waffle iron they weren't ever using either. So it's all good.

3. A box or jar or tin full of buttons. You just never know when you're going to need one. I collect all those spares you get with jackets and button-down shirts, along with extras from who-knows-what projects. Come to think of it, I hardly ever need just one button for anything, but I'm still glad I have a little collection, just in case.

4. Old Yearbooks. They may make you cringe, but they are good for a laugh. Especially when they feature hairstyles from the mid-90s.

5. Proper Outdoor Wear. I'm serious about this. I heard recently that some study out there had convincing evidence that people who get at least 20 minutes of fresh air every day are generally healthier than people who don't (fewer colds, etc). I believe it's important to be outside every day, and I also believe there isn't bad weather so much as inappropriate clothing. Obviously, there are exceptions to this. If it's pouring rain or hailing or 110 degrees or so far below zero that your snot freezes before it can drip out of your nose, well, no one will begrudge you staying inside for the day. But having lived in Wisconsin for nearly 12 years, I have learned how to cope with, and even enjoy, cold winter weather: wool socks, wool hats, wool mittens, silk underwear, proper shoes, a good coat, and you're all set. (As for the summer heat, well, I know I can't speak with as much authority on this since we don't get the brutal heat that Kansas and Texas have experienced the last few summers. Take advantage of public swimming pools, I suppose, and support your local ice cream shop!)

So there is my list of 5 Things Everyone Should Have. What do you think? Do you have all this stuff? What did I leave out?

Monday, February 13, 2012

buying has consequences, support your local farmers

This evening I joined the Madison Knitters' Guild. I've known about the Guild for years now, but never bothered to join until now. The main reason I signed up was that I really, really wanted to hear the guest speaker at tonight's meeting. Her name is Clara Parkes, she runs the website I linked there, she has written three books (all of which I own, and all of which she signed for me, squee!), and she has a lot of really interesting, important things to say.

Her talk was about the industry of knitting and yarn companies and publishers and how all that has been impacted, nay, revolutionized, by the internet. Independent designers, small U.S. yarn producers, and indy dyers have a presence now that simply wasn't possible 15 years ago. On the flip side, large online retailers offering huge discounts and cheap production costs in China combined with a tough economy make it hard for local shops and producers to stay in business. I won't go into more details here about the because 1) if you're already a knitter and you are online you probably know this stuff already, 2) if you're not a knitter these details probably won't interest you a whole lot, and 3) she said it better.

Here's something that really stuck with me, though. At the end of her talk, Ms. Parkes said "We are all flawed, and we live in an imperfect world, but we have to take responsibility and acknowledge that our buying decisions have real consequences." Of course she is right. And it wasn't until I got home and tried to tell my husband (he is a non-knitter and not really at all interested in knitting, but supportive of me and my passions) that I realized one can draw several parallels with the knitting industry and modern food production.

You see, of all the things wrong with the world today, I see the modern rise of the local food movement as a very positive thing. More and more people want to know where their food comes from. They shop at farmers' markets, they subscribe to CSAs, they choose their meat carefully, they buy produce in season. More and more people are making decisions about the food they buy that ultimately promote their own physical health and the health of their local economies. Same with yarn, and I'm not saying this just because I'm a fanatic (which I fully admit), but because it's true. If you buy a skein of yarn produced entirely in the United States, or better yet from an alpaca or mohair goat or sheep farm near you (I realize that living in Wisconsin I have a lot more of these available than in many parts of the country), you are supporting American farmers, American labor, and a lesser carbon footprint than if you bought a skein of superwash merino that was raised in Australia, processed in China under who-knows-what working conditions and eventually shipped here.

We can't all make the best buying decisions all the time, of course. Most of us can't afford it, and both the food industry and much of the yarn industry is so opaque, we remain largely ignorant of where a lot of it comes from, despite our best efforts. But simple awareness is certainly a starting point. I'm really glad now that I bought several skeins of Romney wool (if you don't know what that is, go look it up in The Knitter's Book of Wool! or google it or whatever) at the farmers' market last summer.

Buy local. It's patriotic.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

it gets easier

When Anya was born and Daniel was not quite two years old, I just about lost my mind. Well, not really, but it was a bigger adjustment than I'd anticipated, taking care of a toddler and a newborn full-time while my newly-acquired graduate degree collected proverbial dust. I was incredibly sleep-deprived, I had marathon diaper-changing sessions, my biggest challenge every day was finding a free hour to make dinner, and I could feel my brain beginning to atrophy. I also felt like the only thing I had to look forward to was my children getting a little older so I could finally breathe again. When people - especially parents of teenagers - would say to me, "Oh you should enjoy this sweet time! It goes so fast!" it filled me with equal amounts of guilt for clearly not enjoying every blessed moment and rage at the audacity of telling me how I should feel, that I shouldn't consider spending every waking moment playing peekaboo and wiping butts the ultimate bliss.

The other thing people would say to me was this: It gets easier. It will get easier. And you know what? They were right. For now, anyway, things are easier. Don't get me wrong. Being the parent of a 6-year-old-going-on-30 who is almost too smart for his own good, and a sensitive, precocious 4-year-old who gets up at 5:30 every morning and thus falls to pieces when she can't find her neon pink socks - this has its challenges. But it's nice to be able to have a real, actual conversation with my children (when they don't choose to ignore me). It's nice that they are self-sufficient in the bathroom. It's nice that at least half the time they'll eat whatever I've fixed for dinner. And it's really nice to have just a few hours to myself during the week while they are both in school/preschool. It's basically just enough time to get groceries, go running and catch up on the laundry, and occasionally eat lunch while reading the newspaper, but that's more than I've had so far, so I'll take it.

I know some big challenges are ahead of me. Six months into Daniel's first year in the public schools has been plenty to remind me of the social complexities of childhood, the rapidity with which friendships are won and lost, and the frustrations everyone shares with the public education system. At some point we'll start the extracurricular activities and discover passions and talents for things like sports or music that will turn me into not much more than a glorified chauffeur, and eventually those pre-adolescent hormones will kick in...but that's not happening just yet.

Things will get harder again, I know, but for now I'm so grateful that I - and they - have made it this far. I will have patience. And I do enjoy this time.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012


This fine young man is 6 years old today. What better way to celebrate than rising before dawn to open presents and sticking your face in a plate full of waffles?

My, how time flies!

Friday, February 03, 2012


Lots of things are making me grumpy these days. It's mostly stuff that is completely out of my control, like the current political discourse (or lack thereof), people who put everyone at risk for whooping cough because they refuse to vaccinate their kids, Anya waking up far too early in the morning and then being crabby and tired the whole day (we're working on this)...also, it seems like winter is kind of passing us by, which makes me feel all out of sorts. I know a lot of people are more than happy to bypass bitter cold and snow, but I for one have finally embraced it, and I'm disappointed that we can't go sledding or ice skating. It's just kind of muddy and drab out there.

However, rather than continuing to gripe, I think I'll share my favorite jokes. I only know a few, but they are short and SO corny, which is how I like my jokes. Here goes:

1. What's brown and sticky?
A stick.

2. What did the Dalai Lama order from the hot dog cart in New York?
Make me one with everything.
(Thanks to Pam for this one! It's still one of my favorites.)

3. Knock, knock.
Who's there?
An impatient cow.
An impatient cow wh--

4. (And now for the esoteric):
Knock, knock.
Who's there?
Knock, knock.
Who's there?
Knock, knock.
Who's there?
Knock, knock.
Who's there?
Knock, knock.
Who's there?
Philip Glass.

5. I have no #5. I'm serious. I only know four jokes! So here's where you come in! What's your favorite joke? Please share in comments. Keep them short and clean; dirty jokes are never as funny as the people who tell them think they are.