Thursday, December 10, 2009

10 Ways I Know It's Christmas.

In the past few days . . .

1. Decorated the house and picked out the annual perfect tree at Home Depot. $24 7' Douglas Fir. These trees are fresh and last well into the New Year. (Side story - I'd given up on the Douglas fir because all they seemed to have left was little 6' trees. But the tween forged through the stacked up inventory, to emerge triumphant with the last taller tree in the pile. So she's the Christmas tree elf this year!)

2. Ordered the last Christmas gifts. Yay.

3. Knitting madly to finish teacher gifts and something special for my mom.

4. Listening to Christmas music on Live365 - I'm a huge fan of streaming radio and music broadcasts on the internet. I listen to Sky FM's free classical music at work and enjoy jazz and folk at home.

5. A Christmas Story has started popping up on TV. Hello, Ralphie - it's great to see you and your folks again.

6.  The kids are cramming for finals. Nothing like added stress to make the holiday break even more of a relief.

7.  Chrismons! I've been working with the ever-energetic and wonderful Laura to coordinate a 17-year tradition - Chrismons hand-made by the Presbyterian Women at St. Luke's. This Sunday we'll attend both services and hand more than a hundred to the children of the church.

8.  Christmas cards are arriving. I mailed ours this weekend and now look forward to catching up with family and friends via photo cards and annual letters.

9.  Christmas-centered services at church. Ah, the warm embrace of scripture, familiar carols, children's festive clothes, the Living Nativity, holiday sweaters, fellowship parties, and the lighting of the Advent candles. Simply wonderful.

10. Baking, baking, baking. Snowball cookies and buckeyes, cheese straws and pumpkin bread, peppermint bark and fudge. Yum.

Ho, ho, ho!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Snow, snow, look at the snow

A favorite Dr. Seuss book of our family's preschool years was Snow . . .

Snow, snow, just look at the snow. I want to know, do you like snow?
Yes, we do.

Flurries are forecast for tomorrow morning, in the northern suburbs. Because this is the South, the weather people are giving this forecast front and center coverage at every news break. Which means we may or may not see a scant few flakes in the air, melting by the time they hit the ground.  What we hope for every winter, fervently and with keen anticipation, is a snow day . . . enough snow on the ground to go sledding, dampen sound, cancel school for a day, and give us even more reason to light the wood logs stacked optimistically in the fireplace. It's a Southern thing. After the humid heat of the summer, we enjoy the novelty of snowy weather.

Another "Southern thing" is our love of tradition. We accept change a bit slower than most and have to be convinced, after lots of talking and chewing things over, that we actually want said change.

I just viewed a slide show presentation to the City of Dunwoody by a team of architectural students at Georgia Tech. Its vision of the heart of Dunwoody, our Village area, makes me hope I'm alive and kickin' when it's underway. Our house already sits just a five-minute walk from the Village center; imagine adding all that greenspace, sidewalks, and bike paths as well as old-school retail on the ground floor and residences above. (Too bad it'll happen after some unfortunate development in the stream and transitional buffer between our neighborhood and the Village. But overall I'm very impressed with what the students propose.)

On a snow day, we may want to amble over to Starbucks for hot cocoa, a walk that's a bit of a challenge right now because we have to cut through parking lots and dodge traffic on Dunwoody Village Parkway. With sidewalks along the way, we can enjoy the rare winter gift much more safely. During the summer, the farmer's market will be much more accessible. Right now, we have to jaywalk across the parkway after traversing a busy parking lot. I love the return of the Dunwoody Farmhouse to its origins, surrounded by crops and greenery rather than broken asphalt. And it will be very satisfying to see a mix of retail shops and service establishments that satisfy our needs without having to hop into the car and drive unnecessary distances. Throughout the Village will be greenspace buffers and park space, water features and pedestrian-friendly conveniences.

Simply wonderful. I can't wait to see it happen.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The brain can hold just so much . . .

I can't remember everything.

Up until a few months ago, I thought that not remembering telephone numbers and people's names and restaurants and college professors and when someone got married (or born) was a tremendous weakness. My husband can remember the street address of the townhouse we lived in when we were first married. I can't remember the street name itself.

Then I had an epiphany. I actually don't care!

I remember things that are important to me. I forget the things that aren't. So much of everyday life is unimportant minutiae . . . the name of someone you work with for a couple of months, the hotel you stayed at for a weekend back in the 80's, a writing assignment published while doing research for the next one, your kid's preschool class teacher, who was president of the Junior League when I first joined, or the type of car I drove when I was in college (clunker covers it nicely). Honestly, do I need to keep those facts in the front of my memory? No! The brain can hold just so much, and a lifetime of memories gets pretty darned big.

So now I relax when I can't remember something that's excruciatingly important to the fact-obsessed.  I'm not unintelligent, or "losing it."

I'm just choosy about what I want to remember.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Happy Birthday, my favorite son.

I play favorites with my kids, regularly telling each, "you're my favorite daughter" and "you're my favorite son." This always draws an eyeroll since we have just one daughter and one son. But that's the point. Each knows they're equally special, equally well loved, and equally unique.

Today is our son's 17th birthday. He's weathered quite a few storms for someone so young, but he's coming through with a quiet reserve and kind heart. He chose Luigi's for his birthday dinner tonight (they make a white cheese-and-garlic-sauce pizza off the menu for him) and a Carvel icecream cake to go with the candles. T is taking Marta to work so the teen can drive to school on his special day. So it's all good.

Happy Birthday. I'm so very blessed to be your mom.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Do I have to wear this?

In the morning bustle of getting ready for work, Latin Club, and Jazz Band practice before school, I noticed that my daughter and I had coincidentally dressed in similar outfits - blue jeans and black sweaters. I shouldn't have said anything. Because as soon as I remarked about our choices, she immediately launched into "remember that time you MADE us wear the SAME dress? It was SOOOOOOO embarrassing!"

She was four years old, for pete's sake!

I bought matching dresses from Hanna Andersson for Mother's Day and thought we looked just fine. Even at that young age, my daughter vehemently disagreed and scowled the few hours we wore the dresses. (Scowling really isn't a usual thing with her - she's a very good-natured person.) Afterward, I tucked my dress away, never to see the light of day again. She wore hers until she outgrew it.

Particularly for holidays and family photos, it's traditional for Southern mamas to have matching ensembles for their children. Wooden Soldier, Orient Expressed, Kelly's Kids, Hanna Andersson - there are legions of specialty catalogs that indulge our love of coordinating plaids and dots, stitched embroidery and smocking.

I have to admit that what looks adorable on young children gets downright silly as they reach the tween years. Yet some steel-spined Southern mamas will insist on matching outfits (including those Christmas Eve pajamas) right up until the time a kid escapes to college.

I confess that my favorite photos of my kids feature them in matching black turtlenecks or white tees and jeans. But I no longer insist that they dress alike for the annual Christmas photo. It's hard enough to get them together in the same place, ready to smile somewhat naturally.

As for dressing like my daughter, I'm very careful not to cross that line. Wouldn't want to mark her for life!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

I don't want to work, I just want to knit all the live long day . . .

I just spent the better part of the four-day holiday catching up on a mountain of chores. Understandably, we let most things slide while the teen was in the hospital; but now it's time to pay the piper, so to speak. Laundry, yard work, basic cleaning, and organizing took up much of each day. But we also ate well, went to bed when we were tired, and slept until we were rested. Each evening, as Christmas movies began popping up on Lifetime and the Hallmark Channel, I rewarded myself with peaceful knitting.


I consider it a blessing to be able to do simple things like cleaning and organizing. There's a timeless feel to hospitals. Everything inside the patient's room stops while the world spins along. When you emerge, it's with a sense of being way behind.

Now I feel caught up. If only the teen could feel the same. Unfortunately, school work just keeps piling up, a double whammy with Dunwoody High School's merciless block schedule. (Which is why I'm lobbying so hard to change that schedule - miss a week of school and you're two weeks behind. And finals are just a few weeks away!)

We're enjoying the feeling of normalcy while, deep in our hearts, we know it's a very transitory thing. Crohn's is a pitiless disease, and it isn't curable. But we're blessed in so many ways. He's home, we're together, many people are praying for him, and God is with us each and every moment, good and bad.

Thanksgiving indeed.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Fandango Shawl

I never let stash yarn sit idly in my cupboard. I love "free range" knitting, repurposing motifs and yarns from earlier projects for shawls and felted bags. Modular knitting is one of the most flexible foundations for making things up as you go.

The Fandango Shawl grows one modular fan at a time on my favorite Lantern Moon 10 1/2 knitting needles, though I think 9s and 10s would work just as well since I knitted with a wide range of yarn weights.

Isn’t it cool the way the colors create a quilt-y effect? I’m thinking about a one-color version, with many, many different yarns and weights in cream. Yummy.

Fandango Shawl
A modular knitting pattern

Finished Size: 72" wide by 30" deep/wide.

Gauge: Flexible (depends on yarns and needle used - I recommend 9, 10, or 10 1/2).

Materials: Size 10 1/2 needles; @ 1,800 yards mixed color and weight stash yarn. (I used 10 different yarns in varying weights from sport to heavy.)


Fandango is "constructed" one modular fan at a time, beginning with the base fan at the bottom center of the shawl. Each modular fan features two colors in this design. Vary color placement so adjacent modular fans complement each other. An alternate approach can be a monochromatic color palette. Weave in ends as you go. If you decide to line your shawl, block it first since the lining will affect the "stretch and give" of the design.

Odd rows are the front side.
For 2-color fans: Color A = Rows 1, 2, 5, 6, 9, 10, 13, 14. Color B = Rows 3, 4, 7, 8, 11, 12, 15-24.

1st Modular Fan
Row 1 (A):  With Color A, cast on 25 stitches.

Row 2 (A): Knit one, knit across, slip last stitch with yarn in front. Switch to Color B.

Row 3 (B): Knit one, slip one stitch with yarn in back, (Knit 1, slip one with yarn in back) 11 times, slip last stitch with yarn in front.

Row 4 (B): Knit one, slip one stitch with yarn in front, (Knit 1 with yarn in back, slip one with yarn in front) 11 times, slip last stitch with yarn in front. Switch to Color A.

Row 5 (A): Knit across, slip last stitch with yarn in front.

Row 6 (A): Knit across, slip last stitch with yarn in front. Switch to Color B.

Row 7 (B): Knit one, slip one stitch with yarn in back, (Knit 1, slip 1 stitch with yarn in back) 11 times, slip last stitch with yarn in front.

Row 8 (B): Knit one, slip one stitch with yarn in back, (Knit 1 with yarn in back, slip 1 with yarn in front) 11 times, slip last stitch with yarn in front. Switch to Color A.

Row 9 (A): Knit across, slip last stitch with yarn in front.

Row 10 (A): Knit 2 together, (Knit 1, knit 2 together) 7 times, purl 2 together. 16 stitches remain. Switch to Color B.

Row 11 (B): Knit one, (knit one with yarn in back, slip 1 with yarn in front) 7 times, slip last stitch with yarn in front.

Row 12 (B): Knit one, (knit one with yarn in back, slip one with yarn in front) 7 times, slip last stitch with yarn in front. Switch to Color A.

Row 13 (A): Knit across, slip last stitch with yarn in front.

Row 14 (A): Knit 2 together, (knit 1, knit 2 together) 4 times, purl 2 together. 10 stitches remain. Cut Color A and continue with Color B for rest of fan motif.

Row 15 (B): Knit across, slip last stitch with yarn in front.

Row 16 (B): Knit 2 together, knit across, purl 2 together. 8 stitches remain.

Row 17 (B): Knit across, slip last stitch with yarn in front.

Row 18 (B): Knit 2 together, knit across, purl 2 together. 6 stitches remain.

Row 19 (B): Knit across, slip last stitch with yarn in front.

Row 20 (B): Knit 2 together, knit across, purl 2 together. 4 stitches remain.

Row 21 (B): Knit across, slip last stitch with yarn in front.

Row 22 (B): Knit 1, purl 2 together, slip last stitch with yarn in front. 3 stitches remain.

Row 23 (B): Knit across, slip last stitch with yarn in front.

Row 24 (B): Slip one stitch, knit 2 together, pass the last stitch over and bind off.

All Other "Body" Fans
At this point, modular fans will build by picking up either 12 or 25 stitches from the fans below. For example, the next modular fan to the upper right will begin by casting on 13 stitches, then picking up 12 stitches from the upper right of the base fan. The modular fan to the left will begin by picking up 12 stitches from the upper left of the base fan and casting on 13 stitches. Follow the same pattern instructions above, "building" your shawl until you reach the width and depth you prefer.

Final (Top) Row of Modular Fans
Create a straight edge for your fan by knitting a series of half-fans between the peaks of the top row.

Row 1 (A): Pick up 25 stitches from two fans below.

Row 2 (A): Knit 2 together, knit across, purl 2 together. 23 stitches remain.

Row 3 (B): Knit 2 together, slip 1, (knit one, slip one with yarn in back) 9 times. 21 stitches remain.

Row 4 (B): Knit 2 together, knit 1, (slip 1 with yarn in front, knit 1 with yarn in back) 8 times, purl 2 together. 19 stitches remain.

Row 5 (A): Knit 2 together, knit across, purl 2 together. 17 stitches remain.

Row 6 (A): Knit 2 together, knit across, purl 2 together. 15 stitches remain.

Row 7 (B): Knit 2 together, slip 1, (Knit 1, slip one with yarn in back) 5 times, purl 2 together. 13 stitches remain.

Row 8 (B): Knit 2 together, knit 1, (slip one with yarn in front, knit one with yarn in back) 4 times, purl 2 together. 11 stitches remain. Cut Color B and continue with Color A for rest of motif.

Row 9 (A): Knit 2 together, knit across, purl 2 together. 9 stitches remain.

Row 10 (A): Knit 2 together, knit across, purl 2 together. 7 stitches remain.

Row 11 (A): Knit one, knit 2 together twice, purl 2 together. 4 stitches remain.

Row 12 (A): Knit 2 together, purl 2 together, pass the last stitch over and bind off.

Meanwhile, back at the Knitternall ranch . . .

I've noticed times when favorite blogs go silent for awhile. Sometimes it's a week. Often it's longer. I always understood that life happens and blogs aren't always a top priority for their authors.

Which is the case for this blog.

Life has most definitely happened, culminating in another hospitalization for our teen. Earlier abdominal surgeries for Crohn's complications resulted in scarring in the lower intestine. We saw a steady increase in pain and flareups, then a complete blockage of his digestive tract.  He spent a week in that most wonderful hospital, Children's Healthcare of Atlanta at Scottish Rite, at the same time as his surgeon and primary gastroentorologist had hospital rounds. The good news is he had the care of the specialists who know him best and he avoided surgery this time. The bad news is that the stricture remains. He handled the purgatory of stomach pain, NG tube, picc line, and other tortures with grace, occasional cursing, and more patience than I would have had in his place.

A neighbor sent me a wonderful missive focusing on the "thanksgiving" in the bad things that happen to all of us at one time or another. In the same spirit, I offer thanks as well:

Thanks to God for being with our family through this ordeal.
Thanks that our family is home, together, for this holiday weekend.

Thanks that the good people of Dunwoody Nature Center's Board and staff weathered my prolonged absence with kindness and a can-do spirit.

Thanks that Phil the Youth Minister Guy could pray for food and have it appear . . . twice! when the teen was finally allowed to eat after a 6-day fast.
Thanks for DHS Latin students and Mock Trial team mates, fellow Troop 764 Scouts, our extended family, and good friends who rallied around our teen, reminded him that he matters, prayed for his recovery, and shared best wishes when he needed them.
Thanks that our daughter is flexible, kind-hearted, and self-reliant. It isn't easy being the sibling of a chronically ill kid.
Thanks for laughter. When Scoutmaster LaRose told our teen he didn't really have to throw himself so completely into research for his Eagle project, he got a huge roar from everyone. (He's collecting handheld Nintendo and Sony game systems, games, and power packs/accessories for Children's, so Volunteer Services can loan them to bedbound tweens and teens during their hospitalizations. He knows, as well as they do, that distraction is a great way to deal with pain. Coloring books and crayons are great for little ones, but older kids need something a bit more . . . advanced.)
Thanks for knitting. I made two pairs of felted slippers, eleven dishcloths, and worked out a sock design for my mom while listening to IV alarms, vitals monitors, distant pages, and a steady stream of Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon.  Knitting kept me calm, centered, and alert to our son's needs.
Thanks for NetFlix and wireless internet.  For hours at a time, the teen could forget a bit about the NG tube and enjoy some "transforming" entertainment, update his Facebook friends, play games, journal his Eagle project status, and read uplifting emails.
Thanks that we chose Dunwoody as our home a decade ago, little knowing how much we'd need the hospital campus just 15 minutes from our house.
Thanks that research into Crohn's and its treatment has advanced so much in our teen's lifetime.
Some of the most giving people around our family are now enduring or have suffered their own challenges and losses. Thanks for compassion that springs from the most God-centered part of our souls.

This is truly a Thanksgiving Day for the Knitternall family. Whatever comes next, we are together and we are blessed.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Not looking.

I just realized that I never look in a mirror anymore.

After a brisk 20 minute shower, hair drying, and minimal makeup, I'm ready for the day. And I never look back.

What freedom.

It isn't that I don't care what I look like. It's just that I know very well indeed that what looks back from the mirror doesn't match the way I feel on the inside. There are silver hairs and crow's feet, a slowly developing turkey neck and jowls . . . the signs of relentless, encroaching middle age.

In the plastic surgery, high impact workout world I live in, I should be appalled at this state of things. I'm well aware that I may be judged lacking in the looks department, and even pitied because I'm giving in to my age.  Instead, I feel free. My genetic code and super-busy life are irrefutable facts in life-as-I-know-it, so why fret? I find joy instead in my family, handcrafts, gardening, walking the trails at Dunwoody Nature Center, church fellowship, friends, scoring a bargain at a thrift store, cooking good food, and learning something new.

As long as I'm tidy and the clothes are somewhat coordinated, I'm fine.

I'm not looking. I'm enjoying.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

I heard that! (not really)

I've discovered that what I thought was gradual deafness as my parents hit their 50's was actually selective hearing.

I can no longer hear my kids when they whine while the garbage disposal is running.

The washing machine drowns out eye rolls and gusty sighs.

Sarcastic comments from the back seat are just not audible when I'm driving . . . anywhere, at any speed.

I can't hear my kids bickering when I'm vacuuming the carpet.

As the kids get older, and more vocal, my hearing worsens.  I just can't discern their enunciations, pronouncements, or pontifications.

Selective hearing? Oh, no. I must admit to age-induced hearing loss.

That's my story, and I'm sticking with it.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Don't forget your coat!

I saw something amazing today at the park. A school field trip group chose to sit in the middle of the parking lot rather than in the picnic area to have their lunch. The kids, dressed in crisp school uniforms and showing marvelous manners, sat obediently adjacent to their chaperones' cars and vans.

I stared, struck by the sight. Why did the teachers prefer such dining space over the ample seating around picnic tables in the meadow?

I deduced that the cold temperatures were the culprit. Most of the children were wearing sweaters and light jackets rather than winter gear, due likely, I suspect, to the fact that this cold snap has caught most of us off guard. The only sunshine in the park at that hour is on that parking lot and over the ballfields. So perhaps the teachers were trying to give the kids a bit of warmth.

I kept my fingers crossed that one of the Parks or Sanitation department trucks didn't come lumbering through while they were eating.

We live in transition from house to car or van to school or work. Why spend good money on heavy coats, don hats and gloves, when they'll be needed such brief moments? I tell my kids we need to have heavy coats in the van in case we break down - be prepared for anything!  They roll their eyes and "forget" to grab a coat, leaving me to trudge indoors, grab the gear, and toss it in the back just in case. No, we've never been stranded. But I'm a mom. So I imagine the worst and prepare.

The one or two truly cold days, those blasted ice storms we get with some regularity, as well as the occasional, much-looked-for snow day, makes special demands on our coat closet. We cobble together waterproof coats and bottoms from Scout gear, snow bibs picked up at Goodwill (I try to stay one size ahead), hiking boots, rain boots, and hats. Why spend good money on ski gloves and hats when they're used so infrequently? They kids get soaked and frozen, I keep the dryer running so their mittens and hats dry out, and somehow they find plenty of time to enjoy the snow.

During the Tour de Pink this past weekend, it was really, REALLY cold in the pitch dark of the early morning. My daughter's Girl Scout troop tied pink balloons everywhere and I kept careful watch on them, while taking occasional breaks at the roaring wood fire manned by my son's Boy Scout troop (yay!). Many of the grown up volunteers were dressed for a usual Southern October, which meant they were freezing their bike shorts off. Strong Starbucks coffee kept us warm for the first couple of hours, then the McDonald's across the street did a brisk business as we darted in and out for some more liquid warmth.  (We had a wonderful time - the survivors' race group was awesome, Miss Georgia a darling, and the coordinators friendly and energetic.)

This cold snap will quickly pass and by Halloween, the kids are likely to be sweating again under their costumes. That's Fall and Winter in the South: mild enough to forget your coat, then brutally cold without warning.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Peanut butter and Scooter the Wonder Dog

Some of Scooter's happiest moments are spent eating something. Okay, ALL of his happiest moments involve food.

He started life abandoned beside a dumpster with his eleven siblings. By the time we found him at the DeKalb animal shelter, there were just two left - Scooter and a sister. (Scooter's name was "Purple" for reasons known only to the shelter staff.) Since his formative days were hunger-driven, Scooter forevermore became food-obsessed.

Pour a cup of dog kibble in his bowl, and it's gone in sixty seconds. Or less.

Drop something on the floor, and Scooter comes scrambling into the kitchen. His keen sense of hearing even catches the dull thud of a crumb on carpet.

Training was a breeze because Scooter could be convinced to do anything for a treat.

Above rawhide chews or kibble, the heel of a loaf of bread or a food scrap, Scooter loves peanut butter. He loves it stuffed in his Kong and surrounding his flea & heartworm medicine.

Most of all, Scooter loves an empty peanut butter jar. He'll lick and nudge, sticking his entire snout into the plastic jar, straining to reach the few scant traces at the bottom. Once he's wiped it clean, he'll give it up reluctantly for the recycling bin.

I guess he comes by it honestly, because peanut butter is the food of choice for the entire Knitternall family. We eat peanut butter like crazy, in sandwiches, on spoons, in cakes and cookies, and on waffles with syrup. So Scooter's love of peanut butter is easily indulged. The trick is not letting him overdo it. We're not sure what would happen if we let Scooter eat all the peanut butter he wants, but I imagine a little bit goes a long way.

I'm making waffles for supper tonight. It seems like a great option for a rainy, cold evening. Scooter will follow my every move when he sees the peanut butter jar on the counter. But it's a new jar, so he's out of luck. Unless, of course, one of the kids has an "ooops."

"Uh, oh. I smeared some peanut butter on my spoon. By accident. Scooter, come here, boy!"

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Room for reading.

I believe my reserve list at the Dunwoody Library is the longest ever. I just tried to add one more book. The system bounced me out because I'd exceeded their limit. Harrumph. There are just so many intriguing books coming out in the next few months. I finished Dan Brown's Lost Symbol this past week thanks to a loan from the McA's.  And I listened to Elizabeth Berg's The Year of Pleasures audiobook during my recent visit to North Carolina. Both were quite satisfying.

I get leads on good reads from friends, buzz on bestseller lists, and trolling around Barnes & Noble (my favorite bookstore).  My current reserve list is heavy on chick lit, but - I'm a chick.

The forgotten garden : a novel /     Morton, Kate
The girl with the dragon tattoo /  Larsson, Stieg
Knit the season : a Friday Night Knitting Club book /   Kate Jacobs
Sarah's key . . . Tatiana de Rosnay 
U is for undertow /  Sue Grafton
Hardball / Sara Paretsky
Have a little faith [a true story] /   Mitch Albom
Half broke horses : a true-life novel /  Jeannette Walls
The help  Kathryn Stockett
The weight of silence /  Heather Gudenkauf
Her fearful symmetry : a novel /   Audrey Niffenegger
Since the DeKalb Library system isn't keen on investing in knitting books, that particular list gets tucked into my knitting bag for the next Atlanta Knitting Guild meeting. Their borrowed books library is generous and very helpful for budget-conscious stash and pattern building.

More audiobooks are hitting my reserve list now that I've discovered how very pleasant it is to listen to a story while I'm knitting. (And driving long distances.) If the Dunwoody Library doesn't have it, I can always download a must read on my Ipod. I'm slow to embrace technology, but I do get there eventually.

It's raining outside (yet again), my Preschool Phonics class is prepped and ready for tomorrow, and I have some reading and knitting to enjoy.


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Bruster's Ice Cream is for sale.

In his latest blog, John Heneghan has spread the word about the pending sale of our favorite ice cream shop, the Bruster's location right behind our neighborhood.

Oh, so tempting.

In my awake-at-3AM musings, one of the repeating fantasies is owning a shop. Of course, that usually means a yarn shop. I even made an offer for Dunwoody Yarn before it closed, but the owner had some drastically unrealistic projections of its value and cost. Perhaps there was a small sigh of relief when I didn't close the sale, because it's one thing to fantasize about owning a shop. It's something else entirely to RUN a shop. Sales tax and employee management, business licensing and inventory control . . . those are the not-fun and not-my-domain essentials to retail business. But there's this space in the heart of Dunwoody Village that would be perfect, with plenty of room for classes (major revenue source) and patterns as well as all the luscious yarn and tools knitters love.

Since these are my fantasies, I then envision a business partner who loves doing that stuff, giving me the freedom to focus on the marketing, traffic-building special events, and inventory selection. (Two names always come to mind in this scenario: Beth and Lisa. You know who you are.)

Back to Bruster's.

The "abstract" trumpets sales of $300,000, which covers all expenses including $35,000 for a manager. Hmmm. Con: to maximize profit, the owner needs to be the manager, covering most hours of an operation that runs 11:00 am to 9:00 pm seven days a week + opening and closing chores (longer hours during the summer). Pro: my kids would have steady jobs during weekends and summers. Con: I'd have to pay my kids. Pro: wonderful daily engagement with our community. Con: having to take care of  pesky details such as sales tax and facilities management and employees and banking and . . . Pro: I could walk to work. Con: I'd have to be at work all the time.

It's tempting.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Rainy days and Mondays always get me . . . UP.

This morning, 18 Webelo Scouts worked gamely on their Naturalist badge in the pouring rain. About half had raingear; the rest were dressed for a sunny day. "Be Prepared" is the Scout mantra and a darned good foundation for life.

It was really, really raining at Dunwoody Nature Center.

Really. Raining.

Normally, I head for work quite reluctantly when it's raining. Not because I don't want to get wet or messy. But because I love rainy days at home. I love knitting in the rain, cleaning the house in the rain, baking in the rain, and watching the latest NetFlix DVD's in the rain. But, I also love my work, so I just transferred that cozy indoors-when-it's-raining-outside feeling to the Nature Center.

This weekend, I drove in and out of rain when I visited my parents in Greensboro, North Carolina. We're all reached a stage in life when they need to be closer to me, so I can support them when they need help. It's a gut-wrenching, scary decision for them to make, and we don't make it lightly or quickly. I decided to drive back the same day because my Sunday plate was so full, so I left Greensboro around 5 PM and got home before midnight.

Somewhere in the darkest, rural section of the state line between Georgia and South Carolina, I ran through standing water. It was pitch black outside, so the water was not visible. I surfed over the water, fishtailed a bit, then the tires grabbed pavement and I was safe.

Okay, it took a few more miles for my heart to stop racing.

That's kind of a metaphor. You're racing through the day, getting from one must-do to the next, when you hit something you couldn't see coming. There it is. Either you get through it or it stops you in your tracks (or something worse).

This time, I got through it.


Sunday, October 11, 2009

Pizza memories.

Whenever I go out of town, I come back to find a pizza box in the fridge.  T likes to treat the kids to one or more meals at their favorite food places, which nearly always includes pizza.

Our family has a thing for pizza.

Long before pizza became one of three standard kid meals (with macaroni & cheese and chicken nuggets), it was date night fodder for my budget-strapped college years, a source of income during summer breaks, and a trendy must-have during the food-silly eighties.

For several summers during high school, I waitressed at the Village Inn in Goldsboro, North Carolina, earning tons in tips and taking home a fresh hot pizza as a bonus each night. (I think I may have invented thin and crispy crust, because my mom kept asking me to make the crust thinner and bake it longer.)

I was at North Carolina State University when Domino's made the brilliant leap from pick up to guaranteed-in-thirty-minutes delivery, filling dorm room trash bins and saving all-nighters from starvation. I confess that I never really liked Domino's - the crust is too chewy and the sauce not that wonderful, but it was cheap and available. When we wanted really good pizza, we walked across campus, jaywalked across Hillsborough, and lined up for Brother's or Two Guys. Just about every first date I ever went on began at one of those two restaurants.

When my husband I were first married, we traveled extensively all over the country and Canada. We loved trying old-style Chicago and New York pizzas as well as all the "new" concoctions popping up in trendy restaurants in every major city. I remember one particular brick oven corner bistro in Toronto, which featured a nicoise pizza that turned out to be really good. There were also some fairly hilarious concotions, like the place in San Francisco that thought sushi and pizza could work together. Yuk.

For several years after the kids were born, I made homemade pizza every Friday night for friends and family. Favorites became barbecued chicken and onions, goat cheese on pesto, and blonde (feta + provolone + mozzarella on olive oil and garlic). Eating out with kids in tow inevitably brought us to one of Greensboro, North Carolina's cherished pizza places, where the kids could nibble on the bland cheese they love and we could have more "grown up" variations. Pie Works, Sir Pizza, Lucky 32, and Elizabeth's . . . . yummmm.

For the past decade, we've lived in Dunwoody.  If we're tired and busy, we call Papa John's. If we're feeling celebratory or are craving a favorite offering, we head to Fellini's Mellow Mushroom, or Dagwood's. If we're feeding a group of the kids' friends, we pick up pizza. For birthdays, rain days, snow days, sick days, or busy days, there's always pizza.

We like pizza. A lot.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Good news in a bad-news week.

While mildew winnows its odors throughout the house and we await the judgment of the insurance adjuster, it's good to focus on glad tidings.

Peachtree Charter Middle School made AYP. It's nice to have that federal stamp of approval while we're undergoing Charter renewal.

Dunwoody Nature Center has a delightful new sign. At long last, after struggling through bureaucratic dodgeball over the sign (design, placement, size, and ownership), a friendly new sign directs visitors to the education center within Dunwoody Park. (Kudos to the City of Dunwoody folks who helped us cut the red tape!)
I finished knitting a pair of socks for my mother, to be shipped this weekend to her in North Carolina. I love knitting socks. I love the math, the dexterity of manipulating three and four skinny little doublepointed needles, and the magical way the heel turns, the gusset slopes, and the toe grafts so tidily into place.
Preschool Phonics is flourishing in its new home at Dunwoody Nature Center. Yesterday, I held class in the Playhouse, a huge hit with the children. We worked on centers inside the playhouse, hiked to the Treehouse for a phonics game, then went on a vowel hunt in the park. It's the missing component of the program - integrating physical movement and fresh air into the curriculum.  The children arrive so eager to begin and are showing marked progress in just three short weeks.
I found canned pumpkin! After Cathy Cobbs published her easy-peasy pumpkin bread recipe in the Dunwoody Crier, there was consternation in Dunwoody because the poor pumpkin harvest last year has led to shortages of the canned goods. I love pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread, pumpkin anything, so I'm glad I could stock up for the holidays ahead. (Note to fellow seekers:  Ace Hardware in Dunwoody Village has fresh "pie pumpkins" for sale.)
The Atlanta Knitting Guild is flourishing as it celebrates its 25th anniversary.  Last evening, special guest Candace Eisner Strick had us giggling with her ribald humor and awestruck by her gorgeous designs and yarns. Seems she just put a $12,000 roof on her house and needs to sell many yarn kits. I'm happy to oblige. I wish I had time to take one of her workshops this weekend (there are a few spots still available).
Stitches South was so successful this past summer that they're doing it again in April. I am SO going to be there. I can't wait . . .
I watched a kid dart into traffic on North Peachtree in front of PCMS, crossing the road barely within the green and most definitely before traffic had stopped moving through the intersection. He was grinning maniacally and close enough to one vehicle that one more step would have put him under its wheels. Heart pounding, I leaned on the horn, glared at a group of friends laughing at his antics, and called the school to rat him out. (Yes, I knew his name.) The good news? Bonehead wasn't struck by a car
Fall.  The weather has cooled a bit, leaves are beginning to fall, and it's really, really hard to work at a desk when all this outside is around. Fall is my favorite season of the year.
Play the "glad game" with me. Pollyanna had it right.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


A few home truths:

Our basement isn't as rainproof as we thought. 15 inches of rain in less than ten days was more than a match for  gutters, downspouts, and french drains. So far we've lost carpet, an area rug, a small chest, and a box of keepsakes.

Our stream isn't the dry ditch some folks would like it to be. The quiet little stream between our neighborhood and the village roared to life. During the onslaught, the volume of the water was so high that we have new sandbars up and down the streambed and the spring head is blocked by silt and debris. By the time our neighbor took this photo, it was back to the trickles and swirls we had for years pre-drought. Now there's a lot of trash in the stream bed. And, since the stream eventually empties into Wildcat Creek, it's adding even more mess to Dunwoody Park. I think it's time to apply for a RiversAlive stream cleaning for our section of the waterway.

There's going to be a lot of new carpet sold in Dunwoody. Just as you can see what everyone got for Christmas by checking out the post-holiday trash pile, it was easy to see whose basements were flooded. Piles of carpet, sodden cardboard boxes, disheveled furniture, and other waterlogged possessions appeared curbside throughout every neighborhood. Blue tarps on roofs, wet vacs passed from neighbor to neighbor, a flood day from school . . . it's been quite a week.

Mildew stinks.  Today the sun is shining, the air is gently chilled with a hint of fall, and the acrid scent of mildew is wafting through our house. I've baked cookies, placed some odor thingies throughout the house, and still the smell is overwhelming.  Doubtless, we'll have to replace the carpet in the basement, but we have to go through the ritual of insurance coverage to figure out what they'll cover.

The garbage guys are awesome. In short order, they picked up all the stuff on the curb, then came back for their regular rounds.

If you order pizza during a storm or Chinese food for delivery to a school late at night, you'd darned well better tip well. Papa John's came through during the kids' Flood Day from school and Chopsticks II fed us well during an up-until-3:30 am work session at Peachtree Charter Middle School while we finalized some edits to our charter.

Everyone looks bad when they're wet. After awhile, you just stop caring what you're wearing because it's all going to get wet and dirty anyway. Dunwoody went from fashion-forward perfection to down-and-dirty in no time.

The sun really does come out after a storm.  Thank goodness.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Wildcat Rapids.

I'm such a creek geek.

The rain that keeps coming, coming, coming down has turned gentle Wildcat Creek into rapids. The volume of water was so massive at Dunwoody Park that the wetlands are filled with sand and silt, there are new sandbanks rechanneling the water, and wide swaths of plants have been pushed down. It's fascinating to see how the water has rushed through, over, and around the contours of the creek beds and low-lying wetlands.

Peering over the side of the treehouse pavilion, I looked for signs of the turtles and snakes who call the wetlands home. No luck. I'm sure they're enjoying all the high water, but may have been dislocated by the currents.

We had scheduled a stream clean-up this weekend, but the rain made that unsafe for the volunteers. Now debris from Dunwoody Village is littering the wetlands and creek. Once things dry up a bit, we'll try again.

I love rainy days, snow days, ice days, and any day that makes staying home an inviting proposition. Bad weather means good knitting, and I've had a steady stream of knitting this past week. Right now, I'm working on a pair of socks for my mother, who chose some scrumptious sock yarn during my visit to Greensboro last weekend. I just turned the heel on the first sock, then discovered I'd forgotten a few tricks with the gusset. I'll have to frog a couple of rows and go back and do it right. But even that prospect cheers me because I love the technical construction of sock-knitting.

Now, even though the rain continues all over Atlanta, it's time to nudge the kids out the door to school and head to Dunwoody Nature Center. I expect the internet and telephones to be down (they always are in the rain), standing water in the clubhouse, and even more debris in the wetlands.

It may look like a perfect knitting day. But it's a work day. A really wet work day.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The it's-not-swine-flu Flu

The tween started coughing yesterday, developed a temp last night, and awakened during the night with chills and a 102 fever. We've been down this road before, just two weeks ago, when the teen was diagnosed with "Type A" flu and given Tamiflu because he has Crohn's Disease.

Thanks to the tremendous number of kids with the flu, no one is sending on the testing swabs to the CDC for a formal diagnosis of H1N1. As a matter of fact, our high school principal even told parents that, until he's given an actual diagnosis, he can't follow any special protocol for the high number of absences in the school. "Keep washing your hands and stay home if you have a fever" is the prevailing tactic.

Since Georgia starts school way before most of the country, we became a crucible of sorts for the potential rapid spread of H1N1 through the schoolhouse population.

Yep. It spread.

As one parent/pediatrician said to me a few weeks ago, the flu she's treating is most definitely H1N1 because it's too early in the season for such a widespread outbreak of "normal" flu. The CDC has said the same thing in several comments to the media. They can't keep up with the testing required for a documented diagnosis, so they call outbreaks in colleges, schools, communities "suspected" H1N1.

Our neighborhood children attended a pool party last week and promptly succumbed left and right to the flu. Symptoms developed nearly overnight, and many parents were sick, too.

I've heard of parents having "swine flu parties," rather like those misinformed parents who have "chicken pox parties" to expose their children deliberately to a supposedly mild illness. They don't think about complications (not my child!) or lifelong repercussions such as shingles.

Time to take the tween's temperature again and make sure it stays below that dreaded 103 degree mark.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Three sewing needles removed from woman's heart - after 23 years

You can't make this stuff up:  a woman in India had three needles removed from her heart during a routine procedure. She didn't know how they got there.


Some misguided Scottish legislators want to require knitters to have a "knife license" because they fear they can be used as weapons.


Is it bad manners to knit during an evening out with friends? Of course not. Maybe the other party-goers didn't understand how much BETTER your attention can be when your hands are busy. Otherwise, being the only fairly sober person in a party can be downright boring.

In 2008, Grandmothers for Peace embraced the stereotype of knitting and staged a war protest by knitting in public. In contrast to World War II-era knitting for the troops, these impassioned grannies knitted to bring the troops home.  Politics aside, it's fascinating the way knitting has long symbolized "back home" support of our troops. Though not so much in this case.

The knitting life isn't an easy one. But it sure is interesting.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Preschool Phonics

The first thing I wanted to be when I grew up was a teacher.

I loved school. Even though I moved 13 times by the time I finished high school, classrooms were a constant in an inconstant life. The smells, sounds, and rituals of school sustained me from Florida to Kansas, Georgia to Okinawa, and on and on.

I loved teaching. Until I discovered that my measly $13,000 paycheck wasn't enough to do much more than pay the rent on a shared apartment and my college loans. So I left, to satisfy my other love, writing. I became a copywriter in an ad agency, doubled my salary in one year, and enjoyed myself tremendously for the next 20-odd years.

(Oops . . . I'm revealing a little age there, aren't I?)

I returned to teaching when I discovered that my children were ready to learn to read far sooner than Kindergarten. Writing a curriculum, figuring out the preschool learning style, adapting Phonics to the comprehension of a 4-year old: Preschool Phonics was born.

For the past six years, I have taught Preschool Phonics, primarily at the preschool my daughter attended, the continuing long after she entered our neighborhood school.  These classes come after my stint at Dunwoody Nature Center, and satisfy my need to teach. I recently calculated, just for fun, how many preschoolers I've taught the foundations of phonics. More than 400. Oh, my goodness.

This week, I begin my 7th year, with a new class of wriggling, slobbery, grinning, eager-to-try-anything pre-kindergarten munchkins.

I'm back in the preschool world. What a blessing.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Father and son.

During my drive to and from North Carolina this weekend, I listened to two wonderful storytellers. First, Jan Karon took me to the mountains of North Carolina for Shepherds Abiding, a lyrical and poignant visit to the wonderful Mitford I've enjoyed so much. Hearing John McDonough tell Father Tim's story, sing favorite hymns, and capture the essence of the many characters who populate her stories . . . magic. Five hours passed all too quickly, leaving the final chapter for my return home.

Once I'd closed the audio book on Mitford on the return trip to Dunwoody, I began Tim Russert's recollections of Big Russ and a working class childhood in Buffalo, New York. While Shepherds Abiding was a repeat visit, this was new territory. Knowing the sad, abrupt end to Russert's life made his story all the more compelling. I loved hearing my own philosophies articulated in the wise teachings of Big Russ . . . do your very best, every job is worth doing well because every job makes a real difference, honesty is truly the only way to live, lead by example, work hard and live hopefully. Big Russ's generation, that greatest generation of Tom Brokaw's marvelous homage to the World War II patriots, returned home to provide for their families no matter how hard and menial the work may be.

I didn't realize until I was close to home that I'd somehow chosen two father and son stories. Jan Karon's Father Tim brings the Holy Father intimately into everyday life. Tim Russert's Big Russ is a paragon of fatherhood - human, modest, and loving.

I think about my children, whose lives of privilege are such keen contrasts to my childhood (as well as every other working class family of the 50's and 60's). Do I fail my children by giving them so much material wealth? Are they cognizant of the value of hard work, even the necessity of doing something you don't like because it has to be done?  Will they make the necessary sacrifices, if called upon, to provide for their families or their country?

Big thoughts for the return home. I don't have the answers . . . I can only pray that I'm doing the right thing day by day.

I'm grateful for the time with my parents. It was a peaceful and loving reunion after a too-long time apart. I'm thankful that I'm home safe, hugging my children close to my heart and pulled back into the family must-do's. What a blessing to be home. And what a privilege it is to be a mom.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Fish to fry.

I'm visiting my parents in Greensboro, North Carolina and offered to prepare them a homecooked meal. (They rarely cook, thanks to restrictive diets and modest needs that make homecooking a bit of a bother.) Fried chicken, biscuits, and fresh vegetables? Steaks and sides? A fish fry?

That last offer made my dad's eyes light up. He loves seafood, particularly flounder and shrimp.

So Mom and I ended our day out with a grocery run and I whipped up a spread for the parents. Calabash style shrimp and flounder, homemade slaw and hushpuppies, and a cherry-pineapple dump cake.

They don't eat such rich food often, so I'm glad I could give them a little homemade love.

Of course, food always evokes memories, so we enjoyed chatting about the Sanitary Fish Market in Morehead City, good and bad fish places in Greensboro, why it seems like so much trouble to cook when it's actually not so complicated after all, and how family meals were an anchor for us when my brothers and I were young.

The main purpose of my visit was to see them, but also to see how they're doing. So far so good. That's a relief. They've spoiled me thoroughly, I'm getting some wonderful walks in through old, familiar parks and byways, and tomorrow's return to Dunwoody will come all too soon.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Right turns.

I love Jim Wooten's right-eous column in the AJC. It's a breath of pragmatic conservatism, without all the shouting and cynicism of so many mouthy media pundits.

I am conservative by nature and philosophy, and have been since my college days. (How's that for a not-so-typical experience? While most of my professors and college peers were avowedly liberal in those post-Vietnam years, I came to NCSU from a patriotic, military dependent childhood.) I actually feel more in the independent camp, but that particular label means very little participation in the voting process. Maybe one day there will be more options for moderates than the polar opposites of present-day politics.

This week, I've had many, many thoughts about government thanks to personal experience with the many ways local, county, state, and national entities impact our lives. I rarely embark on political rants here, but . . .
My neighborhood is embroiled in a lawsuit against our own City of Dunwoody about some pretty amazing procedural errors that are costing us dearly. A very early "oops, we did that wrong" would have saved both sides all this angst. Meanwhile, we're still being painted as whining backyardagains who just don't understand complicated stuff like ordinances and legal proceedings and mediation. Guess our backgrounds as accountants, attorneys, financial consultants, educators, development specialists, engineers, airline pilots, nurses, computer programmers, and civic volunteers don't count.
 President Obama's speech to the nation's schoolchildren certainly blew a few gaskets. I am most definitely not in favor of most of his social policies, but I felt that hearing a speech by the President of the United States is always a great thing for students. The reality is that our kids couldn't hear the speech because of crappy technology and sheer busy-ness of a rigorous academic day. Even if the President had tossed in a few political bones, I'm quite confident that we could have had a very healthy discussion at home. I watched the speech. It was fine.

Two of my favorite blogs are John Heneghan's timely updates about the City of Dunwoody and DeKalb School Watch, a watchdog extraordinare for our local public schools. John is one of the fairest people I know . . . you get both sides and even a mea culpa now and then. As for the DeKalb School Watch, the comments provide fascinating insights into school government-gone-fat in an era of cost cutting and expected sacrifice by teachers and students.  A recent blog noted that DeKalb's curriculum administration pays nearly $31 million for 551 administrators. Really?  And that's just a small subset of the overall administrative costs of our school system.
America is a republic.  (Which should not be confused with Republicans. That's a political party and philosophy.) Since we're a republic, we vote for City Councilpeople, Representatives and Senators, County Commissioners and Boards of Education to represent us. We're not a democracy. Can you imagine what life would be like if we had to vote on every single decision? Gridlock.
I adamantly do not want the national government handling healthcare.  One of my favorite Britcoms, Waiting for God, has an episode where Tom entered the hospital for prostate surgery. When Diana visited him, she was directed to a room she couldn't find. "Where is Room 00?" she asked a nurse. "Oh, we had patient overflow. This hall is a room now because we have patients in it." There was Tom, sleeping on a cot rolled into a hallway - along with four other male patients. No privacy, just a cheerful nurse insisting this was normal." Diana's ensuing rant about England's National Health Care Service was priceless - and illuminating. 
That's enough for one day. It's time to hit the road for North Carolina. I'm visiting my parents while the rest of the family stays here for homework and meetings and sundry events at church. 

Monday, September 7, 2009

You just don't notice things until you get there.

Life is myopic. We experience our lives through tunnel vision, unaware of things outside our immediate concerns.

Now that our son is driving, we've noticed how the next door elementary school parents park in the students' spots as a convenience during morning drop off. Exasperated, I tossed an email at the principal, asking him to let parents know that their patronage of those spots is ill timed and downright thoughtless. He begged for understanding (they have no parking lot at all). An older student told us that this has been happening for years.

We never noticed before.

As I visit the library, study plant options for this fall at Pike's Nursery, or enjoy breakfast at Olde Hickory House with my husband, I can hear the wailing cries of bored children who would rather be anywhere else. Their pitch is perfect, grabbing the wincing attention of every adult in hearing distance. When my kids were little, I honestly never heard those wails since my children were yammering about anything and everything on their minds. Now that I'm one of those "older moms," I hear every shriek.

"Just you wait," older friends and family have told me through the years. Aches and pains, college tuition, teen parties with beer as the star attraction, hot flashes, clothes shopping with a tween, the dog you get when the puppy has grown, boredom with stuff that was once integral to "living large" (like eating at trendy restaurants or going to a concert of ANY kind) . . . I never understood why people stopped being interested in staying current and keeping the social calendar as full as possible.

Now I'm getting there. And I get it.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Go outside.

A major perk of my job at Dunwoody Nature Center is that I get to take a walk in the park whenever I need one. Two hours straight on the keyboard followed by a twenty-minute pass through trails, picking up trash around the picnic area, and deep, cleansing breaths of fresh air: not a bad schedule.

It's a shame that the testing-focused education of our kids precludes such outside breaks. Every minute of the school day is so precious that administrators feel they have to command students' attention lest they fail the almighty No Child Left Behind federal mandate. Of course, by now we all know that this particular educational philosophy du jour isn't such a success after all. It's surreal that our government insists that one size fits all, ergo one educational model (everyone goes to college) fits every student's need.

So fresh air has to come before and after school. It's imperative for the tween and teen to get away from computers and books and soak in the sun, ride a bike or take the dog for a walk, toss a ball around, and enjoy some freedom from must-do's.

Just as we've invested in math and music tutors, we must ensure that our kids get the essentials they don't have at school.

Two of the more evocative memories of my childhood  are indelibly linked to the outdoors: my mom yelling at her kids to "go play outside and don't come back until it's dinner time" when we'd gotten too rambunctious and the slamming of my grandmother's screen door during visits as we passed back and forth for drinks and food and bathroom breaks.

I really, really miss the creaky, springy, slammy sound of a screen door.

It's Labor Day Weekend. The teen is headed to Dragon Con (that guarantees miles of walking around downtown Atlanta), I have some gardening chores to do with the vegetables and landscape, the tween has a dog-sitting job and wants to ride her bike all over Dunwoody, and the family will enjoy a picnic and hike on Monday . . . in a park.

Rain or shine, we'll be outside this weekend. 

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Proverbs 31:13

"She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands." - Proverbs 31:13

I've been working on a new shawl design (it'll be posted here shortly!) and my first Mason-Dixon log cabin blanket. Fun! One of my favorite stores, the Jake's House shop in Dunwoody, has a new design for "close-knit" friends. Shopowner Beth Dresher let me know it was in stock, so I dropped by this weekend to add the pink tee to my stash. It's soft, comfortable, and fun - perfect for weekends.

I took the tee along with me when I joined some fellow knitters at St. Luke's this past Sunday to participate in the Time & Talent Expo, a marvelous buffet of programs, classes, missions, and fellowship made possible by the extraordinary people who make up our congregation.

In the ROCKERs "booth" (Reaching Out Through Crocheting & Knitting), we displayed layettes for Share Atlanta, prayer blankets and shawls. We chatted merrily away, our needles flying, and encouraged everyone to sign up for lessons (FREE!). As visitors and church members stopped by for the homemade cookies and cheesestraws some of the knitters had prepared, the most common thing they said to us was, "I'd love to knit, but I just don't have the time to learn."

Neither did we.

In most cases, knitting was born from need, whether sitting bedside with a critically ill family member and waiting not-so-patiently in a series of doctors' offices or filling the empty spaces left by a spouse suffering dementia.

God put needles in our hands because we needed them. We're not alone . . .

Expectant mothers on bed rest in the high-risk unit at Montefiore Medical Center in New York are dealing with their boredom by learning how to knit. ...

Staff at NHS (National Health Service) Highland have been learning to knit as a way of staying healthy and to provide items for a Homecoming Scotland celebration. A number of employees have spent their lunch-times knitting squares which will be sewn together and handed over to the Stitches on the Bridge project.

Beginning September 1st, for every Lands' End FeelGood
sweater purchased, the company will donate signature FeelGood yarn to One
Heart Foundation's Warming Families, a nationwide knitting charity. Lands'
End expects to donate thousands of pounds of yarn to the charity where
volunteers plan to knit up to 25,000 hats and other items to warm the homeless
and displaced.
Knitting needles could be classed as weapons in Scotland
Okay, that last one is there because it's so darned funny. The greater risk to the general public is if a knitter is denied the meditative and calming benefits of knitting on an airplane (I hate flying) or train (I hate waiting).

Life . . . and knitting . . . is good.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

This week's vents . . .

One of my favorite spots in the AJC is the daily vent. There are some very imaginative, frustrated, angry, snide, and silly people out there, and they don't mind sharing every thought that crosses their minds. One recent gem: "You're in a movie. Shut Up! It is that simple." Been there. Felt that.

The appeal of venting is its anonymity. A fed-up-to-here rant about a long line, out of stock item, tailgater, healthcare mal-form, messy kid, bad date, encounter with a government office, etc. is simply sharing. A heated bark directed at the person who has just annoyed you, or about that person in the hearing of his/her friends/coworkers, can bite you back.

"Facts always get in the way of a good vent."

People relish repeating someone's toxic vent to everyone around them. The vent begins to take on a life of its own, until the original setting and the facts are obscured by the vent itself. That's a convoluted way of saying that we all love a well-turned phrase, and the facts get in the way of that enjoyment.

Vents are born in "it's not fair" land, a reality populated by polar opposites, irreconcilable differences, and misunderstandings. It's a place to rant anonymously, to cast aspersions without taking the consequences. It's the modern-day suggestion box for the passive aggressive.

I love venting, for all its fervid ardor and inherent off-the-wall craziness. You know you work with, live next door to, shop alongside with the people who roar their angst, anger, and amusement in rampant anonymity. But it's nice not to know WHO exactly is putting hand to keyboard or calling in on the telephone line.

Keep the Vent, AJC. Let the residents post on your Discussion Board, City of Dunwoody. Keep recording those anonymous parents, DeKalb School Watch. It's informative. It's provocative. It's FUN.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

You gotta love August?

One of my favorite comic strips has been running a series of vignettes called "You gotta love August": flashlight tag, dozing on a hammock, stargazing, catching fireflies, lolling in the hot weather, cooking outdoors . . . obviously, the family lives someplace outside surreal Georgia, where school starts after Labor Day and August is vacation time. Friends in Virginia always shake their heads when I moan that we have to go back to school mid-August. Their post-Labor Day school start moves fluidly toward a mid-June ending, and their public schools (urban, diverse) regularly hit the high notes on national scores, which seems to be all anyone cares about these days. The only good thing about a late May start to summer break is that the crowds at the beach and Disney World are much smaller. Apparently, much of the country is still in school.

Education leaders in Georgia are holding desperately onto the premise that having a semester end before Christmas is better for test scores. Problem is, test scores aren't supporting that premise. New programs roll out like clockwork (new math! higher benchmarks for reading! No ITBS in 8th grade! block schedule! no homework! no F's!) but the underlying weaknesses in education management have far greater impact on student performance than anything else.

I'm in the thick of the battle for student performance, and have been since we enrolled our children in Austin Elementary School many years ago. We've often joked (a bit smugly) that the schools in Dunwoody are the best private education for the dollar because the quality of teaching and the keen participation of parents have nurtured a very high quality of educational experiences. That's still true today, as we move through middle and high school. Thank goodness for the highly skilled, creative teachers who populate our schools. Way to go, parents who help create and manage quality-of-life programs for students and faculty (PCMS Academic Teams Boosters and DHS Arts Alliance are two of the latest initiatives). Hurray to school leaders who figure out ways to serve the students within the chokehold of bureaucracy and federal testing mandates.

It's a parental prerogative to insist that our children be treated with kindness and understanding. But we know, as adults, that life isn't that nurturing. College professors and future employers aren't going to coddle our kids or cater to their every angst. As pragmatic parents deal with public school challenges, they teach their kids how to get what they need out of imperfect systems. There's always going to be a teacher or boss or rush chair or judge who really, really shouldn't be in a position of authority. Oh, well. Work through it, put it behind you, and move on.

You gotta love August.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Aw, come on!

I abandoned my poor vegetable garden for a week while I was focused on several volunteer- and work-related commitments. Finally, I checked it to see how many weeds and insects had invaded the patch.
Throughout the summer, when I've tended it carefully, the harvesting has been modest, though satisfying.

After a week of neglect, I just picked four huge cucumbers and another handful of green beans. Many, many more are on the vine. There are very few weeds, and no signs of hungry insect pests devouring flower buds and leaves.

For pete's sake. I did better leaving it alone than checking on it every day!

That's life. You know all the sayings, about the watched pot and while the cat's away and letting a kid figure things out for himself. Sometimes it takes inattention for things to grow.

Of course, for overachiever micromanagers like me, inattention is anathema. It's just hard to believe that good things come to those who wait AND LEAVE THINGS ALONE.

All right, garden. I'm going to leave you alone for another week. Let's see if this was an anomaly or a learning lesson!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Three am and all's swell.

Sleep deprivation is a temporary torment you get through when you have babies and another thing entirely when you hit menopause. I need seven hours solid sleep. Just one off night gives me the achy, sloggy, can't-think blues.

Nonetheless, I awaken drenched in a hot flash most nights at 3 am. For the next hour or two, I am wide awake.

So . . . what are you doing at three am? I've consulted friends and family to share frustrations and empathize over each other's chronic sleepiness. Our nocturnal activities are surreal and splendid.
  • Get up, iron clothes, and go to sleep on the sofa.
  • Read something really, really boring. Like a book club pick or a business magazine.
  • Wander around the house checking doors and lights.
  • Just go ahead and stay up. After you've tossed and turned for a couple of hours, it's time to get up anyway.
  • Take Tylenol PM. Not every night, though you really need it, but once or twice a week just to catch up on sleep.
  • Check email and shop on eBay.
  • Blog. (Okay, that's me.)
  • Organize the linen closet.
  • Dust. You'd like to vacuum, but the family might object.
  • Take the dog for a walk. (I saw one neighbor do this as I stared in frustration out the window. Bless her. It's good to have company.)
  • Watch one of the cable news channels. Trust repetition of news stories to induce sleep (breaking news! celebrity couple breaking up! government official caught lying! storm topples trees!).
  • Googled "insomnia" and found The entry titled Green Cows - And Other Animals Of Color is just plain weird.
  • Make to-do lists (a great idea since you'll be too fuzzy to think straight the next day).
  • Pray.
What works for you?

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Recreational food shopping.

The grocery list is an important communications tool in the Knitternall home. Each of us adds to it during the week, and I edit when I work on menus, check the pantry, and add essentials.

  • Chocolate syrup (please?)
  • Dishwasher stuff
  • Chocolate ice cream (please?)
  • TP!!!!!!!!!!!
  • Grown-up cereal ("grown-up" underscored several times)
  • Chicken piquant - 4 small chicken breasts, 2 lemons
  • Veggie bacon (2 points)
Depending on what's on the list, I head to Wal-Mart, Publix, or Kroger. Wal-Mart is first pick when we need lots of cleaning supplies and dog food. Way cheaper. Publix is my go-to store most weeks because it's close by and familiar. Kroger is less convenient, but has terrific sales on meat, poultry, and frozen foods. I visit Costco once a month for bulk items such as toilet paper and frozen chicken breasts. These shopping trips are straightforward, routine, and necessary. They've also become much more expensive lately.

People in Dunwoody like to talk about food shopping. They share special finds at Whole Foods and Trader Joe's (the salmon! the oatmeal!), praise a Fresh Market crown roast that was both investment and indulgence, order their Thanksgiving smoked turkey at Olde Hickory House, and fret that a favorite goat cheese provider at the farmer's market won't have the special blend they love. The lemonade cake at Wright's Gourmet is a must-have for a teacher dessert buffet or church committee meeting. The creative people at Trader Joe's suggest combining this sauce with that chicken to create an affordable, easy, tasty dinner. A high protein cereal is out of stock at the natural foods store, to the dismay of its fans.

This sensory enjoyment of food shopping is a mark of our affluent culture, and a shock to visitors from other countries (and less affluent parts of America) where food is necessity, not recreation. Not everyone is comfortable with this affluence, hence the growth of backyard gardens, the local food movement, and interest in back-to-basics comfort food.

People seem to fall into two camps: planners and spontaneous shoppers. Undoubtedly, the planners save more money and always have what they need on hand. Spontaneous shoppers grab what looks good, have duplicates of things they forgot they had, and make multiple runs to the grocery store. One friend always shops on Sunday morning because it's quiet, less crowded, and she can calculate her spending and savings in peace. Another picks up dinner on the way home from work because she can't plan ahead whether the family will be together that evening.

I wonder what life would be like for all of us if we couldn't be planners or spontaneous . . . if the food we ate was the food we had. The answer isn't just in third world countries. Drive a few hours north, to the Cumberland Mountains region of Tennessee, for a taste of reality for many, many people.

Just thinking . . .

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Caution: New Driver

The teen earned his license Thursday.

Hoo, boy.

On the advice of many friends, we avoided the Roswell Road DMV and headed north to Blue Ridge for the big test. Unlike the dismal, congested, dirty, cranky environment of urban DMVs, the two-person staff was friendly and relaxed. The driving examiner spoke matter-of-factly and even teased him a bit. There were only two people in the tidy little office when the teen and T arrived for his appointment. And his road test was easier thanks to little traffic and development. Since we don't plan to let the teen drive on Atlanta's crowded Perimeter or Georgia 400 without us for the first six months (confining him to Dunwoody), we were happier with a more low key setting for his test.

We presented the teen with his own set of keys, a gas card to be used ONLY for gas, and a magnet alerting everyone around him that he's a new driver.

He took his first solo drive last night, taking his sister on an errand to Walgreens and a celebratory brownie sundae at Bruster's, both just half a mile from our house.

T did a splendid job training the teen. The tween will be ready in less than two years for her lessons. With him.

'Cause momma doesn't do driving training. I can't handle the terror.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Learning something new . . .

When I joined the Dunwoody Nature Center staff, I quickly discovered that the biggest part of my job is "and other duties as assigned." Thank goodness. No two days are the same, and there's always something new to figure out and take care of.

There's a paradox to all the "new" things I'm learning at work. Some are most definitely new - website management, blogging, print design, DreamWeaver, et al. They're quite a contrast to leisurely explorations at home, old-school skills of earlier generations: knitting, vegetable gardening, preserving, and sewing.

I like to try new things, and hope to never stop. But new-world skills seem to come with pressure and worries about deadlines and budgets and quality control and objectives and goals and meetings. Old-world skills are peaceful and meditative.

I embrace technology, but work hard to keep it at arm's length. I'm happiest cooking a meal from scratch, knitting in my workroom, checking on the progress of the cucumbers and cantelopes in the garden, and . . .

I guess I really like to learn something old.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Keeping up with appearances.

I imagine myself to be quite capable of keeping up with tweens. I can hike 10 miles, juggle at least a dozen to-do lists at a single time, lay a spread of snacks that are guaranteed to disappear, and affect invisibility while being very much present.

I hit the wall in Clinton, South Carolina.

The tween and I returned yesterday from our five day Extraordinary Adventure at Presbyterian College and I discovered that I was, after all, really, really, REALLY tired. That was thanks to a combination of walking four+ miles a day across the campus, nonstop participation in activities from 7 am to 11 at night, dancing and singing, and trying to sleep in a college dorm bed (without success).

We had a very good time.

  • Phil the Energizer Bunny has no joints. At least that's what we think after watching him lead energizers throughout the week. That's him and another minister, hamming it up during one of the morning openers.
  • Male tweens like to climb things. And throw things. And drum on things. And lose things.
  • Female tweens like to talk. A lot. Really. A lot.
  • Clinton, South Carolina (where Presbyterian College is based) is a very small town. Its downtown closes early on Saturday during the summer.
  • The dining hall staff got very creative with chicken. We had chicken every single day. Fried chicken. Baked chicken. Barbecued chicken. Chicken alfredo. Chicken in honey mustard sauce. Somehow, no one really minded because it was pretty good chicken every time.
  • Even though there were 600+ tweens on campus, the vending company still chose to fill the machines no more than twice a week. So 600+ tweens spent way too much time looking hopefully for that mythical, fully stocked soda machine . . . to no avail.
  • Thanks to careful planning by the retreat planning team, savvy understanding of the tween psyche by every adult in attendance, and a hefty dose of grace, the week was memorable, fun, and definitely worth repeating.
The tween has already planned to return next summer. I'd better start getting into shape immediately.

Friday, July 24, 2009


From: Mom
To: Teen and Tween
Re: School Mornings

Henceforth, each school morning will begin with several Energizers. We will walk like an Egyptian, do the Charlie Brown, peel bananas, go fishing, dance like penguins, and other silly stuff. You will roll your eyes, begin half-heartedly (and sometimes even rebelliously), and end up fully awake, laughing at the sight of your mother trying to keep up, and ready for the day.

Each morning of this Middle School Youth retreat begins with 20 minutes of jumping, turning, shaking, nodding, clapping, waving, twisting, yelling, and singing. The tweens LOVE this part. They roar when a favorite is repeated, try gamely to follow the new ones, and laugh at the rubbery, stretchy moves of the two adult leaders on the stage. (I've taken lots of photos, Phil. You're going to see them on the St. Luke's monitors next week.)

One interesting result of chaperoning this week: my college dreams are back. I lived in Carroll dorm at N C State, an un-airconditioned high rise right next to the railroad tracks. The first two or three weeks of school each year included nightly dreams about monsters getting closer and closer and louder and louder - until I'd awaken with heart pounding as one of the nightly freight trains roared past. After awhile, everyone stopped hearing them. The smells (mildew and sweat), the sights (worn wood cabinets and squashy beds), and the sounds (you can hear EVERYTHING) are very, very evocative. So last night I had the dream where I can't find my dorm key and I'm late to class and I really, really need to get the paper I spent all night finishing so I can turn it in on time.

For pete's sake.