Friday, January 30, 2009

Stick to your knitting.

"Stick to your knitting" - advice to continue doing what you know rather than something you know very little about. This cliche has been a favorite of late with financial newswriters covering the demise of one company after another. The more dire the markets, the closer everyone should cling to the things they know, they say. Start-ups: stop! Outside the box thinkers - get back to square one! The downside of risk-taking is that the flipside of success is abject failure.

Yet, if everyone followed that advice, where would we be?

  • This admitted homebody would never have ventured to the Dunwoody Nature Center, opening new experiences in composting, hiking, website management, wielding a nail gun, building makeshift fences, and other cool stuff. (Hey, if a wimpy indoor gal in her middle years can fall in love with the outdoors, anyone can!)
  • Eleanor Roosevelt would have stayed "in her place," doling out tea in the parlor and nodding her head pleasantly to one and all. Instead of becoming a force in her own right.
  • The people of Dunwoody would have agreed with the avuncular DeKalb County professionals that running a city is way too difficult for the average person. Ahem.
  • Ray Kroc would have been a mediocre salesman of milkshake machines rather than the guy who thought about branding cheap eats.
  • The women behind the Twist Collective would have continued designing for other companies rather than create their own innovative forum. Way to go.
  • Ravelry. Enough said.
  • Kemmons Wilson would have stayed in the homebuilding business instead of coming up with the crazy notion of a national motel chain. You may have stayed in one: Holiday Inn, the first mainstream roadside inn network in America.
I consider myself a fiscal conservative and have a very low threshold for risk-taking. Yet I admire big thinkers and am awed by their passion and energy. It's easy to hunker down and cling to the tried and true when retirement funds are depleted and people are out of work.

We need risk-takers to regain our momentum. America has always thrived on ingenuity, people who can start something in the garage and change the world with a single idea. So I wish you success. We're all the richer for what you achieve.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Extra effort.

What does it take to do something really, really well?

That irritating thing parents say to their kids is quite true: if you want something badly enough, you'll work harder to get it. There's no guarantee of success, but at least you'll gain some satisfaction in knowing you tried your best.

Take knitting. A novice can stay in the garter-stitch scarf mode forever. Never advancing technique to purls and yarnovers, avoiding stranded colors and slanted decreases to create cardigans and totes and socks and lace that are challenging to knit and a joy to finish and wear.

Or school. A' Mock Trial team meets for two hours, twice a week, a schedule that is just demanding enough to balance with school work. The teams he's scrimmaging with practice three hours a day, four days a week, in the months just prior to competition. Will the result be a more polished, confident team at competition, one ready to pick apart the nuances of the opposing counsel's arguments?

Or volunteering. In every situation where I've recruited volunteers, there are a handful of people who do more than just show up. They go "above and beyond," seeing needs and filling them. While they're filling shoeboxes with gifts and personal items for the kids at CHRIS Homes, collecting books for the 100-book library at a school served by Mountain Top, or cleaning one of the Interfaith Outreach apartments for homeless families in transition, some volunteers look around and see what else they can do. Then do it.

Extra effort does not promise success. It isn't always apparent. But extra effort leads to an inner satisfaction that is indescribable. And the best result of all.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Right back atcha

Insert foot A into mouth B.

I think my son has it right. He's generally mute, moving silently through classes and church and Scouts, keeping his thoughts to himself. Another student recently observed that A speaks only when spoken to. Very true.

The benefit of that reserve is that he rarely speaks out of turn. (He saves those moments for his family, and the mis-speaks are legendary.)

My daughter is more socially adept, with an inherent tact that I find amazing. Proof that some traits are just pre-wired at birth.

My husband is frustratingly calm, no matter what the situation. He has the gift of seeing both sides of a debate without giving up his position. And staying on subject even when everyone else is meandering around emotional backwaters.

I am well known for getting pretty passionate about things, especially those concerning my kids and their schools. Nothing makes me go from cool to hot faster. There have been quite a few opportunities for strong feelings this year at Dunwoody High School, which is going through some uncomfortable growing pains.

The root of this introspection about mis-speaking? I was the beneficiary of some very poorly worded news yesterday, and am still trying to put things into perspective. The person sharing the tidings is well known for foot-in-mouth-itis, so I understand that the intent was not to diminish. But the effect nonetheless is there.

I've learned to write emails with the "to" frame blank (no more accidentally sent missives). I have forced myself to edit my remarks to the bare essentials. I breathe deeply and say I'll think about something before I give a decision. I smile and redirect the ignorant and misguided.

But every now and then, I put my foot in my mouth. And that fact keeps me humble.

Sunday, January 25, 2009


What happens when three brainiacs decide it would be really, really funny to open up a series of fire hydrants in the middle of the night during an arctic temp blast? Subsequent hilarity includes thick ice around a high school, through a neighborhood, and across a major thoroughfare for residents going to work. Added bonus: coverage by a local news crew.

What happens? They get caught. They are arrested and booked. And their mugs are posted on the county's website.

Not so funny after all.

Since they have so much time and energy available, I extend a cordial invitation to use that creativity at Dunwoody Nature Center. We have lots of opportunities, including mulching trails, clearing invasive vines, moving rocks, keeping the creek clear of trash and debris, preparing for some upcoming festivals, and raking the entry lane. Added bonus: fresh air, sweat equity, and a sense of accomplishment.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

It's crunch time for A's Mock Trial team - time for scrimmages and the build-up to the regional competition in February. (For some bizarre reason, the powers-that-be have placed Dunwoody High School in the Jonesboro regional rather than the Decatur one, which is geographically more appropriate. With a mandatory 5:00 PM Friday start-time, it's going to be downright hairy getting there after school. Ah, well.)

I love watching the team compete. They pull things together with aplomb, and show a better working understanding of the judicial process than most adults. Their attorney coaches, Curt and Heather, are the yin and yang of the profession, one who enjoys pushing the edge and the other who quietly goes after the desired verdict.

The case is interesting, and the teens are enjoying their roles. This time, A is an attorney for the defense, with responsibility for the closing argument and at least one cross-examination. Fascinating tidbit: cases are written with gender-neutral names so students can take on roles as needed. What's fun is during the trial, when each team has to remember the correct gender reference during opening/closing arguments and cross-examination. It's very easy to get tongue-tied when your 9:00 competition had a male as the defendent, then a female in the following round.

It's going to be a busy few weeks . . . with lots of time for knitting!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


Submarined: the feeling of something coming at you, unseen and unexpected, that sinks your schedule/plans for the weekend/expectations for relaxation/hopes for breathing room.

Yeah, we got submarined.

WHY is it that otherwise rational people think teenagers (who look and talk like adults, but most definitely are not) will tell parents ANYTHING? I found out at 5:00 today, as I was dropping off snacks for A's Mock Trial practice, from a sheepish teacher, that there's a scrimmage Saturday at 2:45. Mentioned last week to the team. At the Atlanta International School. NOT mentioned by son. In the middle of a hectic day of family stuff and work stuff and cotillion and whatever.


(If you hear Reba when you read that word, you're getting exactly the right intonation.)

I love my kids. I love my husband and my work and church and friends and tiramisu and feeling needed and pitching in and doing my share. I don't love getting submarined. Which appears to go with all of the aforementioned.

We'll get through it. We'll wiggle some things around and drive really, really fast between stuff.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Presenting Hanover (at long last)

Here's the finished Hanover Jacket, a very satisfactory design and knitting project. I enjoyed the repetition of the ribbing pattern, very conducive to waiting room and movie knitting. The simple leaf motif on the back and at the cuff of each sleeve was simple to create. Jean Frost is a good designer, easy to follow and a pleasure to wear.

Yarn: Patons Classic Merino Wool
Color: Soft Gold
Skeins: 8
Needle: 6 US
Start to Finish: 8 weeks (off and on)

Casting on: Piedmont Park Hoodie from Knitch in midtown!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Because it's the right thing to do.

My husband and I were talking yesterday about the people who do things without recognition. They aren't looking for praise or accolades - they just do something because it's needed or it helps someone.

Take the people who showed up yesterday at Dunwoody Nature Center, despite the frigid temps and biting wind. It was our monthly Hands On Atlanta workday, a fact in itself that is wonderful and amazing. Random volunteers show up one Saturday morning each month and tend to the unending chore list. Coordinator Martha Moore is the constant, leading the troops and never flagging in her commitment to do the right thing. This group included six Kohls' Department Store employees. They cut privet and ivy, laid mulch on trails, and even hung a wall cabinet in the office. Wow.

At St. Luke's Presbyterian Church, quiet volunteers take care of hanging and taking down Christmas decorations, refill children's worship activity binders with worksheets and crayons, keep Sunday School class members apprised of prayer needs and celebrations, move the baptismal font into position, clean the communion trays, and so many other necessities.

Last week, someone dropped a load of small bits of paper for about a quarter mile down Chamblee-Dunwoody Road and Roberts Drive, between the village and the Nature Center. I saw the mess as I went to work and decided I'd pick up a bag and start cleaning up. But someone was ahead of me. A woman with a large black garbage bag was stooping and clearing, steadily taking care of the mess. I don't know how far back the mess had started, but she was leaving a clean roadside behind her.

None of these "jobs" is high profile. But just imagine life without someone taking care of things, just because it's the right thing to do. For our family, "It's the right thing to do" is our credo and the deciding factor for many choices we make.

Volunteering is also an opportunity to step away from our own cares and worries. Between jobs, during stressful times, while trying to make a decision, or waiting for something to happen . . . volunteering can put things in perspective and open new options. Help build a house or knit blankets for stillborns while you're job-hunting. Pick up a rake or hammer while you're trying to make an important decision. Deliver a meal or make sandwiches for the homeless while you're waiting for a diagnosis or working through a broken relationship. Everyone hurts and everyone can help.

Choose to help. It's the right thing to do.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

I learned something new.

I can't believe I haven't been knitting continental style. I just watched this video, and it made the miles and miles of ribbing on the recently completed Hanover jacket an impetus to do things quite differently.

When I learned to knit, it was with the "throwing" technique, and I have happily tossed yarn from right hand, over and around the left hand needle, and shifted needles from row to row.

One time, I was knitting in the waiting room of a train station. An elegant woman dressed in beautiful Indian raiment waved her hands at me, shook her head, and mimed taking the needles from me. I let her (the knitting community is amazingly receptive to such incursions) and she showed me how much FASTER her continental technique was. I tried a few stitches, and fumbled. Back to throwing. (She smiled, shook her head at me, and moved on to her train.)

So Continental knitting seemed too exotic, even cumbersome. But it's not. I just hadn't seen the technique up close and personal. Thanks to this handy dandy video and amazingly simple instructions, I want to invest some time in learning a new technique, with its requisite fumbling and miscues until my my muscle memory is up to speed.

I'll post pix of Hanover tomorrow. I'm delighted with the finished sweater and look forward to wearing it for the rest of this winter. It's going to be a mainstay for years to come, thanks to its classic lines and understated texture.

It's a new year, and time to learn a few new things. Continental style knitting, square foot gardening, and table loom weaving . . . this is FUN!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Four more inches

Four inches to go. The Hanover Jacket by Jean Frost is nearing FO status, as two sleeves, knitted at the same time, inch toward the top of the arm shaping.

Four interminable inches. I work a few rows, then fold clothes. Another row or two, and put dinner together for two teens, two tweens, and four different palates. One row, and the dog needs to go out to see what's happening in his domain. Maybe I'll finish those sleeves this weekend. Or not.

It's been a labor-intensive week at Dunwoody Nature Center as we renovate our offices. That project is also nearing the FO stage, with the myriad "little" details that will likely take much of next week to complete. We're operational - the computers are hooked up and the phones work, but various experts are needed to fix digital stuff that has disappeared into the ether and make sure the three workstations are speaking to the new printer that arrives on Monday.

All this work, as well as the "new" desks, bookcases, and chairs, are thanks to the amazing generosity of donors and volunteers. We could not have laid the new linoleum tiles and shelves and shoe molding and countless other jobs without the labors of two fairy godfathers; much of the painting came thanks to our resident fairy godmother, who also keeps our resources well organized and catalogued.

Maybe the renovations (and the Hanover Jacket) are taking longer than planned. But the results are so very much worth the wait.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Trash talk.

Let's talk about trash. The stuff stuffed into plastic bags, bulging from garbage cans of every shape and size, lolling on the curb, and spilling out with a few pecks by crows and meandering canines.

It's really embarrassing.

The Knitternall family contributed greatly to curbside pickup when we cleared out closets, cabinets, storage spaces, and drawers during the holiday break. I took three van loads of cast-offs to Goodwill, toted quite a few ancient electronics and cables to the Morgan Falls Recycling Center (thank you, Fulton County!), and still managed to bag an embarrassing amount of trash for the sanitation truck.

All of which made me very nostalgic for Greensboro, North Carolina.

I've mentioned that city's stellar garbage/recycling/yard waste program in the past. Homeowners and single family house renters get two humongous plastic bins (four feet tall, three feet wide, with huge wheels). Once a week, a robo-truck stops by to pick up garbage from the green bin. Every other week, the truck picks up the brown recycling bin. (When we lived there, the truck came every week! But they switched to biweekly for budget reasons.) A robo-arm reaches out, picks up the bin, lifts it up and dumps it into the truck. It plops the bin back on the curb and moves on. This takes just ONE worker - the driver - to operate. As a result of this effortless program, participation by residents is very high.

The recycling center separates all the plastic, cans, paper, etc. and distributes it to various companies who purchase the products for their own manufacturing needs or to other recipients.

I miss the robo truck!

I also miss the truck that came by EVERY WEEK to vacuum up all the leaves we raked to the curb throughout the fall as well as various limbs, branches, garden debris, etc during the rest of the year.

I miss the leaf truck!

Greensboro also regularly swept the streets and curbs to help keep the drainage system clear. (As a result, the city always looks really tidy.) Plus, if we had a large "household item" to toss - aka old carpet, that basement sofa that just has to go, etc. - they picked it up on the regular garbage day WITHOUT AN APPOINTMENT.

Sanitation isn't in the budget for our newborn city. But things can change . . . and anything's possible in the future.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

It's a new year. And business as usual.

Ahhhh. What a wonderful winter break. We feasted and fested, giggled and goggled through visits with family and friends, luscious spreads of holiday foods, a lovely ten-mile hike in the fog at Stone Mountain, movies both good and bad, and quiet time together at home.

That was then. This is now.

January has roared in with many must-do's and a few can't-wait-for's.

  • We (the staff plus the ever-amazing and generous volunteer Delightful McC) are renovating the offices at the Dunwoody Nature Center (replacing aged carpet with pristine linoleum, painting walls,and moving furniture).
  • I'm registered for a beginning weaving class by the Chattahoochee Weavers' Guild, two Sundays of downright fun.
  • The effervescent Pattie Baker of has invited me into her realm via the new sustainability committee she's spearheading for the City of Dunwoody. I can't wait to contribute.
  • School is back in session with a vengeance. There are syllabi to sign, new supplies to obtain, Parent Coffees to schedule for rising 6th grade families coming to Peachtree Charter Middle School, attorneys-in-training to feed for Mock Trial practices, and mucho homework for both kids.
  • I'm in the final stretch of Preschool Phonics, teaching what is likely to be my last Level 2 session.
  • I'm nearly finished with a sweater for ME!
I've had the luxury of working on one of Jean Frost's designs, the Hanover Jacket. I'm on the last few inches of the sleeves (both knitted at the same time), then will have the finishing details to complete. I chose a warm gold from Paton's Classic Merino Wool and it's working out quite well. I adapted the stitch pattern slightly, with a knit two, purl two instead of the knit one, purl two in the design because I like the more defined striping effect. Otherwise, I've been faithful to the pattern.

It's good to be back.