Saturday, December 29, 2007

Life, Death, and Knitting

I want to thank all of you who have left such thoughtful comments about my sweet dog. I would like to thank each of you individually, but I'm sure you already know that Blogger is reluctant to give me your email addresses. Please accept this general thank you as an expression of my deep appreciation for your concern and support. Molly is home with us. She made it through Christmas, which was our goal. She is heavily medicated to control her seizures and can't do much but lie on the sofa with her head in my lap. There is some chance that she will recover some of her energy and balance once she adjusts to the medication, but we will not force her to go on in this state if there is no improvement.

To update you on other news, my friend and her husband have come to terms with the imminent arrival of their late-life baby, and she is embracing her new role as mom. She is four months along and is having a boy. I will be heading over to her house next week to help get the nursery ready. I haven't seen her since the night a couple of weeks ago when she realized she was pregnant, but she reports that she has had to move up to maternity pants already and is noticeably showing. (She's tiny. An apple seed would probably show.)

And of course, there has been knitting.

This is the Noro Kochoran sweater coat I started a couple of posts ago. Those pieces at the top are the sleeves. As you can see, it is almost done (I knit more when I am stressed). I did the sleeves first, contrary to my usual approach, because I wanted to try out my pattern and see how the striping would work. Then I decided to work the body all in one piece, because my previous experience with Noro has taught me that the color changes are irregular, and I am way too compulsive to put up with stripes that don't match up at the seams. This means that the stripes on the body are much, much narrower than the stripes on the sleeves (the rows on the body are much longer than the rows on the sleeves), but this is less disturbing to my internal harmony than mismatched seams. (It has been hard on my wrists, though. The sheer weight of the thing makes them ache.)

I have a love-hate relationship with Noro. I love the colors. I hate the textures. I am a tenderfoot. I don't like anything scratchy. Kureyon feels like a Brillo pad to me. Even Silk Garden was a grave disappointment. So I was hesitant to order the Kochoran in the first place, was half off. And I was intrigued by the subtle, water-color shades. And the label said angora. How could angora be anything but soft? So I ordered it. And as usual, I was disappointed with the texture. The yarn was much bulkier than I expected, and not especially soft. I left it marinating in the stash for several weeks, until I finally broke down and gave it a chance.

I'm glad I did. This yarn is a mystery to me. The label says it is wool, silk, and angora and knits to 4.5 stitches to the inch. Right off the bat, I knew I would never get 4.5 stitches to the inch. Even with a small needle, the tightest gauge I can make is 3.75 stitches to the inch, and that makes a very dense fabric. And then, there is the fiber. It is tightly twisted, with a dry, almost cotton-like hand. In the skein, it feels coarse and woolly, but as I knitted, it became softer and softer, and now has a lovely, furry halo of angora over the wool and silk. The finished fabric is dense, heavy, slightly fuzzy, and amazingly soft. The colors are subtle and the stripes are almost blurry, but in a restful, Monet-esque way. I wouldn't want to use this yarn for a pullover; the finished fabric is too heavy. But it is perfect for a jacket or coat, or--for the very ambitious--a blanket.

I had a whole (ten-skein) bag of this stuff. With nearly 200 yards to the skein, there should have been more than enough to make a sweater coat to fit my 34-inch chest, so I didn't hesitate to cast on for this large project, even though I bought the yarn at an online clearance sale. But the knitting goddess hates hubris. And she loves a good joke. So naturally, with only the collar left to go, I...say it with me now... ran. out. of. yarn. Yep. Really. The thing is still on the needles, so I can't try it on to see where all the missing yardage went. I'm sure once I get it bound off, I'll discover that, instead of a fitted sweater coat, I have knitted a family-sized sleeping bag. However, in keeping with tradition, I am bound to soldier on, refusing to recognize the obvious until I have sewn it up, woven in the ends, blocked it, and added the buttons. I will then try it on and be completely surprised that it doesn't fit. Knowing this changes nothing. Experience is just recognizing that you're making the same mistake again.

Monday, December 24, 2007

The Thing About Christmas... that it comes whether you're ready or not.

It comes if you haven't finished shopping, much less wrapping gifts. It comes if you're expecting people for dinner and you put off grocery shopping until the last minute, and then discover the grocery store closed early for Christmas Eve. It comes if you have a cold, and your kid is throwing up, and your dog was up all night having seizures and is in intensive care at the emergency vet.

Not that I would know personally.

Sadly, my sweet dog Molly is in fact spending Christmas Eve day with the emergency vet. She had multiple massive seizures last night--all night--and finally, at 5:30 this morning, she had one from which she could not recover. My husband took her to the emergency vet, where it was discovered that she had a fever of 107 and swelling in her brain. After large doses of Valium and phenobarbitol and an ice-water bath, she is now sleeping. She is expected to wake sometime this evening, at which point we will see how she is. I am afraid she may not be coming home.

We have explained the situation to the kids. We have tried to prepare them for the likely loss of the dog who has been an ever-present friend and guardian all of their lives. We have accepted that there may not be anything else we can do; dogs don't live as long as people. But for heaven's sake--did it have to be on Christmas Eve?

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Things I Didn't Know

Well. Just when you think you've got it all pegged, you take your second-grader to interview your father about his childhood and realize you don't know squat.

My dad tells a lot of stories about his very long and interesting life. Some are true, some are probably not, and most are a little of both, I suspect. I've heard them all--or so I thought. Tonight I heard some new ones. Or old ones. Depends on how you look at it.

My dad was born and raised in an Arab village on the outskirts of Jerusalem. He was born in 1927 and immigrated to the U.S., alone and penniless, in 1947, just before his country disappeared in the 1948 war that resulted in the birth of the nation of Israel. During his childhood, Palestine was a British protectorate, and Jerusalem was a cultural, religious, and strategic crossroads. His father was a police officer. They lived in a stone house without indoor plumbing, next to the Valley of the Hyenas (called that for good reason, and the source of a whole lot of truly hair-raising stories all by itself). There was a mud brick oven in the front yard and an outhouse around the side. Lest you think any of this is exaggerated, I saw the house myself, first in 1976, when his parents were still living there, and again in 1990, when I was working in Israel. I even used the outhouse. There was still no indoor plumbing in 1976--or 1990.

If you have ever been to Jerusalem, or know much about it, you know that it is unique, in that it is one city, divided into several sections, each with its own language, culture, and religion. The first school my father ever went to was a Rabbinical school for Jewish boys. He learned to read and write Hebrew and studied the Torah. He was the only Arab boy, and the target of ridicule and name-calling, until one of the Jewish boys stood up for him and refused to allow him to be bullied. They became fast friends. The boy's name was Ezer Weisman, and he grew up to be the president of Israel. In 1976, when my parents took us to visit our grandparents for the first and last time, Israeli security refused us entry into the country, until my father suggested that the security chief call Mr. Weisman (who I think was then Defense Minister for Israel). And--talk about a small country--the security chief did. He returned a short while later, very apologetic, to inform us that Mr. Weisman was ill and could not come to meet us, but that he sent his regards, and then we were escorted to a limo and driven to our hotel. True story. I was there, and I remember.

My father left the Rabbinical school when his father was transfered to another town. The reason he was transfered is a story in itself. At that time, the British Authority had decided that too many Jews were immigrating to Palestine and ordered the police to arrest any Jewish immigrants and deport them. One evening, my grandfather was on patrol near the shore of the Mediterranean Sea. He saw a young couple swim from a Greek ship offshore a few hundred yards to the shore. They were Jewish immigrants trying to sneak into the country. They were very young, and scared, and they had nothing except the wet clothes they were wearing. Instead of arresting them, my grandfather took them home with him. My grandparents fed them and gave them dry clothes (my grandmother's spare dress and my grandfather's spare suit) and sent them to bed. In the morning, my father, who was eight years old, and my grandfather took them on horseback to the local Jewish organization that helped new arrivals. But my grandfather was spotted by another police officer, who reported him. He was demoted two ranks and sent to another village.

My father then attended a French Jesuit school. He learned to read and write French and studied the Bible. He became a devotee of Jules Verne and told everyone who would listen that humans would reach the moon in his lifetime. They all laughed at him. He didn't get to stay there long, though. His grandmother discovered that, while he was fluent in Hebrew and French, he had never learned to read or write Arabic, his native language. And so he was sent to an Arabic school, where he learned to read and write Arabic and studied the Koran. Along the way, he learned also English (he doesn't remember where or how) and spent a lot of time with an old Oxford professor who admired his intellect and encouraged him to consider leaving Palestine to seek an education and a better life.

One night in 1946, Jewish Zionists (they were the terrorists back then) blew up the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, which housed the British military command and part of the British government of Palestine. My father was living less than two miles away and saw the explosion from the front yard. 91 people were killed--including many wealthy American Jews, which is ironic. The police were sent out to round up those responsible, among them a young Jewish Zionist named Menachem Begin. My grandfather was alone when he found Begin, hiding behind a pile of rocks. He was small and pathetic-looking, and my grandfather, who had his gun trained on Begin, could not bring himself to pull the trigger. As his fellow officers approached, my grandfather looked at Begin and said quietly, "Run." Whether my grandfather made the right decision depends entirely on your political position. His superiors, however, were most displeased, and he was once again demoted, this time to act as the police department's blacksmith, shoeing horses. Begin ran off and went on to help found the State of Israel, and later to serve as Prime Minister.

My father decided there was no future for him in Palestine. He left in 1947, alone, with no money, on a leaky boat that nearly sank off the shores of New York. My father, who never learned to swim, was petrified. To this day, he hates boats. He made his way to California, eventually earning both Bachelor's and Master's degrees in engineering from UC Berkeley and USC. He was granted U.S. citizenship through an act of Congress, and shortly thereafter was drafted and sent to serve overseas during the Korean war. He went on to work in nuclear weapons development; it's hard to sort out the truth about his role, since much of it is classified, but from what he has told me, he was pretty deeply involved.

Eventually, he met and married my mother and settled in San Diego, where he became a successful real estate investor. He raised five children. His parents went on living in the little stone house in Abu Dis with no plumbing and no phone until their deaths in the 1980's. (My grandfather came to visit once. It was the only time he ever left Jerusalem. He was 72 years old, and when the plane landed, he knelt in his long white robes and kissed the ground. But he was a courageous man. He tried everything he was offered and kissed everyone who came through the door. He couldn't tell me any stories, though; he didn't speak English, and I don't speak Arabic.) My father lives in a lovely house in La Jolla, complete with indoor plumbing, and overlooking the Pacific Ocean. He wears jeans and polo shirts and sneakers. He turned 80 in August. He won't be around to tell his stories to my grandchildren. I guess I'll have to do it for him.

Monday, December 17, 2007

An Impromptu FO: Newsboy Cap

"Dear Parents,
Second graders are studying immigration to America through Ellis Island. The second grade team will help to bring alive the Ellis Island experience for your child. On Tuesday, there will be a mock Ellis Island set up in the multi-purpose room. Each child will be assigned the role of an immigrant from the early 1900s. Please dress your child in clothing resembling that of the early 1900s immigrants..."
I love notes like this. They rank right up there with, "Please send in 40 cupcakes for our class party tomorrow" and "Your child has head lice." But, hey, I'm an accommodating sort (ha!), so I dug through the closets looking for something--anything--that might sort of work. Shirt? Check. Vest? Check. Cap? Uh...nope.

Not to worry.

Pattern: Berroco KAP (free pattern here)

Size: One size, for adult women. (My children have huge heads. The hat is a little big for me, but fits my seven-year-old just fine.)

Material: less than one 100 gram skein of Malabrigo Chunky. I don't know the name of the colorway, but it is chocolate brown with flecks of orange, green, blue, and yellow.

Needles: Size 10 bamboo circular (the cap is knitted flat and seamed together, though, so straights would be fine).

The pattern is kind of weird. I'm not at all sure I like the whole stack-of-pancakes look. But as a little boy's old-fashioned cap, it looks pretty cute. And it only took about three hours from start to finish! Oddly enough, my incredibly picky son actually likes it, despite how he looks in the picture. In his defense, he has a cold and wasn't all that excited about posing for me.

Friday, December 14, 2007

A Christmas Meme

I got this from Ruth (who got it from Rachel, who got it from...somewhere.) If you want to play, copy this into a new post and change the answers. What could be easier?

1. Wrapping Paper or Gift Bags?
What, you want them wrapped?!

2. Real tree or artificial?
Real. We have an artificial tree. It's on a shelf in the garage. We used it for three years, until the kids were old enough to realize it was a fake, and it's been real all the way since then.

3. When do you put up the tree?
The Saturday after Thanksgiving, or the first Saturday in December, whichever comes first.

4. When do you take down the tree?
January 1st. All the decorations come down the morning of the first. By then, I can't stand the clutter and the needles and the tree in front of the window for one more minute. The family just stays out of the way.

5. Do you like Egg Nog?
I like Eggnog lattes. Does that count?

6. Favorite gift received as a child?
My mom is the world's worst gift-giver. We almost never got toys--always socks and underwear. One year, I got a Walkman knock-off. It weighed about three pounds and had this plastic strap to hang around your neck. I think that would have to be the best thing I ever got.

7. Do you have a nativity scene?
No. But we have a tree and a menorah. My mother's family is Christian, my father's is Muslim, and my husband's is Jewish. We strive for peaceful coexistence.

8. Hardest person to buy for?
Everyone. Although I'm not as cheap as she is, I seem to have inherited my mother's lack of talent with gifts.

9. Easiest person to buy for?
Myself. I never have any trouble finding stuff I want when I'm shopping for other people. Other than that? My kids. I was done shopping for them in November.

10. Worst Christmas gift you ever received?
That would be the time I accidentally opened the underwear my mother got for my brother.

11. Mail or email Christmas Cards?
What, you want cards, too?!

12. Favorite Christmas Movie?
How the Grinch Stole Christmas (the original). He was so misunderstood.

13. When do you start shopping for Christmas?
When my anxiety over not having bought anything exceeds my anxiety over having to go shopping.

14. Have you ever recycled a Christmas present?
Yep. Why not? If I can't use it and someone else can, I think that's fair. Only if it's new, though. I wouldn't use a gift and then re-gift it.

15. Favorite thing to eat at Christmas?
I don't have one favorite, but my husband's is Snowman Mix. It's this stuff my mom makes--like Chex mix, only with M&Ms and covered in white chocolate. She stores it in a large snowman-shaped jar, hence the name. One year, my husband felt she had not made enough, as it ran out well before Christmas, so he kidnapped the snowman jar and left its hat on her doorstep with a ransom note. The ransom? Five pounds of Snowman Mix--or Frosty gets it.

16. Clear lights or coloured?
I like the clear ones, and we have them all over outside, and on the banister inside, but I have been consistently outvoted on the tree. It gets colored lights every year.

17. Favorite Christmas Song?
The Little Drummer Boy. Those ba-rum-bum-bum-bums get me every time.

18. Travel or stay home at Christmas?
Home. Home. Home. Have you ever seen the airport lines at Christmas?

19. Can you name all of Santa’s Reindeer?
Of course. I can recite "Twas the Night Before Christmas" too. I have many useless skills.

20. Angel or Star on the top of the tree?

21. Open Christmas Eve or Morning?
Christmas morning. Christmas Eve always seemed like cheating to me. And we have to take turns opening. The only exception is that the kids are allowed to plunder their stockings as soon as they wake up. I always make sure there's something in there that will keep them busy for a few extra minutes of precious sleep.

22. Most annoying thing about this time of year?
The commercials. Can anyone else sing the entire Garmin song? How about "Oh, it took two minutes, two whole minutes, two minutes shopping for your gift..."? How many times have your kids said, "Mom! Mom! I want that!" in the past two weeks?

23. What’s the corniest family tradition you do or miss doing?
When I was a kid, all my siblings and I would carefully save our coins for months so we could buy each other and our parents presents. My kids don't give presents to each other or us. It's kind of sad to me.

24. What’s the worst thing you’ve seen related to Christmas?
Ouch. Something my brother said about a present I gave him when I was eight. He was thirteen. Even after all these years, I try not to think about it.

25. Which looks best, theme trees or homey trees?
I love perfectly decorated theme trees, but I will never have one. I am perfectly content to let my kids hang their homemade ornaments from years past on the tree every year, and let visitors wonder what the heck they are.

26. Gingerbread or Sugar Cookies?

27. Do you like fruitcake?
I love it. I think I am the only person in the world who actually eats it.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Oh, Holy %$#!

I had dinner tonight with my best friend. Her birthday is Christmas Eve, so every year, I take her out to dinner sometime before the crazy round of holiday parties and activities so that we can have a chance to connect before the inevitable chaos of the season strikes in full force. We met the first day of our freshman year of high school, when we were fourteen, which makes this the 25th year that we have celebrated her birthday in this way. 25 years. That's a long time for any friendship, but especially for one where the two parties are as different as we are.

We were an odd couple from day one. Our high school was a magnet school, which, by definition, draws kids from all over the city. I grew up in upscale La Jolla. She grew up in Southeast San Diego, which is pretty much our version of a ghetto. My parents were wealthy. She never met her father, and her mother, who suffered from various physical and mental ailments, struggled to support my friend and her two siblings. When I missed the school bus, my dad would drop me off at school in his Porsche. If she missed the bus, she took a city bus--if she had a quarter. Her sister got pregnant in high school and never made it to college. Her brother was an addict by the time he was 13, and things went downhill from there for him.

But my friend went on to college, living in her car for a year when her grants ran out so that she could pay her tuition from her many part-time jobs and graduate with a B.A. I went to Harvard, where my parents picked up the tab and I lived in T.S. Eliot's old room. Later, I went to graduate school and then joined the Foreign Service. She went to EMT classes at the local community college and became first an EMT, then a paramedic, and eventually a firefighter and fire chief. I got married and had babies. She never wanted to marry or have kids, preferring to work and travel and live the free-spirited life that she loves.

Five years ago, she fell in love. She married two months later. Her husband is twenty years older than she is. He has grown children, but does not like kids and certainly didn't want to have any more, which suited her just fine.

Tonight at dinner, she commented that she has been so tired lately. A bit later, she mentioned that she hasn't had a period in four months and wondered if she might be starting menopause a tad early. Her breasts have been really sore, too, so it must be hormonal. A few minutes later, she added that she has gained a ton of weight, but it all seems to be right in her belly. At this point I put down my fork and asked, "Sweetheart, have you taken a pregnancy test?" "No," she answered, looking surprised. She's never been at all regular with her cycles (which I knew), and her husband is sterile. He had chemotherapy a few years ago. Well, okay. But maybe you should take a test anyway. Just to rule out a pregnancy. Stop at the drugstore on the way home, okay?

After dinner, I dropped her off at her car and drove home. I told my husband about the symptoms, and he just stared at me. "Well, of course she's pregnant!" he exclaimed. "Sterility from chemotherapy isn't permanent! She's going to be calling you tonight."

Sure enough, minutes later, the phone rang. "Are you sitting down?" she said. Oh yeah. She's pregnant. She took a test. She took two tests. She said they turned blue before she even set them down. And she is really, really freaked out. She will be 39 in a couple of weeks. Her husband is 58. Her 18-year-old niece is getting married Sunday, because she is three months pregnant, which means, if my friend has this baby, she will become a mother for the first time at the same time her 40-year-old sister becomes a grandmother for the first time. I'm not at all sure what to say to her, or how to help. I asked her what she is going to do (it just slipped out; how stupid), and she barely managed to squeak, "Have a baby, I guess." (To which her husband shouted "NO!" in the background.) I offered to go to the doctor with her, but I think my inability to stop saying, "Oh, my god!" probably didn't help. And if I can't think of anything more distressing at this point in my life than finding myself pregnant again, I can only imagine how she must feel.

How utterly ironic. All those years of high school and college, when we were so careful and so afraid of getting pregnant, and here we are, old married women, staring down the barrel of menopause, and now it happens. Oh, Holy %$#!.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007


I love the Death by Cables sweater. I really do. Its cables and charts and textured stitches are technically challenging and satisfyingly complex. But here's the thing. I'm...sick of it. Just a little. I mean, sometimes, I just want to sit and knit, without counting and and charting and double-checking. Sometimes I want to watch tv and just glance at my knitting once in a while, comfortable in the knowledge that the plain stockinette can pretty much take care of itself. But--and this is a bit odd--I don't seem to have anything else on the needles at the moment.

So the other night, I decided it was time--past time, really--to start something new. There is no end to the projects I want to start, and no shortage of lovely yarns calling my name from the stash. It should have been a simple thing to just pick one. It wasn't. The Central Park Hoodie is on my list, but it's a cardigan, and I'm really in the mood for a pullover. No problem. There's a cute one on the WEBS website. But it has more cables, and it's a little too cropped and fitted. I'm thinking something a bit more relaxed. How about a nice stockinette sweater coat? No, I'm looking for a quick-knit. What I want is a simple, lightly-shaped, bulky-weight pullover. I could just whip one up myself...but I'm not in the mood for pattern writing. Finally, I settle on a semi-tailored, textured jacket from Drops. It's not a pullover, but it meets most of my criteria. I pull out the gorgeous, bulky, chocolate brown baby alpaca that's been marinating in the stash since last spring, when I bought it on clearance. Happily, I cast on for a swatch.

Hmmm. The label says it's a bulky weight and claims I should be getting 3.5 stitches to the inch. I am getting 4.5 stitches to the inch, and the fabric is not at all dense. In fact, it's almost...airy. I check the label again. I check my gauge. There is no way this is bulky yarn, no matter what the label says. And there is no way I'm going to get gauge. Could I hold two strands together to get gauge? I try it. I fiddle with needle sizes. Yes, that will work. But then I won't have the yardage to finish the sweater. I go online. I look for more of this yarn. It is discontinued, and there is none to be had. I do, however, have another lot of the same yarn in a lovely berry color. Maybe I could hold the two colors together?

The gauge is good. The color? Not so much.

But I have other yarns, lots of them. Maybe this will work.

Or this.

Now I'm on a roll. I'm grabbing yarns and swatching with abandon!

Maybe dark colors are the wrong way to go. Maybe green! Maybe cream! Maybe pink!

By now, it is after 11 pm and I am tired. I have concluded that none of my yarns will work for the Drops pattern. I am back at square one. But the swatching was fun. I enjoyed playing with colors and textures, and some of the results were surprising and intriguing.

The next evening, I cast on for my new project.

A long, fitted, cabled sweater coat of my own design, in grey Noro Kochoran (this is a sleeve). Exactly what I wasn't looking for. Creativity is a fickle thing.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Get 'Em While They're Young

You know what they say: if you want to convert people, you've got to get 'em while they're young. It's not a coincidence that cult members and soldiers are recruited from high schools. You stand a much better chance of permanently affecting how people think if you start training them before they've had a chance to form their own opinions. Teaching your own children is a good start, but if you really want to have an impact, you've got to go after them in groups.

I have done my duty in the name of fiber and begun recruiting the next generation of fiberheads:

Here I am, demonstrating the fine art of spinning. This is after we talked about fiber (cotton, flax, wool, cashmere, mohair, llama, alpaca, silk...), examined unwashed fleece, petted clean fleece, and practiced carding. See the attentive little heads? That's not all of them. I had about 100 kids in two groups.

My son was in one of the groups, so I had him demonstrate knitting. The long needles--which he's never tried before--didn't stump him for long. He just tucked one under his arm and started clicking away. He was a big hit. Not quite as big as the ball-winder and swift, though, which got a spontaneous round of applause when the child doing the winding got to the end of the skein and the umbrella swift demonstrated how it got its name by flying open to its widest diameter.

Although we all know it's not as wonderful as knitting, I also demonstrated weaving on a tiny child's loom, and then read a lovely book called "How a Shirt Grew in the Field," which is an old Russian story about how flax is grown and processed and spun and woven and then sewn into a shirt for a little boy. The kids seemed really interested.

I'm not entirely sure how the whole performance went, since I was pretty busy talking and carding and spinning and knitting and and weaving and reading, but I think it went reasonably well. The kids seemed attentive and didn't wiggle too much, and they especially liked my swatches, which I passed around, and the unwashed wool, which they all agreed smelled "like the zoo."

There were a few hiccups. My first 45-minute presentation ran a little long, if you can imagine such a thing, so I had to trim my second one a bit. I forgot to mention a few things I meant to mention, and I couldn't have as many volunteers for my second talk, since I was running short on time. Passing things around was a little disruptive in both sessions, which I anticipated, but my husband (who came along for moral support) says the samples were the most interesting part, so I'm not sure how I could improve on that. All in all, I think it was a worthwhile demonstration, I was able to tie it in well with the current ancestry unit, and--most importantly--I am still in solid form, and not, as I had feared, reduced to a little puddle of shivering goo on the library floor.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

A Holiday Message

This is the gingerbread house my seven-year-old decorated. The chocolate Hannukah coins were his own addition to the pre-packaged Christmas candy. It is wholly appropriate to our unusual family. A few years ago, I wrote the following for the kids' school newspaper. It is as true now as the day I wrote it, and in the spirit of the season I want to share it with you.

A Holiday Message

The holidays are an interesting time of year at my house. Our beloved menorah holds pride of place on the mantel, just above the Christmas stockings hanging from the hooks that spell out “PEACE.” We light the Hannukah candles while Bing Crosby sings “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” on our stereo. We play dreidel in front of the Christmas tree. One year, on one particularly odd day, we attended a post-Ramadan party celebrating my cousin’s return from the Haj (the pilgrimage to Mecca that every devout Muslim is supposed to make at least once in a lifetime) after attending a neighbor’s Christmas party and before lighting the Hannukah candles.

To say my children are confused would be a vast understatement. My 3-year-old is convinced that Moses and Santa Claus are the same person. My 6-year-old thinks that we light the Hannukah candles so that Santa will be able to see when he comes down the chimney. Despite my many, long-winded explanations of the differences between the various religions devoutly practiced by the members of my large and complicated family, both of my children remain blissfully unaware that it is inappropriate to wish their Jewish uncle a Merry Christmas, or to invite their Muslim cousins to light the Hannukah candles.

They also remain unaware that, in most parts of the world, their very existence would be impossible. They are the children of a Polish/Russian Jewish father, and a mother who is equal parts Palestinian Muslim and German Catholic crossed with English Protestant. They are the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of ancient and violent enemies. They are a unique product of the American Experiment.

In my weaker—or more exhausted—moments, I sometimes wish I could offer them a simple, traditional belief system. I wish I could just tell them, “This is who we are. This is what we believe.” But in my better moments, I realize that this way of life offers them something much more precious. They are learning, firsthand, that, notwithstanding the acts of governments and fanatics, every culture, every religion, every holiday, is a celebration of life and love and family. They are learning tolerance. And my one wish for them at this time of year—my wish for all of us—is the one spelled out on my mantel: Peace.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Beats Being a Gnome

Which mythological creature is most like you? (with pics!)
created with
You scored as Nymph

You shy away from humans, preferring to be with animals and nature. You hate the fact that humans have destroyed most of the wild. You are only free when you are away from humans.









































Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Biting Off More Than I Can Chew

The past two days have not been so good. The morning after our little flood, my husband came down with a nasty stomach bug and has been completely out of commission. In my somewhat desperate and almost certainly futile efforts to keep the kids from getting it, I have spent a possibly unreasonable amount of time spraying things with disinfectant and saying things like, "Stay away from Dad! He's infected!" and "Wait! Don't touch that!" and (to my husband), "Wouldn't you like to just stay in this room and not leave it at all? Call me on my cell if you need anything."

He is feeling somewhat better today, so I left him lying on the sofa and took a little trip to the sheep farm. I got these:

And this:

And this:

And some of this:

Why, you ask? Because my younger son is in second grade. Not following, huh? In our school district, second grade is when they do the "ancestry unit." This is my favorite unit. The kids learn about their ancestors and how they lived. They do stuff like interview their grandparents, play at being immigrants on a mock-Ellis Island, take part in an assembly put on by the local historical society in which they put on old-fashioned clothing and learn the rules of the one-room school house, and go on a field trip to San Diego's Old Town. This year, in a moment of what I can only explain as temporary insanity, I suggested to my son's teacher that maybe I could come in and demonstrate spinning and knitting--common old-time handwork that most kids have probably never seen. I was envisioning bringing my spinning wheel and needles into my son's class, sitting down for 15 or 20 minutes, and playing with fiber while talking to the 20 kids I volunteer with every week.

Next thing I know, I am scheduled for two 45-minute presentations with 50 kids each, plus teachers and staff, in the school library.

It occurred to me this morning--at 5:30 this morning, coming abruptly out of a sound sleep--that there is no way I can fill 45 minutes with fiber-related material that will keep 50 second-graders meaningfully-engaged and (maybe more importantly) sitting quietly. I had a small panic attack. I am one of those people who fear public speaking more than death. One might wonder, then, why I would volunteer for such an assignment.The simple answer is, sitting in my son's class for 15 minutes is not public speaking. Doing a 45-minute presentation in the school library for people (even children) I don't know is. I can't tell you at what point a simple, fun demo becomes an anxiety-producing public speaking event, but it's somewhere between 15 and 45 minutes.

Since my dignity will not allow me to call the teacher and explain that I am a coward and will probably melt into a little puddle of shivering goo if she makes me get up there in front of a group of seven-year-olds, I did the next best thing. I sat down and wrote out a presentation outline worthy of a PhD dissertation. And then I drove to the sheep farm for props. This will be a presentation to remember. I have pictures. I have fiber. I have samples. I have unwashed wool, uncarded wool, carded wool, and roving. I have hand carders and a spinning wheel and knitting needles and crochet hooks. I will have volunteers and demonstrations, and if all else fails, I have a book to read to them.

Bring it on. And just in case I really do melt into a little puddle of shivering goo, bring a mop.

Monday, December 3, 2007

How Not to Get a Good Night's Sleep

I love to sleep. I need to sleep. I crave sleep. Even as a toddler, I had to be dragged out of bed every morning by my older sister, whose job it was to make my bed before she went to school. When I got older, my father would wake us all at an ungodly hour and keep coming back until we got up, so I cleared out my closet and installed a sleeping bag in the bottom. After he came in the first time, I would crawl into the closet and close the door. He'd come back, see the empty bed, and assume I was up and about somewhere. In college, I would warn my new roommates not to wake me for any reason short of natural disaster. I am not a nice person when awakened out of a sound sleep. I barely survived the baby years. It's all a blurry fog of sleep deprivation and midnight diaper-changes and nursing six times a night. Now that I make my own bed, my father lives across town, I don't have roommates, and my kids are old enough to pour their own cereal, I am very protective of my sleeping time. So when my husband woke me at 2am and said, "You're not going to be happy about this," I was pretty sure he was right.

Sophie wet the bed.

This would be bad enough if Sophie were a toddler with a leaky diaper. Unfortunately, Sophie is a 110 pound Newfoundland dog with a bladder the size of a tanker truck. And she had a lot to drink before she went to bed. In our bed. Between the two of us. After she had already wet her own bed. 2am is not the time to discover that your Newfoundland has an incontinence problem--trust me on this.

For a few, sleep-hazed moments, I considered just going back to sleep with the idea of hanging onto the edge so I wouldn't roll into the small lake in the center of the bed. Propped up on an elbow, starting blearily at the bed, I reluctantly accepted the fact that I would, at some point, want to turn over, and that landing in a pool of cold dog pee probably wouldn't make me any happier.

I got up and surveyed the extent of the damage. She was sleeping on the dog blanket that I drape over the bed every night to protect it from dirty paws and shed hair. Although it works fine for this purpose, it was not up to the task she put it to last night. The leak soaked through the dog blanket, through the top of the duvet cover, through the down comforter, through the bottom of the duvet cover, through the top sheet, through the bottom sheet, through the mattress pad, and into the mattress. In other words, every item of bedding, as well as the mattress, was soaked. Even in my semi-conscious state, it was obvious that everything would need to be washed. And since I just washed every single piece of bedding on the bed last week, I know that, even with my "canyon capacity" washer, it takes four loads to wash it all. There was no way we were sleeping in that bed for at least a day.

Fortunately, we have a guest room with a queen sized bed and clean bedding. We stripped the bed, sprayed the mattress liberally with Nature's Miracle, threw in the first of many loads of laundry, and stumbled into the guest room. After a little fussing and adjusting, we got ourselves settled in what used to be our bed. We slept in that bed for more than eight years. But you know, it seems to have shrunk. Every time either of us moved, the other woke up. I got an elbow in the ear and once awoke just as I was falling (or being shoved) out of bed. My husband complained that I "socked" him and that I was "flopping around like a sick mackerel." I don't think he found it endearing.

I finally gave up on the sleeping idea at 6:30 this morning, when Sophie leapt up onto the bed, with the clear intention of going back to sleep herself, and landed squarely on my bladder. I staggered down the stairs, mainlined some coffee, and got to work.

Dogs. You've gotta love 'em.