Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The making, take 1

For the better part of a decade, I’ve cast on cardigans and cables for the babies of friends and family. In the process—whether sitting on an overcrowded Delta flight to LAX or in a  stuffy jury room in Center City, Philadelphia—I’ve tried to imagine the little creature for whom I’m crafting. Usually this means imagining a miniature version of my friend or my cousin, and inevitably, when I meet the child, I’m struck by just how wrong my image was. The child is some other version entirely, a creature all her own.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Bronson Alcott lately (father of Louisa) and his contention that “the child is the book.” Channeling European romantics, Alcott believed that every child arrives already endowed with the essence of her being. The truth of her soul is always already there. The parent, then, becomes a guide for the child’s process of revelation, revelation to the parent and to the world of that soul, of that “book.”

I’ve been thinking about Alcott as I scour the local used bookstore for children’s classics, like Mog, the Forgetful Cat (what a gem!). I’ve been imagining J, and Homer, and the baby snuggled together on the teal couches, reading Mog again and again. I’ve also been thinking about Alcott as I keep my needles in constant action. I shouldn’t admit this, but I’ve been simultaneously knitting and reading term papers.

There are many projects to catalog here, but I'll start with just one for today.

This little number is the puerperium cardigan. It's a free pattern on ravelry. A friend in my knitting group who is expecting a boy in January tried it first and I thought hers rather ingenious. So I pulled out a lovely, variegated skein that I bought this fall in Vermont (my treat to self after just through a talk). It's smooth and tiny, just right for a late March baby.

But I mention Bronson Alcott and puerperium cardigans in the same post because knitting for my own child feels a strange mix of wanting to impose a certain aesthetic from the start (I do romanticize the age of homespun) but also being weary of imposing too much. I suspect that this will be my biggest challenge as a parent: wanting to heed Alcott's advice but being a bit too anxious to always let that soul emerge organically.

Monday, December 3, 2012


It’s been a long time. I won’t make excuses. I’ve turned to other places, other venues to exorcise my angst and my creative energies this semester. But I still feel drawn to writing here, if only in fits and starts. My most recent hesitation arises from an inevitability. This blog, one that was born shadowing my solo life in Philadelphia and then gained only a tentative hold on my married life in Kentucky, is soon to morph into a story of another sort.

This one. I know some will mourn the transition of this space into yet-another-mediocre-oversharing-mommy-blog, but I figure there are so few still left reading, that I can simply reinvent this modest space without too much resistance. I've long been intellectually interested in mommy blogs and what better way to explore their strangeness than participating in the genre? At the very least, I figure this little person (who appears to be a perfect mini replica of J) might well give me back some motivation to scribble here.

Having single-handedly kept the child-rearing and natural birthing sections in the black for the last couple months, I’m confident that I’ll have absolutely nothing new to add to the conversation. But I do need an outlet for knitting projects and children's literature ramblings. And our stumbling through parenthood this spring may prove amusing, if nothing else. Take, for instance, our visit last month to the doctor. Seated in a back waiting room, J and I looked up to find this watching over us:

This was the punchline after a long, tiring week of navigating the Kentucky maternal healthcare system. Ultimately, everything turned out just fine and we expect a chromosomally-appropriate baby in March. But twice in one week we were told to “have faith” and to “trust God,” at the doctor's office. The Lord walked precariously close to each of these conversations as well. When we asked routine questions about the health of our baby, we received cryptic messages about the beauty and the magic of the limits of human knowledge. When I tried to press the case, I experienced bald sexism that would have seemed a parody had I not been its object. I've spent the last few weeks fantasizing about surreptitiously adding neon label to my medical file. It would read: “Feminist, agnostic patient married to a Jew. Resist the urge to frame diagnoses with any of the following: God, Jesus, magic, salvation, mystery, faith, or Walmart.”

Ah Kentucky, ah reproduction.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

A year of Homer

When J and I were out walking this afternoon, I asked him if he thought that we constantly raved about Homer because he was objectively great or if we were just hopelessly, slavishly in love with our first shared dependent. Had we become those parents who are blinded to their children’s deficits? Had we lost all reason in the face of our beloved?

J said that he thought Homer was an archetypal cute dog. He leveled the evidence of random passersby who tell us how beautiful our little mutt is. He didn’t, though, start out this way. When he came into our lives one year ago—after a fortuitous rescue on the side of a road—he was bald with mange and bug bites. He was malnourished and probably dehydrated. He may have been left behind by a pack of wild dogs. He may have been turned outside by owners once they knew he was sick (this is common practice in Kentucky). Even though friends called him the ugliest puppy ever, we instantly fell for this mangy mutt.

His hair began to grow back as soon as he was treated for mange (it wasn't the contagious kind, but rather, the kind that all puppies inherit from their mothers, but that most with healthy immune systems can keep in check). The disease came back in December and so he recently completed another three-month course of medicine.

Homer's most primal love is the water. He swims every day at the creek during our runs. He also loves, loves, loves the bath. I think that we first discovered this in November. Once it gets cold, I love taking a bath each night. As it turns out, so does Homer. He first casually sauntered over and licked the water during that inaugural bath. Then he backed up, galloped, and flung himself into the warm tub with me. Now it's a real chore to keep him out of the bath (sometimes a lady likes bathing alone!).
Homie began life by sleeping in a crate. He then graduated to the blue couch (now known as Homer's couch), and then about a month ago—and without prompting—he decided that he'd prefer to sleep on the tempur-pedic with us. He mostly likes curling up between us or at my feet. We momentarily talked about breaking this habit, but really, who can resist this guy?

The best part about Homer is that he's so loving. After spending more than a decade with an aloof (albeit marvelously devoted) hound, I'm really enjoying sharing my life with a pup who just wants to be cuddled and kissed. And cuddled and kissed some more.

We're looking forward to many, many more years with this guy. Happy 1st anniversary with "your people" Homer!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

USPS love

This summer has been all about small improvements around the house. I love having the time to check things off my list and I should have gotten to this one much sooner. When we moved in, we had this rusting beauty right out front: 

It stayed just like that for an entire year. I had planned to replace both the mailbox and the post. But the box itself was completely rusted to the post and the post is absurdly secured in cement. I thought about simply cutting the post off at the ground, but decided to just see what I could do with a little spray paint. The stakes and my expectations were low.

What an improvement three cans of spray paint and some new numbers (from here) made! I'm loving the clean, modern numbers and I like to think of this as my little aesthetic gift to my postal carrier who is surely assaulted each day by horrible fonts. The post still leans back a bit, but we're living with it for at least another year. Three cheers for the miracle of spray paint!

Monday, May 28, 2012

After a lovely, much-needed visit to college pals in Omaha last week (what a fabulous place to live!), I returned yesterday to host a surprise baby “sprinkle.” It certainly wasn’t a shower: no edible turds, no due date games, nary a word about bottles or diapers or strollers. Instead, it was just the women I’ve come to know through our weekly stitching group gathered for a quiet celebration of a friend’s upcoming delivery.

I’ve wanted to write about my stitching group all year. I’ve thought about surreptitiously photographing the gang, but subtlety is not my strong suit and I suspect this gang might shy away from the camera. Mostly, I’ve wanted to photograph all of the fabulous things that get made each week and each month over the course of the year. For this occasion, I invited each of us to make a little something for our expectant member. I wish I had taken pictures of all of the fabulous treats she received: reversible pants with beautiful hand-dyed indigo, felted teething rings with a lovely wooden handle, a plant-dyed (in about nine shades!) soft toy that was stunning, and a little striped cardigan that I whipped up from my stash.
I clumsily (again, subtlety not my thing) got our guest of honor to reveal her favorite kind of cake a couple weeks ago. She was unhesitating: flourless chocolate cake and anything lavender. I had no experience with either, but I snipped a few lavender sprigs from another member's garden and infused the cream before chilling it. After reading countless flourless cake recipes, I went with a smittenkitchen recommendation of this one. Everyone raved about it, so unless they were lying, it will be my recipe of choice from here on out. It's really a small miracle that cake. And of course, I needed some babies for it:

J and I woke up a bit early and made three grainy, hearty salads. I should post the recipes, but save for one from my bible (Supernatural Everyday), everything else was from J's head. We did a chickpea, carrot, radish one on local greens, a not so potato potato salad, and a quinoa and lots of fresh herbs salad. Another member made a loaf of fresh bread and brought lemonade. It was a tasty spread for a surprise Memorial Day-not-so-baby-baby-sprinkle (and I had an excuse to use my beloved cake plate!).

Monday, May 21, 2012

In bloom May

I've been wanting to record our early summer blooms, especially because this is the first real year of my garden and I want to keep track of what works and what doesn't. Foxglove, planted in the fall, seem happy in Kentucky and I was feeling particularly proud of these guys (I have three) until I went on the garden tour and realized that my foxglove are the wimpiest in town. I'm hoping, though, that they magically multiply before next spring. They started to bloom in late April and are just about done now.

We inherited both of these with the house. The modest top guy is bronze fennel (surrounded by some unknown variegated ground cover). My friend Katie gave me more of the fennel, so I'm not sure which is hers and which was here to begin with. It smells wonderful and I can imagine that if disentangled from its captors, it could be quite beautiful on its own. The day lilies were everywhere when we moved in, front and back. I dug up half a dozen huge clusters in the front and gave them to a friend in March. In retrospect, I probably should have transplanted them to the back. But I was feeling generous and she was in need. J and I agree that day lilies look terrific for about a week once a year and like spindly crap the rest of the time. The back is largely neglected and so these have gotten a stay of execution for at least another year. 

Last fall Molly and I transplanted two or three enormous grasses from the side yard to the back (photo to come). We broke the two clumps into six and they're thriving, but last weekend I added this purple veronica between them (because they were 50% off at Lowe's and added some much-needed cheer to the grass). I'm worried that they won't get enough sun back there, but we'll see.
There are also two big pots in the back that my Mom and I put together when she was here in April. Unfortunately, I can't remember any of the names of these annuals, save for the racist "china town" (the two red spikes in the back). We bought all of the annuals from an Amish family in Crab Orchard, Kentucky. And I may or may not have gotten us lost trying to get there... 

I've spent most of my time thinking about the narrow front beds. They're about two and a half feet wide and totally flat. It's hard to get many floral conversations happening in such a narrow space, especially if you incline toward the overgrown cottage look. This year I'm just trying out things, knowing that I'll move a lot at the end of the season. I have two varieties of bell flowers (middle photo), one purple and one very, very light lavender, a few nasturtium from the college plant sale, and deep pink yarrow. I also have a yellow and white section with daisies, tansy, feverfew, and tickseed, but those aren't yet in bloom.
Mom and I also bought (thanks Mom!) two knock-out roses. These bloom and bloom and bloom. They may lack the character of older, more fragrant varieties, but I'm sold on their ability to produce constantly. In between the roses are two squat butterfly bushes that are also in bloom but which I don't have a good photo.

There are also a bunch of random orphans that I've thrown in willy-nilly. I love yellow yarrow and I wanted to pair it with the daisies, but I couldn't fit them together. Instead, I found this shorter orange zinnia at the farmer's market. I like the grouping, but it doesn't work as well with my neighboring pink roses. So the yarrow may move after the season is up.

There's a nice little cluster under the mailbox: cat mint, rosemary, butter and eggs (photo to come), and a bit of gooseneck lysimachia. 

Thursday, May 17, 2012


I wish that I were one of those professors who loved academic writing. I wish that I felt renewed by its challenges and I wish that I eagerly anticipated vacations when I could devote myself wholly to it. Instead, I feel tremendous anxiety when a vacation is approaching because I know that I’ll need to turn back to my writing and that makes me queasy. So this week, faced with the unsavory challenge of turning a 23,000-word chapter into an 8,000-word article for an edited volume, I have returned to my robust program of self-bribery.

In this week’s iteration, I’m allowing myself one washer worth of winding for every half an hour that I spend on this article. And so this necklace develops bit by bit. My sister decided on gray and red for her wedding, colors that work well for elegant cheer.  And slated to wear a gray bridesmaid frock, I decided to add bit of color around the neck.

 A trip to Lowe's and $1.33 later, I ended up with a small pouch of washers. I had a bunch of embroidery floss—the $.40 variety—and some superglue. I had seen a picture of something similar online, but I couldn't seem to remember where and so much of this is trial and error. I've realized that I'm not a great winder and that it's frustratingly difficult to get the connections just right.

 I still haven't figured out the mechanics of adding this to a chain of some sorts. I'm thinking that I'll add a couple of jump rings to the ends and then go to Lexington's bead shop and buy a sterling chain and clasp. I'm worried that it might look too crafty for a wedding, but we'll see once its done and I can model it here. 

Okay, my time is up. It's back to the article.

Sunday, May 13, 2012


There are great things about being a professor in the middle of Kentucky: May, June, July, most of August, few distractions, no urban attractions, and the time to enjoy slow afternoons in the field. The mosquitoes haven't yet arrived and the humidity has remained at bay. The students are gone and our quiet town has become downright sleepy. We're settling into the pace of summer (yes, early May is summer in these parts!). J is writing a lot. I'm resting a lot. I know that I have much to do: three more new classes to plan and two articles to massively revise. But first, I'm taking a breather.

I'm reading crappy novels in bed. I'm berry-picking. I'm garden touring. I'm stitching. I'm cooking. I'm jogging and breathing and generally enjoying my poorly paying but richly relaxing summer holiday.

And it's only week two!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Coming out

I’m like a 22 year-old gymnast trying to stage a comeback just before the Olympics. I can’t really compete with the 15 year-old pixies whose bodies remain lean and limber. But I’m trying to come out of retirement for one more moment of glory. And I’ve been thinking about just what event—which competition—merited a comeback to this space. Everything seemed just shy of enough.
Like that rainy day in March when the miraculous happened: a self-peeling banana showed up in my fruit bowl. It was so unexpected, so delightful that I contemplated it as the object of my return. But then I thought, "A banana, really?" After five months of silence a banana seemed hardly to suffice. It lacked personal interest and what really could I say about this miracle of fruit (other than I was too freaked out to actually eat it)?

The same problem plagued my other March miracle. I woke one morning to find the "weeds" that I had been pulling all last summer had transformed themselves into rosy bleeding hearts. I tried to write about this, but kept recurring to cheesy lines about hearts that never die. I couldn't help but writing cliches and so I gave up before I posted.

But in April there was a much anticipated reunion of our canine lovers, a sure thing to get me back to blogging. For several months we prepared Homer for Lucy's visit. Every time he was naughty, we threatened him with the notion that Lucy would have to stay at home. And yet, she arrived--with her humans in tow--and Homer had 72 glorious hours of romping, humping (Homer is, needless to say, always a bottom), squirrel-chasing, and co-sleeping. But even this somehow lacked the compelling visual interest to get me back here.

And then there was a whole lot of quick making, but taken one project at a time, I couldn't justify ending retirement for so paltry an offer. The world is a fertile place these days and I found myself scrambling at the last minute(s) to finish these:

The quick making, though, seemed to zap all of my energy (not to mention the three new classes, the housework, the reading, the annual spring blues). I wanted to come out of retirement with a glorious culinary feat, but J and I have lived on beans, tacos, and mediocre avocados for several months now.

So here's the rub: no one project, no single event, no stunning read is enough to get me back here when I've been gone so long. My only hope is that by checking in more often, I won't need the Olympics to compel my return. Instead, I'll again find the prosaic enough to get me here...and hopefully keep me.