Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas

From Bella the Sumo Kitty

and the Entire Staff

of the Knitting Asylum

















"Sorry, but I have absolutley no idea what happened to the little white pom-pom on top. Now, may I please remove this ridiculous headdress?"

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Happy Dump-mas!

This is the season of rollercoaster weather here in the southeastern part of the United States. While other people are having "fall," and people in Hawaii are having "tropical," we are having a thing called Winterfallspringwinterfallfallwinterspringfall.

You can tell you're in Louisiana if you have icicles on the camellias one day ...























and fog like this at dusk two days later ...



















...and you should have seen it the next morning. It was like trying to see through a milkshake, just looking out the kitchen window. I suspect that this is the "brooding Southern beauty" that Jo of Celtic Memory Yarns is so fond of.

Winterfallspringwinterfallfallwinterspringfall is confusing for creatures of a botanical inclination. The fall blooming flowers bloom, and then they get iced on. Since it is still summer at the end of September, the trees don't remember to start changing color till Halloween, and then, lazy things that they are, they wait until the first real freeze to realize that their leaves are supposed to come down, and because Winterspringfallwinterfallfallwinterspringfall is really a bit of a mouthful, this is when we have a season called

"Dump"

which lasts exactly 72 hours.

Now I have been up North during "fall."

"Fall" is when the air gets crisp and windy, and the trees turn bright colors, and, a little at a time, in nice leafy flurries, they shed their garb over a period of several weeks in a modest botanical burlesque.

"Dump" is kind of like "fall" in that the leaves do fall off the trees, but it's just that the weather down here provides the poor trees with no real clue as to which season it actually is from one day to the next, until one day, one of the trees (it's usually a sycamore) wakes up and hollers out to the rest of them,

"HOLY CRAP IT'S THE MIDDLE OF DECEMBER AND WE STILL HAVE LEAVES!!!!"

Unlike the slow and sultry feather-dance of Northern trees, Southern trees rip their clothes off all at once, like a couple of profoundly drunk college students after a kegger, and they dump all of their garb in one big, whooshy pile all over your roof and driveway, usually at about three o'clock in the morning.

"Whump."

It wakes you up.

"Dump" always happens right after you have cut your grass and cleaned your yard, and the next morning your driveway looks like this:




















Over the next 71 hours, the wind will divest the trees of the very few tenacious leaves who were afraid to jump, and Dump will be over, as fast as it began.

Which allows us to have "winter," or what passes for it down here.

And speaking of which, today is the Solstice, when people the world over celebrate the return of the sun. It is a day when our most ancient instincts call out to us, regardless of the faith we were raised in. At very least we will note that the calendar says it is the first day of winter.

But most people will find themselves outdoors a bit today, without even knowing why. Christians, Jews and persons of all denominational flavors, knowingingly or unknowingly, will today find themselves answering some primal call, in some small way, a response to a tiny cry from the collective subconscious.

It may manifest in an urge to take a brisk walk around the neighborhood and breathe deeply of the crisp air, or a sudden desire to build a fire and meditate in its soft light. You may light a candle for no particular reason, and reach spontaneously for a refreshing adult beverage, even if you're normally not inclined to tipple. You may find yourself tracking a bird in flight and, just for one moment, imagine yourself in the bird's place, soaring over the winter landscape. Or perhaps you will find yourself in your yard or the nearby woods, with a sharp knife in hand, gathering evergeen branches to grace your home for the holidays.

A Happy Solstice to all.

--Mambocat

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Do not stop here.
Go directly to Yarn Harlot.

Today is not about the Knitting Asylum.

Today is about being part of a much bigger thing:




















Author Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, better known as the Yarn Harlot, has raised a challenge for all knitters.

To date, she has raised $120,000 for Doctors Without Borders through her blog. Her holiday challenge this year is to double that amount.

I will add my own challenge to go just a little further, and help her top the quarter-million-dollar mark.

Click directly here to connect to Yarn Harlot and read her December 15 post, "The Return of the Light."

Read the entire post, and follow the donation instructions.

Come back to the Knitting Asylum tomorrow, and I will tell you more about Dave's sweater, Mom's Einstein, and the glorious fact that my car is home for Christmas.

--Mambocat

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Winn-Dixie Check-Out Truthiness

Today we have a quickie blog post because it was a long, weird, day involving yet another driver running into my vehicle du jour, this time while I was not even in it.

This time it was a hit-and-run driver, which is almost as good as an uninsured stripper (see my November 21 post).

But more on the car later. I just can't talk about cars right now without stammering and drooling and looking for things to break.

Good thing I already put away Mom's china.

Today I went to Winn-Dixie, among other things.

You know how sometimes you are standing in line in the grocery, and the total stranger in front of you, who is flipping through a magazine, suddenly turns around and requests your opinion on something amazing in People, Time, or Cosmo?

That person is usually me -- except I am the one who is knitting out of my purse and waving a sharp needle at the cover of the magazine to be sure your attention is correctly focused.

But today I got the tables turned on me. The lady in front of me spun around and thrust in my face a tabloid with a big ole honkin' picture of Britney Spears on the cover, and these were her exact words:

Magazine Lady: "Hey, ya see this headline?" The Magazine Lady is pointing to the cover and reading it out loud: "Britney's Parents Plead With Her To Stop Partying With Paris Hilton Before She Loses Custody of Kids!"

Me: "I'd love to hear that conversation..."

Magazine Lady: "What do her parents expect her to do, go home to Kentwood** and act like she was brought up right? Honey, she didn't learn how to act like trash in California, that's how she got there!"

--Mambocat

** I feel obliged to add an explanatory note for readers not hailing from Louisiana. If Britney had not become famous, she would, at this exact point in the space-time continuum, be hearing something eerily similar from her mother: "Britney, if you don't quit working at that strip club and stop partying all night with that girl 'Destiny,' the courts are gonna take away your kids!"

Same conversation. Less money.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Wooly Things and
Tinkly Things

Have a look at the start of the corrugated-rib sleeve of Dave 's sweater in LaLana's
Forever Random. I am using two closely related colorways: one is mostly sandstone colors with a sprinkling of spruce and sage green. The other is mostly sage and spruce, with a bit of sandstone.


















I am cranking away madly at this, because it is a Christmas gift. When I say "cranking away madly," I mean that I am knitting on Dave's sweater every single minute that I am not working, cooking, doing the rest of Christmas, brushing my teeth, finishing the work on Mom's house, driving, feeding cats, paying bills, knitting Mom's Einstein, going to the store, taking a shower, or sleeping, which I really need to do soon, because it is midnight already. But first I have to run the pipes, because it is still phrasin.'

I love this yarn. Love. It.

It is soft and dyed with natural plant dyes. It retains lanolin from the sheep which provided the fleece. It makes me feel peaceful as it flows through my fingers. The colors are wonderful. I tried a photo against a light background first, but the colors looked funny, so I placed the sleeve on a maple chair and the photo came out fairly true to color. I love the way it looks like the colors of the woods in autumn.

I even hauled the sweater down to Mom's house so I could work on it for awhile when I took a break from helping her get re-settled in her house, now that nearly all of the repair work is done.

Now that we are moving things back into Mom's freshly-repaired kitchen, one of the matters that needs to be addressed is what to do about the dishes. Because of the tree falling on the house, what was left of the kitchen got rained into, and what didn't get broken, got mildewed and molded on, and then it got packed away until now.

New Orleanians are calling this dried-on gunk "Katrina Crud." The natives spend a lot of time swapping tips for removing it. The big winners are:

1. Dawn dishwashing liquid, sinkfuls and bathtubs full of warm water, and a good long soak therein, for anything too delicate to put in the dishwasher.
2. Cascade 2-in-1 Action Packs for anything that conceivably can be put in the dishwasher, followed by a bleach cycle.
3. Oxyclean for anything of the fabric persuasion
4. Bleach. Rivers of bleach.
5. Nail brushes, old toothbrushes and baby bottle brushes.

In addition to all this, in my own personal regimen, everything gets a final soak in veterinary sanitizer, and then a good rinse, before it goes back on the shelves. I firmly believe in veterinary sanitizer. I know what it does to scary microbes out there that most people don't know about.

Even if you live in the un-flooded slice of New Orleans, you still had a fair representation of creeping mold on just about everything in your house, if you got any water intrusion from broken windows or a damaged roof. So anything you might possibly eat or drink out of -- like Granny's china in the dining room cabinets -- needs The Treatment, and all the furniture and carpet needs to be cleaned and freshened as well.

China is scary. I am flat-out terrified of china and crystal, and always have been.

Being in charge of cleaning all the Katrina Crud off my mother's dainty, breaky, tinkly things makes me more than just a little bit nervous. For the first decade or so of my life, I was forbidden to go anywhere near it.


























For my readers in Oz, I thought I'd celebrate cleaning this stuff without breaking it, by having a nice glass of South Australian Shiraz.

A lot of this stuff used to reside in the parlor belonging to my father's mother. On 363 days of the year, Grandma Margaret permitted children to do precisely one thing in her parlor: walk directly through it.

On Christmas, you went in there to open your presents and on Easter you went in there while you still had your church clothes on, to have punch and cookies from the Italian bakery.

Under no circumstances were you to touch anything that was on a shelf, in a cabinet, or on a side table.

This is the same stuff.


I know what you're thinking: "Don't be silly. You're all grown up now, with grey hair and reading glasses and everything. It's different. You'll be fine."

Before you continue on that path of kindly thoughts, I should tell you that, right this very minute, am nursing a couple of bruised ribs on my starboard side, that I sustained in a dumpster-related incident.

You see, I needed boxes for some of my office stuff. So I went to the dumpster at the LWS (local wine shop) because they always are inundated with nice, clean, empty boxes, which you can just pick off the top of the pile. However, on this occasion, the dumpster-dumping service apparently had arrived earlier in the day, so the dumpster was not quite as full as usual, and then, so I could be taller, I stacked up some of those red plastic crates the Coca-Cola people deliver 2-liter bottles in, and ... let's just say that this is not an OSHA-approved use for red plastic Coke crates, and that red plastic Coke crates are especially not designed to make you taller unless you weigh a little less than I do. But don't worry -- it's only a bruise, and I didn't need to do anything even more embarrassing, like go to the doctor and try to explain it.

So, remembering those dumpster-related bruises, if you want to get a really good idea of what it's like to put me in charge of delicate vases and crystal glasses and Grandma's eggshell-thin china, try to imagine putting Steve Irwin in charge of a tea party.

In the field.

With crocodiles.

Ordinarily, the only remotely dainty thing I do is knitting lace, and I do not even do this in a dainty manner, unless swearing and throwing it across the room counts as "dainty."

There is another critical consideration in lace-making:

I cannot break it.

I can drop it, squish it, frog it, cuss at it, stretch it, sit on it, stain it, abuse it, screw it up, rip it out, steek it, felt it, spill things on it, and possibly even tear it if I tried hard enough.

But I cannot break lace just by breathing on it.

The same is not true of Mom's tinkly things.

I look at this stuff and try to imagine a time when people actually used this stuff on anything but the highest occasions. Did people ever actually slow down enough to pour water into a delicate glass pitcher, and from that into delicate stemware, which was lifted ever so carefully to the lips? Was there ever a time when people could keep cups and saucers in the same place, without carrying them all over the house to set upon countertops and desks, to slurp at their coffee while they did something else?

Did people ever actually do one thing at a time?


Washing these things forces me to do one thing at a time, and I suspect that my blood oxygen level drops considerably from holding my breath while doing so.

Somehow, I got through boxes and boxes of plates and glasses and suchlike almost uneventfully.

Except for one item.

I put one of a pair of Granny's white porcelain flower vases into a sinkful of lukewarm water. By itself, with a rubber pad on the bottom of the sink. Very gently. Didn't bounce it. I let it soak for awhile and then I came back with a nail brush.

The other vase had come out just fine.

But when I picked this one up, a piece fell off.

I panicked for a second, and then I studied the miscreant piece of porcelain

There was a trace of brown substance around the edges.

I stared at it incomprehensibly, and then the light bulb went on. Long ago, someone had broken it, and glued it back on with the kind of glue you make from boiled horses or something like that. Ugh. The glue had dissolved in the warm water, and thusly the piece fell off.

Whoever did this long-ago repair job did it well, because I had never noticed the repair before. When I showed it to Mom, she didn't remember noticing it either.

So I washed the component parts and allowed them to dry thoroughly.

Superglue to the rescue.

At home today, I had a cursory look at our own dishes.

Dave and I have some nice, white, textured china, passed down from Dave's Mom when we got married, which is thick enough to not be frightened of, and which can be placed in the dishwasher, but we hardly ever use that because it is too nice. We had an exceedingly informal wedding, so we didn't register for crystal and all kinds of stuff like that.

We also have some of Dave's Granny's china, which is waywayway too delicate for me to put red beans and rice in. That stuff stays in the china closet, along with the matching teacups.

Our own wineglasses came from the restaurant supply store. There is good reason for this.

Otherwise, most of our dishes look like this:
























Me-proof.

--Mambocat


Monday, December 04, 2006

Phrasin.'

For folks in the Northern part of the United States and in other countries, "freezing" is the point where water becomes solid. This happens at 32 degrees Fahrenheit or 0 degrees Celsius, depending on your national or scientific affiliations.

In the American South, you have "freezing" and you have "phrasin.'" "Freezing" is what you do with the catfish after you clean them.

"Phrasin'" is a measure of weather. "Phrasin'" does not only mean that the temperature is below the ice-making point. "Phrasin'" means that the wind is blowing, and/or that there is some sort of precipitation, and the house is drafty, and the kids are running around outside without their coats on and will catch their deaths, because it is phrasin.'

This means that it is definitely cold enough for a coat and sweater, and possibly long underwear as well. For example, "Russell, put your coat and sweater on , it is phrasin' outside!"

Phrasin' is always uttered in bold paranthesis, with an exclamation point after the sentence in which it is used. If it's phrasin' and the wind is blowing and it is also sleeting, it becomes a three-syllable word: "Laurie, don't you dare go outta this house without a hat on, it is fuh-raisin' outside!"

This is the time of year when I wonder:

Just exactly at what point do you folks up North think it is phrasin' enough to wear wool?

How deeply cold does it have to be?

I see y'all carrying on about this on the KnitList and KnitU all the time, just fretting away like a mockingbird who's discovered the rubber snake you put in the pear tree:

"Dear fellow knitters, I hope you can help me. I have a friend who lives in Mississippi and she wants a sweater for Christmas but I don't know what kind of yarn to use because you just can't ever wear wool down there because it never gets cold. I have no idea what to knit for her, whatever shall I do? Thanks so much, Judy in North Dakota"

Dear Judy in North Dakota: I am in Baton Rouge, about 45 minutes south of the Mississippi border. Right this very minute, we have a stiff wind from the North and ice crystals are forming in the water dish we keep outside near the food for the feral cats we manage. It is phrasin.'! So you go right ahead and knit your Mississippi friend a wool sweater, and in a few minutes, I will put on a sweater so I can begin a Southern ritual called:

Running The Pipes

If you're not from here, "Running The Pipes" might sound vaguely familiar. I'm imagining one of my readers up in Wisconsin calling out down the hall: "Honey ... running the pipes ... isn't that something they do at Celt-Fest after they have the sheep-herding exhibitions and serve the Haggas? Is it like hurling?"

Agreed, "Running the Pipes" does sound like something involving horses, bagpipes, whiskey and men in kilts.

But it's not nearly that interesting. "Running the pipes" means running around your house trickling every single faucet so that a steady stream runs all night, and leaving your lawn sprinkler on all night, too, so that the continuous flow of water through your pipes will keep them all from exploding from the expansion of the gradually freezing liquid carried within, and prevent you from having to take out a second mortgage on your house so the plumber can crawl under your house and fix the daggum pipes.

And if it gets really, really, fuh-raisin', like in the teens, we have to drain the pipes entriely -- shut them right off and empty them, and not turn them on again until it rises above the freezing point the next day.

So my question is, to all you folks up there who wonder when us Southern types get to wear wool: just exactly when do you think it's cold enough to put on a sweater? My vote is, if ice is forming on anything, that justifies digging out a nice, cuddly merino sweater. And a scarf and a hat and socks and my fingerless mitts, too.

I'm really curious about this because I see a fair number of Northerners at Green Bay Packers games wearing nothing but tightie-whities, body paint and a Cheeshead foam hat in December. Now I understand that most of our body heat is lost through the head, so I see where the hat comes in handy, and maybe that body paint was developed by NASA and has a super-high R-factor, in which case I would like to buy enough to paint our house, and if you could send me enough of those Cheesehead hats to fill our attic, I'd like that as well. You see, when I watch a Packers game and I see snow falling -- lots and lots of snow, snow falling the way it rains down here -- and I see those guys in the body paint and the Cheesehead hats, I think:

"They must be fuh-raisin!"

Now I'm pretty sure they have a certain amount of Captain in them as well, which has good antifreeze properties.

But still.

Isn't it cold enough for a sweater?

Anyway, that's all for tonight. I gotta go run the pipes.

--Mambocat




Friday, December 01, 2006

Nothing is wrong with my camera.

This is a photo of a copy of a photo.

This is a photo of a copy of a photo of two of the best people I have ever known:






















The photo is blurry because, like the memory of the two men in it, it has been reconstructed many times. But neither the photo nor their memory will ever be so distorted that I won't recognize them.

This is my favorite picture of these two guys. I don't mind that it's a little fuzzy around the edges. So were they.

The best people always are.

Their names are Simon Jennings and David Collins.

They are dead.

They have been dead for over a decade. They are not the only people I knew who died from AIDS, but they are the two whose absence hurts the most.

I could go on for days about Simon and David. I could tell you that David was a brilliant wit and a stunning architectural interiors designer. I could tell you that Simon was an amazing graphic artist, a computer programmer, and that he built a harpsichord from scratch.

I could carry on about their shared (and skilled) passion for cooking and costume design, our long-ago scheme to start a costume company, and all sorts of things about renovating houses.

I could regale you with tales of barbecues, lucky socks, Elrod the alley cat, college restaurant jobs, The Great Indoor Beach Party, Halloween, movable feasts, the Doctor Who scarf, book deadlines, Himalayan cats, candlemaking, Mardi Gras parades, honeybees, scuba diving, green tennis shoes, banana trees, doilies, the Star Trek pledge, geckoes, The Incredible Disappearing Wine, ghost stories, tomato-basil soup, Mesa Verde, the never-ending sweater, Christmas caroling, rum punch, Mrs. Werdna Zwerdling, and a magical Golden Retriever named Jake.


I could also tell you about gathering with friends and family to make Simon and David's panel for the AIDS Quilt.

But all of these tales would be out of context, and, while variously touching, serious and amusing, they could not fully convey the incredile human warmth emanating from both of these guys.

After they passed on, their friends received the ongoing gift of friendship from Simon's parents, David's sister Sharon, and Simon's brother Rob. Simon's dad, Louis, still wears a scarf I made for Simon, featuring a cable motif of Barbabra Walker's interwtwined trees.

Simon and David were cremated, and their remains waited around for a few years until they were joined by Jake, their deliriously loving four-legged kid. Simon and David got Jake as a puppy when they first moved in together.

Jake outlived their relationship by three years. He was almost seventeen when he died. Everyone agreed that Jake should be cremated, too.

The ashes of Simon, David and Jake were taken to their favorite diving spot, and scattered to the currents of the ocean.

Today is World AIDS Day.

I started to make a post this morning, but I had a problem.

You see, a funny thing happened on the way to the condoms.

My friend Naomi Dagen Bloom of
Cityworm (yes, Naomi of the knitted compost worms) and A Little Red Hen was kind enough to personally make an amulet bag for me to wear today on World AIDS Day, to remember those who have died and to educate those who are still here. It is a wonderful, sequined and buttoned bag in the spirit of Mardi Gras -- a defiantly cheerful and eye-catching pouch.

I promised Naomi that I would both wear it today, and take a picture of it, and blog about it.

So when it arrived in the mail, I admired it, and put it in a safe place near my picture of Simon and David, so they would know about it, and so it would be handy today for blogging.

And there it sat until this morning.

When I awoke, it was gone. And it wasn't in a place where the cats could have gotten to it.

I searched high and low. Far and wide. Port and starboard.

I blamed cats. I looked in places I was certain it was not -- the sock drawer, the refrigerator, in the sack of books going back to the library, in my WIP bag, in my toolbox where I went for a screwdriver this morning. I blamed the stripper who ran into my car (everything bad in the past few weeks has become her fault -- it's very convenient).

The condom-bag amulet was missing all day. I couldn't put off the day forever because of my blog post, so gave up the search and I did work-hours things. I went to the bank and ran a few errands and wrote a proposal for a client. I decided I would have to post tonight without a picture of the bag, and that I would apologize to Naomi.

So after dinner and laundry and dishes were done, and the garbage and recycling and litterbox contents were put out at the curb, I sat down at the computer to write this post, and tell you about Simon and David, and I looked up.

And there it was:


























On top of the printer, right where I most definitely, not under any circumstances, did not put it.

I know Simon and David had something to do with this.


Naomi, I think the guys liked your amulet. In fact, I think they borrowed it for awhile. They do things like that sometimes.

It is their way of saying hello.

Back at ya, guys. We still miss you.

Let's pause a moment tonight, before we tuck into bed or before we check into work if we have a night shift, to remember those who have died.

Let's also pause a moment to do this for those with HIV/AIDS who still live: Please go to this site and light a virtual candle.
Bristol-Myers will donate one dollar for AIDS research for each person who clicks on this site and lights a candle.

And finally, let's remember that no one is immune. We all want to believe that if we've been lucky so far, if we are in a stable realtionship, that it won't happen to us.

But life brings change. Relationships come and go. As we get older, people divorce and become sexually active with new partners. People of all ages can have partners who are unfaithful -- and who sometimes are unfaithful both secretly and in dangerous ways.

It can happen to anyone.


Y'all be careful out there. And think about those who are gone.

--Mambocat

Inmates in the Asylum since July 27, 2006: