Monday, November 30, 2009

Rest, ice, compression, elevation

Today's post about caps for little heads is at Toxophily.

While running with Archer at school this morning, I stepped on an uneven piece of pavement and went down, turning my ankle. Now I'm at home with a mild sprain.

I know it's mild because the last time I sprained my ankle, I couldn't keep food down because of the pain. This is nothing like that. I'm stiff and sore, my ankle has a robin's egg-sized lump on it, but I can limp along slowly with nary a grimace. A few days of hobbling around, a few weeks of taking it easy, and I'll be back running -- more carefully -- in no time.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

In case North Pole snail mail service is unreliable

The kids wrote letters to Santa on Saturday while their parents were wrestling with the Christmas lights. I don't know how well the USPS is doing getting letters to the big man up north, but I imagine the elves monitor parental blogs, so just in case I'm reproducing the letters here.

Dear Santa,

I hope you don't give me a stocking of coul. I want a new toy computer for Christmas. I just love the magnatiles! [that she got for her birthday -- Ed.] I hope you have a safe trip.

Love, Cady Gray

Dear Santa,

I would like Wii game New Super Mario Bros Wii for Christmas. Please!!! Cady Gray would probably like it.

Love, Archer

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Tree in images

In a burst of unaccountable energy this morning, we decided to put up the tree.

Just like me when I was her age, Cady Gray wanted to stare at the ornaments and lights, semi-hypnotized.

Some ornaments were chosen for their meaning; some we inherited; some were acquired for purely decorative reasons. Can you tell which one is which?

Our little tree gets more crowded every year. If we weren't so fond of the place where it stands -- right in our front bay window -- we might have gone to a larger size years ago.

There's no way to articulate the meaning -- or lack thereof -- of every piece to the children. Soon enough they'll grow tired of the stories that are trotted out every December.

Some characters they can recognize: Harry Potter, Hank Aaron, misfit toys from Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

Some icons are unmistakable, and always produce delight.

And some shapes and textures and materials simply become material for abstract gazing.

Glass and mirrors catch the colored light, sending it in different directions as you move.

It's a time to pull out heirlooms and surround ourselves with Christmas past. Each year brings new additions, but the perennials form the foundation for a celebration that builds on family traditions we'll never leave behind.

Somewhere tucked deep into the tree is the newest creation to be added, made with a little girl's love just the day before. It waits like a secret to be packed up and then discovered next year -- another story added to the stockpile.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Mmm whatcha say

Today's post about a lotta sweater for a lotta man is at Toxophily.

Noel put together a little video of our Thanksgiving, complete with magical appearance of turkey and cute kids saying what they're thankful for. Check it out.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Giving thanks

I'm thankful for my grandmother's china.

I'm thankful that little girls love looking for colorful ginko leaves.

I'm thankful that they remain curious about the world around them.

I'm thankful for fall color on our table.

I'm thankful for the bird, and for Alton Brown who helped me make it perfect.

I'm thankful that they have so much to be thankful for.

I'm thankful for the happiness that overflows our lives.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Holiday onramp

For as long as I can remember, the complaint has been about how early Christmas displays start going up in the stores. This year it doesn't feel too early -- not by a long shot. Black Friday is the day after tomorrow, and even though I don't partake in that madness, I'm already starting to feel behind.

Christmas is exactly one month away. We need to get through this weekend; can't really think ahead while the festivities are in full swing here with the in-laws. Then next week is the last week of classes, and the following week is exams. Then the next week is grading and finishing up. At that point, there's one week until Christmas. Why didn't I start on everything in September?

Now, it's not like there's much to do. Noel and I made a list last week and started to brainstorm gift ideas. I'm knitting like a fiend. But there's still a sense that the season is rushing at me headlong. Or maybe what's barreling my way is next year and next semester. That's what I'm really not ready for.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Dear pen pal

To my great delight, Cady Gray has begun exchanging letters and little art projects with her old friend Soli. She probably doesn't remember Soli at all, but she's thrilled whenever something comes in the mail from her.

Cady Gray completed a "rainbow dolphin" of fuseable beads over the weekend, and then wrote a letter and drew two pictures of herself to send along with it. I managed to grab a scan of the letter before she stuffed it in the envelope. (The dolphin's color didn't scan accurately -- what looks gray is actually orange and pink.)

Dear Soli, This time I sent you a dolphin. My mom says it looks like a heat map. I just can't wait to see you this winter.

-- Cady Gray Murray

P.S. There's a picture in here.

To: My best friend,

Monday, November 23, 2009

Complicated isn't always good

I visited the library today to get a book I needed for next semester's syllabus, and while there I went to the well-stocked and well-curated children's area to see if I could pick up anything for the kids.

While looking for books about sports, to feed one of Archer's obsessions, my eye was caught by the bright colors and crinkly plastic jacket of A Book About Design by Mark Gonyea. Sometime last year I brought home its sequel, Another Book About Design, and Cady Gray and I had read through it.

This one focuses on the relationships between space, simple shapes, and color. While Noel fixed dinner, Cady Gray read it to me, howling with laughter at the pages that talked to her (sample: one page asks you to imagine two intersecting straight lines drawn through an empty square, and the next page shows the same square with the legend, "Take your time, I'll wait").

The book makes an interesting move from looking at how changing size, shape, balance, and relationships changes the overall perception of a graphic, to thinking about "importance" and how it's communicated through design. Where are your eyes drawn? What lets you know what part of the page to look at first? And if you tweak a texture over here, you have to rethink the whole thing -- because changing one thing changes everything.

I'm fascinated by design. Not being artistically inclined, I'm in awe of the way some people can see these things instinctively. And so I appreciate when someone takes the time to move the pieces around and talk about what happens.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Let me entertain you

My mother is a consummate entertainer. How many dinner parties did she hold around the big table in our special-occasions-only dining room? How many bridge nights did she host? How many nights did we kids eat at a card table set up in the den -- or on bar stools in the kitchen -- because both the dining room and the breakfast nook were occupied by my parents' friends?

I'm nowhere near that standard (as with most endeavors on which I can be compared with my mother). But I like the idea of having people over on occasion. Noel's parents are coming over for Thanksgiving, and while I have a lot of things to do between now and then -- like grading, teaching, and writing -- I'm already starting to plan the meal.

All I really have to plan is the turkey; it's my only responsibility. As the centerpiece of the meal, that means I'm the cornerstone of the entertainment edifice, or at least I flatter myself as such. Usually I'm at the American Academy of Religion meeting the week of Thanksgiving and only get home in time to thaw the turkey in the sink using the last-ditch change-the-water-every-30-minutes method. But because the conference was earlier this year, I got to move the turkey from the freezer to the fridge this morning and start dreaming about a platter garnished with apples, rosemary and sage.

I still crave the Thanksgivings of my childhood, as do we all. I want those side dishes -- my grandmother's stuffing, the pea and asparagus casserole, the apple and cranberry bake. But Noel and I put on a pretty good feed. And even though I'll never be half the hostess my mother is, I take pride in playing the part on rare occasions.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Power buy

It was a good shopping day. Longtime readers will know that I have a shopping problem. My intense buyer's remorse leads me to avoid making a decision, or even contemplating making a decision, until absolutely necessary. But sometimes, against all my expectations, shopping goes well.

The first part of the goodness I didn't even have to do myself. Noel and the kids came home from an extended trip to the grocery store with all the components of our Thankgiving feast. Bags of turkey, vegetables, garnishes, herbs, and pie. Unpacking the car, I began to anticipate the brining and the cooking and all the preparations. Thanksgiving joy arrived with those bags of food.

Tonight Noel and I had a babysitter, but no movies in town that we wanted to see. So Noel had the bright idea of going to the local huge furniture gallery after our dinner out to look for new family room seating and some storage. Our leather sectional is in bad shape and needs replacing, and we've been thinking about replacing it with two recliners and a loveseat. Our foyer also needs a console of some kind where we can store games.

I thought it was a fine way to spend time, but I didn't have high hopes of seeing what we needed. But it turned out there were a lot of pieces that would work for us. The salespeople were helpful but not pushy. The prices were right.

I started to envision sitting in the recliners watching basketball with friends on the loveseat. I saw the sideboard against that blank wall in our entryway, Sorry and Trivial Pursuit and cribbage stacked up behind its glass doors.

The money's not spent, the delivery's not arranged, the dinner's not made. But it feels like life is on the upswing. One more notch upward on the livability scale for our home. Eventually.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Game night

My lovely teaching assistant is throwing a party tonight for our freshman students -- pizza and games. When we asked in class what games, she threw out some choices -- Scene It, Cranium, and Telephone Pictionary.

A student immediately requested Scene It, which is a DVD game about identifying movies. I confidently replied that they don't want to be playing me in Scene It. Actually, I've never played the game, but you know, I've had a few more years on this earth to see movies compared to these 18-year-olds. Plus, movies are a part of my job, and a lot of my husband's job. I know something about movies.

I'm competitive. When I play games, I like to win; and if I can't win, I like to be in the game. In a way, playing a game like Scene It, where I'd be expected to do well, there's no way to come out on top. If I win, it's nothing special; if I don't, it's embarrassing. Really, the only way to have fun in that scenario is to stay out altogether.

One of my students told me that in her house, anybody with a negative attitude during a game has to wear "the bitter hat." Let me tell you, I'd be wearing the bitter hat much of the time. I tend to complain vocally about bad luck and to whine about being far behind. Of course, I also crow unmercifully when I'm ahead. In short, I'm probably not much fun around the card table.

Yet although I sometimes enter into games unwillingly -- because they represent a chance to lose, and not much to be gained -- I really enjoy competing. It's painful for me to stay out of a game. I'm lucky if I can find good partners and good sports to play with me. And I should remember to be thankful when they do -- especially if they come back for more.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Let the circle be unbroken

Last year a student came to me for help in forming a knitting club for the Honors College. This student, who happens to be from Japan, knew that a growing number of her peers were knitting and crocheting, and that many more were expressing interest in learning.

I thought it was a great idea -- what knitter wouldn't want a knitting circle started in her workplace? But something was standing in the way. It's just my own neurosis, I'm sure, but I couldn't start the group until we had a good name. Luckily a student suggested Knitwise. Perfect -- now we could move forward.

We've had a great semester in Knitwise. A number of people have stopped by to learn how to knit, and then become regulars at our Thursday afternoon meetings. I've seen students go from never having handled needles, to making useful (and beautiful) objects. I've seen students become almost as obsessed with knitting as I am. And other students have become the teachers and mentors of the group. Still others stop in from time to time to revive their skills or just socialize.

I have big plans for this group. I'd like to bring in guests for demonstrations; run workshops to teach techniques; work together on charity projects; introduce them to Ravelry. But all of that can wait. Right now we're all just plopping down on couches, talking yarn and needles and hooks, discussing projects, helping each other with finishing, complimenting progress, oohing and ahhing over the astonishing work we're producing. It's quite enough to share that with a few students, adding stitch by stitch to my own projects, and dreaming about the power of one crafter added to another and to another. About the circle creating, expanding, developing its own gravity, and spreading change one beautiful, functional, warm object at a time.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Found in translation

It's been a cold, wet week. My spirits haven't been at their highest; my energy level has taken a hit. But life got a little brighter when a friend pointed out that you can change Facebook's settings to communicate with you in "English (Pirate)."

Not everyone appreciates the delightful practice of sprinkling one's discourse with "scurvy dogs," "keelhaul the landlubber," and "by Davy Jones' locker." But someone at Facebook certainly does. Switch your language to piratical and your posts become your scribblin's, events become grog fests, and the help command becomes "Mayday!"

The transformation is disturbingly thorough. Instead of viewing pictures of yourself contributed by others, you "spy me bewitched portraits." I'm not married to Noel Murray, I'm anchored to him. Status updates are timestamped "12 shots of rum ago" or "'bout 5 turns o' t' hourglass ago" (and in my case, they're "fired from" And instead of liking a posted item, you click "Arrr, this be pleasin' to me eye."

Best of all, the e-mails you get from "Ye olde Facebook" don't alert you to friend requests or comments on your status updates; they convey demands for you to be mateys and ask that you confirm that ye sailed with the potential hearty, and let you know that somebody flapped their gums about one o' your recent tales.

Even more than the inventiveness and comprehensiveness of the translation, I meditate on the creative labor involved. Somebody, or a few somebodies, channeled a heck of a lot of pirate in programming the makeover. It warms my cockles that such transcendently useless labor still has a place. Although I suppose it's not surprising that the place is Facebook.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Whistle while you work

My office can only be entered by going through a main reception area and a small work/copy room. In a way, my office is part of the main office for my department. It doesn't have a separate door that opens onto a hallway.

That may be why I rarely play music while I work. If I'm in the office on a holiday or when there are very few other people around, I'll fire up the iPod on the computer speakers. If I need to watch a YouTube video, I'll stick headphones into the computer. But generally I work in silence. It rarely occurs to me to listen to music. I work with one ear cocked to the murmur of conversation outside my door, from staff to students to other faculty coming in and out, faxing things, using the copier, asking questions, getting their mail.

There's something private -- or maybe the word is "indulgent" -- about having a soundtrack for one's work. In an office setting, knocking on the door or walking into the room and having to pause while the person turns down the volume or takes out the earbuds, gives me the feeling of having intruded on a personal moment.

Worse, though, is being intruded upon. Invariably when I've put my earbuds on to listen to a podcast or hear the sound to a video, someone pokes their head through my door and asks me a question. Sitting with my back to them, facing the computer screen, it's not immediately obvious to my visitor that I'm in a different sonic landscape. I have to click pause and pull out the earbuds before turning around to ask them to repeat themselves, a process that takes a few seconds. In that time it's become clear that they've mistaken my availability, and there's an embarrassed moment as they apologize, and as I assume the attitude that I was perfectly justified to be watching that Lady Gaga video. (Seriously, it was for a discussion about Nietzsche.)

My work soundtrack is work itself, and that sets me apart, I imagine, from my A.V. Club colleagues. What about you?

Monday, November 16, 2009

There's a chill

This morning when I awoke, the temperature was sixty degrees. It was spitting rain, so Archer's running club was canceled. By noon a chilly wind was forcing everyone to clasp their jackets tight across their bodies.

A cold front rolled through during the day. One of Cady Gray's teachers observed, to her amusement, that it was fall in the morning and winter in the afternoon. (I had to explain to her that she didn't mean it literally.)

Even when the seasons change as gradually as they possibly can, there's always a moment where it happens far too suddenly, and you aren't ready. I had my warmest, softest sweater, but I was wishing for a hat and scarf. The gray skies and persistent mist made me feel even colder, and I cursed the crisp fall weather than seemed to have deserted me without warning.

The sudden cold has its good side, though. All at once you're reminded of how wonderful it is to walk into a warm house, or to feel the heat starting to seep up from the floorboards of a car. I had moments today when I fantasized about starting up the fireplace. But then again, I was reminded that the last time we had a fire going it, it was because the heater had conked out. Time to call the man so that I won't have to wear those warm sweaters indoors this season.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

By any other name

Every few days, I spend half an hour or so welcoming newcomers to Ravelry. I've been a volunteer on the Ravelry Welcome Wagon for almost two years. The job involves sending personalized messages to everyone who has joined the site in the last few days -- in my case, everyone who chose a username beginning with G. (That's how the Wagoneers divide up labor.)

As I go through the list, I type a lot of names into my personalized message. And it's interesting what people choose to represent themselves. Since I welcome the G names, I see a lot of variations on Grandma (g-ma, granny, gran, etc.), often with a name or a number of grandchildren attached. I see many usernames that start with "girl" or "grrl."

Names run in cycles, of course. Not many people my age and younger have my name; it seems to have been popular in the generation just previous to mine. I watch popular names come and go as cohorts of students arrive in my classes. Monica was popular eighteen years ago, and Ashley has been big for half a decade now.

My name is dear to me because it's based on my father's name. I use some form of it as my username on most sites -- but not on Ravelry. When I got my invitation (you needed one back then), I spent several agonizing minutes trying to figure out the perfect username to present myself to my fellow knitters. I finally settled on my favorite fictional character. And I've tremendously enjoyed answering to that name.

What name would you choose if you could? What name do you choose when you have the chance?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Under the weather

I've been vaguely sick ever since I got back from Washington, D.C. It's just a cold, and not even a bad one at that. But it just keeps moving around, from the top of my head at first, now to just inside my throat.

When I have a cold, I get really, really hungry. I feel like eating all the time, and the only thing that makes me feel halfway normal is if I'm full. Not surprisingly, I get tired easily, and want to curl up in bed for long hours. And nothing feels better than a hot shower.

Thankfully, I haven't been so uncomfortable that it's stopped me for a second doing what my work, either here or away. But that in itself has worn me down. I'm ready for some down time. Yet I spent the day on stage, teaching my part-time Methodist pastors. It was wonderful, but I'm exhausted. My energy is drained.

It would be nice to have a sick day -- a "bed day," we call them in this house. If my throat and head feel any worse, I might find a way to take one. It's been ages since I've canceled class because of illness; I just don't get sick that often. But is that a license to take a mental health day when I don't absolutely have to? Additionally, Noel has been on point for more than two weeks, taking care of kids and home while I've flown around North America. He deserves a vacation more than I do.

But you can't always control where your stress comes from. I've enjoyed myself tremendously over the last few weeks, but it's as if I've had no days off; every day has been work. Yes, you could look at what I've done and argue that it shouldn't have taken so much out of me, but the fact is, I'm run down. How much relaxation and recuperation can I build into the next few weeks -- the last of the semester, and the beginning of the holidays?

Friday, November 13, 2009

True love

I brought Cady Gray a present from my Montreal trip -- a plush Quatchi, the sasquatch in the trio of mascots for the Vancouver Olympics.

As is her wont when presented with new stuffed animals, Cady Gray loved Quatchi immediately. She embraced him, presented him to her dad, and professed her desire to sleep with him always "because I only sleep with my best friends."

Today she took Quatchi to school for show-and-tell. If I gather correctly, she mentioned that he is from "Vancouver Olympics 2010," that he's a sasquatch wearing earmuffs, and that her mom brought him home from Canada.

But love is pleasure mixed with pain, as we all know. There came the inevitable evening, the night after Cady Gray and Quatchi first met, when the little girl came padding out of her bedroom half an hour after lights out. She hesitated before telling us what she wanted; "Just say it," her dad urged. Her face crumpled in on itself and her voice rose to a wail: "I can't FIND QUATCHI!"

We immediately comforted her and located her little friend kicked under the bed. But even if he'd been gone forever, better to have loved and lost a sasquatch than never to have loved a sasquatch at all.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

I'll take the bus this time

Tonight I shepherded twenty students down to Little Rock to attend a lecture by Joel Salatin, renegade farmer. The lecture was plenty entertaining, and the students were enthusiastic. But riding back on the bus in the dark, all I could think about was the feeling of the many bus rides I took when I was their age and younger.

The rattle and the darkness, the roar of the engine, took me back immediately to bus trips like the ones I took during winter break with the fellow members of my high school glee club. Driving through the long dark evenings from stop to stop, sitting with my best friends, listening to my Walkman, and staring out at the night ... it's an indelible feeling of being alone with my thoughts.

I've always been able to hypnotize myself by unfocusing my eyes and letting the moving scenery outside a car window blur into impressionist colors. At night, though, I follow lights, idly wondering what they are or making tentative identifications. Meditating on the moment's emotions, I feel like a teenager again, the owner of a rich inner life unknown to those whose cars and houses, twinkling with light, I pass.

It's a strange feeling to return to that immature -- yet deeply felt -- stage. I'm reminded that having a rich inner life is also about doubting yourself, not knowing who you are. But retreating into reverie while riding through the night is a pleasant fantasy, an escape to a time at once simpler and much more complicated.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Real life

The A.V. Club's best of the decade coverage kicks off this week with television lists spearheaded by my very own husband. I contributed to some of the lists, but not the one on reality shows that Noel produced solo, running today.

The comments on this list have been particularly interesting. Earlier lists focused on miniseries and late-night television, but the reality show list has provoked protests that reality television is not worthy of critical attention or celebration.

Reality television is truly the genre of the decade, and yes, there's a case to be made that it's the scourge of the medium as well. But are we still so bitter about the decline of scripted television that we can't recognize some of the more interesting, creative, and even compelling reality series? I find myself talking to many of my colleagues and other educated people about popular culture, and among those who admit to watching television, most express great surprise that I would enjoy Top Chef or The Amazing Race.

The opposite is true among professional TV watchers, who recognize these shows as the class of the genre. Even some of them, though, scorn the talent competitions and offbeat follow-people-around shows as unworthy of consideration.

Me, I'll take drama, comedy, pathos, and entertainment where I can find it, and even though reality television has a tendency toward manufacturing all those elements when they're not actually happening in front of the camera, that doesn't mean that nothing of interest happens on those shows. To the contrary, I enjoy cheering for actual competent people doing things that I can't do (as on the cooking and fashion designing shows, for example), and I enjoy gasping at the machinations of people scheming to be the last ones standing on the Survivor-type shows. Yes, I'm as disgusted as anyone by the whoring-after-fame that proliferates among the would-be celebrities that apply for some of the shows, both reputable and sleazy. But as Noel points out in his piece, many of these shows represent the last vestige of a mass medium that actually unites us as a contrary, something everyone has an opinion on, weekly events that leave you out of the water-cooler conversation if you choose to forgo them. And it's hard to overestimate the power of that possibility in an increasingly fractured media landscape.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Breaking through

When I went online to check in for my flight to Montreal, the site flagged my return itinerary as problematic. "The schedule of your flights has changed, and you may miss your connection," a yellow warning box asserted, and the layover time in Cincinnati was highlighted -- arrive at 4:05, leave at 4:55. I couldn't figure out how a fifty-minute layover could be a problem, so I ignored it.

But when I got to Montreal I realized that the problem might be customs. If I had to clear immigration before getting on the connecting flight, fifty minutes might not be enough. So I called the airline on Saturday morning from the hotel, and changed the itinerary; now I was flying to Atlanta instead of Cincinnati, and the layover was eighty minutes.

This morning when I got to the airport, the agent at the check-in counter noticed that the itinerary had changed, and asked why. I explained about the customs issue, and she noted, as she gave me my boarding passes, that I would actually go through customs right there in Montreal before I got on my first flight. I hadn't needed to make the change at all.

And I was flying into Atlanta now -- Atlanta, where the torrential rain ahead of Tropical Storm Ida was falling. The weather was horrendous as we landed, with rain, wind, and low dark clouds. I found my next flight on the monitors: already delayed forty-five minutes. And the board was full of canceled and delayed notices.

But I saw that the previous flight to Little Rock, the one that was supposed to have left thirty minutes earlier, was listed as "At Gate." It was all the way at the other end of the terminal, but I thought it was worth a shot. The flight was boarding as I got to the counter, and I managed to get the busy agent to put me on the standby list. Ten minutes later, I was walking onto the flight -- thirty minutes before my original flight was supposed to leave.

The ascent through the storm was long and dark. For three quarters of an hour, we bumped along in a constant cloud. I was knitting my Noro socks and listening to my iPod on shuffle. Finally I heard some familiar electronic noise -- the opening to ELO's "Shine A Little Love." As those dramatic, joyful chords began the song, we burst out of the clouds into the brilliant sunshine, a rosy-tinged afternoon sliding toward evening. It was a perfect ending to the day, a private panorama in my ears and my eyes, a little something just for me, like so many of the pleasures of solitary travel.

A late hour

The night is late, the parties have been many, the kindness of my colleagues has been infinite in returning me safely to my bed. They have my gratitude.

Tomorrow I will make my way to the airport and God willing, to home. I am reminded how much we depend on the kindness of strangers to overlook our faults and errors, and point us in the right direction, along the way. Thank God for travelers' mercies, and I hope I will be embracing my children before I next write to you. Bon voyage, all you AAR travelers!

Sunday, November 8, 2009


I enjoy feeling competent. I think that I get the biggest kick out of life when I'm able to perform some relatively complex task ably and well.

Being at the American Academy of Religion conference sometimes scratches my competence itch. I generally know what people are talking about at the sessions I attend, something I could not have asserted reliably a decade ago. I have gotten plenty of positive feedback about my leadership and administrative capabilities since I joined the board of directors, and that makes me get the competence buzz when I negotiate some complex issue or contribute to the governance conversation.

Yesterday morning I began the day with a call to Delta reservations because my connection heading home via Cincinnati was a little too tight for comfort, given the need to clear customs and immigrations before boarding the next flight. Before I knew it, I had a new itinerary with a more generous time allowance. Even though I didn't do anything but call a number and explain my problem, that made me feel like an adult who knew how to handle these kinds of situations.

And after a day riding the Metro, and a subsequent day walking back and forth from hotel to convention center to other hotel via both surface streets and the Montreal Underground City, I feel the glow of competence suffusing my being. I look like a Canadian, I flatter myself, in my chunky knit accessories and practical boots. And I walk with the purposeful stride of a native through the twists and turns of the shopping centers, subway stations, and building basements that comprise the underground labyrinth connecting the whole central city.

I suppose that reveals my implicit standard of competence: native fluency. In some ways I've spent my life trying to move from the outside looking in, to some reasonable approximation of the mannerisms, and some reasonable claim to the privileges of, the native. I'm just an animal looking for a home. And it gives me inordinate pleasure to be home, or to pass for someone who is at home, in a city, a school of thought, a discipline, a community.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Montreal yarn crawl

I attended an (ungodly) 7:30 am breakfast meeting this morning, and after that was done, it hit me: Today was the day. Many stores are closed Monday, some are also closed on Sunday. If I were going to canvas the yarn stores of Montreal, it had to be today.

So at 9:30 am, after returning to the hotel to grab my scribbled directions and gird up my loins generally, I was off. My goal: Five yarn stores and back by 4 pm for the first plenary panel of the conference.

My first stop was Effiloché, a lovely and welcoming store that just happened to open earlier than any of the others. I inaugurated my souvenir purchases with a locally-dyed yarn: Tanis Fiber Arts Blue Label fingering weight in an appropriate overcast Moss colorway. (No pictures because at this point I hadn't remembered my determination to take them.)

Next on my list was A La Tricoteuse Laine, a well-ordered store tailored more for buying than browsing or socializing. There I bought Les Laines Oberlyn, a Quebecois DK weight in a rich red.

On the way back to the Metro I entered a monastery chapel where mass was underway; several nuns and monks made their way back to where I was standing and offered me the peace.

Stop #3: Tricot Quartier. I walked about a kilometer down beautiful wide streets in an upscale neighborhood before finding this storefront in a walkup. Not enough luxury sock yarn to pique my interest, really, but I left with some Regia Hand-Dyed Effekt.

I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Ariadne Knits, a friendly place where a carding class was in full swing when I entered. My selection was a couple of skeins of O-Wool Classic 2-Ply in a cheerful green. (The staff was equally as friendly when I had to return 30 minutes later because I'd left my camera in the store.)

And my last stop, perhaps the most impressive yarn store I visited in Montreal, Mouliné. The staff chatted knowledgeably about Ravelry, the stock was mind-boggling, and I came away with a Crazy Zauerball in addition to the Malabrigo Sock I had already settled on.

Now that the yarn crawl is out of the way, it's all business from here on out. But what a way to begin -- a cold day, a Metro ride all over town and back, knitters and knitwear everywhere you turn, and beautiful yarn both local and imported from far-flung lands. Merci, Montreal!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Net work

It's becoming easier for me, this cocktail party chatter. Ten years ago I would have dreaded going to a party with a lot of people I barely know. What would we talk about? Wouldn't I be exposed as a fraud, someone who didn't deserve to be honored with the same faculty title as those around me? I felt sorry for those who tried to make conversation with me. I was ill at ease, and I tried too hard.

In five minutes I'm going upstairs for the last of three parties tonight. Yes, I know the people at these parties -- some of them, anyway -- better than I would have many years ago, when I was just starting to travel in these circles. But I wouldn't call very many of them friends. The party I'm about to attend is likely to be full of strangers. But I'm not disinclined to go. I feel confident that I can listen well and speak appropriately. I think I can strike a balance between talking about myself and being interested in those I talk to.

Somewhere along the line I crossed a barrier between introvert and extrovert. I miss that woman who used to seek out solitude and avoid unstructured social encounters ... not that much, but I do miss her. Now I'm a social butterfly. I stride fearlessly into the room, accept my drink, and even give out the cheek-kisses of a class to which I never aspired. I'd be a stranger to my younger self. And that stranger is off to mingle now. Ciao!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The road

I spent the day traveling again, thankfully without incident, from Little Rock to Cincinnati to Montreal. Once I got here at about 6 pm local time, I jumped right into meetings until 10 pm. I've got a cold, my circadian rhythms are all screwed up thanks to having dinner at 9 pm, and my head is whirling with all the politics of the two groups with which I met this evening.

But when I got back to my room, I found my center again. Because next to my computer, right where I'd unpacked it, was the bookmark Cady Gray made for me to bring along.

It says:


and on the back:

[drawing of me with my arms emerging from around the bottom of my rib cage]

What else does a person need to get up in the morning?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Ah, shoe

I was in the library this afternoon checking out a few books and chatting with the librarians. "You gonna take these with you?" one of them joked. "Thought I might," I answered. "I once bought a pair of shoes," he mused in reply, "and the salesmen asked, 'You wanna spote 'em or tote 'em?"

That got me started thinking about a weird aspect of buying shoes -- namely, putting your old shoes into the new shoes' box and carrying them out of the store. Does anybody else fill a slight twinge of wrongness about tossing your used, scuffed shoes -- the ones you came in to replace, maybe -- in that shoebox? It's a moment where things are not only out of place or reversed, but where the superseded item somehow insists on remaining with you. By all rights, those shoes should be carried quietly to a disposal unit behind the store -- some of us would be willing to pay a fee for the service, like when you get your oil changed -- but no. Instead, there you are carrying them out of the store as if they were the item you just bought, masquerading as a purchase you're proud of, while the new shoes on your feet do their utilitarian job.

Actually, it's never easy to know what to do with shoes that have outlasted their welcome. I have shoes that don't fit anymore, shoes that have lost their luster, piled in a corner of my closet. I've dropped them off at Goodwill with other clothes, but I've never felt good about it. Shoes are personal. Shoes take on the shape of your feet. Used shoes seem like an abomination. But I can't bring myself to throw them away, either. Why should items that have served you so well, crafted leather and stitched rubber, end up in a landfill?

How do you deal with old shoes?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


I just got home, and yet I have to pack tomorrow to leave again. Montreal's forecast is for highs in the forties with some snow showers. Here we have highs in the sixties and seventies with brilliant sunshine.

The three days between arriving and leaving again are filled with laundry, work, and trying to cram in as much quality time with the kids as possible. Cady Gray and I crafted and cooked together this afternoon. Now I'm watching Archer play Mario Super Sluggers. As soon as I'm done with my evening workout, I'll be writing about So You Think You Can Dance for two hours. Make lunches, sleep, wake up, go to running club with Archer, go to work, come home and do it all again -- but for the last time this week.

The trip coming up will have a completely different feeling than the one I just completed. In Washington I was part of a large contingent, constantly with my colleagues. I'll be traveling to Montreal alone, spending the first day and a half locked in a room with my fellow directors, but then left mostly to my own devices. There's much work to be done, both at the conference and to keep up with things at home. But my time will mostly be my own. So if I come home behind, unfulfilled, dissatisfied, I'll have no one to blame but myself.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Running with Archer

In the half hour before the school bell rings, Mrs. Miller, the physical education teacher at our local elementary school, convenes a group of kids -- and a few moms -- on the 1/12 mile track next to the teachers' parking lot. It's time for the first meeting of EXCEL, the school's running club, and I'm one of those few moms in a sea of third and fourth graders.

Archer has indicated his desire to join. The aim of the club is to work toward a 5K run in the spring. I'm happy he wants to belong, even though I'm pretty sure the desire stems from his interest in time and distance rather than any yen for physical activity.

Today, Mrs. Miller announces, we'll do a few stretches then run or walk around the track at our own pace. In subsequent meetings, the kids will be divided by ability to work in groups.

After I acquaint Archer with the concept of inside and outside lanes (run on the inside, walk on the outside), we get underway, surrounded by dozens of chattering, zooming kids. Archer starts his chronograph and gives me periodic updates. We walk a lap, then run two, starting a pattern.

I'm surprised at how animated Archer is. He loudly proclaims that he's running at a steady pace, while his delight tends to make his arms and legs flail somewhat as he jogs. He names some of his classmates; a few greet him as they pass, and one stays to talk to us. I adopt Archer's terminology of a "heart meter" (like in the Wii Fit Plus cycling activity) to describe how fatigued we feel -- three hearts for full strength, one heart for running out of energy -- and use it to quiz Michael, the classmate, about how he's doing. Archer calls out cheery greetings to his former first grade teacher as we pass her on the track.

There's a social element to this club that I hadn't expected. As Archer reports lap times and distance traveled, he's contributing information that's relevant to the activity. He's engaged with other kids doing the same thing but for their own reasons -- girls walking together in clumps gossiping, boys racing down the backstretch, teachers responding to their charges.

We can't make Archer into someone with the easy ability to carry on those kind of conversations. But we can put him in situations where he's in the same space, doing the same thing. That's a kind of connection. And from his enthusiastic response, it's not just the activity and its accompanying numerical scales that delight him, but the sense of community and belonging. Even if he doesn't know how to respond to that in a conventional way -- that is, by joining in on their terms or by welcoming them into his -- he's happy to be with them, to be part of it all. It's a start.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Almost home

Even the easiest travels can take a lot out of you. The weariness grows exponentially when there are problems -- cancellations, rebooking, standby, missed connections, delays.

Yet at some point you're so grateful that you're going to make it home at last, that all the issues and frustrations become small in comparison.

Right now I'm sitting in the Little Rock airport -- ironically half an hour earlier than I was originally scheduled to arrive -- waiting for my colleague who's giving me a ride home. He ended up on a later flight after our plane out of DC got canceled, leading to a flurry of rebooking. On the bright side, we all ended up in first class for the 757 we took from DC to Atlanta an hour later than planned. On the down side, we weren't sure we would get on our flights to Little Rock since we didn't have seat assignments at the time of rebooking.

We got separated in Atlanta, and I snagged a seat on the earlier flight. So there's nothing for it but to take advantage of some free wi-fi. Everything's closed here at 8 pm; only two more planes are scheduled to land. The only sound is the TV in the bar showing the World Series game.

Once my colleagues show up, we'll have to wait for their bags, then drive back to Conway. I'll be home just in time to take a shower and go to bed in preparation for taking Archer to school early tomorrow for the first meeting of his running club. Then there's a full day of classes and meetings at school, culminating in a film I'm showing in the evening. Two days later, I'm on the road again.

All I can really look forward to is checking in with students and family, shaving a bit off the mountain of work these trips are causing me to miss, and then putting everything on hold once again. I'm halfway through these two weeks of intensive travel, and I can take pride in the great work we did at the conference just concluded -- including the half-day workshop we led for about 30 faculty and administrators this morning. Getting back to normal will be a chore just as daunting as any of the preparation and execution of these trips has been.