Archive for the 'friends' Category



Honestly, I can’t imagine how anyone can say this is a bad thing. Seriously–what arguments can possibly be made against this ideal?

I’ve signed the charter. I hope you do, too.


Degrees of separation

In the spring of 2006, I signed up for my first secret pal swap. My goal was to make some new friends, and I’ve certainly succeeded. I’ve kept in touch with my downstream pal in that swap, Arianna, and through her have also gotten to know her very excellent sister Bethany.

Arianna and Bethany recently sent me a box of surprises: a set of notecards (with patterns!) by the Yarn Girls and a very cool little snack pouch they’d made for Sylvia out of hedgehog-print fabric. (Sylvia’s first words upon seeing it? “Can I use it right now?)

A couple of weeks ago Bethany and her friend launched a new website and asked people to vote on which logo to use. I offered my opinion and ended up winning (thanks to the random number generator) a prize! The prize arrived in the mail yesterday–and boy, is it cool. I got some art in the mail! It’s not every day I can say this, that’s for sure.


On the left you see a beautiful print (matted, even!) with “Backyard Garden” on it. (Bethany, can you tell me a bit about this?) And on the right, a banana-print card with Bethany’s note on the back, and a set of notecards.

I love it! Now I just have to figure out where to hang it!


Life update

Wow. It seems just yesterday that we returned from our vacation and I wrote the last big post here. Much has happened since then: a new school year has begun, the leaves are starting to turn (the dogwoods are already red; they get their leaves first in the spring and lose them first in the fall), and life continues its unfolding.

A few highlights:

Reading: Do-Over!: In which a forty-eight-year-old father of three returns to kindergarten, summer camp, the prom, and other embarrassments, by Robin Hemley. The first half of this book (with its tales of interactions with little kids) is much funnier–and just generally better–than the second half (which deals with his adolescence and young adulthood), but the entire book is worth reading. I think we all have our own “I wish I could do this over” moments, and it’s reassuring so know that some of life’s most embarrassing moments have an element of universality. And laughing out loud while reading a book–I can’t remember the last time I did that. This one was a fun read.

Watching: Watchmen, which I loved. Was it as good as the book? No, of course not. The book was written to take advantage of the genre, and it’s impossible to translate it perfectly to a screen. That said, this film was clearly a labor a love on the part of the filmmakers, true fans of the book, and is the best realization possible.

Also watching: Ponyo. We are huge fans of Hayao Miyazaki in this house, as evidenced by Jan’s Halloween costume from last year and Sylvia’s plan to dress as Kiki this year. (She already has a plan for next year’s costumes, too: “Daddy will be the big Totoro, Mommy will be the medium Totoro, and I will be the little Totoro!”) Ponyo isn’t his best work, but we still loved it.

Winning: A contest, run by Barbara Bretton, who’s both an author and a knitter. The prize: two skeins of Elann’s Silken Kydd (their version of Rowan’s Kidsilk Haze) and a lovely totebag with Barbara’s logos. I’m not sure yet what I’ll do with this yarn, but I think I want to cast on soon, since it’s toasty stuff and I’d love to have something ready for this winter. Thanks, Barbara!

Meeting: Deborah! She was my downstream pal in the last Secret Pal swap I did, two years ago. We’ve kept in touch ever since, and a few days ago we actually got to meet in person! She lives in New York and came to Philadelphia last weekend to run the half marathon (which she totally rocked), and Jan, Sylvia, and I met her and her boyfriend for lunch afterward in Chinatown at our favorite restaurant, New Harmony Vegetarian. We had a great time, and I hope we can get together like this again. She’s planning to run in Philly again next fall, so I’m sure I’ll see her then!

Eating: Peaceable Imperatrix has accomplished the impossible: she’s helped me find a way to like kale. Amazing! I have tried many preparations of this vegetable and really wanted to like it (leafy greens! good for you!) but had not succeeded until yesterday. PI posted a couple of weeks ago about making kale chips, and I thought I’d give them a try. So I picked up some kale at the local growers’ market and chipified them yesterday afternoon. They were delicious (though a bit salty–I have to remember to tone that down next time)! The best part: Sylvia loved them, too. It didn’t hurt, I’m sure, that I introduced them to her as “Jenny Greenteeth Chips.” (She is currently obsessed with Jenny Greenteeth. And pirates.)

It’s taken me a few days to recover from all of those wild Pi Day festivities (okay, not really), but here I am with a whole bunch of good news!

News the first: I just had my car’s annual inspection this morning, and my little 1993 Saturn SL1 (yes, it’s official: I drive a beater) gets to live for another year! Yippee! I’m not looking forward to the expense of replacing this one when it’s no longer (legally) drivable. And I just love my little car, which has traveled to both coasts and back again several times since I bought it new.

p3086462socks.jpgNews the second: I knit these socks for my friend Valerye for her birthday. They arrived a day late (she lives in Australia, and it’s hard to gauge how long international mail takes these days), but she didn’t mind at all—she thinks of late gifts as just prolonging the birthday celebration. She loves them! And they fit, too—no small thing, considering I don’t know her shoe size. I’ve never even seen her feet, since we’ve never actually met. We’ve been pen pals for sixteen years. Wow.

p3186555garden.jpgNews the third: My garden is already off to a great start!* A couple of weeks ago we had a break in the cold weather. It was one of those freakishly warm days when you see pretty much everyone outside and hear lawnmowers revving throughout the neighborhood. Sylvia and I took advantage of the day to clean out our garden beds. We found several wiggly earthworms (which she enjoyed holding in her hands before finding a nice patch of dirt for them), cleared off dead leaves, and set up stakes for our peas and other climbers.

Yesterday, on St. Patrick’s Day, we planted our pea seeds—as instructed by Mike McGrath. Once we find the staple gun (it’s somewhere in this house…) we’ll set up trellis netting on the stakes, and those climbing peas will be able to go nutso!

News the fourth: On Saturday, the three of us attended a regional theater production in Old City, Philadelphia, of A Year with Frog and Toad. Wow. I am pretty sure that this is just about the best show (professional or amateur) I have ever seen. This particular production was terrific, but the show itself is just utterly sweet and charming and well-paced and cleverly structured. It’s based, as you can probably guess, on Arnold Loebel’s famous Frog and Toad stories.

The best part? Watching Sylvia’s almost-four-year-old face just light up while watching the show. Since Saturday, we’ve been listening to the soundtrack pretty much nonstop. And she’s got Jan and me doing pretend play with her based on the stories. Usually, she likes to be “the snail with the mail” or “the red bird.” I’m usually cast (she is the casting director, of course) as Toad, and Jan is usually “the blue bird.” On Sunday morning, she asked me to show her how to write “Dear Toad,” then she copied it onto a piece of paper, then—as “the snail with the mail”—very, very slowly delivered it to me.

News the fifth: On Monday I went back to Philly to meet an old friend (and his fiancee) from Oregon. They live in Portland now but are in New Jersey visiting her family for a few days. Mike and I met when I was doing my fieldwork and he was doing his doctoral research in marine biology and ecology. We kept in touch but this was the first time in ten years we’d seen each other. We met up at our favorite Chinese vegetarian/vegan restaurant in Chinatown. Yum!


*Sylvia is taking a picture here with her “new” camera (my old point-and-shoot), which she got for Christmas. She is quite the shutterbug. It’s fascinating to look at the photos and catch a glimpse of the world through her eyes.

I joined Facebook about two years ago but didn’t do much with it at first. Then, about nine months ago, it seemed that pretty much everyone who hadn’t yet joined Facebook started signing up. And posting there. A lot. Since then, I’ve been getting friend requests from people long removed from my social circle—elementary school classmates with whom I haven’t communicated since graduation, for example. And meeting someone new in person these days is nearly always followed by a Facebook friend request.

If I were in need of a dissertation topic*, I’d seriously consider an examination of online social networking. It is sociologically fascinating to me: a quasi-anonymous environment populated by physically isolated (from each other, that is) individuals who divulge their innermost—and often passive-aggressive—thoughts (via status updates and memes, for example), skeletons on the closet (e.g., digital scans of high-school photos from one’s “big hair” days), and random musings in a place that feels private but is actually quite public. Some of the things I see on Facebook leave me shouting, “TMI! TMI!” and wanting to wash my eyeballs afterward.**

But through Facebook I have learned some interesting things about some of my friends. It’s enabled me to maintain contact with some people who live far away from me and to renew contact with some people from my past. That second category is a tricky one, though, since whenever I get a friend request from someone I knew long ago but haven’t heard from in a long time, I remind myself that there’s a reason why we didn’t stay in touch***. Sometimes people drift apart; sometimes the only common ground they have is attendance at the same school.

Facebook is a huge time suck. Updates to status blurbs, posted items, comments on other peoples’ stuff—all of that fills me with a sense of urgency. For a while I felt like I had to check Facebook a gazillion times a day just to keep up. I didn’t want to miss out on any of the inside jokes or shared moments, especially since so many of these online interactions become part of a pool of shared knowledge that is referenced during in-person encounters and shapes them.

For me, Facebook became oppressive. Not only did I feel like I was on an information treadmill, but I was putting so much energy there that I didn’t have much left for blogging or correspondence. It’s too easy for me to dash off a quick comment there rather than put the effort and thought into the more substantial writing that I want to give some topics. (So yeah, I am staying far, far away from Twitter. No tweets for me!)

N.B.: I am not dissing Facebook or the people who use it. Rather, I’ve been thinking about what I want from social interactions and find that Facebook is not my primary outlet for these things. It has its uses for me, though. I’ll still keep up with Facebook, just not nearly as frequently or intensively as before. This slowing down feels right to me.****

*Which I’m not. One is enough, thankyouverymuch.

**For an interesting discussion of this, take a look at this recent Time article, “25 Things I Didn’t Want to Know About You,” about a Facebook meme that’s been making the rounds for the past few weeks. My favorite is this one: “23. My friends say that when they shave my back, I purr like a walrus.”

***So far I’ve accepted all friend requests I’ve received from people from my way-back past, mostly because I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. But every time I do this, I feel like I am contributing to the redefining of the word friend—and not in a good way. I believe I have many acquaintances but not a huge number of true friends. On Facebook, though, everyone is a friend. This bothers me somehow.

****Wow, look at all the footnotes here. I have read way too much academic writing. At least the footnotes here haven’t rebelled, as they did in Robert Grudin’s very excellent Book (which was published, incidentally, many years before Whoopi Goldberg’s famous memoir of the same title), in which the footnotes actually take over a chapter.


Weekend fun

It’s been a busy weekend here.

On Friday, we celebrated our nation’s birthday by taking a trip to our nation’s first zoo. The Philadelphia Zoo doesn’t hold a candle to the zoo I grew up going to—both in terms of animal habitats and entrance fees (the St. Louis Zoo is free, whereas the Philly one is a whopping $18 for adults and $15 for kids 2-11)—but it’s what we’ve got. And Sylvia loves it, so there you go.

Yesterday morning my brother arrived for a two-day visit. He lives in Greenwich Village and almost always brings us a dozen fresh bagels that he picks up at the shop around the corner from him on his way to Penn Station. We’re so grateful for this gift, because even though it’s possible to get decent bagels where we live, nothing compares to New York bagels. (Seriously. They’re standing on the summit of Mount Everest, with all other bagels in the world stuck in the Mariana Trench. They’re that good. The other bagels aren’t jealous, though, because they’re in so much awe of New York bagels that they can’t help but admire them.)

p7051739.jpgThis time, in addition to bagels, he brought a special treat that I’d asked him to find: vegan marshmallows. (Real marshmallows contain gelatin, which is made from animal bones and pig and cow skin.)* A few days earlier, I’d told him that Whole Foods stores in NYC carry them (but not any stores in my area), and because they need to be refrigerated it’s very expensive to get them by mail-order during the summer. “Don’t go to any trouble, but if you can find some, that would be great,” I told him. He took it as his personal mission to find these for us, and after visiting a few stores, scored two boxes of them (each holding about a dozen marshmallows for $7, if you can believe it). Thanks to her uncle’s efforts, Sylvia got to enjoy her first backyard s’mores yesterday evening. Which she loved, of course!

Once Sylvia was in bed for the evening, a few friends came over for some serious geeking out. Nine of us played a board game until 2 a.m. Yeah, I’d say we had a good time.

I also managed to get a lot of knitting done. Last night I finished knitting one new piece, and this morning I seamed it; it just needs a few more embellishments. Right now, I’m blocking Sylvia’s new sweater and hope to finish it up (finally!) this evening. A more detailed knitting update—with pictures—will be forthcoming later this week (I hope!).

I hope all of you, too, had a great weekend!


*A few years ago, the excrement hit the fan in the vegetarian world when it was revealed the Emes Kosher Jel, which had marketed itself as a vegetarian gelatin substitute, actually contained animal gelatin. (CNBC did a story about this: part 1, part 2.) The few companies that made vegetarian marshmallows using Emes products went out of business, and since then only a handful of companies in the world have figured out how to make vegan marshmallows.


Mail call!

Today’s mail brought not one but two delightful packages.

p6091210magnets.jpgFirst, wrapped in even more packing tape than even I use (and I like to use enough to ensure that any package I send will survive a nuclear winter), was a small envelope from my friend Mary Ann, whom I’ve known since we went to college together. About a month ago, she sent me a birthday card in which she’d written a promise to send me another tacky magnet for my collection. When she and her family went on vacation to Great Smoky Mountain National Park a couple of weeks ago, she made doubly good on that promise by picking up two of the cheesiest magnets she could find. (Note the use of Smokey, a misspelling that ratchets up the tackiness quotient for this duo.) I’m putting these on the fridge right next to the Bass Pro goodies that another college friend, Frank, sent me in April.

The second box contained lots of yarny goodness. About two weeks ago I won a contest at Yarn Is My Metier. Karen asked people to compose haiku poems for her birthday (which was May 29), and the random number generator chose my entry as one of the winners.

Next thing I know, I get an e-mail from Karen asking my for my snail-mail info and all about my yarn preferences. Sending along my address was simple, but answering the other questions was tricker. I had a bad case of option paralysis. It was like standing in front of the counter at a Baskin Robbins. Fortunately, Karen was very patient and, after a few e-mails back and forth, announced that she would send me enough burgundy yarn for a shrug (a project I’m interested in trying) and enough taupe yarn to make something for Sylvia.

p6091211yarn1.jpgThe taupe yarn? Four balls of Jo Sharp Silkroad Aran. I received a Jo Sharp book as a gift from a friend in Australia two years ago, but have never tried any of her yarn before—or even handled it, for that matter. This stuff is so soft. It’s 85% wool, 10% slik, and 5% cashmere. (Interestingly, the care instructions say “Dry flat in shade.” That’s the first time I’ve seen that variation. What happens if you dry it in the sun? Does it get a sunburn?) I’m thinking I might turn this into a little vest for Sylvia, or perhaps some legwarmers for her. Ooooh…maybe cabled legwarmers!

p6091216yarn2.jpgAlso in the box were a panda pencil sharpener (which was of course immediately appropriated by Sylvia) and three balls of Jaegar Shetland Aran in a beautiful burgundy color. This yarn is 80% wool and 20% alpaca and it, too, is very soft and totally new to me. I haven’t quite decided what to do with this yarn, but I’m eager to get it on the needles. Karen suggested I look at her Mia Shrug pattern (available in the sidebar on her blog, and also a popular knit on Ravelry). It’s awfully cute and may be just the sort of dive-in-head-first plunge I need to get over my reluctance fear sheer terror of lace knitting!

So thanks, Mary Ann and Karen, for making my day!


A gift for Frank

p5150502frankgift.jpgOne of Jan’s coworkers is a guy named Frank. He’s always very friendly whenever Sylvia and I stop by the office to meet Jan for lunch, and never takes it personally when Sylvia gets a case of the toddler “shies” and refuses to talk to or look at him.

He’s a hardcore Mac user and an amateur photographer, so when he learned about my own interest in photography, he started sending digital photography books home with Jan. For me to keep. What a nice guy.

I wanted to repay his kindness, so with Sylvia’s help (she chose the projects: “Frank needs mittens and a hat!”) I did some knitting for him. After verifying that he can wear wool and loves blue, I used Patons SWS in Natural Indigo, with some stripes in Natural Wood. (I should mention that I am forever in debt to Lynnette, my upstream SP9 partner, for introducing me to this fabulous yarn.)

The mittens and the hat are both straight out of Ann Budd’s Knitter’s Handy Book of Patterns. I knit the largest size in each pattern (making Jan try them on from time to time), and I think that worked out pretty well.

Sylvia and I went to Jan’s office last Friday, and she eagerly presented the box to Frank. I’d wrapped it in some white packing paper saved from IKEA, and she’d decorated the box with ink stamps, stickers, and crayon markings—including an S for Sylvia and an F for Frank. He seemed pretty pleased, so I think this is one knitted gift that will definitely be worn!


Update on the cupcakes

p4300124cupcake.jpgThanks so much for the happy birthday wishes, everyone! (And yeah, Jan is really great!) Here’s a photo of one of those cupcakes. To answer the question Chris posed on a comment on the previous post, Jan did not manage to hide the tell-tale smells. I just didn’t figure out what they were.

After I got Sylvia up and dressed on Tuesday morning, we were ready to head downstairs when I thought I smelled some sort of baked goods. I called Jan and asked him if he’d had cinnamon-raisin toast for breakfast that morning. He, of course, denied this and added that I must be imagining things and how weird it was that I would call him to inquire about his breakfast.

There were other signs, too. In the kitchen a little later, Sylvia pointed out a brown smudge on the floor near the dishwasher. “That’s from the cream puffs,” she announced. (She and Jan had made chocolate-covered cream puffs a couple of weeks earlier.) I thought, “I can’t believe that chocolate spot has been there for two weeks, and I haven’t noticed it until now.” Yup, I had no clue whatsoever.


An early celebration

Last night, my local knitting group met at 7 p.m. for our weekly get together. At about 7:45, I felt someone poke me on the side and looked down to see Sylvia standing there. I did a double-take. Maybe it was a triple-take. She’s usually in bed by 8. What was she doing there?

Then I saw Jan appear with some boxes in hand. My friends were grinning madly, and Jan said, “Happy birthday!” Sylvia, unable to contain the secret any longer, shouted, “Cupcakes! Cupcakes!”

With help from Gina (who communicated with the other knitters), Jan had planned a surprise birthday celebration for me. My birthday is still a little over a week away, so I had no idea this was coming. He woke up at 4 a.m. yesterday morning to bake (and clean up afterward, to hide the evidence), and I slept through it all—even the KitchenAid mixing!

We enjoyed the chocolate cupcakes with chocolate glaze and mascapone icing (Jan is a terrific baker, and everything he makes both looks and tastes great), had a little video chat via Skype with one knitting friend who’s in Belgium for a couple of months, and (once Sylvia headed home to bed after inhaling her cupcake) even did a little knitting. I had a great time!

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