Thursday, December 29, 2005

More Bloody Christmas

Oh, and before I forget, today is the memorial of Thomas a Beckett, another martyr.

I'll admit most of what I know about him come from watching the movie Becket, about which Orson Scott Card had a good comment, to the effect that Becket is a really good movie, except for being cast backward--you're supposed to cheer for Becket, but Peter O'Toole is so charming nobody can not root for him.

On a related note, one of my New Year's resolutions is to read a minimum of one history book a month (biographies of writers not counted, unless they're unsually chock full of general history), because I shouldn't be piecing so much of the history I know together from scraps I picked up in movies or novels.

The Best Marital Advice I Never Followed (A Post for Women Only)

At some point in the years Uncle Pookie and I were an unmarried couple, I saw in a women's magazine Judith Viorst (Judith Guest? somebody) offering her best marital advice: "Never ask your husband what he wants for dinner. He doesn't know."

I don't want to sound sexist, but my ongoing testing of this piece of advice suggests it is sound. Okay, my test sample is limited to one, but the testing has been extensive. During the past eleven years (our anniversary is tomorrow) I have asked my husband thousands of times what he wants for dinner. He has known approximately three times. On each of those occasions, it was at the end of a long, tiring day we'd spent out somewhere and my question went something like, "I'm exhausted and don't feel like cooking anything much more troublesome than scrambled eggs, what would you like that's easy?" and he responded with a time-consuming request. Once it was homemade pizza; I'm flattered he likes my homemade pizza and it's not overly troublesome on an ordinary day, but anything that requires the making of homemade yeast dough and pizza sauce and chopping a lot of things up is not an appropriate answer to "What do you want for dinner that is quick and easy?" So the conclusion of this ongoing experiment is that husbands don't, as a rule, know what they want for dinner and if your husband should once in a blue moon happen to know, it will be something impossible.

And note that the experiment is ongoing. Somehow I can't stop asking.

Young women about to be married should learn from my mistake and never start asking. Oh, and they might also want to check out my Anniversary Guide and my favorite quote about marriage.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

The Weeping of Rachel

Today is the day Catholics remember the Holy Innocents, the babies and toddlers murdered by Herod as he sought to destroy the newly born King of the Jews the Magi told him about.

Today's Gospel reading, Mt 2:13-18:

When the magi had departed, behold,the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said,“Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt,and stay there until I tell you. Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him.” Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by nightand departed for Egypt. He stayed there until the death of Herod,that what the Lord had said through the prophet might be fulfilled, Out of Egypt I called my son.

When Herod realized that he had been deceived by the magi,he became furious. He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had ascertained from the magi. Then was fulfilled what had been said through Jeremiah the prophet:

A voice was heard in Ramah,
sobbing and loud lamentation;
Rachel weeping for her children,
and she would not be consoled,
since they were no more.

The flight of a young family to avoid the murder of one of its members, the murder of innocents to appease a tyrant's vanity, followed by the grief of Israel's mothers. It's another one of those Precious Moments that distinguish this sweet, sentimental season.

And something to think about if you ever hear Christians accused of being unrealistic, pie-in-the-sky types. In the three days after the most purely joyful, happy of our holy days, we celebrate the feast of a man who was stoned to death for preaching the gospel of Christ, the feast of the beloved apostle who stood and watched the bloody, tortuous killing of his Lord and friend, and the feast of a bunch of murdered babies. It all sounds pretty real-world and gritty to me.

But, as is alluded to in the other reading from today's liturgy, the Christ child is the light in all this darkness. (Which, incidentally, is a metaphor that I suspect had a lot more power for ancient peoples. It is harder for us who can instantly have light flooding our surroundings anytime we want it to appreciate the idea of light in darkness, although some of us Americans in the Katrina-affected areas may be a little more appreciative of it than we were before--when there is no power anywhere in your town, it gets very dark at night and you are pleased to have even a small light to let you see where you are going or where those strange noises are coming from.) Yet at the end of His (earthly) story, there is a horrible, humiliating death waiting; the Christmas tree leads to the cross, as it were. It's hardly in good taste. But there it is.

Some Things Great and Small

This article by Umberto Eco is from November, but I found the link still on my computer and was reminded it struck me back when I read it. I am in agreement with most of it, but less so with this:

"The pianist Arthur Rubinstein was once asked if he believed
in God. He said: "No. I don't believe in God. I believe in something greater."
Our culture suffers from the same inflationary tendency. The existing religions
just aren't big enough: we demand something more from God than the existing
depictions in the Christian faith can provide. So we revert to the occult. The
so-called occult sciences do not ever reveal any genuine secret: they only
promise that there is something secret that explains and justifies everything. The great advantage of this is that it allows each person to fill up the empty
secret "container" with his or her own fears and hopes."

I don't think contemporary people seek out the occult, New Age thinking, or the World-According-to-the-Davinci-Code type conspiracies because they want something larger than Judaism and Christianity. I think it is because they want something smaller. Any religion that we create out of our own head--whether conciously and deliberately as eclectic neo-pagans do or simply by filling up the empty secret container of an existing system with our own fears and hopes as Eco talks about--is bound to be smaller than one that grew up over many generations and has cultural accretions and thoughts contributed by many places and people. We don't want a religion that requires anything out of us that we haven't already thought of on our own and are ready to give. We don't want to be challenged. But that is smallness, not largeness.

Monday, December 26, 2005

St. Stephen's Day & A Christmas Update

Today is St. Stephen's Day, commemorating the first Christian martyr. You can read his story in Acts chapters 6 and 7. Here's how it ends:

They threw him out of the city, and began to stone
him....As they were stoning Stephen, he called out, "Lord Jesus, receive my
spirit." Then he fell to his knees and cried out in a loud voice, "Lord, do not
hold this sin against them"; and when he said this, he fell asleep.

Obviously, "fell asleep" here doesn't mean he had a light, refreshing nap. It's something to keep in mind any time you come across the "health and wealth gospel" (if you just have enough faith you'll have plenty of money, you'll never get sick, and nothing really bad will happen to you) people. Christians are called to take up the cross, and sometimes they get nailed to it--usually figuratively speaking, but not always, as for example with St. Peter.

As for Christmas, Auntie Suzanne and Uncle Pookie had a pretty nice one--hardly any martyrdom involved at all :-). We attended mass at the church we used to go to (where Uncle Pookie got his new, handmade-by-me rosary blessed by the Irish priest; especially appropriate as this rosary has a St. Patrick center, emerald green beads, and a Celtic cross-style crucifix and is stored in a bag made of shamrock print fabric) and spent the rest of the day with relatives--both in-laws and out-laws as the saying goes. There was more relative-visiting for me today. And far too much food for both of us.

I was pleased that my gifts were well-received. The corn bags went over well. Seinfeld-in-a-box (everything crafted except the Jujyfruits and Junior Mints, and I added writing to those boxes) got laughs. The marble magnets were new to the recipients, and one of the decorative Altoids tin containers went over a treat. My father liked his artists' deer reference book and salvage-store purchased canvases. So I did good.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

The Bone Snatchers and Christmas

Yesterday Drudge had a headline link that must surely go down as the strangest headline of the year: "ALISTAIR COOK'S BONES STOLEN BY TRANSPLANT GANG." As it turns out, Mr. Cooke's bones weren't the only ones stolen. Dozens of people's bones were stolen by morticians in Brooklyn, who sold the bones for use in "transplants"; apparently, human bone is used in making dental implants and for some orthopedic surgeries and there's a black market for it. Cooke's body was then turned over for cremation and his family received what were, presumably, his ashes and were none the wiser until recently. His family's lawyer says that he hopes " those guys burn in hell for what they did", and I have some sympathy for the disgust and anger that would provoke such a sentiment.

The Telegraph used the word "desecration" to describe the mutilation of the bodies, and I found that word apt, if a bit surprising coming from a newspaper in these secular days. It has always irritated me when some Americans talk about "desecrating the flag"; however distasteful (and, in some cases, juvenile) I find flag burning, the American flag is not a sacred object and can't be desecrated. I feel differently about the human body. In the not too distant past, most people did. The idea of treating a dead human body with less than respect was abhorrent to nearly everyone; even robbing the dead was looked down upon by most, even though a good case could be made that the dead have much less need of material goods than the living.

I realize there have been corrupt, nasty people in every age, but I find myself wondering if this is not another example of our coarsening in what Pope John Paul II called "the culture of death." Chesterton said that even in a society of atheists, the dead man is sacred. It is increasingly not so in our society of secularists. We encase the dead in plastic and display them in entertaining and/or educational poses for the living to gawk at in museums. We pretend to cremate them and give their relatives god knows what in a box. We dump them in woods or ravines or in the trash. Or we chop them up and sell them for parts.

It is a fine thing for the "thing" that God chose to incarnate in. Traditionally everyone--Christians and non-Christians or pre-Christians alike--everywhere have tended to treat their dead with respect, but Christians have a special reason to do so, in that we believe the human body was forever made special by the fact that the Master of the Universe chose to be born into a human body. No one can ever say the human body is trash after that. No one can say that it should be dumped or flushed or chopped up by thieves. Jews and Christians both believe God made us (male and female) in His image, and Christians believe that God further honored the human body by taking on its form Himself: The Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us. That's what we celebrate starting tonight, and it is more worth celebrating than anything I know.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Misc. Mini-reviews

Coca-cola Zero. I recently tried this. Verdict: Much better than Diet Coke, but not necessarily better than Diet Coke with Lime.

Diet Rite Pure Zero cola. This is another new diet drink. It doesn't taste any better than the old Diet Rite, which is my favorite diet cola, in spite of its lack of caffeine. Bonus, the Diet Rite colas are sweetened with Splenda instead of aspartame. (If Splenda is killing us or taking our short term memory, we don't know about it yet. Or we've forgotten it.)

Air-adjust bed. Uncle Pookie just replaced our bed with one of those air-adjust bed sets--memory foam plus a layer of air, and you can adjust each side of the bed to a different firmness. It's surprisingly nice. Especially considering the price, which is less than a regular mattress and box springs.

The Rosary Shop. I just ordered some things from the Rosary Shop site, and I'm a happy customer. I received prompt emails confirming my order and its shipment, my order arrived well before I expected it, and everything I ordered was there. Moreover, they threw in a few extra supplies on the custom kit I ordered, and the instructions were very clear.

Joann's.Com. I ordered something from Joann's a week before I ordered from the Rosary Shop. I received an email saying they were going to process my order and that's the last I heard from them. I have yet to receive my order, which is now late, even allowing for the maximum probable shipping time they suggested. Fortunately, this wasn't a Christmas gift, so I can wait, but whereas I won't hesitate to order from the Rosary Shop again, I won't order from Joann's something I can get elsewhere.

The Christmas NRO. Good stuff. Lots of Christmas things. Because it's Christmas I forgive Amy Welborn for her piece, saying some things I wanted to say about Christmas....Eh, maybe I'll just say them anyway. Some things bear repeating.

Update/correction January 2006: The reason the Diet Rite cola I mentioned above doesn't taste any better than regular Diet Rite cola is that it IS regular Diet Rite cola. The Pure Zero thing, which I'd thought designated a second cola product, is now added to the labels of all the Diet Rite drinks. Diet Rite seems to be making a marketing push, improving all their labels and putting out refrigerator packs.

How NOT to Make a Hogwarts Scarf


How to Make a Hogwarts Scarf By Learning From My Mistakes

These instructions are for the Knifty Knitter knitting looms, but in making them I relied heavily on information I found at Atypically.Knit.

Of course you could make a Hogwarts scarf in just about any style, just by sticking to the house colors, but Hogwarts scarves, as shown in the Harry Potter movies, come in two basic varieties: the first kind, from movies 1 & 2, and a second style, from movies 3 & 4. The first style is basically nineteen equal-sized stripes of each house's colors, with eleven bunches of fringe in alternating colors at each end. Colors are bright. (For more detail and a knitting pattern see here. ) In movies 3 & 4, the scarves are made with the darker house color, with seven (more or less) instances of two narrow, light-color stripes placed near each other (what is called a trapped bar design); the exception is Hufflepuff house, which has the same design but in dark-on-light. These scarves have a short, dark fringe, and the colors overall are darker and more subdued than in the first two movies. (For more detail and a knitting pattern see here. For a crochet pattern see here.)

(The fourth movie also contains what seems to be a general Hogwarts scarf--narrow stripes of house colors on a dark, probably grey, field.)

If, like me, you're new to the Knifty Knitter, either of these scarves will give you a lot of practice changing color, not to mention knitting over. Plus you'll have a fun HP scarf at the end.

For either style scarf, you will need...

*Worsted weight yarn in the colors of your preferred house. (Gryffindor--scarlet & gold; Ravenclaw--blue & either silver (movie) or bronze (book); Hufflepuff--yellow & black; Slytherin--green & silver.)

*The Red, or Child-size, Knifty Knitter Loom. (The red loom is 7" wide and will make a scarf that is just over 5 inches wide. If you want a wider scarf you could go with the green, adult-size loom, which I'm guessing will make a scarf about 7" wide.)

*Yarn needle, scissors, knitting pick.

Hogwarts Scarf, First Style

I made a Gryffindor scarf. I used Red Heart Super Saver acrylic yarn in Gold and Mainstays acrylic in Autumn Red; the Red Heart SS in Burgundy also would have looked good. This yarn is cheap and worked well for this project. You can work 1 over 1 with it, so you don't even use much of the yarn; I had about a third of each skein (they were 7 oz.) left over. Of course if you want a more refined look, you'll need fancier yarn.


1.) Begin with your darker house color. Leaving a short tail, anchor your yarn and e-wrap all the way around twice. Anchor the end. Knit over. E-wrap again, anchor, and knit over. Repeat until you've knitted ten rows. Anchor your yarn and cut it; you should have a tail three or four inches long left.

2.) Now you're going to change to your other color. Leaving a tail 3-4 inches long, anchor your new yarn and e-wrap all the way around. Anchor and knit over. When you've knitted all the way around, take the tails of both yarns and tie them together. Now you can continue wrapping and knitting over as before. When you have knitted ten rows of the second color, stop, and change color again.

3.) Keep repeating steps 1 & 2 until your scarf is the desired length. End with a dark stripe. (Optional: because you'll be "losing" a bit of length on each end to the fringe, you may want to make the first and last stripe one row longer than the other stripes. It's a tiny, anal retentive sort of thing and makes little difference.)

4.) Cast off. (I usually use the second flat removal method at Decor accents, but you can also single crochet to get your piece off the loom.)

5.) Turn your tube inside out. Take your yarn needle and weave in all the tails you left when you changed colors. Turn tube right side out.

6.) Find where you changed color; there will be a small uneveness in the stripe there. Align the color change rows down one side of your scarf.

7.) Optional (this isn't strictly necessary, but I did it and think it helps): Lay your scarf out nice and straight on a towel. Mist very slightly with a water bottle. Lay another towel on top, cover with books, and leave over night. It will be nice and flat and the color change rows will stay in place while you add your fringe.

8.) To make the fringe, wrap your darker yarn around a hardcover book (I used the second HP book) and wrap around it about 84 times. Cut the wrapped yarn at one edge of the book. Now wrap your lighter yarn about 70 times and cut. Organize your cut pieces of yarn into bundles of 7 strands each; you should have 12 dark bundles and 10 light bundles. To make your fringe, take a bundle and fold it in half. Poke a large crochet hook through both sides of your knitted tube and pull your bundle half way through. Stick the cut ends of the bundle through the curved end and pull; if you've ever made a tassel on the end of a bookmark, this is the same thing. Atypically.knit recommends doing your middle tassel first, then one on each end, then filling in. Don't forget to alternate colors, beginning and ending with your dark color.

Learn from my mistakes:

The movie scarf is 19 stripes, but my scarf was starting to look kind of long, so I stopped on 15 stripes. This turned out to be a little too short for me (I'm 5'7"), so I should have made at least 17 stripes or gone for the full 19 as planned; fifteen stripes would probably work fine for a child.

I made the full number of tassels on each end, but 11 is too many for a scarf made on the red loom and they are pretty jammed on; nine tassels would work much better. Eleven would probably work fine with a scarf made on the green loom, plus the width on that would made a scarf closer to the movie width anyway.

About the scarf width, the red loom made the scarf a little more narrow than I thought it would. I think the width is fine even for adults, and for a child, it's probably the best size; a teenager or adult wanting a more "movie-accurate" look might want to go with the green loom.

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Hogwarts Scarf, Second Style

I made a Ravenclaw scarf of Caron Simply Soft yarn (see below) in Dark Country Blue and Gray Heather. This scarf takes very little of the second color.


1.) Begin with your main color (the darker one, unless you're doing Hufflepuff). Leaving a short tail, anchor your yarn and e-wrap all the way around twice. (Depending on your yarn, you may need to wrap a third time; see below.) Anchor the end. Knit over. E-wrap again, anchor, and knit over. Repeat until you've knitted 16 rows. Anchor your yarn and cut it; you should have a tail three or four inches long left.

2.) Now you're going to change to your accent color. Leaving a tail 3-4 inches long, anchor your new yarn and e-wrap all the way around. Anchor and knit over. When you've knitted all the way around, take the tails of both yarns and tie them together. E-wrap all the way around, anchor, and knit over. Cut your yarn, leaving a tail of 3-4 inches.

3.) Take your main color yarn, anchor it, and wrap all the way around. Anchor and knit over. Take the two tails and tie together. E-wrap again, anchor, and knit over. Repeat. Cut your yarn, leaving a tail.

4.) Take your accent color yarn and, leaving a tail, anchor it and e-wrap all around. Anchor and knit over. Take tails of yarn and tie together. E-wrap, anchor, and knit over. Cut your yarn, leaving a tail.

5.) Take your main color yarn, anchor it, and wrap all the way around. Anchor and knit over. Tie the two tails together. Continue wrapping and knitting over with your main color until you have 16 rows. Anchor your yarn and cut it, leaving a tail.

6.) Repeat steps #2-5 until your scarf is the desired length. (The movie scarves seem to have seven instances of the trapped bar design; I chose to stop mine after six.)

7.) Cast off.

8.) Turn your scarf inside out and use your yarn needle to weave in all the tails you left. Turn scarf right side out. Look for the row where you changed color, and make sure that row is aligned on one side all the way up. Optional: You can block the scarf as listed in step #7 of the first pattern above.

9.) To make the fringe, wrap your main color yarn around a book about 50 times. Cut the wrapped yarn along one edge of the book. Divide your yarn into little bundles of five strands each. Take a bundle and fold it in half. Poke a large crochet hook through both sides of your knitted tube and pull your bundle half way through. Stick the cut ends of the bundle through the curved end and pull. Atypically.knit recommends doing your middle tassel first, then one on each end, then filling in. When you have tassels across each end, you can trim to make a short, even fringe. (I decided I preferred mine long, but I don't think that's movie-accurate.)

Learn from my mistakes:

The Caron Simply Soft yarn does not work well on the Knifty Knitter. Its softer texture (usually a good thing) and lighter weight produces a loose-looking knit that is easily snagged. Experimenting since then, I've found that knitting 1-over-2 (wrap one extra time before knitting over) instead of 1-over-1 would fix most of the problem with the Simply Soft yarn. I recommend just using another yarn.

I made my light color stripes and the dark bar between the stripes one row longer than I had intended to, and it is too wide. They don't look right. (I've given the "correct" way in the directions.)

I didn't use good sense. I saw shortly after I started that the Simply Soft yarn wasn't working. I should have pulled it apart and tried 1-over-2 then or went and got a different kind of yarn, but I didn't listen to that little voice playing spokesman for my better judgement. I made the stripes a row wider than I had intended to do because, while making the first one, I had an attack of doubt and changed my plan; but by the time I'd made a couple of the stripes I could see they were too wide--my original plan had been right after all--but instead of pulling those out and starting over, I just kept on with what I was doing. Like I said, there was a lack of good sense.

Like with the first style scarf, if you want a scarf that looks as wide as in the movies, you may want to try moving up to the green loom.

A mistake I made with both scarves was to spread them out on the back of my couch to look at, and then went away and left them for a while. When I came back, our cat had walked all over them and was now happily napping on them. I don't recommend letting your cat walk on your scarves; whether you let it nap on them or not depends on how you feel about cat hair, your cat's comfort, and, I suppose, the scarves themselves.

Oh, and a further note on my Hogwarts scarf-making experience: As I had plenty of the Simply Soft yarn left and as that blue color is really nice, especially with Uncle Pookie's coloring, I decided I was getting a scarf out of it. I crocheted a second Ravenclaw scarf, a la Luvtocraft. (It's all double crochet, so it's easy.) To my crochet-novice eyes, it looks great, and I've already insisted Uncle Pookie wear it out. In our warm climate, scarves are mostly decorative and men rarely wear them, but Uncle Pookie is confident in his masculinity (or is that his feminine side?) and, as I pointed out, if anyone bandies about the word fruity when they see his scarf, we can remind them that John Wayne often wore fancy neckerchiefs in his movies and no one said a thing. (He wore bracelets too.) The Simply Soft, incidentally, crochets very nicely.

If anyone uses these instructions, or is inspired by them to come up with a better Knifty Knitter Hogwarts pattern, I'd love to hear about it.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Homespun Scarf On the Knifty Knitter

I've made three of these scarves--the two pictured for me and one for my sister. They take longer to make than a straight knitted (on the KK loom) scarf would, but they lie flat without blocking and the technique, though simple, really shows off the wavy texture of the Homespun yarn. The colors I used are Edwardian and Ranch.

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They are really simple, but as there aren't many Knifty Knitter patterns out there, I thought some people might be interested.

What you'll need:

Lion Brand Homespun Yarn (or similar), in your preferred color; at least half a skein.

The blue Knifty Knitter loom.

And, obviously, a yarn needle and scissors.


Basically, what you're going to do is knit one row and purl the next.

1.) Leaving a tail of about six inches, anchor your yarn.

2.) Do an e-wrap on the first fourteen (14) pegs. At the fourteenth peg circle back again and go back, e-wrapping the pegs the other way. Each peg is now wrapped twice. Anchor your yarn. Take your Knifty Knitter tool or other hook and, starting at the fourteenth peg, knit over--i.e. lift the bottom yarn over the top.

3.) When you get back to the first peg, take your yarn and hold it in front of the pegs. Using your hook, reach under the loop that is on the first peg, take up the loose yarn lying beneath it, and pull upward so you have a new loop. Use your fingers to lift the old loop off the peg and replace it with the new loop. Gently pull on the end of the yarn, to take up some of the slack. (If this is hard to visualize, you can watch a short video of it at Decor Accents.) Repeat process with each peg until you get to the fourteenth peg.

4.) Wrap the last peg and wrap back over previous pegs as before. Knit over.

5.) Repeat steps 3 & 4 until scarf is desired length. (Mine are about 5 feet.)

6.) Remove the scarf from the loom. I did this by slipping the last--the 14th--loop onto a crochet hook, making one chain stitch from the loose yarn, then making the next chain by slipping the next loop of its peg, and continuing alternating like that until all the loops are off the pegs. Decor Accents has pictures of this method.

7.) Leaving a tail of about six inches, cut your yarn. Thread the yarn into your needle and weave in ends. Do the same for the tail left at the beginning of your scarf.

Like I said, simple. You can do it while watching DVDs, provided you don't have to read subtitles.

The Capes Will Rise Again

I've long wished for a return of capes/cloaks/drapey wraps to ordinary life, because they're just so cool-looking. Admittedly, jackets and coats do a better job of keeping people warm, but they can't compete with capes for style (a few really cool-looking examples, such as Spike's leather trophy coat on Buffy, notwithstanding.) If you live in an area with mild winters, you don't need the warmest possible clothing. What I'm saying is, it's time for the Deep South to revive the cape!

I've started doing my part already. Late fall or early winter of last year I made a ruana and wore it all winter. "Ruana", for anyone who doesn't know, could be considered a fancy word for "a poncho split up the front", but I don't like ponchos and I do like ruanas. They are very easy to make; my first one was just a cut-and-wear one of brown fleece, but when I pulled it out to wear when the weather turned nippy last week, I got a compliment on it from a fellow shopper who told me she wanted to make a cape and was looking for ideas, so I figure it can't look too bad. This is somewhat in contrast to last year, when the first time I wore it Uncle Pookie told me I was wearing a blanket; of course when I pointed out I could hide a gun under it, the way Mexicans or seeming Mexicans sometimes did under ponchos in Westerns, the advantages of such a garment became obvious.... Hmm, maybe, just for the record, I should point out I'm not planning on shooting anyone, much less staging an elaborate trap, complete with apparently snoozing Mexicans, for my enemies any time soon?

I got the directions for how to make a ruana--and the word, which I'd never heard before--from a library book on plus-sized dressing that I skimmed back in the '90s. The author recommended ruanas for super-sized people who have difficulty finding coats, but they're nice for anybody. I would credit the book's author, but I can't remember the title or author's name; I wouldn't remember the book at all if I hadn't taken notice of the ruana project. Since then I've seen directions for a ruana in Pattern-free Fashions, by Mary Lee Trees Cole, and I just saw the very similar "wrap cape" from Nancy Zieman at .

The measurements below should fit most adults, but they could easily be changed to fit especially petite women or children.

How to Make a Ruana--A No-Sew or Low-Sew Project

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For a no-sew ruana, take two yards of a non-ravelling, 60"-wide fabric, such as Polar fleece, and make sure the end edges are trimmed straight across. Fold the fabric in half, so that it is 60" wide and one yard long; where the fold is is where the shoulder line of your ruana will be. Measure over 30" and mark with chalk the middle of the fabric both on the fold and at the bottom of the top layer. Draw a line between the two marks; this will be the front opening of your ruana. At the top, where the fold is, draw a line 6 inches wide; center it, so you have 3 inches on each side of your center front line. Now, take a bowl or plate and chalk a curved line from each side of the neck opening to the center front opening, so that the top front of your ruana curves a bit, rather than meeting in a square; it will hang better this way.

Double check to make sure everything you've marked looks right. Now get your scissors and carefully cut along your chalked lines, straight up the front of your top layer and then across at each side of the neck. (If you want to use a rotary cutter, spread the fabric out before cutting.) If desired, also round the bottom corners of your ruana at this time. Ta-da! You have a ruana. Wear it hanging down like a cape or throw one end over the opposite shoulder.

No-sew variations, other than curving every corner, could include cutting the bottoms into fringe or changing the length. Also, because the sides of the neck opening get a little more stress than the other cut places, I put a dot of Fray Check on each side; this was probably wholly unnecessary.

This becomes a low-sew, instead of a no-sew, project if you want to add embellishments, such as applique or decorative edge stitching, or if you use woven fabric. Obviously, if you use woven fabric instead of a non-ravelling knit, you're going to have to bind the edges somehow to prevent ravelling. My second ruana, which I made a month or two ago, was of a woven fabric. I bound the edges with black double-fold bias tape, to go with the black-and-white check of the main fabric. It looks great, except for one thing. I was so busy grumbling to myself about how I had to cut out fabric on the dining room floor (long story) that I forgot the cardinal rule of "measure twice, cut once"; actually I'm not even positive I measured once. (It's amazing how often irritation goeth before a fall.) Somehow I let my folded fabric be more than a yard long, and then when you add the way the weight of this fabric makes it drape, it is much too long. Unless I decide I like it this way (not likely) or get up the energy to rip out over thirty feet of bias tape (black thread on black fabric, an optometrist's dream), this ruana may remain sitting in my closet. But whatever I decide to do with it, it won't be my last ruana.

Update January 2006: This isn't anywhere near being important, but since writing this I have discovered, through the necessity-is-the-mother-of-invention method of needing something to jazz up an outfit, I can wear the black and white ruana I mentioned above, provided I wear one front end draped over the opposite shoulder. It would still look better shorter, but this is nice enough. The black binding creates pleasing lines when it's draped this way.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

What Do You Eat When You're Alone?

There is a wonderful cook book called Home Cooking, by Laurie Colwin; this is one of those that can be read with pleasure by people who don't cook, because the true value of it is not the recipes (though the ones I've tried are good) but the pleasure to be found in its writing. The recipes are embedded in chapters that sometimes have titles like "How to Disguise Vegetables" or "Repulsive Dinners: A Memoir". I've read most of these chapters more than once, and occasionally find myself thinking about something from them. Like this, from the section called "Alone in the Kitchen with An Eggplant":

"Dinner alone is one of life's pleasures. Certainly cooking for oneself
reveals man at his weirdest. People lie when you ask them what they eat when
they are alone. A salad, they tell you. But when you persist, they confess to
peanut butter and bacon sandwiches deep fried and eaten with hot sauce, or
spaghetti with butter and grape jam."

Yesterday I ate lunch at home alone. I squeezed half a boudin (a kind of Cajun sausage, made of rice, meat, and spices; it's sometimes spelled boudain) out of its membrane, mixed it with an egg, dropped it by spoonfuls into a skillet, fried it, and ate the resulting patties with a tablespoon of ketchup that had two drops of hot sauce mixed in. This is possibly some sort of Cajun blasphemy, I don't know. But it wasn't bad.

What do you eat when you're alone?

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Some Fun Stuff

I've managed to waste more time than I thought I had to waste online lately, so here's some fun stuff I found.

Find Your Hogwarts House Personality Test
I'm not as much of a personality test junkie as I used to be (I guess I find myself less fascinating than I did when I was younger), but I liked this one. This would be a fun test even if you knew nothing about Harry Potter, because the questions make you have to think. I didn't save my results but they were 95 Ravenclaw, around 78 Hufflepuff, high 50s Gryffindor, and 29 Slytherin.

The Haggis Hurl game.

And from the site that linked the Haggis Hurl, I've Got My Tinfoil Hat On.

This has been around for a while, but it's new to me: Yatta. It's no Numa Numa , of course, but it's cheerful in its own Japanese-men-dancing-around-in-their-underwear-and-fake-fig-leaves-kind-of-way.

I had to have some Seinfeld quotes for my sister's Christmas--sorry, Festivus--gift, and rather than trusting my memory I looked for them online. (It also saved typing them all out.) had a truckload. If you enjoyed Seinfeld, it's actually kind of fun to go through them. But it's no Yatta.

Some Good Lines I've Heard Or Read This Past Month Or So

"The conservative man knows our society needs good mothers way more than it needs hot movie stars who don't sag in their thirties." (Tim Graham)

"... f***ing with the PTA in Japan is like f***ing with The Sopranos." (Azrael, of I Am a Japanese Schoolteacher)

"If I am truly unbiased [as a journalist], then I need to get used to this one simple fact; that the untold story, might in fact, be a positive one." (Margaret Freidenauer, embedded reporter)

"If you don't look good on wood, you shouldn't become a Christian. This [pointing to crucifix] is not for sissies." (Michael Cumbie, Catholic evangelist)

"While he needed a sophisticated basic education to be Shakespeare, the author of the plays, a university training, at least with regard to medicine, would have diminished rather than enhanced his work....As Orwell pointed out, it takes effort and determination to see what is in front of one’s face. Among the efforts required is the discarding of the lenses of excessive or bogus theorizing. When it comes to our attempts to understand the phenomena of our own society, I cannot help but wonder how many of us are in the grip of theories that are the equivalent of Hall’s Galenical theory, and whether as a result we do not prescribe the legislative equivalents of human skull, mummy dust, and jaw of pike." (Theodore Dalrymple--if this doesn't make sense, here's the rest for context )

"Money can do a lot of things - but it cannot help reconcile you to your own death." (Umberto Eco)

Lagniappe for the Soul

I was thinking about the "Catholic double dipping" I wrote about in my last post, and I thought maybe another way to talk about it is as "lagniappe for the soul"--asking for one thing (a blessing for someone else) and getting something extra.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The Catholic Home, by Meredith Gould

Anyone who still has a gift to buy for a Catholic friend or relative may want to check out this little book: The Catholic Home, by Meredith Gould, published last year by Doubleday. It's subtitled Celebrations and Traditions for Holidays, Feast Days, and Every Day and that pretty much tells you what it is--a nice mix of folk customs and some Church teaching to help people (especially those of us who did not grow up with all the once-common traditions that marked a Catholic household as Catholic) to celebrate the liturgical year. There's a lot of ideas here, so it's well worth the price (under US$20). If you've already done your Christmas shopping, keep this in mind as a gift for people who are about to get married or who have a baby; it would make a great gift for people starting a new home and family.

Caveats: I haven't read every single page--it's more of a dip-into book than a read-straight-through book--and I did find an error in the Advent section. The author says that Advent begins November 30th; later in the book she says St. Andrew's Day (November 30th) marks the end of Ordinary Time . This is not quite true, although every Advent calendar I've ever seen for sale starts its numbering on December 1. My understanding is that Advent begins four Sundays before Christmas Day. This means that the start of Advent varies year-to-year, and that the earliest Advent can begin is November 27th (like this year) and the latest is December 3rd (unless I've miscalculated.) And I suppose anyone could find something in the book to quibble with--I associate Santa Claus more with Odin than with Thor, for example--but don't let any of this prevent you from buying the book, for yourself or others. Whoever gets it will probably enjoy it.

Oh, and by the way I noted with amusement that the author uses the term "double dipping" when she mentioned people can receive Anointing of the Sick (what used to be called Last Rites) more than once. I use the term "Catholic double dipping" for the practice of praying for others; we believe that praying for others benefits both the person prayed for and the person doing the praying--the latter because praying for others is an act of charity and like any act of charity can help open the heart further--so it's like opening two avenues for grace.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Random Thoughts


Considering her problem with water, the Wicked Witch of the West must have smelled worse than her flying monkeys.


I was in the dollar store recently and saw one of those children's illustrated classics versions of, get this, George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion. Now I actually did read Pygmalion as a child, but I'll be the first to admit I was not the most normal kid on on the block. It's not a children's play.


Squirrels might seem less cute to us if we called them tree rats.


People say the sense of wonder diminishes with adulthood, but between going into the living room and wondering what I went in there for and leaving the kitchen and wondering if I remembered to turn off the stove, I'm more full of wonder than ever....Okay, that's so corny I should apologize. I'm sorry. It's still true though.


It's probably easier and less distracting for childless women in their thirties to go to Unitarian, ultra-liberal Episcopalian, or other churches where the birth rate is likely to be a bit low, than to go to "conservative" Catholic or evangelical Protestant churches.


I'd be willing to bet a few dollars that none of the celebrities saying Tookie Williams shouldn't be put to death because he has supposedly redeemed himself and is all about peace nowadays would want the man living next door to them or babysitting their children.


Why is it easy--relatively easy--to get up early to go to work or to school or on a trip, but so incredibly hard to get up early to exercise?


The funny, talented Richard Pryor has died. Since Richard Pryor's enjoyment of his last years was (I assume) diminished by his multiple sclerosis, it seems sad that he missed so much of his time in the preceding years due to being high. But then it's sad that many of our most creative people are unhappy enough to want to spend much of their non-working time high or drunk or otherwise pursuing self-destruction. I wish I knew why so many creative people are unhappy.


Yesterday at Mass

Today is the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and yesterday at mass there was a short procession with a Guadalupe statue, children carrying candles, and the Blessed Sacrament under a canopy that looked kind of like the huppah at Jewish weddings. As I stood in the procession, my throat kept swelling up with emotion, and I was afraid of crying. Catholics have been doing this--having processions with statues on feast days--since at least the Middle Ages, and there I was, a part of this tradition that so many people have taken part in all over the world. I may have been in a modern parking lot in America, wearing modern clothes and no doubt holding a lot of modern ideas, but I was connected to Catholics from hundreds of years ago, as well as Catholics in other parts of the world today--especially in Mexico, where Our Lady of Guadalupe is most loved. I was connected to all of them, and it was good.

At least I think that's why I was so moved.

Post-Katrina Update (Kind of Long and Possibly Boring)

Thursday was the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, a day of holy obligation for Catholics, and I got a pleasant surprise when I went to church: we had mass in the church building. Since Hurricane Katrina we've had to have mass in the parish hall, because the storm ripped our roof off and before it could be fixed mold got in the building and people had to come in and dry it out (if you've never seen this, picture a massive dryer vent tube hooked up to a machine and going in the front door) before it could be properly cleaned and repainted. (We're lucky; some churches in the diocese were destroyed.) The mass is the mass whether it's celebrated in a grand cathedral or secretly in a jail cell in communist China, but I don't mind admitting I prefer our pretty sanctuary and padded kneelers to folding chairs and no visible tabernacle in the parish hall.

This was another step toward everything being back to normal for people who go to my church, but, however much better things are--and they are vastly better--things still aren't completely normal in south Mississippi. I came across this page of readers' post-Katrina updates at Amy Wellborn's excellent site (I haven't had time to look at any blog other than The Corner in about a month and a half, but I saw this when I followed a Corner link; she also had an interesting Pullman review ) and I thought an update about people who aren't directly on the Coast might be of interest to some. I can't offer official statistics or anything, only give an idea of what an average person sees.

I live in south Mississippi, about thirty miles inland. Our town was lucky. We never lost water, there was no flooding, we got power and community services back relatively quickly, and hardly any businesses had to close, although some took a while to reopen. All the massive piles of debris (mostly parts of trees) that had been in front of every house and, in some places, piled in the medians are now long gone, but here and there around town there are still a few downed trees in people's yards that haven't been taken care of; more common are damaged trees--for example, leaning badly but not fallen--that haven't been taken care of. Many yards still have holes or big bare dirt areas where trees were pulled out. I've seen roofers working just about every Sunday, not to mention weekdays, but there are still "blue roofs" (a kind of tarp-like thing that FEMA gives out) on houses all over town. There's a lot of trailers and RVs in town, some of them sitting in people's fronts yards; I haven't seen any tents lately, though. Thanksgiving Day there seemed to be an abnormally large number of people at Wal-Mart or eating out; my guess is people living in FEMA trailers found staying at their temporary homes on a holiday depressing. There are a few buildings with severe damage that haven't been--or can't be--fixed and aren't yet torn down. Last I noticed the banks of free phones that the phone company put up in several places around town were still up and the public library still had a sign up saying computer use was now limited to help with Katrina-related issues.

The biggest change in southern Mississippi is the change in population. People have moved off the MS Coast or out of southern Louisiana into more northerly parts of southern MS and LA. The town I live in not only has new residents but is close enough to the coast and to still-damaged parts of Louisiana that we have people from there coming here to shop. So there's a lot more traffic in town. The parking lot of the local Wal-Mart looked like it was Christmas shopping season back in October; now that it is Christmas, it's insane--full parking lot and lines at every register at 9AM on a Tuesday morning. It's a Supercenter, but, not having enough personnel to cope with the increased volume, they still haven't been able to go back to the normal 24-hour a day schedule. Wal-Mart is the busiest, but the story is much the same all over town, especially at the dollar stores. Business has increased so much it's often hard for the store employees to keep everything organized and provide their usual level of customer service. They've mostly adjusted to the increased volume, but for a long while there the stores had trouble keeping shelves stocked--especially cleaning supplies.

On a sociological note, there's suddenly Hispanic people in town, where before this was a white-&-black-with-a-handful-of-Asians town. It's mostly Mexican men, who I assume are here for work; a lot of the new residents aren't displaced people, but workers who've come in for the various clean-up and rebuilding jobs.

The only other town I know much about is Hattiesburg, which is about seventy miles inland. I've been told it has an additional twenty thousand people in town since Katrina--this is on roads that were called thirty years out of date for the level of population ten years ago. I know someone who had a sudden need for housing there in November and couldn't find a hotel room anywhere in town, and discovered that, even though Hattiesburg has apartment buildings everywhere you turn, available apartments were scarcer than hen's teeth. So Hattiesburg has had to cope with a lot of new people in town--with its attendant demands on schools, police, sewers, etc.--in addition to their own hurricane damage, which wasn't inconsiderable; a few weeks after the hurricane I happened to ride by the place where they were stacking trees that had been removed from roads and such, and it was amazing--aisles of piles of trees as far back as I could see.

(To return to the Hispanic note, Hattiesburg does have an Hispanic population, and I heard they were badly hit by the storm. Few speak much English, so it was hard for them to get information afterward, not being able to understand the radio or read newspapers or flyers. Most don't work the kind of jobs that are likely to give pay for any of the days of work missed because of the storm. And some were probably reluctant to go for help to anywhere that might be government-related because, let's be honest, a lot of them aren't legal. The local Catholic churches provided a lot of help though, and I don't doubt other groups did as well; I know a relative of mine was picking up free lunches at a Baptist church--a lot of churches gave out food after the storm--and driving them to a badly affected Mexican family who lived down the road.)

So far I haven't heard of any conflict of the sort one might expect when a town has a sudden influx of people from outside. The closest to that kind of thing I know about was a bit of bathroom graffitti I saw that went, "[name of town] sucks!" and the response "[something insulting] go home!" I guess there isn't conflict because these towns around here that have displaced people are close enough by that the displaced people don't stand out--they're basically the same culturally and may in fact have relatives in their new town. I wonder if it's the same in the towns in other parts of the country that took in a lot of displaced New Orleans residents?

My husband and I visit Lousiana fairly often, Slidell mostly. (Slidell is a town north of New Orleans; the Onion's list of top ten things under New Orleans' flood waters included Slidell.) The traffic situation is the same in LA as in southern MS. Slidell is crazy though. There was flooding and things are less normal there than in MS-- non-Coast MS, anyway. Everywhere you go in Slidell--every single store, every single restaurant--has "Help Wanted" signs up and have for over two months. Some of the fast food places are offering signing bonuses. There's lots of people on the roads and patronising the businesses, but not enough people to work. So you'll see odd stuff like a Taco Bell that closes at five in the afternoon because there aren't enough workers to keep it open. I really don't know what's going on there. Also some places still haven't reopened because of flood damage, but you can see signs of work going on, so I guess it's only a matter of time.

We still haven't visited the MS Coast since Katrina. People who have say it's still really messed up and there's still some roads that are closed.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Odds & Ends

Auntie Suzanne has been brought low by her own traitorous body--first by a cold last week, and then by her sinuses' insistence on giving her a headache every day this week--but she has managed to see a few interesting things online.

Popular Science is riding through town tellings us, "Colored bubbles are coming, colored bubbles are coming!" Actually they just have an interesting article up about one man's quest to create colored bubbles. With eleven years, a fair amount of funding, and the services of a dye chemist, that one man succeeded, and we should have non-staining, colored bubbles on the market no later than February. Because the creation of the bubbles involved creating an entirely new class of dyes, there's potential for a lot of other new products, such as temporary wall paint colors or toothpaste that will stain kids teeth until it's time for them to stop brushing.

They also have a list of the 10 worst jobs in science up that is kind of fun to skim through, but I don't think any of the jobs on that list are worse than working retail during the Christmas season.

Uncle Pookie and I read Freakonomics a few weeks ago, and although the book was entertaining reading, I didn't buy the legalized abortion caused the drop in American crime theory. It was not that I had a problem with saying legal abortion might have some good side effects, but that I didn't buy it as the cause. I believe the drop in crime is due primarily to the fact that we have a smaller percentage of young people in our society now; any time there is a larger percentage of young people in a society, there is more crime, because young people--especially young men--are much more likely to commit or be involved in crimes than older people. (FWIW, they are also more likely to be the victims of crimes, largely because of their tendency to hang out with other young people.) I saw no problem with saying legalized abortion may have contributed to the reduction in crime rate, because anything that results in fewer teenagers and young adults in the population reduces crime; I just figured the birth control pill contributed at least as much as abortion did, and that the change in attitudes that made us want fewer children and want them later in life when it's harder to make them was the biggest contributor of all.

Not being a social scientist, I didn't--and don't--have any data to back my opinion up, but according to Steve Sailer there is evidence that the Freakonomics abortion-cuts-crime argument is seriously flawed. (Link via The Corner.) I'm not going to try to summarize his summary of the problem, but it's worth a skim, because with the popularity of the book, we're likely to hear this argument a lot.

And just for fun, Foamy's Christmas Rant is back up. This was my introduction to Foamy, and I still find it really funny. Be warned, it is definitely NOT work-safe or children-in-the-room-safe.