Monday, January 31, 2011

A nice way to start the week

I arrived at the office this morning and found this on my windowsill.

It wasn't yet open on Friday.  This makes for a nice start to the week.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Long Dark Night of the Sole

I sleep soundly. In fact, I’ve slept through a great number of loud and calamitous events. Archimedes is credited with saying something along the lines of “give me a long enough lever and a firm place upon which to stand, and I can move the earth.” Myself, I’m more of a “give me a decent pillow, a science channel marathon about the pyramids or UFOs and a flat place to stretch out and I can lose an afternoon” kind of guy.

All of which makes what I’m about to tell you just that much more troubling. For recently, my sleep was interrupted. Not just once but multiple times. In one evening. Let me explain.

Last week, I had the good fortune of heading south. Like a sloth-afflicted sparrow, I boarded an Alaska Airlines flight – bound for San Diego. As is my habit, I was heading for a three day conference on securities law, held every January at the Hotel Del Coronado, on Coronado Island.

The hotel is a hauntingly beautiful old structure, perched right on the edge of the Pacific. And though my conference keeps me in a conference room all day for each of the three days, there is always some time to spend poking around on the beach before or after the sessions. I like the beach. You can find sand dollars if you’re lucky. And if you’re really lucky you won’t step in the ick that seems to wash ashore from Tijuana just across the border.

Well, this year, I had no time for the beach. When not in class, I was on a mission. Mrs. TSMK had sent me with specific instructions. And, unlike her mission of choice the last time she accompanied me on this trip, my mission did not involve long hours spent observing the nearby Navy seals playing shirts versus skins football on the beach.

No, this mission was more important. I was going ghost hunting. For in my carry-on bag I had brought all the tools of the trade. A K-II device to measure electromagnetic fields. A fancy thermometer to help me identify hot or cold spots. And, of course, a digital voice recorder to help me capture any electronic voice phenomena.

[Note: if you decide to fly out of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport carrying the foregoing items in your carry-on bag, be prepared to have an interesting conversation with the TSA agents at the security checkpoint.]

When I checked in to the Hotel, I asked to be placed in one of the haunted parts of the hotel. The desk clerk narrowed her eyes slightly, and after a few keystrokes, told me I would be staying in the western side of the oldest part of the Hotel, on the third floor.

I trudged up to my room. I wanted to hunt for ghosts immediately. Unfortunately, I’d been at work from early morning to midday, and had then been traveling for several hours. Unless my paranormal prey was holding a hoagie, I wasn’t going to be satisfied. I needed food.

[Note: As far as I could discern, the pizza place was not haunted.]
I made my way out of the Hotel, onto the main street. After a brief walk, I found my objective: pizza. I placed my order – a small pizza with bacon, onion and mushrooms – and telephoned home to learn the news of the day. Then, while waiting for my pizza, I got out my equipment and did a bit of looking around.

I returned to the hotel, pizza box in hand. After eating a slice or two too many, and working on a sock for Mrs. TSMK, I collapsed in a heap on the bed.

The sock is an interesting pattern – and by interesting I mean maddening. It is a toe-up design, and every fourth row has a twisted rib, requiring you to cable (forward or back – depending on the row) every other stitch. I’m doing it on two size 1 circular needles.  On every fourth row,  I've got a cable needle in the mix as well.  This way lies madness.

I woke the next morning, mouth tasting of garlic from the night before. Showered, dressed and properly caffeinated, I dutifully attended the conference.

[Note: As far as I could discern, the conference room itself was not haunted – although there were some truly disturbing sounds coming out of one of the stalls in the mens’ room during one of the breaks in the program. I chose not to try to debunk those sounds.]

After finishing my classes for the day, and a fair amount of work I’d brought along from the office, I set about investigating my room. I found no unusually high electromagnetic fields. I searched in vain for inexplicable temperature anomalies. I heard no unusual noises.

Slightly discouraged, I dressed for bed. I went into the bathroom to brush my teeth. The light clicked on as I entered – part of the Hotel’s “green” initiative – like not washing the towels every day unless requested. I washed my face, left the bathroom, and settled down to find something on the television. Something that would keep my mind off the fact that I was trying to knit tiny cables with fat fingers. After working for about an hour, I set the sleep timer on the television, turned out the light, and proceeded to drift off while listening to the history channel interspersed with ads for what I understand is a revolution in home fitness – the Shake Weight.

I awoke at just after 1:00 a.m. The television was off but the room was illuminated. Confused, I sat up to have a look around. The bathroom light was on. I rolled out of bed, convinced I’d forgotten to turn it off. I stumbled to the bathroom and pressed the button to turn it off. With the room now properly dark, I got back under the covers.

I awoke again at just after 1:45. The light was back on. Again I trudged to the bathroom to turn off the light. Again, I climbed back under the covers.

I awoke again just before 3:00. The light was back on. I left it on, and tried to sleep.

At 6:30, my alarm went off. The light was off in the bathroom. I stood near the bathroom door. I jumped up and down on the creaky floors, trying to get the door to sway. I looked for air vents in or near the bathroom that might cause the door to move or the shower curtain to flutter. I could find nothing. Try as I might, I could not debunk my experience. I could not account for the behavior of the light.

Excited about my encounter with the inexplicable, I called Mrs. TSMK. Halfway through the conversation I realized that she would never again accompany me to this conference – at least not if we stayed in the same Hotel.

I dressed and rushed downstairs for the conference. The day flew by, and soon I was back in my room. I had made a plan. This night, I would set my digital voice recorder to record any noises that might happen during the night. I was so excited I could barely sleep. But sleep eventually came after innumerable rows of that blasted sock – which was finally nearing completion.

The night passed without incident. I slept soundly, disturbed only briefly by the sound of what I can must assume were two consenting adults in the next room. I woke in the morning, turned off the voice recorder, dressed, packed my belongings, checked out of my room, and attended the last day's sessions at the conference.

When I arrived back home, I check over the voice recorder.  I was hopeful that the recorder would have picked up something, anything, that might explain the strange events of the prior night.  But what I found made my blood run cold.

After reviewing the audio footage, and filtering out some of the background noise, I found I had captured three distinct messages.  Messages, it would seem, from beyond.  The first is simply mean spirited. 

The second was confusing and, it would seem, irrelevant. 

The third, well, it would prove prophetic.

I finished binding off the cuff of the sock, and fearfully approached Mrs. TSMK.  But the voices from beyond were right.  The gusset is too narrow.  The sock doesn't fit.

Damned spooky if you ask me. 


Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Importance of Being (an) Earnest

Some decades ago - almost three decades to be exact - I got an unusual gift.  I didn't really want the gift, and when I was asked whether I'd like it I didn't respond well.  I'm told that I objected to the gift.  I'm told, in fact, that I said I'd rather have a puppy.

The gift was a sibling.  And though I didn't know it at the time of the question, it turned out to be a sister.

As I'd been an only child up to this point, I really didn't have much experience with babies.  She was loud.  She was smelly.  She turned herself purple when she cried - which she did rather a lot. 

Over time, she got bigger and louder and, for a time, smellier as well.

We lived together for eleven years - give or take - and then my folks moved across the country.  I was in college when they moved, and seeing as I was very enamored of a young redhead who lived across town, I didn't feel particularly inclined to move with them.  So I stayed.  And they went.  And that, as they say, was that.

All of this brings me to a very important fact.  Although The Empire Strikes Back is viewed by many critics as the best of the Star Wars films, it has never been my favorite. 

Seeing Han Solo immersed in carbonite makes my skin crawl.  Now in large part, this is because the idea of being unpleasantly thrust into some form of suspended animation is just, well, creepy. 

And yet, for my perception of my sister, carbonite and California are synonymous.  It is as if she stopped aging the moment she got in the car and rode away with my parents.  She stayed locked in carbonite at age eleven. 

I don't know how many years passed between the day Solo was frozen and the day a Leia thawed him out.  But I do know that in the tender scene in Jabba's palace - Solo emerges from the carbonite temporarily blind but looking like he hasn't aged a day.  I like that.  It is comforting somehow. 

But that hasn't been my experience with my sister.  No, she has stubbornly refused to stay frozen in time.  In fact, she grew up.  She got considerably less smelly.  Although, truth be told, she never did get much quieter. 

In fact, in a sense she got much louder.  Because now, where there was once just one person - my sister - there are now three people.  My sister, a wife, and a mother.  Weird.  She went and got married.  And then she had the audacity to have children.  Several, in fact.  Including a set of twins and, most recently, a cute guy in a goofy hat

Now I understand that I may be old fashioned.  But I just don't think that an eleven year old should get married and have children.  And in my mind, she is still eleven.   Never mind the fact that it has been many years since she was eleven - that's irrelevant.  Seeing her with her husband and beautiful family is for me like trying to watch a television marathon of Bewitched.  You can't just switch Dick York for Dick Sargent without explanation.  It doesn't work.  Are we really not supposed to notice?  Because we do.  A lot.  They're two different people.



But that's my sister. One minute she's York and the next she's Sargent. Both are cool, I guess.

And that's why I made her a scarf this year for Christmas.  It is a nifty drop-stitch pattern that I found online, and I knit it up in some seriously soft alpaca. 

I don't know what an eleven-year-old will do with such a scarf.  Hopefully she won't lose it on the playground at school. 


Friday, January 7, 2011

Thoughts on Love

I'm a bit of a reader.  Not voracious exactly, but there are usually a few things on the nightstand by the bed.

Sometimes I read well-regarded literature.  Sometimes, I even read it successfully.  But other times not so much.  I've been stuck on the same page of Ulysses now for the better part of a decade.  Every time I pick it back up I can't remember where I left off - maybe I just don't drink enough to understand Joyce.

Other times, my choice of literature leans more toward the unusual or the technical.  At the moment, The Art of the Catapult is sharing space on the nightstand with a book on how to conduct paranormal investigations and a hand-held device for measuring electromagnetic fields.  I had an awesome Christmas and my family knows my tastes well.

Within the last year, I've read quite a number of books that could be characterized as either philosophical in nature or relating in some way to comparative religious studies - or some measure of both.  I enjoy these books, as they often make me think about the world, and our place in it, in ways I hadn't before. 

One relatively thick volume that I've been reading lately is an Osho commentary on The Sutra of 42 Chapters - a Buddhist manuscript dating to the first century.  Although I studied philosophy in college, my studies were limited solely to works of Western authors.  The thought reflected in this work is, as they say, an entirely new breed of cat.  Or, well, they would say that if the particular cat wasn't actually many millennia in the making.

One aspect of the work that I find especially intriguing is the concept of love.  Osho suggests that just as we can dance without being observed, and we can sing without someone listening, we can love without an object of that exercise.  In Osho's view, love is internal.  And only by cultivating love within ourselves can we share love with others.  If we try to share love without first developing it within ourselves, we share instead our misery and our suffering. 

Powerful thoughts.  I suspect the Echidna would approve.

Love is a funny thing.  It can lead you to do things that you might not otherwise do.  Like, for example, knitting a highly cabled lap blanket. 

This one took me the better part of a month.  The pattern is Serenity by Laura Wilson-Martos.  The yarn is Lion Brand Wool-Ease - recycled from a friend's abandoned project. 

The recipient is a lady I've known my entire life.  She is goofy, with a quirky sense of humor, a talent for beating me soundly in Scrabble, and a penchant for calling me every year on May 29 and singing when I pick up the phone.  I love her dearly.   She is my mom.


Sunday, January 2, 2011

Of Millinery and Men

I like hats.  In fact, I like them rather a lot and have quite a few.

I'm not exactly proud of it, but if I'm honest I have too many hats.  I haven't ever counted the total, but can say with certainty that I have eight in my office alone.  Well, eight on the wall.  Three or four more are on bookshelves, with a handful on the coat rack and maybe one or two just lying around.  Then there are the hats at the house, and the hats that live in the car. 

Did I mention I like hats?

Well, this year I decided to share my love of millinery with a few relations and make some hats as Christmas presents.  In each case, I started with the same basic template, a wonderful felted beret pattern that was developed by my favorite LYS.  But, with each hat I made a few specific changes to reflect the needs or characteristics of the recipient. 

For my one and only brother, I wanted to stay relatively simple - so far as I knew this would be his only beret.  And seeing as how he lives in a part of the country that isn't exactly cosmopolitan, I didn't want people seeing him to think he was getting too uppity. 

So I went for basic black in Jamieson Shetland Spindrift - but with a single thin stripe of white to set off the band. 

The photo isn't great, but I'm hoping he will send me a shot of the finished item being worn.  And if he does I'll post it here.

For my middle son, I scaled down the pattern.  He, like his mother - Mrs. TSMK - has a head roughly the size of a peanut.  But in addition to scaling it down, I knew I wanted to do something that would just be fun for the sake of fun.  So for him, the beret received a very small ornament, a very small amount of i-cord at the top.  When felted, it makes a very slight nub.  His is in  Spindrift as well, but in his (and my) favorite color: blue.

Although there are three years between my youngest son and my middle son, their heads are almost the same size.  Yes, that means what you think it does.  My youngest guy has a melon perched atop his neck.  He gets that from his dad.  So I didn't need to scale down the pattern any more for the little guy.  But he has almost no hair - so I was thinking that the warmer the better.  Rather than using the Spindrift - I went to the Shetland DK for this one.  I don't know if it is his favorite color, but do know that it works well with his complexion and the blue in his eyes.

Of course, all this hat making had me feeling a bit left out.  And seeing as how I had recently given away one of my favorite hats, I felt like I could use another.  True to form, I used the same pattern for my hat.  And I went back to the Spindrift.  But I've never been particularly worried about people thinking I'm too uppity and so mine is a bit fancier than the others. 

You just can't top a great hat.