Brain Spinning

I have long wanted to spin yarn — because now that really nice yarn is readily available, why not make my own on a fiddly machine that will likely engender much cursing?

Actually, it would be neat to take fiber all the way to yarn and then knit that yarn into a scarf or shawl or socks or whatever, and, like the nicotine addict who rolls his own, I hope spinning my own will slow me down — because how many scarves, shawls, blankets, socks does a person really need? (I do donate quite a few items, and gift even more, but still.)

Plus, I’m fascinated by fiber/textiles, I love learning new things, Iowa winters are long and dull, and summers, well, I’m not a big fan of gardening.

So I have some $ coming in mid-June and I’ve earmarked some of it for a spinning wheel. I’m planning to attend the Iowa Sheep and Wool Festival in early June to try out some wheels, since the nearest dealer who carries more than one brand is 5.5 hours away, north of Minneapolis. In the meantime, because it’s so much more fun than grading or vacuuming, I’ve obsessively been researching spinning wheels online.

For most of human history, yarn was made on spindles, including drop-spindles, which I have used, but I’m much more adept at the DROP (clatter, roll away) than the spin. No, as the Chinese discovered early on and Europe figured out by around 1200, spinning wheels are the way to go. The first ones were just a more efficient way to turn a spindle (this would be what did in Sleeping Beauty), but they soon became more sophisticated, both spinning the yarn and winding it on a bobbin.

Speaking of fairy tales, traditional spinning wheels have the coolest names for their parts — maidens, mother-of-all, footmen — and for the wheel styles: saxony, castle, great wheel.

Today, wheels come in tons of styles: saxony, castle, modern castle, direct drive. They are also made from lots of different materials: rare wood (multiple thousands of dollars per wheel), hard wood, plywood, even PVC pipe and wheelchair wheels.

Based on my obsessive research, there are four wheels I’m considering. One is the best all-around, most sensible deal: the Fricke S-160 double treadle. But the romantic part of me wants a Bluebonnet Shamrock castle wheel (still a good deal). The cutesy part of me wants a folding Thimble. (an okay deal). And the gadget-loving part of me wants a Queen Bee, but that part, luckily, is not going to pay so much for a hobby item.

A used wheel purchase is, of course, possible, but wheels tend to hold their value, so when you factor in shipping to the butt-of-nowhere, Iowa, you might as well buy new and get the warranty.

Until then, the weather is nicer, school is almost over, and I have a novel to plan. Summer! Sabbatical! Sheep — I mean, Sleep!


The Sweet Stuff

Sunday, March 31 was my first day without sugar.

If I’d known when I woke up that it was going to be The First Day, I would have spent Saturday at the local markets snapping up half price Easter chocolate and gone down fighting, a bit like the mayor (Alfred Molina) at the end of Chocolat.

But I didn’t know. Which isn’t to say I hadn’t been eating my more-than-fair share of Cadbury crispy sugar-coated chocolate eggs and Blue Bunny Deluxe Mint Chip ice cream.

And that was the problem — for about a year, I’ve been indulging my considerable sweet tooth with more sweets, more often, and many times directly after I’d decided to tone it down. Binging would not be too strong a word for some of these snack sessions (no purging — we’re talking chocolate here, much too precious to abuse in such a way).

I want to make it clear that this no-sugar decision wasn’t a weight issue. I even lost 5 or 6 lbs over the fall, despite the chocolate and ice cream – oh, and the DQ mini-Blizzards, mint with extra Oreo.

Rather, that Saturday it occurred to me that my consuming-regretting-consuming behavior was a bit like my father’s relationship with alcohol. Dad was a highly functional alcoholic for most of his adult life (much less functional in the final 5 years). Haha, I thought, isn’t that a wacky coincidence? Haha, good thing I seldom keep liquor/beer/wine in the house and never drink alone. Haha, maybe sugar is my booze. Haha…..

Well, crap.

Double crap, because if my problem had been booze, and I came to that realization, I would stop drinking. Climb on the wagon. Quit cold turkey. Dry out. Get off the sauce.

The logic was inescapable – I needed to put down the sugar and walk away. A nutritionist might advise moderation, but for me, moderation meant not eating deluxe mint chip ice cream straight from the carton. No, I scooped it into bowls, like a civilized being. Large bowls. Successive bowls.

I spent Sunday morning contemplating my world without sweets. I did so while obsessively searching the internet for information about giving up sugar. (It’s likely that obsessively searching the internet is another addiction of mine, but one trek virtue-ward at a time.) I found this article in NY Times Magazine and wondered if my sugar consumption really could be as bad for my liver and related processes as drinking. Because let’s face it: if I’m going to ruin my liver, hanging out at bars slamming down shots of tequila has definite advantages over scarfing down mint chip ice cream at home. For one, it gets you out of the house, plus lime wedges are rich in vitamin C.

A bit more research convinced me that ditching sweets isn’t enough, since sugar, especially fructose, and even more especially high fructose corn syrup, has infiltrated our country more silently and efficiently than commies in Joe McCarthy’s worst nightmares. And while I’d already gotten away from using anywhere near as much prepared food as I once did, it’s pretty instructive to read the sugar grams in run of the mill peanut butter, pizza and pasta sauce, boring cereals that no self-respecting child would even consider eating, and plain bread and rolls. And if the product is labeled ‘low fat,’ chances are the sugar content is even higher.

I settled for ditching all sweets and keeping my in-other-food sugar consumption to 25 grams a day or less, which allows for a serving or so of fruit in addition to the sugar that occurs naturally in my suddenly much healthier diet.

I was afraid that after a day or so off sugar I’d be reenacting Ewan McGregor’s withdrawal scene from the end of Trainspotters, and we all know from there it’s only short jump to playing young Obi Wan in a series of increasingly bad and bloated prequels (but hey, Liam Neeson). It wasn’t that difficult, though the first 8 days or so I ate a lot, since nothing I ate was really what I wanted, which by day 4 was a large bowl woven of Red Vines and filled with peanut M&Ms, Milk Duds, little Cadbury chocolate eggs, chocolate-covered raisins, and all the other kinds of M&Ms, drizzled with caramel syrup, chocolate syrup, and maple syrup, and capped off with Reddi-Whip.

And an after dinner mint (it’s wafer-thin).

(Did you know they make Dutch chocolate Reddi-Whip? I’m amazed people don’t just stand in the refrigerated aisle at the grocery store, spraying it directly into each other’s mouths. Can you believe my friend Melanie made it to age 34 without EVER spraying Reddi-Whip into her mouth? I soon took care of that oversight!)

After 8 days, I found I really didn’t want to eat anything sweet. And now, 11 days after that, I don’t even think about sweets. And get this – fruit really IS nature’s candy, and grapes taste too sweet to me (cantaloupe is just about perfect). I’ve been drinking Crystal Lite Mango/Peach green tea (I know, artificial sweetner, but I’m completely off the Diet Pepsi and one virtuous change at a time) and yesterday I started using only ½ the regular amount because the flavored tea is too sweet.

I also feel fabulous – energetic and cheerful all day long. So chipper, in fact, that the new me would kind of piss the old me off, or at least cause her to roll her eyes.

Today, after much waffling, I went with Melanie for mini DQ Blizzards. I wanted to see if I still liked them and I wanted to see if I could have an occasional treat without falling off the wagon and rolling around in the cocoa powder. The Blizzard did not taste too sweet, but it didn’t taste that great, either. I did enjoy the cool creaminess and the contrast of the crunchy Oreo bits. But I could go another 19 days, or 30, or whatever before having another one.

I hope you can appreciate that last sentence, because it is the most unexpected and amazing statement I have ever typed about myself.

Spring is time for mud. And chocolate. Oh, and renewal….

I last posted to the blog a year ago, and sporadically before that.

Stuff has happened since then: I adopted a third dog (Magpie the Cairn terrier); I learned a new (old), faster way to knit; I recently stopped eating sugars — both overtly sugary items and things like ketchup that have a lot of sugar in them; I’ve learned (in the most elementary way) to spin and I’m planning to buy a wheel; I’m staring down the barrel of 50 years old; and I’ve been awarded a sabbatical for fall ’13, during which I promised to write a novel, which endeavor is linked in my mind with turning 50 and frightens the bejeezus out of me and makes me wonder what the hell I was thinking.

I’ve got a lot to blog about.

So I’m going to . . . But for tonight, the above paragraph and the new blog name and layout will do.


a bit about Korea

I’ve been in Korea for just over 2 weeks, and fly home on Thursday 1/19. I haven’t been blogging the trip, because Facebook status updates killed my blog, but here’s a longer post than FB will allow.

First, I’ve learned 2 random things about Korean culture while I’ve been here. On the trip last summer, we accidentally stayed in a sex motel, which I blogged about a few posts back. This time, I learned that ‘motel’ means ‘sex’ — that is, a hotel is by definition a place to stay while traveling and a motel is a place for sex. I was told this by a couple of different people, both US and Korean, as if all Koreans know it, which makes me wonder if last summers’ guide wasn’t embarrassed for booking us into a motel, but embarrassed we so quickly figured out the place’s purpose. I was also told that there are lots of motels (which there are, once you’re looking for them) not just for illicit sex, but for married couples — a logical adaptation in a culture where multi-generational families crowd into houses very small by western standards.

Last summer, fellow traveler Kathy and I were admiring pretty little porcelain tiles, both traditional and funky, hanging as pendants on black silk cord. The shop owner bustled out and told us his sister made them, and we each bought one. Last Sunday in Seoul and yesterday in Daejon, I saw displays of identical necklaces, and each shopkeeper made sure to inform me that his/her sister had made the pendants. Either that’s one big family and one overworked sister, or we fell for the tourist patter.

Today, our sophomore students threw a barbeque for us. They took a 4-hour long English test yesterday, the TOEFL, while we were gallivanting around Daejon with a freshman student and her father, a sweet man who worked mightily to shoehorn some culture into our shopping and fed us a meal or tea or coffee every 2 hours. I must say, I never thought the paper fan musuem could be so interesting. And there was a museum dedicated to a famous female writer, a musuem that showcased (Americans would never have the patience for this) her writing — including an original manuscript  that stood, pages stacked, about 4 feet tall (handwritten in Hangul script, so not so many sentences per page, but still).

But back to the bbq.  No parents or teachers around, just one female student, 5 or 6 boys, and me and my 2 college students. First we watched a movie and ate home baked cookies, which were amazing in their own right and because they weren’t Korean high school cafeteria food.  Then the bbq began. Koreans grill meat A LOT, in when eating out or celebrating, anyway, and many restaurants have gas or charcoal grills embedded in the tables. The gas ones are powered by canisters that look like old-fashioned aerosol cans (you know, before they got all sleek and skinny) and the charcoal ones hold big chunks of wood charcoal that are brought to the table already burning.  Meat may be raw or cooked and just grilled for flavor. 

The kids had an old half-barrel that they filled with cold wood charcoal and then they took one of the gas canisters, fitted on an elbowed nozzle obviously manufactured for such use, and had a bbq blow torch. Now, I’m not sure , but I’m thinking such things are not common in the U.S. And I’m not talking the cute little creme brûlée accessory; this bore the same relationship to a brûlée-cruster that a 9mm bears to a bb gun. The kids used the torch to fire up the charcoal, and since it was obviously natural charcoal with none of those sissy Kingsford accelerants, it took some time and some flame! It was obvious they knew what they were doing and had done it before and they couldn’t understand why the three Anglo women  were laughing so much and standing so far back. On our part, we were marveling that blow torch attachments are being sold in the equivalent of Target, in the cooking section, AND were amazed that these boys were being so businesslike about their use — I think we all know what would happen if the average 15 year-old American kid got his hands on such a thing.

After a few false starts with the charcoal, we stood around the bbq and feasted on grilled sausage, thick-cut bacon (amazing grilled), steak, and grilled sliced garlic. For veggies, you wrap everything up in a lettuce leaf and much away. The whole thing was made more interesting because in addition to the flames that sometimes jump up in response to grilling juices and dripping fat, we were using cheap, restaurant-style wooden chopsticks! After the meat, we had Korean ramen noodles; Koreans eat the starch at the end of the meal, unless the dish itself incorporates starch, it seems.  Then the girls and I dragged our overstuffed selves back to our room, showered away the smoke and meat smells, and crashed. 

The housecoat of no return

My eldest sister is a generous woman with a closet full of teaching clothes she no longer needs, as she is now retired. Because she taught elementary school, the clothes are mostly cotton, comfy, easily washable, occasionally cutesy or flowery. Whenever she get the urge to de-clutter the guest room closet, she sorts through a few piles and sends me a box of shirts, with instruction to keep what I want and give the rest to charity. I sort the shirts into piles along the following lines: “good for summer”, “dog walking”, donate, “good for work”, donate, “comfy for around the house”, donate, “what was Linda thinking?”, and “maybe I’ll lose 5 pounds”.

This last box included, pooled in the bottom under a lot of “donates” and a few really good work blouses, a housecoat, or house dress. You know what I mean — a mid-calf, 3/4 sleeved, half-front-zip cotton tent made, in this case, of panels of one-color-and-white striped seersucker: mint green, pink, blue, and yellow. I threw it in the newly-dubbed “holy crap what the HELL was Linda thinking” pile, but then pulled it back. See, my shower is in the unfinished basement, as the upstairs tub was never plumbed for a shower.* And because the path from my bedroom to the basement door takes me past a large window and I don’t hate my neighbors, I make sure I’m decently covered traveling to and from. Usually I wear a nightshirt-type t-shirt, but for some odd reason that can have nothing to do with the 15 lbs I’ve gained since moving to the Midwest, they get shorter every year. I have a plush robe for winter, but in summer, when you’re going to be sweating after a shower anyway, you want something lighter and more absorbent. So I kept the housecoat and have been wearing it for that purpose.

In the t-shirt shower days, I’d always get dressed again, even after an evening shower. But the housecoat is so comfy and I’m not going outside anyway. And I reached for it this morning when I got up. And when the yard man came last week, I’d just showered, so I went outside to talk to him in the housecoat (I was in the coat, not him. We haven’t yet reached that point in our relationship). So the neighbors have seen me  in The Housecoat. I’m so far past the point of no return, it’s not even on my map.

So yeah. I’m regularly wearing a housecoat. I mean geez, Linda probably bought it from one of those catalogues that sells tent-y white t-shirts with cute giraffe appliques and matching, giraffe-print leggings. But the housecoat IS so practical and quick and comfy. I just gotta find one printed over with skulls.

*Hail storms and State Farm have given me a new roof and new car this year….I wonder if a tornado could be persuaded to just clip my bathroom?

At the Korean sex-tel

Thursday we arrived at the resort town of Pusan and checked in to a Japanese micro-tel that had opened the day before. Neat little rooms with bathrooms like RV inserts. There was a mix-up, so we could not stay 2 nights as we had planned. The faculty member acting as our guide hopped on the internet and found us a place to stay Friday night in a neighboring city. Friday, we visited a huge fish market, drove a bit, and then had a prolonged visit to a Buddhist temple, complete with silent meal and a short religious service. Afterwards, we went to our hotel, named something  like “Hotel San Juan.”

The first thing we noticed was how out-of-the-way it was, and how the small parking lot was tucked back off the street in a most inconvenient manner. The lobby was small and bare, with no seats. But we’d just been to a very different type of hotel, the micro-tel, and what do we know about Korea? So we got on the elevator. There, we noticed a small plastic box into which room keys had been deposited. How odd, we thought, that folks would just leave their keys and not formally check out, and strange that the hotel hadn’t collected the keys left that morning (it was now 10 p.m.). When the elevator doors opened, we giggled a little at the ’70s disco/gypsy/neon vibe of the hallways, but the rate was cheap (35,000 won = $33.00) and what do we know about inexpensive Korean hotels in non-prominent towns? So we split up and went to our rooms.

My room continued the ’70s disco/gypsy/neon vibe. It had the largest bathroom I’d seen so far in a Korean hotel, including a steam shower and a spa-style tub. Noting that I would certainly enjoy a long bath, I entered the room proper and noticed first the heavy headboard over the bed. I flipped the light switch, and the back of the headboard lit up with neon. Then I noticed the large array of women’s grooming items and products laid out on the dresser…..and a single mini-pad in a special holder….and a basket of condoms and little packets of lube. And then it hit me: I was in a sex-tel of the type in which the prostitute gives a kickback to the establishment. I found a new array of light switches, including a slow-strobing, multi-colored light over the bed, and that proved my suspicion. Well, that and the 50-inch TV, which showed what one of my fellow travelers called “weird Korean titty porn.”

Here’s the thing though — every place in Korea is immaculately clean. The bathrooms, even at truck stops, even the outhouse behind a small restaurant we visited in a village, are sparkling no matter the time of day. Restaurants are amazing, and in many of them you can see the food preparation areas. The street food vendors are clean, the fish markets are clean, the streets are clean, the subways are clean. Koreans who travel to the USA must think we are pigs. And so, while we agreed we wouldn’t have done it in any other country, we had no problem staying in the Hotel San Juan sex-tel.

Upon arrival, we arranged to meet in the lobby about ten minutes after going to our rooms, so we could find some late night snacks. We congregated in the parking lot and of course there was much laughing and “did you see x?” conversation. Then our boss came out all distracted and walked straight to the car, past our chattering group, rooted around in the back seat and, not finding the specialty gardening implements he had bought earlier that day, announced, “I’ve misplaced my hoes.” We howled until I though I’d choke. Then the faculty member who had, unknowingly, booked the motel (although the round beds should have tipped him off), apologized and was really afraid we’d be upset. We assured him that the sex-tel was one of the highlights of the trip. He was still embarrassed and explained he’d picked the hotel because it was so convenient to the Buddhist temple. That set us off laughing again.

And that’s how I stayed (and slept very well) in a Korean sex-tel.

Finally a post….sort of

I’m not sure if my blog is dead or not. I haven’t posted since July and posts had slowed down appreciably before that. And I’m only on here now so I can post pics of Mim at 6 months old. But I’m keeping the blog site open for now, because you never know. I’m doing a lot of crochet, and I discovered a new way to seam up motifs like granny squares and, while most folks won’t care, crocheters will care a lot. The two people I’ve taught it to feel it’s right up there with the discovery of penicillin and the invention of indoor plumbing. Heck, I may even take some good pics, write it up, and submit it to a crochet magazine for cashola, but if not, I’ll post it here. In other news, tomorrow I start teaching an online class for the first time ever, a creative writing course I designed for online use over the summer. And I’m looking forward to teaching it, but that’ll be one more course (and grading!) on top of my normal load and online, you can’t get behind on grading and then bring the students treats or let them out early to secure their goodwill. I’ll have to be punctual. Oh boy.

Other than that, I bought an Ipod Touch to replace my beloved but dying Samsung mp3 player (it still makes a good auxiliary alarm clock, though). I’ve been working all these extra jobs to get large amounts of $$ to pay off debt, and I find it’s a good idea to buy myself one treat each time, so I don’t react to deprivation and overwork by suddenly splurging. Anyway, I love the Touch and I actually sent and received text messages for the first time. This 21st century technology breakthrough shows that my aversion to texting was less about typing inconsequential messages with my thumbs and more about my refusal to pay to do so, as one can text for free with an Ipod.

And now, here’s what you really wanted to see: Mim at 6 months. Still demoniacally playful, although I caught her in a period of rest between attacking Jasper, attacking Astrid, and attacking Violet:

Spotty but cute

That is NOT a furry snake creeping up behind me.