Tag Archives: learning english

LSS: Untangling knots

She reached into her jewelry box and pulled out a tangle of necklaces.

“What am I going to do with this?” my friend asked with a sense of gloom.

I tried to conceal my glee.

As strange as this may seem, untangling a nest of jewelry knots is one of my favorite things to do. Knots are my cup of tea and have been since I was a kid. Way back then, I figured out the same method I use today.

My knot untangling technique:

Whether it’s a mass of knots or a single snarled strand, I place the necklaces on a flat surface that won’t scratch, making sure I’m in good light. Then, like a surgeon, I assemble my tools — which amount to two straight pins or toothpicks, or one of each. Then I start poking and prodding and gently pulling. Using minimum preparation and that method, getting the knots out is ridiculously easy — and very satisfying.

The most important part really has very little to do with skill. The most important part is to place the necklaces on a flat surface, rather than holding the clump or letting the chains hang. The flat surface takes away the gravity factor of the knotty problem and relieves the pressure that keeps the knots intertwined.

Taking the pressure away from different ends of the predicament is the most important part of getting the knot undone. Once I have the chains flat and spread out, I simply poke around the entanglement with the straight pins and separate the crossed wires, and in a few minutes, the lumps and clumps of chain begin to disappear.

As I worked on my friend’s thicket of gold and silver, I thought about how aspects of untangling knots of cast-aside jewelry have a lot in common with untangling the knots we come across more often.

When pressure is pulling both sides in opposite directions, untangling the predicament is nearly impossible — regardless of the skill or passion to repair the situation. Even if the pressure is relieved from one end, but not the other, the knot just gets tighter and tighter as one end gives and the other end takes in the extra length. The trick lies is figuring out and providing what both ends need to relieve the pressure.

As I worked to untangle the knots in my friend’s necklaces, my thinking went from considering both sides of political arguments and what it would take to relieve the pressures of those disputes to closer to home and the knots my daughters get into with each other.

I wonder if those kinds of knots need simply to have the pressure relieved on both ends. While I know sibling squabbling is, for the most part, just a way of life, I wonder what I can do improve my children’s relationship. Would relieving pressure from each of them help to untangle the knots between them? What is it that they need? Is it something I can provide? Or do I need to do something more for my daughters to realize and find whatever it is they need for themselves, so they can relieve their own pressures?

Sometimes parenting has me in my own personal knots. I vacillate from over-thinking it and trying to orchestrate too much to a laissez faire approach, on the opposite end of the spectrum. Figuring out the amount of pressure to place on kids is the most difficult part of parenting for me. I want my daughters to be self-starters, conscientious and productive. Yet, I also want them to appreciate the value of taking time, on occasion, to do very little and not be in go-mode.

Sadly, untangling the knots between siblings cannot be solved with a level surface and a couple of toothpicks, but I do recognize my responsibility as a knot-surgeon to alleviate the pressure and give them the best space to untangle themselves.

Providing a level playing field or a safe breathing space is really the extent of helping others solve their messes. For any real truce to last, I can’t do it for them. They have to do it for themselves.

LSS: Call me silly. Royally silly, in fact.

Call me silly.
Go ahead.
I will own it proudly.
Though I’d prefer to consider it whimsy—much effort is required to maintain notions of fancy through adulthood. I’ve not always succeeded. What with bills to pay. Mouths to feed. Floors to sweep. Dishes to wash. Clothes to fold. Dogs to bathe. Plants to water.
But once upon a time, in a land far away, a little girl passed the afternoons with her grandmother, listening to tales of queens and princes.
My dad’s mother told me stories about Elizabeth, Charles, Anne, Andrew, little Edward, Phillip, Margaret and the Queen Mum, the way my other grandmother talked about her garden.
My grandmother longed, and I mean she really longed, for a connection to some semblance of royalty. She was a seamstress in small town Mississippi. Innocent delusions of grandeur made life more exciting. She insisted that we were descendents of Russian czars. (Never mind that we’re not Russian, and czars were still going strong in Russia 20 years after her parents’ births.) She named her only daughter Victoria, and the two of them often spoke of the Windsors and Wales. They had unspoken plans about Charles. I vaguely remember my grandmother sitting at her sewing machine making my aunt’s wedding dress, lamenting that now her daughter would never marry Charles.
Listening to all this talk that wouldn’t have made sense had I understood, led to much confusion on my part. Years passed before I figured out that these people my grandmother spoke of on a first-name basis had absolutely no connection to our lives.
And then a few years passed. I fell in love with Shakespeare (about the same time Charles didn’t fall in love with Diana). English literature sealed what my grandmother had started. I’ll admit I became rather obsessed—in an age when information wasn’t so handy. I read (and memorized) everything that I could find about the royals—Diana, in particular. I got up for Charles and Diana’s wedding. I cringed when she got his name wrong and wondered if they were really married.
My college roommate recently told me, “I had never met anyone who knew so much about any one subject as you did the English royal family back then.”
But, alas and alack, adulthood happened.
Though my fancy didn’t fade, I just didn’t have the time my grandmother had had to keep up. And, I’ll concede that the whole thing seemed so…silly (especially after Sarah Ferguson got involved). But in free moments I could steal, I continued to devour what information I could.
I watched little William grow up. Then cute little Harry. I watched Diana’s marriage unravel. I appreciated the Queen’s annus horribilis remark. In 1997, Diana’s untimely demise came a week after my daughter was born. That night was as close to depressed as I’ve ever been.
Last fall, my 13-year-old daughter, Greer, started paying attention to the royals. And, that’s all I needed. By the time William and Kate announced their engagement, I was up to snuff on all the details once again.
A few months later, I decided the time for silly had come.
I searched plane tickets and found a bargain. When else in life would I be able to share something like this with my daughter? I bought the tickets, booked the room (another bargain, mind you) and come Monday, Greer and I take off for London for the week of the royal wedding.
We’ve got a week of whimsy and wonder in the works. On Thursday night, we plan to sleep on the streets with throngs of others in order to secure a good spot for watching the wedding procession.
Go ahead; call me silly all over again! I don’t mind. We should all have our fancies and act on them from time to time.
I wish I could tell my grandmother about this one.

LSS: Spectrum of possibilities

As it turns out, Piper, our family’s resident 9 year old, picks a new favorite color each year.
For her, this decision seems as logical as the Pythagorean Theorem did for Mrs. Beasley, my ninth-grade geometry teacher.
Last year her favorite color was purple. The year before that, it was pink. This year, she has picked Tiffany blue.
I won’t lie; the choice caught me off-guard.
As does so much about this child.
And so many other children out there. She just happens to be the one I hang with the most these days.
For us, this girl is full to the brim with love, dappled and flecked with something almost otherworldly wonderful.
Her love of color is one of the ways we get to peek into that regenerative joy.
“Just having one favorite color gets too old for me,” she said. “And, I believe that change is also good.”
She explains her deep thoughts on the subject, as though she’s announcing a major plank in her platform in a campaign for office.
I’d vote for her.
Like a good diplomat, she quickly assures me that having one favorite color is fine for some people, just not for her.
At least once a week, she asks each member of our family, “What’s your favorite color?”
Much to her initial dismay, my answer has remained the same.
“For some people, their personalities go with one color, but for me personally, I think my personality is to change,” she said, trying to assure me and my evergreen color love of blue, that I’m OK.
Just in case though, she asks regularly to check.
This week, I learned that she had a method to her madness.
“When I get older, I will remember all my colors, and I can remember how I changed. I can go back through my memories,” she said. “When I get 20, I can have a rainbow.”
Please, my love, please. Have a rainbow.
She was on a roll.
“As I get older, I feel like I need a more mature color,” she said.
I hope not. I thought. Have whatever color you feel like having, sister.
“The year before purple, it was hot pink. You know, that’s a different generation?” she said with brown eyes wide. “I picked purple cause it’s a good color for being eight — when you’re younger, the more silly colors you can have.”
At the wise old age of 9, her take on silly being associated with young makes me know that the world is chipping in, even on Piper’s palette. She’s taking notice of what’s out there. Nothing has flattened her spirit yet — and I’ll do everything I can to prevent that from ever happening — but that time will come.
For now, she and I giddily spend at least 20 minutes a week talking about our favorite colors and why one or the other works for us — or what color would be our favorite color if there was a law that we couldn’t have the one we wanted.
The conversations are little treasures that parents the world over recognize — those moments when a child’s wonder and innocence come into full view. I listen to my multihued wonder child and wish I could bottle up what this kid gives off.
Surely, that spectrum of thinking could solve a lot of issues in this world that tries so hard to view things in the simplicity of black or white.

LSS: One more day to get your pie on

You’ve got today and tomorrow to get your pie on.
Yep, February is National Pie Month. It’s time to make the most of it.
Foodies are asking the cupcake and the macaroon to move over as they anticipate the humble pie to take the sweet-tooth world center stage.
For a girl who enjoys a good cupcake and is a total macaroon convert, pushing aside those two treats doesn’t come easy. Yet, there is something so right about a good pie.
Pies and I go way back.
My great-grandmother made an apple pie fine and flaky. She lived a block away from my childhood home and frequently would call in the middle of an afternoon to say she had an apple pie ready.
I didn’t always fully appreciate the offer. Which goes back even further. My great-grandmother didn’t coddle young children. When I stayed with her in pre-school, I can’t swear that she actually locked the doors to keep us outside, but she might as well have. Children were meant to stay outside and play.
And we did.
Of her scores and scores of grandchildren and great-grandchildren, I was fortunate enough to live the closest. Don’t get me wrong, living the closest came with a price. I was often her errand girl. My bike served me well, and she knew I could be there in three minutes or less, which is the kind of service she expected.
Sad to say, but I was 15 by the time I realized what a gift this woman was — which was about the time she seemed to begin thinking I wasn’t half bad myself. The pie calls started coming more frequently. She and I would sit and visit, going through cigar boxes of old photographs.
Her talking.
Me listening.
Both of us eating pie.
A year after I graduated from college, I left Mississippi and moved out West. She was used to sons and grandsons leaving. In her mind, I’m not sure my leaving was supposed to have happened.
Before I left, one day she and I were eating pie, and she said, “Now, tell me, are you going to cross an ocean?”
I explained that I wasn’t, which seemed to help.
About four months after I left, I was making arrangements to fly home for Christmas. I was 23 and it was my first-ever plane ride. The day before the grand event occurred, my phone rang.
When I said, “Hello,” my great-grandmother began to sing “She’ll be Coming Around the Mountain.” She got to “We’ll have chicken and dumplings when she comes,” before she took a breath.
She had not called since I moved away. Long distance phone calls were a big deal, and she was trying to make the most of it.
She paused and asked what it was I’d like to eat when I got home. I told her apple pie would be just the ticket.
She fixed at least four pies for me during the week I was home. On the day I left to head back to the West Coast, it was raining. Just as we were heading out the door for the airport, the phone rang.
It was her.
“I’ve got something for you,” she said. “Stop by on your way to the airport.”
My mom and I loaded my last suitcase and drove the one block to my great-grandmother’s house.
She met me at the door. I stood on her tiny stoop in the rain, and she handed me an apple pie she had forced into an old five-gallon ice-cream bucket.
“This is in case you get hungry,” she said as she hugged me bye.
Standing there in the cold rain, I opened the lip of the plastic container and could see the steam rising.
To this day, I can smell the nutmeg from that pie.

LSS: Zen and the Art of Knitting

I have an edge.
And, I’m not talking about a competitive advantage edge.
Instead, it’s one of those not-so-pleasant edges — certainly not strength of character. All in all, that little line of vice and has gotten me into untold trouble through the years.
Finally, at age 46, I have found the cure for the less charitable side of my nature.
I’m not saying that I’ve discovered a remedy for all that ails me, but I will say that knitting takes the edge off. All that extra energy usually bumbling around my head? The general culprit of that has stirred up trouble in my world for years? With knitting, it dissipates. It’s been the genesis of the strife in my life for years. Now, I have a place for it.
I don’t mind long meetings anymore. I simply view them as a chance to do more rows. My husband prefers driving when we go on long trips? It’s no problem now. Telephone calls that take me away from what the task at hand? Not a difficulty these days.
How much edge I need to take off depends on whom you ask. My youngest daughter probably believes it’s a potholder’s worth, but there are days when I’m certain my husband thinks it’s a good idea if I get cranking on a cover for his old pick-up truck.
To be clear, I am not an expert knitter. Basically, I’m a newbie. I learned long, long ago and haven’t done it in nearly 15 years. Maybe I wasn’t ready or didn’t need the relief knitting now provides me back then. I haven’t been back at it for long, but what it’s done for my head (and subsequently for my heart) has made me a believer. It’s been a boon to my spirits — and likely to those around me too.
Knitting makes me a better and more focused listener. After all, in reality, knitting is just tying one simple knot after another. Its simplicity is its brilliance. For me, the repetitive motion is conducive to thinking and stirs the creativity in my bones.
To take its zen-ness a step further (and this may seem strange in concept), but there’s something about knitting that reminds me of yoga. It’s very focusing, but allows just enough room for the mind to wander and promotes good conversation with those around you.
One of the people who re-taught me how to knit explained to me that the Red Cross taught her to knit when she was in high school during World War II. She said students would get out of class to learn knitting and have time in school to knit create helmet liners and fingerless gloves for soldiers serving in the European and Pacific campaigns. Her story made me wonder why our country abandoned habits like that. What a good means of reminding the rest of us of the service of so many. What a good way for high school students to spend time. What a gift for students in that moment and in their futures — on so many levels.
For example, knitting has helped me to recognize and consider some patterns in my life. I get in over my head because I don’t do sitting around well. Having a fun, productive outlet to use up that excess energy cures that sitting around feeling that leads to over-committing. As much as I’d like to plant my feet firmly in the opposite camp, perhaps the Puritan work ethic has influenced me than I sometimes admit.
All in all, I find it good for the soul. Plus, there’s some magic in turning a piece of string into something wearable, warm and wonderful.