Tuesday, April 14, 2009


Last week we went about our usual activities, but without electric lights. I think we were inspired by Earth Day and Lights Out day, but we were really just seeking an adventure, a way to go somewhere else while staying home. The kids and I were all equally excited about it, and Joe went along.

We started with a meeting last Sunday after dinner, to discuss concerns and make accommodations. The first concern was Little's: he uses his fish tank light as a night light, and he felt strongly that he couldn't get to sleep without it. So we decided he could continue to use his fish tank light at night. The second concern was Joe's: he felt that it would be dangerous to use knives in the kitchen without strong lighting, and we agreed, so he also got an accommodation.

We then scurried around the house, finding flashlights and putting candles in candlesticks, so we would be ready when the sun went down. I rushed upstairs to take my lenses out before it got dark. We located matches and lighters, and established some rules for safe candle use: light candles only if an adult is watching over you, and don't leave a room with a lit candle in it. That first evening was exciting, like camping out in our house. It was peaceful, and more quiet, somehow.

The next morning was gloomy, as gloomy as Central NY ever gets. Really gloomy. Dark outside, and no sunlight coming through our windows, just a gray drizzly paleness. We did school at the table as usual, but with candles lit on the table. It occurred to me that we should probably have checked the weather before we embarked on our grand experiment.

We discovered two more essential lights that morning. Most of our Legos are kept in the basement, away from Cricket's chewing teeth. The basement has no windows, and for Little, a week without Legos would be impossible. I think he would just wither up and blow away. So we agreed that he could use the basement light for the week. I also discovered that our closet light is completely essential. Our main downstairs closet is deep, and away from any windows. I suppose we could have fumbled around in the dark or with a flashlight to find jackets, but since if we're looking for jackets, that usually means we're supposed to be somewhere soonish, I decided that in the interest of sanity, we'd better just use the light.

And then we got used to it. The rest of the week was sometimes gloomy, sometimes sunny, but we didn't miss the lights during the day at all. In the evening, we were happy to get everything done before the sun went down.

I think the experiment was successful, although Big disputes this. He really didn't like not being able to read up in his room after dinner.

Here are my general observations:

1. I am much more conscious about turning a light on during the day. Now that I know I can function without it, I'm more likely to leave it off. I think this is true for all four of us, and I'm pretty sure our electric use will fall significantly, just by introducing this element of awareness.

2. Electric lighting keeps us awake. We all went to sleep earlier during the experiment.

3. Electric lighting extends the useful part of the day, which is not really a benefit. Given that I'm never really ever done with housework anyway, it was really nice that the sun set and put an end to my scurrying around. Anything left undone could wait until tomorrow.

4. Big is much less likely to disappear into his room to read a book at night if he can't see well enough to read. In general, all four of us were together a lot more in the evenings.

5. If we did this all the time, I wouldn't read very much, and I'd knit a lot less. I really can't knit by candlelight very well, and I don't have much time while the sun is up to sit down and read for pleasure.

6. I can, however, spindle spin by candlelight. Pretty easily.

7. It is entirely possible to do Sudoku by flashlight.

8. Interestingly, we never did use Joe's dispensation to use electric lights in the kitchen while cutting something. Dinner got made before the sun went down, and on the few occasions that the dishes weren't yet washed when darkness fell, we either left them for the morning or did them by candlelight.

9. We have friends who are extremely good sports. Our friends Alison and AK were up from NYC with their son for the weekend, and we gave them carte blanche to use lights however they saw fit while they were here. The first evening found us all sitting around a few candles chatting after the kids were in bed, with nary a complaint.

Friday, April 10, 2009

major FO

I finished this sweater. It's a major project because it's a sweater, first one I've knit in probably five years or more. I've been a socks-mittens-scarves-hat knitter for so long, I really thought I'd lost my sweater mojo.
It's good to know I haven't. My very first knitting projects were sweaters, and for a long time, that's all I knit. Mostly pullovers, though, and lately I've been wanting to wear cardigans.
Only trouble is, I like to knit in the round. To knit a cardigan in the round, you have to cut it open in the front, then knit on button bands. I kept losing my nerve, which is strange because I've knit sweaters with cut armholes.
So I knit this one flat, back and forth. It was actually kind of fun to do something different. The sleeves were picked up and knit in the round, of course. I really enjoyed this project, and it was good to have a big something to work on over several months. The pattern is Fylingdales, from Lisa Lloyd's book A Fine Fleece. I made some modifications to it, most notably having to completely wing it on the sleeves, because her directions didn't work at all.

It's also a major project because I spun all the yarn. This is my first major project made with my own yarn. It's a three-ply, spun on my Ladybug, using a supported long draw. The yarn turned out fluffy and squishy, in most places. All in all, a success.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

all is well, all is not well

So, I live in Binghamton.

I was home with my kids on Friday morning when I got an email letting me know there was a hostage situation, and not to go downtown. I had a friend over for a knitting lesson that afternoon, so we were knitting and chatting, wondering what was going on at the Civic Association. We couldn't find a radio station to give us the news, and I don't have television in my house, so we trooped up to my computer for updates. I think I assumed it would all come to nothing, because I gasped when I read that at least twelve people were shot dead.

Binghamton, like probably all the other towns where somebody has lost it and killed a bunch of people, has very little violent crime. We have some drug trafficking, the usual check fraud, an occasional bank robbery. Nobody gets mugged here. Most of us don't lock our doors, at night or any other time. We feel safe.

I walked the dog that night, and it freaked me out that our town could host such violence, and not show it. The streets and the houses all looked the same. I didn't know anyone who was killed, and I don't have any particular connection with the Civic Association. My life was unchanged. I was walking the dog. My kids were home, warm, and safe. My husband was fine, and he'd go off to work again on Monday. It was just another Friday night, and I found that deeply unsettling.

We made it through the weekend, cleaned the house on Saturday and went for a walk on Sunday. Joe and I had more than our usual number of disagreements, perhaps, but we worked them out, and maybe they weren't even related to the strange random violence that took place nearby.

Monday, we all went back to our lives. Joe went to work, the kids and I went about our day together. We did school, we went to a homeschool play practice, we came home, we had lunch. All normal, all surreal.

And then I went to work. I have a part time job at a school, helping out with the afterschool program a few days a week. The kids and I mostly play in the gym, or glue popsicle sticks together, whatever they want to do. They're pretty busy all day, so I let them do what they want at the end of the day.

So guess what they wanted to do yesterday?

They staged a dramatic re-enactment of the shootings. They knew a lot of the details. They had a classroom with students learning English, and a teacher helping them. They had a gunman come in and flatten them all. They had a receptionist with a belly wound, who heroically played dead and called the police. They had the gunman shoot himself in the head when he heard police sirens.

I wasn't horrified, and I didn't stop them. I was beside myself with joy. During the years when I was a classroom teacher, I observed over and over that kids will act out what they don't understand. Kids will act out the world of work, they'll act out a divorce, they'll act out a kid getting hit by a car. They're not choosy, and they don't have a sense of what's horrible and what's normal. It's all just life, and they're trying to understand it all.

And there they were, trying to understand something nobody can really explain, something so horrible most adults want to look away. They acted it out with joy, if you can believe it. They didn't take it seriously, and I didn't try to insist that they do so. They were joyful and laughing, as playful, bossy, and opinionated as they always are.

To these kids, the shooting is not the least bit surreal; it just is. And as I sat watching them put on a show, I was able to see it through their eyes. As they worked through it, I began to work through it myself.

It was beautiful, and ordinary. Just like life.