Tag Archives: NERD ALERT

It Matters Monday: Ghostbusters Matters

“Safety lights are for dudes.” — Jillian Holtzmann, Ghostbusters (2016)

We saw the new Ghostbusters movie last weekend (spoilers herein).


AND, importantly, it was a movie about women: a lesbian, a fat woman, a black woman, and a hopeless nerd.  I was asked a few months ago how I could possibly be excited to see this movie just based on the knowlege that it was a gender-swapped reboot, and the answer is, because gender MATTERS.

We’re not talking about Charlie’s Angels.  This was a movie about women being the main characters, driving the plot, existing for their own stories rather than being the decoration or the macguffin in someone else’s.  There were no gratuitous shots of cleavage or pantylines, no slow-motion walk-ups in full hair and make-up, no jokes or lines about the characters’ attractiveness.

The jokes were about female experiences: Kristen Wiig’s character is taken aside by her boss and immediately assumes he wants to talk about her attire being inappropriate for the workplace (even though she is dressed very conservatively).  There’s a practical joke that features a queef.  There are jokes about high-heeled shoes being impractical and getting stuff stuck in your bra.

The tension is also about female experiences: A white dude is given a media platform to crucify the Ghostbusters as an “expert,” to audit their narrative “objectively.”  The GBs are told over and over again that their work is a hobby, amateur, unprofessional, unnecessary, poorly-conducted, and that they should expect to be publicly shamed and disavowed even by people who know about ghosts (which Melissa McEwan at Shakesville sees as an extended metaphor about feminism).

I was excited to see this movie from the first time I heard about it.  I wanted to see a woman in a major motion picture who was as much of a sexual being as Venkman, as much of a hopeless nerd as Ray, as scary-smart as Egon, as frank and relatable as Winston.

And this movie DELIVERED on that.  Robert said it was like they put the original GB characters in a blender and poured out four new characters– but it’s more than that.  Each of the four is her own person, with her own priorities and her own story arc.  All of the important aspects of the Ghostbusters as characters carried through to the rebooted characters, in new but simultaneously familiar ways.

And, like Brave and Frozen, little girls are going to see this movie and it will expand their horizons.  They’re going to see that science is cool, that femmefolk can be friends without being catty and spiteful, that they can be funny, powerful, irreverent, strong, smart, scary, sexual, fat, brown, and heroic, just like guys can.

They’re going to see that, even if The Man doesn’t recognize your accomplishments, people will still see you and value what you did.

They’re going to see that they can be the heroes in their own stories.

And little boys are going to see women doing and being all that stuff, too.  And that will change the world for them.

Because media representation MATTERS.

Balmoral Bootikins

I generally consider myself a fairly practical person.

So why on earth am I posting ANOTHER modern re-working of an 1886 Weldon’s pattern?

Because, when I was working on those other booties for my friends’ baby, there was this gorgeous illustration of the Victorian great-grandmama of all baby footwear right next to the so-called “dotty pattern” booties.

I mean, seriously.  Could you pass these up?!


Sadly, when I sat down to actually knit the bootikins, they were a hot mess.

Let me explain: in order to make these (TINY) baby boots, first you knit the leg from just above the beribboned eyelet row to the top of the foot, then you knit the instep out separately in pattern, then you knit the foot, then you seam up the middle of the foot and the back of the leg (because 1886 means NO CIRCULAR KNITTING, apparently), and THEN you pick up stitches from your cast-on row to apply a knitted edging, and THEN you work a crochet border on top of the knitted edging, and THEN all those cute little buttons and laces have to be embroidered over the front of the foot and leg.

And after all that tedium and fuss, you would have, based on my quick gauge swatch on recommended needles, a very fancy sock for an American Girl doll.

Fuck that noise.

I mean, really.

Let me share with you what I worked out instead.


This is a fairly straightforward pattern worked in one piece from fancy cast-on at the top to a graft along the center of the sole.  I have adapted it for knitting in the round and tried to standardize and clarify the language.

Please note that I omitted the embroidered faux buttons and loops.  If you love them, you are welcome to add them, but you will want to adjust the patterning on the leg section so that a seed-stitch section of the vertical Roman stitch is centered over the instep.  My instep is centered on a stockinette stripe for simplicity in pattern writing and memorization.


This pattern is newborn size.  The bootikins are almost exactly 5″ long from sole to frill. The foot is about 3.5″ long unstretched, and the narrowest section of the ankle is a little over 3″ in circumference unstretched.  These fit a doll that usually wears a size 0-3 month clothing, but getting the ankle over the foot was a bit of a squeeze.


  • fingering-weight yarn (I used KPPPM)
  • US0 (2mm) DPNs
  • a small crochet hook for the cast-on (I used 2.1mm, but size isn’t crucial)
  • about 1 yard of narrow ribbon or cord (optional, I used half-inch silk ribbon, which was a little too wide but compresses nicely due to being so lightweight)
  • embroidery floss or needlepoint yarn in a contrasting color (optional, for faux laces/buttons, not shown)

Stitch Key

M1— make one, using the backward-loop method

cdd— centered double decrease, aka s2kp2


CO 48 sts using the Fancy Formal long-tail method and 4-stitch shells.  Join in the round, DO NOT add stitches under the shells.

For the cuff:
On odd-numbered rows 1-13, knit all sts
R2: *m1, slip 1, k2, pass slipped st over BOTH knitted sts* to end of round
R4: k2, *m1, slip 1, k2, pass slipped st over both knitted sts* until 1 st remains, m1, slip 1, pass slipped stitch over the first two stitches of the round
R6: K1, *m1, slip 1, k2, pass slipped st over both knitted sts* until 2 sts remain, m1, slip 1, k1, pass slipped stitch over knitted st and first st of the round
R8-12: Repeat rows 2-6
R14: *p6, p2tog* around.  42 sts.

For the leg:
R1: knit
R2: yo, k2tog around
R3: purl
R4: *p1, k1, p1, k3* around
R5: k1, p1, k3, *p1, k1. p1, k3* to last st, p1
R6-R12: repeat row 4 and 5
R13: slip 1, work in pattern as established until you come to the last 2 sts, cdd.  40sts.
R14-R30: work three rows in pattern followed by one decrease row (same as row 13) 4 times. 32 sts remain
R31-R46: work in pattern as established
R47: k12, p1, k1, p1, k3, p1, k1, p1.  11 sts remain unworked.  Turn work.

For the instep (worked flat):
R1: slip 1, k1, p3, k1, p1, k1, p2.  Turn work.
R2: slip 1, p1, k1, p1, k3, p1, k1, p1.  Turn work.
R3-R16: repeat rows 1 and 2 over just these 10 sts.  Break yarn.

Using the right needle, pick up and knit 12 sts on right-hand side of the instep, knit the 10 instep sts, pick up and knit 12 sts on left-hand side of the instep, and knit the 11 sts left unworked at the beginning of the instep.  56 sts.

For the foot:
R1: p25, kfb, p4, kfb, p25.  58sts.
R2: purl
R3: p26, kfb, p4, kfb, p26.  60sts.
R4: k29, kfb, kfb, k29.  62sts.
R5: purl
R6: k29, kfb, k2, kfb, k29.  64sts.
R7: purl
R8: knit
R9-R14: repeat rows 7 and 8.
R15: p2, p2tog, p24, p2tog four times, p24, p2tog, p2.  58sts.
R16: knit
R17: p2, p2tog, p21, p2tog four times, p21, p2tog, p2.  52sts.
R18: knit
R19: p2, p2tog, p18, p2tog four times, p18, p2tog, p2.  46sts.

Use a Kitchener graft to close up the sole of the bootikin (23 sts on each of two needles).  Repeat all instructions to make the second bootikin.


Weave in ends and block as desired.  I didn’t block mine at all, if I had, the cast-on shells would flop over less.

Weave ribbon, if using, through eyelets at the top of the vertical Roman stitch section and tie in a bow at the front or the back, whichever you prefer.

(optional, not shown) Embroider a series of French knots and long straight stitches down the front of the vertical Roman stitch section as shown in the Weldon’s illustration (top picture) to mimic button-and-loop closures.

Enjoy your adorableness!



It’s not my strong suit, especially when it comes to expectations for myself and my creative works.

I like to aim high and be profoundly disappointed in myself when I am, inevitably, not capable of being some unholy amalgam of Ma Ingalls, Maria Montessori, and the Yarn Harlot.

I’ve been watching the weeks tick by with shocking speed and looking at the dwindling but still ambitious nesting list and getting more and more frustrated with myself for not inventing a Time Turner and spending all my doubled days knitting and sewing and deep-cleaning the house.

And that is CRAZY.

So, in the interests of realism, here’s the list of things from the nesting list that I would most like to finish in the remaining time before the baby comes.  I’ve allotted myself one project per week until Christmas, because I know that there will be other things (like gift making for the extended family and baking bread and playing with my children) that will crop up as I try to go about my business.

Top-Priority Nesting List for the Next Six Weeks

  • nursing pillow cover— I have a new, experimental nursing pillow.  I designed it myself after years of struggling with commercially-available options that were either awkward to use, impossible to fit around a pregnant belly, or simply not tall enough for me.  But it needs a water-resistant cover because babies are leaky and it is filled with buckwheat hulls.
  • winter boots for Númenor and Ithilien— For years, we were devotees of Stonz booties, but my children have now outgrown their XL size, and I wasn’t very impressed with the redesigned versions anyway.  So this winter, they need new boots for snow and slush purposes.
  • winter bear bunting– This is one of the things that I added to the nesting list in a panic about having a newborn in the depths of winter and not being able to simply withdraw from the outside world like I did when Ithilien was born.  Babies need warmth!
  • dyeing for my petticoats and the faux Victorian gown– Simply put, dyework is NOT something I’m going to be able to do with a newborn in tow.  Whether I actually get these projects sewn up and finished is another issue, but the dyeing at least needs to be done before the baby comes.
  • Balmoral bootikins– I’m not sure what size these will turn out to be, so it’s important to finish them before the baby outgrows newborn-size things.
  • crib– This is truly the centerpiece of the baby’s space.  Baby clothes will be stored in baskets underneath it, the mobile may need to be re-positioned over it, wall décor will need to move around to accommodate it, and I haven’t quite figured out how or whether I’ll be able to put a dust ruffle on it.  So much depends on having it finished that it’s really not optional.

I may not be posting much as I try to get these things finished, since some of them are sure to take more than a week and I might be interrupted at any moment.

But I’m out there, somewhere, wishing I knew the charms and incantations necessary to be in two places at once.

About that patriotic stuff

The word “patriotic” is an adjective used to describe things that are patriot-like.  The word patriot was loaned into English from middle French patriote, but its lineage can be traced back to Latin and Greek words for father, making the meaning of the word less about being proud of one’s homeland (or patria), and more about it being a feeling one has in conjunction with others who are of one’s father.  It’s about human relationships, common history, shared identity.

It’s not the opposite of “terrorist,” “godless,” or “anarchist.”

For European Americans, the 4th of July is a celebration of their people’s victory over their oppressive colonial rulers.  For people of African and Native descent, it is, at best, meaningless.

That’s patriotic all around.

After the Declaration [of Independence] there is a long list of justification given for why the colonies were declaring their independence from the control of England. And the 7th justification reads:
“He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.”

13 years prior, King George issued the Proclamation of 1763. In this proclamation a line was drawn down the Appalachian Mountains and the colonies were essentially told that they no longer had the right of discovery of the Indian Lands west of Appalachia. Only the crown could thereafter negotiate treaties and buy or sell those lands. This deeply upset the colonies. For they wanted those empty Indian lands and King George was “raising the conditions of new Appropriations of (their rightful) Lands.”

Justification 27, the final justification in the list, states:
“He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.”

How can a declaration that begins by stating “All men are created equal” go on to include justifications that dehumanize the Indian tribes and peoples who were already living in this land? Clearly the founding Fathers had a very narrow definition of who qualified as human. Therefore they could state “ALL men are created equal” because they did not believe that the “merciless Indian Savages” who occupied the empty Indian lands west of the Appalachian Mountains were actually human.

— Mark Charles, Navajo scholar, “The Doctrine of Discovery: A Buried Apology and an Empty Chair


Given the current state of race relations in the US and the heatwave, I would like to remind people, especially white males and others with privilege, that there is much to criticize about this country, its history, and the conduct of its modern state.  Try to hear criticisms and anti-nationalist sentiments as an ally, or at least a neutral bystander.

The 4th of July isn’t for everyone, just as the Declaration of Independence wasn’t about the self-evident and inalienable rights of women, slaves, native peoples, and other marginalized people.  So don’t be an asshole to people who choose not to be excited about what is, in reality, a celebration for a small number of already privileged people that they worked up the courage to challenge a far-distant government for dominion over a vast and diversely-peopled continent none of them had any right to claim.

Have a safe weekend, everyone.

Head Full of Bees

I was helping Númenor with some phonics work today and realized that he didn’t know the word “spell” in the context of orthography.

So, like good unschoolers, we made a guess, and then we looked it up, first in a regular dictionary, then in an etymology dictionary.

“Spell” is a fairly interesting entry, and I recommend it if you’re into that kind of thing, but as Númenor went back to the normal 4-year-old puttering that is his main learning activity, I wandered off along a tangent from “spelling” to “spelling bee” and finally ended up reading about idiomatic uses of the word “bee“:

To have a bee in (one’s) bonnet (1825), said of one who is harebrained or has an intense new notion or fancy, is said in Jamieson to be Scottish, perhaps from earlier expressions such as head full of bees (1510s), denoting mad mental activity.
— Etymonline



Head.  Full.  Of.  Bees.

How did this phrase EVER go out of vogue?  Google Ngram has it appearing in about three hundred MILLIONTH percent of books at its most popular.  WHY?  Why would anyone not want to use this phrase?

HEAD full of BEES.

As in, “I was up until 3am with my head full of bees, but I finally cleared my thoughts and fell asleep.”

As in, “He doesn’t say much, but you can see he has a head full of bees.”

As in, “She came in here with a head full of bees and we couldn’t get one coherent word out of her until she’d had two pints, but it’s a brilliant idea.”

It’s evocative, it’s suitably agrarian, it sounds a little anachronistic and a little rustic, maybe even agrestic, and it describes something that happens to me all the time– my head is always full of bees!

Head.  Full.  Of.  Bees.

This is my new thing.  I’m going to say this all the time!  I might get it tattooed on my arm, I love it so much.

My head is full of bees. Perfect.

Cunt Reclaimed

I’m reclaiming the word “cunt“.

Yes, like in the Vagina Monologues.

Because it’s better than “vagina”.

We can discard out of hand the word pudenda, which literally means “things to be ashamed of”.  “Sex” is too vague, now that it’s the most common term for sexual intercourse and also for the biological concept of reproduction by more than one organism.  “Genitals” is borderline, but between the fact that I don’t identify with having more than one and the implied reproductive imperative, it’s not the best choice.

Vagina, in addition to being an awkward-sounding word that technically only applies to the vaginal canal and not to any other part of the body (like the vulva or the perineum), is a misogynist term.  It’s not a “sheath”; my parts are mine, and my so-called vagina is a thing unto itself, already complete without having to make reference to or use of anything else.  No part of my body is an accessory to the penetrative phallus.

Cunt, a dark and secretive word, a word with authority and power, is a word so old nobody knows what it means or where it came from.  It signifies the whole thing, potentially even the whole region, and has a rich undertone of mystery.  The Patriarchy is so afraid of the term that it’s been considered obscene ever since James Stuart succeeded Golden Bess.  Is it a coincidence that “cunt” was euphemized away into “the monosyllable” right around the same time that the last matriarchal societies in western Europe came under control of the patriarchal imperial powers?  Maybe.  But, maybe not.


Say it.


Jorge Luis Borges once said that English is an ideal language for description, but of course, even English sometimes falls down on the job.

For example, I have never encountered an English word for the feeling of being alone in the woods, but German has one.  English has no word for the optical illusion of the path of light that the moon’s reflection makes on the sea sometimes.  English has no word that specifically means to look worse after a haircut.

English also doesn’t have a word that describes the best piece of work someone has ever done.

I know what you’re thinking– it’s right there, it’s the title of this post– but “masterpiece” doesn’t mean “best work”.  In fact, a masterpiece is the capstone project that graduates of the apprenticeship system must complete in order to demonstrate their technique and become artisans, or masters, in their own right.  It’s more akin to “doctoral dissertation” or even “application portfolio” than to “best work”.

It’s not “magnum opus”, either, for two snide reasons and one good one.  First, it’s Latin, not English; second, it’s a phrase, not a word; but finally and most importantly, a magnum opus is a work on a large scale, and the scope or size of a project is orthogonal to its merit relative to the artist’s corpus.  Pièce de résistance is closer in meaning to “best piece of work in a corpus”, but still a phrase, and French.

Sometimes the magnum opus is the best work– many people would agree that the immense Guernica is Picasso’s best, and also largest, and also grandest-scale work.  Of course, J.R.R. Tolkein’s magnum opus, The Lord of the Rings, is also arguably the best and grandest-scale of his fiction writings.

Other times, as in nature, the larger fruit is swollen with plain water and therefore is bland by comparison with its smaller, sweeter-tasting cousin.


Five Best Works that are Notably Small

  1. “In the Patio No IV” (1948) by Georgia O’Keeffe.  O’Keeffe is famous for macroscopic flowers, yonic abstracts, bright colors, and still life arrangements of animal bone, but in her later years, she turned to minimalistic landscapes and architectural works.  This one is my favorite– the subtle gradation of light and shadow in this piece, the bold framing, and the fluidity of the boundaries of adobe and sand make this painting seem so much bigger than its relatively small canvas and extremely limited color palette.  Georgia didn’t have to peer into showy flowers or dress found objects or mix up a striking poppy red in order to make this, her best work– it’s just a corner of a plain little courtyard with a bit of sunlight in it.
  2. The Pearl by John Steinbeck.  This is an amazing little allegory, beautifully written, with all the warmth and humanity Steinbeck attempted to infuse into The Grapes of Wrath.  His other little gem of a novella, Of Mice and Men, is also far better than his monstrous, lurching novels, but, like them, is prone to a slight condescension in tone.  Steinbeck writes tragedies, yes, but when he has more than a few concise chapters to work with, he gets a bit heavy-handed with the foreshadowing.  The Pearl has a very moving climax and peripeteia, and there’s just enough storyline preceding it to make the inevitability of the tragic end apparent.  Any more than that gives dear old John too much time to feel superior to his characters (the poor damned fools!) or his readers (if only you knew how inevitable is their demise!).
  3. “The Minister’s Black Veil”, by Nathaniel Hawthorne.  How does someone achieve fame and fortune writing standard novels when his obvious calling is the short story?  Not many people have read this little piece, but it is haunting.  Like Steinbeck, when Hawthorne is forced to be succinct he stops writing so much about his own feelings.  Gone are the long, guilt-ridden asides about how horrible Nathaniel’s Puritan forebears were to their heterodox neighbors!  Unencumbered by the affectations of the romantic novel and its laughable ideas about gender and youth, this little story reads like a distillate of Hawthorne’s longer works.
  4. Pagliacci by Ruggero Leoncavallo.  Although Leoncavallo wrote at least 10 grand operas, only the shortest one has survived to be performed by modern companies.  His longer works, although many were very successful when newly-written, largely center on the same themes: nomadic troupes, theater, love, jealousy, and resulting murder.  Pagliacci is perhaps remarkable simply for being an Italian opera in which the characters are concise (rather than repeating themselves over and over again for greater musical interest, as in The Marriage of Figaro), although Leoncavallo usually resists the temptation for repetition.  Zingari is about the same length as Pagliacci, and centers on the same theme (an unfaithful wife is murdered by her husband) but lacks the dramatic intricacies of the clown play-within-a-play.
  5. Dark Star by John Carpenter.  The shortest of his feature-length films at a petite 68-71 minutes, this trapped-in-space black comedy is also Carpenter’s best.  Horrifying and absurdly comedic, Dark Star also explores the nature of theology/philosophy, anomic isolation, stoicism, and dependence on technology.  Unlike Carpenter’s longer, more conventional black comedies (They Live, Big Trouble in Little China), it is a cleverly wrought story that relies on some interesting complexities of human philosophy.  Unlike Carpenter’s longer horror films (Halloween, The Fog), it is a complete Aristotlean tragedy.  In the original film festival version, the special effects are minimal, and there is no superhuman or supernatural force to bootstrap the plot, which is therefore pruned by realism to produce superior fruit.


But what would be a good English word for the best piece in an artist’s corpus?

Words like “classic”, “model”, and “standard” would not apply to an artist’s best work unless it was typical of the rest of their corpus in theme or, in addition to a work being that artist’s best, it was also a particularly fine piece in its genre as a whole.

Words like “cream”, “gem”, “jewel”, “flower”, and “prize” aren’t exclusive enough– a good artist could produce many gems, or all of their works could be said to be “jewels of modern sculpture”, so that doesn’t help us denote their best work.

Words like “perfection” and “showpiece” denote something that is particularly worthy in a global sense, and wouldn’t apply to an example that was the best work of a particular artist but still not very good compared to the rest of the entries in the field, and “showpiece” in particular isn’t appropriate to a lesser-known, posthumously published, or closet work.

We could try making a compound word out of “master work”– a work obviously characteristic of a master– but again, that wouldn’t apply to the best example of an artist who simply wasn’t very good.  The similar “masterstroke” additionally doesn’t seem to stand on its own, being mostly used for achievements or actions instead of physical objects or products.  Something can be “a masterstroke of international negotiation” but you can’t be enraptured over a painting and say “It’s a real masterstroke.”

“Paramount” might be appropriate, especially with its connotations of singularity, but it’s the wrong part of speech, and “paramount work” is hardly superior to “best work”.

Is “best work” the best English can do for this concept?

Gender Neutral in English

Oh, pronouns.

If you read a lot of social science books in English, you’ll undoubtedly find a statement about pronoun use in the front matter of some of them.  The dilemma seems to be that people feel uncomfortable choosing pronouns to use for gender-neutral purposes.  The everyday speech solution– to use the plural (they/their/them) as singular neutral– is inappropriately casual for writing.  Modern scholars have tried to artificially construct gender neutral pronouns for English, with mixed results.  Some authors alternate between masculine and feminine pronouns, and are then compelled to devise some system for making sure that the representation of the pronouns is balanced overall.  Some authors, especially in books about reproductive processes, assign a certain set of pronouns to all subjects of a certain description for clarity (e.g., in midwifery texts the baby usually takes the masculine pronouns because the person gestating/birthing/nursing the baby usually takes the feminine pronouns).  Very few modern scholars will defend the use of he/his/him as gender-neutral.

Feminist scholars have claimed that using he/his/him as neutral pronouns disappears people who take feminine pronouns because it creates the false impression that all these general persons are masculine, and that treating masculine as default and feminine as aberration is a form of misogyny.

Unfortunately, there’s an etymology problem with this line of reasoning– him and his aren’t simply masculine pronouns.

A proto-Germanic forbear of English created all of the masculine pronouns of modern English.  But, of course, it’s not that simple, because early English actually had a full neuter person.






nominative he hit heo (hio) hie (hi)
accusative hine hit hie (hi) hie (hi)
genitive his his hire hira (heora)
dative him him hire him (heom)

All these words are variations on the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) root *ki-, meaning “this”, as opposed to “that”.  Over the course of time, the initial letter dropped from the neuter accusative and nominative to become “it”, which replaced all other cases for the neuter and became a way to differentiate between objects and people when English nouns lost their gender in the middle ages.  The assumption modern English makes is that things without gender are not people, so using the neuter pronouns that still exist to refer to people is offensive.*

In this space, when I need to use a gender-neutral pronoun,** I will use the traditional set of Old English neuter pronouns adapted for the modern English cases: “hit” for the subjective, “his” for the possessive, and “him” for the objective.



Chart adapted from here


*It occurs to me that this line of thinking conflates “being neither masculine nor feminine” with “being less than human”.  Is it necessary to fit into the gender binary in order to be human?  Is it necessary to have a gender in order to be human?  Obviously not, because unborn babies are humans totally without gender.  Is considering “it” to be a denigrating pronoun for humans in itself transphobic, because to think so accepts the assumption that if you aren’t masculine or feminine you aren’t human?

**I do use feminine pronouns for describing general case people who are pregnant, birthing, and nursing, because as a midwife, I have to hold sacred the feminine nature of childbearing.  I recognize that not everyone who is pregnant is a woman, and that some childbearing people prefer other pronouns, but for the general case, I will persist in feminine pronouns.