Mike White

June 2004- October 2005.

It is with enormous regret, sadness (and some sense of repetition) that the Harlot family writes to you with the news that Mike White the dwarf hamster passed peacefully from this earth sometime last night after Joe gave him his nightly sunflower seed. He leaves behind his shelf-mate, Wanda the fish and his watcher, Millie the cat.


I must apologize for the lack of photographic material for Mike. While he was deeply loved…he was under-documented.

Mike was a good hamster and performed all of the duties of his species admirably. Cuddly and fun-loving in his early days, Mike led the life of a hamster prince…enjoying a huge cage, a pretty good looking pink running wheel and most of all…the joys of a plastic ball in which to roam the house. Mike (although he certainly lacked the brain size to know it) was also blessed in being the first hamster in this house to have never been “bowled” down the hall or stairs by a toddler while in his ball. (It was this hamster terrifying hobby exacted by numerous family toddlers that resulted in the sad but necessary hamsterless years from 1999-2002.)

During the last months of his life however, Mike withdrew from his hamster-human relationships (using fast jaws and sharp teeth), choosing only one special person with whom to have a relationship.

I’ll admit that no-one was more surprised than I was when I learned that my husband Joe was spending some time each evening after the family was in bed, visiting with Mike, talking with him and training him to hang from one paw in exchange for a sunflower seed. This took months. Months where, after his visit with Mike, Joe would slip into bed beside me and say “I got him a little closer tonight. Third rung of the cage. He’s a pretty good hamster you know.” It took so long, that if you think of it in terms of a dwarf hamsters lifetime….learning to hang from one paw for a sunflower seed may have been Mike’s life’s work …..his hamster opus.

It is only fitting then, that when Mike finally learned to do this thing, that Joe called us all into the room and showed us, beaming with pride and human-rodent friendship. Joe and Mike somehow, despite the fact that Joe is a record producer, pretty bright and human…and that Mike was, well…a hamster, despite that (which does seem like a fair bit to overcome) Mike and Joe were friends.

As Mike grew older and his hair began to turn grey, Joe worried about his friend. Mike was less willing to climb the cage for seeds, and Joe began lowering the seed a little over the weeks. Joe asked me one day if I thought that Mike minded getting old, if I thought it bothered him that he couldn’t do the things he used to… you know, run on the wheel really fast or hang by one paw.

I stared at Joe, and then I made a mistake. I pointed out that I didn’t think it bothered Mike. Not at all. Not even a little. I told him that I thought that the chances that Mike was churning with existential angst or the mysteries of the passing of time and the autumn of his lifetime were just about zip. Zero. Nada. Why? Why don’t I think that it would bother Mike? Because he had a brain the size of a LENTIL, that’s why.

Joe was crushed. He informed me that I didn’t spend enough time with Mike. That I really didn’t know Mike for the hamster that he was. That I didn’t know that not only was Mike smart (smarter than I could imagine) but that he was also charming and funny. (By funny, and I know I have mentioned this before…but by funny, Joe does not mean that he finds the hamster amusing, but that he believes that Mike has, I kid you not….a good sense of humour.)

Mike leaves behind Megan his owner, somewhat inured to the loss of hamsters (the burden of experience), Sam who was the first to notice that Mike’s wheel had gone quiet, Amanda, who at 16 probably won’t notice that he is dead for 2 weeks, me – who is happy on a practical level that Mike died before the ground froze – since I hate having to keep hamsters in the freezer until spring thaw….and his best friend Joe….

Who will actually really miss him.

Services for Mike White the Hamster will be held at the family hamster cemetery in the backyard under the locust tree today after school. Joe has requested that instead of flowers or cards, we convince that children to get pets that live a little longer.

A game of pick-up

Here is my first mistake.


Choosing a sweater with a knitted on button band. Stupid. If you hate picking up stitches, hate knitted on button bands and still pick this sweater and don’t adapt it for a sewn on button band, then you are stupid. (That would be me.)

(Pattern: Sirdar book 241, “E”)

Having already made mistake number one…there is no reason not to make Mistake number two, which would be deciding to knit the pattern in a worsted instead of a DK. This by itself is not a mistake, but it leads to all sorts of things not working anymore. Instructions like “knit until work measures 10cm” work fine, but since it will take a different number of rows to get to 10cm, the whole picking up thing is going to go down the dumper in short order. If you are determined to make Mistake number three


then you must ignore that and pick up the suggested number of stitches. Clearly, in the picture above I have not picked up enough. The way that the stitches want to gather up before I have even started the button band are a terrible omen. Nix that, and proceed rapidly to Mistake number four. The exact nature of mistake number four is a mystery. What I did was pick up more stitches (this seemed reasonable since I had too few…but knitting is seldom obvious) in a multiple of 11. 11 seemed right, since the pattern for the buttonholes contains the intruction “Rib 9, cast off 2…rep”. In the world the way I know it…9+2=11. This was obviously mistake number four…though if anyone can see what is wrong with my math I’d appreciate the *&^%$#ing heads up. (Rat bastard math. We hates it.)


Clearly, even though me, Joe, Megan and the computer calculator all feel that 9+2=11 this cannot be true since it doesn’t space the buttonholes (indicated by the yellow arrows above) anywhere near accurately and I wound up with and infuriating number of stitches left over. I took a deep breath, pulled out the row again and proceeded to mistake number five.

Even though I believed (and still do, actually) that 9+2=11, I was forced to accept that on this sweater, that was not true. Therefore, I suspended that belief and re-worked it, being sure that I wasn’t married to the concept of correct math, opened my mind to the possibility that there was an answer to 9+2 that was something other than the traditional 11 and tried again.


Well. At least this time I had closer to the correct number of stitches left over. I tried interpreting the instruction “Rib 9, cast off 2”.

Could I be wrong about what that meant?

(Thus we witness the birth of mistake number six: Overthinking.)

It could mean that you rib 9, then cast off 2, using the 9th stitch as the first one to be dropped over in the casting off. It could mean that you ribbed 9, then that those were independent free agents and you started casting off two more that were beyond the 9. It could mean….

It could mean that I was too angry by the result to take a picture. Suffice it to say that the problem remained unsolvable.

Finally I decided (mistake number 7) that I would take a more organic approach. Obviously there was no point in doing any more math. Once 9+2 =11 stops working you are in over your head.

I threaded a needle with yarn and decided that working inward from the ends I would mark the two stitches I was going to cast off for each button hole. I marked the ones at the ends….


then counting inwards from the ends I found the middle, marked that, marked the other two at equal intervals and …..


discovered that the buttonholes are still not placed evenly (which I really should have seen coming, what with basic addition deciding to step off the logic curb only moments before) and I made mistake number eight when I stopped myself from taking the whole thing outside, hurling it into the middle of the road and then laughing maniacally while cars ran it over again and again and again. I went to bed instead.

This morning I pulled out some baby alpaca, (I don’t see any sweater, walk away from the sweater.) and started getting my graph paper mojo going on. The sibling of the snowdrop is due soon, and I think the newcomer will need a little something. I shall commence swatching pretty darn soon.


I left this on the chair after taking the picture and when I came back with my coffee I found this.


She scratched me when I tried to pick up the alpaca.

Chicago and nearby.

I am going to admit something.

I didn’t want to leave home this time. I miss Joe. I miss my kids, I miss knowing why the middle of the hall floor is sticky and calculating how long this family will have no overhead light in the dining room before someone will go to the corner and buy an 88 cent package of lightbulbs so they don’t have to eat in the dark. (Sadly we shall never know the complete answer to that one, since I snapped last night (day five) and sent Joe over to get one. DAY FIVE. The difference in our priorities has to be the reason I still find him interesting.) Despite not leaving home with the highest possible degree of enthusiasm. Despite the weenie on the plane who made my eyebrow twitch…

I had a wonderful time. Reasons to love this trip?

1. I started the Chicago trip at the Great Lakes Booksellers Association Convention/Trade Show/Thingie. This, by itself was not fun. In fact, if it had been specifically designed to frighten authors they couldn’t have done a better job. You sit with the booksellers while they eat dinner, telling them charming things about you and your book and trying not to say arse or express your deep concern that *no* alcohol was served during this….and then an announcer gets up and tells you to move and you go to the next table and do it again. It’s like speed dating for writers. It’s horrifying. I got some pretty nice tables of booksellers (non of whom are actively trying to be terrifying) and survived neatly. I staggered over to the signing tables, plunked myself down to a really nice writer where upon the two of us were pretty soundly ignored. (Scott Turow was there. We were not surprised.) The moment that made the evening worth it was when I said something to the author beside me and she didn’t reply. I reached out, touched her arm and said it again. She turned, startled and said “Oh, I’m sorry dear. I didn’t hear you. I was busy asking God to kill me.”

I laughed for hours. Sarah the wonder publicist was there…along with Stephanie from Storey Publishing, and I didn’t tell them about that. They seemed like they were having so much fun that I didn’t want them to know I was thinking about sitting in the hotel room closet.


Aren’t they cute? (Note to self: I should immediately cease and desist with standing anywhere near these two. I don’t come off well in the comparison. I’m waiting for someone to ask me if my daughters have been helpful to me on the tour.)

I know you must be asking what would be worth this. (Besides the whole “it’s a job and everybody has one” thing.) Why, if it’s scary, far and weird…why would I go? This brings me to:



My lovely Rams. Yes gentle readers, our lady of Kalamazoo was at the book thing…and I had lots of lovely time with her. No matter how much you love her on the blog…there is no compare to the live Rams. How can you not love a woman running a convention with a half knit sock in her pocket?

3. The day after the ritual book hazing, Rams and I had lunch. I ordered a sandwich and fries and I asked for vinegar. The Canadians/Brits know what for, but the American waiter was badly shaken, though obedient…and brought me this.


Raspberry vinegar. I laughed and laughed.

(and yes, it was the only vinegar they had.)

4. Later that day Sarah and I took the “L” from O’Hare to the other side of Chicago.


Here’s Sarah-the-wonder-publicist being rather bemused by the L map. (I am convinced that you need a higher IQ than mine to figure out the “loop” where you transfer.


If it were not for the kindness of a very nice man who smelled like waffles…we would still be there.) When all was said and done…I really liked the L. I think if you go to Chicago you should take it. It runs about 12 inches past all these old houses and buildings and it seems like a really neat way to see the city.

5. Arcadia knitting and the knitters in it is totally worth leaving your husband (temporarily) for.




click to make ’em bigger. The sock thought (can you tell from the pictures?) that the way this shop was laid out was pretty neat. Never seen anything like it. It moved through the colours like a rainbow. All the blues, then the yellows, then the greens…..

Beautiful. By a lot.

6. The people. Noteworthy (though I’m sure I missed some of you…speak up in the comments!)

Cori, who came from Minnesota, holding the sock…


(For the record, Cori is not freakishly taller than me. I didn’t stand up to take the picture. She is normal sized.)


Rana and Daniel, both the cutest knitters ever. (Don’t you just almost want to give them yarn or something?)


Tamara and her muggle husband. In town from AUSTIN to celebrate their anniversary, this man is enough of a peach that when Tamara took him on a little detour, this was the look on his face. Atta boy.

(In case, like me..you are worried that this was their whole anniversary celebration, they did this later.


I think that it’s lovely that Tamara grasped that even though her needs for romance could be met in a yarn shop…dude might have needed this.)

Also there was Franklin (for whom there are not words. If you would ever like to meet someone who is kind, clever and only slightly taller than me, you need look no further.)

Susan aka Roggey (who’s parade of morally corrupt behaviour brought her there…much to my delight. I was so stunned that she was actually there that somehow I didn’t get a picture. It’s a wonder I was able to speak.)

Melissa (Charming. Really, really charming, smart too…) Mel (click that link. She’s a smart one too…) Emily (if she is a spaz then I’ve got no right leaving the house.) and Marcy…who very, very generously drove a whack of overexcited knitters to a nearby restauraunt. Very sweet. I know there are more that I have somehow forgotten the url’s of. Speak up!

6. Bonne Marie. This lady


(seen here as the centre picture of elegance at a dinner after the event…for the sake of all of us, please overlook the number of glasses on the table. I don’t know why they are there.) Bonne Marie is unbelievable. You know how it is when you have someone that you really admire all built up in your head because you’ve been reading them forever and then you meet them and you worry that maybe they aren’t going to be as good as all that? That’s how it was for me with Bonne Marie. I was so nervous to meet her that I worried that I would arse it up. I needn’t have worried. There isn’t a more genuine person in the world. She is kind, generous, funny, more beautiful than she looks on the blog (which is pretty freakin’ beautiful) … really actually interested in other knitters and I would spend more time with her in a heartbeat and count myself lucky for it .

I’m her biggest groupie, and if you met her…you would be too.

7. The next day had me at Sit’n Knit in South Bend. This shop has free coffee. Free lattes too, if you like ’em. Me? I like my coffee medicinal, but do enjoy knowing that others are enjoying all the foam they would like. It’s a charming shop, with charming (high energy…that’s probably the free coffee) knitters.

Erin with the sock. (I miss dorky’s best friend Carma. She had car trouble. Sniff.)


Elizabeth with her stunning Tina


and random rabble …


In the picture above is my fellow FTer Elizabeth….spinning away and making us all look like slackers, and Kristine in the purple. Completely adorable. A knitter/writer should only wish for such days. Many thanks to Jack and Kim for setting it up.

8. Lake Michigan


as seen by a new sock, since these…



roaming socks are done. (Since someone will ask, they are Opal sock yarn color 1016 done on 2mm needles, in my usual boring self-written pattern. )

10. The last reason that it was a good trip.. is that I got to go at all. I get torn sometimes, between my family and my home and the job for the books…and I wonder how I’ll juggle it all. It turns out that you don’t juggle it. You can’t keep all the balls in the air. Either you are doing family life and worrying about your job, or you are doing your job and worrying about the family. This was the trip when I figured out that you can’t do them at the same time. That I can’t run a family from Chicago…no matter how hard I try. You just have to give up a little….celebrate the good things about it. (That would be the knitters) Be glad that I’ve been given the priviledge, grateful that I’m seeing so much…and let go of the laundry and wondering if Sam is doing her spelling. Thanks to all of you for making it a good trip. There aren’t many people who can say they owe it all to knitters, but I can.



Small sweaters. Picking up stitches. Discovering that I can’t count.


I’m home now, and anxious to tell you stories of Michigan, Chicago, Bonne Marie and Rams…but filled with a burning need to tell you the start of the trip.

As I sat on the plane leaving for Chicago, I pulled my knitting from my bag, (a sock) and took out my i-shuffle and my water and began to organize myself. As I did so, a gentleman near me stared intently at my knitting needles.

“Hello”, I said, smiling…lots of people ask me about my knitting. I thought for sure that’s where this was headed.

“Are those metal?” he asked, gesturing at my 2mm needles.

“Yup” I said. (Should have thought that through. Why would a muggle care what my needles are made of? Hindsight being what it is…this should have been the first tip-off that we were headed for trouble.)

“I’m uncomfortable with those” he says.

“What, the knitting needles?” I answer. “They’re allowed items.” and I smiled again. I’m sure that I don’t have to tell you how far this friendly, gentle sort of straightening out goes 99% of the time.

Not today. Today the gentleman looks at me and says:

“Yes. The needles. You know…” he says to me, clearly feeling a need to elaborate, since I am starting to look at him with confusion…

“for terrorist reasons.”

Now, it’s possible that the look of shock on my face might have alarmed him. Perhaps it was the way that I choked on my water or stared at him with an incredulous look…but in any event, he obviously decided that I needed dealing with on a deeper level, since he pushed the call bell for the flight attendant.

She came right over and when “Cathy” arrived (name changed to protect the less than sparkling intellect of the participants) he gestured at me and my needles (which I was using for their intended purpose, thinking that this might alleviate some of the rampaging concern.) and waited for her to take action.

I waited too. This weenie was one thing, but flight attendants are another. They are highly trained professionals, smart cookies. Women and men of intelligence and substance. That’s why I was absolutely stunned when the flight attendant said something so stupid that the mind reeled.

“They let you through security with those?

Holy crap. Let’s think that through, shall we? Imagine the two possible answers to this question, and let’s decide what the most likely possibility is, shall we? Either:

A) Yes. They did. I passed through e-ray, I put my stuff on the belt, took off my shoes and I was screened the same exact way as every other human in this airport, and not only did they see these knitting needles on the screen, and allow me in with them, but they didn’t say squat about the two pairs of 14″ aluminum straights in my bag and the back-up set of dpns either. Like just about every other time I have flown, all they said to me upon seeing the whack of knitting needles strewn about my carry-on was… “Have a nice flight.” or the very occasional “My mum used to knit socks too.”


B) No. No “Cathy”, security did NOT allow me through with these knitting needles. I had them “positioned” on my person and when I passed through the x-ray machine I told them it was a steel plate I have from the war. When they looked suspicious and snapped their latex gloves, I ran. I sprinted past the desk, abandoning my things in the search machine (having strategically removed all identifying materials ahead of time) and streaked through the airport, hiding briefly in a Starbucks to elude Homeland Security, then slunk through the back corridors of the airport, stepping in every puddle I could find avoid leaving a scent for the tracking dogs to use. I backtracked, made only left turns and briefly rappelled until I made it all the way to the gate where I used a counterfeit passport to sneak onto the plane, positioned myself next to some weenie and proceeded to celebrate that I..having certainly secured myself 15 years in prison, if not a violent shooting death upon the arrival of the aircraft, assuming of couse that I was not taken out by an Air Marshall long, long before we arrived….was able to …at long last……KNIT A (*&^%$#@!!!ing SOCK on a plane.

What do you think Cathy? What do you think Eh?

I thought better of either of these answers (the temptation was magnificent and sparkling) and instead I said. Yes. They allowed me on with these. They saw them. They didn’t mind. Yes.

“Cathy” looked at me then and said….”Ok. I’m sure it’s ok. If they said so…..” and smiled rather disarmingly at the weenie, who did not seem disarmed and proceeded to tell us how he felt, naturally, that I was not a terrorist, but that the needles could (and I quote the weenie here) “be used against” me.

I stared at him for a minute, then finished my round and Cathy if I could be reseated. She did so..after asking the passengers in the new seats if they minded a knitter nearby, but not before I had taken a very sneaky no-flash picture of the weenie’s feet to post here on the blog.


That’ll teach him. (It was the only revenge I could think of.)