Chocolate needles
Saturday March 31st 2007, 12:16 am
Filed under: Knit

We have a photo somewhere of me, taken the summer after we got married. I had found a baker’s supply place that was selling Hershey’s cocoa for a dollar a pound–providing you were willing to buy it by the 50 lb bags. Well, YEAH! I consulted with my officemates and friends, bought two bags and a scale, and spent a Saturday afternoon measuring and divvying. A fine brown mist settled all over my small apartment’s kitchen and all over me. It was the first time I’d sneezed chocolate.

I gave 15 lbs to my sister-in-law when we moved away and had to make space in our beat-up old car as we moved from one grad school to the next; most of what we’d kept had been declared nonessential, but not by me. Years later she told me she’d finally run out and that it was a shock to have to go to the grocery store and actually buy some. She loved chocolate but her family not so much, so it had taken her a long time to go through it all.

She had been fighting her cancer for several years by that point, so I went looking for a declaration of life and longevity. I found her a 5 lb bag, which I gave her that Christmas with a promise to buy another one as soon as she used it up. She never got to, but it was my declaration of life and of not lacking for the things that make it more pleasant. She appreciated it.

So I’ve been buying those 5 lb bags off and on for awhile, enjoying my morning large mug of good homemade hot chocolate while reading my email. Somehow, though, it’s been harder to find those bags lately, and it seemed time to explore some other brands anyway. What that really means is, it would be Scharffenberger every day if I were rich, but I’m not and I have kids in college.

The end result was a package that arrived with a label that totally cracked me up. I don’t have any Colonial Rosewood knitting needles to pose with this 2 lb bag of Colonial Rosewood cocoa, just some similar-looking Holz and Steins straights, but the picture will do.

Knitters know knitting and chocolate go together, but who knew that the chocolatier did?

This is for every person who has ever donated blood
Friday March 30th 2007, 7:22 pm
Filed under: Knit,Life,Non-Knitting

I went off to the knitting group at Purlescence Thursday night; when I was there two weeks ago, one of the owners had just gone into the hospital. Last night, after she’d had a five-day stay that had involved IV antibiotics and all kinds of fun stuff, she was there at the store (yay!), back where she belonged. Thank goodness.

For those who remember the post about Noel at Stanford, I know how much you need to laugh to keep your sanity in the face of the sorts of things she’d just gone through. A few side comments from me, such as, “They flushed the IVs with saline?” was all she needed to hear to know that someone had a good idea of what it had all been like. It helped. Then, to keep things on a lighter side, I told the tale of mooning the Lifeflight chopper, and of my roommate who absolutely could not sleep unless the TV was on, which was of course on a platform well above the curtain dividing the room. I pleaded with the nurses: She’s asleep now! Can’t you turn that thing off? No, she has the right to have it on (but they did turn off the sound.) Picture a bunch of interrogators randomly flashing bright lights directly in your eyeballs all night–oh joy.

The night nurse, without turning on the lights, told me that maybe she had a solution. She went out of the room for a moment, came back, and I felt rubber bands being placed behind my ears and something soft going across my face. Okay, whatever. It’s dark, that’s all I care.

I was beyond exhausted, and slept completely through the mostly-male doctors’ rounds in the morning. And woke up to find…a feminine pad across my face.

I bet the chopper pilot put her up to it.

So we all laughed over that, a good time was had by all, and then I came home.

…And walked in the door to the accusation, “You forgot your phone.”

I did?


Okay, you know if this was an issue something happened. What?

Platelets at 10. Five units in the hospital.

Our daughter with ITP got to go home that night, late, and is now much better.

I got her permission to post this thank you to every person who has ever volunteered as a blood donor. I owe you my daughter’s life.

An easy way to dye multiple shades
Friday March 30th 2007, 12:16 am
Filed under: Spinning,To dye for

(Picture: Michelle Reilly’s Lincoln lamb fleece bought at Maryland Sheep and Wool a few years ago by my parents, who watched it being sheared and bought it on the spot, plied with mohair.)

I followed my stat links to discover a comment I’d left on someone else’s blog two years ago. I offer it here with a few tweaks for clarification, since it’s out of context, and with additions to the original.

One comment for people who’d like one of my favorite shortcuts: I’ve found that if I spin separately and then ply together two different fibers–merino and mohair, or even two different breeds of sheep–and then dye the plied skeins, each of the fibers will take up the color at a different rate from the other, and you get a mild barbershop-pole effect, knitting up into a heathery look. Silk takes up dye quite a bit more slowly than animal fibers; I was given some Kidsilk Haze that needed to be a deeper, brighter color than the original dusty lilac, and when I overdyed it, the silk just sparkled in the background, being quite a bit lighter than the mohair fuzz. Much prettier than the original unicolor yarn.

I have since then bought silk/animal fiber blend yarns in light colors a number of times simply for the joy of experimenting with them.

Honesty plant
Thursday March 29th 2007, 12:44 pm
Filed under: My Garden,To dye for

After our remodel, we had a long bare spot in front of the windows along the front walkway. I bought a packet of silver dollar flower seeds on impulse, and scattered them along there and told them basically to fend for themselves, while trying to figure out what to really put there.

Never buy flowering bushes when they’re not actually flowering: the pink azaleas we followed that up with there? Regardless of the tags on the plants, the one on the end turned out to be white, like when a dyer ties the knots too tight on a hank before throwing it in the dyepot. (Guess who learned that lesson?…) Maybe that’s why we never took the white one back out. It fits, somehow.

Meantime, the silver dollars established themselves here and there among the azaleas, particularly here on the corner, with the white azalea behind them, hanging out with the oddball. Their name comes from what their seed pod looks like after the flowers are gone; they’re biennials, coming back year after year. They’re also called Honesty plant. Never knew honesty was a color. And a majestically purple one at that. Curious.

Purple majesties
Tuesday March 27th 2007, 7:04 pm
Filed under: Knit,To dye for

I remember reading once that the color royal purple was, anciently, derived from mollusks, and that it took something like 10,000 of them to produce a pound’s worth of dye; hence, the only people who could afford it was royalty. We, in our day, being able to buy clothing of any color whatsoever, have no idea how privileged we are. I’m sure one could overdye indigo on top of brick-red madder root–and I have seen ancient Egyptian cloth that still had a touch of madder redness to it, thousands of years later–and get a brownish-tinged variant. But a true purple would have been vanishingly rare. (There are natural dyers out there who know far more on the whole subject than I.)

There are artisans in South America who still go to the shore, gather sea snails, squeeze the purple out of them, and then put them back. It washes out of their cloth to a soft lavendar over time, I am told.

At Stitches West a year ago, I bought a half pound hank of Lisa Souza’s handdyed alpaca laceweight dyed in Shade Garden, a soft purple/green/blue mix. I dyed some Misti baby alpaca laceweight in lilac last fall and knitted the two strands together into Kristine’s shawl; recently I took some light blue merino lace yarn to the rest of the hank and made the second one shown here.

I put it on, after blocking it, and felt like royalty indeed wearing Lisa’s work.

Color her red
Sunday March 25th 2007, 4:48 pm
Filed under: Friends,Knit,Knitting a Gift

First, let me say that by a combination one particular day of chance and of decision on my part–and then hers–this woman and I became friends in an instant, and all was healed. Enough said: I don’t want anyone to realize, oh, her! It’s been 20 years and long gone.

We had just moved 3333 miles, as the moving company bills, and went to church for the first time in our new ward. We had moved from one that had 40 toddlers under the age of four to one that was mostly elderly people and had very few children of any age. Being in a strange place, ours, ages 11 months, 33 months, and just shy of five, were–well, reasonably good and not crying that first day, but not totally silent through the whole meeting, either. They were little kids, plain and simple. Actually, I thought they did a pretty good job of being quiet.

I of all people should understand, and do, what background noise does to make a meeting difficult to follow for older folks with any kind of hearing impairment. I have also learned that sometimes that’s just the way it is, after the hearing aids and the lipreading classes and the what-all-else. You learn patience.

Afterwards, a woman we had of course never laid eyes on before came up to us and gave us what-for for our having disrupted the meeting with our little ones, and ordered us to haul them out next time.

This was absolutely not your normal meet-the-new-folks greeting one encounters in a Mormon church! We managed not to say a stony, Welcome to the ward to you too?

Like I say, there’s a follow-up story, and she, who at the time, it turned out, was going through terrible things in her life that I have never had to go through, and I, eventually became good friends. It required a conscious looking for the good and wanting to move forward. But we both did.

But the flip side to that day, and the reason I tell the tale, is what came from it. It had been one of those moments that epitomizes how small children can be very unwelcome from time to time simply because of who they are, and the hugeness of that encounter in my life to me just then as a thoroughly-isolated stranger made a radical difference to me: I didn’t want any young mom to ever feel like I felt right then. Ever. I wanted every small child to feel treasured and welcomed. So when there’s a new mom at church, I make a point of celebrating her little ones. There’s always a smile and, should it be helpful, a knitted finger puppet in the purse to cheer them and charm their parents.

The last two weeks, there was a woman with a husband and a one-year-old who had just moved in, and I noticed her outfit: bright red, both weeks. Got that color in my stash, cool, so I knitted her a lace scarf from the ball pictured above. Today I gave it to her, putting it in her hands with, “This is just a little bit of cashmere and silk I made for you.” She was wearing a different dress this time, but again it was bright red; clearly a favorite.

She was stunned, she was delighted with the color, she was thrilled at having been noticed when she didn’t really know anybody yet, and thrilled that she mattered to someone enough that I would spend the time and that kind of fiber on her. Every emotion I had hoped she would feel in the moment I gave it to her, she felt. It was intensely gratifying, and a strong reminder of why I do this.

And I have to say, I am grateful that that older woman took out her frustrations on us, all that time ago. Because of how important it made it to me to actively do the opposite. And especially because I know that now, she would want to be having that same positive effect herself; she grew and changed over the years and became a much happier person. And that is something to celebrate most of all. I am so glad and so relieved that I did not lose myself in my hurt and turn away from her and the possibilities she had to offer of friendship after all.

Stanford concert
Friday March 23rd 2007, 5:23 pm
Filed under: Non-Knitting

Stanford Hospital holds a concert series in its wide open atrium, and I got an email from Karen Bentley Pollick that she and her friend Dmitriy Cogan would be playing there today, he on the piano and she her violin. Given that she lives on the East Coast now, and that she’s in my book, I–well, I basically moved heaven and earth to be able to go hear her. If you live in the Bay Area, she’ll be playing Sunday as well in San Mateo; details on her website (not to mention access to her exquisite playing).

So I got a chance to show her my galleys with her story in it, which is way more fun than just an email of the story. And I got to show it to her proud mom, visiting from Seattle! Very cool.

Near the end of the concert, my eye doctor suddenly appeared, stopping to watch and listen, leaning on the rail of the floor above us. I caught his eye from way below and smiled hi. Last time I’d been in to see him, he’d told me his mom had taught him to knit, and that he’d done one row. She had never told him what to do next, how to turn the work and continue on, so he didn’t know how and had done just that one row, but–and then he was suddenly shy about being proud of having given it a good try. Hey. I bet it was a great row.

Karen’s old high school buddy was there, and the three women invited me to join them for lunch; quite the honor to be included, and it was my turn for being shy. I thanked them but said I was on my way to go look for some of my old doctors and nurses.

There was one doctor, from last October, that I never did get anything knitted for. It had bugged me. So I went looking, but missed him; he’d been there earlier. I said to the nurses, well, then I’m afraid he doesn’t get to choose a color; generic white it is. We labelled the lace scarf, whom it was for, whom it was from. Dr. B., if you see this, look behind the monitor at the nurses’ station, it’s waiting for you.

And this is what Stanford looks like just outside that atrium. Healing and rest for the eyes, while the music provides healing for the soul. My thanks to every musician who has ever played there. And thank you, Karen, for the heads-up and the invite!

Didn’t take long
Friday March 23rd 2007, 11:17 am
Filed under: Amaryllis,Knit,Knitting a Gift

(Last year’s amaryllis, blooming again, late in the season under the skylight in the bathroom.)

I have a friend I owe several favors to, who picked me up last night to carpool to our knitting group. Remember when I posted about bold and red and big? I thought I had just her color. Yeah, well: without showing what they looked like, size or width or pattern or anything, just the colors–because color is everything–I offered her that or that spring green scarf I’d just finished. I kind of pushed the red a bit, I realize in retrospect.

“Well, I really like the green,” she answered. Green it was, and it looked perfect on her. I’m so glad she got what she really liked! Didn’t take long for those lace-knit leaves to go to the right person.

First green of spring in the apple tree
Thursday March 22nd 2007, 2:10 pm
Filed under: Knit

Awhile ago, I bought one skein of Misti baby suri alpaca/silk, knowing that was emphatically not my shade of green, but somehow, it just leaped into my hands anyway. Yesterday, the first day of spring, it leaped onto my needles immediately after the red one and danced up and down, going, me! Me! Maybe it was how the color matched the new leaves outside. I have learned to just go with it, that I will find out soon enough why I needed to have a project in exactly that color ready to go, for… ? Part of the fun is in the anticipation, waiting for the rest of the story to come to be. Right now, I don’t have a clue. Who are you out there that this demanded to be knitted for, that the yarn wouldn’t let me be till I did?

The color of spring
Wednesday March 21st 2007, 1:44 pm
Filed under: Knit

One more scarf, ready to block and send on its way. Somehow, for the first day of spring, it needed to be in a bright color to celebrate.

Blogger has lupus
Wednesday March 21st 2007, 12:17 pm
Filed under: Non-Knitting

Last night my husband was posting a link to my book on Amazon on my website, while I was in the other room working on the taxes. I pulled up a window to check how he was coming along, and–hey! Where’s the other photo on my blog entry?

Turns out Blogger had inserted “local host” on it, meaning it showed up on the one computer and nowhere else. Richard fussed with it and couldn’t get it to go up; he finally added the tilted car photo with the wet flower petals all over it, and warned me it had taken him an hour to get that one to work. And he’s a software engineer.

Yeah, well, so, I should have listened. Today, I thought, hey, I have an easy answer to that, and simply re-loaded the photo to Picasa, which is the photography arm of Blogger.

Blogger has lupus. It’s rejecting itself. I got to where, in the drafts, I had his tilted picture and my correct one, side by side, ready to publish. Phew. Now just edit out the tilted one.

And that is when it decided it didn’t want my photo now. Matter of fact, it rejected the whole post. I will take a deep breath and try again later. (But you *can* go order my book from my site now! Not that I’m hinting or anything.)

Edited to add: okay, tried again. It will let me post it with the tilted car but not the other one. Weird.

California snow flurries
Tuesday March 20th 2007, 7:08 pm
Filed under: My Garden,Non-Knitting


When our moving van finished up and drove away, 20 years ago, the retired neighbor across the street, who’d been casually watching off and on all day, sauntered over to our side and said wryly, by way of introduction, “I saw them taking a snow shovel off the truck. What do you think you need THAT for??”

Well hey, if it ever snows here, we could rent it out for a hundred bucks an hour and make a killing, right?
(Our tree, the neighbor’s car.)

Knitting content
Tuesday March 20th 2007, 12:46 pm
Filed under: Knit

I had just one skein of a bright red baby alpaca fingering weight from Pacific Meadows Alpacas, bought at Stitches. I had someone for whom it was just the right color–but there wasn’t enough of it. Unless… I put it together with some Jaggerspun Zephyr in garnet, and–perfect! Make it thicker=bigger needles=stretches farther.

I learned via Kaffe Fassett years ago to look at yarns with an eye towards putting two slightly different colors together to create a third. In this case, the silk content and the lighter color of the Zephyr really sets off the PMA’s red.

I don’t remember that I’ve knitted Barbara Walker’s English Lace before; her much-simpler English Mesh lace, which makes for good carrying-around knitting, certainly. Unblocked, this one seemed like an awful lot of extra work to get the same look; blocked, it was, oh, now I see! English Lace is unusual in that it has places where you treat a yarnover in such a way that, instead of creating a large round hole, you’re creating one with a slash through it–kind of an anti-lace warning sign, with its appropriately red slash mark through the circle. Cute.

Three repeats, 27 stitches, size 7mm needles, 7.5″ wide x 53″ long as it lies flat on the floor. Started last night a little before dinner, cast off at one minute after midnight. For a friend who likes bold and red and big (I wish I’d bought a second skein! But it’ll do.)

Grandfather’s part
Monday March 19th 2007, 12:09 pm
Filed under: Non-Knitting

I don’t know who might be needing to read this, but I have been feeling strongly that I needed to write this down today. I have one memory of my Grandfather Jeppson, who died a young grandfather from the effects of the rheumatic fever he’d had years earlier. It was from the last time I saw him, at three and a half: of sitting cuddled up in his lap, with him rocking me in a rocking chair on a wooden-planked floor. When I was little, I frequently had that image come to mind, and it was as if I were wrapped in his strong arms again. I was deeply loved. It comforted me greatly. As I grew into a teenager, the image came far less often, and I decided there was no way to tell if it had been a real memory or a three-year-old’s remembered dream, given that at the age I’d first experienced it, it would have been hard to tell the difference–and I pretty much dismissed it.

It wasn’t till I got quite a bit older that I realized that it didn’t matter which it was; that it had been a comfort and a feeling of the presence of my grandfather whenever I’d needed it as a child. With that, the memory of remembering it became a comfort to me again, now that I am someone facing what he faced way back then: the knowledge of a damaged body that is not likely to see my grandchildren’s children grow old.

In this life or the next, I do believe we look after our loved ones the best we know how.

Finding Grandmother
Saturday March 17th 2007, 11:53 pm
Filed under: Knit

I came across a poorly-worded, complicated lace pattern that I really liked and wanted to incorporate into one of the shawls for my book. I’m certainly no beginner, but there was a definite disconnect between what it said and what the results I wanted would be.

I thought of a friend who can knit lace in circles around me (hi, Chris!) and wished it were a time and day I could reach her. But it shouldn’t be so hard… But it was hard, definitely. I thought in frustration, I don’t GET it!!

And found myself, to my surprise, instantly thinking about my Grandmother Jeppson. I had barely known her before she’d passed away. She had headed her local Red Cross chapter’s knitting group during WWII, and once wrote that she felt that if she could just knit enough fast enough for the troops it would somehow bring her three sons home sooner. (They all made it back okay.) Grandmother.

Suddenly, it felt somehow as if she were standing right there over my shoulder. I looked down at the work in my hands. There was a sense of brightening and then a delighted, Oh! I GET it!! I immediately did that pattern in full, correctly, despite the typos and problems in the original. I did it!

I never did put that pattern in my book, though; how to do what I did was not easy to describe, and if my write-up turned out not greatly better than the original, how on earth exactly would I send my grandmother to go help others out?