Stop: over!
Thursday November 13th 2008, 7:40 pm
Filed under: Friends,Life

Greta and I are old college friends who hadn’t seen each other in 17 years, and we arranged to meet at JFK Airport during a layover.  I left my husband guarding all our carry-on stuff–and my Kaffe Fassett coat, to top it off, more than any one person should have to carry–while I went out of the security zone to have a chance to catch up with my old friend. I carefully kept my ID and boarding pass with me, taking only my purse. I promised him I’d be checking back through in time to spend the last full hour with him so he could go buy lunch, take a restroom break if he needed it, etc etc.

All well and good, till… I got a not-quite-frantic-yet IM message from Richard: they’d just changed our departure time to 45 minutes earlier, ie boarding quite shortly, and they’d changed our gate to one further away.  He’d had to move everything, and I needed to hurry NOW.  Oh goodness!  How can they do that!  Gotta run!  Greta waved goodbye as I tried to go back through security.

The boarding pass had been in two pieces barely connected.  Somehow between stuffing it in my purse and then stuffing it in my pocket for handy grabbing, I’d lost the top half.  No good.  Can’t let you through, so sorry, lady, no the flight won’t wait even if your luggage is on it, sorry.  I got sent way over to the luggage check-in to get a new boarding pass (they let me go to the front of the line–thank you JetBlue.)  Then back to security.  Everything was far enough away that I was running.  Which gets too dramatic, with me suddenly in acute need of air and my heart not happy about it.  They grabbed me a wheelchair.

The wheelchair lady was in absolutely no hurry.  She’d seen the original boarding time and couldn’t understand my hurry, and nothing I could do could talk her out of it.  I tried to take a deep breath.  In the end, I got there with just a couple of minutes to spare, but it was just too close.

And then the flight was so turbulent there were no snacks nor bathroom breaks allowed.

Richard forgave me, but it was a near thing for a few minutes there.

But I did get my Greta time.  Yay!  Was it worth it?  You absolutely betcha.

Note which spouse is typing this.

C&O Canal
Wednesday November 12th 2008, 9:18 pm
Filed under: Friends,Life,LYS

My old Knitlist friend Soozie works at Inez’s Stitchery in Kensington, maybe a half mile from my in-laws’ house and yet I had never been; you have to go up a long flight of stairs, and I hadn’t really been up to that the last few times home.

This time I went.  And of course Soozie wasn’t there, but the woman I met (forgive me for blanking on your name) was a sweetheart.  Then around the corner to the post office: a shawl needing mailing that was ready to go.  Done.

Then I called Karen, she came by, grabbed me, and we went to Swain’s Lock, our usual haunt at the Canal; we got there about 4:30 and walked a ways down the towpath and back.  It was hard to remember not to go too far; I do love that place.  There was not another soul in sight on that path.

Coming back, there were white swans glowing in the fading daylight in the quieter waters between the near bank of the Potomac and an island; I wondered at first if they were snowy egrets like mine near the San Francisco Bay, so we walked to the river’s edge to see more clearly.  Karen had called it from the start.  Swans.  One languidly reached down into the waters for a little dinner.  Glorious.

The flash announced that my camera had an ego that was just sure it could capture the scene.  Me, I’m not so sure.  Like my email at my main address, it will just have to wait till I get home next Monday before I’ll be able to see it.  (That’s in case anybody’s wondering why I’m not answering something you sent; sorry about that.)

We went to where I’d fallen through a canoe.  The last shards had long since floated out to sea.  I looked at that embankment and went, I stepped off THAT?  *THAT*?! (Oh, yes, it was definitely the place.)  My stars.  No wonder you were shaking your head, Karen!

I think she quite enjoyed my disbelief.

Friends back home
Tuesday November 11th 2008, 8:30 pm
Filed under: "Wrapped in Comfort",Friends,LYS

Occasional-commenter Laura came by this morning, and the three of us had a grand reunion.

Laura was a college friend of ours; she was the roommate of my husband’s cousin, and then her cousin married my sister.  Small world.  She grew up on the opposite bank of the Potomac from us, quite nearby as the Baltimore Oriole flies.  We ran into her randomly in Oakland one day about fifteen years ago and have stayed in touch ever since.  She and her family moved back home to Virginia a few years ago.

She surprised me with a copy–which she signed for me–of her delightful new children’s book, “Mrs. Muddle’s Holidays.”  Cool!  Thank you!

Later in the afternoon, my knitting friend Robin, who lives in my hometown and whose brother lives a mile from me in California, came by.  She took me over to Woolwinders, a LYS in Rockville where they had a Michelle shawl up on display. Cool!

A woman came in, Tina, who was gobsmacked by my Kaffe Fassett coat and asked and tried it on and twirled around in it.  She ran to the mirror, telling me how much she’d been wanting to make a Kaffe Fassett, scrunching it up to her face in sheer joy that such a thing of so much color existed.  I have to say, that coat looked much better on her than me–but not enough to get me to let her keep it, much though she would have loved that.  Then she found out who I was, and her excitement over that–she’d been checking my book out of the library over and over and had decided she simply had to buy it, and wow, here I was!  On a day she never ever comes in to the store, she said, but today she did, and she was just so ecstatic over the whole thing.

Let me tell you, I would happily spend the hundreds and hundreds of hours it took and write another book just for moments like the ones she gifted me with.  Many thanks, Tina!  And to Robin for letting it happen.

And to Laura for her own book and for staying friends through the years and the distances.

Tina twirled and hugged the coat one more time–and another and another–before she let us go.

Yeah, I’d say definitely yes, new friends are really cool too.

Catoctin Mountain
Monday November 10th 2008, 8:57 pm
Filed under: Family,Friends,Life

Karen picked me up this afternoon and we meandered: first, we drove past the house I grew up in.  It’s been sold and remodeled.  It’s lovely, but it was an odd feeling–after 44 years of my folks being there, it’s definitely not home anymore. We drove past the driveway going down to the Frank Lloyd Wright house around the corner, too, where you could just see the outline of the ship-shaped roof through the winter-bare tree trunks.  Wright’s grandson lives there still, an elderly man who a few years ago welcomed his neighbors by special invitation, including my parents, to a tour of the insides, right at the edge of a nature preserve and overlooking Cabin John Creek.  Like all Wright buildings, it blends right into its landscape.

Then Karen took me past her daughter Amy’s office, where Amy did a really cool braiding job on my hair.  In my Kaffe Fassett coat, my Begay turquoise necklace, Birkenstocks and handknit socks, and my ready-for-a-wedding braids, I felt like I looked like a Californian somehow in the air that was finally beginning to chill.

Karen announced to my surprise that we were going to Cunningham Falls so I could see the falls this time when it was no longer a drought. Oh GOOD! I’d really wanted to do that, but I wasn’t going to ask; it’s way out there in the Maryland mountains, on the opposite side of the road from Camp David.  COOL!

The woods near the falls were surprisingly open to the sky, with tree trunks on the ground, many of them sawed into chunks.  What happened to my park?! Turns out a tornado had ripped through there right below the falls.  More water in the falls now, but fewer trees in the forest.  I look forward to going back to see what changes and rebirthing comes there next, to see what tree varieties grow up in place of the old.

Catoctin? I asked Karen?  Absolutely! And so the two of us turned north a mile or two and went to Catoctin Mountain Orchards, where my family had picked fruit every summer growing up, weighing our boxes before and after we went through the strawberries, the cherries, the you name its, stooping low for hours or, better yet, climbing ladders up into trees with our parents’ actual permission to be up there.  They have a large roadside farmstand now.  I bought one of my daughter Michelle’s favorite foods, their homemade apple butter, and talked to the woman about shipping it home for me.  I’d once hauled an extra suitcase back to California filled with their jars, very heavy, wheels or no wheels, worrying about breaking glass and sticky jam; I had no desire to do that again.

She had no idea about any of that.  She showed me the chart with the shipping charges and warned me that that was besides the cost of the bottles themselves.  Yes, I understood that.  Karen and I hemmed and hawed over a few other purchases–I got a gorgeous matted 8×10 photograph of the falls in the Fall for $25 to take home–and the elderly woman felt the need to tell me twice more just to make sure I understood what costs I was about to be in for.

Yes, thanks.  I got it.  Twenty for the shipping: “Well, yes, those jars are heavy!” I explained to her that I didn’t want to haul them through not one but two airports.  I didn’t feel the need to explain about me doing airports in wheelchairs, about how happy I was to let the UPS guy do the work.

But more to the point, I wanted those jars home safely. My daughter had just had a major health scare last month, she was coming home at Thanksgiving for some doctor time, and I needed to do something to make it all better.  Catoctin Mountain Orchards apple butter was exactly the right thing, and I couldn’t wait to see her face light up.

Sometimes, it’s knitting that I do to try to get that effect.  But I can be flexible.

(ps And then Richard, Karen, Amy and I went out to dinner afterwards and got The. Best. Waitress. in the entire state of Maryland.  I made a point of telling her manager how much we’d enjoyed her as we left.  And if she reads this–THANK YOU!)

The Subway
Sunday November 09th 2008, 1:20 pm
Filed under: Life

Stitches East was, as always, a glorious overload of friends, of yarn, of being surrounded by creative people–I’m not sure where to start, so for right now while I have a rare moment with a computer, forgive me, I’m skipping to what followed. (Besides, how much can anyone put up with me gushing over people gushing over…yeah.  Me neither.  Although, it *was* fun!)  So.

Last night after the Market closed, my friend and fellow knitter Kate was singing in a band, the Boogie Knights, doing a benefit not far from there for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society in memory of her brother Robbie.  I lost a sister-in-law to lymphoma myself; my friend Karen and I very much wanted to go.

But in between we needed to grab a meal.  We were in a section of old Baltimore where there was just absolutely no parking.  We spotted a Subway sandwich shop and decided that that would do the deed just fine, if only we could get to it.  After a time or two around the block, I finally said, Here–you stay here in the No Stopping zone so you can circle again if a cop waves at you while I run in and order quick and run back out.

Great. Go for it.

And so my cane and I hopped out of the car and straight up into the door of the shop (don’t fall on those steps!) and stood behind a few people in line. I hoped it wouldn’t take too long.

I had a few moments to observe.  There were three people working: a middle-aged man, I’d guess Mediterranean/maybe Middle Eastern (I was trying to place the accent), a late-20’s Hispanic woman, and a petite, pretty (I think she would have been surprised to hear me say that, but she definitely was) young black woman, who avoided eye contact and looked terribly beaten down as she pulled out and replaced several empty stainless-steel canisters of sandwich makings with full ones and reached for and cut and filled the rolls to order, while the other woman stood still, muttering at the other and rolling her eyes, swishing a little lettuce off the counter into the trash.  Watching their interactions and who was doing the actual work, my heart went out to the younger one. The fellow was ringing up the purchases at the end.

I managed to catch the black woman’s eye and smiled as I placed my order; I apologized a bit for my deafness when I didn’t hear her questions about specifics.  She started to make Karen’s and my sandwiches.  I lost my balance and grabbed at the counter edge with my free hand.  I was wobbling fairly constantly on my cane–I was jetlagged, I’d just done two full days of Stitches, I was hungry and exhausted and I was more unsteady than my usual.

And yet.  There’s something very strengthening about feeling needed.  I definitely felt needed in this place in this moment of time.  I silently prayed for all three of these people working together and tried to live up to that prayer and make a difference to them all by simply being nice.

And the young black woman responded to that. She started looking me in the eye too.  She straightened up just a bit.  She started smiling back, a bit faint, but hey.  And then the other woman lightened up, too.  The man gave me a warm smile that went beyond that of oh good, another sale tonight.

Just a few minutes together.  The whole feeling of the place had changed. I thanked the young woman who’d prepared our dinner: a crab sandwich! I was home in Maryland again!

Karen was still there at the curb, no problem there; I hopped in and we went looking for Kate’s venue, eventually found an actual parking spot, grabbed it, and sat in the car and ate.

And it dawned on me and I said to Karen, You know?  Just every now and then, it hits me that it’s totally okay that I was in that accident.  That young black woman knew that I, too, had been through–well, something, anyway.  She could relate to me as a fellow traveler because my life too had clearly had some hard times.  And she and the others were just so much happier when I left than when I came in–it all works out. It really does.

We went to the concert.  It was absolutely fabulous.  The music, truly, but also…We all knew the cause we had come together for and the parents and sister we were there specifically to honor.  Bob. Deb.  Kate.  Robbie’s family.  It mattered to each one of us in the audience that we were there for them, and they were wrapped in overwhelming love at the end.  As well they should be.  As well they should be.

Stitches East day two
Saturday November 08th 2008, 7:55 am
Filed under: "Wrapped in Comfort"

Okay, today I’m remembering to take my camera, even if I can’t make use of it yet.

I wonder if anyone else noticed–that last post, I finished writing it, got up from the computer, and it hit me almost immediately that that second to last paragraph was a perfect metaphor for the hopes of people around the world for how the United States will do after Tuesday’s results.

Anyway, back to yarn. I got some to play with, oh definitely, but no way to show them that I know how to do on this computer.  I did quite enjoy one woman seeing a copy of “Wrapped in Comfort” on my lap and exclaiming, “Oh, I LOVE that book!” Karen, wearing the large Water Turtles shawl in its pages and standing next to me, answered, “She wrote the book!”

The woman’s delighted exclamations made all three years of effort worth it just in that moment, I tell you.

Thursday November 06th 2008, 2:41 pm
Filed under: Life

Taking the cheapest flight meant going to Las Vegas before heading east to Baltimore.  We then flew over the Grand Canyon, the colors so Monet’ed from that height as to mostly blend together. I thought of a few friends who are colorblind and wondered if that’s more like how they would see it up closer; I don’t have the context to know.  I wondered how much of that vast landscape was the actual park: it went on and on, horizon to horizon to horizon, a great collapsed sand castle of sheer cliffs falling straight down, a meandering blue flashing in and out of sight at the bottom.  At the eventual edges, there were some softer-curving areas where the erosion of the water had been more spread out: one mountainside facing me looked like a Georgia O’Keefe ginkco leaf in fading fall colors. Glorious.

My newspaper put the hold on home delivery a day too soon: I wanted that November 5th paper to take on the plane! While we waited for our luggage, Richard bought me a late-printed Washington Post Special Election Edition in the Baltimore airport, which made me quite a few instant friends as I held it in my hands and people commented on the headline.  By this morning, a pristine copy was being sold on Ebay for $400, according to the Post’s amazed online edition; yesterday was a very good day to be a print newspaper.

The air got fairly turbulent as we flew into Baltimore, but that pilot placed that plane down just exquisitely so. Well done.

We’re home.

Writing the coat tales
Wednesday November 05th 2008, 9:07 am
Filed under: Family,Knit

Kaffe Fassett Big Diamonds coat(The colors are more subdued in real life.)

When my grandfather died in ’94, the coat that I wore the winter day of his funeral up in the Rocky Mountains was my Kaffe Fassett one, knitted in one strand of mohair with one of wool on size 5.5mm needles: in other words, it was dense and surprisingly warm, even with snow on the ground.  My feet, on the other hand, froze memorably.

I felt somehow like it wasn’t quite right, though, to wear that there. I just felt it called too much attention to itself at a solemn moment.   So not longer after, for the first time since I’d gotten married, I splurged on a new, more formal, long wool-and-cashmere charcoal-colored coat.  Gorgeous.  When it came, though, the sizing was generous.  Um, like, real generous in the sleeves–I’m short-armed to begin with.

My children are tall.  Returns are a major hassle.  I kept it.

My oldest went off to college, and at the first snow, she called and told us she had her electric blanket set to “Deep fat fry!”

Two years later, her brother was packing for his first semester at BYU too, and she was having far too much fun telling him just how cold he was going to be out there.  Heh.  I heard her, thought about it, and it was clear to me I should have done this two years sooner:

I had bought that long coat for all the wrong reasons. I had bought it to fit in with my husband’s co-workers at their Christmas parties.  Did I think it would be more impressive than my Kaffe Fassett?  I had bought it so as not to be loud come the day that my grandmother should pass away; I did wear it to her funeral two years after Grampa’s, where we were, again, standing in snow at the gravesite.   But my husband and I had run out of 90-something grandparents to have leave us; we were done with that need.

And what nobody could have foreseen was, the thing now drove me nuts: the bottom of it flapped and wrapped around my cane with each left-foot-forward step, now that I was using a cane post-accident.  When your balance depends on your muscular feedback, this is the equivalent of my coat trying to throw me down on the ground in rhythm with my gait. Tell me, do your clothes do wrestling moves on you?

So my daughter upgraded to a longer, nicer coat. She traded it back and forth later with her little sister’s navy peacoat, each as she saw the other needing whichever.

…And I am hanging onto the memory of being warm at Grampa’s funeral, because my Kaffe Fassett is going to have a large job to do at my older daughter’s house in Vermont.  The sleeves on this thing came out too long, and I’ve never gotten around to going back and fixing that.

My children are tall.

The housesitter’s got the keys, the flight’s leaving soon.  Baltimore first, here we come!

Tuesday November 04th 2008, 12:03 pm
Filed under: Life

The elderly black man pulled up alongside my car a few minutes ago while I was madly dashing around doing last-minute errands–I’d gone to the polling place first, then the pharmacy, now I was on my way to the post office–and he made a point of catching my eye and giving me a huge grin.  I smiled back at him, wondering for a moment… Oh! Right! Of course. Duh.

I’ve got an Obama sticker on the back of my car. My first-ever bumper sticker in my life:


Monday November 03rd 2008, 10:11 pm
Filed under: Life

I’ve been thinking about Kyle’s story and his mom, and it strikes me that one of the reasons it’s so very compelling, was, yes, what an incredible gift he gave her. It cost him a lot of planning, time, money, and devotion to pull it off, and he pulled it off, and what an incredible and insightful act of love.  And how many people he never knew, at 25, would be affected and touched by what he was doing.  The whole thing just totally wows me.

But there’s also this: there’s this deep, innate human yearning that every person who’s ever lived can relate to of wishing you could go back, just for one day, and have back something that was dear to you. Something that you’ve lost.

How often do we actually get to?

Kyle made that happen for his mother that day.  To life!

Flying colors
Sunday November 02nd 2008, 8:07 pm
Filed under: Friends,Life

Kyle spoke with me at church and gave me permission to share his story:

His mom was a pilot.  Loved to fly, love love loved it.  Planes, helicopters.

Then she got married, decided to start a family, got pregnant with him… And during the pregnancy had seizures that cost her her pilot’s license.  And that was that.

But she still loved planes and she would sometimes take her little boy to the small local airport from time to time to show him around.

When he was 25, he decided he owed his mom and he decided to do something about it.

He called her up one day and invited her to meet him over at the municipal airport.  You know, look around, give her a chance to rag on him about who he was dating or not, quality time with her kid (I think he said it was her birthday).  Sure.

As they walked around the small planes, he asked her about the difference between the controls on, say, this Cessna here vs… and he opened the door.

Kyle! You can’t just…!

He climbed in.

KYLE! You can’t just… Kyle?!

Hop in, Mom, c’mon, show me!

She knew her kid enough to know he certainly wasn’t going to do something wrong, but this was someone else’s plane and this was going too far and what did he THINK he was…

C’mon in, Mom, here, show me!

She climbed in, started to ask what on *earth* is this about, what are you DOING, Kyle.

Then she looked in his eyes.  And suddenly got it.  “Did you…!”

Yup. He’d gotten his license, and he’d rented this plane to take her up. Pilot, co-pilot.  “Go for it, Mom!”


Trick or Treat
Saturday November 01st 2008, 9:28 am
Filed under: Life

(Go here to see my best Halloween costume ever.)

It drizzled off and on last night and we only got about ten trick-or-treaters at the door, all of them quite young.  (Oh dear. My husband bought the 4 2/3 pound bag of mini candy bars at Costco in anticipation of there being lots more coming than that.)

Our neighborhood has an annual block party, so that even if I can’t keep everyone’s names straight, we all know each others’ faces, which is a wonderful thing.

The doorbell rang.  A young mom with her little ones whom I didn’t recognize introduced herself as the new neighbor down the street in the “pumpkin colored house.”  Cool.

There was quite a wait, and then the doorbell rang again: four children from two families, the oldest a boy about six, the youngest a girl of maybe three and a half at the most from the nearby cul-de-sac.  The parents stayed back away from immediate sight, letting the children in their costumes have their moment.

Halloween bowl“Is there anything else?” The boy whined, picking at the bowl. “I want chocolate.”  The rubber hand came down on his with a gravelly voice, “Trick or Treat!” He grabbed it and waggled it back and forth, trying to make it do that again.  As I showed him that waving your hand in front of it without touching it made it activate, knowing that little boys like to see how things work, it was all I could do not to guffaw out loud at his disappointment, thinking, oh, me, too, hon, me too, but I didn’t pick out the candy this year, and they rarely sell Valrhona or Scharffenberger in bite sizes.  I tried to make it up to him by offering him extras of the dissed candy, and he pocketed it, sure, glad to; the five-year-old boy likewise.  They turned to go.

The two little girls were torn: clearly, their mothers had coached them well. You only take one piece.  That’s it.  Be polite.  I offered them more like the boys had gotten, and how could they disobey their moms?  But how could they leave, given an offer like that?

I rescued them by reaching into the bowl myself and putting extra into their bags, the slightly-older girl holding hers open for me.

Now, I’ve certainly been a young mom myself groaning over all the junk food my kids gleefully counted out of their loot on Halloween night after we walked them around to houses of people we knew.

This one little girl, the littlest, looked up at me with these huge eyes and these long eyelashes, and suddenly I felt I had passed the Grandma test: I was in cahoots with her. I didn’t make her disobey. But I got her what she wanted just the same; clearly my intent was simply for her to be happy, with the candy only a sign of that, and now she was ready to come in in her princess costume for a snuggle in the rocking chair and a good bedtime story.   Grandma.  I was adopted on the spot (and I knew her own Grandmas were half a world away.)  She utterly melted my heart.

Halloween became magical in that moment.