Rabbit Tracks
Thursday November 30th 2006, 11:59 am
Filed under: Knit

This is the first pattern I ever had published, in the Knitting Pattern-A-Day 2005 calendar (and on my website). I’ve decided I like it better with an extra stitch added at each side, the way I did here, so, add two to the count when casting on. This one used six repeats. I know, the eye is more pleased with odd numbers within patterns, but this leaves you with seven scallops at the bottom and seven columns among the yarnovers, so it works.

Once, when I was quite new at lace knitting, I started an ambitious shawl project in superfine cashmere, thin as sewing thread. It looked terrible, like crumpled tin foil, and I finally just bagged it. It wasn’t till several years later that I pulled it out, rinsed it, and let it dry with the stitches settling down into their natural shape: it was about 6″ long, absolutely beautiful, and would have become a gorgeous piece. But, by that point, not even protected in a ziploc bag, it was bugbitten and broken.

I let that be a lesson to me that yes, lace tends to look like a random mess while you’re knitting it: but you can rinse it, still on the needles (keep those tips dry if you’re using wooden circulars like I do) and spread it out in an approximation of its future blocked self over a white towel or sheet so it won’t absorb any dyes. This is an easy way to get enthused about it, and to be able to show it off a whole lot better if you’re going to be working on it in public. So, to demonstrate here, I got this shawl halfway knitted, rinsed it, and then finished it and snapped the photo so you could see the difference.

But what I did not at all expect is that this fingering-weight yarn with 51 stitches on size 5.5mm needles (9 American) could turn out to be a wedding ring shawl. It helps if it’s a big ring, definitely. Mine’s a 7; this is a ring for which my grandfather drove out onto a reservation in Nevada many decades ago, picked out a stone, and watched the ring being made for my grandmother. I wear it for best occasions and it connects me to the grandfather I never knew before his passing and the grandmother I only barely did before hers. It was created just for them.

As this shawl was created just for…someone who hopefully doesn’t know about this blog…

Diamonds are forever
Wednesday November 29th 2006, 11:54 am
Filed under: Knit

About seven years ago, I used Barbara Walker’s Diamond Mesh pattern to knit a large, very soft kid mohair stole to wrap around an old friend recovering from back surgery. The memory of her surprised, thrilled face as I gave it to her is one of the great little joys of my life. I wasn’t about to tell her, though, that the pattern had driven me nuts: I could see how it should be so easy, but it just wasn’t coming to me. How do you see when it’s a yo, k1, yo at the top of a triangle and when it’s a k3? I’d kept picking it up, working on it awhile, and putting it down to go work on something I could actually relax with while doing. It had taken me two months to finish.

Last week, going through my stash, I stumbled across a partial ball of Jaggerspun Zephyr laceweight in jade and one of Misti baby alpaca laceweight in forest, and the two of them together! But there wasn’t as much of the Zephyr as I was comfortable with. I didn’t want to run out.

The day before, someone had posted on one of the knitting lists that she had some expensive cashmere, couldn’t afford to buy more, wanted to make a really nice gift with it, but what? When she wasn’t sure she had enough? I told her, go for a mesh lace pattern and largeish needles to stretch the yardage out; it’ll work.

Time to take my own advice. Let’s try that Diamond Mesh pattern again.

Four days. Fingertip-to-fingertip, and the best part of it, was, I immediately got it! It was intuitively obvious, just like I had known it could be if I only had enough experience. And somehow this time the math of it, the numbers and the geometry in its structure, felt inherently satisfying, like a well-written piece of music.

Rachel Remen
Sunday November 26th 2006, 5:41 pm
Filed under: Crohn's flare,Knit,Life

Anne and Mary Anne asked about my meeting Rachel Remen. Here’s the story.

Dr. Remen did a booksigning at Kepler’s, a large independent bookstore that is a local institution. I love her “Kitchen Table Wisdom” and her “My Grandfather’s Blessings,” and made a point of going to hear her. This was a little after “Grandfather’s” was released.

She talked a bit, she read from “Grandfather’s” a bit, and then she asked the large crowd for any questions or comments. One woman told her how much she’d enjoyed the books; the next one went on and on about saving the planet, imploring Dr. Remen to write about the dire condition of the earth. Dr. Remen heard her out, then gently said that this was clearly this woman’s passion and that the questioner would do well to write the book she had in mind herself for what she could bring to it.

Then she said she had time for one more question. There were a lot of people and many hands went up. I was about a third of the way back in the crowd, and thought, she’ll never call on me. I can only wish. I raised my hand, but only barely; I wasn’t sure she could even see that I did.

There was what I can only describe as a sense of white light that somehow passed between us as she looked in my direction and called on me anyway.

Like the others had done, at her invitation I stood to ask my question. I tried not to make it too long. I told her:

I have lupus. I also have a hearing loss. I have an ear doctor who discovered that the cause of my growing loss was a severe reaction to aspirin, and I quit taking any and the progression of the loss stopped.

Ten years later, I developed Crohn’s disease (something I knew Dr. Remen could definitely relate to.) I was put on a med that, with my history, put my hearing at risk, and I got sent back to that ENT for testing.

He walked into the examining room at the edge of tears, and asked me, “WHY are YOU!! being put on ototoxic drugs!”

I explained that I had Crohn’s now. He stood there a moment, taking it in, and affirmed, “That’s bad.” Another breath. “But…*I* thought you had breast cancer, or lymphoma, or…” as he shook his head, grieving at the loss.

(I didn’t say to Dr. Remen that I have a Daniel Wallace lupus book that says that 80% of lupus patients whose intestines start bleeding die in the first episode.)

I had walked into his room with a heavy burden, and that good man lifted it right off me by his empathy. I walked out with the weight of the world gone. He had heard me, he had been there for me, and he had remembered the cause of my hearing loss–ten years later! I wasn’t just another face passing through, it was important to him that I be okay. He remembered! It felt like my life expectancy was being stretched forward right there in front of me in those moments.

I wanted some way of telling that good man what he had done for me. How much it had meant to me. I knit, I told Dr. Remen–and here I held up a gossamer-fine lace shawl I was working on, by way of show-and-tell–and after reading your book, I knew what I wanted to do. I knit his wife a wedding ring shawl, one that can pass through a ring (again, the one in my hands demo’d) as a way of conveying how grateful I was.

(Note to my readers here: this was when I was new at knitting any kind of lace, much less of that fineness, and had never considered giving all those weeks of work away to anyone other than immediate family.)

I told Dr. Remen, “I did not know what to do or how to say thank you till I read your book. You gave me my voice.”

And then I sat down, as the room exploded in clapping.

Ring around the rosies?
Saturday November 25th 2006, 8:00 pm
Filed under: Non-Knitting

Yesterday morning I went with a couple of friends to visit our favorite potters, Mel and Kris Kunihiro, at a show in San Jose. Got home, got the hubby, got in our own car, and turned around and drove north and over the Golden Gate. As we went around Mt. Tamalpais, I mentally waved hi at my favorite author, Rachel Remen, who lives up there somewhere; I’ve met her. She’s as wonderful in person as she is in her writing. And then, on to the party.

Cajun sweet potatoes are definitely the way to go, and I want to know how they did that. Maybe a lace scarf bribe would help? Good food, good people all around, good times.

It wasn’t till we’d been home awhile that I noticed. I’d known for awhile that it was probably going to happen at some point. I’d lost weight, it had gotten awfully loose, and at some point yesterday my ring went flying off. (I can only hope it didn’t clog the sink at my husband’s boss’s house.) I have not the slightest clue where or when it went, only that I’d had it on in the beginning of the morning.

I’m not much of a jewelry person, but I liked that one: four turquoises, the birthstone of both me and my mother, one to symbolize each of my kids. Sterling silver, which stays bright and lovely only if you keep it shining by paying attention to it–I thought that was a good way to symbolize a relationship. It was my substitute for my wedding ring, back when the IV steroids had puffed my hands out so much that I couldn’t wear the original anymore. The steroids proved useless, and I never have to take them again. But I was in the habit of wearing that turquoise ring by then, and that was fine with Richard, so, for over three years, I did.

San Jose to San Rafael. There is no way to know. All I can do is hope that it’s in good shape, wherever it is, and that whoever finds it loves that handmade piece as much as I do, and that it fits them. That would be so cool.

Over the reservoir and through the woods…
Saturday November 25th 2006, 6:11 pm
Filed under: Non-Knitting

…to Auntie’s house we go… Actually, she’s more a sister than an aunt, age-wise, we just call her Auntie when we want to tease her.

When we moved to California, she was thrilled to finally get to have some relatives nearby; she had us tour some houses up near her in the Santa Cruz mountains. It’s gorgeous up there in the redwoods. But for us, the commute would have been awful.

Tell us, what are those mini water towers we keep seeing there for?

The firetrucks can’t negotiate some of the switchback roads. The county required some places to have those after the big Lexington Reservoir fire. Did you notice how bare the hill was above the water?

Oh. What about the fault line? It’s right there, isn’t it?

We don’t worry about earthquakes! We’re Californians!


Her kids went to Loma Prieta school, and if that phrase rings a bell, it should. We went up there to help dig up and repair the breaks in the water line from her neighborhood’s tower to her house. The stories that came out of those mountains! The near misses, the lucky breaks, the people pitching in and helping each other recover.

It’s so beautiful up there, so peaceful in the trees. I love spending Thanksgiving up there with her family.

Every place has its joys and every place has its faults. In California, we just tend to name ours.

Finished the guava juice
Tuesday November 21st 2006, 9:48 pm
Filed under: Knit

One strand of Lanas Stop kid mohair (from stash, and this laceweight version seems to be discontinued, as far as I can tell via Google). Knitted with one strand of Gentle, an 85/10/5 superfine merino/tencel/cashmere blend laceweight from Purlescence in Sunnyvale, California. I love how it shimmers against the fluff.

Another war story
Monday November 20th 2006, 12:34 pm
Filed under: Friends,History

I got this as part of a letter from my Mom yesterday. She was talking about someone at church she’d been paired up with to go visit and keep an eye out for some of the older women in the congregation. I thought it interesting enough to share, with permission:

“My new companion is a Dutch convert in her 80’s, a lovely soul with a strong conviction and sense of duty. We had a few minutes between appointments, and I got to know her a bit. She lived in Rotterdam as a young woman during the German occupation, and she had some stories to tell. I have heard Uncle Wally talk about Dutch potatoes sent to help German saints after the war, but Truus (that’s her name) was there, helped grow the potatoes. She said that they were not told at first who the potatoes were for; they assumed they were growing them for themselves. They had had a very hard time under the Germans; she called 1944 the hunger year, when the ration of bread was 1/2 pound of bread per person PER WEEK! Lots of people starved. The farmers sold food at first to those who could get out into the country, but toward the end of winter refused to sell. She said that the stake president called everyone together and sent them out to forage in the fields and byways for whatever was growing and edible, and then bring what they found back to the community soup kitchen, where things were boiled up and served nightly. This finally broke down when people quarreled about who got the best portions.

But you can see why they were delighted when the church sent seed potatoes and told them to plant them. She said their potatoes grew better than anyone else’s, because they were prayed over. There was a huge harvest and people were ecstatic. Then the church leaders called them together and said the potatoes (or at least a large part of them) were for the German saints who were starving. She said it was a real lesson, hard but necessary, in learning not to hate. The brethren were not only feeding German saints, they were helping Dutch saints spiritually. I had never heard the story that way before.”

(p.s.: No doubt lots of other people prayed over their potatoes and whatever all else they may have been growing. And of course, participation in sharing the ones Truus was talking about was strictly voluntary.)

California is just too weird
Friday November 17th 2006, 7:33 pm
Filed under: Non-Knitting

Okay, I’ve lived in northern California for almost 20 years. I’m almost used to the Christmas-lights-in-the-palm-trees weirdness. But today’s front page photo! Picture a cake with white frosting with two lines of candles marching in a circle. Now: the cake is an ice-skating rink in a park, and the candles are palm trees. Tall, towering palm trees. Which die if they freeze. Bordered by ice to both sides just outside their cutout space. Exactly what image was someone trying to convey? Is this park mocking all the people who wear super-skimpy clothes when the San Francisco fog is rolling in and it’s downright chilly, but hey, this is California, so it’s hot, right? The down-jackets-and-Birki-sandals image? Will those palms drop coconuts on the iceskaters’ heads?

Totally nonpsychodegradeable. (My stars. I’m beginning to sound like my kids. Like, tew-tuhtallyyyyy…)

So, where are my ancient-by-now skates? Let’s go!

Like this only redder
Friday November 17th 2006, 3:03 pm
Filed under: Knit,Knitting a Gift

Last night, heading out the door to my knitting group, I had my show-off shawl project ready… but grabbed a simple throw-in-my-purse scarf project that I had sitting there. It had a pattern I could do in my sleep; always good for when you want to listen to what’s going on.

The woman next to me had a soft pink scarf in a simple pattern, and I reached out and touched it and went ooh aah. “It’s nothing like what you make, though,” she answered a bit apologetically. I laughed, “It’s not a competition!” and she laughed back. She reached out to my scarf that I’d reluctantly picked up out of my bag–I really did want to make headway on that shawl–and went wow as I told her it was baby alpaca. Left over from my daughter’s afghan. Nice, she said. And from that point on, it felt like she was trying not to look at it too much. Trying not to wish for it too much.

I looked at her and thought, this is exactly your shade of red. Eight inches done so far, well, we can try. I started knitting as fast as I could.

It’s a large group, and we all chatted as we waited for people to come in. Knit! There was the usual go around the group, say your name (there’s always a new person, after all), talk about what you’re working on, maybe a little of what’s going on in your life. Talk, you guys! There was one person who always says, simply, “I’m _ and this is my _” and that’s it; she actually added a few more sentences as I silently cheered her on. Knit!

I wrapped it around my neck, holding the needles. Too short. A few more people. Knit! When they got done, the topic of changing the date of the December meeting came up, and a lively discussion ensued. Good. Keep going. That done, I wrapped it around my neck again. I think so; I turned to my neighbor and asked her opinion.

“For throwing over your shoulder?” (I wish!) “No, for tieing like this.”

“Oh, then, it’s perfect!” And with that, somebody else came up to talk to her, the meeting being officially over, and I concentrated on binding off fast before she could walk out. I was in too much of a hurry; I totally hashed that first stitch there, and tried to work some looseness back into it with my needle. No time to frog. I didn’t have a yarn sewing needle, so I had to work the end in by using my needle to imitate knitting, more or less, to pull it through each stitch across the bottom of the scarf, pulling the strand all the way through each. Slow.

There: did it! I put it in her lap, and the look on her face! Surely I’m only showing off that I got it done. Right?! She dutifully held it up and handed it back. I stuffed it in her knitting bag: no, I meant it, this is for you!

She was speechless. She was thrilled. She told me, “I so much love that color!”

It’s not a competition. But I still would say I definitely won. It’s people like her that keep knitters knitting for others.

Dustbunny yarn
Thursday November 16th 2006, 2:46 pm
Filed under: Spinning

Blogger has been refusing to post that other picture. Let’s try this one, of the finished skein. 

The ultra dustbunny
Thursday November 16th 2006, 1:36 pm
Filed under: Spinning

I was thinking about posting about the uncertain lung x-ray that called for a repeat, putting off the repeat, finally going and getting that done a couple of days ago, and getting the report that all was cleared up now. I was thinking about posting about the half pound of cocoa powder I managed to drop across the kitchen floor this morning–but it made the kitchen smell SO good that I had to celebrate with a mug of hot cocoa (from the other tin, thank you very much). I was going to mention…

And then I remembered this bag of brown cashmere fiber I’d found yesterday while cleaning up. I’d bought it via Ebay, very cheap, because, according to the description, it was full of noils.

I haven’t spun in ages and ages. I spent from January to June where I tried a few times, but just couldn’t manage the three limbs going at once thing without finding myself breathless and so exhausted, after doing one bobbin’s worth, as to need a nap. But I liked spinning! The only way not to be frustrated with the loss was to push it far from my sight so as to concentrate on my knitting instead. Focus on what you have and be glad for it, let the rest go.

I’m doing far better now. I finished cleaning the cocoa and pulled out that bag. I made one small skein just now, plying it with a never-used-up half-bobbbin’s worth of baby alpaca/silk in a lovely gold that had been waiting its turn on another bobbin.

Noils was the least of it. No wonder I’d forgotten this stuff. You want natural fibers, hon, this is definitely au naturel: a few guard hairs mixed in, uncombed, short haired, the occasional bit of straw, noils and neps and slubs and sudden thin spots as I spun. All the charm of spinning dog fur. Tell you what, if anybody wants the rest of this–it is very soft, after all–give me a shout out at spindyeknit@nospamgmail.com (skip the no spam part) and it’s yours, first come first served, winner take all. It gave me what I needed: it got me back to my spinning fibers again, and made it clear that I can. Yay!!

Wednesday November 15th 2006, 11:36 am
Filed under: Knit

Yesterday I was at the dentist’s and then the doctor’s, and I took this project along to work on. Usually people ask me what I’m making, but on this one, instead, three times I had people ask me how I would describe the color. Guava juice? That was the best I could come up with.

My friend Constance, a fellow knitter, likes to say “Color is everything.” That all is else is secondary; if you don’t like the color, you’ll never like the project. And if you love the color, all other faults can be forgiven.

That said, everybody seemed to love the color on this one as much as I do. Whatever one might call it.

Monday November 13th 2006, 4:49 pm
Filed under: Non-Knitting

Camera. I forgot again to bring the camera. It’s been cold and rainy this afternoon, but I had some packages that needed to go out: one son at college discovered a sudden need for warm wool sweaters he’d left home (I’m trying not to type, duh, kid, ya think? I’m really trying), and there were a couple of kits that had arrived from UCSF’s lupus genetics study to be forwarded to a couple of my kids. So my youngest and I waited for a break in the downpour and ran for the car.

The good thing about playing passenger is that you get to see as you go: the snowy egrets are always so graceful. The road to the post office runs alongside the marshlands at the edge of San Francisco Bay. The sky was a quiet shade of gray, the cattails and reeds subdued, but as the water opened up to view, there was a flock of pelicans whose feathers somehow shone very white, as if they’d absorbed the sun and stored it up for the winter and were willing to share with all. Rain? What’s a little water to a pelican? They looked absolutely radiant. One dipped its long beak down deep, then tilted its head up and back as it swallowed its fish, and looked for all the world as if it were laughing for sheer joy.

On a lighter note
Monday November 13th 2006, 1:21 pm
Filed under: Knit

Having had my fourth child a month before the oldest turned six, nearly nineteen years ago, I remember waiting rooms and kids running around and their being bored or tired. I remember how much one kind word or smile from an older parent, remembering, meant to me.

I discovered not too long ago that there are women in Peru who put bread on their families’ tables by handknitting intricate, adorable fingerpuppets; I bought my first one, a penguin, at Stitches West one year, from Pam Bell at Pacific Meadows Alpacas. I put it on the joystick of my motorized scooter that I use for long days out like that, and instantly became friends with every small child being dragged around by their mom that day. Adults who saw it couldn’t help but laugh too.

From there, I’ve bought them by the dozens online, and always keep some in my purse just in case. I try to always ask the parents first before handing one over. It is amazing to watch a waiting room in a doctor’s office be completely transformed as a child goes from not wanting to be in a strange, unsettling environment, to, playing with something cool and new and with a face and personality they can go play with. The whole room lights up in delight at the imagination of a now-happy child.

I was getting low, so I reached into the closet to pull out the bag they came in to replenish my supply. And out came: a blue elephant. Given last week’s election returns, that suddenly struck me as very, very funny. I guess this one’s for me. 

Sunday November 12th 2006, 9:40 pm
Filed under: Family,History

A few thoughts on yesterday’s post: during WWII, my father was young enough to enlist and be stationed at the Presidio in San Francisco, but the war ended before he could be sent overseas.

He had two older brothers, one a captain serving in the Pacific. The other’s letters home were heavily censored and pieces snipped out, but one letter that got through declared to his mother simply that, six weeks after he got overseas, the war would be over. She dismissed it as a young soldier’s boasting.

My Grandmother Jeppson, meantime, anguished that the war had taken the last of her three sons, headed the local Red Cross effort to knit for the troops; as she put it in a letter I have read, she felt that the harder she knitted, the faster and more likely her sons would somehow arrive safely home (and they did). Hours and hours and hours a day, and how, I do not know; nor do I know at what age her rheumatoid arthritis began and whether it was an issue to her at the time.

But her middle son proved correct in his declaration. He wanted to put a stop to all the killing. He wanted to put a stop to the evil that threatened the world, and felt it had to be done before the Germans’ own efforts became what the Americans had at hand. Oppenheimer had had his group sent to Yale, Harvard, and MIT to learn as much as they could of what they needed to know.

Morris R. Jeppson did what he felt had to be done on the world’s most famously-named airplane. Hoping hard there would not be a second plane, nor any other such flight ever.