Sandi’s shawl
Friday March 16th 2007, 12:53 pm
Filed under: Knit,Knitting a Gift,LYS

Every piece of our handknitting carries a history of our days within it.

Sandi is one of the co-owners of Purlescence, and the person who gifted me with that lightweight, collapsible scooter recently. How do you thank someone who offers you your mobility back? I went into her shop last week and bought (among other things) four skeins of Kidsilk Haze and a matching Alpaca With A Twist’s Fino baby alpaca/silk laceweight. I loved how the two strands played off each other.

My son’s doctor blithely told him he would be home within two to three hours after his arthroscopic shoulder surgery. Three hours after, he still had a breathing tube down him, out cold. I knitted and knitted and knitted Sandi’s yarn, keeping the generosity of her spirit present in every stitch as I did. I knit his recovery into those stitches, and of course, he’s fine; it just took patience and time. Like (what else) knitting.

Three days ago, I showed my friend Nancy what I had so far. It was a guess exactly how much the lace would stretch downwards once I blocked it. I thought I had enough; Nancy said no, keep going. So I did a few more pattern repeats, mostly to keep Nancy happy. Then, as long as I was at it, what the heck, I kept working till I was about out of yarn. I blocked it, checked it over, and thought, Great. Now I just knew it was going to be way too long; Sandi is emphatically not a tall person. Twenty-seven inches–on her?

Nancy gave me a lift over to our first time at Purlescence’s knitting group last night. Before we headed off, I showed her the shawl. I was sure I’d blown it, and I told her I was going to start over with another yarn I’d bought from Sandi, so she’d have a shawl that wouldn’t just totally swamp her.

Nancy said, You made this for Sandi. The color will be perfect on her. She will love it. Give this one to her.

You know how sometimes someone with some sense says just what you need to hear?

Yeah. Sandi loved it. Like there was a question?

Edgar and Rob
Thursday March 15th 2007, 1:23 pm
Filed under: Knit

This is Edgar.

The cop, who’d only been a block away, leaned in the window of my car, where the change drawer and the glove compartment were thrown open and the contents spewed and the mirror completely skewed sideways, and whistled, “He hit you hard!” I have no memory of the second impact, just of a sense of flying airborne through a crazily-kaleidoscoped Alice-in-Wonderland scene. Somebody far away screamed. It was possibly me–I honestly don’t know. Seatbelts, but no airbags: we had held onto the ’88 Accord for teaching our teenagers how to drive without ever worrying about scratches and bumps.

I arrived for my first appointment for testing that was to try to pinpoint where my brain and visual damage was and to set up a therapy program tailored around that.

Rob came into the waiting room. I had the blue version of the Strawberry Pie shawl in my hands, a shimmery silk/wool mix, the one pictured on my website, and to my delighted surprise, he took a moment to admire it and to say how much he loves it when people create something by hand. It was the day before the first anniversary of 9/11, and yet somehow he was fully focused on his patient and fully there for me. I was charmed.

He then put me through the various tests he had at hand, wrote up his recommendations, and handed me off to the person who was to do those therapy sessions.

But that hour and a half with him had a tremendous impact on me: because, not having ever laid eyes on me before, it mattered deeply to him how I did, and he hoped I might recover my balance. His was a warm and soft touch to a hard time in my life. He had no way of knowing, but my accident was the least of it to me just then.

And so, I went back to that office later with a sheep, twin to this one.

I’d gone to a handweavers’ conference and bought, by feel, the softest kid mohair fleece that Buckeye Farm had had in their booth. When I chose it, the owner picked it up in its bag, exclaimed, “Oh! Edgar!” and rubbed a handful of the locks blissfully against her cheek before parting with it. Edgar was her pet, and now I got to go home with his fleece, which was finer and softer than most cashmeres. She tried to show me how to spin it so that the ends of the locks would fluff out a bit from the yarn. Cool.

The brown is baby alpaca, the eyes cashmere. I had two weeks before my next appointment. I wanted a way to tell Rob:

That he heals the people around him in ways he could never know, by who he is and how he holds them in great tenderness in his work. He had no idea I had a friend dying the day I walked into his office, and another friend’s son had just passed. That my own daughter, with ITP, the autoimmune equivalent of hemophilia, had had her platelets drop by 25 to 25 that week, and since she was away at college, I wasn’t sure I’d ever see her again. My accident was the least of my worries just then. But it was all he knew about.

But somehow, through the gentle words and motions with which he put me through those tests, he made me come away feeling like it would all come out okay. There might be loss, but I could bear up under it now.

Feed my sheep. So I knitted up Edgar into an Edgar for him. I found a card with a beautiful Ansel Adams photograph and quoted that phrase for him: saying, to me, it means, look out for one another. Be there for each other. I thanked him for helping me deal with far more than he could possibly have known, simply by who he was.

And I gave him, as a testimony to the power of his goodwill, the sheep I had knitted for him out of the Buckeye Farm’s kid mohair fleece and two other, nameless animals.

Technical notes on construction: yes, Afton, I made this second one so I could write up the pattern for you, and then I promptly lost the piece of paper before I could enter it in the computer. The bottoms of the legs are single crochet, eight stitches, with the knitted stitches picked up and worked up from there. Bulky yarn, as small needles as you can comfortably work it on, you want it good and dense. The legs are worked separately and put aside, then the main body knitted, adding the legs on as you go. Robert’s was done starting at the tail end. Note that it is far more fun to look at a sheep’s face than its butt as you’re knitting–so I did this one face first. Attach the eyes before you stuff the face with wool roving. Ears are done with short-rowing. One other thing: I tried to make a third sheep with the color scheme reversed, got the head done, and it looked like a Mexican Day of the Dead festival participant. It freaked me quietly out, much though I assured myself it did not, and I never finished it.

The last time I was in that office, Rob showed me his sheep, perched happily at the top of his cubicle for everybody to see. Ansel Adams was on his desk.

And a part ridge in a pear tree
Tuesday March 13th 2007, 6:13 pm
Filed under: My Garden

There were once three Modesto ash trees towering over our backyard here. One died well before we arrived, and the former owners had left the thick trunk lopped off at about eight feet high. Woodpeckers nested near the top of the dead wood every year, and if you were still, you could watch the parents flitting in zigzags from the branches of the remaining trees above it, never flying directly into the nest but always feinting right, then left, then darting in at the last. Sometimes you could even see them feeding their babies; we held ours up high so they could look in and see, too, from a safe distance.

Those other two trees, though, were attacked by the clouds of unpredatored white flies that hit California not long after we moved here; borers moved in for the kill, and a quarter of one ash fell across our yard and beyond in a storm. They were a danger. We had plans to add onto the house anyway, and they were in the way. Down they all came.

The next spring, our woodpeckers came back. Where were their trees? Hey! And so, they ringed the ornamental pear out front: they pecked a series of closely-connected deep holes, most of the way around, to cut off the flow of the sap. A naturalist explained to me why: it wouldn’t be ready this year, but by the next it would be dead and easier to carve a new nest out of. Just the natural order of things adjusting to the new circumstances. The sap oozing out attracted ants, which would provide food for the birds.

I heard them going at it, but didn’t realize till later where they were and what was happening. The pear tree suffered, badly; half the leaves turned quickly brown and we were sure we were going to lose it. It is hard, at times, for someone who grew up in the woods like I did to live in such a city place as it is here, and I need every tree; I didn’t want to lose this one, too.

The next year about a third of the leaves that came out grew to only half their normal length before giving up and turning a shrivelled brown. There was just not enough sap getting through with that break line in the trunk.

Same thing the next year.

But by now it has been a dozen years. I hope the woodpeckers have long since found a new spot; this tree was far too close to the ground for them anyway, the neighbors’ cats could have reached them where they pecked it. But. Somehow that flowering pear, not much more than a sapling when it got ringed, survived the process, and it grew and bloomed more and more just the same.

And look at it now.

Happy Spring.

Monday March 12th 2007, 12:48 pm
Filed under: "Wrapped in Comfort",Knit

Picture a jack-in-the-box: the closer you get to the end of the tune as you crank the handle round and round, the more intense the pressure building up inside, until at last the box bursts open and the clown jumps out at you.

It was like that.

I was at a party, making small talk with some fellow I’d just met; he casually asked where I lived. I named the town. “Oh!” he brightened. “Where?”

The south end of town, near Cubberley.

“Oh.” (A little more intensely.) “Where?”

I hesitated, described a little, he pressed, while I was beginning to squirm inwardly, but I named my street. That got me an intense “WHERE on …!”

I wondered what my better judgment should be saying in such a situation; in those moments, nobody else was immediately close enough to be paying any attention to any of this. Hmm. Oh, what the heck, and I told him our house number.

The jack-in-the-box exploded out into the open: “I GREW UP IN THAT HOUSE!!!”

Pleased to meetcha. Turns out his folks had sold it to the ones who had sold it to us. He’d lived in it till he’d been about eight; they’d been the original owners.

Small world. Too funny. He semi-growled something about how his sisters and he had driven past the old place just to see it, and someone had really changed the front; I grinned with a half-apology and said, yeah, we did. Sorry about that!

Fast forward a couple of years. My folks put their house on the market and moved out of their home of 45 years in Bethesda, Maryland last September.

Stitches East is coming up in October, and I as a newly-minted author am thinking about attending, if anyone should happen to want me to scribble in anyone’s book or two. I’d take any excuse to go home anyway; still got my in-laws there and many a friend to go see.

Could you just see it? Could you just see someone coming up and going, I saw a picture of my new house on your blog!…

The buyer apologized to the folks that she was planning on doing some remodelling. C’mon, those cabinets were 45 years old, they needed to be ripped out! Don’t worry about it. There’s a gap in the front steps where the ground settled and the concrete split apart. I expect that’ll be fixed up too.

Meantime, I’ve been thinking of writing a letter to her, telling her of how my husband and I have a shared earliest-memory of the day my folks moved into that house when I was three and he was four; his folks were pitching in for the day, helping with our move from a tiny warbox house in Silver Spring. Of how her kids should look around under the mayapples in the spring to see the box turtles, and to look out for the foxes and the pileated woodpeckers. It’s a gloriously beautiful neighborhood, with next-door neighbors whose boys used to sneak over to my folks’ and shovel their driveway for them when they weren’t looking.

They’re going to like it there. I think I’ll knit her a bit of lace as a housewarming present.

One degree of separation
Saturday March 10th 2007, 2:25 pm
Filed under: Non-Knitting

I was talking to my folks yesterday; Dad had found my old high school graduation program and they’d been reminiscing over it. Dad went from there to saying, “You remember the Colberts across the street?”

Like I could forget? The family with all those kids, including boys my brothers’ ages and one my age? The ones with the big trampoline? And the house fire? Stevie was my little brother’s best friend. They moved away I think before Stevie made it to kindergarten, and then, word came back to their old neighborhood when I was in 10th grade–I have vivid memories of sitting in Mr. Battori’s English class at Churchill High School, wondering about the use of studying this stupid Silas Marner book when Peter and Paul and their dad had just died in a plane crash.

What Dad said next made me go google to check it out, and there’s a Wikipedia entry that says it all: the Wash. DC birth, the plane crash, the big Catholic family, the change in the pronunciation of the last name.

I guess Stephen Colbert isn’t little Stevie anymore. Good for him for what he has become (and wow!) I’m just hoping, by writing this out, that his family might perhaps come to know that their old neighbors always cared about how life played out for them after all that.

Small world, Afghans for Afghans edition
Friday March 09th 2007, 11:19 am
Filed under: afghans for Afghans,Knit,Knitting a Gift,LYS

About five years ago, I ran into someone I barely knew, a former fellow knitter. She said she was a quilter now, and offered to give me her yarn stash! No. I knew what gorgeous work she’d done in the past. Surely you’ll get back to it someday.

No. Don’t want it. You take it. I’m getting rid of it. I’d rather have the closet space.

I finally thought, well, better me than Goodwill, okay, sure! So, soon after, Pamela came over to my house with all these fabric bags stuffed with yarn, nice yarn, good wools and the like. It was an incredible amount, and she refused any kind of payment; she was just glad to see it go to a good home. Wow.

There were twenty balls of a donegal tweed in brown (does that sound familiar yet?), and I ended up knitting them, along with a strand of a darker camelhair/lambswool blend, into a thick warm blanket. My plan was to give it back to her as a thank you for all the yarn. I didn’t know how to reach her other than her phone number she’d given me when we’d run into each other in a store.

I called. I left messages three times, eventually telling her answering machine that I had something I wanted to give her as a thank you. Eventually, I thought, well, I don’t want to stalk you, honey, I guess you’re not interested. And so I quietly kept the afghan. It sat to the side, unused and uncertain.

Last year I almost donated it to Afghans for Afghans, but, for no earthly reason I could tell you, I just didn’t feel like it.

Meantime, Sandi, my friend who gave me that red scooter down a few posts ago, opened a new yarn store last year, and started having knitting group nights every Thursday. I’ve wanted to go, but, not driving, I’ve just never made it there yet. I get to my old group, somehow, just fine. But I haven’t gotten to that one, even though it’s closer.

As I’ve mentioned earlier, I decided this year to finally give that brown blanket to Afghans for Afghans at Stitches–it felt like the right time, at last–I emailed Ann Rubin to ask her if they could handle a larger item at this time, and that whole story happened.

It was long past when I should have been allowed to make such a change to the text of my book, but I asked my editor afterwards if, now that the Barn Swallows scarf had declared whom it had been for all along, if we could mention Ann and her organization in my book before it flew off to the printer. She checked, and–I absolutely love Martingale Press–said sure. So just barely in time, that happened, and that wonderful A4A organization will get the publicity it so much deserves: a place where individual knitters can create connections to other people, create a bit of world peace, one person at a time. And my profound thanks to whoever at Martingale decided I needed my projects suddenly back, so that I had Ann’s scarf in hand in time for Stitches to give to her. When I hadn’t even known I would need it, and neither did they.

Meantime. Stephanie Pearl-McPhee has been doing some home repairs, and someone posted a comment on her blog. I read it, and immediately shot off a note to the woman: I had no idea who she was or where she lived in the world, but I simply said, I live in an Eichler home in California, meaning one where, like your house, the water lines were originally run under a concrete slab. We, like you, developed a leak under there. We knew that; what we didn’t know, was that by not immediately repairing it, the vibrations it set off ended up breaking the pipes open in 17 places. In our case, we’d been sitting for 18 months on plans to remodel our house. All the sudden, we could no longer just sit there, we had to really do something, with the result being that that remodel did happen. Meantime, (I told her), if you don’t want to jackhammer your whole slab, get that fixed right away.

I got a note back yesterday from the woman. She exclaimed, “I think I KNOW you!”

It was Pamela! All this time later, she’d come back to her needles after all. There was a knitting group meeting at Sandi’s shop, and she’d been going to it, in case I was interested in meeting up there.

If I had gone to Purlescence’s knitting nights all those times before, all those times it never quite happened, I would have seen Pamela, I would have given her her afghan and been glad of it, and that would have been the end of it. Ann Rubin would never have been able to ship it off to Afghanistan, Ann never would have gotten her scarf, and associating it with her and mentioning her in my book would never have occurred to me.

Pamela checked out my blog, saw the photo, says she missed out on a good thing, but was thrilled that that blanket is off to where it’s off to–“How cool is that!” was her reaction. Go Pamela!

And now I can finally, at last, get her yarn-holding bags back to her!

Back home safe and sound asleep
Thursday March 08th 2007, 4:03 pm
Filed under: Knit

I cast on a new project fairly late last night, in order to have a good carry-around project to work on today. This morning I threw a second 229-yard ball of Kidsilk (aka Cracksilk) Haze in my bag; you never know. Debated throwing in a third, and decided that would be just too pessimistic. But it was a good thing I had that second one, definitely.

John told the nurses wryly that I was going to blog his hand. It is indeed a most impressive shade of orangey-yellow, although it was his shoulder they were working on. That was the most coherent thing he’s said so far.

They assured us that anesthesiology has come a long way since the kid was 11. Still, it was another day of watching other people come in after us, get operated on, recover, leave, while we waited for ours to wake up at all. Anne’s comment was right on, and I am strongly resolved to have all the pertinent information on hand now for any next time for any of us.

Wednesday March 07th 2007, 12:32 pm
Filed under: Knit,Knitting a Gift,To dye for

He wasn’t supposed to happen.

I had major problems getting our third child here. We got her here safe and sound in the end, to everybody’s profound relief, but the doctor sure didn’t want me to risk that again. My blood pressure had been so low. This was years before my dysautonomia was diagnosed, and he thought it was specific to pregnancy–which it seemed to be, at the time–but, whatever, never again!

But we just strongly felt we were supposed to have one more child. We did what we do: we prayed hard about it. And then we went ahead and did what we felt was right for us personally, and we had our son John. Easiest pregnancy of all my pregnancies, piece of cake, and what we got for it! The nicest kid you could ever ask for. How many teenage boys drive their moms to yarn stores and cheerfully hang out with her friends?

I once upon a time stumbled across Robin and Russ (now defunct) selling baby alpaca at a dollar a ball on closeout; the undyed brown in fingering weight just hadn’t sold well. I bought enough to knit it triple-stranded into big, warm afghans for each one of my children. Some of it, I dyed.

Three years ago, I was knitting up the balls I’d dyed in crimson, and John across the room put down his book, came over, grabbed the bottom of that afghan, and started rubbing it against his cheek, enjoying (ed. note: I wrote “swooning at” and he read that and exclaimed, “MOMMMM!!!! Swooning? SWOONING?? On your BLOG!??” and retyped it as “enjoying”) the softness. That particular afghan instantly became his.

So today’s his birthday, the day he’s officially old enough to have his papers in to go be a Mormon missionary for two years–first, though, he’s having shoulder surgery tomorrow and will need a bit of downtime afterwards. But meantime, today is a day for me to reflect again at my great good fortune that he made it into this world, and how much he blesses our lives every day. He’s a good one. I’ve already knitted that afghan, so I don’t know how to say it any more powerfully than this, but–John. I love you.

And I admire you, too.

Tuesday March 06th 2007, 12:11 pm
Filed under: Knit

One day last year, a new couple had just moved into town, and I held the door open for the dad as he pushed the stroller in the front door at church. The wife asked me, “Excuse me, where’s the cloakroom?”

I laughed, and told her, “Californians don’t know a thing about cloakrooms!” And then it was oh, where are you from? Where are YOU from?

And then we both stood there, jaws on the ground. You’re Cameron’s sister! And Brent’s daughter!! –You’re the JEPPSONS’ daughter!!

We grew up going to the same ward (congregation) in Maryland. Her dad had interviewed me as part of my application to go to BYU, 31 years ago. I think my little sister used to babysit her.

P’s sister was here visiting on Sunday; she was not quite the baby anymore who was born while I was away at college, either. I sent her off with the navy scarf. She told me she had spent “about a year!” knitting a scarf, and couldn’t believe that it had only taken me about three hours to make this one. (Hey. It was a bulky brushed-alpaca yarn, and lace is airhole space as much as yarn; throw in size 7mm needles, and how much time can it take?) Three hours, huh? I could see the wheels turning; maybe knitting was doable with a little practice after all!

Still being subversive over here…

Handy-dandy carry-all
Monday March 05th 2007, 12:29 pm
Filed under: Friends,Knit

A few years ago at Stitches, towards the end of the day, a tired friend asked if she could hang her bag on the back of my electric wheelchair. Sure, no skin off my nose; go ahead!

If only there were a video. I was tootling along, and had no idea that between her bag and my chair, somehow the back snagged someone’s rollaboard luggage they were using that day for their purchases. I saw a few people’s surprised expressions, having no idea why, and then all the sudden my 250-lb chair was popping a wheelie! That woman had seen her bag suddenly going airborne, had grabbed for it hard, and I guess you don’t come between a knitter and her new yarn.

So here I was at Stitches again last week, and as I’ve mentioned, my chair was dead. I ran into my old friend Sandi. It was her first time being there as a vendor; she’s one of the co-owners of Purlescense in Sunnyvale. We talked wheelchairs a moment, and she said she’d inherited a scooter she didn’t need and hadn’t been able to find anyone that did need it. My electric chair was dead? Did I want this other one?

This is like asking, do you want some cashmere yarn to go with your stash?

We finally got down to San Jose to pick it up from her. Wow. Thank you, Sandi! I have to tell you, we need to replace a car, and one of the issues holding us back was that we didn’t want a big one anymore, and we couldn’t see buying one where we couldn’t haul that monster chair around. It seemed like we were stuck with my big minivan with the seats out. This scooter, Richard simply lifted it up into the car. It folds. It splits into pieces for transport if need be. He can fit it in the trunk of his ’01 hybrid Prius. We can replace my van with another Prius. The scooter isn’t as fast, it’s certainly not as turbocharged, it puts me very low to the ground–my husband, who is 6’8″ to my 5’5″ wryly commented that that was certainly not a new thing–but for me it does everything I really need. Wow. Thank you, Sandi!!

(Now, I just have to figure out how to put a finger puppet on this thing somewhere somehow.)

Let it snow? (somewhere else)
Saturday March 03rd 2007, 12:10 pm
Filed under: Life,Non-Knitting

When my husband was considering a job offer in California, the offer letter solemnly promised, “No home delivery of snow.” Right there, in writing, with the added note saying, “and if you think you do see some, go back to bed for an hour. It’s just an illusion. It will be gone.”

We had 70″ of snow in two and a half weeks right before we moved out of New Hampshire 20 years ago, and they got hit with 15″ more the day after we left.

My friend Leanne lived around the corner from us in a cul-de-sac. Right after our development was built, the town of Merrimack banned builders from creating any more cul-de-sacs, for the very reason Leanne got stuck with: the snowplows would go through hers, pushing all the snow off the road from that big circle, piling it up and up and up and finally depositing it across the fronts of everybody’s yards and driveways.

I used to racewalk every morning for four to five miles before my small children woke up, time to exercise, time to myself, time to wave hi at the neighbors without distractions. So I got to see what it was like for Leanne.

Picture a Cape Cod saltbox, two stories high with a small front yard so the house was near to the road, that, standing in the street near the house, you could not see that house for the height of the snowbank in front of it.

Now, picture a mom with three kids under four years old, including a small baby. A husband stuck overseas on business on a work assignment that was only supposed to be for a few days, but that had ground on into several weeks. Now picture all that snow. What are you going to do? Do you take your babies outside in that weather for the amount of time it’s going to take to shovel that whole driveway and That Pile all by yourself? How do you have any energy for your children afterwards? Do you leave them inside, unattended, for all that time? Do you slip out when they’re napping, hoping they don’t wake up, that the baby doesn’t decide it’s hungry when you can’t hear it, yadda yadda. What do you do?

My own husband used to travel a lot, and issues like these helped contribute to our decision to take the job in California. Our last child, born here, was the first pregnancy where I didn’t have to push my Toyota out from being stuck in the snow–by myself!–in that condition.

The biggest blast of that three-week off-and-ongoing snowstorm happened on a Saturday night. Leanne, like me, is a Mormon. She had a home teacher from church who had young teenage sons–and Mike looked at that brewing storm and knew from his own family’s experiences when his kids had been younger that Leanne was going to need help.

So: without saying anything. He and the boys got up early enough Sunday morning to dig their own car out, and then they headed over to Leanne’s. The snowplow had gone through, and the heavy, densely-compacted pile across the bottom of her driveway–never mind tackling the rest of the driveway–towered very much above their heads. They took their snowshovels and had at it.

Which means that when Leanne woke up that morning, expecting yet more snowboundedness on the one day of the week she could otherwise have had some actual adult company, some relief to help keep her sanity, some support while her husband was stuck in Singapore and unable to help, she saw–

–a clear path out all ready to go. Be our guest. Happy Sunday. See you at church.

And that, ever since, has been the story I’ve wanted to live up to of what true service to another person can really be about.

Not guacamole yet
Friday March 02nd 2007, 1:05 pm
Filed under: Non-Knitting

Is it just this household, or is there something that makes men not notice things around them in a way women find just unfathomable? For instance. My husband bought one of those Costco-sized bags of avocadoes. My (said person shall remain nameless, let’s just say, a male member of this household) set a heavy toolkit on top of that bag. Only squished the one avocado, luckily enough.

That toolkit didn’t get moved for days. This is what I found underneath. You can’t really tell from the photo, but the bottom is as flattened-out as the top. It didn’t rot, it didn’t go bad, it just adjusted to the way things are now and went happily on as is. Doesn’t look the same anymore, but the insides were fine.