A stitch in time
Sunday September 30th 2007, 2:14 pm
Filed under: Friends,Knit,Life

I didn’t hear back from Johnna, which surprised me. I saw her before the main meeting at church started today, wearing a black dress, and thought, Oh perfect! That will look great with her new shawl! I headed to the back of the chapel to give it to her.

“You finished!?” she exclaimed as I handed it to her. And then, to my utter bewilderment, she burst into tears.

shawl folded overIt was May when Johnna was working behind the scenes playing graphic artist and overhauling my website in anticipation of my book release, working on it till 2 am on at least one night I know of, when she had to get up at 6:00 am. Wow. I really, really owed her that shawl. I knew that, I kept wanting to knit her one, I kept going through my yarn and looking in yarn stores, going, ehhh, that’s not it. I wondered what was wrong with me that I hadn’t gotten it done already. I finally thought, alright, enough of this, and had her come over; she discovered the most perfect combination out of my stash that I hadn’t even thought to put together–that Lisa Souza silk and that cashmere/merino blend I’d dyed–and I got to work. At last. About time.

After all this delay, part of me kept thinking, finish it after the trip East. A few more weeks at this point won’t make any difference. I did put the Scharffenberger-cocoa shawl on hold; but Johnna’s refused to go in the corner for long, even after the goofs and the rip-backs. It had to get done, and now. And so I did.

I had no way of knowing. Johnna was hundreds of miles away last week as her grandmother slipped away from this life. She stayed there for the funeral, and then finally came home.

To be handed a gloriously soft shawl, the silk radiant against the cashmere. The Peace shawl. Just for her.

The timing.

Our mutual John Hancocks
Saturday September 29th 2007, 8:08 pm
Filed under: "Wrapped in Comfort",Friends,Knit

I brought my author’s advance copy from May with me to TKGA yesterday. When people asked me to sign their books, I said sure, and asked if they in turn would like to sign mine. They didn’t have to say anything in there if they didn’t want to, but I thought it would be cool if they did.

Most who did hadn’t really seen the inside of Wrapped in Comfort yet other than a brief glance-through at the booth, and the notes were nice ones along the lines of “looking forward to knitting the patterns.” A number of old friends poured love into their words as well. (Gracie Larsen, I am SO looking at you right now. I had great fun telling everybody this book was your fault.) I told everybody pick a page, any page, anywhere that suits you. Given that that copy was the one I received before I knew how my three years of work would do out there, it was a copy of hope and of holding my breath–which I imagine is about how the people buying it felt yesterday: that it would live up to what they hoped out of it, especially given that they were paying full sticker price there.

(Heh. I noticed a certain large discount online knitting-book seller was at backorder this morning…)

I told my son about it when I got home, and that I planned to take it to Stitches East, too, that that had been just too much fun. He went, “Mom! You’ll run out of space in there!” Well, then, cool. “But they’ll have to, like, write across the models’ noses!” In my dreams, hon. In my dreams.

It was about halfway through before I realized I’d probably picked up the idea from the copy that Martingale sent me that everybody there, from the CEO down to the shipping clerk, had signed for me. A way of honoring every person’s role as being essential. Go Martingale!

P.S. The cushion? It was a valve job. It had been left open. It’s fine.

P.P.S. The backdrop? An afghan made by members of my knitting group, square by square, as a congratulations on the book coming out. Knitters are such cool people.

Autographed copies

P.P.P.S. (Technical stuff alert): To the woman who asked me if you could use laceweight with my patterns, a question that had so many answers that it all came out garbled: I had just been in Gracie’s Lacey Knitters Guild booth, where they were calling Jaggerspun Zephyr fingering weight. Zephyr is, I’d say, a heavy laceweight. I’ve used yarn as fine as that on the larger patterns and it worked out to a lighter, different effect than my more-typical fingering weight shawls, but it looked and fit fine.

I wissssssssh I’d known
Friday September 28th 2007, 6:44 pm
Filed under: Knit

TKGA!  I had a ball.  TKGA co-hortsAnd a good laugh: my wheelchairs–and it doesn’t matter how many of them I collect–are allergic to knitting conventions.  Period.  I have this 250 lb monstrous one I inherited, and its batteries have died on me twice now–and only ever when it was the start of Stitches.  I was very generously gifted with a red scooter after that last time, when my friend Sandi, a co-owner of Purlescence, found out: it was far easier to transport, it separates into pieces and comes together as a jigsaw puzzle, it weighs 101 lbs assembled, and it can fit into other people’s cars.  Perfect.

So that’s what we were going to take today, with four of us carpooling to Oakland in a Prius.  The hubby charged that scooter up last night, just to make sure it was well juiced.

Guess what had a dead battery in the morning?

At the last Stitches, with the dead black chair, I brought my manual one.  And forgot to put the feet in the car.  Today, with the dead red chair, I brought my manual.  And in the busyness of everybody doing everything at once, we–you knew this was coming–left the feet home.

But at least that manual is really really comfortable, other than that, because I can use my thick air cushion with it.  Now, I inherited it from my friend Lynda, (her story’s on the site but not on the blog), it’s designed to be sat on all day and still be comfortable, but it’s getting up there in years.  I was always afraid it might get punctured, and the cover was getting pretty ratty, so I priced out a new one.

Two. Hundred. Fifty. Bucks?!  For a simple cushion?!  That’s as much as the chair!  Thanks, I think I’ll keep mine.   But I’ve been afraid for years of anything happening to it.  (Update 5/24/09: my medical-supplies catalog wants $700 for it. Just think. $250 was a bargain.)

We had a grand time,  and I signed books at Pacific Meadows’ booth.  Loading everything back into Jasmin’s Prius, I was horrified to find my cushion half deflated.  Oh no!  Maybe, maybe (I hope) the air valve was open.  Maybe it’s not damaged.  I don’t know yet.

But what was funny was the other womens’ reactions: “Oh.  Is THAT what that was?”

What what was?

“We’ve been hearing that, and wondering what that sound was.”

I had just spent the whole day happily playing proud author, showing off, signing books, and being perfectly deafly oblivious to the fact that I was sitting on a giant whoopie cushion the whole time.

Cunningham Falls shawl
Thursday September 27th 2007, 3:22 pm
Filed under: Friends,Knit,Life

When I was a kid, one of my favorite spots in the whole wide world was Cunningham Falls State Park. We would picnic by the creek, noisy water over rocks in the quiet trees, and then take a hike in the woods, Mom and Dad telling us about the birds and animals in there. I remember looking for beavers, but the beavers weren’t dumb, and none of them ever showed their faces for six young kids scrambling happily around through their territory.

A few years ago, I was back visiting for my parents’ 50th anniversary. My old buddy KC started talking about Cunningham Falls. It was a few miles’ hike to get all the way up to the waterfalls in the hillside well above the picnic area, and I told her sadly that there was no way these days. I used to racewalk four miles or so a day, back when my kids were little, but the old gray mare she ain’t what she used to be no matter how she might feel about that.

Heh. KC had a way around that. She lived out not far from there these days, and knew the roads better than I ever did. This one state road, if you turn the wrong direction, you have highly armed personnel extremely interested in what the *$# you think you’re doing there. (I am told that one of my in-laws goofed and found that out once.) Uh, yeah, a certain presidential retreat in the mountains of western Maryland, made famous by a certain peace accord back in the day… Don’t go there.

But. Go on up the road, up the endless hill, way past the entrance to the state park, on the other side from that retreat. You’re still in the park. There’s a cutout from the road, made into a small parking area: handicap only. There’s a raised wooden walkway, and nobody seems to know it’s there except the occasional passing car. (And out in the middle of nowhere like that, there aren’t a whole lot of those.) You hang your out-of-state placard, figuring nobody will mind that it says California, you get out, you read the Park Service sign explaining a bit about the area, and you walk or wheel–I’ve done both, now–down that slightly-raised walkway (up so as not to disturb the tree roots, and planked so a wheelchair can get through), and shortly you come to where, at a turn in the path, the falls suddenly surprise you, coming up right there in front of you. Water, tumbling and splashing down a long granite face. Usually, nobody else is there. Just a quiet bit of glory-of-this-earth all to yourselves.

The woods are deep green, with splashes of white sunlight on the path and bits of ground showing here and there between the fallen leaves. Gray rock above.

I found this dark green Zephyr silk blend in my stash, and a ball of Claudia’s Handpaint silk in white/turquoise/teal/deep gray. It instantly said “KC!” at me; I wasn’t sure why, till I swatched a swatch, liked it, thought, okay, and started in on this shawl. I wondered if she liked variegated yarns; I debated starting over with a plain color.

But it wasn’t too many rows before the yarn was telling me why it was what it was, and why it needed to be for KC. Cunningham Falls. A way to get through, a friend finding the path I didn’t know was there, bits of light coming through alongside moments of looking at the dark, acknowledging it square in the eye: loss and love, lived with, and it’s okay that it’s like that. And always, the growing, living green of the trees.Cunningham Falls shawl, begun

TKGA booksigning, Friday, Oakland
Wednesday September 26th 2007, 5:03 pm
Filed under: "Wrapped in Comfort"

Friday bright and early I will be at The Knitting Guild of America conference at the Oakland Convention Center in Oakland, CA. I’ll be signing books at 2:00 at the Pacific Meadows Alpacas booth.

(Tap. Tap.)
Tuesday September 25th 2007, 10:21 pm
Filed under: Friends,Knit,Knitting a Gift

Johnna’s Peace shawl(Tap. Is this thing on?)

Johnna. This is the blog speaking. Johnna, do you read me? Yarnover, and out.

At my knitting group last week, someone asked me if the bright red was a problem, knowing that vivid reds and oranges make me lose my balance. I laughed, and answered her, “I’m sitting down when I knit.”

But her question got me realizing, while I was ripping yet again, that it was being a nuisance to keep track of my place; I was really having a time processing what part of the pattern I was in, and it’s not a hard pattern. It’s just, my brain kept skittering over the bright surface of the stitches like droplets of water flicked onto a flaming-red-hot pan to see if it was ready for the stir-fry yet.

This is my Peace shawl pattern, and now, finally, with the happy triumph of seeing it in all its glory, I’m really, really pleased with it. I can’t wait to see her in it. (Johnna, do you read me? Come over tomorrow while Z’s in kindergarten?)

Why I buy my apricot jam
Monday September 24th 2007, 6:53 pm
Filed under: Life

mango and peach makes the best jamHere’s a recipe for the best jam on the planet: half peach, half mango. If you can find the Champagne variety mangoes (which this is not) and white peaches, dead ripe, then you’ve really found heaven. There, you can thank me at the county fair next year.

Back when we were newly married, my husband was working on his master’s degree and I was working; we were pretty busy, but not really, when you think about the natural chaos inherent with raising the four kids that came in six years a little later. So. I discovered a farmer couple where a couple of their apricot trees were set aside for her pin money, and to my great delight, she sold me a 27-pound crate of ‘cots for all of five bucks. But make sure you remember to bring back that crate. Sure, no problem.

Twenty-seven pounds! I’d been wanting to be like my mom, who would put up a thousand pounds of fruit in a year after our trips as itinerant harvesters at pick-your-own farms. Well, not that much like my mom; there were just the two of us to cook for for the moment. But I figured, I loved apricots, couldn’t beat the price, and it was a great place to start playing grownup.

We spent a Saturday together, boiling, cooking, sterilizing, freezing, putting up apricots in every form you could think of. Mostly bottled halves and jam, lots of jam. Rows and rows of jars, at the end of a very long and tiring day of hard hot work, gleaming, gorgeous, heathery-fruited jars of deep orange jam, the color of the early sunset.

And my sweet new husband turned to me, and with a gentle smile, confessed what he’d kept to himself the whole time: “You know? I don’t really like apricots.”

He’d waited till it was all done to let me know, so I wouldn’t be disappointed.

We gave most of it to his sister when we moved away. Not all, but most.

Monday September 24th 2007, 5:53 pm
Filed under: Life

Couldn’t reach that big one up there, so I recruited the kid. He had to jump, too, but he can jump higher than I can, so that big apple we were looking at from down below was ours.

fuji and squirrel spitEh, what’s a little squirrel spit among friends. (I am SO putting paper lunch bags over the apples, just as soon as I can round up enough of’em.)

The apple of my eye
Sunday September 23rd 2007, 10:58 pm
Filed under: Life

Let’s see, I put in the new one when our youngest was in I think kindergarten, and he’s now 19…

I once had a tree service guy look at the two ailing apple trees in our yard, not long after we bought this place, and he told me they were simply dying of old age. Dwarf apples live 30-35 years, he said, this house was built in ’55, they’re toast.

Oh. I decided I needed a new one, then, and went looking for what we should replace them with. Since we were talking about eating an awful lot of apples from it for an awful long time to come, they might as well be the best, I figured. I went to specialty shops and organic grocery stores and plain old Safeway, trying out every type of apple I could find.

Now, the best and most memorable apple I ever ate in my life was a Spencer, bought on a very cold autumn day at a small roadstand on Old Route 3 just north of Merrimack, NH, back when we lived in that town. On impulse, I’d ignored the looming naptime, pulled the car over onto their gravel, and hauled my babies out of their carseats and walked shivering through the offerings. Never heard of those, sure, let’s give it a try, throw a whole box in the car and head for home.

The most perfect crunch. The most perfect balance of flavors, much more interesting than just plain sweetness, although, it was plenty sweet. It was what an apple aspires to be. But I’ve never again found a Spencer apple since we moved away.

I learned a lot about fruit trees from our real estate agent as we traipsed through house after house here. That orange trees have to be in just the right location, preferably with the heat of the afternoon sun reflecting off the house right onto the tree, or the fruit wouldn’t get sweet at all, not like in southern California. Apples need so many hours of below freezing in the winter to get a crop, some needing a lot more than others. Citrus dies if the whole tree freezes. The nurseries here market varieties by how well they fit into our microclimate.

The locally-sold apples I liked the best were, at the time, a virtually-unheard of variety, and I was quite pleased with myself at finding both the apple and an actual sapling. A Fuji. I bet you’ve heard of it by now, huh? It’s not rare anymore. That’s what happens when you’re good.

I dug that hole and I planted that tree. But, year after year, no apples. Where were my apples? Why no Fujis? A gardener friend suggested adding iron to the soil. I did that. I hung those AOL discs that kept showing up unwanted in the mail in the branches (hey, anybody got any string to run through this, or, you know, yarn or something, so I can hang this with? Oh, there you go, thanks!) Scare off the birds and squirrels. It worked just a little. And then, as I wrote a few months ago, I discovered that snails were eating the blossoms at night in the spring. They’d never touched the old tree as far as I could tell (one of the two old ones is still standing–the root stock took over when the top died, turning our old Gravenstein into a suddenly-young Golden Delicious), but they loved that Fuji. And only the Fuji.

Oh. Huh. That would account for a lot. I put out eggshells around the trunk to keep them at bay. I figured it was a lost cause, that the squirrels would strip the tree anyway like they did the Golden Delicious, but by golly slugs and snails were one thing I wasn’t going to feed if I didn’t have to.

For the first time. THE first time. There were apples on the Fuji AND they were on the tree long enough to actually start to turn pink and ripe. I picked one yesterday. I cut it up. We ate it. It was sweet, not the usual green-as-all-getout-trying-to-beat-the-squirrels-flavored, picked because there were only three apples left on the whole darn tree by that point and they were darn well going to be eaten by humans, but actually sweet and ready to be enjoyed and with a fair number yet to go for us.

Sometimes the learning is slow, but it’s worth it when you get there.

I wonder if there’ll be any Spencers to be found in Maryland in three weeks?

Fuji apple tree

To life!
Saturday September 22nd 2007, 12:15 pm
Filed under: Life

Bryan’s photoI miss real green. California tries, but it’s not quite the same. I miss the deep blue-y green of back East and the omnipresence of tall, leafy trees that aren’t struggling for water and dependent on sprinkler systems. The ivy that grows freely up the telephone poles and races down the wires like leafy squirrels, too exuberantly full of life to hold back. Such an abundance of growing in that rainforest climate. I only allow myself to get wistful about it when I know I’m about to go home to Maryland and actually immerse myself in it all, and thank goodness for Stitches East and books to sign as an excuse to go!

Early this past spring, a routine check on my bloodwork showed that all hell had broken suddenly loose, with my white cells crashing and my bilirubin zooming. I had tolerated my chemo just fine for four years, and we didn’t know why I was reacting now. My beloved Dr. R. wanted me to cut my dose.

Now, that is the one doctor whose judgment and intuition I absolutely trust, and yet, that was a hard pill to accept: I have been through what Crohn’s can do. I don’t want to go there again. And steroids do nothing for me, I’ve already done the Remicade, so I’m pretty limited. Eh, a few white cells missing, I’ll just stay home and lay low a bit for awhile, right? To me, 2.2k was just a number.

He called and we discussed it a moment again. I was resisting, and he said, in anguish, “I don’t want anything to happen to you!”

Now, to some, that might have seemed less professional. Less detached. To me, it was doctoring at its purest: he knew what I did not, he had seen consequences I had not, and how I did meant the world to him. I had to change that dose. I couldn’t inflict the suffering and worry on him if I did not. No hedging.

And so I did. Eventually, my white cells climbed, a good news/bad news thing, and my lupus started to creep up on me, landing me in the eye doctor’s first a few months later. There’s always this immune/autoimmune tradeoff. Then, the Crohn’s started waking me up at night. Not bad, not bad yet, but I didn’t like the trajectory. I went to the lab for the latest check, and I made an appointment with Dr. R.

I wanted my dose back up. He was not quite entirely convinced. We compromised at 3/4: but only, he said, if I would go get an expensive test my insurance probably wouldn’t cover, after being on the higher dose for awhile.

I did. We just got those results back.

For the first time in I think three years, my bilirubin count is right in the middle of normal. Look, Ma, no jaundice! My white cell count is where it needs to be. It was the best news I think it could possibly have been.

And there was a note from Dr. R yesterday from the clinic: “Excellent therapeutic range…” And then the part that really spoke to me: “Keep knitting and stay well.”

Indeed I shall. Indeed I shall. And I shall fly home and celebrate amidst family, old friends, my fellow knitters, the trees, and the changing of the seasons.

Till then, as I wait, I am knitting with a large photo my brother Bryan gave me of our old back yard in Maryland, propped up next to me on one side. On the other side–I haven’t been able to make myself ball it up yet, it’s so gorgeous as a hank beaming in happy possibilities–I’ve been keeping a surprise gift next to me, sent by my friend nhknittingmama Amanda, in Blue-faced Leicester she hand-dyed. In just the most exquisite shade of green. A shade that I went all over Stitches West last February specifically searching for. I have been sitting knitting surrounded by the happiest of Amanda’s Blue-Faced Leicester, hand dyeddeep greens on both sides.

Thank you, Bryan. Thank you, Amanda. And thank you, Dr. R, for inscribing my name in the Book of Life for yet another year, and many to come. I wish you and your loved ones a blessed Yom Kippur.

Row, row, row, you’re ‘boat past that point
Friday September 21st 2007, 12:37 pm
Filed under: Knit

Houston sculptor

Johnna’s progressI got a letter yesterday with photos: Sarah had taken the scarf I’d knitted her to the studio of a sculptor in Houston, a place next to the freeways that the locals have dubbed “Mt. Rushhour.” She wanted me to see Abe Lincoln, Jack Kennedy, and Ringo Starr (squint near the bottom on that one) decorated with her scarf.  Abe really needs to do something about that twitch.

I laughed myself breathless at Laura’s comment yesterday, then decided I really did have to get pharaohly well past that ripping point. I took it to the knitting group at my LYS last night, Purlescence, and as soon as I pulled those reds out of my bag, I got this “Oooooh… Niiice!” from several people. Nothing like a little pier pressure (thank you, Niki!) So, on that note, I did get that shawl finally beyond the point of constant return.

Meantime, here’s Chloe, one of the LYSO’s, with her Kathy shawl, draped skirt style.Chloe with Kathy shawl

Seeing red
Thursday September 20th 2007, 11:02 am
Filed under: Knit

thing oneSo. Johnna’s shawl.

and thing 2

As I said earlier, I had to frog a thousand stitches or so. It’s always a relief to get the knitting past that ripping point and go on, and I did and I got well beyond it. When I got to the end of the pattern repeat, I spread out the scrunched-up stitches on the needles, looked at it, and went, whoa, waaaait a minute here…

…I’d restarted it on the wrong row. No, I couldn’t simply make that the new pattern and repeat that and have it look good. 4235 stitches. Rip.

It has been on timeout for a couple of days now. I punished it by knitting something else: I needed immediate gratification, and I needed it right now, so a couple of lace scarves for a couple of people, and a couple of go-rounds with the dyepot for those sweaters: some creative non-knitting helps out too when your project declares, like an elementary school child during recess, that it is Not Your Friend today.

I woke up this morning thinking how much I liked how the silk and cashmere played together in that red, and how much Johnna was going to enjoy it. I’ve almost psyched myself back into it. Just let me finish this post. (A little online peer pressure can be a very helpful thing.) We’ll see tomorrow if I succeeded.

New Orleans
Wednesday September 19th 2007, 10:26 am
Filed under: Family,Life

I had a post in mind to write today, but then I read Stephanie’s. Go read yarnharlot.ca if you haven’t yet. Beignets and bottle trees–that is the best-written piece on New Orleans I have ever read. Absolutely essential. And boy did it bring back memories: I will try to add some old pictures in when the technical help in the household is around. I loved the place.

I was 16, my little sister was 15. We had had a fabulous dinner at the Commodore Inn, where the cute waiter actually flirted with me, which, when you’re 16, is totally and dizzily mindblowing. We were staying in the French Quarter.

After dinner, Dad told us, “Come on, girls, I want to show you where jazz was born.” We started walking along Bourbon Street. There was a street musician sitting at a corner, playing a jazzy tune, smiling and nodding to us as we went by, including us in in his fine summer evening.

Being a good little Mormon girl, I knew nothing of the culture of the bar scene, so when I saw one door that was right up against the pedestrian-only street with a sign saying, “No Cover,” I opened my mouth to ask Dad what that meant. Just then the door was thrown open and a girl stumbled out, fast. I looked at her and what popped out of my mouth instead was, “Dad. The sign’s right.”

My father, boulevers’e with embarrassment at exposing his teenage daughters to more than he’d expected, wheeled around on the spot and pronounced emphatically, “I think you’ve seen enough of where jazz was born!”

Dye lots and lots
Tuesday September 18th 2007, 3:47 pm
Filed under: To dye for

So, having been successful with the niece’s sweater, I went back to the dyepot. There was a cashmere turtleneck the color of a dustbunny, so I threw some purple at it. This was the first try:

now, that wasn’t much of an improvement

Now, can you just picture yourself bounding out of bed in the morning, eager to start a new day full of verve and vigor, glad the weather’s cooling because at last you get to wear that fabulous sweater?

Yeah, me neither.  Even the birds ignored it.  Try again.

Second tryOkay, that’s better.

Hand-me-downy woodpecker?
Monday September 17th 2007, 8:29 pm
Filed under: Knit

I kept hearing a woodpecker today, and couldn’t quite find it. Whether it was ringing the apple trees or trying to insert acorns in our foam roof, I’m not sure.

A few years ago, one of my daughters’ friends handed down a cashmere T that her mom had bought her. When you are a teen, it is the kiss of death to an article of clothing to have your Mom pick it out, even if it’s something you instantly would have snatched up if you’d seen it first.  No, to the moms, it’s not fair.  And yes it is–you did it to your mom too.  So. It ended up over here, and neither of my girls really wanted it either.

I was talking to my brother three days ago, and he laughed at my wondering out loud if I could shrink it enough to make it fit his small daughter: “That would take a lot of washings and dryings!”

Hey. Issue me a challenge like that. Guess what I did. But then, it all came back down to that color. If I were to describe what it was, it would be something like a three-year-old wailing to their mommy that they’d dropped their ice cream cone in the dirt. I went through my stash of dyes, telling them to inspire me. The pink did.

I set it outside to dry when I was done, hoping to beat the 5:00 post office closing. I almost made it, too–but the funny thing was the bird that came at it while it was out there. I grabbed the camera, but it could fly faster than I can point.

Now, Stephanie has her squirrel nemesis (her yarnharlot.ca post today had me in tears, it was so funny. Who was that masked bandit?) For me, it’s the birds. Fer cryin’ out loud, it’s not even nesting season! Is it the wet wool smell that first catches their attention? The colors? If you’ve read my book, you know they like blue. They do seem pretty omnicoloriverous. I once found a bird’s nest on our roof: old brown twigs and dead leaves impressively artfully woven with fuschia-pink wool for their chicks’ nursery. (Hey, lady, mind putting some blue outside next time, too?)

So of course I had to let Nancy’s penguin peck out a few keys on the piano with it.

overdyed cashmere T