April was not a cruel month this year


Our new furry daughter Fennel is obviously more interested in watching squirrels and birds than keeping track of what I’m knitting!  Still, she’s a very sweet and affectionate companion who has gives both of us much joy! And occasionally, out of nowhere, she darts up, grabs a ball of yarn and runs with it.  She knows how to get Terry’s and my attention when she wants it.  She clearly rules the roost!

As I said in the last post, June and Estonia will be here very, very soon.  The month flew by, starting with a Portland visit  from my daughter Becka on her second book tour, this time promoting the paperback release of “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.”  I’m happy and proud to say it’s been #2 on the New York Times paperback nonfiction best sellers’ list since it was released in February.  One of the many highlights of the visit was attending a program she did for local high-schoolers at Jefferson High and the Metropolitan Learning Center, in Portland, the latter being her high school alma mater.  It was heart-warming as a mother and mind-blowing as a person to have reached the point where I observed my daughter giving advice to high school students.  If you can hear your child dispensing wisdom to others, you know you are old…..or at least older than you were when they were in high school!   She loves teaching, supporting and inspiring young people as you can see in this picture:

She’s the one close to the middle, talking with her hands.  If I said that she looks like one of them, I’d be showing my own age.  I remember not being able to understand when some “old” person said to me in my 40′s,

“I don’t see how you could possibly have a child that old.  You look like a child yourself!”  She understands the value of encouragement and inspiration and how it can make a real difference in the trajectory of a young person’s life.  Another heart-warming experience was attending her reading at the Bagdad Theater on SE Hawthorne in Portland (with her brother and his family, her father and his wife and many friends).  Her US paperback book tour was recently completed.  She has a little time to regroup and then will be again traveling internationally as various foreign translations are released. The moral of this story is directed to people mired in the difficult parenting years—-hang in there, you are likely to be amazed at what comes forth from all of the challenges!

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I continued to knit whenever I could–something I need to do every day, just like taking prilosec, baby aspirin, vitamin D and calcium.  The Estonian Potpourri shawl group is fun, and everytime I try a more complex lace pattern, I realize that what I do next is easier.  That must be growth, right??  Here are some of the blocks that I’ve been working on.  I now have the three blocks joined with two additional connecting patterns.  Tomorrow I will again pick up stitches for the lace edging and hope that this time it all works out.  I’ll report back on learnings. This status report represents my having to unknit a great many stitches that were picked up after the connecting patterns were inserted–almost 800 stitches around the rectangular shawl. One thing that I just adore about lace knitting is that it gives me patience, tenacity and also much calm…once I figure out problems, correct them and take a few deep cleansing breaths and smile!!

Pinch me!!

Pinch me so I can see that this is real!!

I took my first class with Nancy Bush in 1992 when Stitches was in Portland, and I was living in Seattle. Hopefully Stitches will happen again in Portland, so more local knitters can benefit from the experience. I already loved sock knitting, but knew there was much more to be learned. I registered for a class from Nancy on different kinds of sock heels.

As it turned out, my long time Corvallis friend Grace and I attended Stitches together and the banquet the night before my class. It was Grace who had pushed me down the slippery sock slope about 25 years before that—after I finished my undergraduate degree at Southern Illinois University. The Stitches West banquet room was dark, very dark, because they were having a fashion show. I had a bad cold and/or flu but felt that neither hell nor flu was going to keep me from this experience. And so it was that I was knitting feverishly (yes, really with fever!) to complete the assigned 5 sock tops so that I’d be ready to knit the 5 different heel types in class.

The problem was that I’d picked out black fingering weight yarn—who knows why–inexperience, of course? I was having such a difficult time knitting the sock tops. Grace stepped forward and made two or three of them for me, as she wasn’t sick—physically or mentallly—and also didn’t need to be knitting sock tops in the dark for a class the next morning! But then what are friends for but to help you knit black socks in a darkened room??

When I got to the sock class the next morning, Nancy was there but was understandably distraught. I believe she had driven her car (or was it a rental??) and parked it outside of the Portland Convention Center. Upon returning to her car, she discovered that a large trunk of her precious (and many historical and not replaceable) knitting treasures had been stolen from her car. We were all shocked and emphathized with her…and also were amazed that she soldiered on and taught the six-hour workshop anyway.

Over the years, I’ve taken Estonian edges, Estonian socks, Estonian lace and who knows what other classes from Nancy. And I’ve gotten to know her personally, as a fellow knitter and dog lover. I remember when she lost her sheltie, Kloo, and sadly/recently her next dog, Mac. We knitters are often animal lovers, right?? Her dog Kloo was the inspiration for her “Dog’s Paw Shawl” published in Spin-Off in Fall 2001. And this inspired me to have the undercoat of my daughter’s dog Sereno spun together with Shetland wool—-and that wonderful yarn blend is waiting for me to do magic with it this year!

And since getting to know Nancy and appreciating the work she does, I’ve come to love Estonian lace patterns.

Right now, I’m in a local group that is knitting Sharon Winsauer’s “Estonian Potpourri” Shawl. I’ve just barely begun but will keep you in touch with my progress. The shawl/stole is a wonderful sampler of many Estonian patterns. And I am fortunate to be able to do this under the skilled tutelage of Janeen Locavich, a skilled knitter recently relocated from Michigan to Vancouver, WA.

Anyway, 19 years later, pinch me so that I know this is real!! I am scheduled to go to Estonia for two weeks in June with Nancy (and 13 others, including my friend Grace) on a study tour that includes 9 workshops! I feel like only magic could have caused this to happen. Be careful what you wish for. You may have it fall on your doorstep!

Stay tuned, as I will share my experiences in June with all of you, and it will be here quicker than I can imagine.

Thankfully the holidays are finally over

Yes, I did finish the socks for my son, the last holiday 2010 commitment waiting to be fulfilled. While his feet aren’t nearly as large as the size 13 feet of his 20 year old son (and my oldest grandson), they are big enough because they are size 11 with deep ribbing and long legs. These are the first socks I’ve made from Cascade “Heritage” handpaint sock yarn and I like the yarn. In the picture below, they seem brighter, more blue than they really are. I used color 9922 which to me reads very taupe/grey/some blue and lavender—subdued and fairly low contrast.

Matt's 2010 Holiday Socks

And rather than beating myself up about being so late, I’m actually feeling very good because I see from my iPhoto gallery (cameras don’t lie…) that I didn’t take a picture of his Regia black and taupe marl holiday 2009 socks until April 4th, 2010. So, things are looking up.

I don’t even want to think about when I must have finished his 2010 Valentine’s Day socks—-which didn’t happen this year. And, yes, I’ve finished the “Berlin Book Tour Sock.” The geometric leg design is reminiscent of the Monument to the Murdered Jews, the colors are those I saw again and again in Berlin, and the little bands of red with small squares of gold remind me of the brass (or were they bronze??) plaques that had been placed in the cobblestone walks in front of the homes of Jews who had died in concentration camps. It was very moving to see them everywhere.

And now, the “Berlin Book Tour Socks”:

I really didn’t have to remind myself — but I did anyway. Berlin is an amazing city to visit. I hope to return someday.

This year I want to make Matt’s socks early, maybe give them to him on Thanksgiving and then give him his Valentine’s Day 2012 socks on Christmas. Now, on to making some socks for my DDIL Renee. She picked out the yarn for them while we were in Berlin. And the yarn she picked out tells me she saw what I did in Berlin: black tweed with small flecks of red and other bright colors!

Remembering Berlin


When last heard from, I was packing to go off to Germany and The Netherlands with my daughter. The trip’s purpose was a book tour, timed with the release of “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” in German and Dutch. Several weeks ago I bumped into a former knitting student who said she’d been watching this space because she wondered if I ever returned…..and yes, I did make it home, and now I’m glad to be back here, too.

One thing led to another in the fall after I got back—one big one was serious over-commitment on knitting gifts for the holidays. But more about that another day. I am now a bit red-faced but happy to say that today, on the very last day of January, I’m 2/3 of the way through my last pair of promised holiday socks. Picture coming soon.

The Trip was even more fun than expected, as my daughter-in-law Renee met us in Berlin, and we three traveled together—a girl trip!!  I won’t do a travelogue here but must say that the entire experience will forever remain very dear to me.


Although Germany is in my ancestral history on my mother’s side, I probably wouldn’t have put Berlin at the top of my “Must go to places.” But I fell in love with the city—-its history so evident as was the amazing energy of the rebuilding that continues, the wonderful people, awe-inspiring buildings (new and old) and not least of all the wonderful food and pastries. And yes, we found what was touted as being the best coffee in Berlin and once we tasted it, we wouldn’t argue with the claim.  I don’t have words to describe it, but hope to make a pilgrimmage to it again someday. It’s located in a neighborhood very close to the former wall where much renovation is underway and bullet holes are still visible.  It was hard for me to imagine taking a child to preschool ballet classes here, but there’s no doubt that they must grow up with an awareness of their history:

The Berlin-inspired socks I’m sketching out must definitely be (or feel) grey, black and white with a little touch of red. The Monument to the Murdered Jews (top right) not far from our hotel touched us deeply. The Otto Bock Science Center,an intriguing building right across from our hotel window, is in the same color palette. In fact, lots of red and black jumped out at me everywhere in Berlin, including menus at a weekend craft fair and a Berlin Mini-Cooper display.

I’m trying to bring back the essential feeling of the Berlin experience right now as I am designing a sock for the “souvenir sock”  class I’ll be teaching at Madrona FiberArts Retreat (www.madronafiberarts.com) in Tacoma on Sunday, February 20. Madrona is one of my favorite places to teach— good vibes,  great classes, comradery, a big marketplace (open to the public) and just hanging out and knitting with old and new friends.  It’s not too late–there’s still room in the class.

There, I am glad to have gotten back up on the blog horse after a time away. Now (literally) back to the drawing board!

Ready, Set, Go

I can’t believe I’m packed and ready to go and it’s not morning yet. And the carry-on bag actually zips shut, although my additional carry-on “personal item” may generate some questions. I have a purse, an iPad, knitting, a few books, and a lot of cords, chargers for all sorts of stuff, a couple of instruction books for the stuff that has to be charged, etc. The bag ends up looking like it might be holding a kindergardener or a large dog! It isn’t flat like a computer bag, but hopefully it will pass whatever tests are administered.

For me the hardest thing about packing is deciding what knitting projects to take…..I know you all know the situation only too well. For days I looked at my stash, rewound promising but too loosely wound balls, wound skeins thinking they might be the ones, wrote notes about what needles I needed to take, xeroxed some promising patterns…..In the end there is an element of moving rocks from one pocket in a large coat to the other–and then moving them back again.  Nothing measureable  was accomplished. Still, I can’t help going through this ritual every time, and it’s always the last thing I do before collapsing into a short sleep before waking up just before the alarm rings for us to go to the airport.

This time I am taking two sock projects because they are small. And I’m taking two projects complete with patterns and needles for my daughter. I would have taken more, of course, but that was all I could squeeze in. Also, I’m delivering a purse to her that she knit and a wonder-worker, expert seamstress friend of mine here assembled it last week. I know my daughter will be thrilled with the results, and I’ll take a picture of it once I get there. Right now, however, nothing can be touched in the suitcase or it would be all over!

My husband made a number of comments about how much space the knitted bag was taking up and why in the world didn’t I just mail it to her? Between you and me, my strategy was to pack something that gets left in Chicago before we fly to Germany, thereby creating some ease in the bursting suitcase as well as extra space on the off chance that I’m able to find some sock yarn that needs to come home with me. I didn’t explain this but rather told him something that is also true. I want to be there when my daughter sees how wonderful her knit bag looks! Also, I just know she will want to take it along on the trip.

Auf Wiedersehen!!

Tincture of time

My physician gave me a wonderful phrase to use in thinking about the loss of the dogs—the “tincture of time.”  It is more than seven weeks since I last blogged, and the tincture is working!  Today I walked through the Farmers’ Market a block away from where I live.

The sun was wonderfully warm, despite predictions of cooler weather. Some people were out enjoying music and food, and others were doing both in the company of their dogs.  It was good to be there and to occasionally to give a friendly dog a pat on the head!

I’ve been traveling much of the summer—a two week+  trip to visit with childhood friends and attend a school reunion— and another three week+ trip for two family reunions, a visit to a dear high school friend and visits to my daughter and two brothers.  I smile and shake my head when I think of my travels—it’s like visiting hell to visit Southern Illinois, Kentucky and Tennessee during the hot, humid summer.  Still, that’s where I needed to go, and I loved every minute of it. And it seems that life gives us what we need.  Everywhere I went, I found wonderfully affectionate dogs.  It’s almost as if all dogs have some sort of agreement about how their people will be taken care of once they are no longer able to do it themselves!

I’ve been knitting but not as much as usual, given all the moving to and fro.  I did finally finish the special socks for a very special friend.  More about that will be revealed near the end of

the month.  And I knocked out a few lightweight wraps out of Noro Sekku—one for my daughter and one probably for me.  The color range is so wide—one of these will go with everything–and I made it in my all time favorite relaxing pattern, Evelyn Clark’s “Manzanita Lace Shawl. Three balls made two larger shawls with no ruffle on the second one.  Knitting patterns like this are so healing.

I  finally finished the socks for a very special person—but more about that later in the month.  I knit them in Lorna’s Laces Shepherd Sock yarn, denim colorway, in one of my new patterns in the revised and expanded edition of my book, Knit Socks! that is now available.  I’m very happy with the this new edition.  There are eight new patterns–although initially it seemed like it would be a simple update.  Much of the introductory explanatory material has been revised, in particular to include information about knitting on two circular needles, one long circular needle (i.e., the “magic loop”), as well as the original information for the traditional 4 or 5 double point needles. The book is now in paperback and costs less the its predecessor—$12.95 for essentially 22 patterns!  Check it out at your local yarn shop, book store or on-line at your favorite bookseller.

So much to catch up on.  The final item is that I’m right now packing to accompany my daughter on a book tour of Germany and The Netherlands.  Her nonfiction bestseller, “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” reads like a suspense novel and has very broad appeal. Right now it is #6 on the New York Times nonfiction bestseller list!  And after the tour, I’m headed to Orlando, Florida to deliver the very special socks mentioned above. But more about that later.

You’ll hear from me sooner rather than later.  I’ve missed you!

Not enough water to cushion the blow!

In my last blog entry, almost six weeks ago now, I explored how I’ve jumped into new experiences at various times without being fully prepared or understanding what they would entail.  I ended that blog by thinking lovingly of Mac, our older dog and wondering if maybe I didn’t have something to learn from him.

Well, it turned out I did, although it’s been a very painful road we’ve walked down since then.  In early June Terry and I began to work through the difficult challenge of accepting that we needed to say “good-bye” to our beloved canine companions, Mac and Ella, our two border terriers who, like my children, shared the same mother. They had been our children for 15 and 14+ years, and our life was structured around enjoying and caring for them.

Making a sad story short, we lost them on June 10th and since that time have lived day-to-day feeling a large void in our lives, as well as gratitude for all the unconditional love they gave us for so many years.  In the end, instead of saying good-bye only to Ella, who probably should have been allowed to leave us some time ago given her various age related problems, we decided that we needed to do the same for Mac.  He was deaf, essentially incontinent, on paid meds, on liver function medicine, and also suffering from canine cognitive dysfunction.We decided that it would be inhumane to keep him alive longer than Ella because it would only increase his confusion and pain to suddenly realize that she, his life-long companion, was gone;  we decided that we needed to hurt instead of our beloved canine companions.  And hurt we have.

I enjoy blogging but stopped as soon as this all happened.  I didn’t want to be maudlin and all that was on my mind was sadness and emptiness and the quiet house….although I will have to admit that Terry and I both acknowledged that not having furry balls of stuff like tumbleweed floating around everywhere was OK—although we would gladly have it all again could we have our doggies back younger and healthier.

I did finish the special socks that I was working on—they went to a special friend instead of the person I was intending that they’d be for.  That will take another project, soon to be launched.  Here are the finished socks on the legs of the special friend who seemed to really like them:

They were great socks, but they weren’t exactly what I’d planned.  I knit them from On-Line Step with jojoba (beautiful and nicely fuzzy) and with stranded colorwork in Mini-Mochi.  The result was so soft and cozy—but a bit too fuzzy and soft for the special person I had in mind.  Back to the drawing board for that!

The proud owner of the special socks came for the weekend after we’d lost the dogs and Terry was gone with friends to attend some car races.  It was wonderfully therapeutic to have her with me at this time, as she’d just lost her beloved cat Elizabeth and understood about the grief that comes from losing a companion animal. We pretended we weren’t hurting and made many visits to Portland area yarn shops—-yarn therapy works even if you don’t buy much!

I need to thank two friends for helping me get back to blogging—-Chris who always can make me laugh and who is also a dog-lover and Connie, a long ago Springfield,IL friend who called me today after trying to reach me on the e-mail address linked to the blog.  Both of them said that they enjoyed reading the blog… which reminded me that I also enjoyed writing it but had been afraid of putting finger to keyboard since the big loss…….And I guess what I learned from the old dog that I ended the last blog thinking about was that at times we must do things that are very painful in order to fully express the love we feel. We didn’t want them to hurt so we did instead.

Life is full of wonderful gifts, as well as  pain and sadness.   And in the end, it’s all worth it, seems to me.  So, I’m back and will catch you up with what I’ve been mindlessly knitting in the meantime—–therapeutic knitting, of course.

And to end this, I want to share pictures of Mac:and Ella:

Ella always hated cameras, and I have no idea how I ever got this photo of her.  When she was younger, she earned her championship and was always very happy and comfortable in the ring and with cameras.  However, Mac was the photogenic of the two—-he was always very laid back in front of a camera as well as everywhere else.  We miss them so.

Is there water in the pool?

When I was 21 I dove into a small swimming pool, too small and too shallow, I later realized, for it to have had a diving board of any sort poised over it. That was when I learned what it meant to “see stars,” and hear an unforgettable sound–in this case the sound of my head hitting the concrete side of the diving well.  My injuries were extremely minor compared to what they could have been–a few small scars as reminders of diving in before thinking rather than having personal knowledge of what life in a wheelchair meant.

Even after that, according to my mother,  I continued to do everything as I’d always done it,  “too fast.” From the time I was helping at home with household chores, her saying this always irritated me.  How could she possibly know that I didn’t do a good job of cleaning the bath tub just because it was done very fast?  I can still hear her saying, “slow down,” when I was practicing the piano so that I could go out to play!

In my last blog, I shared plans of diving completely into this new project today—–and imagined knitting it with crazy speed as the Indy 500 was being raced. My husband is now watching that race, and I’m on my way to get help at the Apple store genius bar. Since the socks are going to have words as part of the design, both sides of both socks need to be graphed out before I go further. I changed charting software when I switched to a mac and still have a way to go before it’s as easy to use at Stitch and Motif Maker was on the PC…Also, since the yarns contrast significantly and I have no experience washing anything knit in mini mochi, I should do a little more swatching and testing of the waters before diving in! Here’s where I am on the two socks–-right down to where I need to have the next section charted out.  Taking it easy and having a little patience, slowing down,  rather than always just diving in, is good to practice, but still oh so hard for me at times.

I walked into the living room and saw Mac, our 15 year old border terrier, taking a midday nap on the couch.  He seems to benefit from taking it slow and easy.  Maybe I can

learn a trick or two from this old dog. It’s worth thinking about!

A mutant Citron

Meditational knitting is a good way to travel –either out of or back into real life.  I’ve been doing this recently and have hit upon an attractive mutation of a little shawlette pattern in the process.  In a previous post I mentioned knitting “Citron” (designed by Hilary Smith Callis and featured in Knitty.com, Winter 2009).  I started this pattern in Mountain Colors Winter Lace weight yarn some weeks ago and found it to be a very relaxing social knit. Everything is knit or purl with occasional make 1′s and K2tog thrown in.

I knit and knit on it, enjoying being with kindred souls.  It was wonderful, and I loved the yarn, Mountain Colors Winter Lace (Jr.) “Harmony Plum,”loved the feel of the needles, and enjoyed not having to think about anything.

In fact, it was so relaxing that I apparently went on auto-pilot knitting, skipped a decrease round in the ruching pattern (which essentially doubled the total number of stitches), and drove on, very happily knitting. There came a point, however, when I came back to earth, feeling that the project had gotten out of hand–had almost taken on a life of its own.  The shawlette was much bigger than a normal 360-degree circle—and Citron isn’t even a circle– and the ruffles rufflier. But who knows, I thought, this could result in something very special–or worst case it could continue growing (were I able to obtain more yarn) until it filled out entire condo. It could go either way, although I was leaning toward the former likelihood–you may know by now that I tend toward optmism! And so I kept working on it, going with the flow.

Several days ago I finished (i.e., ran out of the Mountain Colors yarn) what became the body of the shawlette and added a final additional ruffle to the outside edge.  I chose Rowan kidsilk haze laceweight yarn—in shade 579—which to me looks like “ELECTRIC FUSHIA/PURPLE!–to make the final ruffle.  It is pulls out one of the colors in the handpaint lace yarn which looks very much like Zephyr (50/50 merino/silk) to me.   I love

it!  If I went out more often, I would keep this to wear to musical events, to the theatre or to special dinners.  I can see it floating over an elegant fitted dress—maybe black–but navy and purple would work just as well. I see this in the future of one of the special younger women in my life…..there are several— and they’d all look great in it and most definitely get more use from it than I would.

When I diverged from the Citron pattern, I’d been knitting meditationally as a way of grappling with a project that means a lot to me—-creating special socks for a friend. I’ve been thinking about this for a some months now and putting a lot a pressure on myself about this having to be the the perfect socks for the intended reipient—or at least the most wonderful ones that I can execute! I’ve so often heard myself say to students that we don’t want perfectionism to get in the way of our enjoyment of knitting!!!  Right!!

One of my good friends said to me the other day that I needed to “just do it,” and I am following her sage advice. Last night I sat down, and after thinking endlessly about possibilities, decided how I’d proceed to sketch them out this morning.

I love the planning and design part of any project.  I am surrounded by baskets of yarn in all colors.  They speak to me, and my soul sings. This music began a number of years ago when I heard Sally Melville say that having  a yarn collection (i.e., stash) was OK, not something anyone should feel ashamed about.  It’s not really different than having any other sort of collection, and it’s so therapeutic to surround ourselves with what we love.

Tomorrow is going to be a good day as I dive completely into this project.  Maybe I will knit very fast as I sit with my husband who will be watching activities that lead up to the Indianapolis 500 this weekend very intently!