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.

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!

Fountain Pen Lace for a writer

What a gift it’s been to have several visits with my daughter Rebecca during her four-month long tour to promote her best selling nonfiction book, “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.” She reported on facebook last week that the movie rights have been purchased by Oprah, Alan Ball and HBO—-and so away she goes into more exciting and unreal times. She and a member of the Lacks family will serve as consultants to the movie.

Becka, a knitter, loves and appreciates anything handknit. This time she returned home with two Truly Tasha shawls (free pattern on Nancy Bush’s website http://www.woolywest.com) knit from Sandy Soreng’s handspun yarn plus a Fountain Pen Lace Shawl!  The first, “Teal Tasha,” was given

to her last year, later borrowed back by me and then returned to her to cope with the wet, chilly west coast weather in Seattle and then California.  I knit the next Truly Tasha (my 5th) from one of her favorite colors—periwinkle.  My guess was that upon her return to the NW, Becka would look at this one, choose it and leave the teal one with me. Below is the periwinkle Tasha being modeled on a sculpture.  And yes, it is really periwinkle, although it certainly is a beautiful blue in the picture.

And because I wanted to make something special to commemorate her accomplishment, I cast on a “Fountain Pen Lace  Shawl” (designed by Susan Lawrence and originally published in “Interweave Knits” and worked on it as Becka was completing the last leg of the book tour.

It, too, looks blue but the color of the Fleece Artist  yarn  (Blue Face Leicester 2/8 lace weight) is amethyst.  And yes, its subtle variegation moves from blue to purple  (Note to myself about  my new camera:  I need some help figuring out this consistent blue-purple color problem!).  I

used a lot of stitch markers to separate pattern repeats since I wanted to avoid having to unknit and redo parts of the shawl, given the short time in which I was trying to knit it—-a little more than a week.

Here is the shawl being blocked out the night before she returned after the end of the book tour—now looking mysteriously navy:

And here it is finished, floating in the breeze the following day on SE Hawthorne Street in Portland, OR:

And finally, here ‘s the shawl being worn by the happy recipient.

all!

It’s never too late for Mother’s Day

In early April I received a Harry & David gift catalog announcing that “it’s not too late for Mother’s Day.” In previous years I’d sent plants and gift towers of treats from this catalog to honor Mom:

Although positive thinking is usually a strength of mine, I saw the catalog and thought, “nope, it’s too late, and Mother’s Day’s going to be very, very sad this year for me.”  I remembered when I was little and Mom was young and beautiful. She was definitely the most important person my world when Dad went to Europe during WW II:

I always thought of this picture as “leavings.”  This was a time defined by farewells. In addition to Dad, all my other male relatives on both sides of the family in that generation were in the military in various parts of the world. Walking a few blocks to the bus stop to meet someone and not long enough afterwards walking back and bidding the same person farewell was a regular part of my young life in Poplar Grove, IL.  For many years afterwards, I found saying “good-bye” to any one or any thing very difficult–to the extent that I often tried to avoid good-bye’s altogether.

Mom, my younger brother and I lived with our beloved maternal grandmother, Anna Hahn Stocker, during that time. My strongest memory is of day-and-night listening to the wooden stand-alone radio while we sat around the dining room table.

The words “ALLIED TROOPS” on the radio grabbed our attention; every one froze and fell silent–although I know now I really didn’t get who the allied troops were. When I was five Grandma taught me to knit, crochet and embroider—in idle moments when she wasn’t gardening, cooking, baking, raising chickens in wooden cages for Sunday dinner or managing a dairy farm not far away in southern Wisconsin.  Now I appreciate what a difficult time this must have been for everyone—men and women.

Once Dad returned safely from WWII and younger brother #2 arrived, our end of the day ritual was having Mom play our favorite selections on the piano (once we’d all gone upstairs to bed) and then finally she read for her own enjoyment:When she was 92, she was fascinated to see pictures of her high school graduating class from Belvidere, IL on the internet and family pictures stored on a laptop computer:My brothers and I all remarked when she was 94-1/2 and still relatively healthy that IF we ever lost her, it would be very hard for us all to grasp and accept since she’d always been there with and for us.  Well, we did lose her this past November, hence I wasn’t anticipating a happy Mother’s Day.

What a surprise and gift it turned out to be this year!! Both of my children, their families and my husband were here to celebrate (one grandson by phone). And I was the mother, of course….duh!!!  It was a wonderfully warm and sunny day. We were treated to a delectable spring brunch engineered by chef David (with the assistance of daughter Becka):

We laughed and had fun together, including some silliness from Renee and Becka:

Ate  incredibly delicious and artfully made frittatas:

And some mini-pancakes especially made by David and grandson Justin:

I was touched to recall a similar brunch making scene years ago when Matt, father of Justin and Nick, was the one on the high stool cooking for the first time.  This time Matt rested from his work and extracurricular activities and proudly cheered Justin on:

Yes, Harry and David were right; it’s not too late for Mother’s Day.  In fact, this was one of the best I can remember.  I was with my kids and their families:

and we had fun together on an incredibly beautiful day, and I remembered and honored Mom in my heart: