Retreating to the Oregon coast

In April, now more than a month ago <gulp>, I attended Fort Vancouver Knitting Guild’s first retreat, held in Manzanita, OR.  This great weekend featured friends, food, yarn, yarn shops, knitting, beach walking and more knitting. What I loved most of all was being able to get to know other guild members better than is possible at our monthly meetings. Olga Tonges, owner of T-Spot Yarn and Teas, provided a space adjacent to her knitting shop for us to gather on Friday afternoon and night–complete with hot water and a wonderful assortment of her teas.  We enjoyed a pizza and salad dinner, bingo (with prizes!) and many laughs.  On Saturday member Sherry Calhoon provided a gathering space (complete with coffee and cookies) close to her yarn shop, Coastal Yarns, in Cannon Beach, Oregon.  Judie Stanton, our president, provided a wonderful Sunday brunch, as well as opening up her quarters as a gathering place.

And to make it even more perfect (if I can say that—former English teachers usually don’t), the weather was unseasonably warm and sunny. As always, the longest part of packing was deciding what knitting to take along.  Since I had just received a birthday gift of one skein of Mountain Color Winter Lace Junior Yarn (600 yards) in Harmony Rose, I chose that yarn to take along for a new project. The yarn looks and feels like Jaggerspun’s Zephyr—-is 50/50 merino and silk with the same airy feel and drape.  Stitchcraft, a yarn shop owned by my friend Nicholette Hoyer and located in Vancouver, WA., is the source of this wonderful yarn.  Several days before the retreat, tucked in between other projects and tasks, I started to knit “Citron,” a little shawlette designed by Hilary Smith Callis and published in

Knitty.com, Winter 2009. The shawlette has ruffles and ruching–perfect for the very lightweight Mountain Colors winter lace yarn. Citron is not lace, but can be worn like a lace shawlette or scarf.  It’s a perfect social knitting project and shouldn’t take long to finish–maybe another holiday 2011 gift?

Fourteen of us attended the retreat and were photographed by a very cooperative “Mr. Fike,”as Lynne so lovingly calls him.  He was very patient, attentive to detail,  walked here and there, trying to take several group pictures from different perspectives.

With no previous orchestration, the whole group turned (we know our best sides when we reach a certain age…), undercutting Mr. Fike’s photographic plans.  We all had a good laugh about how we automatically did this.  Maybe we knitters are all cut from the same cloth.

The weekend couldn’t have been more fun!

Another UFO finished

There’s no more effective motivator for me than the end of something —-the end of a day, week, month or year.  Having an even slightly cleaner slate for moving forward seems to make life suddenly full of new possibilities.

This “completed UFO/end-of-the-month” project might be counted by purists as a “new” project. Since I’m into reducing UFOs and doing the counting, it’s going to be a “UFO.” Five years ago I knit a simple stranded knit-in-the-round swatch–and now wish I’d taken a picture of it. I’d knit the swatch after knitting the “KISS Purse” pattern in Sally Melville’s book The Knitting Experience: Book 3 – Color:

My KISS purse

I planned to design a stranded purse: different pattern, different top and bottom and different closure and straps. The swatch went into the swatch box, and the design never happened. During the past few months I kept coming across this particular swatch and last week decided I needed to do something with it–either make something out of it or toss it.

I didn’t have any expectations but merely played a bit, telling anyone who asked me what I was knitting that I really didn’t know—which was true.  I picked up stitches around the top of the swatch tube and knit a number of garter stitch rows (which I should have counted before felting, right?), followed by a bit of stockinette (maybe an inch and a half), then a round with a reasonable number of eyelets (*YO, K2tog, k k k k k k k k k –until time to do another eyelet, repeat from * to end of round.  Then more stockinette and then a round where I was adding stitches to make the top of whatever this was going to be ruffly. Once I finished that and bound off, I made a 3-stitch I-cord strip from the purple-to-burgundy toned Paintbox handpainted yarn, the darker yarn that was used with the grey heather Cascade 220 in the original swatch  Once the top and drawstring (?) were done, I picked up stitches around the bottom and followed worked the bottom similarly to how I’d begun working the top part of the swatch, that is,  working an unknown number of garter stitch rows. When it seemed enough I started to gradually decrease the bottom as you begin to shape a hat crown.  After a bit of a rounding in, I then decreased rapidly to create a flat bottom.

Next it went into the washing machine to felt as I made dinner.  And unfortunately (or fortunately??) I forgot to stop the machine before  the spin cycle.  An hour later, I remembered to retrieve it from the washer expecting to see a permanently wrinkled mess–as I never use the spin cycle on felted items. What went through my mind was that it would be easy to get rid of this UFO– an obvious disaster. But although it did have some issues initially, I was pretty happy with what I saw:The stranded center portion had drawn in more than the top and bottom, which necessitated some pulling and tugging followed by the challenging insertion of an oatmeal box so that it would dry looking more like it actually does now.  Another challenge was finding a rustic-looking button to force the two I-cord ends through so that the top could be drawn up and closed. In addition to a bit of muscle, tweezers saved the day! I still thought it might be some kind of a bag but hadn’t figured out how I’d attach a strap onto it, especially since only three yards of the yarn used for the I-cord were left. (Note to my people:  Why is it that so many non-knitters think of us as people who don’t live on the edge? It’s probably suspense, mystery and excitement that attracted us to knitting in the first place, right?)

In the midst of all this excitement I decided to finally go out and pick up more pepsid (really!) for our aging dogs.  They need it, too.  I was startled upon returning to find—or rather not to find—the felted piece where I left it resting on the kitchen counter.   I looked everywhere, all the possible places including including the microwave,  the dish cupboard, my desk and the refrigerator. Imagine my surprise when I saw it on the entertainment center standing among various art objects (most of which were acquired at Goodwill- As Is for $.29/lb.–with the exception of the piece hanging on the wall by Patrick Horseley, a wonderful Portland Ceramic artist who grew up with my husband in Pasco, Washington.) Terry must have  liked it!  He not only put it in a place of honor while I was gone; he had removed the oatmeal box (he works out every day and is very strong) and inserted a cylindrical pottery vase which fit perfectly! I guess it won’t be a bag after all– at least for now.

Making this was just too much fun,  and I see more of them coming into my life before long!  There’s a lot to be said for playing, but for now, let’s move into the new month and all its possibilities.

April hasn’t been a cruel month…

Centuries ago Chaucer called April “the cruelest month”.  Especially this April, with its special family time, has been wonderful rather than cruel, although I suspect that tomorrow’s newspaper will report that we broke a record for the most consecutive days of measureable precipitation.  There could be worse things than having grey, rainy days, even though when I looked out of our condo yesterday afternoon, this is what I saw:

Yes, it was somewhat unreal—but lovely, wouldn’t you say?  Shades of grey, white and blue. I remember moving from the midwest to Olympia, WA., many years ago and being struck by how the natives counted the grey, rainy days as long as they continued.  Then when the sun came out and we had blue skies in spring, they’d say, “well, I know this won’t last long.”  I guess I never forget that it could be ice and snow as an alternative.  Also, for more than 25 years now I’ve been struck with just how beautiful the grey skies can be—-how many different grey tones there are with their own beauty!

But when spring and blue skies come to the Northwest, I feel such joy at the beginning of another cycle of new life.  I started this new knitting project on a recent family outing near Seattle, despite the fact that I still have a few unfinished objects waiting to be dealt with:

This is the fifth Truly Tasha’s Shawl I’ve made, a relaxing, social knit—as well as a wonderful shawl to cuddle up with at home or when traveling.  The pattern is available free on Nancy Bush’s website: http://www.woolywest.com (click on “Knitsters’ Notebook.”) I suspect there have been thousands of these made. Over the next week I worked on Tasha in free moments.  These moments included times with my Tuesday knitting group which decided to do a shawl knitalong.  This is different from everyone knitting the same shawl at the same time. I’ll take pictures to share (and provide yarn and needle information) when the projects are completed.

This Truly Tasha’s Shawl is special in that I’m knitting it from 2-ply merino that was dyed and handspun by a Seattle knitting friend of mine, Sandy Soreng. This is the third I’ve made from her yarn. The simplicity of the garter stitch allows the beauty of this yarn to stand on its own.  I made two shawls, one for a friend and one for my daughter, from the same 2-ply merino yarn in teal:Knitting this shawl (and other similar garter stitch projects) is almost as good as doing yoga, and the shawl quickly grew and grew.until the triangular body of the shawl was completed and ready to have the lace edging applied—which is another pleasurable knit once you get into the rhythmn of it:

So0n I laid it out on my “Cheap-O” blocking boards (2-  2′ x 4′ pieces of foam insulation purchased for less than $3 each at Home Depot a few years ago):I blocked out the shawl with rustproof t-pins. The slightly ruffly top edge rolls over like a shawl collar, making a graceful simple shawl.  Thanks again, five-fold, at least, Nancy!!

They seemed happy with the finished shawl.  This photo was taken in the atrium of the Vancouver Marketplace which features many art work from the Boulevard Art Gallery.

The sculpture is made from New Zealand limestone.  It’s a lovely piece, appropriate both for indoor and outdoor display.  I can testify, however, that NZ limestone is not as smooth as glass, granite or marble.  I had to almost peel the shawl off (no damage was done, thankfully), but I would advise anyone thinking about photographing a baby mohair, angora, merino & silk laceweight yarn piece, to think twice before putting it on such a piece!!  Still, no damage done, and the shawl is lovely in its simplicity.

The teal Tasha is with my daughtger on the California/Arizona leg of her book tour. As she left, she admired the new one in “lupin” (one of her favorite colors) when it was still on the needles .  I predict that when I next see her, she’ll want to trade the teal for the lupin, and that’ll be fine! I may just get another started with some of my remaining Sandi Spins yarn.  After all, if that plastic container is empty (and it’s getting down there!), I would have an excuse for buying more this fall!

A proud mother’s dream

Since I moved to the Northwest in 1984, Powell’s Bookstore on Burnside in Portland has been a favorite place where I could lose myself for hours.  This Monday night life again became surreal, and I lived out a long held dream by attending a book reading there.  The difference from other book readings was that this time my daughter Rebecca Skloot was the featured writer. After ten long years of work there she was—reading from her NYT bestselling nonfiction book, “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.”

A perfect audience packed the house and  included seemingly random people from various times and places in our lives:  Becka’s father and his wife, my husband Terry,  numerous other relatives including our wonderful DIL Renee, good friends who’d been old neighbors, good friends who were current neighbors, friends of family, family of friends, knitting and spinning buddies, Metropolitan Learning Center teachers (who apparently had to see it to believe it–and who also were very proud), Becka’s high school friends, people I’d worked with in four different places between 1976 and 1997, a high school English class from Tillamook, OR,  the local literary crowd and even an old friend (my children’s dear Aunt Jean) who adopted Becka’s first cat when she was in 4th grade (after it became apparent I was highly allergic to many cats, including Sophia, who lived to be 20). Becka so loved Sophia; to this day, I remain grateful that she chose me over the cat! You never know. I was in second row center at the Powell’s reading, trying to relax and focus on the reading by knitting special socks for Jane Pauley! And believe it or not, the reading was done against a backdrop of  handmade quilts by artist Natalie Chanin (author of Alabama Studio Style), scheduled to be at Powell’s the following night. It was all perfect!

At the beginning of the reading, Becka’s very proud father, Floyd, read words he’d written to honor and introduce her.  A Q & A session followed the reading and after that a book signing. Nicholette Hoyer, owner of Stitchcraft in Vancouver, was among those who waited in the long line.

Here is Becka after the book signing with my good friend and current neighbor Cathy and some of Portland’s famous Voodoo donuts.  The mysterious donut appearance was a nice touch–especially since Cathy is a professional pastry chef herself!

Notably absent that evening was Grandpa Bob, my father James Robert Lee, to whose loving memory her book is dedicated. She says: he “treasured books more than anyone I’ve known.” I left feeling flooded with gratitude for everyone and everything in the universe who supported Becka during these past ten years. I am proud of how she acknowledged and thanked the large community of family and friends who were there for her. Grandpa Bob would have been very proud.

I attended another reading on Tuesday at the Oregon Health Sciences University. Again she read from the book, told the story of Henrietta Lacks and the immortal cells and then signed many books:

And to connect this all back to knitters, in addition to being a writer and teacher, Becka is a knitter and animal lover. A story on the  AARP website details how she quickly she took to knitting a few years ago and how it helps center her during this stressful time. The Portland time is just a brief stopover on her months-long book tour. She’s on her way next to Seattle for several readings and then back for another brief visit this weekend before heading south to Eugene and eventually on to California and Arizona.  When I asked if there was anything special she’d like to do in the time she and I have blocked out to be together between now and her heading south, you guessed it!  She said, “let’s go to a yarn shop!!” Atta girl!! Keep things balanced!  I ‘m  doubly proud of her!

It’s never too late for holiday gifts

I grew up in a last-minute family.  Because church didn’t start until 11 am, my mother rarely left the house before 10:50 am, even when she was the choir director, because “we live so close–it just takes a minute to get there.”  When friends and relatives were invited over for dinner or for a weekend visit, cleaning up the house began in earnest only when one of us stationed at a window saw THE CAR coming down the street toward

Betsy, Dick & Baby David

our house and sounded the alarm.  Before children, my mother had taught Home Ec and had an idea about what houses should look like when company came.  I participated in the last minute frenzy to stuff newspapers under the couch, put piles of things down on the basement steps, and gather up random things that didn’t belong where they were and hide them in drawers.

It was years later that I really understood all this.  My mother enjoyed entertaining and doing for others.  She loved to cook and bake favorite dishes, especially elaborate desserts. However, she didn’t participate much in mundane activities required to keep things organized.  She

Mom playing piano

preferred playing the piano, embroidering towels, crocheting edges for delicate linen handkerchiefs, trying out yet one more new souffle recipe, making candles, quilting a gift for a new baby and even mending socks and worn-out clothes.

It wouldn’t have been Christmas Eve at our house if Mother hadn’t been up until almost morning with the sewing machine humming.  Occasionally the doll clothes or special gifts didn’t get finished, and we unwrapped packages from “Mrs. Santa Claus” that contained partially completed projects and a note asking that we give the whole box back to our mother so that she could get it back to Mrs. Santa Claus.  She’d usually had some problem between Thanksgiving and Christmas that set her back a bit.

We were conditioned to receiving these sorts of messages and grew up understanding about how difficult it was for Mrs. Santa Claus to do everything.  After all, wasn’t she a woman, and isn’t a woman’s work never done?  I bet you think I’m going to seque into telling you about how I was, therefore, so conditioned from an early age to this sort of thing that not getting all the gifts made before the holidays is not really a character defect…..It was, rather, learned behavior.

Well, surprise, surprise.  I loved my parents but did not love being late, although for years I followed their same script.  Then somewhere between late childhood and now I realized that I could start making (that is, knitting) my gifts way ahead of time, like even in January.  And I learned that there was no law forbidding the gradual making of holiday gifts, spreading them out through the entire year, up to the holiday itself.  The last minute rush was not mandatory or necessarily desirable.  And so I had tried to live my life this way—especially when I got it back after leaving healthcare to knit seriously full time.

This isn’t to suggest that neither of my children ever opened a wrapped gift box to find either needles, yarn and a pattern or a partially completed item.  It did happen several times, but it wasn’t my regular practice and plan.

So, it is with some chagrin that I am now working to finish my son’s holiday stockings.  They were in the queue and cast on so that they could have been completed in time.  However, the whole plan went awry on Thanksgiving Day.  We had just enjoyed a wonderful turkey dinner and were all sitting around on comfortable living room furniture in an L-tryptophan-induced blissful state (or whatever comes from enjoying lots of turkey).  Imagine my horror to see, when my son put his feet up on an ottoman, gaping holes in the bottoms of both his socks—-and yes, they were (like most of his others) ones that had been made for him by his mother!

He looked very chagrinned when I said something subtle like, “OMIGOD, the bottoms of your socks are gone!”  After all, he’d only worn them about 7 years.  Smart son that he is, he quickly said, “these are my favorite socks, I’ve worn them every week since you made them for me and I didn’t want to part with them,” which is what I think he thought would have happened had he told me about this obvious problem sooner.  Well, was my heart warmed by his love of these socks that I had made with mee own lyttle hands?  It told him that I’d fix them and have them back to him before Christmas.  He was so moved at my offer that he went into his bedroom and presented me with another “favorite” pair that looked like they had been worn in the Chicago Marathon in lieu of running shoes.  I felt even more choked up about his also having so lovingly saved these socks and said that I’d fix them right up, too, before the holidays.

What was I thinking of???  He is over 6 feet and his feet are not small—plus he has a small mountain of socks that I’ve knit over the years which I’ve occasionally seen when visiting after a BIG LAUNDRY–the reason for which I’ve never inquired.  I dug through my leftover yarn and stash and found some matching yarn to make two new feet for one pair—-it took a while, but they looked fine.  An untrained eye (not any of yours, however) would not have been able to distinguish the new feet from the old heels and legs. Whew. On to pair #2 which was unfortunately made from discontinued yarn, and I had none leftover in the large sock leftovers basket that I stuff under a settee in my living room.  Ravelry to the rescue!!  I actually found two skeins of the yarn in the stash of a very wonderful Canadian woman who agreed to sell them to me and even to mail them right away to my brother’s house in Illinois where I headed for my mother’s memorial service.

I don’t mean this to be disrespectful and actually believe my mother would have been strongly approving of my doing this while visiting with the relatives, while pausing a few minutes from helping my brothers with various details afterwards and on the return trip home.  She was the embodiment of practicality and also so loved things handmade.

The holidays came about two weeks later, and I presented my son with a holiday check and two old pairs of socks with four new feet.  He seemed pleased.  All my other gifts were completed on time, including these

Mom's Mitts

fingerless mitts I made for my mother that I never got to give to her.  Still it bothered me that I hadn’t finished the new holiday socks I intended to make for my son.  So, after all the dust from the AARP tv segment chapter cleared away, I began knitting them and knitting them…a few days ago, here’s

Late holiday 2009 socks

what they looked like.  I worked each one on two circular needles, sequentially, the ribbing on one, the ribbing on the other, the leg on one, the leg on the other….They are bigger than they look:  10″ from cast on to beginning of heel flap.

Right now I’m working on the gusset decreases on the second sock and estimate that by tomorrow night, if I keep pushing, I’ll have the pair finished….and, therefore, be able to close the Holiday 2009 chapter.  Who says knitters aren’t a wee bit compulsive???  I could have just waited to give these to him for some other special event, but they are his holiday 2009 socks and he will have them before this weekend!

What a day and so little sock knitting to show for it….

This post is by necessity short–I’m even too tired to knit and that’s really tired!  I finally got to see the Today Show segment on aarp.org  and  the articles posted there. I smiled as I read about teaching my daughter to knit.  She loves knitting, too, and here I once thought it might skip a generation!

The comments, e-mails and feedback from the AARP segment and blog strongly reinforced what I already believed.  We are not alone, and we are more alike than we are different.  And those of us who are knitters really love knitting!!  It keeps us sane. It floats our boat. It is our yoga.

Before going to bed, I picked up the sock, still unfinished, that I’d been knitting during the interview with Jane.  Someone asked if I’d made any mistakes knitting while being filmed.  The answer is a murky yes; however,  I didn’t make any of the usual knitting mistakes. I knew better than to knit something requiring thought or close attention and chose to work on a plain, stockinette sock foot. Not surprisingly, because I am a pretty fast knitter,  I knit way beyond where the toe shaping should have started as the interview stretched out into 90 minutes. I realized this was happening but continued on anyway. Does that count as a mistake or not?  It doesn’t really matter because whatever it was,  it required the same unknitting afterwards to get back on track. More about the sock soon, including a picture and information about the wonderful new yarn I used to make it .