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.

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!

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:

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!