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!

Dealing with another UFO

In my last blog I didn’t pledge to “finish” every project I’d ever begun.  Life is full of choices, and knitting should be, too.

Making choices is about deciding what really matters—honing in on the essentials and leaving the rest. When I was an undergraduate English major, I wanted to read every book and learn about everything that remotely interested me.  I had an insatiable appetite for learning. Sometime between then and now, I came to the sobering realization that there would be books I longed to read and experiences I wanted to have that, because of the limitations surrounding any single life, I’d need to forego entirely.  It’s about choosing how to spend time.

Knitting is no different than reading or any of the other human “wants.” I will admire more yarns and patterns than I can ever knit, and I will imagine more designs than I will ever commit to paper. So, this weekend, while on a wonderful knitting weekend in Manzanita on the Oregon coast, I chose to reduce my UFOs by one.  (Note:  Never fear. There aren’t many more, so don’t worry that staying with me on this thread will be the knitting equivalent of the camp song, “100 bottles of beer in the wall, 100 bottles of beer, if one of those bottles should happen to fall, 99 bottles of beer in the wall…” Thankfully, I’ve been working on this for a while and don’t have many UFOs squirreled away. Just a couple more!

I started a lace shawl months ago, loved the Misti Alpaca lace weight yarn, admired the pattern, but never really loved this project once I’d begun it.  The pattern repeat was difficult memorize and even to see, the yarn and the pattern weren’t great together and it wasn’t even very much fun to knit. As with a book I’m not loving,  I’d given it a chance but wouldn’t be finishing it–and there was a time when every book I started had to be finished. I call this difference “progress!”

Unraveling the project and carefully winding the lovely yarn back into the ball so that it could be used another day felt good.  The Oregon coast weather, like that of the rest of the Northwest, doesn’t come with a guarantee. However, this three-day weekend was perfect:  sunny, blue skies, happy people walking on the beach with dogs, yarn shops, friends to knit and laugh with, chocolate and good food.  I had fun finding the right place to bid farewell to this UFO:The fish (it’s the back of a bench with a sense of humor) was happy to help out, posing with the rewound yarn held carefully in her mouth.She seemed to smile, reflecting my own feelings at letting this project go and setting the yarn aside for another day — to use or give away to someone to make something beautiful.  It was a good trade:  happy possibilities instead of a project that was weighing me down!

Meltdown in the electronic cottage.

Yes, there’s been a lot of that happening here in our condo after 5+ years. Things have been going belly-up with mystifying regularity.  Remembering words from a Robert Frost poem, “the best way out is always through,” I’ve been working through this, eager to finish so I can get back to my knitting and projects that are calling loudly to be completed.

First to go was the heat pump fan installed in the ceiling.  Things are often not as simple as they first appear.  When it was all over, the final bill included a new fan and the cost of cutting away and replacing a portion of the ceiling (because the pump had initially been installed incorrectly).  Could there actually be a law in nature that prevents costly items from breaking down during warranty periods?

The next to bite the dirt was my all-in-one printer which suddenly produced grinding noises when it should have been printing.  Alas, it was 2-1/2 years old, close to ancient in the world of electronics. After replacing it with a newer, simpler, cheaper model (who needs a fax, anyway?), I experienced a feeling of sweet victory after losing a big one with the heat pump. Shortly thereafter the over-the-oven microwave weighed in with symptoms suspiciously similar to the printer.  And if you’re like me, you, too, wonder if all of the recent earthquakes aren’t somehow related?  Only a few days after the printer was replaced, the microwave began producing noise instead of heat.  The magnetron (think old tv picture tube) was shot, as well as a control panel, which triggered some serious microwave consumer research.  It’s amazing how much information I sifted through trying to make the right microwave decision. A week later, I’m again able to re-heat coffee, defrost breakfast blueberries, make popcorn, enjoy fresh asparagus. and heat up leftovers. It’s not lost on me that I could be in the same situation if I’d limited my information gathering to a few hours…

To celebrate getting back to my real life, my knitting life (or maybe as a cleansing ritual?), I am dealing with my UFOs.  Thankfully, my unfinished projects are few in number.  You may have noticed that I didn’t say I’d finish them—-just deal with them.  It’s a clean slate I’m after! Or maybe this is my version of spring cleaning. Yesterday I finished my son’s late Christmas socks. He likes 4″ ribbing and long legs . These measure 10 inches from cast-on to the beginning of the heel flap.  A lacy-topped version of this pattern (“Rhythm”) appears in the new edition of my book “Knit Socks!” which will be available from Storey Press in September.

Next to be completed are two very close-to-being-finished lace projects.  The first is “Manzanita,” a triangle shawl pattern by Evelyn Clark.  I had just started applying the lace edging when I put this down in July. This is the third time I’ve made this pattern from Fleece Artist Suri Blue yarn. The pattern is easy enough for relaxing social knitting. Note: the color is more yellow-green than the yellow that shows up here on my monitor.

The second is “Wildflower Lace Scarf,” also by Evelyn Clark and knit from Gypsy Girl Creations “Transitions,” yarn in “viola bouquet” color. The hand-dyed colors move from an intense sapphire blue at one end of the skein morphing into a brassy gold and then to a buttery natural at the other end.  It’d be fun to use both ends of a 50 gram skein to makeslip stitch patterned gloves or socks.  I was on a roll knitting this side-to-side garter stitch scarf over the course of a few days in early March when I confirmed (a few inches from the end) that I needed to order more yarn to finish it.

If I keep on track, I should be able to finish both projects tonight or tomorrow.  It’s good to be back tending to my knitting!

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 .

“Your Life Calling”

Life has been almost too much lately–but fun!  In  late January, I was invited to be interviewed for an AARP television project.  The caller was looking for people who had made significant mid-life changes and reinvented themselves

Jane Pauley

Jane Pauley

after age 50. And yes, it was true; I had done this 10 years before when I left the 9-to-5 world of healthcare administration and took up my knitting needles full time. You could have knocked me over with a pin, however, when the caller said that the TV project was going to be a Today Show segment hosted by Jane Pauley and sponsored by AARP. I  am not one to search out cameras and lights. The thought of it was, to put it mildly, a bit terrifying. Now, however, I’m glad I decided to give it a go because this unexpected life chapter turned out to be a fascinating adventure.

The week began at Java House where the producer and camera crew joined me and my Tuesday knitting community in our favorite sunlit atrium spot. Footage of my husband Terry, our dogs and me in our condo followed in the afternoon, as well as a dog walk in Esther Short Park. The dogs, of course, looked great in their matching pumpkin-colored “Dandy Dog” sweaters. The condo footage included the inside of our closet!  It houses lots of handknit socks stacked in rows (albeit neater and more color-coordinated rows now than before the film crew was scheduled to arrive.) And no, the whole stash didn’t line up for a big group shot (after all, this was all being done for a relatively short video segment), but yarn was played with and more photos taken.

Interview with Jane PauleyWednesday held more filming and  finally the trip to Tacoma, WA, where the annual Madrona FiberArts Festival was about to begin. Friday morning I finally met Jane, was interviewed by her at Yorkshire Yarns in Lakewood, WA,  and then walked her through the yarn market at Madrona where she was excited and surprised by the beauty and varied fibers available to knitters today.

You, too, can see this on her new monthly program, “Your Life Calling,” which debuts March 9, on the Today Show. The segment will also be posted on the AARP website with related articles. Jane took on this new project after struggling with what to do next in her life in the years after leaving “Dateline” and becoming an empty nester.  The 90 minutes I spent being interviewed by

Betsy signs copies of "Knit Socks!"

Signing copies of "Knit Socks!"

Jane absolutely flew by.  It was like two girls from Indiana talking (I was born there, but grew up in Illinois) about something they felt passionate about.  She was down-to-earth, very approachable, warm, and when I put knitting needles in her hands later in the marketplace, they remembered what to do with them!  She hadn’t knit since she’d been pregnant with her twins who are something like 27 now! And she left Madrona inspired by all the wonderful yarns and carrying (like the rest of us) a skein of yarn that spoke to her and a new circular needle to use on the plane ride back to NYC.

The experience was a wonderful gift of the sort that comes to us unexpectedly–out of the blue, to use part of the subtitle of Jane’s autobiographical book, “Skywriting: A Life Out of the Blue.”  It caused me to reflect upon the experiences I’ve had because of knitting, the wonderful friends I’ve made, what I’d given to others, how I’d spent my last 10 years and what I’ll do during the next.

It occurred to me that any number of other knitters could have been the subject of this film segment, too.  That’s one of the things I love about hanging out with knitters and spinners—they’re good people with great stories.