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!

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:

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.