Wednesday, February 28, 2007


The first socks on the left are mine, knitted with KnitPicks Memories Cape Cod. The middle pair belong to David--and are a lovely 6-2 rib. The third pair, finished down to the toes quite some time ago, are David's first attempt at knitting socks. Time to sew them up and keep our tootsies warm!

Monday, February 26, 2007

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Thank You

Thank you all for your very kind comments on Friday's post. The week of the 12th-16th is always a bit challenging for me. This is an anniversary full of both the celebration of life and the memorializing of loss. Each year, I am either surprised at how happy I am or disappointed by how stressed I am.

This year, feeling a great need for comfort knitting, I cast on a new project. Using the softest yarn I have ever touched, Jade Sapphire's cashmere, I started a simple stockinette shawl--one I think will become the Seraphim shawl. Nothing could have been more perfect. But now it has to go in the box for a little while as I finish up other projects....

Again, thank you all for being so kind and encouraging.

Tomorrow: pictures of the blocked Kiri shawl.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The Process of Choosing Our Foods

Perhaps I am just in a snotty mood, but I'm distressed as I read this month's Vegetarian Times.

As usual, the magazine is full of beautiful pictures of food, great cooking advice, some terrific-sounding recipes (especially those by vegan chef Myra Kornfeld who also has one vegan and one flexitarian cookbook), and interesting food news from people who share many of my commitments to sustainable agriculture.

I'm not thrilled about all of the recipes, but I am almost used to those calling for processed ingredients like a particular brand's frozen potatoes or fake-food processed soy sausage. Fine--I just won't make those.

I am also almost used to all the ads for commercial supplements--advertisements promising to fulfill an emptiness in your life more than an inadequacy in your diet. (And now that I think about it, I realize that a food magazine would not want to advertise that a diet following their recipes might be inadequate.)

What bothers me this month is an article about how to avoid non-vegetarian foods often found in foods that might appear to be vegetarian or vegan.

Up to a point, I get the point.

While I don't want to switch from Guinness and Bass and other cask-conditioned fine ales (and even some Chardonnay) to Budweiser, it might make sense for those of you who do not want to imbibe isinglass, a protein from fish air bladders. (Yep--thousands of years ago people stored their beer in fish air bladders because they did not let anything go to waste. They discovered that it improved their beer. Wild, isn't it?)

While I don't want to switch from aged and imported European cheeses, or from the local cheeses made from raw milk, to Land 0' Lakes Mozzarella (named by the article) or even Horizon Organic Cheddar, it might make sense for those of you who do not want to ingest animal rennet, an enzyme from the stomach of calves, an enzyme discovered thousands of years ago when calf stomachs were used to hold milk--and lo and behold it made cheese. Wild, isn't it?) Vegetarian rennet is made from fungi and fig leafs instead. And some "cheeses" are rennetless, like most goat cheeses and cottage cheeses.

You should also skip the Horizon Organic Milk and Promise Light margarine, fortified with Vit D-3 made from lanolin (!) or fish oil, and go instead for a milk that is fortified with Vit D-2, made from plants and not as easy to absorb. Personally, I'll stick with organic whole milk from a local creamery. Whole milk does not need to be fortified with Vit D at all, unlike skim and 2% which legally must be (the D is in the fat). Nevertheless, I realize many people are worried about the saturated fat or the calories and want a reduced-fat milk.

We no longer have to depend on the old ways. I personally like to, but I realize there are competing ethical issues and health issues at play here and for many people, the balance would not fall where I put it for myself.

So while I don't plan to follow their advice, I am supportive so far.

What makes me crazy is that we should replace commercial strawberry yogurt that might have cochineal, a coloring derived from insects, NOT with real yogurt (if you are not vegan) and real strawberries (when they are in season) but with--get this--"foods with synthetic colorings (such as FD&C Red No. 40)". Make sure THAT is on your label.

Perhaps I should relax. After all, a vegetarian diet is not by definition a diet based on natural foods or environmental concerns.

But so many vegetarians, and so many writers in Vegetarian Times, share my concerns about natural foods and the environment--and in fact choose vegetarianism for precisely those reasons, or at least partly for those reasons. I see vegetarians and this magazine as fellow travelers. If you are in that camp, shoot them an email reminding them.

Friday, February 16, 2007

The Tell-Tale Heart

The Truth, The Whole Truth, and Nothing But the Truth:
Ending the Lies

I used to hate Valentine's Day. Red roses gave me hives and the artificial "express your love only in these assigned commercial ways" mentality drove me nuts. The fact that I had never really been in love with someone on Valentine's Day before just intensified things.

One year, a friend of mine had even planned an Anti-Valentine's Day party where everyone would paint their fingernails black and play albums by the Cure or the Cocteau Twins. That same year was going to be different for me, though. David and I had only been officially dating for a few months, but most people assumed we'd been together forever.

It often felt that way to us, too. We had met one another at a summer camp several years before (a program for "heinously gifted" kids, as a friend of ours quips). After a brief conversation across the table in the cafeteria, we sat on a bench outside where we talked and talked and talked about everything important in our lives: our intellectual interests, our favorite authors, our family backgrounds, the importance of our brothers in our lives. We talked about our dreams, our politics, justice, social activism, God-and-no-God, etc. The conversation went on until we began to see the sun rise. Although we had just met, I felt like I knew him deep down, and better than people I had known all my life.

Although we were dating other people at the time and did not think of our intense connection as romantic, we stayed in touch over the years. When we found ourselves in the same city living around the corner from each other while I was in graduate school and David was starting medical school, we started spending every moment together--taking yoga classes, cooking, studying. After dinner we hit the books and ate pomegranates, staining all the pages with the red juice. The whole time I was staring into his eyes--mesmerizing and calming at the same time.

David knew I was skittish about Valentine's Day. When his parents called and said they'd be in town that day and wanted to meet me, he laughed a bit as he watched my nervousness skyrocket. He always says I cooked up an ingenious plan to avoid it all.

* * *

I came back from spending the holidays at home with what I thought was a sinus infection. When a course of antibiotics did not cure it, I asked David to pour over his first-year medical student books for information about how a stubborn case like this might be treated. When he looked up my symptoms, he pointed out that facial numbness is not a traditional sign of sinus infection. Without any facial paralysis to go along it, the only real diagnosis was a brain tumor. Chuckle. Ha. David must have so much left to learn in medical school....

Fourteen years ago on February 12, I headed to Student Health again, still assuming I really had a sinus infection and hoping for an antibiotics refill. Initially, the docs there had agreed with me that it was probably a sinus infection. But after this month when the facial numbness around my left eye began to spread, Student Health referred me immediately to the neurologist, telling me to go straight across the street right away. Dr. Pleasure sent me for an MRI immediately. When I emerged from the dressing room, the doctor sat in the waiting room, pizza in one hand and MRI in the other, and said, "Good news! You don't have Multiple Sclerosis. It's just a brain tumor." Everyone was surprised to discover that my tumor was actually on the right. The 7cm-plus tumor was pressing on my brainstem, smooshing the facial nerves on the left against the inside of my skull.

I spent the rest of the morning being admitted, sneaking home (a 10-minute walk) to get pajamas and lots of books to read (I was studying for comps), and calling my family. I met with lots of medical residents who asked me to remember lists ("Spruce Street, Baseball, and the Palladium"--still remember them after fourteen years...), or to touch my nose then touch their moving fingers.

* * *

As soon as David walked home from med school classes that day, he received my message on his answering machine and turned right back to come see me at the hospital. He spent the next two months there--reassuring me, comforting me, entertaining me, and making me fall ever more deeply in love with him.

I also called my parents. My mother flew up on Sunday, February 14th. Although I did not get to meet David's parents that day, he very unexpectedly got to meet one of mine.

The surgery on February 16th lasted almost 24 hours. I still think they must have ordered out for pizza and a movie. One of my friends, a 4th year medical student, caught some of the surgery on closed circuit TV. Several of my friends from the history department joined David and my mother in the waiting room off and on during the day and early evening. They all entertained her with song and silly jokes. In return she taught them how to dance the shag, the official dance of her home state. David stayed with my mother all night in the hospital waiting room, waiting for me to emerge from the operating room.

* * *

After a short stay in the ICU, I moved to the neuro floor and worked on recovery. I had the whole range of side effects. A severed 8th cranial nerve left me deaf in one ear and with impaired balance. I also had paralysis on one side of my face, wide-open dry eyes, serious nystagmus, difficulty with speech, difficulty thinking with words, difficulty reading, handwriting illegibility, difficulty walking, etc. Because of my balance adjustment, I sometimes felt like I was being dumped out of the bed and held onto the rails for dear life. Eventually I went to occupational therapy and learned to draw lines between pictures and words. I went to physical therapy and practiced walking halls with patterned floors, and then later, up and down stairs. And the nutritionist kept sending up cases of Sustacal, the most foul drink in the universe, despite the fact that I was eating just fine.

* * *

Eventually, I was given a pass to go out of the hospital: My family and friends helped me trod slowly through the snow (with a cane) to the garden show at the convention center next to the hospital. I still have the postcard I sent to my grandmother--scribbles that don't even seem to be words, with a translation filled in by my mother. It sounds like a 3-year-old composed it.

* * *

Soon, I was signing discharge papers. As I bent over to try to sign my name (a great difficulty), a drop of spinal fluid dripped from my nose onto the paper. My neurosurgeon slid the paper away from me, mumbled something about culturing it, and told me to take off my shoes and lie right back down. I spent the next few weeks getting spinal taps, a long-term tap that stayed in my back, and IV Vancomyecin for meningitis. Meanwhile my main neuro resident went bungee-jumping in Australia.

Eventually I was released with a small CSF leak that refused to heal outside the hospital. On April Fool's Day, my ENT told me I'd be coming back in for a second surgery to correct the leak. After this surgery, I had a more serious case of meningitis and more Vancomyecin. I eventually went home with a IV line in my arm, a refrigerator filled with IV antibiotics, and no remaining veins.

* * *

Before my doctors cleared me to leave town for a few days to visit my family, David and I drove down from Philadelphia to DC in his old clunker for the 1993 GLBT March, just for the day. His car was an old beater with a Fisher Price toy phone. He loved to joke that it was his car phone. I spent my birthday with hundreds of thousands of other protesters on the National Mall. It felt like a day of new wholeness and strength, for everyone there but especially for me.

I started learning American Sign Language soon after surgery, partly to help regain control of my right hand and partly to help me deal with my now-merely-decorative right ear. David began to learn Sign as well, taking classes at the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf.

* * *

Our relationship continued to grow as the months of recovery passed. When David went home for Rosh Hashanah that fall, I decided to knit him a sweater. Immediately after I attended morning services on campus, I went to my local yarn store, a below-street-level establishment around the corner from where Rosie's Yarn Cellar is today, and bought light Lopi yarn. Luckily, I did not buy straight needles (see story number 3) and was therefore able to complete the sweater in time to give it to him for Hanukkah. The Boyfriend Sweater Curse seems to have passed us by.

I eventually accepted a teaching job at Gallaudet University, a college for deaf students in Washington DC, where classes are all taught in Sign. My first book grew out of my dissertation on deafness in the 19th century South. My second book, co-written with a friend of mine and currently in press, is a biography of a deaf black man in early 20th-century North Carolina and relies on signed interviews. It could not have happened without the experiences I had due to tumor.

* * *

There are things that remind me of my surgery every day. The lack of a vestibular nerve still makes it hard to walk in the dark or on the snow and ice. I get frustrated in loud parties when I can't follow conversations. My handwriting is only barely legible. Sometimes the person cutting my hair will ask why I have a hole in my head. And I am totally amazed when two-eared people can tell from sound where they dropped a penny. Best of all, I have a funky talent of closing one eye when I pucker my lips (apparently my nerves regenerated in a less-than-typical way). I still drip (spinal fluid?) from my nose upon exertion or in hot weather, become nauseated, and get a headache. I keep a copy of an old Calvin and Hobbes cartoon strip in which Calvin sneezes and remarks "Cool, spinal fluid!"

Since my surgery, I've met many people who've had the same kind of tumor, some whose tumors were quite small and others more like mine. Seeing what kind of experiences they've had, I feel so lucky. Despite the fact that I had a very large tumor and a whole lot of immediate side effects, two years after surgery I was -- well, not at all my old self, but a new and whole human being living a new kind of life with new expectations, new limitations, and new goals.

My tumor and the surgery changed my life, in ways both difficult and very positive. In addition to deepening relationships and changing my academic interests, my experiences allowed me to understand much more about the experience of health and disability, about strength and love. Surgery took me in a new direction, one that I never expected and one that has been filled with surprises and delights. Life is not the same after something like this, but it can take you on an amazing new path.

And I've got the scar to prove it.
* * *

The winner of the drawing is Helen!

Thursday, February 15, 2007


Welcome to the February 15, 2007 edition of YARNIVAL. Today we have a Valentine's Day issue, chock full of blogs and posts for you to drool over.


Rebecca presents In My Classroom posted at Knitting Bandages for Lepers. Rebecca has a passion for teaching. You won't believe how important fiber becomes to one of her students in this incredible post.

Karen shows us how she is Building a Social Conscience over at Karen Shanley. Nothing is more powerful than sharing love. Here it happens in many ways.

Christy shares Family Knitting to the Tune of Green, posted at Neither Hip Nor Funky. The stitches and echoes from generations gone by are knit into our own lives.

The Rules

Sarah presents A Grand Unified Field Theory of Stash posted at Bella Knitting. In this hilarious post we learn what to do when Y(arn) does not equal DH.

Hillary gives some rules to the muggles in How to Receive a Hand Knit posted at Knitting4Shirley.


Chris presents A Dickens of a Christmas, posted at Spinneret. Midnight visitations help Scrooge learn to love his UFOs, his stash, and his craft. Be sure not to miss his gift to Tiny Tim!

Nigel starts a mystery novel, The Slip of the Stitch, posted at good-natured ribbing. In it, a hard-boiled detective gets a glimpse inside a woman's knitting bag and from her yarn gains insight into her personality.

Jackie hosts the Louet vs. Lendrum Smackdown over at Yarnish. Jane Austin and Charlotte Bronte go, um, head to head!

Perfecting Our Technique

First there was Kinsey. Then there was Doctor Ruth. Now, we have many sources for new tricks:

Kristi presents How to Use a Nostepinne posted at Fiber Fool. Sometimes a nostepinne is just a nostepinne. But what is a nostepinne? Learn how to make a center-pull ball without the crank in this excellent tutorial. Then, keep one in your luggage (or night stand?) for those times you just can't wait to go from skein to cast-on.

Trillian42 teaches us a new method of knitting Log Cabin style posted at Katydid Knits. Maximize your pleasure by learning this cool trick to avoid having to pick up all those stitches.

Carole tells us how to follow a cable chart the easy way in this post found on Carole Knits. Cross my heart: You will love this idea.

Abigaill presents The Thumb Trick posted at A Kitten Knits. This handy lesson shows us an easy way to keep the thumb on hold while we knit the rest of our mittens.

Crankygrrrrrl teaches us the k1p1 invisible bind-off, posted at crankygrrrrrl, a stretchy bind off especially useful for toe-up socks.

Mary gives us Issy Does Moscow... posted at Virgin Wool, a video demonstration of the Russian Join--a technique to avoid having to weave in all those ends after you finish a project.

Playing Around

Miss T presents How I Became a Knitter posted at Miss T's Mystery House of Yarn & Horrors, in which Miss T shows us that sometimes it is the element of risk which draws us in.

Rhonda asks, "Is there a camera looking into my house?" posted at Home of the StitchingNut. A voyeur seems to be looking in a lot of our living rooms, seeing not just how we spend our evenings but what part yarn plays in our decorating.

Micki Unravels the truth at a thing for string, testing exactly how much yarn knitting and crochet really takes. Does the conventional wisdom hold up?

The Fruits of Our Love

Check out Sue's love-ly finished project, the Urchin Shawl posted at Snail Spirals. She designed it, wrote the chart, knitted it (quite a feat in itself), and dyed it. This calls for celebrating!

Elspeth proves that diamonds are a girls best friend as she models her finished Irish Diamond Shawl posted at Wry Punster. Beautiful knitting, beautiful model, and beautiful photography.

Liz Knits presents My first sock! (or is it?) posted at liz knits. You never forget your first. Or maybe you do, if it doesn't really count.

Carole puts her latest FO to good use.

Kirsten presents Is it the book or the knitting? posted at Through The Loops! When you're taking pictures of your finished objects, you never know what may show up!

Knit Two Together

Lolly presents Living Happily posted at Lolly Knitting Around. Kris has us all cheering for him from the moment we see that high-school kiss. But just wait until you see how perfect his anniversary presents are!

Liz K. presents the beautiful Mr S.'s Arms posted at Crossroad Knits, saying, "We've all suffered through the sleeves. I decided to spent some time thinking about the sleeves final destination, my husband's arms."

That concludes this edition. Submit your blog article to the next edition of Yarnival, to be hosted by NotScarlett, using the carnival submission form. If you haven't read the earlier issues, check out the first first two issues hosted by Eve of Needle Exchange and the subsequent issues hosted on January One, Fricknits, and CaroleKnits.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Happy Valentine's Day!

In the Truth about Valentine's Day contest, the tally at this point is:

15 votes for story 1,
15 votes for story 2,
and 3 votes for story 3.

Only one story line is true, although there other two stories contain bits and pieces of truth taken out of their real contexts. You still have time to vote! I'll give you the true story on Friday and announce the winner of the drawing.

* * *

I finally bound off Kiri and will block it this weekend. Although I love the pattern and adore the look, I don't think I'll be knitting lace from Kidsilk Haze (seen here in the luscious Liqueur colorway) on Addi Turbos again soon--at least until my eyes and hands recover....

* * *

On Saturday evening, David and I both decided to cast on Zimmermann Baby Surprise Jackets (which can be found in both Knitting Workshop and The Opinionated Knitter (what a fantastic book!). I ordered from Schoolhouse Press and was tickled when Cully's wife took my order and told me she was knitting her first Baby Surprise right now too! After watching Meg Swanson's marvelous DVD, I just could not resist starting one with him. We've got strict rules so one of us won't get too far ahead of the other. We're having so much fun team knitting! And what a cool easy but mind-bending pattern this is. Thanks, EZ.

I am using Jamieson and Smith jumper weight while David knits a slightly larger jacket from worsted weight Paton's Classic Merino:

I promise PROMISE promise we are not expecting, especially not expecting twins! David is knitting his as a present for a friend's baby. Mine will either go into the "save it until needed" basket or be donated to a charity auction or a knitting project charity like Dulaan, Afghans for Afghans, or a local hospital's maternity ward. Do any of you have favorite charities that would appreciate a baby sweater? Today is a day to share the love.

* * *

Tonight: Champagne as we remember our previous Valentine's days and celebrate the current one. Enjoy your evening, everybody!

Monday, February 12, 2007

The Pit and the Pendulum: A Contest

One of these stories is true:

1. How we met...

Fifteen years ago when I was in graduate school in history, I found myself in the emergency room a couple of days before Valentine's Day with abdominal pain. A young man in a short white coat walked into my examining room. I lamented, "Another in the long chain of medical students and residents who have come to learn from my case of simple appendicitis...." Because I was learning to be a teacher and because I have a very high pain threshold, I must have seemed to be a good patient to introduce to students: someone willing to answer their questions again and again. The fact that the teaching docs knew I was getting free medical care because it was my university's hospital must have made their decision even easier.

This young man was different, though. His eyes were mesmerizing and calming at the same time. (They still are.) David was charged with giving me a mental status exam and gave me three random words to remember. He was supposed to ask me to repeat those words after five minutes, but we got so carried away in conversation that he never asked me to say them back. (I still remember the three words to this day: Spruce Street, baseball, Palladium.) Eventually, he ran out of the room, hastily explaining he needed to give his findings to his attending.

David returned a few minutes later and we continued our conversation. Hours seemed to pass. He sat down and seemed to have all the time in the world to comfort me and keep me company. We shared our intellectual interests, our favorite authors, our family backgrounds, the importance of our brothers in our lives. We talked about our dreams, our politics, justice, social activism, God-and-no-God, etc.

It turns out David did not have to be there at all. I was supposed to be his last quick interview. He was finally able to leave the hospital after his long stint on call. But he didn't. He stayed with me, a total stranger alone in a hospital room facing surgery the next day.

He stopped by to see me after my surgery. The next morning when I was well enough to go home, he offered to drive me the half-mile down the road to my apartment. "Do I really know him well enough to get in his car?" I thought to myself. His car was an old beater with a Fisher Price toy phone that he joked was his car phone.

I felt like I was glowing the whole rode home. Of course, the answer to my question was yes--I knew him well enough, I knew him deep down, and better than people I had known all my life.

And I've got the scar to prove it.

2. Meeting the 'Rents...

Fourteen years ago when David and I were preparing for our first "real" dating Valentine's Day, his parents announced the week before that they would be passing through town on the 14th and would like to have lunch. They suggested that David bring me to meet them for the first time. I was excited but nervous. Were we really serious enough for a meet-the-parents session, on Valentine's Day no less?

A couple of days before they arrived, I went to Student Health with what I thought was a sinus infection. They sent me directly to the neurologist, who sent me directly to get an MRI. While I was in the machine, the doc headed out to grab a bite. When I returned from the scan, I found Dr. Pleasure (his real name) holding the film in one hand and a slice of pizza in the other. "Thank goodness," he said. "I thought you had MS. It's only a brain tumor."

I was immediately admitted to the hospital and my mother flew up on the 14th to be with me in time for my surgery. Instead of me meeting David's parents that Valentine's Day, he met mine. While I was in the operating room, the two of them and many of my grad school friends danced the evening away in the hospital waiting room. David stayed all night to look after my mother. I loved him even more after that.

And I've got the scar to prove it.

3. Never Knit Your Man a Sweater...

Thirteen years ago on our third Valentine's Day, David and I were pretty sure we were in it for the long haul. While he was on an away rotation (studying medicine at a hospital in a very different kind of community), I decided to knit him a sweater. At the time I did not know the proscription against knitting your sweetie a sweater before you were really committed--but I suspect it would not have fazed me in any way had I known. Just a silly old wives' tale--and while I was ready to commit, I wasn't so sure I wanted wanted to be a real wife, with all the baggage that legal marriage carries.

Although I had knit as a child and as a teenager and as a college student, I had not knit during grad school. Looking back, I am amazed. There is no more perfect time to knit than graduate school.

Due to a disturbance with my hearing/vestibular nerve, I have lousy balance and fall fairly frequently. This is related to my hearing issues, too. At the time, my balance issues were significant enough that I often used a cane to help me stabilize. Nevertheless, I headed out into the February snow to the precursor of Rosie's Yarn Cellar, climbed down the stairs from the street, picked out some light Lopi in a couple of neutral colors, and sketched out a basic sweater pattern with the owners. I picked up a couple of pairs of straights and threw them in the bag. After paying, I climbed back to the street.

Except I slipped on the icy stairs.

I tried to catch myself but missed the rail and fell hard onto the side of my bag. One of the knitting needles plunged into my soft belly and pierced the skin rather deeply. I caught a cab home and was fine after cleaning myself up, bandaging the wound, taking some serious pain relievers, and having a long sleep.

The idea of knitting a sweater had lost all its charm. Don't knit your boyfriend a sweater, indeed.

I put the yarn in the top of my closet--creating my first real stash. The sweater didn't get knit until the next Valentine's day, but from then on, I was hooked. David and I have been knitted together ever since.

And I've got the scar to prove it.

* * *

So which is it? Send in your guesses. I will draw a name at random and send the winner a pair of used authentic scrubs (as well as a little something special that is more appealing).

The correct answer and the winner of the drawing will be announced on the morning of Feb. 16.

* * *

Happy Valentine's Day, David! I love you now even more than I did then.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Shabbat Shalom

This has been kind of a hard week. Because I often worry that I complain too often about the difficult health situations of my father, the petty arguments with my spouse, the (mostly just implied?) struggles I sometimes have with parenting, and the (maybe just implied?) bouts with depression I have too often, I just did not want to sit down to a blog post and open a vein. Hence the last post.

Well, things change and I find myself on the night of Shabbat, violating every Jewish proscription and turning on the computer to write a post.

On Friday nights, my family sits down to a nice Sabbath dinner, candles, a bottle of wine, and an evening of ritual and reflection. We light candles and say a blessing over the light. We drink red wine (sometimes too heavily) while we ruminate on the magical combination of what human hands can add to the simple fruits of the vine. We eat challah and contemplate what Son and I together have made from the raw materials of flour, yeast and water earlier in the day. What an act of transformation! What promises of human potential! I love the fact that the Friday night home service is all about appreciation of not only what we are given but what we do with those gifts.

Our family has added the tradition of picking angels. After rabbis introduced David and me (separately) to this New-Agey thing of these little commercial cards with assorted traits and cute pictures on them, we bought our own set and have, over the last fifteen years, taken more and changing meanings from this practice (and I do not do New-Agey things in general). The set of cards say things like "Communication," "Strength," "Grace" and "Understanding." After we each draw one each week, we talk about what that characteristic means to us. Sometimes we talk about how that particular angel must have been with us this past week. Sometimes we talk about how we need that angel to look after us in the coming week. While none of the three of us have any belief that we are talking about anything real, it gives us a way to talk about what it going on in our lives in a way we often avoid or feel shy about.

(Now that I am flipping through them, I am marveling that in fifteen years, neither David nor I have drawn "Brotherhood" despite the fact that both of us have younger brothers who played a big part in our initial bond. Story to follow sometime soon.)

In my pissy mood this evening, I stole the match out of David's hand after he lit one of the candles. Traditionally, women have lit two candles, or occasionally enough candles to represent all members of their family, as Shabbat started. Our personal family tradition is to alternate on a wing-it sort of schedule--recognizing that the peace of lighting the candles sometimes is a peace that the other needs even if it is not his or her turn. Tonight, we both needed it and each lit one candle.

We drew angel cards. I rolled my eyes internally as I played this stupid game--although I was unclear whether the stupid game was the angel cards or the whole Shabbat thing.

At the same time, I begged the powers that be not to give me some irritating didactic angel like Patience, or Obedience. I thought, "Yeah, I know--I deserve an angel rebuke. At least give me Love or something that will remind me why I should be be patient."

I drew my card.



The angels are with me.

David drew Light.

Son drew Creativity.

THIS is the Shabbat we need.

So I am off to play, to create the personal world of light, Or so advises one of my favorite teachers, Rabbi Michael Strassfeld:

Shabbat is a time for simplicity, but not asceticism.... The physical world is not denied; rather, it is to be savored. We are to enjoy good food and wine. The tradition encourages couples to have sex on Friday night. Yet Shabbat discourages the acquiring of material things. We turn inward on Shabbat. Accordingly, some people don’t answer the phone or read their mail or e-mail, just so the world intrudes less on their lives. If we try, we can cultivate the neshamah yeteirah, that extra measure of soulfulness, which is at the heart of the Shabbat experience.

Funny.... It is this soulfulness that is part of the spiritual world and part of the material that draws me to knitting, too....

And with this thought, I am off to PLAY for the rest of Shabbat.

That is, when I am not doing my onerous biblical duties as a member of a couple....

Gone Knitting...

Will return on Monday.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Thrift Store Finds

1. $ .99
A little silk pencil-sized case that I'll use for knitting notions:

2. $1.49
A leather notions case for David's knitting bag:

3. $1.99
A handmade child's crochet dress that needed someone to love it:

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Socks to Save Us

I don't know what I would do without socks on my needles. Unfortunately, I'm afraid I turn to them less and less. A lace shawl (or a small colorwork project) turns my eye and I try to do it in the car, at my knitting group, while reading blogs, while watching a fascinating DVD, or while I spend time with my family.

These are incompatible despite my best efforts. When my child or my partner asks for my attention while I have a shawl in my hands, I just get frustrated with them both--ruining the lace and the relationship at the same moment. They both can take hours to repair.

Socks are the answer. Plain old stockinette socks.

David needs socks too. He has recently finished one of his 6x2 ribbed socks down to the kitchenering and the other, in his knitting bag, is past the heel:

Have you answered the Pointy Sticks call for sock stories yet?

Monday, February 05, 2007

Stranded Increases

I've given up on making pretty Make 1 increases in Fair Isle and gone instead for this system:

First, I knit into the stitch and wrap the color that follows first in the pattern.

Then, before I draw the yarn through, I wrap the color that follows second in the pattern.

I then pull both through. Voila! An increase, following the pattern.

Occasionally, one comes across two stitches of the same color during the increase portion. I've been struggling through the much slower (at least for me) and much messier (again, at least for me) M1 increases here. Anybody know another way?

Cross-posted to Fair Isle February

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Harry Potter: The Book, The Knitting

The final Harry Potter book is now up for sale and will be out in late July. David and I bought the first Harry Potter on my first outing after the birth of our son. We've been reading them aloud to each other before bed. When Son turned six, he read the first book in the series. He read the second when he turned seven. Needless to say, Son can't wait until his eighth birthday, just so he can read the third book.

How have the rest of you dealt with your youngsters reading the later books in the series? Son has definitely grown up a lot in the last two years and could probably deal with many of the more frightening scenes--but he is fundamentally a very sensitive child with an extremely active imagination that sometimes takes him further than he wants to be.

Just in time for the release of HP7, Alison Hansel (of Blue Blog fame) is coming out with Charmed Knits: Projects for Fans of Harry Potter! I can't wait to see this book!

Friday, February 02, 2007


I've really been enjoying Eunny Jang's Endpaper Mitts

Following the votes of most of you, I started with the brown and rose. (For those of you who preferred the brown and blue, have no fear. I think they may be up next in the hopper.)

I especially enjoyed learning the Italian tubular cast-on. Eunny suggests it and links to this wonderful tutorial. Although at first I had trouble learning the technique and counting the stitches at the same time, once I got used to it, the cast-on felt like swimming, or dancing. As a relatively ambidextrous person, I love anything that really allows both hands to get in on the action. The rhythmic back and forth is quite soothing.

If you try this cast-on, don't forget to pull out the extra yarn (as described in the tutorial) in order to get the most aesthetically pleasing and elastic edge.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

The History of Fair Isle Knitting, Part 1

Two color knitting is almost as old as knitting itself. The initial method was accomplished when "a single needle with an eye takes a loop around the crossing of the loop in the previous row," according to one historian of knitting. By the 12th century, the roots of stranded knitting became common first in the Arab world and then eventually across Europe. Knitting probably reached Fair Isle by around the year 1500.

Fair Isle is a tiny island (not even six square miles) in the Shetland Islands, halfway between Scotland and Norway. (Interestingly, the Faroes, also known for beautiful colorwork sweaters, is halfway between the Shetland and Iceland.) More than 5000 years ago, early pioneers from what is now Scotland started settling in the area, soon bringing with them cattle and sheep. Immigration from the south continued during the Celtic period. Norse settlers further populated the island in the 8th and 9th centuries. By the 14th century, the islands were more firmly connected to Scotland and in 1469 fell under the rule of the Scottish Crown.

To find out more about the history of Fair Isle knitting, I turned to the old but wonderful Michael Pearson's Traditional knitting: Aran, Fair Isle, and Fisher Ganseys. As Pearson traces the history of knitting in Shetland, he shows how early two-color knitting was replaced by hand-knit socks as well as gloves, knitted underwear, and caps made for sale. The cottage industry of hose knitters was gradually replaced by a system of frame knitting. Hand-knitters turned to producing beautiful lace shawls during the early 19th century. As the lace knitting became mechanized as well, two color knitting reemerged, this time not only on Fair Isle but throughout the Shetlands. At that point, bright dyes were made from local lichens, leaves, and grasses as well as imported dyes such as madder and indigo. In addition, more muted color variation was gained from the natural fleeces of the indigenous sheep varieties of the area.

Although sales of Fair Isle knitting had been backing off for a time, the Prince of Wales wore a Fair Isle V-necked pullover publicly in the 1920s in order to give it a boost. Princess Mary also wore Fair Isle garments. Soon Fair Isle pullovers and cardigans (apparently not often knit before the turn of the century) were all the rage. And the Shetland Mania was not to end. After World War II, many soldiers took home Fair Isle style scarves, tams, mittens, and sweaters.

As more and more of the world became fascinated with this kind of knitting, the knitters in Shetland increasingly turned to high fashion rather than tradition, melding new colors and non-traditional patterns in their efforts to sell their wares and support their lives.

Now, the term "Fair Isle" often refers only to a style of stranded colorwork knitting rather than the particular patterns, colors, and even breeds of sheep that made up the beginnings of this lovely tradition. In the second part of this investigation, I'll be looking into some of these historic standards.

Cross-posted to Fair Isle February


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