Friday, June 30, 2006

Philadelphia Story, Day 3

On our last morning in Philadelphia, Son and I walked down to the old section of the city where one finds Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, and Betsy Ross's house as well as many historic churches and meeting houses.

During the summer, the city puts on Once Upon a Nation, a celebration of the city's history. We spent a lot of time here last year chatting with costumed interpreters. (After meeting Ben Franklin last year, Son insisted on dressing as Franklin for Halloween.) This year we just had a few hours. For more on our adventures there, you can soon see Son's account.

As we explored Harmony Lane, Son excitedly pointed to a woman sitting on a bench with her spinning wheel. (I swear, we can find fiber stuff wherever we go.) She was chatting with a printer and a young man teaching colonial-era games. We chatted with her for a while and learned that she also spins publically at the interprative center and also at Betsy Ross's house. Although they are not displayed except when she is there, three wheels belong to the Independence folks.

Son pulled out his homespun to show her. She seemed quite pleased and shook his hand. At a nearby gift store, people can buy a beginning spinning kit (spindles packaged with small amounts of fiber). She teaches folks how to use the spindles and especially loves showing the youngsters who come by how to spin. Ah, a noble enabler!

After a morning exploring and listening to stories on the storytelling benches, Son and I stopped by Reading Terminal Market on our walk back to our hotel. We bought pretzels from one of the Pennsylvania Dutch booths. As we ate ours dipped in spicy sweet mustard, we watched the young Amish women knead the dough and twist it.

Then we met David at the hotel and headed home, just in time to babysit one of Son's young friends while his parents celebrated their anniversary.

The four of us went out for Pho (Vietnamese noodle soup) at a local restaurant. Both David and I felt VERY strange with two children and kept hoping people did not think they were both ours. Being the parent of an only child seems to be an integral part of our identities now....

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Philadelphia Story, Day 2

Yesterday we went to the Franklin Institute, Philadelphia's fantastic science museum. Son talks more about our visit on his blog The Little Giant. But I thought I would show you this vaguely fiber-related thing:

A sheep heart ready for dissection!

In the mid-afternoon we left the museum for a jaunt around town and a stop at an incredible (but expensive) gelato shop. I got honeysuckle gelato and consequently spent the afternoon dreaming of my childhood. On summer evenings, my friends and I used to jump on a neighbor's backyard trampoline and suck honeysuckle from the bushes that surrounded it. As we jumped we bathed in the scent.

After we finished our snack, Son and I walked down 20th to South Street where we found Loop. Wow. Gorgeous store having a huge sale. What more can I say? (I walked out with 3 skeins of Euroflax--45% off.)

As I walked around the store oggling this and that, the women working in the store asked Son if he knew how to knit. He said he did and pulled out the scarf he is knitting from his own handspun. They invited him to sit on the couches with them and another customer. As I walked around the store, they all chatted about knitting and spinning for a while. Son showed them his homemade needles. Then one of the women noticed that he has no front teeth and asked him about the experience of losing them. He kept them entertained with long tales of the Tooth Knight. The women treated him like he belonged in the store. He loves being taken seriously by adults. So the store gets two thumbs up: one for its terrific selection of beautiful yarns nicely displayed and one for amazing customer service (good conversation on top of babysitting!)

The women at Loop recommended a local children's bookstore and we stopped by on our walk to the hotel. Heaven! Even though we are drowning in not-yet-read books from our own shelves as well as having more than 50 books out of the library right now, I felt the titles calling to me. The idea of supporting an independent bookstore of that quality made me feel better about my book lust. We came away with a book I have never seen before: a collection of tales about the Green Man.

We went half a block out of our way to stop at Rosie's Yarn Cellar. Although the store has a great selection, everything is tightly packed in and a little harder to appreciate. The woman working there was trying to unpack some boxes and was preoccupied. She looked a bit annoyed that a 7yo was in her shop. Right as we were about to leave, Son pointed out a sample scarf and said, "Well, that looks like it is in garter but the lines go the wrong way. Is it knit LENGTHWISE?!" The woman eyed him, raised her eyebrows--and then went back to her boxes.

Although today's visit was not the highlight of my trip, I have fond feelings for Rosie's. I think this is the store where I bought the yarn for the sweater I gave David when we were dating. (Oops--didn't know then that you aren't supposed to knit sweaters for lovers until you are married. All turned out fine, though.)

After a brief nap at the hotel, Son and I stopped by David's medical meeting reception. I had a glass of wine, David drank a gin and tonic, and Son was offered a madras sans vodka with a cherry. The bartender called him "Sir" and all of David's colleagues treated the 7yo like quite the adult. Son alternated between chatting about the workings of the human heart (the science of which he learned at the Franklin Institute) and doing a jig in front of the windows.

We then walked down Locust Street to one of our old favorites: More than Just Ice Cream. David and I remembered eating enormous slabs of apple pie back when we were dating. Last night, though, we stuck with gazpacho and salad. Next time we have to come hungrier....

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Philadelphia Story, Day 1

David has a short conference in Philadelphia this week. Son and I drove up with him yesterday to spend some time in this favorite city of mine. Our already-short visit was further shortened by a late arrival. Because of an accident on I-95, we spent a couple of extra hours in the car, starving and needing to go to the bathroom too, before we actually pulled into the city in the afternoon.

When we finally arrived in Philadephia, we went straight to 4th Street Deli. David and I used to bring his parents here every time they came to visit us back when we lived in West Philadelphia. Son ordered matzah ball soup--and although there was only one matzah ball in the bowl, it was as big as the 7yo's head.

When we walked out of the restaurant, we noticed Sophie's Yarns across the street! After adding some change to the parking meter, we wandered around the neighborhood looking at all the shops on fabric row and buying some loose tea at a gorgeous tea shop. Then: the official start of the Philadelphia Yarn Crawl.

Although Sophie's does not have an enormous selection, what they have is really lovely. Even the displays are yummy. I loved seeing all the Manos stuff and would love to be able to spin singles that look as beautiful as their yarns. I did see some yarn that looked remarkable like my first yarn.

The Village Knittiot suggested to me that if we were in the neighborhood of Sophie's Yarns, I should check out the Essene Market, a gorgeous natural foods store. I thought about taking some pictures to pass around at the next co-op board meeting.

After poking around that area, we went through the Italian Market. In addition to olive stores and cheese stores and bakeries and a huge outdoor market in front of stores with ducks and pigs and the like hanging in their windows, the Italian Market has my favorite cookware shop, Fante's. The neighborhood also has a enormous Vietnamese community and a bunch of new WASPy stores and residents.

We hopped in the car and drove across Center City to Chinatown. I'm always amazed at how vibrant the community is compared to DC's Chinatown. We stopped by our old favorite Chinese pastry shop for red bean buns. Alas, sigh.... The shelves were almost empty and there were no more red bean buns. As we were contemplating whether to get pineapple custard buns or peanut butter buns instead of our old favorites, the woman at the counter offered to call for some red bean. I thought she was calling the folks in the back--but then a woman ran around the corner from their other store to bring some to us! Wow. They are this morning's breakfast. Yummy.

It feels so right to be back here. Wish we had more time than we will have this visit!

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Wet Weekend

Over the weekend we went to a young friend's birthday party. The plan was for guests to pitch tents in her family's big yard and camp in honor of Great American Backyard Campout. Although rain had been predicted for more than 24 hours before the party started, the sun prevailed all afternoon and we enjoyed every minute in their yard.

Although most of the guests decided not to camp, those of us who planned to stay began to set up around 7pm. We snapped together metal rods, fed them through tent flaps, and drove tent stakes into the ground. We took a bit of a break to coat ourselves again in mosquito repellant, then went back to work spreading blankets over the tarp and pulling our favorite pillows out of the car. The second I emerged from our perfectly outfitted tent, the skies opened and the lightening began.

We grabbed our pillows and slept on our hosts' couch.

All the adults spent the evening drinking Jamaican beer and talking about everything from politics to parenting to local restaurants. We started again in the morning with bloody marys, scrambled egg burritos, and more talk. The kids had a great time running around, planning elaborate circus-like shows that only vaguely materialized, and getting very wet. A terrific weekend!

David and I both got some knitting done at the birthday party. He's working on his socks and I on the same thing that everyone else seems to be knitting these days: Icarus.


Today my father started both radiation and chemo. I knit.

Friday, June 23, 2006

WHAT COMES NEXT: A Story in Lace

Here we are
at the place we thought was so close
to the end of our journeys, the end of the rows.
How much was left we did not understand.

The race began
with your cancer diagnosis, a deadly brand.
The tumor radiated, sounding a rhythm
like a stitch pattern: T3, N1, M0.

In just days
you left for the hospital with a suitcase
full of books you would not read but needed
to remind you who you were before

your head was opened

and you lost
your ability to read, to wear your contacts, to walk
without assistance, to speak clearly, to raise
an eyebrow, to smile with your whole face.

They took you off
the operating table in the evening. I left
the kitchen table where I knit at a frantic pace
every moment you were there.

I cast on
the slippery business of nine stitches
divided between three needles,
then multiplied by two again and again,

counting to twelve
and slipping red rubber markers from one needle
to the next, held by the rhythm of the lace
as the long hours of surgery passed.

I kept knitting
the patterned holes and their paired mendings,
YOs and K2TOGs, radiating outwards
in a pattern of diamonds, all those rows of almost

Six hundred loops.
I am at the end of my own spiral,
at the precipice of this enormous circle,
struggling to learn how to change direction

from what has become
the almost mindless rounds of pattern
to the altogether new: the back and forth
of unlikely stitches following an invisible cast on.

You too cast out
an unimaginable cord that will have to start your new life.
You start the back and forth of trips to a new place:
the radiology center. The doctor marks

the spot on your face,
showing the beam where to enter, where to burn.
It will destroy the fibers of your tissue. It will exhaust you.
The doctor counts out a summer full of dates.

With waste yarn
I try again and again to make the start
which will appear seamless when all is complete. I cry
in frustration at this lace and its promise to sustain me.

When I started
this knitted shawl, that lace edging looked small,
just something to savor and celebrate
when everything complicated had past.

Now as I rip
out rows of varying lengths, with doubled holes
meant to be dealt with by means I cannot trace,
I realize how far this whole thing is from complete.

We no longer know what comes next
and look for grace.

Other lace posts:
1, 2, 3, 4

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Celtic Festival: The Music

We had a wonderful time at the Potomac Celtic Festival this past weekend. There was a lot of terrific music--even some by performers other than Son!

One of our long-time favorite bands in Tinsmith. In addition to hearing them at the festival as often as we can, we listen to their album almost every day and Son dances around the living room in his little girl's school uniform kilt. Tinsmith was as good as ever! We went to hear them twice on Saturday.

One of our new musical discoveries this year was Le Vent du Nord. They are a roots music band from Quebec. In addition to enjoying the great Celtic/Cajun music they played, we loved their onstage personae. They filled us all with energy.

There was dancing in the aisles.

One player, the fiddler, kept up a great rhythm with his feet. While sitting and playing his fiddle, he also tapped on a wooden plank hooked up to a microphone. Another member of the band was the sexiest hurdy-gurdy player I've ever seen. (He does not have a lot of competition--but even if he did, he'd win.) The other two members of Le Vent du Nord are a guitar player, shy compared to the others but a fabulous musician, and an accordian player/step dancer. They were amazing!

There was more dancing.

When the accordian player pulled out a set of sticks or bones to click in his hands, Rowan from Tinsmith pulled out his own set. Le Vent du Nord invited him up with his sticks and they performed together. What a dream come true for those of us who are fans of both.

If you look at the front page of the Celtic Festival website, you'll see a picture of Son in his kilt with chainmail, a helmet, and a sword in the upper right corner of the montage.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Celtic Festival: The Crafts

One of my favorite parts of the Potomac Celtic Festival was the spindle workshop. Several great teachers were there, passing out spindles and pencil roving and teaching those of us in the audience how to park and draft. It was a great session and we got to take not only our yarn but the spindles home with us!

There were also an amazing number of talented artisans displaying their wares.

I bought a couple of shawl pins hand crafted by The Crafty Celts of South Carolina:

In addition to modern crafters and purveyers, there were historical exhibits about early Celtic fiber arts. I was especially intrigued with information about natural dyeing.

Here is one of the young interpreters grinding dyestuffs to make dyes. There were examples of dying with things such as madder with alum mordant--one of my next big projects.

Another historical interpreter shows off a woven belt:

There were also historical intepreters from a later period demonstrating the use of the great wheel:

The president of this year's festival is none other than knitting blogger Crazy Lanea!

Monday, June 19, 2006

Spinning Shetland

I started spinning the shetland wool that came in a little baggie in the sampler pack I bought at Maryland Sheep and Wool. It told me to spin it thin. As of yet, I seem to have no control over such matters and just leave it up to the fiber to decide. I love the slightly-tanned-gray color of the wool. Might there be enough of it for the Trellis scarf in the last Interweave Knits? We'll see....

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Fiber Buffet

Two weekends ago we went to the Celebration of Textiles at the Textile Museum. We had a fabulous time exploring crafts unfamiliar to us, learning more about old favorites, and trying out some of the hands-on activities. Most of the exhibits were by particular groups: guilds, schools, shops, etc.

One of the most interesting exhibits there was the exhibit of braille looms. Braille uses a 6-dot cell to create letters. For weaving, each particular dot stands for one texture (or color). The yarns are manipulated on a loom with 6 harnesses. (Is "harnesses" the right word for this in the weaving world? "Shafts," maybe?) Depending on what the placement of the different textured yarns tells you, you can translate a line of weaving to a particular letter. The demonstrators were spelling out people's names. The combination of linguistics and art is quite clever in this weaving. It made me think of poems written in the shape of something related to the poem, or about ASL "ABC" stories that play off the handshapes of fingerspelling.

At the next table, a guild was demonstrating various kinds of fine embroidery. I loved the blackwork examples. One woman was embroidering a small circular picture of a garden worked all in absolutely miniscule french knots. Incredible. The embroiders were teaching novices to make the stitches on a large piece of gingham stretched on what I guess is a quilting frame. Kids were lining up to try it out as older visitors received cross stitch lessons from other guild members.

We watched a rug maker doing restoration work on an old rug. He talked about the meticulous work that goes into different kinds of carpets. Fascinating to see him work. All I could think was that if he could do that, I can learn to darn socks....

Son tried his hand at weaving on a beautiful old-fashioned tape loom. Several different kinds of looms were on display at the weaving booth and we were intrigued by them. Son seemed confident in his weaving. At first I did not think much about his ability. But then I watched the next child and struggle with how to get a woven pattern as opposed to loops and snarls going every which way. Son defintely could see how the choices he made with his hands would create the woven tape.

I'm afraid this trip may have inspired yet another fibercraft habit. A small loom may be in our future. Perhaps an inkle loom? 0r a rigid heddle? I like the idea of weaving Son a tallis for his bar mitzvah--which is in 6 years....

I loved watching a groups of three knitters work on a "knitting bee" shawl. Wish I had a picture. Very cool. I think we may make that a family project sometime soon!

Last but not least, we watched the sheep in the garden get new spring hairdos. There were so many people crowded around the shearers that I stood back and watched an adorable little girl alternately shriek and giggle each time the sheep bahhhed at her. Too cute!

Friday, June 16, 2006

Life of Pi

At an academic conference this week, I finished Pi except for the edging. Several people came up to me, nodded at my knitting, and said, "THAT is what I forgot to bring to the meeting...."

My panel was about the history of race and disability. Since I neither threw up nor passed out, I would say my presentation went well. The other speakers on the panel gave fascinating papers. Although they were all quite different, the papers fit together really well and the conversation with the audience afterwards was fabulous.

But now I am home and all is falling apart.

The dishes piled up in the sink while I finished writing my paper, tried to finish the last chapter of the book, and started cooking all the beautiful produce in our CSA box. David worked cleaning the kitchen for almost twenty minutes last night and I did the same this morning. Yikes. The scariest thing is that the refrigerator is calling to us to cook all those time-consuming-to-clean-and-trim greens and beans, etc. And after they are cooked and eaten, we'll need to wash those dishes. And after everything is clean, we'll pull out yet more produce and cook that.... All while David and I both have not only a lot of non-household work to do but a child we love raising. And knitting to do.

And KNITTING is where the biggest problem is, rather than being my source of sanity. I've tried to start the lace edging of Pi about six times and keep giving up and frogging it. Am I going to have to bail on the lace edging and go with the plain garter stitch border? Am I going to search through Barbara Walker to find a pattern I can do? Knitting into double yarn overs is not easy on my slippery needles nor on my grippy-but-not-pointy bamboo needles. And apparently, I cannot count.

Does anyone have any advice, either about HOW to do what EZ calls for or WHAT to do if I don't do what EZ calls for?

At least David understands. He just had to frog about 4 inches of his sweater....

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Knitting in Public

On Saturday afternoon, my partner, 7yo son, and I took our knitting to downtown Silver Spring for a little KIPing. Son made a sign reading "KNITTERS AHOY!" and invited people to join us. We sat in the glorious cool-but-sunny day.

Son worked on a scarf that he is making with the yarn he spun himself. David worked on the sweater he is making for Son. He is using a gorgeous blue bulky yarn. I am envious: by the time I have knitted one round of the Pi Shawl, David has knit a few more inches on the sweater. (When I get through with my lace kick, I think a bulky sweater will be on the agenda just for recovery.)

One woman commented that we looked like a very "close-knit" family. We chatted for a while and she told us that many years ago, she used to spin and weave. She asked if we met at that spot regularly. We told her about local knitting groups on other days--but I certainly like the idea of a regular weekend knitting group that meets when possible outside. Anybody interested?

Another woman glanced at my Pi and said the pattern is one she knit as a dress for her younger brother's bar mitzvah--and he is now almost 60. She looked wistful and said she had not knitted in years.

So, although we did not convert any new knitters, we may have brought two people back to the fold.

Monday, June 12, 2006

The Ravenous Raven: Joining a CSA

Finally, the harvest is arriving! The chard and the lettuce in our backyard is producing well, the herb garden seems to be taking over, and the tomatoes and cucumbers have finally really taken off.

And last week we picked up our first CSA crate of the summer off the farmer's front porch. We always look forward to cooking up new menus that take advantage of the bounty we had received. Although our crate supplies much of our produce, we still shop at our local food co-op and the two local farmers markets for staples and for things to round out our meals.

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a simple way both to support local farmers and provide your family with healthy, fresh, locally grown vegetables. In a CSA, individuals purchase a share of a farm’s coming crop. To become a shareholder, one pays up front for the entire season. In our area, the cost of a CSA share ranges from about $20 to $40 for each week of the harvest. CSA members receive a share of each week’s crop. Share size varies from farm to farm, usually providing enough vegetables each week for at least two adults.

Through a CSA, community members and farmers enter into a partnership. Pre-paid shares provide the farmer with the working capital needed to get the season started at a time when revenue might otherwise be slim. CSA members share the risks and rewards of the season with the farmer. Cool spring nights may lead to a bumper crop of strawberries and a slow start for the corn.

By working directly with the farmer, CSA members improve the sustainability of local farming both economically and environmentally. Most CSA farms practice sustainable non-corporate farming styles such as organic, "ecoganic," and biodynamic farming. By eating foods produced locally, CSA members further promote sustainability by cutting down on the distance their food needs to be transported.

CSAs build community as they encourage us to develop a relationship with the people who grow our food. Many CSAs hold pot-luck suppers, produce newsletters, and encourage members to visit the farm.

You can learn more about local CSAs at Local Harvest and Future Harvest.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Extreme Coincidence

My father, now home from the hospital, called up and sounds terrific. We compared notes on the facial nerve deficits we each have due to our surgeries. Then he told me what PBS documentaries he has been watching during his recovery.

After a few minutes, he changed the topic and asked how my book is going. When Dad started talking academic history, I knew he was back to his old self. After we chatted about my project, there was a pause in the conversation.

“Hey, you know what I just bought with my book advance? A spinning wheel!” said I.

“Wow! That sounds like something you will love. I’ve only met one other American--or basically American--spinner. When I was collecting folk music in Scotland, one of the women who performed for me introduced me to another American folklorist. He was quite famous in the field, but left it eventually.

“Anyway, he was wearing a beautiful fair isle sweater. Your mother, knitting at that moment herself, realized it was handmade and asked him if his wife had knitted it for him. He looked a little embarrassed and said no, he had knitted it himself and that his mother taught him how when he was a young boy.

“The woman who introduced us interrupted and said, ‘Aye, what he’ll not tell ye is that he not only knit it but he sheared the sheep and spun it up! He's a weaver, too!’" My father paused for a moment. "Goodness, what was that man’s name? Ah, yes—Norman Kennedy.”

I spluttered, “Norman Kennedy? THE Norman Kennedy, the textile guy from Williamsburg?! the master teacher?!”

My father sounded pleased: “You’ve heard of him?”

I was flabbergasted. “I can’t believe you brought him up right now. I started knitting a shawl during your surgery. The shawl is modeled in the pattern book by Norman Kennedy’s mother, the one who taught him to knit!”

What an incredible coincidence, more for it to have come up so randomly in conversation than the fact that he knew the model’s son.

This shawl has been about love and connection since the moment I cast on. Clearly, this particular project was meant to be, and the fates are reminding me of that again and again.

Other lace posts:
1, 2, 3, 4

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Taking it for a Spin

I spun up the blue-green stuff that R. gave me last week. What a joy to spin! The yarn will make a lovely scarf--maybe in something like seed stitch if there is enough yarn and if not, perhaps in mesh stitch?

Tuesday, June 06, 2006


Thank you for the kind comments you left about my father's illness. He is recovering at home and doing very well. More details soon.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Knitting Lace

I hang up the phone. My father has just told me he has cancer.

The biopsy shows that his large tumor is malignant and has spread to the nearby lymph nodes. He is scheduled for surgery and is now packing his bag for the hospital.

As in all crises, I wind yarn into a ball and plan to cast on.

I choose a circular lace shawl, Elizabeth Zimmermann’s Pi Shawl as presented in Nancy Thomas’s Shawls and Scarves. Knit in the round, it grows based on the mathematical truth that as the radius doubles, the circumference also doubles. My professor father would approve of this kind of cross-disciplinary play with ideas.

This knitting needs to be something that will require all my concentration, that will not let my mind go to the places where it wants to go. This needs to be a project that cannot be finished quickly. I need it to last me through what is to come. Superstitiously, as I think of Penelope’s task, I try to hold off what increasingly seems inevitable.

I've never knit real lace before, but I know that my great-grandmother made beautiful lace. I was named for her and have always felt close to her despite the fact that she died many years before I was born. Thinking of her crocheted lace placemats on my parents’ dining-room table brings back Thanksgivings full of cousins, my grandmothers, and the spirits of relatives long gone who remained alive through the stories told over the meal. My great-grandmother’s placemats laced us to her across time. May she watch over us now.

* * *

At first, I planned to knit the shawl in charcoal grey yarn. Gray is my father's favorite color. He loves dark neutrals, preferring peaceful subtlety to anything that calls attention to itself. I inherited his attachment to all that is quiet, all that is plain or homemade, beauty that is both direct and real. That is one of our deepest connections.

As I fingered the dark wool, I imagined myself in a black dress and stockings, wrapped in the deep warm shawl and throwing autumn leaves onto his coffin.

I realized that, this time, charcoal grey is too dark.

I choose undyed yarn, pure and clean. It is yarn full of possibilities. Each strand has natural variations but nothing that does not belong. This is lace-weight merino, delicate and thin, soft and warm.

* * *

My father's surgery lasts 10 hours.

For 10 hours, I circle around and around, passing marker after marker, drifting along to the rhythm of the lace repeats.

I know that as I slip each red rubber ring, the end comes closer.

* * *

If you pull at the yarn of knitted fabric before you've bound off, everything unravels, stitch by stitch, in order but without end. It is both fragile and strong, ready to self-destruct with a misplaced jerk but equally ready to prove its resiliency.

Knitting binds the yarn together both vertically and horizontally, with what is right next to us as well as what came before. Each stitch connects us with both the past and the present row. It also leaves an opening for the future.

Other lace posts:
1, 2, 3, 4


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