Welcome Back, Knitter – year 1

Taking a cue from my friends Ann & Kay over at Mason-Dixon Knitting, I'm returning from blog hiatus. Honestly, I don't really know what happened. Life, I guess. I've got no better excuse for a two-year lapse, but I know I want to resume regular posting, have a blogmo instead of a NaNoWriMo. To begin, let's return to our roots as a knitting blog. Plenty of FOs to report from the last 24 months, so I'm going to divide them into two posts. 

Lots of gift knitting over this stretch; about half of the projects went to others. Nice to look back and see that. First, Wee C needed a birthday gift for a pal whose party she'd missed due to illness – giving me a flexible knitting window. We picked Gina House's Amanda hat for Isis, knit in Malabrigo, and then I made one for C as well in blue Manos (along with a pair of mitts).



For her Christmas gift I completed this Stephen West Spectra for my goddaughter, in a BMFA Socks That Rock colorway from their first sock club, paired with some Kitchen Sink Dyeworks semi-solid. I became a WestKnits fan after my the mystery KAL that gave me my Rockefeller shawl, one of my most interesting knits. And I'm pretty sure that I will begin his latest this month. 



Next I knit some basic socks at Little B's request; a year later I ripped out the toes and made them longer. Another winter request came from my friend Kim, for whom I knit some fingerless mitts with more leftover Manos that had languished in my stash. Their free pattern came from Blue Sky Alpacas.



And there were blankets, another thing to credit (or blame) those Mason-Dixon gals for – not that the classic Round or Pinwheel Baby Blanket is their doing, but once I had the yarn from first the (c.2006) Mitered Squares and then the Buncha Squares, what else would I knit for baby Ty, son of Little B's Mandarin teacher? This was my third baby pinwheel, and I highly recommend it for using up leftovers. I knit it in less than a month – meanwhile, the log-cabin blanket for C took me six summers! Kay called her Courthouse Steps version “Blue, Orange, Green, Green, Green, White, White, White, White”; mine is Red, Green, Green, Blue, Blue, Green, Green, White, White.” Only the last pairs of greens (sage) and whites (natural) are the same across all the squares. My squares are about 12”; I made 16 of them, joined with three-needle bind-off, and finished with a red i-cord "binding." 

  • IMG_3406_medium2
  • DSC_0061
  • DSC_0064


Finally, I finished the cardigan of 2014 about a year after I began. I rarely manage to complete a sweater in a season, but I never mind having one done in spring and ready to wear in fall. And obviously I am not a monogamous knitter! I wrote this post when I started what came to be known as Top Secret Jack, from the name of the Miss Babs color way. Pockets! I don't think I'd ever knit them before, nor attached i-cord that functions as a buttonhole band. After a bit of searching I realized that the four ceramic buttons I had bought at Maryland Sheep & Wool to match the yarn (when I though it would become a different sweater) were made by KokoNoelle. I found them on Etsy, but with no additional stock available. Determined to make the buttons work, I started their placement at the fullest point and spaced down to waist ribbing. I rarely button any cardigan, but this functions fine when I do. Really proud of this one. I also became determined to use every inch of the luscious Yowza, so I knit a slouchy Wurm hat to match – not that I wear them together. The last 30 yards became a cup cozy, pictured with the remnant strand on top!  

  • DSC_0031
  • DSC_0034
  • IMG_3517
  • IMG_3503


Book brief: The Lacuna

LacunaLike all the women in post-war America, I fell in love with Mexamerican author Harrison Shepherd, to whom Barbara Kingsolver gives some mighty writing chops in this 2009 novel. Frida & Diego, Trotsky, and stenographer Violet Brown have their own lovely orbits around Shepherd. Rich and immersive, effectively interweaving true historical events with these fictional characters, the novel presents real and fabricated newspaper accounts to enhance the central character's many personal journals. (Not entirely unlike what Marisha Pessl did with new media in her latest, the last read I blogged.) I learned more than I remember having previously known about American history, especially the HUAC action of the Cold War era. And as a native Tar Heel, I love that Harrison landed in Asheville when he returned stateside. With its surprises and subtleties, in hindsight I wish I had read this saga straight through rather than putting it down when I reached a section break to take my own break with one or two other novels. I feel disloyal to Harrison and Mrs. Brown! 

Superlatives: Character I'd most like to hang with: Arthur Gold. Character I'd most like to hear more from: Violet Brown. Most honest character: Harrison Shepherd. Most caricatured character: Tom Cuddy. Most throwaway character: none. 

From the publisher:

With deeply compelling characters, a vivid sense of place, and a clear grasp of how history and public opinion can shape a life, Barbara Kingsolver has created an unforgettable portrait of the artist – and of art itself. The Lacuna is a rich and daring work of literature, establishing its author as one of the most provocative and important of her time.

Doctor's orders

Last Sunday as I was changing clothes, I felt a lump in my breast. Or so I thought, given my fibro-cysto pair of lumpy little boobies. I didn't panic, but I didn't want to ignore the unusual either. Luckily, I'd just that weekend received the letter from my OB-GYN reminding me to schedule my annual well-woman visit. When I called and booked that appointment two months out, I mentioned my bothersome breast, and they gave me a slot the next morning. 

Dr. Knapp was her usual combination of no-nonsense friendliness, and got right to feeling me up. After touching the sore and solid mass on my left, she walked around the table and created the exact same pain on the other breast. "That's no lump," she announced, "that's your rib." I certainly felt like an idiot, if a relieved one. And then she gave me a prescription (although she didn't write it down): Go bra shopping! Apparently my two-year-old undergarments are fitting me all wrong, whether due to their age or my changing body – probably both. Noting that she herself had recently tried on two dozen models at Dillard's before finding the perfect fit, Dr. Knapp stated the obvious: I benefit from having a female gynecologist. Amen, sister! I haven't made it to Nordstrom yet, but I look forward to telling the person who fits me that I am there on doctor's orders. 

(Meanwhile, I'll browse some posts at the excellent Sweet Nothings blog, and get an idea of the variety that awaits. ) 

In Praise of Ravelry

While this began as a knitting blog, not every reader nowadays is versed in the vast online arena of that craft. So you may not know of Ravelry.com, a website where two million of us browse patterns, show off projects, and log personal databases of tools, books, and yarn. I'm delighted to recall being a reader of young Jess's blog Frecklegirl when she first mentioned that her "codemonkey" honey Casey was toying around with a site that would gather all kinds of useful information for fiber fiends and include social spaces. In a way, Ravelry made knitting blogs obsolete – prompting us to evolve and expand our subject matter if we chose. I could go on and on about its benefits, but if you have any interest, sign up and explore it yourself. I can go there to see that I  have logged 115 projects, queued 114 patterns I might like to knit, and stashed 141 different yarns. (I'm currently unwilling to export that data and discover how many miles of yarn I'm storing!) I can report that as of November 14, 2012, my friend Kay has raised a total of $19,300 donated to Mercy Corps for Japanese tsunami relief through sale of a pattern she designed. But my new sweater-in-progress is the reason I'm posting today.

This is Jackaroo, from Knitty.com (another site whose praises I sing), which I cast on after using Ravelry to search for the perfect pattern. I had bought this Miss Babs Yowza at the 2011 Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival, ostensibly for another Knitty pattern, Corinne, but had subsequently changed my mind. So I used Ravelry's search feature to plug in the weight and yardage to find another women's cardigan pattern that was either free or already in my library. More than a hundred options appeared, but I could browse them easily, look at versions other knitters had made, find out what they required in terms of notions, and make an informed choice. Amusingly, I'd put Jackaroo in my Rav queue when the First Fall issue of Knitty came out back in the summer – but I had to consider all my options before committing, and Ravelry made that process easy.

Ravelry also provides "helpful notes" from knitters: members mark each other's projects as offering useful advice, so that when we look at the sweaters that have already been knit, we can get virtual advice from knitters we don't actually know. I made extremely successful use of this feature when I made the Middlefield Pullover, a sweater that I love wearing because it fits like a dream – thanks to Ravelry!

Book brief: Night Film

Night.filmMarisha Pessl's sophomore novel, Night Film,  is a hot ticket; I had to keep it hostage from the library to finish it, and my $1.50 in fines for the nearly three extra weeks was more than worth the book's wild ride. I loved being the first one to check it out, in its first week of publication, and indeed there was a hold on it when I turned it in today (complete with the review from NYTimes Book Review I'd clipped one Sunday while I had the book). At first, I feared that the tale might be too creepy; horror is not my genre, but I can enjoy a mystery. Night Film proved to be a psychological thriller, and I read it in big gulps, sailing through a dozen tiny chapters at a sitting. (There are more than a hundred chapters in its 624 pages.) Its innovation is the use of reproduced (fictional, but with permissions) web pages, magazine clippings, and records, which I found effective in pulling me in and giving a feel of primary-source material. Apparently, there is also a digital component, but I decided not to go down that rabbit hole in the wake of my recent iOS7 update. One may be able to access the "real" Cordovite Blackboards, but I don't want to. While I recall really enjoying Pessl's first book, Special Topics in Calamity Physics (2006), I don't remember it all that well. My sense is that book was more "literary" in both style and content; I wasn't dazzled by the writing in Night Film, nor was I put off by it in any way. Mostly the story compelled me forward, maybe because I'm a film fan, or because I love New York, or because Scott's dogged pursuit of the truth captured me. Pessl has crafted another amazingly inventive tale.

Superlatives: Character I'd most like to hang with: Nora. Character I'd most like to hear more from: Inez Gallo. Most honest character: Nora. Most caricatured character: Marlowe Hughes. Most throwaway character: none. 

From the publisher's page

On a damp October night, beautiful young Ashley Cordova is found dead in an abandoned warehouse in lower Manhattan. Though her death is ruled a suicide, veteran investigative journalist Scott McGrath suspects otherwise. As he probes the strange circumstances surrounding Ashley’s life and death, McGrath comes face-to-face with the legacy of her father: the legendary, reclusive cult-horror-film director Stanislas Cordova—a man who hasn’t been seen in public for more than thirty years.
For McGrath, another death connected to this seemingly cursed family dynasty seems more than just a coincidence. Though much has been written about Cordova’s dark and unsettling films, very little is known about the man himself.
Driven by revenge, curiosity, and a need for the truth, McGrath, with the aid of two strangers, is drawn deeper and deeper into Cordova’s eerie, hypnotic world.
The last time he got close to exposing the director, McGrath lost his marriage and his career. This time he might lose even more.

Movie minute: The Spectacular Now

220px-The_Spectacular_Now_filmThis is a sweet, thoughtful film ~ with an awesome Tumblr that I just discovered, featuring images from ALL the coming-of-age films ever. I did not know that The Spectacular Now was based on a National Book Award finalist (by Tim Tharp, published in 2008; must've been nominated in a YA category), but I see that it was written in first person, and the movie begins with voiceover as protagonist Sutter Keely tries to write a college application essay. What I did know going in was that it was a critically lauded coming-of-age picture, and I am still up for such a tale, even in middle age (God, I hate that term!). Sutter is a charmer, but he's also pretty much an alcoholic, and that was pretty disturbing. I couldn't help but watch this as a parent, and cringe every time he pulled out his ever-present flask, especially while behind the wheel. I feared for his influence on the lovely Aimee, played by fabulous Shailene Woodley from The Descendants. (And, whoa, she's also in the 2005 Felicity American Girl movie, which I haven't actually seen, but my girls have ...) Still, Sutter made me laugh, and he made me cry. The actor portraying Sutter, Miles Teller, is someone I've not seen before, although he was in Rabbit Hole and is also forthcoming in Divergent (as is Woodley.) Meanwhile, an actor of whom I am fond, due to Friday Night Lights, showed another side as Sutter's father, sporting weird false teeth and serious stubble as he smoked and drank and stuck the kids with his tab. Coach Taylor he's not, this Kyle Chandler. The Spectacular Now made me want to go back and watch some of those other films, and now I can use that Tumblr to remember what they are. First up: Dazed and Confused, the one that is ~ I hate to admit ~ closest to my own high school experience! 

Unexpected bequest

Shortly before we left on vacation in August, I received a surprising piece of mail – a letter that included a check from the estate of a dear family friend who had died earlier this year. Her niece and executor had included a photocopied picture and these words from her will:

In addition, I would like the following persons to receive a modest bequest, which I would like for them to use to buy something frivolous such as a superb dinner in gratitude for their never wavering friendships. A small token but it comes with genuine affection.

Barbara was one of my late mother's oldest and closest friends; I'm honored that she considered me friend as well. When I was a girl, her life in NYC, and later in DC, seemed glamorous, maybe because she was not a mother, which was the dominant paradigm surrounding me. Also, she brought great gifts whenever she visited! I still remember how devastated I was to lose an enamel-band ring the very day I received it, having insisted on wearing it despite its looseness on my finger. Although officially she was my brother's godmother, I too called her mine once my namesake aunts were gone.  

When I moved to Richmond, Barbara was just a hop up the road, and I made plenty of trips to spend a night, see an exhibition, or eat something fabulous she prepared. She made us a trio when Mom and I walked the Lake District in the '90s; I never see a Beatrix Potter item without thinking BP sighting, as we each remarked repeatedly on that adventure. Charles and I were in Georgetown with Barbara when Princess Diana was killed; I think it was our first visit to the Holocaust Museum. She brought the Marcella Hazan to the Tuscan farmhouse Mimose that my parents rented in 1999, becoming the chef to my translator and Brotherman's chauffeur. And she came here as well, the last time on a trip from Greensboro, where she'd retired, with my mom. That was the weekend I'd decided to tell my mother of my plans to adopt a child – news I shared first with the confidante who could help sway Mom's response in a positive direction. 

The check arrived about the same time the remarkable artists Robin Kranitzky and Kim Overstreet had posted their latest creations on Facebook, the Peepin' Pickles. I could think of no better way to splurge in Barbara's honor: a unique piece of art that referenced her culinary gifts and sense of humor.


ConverseIn Boston at the end of vacation, I found one more fun thing that reminds me of Barbara: Marimekko Converse All-Stars! I bet she was the first person I ever saw who'd stretched that Finnish fabric and hung it as decoration in the 1970s. She may have even purchased her print in Helsinki. While I made a total impulse purchase there on Newbury Street (only to find the Chucks offered cheaper on 6pm.com), I was happy to finish (Ha!) the bequest, especially with Brotherman, another recipient, there with me. I wonder what he's done with his? 

Oh, Barb, your lines will stay with me always: that punchline, "T'weren't me, teacher – it skeert me, too!" and "You can fool me on grammar, but you can't fool me on translation ~"

Medomak bucket list

What I did last week at family camp (in no particular order):

  • hit the bullseye
  • built a bat box
  • biked an island
  • rode a ferry
  • roasted a marshmallow
  • rowed a scull
  • milked a cow
  • paddled a canoe
  • sang Happy Birthday
  • read a book
  • tie-dyed a T
  • tasted local cheese
  • swung my partner
  • improved my backhand
  • spied Saturn
  • cheered a meteor
  • viewed moon craters
  • wrote my journal
  • played kickball
  • stamped polymer clay
  • walked a labyrinth
  • kayaked onto a bog
  • sampled blueberry gin
  • ate a lobster
  • competed in the SCAG tournament
  • hung around the campfire . . .

I found Medomak in early 2012, looking for something special we could share as a family in celebration of my brother's 50th birthday. (Via Twitter, when the camp director jumped in to respond to a query I'd made of a travel writer!) A weeklong getaway in woodsy Maine sounded better to me than a sweaty backyard surprise party. I wouldn't know who should attend, and way too many mosquitoes would've shown up uninvited. Fortunately, Charles agreed that the camp looked good, and delighted in the Astronomy Week option during which his birthday fell. We went, we savored, we wanted to return.


The clouds that crept in each night last summer put a damper on the stargazing, so we decided to try Astronomy Week again for our second Medomak summer. To our pleasure, five other families made the same call, so half of camp already knew the ropes and each other. Four counselors came back as well, one promoted to a leadership role (Hi, Jackie!). And the weather was on our side, with amazing views of the Perseids, Saturn, and a brand new nova (whatever that is). Brotherman was blissful, setting up his special camera lenses and talking shop with the telescope team. Me, I like my sleep. 

Last year my girls hung mostly with each other, but this summer they seemed to enjoy their buddies quite a bit, while also playing together. Medomak breaks the kids into groups for the three morning activity blocks, dividing where the numbers work. Little B's Rising Suns were all eight or nine, while [not-so-] Wee C's Thunderheads ranged 10-14; we adults are the High Clouds – and our activities are optional. (I'm not sure if they change the names depending on the week, as these are rather astronomical.) Some of the activities were the same as last summer, and some were new; I think plans depend on the counselors' specialties, new discoveries, and the weather: We had woodworking because that's Chelsea's medium. We went to the labyrinth because a meditation retreat had found it. Whitecaps on the lake Wednesday night scrapped our sunset "cruise," lest we all paddle out and need an assist getting back to shore.  


Wee C returned from the Thunderheads' Thursday night camp-out at North Star Lodge (view below), an open shelter by the lake, and declared that she wants another Medomak summer in 2014. Little B chimed her agreement. I wouldn't mind at all, but if we go I think we might brave the drive, both for the savings and to avoid the damn Boston airport. Whether Brotherman would assent to that much car time I can't say. Maybe with headphones! First we will see where all the dates fall, for camp weeks in Virginia and in Maine. Next summer is far, far away . . .


Meanwhile, we share our photos with our new summer friends, and wonder what lives they've returned to, because family camp is pretty much a first-name-basis kind of place where no one asks you what you do when you're at home. We've come as moms or dads (and one uncle), not as potentially networking professionals. Of course, we may also friend them on Facebook, which reveals a bit of info! This year there were two two-mom families, which was awesome in and of itself, and also as a teaching opportunity for my girls, as our close gay friends are childless. And while I might have hesitated to take the girls on my own the first year, now I see that I'd be perfectly comfortable attending as the solo parent I am. Camp is also a place where someone else does all the (super-delicious) cooking, and the campfire building. I may have learned from Peter how to start a fire, but I was not ready to try! 


Mitered Crosses for my mighty brother

I never thought I would knit blankets that weren't baby gifts, but my friends at Mason-Dixon Knitting inspired me to make my first, second, and now third. When Kay designed the pattern in 2011, based on the cover quilt from this book, as a fundraiser for Japanese earthquake/tsunami relief, how could I resist? Plus I posessed the suggested Noro Silk Garden in my stash. (At $5 a pop, six months ago the pattern had raised an amazing $19,300 donated to Mercy Corps!)

I ordered Berroco Peruvia for the background yarn, and started knitting. I'm amused to realize that I knit three pinwheel baby blankets while this was in progress. Another chuckle is that the receipient sat on and broke one of the needles in a square that I took to a Richmond Flying Squirrels game. But, wo years later, c'est finis! I took a little shortcut in that I added the 27 garter ridges to the sides of two squares rather than binding off and picking up again. And I failed at bordering.

The blanket blocked beautifully. I tried the i-cord, I tried crochet, but that Peruvia is such a loosey-goosey single that all I got was frustrated. We took a vote at my monthly S&B this week, with a resulting consensus that the edges look look fine as wine, and Brotherman would never give a thought to the lack of a border. I presented it today, three days early for his birthday, and he was most pleased. Here's to my sweet brother Charles, deserving of this knit and so much more!


Book brief: The Burgess Boys

Burgessboys1I picked this novel (Random House, 2013) up at the library while in the midst of reading another, and I'm glad I did. Taking a break from The Lacuna brought me back to it eagerly after I savored every minute with Bob Burgess and his people. While I had read author Elizabeth Strout's Pulitzer-winning Olive Kitteredge, that collection of linked stories didn't grab me the way this tale did. And despite its familial focus echoing the last novel I finished, The Burgess Boys takes place over years rather than a weekend, and ranges in location from NYC to tiny Shirley Falls, Maine, with a few other stops afield. I read a review that described the book's voice as "close third-person," which I can't recall hearing used before, but I like how aptly it decribes the way Strout takes us inside some characters heads, but not everyone's. Ultimately, younger brother Bob is the central focus, but we get to know his twin, his ex, and his sister-in-law. Also the Somali immigrant Abdikarim. Squirrely sibling Jim, not so much. The Burgess Boys opens with a conceit of a first-person narrator laying out an overview of the story, which may have helped to engage this reader; I can't un-read it and imagine starting the saga blind. We all belong to families, and taking an inside look at this one increased my appreciation for my own, while entertaining me well for a few weeks this summer. 

Superlatives: Character I'd most like to hang with: Margaret Estaver. Character I'd most like to hear more from: Zach. Most honest character: Bob. Most caricatured character: That lady who lives upstairs at Susan's (can't remember her name). Most throwaway character: Pam (but not really). 

Publisher's blurb: 

Haunted by the freak accident that killed their father when they were children, Jim and Bob Burgess escaped from their Maine hometown of Shirley Falls for New York City as soon as they possibly could. Jim, a sleek, successful corporate lawyer, has belittled his bighearted brother their whole lives, and Bob, a Legal Aid attorney who idolizes Jim, has always taken it in stride. But their long-standing dynamic is upended when their sister, Susan—the Burgess sibling who stayed behind—urgently calls them home. Her lonely teenage son, Zach, has gotten himself into a world of trouble, and Susan desperately needs their help. And so the Burgess brothers return to the landscape of their childhood, where the long-buried tensions that have shaped and shadowed their relationship begin to surface in unexpected ways that will change them forever.