Fate, Tempted

You know, it is hard to know how to blog a project when it’s all going really well.  I mean, could there possibly be anything more boring to read about than a piece of knitting that has no problems? Such is the case with the Dover Castle Shawl.

Actually, let me be clear. It’s not just that this thing has no problems – It’s that it is all going so swimmingly that I cannot even dream up a bit of dramatic interest. Nothing, except for yesterday I sneezed and dropped a stitch, and then I picked it back up again.  It’s hardly the plot for a blog post. Not only is it all going beautifully, but since this shawl starts small and gets bigger, I didn’t see the reason for a swatch. The shawl can be the swatch, I reckoned, and I’m not shirking.  I know that if you’ve ever been in a class with me I’ve likely told you that there’s not very many times when I don’t consider skipping the swatch a dereliction of knitterly duty, but here, we have one of them.  I could just start, I figured, and rip it out if the gauge wasn’t right, when the shawl was swatch-sized, and I’m happy to block things on the needles, so I knew I wouldn’t get a surprise there – and since I made the yarn myself, I know there can’t be a surprise. I’d normally warn you here -that the swatch is as much a talent show, or an interview as it is a gauge test – there’s many ways a yarn can be wrong for a project that go far, far beyond the number of stitches per 10cm, let me tell you that. Here it was designed by me to be perfect for this purpose, and since I washed it after spinning and before knitting, I know that it won’t bloom or change with washing after, like a lot of commercial yarns can. The point is, I blew off the gauge swatch, and then the gauge was as perfect as a poem.

Even better, I was hoping I’d be able to make this a little bigger than the pattern calls for – it suggests seven repeats of the main chart before moving to the edging, and I just finished number eight – and haven’t even moved onto another colour yet. Really, short of the thing spontaneously bursting into flames (unlikely, since wool is flame retardant and self-extinguishing) I really can’t see anything going wrong at all…

There. I said it.

PS. If anybody is on the fence, a few spots for our Spring Retreat remain. Send me an email if you’ve got questions. We’d love to have you. (InfoATstrungalongDOTca)

Well There Now

I know, I know. I absolutely remember what I said about knitting with grey this time of year just a few days ago, but surely, the rule (that I made) can be broken by me at any moment I see fit, and surely, surely, it was not intended for spectacularly perfect little skeins of yarn like this.

That’s the little Jacob from two posts ago – spun up in entirety, into five gorgeous little skeins that are exactly as I imagined them. (If a little plumper than I intended, after their baths.) Each is a two ply, somewhere between a laceweight and a fingering, and since they’re all from the same sheep, they make a lovely gradient, of sorts.

The big skein of cream is about 180m, and each of the smaller greys are about 70m, near as I can figure it. That gives me a little less yarn to work with than I had planned, just 480m (that fleece was really tiny) and means my original plan isn’t going to work. I’ve tried about a hundred times to convince myself that 480 and 530 are just about the same in terms of meterage,  but they’re not and it won’t work, and that’s okay, because they’re so lovely it was easy to come up with another plan. (I use the word “easy” here to mean that it was a two hour Ravelry search and involved the wits, skills and experience of six or seven knitters dedicated to the hunt to work it out, which is pretty easy considering how picky I was. Shawl hunts can be epic.)

This afternoon, after I finish all my work (or as much as seems reasonable, considering the unending nature of it all) I’m giving up on cleaning the kitchen, casting on for Dover Castle, in sublime grey, and suddenly, it seems like the most perfect colour. Just look at those skeins.

 

Under the Wire

With my plan for the Self-Imposed Sock Club in place for this year, at the beginning of January I dutifully went to the downstairs Stash Cupboard, and pulled a bag. That’s how it works, the Sock Club, I’ve got everything all sorted into bags, ready to go, and on the first of every month I am reaching in, pulling a bag, and whatever that is, that’s what I’m going to knit. No swapsies, no takebacks, no do-overs. The rules are the rules. I meant it too, except for one thing. I went to the cupboard, reached in, and pulled out this.

Never mind what the pattern was, it doesn’t matter. I looked at that grey, I looked outside at the grey, I thought about the long dark tea-time of the soul that is January, and I thought about my friend Denny, who always says not to knit too much grey in the Winter because it’s just too hard on your heart, and knitters…. I swapped it. I took that bag and I shoved it bag in the cupboard and I pulled another one, and then put that back and then I kept going until I got something that made me want to live a little.

Spring Forward is the pattern, an oldie but a goodie (11 years!) it never stops pleasing me, this one. Looks fancy but is easy to memorize, and travels well as a result. It went most places with me this January.

The yarn is Valley Yarns Charlemont, a standby sock favourite of mine. Wool and silk make it warm and soft, and the silk and nylon mean it wears well.   This one’s the hand-dyed variety – a long defunct colourway, sadly.  It reminds me of tulips and pink hyacinths and other promises the spring holds, once we trudge through January. (And February, and March, and probably April.)

It was a pleasure knitting them – so much so, that this morning, it being the first of February I marched gleefully to the cupboard, pulled a bag, looked at what was inside, looked at what was outside (which is another unbelievably cold day, even for here) and tossed it back again. There will be February Sock Club Socks, and they’ll be worth braving the cold for,  but it’s my club, and I make the rules. I’m off to the yarn store.

PS. Because one of you will ask, the tea towel in the pictures (I’m using it as a spinning cloth at present, so it was handy for the pictures) is from Tilly Flop.  I found two of them in my stocking this year, courtesy of Ken Santa Claus. I love them.

What the heart wants

I am sure that this has happened to you with yarn, and maybe (whether you are a spinner or not) maybe this has happened to you with a fleece. You are minding your own business, living the cheery life of a textile artist, surrounded with all the yarn (and maybe fiber) that you could ever want (or more) and one day, there it is. Yarn, or fleece or fiber or whatever it is, leaps into your life and proclaims a destiny mingled with your own.

This happened to me a while back, at a retreat at Port Ludlow, when I was helping Judith to spread about thirty (30) fleeces out onto tables, so that she could acquaint some knitters and spinners (and proto-spinners) with various different kinds of beast – so they could learn the differences between them, tell which kinds were good, and generally huff a some wool fumes. I was taking the fleeces from the bags, and Judith was directing me. “That one’s a long wool” she said, waving a hand at the fleece in my hands “put it with the Leicester.” I did that, and then reached into the bag for the next one.

That’s when it happened. I pulled out the next fleece, and it was a little one (I like the wee ones, for starters) and I think that as I lifted it from the bag, I knew.  I might have even made a little noise. A sort of involuntary “Oh…” and Judith looked over to see what I’d found, and she smiled.  “Isn’t that a perfect little Jacob?” she said, and I mumbled something like “Oh yes it is perfect…” and then somehow, I put it down on the table and went back to my work.  It was too late though.  The heart wants what the heart wants, and I wanted that. Never mind that it was not mine. Never mind that it was not for sale. Never mind that it belonged to Judith and that she loved it too. I wanted it with a burning passion, and in my mind I knew what it could be. I could see it, entire. In the two seconds that I’d had that fleece in my hands, I had already fully realized it’s destiny, and it was with me.

I have a weakness for Jacob fleeces.  Not all of them, but… most, to be fair.  I find the idea of one sheep with several colours on them really fetching, and the wee spotty sheep with their charming horns are right up my alley. They look wild and a little sketchy, and I love that too. I thought about all of that, and I thought about how to get that fleece from Judith, but I didn’t.  It was hers, not mine, and I even helped her bundle it up neatly at the end of the evening, though not before a bit of a cuddle.

Fast forward to the next retreat, when Judith arrived and began unpacking a thousand things from her car,  and she thrust a soft package, neatly wrapped with gold paper into my hands.  My heart skipped a beat as I hefted it. I peeked in the corner, and lo – it was the Jacob. Freshly washed – because Judith knows you’re not supposed to take raw fleece across the border.  She said she could see from the look on my face when I first spotted it that it was an accident of fate that it was in her stash and not mine. I think I kissed her.

I brought that little fleece home, and it and I spent some time in the backyard. It took the better part of an afternoon, but I sorted it – lock by lock, into all of its individual colours. Locks that were white, ones that were darkest brown, and then the ones that were grey, or a mix.

Then into the house – and over the course of several days (in which I had the entire dining room jacob-ified) I ran all of it through my little drum carder, and made batts.

When I was done, I had five shades of Jacob – ranging from cream to chocolate, and I started getting organized to spin them all up. Then The Rally happened, and then after that I broke my wrist, and then Christmas and I didn’t exactly forget that I had the Jacob, but I didn’t move it to the top of the pile either. Last week I was tidying the stash (I watched that Marie Kondo show and the reverberations were felt all through the house) and there it was. All the Jacob, in sweet little batts, and my heart skipped a beat, and I moved it back to the dining room. (The astute among you will note that this action thoroughly undid any impact Marie Kondo had on that room, because I’ve watched that whole series, and she never has an allowance for fleece in the dining room, carded or not.)

The largest grouping, the cream (there were four batts of that, and only two of the four other shades) is now all spun up.

And I plied it, and it’s now about 180m of a really lovely laceweight.

I’ve started the next shade – and if all goes well, I’ll have it all done by the end of the week. (Or tomorrow. I’m a little obsessed.)

I think I know just what it’s going to be too – and I’ve known since the minute I saw that fleece. The heart wants what the heart wants. I’m so glad Judith knows that.

As an aside (and since it’s those retreats that brought that gorgeous thing into my life) it’s my pleasure (and Debbi’s too) to let you know that the Spring Strung Along Retreat is open for registration.  There’s details here – and we’re doing something a little different this time.  Our June retreat is the only one that doesn’t have spinning, and the November retreat is already full (so’s June, just about) so this one is the only Retreat with room still, but we know that many of you would love to come, but don’t know how to spin, so we’ve got you. The day before the retreat proper begins, Judith will be teaching an optional “learn to spin” workshop. It’s suitable for rank beginners with no idea what they’re doing, and by the end of that day – you’ll have skills enough to take you through the rest of the retreat quite easily.  There’s limited space in that workshop, but if that sounds good to you, give that page a read, and send us an email. We’ll get you all sorted. (There’s room without the workshop if you already sort of know how to spin, of course.)

Now off I go.  It’s a snow day, and my wheel beckons.

Fifteen

Fifteen years ago today, I sat down in my living room on an absolutely enormous family computer, and with Ken’s help, I posted the very first entry ever on this blog, and everything changed. That makes today my Blogiversary, and as is my tradition (you know how I love those) I went back to read my previous Blogiversary posts.  I got as far as last year, and then started to lose my scene, and had to drink coffee and knit for a while to get it together.

(Those are my January Self-Imposed-Sock-Club socks, I’d originally pulled a bag at random and the yarn in it was grey, and I looked outside at the deep dark that is a Toronto winter and thought better of it instantly. I put that bag back, and then next one I pulled was “Spring Forward” in this pretty pink.  Much better.)

I’ve got it back together now,  but I had entirely forgotten that I wrote last year’s post to you from a hotel room near the hospital while Susan was so sick – it makes sense now though, and I’m kinda a moron for not seeing that coming, I know it’s been almost a year since she died, and therefore last year at this time my life was on fire, and truthfully, that’s not what set me off.  It was reading the words “This is not the way I expected it to be.”

That theme last year was so hard for me.  I’m not the best at changing the channel – once I make a plan I really like it to happen the way I’ve decided, and the universe and I having such divergent goals and hopes over the last year and a bit has been… well. In the interest of being a positive and optimistic person, let’s just say it’s had a learning curve.  Almost nothing over the last year has been the way I expected it to be – which is not to say that things are bad, sometimes the way I expected things to be was horrible and what I got was definitely better than that, but it’s always different, like my prediction system is broken, and that makes me kinda nervous a lot of the time. It’s like at this time last year, the Universe took one look at me and said “she thinks she knows what’s going on. Hold my beer and watch this.” Then picked up my world as though it was a giant snow-globe, and giggled maniacally while watching all the bits float down into new and strange places as I scramble around trying to figure out which snowflake went where.

Just as an example, I know that I’ve told you that I’m the Chair of the Bike Rally this year, which isn’t exactly the job I was after there. The way that it works is that each Co-Chair serves a two year term.  One year they’re the incoming, and the next year the outgoing, and it’s staggered, so that there’s always a new one and someone who knows what they’re doing. Last year I was the incoming, and Ted was the outgoing, and Ted’s turn was up in September, and then it would be me as outgoing, and someone new as incoming, except that through a series of events generated by the snow-globe shake, that’s not what happened, and there was no incoming, and now… it’s me. It’s just me. What was already a pretty big commitment to the Rally is now a huge commitment to the Rally.

This is more than I bargained for. I’m not trying to register this as a complaint, I made the commitment and I’m fine with it, but it is a bit of an explanation for how wild things must seem.  People keep asking if I am in over my head, and the answer is yes. Absolutely. Between my work, our family, and this charity work, the water I am in is very deep, and completely, absolutely over my head.  There are even waves. Possibly a rip tide, I’m not sure, I don’t have time to notice. That doesn’t mean I’m drowning, I can promise you that – but it does mean that I have to keep swimming all the time or I will totally sink, and that is really, really tiring, even though I am a strong swimmer and enjoy the water.  It is not what I expected it to be.

Neither is the new shape of our family what I expected it to be, almost a year out from the shocking exits that Tupper, Mum and Susan made, although I think I am getting the hang.  I still miss my mother acutely, especially as I navigate all these surprises. She gave the best advice, and I think I’d be doing a better job of it all if she was here to help me – although her advice usually didn’t include knitting, and frankly I’d be in prison or at least a court mandated anger management program right now if I wasn’t surrounded by yarn all the time.  (I tried to do that Marie Kondo de-cluttering thing where you get rid of anything that doesn’t “Spark Joy.” It resulted in the purchase of MORE YARN. I feel like I understand that woman completely.)

So I sat there this morning, having a bit of a thing, remembering what it felt like this time last year. Sitting alone in that hotel room, wondering if I had what it took to face what I had just realized was happening, and reaching out to The Blog as I did it… and I realized that there has been one thing that was what I expected it to be this  past year. it was you.

I meant what I said on last year’s Blogiversary.  I could never, ever have predicted what this Blog would become. I didn’t see it coming,  but over the last year my darlings, in the force of a storm that I thought would change everything, there you are, every time I manage to stagger back here for a gulp of air… The Blog. You sure weren’t what I expected in the beginning, but now you’re so steadfast, so reliable, you feel like a safe place for me to land over and over, and every time I do land here lately, I can’t remember why I don’t do it more often. (Except for the previously mentioned combination of perfectionism and lack of time, but I’m working on that.) I know that I haven’t been as present here as any of us wish, and I’m so sorry. I am grateful that you’ve stuck with me, even while it’s really hard for me to type and swim at the same time.

I wish there were words better than Thank You. Words that could convey what a tremendous gift you are in my life, and what your presence has meant to me, and as always on this day, it is so hard to convey what this group of people – most of whom I’ve never met, are for me. You are exactly as I expected you to be this last little while, which is, as always, so much more than I deserve.  I love you.

Thank you for fifteen.

(PS. If you are feeling traditional and sentimental, today’s the day that people make donations to my ride (because I’m still also a rider, even though I’m the Chair) in multiples of the number of blog years I’m at.  While I admit random donations of $13 or $14 was more confusing for PWA (and therefore more entertaining for me) multiples of $15 have a lovely solidity to them. If I’ve entertained you $15 worth over the last 15 years, the link for donations is here.)

Oh. I think I get it

I have always suspected that many of you are not standard issue humans.  As a matter of fact, sometimes I wonder if it’s a bit of a prerequisite for a) being a knitter and b) being someone I like, and there are those of you I know definitely have superpowers. There’s one among your number however, who I have secretly believed possessed skills that were possibly useful and potentially terrifying, and after years of keeping my suspicions to myself… I finally have proof.   Our Lady Rams of The Comments is a psychic.

A few days ago, I was sitting right here (well, not right here – where I am right now is sitting in the spare room upstairs while Elliot naps so he doesn’t maybe fall off the bed – my house is still largely childproofed through grandparent supervision) but I was right here in this house, and I was leaning over my laptop, head in hands thinking that I couldn’t write a blog post because I had too much to tell you (rather than not enough) and was feeling like I owed you a really huge post to make up for being away, and I got an email from our Lady Rams.  I opened it up and in the email she essentially said that she bet that I was struggling with feeling the need to write a huge blog post and why didn’t I just stop worrying and post and …. yeah.  Thanks Rams.  You were right, and now I’m here, and by the way, I think that as a civilization we should make sure we keep you on the side of right.

So, some postcards? Just to catch up? For starters, did you know I made Elliot an Advent Calendar this year? I know, I know… I said I was going to wait until he was three, but I suspected that he was more than ready this year, and I was right.  Other than a burning desire to hang all the ornaments each day, he was perfectly enchanted with it. Taking down his ornaments and kissing them, and hanging them up again.

He got a lot of the same ornaments that  Luis and Frankie did, and Myrie and Emmett – like sweaters and acorns and Santa’s and bears… and gnome babies and bells…

but I also added things that I thought were really relevant to Meg, Alex and Elliot’s family.

There was the fox (because Alex’s favourite song is “What does the Fox say” which really, I can neither explain, nor condone, but there you have it.) There was a new snowflake this year – this one from here – though just like in previous years, I had to knit it twice to get the gauge right.

There was a dinosaur, since they are really interesting to Elliot right now –

and there was a little dog, knit to match their family dog, Penny.  (That one was really hard.)

And last but not least, I knit a Santa for the 24th pocket – so that Elliot will always know when Santa’s coming.  All the kids have gotten a Santa, though this one’s a little different. His skin tone is darker, like Elliot’s Daddy. (It seemed best, and helpful likely, should Alex get caught filling a stocking or two.)

Other than that, they were about the same and years gone by, and made me just as crazy.

Now, see, that thing is about to happen. That thing where Elliot is waking up and so I’m running out of time but I haven’t put all the links in, and I’m thinking that maybe I shouldn’t hit post because this post isn’t good enough and that’s really what keeps getting in my way, but nap time really is over and I don’t have more time and…

There you go Rams. Thanks. (Coming Elliot!)

Facing Forward

I wrote a to-do list this morning.  I write them most mornings, to be fair – I’ve always loved a nice clear plan and the feeling of accomplishment as you work your way though the list. I love this enough that on days where I really need a boost, or the list has too many things on it that I know won’t get done, I’ll often list things that I know for sure I’m going to do, just so that I’m guaranteed some sort of success, no matter how contrived.  “Drink coffee” and “take bath” end up listed right beside “do something about email” and “sort desk”.

Usually the list is driven by what needs doing (it is a to-do list, after all) but this one is different. It’s a New Year’s Day list.  We have loads and loads of New Year’s traditions in this family – yesterday for example we cleaned our whole house, we paid all the bills, we caught up on the laundry and took out all the recycling, both of us tried to get to a decent place work-wise (or as decent a place as you can while understanding there’s no finish line there) essentially, we tried to be in as good a place as we could be, so that we could end as we mean to go on. Before midnight we put silver (just nickles, dimes and quarters) out in the back garden so the light of the old year’s moon and the light of the new year’s moon could shine on them. (According to my grandparents, that will make sure we have enough money this year – assuming we spend those coins right away.) I swept the floors and tossed the contents of the dustpan out my back door, the direction all my old troubles should go in, thank you very much – and I made sure that I had a First Footer – the first person to cross my threshold in the new year was a handsome dark haired man bearing salt.  (Thanks Joe.)

Today we won’t wash things or throw them away – that’s an invitation for the universe to wash away someone in our family, we’ll wear something new, and we’ll all execute our New Year’s Day lists. My mum (and her mum, and her mum’s mum) all believed that you should spend New Year’s Day doing at least a little of all the things that you’re hoping to do more of, or have success with in the coming year, and since McPhee’s are like that, it turns into a list. Knit is on mine (to make sure I have lots of time for it in the coming year) and email, and sitting at my desk (I’m there now.) and I organized my top drawer, because it’s perpetually a disaster, and maybe I’m just not sorting it on the right day of the year.  I’m doing some Bike Rally work, because that really needs to work out this year, and doing some organizing for the Retreats that Debbi and I host.

I’m writing a little today too, and coming to the blog to remind myself how much I love, miss and need this community. A few paragraphs on a book, and a chat with Elliot, and texts and emails to a few people I think need proper cementing into this year round out the list.

That should take most of the day, but with what’s left of it after that, I’m going to start to re-institute the Self-Imposed Sock Club. Do you guys remember when I did that? It was eight or nine years ago for sure, so it’s definitely time to re-run that particular stroke of genius, and it would put several pairs of socks in my drawer, and into the long-range-planning-box, and make a bit of a dent in the stash. (Okay.  A very small dent. More of a nick.)

I’ll find twelve patterns, and pair them with 12 skeins of yarn I’ve been wanting to use, and make myself twelve kits. I’m going to wind all the yarn, buy and print (or scan, or download) all the patterns – and get them into 12 large ziplocks, and that way I can pull a kit at random every month of the year. It should be fun to surprise myself a little.  I imagine it will take a little time to get this together, but I’ll start today and if you’d care to join me, I’d love it.

If you don’t want to join me, but you want to suggest a pattern? Have at it. (A little tip, if you put multiple links in your comment, then the blog software will block the comment. If you want to suggest more than one, do them in separate comments.)

Now, if you’ll all excuse me, I’ve got socks to finish (because that’s definitely something I want to see more of this year) and I am going for a run. It might just be around the block, but I’m going. Happy New Year to all of you. What’s on your list today?

 

Not Almost

Sigh. It feels to me like I write so much that I don’t hit “post” on these days. (I guess it feels that way because it’s true.) We have had a pretty good Christmas over here, though Joe’s idea (mostly charming, and mostly effective) that keeping busy and building new traditions will be an effective bandage for the grief we all feel this year, as we navigate our first Christmas without Tupper, my Mother and now Susan, almost backfired and took us all out. (Organizationally speaking, of course.)

We have had the gingerbread party and a ski trip with Luis and Frankie (and their parents) and we made the colossal mistake of having that trip end the 23rd, in the evening, which left just 24 hours before the big Christmas eve gathering at Joe’s sister’s, and left Joe and I alternately whizzing through shops and the kitchen all day, harried and frantic. We only had the food part (and some of the knitting part) waiting for us when we came though the door, but wildly underestimated how long it would take to put it together and culminated in Joe buying weird substitutes for things on my list and me contemplating what, exactly was wrong with ordering pizza anyway.

The answer of course is TRADITION, and you know that I think that traditions are important markers for a family, and part of the way you make home seem like home and make it so people feel like they belong, but I admit I did wish that way back in the 40s my grandparents had decided on something that wasn’t as much work as an elegant sit down dinner for everyone, or if there had to be a dinner, that they had settled on peanut-butter toast and sliced apples by candlelight.

It all came off in the end, and in many ways it was lovely, since we all had to work together to get it off the ground, and I do like that very much. The food was good, the company excellent, and everywhere we went and in (almost) every moment of our Christmas and the weeks leading up to it, there were so many moments I was able to find where I was grateful, and happy, and I only had to deal a little bit with the voice in my head that periodically whimpered like a toddler, and said things like “I want my mum” or “I want things back the way they were” or “I don’t want to do this without them.”

That voice though, I am able to recognize now, is an upgrade from last years voice. Last year’s voice of grief said “I can’t do this without her” and that turned out not to be true, and so I can see movement there – a change of a small and steady sort.

It all still feels very strange. My girls called my mum Grammy – and that’s what Elliot will call me – as soon as he can say it. Right now he very cleverly calls me Mama-mama, and though it is technically accurate and I can see how he got there, I hope it doesn’t stick. Meg’s doing her part to teach him, and so she calls me Grammy often now (instead of Mama, which we all blame for the conclusion he’s come to.) it is odd to hear that word spoken by my daughters when the person I think of as The Grammy is not here – and I struggle with feeling a bit like an imposter. My mum is so much to live up to. I know I’ll never be her, and I’m not even trying, but the role feels like a lot of pressure, especially at Christmas, when the Grammy is really the one who’s supposed to pull the whole thing together. (Also, my kitchen is a little small to be The Grammy, but I can’t really fix that.)

There were many wonderful gifts this year, but I want to tell you about one in particular. Since Mum died, we have had trouble holding our family together – being as connected as we were in the “before”. I don’t mean this little family, the one based out of this house, but the family one generation up. All my grandparents are gone, and now Tupp, and Susan, and Mum, and my siblings and I have been rather adrift, now that we are properly orphaned.  It is a credit to my mum that we are all very different people, but it does mean that what is a comfort to me might mean nothing to my sister, what I like isn’t ever what my brother does, and my mum always, always was the bridge between us. We didn’t tell each other much, we told mum, and she disseminated the information, kept all of us in the loop, and helped us speak each other’s languages.

We haven’t learned how to do that for ourselves yet, though we all care about it, so that’s a start. I wasn’t going to talk much about this, feeling hurt and sorry that we haven’t figured it all out, and maybe a little embarrassed by it, but as i open up about this part of grief, I’m learning it’s more common than I thought, and if it happened to you, maybe it would help you to know that it’s what we’re working on here too.  We really love each other a great deal, and I think that as we emerge from the deepest parts of this trip, we’ll get better at it. It will be easier for new traditions to take hold when we’re not so close to the loss of the old and special ones – when going to Erin’s house, or her coming here feels like just doing it, rather than not doing it at mums.

So, back to the gift. We were all handing out gifts on Christmas, exchanging with each other, lots of laughing and happiness, and Ian came to me with a paper bag and a big smile on his face.  “Steph” he said, beaming away, “Almost the best present ever”, and he thrust the bag into my hands.

I opened it, and inside there was yarn, already wound, and a pair of sock needles, and a pattern. “Thanks Ian” I said, slightly befuddled, but I like yarn, so that’s cool.

“No” he said “It’s not really for you. I mean it is. I was going to make you socks.”  Turns out that Ian had gone to a yarn shop, talked to the people there, been directed to the appropriate yarn, needles and a simple pattern, and had paid for it, and then addressed the one remaining problem, which in true McPhee fashion, felt like something he could fix easily. He can’t knit. Ian tried the internet, followed directions (sort of) and texted with Megan – pictures, diagrams (Meg said that most of the texts were actually about interpreting the pattern and why there were so many brackets on it.) In the end, it didn’t get off the ground. He thinks he might have cast on – but “things got funky.”

Ian was assured by the yarn store (and charmingly, also assured me) that the yarn is reusable, and you can redo it several times, without damaging it so… he wants me to teach him, and he’ll make me socks, and after the year we’ve had, I don’t have the heart to tell him.

It isn’t “almost” the best present ever. It’s there.

Merry Christmas. (Belatedly.)

 

Longest

And so the Shortest Day came and the year died
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away.
They lighted candles in the winter trees;
They hung their homes with evergreen;
They burned beseeching fires all night long
To keep the year alive.
And when the new year’s sunshine blazed awake
They shouted, revelling.
Through all the frosty ages you can hear them
Echoing behind us – listen!
All the long echoes, sing the same delight,
This Shortest Day,
As promise wakens in the sleeping land:
They carol, feast, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends,
And hope for peace.
And now so do we, here, now,
This year and every year.

Susan Cooper

With profound thanks to Rams, our Lady of the Comments, who always knows the right poem for everything.

We are away, Joe and I, travelling with Katie, Carlos and the boys, trying to cement a new tradition or two, ones to replace all that fell away with my Mum’s untimely departure. I still struggle when events roll by that she was so central to, and Joe is right to try and fill those days up in other ways, and mercy but there is nothing like a trip with a three and six year old to fill up a day. Today is the solstice, one of my favourite days of the year. This day marks the return of the light, and I’m so glad it’s here,  the day was so short – the sun never got high in the sky at all, it was a very grey day, and even for a Northern people, it was hard on the heart.

Then, just as the sun was setting (at 4pm, I swear it) the sun started to peek through, and it was so beautiful, I took a million pictures, and tried to take that in, and use it to carry me through the next days. They won’t be easy ones, I think, but they’ve got to be better than last year.

When I’m done sending this to you I’m going to make our annual Charitable donations. Now is that time I feel, in the deepest, darkest moments, to reach out and do something nice for the world around me. It makes me feel like I’m part of the light returning, like it’s a gesture of gratitude for all I’ve been given over the last year, and the Karma can’t hurt. This year our money is going to The Bike Rally (I am chair this year, so clearly I’m all in on that one, I think it’s really important.) and Because I am a Girl.

Here’s to the return of the light my dear ones, and hold onto your hats. Winter’s here.

Dear Maeve

Dear Maeve,

Welcome (a little belatedly) to the family. Ordinarily, your introduction to me, and the blanket that comes with me would come at the same time, but your slightly early arrival (and the broken wrist I had – don’t worry about that, you’ll learn about bikes later) mean that your blanket followed our meeting rather significantly. Indeed, you’re the first baby in the family to get your blanket by post. You’re still very, very little, so you may not remember when we met. Usually, I’d point out that I’m the one who comes with all the knitted stuff – to help you place me in your mind, but you’ve got so many knitters around you, that it isn’t really going to help you sort out who I am.  Instead, you may remember me as the lady who helped your mum with nursing you – I’m the one who kept talking about latch, and insisting your mummy aim for your nose. (I know, it sounds crazy, but you and I both know it works.) As an aside, I’d like to thank you for being born right before Knit City – It was so nice to be in the right part of Canada so we could have that time together. Good thinking, Sweetpea.

You are the second baby born into this family that tripped me right out – your cousin Elliot was the first – his mum is my daughter Meg, and your Mum is Savannah – she and Meg played together as littles, because they are cousins. Your grandmother is my sister-in-law Kelly and she’s the one you probably think of, when you think of knitting.  Kelly and I went out for dinner just after you were born, and we talked about what you are – who you are really. You aren’t just Kosti and Savannah’s daughter, you are the amazing and miraculous person who made Kelly a grandmother, and Ben a grandfather.

We talked about the feeling of it. Ben said that he had always loved your mother, and your Auntie Kamilah, but how he feels now is different, and I knew just what he meant – I see it in your Great Uncle Joe too. (You’ve met him as well. He’s the big loud one who cries with joy when he looks at you. I know your Grandfather does that too, but Joe’s the one with more hair.) We learned about this special love when Elliot was born. It’s a shocking, powerful thing, and you should know it means that there is nothing he won’t do for you, and I mean nothing. The love your grandfather’s oozing is a fierce and mighty thing, and he is unfettered by the restraints and rules of parenthood. If, my little Maeve, you knew how to ask for a pony, there is no doubt in my mind that Ben would have one tied up in your bedroom later today.

Your Grandmother Kelly – oh, it’s a little different. We talked about the confusing feelings that come with transitioning into being a Grammy. See, in her heart, she can tell you are her baby. It’s the only thing that makes sense really, you are tiny and new, and made of the same stuff that your mummy was, and all your grandmother can think when she takes you in her arms is that you are hers, entirely.  This makes it very difficult to understand why she is not allowed to do with you as she pleases – to ask your Mum for permission to dress or change you, and why inexplicably, you sleep with your Mum at night.  I’m proud of her (as I was of myself) for the respect she’s shown your parents in not making off with you. This love is not as fierce as your grandfathers, but it is the most enduring, determined and patient love you will ever know.

I understand, my little Maeve, about your grandparents, because Elliot took me to school on that, but I have to say that I am properly freaked out by your parents. On some level, I remain confused that my baby has a baby, and similarly boggled that your Mum has become a mother as well. I know it happened, intellectually I believe that she is indeed your parent, but it just seems so impossible.  I watched her nurse you, and snuggle you, and the way she looked at you… oh Maeve, that’s your mother for sure, and a fine one. I knew your mother when she had trouble being responsible for a hamster, and I’m happy to report that she’s grown infinitely as a person. You’re going to do just fine with her.

Let me tell you this too, ma petite, I have been around a lot of families at the beginning of their parenting journeys, and there is much you can tell about the character of a partner from how they begin the trip. It can be a difficult time – so much of those first days is about you and your mum. Really, mummies and their babies are still one person for the first little while, not yet separate from each other, and for some partners it is difficult to find a role. I took a great deal of pleasure in watching your father Maeve. Kosti is gentle and kind and clever, and while he was so good with you, he seemed to grasp from the beginning that caring for your mother was also caring for you, and the love and support he gave her while they were both learning how to do this thing was a very good thing to watch. You’ve got a good team on your side, I can see that.

Now, about your blanket.  It’s big, I know, but I have a theory about these blankets and it isn’t just that they are meant to be your baby blanket, but something you can cuddle up with your whole life- and as little as you are now, your parents are both tall, and I don’t think I’ve overshot. I chose special stitches for you Maeve – just like the ones for Hank, Luis, Frankie, Myrie, Emmett and Elliot –  your blanket is unlike any other.

In the centre is a pattern of Fir Cones – for the forests your parents love to hike all over the world. I’ve no doubt that you’re going to be a kid with a favourite tree, and enjoy the woods and the out of doors, the way your mum and dad do.

Surrounding that centre, just as you are surrounded in life – a border of ring lace, meant to signify the family that encircles you.  This, my darling girl, is the only element of the blanket appears on every one that I’ve knit. You have the great good fortune to be born into a strong, vibrant, loving family, and though so many of us live far away, never doubt that we are all around you. The blankets have it in common, because we all do.

Beyond that, suns and moons – round and whole and bright, meant to remind you that though some of your family is far away – and though you have been born into a family of travellers, and that may even take you farther, we are all under the same sky, all the time. We all see the same moon, the same sun every day, no matter where we are.

After that, snow. With a Russian father and a Canadian mother – how could snowflakes not be a theme for you? It is something your parents have in common, though they are from different places, you are a child of the North.

Finally, around the edges, some Orenberg lace, a little something for your Russian father and his family, and it is very pretty – but it has a garter stitch base so it isn’t just beautiful, it’s strong and enduring, a trait I wish for you.

Welcome, sweet Maeve. You are loved beyond all measure.

Ever yours,

Great Aunt Stephanie

(PS. Thanks for going to sleep long enough for your mum to take those last few pictures. Very thoughtful.)