Make your own fun

When I was a kid my mum used to do this thing called Find Your Own Food Fridays. From the time that we were old enough to scrounge leftovers or make a peanut butter sandwich, on Fridays – we were completely on our own.  This was coupled with other parenting gems like pointing out that there were four of us and only one of her, and so it was our job to know where she was, not the other way around. When I became a mum that one started to make a lot of sense, and I also I kept Find Your Own Food Fridays, but one upped my mum by inventing Make Your Own Fun Mondays, in which I didn’t come up with any activities or plans for the girls, and they had to come up with their own fun that didn’t require parental support of any kind.  You want a drive? Sorry kiddo, it’s Monday. Want me to make playdough? I’m happy to direct you to the recipe.  Find your dollie? Set up a fort? Read my lips. MONDAY. My mum loved it.

I’ve been thinking a lot about that over the last few weeks, as the time when we would normally be leaving for the Bike Rally loomed, and Team Knit prepared to have a proper pout about it.  One that was rather serious in nature, because we’re not just bummed that we don’t get to have a Rally, we’re really rather more upset that The Rally (not really being a Rally this year) hasn’t been able to fund the agency the way that they usually do – which makes total sense but is still upsetting. It’s been very difficult to get a sense of momentum for an event that can’t happen, and it’s sad  that things can’t happen and…. Stupid virus. Here we are trying to deal with the fallout of the last great pandemic (that would be HIV/AIDS) and the current pandemic is preventing that.

More than that – as someone who’s been on the inside for the last several years, I know how this is working.  The Bike Rally (thanks to awesome people like you) has been very successful the last few years, and that means that there is cash around, and that’s enabled PWA to do some amazing things during this crisis – like that they’re the only ASO (Aids Service Organization) who’s been able to stay open to provide food hampers and financial supports to clients (many of whom are women, mothers, and newcomers to Canada.) To be clear, that money is going to run out – the crisis is not over, and the Rally isn’t raising as much this year as last. Increasingly PWA is going to be asked to do more with less, and that’s hard to see coming.

Team Knit has been trying to figure out how to fix it – or what we can do, or how it is even remotely possible to make some lemonade here, but absolutely everything has proved impossible, and Ken put it best a few weeks ago after a meeting when he said “I feel like all we do is talk about what we can’t do.” That stuck with us. What could we do? What if we flipped it, and asked not what’s restricted or impossible or hopeless…but what’s possible?

We asked ourselves what was possible- what challenges we had and what we could do about them, and what could we do to drive donations and give PWA the biggest rescue we could. We can’t go to Montreal, there aren’t really places to stay on the way and without the rustlers we can’t really move our stuff, and even if we could figure that out the camping was a problem, and without food crew we can’t feed ourselves – and restaurants are still out. (Some are open, but Team Knit is sadly not in a bubble together – so we must remain 2m from each other at all times and that means we can’t sit at a restaurant table together – if we were going to, which we are not.)  There still aren’t any bathrooms open to the public really, and as the only member of Team Knit who can’t pee standing up (or at least really shouldn’t) that’s a strain too. Also, Covid-19 ate Pato’s vacation days so he can only go away for a weekend, and me and Ken and Cam have work too and… well, we got creative. We problem solved. We put on our cheerfulpants and asked ourselves what we could do, and now … we have a plan.

Gentle knitters, Team Knit leaves in the morning for a mighty and triumphant MINI RALLY.

Today we called it “packing day” and I drove around and collected everyone’s stuff, and drove it out to our overnight location. That’s Sam’s house – she lives about 80km away.  While I share a bubble with Sam and her husband Mike (and Mike’s awesome mum Marilyn) the rest of Team Knit does not – so while Sam and Mike have graciously agreed to let Team Knit use the bathroom there – we’ve got tents to put up in their backyard.  (Four – one each.) I solved the lunch problem creatively, you’ll see how tomorrow – I don’t want to spoil it for the rest of Team Knit, and we’ll be able to BBQ once we’re there, and we’ll ride home the next day.

It’s imperfect. Like everything during this lockdown and pandemic, it isn’t what we want. (For starters, even though it’s only 80km (50 miles) away – it is uphill the whole way.) It’s not the Rally, it’s not easy, and there have been moments during the planning that we’ve wondered how much fun it’s going to be, but that’s never been the point anyway.  What’s been the point is all of us pulling together for one goal, for celebrating friendship and taking care of people, and trying to be the change we want to see in the world, and putting our time and efforts where our mouths are.

So, we’re leaving.  I’ll try to post to instagram as we go along over the next two days, and show you what we managed to make work. We’re all turning on the “dings” on our phones, and considering the temperatures tomorrow (scorching) and the distance (far) and the grade (uphill the whole way, into the goddamn wind) and the fact that there haven’t been any training rides this year and we’ve all been on our own… we’d love it if you used it. I will let you know, but anticipate needing a serious boost at around 11am.)

There will only be four of us, instead of a few hundred, and we have to stay 2 metres away from each other the whole time – but we’ll be together. Sort of. Mostly. Making a big push for PWA, and trying to inspire you to inspire us so we can help them, and trying to make our own fun – or fundraiser, as the case may be. It’s not perfect, and it’s not the Rally, but it’s the best we can do. It’s what we can have.

Team Knit remains:

Me

Ken

Cameron

Pato

We love you. (And we all packed our knitting.)

(PS I have been knitting a lot of socks I will show you soon.)

Dear Charlotte

It is tradition in our family for me to knit a blanket for every baby born into it. I’ve made a bunch of them now – starting with blankets for my own daughters, and then Hank. I’ve showered them on nieces and nephews, and a grand-niece and a grandson, and every one I have knit has been an epic. A blanket made just for them, never to be repeated again – with motifs and meaning that is unique to that one person on earth, as special as they are. I knit them for months as the awaited babe bakes away, and every stitch I knit in them is another little wish. Be happy, be healthy, be your own self. Be brave, be funny, be fierce, be all you, be mine.

When I give the blanket to them, there’s always a glorious photoshoot of the recipient nestled in all that love, and… I write them a letter. A missive explaining why I knit them what I did, what the motifs in their blankets mean, and what I hope for them, what I hope the future holds for them, and I tell them how very, very welcome and loved they are, and how happy we all are that they’re here. You’ll find some of those letters here on the blog. Dear Elliot, Dear Maeve, Dear Frankie, Dear Luis…

I love this tradition. In a family that values handmade things as part of our culture, the blankets feel like treasures to me, and they’ve always been treated that way by the parents of the babes, and by the children themselves, when they get big enough. They all call them “my blanket” and I have never doubted that they are the closest thing I can knit to an amulet of protection – my love between them and the world. Wrap yourself up in that, kiddo. You’ll always have me.

Of course, I knit Charlotte a blanket, and it was blocked and folded and waiting for her when she arrived, and there aren’t words to tell you how much I looked forward to wrapping her in it – the lace around her little face, her fingers curled like little blossoms against the wool and silk. We took Elliot’s blanket pictures when he was a week old and Meg and I had agreed that’s when we would take Charlotte’s. Those first few days are just too hard to scramble fancy photoshoots in matching clothes into the mix. We’d wait, we said. The blanket stayed folded, there was no need to rush.

Yesterday, Charlotte would have been four months old. Meg has been asking for almost all those months for Charlotte’s blanket to be photographed and for me to write about it, the way I did for Elliot, and I have been stalling, or maybe it’s unfair to say stalling and it’s really been more like… trying, because of all the items left behind in the wake of that babe’s life, it is the blanket that hurts me the most.

Meg and I speak often of the inner conflict we feel around remembrances of Charlotte. I know it is different for everyone -but for me and Meg, some things have begun to bring us comfort. The pictures and videos of her, or remembering the delicious anticipation of her birth, recalling the joy I felt holding her in my arms, these are things about my little granddaughter I don’t want to forget, and while it makes me sad to see or think of those things, they are balanced with a sweetness and happiness that makes it worth the agony. Other things have remained intolerable. My Ravelry queue, still full of everything I was going to make her is still exquisitely painful to me and I haven’t been able to open it – not after I opened it once without thinking and was confronted with it all. Similarly the tiny clothes I made for her that she never wore are unbearable. It’s funny, but I don’t feel that way about the wee things that we did dress her in. They don’t make me as sad at all, but the unused ones just break my heart.

For me, that is the difference. Remembrances of Charlotte don’t make me sad, but the things we didn’t use are gigantic reminders of the colossal rip off that is infant loss. So it is for Megan I think – we’re on mostly the same page with all of her pictures and belongings, with one difference. Charlotte’s blanket. Meg feels connected to it, often holding it and finding comfort in something that was so fiercely and individually Charlotte’s – a symbol of how desperately loved and wanted she was. Me? I’m the jerk who can’t quite look at it long enough to write the post my daughter wants.

Today – it’s been four months since Charlotte’s perfect day. The day in between the day she was born and the day she died – the day that we all just snuggled in and looked at her and passed her arm to arm and smelled her head and showed Elliot how he could tell that she loved him already, because she was holding his finger in her wee fist, and we let the feeling of tremendous luck and gratitude wash over us. Charlotte was safely arrived, healthy and beautiful, and carrying my mum’s name. It felt like a healing of a kind – one out, one in, the family seeking level like water. Meg and I whispered over her tiny body, marvelling at how she was a girl. It feels a little sexist, doesn’t it? To say we were happy she was a girl? Our family is an undeniable matriarchy – I think it started when my grandfather ceded all familial power by heading off to war, and my Grammy took charge and it’s been down to the women since. There is something special about being a woman in our family – to paraphrase Gloria Steinem, most of us became the men we wanted to marry, and we have a long history of wonderful mothers and powerhouse aunties and sisters and some (okay several) men who have opted out of doing anything amazing with their roles, and it’s left the whole family valuing women more than is strictly reasonable. I love Elliot more than I can possibly tell you and I don’t think having a girl is better than having a boy, but I had only daughters myself, and there was something about Meg having a daughter that lit us both up with a connection. Charlotte would be…. like us. A mother maybe, an auntie, a sister.

This is what I was thinking about while I knit her blanket. That she would join a long line of incredible women that Meg and I would tell her about as she grew. She would have me and Erin of course, but… we are the matriarchs now- it would be only stories that she’d hear about my remarkable Mum and spectacular Grammy that would inspire her. I resolved to start telling that story with her blanket – the story of the women she came from.

The centre of Charlotte’s blanket has little trees of life (I know, obvious – sorry. I get a little romantic about babies) and a border of diamonds because they have four sides – and Charlotte was the person who took Meg, Alex and Elliot from a trio- to a quartet. Meg and Alex will forever now have two children. The four little nupps in the centre of each diamond are for each of them.

Around that centre is ring lace. This is the only element that has appeared on most blankets that I knit – it’s a signature move, and is meant to symbolize the family that surrounds the child, whole and intact, as protectors and help.

Outside that, my favourite. It’s an old victorian lace pattern that’s roses on a trellis – it’s a theme of four again, but this time, it’s for my mum. Anyone who knew her couldn’t help but associate her with her garden, and her love of roses. Roses are like my mum too – and I imagined explaining to Charlotte that my mum was like a rosebush. Not like a rose, you understand, but like the bush. Beautiful soft blooms – and strong canes and thorns. Bonnie (the elder) was soft hearted, but it came with a wicked fierceness that I wished for my Charlotte Bonnie (the younger). There are four roses on each trellis, the same number of children my mum had. Me, James, Ian and Erin.

Beyond that – it’s my own Grammy. Kay McPhee, mercy she was a wild woman and she died when I was a teenager and I still sometimes think about her fingers in my hair as a I go to sleep. She was larger than life, and more beautiful than I can say, and if anyone ever tells me I am anything like her I feel so proud. She was like a willow. Strong, but flexible. Remind me to tell you all about the time she had me fake an illness so she didn’t have to go to a business dinner with my Grampa. Genius. (We got caught.) This panel of Lilly of the Valley is her favourite flower, and it grew all the way along the side of her house, and when I was a little girl she used to encourage me to lie on my tummy in the grass and stick my nose right in it. I recommend the practice. Lily of the Valley also appears on Elliot’s blanket – so a little nod to sibling solidarity there.

The border is the only bit left to tell my Meg about, and it’s the only thing that’s exactly the same as Elliot’s blanket – well, that’s not true. I used the same yarn too so that they’re in the same family – just like Elliot and Charlotte. It is Print ‘o the wave, and meant to signify the same thing it did for her brother. The water we all love to be in and near, the water she was born from, and into, and the wave of love that carried her here to us. It is the part that is Megan – the strong woman that Charlotte came from. There is much that I could say here about the strength I see in my daughter right now. I always knew it was there – but she’s shown more grace though the last four months than I could ever have hoped for. I am grateful that Charlotte had such a good, strong mum. I grieve that she didn’t get more.

I have not found a way to write to Charlotte. Maybe that is for her mother to do, or maybe I am just too much of a realist to write to someone that I know will never read it, and besides, I wrestle with some demons yet. When I wrote to Elliot, I wrote about how content I was as a grandmother- how the fear and terrible worry of being a mum gives way to experience, and that in that there is so much joy. I worried about what might happen to my girls, I wrote- but after they grew up, largely without incident, I thought there was nothing to fear, I could enjoy my grandchildren with a joyful unafraid love that leapt like little fish in the sunshine and made my heart feel like it was made of sparkles. How many times did I reassure Meg, how many times have I told her not to worry, not to be afraid? I was so wrong.

I think it is natural when someone dies, when there is a tragedy like this, that you search for the meaning, purpose and value of it. I think that too because Charlotte was so little, and because forty-eight hours is a pretty short lifespan, that the urge to look for the gift or transformation that her life offered is powerful, and there is an attempt to give weight and motive to a life that couldn’t generate it with time, and I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out what that is.
I do not believe that Charlotte was here so briefly for a reason. I don’t think (and cannot tolerate) any idea that Megan and Alex have had to suffer like this as part of a grand design. They are good parents and made no mistakes and so I can only think it was an accident of nature that took her – like a terrible flood or a disaster that no-one could see coming, and no-one could stop, and I don’t feel like we are supposed to figure it out, but I can see that it’s going to change all of us.

Megan wrote the other day that she feels that this has taken her innocence, and this – this is Charlotte’s legacy, in a very good way. I have spent my entire adult life trying to learn how to be brave, and in particular how to raise brave daughters – and I do not think that was a waste of time at all, but this whole thing, not getting a chance to write Charlotte a letter, to wrap her in her blanket, it has reminded me that maybe when it comes to love, it is perhaps a good thing to be a little bit afraid.

I know now that anyone I love, any person, any moment can be struck by lightning, and since Charlotte came and went, I have tried to love the people I do a little more fiercely. I say I love you more often. I try to bite my tongue a little harder, to pay more compliments, to show more patience, to say yes a little more often, and I see Megan do the same. Can someone who lived only forty-eight hours change this many people? I think, as I look at my tiny granddaughters big blanket amongst the bleeding hearts, that oh, my Dear Charlotte, maybe so.

I’m so glad you were here. I miss you.

An Illustration

Things have been much the same here – working from home, hanging out at home, I can’t tell you how much I miss travel, and my knitting does too, it turns out.  For years I’ve known that knitting socks was my travel solution, I always had a pair in my purse, and I knit while I’m on the bus, on the subway, in cars, on planes – at the queues at shops, waiting for appointments, now that that’s all gone the sock production around here has dropped off sharply, which is to say that it turns out that without really thinking about sock knitting, I don’t do much.   So far this year I have only finished two pairs of socks, and knitters, it’s July.  Something needs to change, and it starts today.

We’re in the car, thanks to the miracles of technology I’m hitting post as we stream along northward with Elliot in the back seat, headed for an almost local Provincial Park and four days of camping.  Cases of Covid-19 continue to decline in Ontario and Canada, only 200 or so in the whole country today, so while many of the rules are still in place (no gatherings of more than 10 people, you have to stay 2m away from anyone not in your bubble, etc.) other things are becoming possible, like camping! The minute we heard we booked this trip, and you’ll happily find us in the woods as much as we can be there now. (What the heck. If you’re working from home, why not work from a tent?)

Since this is a return to travel of a sort, it’s a return to much needed sock knitting, definitely.  I’ve brought three pairs with me, and I intend to turn all of them into finished pairs before i get home, as much madness as that seems like. First this pair that’s missing just a gusset foot and toe – Ancient Arts “Lichen in my Crevices.

Then there’s this pair – missing just about the same thing – One done, one huge foot needed. (Yarn’s Must Stash in Vespa)

This pair isn’t yet a pair – I’m headed for the toe on the first one – knit in Regia Pairfect Rainbow – yeah, I was rocking a Pride theme for Pride month.

It is lunacy of course,  to think that I can possibly finish those up in just four days while chasing an active three year old (Meg is coming, but I suspect that she has some knitting goals of her own) which totally explains why I also have this:

(Neighbourhood Fiber Co – Pride.) I know. It’s all so crazy, but it feels like travel, and I’m so excited, and it might be possible.. right? We’ll see.

Alternate Ending

Leading up to my birthday this year, I was a little bummed. While I don’t usually work on my birthday, this year I was supposed to be at the Strung Along Retreat with my dear friends Debbi and Judith, and a hoard of knitters I adore. I’d thought I would be sipping a spectacular glass of wine, toasting Debbi (her birthday was last week) while I showing everyone at Port Ludlow the latest pictures of my beautiful grandchildren, and did a job that I really enjoy. I imagined that when I got home I’d have a big party with all my beloveds around me. Obviously the stupid pandemic (and a few other knots in my metaphoric skein) meant that things were going to be very different and it was really getting me a bit down.

Since things really got wild over here a few months ago, I’ve made the decision to put my friends and family first, to cling to them and try to be nice to them and try to make this hard time a little easier, and doing that has brought me a lot of happiness during the lockdown, or as much happiness as you can have in a lockdown. It turns out that this is a family trait. There have been a thousand little kindnesses we’ve extended to each other during this time and I’ve been so grateful for all of them. My favourite part of all of it is watching the people in our family who neither need nor particularly want these kindnesses bestowed upon them accept them with a tremendous amount of grace, understanding that sometimes it helps the helper more than the helpee. There have been occasional mismatches, but mostly I am proud to tell you that this family has freakin’ nailed it as we navigate the hardship of a pandemic/loss/separation triple whammy. (Can you have a triple whammy? I know it’s a sports reference but I’m not sporty enough to have the nuance of it.)

I didn’t know what this birthday was going to look like, but I am an adult and I was prepared to make the most of it, but this family – oh, they are divine, and in the end I received such amazing gifts. First, my girls and Ken and Joe came up with an amazing plan, and it was so funny and charming that I laughed my way through the entire afternoon.

They got in touch with everyone that I’ve been missing and sad for, and came up with a scene of fantastical proportions.

 

Every hour, another few darlings of mine turned up in my back garden, and I had a physically distanced visit with all of them.

Every hour Amanda and Joe cleaned the furniture, put out fresh bowls of snacks (separate for every person) and and trotted out drinks in disposable cups and glasses of champagne, and every hour all day we sang Happy Birthday and had cupcakes.

 

Every 60 minutes. (I was careful to pace myself on both the cupcakes and champagne, realizing early that this could end in disaster.)

Through they came, a parade of all my favourites, and by dinner time I was overwhelmed with happiness, but it didn’t stop there, oh no, it did not.

The greatest gift I received this year (oddly, from the province of Ontario) was that Ontarians were allowed to expand their social bubbles. It’s not perfect, you can only have 10 people in your bubble, and no person in Ontario can be in more than one bubble – there’s a massive element of trust and monogamy, but that day, for the first time in months, our family was together.

It wasn’t perfect. Ken and Pato remain outside our bubble (their living arrangements mean they’re automatically in other bubbles) but I was with Elliot and he was with his Aunties, and the whole thing was as much a celebration of the family as it was my birthday. We lingered together long in to the evening, Elliot asleep in Grammy’s big bed upstairs, talking and eating and sitting in the garden under the twiklelights, all wondering how we’d ever managed without each other for so long.

I thought watching Elliot fling himself into the waiting arms of his aunties would be my favourite part, or even holding him in mine… but it wasn’t. Do you know, as the girls grew up and starting from when they were very little, I made a decision. it was a tricky one and one that has taken years to reinforce, years to implement – and years of quietly working things out so that they sort of had no other options, but I wanted my daughters to be each other’s best friends. I know that being sisters isn’t perfect, and they all have relationships outside the sisterhood, of course, but I wanted them to be close, to depend on each other. To be a team, if nothing else. This worked. I don’t know if they are each other’s besties, exactly, but they are a united force, and they depend on each other to a very great degree.

Watching them be able to embrace for the first time in 87 days was the best gift I have ever, ever received. I know we had to be apart to protect each other and our communities, and for the sake of vulnerable people and none of us could imagine doing something that would endanger someone else’s mum, not after we know what it was like to lose mine, but watching them console each other after so long… I can’t believe now that we did it.

We all pine for having our family all together, and for a time when we don’t have to sit so far from those we love, but that Sunday? It was perfect, and I mean it when I say it was the perfect gift, even though Elliot made me a pipe cleaner bracelet that is clearly going to fit right into my wardrobe.

 

It all came right as I thought I couldn’t take a minute more. For those of you who still can’t be with the people you love, hang in there. It’s worth it, and maybe it will be sorted by your birthday.

Finally – so many of you have asked about the Bike Rally – it being sort of traditional to donate to the ride if you were feeling the urge to give me a present on my birthday – so here is where we are at.

It’s not happening. I mean – of course it’s not happening. How could it happen? A group of 450 cyclists and crew (a bunch of whom are immunocompromised) travelling together from one province to another? The province currently isn’t allowing groups of more than ten people to gather, the campgrounds set up are only at 50% capacity, and the city of Montreal isn’t issuing permits. Of course it’s not possible. We’d kill people and spread the virus. The Rally is supposed to help, not hurt so this year we are trying to take the Rally virtual.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I am not consoled by virtual events. I am too clever and I suspect you are as well, to think that they are even remotely the same, that they scratch the same itch. That said, it is a heartbreaking truth for PWA that as our event goes virtual, their needs remain not virtual at all – in fact, the pandemic has meant that they are seeing an increase in the number of people with HIV/AIDS who need support now, and a reduced ability to fundraise, thanks to the cancellation of Pride Festivals and with many donors being under financial strain. To boot, it is far more complex to provide those services with the restrictions we have in place. Clients who had jobs that were helping might not now, clients with support may be missing that now, and clients with children are now under additional strain, with no school, childcare or camps. The needs rise, and the fundraising goes down, and so here is where Team Knit is at.

We talked it over and we decided we would ride the Rally anyway. Not together, and not all at once because the restrictions won’t allow it, but we decided to cycle 600km between now and the end of August. Then we looked at that goal, and we decided it wasn’t lofty enough It wasn’t… hard enough. The Bike Rally exists as a fundraiser as sort of a contract. We commit to doing something difficult, and you commit to supporting us, and tootling along riding a paltry 600km (I cannot believe I just typed that) doesn’t seem… inspiring, does it? It didn’t to us.

We talked it over again, and now Team Knit has decided to (oh I can’t believe I’m typing this publicly)…. cycle the equivalent of the rally each month for three months. June, July and August, and let me tell you that seemed crazy, and then we started trying to do it. All four of us still have jobs (thanks for the Patreon you lot!) and then Ken fell off his bike and hurt his knee (he’s going to be okay don’t panic) and there are no organized rides and we can’t ride too far from home because there’s no infrastructure for it (like bathrooms or food) and we can’t really be together, and… it turns out it’s really hard. Super hard, but we’re going to try, darn it – because no matter how hard it is, it’s easier than having AIDS during a pandemic, and PWA needs a way through the next year.

This year, Team Knit is the old faithfuls. (Photo taken last year when we were still allowed to touch each other.)

Me
Ken
Cameron
Pato

I know that things are tough all over, and I know that it’s possible all you can send us this year is luck and love, and we appreciate that a great deal. I know too that usually now I would fire up the Karmic Balancing machine, and I might yet – but I wanted to get a feel for what you all thought first? I know I’m tired of quarantining or wiping down packages, and I know that it would be an extra trip out to the post office for me to send something to someone now and while things are starting to be less scary in Canada (and I have been to the post office once) we’re still supposed to keep our public contact to a minimum.  I know so many of you are in the US- the epicenter of the world’s pandemic, and that with hundreds of people dying every day still – you might not feel comfortable going to the the post office, or getting a package. I am wiling to consider it if it seems or becomes reasonable, but don’t want to facilitate a system that gets anyone hurt – that’s so totally not what the Rally is meant to do (despite Ken’s banged up knee.)

Let’s think on it, and I’m open to feedback in the comments – thanks for being there. Let’s try to find a way to be nice to as many people as we can, with the minimum amount of risk.

You know, someday we’ll all read about this year in books.

Seasonally Appropriate-ish

Now that I hang this finished thing in the back garden to show it to you, I can see that I was wrong about it. (I am physically distanced from all the World’s Top Knitwear models at the moment. I guess I could ask Joe to do it, but I know exactly how it ends and choose not to go there. For two people who’ve been locked down together for eleven weeks we’re getting along just fine, and part of that is that we try really hard to care about the things the other person is interested in and in return, don’t ask the other person to have to pretend too often.)

Shawl: True Colors Yarn: Fiber Optic Kashmir 6-pack in Spice, along with a skein in the natural grey.  (Edited to add: Thanks to everyone in the comments who tipped me off that I’d forgotten to link to the pattern – there you go!)

While I was knitting the last little bit of this one, it seemed to me rather hopelessly autumnal and it didn’t scratch the itch of spring fever that I had.  I was looking to embrace summer with my knitting, bright colours, hope and joy – it didn’t speak to me of flowers and warmth and water. (To be fair, not much in my stash does.) Now that it’s done though?

Doesn’t it just.  I love it.  I think it’s just so pretty, and I believe I’ve got that little jolt of bright acid springtime yellow to thank for it.  It’s exactly the colour of new leaves, and that ruby red is like the red of ranunculus or sweet peas.  I’m entirely smitten.  I admit, it hurts just a little to finish something so cozy as it gets truly hot around here, and I am rather short of places to wear it,  but I have hopefully hung it near the back door, ready in case there is a cool evening.

Still hungry for summer colours, a rampage through the stash turned up this kit, and I started to feel like I had the hang of this season. Summery – right? I’m getting the hang of this.  I’m out of my box.

Yarn: some antique (and sadly discontinued) Schaefer Heather (in bluebell) Pattern: Undulating Waves.

Don’t those little beads remind you of water trickling through a stream on a day with bright blue skies? Of forget-me-nots and rhododendrons…

It is a shame then that I dropped it like a hot rock when yarn came from Lichen and Lace (the used-to-was owner of the famed Lettuce Knit here in Toronto, now turned dyer extraordinaire in New Brunswick.)

They’re beautiful to be sure – but I opened the package and was disappointed for a second, wondering if I was retreating to my typical fall colours. (That’s 1-ply merino in “woods” and Marsh Mohair in “Shrub”)  I wondered if I was really any good this spring and summer knitting thing, and then I laid the little beginnings of my sweater in the heuchera by the door for a photo, and look.

It’s a summer Love Note after all. (Literally.  Now that the whole rest of the world is finished knitting that sweater I might as well make one. Nothing says Toronto heat wave like mohair!)

Wednesday, I think

I just turned off the TV.  For us, the escalation of the pandemic and lockdown (still locked down, thanks for asking) went hand in hand with Charlotte’s death, and in the weeks that followed I fell into the habit of waking up in the morning and getting my coffee, and then sitting myself on the chesterfield and anxiously knitting while watching the virus rip through the world, fixating on the numbers and rates of transmission and being really anxious about it all. I thought it was making me feel better – I thought information was some measure of control over an out of control world. After a while, as the fog of grief and shock began to lift and I could think a little more clearly, I realized that the TV thing was not helping. Sure, some measure of information really made a difference, I really did need to know what was happening, but it slowly dawned on me that I have never actually gotten around to picking up PHD’s in Epidemiology and Public Health, and that I was essentially unqualified for this whole thing. I decided then to concede to people who actually have PHDs in Epidemiology and Public Health (not politics) and do what they asked me to do without questioning it too much. This flies in the face of my nature, but this is an exceptional time when my opinion or what I’ve managed to cobble together from the internet really doesn’t make me qualified to come up with my own plan.

I stayed in touch enough with the news to understand that the impact the virus was having was unequal, that I had a responsibility to protect those at greater risk than myself with my own actions in my community and to help those trying to solve the broader problems it is causing in the world. Do I know what to do about the impact this is having in developing countries where poverty is already entrenched, where public health measures aren’t possible to enact, where there aren’t health care systems in place, never mind overwhelmed ones? No – but I do know that I can look to the people experiencing that, and organizations who specialize in understanding those problems, and support them as much as I am able. For me, this took the form staying home (since I am a human alive right now with the ability to do that, and can therefore make sure I’m not part of the problem) and of supporting health organizations (like MSF) community organizations like food banks and PWA. Empowering the experts seemed better than me guessing, and I wrote my politicians and told them it was important to me that they centred the people who are most vulnerable, and that it was a path to my vote or the loss of same.

To be clear, I haven’t been able to do this every day. Some days I have only been able to knit, and cry about my little granddaughter while physically distanced from the world at large, and the big picture has gotten entirely away from me. I don’t even know for sure if the things that I’ve done have been the right things, but I know for sure that it was better than just watching TV and feeling completely helpless.

Then last week, while watching an emotionally and situationally appropriate amount of TV, Joe and I watched the news in horror and over the next few days, the TV habit was back. I’ve been glued to it, searching for understanding, trying to absorb the rage and fury, and waiting – like the pandemic, I guess – for the moment that watching enough of it gave me understanding and I knew what to do. It didn’t work, and after a few days of not knowing what to do or how to help I realized that this problem is the same as the other one. A global crisis is killing people, and just the same as with Covid-19, because I am a human alive right now, I am a part of the problem, and can be part of the solution.

At the risk of comparing a very small problem with a very large one, do I need or want Joe’s advice on whether I should rip back a piece of knitting? No Knitter, I do not, and I can tell you that the fastest way to make the problem I’m having worse and make me feel unheard, angry and disrespected is for him to give me uninformed options. Am I sure I need to rip this out? Yes. I have been knitting my whole life and I know a problem when I see it. Also, I’m experienced enough to know that other solutions haven’t worked, and I’ve tried the ones that could have worked already, and just because he can’t see what’s wrong with the knitting doesn’t mean there isn’t a problem. It means he’s unqualified to know. Just pass me the ball winder and extend your help dude, it’s what I asked for, and what I know I need, because I am a damned expert.

So, a few days ago I turned off the TV (enough, not completely, I still feel like there’s a responsibility to know what is happening) and started looking for more experts. People with the lived experience that is a PHD in systemic racism. I conceded that I do not know what needs doing, and that they don’t need me and my lack of experience questioning what will work and what won’t, what’s been tried and what hasn’t.

I recommitted to hearing what I do that could make things worse. I know nobody wants to say their actions are racist, and I see that this is the moment where white people balk, – but there is simply no denying that I’m part of a system that is racist, and that the same way that a world built by men has resulted in greater suffering and death for women, a world built by white people resulted in the same for people of colour, and that means that every day I get to experience whatever hardship and suffering I encounter within a system designed by people like me to make that as easy as can be. The same way that know that even though I try to be a good person, I could give someone Covid-19 if I don’t comply with anti-Covid guidelines, I understand that I can be racist if I am not actively anti-racist.

I’ve doubled down on trying to find people who are experts (that’s people of colour, and the organizations that support them) and listening to what they say will help – what they think I can do – what actions they know will make a difference, and every day I’m trying to do some of the things on that list. (What list? You’d be surprised how easy it is to google “how can I be anti-racist.”) I’m also working (like Joe and the knitting) not to offer suggestions and judgments about how to solve a problem that I can not experience.

Like the things I’ve done around the pandemic, I don’t know if these are the right things, but I do know that it has to be better (and takes less time, ironically than just watching this on TV.) I’m just telling you because I think that if you’re a white person who’s currently feeling really terrible about every aspect of this, I want you to know that looking at it from the perspective of the experts, and doing what’s asked of us by people who know better  could actually improve things. At the very least, it’s respectful to the people with the experience to show them that you understand if they say it’s time to rip back the knitting.

Rules are made to be, sorry… what?

I know I’m not the only one who feels this way –  but doesn’t it seem like there’s something wrong with the flow of time? Here in Toronto we’re still waiting for the world to open up a bit. A few stores have opened, those that can meet the strict health regulations,  but except for those for those few people and our essential workers, we’re still in our homes, still missing each other, and it makes time… weird, doesn’t it? I feel like there’s not that much to do, but somehow the days are both long and short at the same time,  blurring and evaporating.  The way spring has come here makes it all the more strange.  Just two weeks ago I was watching the snow fall and cursing this northern wasteland and it’s eternal winter, and now the lilacs are out, everything is blooming, and we’ve just had three days of our first heat alert of the season.

It makes it hard to know what to knit, doesn’t it? It makes it even harder to follow the rules – it rained the other day and I almost got out the spinning wheel, but it’s summer rain now, and that means that the sky opens and dumps 43577 million litres of water, and then by the time I’m standing in the stash trying to decide what to take down to the wheel, the sun is out and the birds are all laughing at me. I only had time for a brief conversation with myself the other day, and it went like this:

Me: Oh! It’s raining. Let’s spin!

The me in charge: Okay. Sure, that’s the rule. What would you like to spin?

Me: A gradient! To make a shawl. A lace shawl.

The me in charge: Okay, sure – I’m sure we can find something like that in here, how about…

Me: AND IT SHOULD BE PINK LIKE FLOWERS. Maybe with some yellow, and little bits of blue like the sky and

The me in charge: Listen, we don’t have that. You hate that. Look at this nice one that’s the colour of…

Me: Winter. That’s the colour of winter. I won’t spin it. I want PINK, and lilac and daffodil and grass green and warm sand and…

The me in charge: I can’t work with you when you’re like this.

That was the moment that I knew that I’d tipped over the edge, I don’t know if it’s our recent loss or the soul depleting nature of a winter, or the sadness and perpetual weirdness of navigating a pandemic, but suddenly I couldn’t cope with one more thing that even remotely looked like the season we’ve just limped through. I powered though the last few things on the needles that seemed ridiculous.  Mittens? What kind of fool am I?*

(Pattern, if you are inexplicably in the mood, is Signal Hill – the yarn is my handspun from the last time it rained and I was obedient.)

Fingerless mittens? Those will come in handy. (See what I did there?)

(Pattern, should you live in Australia, is X-Mitts, the yarn a particularly cozy and warm discontinued beauty from Dirty Water Dyeworks.)

Warm, winter spice coloured shawl?

What was I thinking? What was my plan? When I decided to take that out two weeks ago where was my head? What about the impending summer spoke to me and said “cashmere.” I mean, it’s lovely (you can’t tell because it’s taking a bath in the sink, but it is all the gorgeous colours of the fall and coming winter and wrong, wrong, wrong.

Now, it’s raining again, and I’m not spinning.  No, no.. because there is nothing in the spinning stash that is the pink of hydrangeas, the purple of lilacs, the yellow of forsythia, the viridescent sparkle of fresh leaves.  I’m putting shorts and changing the channel.  Someone get me some *&^%ing sky blue.

*Yeah. I know. I’m Canadian. Winter is coming – it’s not like this won’t all be used in about 15 weeks, but couldn’t we pretend for a day that it’s never coming back? 

One Knitter to Another

It is one of my favourite things to knit for other knitters.  I know that seems counter intuitive, I suppose on some level you think that if they already have a pathway to knitted stuff that they aren’t going to want to get a gift of knitting. I mean, if you already had a blender, or in our case it’s more like you own a blender factory,  then a blender is going to be a pretty crappy gift.

It turns out though, that at least in my experience, knitters love getting knitted gifts. (Admittedly they also like yarn as a gift, but that’s to be expected.) In my knitting career it hasn’t been unheard of for the recipient of a knitted gift to not meet said gift with the enthusiasm that I’d like them too.  I hand them the box, they open it up, take out the pair of socks or scarf or whatever it is and say “Oh wow. Nice socks. Thank you, I love them.” That may seem like the right thing to say and non-knitters, it is enough gratitude, I assure you, but it is nothing compared to what happens if you give a knitter a pair of socks, which is that they totally get what has just happened. They know what you’re giving them, they know how long it took to make it, they know that you just took however many hours of your life that you could have given to anyone on this earth and gave it to them. That you couldn’t think of anyone else that you would love to give this container of love and time to, and furthermore, they are usually pretty damned impressed that this love-vessel fits.

Over the years I’ve trained most of my common victims in the mighty ways of knitters. They know now when I give them a knitted thing what they’re really worth, and they know how to take care of them (or return them for care) and they appreciate knitting properly. Still, there is no joy like bestowing a piece of knitting on someone who’s going to notice… well, everything.  So it is with this sweater for Ken.  I finished it the other day and after it was done I left my house (how weird is that eh?) and I went over to Ken’s house (he lives very close by) and I put this sweater on his porch, and then texted him, and backed up onto the path so we would be distanced when he came out to get it.  (I cannot &^%$ing wait until I don’t have to treat the people I love like they are potential poison. It is so hard on the heart.)

He came out and was delighted to see it, and tried it on right away, and noticed all the things that he was meant to.

I took that woefully inadequate physically distanced picture of him, and asked him to selfie a few shots of the thing for all of you, and I waved to him (what a nightmare this is) and took myself off back home.  Ken did take some great self portraits (or it is possible a housemate helped him)  and because he’s a knitter, he took pictures he thought that other knitters would like.

Pattern: Rift.  Yarn: Good old Cascade 220, in 8400 – charcoal.

He’s showing you the details of the seams, how it looks under the arms – he’s commented on how beautifully it fits, and it should. I took his measurements back in March before I wasn’t allowed to touch him.* He loves the details on the side, he’s made an appropriate amount of fuss about the tubular cast-on at the bottom and sleeves, and he’s asked how the neck is right, why it’s not stretching out of shape… did I reinforce it? (I did not. I just always pick up stitches at a bound off edge so that it’s nice and strong, which was 100% an answer he cared about.)

The point is, Ken knows exactly how big and nice the love container I knit for him is, and that means that when pulls it on, it should feel like the full breadth of my love is there. Only another knitter could feel the sentiment behind a tubular cast on. Only a knitter.

Until we’re together again Ken.  Wear the sweater.

*There is some hope on the horizon here in Ontario. We’ve had low/declining cases for a while now, and we’re going to Stage 1 of easing restrictions on Tuesday after the holiday. It means certain kinds of businesses will be able to open if they can meet the strict public health rules, though the rules mean that open isn’t really open, they can take so few customers.  No restaurants yet, and no schools or daycares, certainly, and it’s been made clear to us that we’re ages off of being able to get a haircut. We are hoping that there’s some easing of the distancing rules and group size rules (we’re at no more than 5), and that you’ll start being able to have contact with people outside your household bubble.  We’ve got our fingers crossed that the coveted “double bubble” might not be far off for this province, though Canada’s commitment to letting the science lead the response might mean we all have to be apart a little longer. I can’t wait to hug Meg and Elliot. (Ken it will be you right after. Triple bubble.)

Like watching paint dry (exactly)

Ken’s sweater is all done, but for the making up, and the neckband. Honestly, I can point at a million projects of my youth and tell you that the number one thing that stood between me and greatness back then was laziness and a lack of patience.  Everything I’ve ever made that was just exactly as I’d hoped, everything that’s a 10/10 is that way because I resisted some urge to take a short cut, and so as is proper, all the parts of Ken’s sweater have been blocked before the making up. Everything goes together so much nicer when this step happens first, so I’ve been walking by them since yesterday morning. I keep walking by and giving them a pat and waiting for them to be dry. They are not, and I’m not sure the constant patting is making a difference but I intend to keep it up. At best it’s got to be helping the air circulate.

While I’m waiting I’ve been pounding out a pair of mittens from the handspun – I settled on Signal Hill because it was so well suited to four colours and because I’ve knit on top of that hill more than once, and it’s nice to remember. (If we are ever travellers again, you should go there directly.) I’ve got one done, it’s a pretty fast knit, and I am grooving pretty hard on the 70s vibe these have.  I really like them…

they remind me of tile in my grammy’s bathroom when I was growing up. (They went perfectly with the avocado green bathtub and I don’t care what you say, that was cool.)

One to go- though I thought I might wind up spinning today, but after a few minutes of reflection I can tell you that I am hereby reaffirming that the rule is that I will spin when it rains – not when it (*&%Cing SNOWS.  (Let us pause and reflect here that while May snow is technically legal in Canada, it seems like a bloody insult when we’ve already got a pandemic and murder hornets. This plot is overwritten.) I decided to ignore the snow, which is the way that my mother taught me to handle rudeness.

Moving along, I also fixed a pair of Cameron’s socks – he’s got a pretty good sock drawer rocking these days, and he and I can’t be the only ones who think so, because he went into his sock drawer a while ago and found that three pairs of handknit socks had been thoroughly munched. He returned them to me for rehab, and I’ve started making my way through the repairs. (What the hell there is still snow.)

The first pair I tackled had the simplest damage – just the heels had been chomped, so I picked up stitches round the heel –

Snipped it off.. (relax, it’s not that bad)

and knit new heels,

then dumped them off on Cameron’s porch.  Many thanks to the gentleman for helping me out with finished object photos – who knew that physical distancing would mean that he’d have to rise to the challenge of photographing his own feet. He did really well for a rookie.  (There are two more pairs to go, I expect him to get better with each.)

I’ve fixed the next pair, and this time I took videos of how I was doing it – talking a bit about the process, and that brings me to the next thing, and it’s a thing I feel a bit awkward about, though as I talk it through with Joe and friends (mostly friends who are also textile teachers) I’m starting to come around.   I have figured out (although my natural optimism really did slow this process down a lot) that it is going to be a long time before I can go back to work – before most knitting teachers and public speakers can go back to work. Starting with the problem at it’s most basic, the border is closed, and any way you slice it I think it will be a long time before the it opens again, and even if it does, I think it’s going to be quite a few months before travel based teaching to groups is safe, easy or fun.

I thought about “virtual” teaching, I know some other teachers are trying it, but it doesn’t seem like my jam, and so I’m going to try my own thing, even though I am not completely sure what that thing will be. To that end, I’ve started a Patreon. If you’re not familiar, it’s a platform where artists (that’s me) connect with people who like what they do (maybe that’s you) and you pay X money per month (man the Canadian in me hates this money talk) and I provide some of what I make for you. (So awkward.) The traditional set-up is that some people pay $, and they get a certain amount of content, and then other people pay $$ and they get more, and then other people pay $$$ and they get even more.

I don’t know about you, but inequity feels super wrong to me right now (ok most of the time) when some people have money just because they’re lucky and other people are broke because they happened to have the wrong job at the start of this and I don’t think that if a roll of the dice happened to mean that you’ve got more than someone else you should necessarily get more than someone else and yes, my little socialist Canadian heart is beating hard here) so I’ve decided that while I will do a Patreon, there is only going to be one tier, and that everyone gets all the same content at that tier.  There is an option to pay more if you feel like it or you’re Bill Gates (in which case lay it on me sir I will spread it around) but I’ve settled on a price low enough that I hope it’s as accessible as it can be while still being worth my work. It’s $6 a month. I’ve decided to keep the price low so that I can keep production values… um, similar. (I have a lot to learn about video editing, for a start.)

I want to be totally transparent here – I don’t know what is going to happen over there.  I know I’ll do some tutorials, convert what of my class material works in that video format, which means that at least once a month I’ll teach you something (or try to, most of you are pretty skilled) and I think that $6 is pretty reasonable for a mini-class or tutorial. I’m also thinking about some audio stuff – I’ve got an unemployed audio guy sitting right here (pantless) so maybe some story telling would be cool, or maybe I’ll take advantage of how many very neat people I know, and try introducing you to them. Maybe I’ll do something else – I don’t know. I can’t promise I’ll do anything in particular but I will produce some forms of entertainment overt there on the regular, and more than that, I promise that if I include another maker in an offering, I’ll compensate them properly. There’s lots of teachers hurting, and there’s got to be a way to help some of them with my platform, so I’ll try to do that.

What I can promise is that this blog is going nowhere. This is blog is my home life, who I am and my connection to the broader community and I can’t live without it.  The Patreon is work – a replacement for what I did when I was on the road, and so you can expect things to stay pretty much the same here – you don’t have to sign up for the Patreon to stay in touch with me any more than you had to sign up for a class before.

I don’t know if this is the right thing to do. It’s been a hard slog over the last several weeks figuring out what my work is going to look like, how I’ll make ends meet, and I’m just so grateful that Joe and I have savings and resources to pad things while we get through this, I know some of you don’t, and my heart is so with you.  This is a hard time for so many, even if it is not snowing where you are.

I love all of you, and I hope you’re safe.

Less like a slog

Yesterday was dreadful. I was a misery case for much of the day – no need to go into any details, I’m pretty sure we’d all have no trouble thinking up a few good reasons to feel crappy at present, if you wanted to sit down and make a list. I did all the right things, went for a walk and a run and got some sunshine on my face, and I made a nice dinner and I knit myself silly, and took lots of deep breaths, remembering that for better or worse, all states are temporary. I got a good night’s sleep and this morning I feel more like myself – more hopeful, more optimistic and with a clearer ability to see that it’s all not as bad as it could be, and the up side of being capable of not much more than knitting yesterday?

I’m almost done the sleeves of Ken’s sweater. I’ve got about 14cm to go on one of them, and only maybe about 5cm on the other, and then I’ll start the shaping and they’re as good as done. Yesterday I was convinced that Ken had long and stupid arms, but today his arm length seems completely reasonable.  I don’t know if it’s because my mood is better today or that I’m just so close to done, but I’ve almost entirely stopped mumbling about him being built like an orangutan. (He’s not. I think I was just crabby.)

(Someone always asks what the strands of yarn are, weaving in and out of my knitting – they’re running markers, how I keep track of rows or compound instructions. I flip a piece of yarn back and forth between my needles every so many rounds and it counts where I’m at for me. I’ll show you sometime, but it’s how I make sure things that come in twos are the same.)

Moreover, it rained on the weekend and so all four of those little skeins are finished, and now I’ve just got to figure out what they want to be. There were lots of good suggestions on instagram yesterday, and I think they want to be mittens. Which mittens? Too soon to tell, since nothing is singing my name too loudly at the moment, but maybe I’m just not listening. If you’re in the suggestion business, each of those little skeins is about 75m (for a grand total of about 300m, if you don’t feel like adding) and the yarn is rustic and sturdy, so I think the mittens should be too. Maybe something like the ones from Saltwater Mittens? Rigged for four colours? Who knows. It will come to me, I hope.

In the meantime, that sweater is going down. This is no time for grey, but it’s definitely a good time for the joy of a finished thing, and an even better time to put a friend in a new sweater. There’s still plenty of chilly left in Canada.