August 28, 2013

The Hurrier I Go

I woke up this morning and vowed that today was the day. I lay there, making mental to-do lists before coming downstairs to face literal reams of them, and I wondered what it is that I keep doing two things:

1. Making to-do lists that are at best, completely defeatist and unrealistic about how many hours are in a day, and at worst, lunatic.

2. Believing that the only thing standing between me and having that list completed is a decision.  

A decision? Yeah. Here I am, day after day, with excellent and awesome evidence that there are only 24 hours in a day (and that I must sleep for at least six of them, or I want to alternately kick the cat and sob about laundry) and that I can only work for about 12 of them or my life isn't worth 10 cents of happiness - and still, most mornings I wake up and think "Today I'm getting it together."

Getting it together means that in my mind I'm going to get up, work like a demon all day, get more done than I ever have before, really put my nose to the grindstone, have not one minute of the day that is less than efficient or completely applied, and also clean out the linen closet and re-wash everything in it, because the cat got in there and lay on the towels, and now whenever anyone dries off after a bath, they look like they need an electrolysis appointment. 

I'll lie there, take a deep breath, and decide that today (and really, every day for the rest of my life) this is who I am going to be.  I am not going to be distracted by my knitting,  I'm not going to throw in the towel when my sister calls, I'm not going to watch a movie in the evening. I am going to work.  All day.  Without cease or regret until I am caught up.  

Then I get up, and despite having made a really unreasonable decision to be a completely different kind of person than I have ever been before, I have the same kind of day I always do, which means I work plenty hard and get a lot done, but still spend an hour googling pickled beets in the afternoon because I'm suddenly gripped by the idea of making them.  Then night comes, some things on the to-do list remain, and I go to bed and lie there... staring at the ceiling (damn, that really, really needs repainting) and flagellate myself with regret, and swear that tomorrow will be better and I will be a whole different sort of person than I was today.  Again.

Anyway, I know this was silly, and circular, and it's just a way of saying that I didn't get the blanket started yesterday, but I did do a chunk of a sock while I was on hold, and that really, I wonder how old I'm going to be when I stop trying to change who I am every morning, and start making realistic to-do lists that don't have things on them like "fix life" and "get organized" because really, those are super huge jobs that are really unlikely to ever be finished, and it's only that part of me that lies on that bed disappointed that thinks it's not going well.  The rest of me realized today that if you dry yourself off with a cat-hair towel, every bit of it falls off your body in about 20 minutes, and where this lady comes from, that's a problem that doesn't need solving.

Posted by Stephanie at 3:43 PM

August 27, 2013

In which there are small sandwiches

 I love baby showers. 

This is not an entirely true statement. It turns out that I love several things to do with baby showers, but maybe not baby showers themselves, entirely.  I'm hopelessly shy, so the whole thing makes me nervous, but I love getting to see the mum to be, and I love watching her be the centre of attention, even though if it was me, I would rather go lie in the path of a bus.  (This may or may not be related to my fear that someone will make a hat out of all the bows and ribbons from the packages, and make me wear it - which has never happened, but I see pictures, and I live in fear. We didn't make Robyn wear a hat.)

I love seeing all the presents being opened, and at this shower, I loved that there was a plethora of knitted stuff. There was a little hat,

and some bootees, and Kelly made a sweater (I don't know the pattern, but it was super cute)

and a very sweet version of Pebble. (That was good thinking. I wish I'd done it.)  My niece Kamilah even knit a pair of socks and a little hat while she was with her parents this summer.

We were all very impressed, since Meek hasn't really been called to the needles before, but all was explained when she said that she'd been a little bored. (Oh, knitting - you get all the teenagers when they have no internet.) 

I love cupcakes - sort of, I mean, I don't eat them, but I sure do like the way they look, and I even love the strange little tea sandwiches that we all made. 

I love the way that you can eat seven of them without admitting you've eaten practically two sandwiches. It's like they stop being real sandwiches as soon as you take off the crusts.  (I made those ones.  Radish with lemon butter, and avocado and cucumber with dill and mint.  I heard cucumber is mandatory.  I also made cheddar with fig, and a killer Roquefort and Red Pear that was spectacular. Thank you Martha Stewart. You let me fake posh when it really matters. You should bookmark the radish one in case you ever have a tea sandwich emergency. I made it to 45 without it coming up, but you never know.) 

I love the little things we all had to do, like write wishes for the baby on tiny paper onsies,

or stringing beads along with dreams onto a string for the nursery and I wish desperately I thought of things like that - but I didn't. My big nursery tip is that the crib holds a lot of laundry, once you give up on keeping the baby in it.  (What can I tell you. I nursed my babies in part so that I didn't have to stand up at night. I'm that kind of mother.) 

It was a lovely affair, a beautifully brilliant shower, and not at all silly, and I totally finished the little layette for our new wee one on the way.

There's no pattern, because I'm still writing it up, but I was entirely thrilled with how it came out.

The little bootees, the tiny hat...

and yeah, in the end I went with the taupe cotton ribbon, and the little buttons that looked like stone. The look seems so classic to me, and I think Robyn liked them a lot.

It turned out that I sort of messed up the whole shower thing a little though.  On Friday night I was desperately knitting and sewing and making tiny sandwiches and generally losing my mind, when my Mother- in -law pointed out that the shower was Sunday, not Saturday, and after I ate all the tiny sandwiches in a wave of devastation (and planned to go buy more radishes the next day) I realized that the good thing about the shower being a day later was that it meant I had one more day to knit - so I did.  One little tiny thing, just a little token... just a little something that says that no matter what kind of baby arrives, I'll be a thrilled auntie, and that it doesn't matter, Girl, boy....

I have no preference.

Maybe just a wish. 

(Pattern, Pink set with hearts, yarn Simply Sock Yarn in peach.)

I know there's someone good in there, and I can't wait to meet them.
I better go knit a blanket.

Posted by Stephanie at 3:01 PM

August 23, 2013

Buttons are Cheap

This morning I went down to the fashion district and bought some ribbon and buttons for the layette set. That makes it sound simple, doesn't it?  What really happened is that because I live in a world of denial and still believe that it's possible to finish this set before the shower tomorrow (set now missing booties and 1.5 sleeves, we shall see) last night I searched the house for an appropriate length of ribbon and a few perfect buttons and came up short. There was nothing that went together, or if it went together,  it didn't go with the yarn, or there wasn't enough.  I decided that nothing could be done but a trip downtown to replenish the baby ribbon/button stores, so this morning I got my bike ride done early (6:30-8:30.  It was a pretty dawn) so that I could zip downtown on the subway super fast, grab buttons and ribbon and rip back.  I decided to take the subway instead of biking because I still have the aforementioned delusion that I can finish this thing if I maximize the knitting time and I can't knit and ride.

Off I went, knitting on the subway, until I got to the place where I had to switch to the streetcar.  I got off, went up, queued for the car, and waited nicely.  I only checked my watch about four times.  When it came, I got on the front doors, took a seat, reached into my bag for my knitting, noticed I had no wallet, cursed creatively, violently and silently, and then stood up, walked out the rear doors, back down the stairs, back onto the subway, all the way home, got my wallet and left again. 

I was just about incandescent with rage when I told Joe, just because I'd wasted so much time, but he pointed out that at least I'd noticed before I got off at my stop. He had a point. Without my wallet I didn't have any money to get back on, and if I'd have had to walk home from there it would have made me as nuts as if I fell out of a crazy tree and hit every branch on the way down.

I rushed as fast as I could, but by the time I was back there I was seriously short on time. I walked into the ribbon store and immediately realized I had a problem. I needed one metre of a nice ribbon that went well with cream.

Yeah. That's one corner of Mokuba Ribbons.  I've been in there before, and I'd forgotten it was such a time suck. There's so many ribbons you could stay there all day, pondering the possibilities.  I decided, since ribbon is cheap, especially the thin ribbon I need for the layette, and since I only needed a metre, to get a few kinds, and make a break for it.  I could decide at home, I told myself.  I grabbed what appealed, and sprinted down the street to one of the button stores.

This wasn't an improvement.  I stood there, clutching the ribbon in my hands, looking around me and realizing that I had made a tactical error.  Somewhere in this shop were buttons that matched my ribbon.  Somewhere. I stuffed the ribbons in my bag, and just started choosing buttons I liked.  Some of these, some of those.  Buttons are cheap, I told myself. The little ones are 5 and 10 cents. I grabbed some boxes, took them to the desk and tried not to tap my foot while the lady counted them out.

When all was said and done, I had ribbon, and I had buttons, and they all go together surprisingly well.  I don't mind that I have more than I need, I mean, obviously this is going to come up again, and it's not like I don't have a button bin and a ribbon jar, but it does leave me in a difficult place. 

Ok.  So maybe I got more than a few.  Stop judging. The problem now is which ones to pick?  Something subtle? The taupe cotton ribbon with the little buttons that look like stone? The brown satin, with the buttons that have the brown rings? Cream satin with taupe buttons?

Yellow? Or is yellow just so, so predictable.  Maybe that dirty lime that I love so much? Or, at what point does a baby own way, way too many lime green things.
Maybe something brighter, less classic, more fun and bold?

I'm sure you see my dilemma.  I don't know why I'm worried about finishing the knitting.  I'll be choosing the buttons until I'm old. 

Posted by Stephanie at 4:00 PM

August 22, 2013


I got an email yesterday from a very nice knitter, who was charming and lovely and I enjoyed her note very much, even though it's pretty clear she thinks I'm a bit of a lunatic.  She's concerned about how much knitting I do for babies before they're born. She wonders if I ever worry about a jinx, the mortal consequences of counting my chickens before they're hatched,  if I ever think that I am somehow endangering the baby by assuming it will arrive before it has, boldly daring the fates. 

In short. No.  I have never, ever worried about this, although it's okay if you do. We've all got different superstitions and rules about our lives, and in this case I can tell you that in absolutely no way do I believe that the knitting I do ahead of time will emperil the wee bairns it is for - and by the way, why would I do it if I did?

Wouldn't that make me just about the worst Aunt in the world? Sitting here believing that me making something for the baby was dangerous, but just deciding that it was a knitting risk that had to be taken?  Can you imagine me here pounding out the hand knits, all while hoping against hope that nothing bad happened as a result? Finishing bootees then turning around three times and spitting over my left shoulder? Laying out the finished sweaters under the moonlight and smudging them with sage to improve the odds?

I actually believe the opposite, I think, although I don't think about it much.  Knitting for impending humans feels like improving their chances. It feels like throwing a line out into the ether and towing them in. Preparing the path, paving the way, and making it clear to the fates that there are people looking out for this kid, and expecting them.

The truth is that this is just a bit of optimism on my part. A superstition of another sort,  no more or less valid than the opposite.  The reality is that sometimes good things happen to bad people, and bad things happen to good people and it probably has nothing at all to do with whether or not there was a lot of knitting, but  that sunny Pollyanna in me doesn't really think so. She thinks handknits are great karmic lifejackets, and so I will knit them.

Mind you, that same Pollyanna also thinks I'm finishing this layette by tomorrow, and since it's supposed to be a hat, sweater and bootees (the blanket comes later) and at present it's only a hat and a half sweater, that's clearly crazier than a bag of wet weasels, so maybe nobody should be trucking with my theories. 
Do you have any superstitions about knitting for babies?

PS. I missed giving out a skein of yarn yesterday, Genia had two skeins of STR Hard Rock, and I only gave away one of them.  Today, she'll mail the second to Nicki H. Thanks to both of them.

PPS. Several people asked for the pattern for the baby blanket in the Heirloom entry a few days ago.  That's Luis, and his blanket, and there's no pattern. It's one of a kind. 

Posted by Stephanie at 1:58 PM

August 21, 2013

Tidying up

I know it's been a while since the Bike Rally ended, and I'm not really sure what happened to the time in between then and now, but I've still got gifts to give away and emails to answer - so I'm giving part of today over to getting a bunch of that done.

If you emailed me to let me know that you didn't get an email on how to submit your name, know that I submitted it for you - and I'll all up to date there. 


A sweet little present, the pattern for Slippy the Cowl will be headed off to Carol S and Suzy H courtesy of author, designer and mother of two year old twins, Joanne Seiff . (I can't even imagine she has time for anything, once you get the twins in there.)

Susan has donated a gorgeous kit.

It's her Newport Shawlette pattern, the beautiful hand-dyed yarn to go with it, and all the beads you need. This gorgeous treat will be headed to the home of Kim P.

Everybody wave at Suann!  She's got nice presents too.  Beautiful sets of silver plated stitch markers, the winners choice from her shop,

and a charming pattern for her Doodle Mittens to go with. 

One combo to each of Susan K, Carolyn S and Emily W.

Next up Genia is clearing out some stash, and a bunch of you are going to be happier as a result.  This skein of STR in Love is going to live with Kathy S.

There's one in Hard Rock for Sarah B.

A skein of Ms. LaRock for Jennifer R.

It's Firebird for Helen C.

Happy Go Lucky for Brenda G

and a skein of Lunasea each for both Sage G and Jessie S.

Whew! Genia's generosity makes for a lot of emails.

Next up, the fabulous Stephanie at Rock Solid Designs has donated a beautiful project bag. 

She'll be sending that to Ruth T.

There you go! The first of the last (only one or two more rounds I think) and then we're all caught up. I've emailed all the winners. Thanks, as always for the generosity. You're amazing.

Posted by Stephanie at 5:03 PM

August 20, 2013


It's interesting to me that over all these years, I still can't predict with any real accuracy what points in a post will provoke questions or ideas amongst you guys. The comments are a constant source of interest to me.  I'll post about sweaters and how I don't want the pockets to be too "pouch like" and instead of the expected conversation about pockets and how to make them flat, I'll dial into the comments and discover that you're all debating kangaroo care for newborns.  You're a total wildcard to me, so I shouldn't have been surprised when I made what I thought was an offhand, unimportant comment, and it turned out to be interesting.

I said this "I have in my mind a traditional layette.  A sweater, bonnet, bootees and blanket, all heirloom quality, all beautiful, all unisex, because I have no idea what flavour of relation is set to arrive."

and then I went up to a friends cottage and had a good swim in the lake and a spectacular cuddle with a few little kids and found some amazing caterpillars and skinny dipped under the stars and then I came back, and read the comments and found out that there some interesting ideas about the word "heirloom" and its definition in the comments, and in my email.  (Before you read these, keep in mind that I love this sort of debate.  I adore that we all have different definitions, and I think it's pretty spectacular that it's possible to talk about differences of opinion without getting all hot and bothered. As long as everybody is civil about it, these kinds of conversations are cool.  There's nothing wrong with disagreeing with each other, or with me.)

"What makes something "heirloom quality"? Isn't everything you (or any one of us) make the same quality? How do you change the "quality" of your knitting?"

"...if you have to ask what Heirloom Quality knitting is, you don't knit heirloom patterns. (so difficult and complex that most of us attempt only one in a lifetime...)"

"Knit baby blankets, for certain. I loved covering with them myself when nursing or falling asleep and then they can stay with the child. But I prefer the ones that get well-loved, not heirloom quality. Two of my sons have cotton ones that softened so nicely, and my third has acrylic ones that are scratchy but snuggly for him. A soft hand-knit blankey is precious, for mama and child (and probably many more people)."

"My understanding of it is that heirloom is anything made with good quality material, classic design and workmanship, all of which will stand the test of time. A beautifully knit merino baby surprise cardigan is likely to become an heirloom, a colorful fun fur cardi or an acrylic sweater, no matter how intricate, probably not."

"Not to be snarky, but to me anything that a baby receives that is handmade with care is heirloom quality. I've crocheted many a baby layette and it still amazes me how few babies get handmade gifts anymore."

That's a lot of different opinions, and... here's the shocker. I don't think that when I said "heirloom quality" I meant it any of those ways - I didn't have a particular item in mind, or any specific criteria about what makes something an heirloom. In my head, an heirloom could be acrylic, or fun fur (although I admit that the fun fur thing seems like a bit of a leap, but maybe I could be convinced.)  When Amanda was born 24 years ago all I could afford was acrylic, and that's what her blanket is made of, and you bet I think it's an heirloom.  When I say "heirloom quality" I don't mean that it has to be a crazy pattern, or that you have to weep while you make it, but I do mean that in my head, it's special.

To my way of thinking, an heirloom is something that you're hoping will be passed down, generation to generation, cared for and loved for a long, long time.  I imagine it going on this new baby, then that baby's baby, and that means it can be made of anything that will last that long, although I do think that for something that significant, you'd use the best you could afford. 

When I say heirloom quality, I think of someone unfolding something I knit 100 years from now, and I imagine what I would like that to be. Not everything I make is meant to make that trip. There are sweaters that I know will get trashed in the park, hats that I know will be left on a streetcar, mittens that will be lost in the snow. There are blankets that are meant to be cozy, warm, outstanding utility, things that get worn to death until they're holey, ragged and spent.  I love that sort of stuff, and I knit tons of it and you can't stop me, but I don't think of them as heirlooms. They're important in the day-to-day, but not the long run.  (For example, It's hard to imagine a pair of "heirloom socks". Most of them work too hard to make the trip, and they don't fit everyone, and you see what I mean.)

Instead, when I decide to make an heirloom, I think about my great-grandchild unfolding the thing ages from now. I imagine them taking it out, and showing their spouse, and folding it into the soft pile of beautiful things for their new child. I imagine that I am  long gone, and that the only way they have to represent me in this family is to hold up the thing I made and say "Your great, great, grandmother made this. She was a wonderful knitter." 

"Heirloom quality" means that I put my best foot forward. That I want the thing to be the best I can make, so that it represents my commitment and love to my family a long way down the line. I want it to be represent enough of my skill that it has staying power and resonance for my family. I want them to look at it, and know who I was, and what I wanted them to see and feel.

That, my knitter friends, means that it can never be the same thing for me and you, and that I can't decide what heirloom should be for everyone. We all have different resources, tastes, skills and family traditions. I could never tell you what you would knit that would represent who you are to your family. You're the only one who knows that, and I guess this is the long way around saying that if you tell me you're making a fun fur jacket with sequins for your impending grandbaby, and and then you tell me it's heirloom quality - I might not ever make it, but I'm totally going to believe you.

PS. I'm getting ready to announce something wonderful.  This November, I'm planning to gather in Port Ludlow with a few of my friends, and we're going to have an amazing retreat and it's going to be all about lace.   Judith MacKenzie will be there to teach spinning, Nancy Bush (Yeah, that's who I said.) will teach some fancy stuff, and I'll do my best to deserve to teach alongside.  Debbi Stone will give us a hand. I'm delighted to have found a way to do this, so let this be your official Save The Date.  We're all set to meet up there the evening of Friday November 15th, the classes will be the 16th, 17th and 18th.  More information and registration coming soon. (If you know for sure you want in, feel free to drop me a line.)
If you'd like to follow along as this fledgling business takes a little flight, our new Twitter handle is @StrungAlongLLC, we'll update there, here, and on Debbi's blog.
Here's hoping we don't fall out of the nest.

Posted by Stephanie at 4:04 PM

August 16, 2013

A big thing

As I'm sure I've made you all aware, I am getting a new niece or nephew soon.  I may or may not have over-reacted to this by ordering about 2000 meters of fingering weight from the Loopy Ewe

I have in my mind a traditional layette.  A sweater, bonnet, bootees and blanket, all heirloom quality, all beautiful, all unisex, because I have no idea what flavour of relation is set to arrive.

It will be beautiful.

What's your favourite knitting for a new baby?

Posted by Stephanie at 7:45 PM

August 14, 2013

Welcome To the Flock

Warning. This post contains an extremely cute sweater in a newborn size. It is possible that this sweater may trigger embarrassing cooing or squealing in otherwise healthy, normal adults with a usually reliable degree of decorum.

This warning should be taken seriously. The sweater is very little, and has many small sheep knit into the yoke.  These two factors together can create a force of cuteness that exceeds normal levels.  Symptoms that this sweater may be more than you can handle include suddenly exclaiming "Oh! Widdle sheepies!" while you are still at your desk in front of colleagues,  or finding oneself clapping your hands a little bit, while unexpectedly saying "BAA BAA!" in a disturbingly high pitched voice.

Pattern: Welcome to the flock. Yarn: Rowan Pure Wool Dk in #19 - Avocado (2 balls) and little bits of Black (004) and Enamel (013). Needles 3/3.5mm. Buttons: Vintage from my Grandmother's button bin.

Unfortunately, an additional high pressure system is brought to bear by this sweater when a knitter considers the name of the pattern, and imagines a little lamb cared for, clothed and loved for a lifetime by those that love them, now viewed as "Flock".  (Additionally, it should be noted that those knitters with a special affection for sheep may be more vulnerable to predicted levels of cuteness than anticipated, and should approach this pattern with extreme caution.)

If your reaction is severe, and you find yourself looking at bunnies and thinking that they aren't cute, or wishing for a grandchild, even though your eldest child is only 14 and unprepared in any way for providing you with a sweater model  parenthood, then immediately close your browser and navigate away from the pattern purchase page on Ravelry, or direct your efforts towards the closest family shelter in your neighbourhood. 

(For public safety reasons, I have decided not to make the hat.)


Posted by Stephanie at 3:10 PM

August 13, 2013

Just Add Water

Faster than a speeding bullet, it's a tiny cardigan.  On and off the needles in (almost) record time, it made the trip from yarn shop to Sweaterville in less than 40 hours.
Its ends are woven in,

it has had a beautiful bath,

and now it's drying in the back garden, pondering buttons and the future the world holds for it.  

Anybody recognize the charming pattern?

Posted by Stephanie at 1:03 PM

August 12, 2013

Getting Ready

Yesterday I had a yarn emergency.  It's the only way I know to describe the sudden and implacable need for yarn that I had.  I had a trigger event on Saturday night,  when Joe's family gathered. Now, as a clan, this bunch tends to wander around.  When we were first together it took me forever to get the hang of it. I'd call up and ask to speak to Kelly, and be told (absolutely matter of factly) that Kelly couldn't come to the phone right that moment, as she'd decided to go to Kuala Lumpur.  Any member of Joe's family could be anywhere at any moment. They've all lived all over and travelled all over and they're hard to find. Saturday was pretty special.  Kelly and Ben moved to Madagascar a few years ago, and we don't get to see too much of them, but they're here now for a while, and this night we celebrated their 22 years of marriage. 

The whole family was there (except for Megan, who had something she couldn't move - and Joe Sr. who was out of the province.)

We ate, drank, laughed and played with Lou, and the party went on late, making music under the summer stars. 

Chris and Robyn were there... I know I've told you they're expecting a baby, and Robyn let us fuss over her belly (she's very, very patient with us, as awed and excited as we all are)

and she even let my niece Savannah (freshly graduated midwife that she is) find the baby's heart for all of us to hear.  We gathered around her (all 15 of us) like she was the best movie we'd ever seen.

There's someone wonderful in there, and as Joe and I rode our bikes home, all I could think was that I had to get moving on the knitting.  I've only made this baby two sets of booties and two sweaters and that's not nearly enough for a wee thing being born on winter's eve in Canada.  All of a sudden, the baby knitting had a sense of urgency. When I woke up yesterday, the feeling hadn't passed.  I made a list of the things I'd like to make (the blanket yarn has been ordered) and I went through the stash to see if I had what I needed, and when I didn't, I took all leave my senses and went on a city wide hunt. I ended up, after a few mishaps, at Mary Maxim, where I found the yarn I wanted, and packed up back home.  It was only as I sat there last night, knitting away on one of the ten balls that I had bought, that I started to think about why I'd felt that I needed it all then. Why not wait until this morning? Why charge all over, collecting it up and putting it in a pile.  I can't knit it all now, why buy it all now?

Yarn emergency.  I don't know how it happened.  I think I was just too happy for a regular amount of yarn.

Posted by Stephanie at 4:09 PM

August 9, 2013

Rudimentary Until the Zombies Come

I have knit a washcloth. 

It's a very nice one, and it only took a little while last night, and I think it's quite pretty and lovely and I had planned to make it for a while. I plan to make quite a few of them actually.  I ordered a cone of Sugar and Cream cotton to do it - I'm telling you that so I'm clear that this wasn't a whim.  Yesterday I decided it was as good a time as any to start churning out a stack of them, and two things happened. First, a knitting friend of mine asked what I was making while we were on the phone.  "A washcloth" I told her, and then she didn't say anything. "A nice one." I said, still waiting for her to answer. Finally, after what I suspect was the amount of time it took her to pick herself up off her DPNs, she said "Is it lace entrelac or something?" 

Fast forward about an hour, and my mum was here for supper. After we ate, I fetched my knitting out to the garden and she asked what I was making. "A washcloth" I answered, and spread it out for her to see.
"Oh." She said, and I watched her search for words. "Isn't that a bit...rudimentary for you?" 

That was two people inside of an hour shocked I would be making a washcloth, and you know, that surprises me a bit.  I like a feat of knitterly-daring-do as much as the next knitter, and I'm experienced enough to pull of whatever I like (I think) but why would that mean that I left the world of simple things behind?  I dream of giving away stacks of lovely, hand knit washcloths this Christmas, tied up with pretty ribbon and paired with lovely soaps, and I can tell you exactly why.

In my mother's bathroom (and lots of other bathrooms in our extended family) there is a small pile handknit washcloths. I made them about ten years ago, and they've enjoyed just about constant use since. They are totally ratty and used up, and that flatters me as a knitter. Who wouldn't want their work appreciated almost daily? She loves them. Same goes for my Aunt Yvonne - she'd rather use a handknit one over a store bought, she thinks they're nicer, wash better and last longer, and I think she's right. What's nicer than a hand-knit thing that you can pitch in with the towels on wash day?

I love surrounding myself (and other people) with useful, beautiful handmade things that are long lasting, high quality and remind people that knitted stuff isn't just window dressing. So, why not knit a washcloth? 

(PS. Because someone will ask, and even though I swear you don't need a pattern,   here goes. Using worsted weight cotton and 4.5mm needles, cast on some stitches. I use about 30-35, but this one is 31. Choose a stitch pattern you like. This one is Bee Stitch, but you can do ANYTHING. Whatever goes in the middle, I like garter stitch borders, because I like them nice and square and finished looking. I knit six rows, then keep the first and last three stitches in garter throughout. Knit until it's just about a square, then knit six rows. Cast off. Glory in the useful thing you have wrought. Ignore naysayers. They don't understand how useful your skills are going to be after the zombie apocalypse. They'll be washing their faces with rags and leaves while begging us for a washcloth. We will be as Gods.) 

Posted by Stephanie at 2:22 PM

August 8, 2013

The Wild Rumpus

Let me tell you this. Over the last few months, as I've trained for the rally and finished a book, I have had one word in my mind to keep me sane and give me something to hold on to, and that word my friends, that word has been "August."

Every time I there was something I wanted to do that wasn't writing a book or riding a bike, I just set it aside with a label on it that said "August." The dust bison, roaming freely through the great hardwood plains of the living room?  August. The garden, so overrun with weeds and plants trampled by undeterred raccoons? August.  Mount Laundry, soaring mighty and high in the bedroom, with cresting whitecaps of socks and underwear at the top threatening to topple and bury the cat... the beautiful meals I wanted to cook, the organized kitchen I love to have, the friends I long to entertain in the back garden - dining under the twinkle lights in the summer evenings... August.

Canoeing.  Hanging with Lou, Getting ready for a new niece or nephew, now just two months away. Cycling around the Island with Joe, and I just got this book and I'm going to make some cool stuff like dilly beans. (How did I not know about dilly beans until I was 45? Where the hell have I been living?)   More than anything else though, I have been looking forward to knitting.  I am so excited that I have to work hard to remember that I'm not on vacation and still have a job. (This is very hard when you're self-employed. It would be easier to apply myself to work if there was someone in the office who didn't want to knit all day and wasn't totally willing to take me to a yarn store.)  Now that August is here, I want to do nothing but knit, and there are so many choices that I'm overwhelmed.  This morning I almost lost my cool and cast on like... nineteen things before I got anything resembling a grip. (I did not, however, get a grip before ordering a rather shocking amount of yarn online, but that's a story for another day.)  I decided that since I have lots of stuff on the go, that the way I'm going to do this is to cast on one thing every time I cast one thing off.  

(For the record, I am not opposed to multiple WIPs in any way, shape or form and believe right down to my little toes that there is no moral virtue in having lots on the needles, or very little. Monogamy is right the heck optional in my knitting and the only reason I'm making any effort to limit projects at all is because I would like to finish a few things sometime before I die, and that's not going to happen if I let my horrendously short attention span be in charge of yarn.)

(Yarn: Regia Nation - Colourway 5399, sadly discontinued. Pattern: My plain one from Knitting Rules, needles 2.25mm. Model: Sam, who would have been less annoyed about modelling if these were for her. They're not.)

Finishing these socks (totally a cheat, they only needed one toe) means that now I can cast on something else. I'm thinking baby sweater. No - wait. Shawl. Or socks. Maybe it should be socks because I finished socks. Hold the phone - a hat. I should totally knit a hat, and by hat I mean cowl. Crap, already knitting a cowl. I'll do mittens. 
Or something.
Oh. Man.

No pressure August, but don't let me down.

Posted by Stephanie at 3:58 PM

August 7, 2013

The Pictures I Don't Have

I started writing this days ago, once I could get through an hour without falling asleep at my desk,  trying to figure out how to tell you the story of the Rally, to tell you all the hard things and wonderful things and I realized that there was so much I couldn't tell where to start.  I decided to begin with the pictures, and see what I could show you.  I thought the pictures might reveal the words.

Almost as soon as I did that, I realized that these images are only the tiniest piece of what happened, the smallest hint about what it was like. The pictures don't show you what I really wish I could show you.  My sister Erin took a picture of us leaving. It's moments after the horns and bells and whistles blew and the whole rally (326 riders this year) rolled out of the starting gate.  Jen and I are smiling and laughing, but that picture isn't the whole feeling. It doesn't tell you how scary it is to ride with that many people at once - how afraid both of us were of making a mistake that toppled hundreds of riders and bikes like dominos. It doesn't show you how my heart had leapt up into my throat with fear and excitement,  or how two seconds after that was taken, someone in the crowd yelled "Thank you!" and Jen and I both burst into tears. It says nothing about the feeling of sweeping along in a force bigger than yourself, of realizing an idea to do something big and crazy, and it doesn't show you how it's only at that moment, as you push off on your bike for six solid days of riding, that you realize that it is an absolutely insane thing to do, and that you're doing it anyway.

I wish when you look at these pictures, you could see what the bike part of the rally feels like. I'm a woman who falls up stairs and can't catch a ball and I have always, always been the person picked last for teams, and there's an excellent reason for that. I'm clumsy, I'm not graceful. I'm not good at physical things and I have actual scars from learning how to ride a road bike clipped in last year.  I know that's who I am.

This year on day five,  it rained hard.  My vision is very poor and  my glasses got covered in rain.  The path was winding and covered in gravel, and I couldn't see where I was going, and I got afraid.  I struggled and  panic welled up in me, and finally I had to ask my little group to stop.  I stood there, telling my friends they could leave without me, watching them freezing and dripping in the pouring rain, and knew I was making it worse for them, and I was so embarrassed and humiliated.  They didn't leave me, and I love them for it, but it was a low moment for me.  Eventually, the rain let up and we kept going and I slapped a smile on my face but inside I was feeling like a fraud. I felt like my frailty had been revealed, like Jen and company could have kept going, and I couldn't, and the disappointment was a hard feeling to shake. 

I was standing in line for supper that night and talking to another rider, a stranger to me. We were chatting in line about the rain, and this guy looked at me and said "well, I'm sure you were fine. You're a strong rider."
I blinked, and tried to figure out what was happening, but it didn't seem that he was  trying to flatter me, and it really sounded like a simple statement of fact as far as he was concerned. I stood there trying to imagine myself in those terms. Mostly, I think I get the rally done because I am persistent and stubborn, not physically strong, but when he said those words, I liked the idea a lot, and you know what else?   That bad moment was just a moment, because this year  for whole minutes at a time, I felt good on that bike.  I was better at it, and I think that maybe this is something I could get good at.  Maybe, if I keep trying and working on it, I could be someone that doesn't hold a group back, someone who doesn't have to apologize for how slow I am.  Maybe I could be someone who flies on a bike.

(Jen seen here, loving that we are obstructed by a train. It whirled by us so fast, so big and real that it made us feel the same way.)

I wish I had a picture of how it feels to meet a challenge.  Not just the riding part, but so many things that I'm not usually good at. Things like getting up at 5:30 in the morning, or being dirty and exhausted all the time, or being around so many people all day... or putting on clothes with sparkles.  I am, despite my ability to fake the opposite, a painfully shy person, and it is like the Rally was invented to remind me that leaving my house and taking a chance on other people and practicing being outgoing almost always results in something wonderful, and that the wonderful isn't always what I was expecting.

I wish I had a picture of the feeling in my chest on the fourth day, when everyone who is a top fundraiser wears a yellow jersey, and our little team looked like a ray of sunshine.  The overwhelming feeling of pride I had, not just in me or Jen or Ken or Pato, but in everyone who sponsored us.  You all did what you did because you believe the world is a wonderful place where if we all help each other, things will be  better.   It's such a simple idea, and I almost laugh out loud with sheer happiness when I think of how many of you believe in it.  What you all did for the rally matters, and I know you believe that, or you wouldn't have sponsored us the way you did, but I feel like I have to say it over and over and over again.  You are amazing, good people, creating change and helping others with your choices and we were all so grateful.

If I had another picture, it would show you how I felt about the people I love who did this ride with me.  I'm so proud of Ken, for being the inspiration to do this at all.  It was him who took the first step and dragged the whole family down this road, and it was him who convinced all of us it was possible. He's amazing.  (He also did Jen and me a huge favour and put up our tent every day he was at camp before us, and that was every day.)    Then there's Pato.  When he wandered into our family at 15, I liked him instantly, but with every passing year I love him more, and he's grown into a remarkable young man.  At only 21, he's just used his vacation time to raise money for charity, and was good natured, cheerful, helpful, funny and kind about it - again.   I adore him, and I couldn't count the number of times I heard someone say "Pato's a great guy, isn't he?"

I wish I had a picture that would show you how proud I am of Jen too.  The rally is hard. The rally asks a lot of the people who do it, but the extra effort that you have to put in when you're a mum of little kids? Ridiculous.  It was Jen's first rally (see what I did there?) and she was bloody fierce.  Not once did she cry (on the outside, at least) not once did she complain (except for the morning there was no coffee, but my God. She's only human) and not once did she waver in her commitment to the cause. Also, she took the spiders out of the tent and I'm really super grateful for that.  She was more than fabulous, and tough as nails on a bike. 

If I could have taken any picture, it would have been of the way it is when a lot of people do the same thing at once.  There's a way it feels when you're all committed to one big idea,  saying "this matters, and look what I'm willing to do to show you." If you had that picture, you would carry it around in your pocket all the time, that's how much you would love it.  That unity is amazing, but who is united matters even more.  I meet the best people on the rally. The kindest and sweetest and most decent of all people, and I know that shouldn't be a surprise, because not a lot of total jerks are going to give up days of their summer to training and a week of their vacation time to sweat for a charity, but still - every person from Road Safety to Rider was amazing.   There should be pictures of the thousand million little kindnesses I witnessed. The encouraging words, the help, the people going out on a limb for each other, making a point of trying to be their best selves.  I saw people taking big risks and doing scary things and being met with nothing but love and laughter and acceptance.  The best of people were with us, and over the course of a week, I think I came to love a number of them.

(This picture was taken as Jen and I crossed the border into the Province of Quebec. We have about 90km to go before we're in Montreal, but that's not why I look so happy. I look happy because this year, before I proudly hoisted my bike aloft, I remembered to take my water bottles out so that they didn't fall on my head in front of everyone like they did last year.)

I cried this year when I crossed the finish line. There's no picture of that either, but I think everyone does. It's part relief, and part exhaustion, and part pride and part joy.  It was the culmination of months of work, and it felt good. (If by good, you understand that I am not speaking in the physical, but rather spiritual sense. My arse has asked me for a trial separation.)  We crossed from the world of the rally, back into the arms of the people who love us (after a shower) and that was it. It was over.

These are the pictures I have, but they aren't really pictures of what happened.
From these pictures, you would think I went for a very long bike ride, but it wasn't just that. It was a record breaking fundraiser, it is real money to help real people and real families with real problems, and it was another kind of journey for me. One where I got to think of myself as another kind of person for a little while, and got to see the best in some people I love a lot. It was so, so hard, and it was worth it.

Thank you for helping me make it possible. You're all fantastic. 
I need another nap.

Posted by Stephanie at 3:49 PM