Technically not sweaters

Ok, I can admit it. There is a tiny, little, itsy-bitsy chance that I overshot a little on this plan.  I can say that because I’m supposed to get on a plane for Rhinebeck in the morning, and I am not finished two sweaters. I’m actually not even finished one sweater, though it’s a near thing.  Here’s where I am.

That’s the Must Have.  It is very nearly a sweater, if by almost a sweater you understand that I can’t wear it like a sweater although it very nearly almost has all the parts that you need for something to be a sweater, if they were joined together, which they are not. I am super close to finishing the button band (I cannot be the only person who perpetually underestimates the amount of knitting in a button band) in fact – it’s half cast off. (Almost.) I’ve got to sew the whole thing together, maybe tonight, and then sew on the buttons and then it just needs a quick blocking. I’ve blocked the pieces already, so it’s really just a quick bit of tidy up after it’s sewn together.  I think steaming will work, just this once.

This is a different problem – Remi is still mostly armless. The sleeves are only 3/4 length, and I have knit about 10cm of one, and I do have to fly tomorrow and then there’s tomorrow evening and then, well, yes, it needs to be completely blocked but doesn’t it seem doable? Doesn’t it? (She says, in a slightly shrill manner, with a hint of hysteria sneaking in around the edges.)

I’d actually think that this was all completely doable if I’d done anything else today, like pack, or wash the clothes I’d like to pack, or gone to the store to get the things I need to pack, or if I’d cleaned up the kitchen, or if roughly 3394 emails weren’t in my inbox waiting for me to finish answering them, or if I didn’t have a meeting this evening that I don’t think I can sew up sweaters at. (I think I can knit sleeves at it, so maybe all isn’t lost.)

Essentially I’ve worked out that I’m absolutely going to make it as long as someone else comes over here and does the laundry, goes to my meeting for me, and I hire someone else to pack while I sew together a sweater.

The important thing is not to panic early.

Six Days

Well, six days to go, and the state of the sweaters is… well, it’s not terrible, but it’s not great. I try not to panic because I can’t see how it helps speed anyone up,  but the urge to lose my scene entirely is starting to be a little bit tempting. I’ve got the fronts and the back of the Must Have done –

and just about the body of Remi. I’ve got a few centimetres of ribbing left on the bottom, though it seems a hair short to me. I’m quite short myself so this could work out just fine, tonight before I go any farther on the ribbing I’m going to slide all those stitches onto a longer needle and try it on. It measures what the pattern suggested, but perhaps the designer and I have different ideas about what length a sweater should be.  Personally, I like them not to show my belly button if I get something off a high shelf, and she may be unfettered by such desires, or perhaps has a far more elegant navel.

Tomorrow, if all goes well this evening, I shall find myself squarely on Sleeve Island, with four sleeves to knit in six days, which frankly seems like a bit much, but would be entirely doable if I hadn’t made a critical error in my planning, which is that I forgot that this weekend is Thanksgiving.  That sounds bad, I know, like maybe I’ve just remembered a major holiday with serious time commitments attached to it, and it’s not like that at all. I’ve been cleaning, organizing and shopping for days – It’s more like when I started this a few weeks ago I forgot to factor in time spent chopping mountains of onions and celery and souring the city for chestnuts and what the impact of that is on my knitting time.

I’m not going to panic though – I’m just going to knit. A sleeve a day will get this done, with a day left for buttonbands, sewing and making up. I’ll worry about packing… well. Later.

Sleep is overrated anyway.

Ten (oh no how is it ten)

I write to you now from the airport in Saint John, New Brunswick, as I try to make my way home from Knit East, which was very lovely, as always.  Great students, the venue is so pretty – the sea and Passamaquoddy Bay beckoning to me through the windows. I had a very good time, indeed,  but I really did miss everyone at Knit City more than I can say. I really wanted to be cloned this past weekend – three versions of me would have been wonderful, one for Knit East, one for Knit City, one for a wedding that I was very sorry to miss.  Wait, actually – four.  Four Stephanies would have been the magic number, because one could have just knit and maybe my Rhinebeck dreams would be all coming true.

I have ten days to go, and here’s where I’m at. I’ve finished the back of the Must Have Cardi – and I’m about halfway done the left front.  (Sweater parts pictured here elegantly spread out on an airport cafe table.)  I don’t know how hopeful I feel about this right now. The back took a lot longer than I was hoping, but it is the biggest part so I am trying not to freak out. (I am sort of freaking out.)

Remi doesn’t feel like it’s faring much better – but I am making some progress.  Lucy Neatby forgot her knitting when we were together the other evening and I gave her Remi, so for 30 minutes she made progress for me while I worked on the Must Have. It was glorious.

Sweater in-progress here elegantly pictured on my lap in the aforementioned airport cafe. (Someone will ask, so that fabulous project bag is from Wool Needle Thread, and yes, I do match my project bag to my project because I AM NOT AN ANIMAL. Matching the shirt was an accident.)

Just as I arrived at the airport today my original flight home cancelled and my travel plans are now sort of unclear, which is something that would usually make me a crazy person, but today I really don’t care.  This zen attitude about a cancelled flight is likely brought to you by the pressing need to work on these sweaters, and the fact that this morning as I was packing, I put the extra yarn and needles for them in my checked bag, sure I wouldn’t need that much for today – and then in a moment of absolutely unusual clarity,  I took it out of my checked bag and put it in my carry on “just in case.”

For once, I am in a travel crisis and I am not underyarned on a deadline.  I feel like my whole life has just been practice for this moment.

Sixteen Days

While I cannot state unequivocally at this moment that my two-sweaters-for-Rhinebeck plan is a good one, I can tell you that today is a good day to continue entertaining the concept of this particularly bit of knitterly daring-do. I pressed on and finished the yoke of Remi, and now I’m into the plain bit for the body – It feels all but done, truthfully.  I’ve got it rammed into my bag as my “on the go” knitting now that it doesn’t need anything from me but time. (Sweater is seen here on two needles because I was far enough along for a quick try on. I did knit a swatch, and washed it, but I definitely don’t have time to be jerked around by the gauge god’s version of a joke. Good news, it’s fine.) I even ordered back-up yarn from IndigoDragonfly, and it’s arrived.  For your sake, rather than mine, I regret to announce that this one looks drama free. (Sorry Presbytera.)

I knit a swatch for the Must Have Cardi too (that link works, by the way – I’m knitting it from the booklet that was in my actual knitting library – sorry for Rav link yesterday that didn’t direct you to the pattern. Use that one. It’s free!) and washed that, and got the results I was hoping for on the second try, and noticed that knitting with the previously knit yarn wasn’t much fun.

I’m in the process of winding it into hanks and steaming it to make it nice again. (I just do it over a teakettle, if you’re wondering.) Worked a treat, and now I’m about 8cm up the back. It’s not going as quickly as I’d hoped but I’m ignoring that, at least for today. we’ll see if the problem persists.

Finally – I’m happy to report finished Self-imposed-sock-of-the-month-club socks, though rather less pleased to say that they’re the ones from August. I finished them a few weeks ago- though I can’t lie, it wasn’t in August for sure, I was about a week late, which considering the August I had isn’t really that bad at all.

I’d know what yarn I wanted to use for the August socks ever since Kim gave it to me. The yarn is Platypus Sock, and the colourway’s the one she made for the Rally last year, named Bonnie for my Mum, and meant to invoke her love of rocks.

It seemed appropriate to use it for the month I’d miss her most – especially since that’s also the month of the Rally.  It felt lovely. Sticking with the rock theme, I chose a pattern called Pebbles – not just for the name, but was a great match for a variegated yarn. I made them for myself, rather than the long range planning box, because I really love the yarn, the idea, and Kim.

To be fair, I messed with the pattern quite a bit – the original has a short row heel, but I prefer a flap construction, so I subbed that in, and used eye-of-partridge to keep the pebbly look going.  (Eye-of-partridge is a really just a regular slip stitch heel, but with the slips alternating on right side rows instead of stacked.)

I changed the toe a bit too, but that doesn’t matter much and is really just because I’m a little weird about sock toes. I care (inexplicably) about how they look both on and off feet, and do the rate of decrease a little differently to amuse myself.

Now, I know it’s October 1st, and that means that I should have a whole other pair of September socks to show you, but – well, I’m obviously  coming in late on that one too.

I have one and half.  Almost. (Pattern: Sun and Moon, Yarn’s the Club Yarn from Gauge Dyeworks earlier this year – the club’s over now, but I really dug it.)  I’m hoping to finish these soon, but truthfully, I’m a little into my sweaters.

Seventeen Days

There is a moment in every set of grand plans when it all seem so possible, isn’t there? Some spectacular moment where there is just enough time that it seems reasonable to hope for it, and you’re far enough along in your thinking or your knitting or your writing or whatever, that you can see it all finished on time, and it’s going to be glorious.

See, for about a week, I’ve had a pretty good Rhinebeck sweater plan. While I was at Make Wear Love, I bought this yarn from IndigoDragonfly. (I am always amused when I buy their yarn in another country despite living in the same province, but there you have it.) It’s Wingenhooven DK (merino/yak/silk) and after not a lot of reflection at all, because they just seemed made for each other, I’m knitting Remi.

I haven’t really been applying myself to it (though I’m almost done the yoke) because in my head, I’ve had buckets of time. Loads, actually – great heaps of time. I’m pretty sure that this a lingering Bike Rally effect, where I feel like I’ve got all this flexibility now that it’s over and really I’m just back to being as busy as I was before, which was pretty crazy busy but not dangerously busy.

This effect is so pronounced part of my very good Rhinebeck plan is is that not only will I finish Remi, but that I’m going to knit a second sweater as well.  Do you all remember when I knit Little Wave? Gorgeous pattern, and very well written, but it was too big when I knit it, and it’s way too big now.  (See that? Let us pause for a moment and recognize knitterly delusion.  The sweater was not “too big when I knit it.”  I knit the wrong size.  It wasn’t like rain, something that you can’t predict, I blew it.  Me. Not the sweater.)

That sweater fits me so poorly that I haven’t worn it since that Rhinebeck and I feel terrible about that, because I the yarn is the rather spectacular (and tragically discontinued)  Blackwater Abbey, and it was expensive and I have not been able to stop feeling like I wasted it, and my time.  This feeling finally got the better of me and I did something I’ve never done before.  I unknitted a sweater.

The whole thing.  I snipped the buttons off, I found the ends (wing of moth, I am so good at weaving in ends, it took forever to find them) and I pulled the whole thing out.  (Almost.  I am struggling with a bit around the pockets, but I’ll get there.)

I’m going to reknit it (before Rhinebeck) into my another edition of my most worn sweater ever. In 2008 I knit the Must Have Cardigan, and do you know, I have worn that thing just about every day of every autumn, winter and spring since then. It’s tossed on the back of my office chair most days, and it’s been on a fair few camping trips. It is a tribute to the yarn (Northampton) that this sweater was completely inexpensive to knit and only just now, eleven years later does it look a little shabby.  I figure this yarn and that pattern are a match made in heaven and I seem to remember that it knit up really quickly and…. Rhinebeck is in seventeen days and I think it’s all going to be fine.  I am at that exactly perfect, spectacular moment where hope, time and possibility have all come together, and I believe.  Two sweaters for Rhinebeck.  It’s going to work.

I think I better go start the second one.

Nobody throws away buttons

After the debacle of knitting the wrong size on that baby sweater, I ripped it back and re-did it.  I know that probably seems a little like madness, I was so close to done, but I had really wanted to use that ridiculously soft merino for a newborn sweater, and what the heck, I like knitting.  I didn’t take too long, really.

Yarn: Stash Merino – label long gone, which is a shame, since it’s wondrous stuff. Pattern: Norwegian Fir. (Newborn size.  Sigh.) Quite a good little pattern, but watch out for that size thing.  Needles: 3.5mm.

Now that it’s done and blocked, it just needed a button. As written, the pattern needs just a single one, up at the neck and this seemed fine to me. This baby will be a second baby, and one button is likely all Meg and Alex will have time to do up anyway.  Only needing one button, I headed straight for my button collection, and opened up one of two old cookie tins. Ages ago, when my Grammy died, I got her button box.  I’ve dipped into it for years, when I need a special touch for something, It’s full of a million (okay, hundreds) of fairly mundane buttons, mostly snipped off of clothing headed for the bin – a depression era practice of my Grams. When my mum died, I got her button bin as well – and hers is a little different.  My mum didn’t knit. I stress here “didn’t” rather than “couldn’t” because her not knitting was an active choice.  As insane as it may sound to us, she didn’t like it. She tried it, it didn’t work out, and she was good at other things. She was, for example, a wonderful seamstress. (As I type that I wonder if there’s a gender neutral term… sewer? Sewist?)

When I was young she sewed most of our clothes, and taught me too. I remember with great fondness a green top with cream coloured yoke and angel-wing sleeves, sprinkled with softer green stalks of wheat. She made it for me to wear on a trip out west with my grandparents, and at the time that I wore it I was maybe… seven years old, and quite sure it was the most beautiful thing I’d ever owned. It probably was.  Since mum sewed, her button box is a little different. It’s in a cookie tin like my Grammy’s (some strange family quirk, I suppose, since mine is too) and contains more leftovers than rescues.  It’s easy to find seven matching buttons in my Gram’s box, and near impossible in Mum’s. I only needed one, so in I went.

In five minutes of poking around, pulling out this one and that, I settled on this completely plain and ordinary button. I know it’s silly, since it’s not special in any way – not wooden or hand carved, or especially pretty, but perfect for this. This child, whoever they are, will be the first person born after the Era of Bonnie.  They will be the first child to never meet her or know her at all, except through our telling and pictures, and I thought that a button from her stash would be the perfect beginning for them. A connection, something to start them off right, the perfect prologue to a million stories that start with “One time, your Great Grammy….”

I think it is a sign of healing, or maybe just time passing that this idea makes me smile a little, rather than cry, and the minute I’m done writing this, I’m going to sew it on, fold the sweater into a wee pile, and it can be the first woollie my new grandbaby wears.  My mum wasn’t a sentimental or soft person, but I think she’d like that a lot. She’d sure hate it if I wasted a button.

He’s good at sharing

First things first – I posted this on instagram, but here is home – so once more with feeling,

Guess who’s going to be a big brother? We’re all terrifically excited, except for maybe Elliot who talks a good game and generally seems in favour, but definitely has no idea what’s headed his way. He’s got a little while to get it together though, baby won’t be arriving until March (the sign means March 2020, not March 20th, 2020, which is neither accurate, nor a detail she’s silly enough to reveal online. Who on earth needs the whole internet knowing if your baby is late? A watched uterus never contracts, I tell you that. The kid will be here sometime around March. Or maybe February. Or maybe April. We’ll never tell.) Elliot’s birthday is the 8th April, and it’s unlikely he’ll share it with a sibling, but he’ll definitely be almost three when the interloper arrives, and quite equipped to start sharing his family. He is very good at sharing most other things thus far, and is a gentle and loving guy, so he’s prime big brother material.

I got so excited about telling you (we’ve known for a little while, but Meg wanted to wait a while before posting) that I immediately cast on a little sweater for the new baby, thinking that I’d have it all done and ready to show you. I’d post a picture of the tiny sweater, and I’d say something charming like “Guess what” and you’d all guess right and it would be amazing. (Remember what I said about scripting? Yeah, I did it again.)

I had the perfect yarn and pattern all ready, and I supposed I could have started it before Meg said I could tell you about it, but that I think it’s really smart to hold off on investing in human sparks. Mother Nature can be a very harsh editor, so I waited, as one does, and then on Friday I decided that I was going to knit this sweater by Monday, or more technically, I was going to finish this sweater by Sunday night and then I’d have time to block it before Monday. I know that sounds very speedy, but it was a very tiny sweater. (It’s Norwegian Fir, in case you’re wondering. Absolutely charming and simple and just the thing for a brand new person. The yarn is a long loved and unnamed super soft merino that I had in the stash just waiting for its opportunity.)

That’s why you couldn’t have shocked me more when A) it started coming out much bigger than I expected and B) was taking a lot longer than planned. (A and B were clearly related.) The first time I thought “my, this seems a little bigger than I thought it would be” I did what we all do when knitting looks a bit funny. I kept going and hoped the problem would go away.

The second time that I thought “this really does look large, and why are the armholes so deep?” I did what we all do when you can no longer ignore a knitting problem, I started double checking things. I had knit a swatch, and I had even washed it, and I had let it dry before I counted stitches, and I had made it big enough that it should work, and I had used the same needles… and the same yarn… nevertheless, I went back and double checked all of that. Everything was correct, so I went back to ignoring the problem again, figuring that I must have taken all leave of my senses and forgotten the actual size of babies. I kept knitting.

A few rows later (oh fine it was when I finished the body) there was no denying that it was too big. The fabric looked good, so I knew it wasn’t a gauge problem, but it even looked to me like there were more of the leafy increases on mine then there were on the newborn sized ones in the pictures, but sometimes pictures aren’t accurate or they can be mislabeled or… I went back and checked the pattern this time. Again, everything was fine. I was knitting the smallest size, so I’d highlighted the first set of numbers in each bracket, and yay verily those were the numbers I’d gotten. It was all working, it was all perfect, it was just…. big. I started thinking about how I could alter the pattern to make another one that was smaller, but I was already feeling sort of bad that this delicious yarn wasn’t making what I thought it was. I kept knitting.

By now I was part way down a sleeve, and I was still noticing that it was too big, but you know, I’d double checked everything and it was all so… right, that I figured that even though I could see it was wrong (obviously wrong) that I must be mistaken. I thought something was going wrong, but nothing was, and so… I kept knitting. I really can’t explain what I was thinking, except that on some level I must have believed that it would be smaller after I did more knitting, that if I stayed the course, it would just work out. How could it not?

Almost at the cuff, I was feeling annoyed because even though I was still following instructions it was getting bigger, not smaller, and I casually tossed my iPad (after checking the pattern again) onto the chesterfield, and as I did that, I swiped with my thumb or finger in a funny way, and the whole pattern swiped to another version of the pattern, and my heart stopped. I looked at it, wondering why there were two versions. Hadn’t noticed that before, and I wondered if maybe one of them was in another language. Probably Norwegian. No- I flipped back and forth, they looked the same. Identical, in fact – except for one little detail.

Do you see it coming? Yup. The first pattern in the set is baby sizes, and the second pattern in the set (with the same picture, but clearly labeled) is big kid sizes. I had, at some inopportune moment right at the beginning, swiped from one to the other, and was now making an absolutely perfect size 2-3 years, instead of 0-3 months.

So- I had a date with a ball winder instead of a blocking bath, and I’ve started all over, and I’ve remembered two things about being an experienced knitter that still clearly apply. First, most mistakes come from a failure to read, and second, experienced knitters don’t make fewer mistakes. We make bigger ones faster.

Yesterday was a travel day for me, and today I’m in Maine (at the last Make Wear Love retreat) with some of my favourite knitters and colleagues- I’ll post more about it tomorrow – today, knitters and the ocean beckon, and I’ve got a sweater to re-knit.

Chaos

Years ago I heard someone say that they had to do something about their home because it was suffering from Chaos. That sounded about right to me, but it really resonated when they said it was actually CHAOS,  an acronym for Can’t Have Anyone Over Syndrome.

That’s where my house is today. In any contest between people and things, I come down on the side of people every time, and so over the last few months the limited time and energy I’ve had has gone to supporting people – and I’ve given the house a lick and a promise so many times that you’d be an idiot to actually lick any part of it. I spent yesterday at my desk, catching up on a million things that were burning my work life to the ground, and today I’m trying to find the house, one room at a time. Part of that is the knitting that’s piled up around here in really weird little piles of hopes and dreams. Some finished, some unfinished, some knitting that needs fixing, some knitting that’s just yarn, there’s even a nest of circular needles arranged atop the piano like I’m the strangest of all possible birds.

Do you know that thing, where you’re going to go over to someone’s house  and they say  “Oh my goodness” (or something like that) “I suppose it’s ok to come, but I’m warning you, the house is trashed” and you get there, and their house looks better than your house does when you’ve just cleaned it top to bottom – you know that thing?  This is not that thing. This is actual disaster. Dust bison roaming the living room, if they could roam around the stuff I’ve placed in their way.  There is even a dresser that came from Amanda’s house to mine four weeks ago, standing with the drawers out and stacked by the chesterfield, right in the middle of the living room. (Well, it’s sort of off to the side, obstructing access to what used to be the dining room, before I started keeping yarn, mail, camping crap and laundry in it.  People, we are talking trashed. We are not talking about a failure to dust here. There is some heavy lifting here before I could get down to dust and be left with just that, so today I’m working to get it down to a level where I can consider opening the door instead of just burning the thing to the ground and moving into a tent in the park. (Note to self: move tent from dining room before burning house down.)

Still, atop all of that there float a few finished objects, mostly simple things that I’ve completed over the last few weeks when my brain was mush and my time limited. First up – I finished my Peace of Wild Things shawl.  This was my “just before the rally” knitting, a simple chart, big needles, worked a few rows here and there and still finished anyway.  (It was a fast one.)

The pattern’s linked above, and the yarn was a single ball of Berrroco Ultra Wool Fine – it’s a good yarn, cheap and cheerful, only $12 a ball at WEBS (though my ball was swag from Berroco, sent to be a treat at a retreat.)  It took almost the whole ball, with maybe 20 metres left at the end, but that’s an economical knit anyway you want to slice it.

Even with the pattern, that’s a completely reasonable Christmas gift, as long as you don’t add in the time – and I don’t.  I put knitting in my entertainment budget, so if you figure that took maybe 10 hours? (Maybe a bit more, I didn’t count.) It’s …. about $2 an hour of entertainment, with the pattern.  You can’t beat that – and into the Long Range Planning box it went.

Next up – I was casting about the house for something simple, but entertaining that I could putter away at without really needing a brain or to keep good track of a pattern, and I remembered that I had the pattern and yarn for Goldstream in the stash. I was a member of the Gauge Dye Works club a few years ago (am now, too, for the record) and this fetching little number arrived in the mail, and I was enchanted from the get-go.

It’s a neat concept, the club – yarn dyed specifically to go with patterns – they work together, and I loved the idea here- you knit back and forth in garter stitch, following the rules for a half-pi shawl, but every time you get to a bit of yellow, you make a little short row leaf. That’s it.  They show up randomly.  This, my friends, hit my brain in the exact same place as a self striping yarn does.

I was enchanted entirely – and enticed to knit a little bit further each time just to get to another hit of yellow. The yarn’s Gauge Dye Works MCN (Merino, cashmere, nylon) so a little hit of soft and cozy didn’t hurt either.  I trucked this around everywhere – finally finishing up at the cottage.  (I was knitting it while Elliot played at digging – it might have gotten a little involved, but cleaned up fine.)

Another lovely thing, and off it goes to the Long Range Planning box as well.

Pattern: Goldstream, by Andrea Rangel, Yarn: Gauge Dye Works MCN, Goldstream. As an aside, if you click on that yarn link, you will see that for once, even though it has been two years since that yarn landed at my house, it is inexplicably and suddenly available anyway. (It is either a miraculous co-incidence, or the Catherine or Andrea spotted it on my instagram. Amazing, either way.)

We won’t discuss the state of my August Self-Imposed Sock Club Socks, they’re not done, but almost. Can I distract you with a question?

How, I ask you – how, is it possible that after this long photographing knits and posing them all over the yard, and local parks, trying a million ways to figure out how to stretch a shawl out entire to show it off,  how is it possible that it only just now occurred to me to use the clothes line?  I’m putting everything there from now on.

(PS. Two days in a row!)

That one got away from me

Hello all, and thanks for waiting for me. I know it’s been a long time, and thank you for the emails and comments of concern – I got hit by some sort of combination crap train. When I left for the Rally everything was on fire, and then about halfway through the Rally the Blog (the software, not you) broke, and you wouldn’t believe how hard it was to fix. In fact, it was impossible to fix from the back of a bike, so it got fixed in the few days between being home from the Rally and leaving with the family on vacation, but I was sick for a few days there, which I now think was just exhaustion, on some horrible cellular level. Then the whole family headed up to a cottage for nine days, to rest and be together on the anniversary of my Mum’s death. I spent that time doing my best to put all my relationships back together after months of neglect, and maybe I can do the same here. Pull it all back together. I tried to figure out what pictures to show you from the last while, and I’ve essentially settled on postcards – some of them I posted on Instagram, but they’re everything I’ve been up to, and I’m sorry I was gone. I feel like things are back to “normal” now, if there is such a thing.

Every year I write about the Bike Rally after it’s done, and I feel like I always start these posts the same way – by noting that every year has a theme that I figure out over the course of the thing. Sometimes I worry that these aren’t real themes – that as a writer, I’m looking for marrow that doesn’t exist and creating plot where there is only chaos and random events. I even know in my heart that I sometimes write scripts for the ways I think things will happen and the way I’d like people to behave – and then feel extra disappointed in real life when everyone fails to act upon their psychically issued instructions. I did this a while ago when I thought someone was going to show up somewhere, and they didn’t, and I texted them and they made it pretty clear that they weren’t coming, and instead of just being disappointed once, I managed to convince myself that they were trying to throw me off so that they could surprise me.

They weren’t, and my secret scripting just meant that I was disappointed twice. All of this, my propensity to look for meaning where there is none, – to attribute motives to people that they don’t have so the plot’s great – I know that it isn’t always real, but I sometimes can’t help myself, and since I’m me, I look for that theme.

In retrospect this year’s theme – real or not, asserted itself really early on – the earliest it ever has (if it does) and I could feel it, and I feel like I was trying to connect with it, but it was such an…. uncomfortable theme that I think my inner self didn’t really want to know. No matter how clear it became, I looked the other way.

Two years ago I decided to take on the two year commitment as Co-Chair, because I felt like I was in such a great place in my life. I was working hard and things were on track. Elliot had just been born and I was planning on travelling a little tiny bit less for a few months, I was writing tons, my relationships were in a great place, my inbox was even more or less under control. My 50th birthday was on the horizon, and honestly, I felt like I was as strong and polished as I was ever going to be.

What’s that expression – Man plans, and God laughs? Immediately after I felt like I had it together and had been accepted for the Co-Chair position and had all this bandwidth to spare— my Mum died and absolutely everything went sideways.

I began a period of time that has been truly the loneliest of my life. I didn’t just miss my mother, though that pain has been acute – I felt like her absence screwed up all my relationships, right down to my relationship with my work, my writing – it effected every aspect of me. I didn’t dream for months. In that first year, the Bike Rally was a lifeline. If I had known that my mother was going to die, I would have never, never taken on that job. I wouldn’t have thought I could cope with it, I wouldn’t have thought I could manage it and my grief, but in the end it was sort of perfect. I had to go to the meetings, I had to manage a team, I had a Co-Chair, Ted – and I felt like I couldn’t unfairly burden him because I was grieving, and somehow having to show up for something kept me at least a little tethered. That leadership position and my family were honestly the only things that did. (The theme had already started to sneak in around the edges.)

Then the time came for me to begin the second year of the position, and the way it works is that there’s always two Co-Chairs, an outgoing ( that would be me) and and incoming… but nobody came.  Despite having just come through a ridiculously lonely year – this surprised me. I was prepared, and I decided to make the most of it, but I was surprised. It hadn’t happened with the Rally before, and I admit that I took it kinda personally. (I was taking a lot really personally around then, so don’t read too much into that.) The workload, rather predictably – when you go from two people doing a job to one – doubled. I had a great Steering Committee, and we got through it really well, I think, but do you see the theme starting to develop?

I didn’t. I kept pushing back, and the theme kept trying to assert itself. I started finding myself alone in decision making, alone working, alone thinking – which as a natural collaborator and consensus seeker, was hard for me. I found myself alone in presenting concepts or ideas, and I found myself alone when there was disagreement. I had still totally failed to fill the hole my mother’s support, guidance and help used to occupy, and was trying to fill it with resolve and hard work. At the same time, many of my support people had their own big life stuff going on. I have always enjoyed having just a few really good friends rather than a wide array of casual ones, but there’s a risk in that. While I struggled, my chosen few were all entering new phases, completing school, being crushed by jobs, travelling – the theme, it seemed was not screwing around, now recruiting others to make sure that I got the message. I didn’t.

I kept pushing back against it, trying to not be alone… I remember one day in particular, right before the Rally, I’d had a tough thing to do – some big decision or pressure, I can’t remember what, and I’d texted about eight people looking for some support in that moment, and every single one of them was busy. I sat and cried – and I know now that I was crying because I had the theme wrong. Through it all, I thought that the planet was trying to teach me to get good at something that I’m frankly terrible at, which is admitting weakness or asking for help. I’d spent the first year after my mother’s death trying to tough it out, and now I’d finally conceded that it was impossible to do by myself, and I’d reached out…and nobody reached back. I figured that I was doing it wrong, or that I was unloved, one of the two for sure, and I swung back and forth between those options, and hunkered down, determined that if I had to do this work alone, the least I could do was do it well – if sort of unhappily.

The morning the Rally began, I organized the last few of my things, printed my speaking notes for the morning, and I took out my worry list and made sure I was properly anxious, and left for the departure site. When I got there I was totally freaked out. I looked out over the 100 crew, and the 200+ cyclists, and I worried about not funding the agency. I worried about programs getting cut because I couldn’t get the fundraising done. I worried about someone getting hurt – I worried about everyone on the Steering Committee who was new to their role and hoped that we’d all prepared together enough. I worried that the sacrifices of the last two years wouldn’t be enough. I worried about what we’d do if something went wrong. (This despite the fact that I had the Preparedness Plan memorized.) I worried about what I’d say, about doing it by myself – about nobody being publicly responsible for a failure but me, and I realized in that second that not wanting to be alone was really about not wanting to be alone in the responsibility for it all, and that I was actually going to do it by myself, and I was responsible, that it was mine alone, and squared my shoulders and stepped up to the microphone, and I started.

In that moment, two things happened. First, I completely accepted that nobody was actually going to show up and rescue me, and the second was that in that moment the exact moment that I gave up and accepted the aloneness – it ended. Ken was there, and Pato, and Cameron, and Ted, and Joe, and Jen and the girls and in a horrible instant, I realized that they had actually been there all the time, and that The Point of the whole thing hadn’t been to teach me to ask for help – that’s why that hadn’t worked. The point of the thing had been for me to learn that I was alone, that I could be alone, that I could bear the load by myself.

From the moment my mum died, my overarching wish has been for her to come back. This is what I whisper to myself at the lowest moments of my grief.  “Come back, Mum please come back.” I have felt that her death, so unexpected and fast and horrible was actually the start of a cascade of loss and change. Change is not my best thing at the strongest of times, and alone isn’t my best thing either, and now here I’ve been – alone and in the middle of what feels like an earthshake of change, and I just kept plodding through wishing for my Mum, wondering how I’m supposed to do anything without her and wondering if I even can. It turns out, that I was supposed to learn (at 50, how disappointing) is that my mum wasn’t coming to help me, isn’t coming back and I could do a big thing on my own, or maybe this is all crap, and that it’s me looking for something that isn’t there again – looking for meaning and plot in an endlessly chaotic system, but frankly I like it better my way.

In the end, the Rally did what it always does. It grew a force field of love around our little travelling town. Everyone helped everyone else, there was support aplenty, we funded the agency beyond budget and my hopes, and in the two years I was Co-Chair and then Chair I led to the Rally to their two most successful years, and I wasn’t alone- except in the responsibility, which I guess was what I was there to learn, or if there’s another lesson I’d like to ignore it for a while, because that one was more than enough, thank you. Those of you who wondered if I still loved the Rally – in the days when it was crushing my life like a bug before we left – I do, I truly do.  All that was reborn in me on my bike, watching people pull together, feeling them trying to make the world a better place.

Up at the cottage, all of us together, I was struck by how surprised I still am when Elliot calls me Grammy, how it makes me feel like a bit of a fraud. Grammy was what my girls and Hank called my mum, and what I called my maternal grandmother, and I still can’t believe it’s me. Not that I’m a grandmother, I’m fine with that, but that I’m The Grammy. I come from a long line of women who are absolute powerhouses, and I worry about living up to that, about the responsibility of that, of what it is supposed to mean to be a “McPhee Woman.” I think it’s probably pretty likely that there was no theme to the Bike Rally this year – that it is absolute nonsense to think that the universe, as expansive and unfeeling as it is, worked to personally teach me a lesson. It is wholly unreasonable to believe any force had an interest in me, and were there such a force I would hope it would concern itself with things that really need fixing – like putting out an Amazon forest fire or curing cancer in a five year old, and that it is far, far more likely that I’ve dreamed all this in an attempt to give a tough situation meaning. I get that. The odds are awesome that it was just a hard job and a rough time and here I am trying to turn it all into a life lesson other than the real one, which is simply to do your damn work and try to be a good person while you’re at it.

At least that’s what my mother would say, though I’m trying to think of some of her as my own voice now.

This ended up being a lot more personal than I planned. Part of the delay in getting it to you was the process of deleting and replacing it sixteen times – I don’t worry about telling you my thoughts, by the time they make it to the keyboard I’m usually pretty comfortable with them – but I worry that without seeing my whole life, writing something like this will make me seem sad, lonely or lost, rather than someone trying to learn to deal with those feelings when they are inevitably part of a good, happy and lucky life. I’ve deliberately chosen photos this time that reflect that balance… a happy life. I am lucky, I do feel lucky – and while the last six months in particular have been more of a challenge than I can say – I’m satisfied with how that turned out. I ended up doing a job I feel really, really proud of.  PWA will be able to serve clients the same way and more for the next year, and I want to thank all of you for being part of that. We changed and saved lives together, I feel that.

While I haven’t been as present for you (or anyone) as I’d like over the last while, you’ve been more than present for me. Every comment, donation, email of support – it’s meant more than I can say. You are, as always, a big part of what balances my life. Thanks for not letting me slip under as I worked on this big thing. I love you all.

See you tomorrow. (I mean that. I have knitting to show you.)

Hard Things

I had planned to write you a big long letter today and do so many Karmic Balancing Gifts (I still will just after) and show you lots of knitting and then today was packing day for the Rally and several things that were supposed to be fast were slow and a few things that were supposed to be easy were hard, and now it’s past bedtime and I have to get up while it’s still dark to start riding my bike to Montreal and I’m just now eating dinner and…

Let’s talk about hard things instead. I believe in doing hard things. (Betcha figured that out already.)  I think that if you are privileged enough to be able to choose to do a hard thing or not,  choosing to do it has real rewards that can change the way you see the world, the way your brain works, and the kind of happiness you (eventually) have. I think challenge is good for you. I do not think this about hard things that you do not choose.

I know a woman who has HIV as a result of being raped during a genocide in her country of origin.  I know another who thought she was in a monogamous relationship, and wasn’t. I know another one who has two HIV positive kids because she’s a refugee from a country where access to healthcare and medicine that can prevent mums from passing HIV onto their babies isn’t affordable, accessible or frankly, possible. I know HIV+ addicts and people with really bad luck and some who are sex workers because they ran right the hell out of choices at all. They are doing some really goddamn hard stuff, and they didn’t choose it, didn’t have the privilege to work against it, and the day that I tell them that I think the hardship they’ve endured was good for them is frankly, the day I open a (*&^%$ing moth farm.

The Bike Rally has something called “the big meeting.” We have all the participants there, and we talk to them about everything they need to know, and build the community they’ll need to get through this thing, and I had to give a speech. I talked quite a bit about how choosing to do hard things can make you happy – if they’d have been knitters I would have talked to them about that feeling as you take the pins out of a lace shawl that you really, really worked hard on, one that was a challenge. That part of you that feels the growth of a little self esteem as a result of the proof that you pulled it off – you know that one? Without using a knitting metaphor (which was really hard, let me tell you) I pointed out that the Rally can give you that feeling.  I also asked the Steering Committee to share their reasons for why they do this. They do a ton of work to make this happen over a year, and I thought people might like to know why they do it.  They gave lots of reasons. There’s 24 of them, and there were 24 reasons.  Some of them ride in remembrance of someone else, some ride because others can’t. Some ride because it’s the lace shawl thing, some ride because they love the community, some ride because they feel like they need to give a voice to someone who doesn’t have one.

At the end, I gave my reason, and I’m going to share it with you here.  Several of you have written to me very sweetly, because you are kind right down to your roots, and asked why on earth I am doing something that clearly hasn’t made me superficially happy this year (I cop to that) and that’s obviously really, really hard. I haven’t known quite what to say, but I do now.

Why do I do this? Quite frankly, it is my overwhelming belief that someone has to. Given our current political climate – given the pain and hurt of so many people around us, people who are seemingly invisible to the world around them – or visible in the worst possible way, those experiencing stigma, shame, discrimination, poverty… all the consequences of HIV/AIDS that occurs if they are unsupported practically and emotionally – when they are outside of a community – doesn’t somebody have to? Given a system where we know what we know about happiness and health, that it grows and thrives in a place where all that is minimized and choices and opportunities to do hard work and choose challenge are maximized – and given that we all have the power to change not just the world but the very lives of people who live in it…to make them happier, to make ourselves happier… doesn’t somebody have to, and doesn’t it have to be someone with the ability, luck and privilege to do it? I have a pretty beautiful life.  Shouldn’t it be me?

This has been a very hard thing.  It’s probably going to get a little harder, over the next few days… and I want you to know that as I’ve struggled, I’ve been so touched by the generosity you’ve shown me that has made every sacrifice worth it. I am grateful for you, everything you do, every donation, comment, email….  every action you take that proves that you want to live in a world that’s decent and kind and generous and a little bit more fair… I reflect on it often. You all are amazing. I am grateful when I think of you, I know PWA is grateful for you. You increase the amount of happiness in the world.

PS.  We took these pictures of us, Team Knit, a few weeks ago when we were all together and doing what we do – knitting and being friends. (Also we are fairly good at cocktails.) I haven’t had many opportunities to say it, but I want to do it here – I am so grateful to Cam, Ken and Pato for having my back this whole time.  This was harder than I thought it would be, and the real help they’ve been over the last year is more than I can say.  Cam’s been an amazing emotional support animal and a very good listener,  Ken’s always got my back when it comes to the details and covering me with the family, and Pato, he’s such a workhorse. Do you know he took my stuff to packing day for me today so that I could take the subway and get there before everyone to do my work? Thoughtful and practical.  I’m sorry for all of it guys. You’ve only got to get me through six more days and then maybe I’ll be less crazy.  I love you.

PPS.  You have already done so much to support us – we are all fantastically, wonderfully above our goals. I do have a few quiet hopes that are as yet unrealized, and if you’d like to give any of us a push in absolutely destroying those goals, I’d love it, and overachieving is what knitters do best. We remain (along with all of you) Team Knit, and we’ll catch you on the other side.

Stephanie

Ken

Cameron

Pato