Sunday, February 1, 2015

It Began With a Crime

Or maybe it was something less than that. I'm still not sure. But I'm not sorry I did it.

My love of knitting began when I stole a sweater.

Except I didn't, really.

But it wasn't mine to begin with- that much is certainly true.

When I was in high school I ended up giving a ride to two other girls. We drove together for a fairly long distance- at least two hours.

One of the girls was wearing this sweater. It was made from bulky yarn. It had some lace on the front and beautiful wood buttons. The color was a soft rose. It was just beautiful. When I told her that I really loved her sweater, she gave me an icy look.

"This thing? Ugh. I hate this sweater. My aunt made it for me, so I guess I have to wear it, but I really don't like it. I don't even know why I'm wearing it." She went on for a while about how much she loathed the garment and then when I dropped her off at her destination, she left it in my car.

When we got back to school after break, I told her that I had it. I told her to come and get it. It was in my dorm room... but I didn't take it to her.

Again, I told her. Don't forget that I have your sweater. She never came by. I was hoping that she wouldn't. And she didn't.

One more time I tried. I really did tell her three times that I had her sweater. And I really would have given it back if she'd ever shown up to claim it, but she didn't.

I didn't wear it at all in high school, but I did wear it at college. I loved that sweater. I wore it with jeans and with skirts. I wore it out at nights and I wore it for cool autumn hikes. I wore it every couple of days during cool weather for about seven years.

I wore holes in it and then I darned the holes with matching thread because I had no idea that I could replace the yarn and repair it. Finally, ratty and tattered, it was time to retire my sweater. It really could not be rehabilitated even once more. It made me very sad to throw it out. It had been like a friend to me.

I thought about the girl's aunt often as I wore that sweater. I wondered if she ever thought about the sweater that she knit. She probably thought that it was neglected and unloved, but the opposite was true. I appreciated every stitch that went into it. I marveled over the lace stitching and it kept me snuggly warm when it was cold out. I took it on camping trips and wore it to the library when I studied. It went on vacation with me and I wore it on dates and it accompanied me to many exams. I remember it more than any other garment I have ever owned and to this day I can still recall the color and the pattern, some 25 years or so after I finally threw it out.

I thought about tracking down the aunt to tell her that I loved that sweater so much that I'd literally loved it to death, but I didn't know how I could do that and not have to give up the sweater, perhaps to be returned to someone who thought of it as "ugh." So I kept it, knowing that it wasn't mine. I also wasn't sure how to find out who she was- any way that I could do that was not going to end well for me, so I kept quiet and I kept wearing the/my sweater.

My kids will occasionally lose the things I make for them. I will occasionally lose the things I make for myself, too. When something goes missing, I think about my sweater from college and I hope that whoever finds the lost hat or mittens or scarf loves their found treasure as much as I loved that sweater. I hope they wear it without guilt but with joy, for each lost item is my penance for misappropriating that sweater in 1982.

Whatever they find, I hope they love it to death- in my mind, they always do.

Friday, January 16, 2015

You Should Sell Those!

It happens to me regularly- I'm knitting something while sitting in the stands or in waiting rooms- swim lessons, baseball games, orthodontist offices- I take my knitting with me everywhere. I'll be knitting and someone says, "Those are really cool; you should sell them."

I know that it's intended as a compliment and so I usually say "Thank you" and leave it at that. Sometimes they press further, "No really, you should sell them- you should have an Etsy shop or sell them at craft shows..." or whatever avenue of commerce they think I should take, they try to convince me to sell my wares.

But that's not why I knit, and for good reason.

I knit because I enjoy the creative process. It somehow feels good for my soul to start with a humble hank of yarn and turn it into something beautiful or functional (or both.)

I knit because having the beauty of the yarn in my hands and feeling its caress as I create each stitch is relaxing- it's my own treat to myself- each bit of knitting is a little gift.

I knit because I am making use of what I call the "in-between times." All of the waiting that comes with parenting is time I get to use- I can still watch the game or the lesson or have a conversation, but I end up with something to gift or use at the end. I knit a shawl with over 80,000 stitches in it while sitting on the sidelines during baseball practice in 2013.

If I was knitting in order to produce something commercially successful, I would use the most inexpensive yarn I could find and knit small items from them in order to maximize my profits. This is not what I do.

One of my favorite things to knit is a lacy shawl. The ones I like to knit generally take about 1 1/2 skeins of fingering weight yarn. I like to add beads to them. Usually I buy about 800 beads for each shawl I knit. If I am knitting a fairly simple pattern, I can knit a shawl in about 35-40 hours of knitting- it just takes time to produce that many stitches and knitting lace is a slower process because the pattern is more complicated and the stitches take a little longer to work.

Good quality fingering weight yarn is not inexpensive. I want something durable and beautiful, something I want to spend 35-40 hours working with. My favorite fingering weight yarns range in price from $18.50 to nearly $40 a skein. My selection is based on the number of skeins I need to purchase, colors available, fiber content and how the fiber content will react with the specific pattern.

Beads are fairly cheap- one packet of beads can be as inexpensive as $3.50 and as expensive as $9.00 for the kind that I buy. Bead price varies based on the composition, shape and size of the bead. I usually need 4 packs of beads for each shawl.

Then there is my time. I would call myself an artisan- a skilled craftsman for sure. I teach other people how to knit- maybe master craftsman is an even better title. How much is the time of a master craftsman worth? I don't even know how to answer that question. Pulling what I think of as a low-ball number out of a hat, I'll say $15.00 per hour. (Based on my knowledge, skill and expertise, I'd actually say that my time is worth much more than $15.00/hour, but I'm going to go with that figure regardless.)

If you calculate the cheapest figures possible- the least expensive yarn with the least expensive beads with the shortest knitting, I would have to charge $576 for a shawl. The materials alone cost $49.

A hat would cost between $67 and $112 depending on the thickness of the yarn and the complexity of the pattern.

A pair of fingerless mittens in one color would cost about $97.

When someone tells me I should sell my wares, I sometimes ask them how much they'd pay for something like what I've made, something beautiful, well fitting, durable, in gorgeous colors; something made with silk or merino or cashmere or baby camel or polwarth or a combination of luxury fibers. The answer is usually about a third of what I think my time is worth.

When I knit for myself family and other people I love, the cost of it all- the cost of the yarn, the supplies and my time, disappears. It's no longer a financial equation. It's making something *just right* for someone- the right color and the right fit, knit from love. Each stitch, each finished item is like giving a permanent hug- all they have to do is put on their hat or their mittens or wrap their shawl around them and they can remind themselves that they are loved by me.  How much is that worth? (And yes, knitting for myself is like giving myself a hug.)

You know how, when you find the right gift for someone, you are excited to give it to them? Multiply that joy over the hours spent selecting the pattern, selecting the yarn and then making that item. Having someone squeal with delight when you give it to them is the icing on the cake, but even when it doesn't happen, a simple "thank you" validates all of the joy in the process.  If you are knitting in order to sell your items, you lose all of that and it comes back to How much does it cost to make? How many hours does it take to make? What is my time worth? I don't want to do that equation when I gift to people I care about- I just want to enjoy it all.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

As the Fall Settles In

Tomorrow will mark eleven months since my 9-year-old nephew was killed when a driver left the roadway and killed Lucian on the sidewalk.

The weather outside is starting to turn more towards fall and away from summer. It's starting to be more like the weather when IT happened, that moment that divided my family into Before and After.

We have weathered our year of firsts- the first of every holiday After. The first Thanksgiving After, the first Christmas shopping After: How many times did I see something cool and think, "I'll bet Lucian would really like that." And then I would remember. Birthdays, family gatherings, vacations and celebrations- they've all come and gone and we've all been very aware that Lucian was missing; that he should have been there.

My oldest son turned 9 this year- the age that Lucian was and will always be. It didn't seem right or fair. Lucian was always supposed to be the older cousin.

There have been times in this last year when I've thought of him, of his parents and his brother and I've thought that IT didn't happen- IT couldn't have happened- and then I remember that IT did. Sometimes when I remember, it feels like all of the air has been sucked out of the room. Sometimes the tears physically hurt- they start in the center of my chest and work their way up my throat before they come spilling out of my eyes.

Mostly I have been able to think about Lucian with life and love and laughter. We have talked about him often- my children have had a need to discuss Lucian- who he was, what he liked and what he meant to them. We have bought books he loved or would have enjoyed and donated them to the library at my kids' school. We have talked about him when we've flown kites and played baseball and walked in the woods. We've talked about him when they were making contraptions out of Legos. He was important to us and we have missed him.

As the weather has begun to turn, though, I find myself transported to the day that compartmentalizes us- the one that thrust us into After. I remember the flat, lifeless sound of my mother's voice as she told me the words that couldn't be real. I remember the heartbreak in my father's voice when I talked to him later that evening. My phone wouldn't stop ringing and no one told me what I wanted to hear- that IT didn't happen. When I think about those phone calls and the sound of people whom I love so dearly in so much pain, that's when the tears come the hardest. Those phone calls have left a scar behind- a brand that hurts when you touch it.

I can't say that I'm moving on. That makes it seem like I'm leaving something behind and that's clearly not the case. I can say that I'm moving forward. I can think about him without always thinking of his death. I do not tell every stranger I meet about what happened (I was doing that for a while- I couldn't help myself.)

I may no longer think of fall as a season of rest, though. It has become a season of sorrow instead. Hopefully not forever, but at least for a little while.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Give Me Liberty

My kids are in second grade and Kindergarten, so the news of the Sandy Hook shooting hit me very close to home. At this writing we are a couple of weeks out from the tragedy and the aftermath is alarming on a number of levels. What is most disturbing to me is that the media (and their customers) seem to have an unquenchable thirst for news on the subject. We are feeding on the grief of the parents with an unending appetite for their sorrow. It is time to let these people grieve in private, without the rest of the world looking in their windows.

What is also disturbing to me is the reaction to the tragedy in a more practical way. How can we prevent such a tragedy from occurring again? The truth is that we can't. Mental illness is not always predictable and how do we know when someone is going to commit acts that are unspeakable, unthinkable? Should we have armed guards at every school, shopping mall and playground? Or do we shut them down completely?

We fear something whose chance of occurring is remote and unpredictable that we can't adequately prepare for regardless.

Bad things happen in this world and they happen all over the world. We are a violent and terrifying species- our capacity for atrocity is unmatched in the animal kingdom. We try to curtail this part of our nature, but occasionally it leaks out.

I went to my children's elementary school last week and had to sign in and put on a visitor's badge in order to check the lost-and-found for my kid's hat (it wasn't there). Everybody knows me there and I'm on the PTO board. I am not a threat to the school and they know that. Is it a good idea for the school to know exactly who is in their building at all times? Probably, but I wonder what we're giving up in the process.

Locked doors, security checkpoints, body scans, please get your id ready, don't talk to strangers, everyone is a suspect. What is the message in all of this? I was raised with the old rule that I had to get home when the street lights come on. Has the world really changed that much in the intervening years? Or is it simply that we think that we can protect ourselves from the random, unpredictable injury if we simply put up one!more!barrier! to it.

How many more steps toward protection to we need to take before we no longer leave our homes? When I was 7, I was riding my bike a couple of miles from my home in order to visit friends. We'd then get on our bikes and ride around their neighborhood. The thought of putting my 7-year-old on his bike and telling him to be home in time for lunch is terrifying and I wonder what kind of adults we are raising with all of this "protection." Can we really expect our kids to explore their world if we're constantly looking over their shoulder? I believe in living life boldly while at the same time I prevent my children from experiencing the same freedoms I enjoyed while growing up.

I feel as though we are on a precipice as we navigate these post-Sandy-Hook waters. I don't know what the right answer is, but I don't feel that we can adequately insulate ourselves from harm and danger. I feel that freedom is too precious commodity to trade in for "safety," especially when you consider that the safety we seek isn't even achievable.

The words of Patrick Henry, "Give me liberty, or give me death." seem a little chilling under the circumstances, but I keep coming back to them. I truly hope that our freedoms are not too greatly impacted by the legislation that is sure to be the aftermath of this tragedy. Protection from harm comes with its own price, and I am anxious to learn what that cost will be and can only pray that the cost of the freedoms we will give up will be less than the price of the injury it seeks to avoid.

(I also truly hope that the parents of the Sandy Hook victims are afforded some privacy as they try to find some peace in the tragedy's wake. My heart goes out to them all.)

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Now What?

The bus has pulled away and an eerie silence settles over the house. I can hear the refrigerator. I can hear the cat walking across the room. Can this be the same house in which I was just commanding, "Henry, stop shouting! Henry, Stop Shouting!?" In fact, it is, but it feels like a different place all together. Both of my kids are in school full time.

Henry started Kindergarten three weeks ago- hah! Henry started Kindergarten last week- I just double-checked the calendar. It seems like it's been so much longer. I already feel spoiled when I go to the grocery store and don't have to explain why Mario or Angry Birds-themed foods might not be the best nutritional choices on the shelves.

It's a new chapter for me and I'm curious to see what the year is going to bring. I've been teaching knitting at the local Y for almost 2 years now and the Y, which originally courted me to teach, has been continually frustrating to work with and I've just been informed that I'm losing my room (again) and can teach my class in an outdoor pavilion, the lobby, or a windowless dungeon of a conference room that is burdened with large tables and an oft-used supply closet: I may be looking for new digs in which to teach my class.

I'm treasurer of our PTO and I'm excited to be in a position where I can be an ambassador to the school and the organization (while recognizing that the one who handles the money may also have to be unpopular sometimes.)

My law license is active and I need to attend some continuing education courses to stay in good standing- what's going to happen with my career, such as it is, over the next year or two or five? What opportunities will come my way? I have lots of unanswered questions right now.

My promise to myself is that I'm not going to make any rash decisions- measured steps only. As I've gotten older, I've become more inclined to take longer to make decisions and this has resulted in fewer, better decisions about my life. I don't know what path I'm on right now, but I know that my life is good. I'm not anxious about my current lack of clear direction- I have enough purpose in my immediate tasks- but I'm interested to see what's next.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

My New Gig

I got a new gig. I'm the Lake YMCA's new knitting teacher.

I'm really excited about the position for many reasons:
I'll meet new people in my still-fairly-new community and they won't all be moms of young children- I like variety in my friends
I get to pass along the craft I've grown to really love
I get to hone my skills in the process
I get to unload some of my yarn stash

A little over a year ago I recognized how much I love knitting. I love the feel of the yarn in my hands. I love the way the needles slide against each other in a gentle shhh shhh as I knit. I make garments in vivid colors, warm and durable and soft; sweaters, hats, mittens and blankets to embrace my husband, my children, my family, my friends and myself.

The process of creation is multi-step and every step is one of discovery. The pattern choice is probably the most important and most exciting- who will it be for? What season? What function will the garment have? What will it have to match? Cables? Or color?

The pattern choice drives the yarn choice. Choosing the yarn is the most exciting step- what fibers? What weight? What colors? Does it need to be machine washable? Where will I get the yarn? When do I get to feel it?

Next comes the gauge swatch and then measuring the intended recipient- torso length, arm length, shoulder to fall line, chest size. The most exciting step is next: starting. Seeing the sweater or hat or mittens or blanket begin to take shape on the needles it delightful. Does it look just as I thought it was going to look, or is it a little different? How quickly is the project going to appear. Seeing the project grow off the needles is like watching a genie come swirling out of a lamp- it's just as magical.

Blocking comes next and blocking is usually fairly straightforward. However, I have had an item or two completely change again during the blocking process. A knit blanket once went from being lumpy-bumpy and cute to being flat and sleek and beautiful. Even blocking delivers an occasional surprise.

The final stage I can't complete fast enough- the finishing up so that the knitted item can be used. The sewing together and weaving-in of the ends always looks like it will take forever until I actually start doing it. Suddenly I'm down to the last end and I can give it away. Giving something away is like giving someone a perpetual hug. It's love and warmth and comfort.

I get to pass it all along to a new group of people. That makes me one lucky person. Maybe the most exciting part will be seeing a new group of knitters complete their first projects.

Life is good.

Friday, November 5, 2010

I Want a Hot Dog

My oldest child is in Kindergarten. He's sensitive and high-strung and inquisitive, stubborn, smart and very sweet. Putting him on the bus that first day in August and pushing him out of the nest was hard, but I knew he'd love school. I knew it was the first major step towards him becoming his own person, independent from me.

He's got his own friends and his own relationships now. He knows people I don't know- the gym teacher and the lunch ladies, the librarian and the school nurse. He had some conflict two days ago with one of the women who monitors the playground- yesterday afternoon he told me it had been resolved.

It's fascinating to me to see the evolution of my child. I see glimpses of the person he's going to be, even while the majority of his self is still firmly rooted in the 5 year-old person he is now.

Many of the changes are subtle; this morning's was not. "I want a hot dog for lunch today, Mom." Ted announced at breakfast. For the first time ever, he went to school without a lunch I'd packed. He's going to stand in line with the other kids and get his lunch, typing his code into the cash register to take the payment out of his account. He's not going to have me there to cut it up for him- he'll have to manage it by himself.

I want to be a fly on the wall and check on him. I'd like to ride in his pocket and just make sure that he's doing fine- give him encouragement throughout the day. Of course, that's not mine to do. He's got to figure it out on his own, just like I did when I was his age.

He took charge of another area of his life today. I am proud of him each time he takes another step towards independence.

I'd already packed his lunch when he asked for the hot dog. I didn't tell him that though, and his sandwich, vegetables and goldfish crackers are in the fridge. He can have them tomorrow.

Today he's having a hot dog.