2010: The t-shirts of the dead

At the beginning of this year and the beginning of this project, I stated that I would do my best to tell my own story and no one else’s. After the events of this past week, I think that you will understand why I’m about to break that promise.

In September 2010, one car crashed into another car and changed the lives of thousands of people. A little boy, the classmate of my middle son and the son of our school’s principal, was killed in the first week of first grade. I found this out via a phone call from the mother of a classmate of my oldest son; her own son had recently been diagnosed with an inoperable brain cancer. My husband was out of town on a business trip, and I needed to find a way to let all my children — who were 11, 7, 6, and 4 — what had happened. Somehow I steeled myself for the task, climbed the stairs to the bedroom where all of them were playing, and calmly delivered the news. I tried to answer their questions, but I don’t remember them having any. I don’t think any of us understood then how profoundly this death would change the lives of children, families, our school, and several communities.

In the short term there were practical tasks, like buying formal clothes for all the children to attend the funeral. I remember going to a downtown thrift store and buying  dark slacks and black dress shoes for the boys. The church was packed for the funeral; I stood pressed against the rear wall holding my youngest son. Our community was numb with loss and pain, but the grieving mother eloquently explained why this was not a time to give in to hate.

Over time, grief directed its energy into a project that would enable children to follow their dreams and encourage everyone to make smarter choices: a baseball field that was truly a “field of dreams.” The money to prepare the land and build the ballfield was partially funded by a series of events that included a kickball tournament and an annual 5K run and walk. For each event there was a t-shirt to buy — to promote and then commemorate the event, to fund the ballfield, and to show that you were part of a community working for good. There were also wristbands and car magnets, but most visibly there were t-shirts, one for each child and another for me.

Eventually the ballfield was completed, and a special game was held with teams formed of the boys who would have been on Treyton’s teams over the years; my middle son was the first batter. As the grounds added a concession stand and bleachers and bullpens, the runs continued and so did the t-shirts.

In 2011 my husband’s extended family prepared for the addition of another baby to the large and rapidly growing crew of cousins and second cousins. The baby who arrived brought with him profound birth defects, and after more than a month in the intensive care unit he came home to spend a peaceful afternoon in the loving arms of his mother and father, where he gently passed away. He was beautifully eulogized by his father and tenderly memorialized by both parents, who became more deeply involved with fundraising efforts for the March of Dimes, which had provided such support to them in their sorrow. They suffered more personal losses and worked harder to promote awareness of birth defects, becoming top fundraisers and, occasionally, spokespersons for the cause.

They organized silent auctions, coordinated teams for runs and walks, and helped to bring in thousands of dollars to fund critical research. And with each event there was a team t-shirt or sweatshirt; for the frigid April lakefront walk in Milwaukee I was tempted to knit team scarves and balaclavas. Instead I layered up in the colors of Team Dylan. The event has moved from the shores of Lake Michigan to the inside of the Pettit Center and the climate has become milder, and every year brings a new t-shirt.

In 2009 I started a knitting and crocheting group in downtown Jefferson. At the time I fantasized that it would draw out of hiding all the dozens, if not hundreds, of yarny folks who sat alone at home. On our debut night at the coffee shop on Cinco de Mayo, I wondered out loud to one of the knitters if we would have enough chairs for them all.

“Don’t worry,” she said confidently. “I have more chairs in the Jeep if we need them.”

Bonnie was a skilled knitter and a crocheter (we call that bicraftual) as well as a breast cancer survivor. On top of that, she was a lifelong resident of the area and on many of our knit nights we played the game of “how long will it take to find out Bonnie knows your people.” After a new knitter joined the group and told something about themselves, Bonnie would ask a few cleverly worded questions and bam! we now knew that her son had been in scouts with their son’s cousin, or she that had done the tax returns for your college roommate, or that she and your second cousin had been in the same confirmation class.

We all enjoyed a few more years of Bonnie’s ebullient personality, entertaining storytelling, and knitting instruction before the breast cancer took another run at her. She was back in chemo and exhausted much of the time, but she was also the honorary chair of a marathon fundraising walk held in her beloved hometown. I showed up not knowing what to expect, then registered, bought an event t-shirt, and proceeded to walk seven miles for the cause. We lost her a few years ago, but we still talk to her when we need help with poorly written knitting patterns or we find ourselves with two inches of ribbing to do. And we think of the t-shirts she used to wear, including one that read “Of course these are fake, my real ones tried to kill me.”

My final reminiscence is about the friend of a friend, who provided some contract editorial work for me when I had a batch of small children and wanted to be more useful in an adult, professional way. Not only did she appreciate my work, she wrote me a glowing letter of recommendation — that I still have — when the project was complete.

We never met in person, but we became Facebook friends. I followed along with her many, many other friends as she showcased her portrait photography business (often including horses), wrote about her horses, and charmed us all with stories (and photos!) of her little boy, Hunter (often on horses or with his dear pony Penelope). In 2015, after we discussed the possibility of knitting a clip-on tail for her ailing horse, the said Sun Rae passed away. Soon afterwards, a fast moving breast cancer went after Angie. By the fall of 2016 she was gone, but not before “Angie’s Angels” created a special “5K” t-shirt as a way of both raising money for her care and showing our support for her whenever we ran.


There is nothing trivial about a t-shirt when it can help us care for our loved ones and memorialize those who have left us. I have a drawerful of wearable memorials, and when I choose one I do not wear it lightly. If I don’t care what I wear that day… well, I wear something else. When I wear something that bears the name of one of the lost ones, I’m thinking about them and about all the others who cared about them — and all the ones they loved even as they felt the pain that life and the end of it can bring. Do they know? Can they tell? Does it make a difference to them? I don’t know, but it makes a difference to me.

Last week I decided to race the yarn dyers as they created yarn for my stalled project; they probably would have won even if my hands hadn’t been too sore to knit anything last week and weekend. Congratulations, Knitcircus! I’ll pick up my custom dye job on Saturday.


Here is the front; I’m still waiting for the gradient to shift.


The silver ring marks the halfway mark in rows. Sigh.

In other news, I have been working on my Duolingo streak. It’s up to 61 days despite a few interactions like this one.


We can’t all be perfecto.


Published in: on November 5, 2018 at 10:46 pm  Leave a Comment  

2008: Unwinding

The summer of 2008 brought violent weather and threatening conditions to our area. We had just finished the school year and my husband was away on a business trip when a tornado watch turned into a tornado warning. My nine-year-old helped to bring toys and furniture to the basement as I rounded up his younger siblings (five, four, and two years old), where we established a temporary tornado shelter in what had probably been the root cellar of the original house when it was built in the 1850s. It seemed odd to take shelter in the oldest part of the house, but that was what we had (and still have).

I had recently acquired a cell phone but there was no signal in the basement, so to get current weather information I left the Weather Channel playing in the TV room and ran upstairs to check it once in a while. As the sirens wailed we passed the time reading books, huddled up together in blankets.

At last the sirens stopped, and we began moving our people and things back upstairs. One of the last items to be brought up was a bench my father had made years ago. After successfully wrangling it up the stairs my oldest son reported, “Mom, there’s a lot of water coming in.” I checked it out; sure enough, water had come under the cellar doors and was flowing like a waterfall down the steps into the basement. We had moved out of the way just in time. By the next morning there were two inches of water in the basement, and the water would rise higher before it would fall and fade away.

The storm rains combined with a heavy spring thaw and sent every river in the county above flood stage. It was an unfortunate coincidence that this was also the summer that Highway 18, the main east-west route through Jefferson,was being torn up and completely resurfaced. The bridges were closed one by one as the flood waters rose almost to their decks; parks and playgrounds were submerged. Eventually the floodwaters were high enough that portions of I-94 closed in Jefferson County and long detours had to be established to keep highway shipping traffic moving between Milwaukee and Madison. With the Interstate closed down, Highway B partially flooded and not robust enough to handle the traffic, and Highway 18 closed at a key juncture, the detour directed semis on I-43 all the way to Beloit before coming northward on I-90. It was a ridiculously lengthy detour of hundreds of miles, but there was no other safe route to take.

After several days of watching Weather Channel and local news reports, I was itching to get out of the house. I decided to drive the kids on the southern detour and make a loop back up to the house from the west. By the time I got to the I-94 bridge over the Crawfish River — just days before it was closed, and with emergency vehicles lining each shoulder — I wished that I had just stayed home and watched TV with the kids. I made a brief cellphone video of our bridge crossing and it ranks as the third scariest bridge crossing I have made.

Here is someone else’s video of my Number One Scary Bridge, the St. Francisville Bridge over the Wabash River. When we lived in Vincennes we made a special trip to drive over this bridge. Yikes!

Here is a video of my Number Two Scary Bridge, which a lot of other people also find scary, particularly in snowy weather, wet weather, high winds, or the dark:

This one lets you experience agoraphobia and claustrophobia all at the same time.

My home video of I-94 over the Crawfish is not quite so spectacular, and it’s probably a good thing that I can’t retrieve it from the old phone. But my nerve-wracking trip did make me grateful to be back home again.

As summer ended, the waters gradually receded and Labor Day loomed with its promise of the new school year’s beginning and the next Sheep and Wool Festival’s arrival on the following week. This year I had a plan for the Saturday night of the Festival, when everything was closed. Why, I’d host a party where people could relax, knit (or crochet), and show off what they had bought at the show. It would be a Saturday Night Afterparty!

I talked my fellow knitblogger Cheesehead with Sticks (hi, Brandy!) into helping me out with signage and PR. I rented a space at a local park, contacted local vendors for door prize donations, ordered some pizzas, and baked up some catering: chocolate chip cookie pizzas and a cheesecake bar. Brandy and I talked one of the organizers of the Sheep and Wool Festival into letting us have some table space at the end of one of the vendor barns and we talked up the event all day, handing out maps to anyone who would take one.


Thanks, Brandy!

A few people assured me that they didn’t need any map; we never saw them again. The combination of nightfall, the closure of Highway 18, and the location of the event being in one of two Romes in Wisconsin made it difficult to find. Add to that Wisconsin’s tendency to have a Highway A, B, D, N, and P in almost every county, and it can be a challenge to rely on your GPS.

As it happened, we had forty attendees and forty door prizes. Everyone was fed, everybody won something, and everyone seemed to have a good time. I was so pleased that all I could do was sit off by myself and knit while I watched everyone else having that good time, including Brandy playing the emcee.

Here, have a chocolate dipped pretzel stick. Next year will be even better when it’s called Unwind.


Knitwise, I have made progress on the shawl; I’m even on the second skein. There’s a slight problem, however, with how I’ll actually finish the shawl. It calls for a ruffle, which I’m happy to make — it’s just that I don’t know exactly how much yarn it will take. And I don’t know when the shawl will be “big enough” and how much yarn will then be left for the ruffle. After some consultations at last week’s knit night, the hivemind decided that I should knit up all the yarn I have, then get more yarn for the ruffle. That way I’m assured that the shawl will be big enough.


However. The yarn I’m using is from a local dyer (hi, Lael!) who stopped making this colorway and working with this particular yarn base years ago. I did ask if she could please dye me up a little more, pretty please, pretty please with quiviut on top, but the answer was still, sadly, no. It just wasn’t possible.

No problem, I thought. I went to Knitcircus last Sunday and I can go to Knitcircus this Sunday. They have a yarn in the same base and a color close to what I’m looking for; I’ll take my project along and commission a skein just for the ruffle.

However. Knitcircus was only open last Sunday because of the Madison Shop Hop; that isn’t a normal store day.

No problem, I thought. I’ll go to Knitcircus this Saturday, bring my project, and explain my clever plan.

However. It’s not Saturday yet.

No problem — I’ll keep knitting.

2005: I’ve said it before

This was the year I learned how to knit, and though I could have told the story anew I have decided not to reinvent the wheel this evening. (Maybe tomorrow, when I’m at knit night.) I scrolled to the first posts on my blog, read a few choice entries, then saw that I had narrated my knitting-origin story before. For those of you who don’t like to click on links, I will reprint my own story below.

Tangled up in Yarn (August 2005, Wisconsin Crafter)

For a few years now I have defined myself as a crafter by explaining, “I scrap, I stamp, and I quilt.” By the time you read, this, however, that may have changed. We’re going Up North this weekend, and I’m bringing a crochet hook and (optimistically) four skeins of yarn with me. Let me explain.

I don’t have a big history with yarn crafts, nor does it seem to run in the family. (However, my mother still has a few of the wall hangings and plant hangers she macramed when she was a stay-at-home mom in the 1970s.) I have a little beaded macrame bracelet I must have made in the Camp Fire Girls, but I’m sure it wasn’t my idea. I’m not much of a jewelry person, and I rarely wore more than a wristwatch.

Knitting just didn’t attract me. I wanted to be a professional baseball player when I grew up, not a woman who sat around knitting things.

But somehow, last year, Martha Stewart dragged me into the whole yarn thing. I was reading Martha Stewart Kids magazine (now called Kids) and turned to a page that described easy crochet projects that kids could do. A potholder, a hat, a scarf. The line drawings looked clear, and the instructions seemed comprehensible. I stared at them for days before I got the nerve to visit Martha’s Yarn Emporium (no relation to the other Martha, I’m pretty sure) and select a crochet hook.

I already knew the project I wanted to make — a Harry Potter scarf for my son, in Gryffindor colors. A Christmas present. It was September, so I thought it was feasible. Martha made sure I got the right colors (burgundy and gold) of yarn in a weight I could handle, and the right size hook.

I took it all home somewhat guiltily. Here was another set of craft supplies I’d brought home, and I didn’t even know if I could do it. Stockpiling rubber stamps and scrapbook supplies was one thing, but this was definitely new territory.

Then I got out the magazine, pulled out a burgundy skein and the little gold-colored hook, and got started. After several torturous minutes I figured out how to start my chain stitch. I made a few stitches, then ripped it all out. I tried again and soon got into a groove: stitch – rip – repeat. After half an hour I wanted to flush the yarn down the toilet and stab myself in the heart with the hook. I was following instructions written for children and could only produce a row of chain stitches that looked as if a different person had made each stitch. Plus, I didn’t know when and how to turn the corner, go back the other direction, or anything else. Which loop of yarn was I supposed to be putting the hook through? How tight was I supposed to be holding the yarn? Was I doing single crochet or double crochet? What was the difference? And why couldn’t I JUST DO THIS?

It was definitely NOT relaxing. But I did not flush the yarn. I did not stab myself. I did, however, decide to set the project aside until I had calmed down a bit.

Nine months later, I figured out what to do. I needed to borrow someone else’s grandmother. Mine wouldn’t do, since she lives in West Virginia and doesn’t crochet. But my husband’s grandmother — now there was a woman with a history of needleworking who would give it to me straight.

In the meantime, a few things had happened to soften me up towards picking up the crochet hook and trying again.

One was meeting a couple of young girls at a Stevens Point arts festival last year. They were sitting and knitting while people came and bought their finished ponchos, hats and scarves. When I asked them if they crocheted, they quickly responded, “Gosh, no. That’s so HARD.” (They were about ten years old, but I respected their opinions as equals.)

Another was when I bought a Sunset book on crochet at a rummage sale. They devoted several pages to line drawings of crochet in progress, showing many different stitches AND the different techniques that should be used by right-handers and left-handers. (Perhaps Martha Stewart’s instructions were overly simplistic, I thought, even though I am right-handed and they were probably written for me.)

Lastly, I was scandalized to read that Martha Stewart had never known how to crochet. This gap in her knowledge of the domestic arts was shocking, at least to me. But by the time I discovered she didn’t know how to crochet, she had already been taught — by a fellow inmate at Alderson Prison.

Maybe she was somebody else’s grandmother.

To follow up on my origin story, the crochet lessons definitely didn’t take hold. After frustrating myself for several weeks, Eldest turned to me and said, “Mom, why don’t you just learn to knit?”

I returned to Martha’s Yarn Emporium and bought two pairs of straight bamboo knitting needles, in sizes 7 and 9. At the time, I reasoned that since those were the size needles I would need for the yarn I had, they were the only knitting needles I would ever need. (N.B.: I don’t have any idea how many needs, patterns, or skeins of yarn I now have. Caveat craftor.) And I picked up a few skeins of black-and-rainbow yarn that Martha had on clearance.

Then I went to my local public library and checked out a book called Knitting for Kids. Or maybe it was Knitting for Idiots or Teach Your Infant How to Knit in Two Simple Lessons. Anyway, after renewing it once or twice I began to catch on. I cast on in the rainbow yarn for a scarf that, in my head, I called a Doctor Who scarf; all I remembered of the actual Doctor Who scarf at this point was that it had a lot of different colors. I couldn’t have been more wrong about the Doctor, but I plugged away on this first scarf for a long time. I remember taking it with me to prenatal doctor visits when I was pregnant with my fourth child; on one such visit I stopped knitting in mid-row and later resumed knitting in the wrong direction. The scarf has inadvertent short rows, dropped stitches, mysterious holes, non-mysterious holes, and different dye lots, but it also has a beginning and an end (I learned a simple bind-off).


My first knitted item, from 2005.

On a trip to Ohio, knitting in the car, I started teaching myself how to purl. A small sample project was all I needed to convince myself that I had added another tool to my toolbox.

Finally I cast on for a stockinette Gryffindor scarf with deep stripes, and I knitted carefully away. I was frustrated by the yarn’s tendency to curl at the edges, but I wasn’t completely demoralized. Surely I will be able to block this out, I thought, even before I had ever heard of the concept of blocking. When the scarf was finished I moistened the wool/acrylic blend, stretched it flat, and pinned it down. When I removed the pins a couple of days later, of course, the scarf immediately rolled back onto itself. I had learned an important lesson: It is the nature of stockinette to curl. (I think it’s fair to say that I did not appreciate this lesson at the time.)

For some reason I wanted to keep trying and to keep getting better at this. I tried to learn one new thing — but only one new thing — with each new project, and gradually I worked my way up to Average Intermediate. And yes, the first year, everyone I knew got a hat for Christmas. Some people were even kind enough to wear them.

Knitwise I haven’t done anything since last week, or was it the week before? It’s a dark and stormy night here — good for knitting, but perhaps I should light some candles first, just in case.

Published in: on October 1, 2018 at 7:30 pm  Leave a Comment  

2003: Stay at home

A look at the top movies, songs, and television shows of 2003 reminds me that I was a mother of two young children at that time. I wasn’t exactly going out to new movies or dancing at clubs until daybreak. (Then again, I never did those things anyway, so I’ll never know what I was missing.) I recognize exactly two songs from a greatest hits list: “Hey Ya!” by OutKast and “Stacy’s Mom” by Fountains of Wayne. From the list of movies I see films that I watched later but certainly didn’t see in the theaters (Kill Bill, School of Rock, Elf, The Italian Job); I do remember taking the kids to see Finding Nemo and watching the first teaser for what would become a very important movie in our family: The Incredibles.

A clue

A clue! A clue!

I did a bit better when it came to TV shows because, well, I was already at home. I probably watched “Blue’s Clues” and “Dragon Tales” more than anything else, but there were some memorable shows that were slightly more adult oriented. Because of my husband’s schedule at the newspaper, he was home in the midmornings and we got into the habit of watching “The Caroline Rhea Show.” Her mini game shows and interviews were a hoot, her friend Wayne Brady was often on the show, and we were introduced to the incredibly talented Chris Botti. To this day when I have the Smooth Jazz station playing on my television, I can identify a Chris Botti performance in about four notes.

It was tough finding a representative Botti performance on YouTube that was under ten minutes. In fact, here someone has looped “When I Fall in Love” for two hours. And here is a duet of Chris Botti and Michael Bublé. You’re welcome.


There’s always money in the banana stand.

And on the family oriented but not-necessarily-family-friendly side, “Arrested Development” premiered in 2003. We were huge fans but soon realized that as the kids got older, that 7pm Sunday evening time slot was going to be problematic. This wasn’t exactly the Wonderful World of Disney we were watching.

“I’m looking for the man they call…hermano.” — Gob Bluth

Television brought us sadness that year as well. In late January my husband and I decided to watch all the movies we had on tape, in alphabetical order. The first one up as Apollo 13, which we watched on the evening of January 31. When we watched the news the next day and saw clip after clip of the breakup and crash of the Space Shuttle Columbia, I was terribly confused and disoriented. The feeling that we had somehow jinxed the mission, even though the damage to the shuttle had been caused several days earlier, was hard to avoid; we abandoned the movie-watching scheme.

And after calming and reassuring us in the aftermath of September 11, Fred Rogers passed away in February 2003. I was so saddened — and concerned about the reaction my son might have — that I didn’t tell the kids for a year or two. Right now I have “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” waiting on the DVR for me to watch with all of my kids, whenever we’re together on the same weekend. I had enjoyed kind and gentle children’s show hosts such as Mister Rogers and Captain Kangaroo when I was little, and we’re not likely to see their equal on the small screen. In fact, just try finding a decent clip of the Captain, let alone a DVD set.

Fred and Kangaroo

Who wore it better?

I was home with two small children and another one on the way, gradually filling up a huge old house that boasted an icebox, a laundry chute, and a creepy basement. It also had built-in bookcases and a set of kitchen cabinets mounted right up by the ceiling; I don’t know what I was supposed to store up there or how I would have gotten it down. Our lovely landlady lived next door and would sometimes play her grand piano while my children toddled around on her carpet. Our other neighbors were the family of my husband’s boss at the paper — his wife and two young daughters. We were within stroller-distance of a natural foods co-op where I could buy freshly ground peanut butter. And we lived right across the street from a convent where the Newman congregation of Stevens Point held its Sunday mass. Who could ask for anything more?

Knitwise, we’re getting it together! At last week’s Student Involvement Fair I helped staff a table for the UWW Yarnhawks student knit and crochet group. I answered questions, knitted in public, and listened to about a dozen students as they told me about how their grandmother had taught them how to knit (or crochet) that one summer. We were hoping for five interested students, and fifty signed up for the mailing list. The first student meeting is Wednesday night, and we’re scrambling to provide enough yarn, needles, and hooks to get everyone started on our service project: cold-weather accessories for cold college students. (I wonder if we should tell them about Ravelry.)

I have the Secret Gift Project to work on, plus a gift for a mother-to-be that’s going to use some sweet superwash Merino from Hearthside Fibers that’s been waiting five years for the perfect project. My colorway (Victorian Rose) is long out of stock, but you’ll be able to find a beautiful color that calls to you. That self-striping sock is in a project bag somewhere around here. The one-row handspun scarf I started in Ohio is in my office in case I run into some down time. And of course I have many, many more projects on which I could work if I chose. All I have to do is pick up my knitting. All I have to do…

Published in: on September 17, 2018 at 9:24 pm  Leave a Comment  

1990: Mama Said Knock You Out

By the summer of 1990, my life had drastically changed. I was no longer married, I was still living in Oxford, and I had managed to find a part-time job at a local print shop. One part of the job was the walk-in business: making photocopies (and learning to clear paper jams in the multi-function copier), designing business cards, and ordering graduation or wedding announcements. For simple design work, we used a Mac SE running Aldus PageMaker 2.0; if you worked with it then, too, you’ll understand what I mean by saying that the most useful trick I learned was how to create invisible boxes. (In later years, being able to find and delete other people’s invisible boxes came in particularly handy when editing a layout that didn’t print as expected.)


The other part of the job dealt with handling actual printing jobs initiated by the University and the local businesses. Every so often a brand new print job would come in, but most of what we did were reprints of prior jobs — another 10,000 pocket folders for freshman orientation, perhaps, but change the year on Cover One or the contact name on Cover Four. The client would call or come in; we’d pull the old job jacket, update the specifications, and hand off the jacket to our driver, Lester, to be taken back to the press in Richmond. Lester, a gentle and friendly soul who was past retirement age but liked to stay busy, drove daily between our locations in Richmond, Oxford, and Winchester to pick up job tickets and drop off print orders.

It was a good job for an English major who enjoyed working with computers and wasn’t seeking constant social interaction. Truly busy days were rare, and on the whole it was becoming a pleasant way to pass the summer and make a little money — not much money, because I worked only four hours a day. But that gave me the rest of the day for cycling, hanging out in the pool at my apartment complex, and other activities.

One day, we were all in a rush. Job after job had come in, and Lester waited in a chair in the corner while I talked to a client to get the specs for a new job. My boyfriend waited for the chance to take me to lunch. I hadn’t been able to take a break that morning, and I was starting to feel weak and crampy all at the same time. Then everything went white.

When I came to, I was on the floor. Lester was panicked and my boyfriend looked terrified. The client was gone, and an ambulance was on the way to take me to the local hospital for observation. Apparently I had fallen straight back to the floor: rigid, without crumpling. My boss sat by me as I lay on the concrete floor cushioned by a thin carpet. After a couple of minutes I heard sirens, then a team of EMTs came in to assess me. A brief question and answer period followed, and I was loaded into the ambulance and taken to the emergency room.

Ambulance and Gurney

This was not a reassuring turn of events. I may have mentioned that this hospital (the same one at which Professor Dickinson had “expired”) did not have a good local reputation at this time. I knew several townies with orders in place such that, should they have a medical emergency, they preferred to be airlifted to Cincinnati or Dayton rather than go to the hospital that was just a few blocks away from them.

After I arrived at the hospital I was even more confused. I was wheeled behind some curtains and left there, unattended, for over an hour. Eventually I was released to the custody of my still-terrified boyfriend, who had been sitting, uninformed by hospital personnel, on the other side of the curtain. We didn’t have cars, so we must have walked across town to go back to our apartment. Did I ever get lunch? What did we have for dinner? The details are lost to time and, possibly, to an undiagnosed concussion. Eventually I received a bill for $200 for the ambulance transport.


It was clear that, without health insurance, I couldn’t afford to get sick or hurt again. In an unprecedented act of chutzpah, I wrote to the owner of the printing company and explained that I would need to work full time and get health benefits or I would have to quit my job. I was amazed when they agreed, and hired me at full time. I didn’t know what had happened to me that day in the shop, but in one sense I could breathe a little easier.

A few weeks later, a sheepish looking man walked into the shop and apologized. He was the client with whom I had been talking when I passed out. I retrieved his job jacket, which had never been completed. I had used a red felt-tip marker to record the job specs, and at one point the handwriting ceased and a wobbly red line ran down the job jacket and off the edge. When I had turned off and dropped like a stone, the client had turned around and run out the door and down the street.

“I didn’t know what to do,” he said. “I thought you were dead.”

Knitwise, it took me a while to figure out which knitting (or crocheting) project I should start (or finish) next. I have a small project — the Baby Trekkie Washcloth — started at work and I can start another one to leave in the knitting bag for when I get stuck on my primary project. I assembled a preliminary project bag for a Knitterly pattern I bought online, but I felt dissatisfied even as I was just collecting the materials. It didn’t feel right, and yarn/pattern combinations that don’t feel right usually don’t go very well. I set that one aside until I could better listen to my intuition; after all, I had purchased that yarn almost 5 years ago and certainly didn’t have this pattern in mind at the time.

Finally I decided to start Nakia’s Infinity Scarf from Black Panther. I had already put together the project bag with the printed pattern, the right needles, and the specified yarn in the specified colorway, so I was ready to go. It turns out that I wasn’t quite ready, because the first step of the pattern entailed a provisional cast-on in a contrasting yarn. I’ve done this before, but it’s been a while. With some scrap yarn from our bin at Knit Night, and Jill’s crochet hook, and Therese’s coaching, I crocheted the chain and got the required number of 84 knits (actually purls) into it and finished eight rows (actually seven) before the row where the stitches started to get funky.

That’s when I remembered that the scarf’s designer was a machine knitter, and the pattern I had printed out was a machine knitting pattern. Some of the symbols and instructions wouldn’t make any sense. I checked on Ravelry and found that there was now a handknit version of the pattern, complete with row by row instructions; I’m printing out all sixteen pages of it now. And now I see that the first seven rows aren’t all purls, as I had previously interpreted the chart. As Don Henley sang, “Two steps forward and three steps back….”

Sigh. Next week I’ll be helping a friend learn to knit socks. Maybe I’d better find my stalled sock project, just in case.

Published in: on June 18, 2018 at 4:39 pm  Leave a Comment  

1975: Letters

I loved my years at Westgate Elementary. After conquering kindergarten, I spent two years sitting on the younger side of what were called either “split” or “combined” classes made up of children from different grades. Some fluke of demographics had created this circumstance of first/second and second/third grades, membership in which had been framed as a reward for children who could work independently. Not only did I get to listen to everything the older grade was doing on the other side of the room, but sometimes I was picked to do something like read the spelling test words to the older students. I was absorbing everything I could, and my reading level jumped so high that even the double classroom couldn’t contain it. When it was time to join the new reading group, Joe D. and I picked up our workbooks and went down the hall to read with much older kids.

This was also the year of the Carpenters’ remake of “Please Mr. Postman,” when my father swore I would drive him mad with my constant playing of the Number One single on my box of a record player. I probably came pretty close to sending him over the edge. What can I say? I loved the Carpenters and loved the song. #sorrynotsorry

1975 record player

1970s technology is very 1970s.

Third grade was a wonderful time for me, but I combine a lot of my memories with those of fourth grade; the teachers of these grades were new to my school, they were friends who had taught together at a prior school, and I thought they were awesomely cool. I have happy memories of Miss Rood bringing her guitar to school to teach us the song “There’s a Hole in the Bucket,” of a Christmas play where I got to hide behind the curtain and plug in the Christmas tree at a dramatic moment, of a school visit from a painter who worked from photography, of playing kickball and foursquare and dodgeball on the playground, of Miss Bahorek getting married and including some of my classmates in the ceremony, of a school visit from a published author, and of a class trip to the Columbus Zoo to visit Colo, the gorilla we had raised funds to adopt for a time.

Underwood Leader

My beloved Leader.

It was also around this time that my parents gave me a typewriter. Why? And where did they get this one? Who knows? (Was I an eight-year-old who asked for a typewriter? Do I want the answer to that question?) It may have been the best present ever. I have dim memories of whacking away on a mostly-plastic children’s typewriter, probably from Sears, but this was a real typewriter, a manual Underwood Leader from the 1940s. It was the same model E. B. White posed with on the dust jacket of my copy of Trumpet of the Swan; for me, it might as well have been the very specimen. With it came endless opportunities for storytelling, neighborhood journalism, and labeling; with it also came the occupational hazard of never being able to develop into a true touch typist. The keys required such strength for me to strike that hunt-and-peck became hunt-and-pound out of necessity. Over the years I was able to come up to some respectable speeds. To this day, people who have watched me type at full speed have often called it “interesting.”

This was the typewriter on which I retyped Quotable Quotes from Reader’s Digest, composed newspaper copy, and wrote original (and awful!) short stories. After an incident in eighth grade science class (I hand-wrote an eight-page research paper and developed a callus that never left) I was given permission to use my beloved Leader for homework. I used it constantly in high school and took it with me to college, where it finally locked up halfway through a report on every short story in James Joyce’s Dubliners; I switched to a Smith-Corona electronic typewriter somewhere around page 12, and I held my tongue when my Freshman English professor criticized the inconsistent appearance of the final paper.

I set the Leader aside for several years then, writing on the electronic typewriter until I switched to a Macintosh SE in 1987. From there I went through a series of Macintoshes that culminated in a 2009 iMac, a hand-me-down from my late ex-husband, that I’m using today. The fun bit is that I’m actually typing on a vintage-look Bluetooth-enabled keyboard that has a slight family resemblance to my Leader.

QWERKY Keyboard

“Wine for writing, coffee for editing.”

I have purchased a few other vintage typewriters, usually manuals, in recent years. I still own the Leader, and I even own the little spring that I need to install to return it to full functionality. I have also purchased a complete repair manual for my machine; thank you, Internet! I’ve carried the spring around for over a decade now, but I’ll get around to it. A gift like this, you take care of.

Knitwise, I haven’t been doing very much. I knitted on my Olympic cowl but am still a long way from done. In fact, I made an error early in the last round I knitted and now I must un-knit (so to speak) 110 stitches of [Sl1, P1] before I can again make forward progress. I have looked at a few interesting knit and crochet patterns in the past week, but I know that I am forbidden to cast on anything new until I finish a couple of projects which have been waiting (for an unreasonably long time) to be completed. I’ll take a progress shot of the cowl and get going again. It’s a neat pattern but I would like to FINISH IT and move on to something else.

Published in: on March 5, 2018 at 10:57 pm  Comments (3)  

1971: Before I could read

A few decades ago, my father asked me if I thought it was possible that someone who knew how to read could view text in their native language and not be able to read it. I never asked him why he had asked the question, but I believe that my answer at the time was No – I didn’t think that a literate person could not be able to read something.

I still think that answer is basically true. A stroke or a bout of aphasia could impair your ability to read for a certain amount of time, and acute trauma could impair your perceptions to a degree that might include reading or speech, but I don’t know that personal literacy is something you can voluntarily disable. (Officer: “Didn’t you see that stop sign back there?” Driver: “The red sign? I saw it, but I decided not to read it. Did it say something important?”)


When I went off to kindergarten at age five, I could not yet read. I remember the thick workbook that we used that year, full of colorful pictures and words and phrases in simple black type. I remember the meaningless, the flatness of it before I was able to crack the code. I also remember the thrill that came over me when I realized that I could do it — I could read the words! I could read all the words, including the ones on the previous pages. Yesterday I was going through the motions, but today I could really read!


Because my birthday is in the middle of summer, I can guess that I learned to read when I was about five and a half. But I had been surrounded by words much longer — probably all my life — and my parents thought I already knew how to read. I was outed during a visit to West Virginia, when I sat with my great-grandfather and we read my favorite book, “Hop on Pop.” Everyone was impressed with my precocious abilities until Grandpap turned two pages at once and I proceeded to recite the text printed on the skipped page. (You would think that my family members would have been even more impressed by my ability to memorize an entire book, but that was apparently not the case.)

After I did learn to read I was rarely without a book, or any other collection of words. I strayed from the shelves of books at my reading level so that I could try something more advanced. At the public library this meant moving from the children’s books room to the shelf just outside that held the Encyclopedia Brown series, and later to a book on how to write Chinese characters. At the school library this meant leaving the Matt Christopher sports series (and exciting titles like Catcher with a Glass Arm and Slam Dunk!) for the thickest book on the nonfiction shelf (which turned out to be a stultifyingly dull book about wildflowers or botany or something; ugh). I read voraciously in the two newspapers that came to our house every day, the Columbus Citizen-Journal in the morning and the weightier and more conservative Columbus Dispatch in the evening. I typed up my own attempt at a neighborhood newspaper on my manual typewriter in the fourth grade (there was only one edition; it’s quite the rarity) and eventually I began writing my own short stories and longer pieces.

Kids these days are a bit quicker on the draw than I was, and all of mine learned to read before I did. My third child, probably out of sheer boredom, taught himself to read at age three by playing Pixar movies with the captions on. His younger brother thought this was normal, and duly copied him. But all four of them have discovered, enjoyed, written, and illustrated stories much more complicated than “Hop on Pop,” to which dozens of homemade chapbooks detailing the adventures of Toilet Man, Captain Chale, and the TIME HOLE attest; the elder two are writing fan fiction and moving on to create their own complex and realistic fictional worlds, for which I occasionally serve as a sounding board and consultant.


Can they look at something and not read it? I’ll ask them without telling them why I want to know.



Knitwise, I have finished the two pairs of slippers for my grandmother; I only have to seam them up. That’s close enough to actually being done to let me think about the next project I should finish: Oliver’s blanket. I will have some crocheting to do for that blanket to realize my original vision. (Actually, my original vision called for someone else to crochet the squares.) Alternatively, I could frog the squares I’ve knitted and just knit a regular freakin’ blanket, which might take less time but would have more joins. Where’s the fun in that? (To hasten my work I’ll try to think about how cold that poor newborn child must be during our round after round subzero temperatures, and I’ll ignore all the cuddly, snuggly Facebook pictures already posted by my friend, his doting grandmother.) When I’m done with the baby blanket it will finally be time to finish the Swedish Surprise.

Published in: on February 5, 2018 at 10:15 pm  Leave a Comment  

And this year I mean it.

Happy New Year everyone…. I might be back.

2011 was a rough year for me, as you know if you know me via Ravelry, Facebook, or Real-Life™, and I don’t want to rehash it here. But I would like to resume my blogging ways and share my knitting (now including crochet!) adventures, my quirky sense of humor, and my funny kid stories as I used to do.

I would like to publish new posts every Saturday, but to kick things off I’d like to amuse you all (especially you, “Stephanie”) with some New Year’s resolutions.

  1. I would like to publish new Chocolate Sheep posts every Saturday. (Stop laughing, Lauren.)
  2. I’m going to finish all the projects on my WIP list. (Stop laughing, Brandy.) But since I also have new projects for which I would like to cast on, I want to do my projects in pairs — finish one WIP for each new project. The only way this works is if I finish the new project too. I might also include a Needle Liberation Tally as I go along.
  3. I’m going to work to reduce the clutter in my home. (Stop laughing, “Stephanie.”) Actually, the best way to do this is to finish projects or to find people who could use the supplies I’ve been hoarding reserving for future use. That means I will also have to create scrapbook pages, digitize photos, and maybe even make quilts.
  4. I’m back to school for a B.S. in Physics with a minor in Math and, this semester, back to work at school as well, for 15-20 hours a week. I got an A in my first course (Intermediate Algebra) so I’m coming in with a 4.0 grade point average. I would like to keep an A average now, in this my remedial year, so when I start this fall to take on Calculus and Physics I will look and feel like I can handle it. This semester I’m taking Precalculus and Astronomy.
  5. Is five a nice round number? Well, this year I want to finish a goal I made progress on last year. I vowed to lose 50 pounds and actually lost at least 20 before life threw me a doctored slider in September and I stopped exercising. I need to find ways to get healthier on a busy schedule. I won’t be at home all day with access to a Nordic Track, an exercise bike, and a Wii fitness system — so I will have to reduce my calories and stay active in other ways. Goal weight is about 140 pounds, so I will try to keep you posted on that.

That should be plenty! See you on Saturday….

Published in: on January 2, 2012 at 10:24 am  Comments (5)  

Happy New Thanksmas Year!

I have a lot of updates for you!

Firstly and most importantly, the Connor Caps project was a huge success. In three weeks, knitters and crocheters from around the world contributed 145 hats to help support Connor in his fight with brain cancer. 

December 5 was Hat Day at the school, and I had to leave early to get all the hats there. Unfortunately, I was just inside the city limits when I realized I had left one box of fleece hats at home. They had been sent from Hawaii, and represented the largest number of hats sent in by a single person, so I couldn’t leave them out. After a few moments’ panicked thinking, I realized that what I had to do was keep going, let the helpers start stringing up the rest of the hats, hope someone would take care of my two younger boys, and dash back home (ten miles away) for the fleece hats.

It worked out perfectly — the preschool teacher took Big Tom as well as Jack, and by the time I got back to school, all the rest of the hats were clipped to a clothesline that ran the length of the school gym.

The hats weren’t the only thing going on. The school principal kept everything moving through an intensely emotional ceremony. She explained about the Connor Caps project and how it had come together, then let Connor go up and pick out his own hat. Then each class from kindergarten to the eighth grade came up for hats. I made a little movie of part of the “hat sorting” and I’ll try to post it here. The quality is not great, since I made it with my little digital camera, but the emotions are what really show.

After all that was done, it was only 9am, and Jack still had school. It took me a full thirty minutes to convince Big Tom that he needed to come with me, and to convince Jack that he needed to stay at school until I came back for him at the regular time. To help me recover from the emotions of the morning, I went to the nearest quilt-shop-with-a-yarn-room and bought the prettiest and softest yarn I could find. I could only afford three balls, so I hid the rest of the dyelot and told the clerk not to sell the rest to anyone else.


Soft and pretty "reward yarn"

Soft and pretty "reward yarn"



When I got home, there were more hats waiting for me. Even though they didn’t get here in time for the ceremony, they’re still part of the program, and if anyone wants to contribute hats they are still welcome. We came just ten hats short of making one for each kid at school, and I think the staff members would like to have hats too. If you’re interested and able, please contact me for the mailing address.

We have other projects planned for helping and comforting Connor and his family. The details are up at the Connor Caps group on Ravelry, but I can post them here, too.

Next there was a pilgrimage to Sinsinawa Mound. For some reason I had thought this was in the Eau Claire area, since it was described as being 2-3 hours away from Jefferson. Boy was I wrong. We went through some new Wisconsin territory for me, and I took a picture of the Verona exit from 151, just to prove there is something past it (that’s how I get to The Sow’s Ear). At one point our charter bus was stuck behind two Amish men driving their buggy home from Sunday Meeting. When we were at the spiritual center, I read on a flyer that it’s “just a ten minute drive from Dubuque!”

The day at the center was amazing, and there’s no way to adequately describe it all. I could refer you to read what Connor’s mom wrote in his CaringBridge journal — but she says the same thing.

It started snowing and squalling on the way home, and since James and I were in the first seat of the bus, we had an excellent view of how dicey the whole drive was. We were able to watch DVDs on the way out and back, and after the second movie ended, the kids decided to sing Christmas songs the rest of the way home. I can think of much worse road trips with schoolkids!

I found out later that when Connor’s family got home that night, other friends had put up their Christmas decorations for them, and they came home to a beautiful display of sparkling lights. They really are getting support from all quarters.

What comes next? Oh yes, Christmas knitting. I took a couple of projects with me (what? It was going to be as much as six hours on a bus!) but the only one I worked on was the Christmas stocking for my brother. I got a ton of it done, including almost finishing the colorwork section. After that it really picked up speed. It arrived at my parents’ house yesterday, and he doesn’t have it yet, but I can show you a picture. Even with the cuff folded, it came out to 27 inches long.


Ben's stocking

Ben's stocking



There really wasn’t any other requested knitwear to make for presents, but I did send out an Everlasting Bagstopper (i.e. cotton market bag) and make some dishcloths. In the meantime, I started working on a Season 16 Doctor Who Scarf as part of a mini knitalong. On Ravelry I became acquainted with a woman who finished her Season 12 Scarf as she sat with her dying mother. She was using the same yarn I had used and we both had lots of leftovers, so when she decided to make a Season 16, I started one too. I believe it’s the longest scarf, and I know I’ll run out of yarn at some point, but there’s no deadline. It’s all about community and support.

I also had a meetup at Thanksgiving time, with Christine (“akasha”) from one of my Ravelry groups. We met at a yarn shop (go figure) and I found the perfect tweedy yarn to start collecting for another variant on a Doctor Who Scarf. Talk about no deadline. And then, on Thanksgiving Day, I wore my Scarf all day long. My brother was impressed and eventually asked about it, and the upshot is that I’ll be making a machine washable version for him. Just yesterday I bought the bulk of the yarn I’ll need for it. I want to buy a special circular needle for the project, and I’ll get started after I find it.

I made another pair of the cotton footies in shades of blue, and gave them to James in his stocking. They’re a little big yet — I made the adult size — but at the rate he’s growing they will soon fit.

And after getting heavy snows and bitter cold and brisk wind, I decided to make everyone in the family a new pair of mittens, in wool this time. I started with Big Tom, and made a pair of baby blue mittens in Dalegarn Falk, using the Fittin’ Mittens pattern and adding a green Norwegian snowflake to each mitten. Jack’s are next. He wants an Autobot logo one one side and a Decepticon logo on the other, and on the other mitten he wants….

So, what’s on the needles now?

A Season 16 Doctor Who Scarf. The bamboo socks, newly restarted — transitioning to the toe color on one sock, with the other one watching curiously. Not Jack’s mittens yet, but soon. There are also seven (I think) other WIPs. One is a Secret Holiday Project that didn’t come close to getting done, but the others are familiar (cough Tyrone cough) if you’ve been reading this blog for a while.

Ugh, it’s driving rain right now and it’s melting our snowbanks down so everything will be ice when the temperature dips again. And the sky is thick with fog. Yuck yuck yuck! I’d rather it were cold straight through winter than to have this freeze/thaw/sleet junk, especially when we have most of the day booked for a huge Round Robin family eatfest today. With four little people to get in and out of the cars from house to house, it’s not easy, but we’ll do as much as we can.

We all had a blessed Christmas and I hope you did too! Stay warm and dry…. I’ll be back in a few days to make insanely optimistic New Year’s resolutions. We’ve all got to have a tradition, and that one’s mine.

Published in: on December 27, 2008 at 9:21 pm  Comments (2)  


The last several days have been a whirlwind as we prepare for a just-longer-than-a-week road trip covering several states and generations of relatives. The hard prep work is now almost done: I think I have finalized my trip knitting.

Now, I just have to discover whether or not I have a week’s worth of respectable clothes. That can wait till tomorrow, I think.

In case I don’t have Internet access next week (The horror! The horror!), those of you on Ravelry can check out my notebook and see Actual Project Pictures and Actual Stash Pictures. Flickr proved a lot easier to finagle than WordPress image uploading was a few months ago, so I haven’t made the time to try again. Yet. Someday…..

I do have a couple of projects to almost cross off my list.

The alpaca triangle shawl is done except for edging. I really want to add an edging. I don’t know if this will be in crochet (which I don’t know how to do) or attached I-cord (which I haven’t done yet), but I have about 100g of fingering weight, chocolate-brown (of course), Peruvian alpaca to do it with. I wore the shawl around the house this morning, pinned with a section of fractured vintage knitting needle, with my matching fingerless mitts. It was so cozy — can’t wait till winter!

I am THIS close to finishing my second Hufflepuff mitten. THIS CLOSE. And it occurred to me while I was driving today, that I have been referring to them everywhere as Ravenclaw mittens. Maybe I wish I were a Ravenclaw? I really do know my Hogwarts color coding, honestly. Anyway, I just have to knit the tip of the thumb and weave in the ends.

Meanwhile, I’ve also been swapping yarn literally all over the world to score what I need to start a Doctor Who Scarf for my Ravelympics event. Yes, I understand this makes me a dork among dorks, but I have found my people and they usually think I’m funny. Some days, that’s enough.

I may not be able to post before August 4, but I have two knitting meetups incorporated into the vacation already, plus a trip to Knitters Mercantile (“The Merc”) in Columbus, so I’ll probably be okay. My travel knitting? Socks mostly, plus DH bought me the Nancy Bush Traveling Sock Knitter book I’ve looked at for two years now and never bought for myself. I might take yarn to start one of those patterns, especially the Welsh one.

Stay cool and dry!

Published in: on July 24, 2008 at 8:54 pm  Comments (5)