Thursday, November 27, 2008

Giving Thanks

As I sat down to write this I was having a very difficult time trying to find words. This has not been my favorite year and the losses --- and what came with them --- have taken their toll. I often find it difficult to find words. I've always been a reasonably positive person and I hope that hasn't changed but I've faced some realizations this year I never thought I would have to.

It is only a few days since the 6 month anniversary of Mark's death and, though he is not on my mind as constantly as he was a few months ago, he is never far from it. It is also the 4 month anniversary of Michael's death. It amazes me that I still think of him as being alive --- maybe because in the last couple years our relationship was mostly conducted through emails and phone calls. I still wait for the phone to ring at times. But, even constantly aware of the loss of Mark, my heart still thumps when I see a silver Toyota truck in the street. When the Called ID display says “Wireless Caller” I still get a little thrill --- silly, I know, but all too real.

The sadness that accompanies the losses has been other losses I never anticipated --- the loss of support and concern from some friends and family members. Nothing prepared me for that. One of my friends --- a close friend for over 20 years, whom I dedicated my first book to --- has not called, or written, or returned any of my emails. I emailed her daughter who tells me she is fine and doesn't know why she has stopped communicating with me but the pain of losing her friendship, in addition, is very hard. And, much to my astonishment, my siblings seem equally disinterested in my life these days. Phone calls are rare or non-existent. When I sent emails to a few of them talking about the emotional pain I was going through the messages were not answered. I am speechless.

And yet, and yet, and yet, there have been some amazing gifts as well. Friendships and expressions of concern and love that have come from the most unexpected places. Women I knew casually have suddenly become tremendous sources of support, calling and sending emails to say, “I'm thinking of you, I hope you are okay.” Asking me to meet for a salad and chat. It has been good. My neighbor, herself the wife of a fisherman, has been sweet and supportive always taking time to stop and chat and ask how I am doing. She always says, “If there is anything I can do, just call.” There isn't but I so appreciate the offer.

Mark's friends have been the most wonderful surprise. Guys, tough guys, fishing guys, Gloucester guys --- they call or send emails o just stop me in the street. “How you doin', kid? Yeah, I miss him too. He was a hell of a guy, huh?” The man who was his backman on the lobsterboat stops to talk. He tells me stories --- stories that never made it into the book but should have. Even a couple of his old girlfriends have contacted me, they say they are sorry, that they know how hard this must be for me. It is kindness past explanation.

And, as always, there is the gift of writing and of the people who have come into my life through this blog. I am hard at work on the knitting book (and plan to spend most of this long weekend on it). Every day I get inquiries, “when will it be ready? I can't wait”. Neither can I.

My second novel, Each Angel Burns, is ready for the final edit when the knitting book is done and I've started work on a new venture, an ePress of spicy, romantic stories which will be called Heart Throb Books. My friend Skye Alexander and I have been talking about a couple of ePublishing ventures. SeARTS has also become a good creative outlet as I do more promotional and design work for them. And I'm planning a cookbook based on the my cookbook blog that will be Pennsylvania Dutch recipes laced with lots of stories.

And there have been spiritual gifts. For these I am most grateful. Something I have learned is that sometimes when we feel most distant from God's mercy we find ourselves closest to His Grace.

So, all in all, I am thankful --- for unexpected gifts of kindness, for creative energy, for the love of God. Today I'll work on my book, cook, then go spend time with friends. Thank you one and all for reading my blog and for all your kind thoughts. May your day be filled with peace and your lives with much to be thankful for.

Thanks for reading.

Postscript: Another hidden blessing to be thankful for. As I was writing about the friend who has stopped communicating with me I remembered that I once knit her a shawl that I had forgotten about. I went looking in my photos and found a picture of it! It is now going in the book. It is a combination of silk, alpaca, mohair and wool. I called it Trudi's Shawl (above). So there was the hidden gift of yet another design to be thankful for.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Emily's Shawl

One of the shawls in the book I am working on is called Emily's Shawl. I named it for my darling niece Emily for whom I made it. She lives in California now and is the mother of two adorable children, Drew and Clare (not to be confused with my red-haired friend and model Clare!) I asked if she could send a picture of herself wearing her shawl for the book. This morning I got these:

The shawl is pretty but nothing compared to the model! Thanks, Em.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

What Was I THINKING????

A few people have emailed to ask why I am not blogging as much as I used to. Well, no kidding. Want to know why? Just look at this:
That is a screenshot of two pages from the knitting book I am working on. What made me think I could do this??? There is so much involved that I now have endless respect for the people who write these things. Photography (thank you, Photoshop), creating charts (thank you, CorelDraw), writing endless descriptions, testing things to make sure I remember them correctly, reknitting things to illustrate what I am trying to explain. Then putting it all together (thank you, InDesign).
So if I don't blog for awhile, please excuse me. I'm writing and drawing and explaining and figuring out, etc. etc. Come to think of it, this blog got me into this in the first place.... hmmmm...

Thanks for reading.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Improving On The Truth

As I have been working on the knitting book I realize that what I really love the most --- more than knitting or writing or nearly anything --- is working with images. Designing. Pulling various element together to create something new. It is my favorite part of working on anything from designing web sites to shawls to books to a salad. So yesterday I spent a good part of the afternoon indulging in some whimsy. As I have been photographing the garments for this book I've tried to pick interesting settings. I photographed Jane in her front yard overlooking Ten Pound Island with the Thomas E. Lannon sailing by. I photographed Connie on her back deck which overlooks Thacher Island with its twin lighthouses and for Clare we went out to the Bishop's Palace. All of those made perfect settings for the shawls but, never content to let good be good enough, yesterday I started thinking "what if..."

Photoshop is a splendid invention. I use it everyday for my web design work and also for my own projects. So yesterday I decided to add a little extra spice to the photographs for the knitting book. When Clare and I were out shooting I really wanted to get a picture of her with the stone towers of the Bishop's Palace in the background but, since it is privately owned, I had to settle for the iron gate and the stone arch by the lake which are accessible. So I got to thinking what would Lady Clare look like in a proper setting with her castle in the background and this is the result:

The picture of the castle was taken by our good friend Jay Albert and I hope he will forgive me for borrowing his photo but doesn't she look perfect in this setting?

So, with that in mind I decided to try putting Jane out on Thacher Island. I had a photo of the North Tower I took a few years ago when I was out there and, well, what do you think?

She fits right in with the gulls, doesn't she? So next I decided to put Connie in a wintery setting with waves behind her. I loved this photo of her because she looks like she is trying to stay warm and the light was coming from the right direction, too. So:

I decided to try one more with Jane, this time using a photograph I took of Good Harbor Beach with the Thacher Island Lighthouses in the background:
Pretty interesting, huh?

Well, I'm not sure it makes any difference to the book itself but it sure was fun to do. More of the photos are here.

Okay, back to writing...........

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

My Coveted Scarf

In my last post I talked about the yarn I bought at Coveted Yarn and the scarf I started. Well, it is finished and the results are lovely, I think. So, since it was such a simple thing to knit, I thought I'd post my pattern here. I used one 375-yard hank of Blue Heron's textured yarn and knit ti on #9 needles.

Before I start I want to show you something. See that little tail in the photo below? That's all the yarn I had left. Talk about barely making it - but I did something sort of strange that made that possible.

Before beginning to wind the ball, I measured 6 yards of yarn and placed a small, loose slip-knot at the six yard mark. Then I wound as usual. I cast on 36 stitches and worked 6 rows of garter stitch. Then place markers after the eleventh stitch and the 25th stitch on the right-side row and knit according to the following chart:

The elongated D is the only stitch that is unusual. On WS rows slip that stitch from the left needle to the right and at the same time make a yarn-over, then continue to work in pattern. On the RS row, when you come to that stitch work the slipped stitch and the YO as one K stitch.

That's all there is to it. The pattern that emerges is a sort of lacy braid --- very easy to memorize and very pretty when it is finished. Continue to work in pattern until you finish a row closest to the slip-knot. Now start knitting in garter stitch until you have one yard left. Use that to bind off and I guarantee you that you won't have much yarn left over!

So, there you have it. Get yourself to Coveted Yarns today and pick up a hank and knit yourself a Coveted Scarf.

As Christmas approaches it is time to think about the knitters in your life. My dear friend, jeweler Leslie Wind, has developed a new line of products called "tewelery" --- jewelry that are also tools for knitters. All are available through her web site: or in her Folly Cove shop. My favorite is her beautiful sterling silver yarn needles (below). What a luxurious gift for a knitter!

Her Cable Needle Necklace has gained a following among knitters and now she has designed a matching bracelet that doubles as a place to store your stitch markers as you work! Is she clever or what?

So, have fun. Visit Coveted Yarns and Leslie Wind and be good to you. Happy knitting!!!

Thanks for reading.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Twilight: The Allure of the Beast Redux

A little over a year ago I wrote a blog entry called “The Allure of the Beast”. It is about why women go so crazy over men who have a bestial quality about them and is still one of the most frequently read posts on my blog. I admit to being a woman who is hopelessly drawn toward men who have that dangerous, somewhat beastial, quality about them. Can't explain it and, you know what?, I don't want to either.

Recently one of my neighbors gave me a copy of the book Twilight and said her granddaughters were just crazy about it and she asked if I wanted to read it. I said, sure, even though I generally avoid adolescent romances. So I started it on Thanksgiving and I immediately realized two things --- the writing was little better than adequate and the character of Edward Cullen made that totally irrelevant. He's a teenage beast and... well, I was soon to find out I was exactly right about that.

I'm about halfway through it and I keep wondering if I want to continue. I find the heroine, Bella, annoying --- she's a klutz who can't get out of her own way but, of course, that's why the beast is drawn to her. And she keeps doing that Lois Lane thing --- ya'know, getting into ridiculously dumb situations so that Clark Kent can whip off his glasses and turn into Superman in order to rescue her. Plus the kids in this story don't talk like any teenagers I've ever met. In Edward Cullen's case that is fine because he is actually 100 years old and not 17 so he gets a pass but Bella talks like somebody's aged auntie at times. But still.... there's something going on here that keeps me turning the pages.

I just watched a trailer on MSNBC for the movie and the girls are going mad. It's like Beatle Mania for the 21st Century over the young actor who is playing Edward Cullen. His name is Robert Pattinson and I smiled when I saw the girl screaming for him because, the truth is, I took notice of him a couple years ago when he played Cedric Digery in Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire. I remember watching that movie and thinking, “That is one very cute young man.” And what I particularly liked about him was a sort of sweet, fresh quality that was part cocky and part innocent but all nice. He was a nice kid. Or at least that was how he seemed. There was one scene when he is talking to Harry, tipping him off about the next challenge they have to face, and the way he played the scene, smiling and charming but with a disarming way of sort of leaning into the conversation in a gesture that seemed both casual and intimate that caught my attention. The young man had talent to go with those good looks. Great.

I guess what I want to say about the Edward Cullen phenomenon is that it sort of tickles me that a new generation of young women are getting the screaming vapors over another beast. It is very obvious that biology continues to be what it is and the biological imperative of womanliness can still respond to the biological imperative of masculinity. Some years back when a lot of young women I knew were swooning over Henry Winter in Donna Tartt's The Secret History I read the book and instantly fell under his spell too. He was the perfect man --- big, tall, strong, terrifyingly intelligent, gentlemanly, elegant and, well, a murderer. So what, everybody has flaws.

I've got a ways to go in the book and heaven only knows what adventures await but I am getting the feeling that this is going to be a Vincent & Cathy rerun. That's cool. I'm delighted that this new generation of young women are getting a sexy beast to call their own. And I think young Mr. Pattinson is going to have a big challenge living with their ardor but I suspect he'll handle it. As a woman who has loved a few sexy beasts in my life, I have learned two things about them --- they can break your heart and, you'll cherish that forever.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Coveting Yarns

As anyone who knits, crochets, or weaves knows there is no such thing as too much yarn. The news that a new yarn shop has moved into town can send us fiber-philes into paroxysms of joy almost as intense as those of a chocoholic who suddenly wakes up in Belgium. That's why when I heard about a new yarn shop in Gloucester --- oh boy!!!

So Sunday my friend Clare and I headed out East Main Street to Coveted Yarns, the new yarn store owned by Rob and Lauren Porter. They started an online store awhile ago and, because inventory was building up in their house, decided they needed an outlet. It is a much appreciated addition to the Gloucester knitting community.

Now God knows I don't need another skein of yarn. If I knitted for a couple hours every day (which I frequently do) I would be all set for a good long time. Because of the book I am working on I find myself spending hours trying out new stitches and new techniques just so I can write about them with some authority. Awhile back I had started a very luxurious scarf/stole knitting with 2 strands of fingering weight silk from ColourmartUK held together. One strand is blue, the other violet and the result is gorgeous. Well, I've torn it out and restarted it half a dozen times but I think I've finally hit on the pattern design I want:

It's hard to see but you can click on the image to enlarge it. Three panels of a lovely lace pattern that appears woven separated by insert lace rows. It will make a beautiful gift for someone.

I also received four skeins of yarn that I ordered awhile back from KnitPicks. It is a laceweight fiber called Gloss that is merino wool and silk in a gorgeous color called, coincidentally, Mermaid. For years I have tried to master the lace pattern called Rose Trellis and it has always defeated me but this time I think I've got it.
I plan to make one of my rectangular shawls, as described in the book, with a Rose Trellis center panel and a border adapted from Marianne Kinzel's Second Book of Modern Lace Knitting from a pattern she calls "Lilac Time". I have it in my head --- now I just have to get it on to the needles.

So anyway, purchasing yarn right now seems a bit foolish BUT.................... for one thing Coveted Yarn carries Blue Heron Yarn, one of my longtime favorite brands. In my stash there are several big hanks of their silk noil and several more of a fine rayon chenille purchased years ago. The violet Sampler Shawl shown in a previous post is made with a strand of Blue Heron silk and a strand of Ironstone mohair knit together. So I succumbed. I came home, wound and began knitting:
Is that pretty or what? I forgot to ask what the fiber is but I suspect a cotton/rayon blend from the feel and drape of it. The colorway is called "Lilac" --- of course.

So yarn lovers, rejoice! There's a new shop in town and it is gorgeous. Stop by and pick up a hank today --- knit yourself something pretty. And come to their Grand Opening this weekend! All day Saturday and Sunday. They are also sponsoring a knit-in every other Sunday evening from 6 to 9 at the Congregational Church on Middle Street. Come and learn how to knit. It's free and it will begin a life-long passion. Trust me.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

What I Learned from Amosandra...

Now that a day has passed and nothing has changed I can openly breathe a sigh of relief that the election is over and that it turned out the way it did. What a long two years of campaigning this has been! Throughout the whole thing I have been completely befuddled. The truth is, our country is in such a mess I didn't know what to think.

When I was a little girl back in th Fifties I lived in a town with no black people in it. At that time all the little girls in our neighborhood played with their Betsy-Wetsy dolls. All of them except me. I didn't have a Betsy-Wetsy doll because my father --- remember my father, the guy who made me a family tree that had me convinced that Jean Lafitte the Pirate was my great-great-great grandfather? --- well, that same father bought me an Amosandra doll. I remember the day he gave it to me. He brought it home from work in his lunch bucket. I ran to get his lunch bucket as I usually did and there, when I opened it was this darling little black baby doll. She was round and plump with a sweet face and curly hair and she did everything a Betsy-Wetsy did. She just did it being black.

Thus began my career, at the age of four, of being the mother of a black child. I loved her with all my heart and kept her for years and years but, let me tell you, it wasn't easy being her mother. To this day I remember some of the remarks made about my baby --- not by my friends but by their parents and older siblings. I could never understand it. My baby did everything that my friends' babies did and she was a whole lot cuter in my opinion.

I think I was about 9 or 10 the first time I ever saw a black person. I was visiting my godmother, my dear Aunt Rosie, in Erie, PA and we were at a playground near her house and there were some black-skinned children there. I was very excited because, of course, they looked like my baby doll. I knew about black people, of course. We'd studied the Civil War in school and the nuns had talked a lot about how cruel people had been to the blacks --- well, back then we called them “Negroes” --- and how that was wrong. That they were just as much God's children as we were.

Later, when I was in college during the Civil Rights Movement Era, I had a few black friends --- acquaintances really --- and, though I participated in a few demonstrations, I don't think I really had much of a grasp of what we were demonstrating about. I didn't understand oppression at all.

Then I moved down South.

Nothing in all my years of experience and education prepared me for what I encountered living in the South. My first job was in the marketing department of a prestigious real estate agency with very elegant offices in the Galleria area of Houston. I had never experienced such opulence at work. One day I came in to work and it was clear something was going on --- all the agents, these well-groomed, meticulously manicured matrons, were having conniption fits. “Just go out in the lobby and see for yourself!” one ordered me. I went out. The plants in the glass enclosed atrium were lush and green, the waterfall was tinkling, all the furnishings were as lavish as always. The new receptionist was beautiful and as perfectly groomed as any of the agents. I didn't get it. I went back and said I didn't get. “Well!” the agent huffed, “what on earth are people going to think when they walk in here and the first thing they see is a Negress?” She actually said “negress”. I was absolutely gob-smacked. I had never in my life heard of such insanity. And that was just the beginning.

Later my sister Chris married a black man and gave birth to two beautiful girls, my nieces Tasha and Alicia. I adored them --- they looked like my Amosandra! When I was working at Enron I had a shelf above my desk on which I kept photographs of my family. I got used to the remarks about the two “dark” children by a few fellow workers. “Are those young'uns EYE-talian?” one woman remarked, picking up the photo to study it. “No,” I said, “their father is African-American.” The woman stared at me, hastily put the photo back on the shelf, and rushed out of my office.

These are only a few of my experiences and they really don't amount to much but through them I learned something that I had not been brought up to know --- that there are people who have an attitude about others just because their skin is a different color. Of course, now, as an adult my awareness in that area has changed substantially but those early imprints remain.

Tuesday night, when Barak Obama, accompanied by his beautiful wife and his two beautiful children, walked across that stage in Chicago as the President Elect of the United States of America one of my friends said, “I feel like I felt when I watched Neil Armstrong walk on the moon.” I thought he made a wonderful point. All I could think was how much I wished I still had my Amosandra doll. She would have been so happy, too.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

A Shawl of Falling Leaves and Shooting Stars

At last! It's finished. I have been working on this shawl for nearly a year and just couldn't seem to make progress on it but this week I worked really hard and it is done. I call it a Shawl of Falling Leaves and Shooting Stars because those are the names of the two main patterns. Shooting Stars is also called Frost Flowers in some books but in my old Ballantine Knitting Pattern Library it is called Shooting Stars so that's why I chose that name.

It is essentially the same design as the Mermaid Shawl and the Gypsy Shawl only uses different lace patterns and a very unique edge finish. It is all detailed in the knitting book I am working on.
As you can see in the photo above, the crocheted edge really accentuates the overall design. It took me a few tries to get it right but it was worth it. The yarn is Knit Pick's Wool of the Andes in Tulip. I used 11 skeins and the shawl is 82" wide by 41" deep. It is just luscious.
I've also decided to include a shawl I made a couple years ago in the book. I haven't thought of a name for it yet --- suggestions are welcome. It is knit with 1 strand of Ironstone's Violet Haze Mohair and 1 strand of Blue Heron's Blue-Violet Silk.

That is my lovely friend Clare Higgins doing the modeling. Clare lives across the hall from me and is a playwrite and the creator of Modern Art Cats. Doesn't she look great in shawls? While we were out I took a few shots of her in the Mermaid Shawl, too. She is an excellent model and this morning was so brilliant and light drenched it was a perfect day to photograph these pieces.

So, I better end this and get to work on the book: The Mermaid Shawl & other Beauties: Shawls, Cocoons and Wraps

Click on any of the photos to enlarge them.

Thanks for reading!

Saturday, November 01, 2008