Thursday, December 29, 2011

All Wound Up

I recently read All Wound Up: The Yarn Harlot Writes for a Spin, Stephanie Pearl-McPhee’s latest book. I was first introduced to Stephanie’s world back in 2005. She was on a book tour, promoting At Knit's End: Meditations for Women Who Knit Too Much. Although I did not then consider myself a knitter, my friend Jess was in the process of falling down that rabbit hole, so the two of us made an evening of it, enjoying dinner and then enjoying Stephanie’s talk. (She blogged about her Kalamazoo visit here; in the first picture of knitters, Jess & I are in the third row, on the right.)

Six and a half years later, here she is with what I think is her seventh book, All Wound Up. Stephanie has honed and tested her writing through her blog, The Yarn Harlot, and I am among her faithful readers. When I picked up the book, the first thing I did was scan the table of contents, hoping that a certain blog entry had made it into the book. And there it was, on page 50: A Little Demoralizing. The original blog entry was one of the funniest I’ve ever read, about her husband Joe's getting his truck stuck in the snow. You can find it here. Go ahead and read it. We’ll wait.

In this latest book of essays, Stephanie writes about knitting, but she also writes about life, from a viewpoint that most of us can appreciate. She writes about the quirks of washing machines, about looking into the windows of others' lives, about the wonder and delight that is autumn. She writes about the lack of closet space (a serious problem, if you hoard yarn), and the frustration that is Mother’s Day. Landmines is a delightful essay about the challenge of simply escaping family and getting out of the house.

She writes about knitting, of course – about knitting math, about Dear John letters to sweaters, about shawls fraught with mistakes. My favorite of these knitting essays is Once Upon a Time, the story of a Bad Knitting Experience.

All in all – a great read!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Knitter and The Young Man

Based on a true story...

Once upon a time, there was a knitter who knew a young man. The young man saw the things that the knitter knit, and admired them, and mentioned that he would like a hat.

So the knitter considered her knitting-in-progress, and her queue of projects, and concluded that it would be nice to knit a hat for this young man. It wouldn’t be too difficult or time-consuming, and she did have the right yarn in her stash. So, she knit him a hat.

(It happened that the hat had a rather tricky beginning, which resulted in several false starts, but this was not really a crisis of major proportions, and the hat was successfully completed, in a timely manner.)

The hat was gifted, the young man expressed his gratitude (thereby earning several Knitter Points), and life went on.

A few months later, the young man mentioned that he would like a scarf.

Again, the knitter considered her knitting-in-progress, and her queue of projects. She reflected that other friends and family were also hoping for knitted objects, and acknowledged that she was rather slow at her craft. She decided that the young man would simply have to wait for his scarf.

Christmas rolled around, and the knitter attended an Event, where she saw the young man. He was wearing the very hat she had knitted for him! Seeing it snug on his head gave her immense pleasure, and she awarded the young man a few more Knitter Points.

They chatted, and he revealed that there was a Local Yarn Shop very near his home, and he had visited it one day. He had been surprised to see so many cars in the parking lot on a Saturday morning, and to see that there was a potluck taking place in the shop. The knitter was not surprised at all to hear about the potluck (knitters do like a good get-together); she was a bit surprised to hear that the young man had actually visited the store. (She added a few more Knitter Points to his tally, for sheer bravery.)

Christmas gifts were exchanged. The knitter opened a gift from the young man, and laughed – the young man had wrapped a box that had once held a drill. She had enough experience to know the box no longer contained that drill, and wondered what she would find inside.

She opened the box, and discovered:


Further discussion revealed that the young man had not only gone to the yarn store, but he had also spoken to the owner and discussed the knitter’s typical projects. At the recommendation of the owner, he actually bought six skeins of a well-known workhorse yarn, which the knitter would enjoy putting to Good Use.

The knitter gave the young man a gazillion more Knitter Points, and mentally moved his scarf upward in her knitting queue (not quite to the top; she remembered that knits for babies outrank most other kinds of knitting).

Let the reader take note, and heed the example of the young man: there are ways to win the heart of a knitter!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Deck The Halls

Last year, I shared a video of a flash mob performing Handel's Messiah. That is still one of my favorite clips, but the other day, I came across this one. It is well-choreographed, well-filmed, captures the delight of onlookers and the enthusiasm of the performers, and simply makes me smile.

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 16, 2011

On The Street

Well. There is so much to do, this time of year, that blogging falls very low on the priority list. I've been madly knitting a blanket, for an urchin (see note) who arrived several weeks earlier than I was expecting. The blanket is 92% complete, and I have wild hopes of finishing it this weekend. I also have hopes of putting up and decorating our tree, baking cookies, and shopping for Christmas Eve dinner, along with my normal weekend volunteering and church-going. (I also have hopes that my work pager will be silent.)

We did get Christmas cards finished, and most of our shopping is done. Oh. I do have one more gift shopping errand for tomorrow. And oh. Jim and I should practice the piece he is singing on Sunday.

We have managed to stay more or less on top of laundry and dishes and such, and Bonnie has enjoyed regular walks (really, those walks are a self-defense measure; she becomes impossible to live with if she doesn't get out regularly).

Right now I am waiting for Jim to come home, and will try to quickly put down some thoughts about a book of poetry, On The Street, by Marianne Novak Houston (the book includes photography by Anthony B. Graves).

A few months ago, the Kalamazoo Gazette ran a letter to the editor. The letter’s author was concerned about the homeless population in Kalamazoo, and felt that their presence was a detriment to our community. He wanted the city to find a way to hide or to get rid of “those people.”

When we reduce people to a meaningless group, to “those people,” it is easy to judge and then dismiss them. Archie Bunker was famous for this; he was notorious for labeling people and putting them in boxes. He recognized groups, but not individuals.

I think that was the problem with our letter writer. He looked at the homeless, made some assumptions, and put them in a box. And even if we're not as bad as Archie, or as the Gazette's letter-writer, we can still fall into the trap of seeing labels, instead of individuals.

Houston's book takes people out of that box, and lets them again become individuals. For example, here’s one of her poems, that turns one of “those people,” Lucino, into an individual.
by Marianne Novak Houston

When I was little
down in Mississippi
we had so much fun.
We had the greatest house,
an old trailer house in the middle of a field
we were packed in like sardines in a can,
– that’s what Mama called us, her sardines! –
and we laughed a lot at night in our beds
and worked really hard during the day
on the man’s farm.
We ate corn morning, noon and night
and made clabber with buttermilk
when we had it
and Daddy said that’s why we all grew tall.
But that was later.

One day when I was ten
a big ol’ tornado blew up
and blew our house clean away
and left us layin’ in the ditch
where Mama and Daddy stuffed us
when the wicked wind rose up.

And then began our wandering years.

Trouble is, we seem to have wandered off
in all directions

or maybe I’m the only one
still wandering.
We meet these folks in the street, strangers to us, and we avert our eyes, fearful - but of what? That they will speak to us, ask something of us, invade our comfort zone? We would do well to remember the words of John, as recorded in 1 John 4:18-21:
There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.

We love him, because he first loved us.

If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?

And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.
Maybe in this Christmas season, we can give up judging each other, and instead be brave enough to make eye contact, and acknowledge that - whatever our differences - we have in common that we are children of God, who loves us all. Perhaps we can then take the next step, and try loving each other as He does.

As these lyrics propose,
So grant us all a change of heart
Rejoice for Mary's son;
Pray, Peace on earth to all mankind
God bless us everyone!

Note 1:
I don't normally refer to my grand-nephews as urchins; this was the label given him by his nearly two-year-old brother.

Note 2: In Kalamazoo, you can find Houston's book at Michigan News. All profits go to Ministry with Community, whose mission is “to provide food, daytime shelter and other basic services to central Kalamazoo's homeless, poor, mentally ill and hard-to-serve adults. Through community cooperation, we provide these services in an atmosphere of dignity, hope and unconditional acceptance.”

There’s also a Facebook page:

Note 3:  The lyrics are from the song God Bless us Everyone, by Nick and Tony Bicat. This song is featured in A Christmas Carol (the 1984 TV movie, starring George C. Scott).

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Random Photos

Is this not the sweetest picture you've ever seen? Last December, I bought myself the calendar Sleeping Beauties, with photos by Tracy Raver and Kelley Ryden. All year, I've been looking forward to this month's picture - that baby just looks happy.

The caption on the picture is a quote from James Barrie, "When the first baby laughed for the first time, the laugh broke into a thousand pieces and they all went skipping about, and that was the beginning of fairies." (Isn't that from Peter Pan?) This little guy certainly seems to be laughing at some private joke.

We recently had our Christmas party at church. One of the activities was decorating these tiny (12") trees, which have since been delivered to area nursing homes. My young friends and I spent an evening cutting ornaments out of old Christmas cards, which ornaments were then used to decorate the first tree in this photo. (Jim handled the task of painstakingly tying each ornament onto the tree.)

Last Saturday was the Hot Chocolate 5K, benefiting our Girls on Track program. My young friend was sick, and couldn't run, but I still went to cheer on the other runners. It was a miserable day - cold and rainy - but the girls seemed to enjoy their run even so. (Most of them. There were some runners that needed a good kick in the pants, to get them to at least walk fast!) (Yes, we still cheered for them.)

This evening, I was a volunteer bell-ringer for the Salvation Army. Happily, the weather wasn't too cold, so I stood outside (my preference) and rang that bell for two hours (that's my mittened hand in the photo). I'm happy to report that people were both friendly and generous.

Another cute little one - but this photo is from real life, not a calendar. I tried to get this fellow to go to sleep one night, and believe me - he was nowhere near as tranquil as in this photo!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Have Yourself a Farkleberry Christmas (!)

I was listening to Christmas music on the radio the other day, and heard this familiar carol.
Have yourself a merry little Christmas,
Let your heart be light
From now on,
our troubles will be out of sight
This song was originally sung by Judy Garland, in the movie Meet Me in St. Louis (which is a delightful little film, although it really has little to do with the Christmas holiday). The words have changed over time, with this being the version generally sung today, and my favorite.  They offer cheer and hope, the promise of togetherness and belonging, sentiments quite in keeping with the season.
Have yourself a merry little Christmas,
Make the Yuletide gay,
From now on,
our troubles will be miles away.
Having lived in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the 70's, this carol always reminds me of farkleberries.

I grew up listening to KDKA radio. Jack Bogut hosted the morning show for 15 years, and was much of the impetus behind the Children's Hospital Fundraiser. Each year, for three weeks before Christmas, his show was broadcast from a display window at Hornes Department Store. (The broadcast may actually have rotated between the three downtown department stores - Horne's, Kaufmann's, and Gimbels - but my memory is fuzzy on that detail.)

There is a great article here that talks about Jack Bogut and his connection to the hospital fundraiser. His personality and humor created a link with Pittsburghers. We would line up to chat with him on the air, receiving farkleberry tarts or farkleberry cookies in exchange for our contributions. And one year, there was even a song, "Have yourself a farkleberry Christmas." I can't remember more than that, and haven't found any additional lyrics on the internet...
Here we are as in olden days,
Happy golden days of yore.
Faithful friends who are dear to us
Gather near to us once more.
We remember Christmases past, and gather with friends and family to celebrate Christmas present. Jim and I really do look forward to Christmas cards and letters, with updates (and pictures!) of the folks we can''t be with.
Through the years
We all will be together,
If the Fates allow
I played this music for a young adult choir back in 1981 or 82. Young Emily and her family were visiting, and she listened while I practiced, and asked "what are the Fates?" I think she was about 6 years old, and I have no idea how I explained the Fates to her! ("The Goddesses in charge of our destiny" - would she have understood that?!?)
Hang a shining star upon the highest bough.
And have yourself A merry little Christmas now. 
What's your favorite carol?