Archive for March, 2012

March 14, 2012


The first class compartment was old, but still in good shape.  The red plush seats were firm, over the back of each bench seat a mirror ran from side to side with hooks at each end for hanging outerwear.  Overhead ample metal racks kept possessions out from under foot and permitted the use of each of the six seats if the train was full.  The compartment was comfortable and organized and it felt like a train heading south from Paris should feel: romantic and timeless.

We were on a whirlwind trip to the Dordogne, the home of rich country pate and strong local wines. It was a thirty-six hour odyssey to attend the international publication event for a best-selling novelist’s first work in twelve years and we would spend more time traveling to and from our destination than we would actually spent at our destination.

I was traveling with a colleague, a good-looking man about my same age with whom I was only somewhat acquainted.  We were traveling with polite deference toward each other, not sure of each other’s likes and dislikes, but determined to be polite and professional.  I did know that he was very much looking forward to the fine wines and heavy meals the next few hours were sure to bring.

The train compartment was not ours alone.  At the first stop out of Paris, two older women joined us.  The women seemed to be of the same age, hair greyed with the passing years.  They were wearing comfortable traveling clothes and carrying shopping bags  and I was quite sure they had gone to Paris to visit family and to purchase the kinds of things not offered in their local shops.  My rusty French was adequate to exchange amiable greetings and then we rode on in silence.

Knitting in front of business associates always makes me feel exposed, vulnerable.  How can you take someone seriously who is holding needles attached to a ball of string.  The train swung gently back and forth and the movement was irresistible.  Four hours in a train, four hours with nothing to busy my hands, four hours just ideal for contented and reflective knitting.  The train rolled on and each passing minute was a lost opportunity.  What a waste to sit staring alternately at the pages of a book and the passing scene from the window.  How perfect to feel the soft wool flow through my fingers as I knit my way south through France.  To gaze out the window at fields and woods, small towns whizzing past and feel the fabric grow beneath my fingers, the train and the knitting forming the best of partnerships.  It was too much for me, I had to succumb.

I opened my work bag and with a defiant flourish pulled forth my knitting.  My colleague looked over and blinked with surprise to see needles and string, not a manuscript, emerge from my bag.  My hands quickly found their comfortable position and I sighed out loud with happiness.  “Vous aimez tricoter?” the lovely musical french phrase broke my trance. “Pardon?”  Rusty linguistic skills don’t fail me now… “Vous aimez tricoter?” the woman across from me wearing a brown cardigan repeated her question with a clear nod to the work in my hands. “Ah, oui. Je l’aime beaucoup.”

With warm smiles, both women opened their own carry on bags and brought forth needles and yarn.  Age and linguistic barriers began slowly to crumble beneath shared interests.  Knitting and chatting, the miles flew by as we discussed our projects and I slowly learned the vocabulary to go with our common passion.  There is a language shared throughout the world by all who love the process of creation with yarn and needles.  It is a common tongue whenever both are present.

March 10, 2012

Hedgehog Mitts

Hedgehog mania doesn’t stop with dictionary phrases or cute pictures. Amazingly, I found a pattern at Morehouse Merino for Hedgehog Mittens. I had to order the pattern.

Before I could begin the hedgehog mittens, I had to finish the sweater Ellie requested. This was the outcome of a visit to Northampton. Ellie complained of the cold. It is really cold in Northampton. She actually asked if I would make her a sweater. Given that none of my children have been willing to wear things I had knit for them since they started dressing themselves, this was a big deal. We headed straight in to Northampton Wools and bought some gorgeous purple Merino and a pattern of Ellie’s choice. It turned out quite nicely. I am pleased to report that Ellie wears her sweater constantly.

Emboldened by this triumph, I began the hedgehog mittens. I felt a certain impetus to knit quickly lest Spring overtake me and the warm weather obviate the need for mittens. The need for speed was somewhat hampered by the fact that the hedgehog mittens featured quills on the back of each hand. Each “quill” required using a cable cast on to cast on four stitches and then binding off each of the four stitches. A plain knit stitch separated each quill and each row of quills was separated by a row of knit stitch. Nonetheless, it was a little like climbing up and down hills with my needles and geometrically increased the number of stitches knit for each mitten.

Well, the mittens are done. They look pretty cute. They are wrapped and ready to post to the girl. Let’s hope for some cold weather for just a bit longer.

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March 7, 2012

Lauren and Jenny Play Hookey

When I was in kindergarten, my best friend Betsy and I decided to play hookey. We weren’t really proficient at this and all we could think to do was hide behind a tree by the tennis club. It was a really long morning and completely boring and I think that early formative experience has contributed greatly to my very rarely playing hookey.

But sometimes an offer comes along that is just too good to pass up and it leads directly to a heavenly, frolicsome day of playing hookey. When Lauren emailed asking if I wanted to go to the Members Preview of the New York Botanical Garden’s 2012 Orchid Show, I was there without a moment’s hesitation. Good girl goes bad in the most delicious way.

There was a time when I had way too many orchids. It was a fever. An overwhelming passion. If there are some 60,000 varieties of orchids, I was on my to owning them all. Well, not quite, but I did have close to 100 and it took me almost two hours to water them each week. That was before the “Great Orchid Death” which took place when I left my orchids outside one July while we went on a bike trip through the Canadian Rockies. One orchid survived. To be truthful, it was a bit of a relief, but I can feel that fever starting to climb again. For Christmas, I asked Jim for an orchid…

Lauren’s invitation was also most welcome because I have missed seeing her since we stopped working together. When we were at Crown, we had many fun adventures, many involved yarn and wine, so added to the excitement of the Orchid Show was the opportunity to spend some time with “Sharkey”– a mis-spelling in a newspaper account which became her nickname.

I picked Lauren up at the Botanical Garden Metro North stop and we drove to park. It was the preview day and streams of “ladies who lunch” were heading to the exhibit. This year the show featured vertical gardens designed by Patrick Blanc. A french botanist, Patrick loves the effect of “walls of green” or in this case walls of green with brilliant flowers. Patrick was quite amazing himself. His hair was dyed green and matched his shirt perfectly. I do not think that was probably the only eccentric aspect to Patrick.

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We finished walking the show all too quickly. With our senses full of the colors and scents of so many gorgeous flowers, we headed to the Cafe for lunch and a long chat. After lunch, we checked out the shop and then stopped in another cafe for coffee and more chat. It was a wonderful afternoon and I have to say it was a heck of a lot more fun than hiding behind a tree all morning.

March 4, 2012

The Spirit of Creativity

Taking pictures of things I have made is not something natural to me. I am not an archivist by nature. Everyone in my family will say that I have little tolerance for hanging on to stuff. They always accuse me of giving their (unused) treasures away if they can’t find something. At the office, I used to have regular clean up days where we disposed of outdated files and documents. I used to love to say, “This isn’t the Library of Congress.” That probably bugged a lot of people who don’t share my proclivities.

However, visual recordings of things I have made are often revelatory. I will look at a picture and say to myself, “I made that?” I won’t recall making the item, but very often (and I don’t meant to sound boastful), I will be surprised at the creativity involved in what I have made.

I felt that way today when I put on a sweater which I hadn’t worn all winter. Needless to say I have a lot of sweaters and with the mild weather, this very warm sweater hadn’t had a turn. I love this particular sweater for several reasons. First off, I love the color and the texture of the yarn. It is a warm fuchsia color and, because the yarn is Manos, the color and the thickness of the yarn are a bit uneven. It looks very warm and a little rustic, but just a little. The pattern I used to make the sweater is from Elizabeth Zimmerman. It is her Bog Jacket.

Anyone who has read or knit from Elizabeth knows that her instructions are a bit intuitive and she offers lots of suggestions for modifications. The Bog Jacket is a bit boxy and one of the modifications I made was to tailor the waist so that the jacket fits with more style. Another alteration I made is to fold back large cuffs at the sleeve. I chose to knit an attached i-cord all around the edges, up and down the front, around the bottom of the jacket and at the folded back sleeves. The i-cord is a lovely navy blue from the same yarn. I really like the contrast of the deep pink with the dark navy. Finally, I chose to make the front closing from i-cord which loops on each side of a frog closing.

Putting on the sweater was a bit like looking at a photo, I was intrigued and amazed that I had created what I had made. This made me think about creativity. When am I most creative and when do I feel like I have nothing imaginative to give? A big part of it has to do with stimulation. The more outside stimuli I take in, the more ideas I seem to have. It doesn’t necessarily have to be related to knitting or crafting. It is the stimulation of having any kind of idea or inspiration. It just seems to get the neurons firing and Bang! Pow! New ideas keep flooding into my head. These ideas may be business ideas, they may be ideas about what to cook and, very often, they are ideas for something I want to make or some new way to do something I have done before in an innovative way.

Creativity is a state where I feel alive and energized and my mind is working overtime. It is a state of excitement and fulfillment. It feeds on itself. Feeling a lack of creativity is a dead zone. It is self-inflicted because it means that I have not put myself into contact with experiences which challenge me and expose me to new ideas.

The Bog Jacket in Manos

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