Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Have Cat, Will Haunt

Gigi was absolute MADE for this holiday. Which is why the dear young lady will be staying IN tonight (a black cat is just too much of a temptation for some on Halloween!)

Last night as I was wrapping up to go to bed Gerry came downstairs with Shiloh dressed as - An American Girl Doll! (Kit, to be exact)

Wow - a perfect fit. And the funny thing? The kitten seemed to like it. Perhaps there's something about this cat we've yet to figure out?

I asked Hannah what prompted her to dress up the cat? "He just looked like he wanted a costume..."

So we did minimal decorating until late this afternoon, when I whipped up a spiderweb on the table out of twine, then transferred it out to the tree in the front yard where we've place a large and happy spider.

I also made Maxie a scythe. Yes, he wants to be death. Ironic, no?

We also filled some rubber gloves with the inside grody stuff from the pumpkin, shown under the pumpkin in the picture to left.

This stuff makes an AMAZING filling for body parts, and the extra bonus? The seeds look like fingernails. Groovy. They're tied onto the bushes out front. Right at face level.

So, against all odds, once again we've pulled a memorable Halloween out of thin air. Remember last year when our house was on the market so we could move to MN? Before we knew Gerry was sick - before his back was even hurting?

And finally, here is a video that makes me laugh so hard I pee. Scary, huh? I have no idea WHY this makes me laugh - it's from a Monty Python - but Gerry grabbed it for me a few days ago and I watch it every now and then.
video
Whenever he wants to make me dissolve into giggles he'll say, in a German accent, "How does he SMELL?"

This is marriage.
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Monday, October 29, 2007

Altitude Hang Over

Wow, I feel like I've been on a 3-day bender!

I had no idea that I'd be so affected by the altitude, but for a few days I did NOT feel much like myself. Not that I'm not often light-headed and giddy, but I'm usually not SO light-headed and giddy (and tired, and dehydrated, and short of breath...)

The students in the class - 20 & 22 in the morning classes, 9 & 15 in the afternoon classes - were so wonderful! Good questions, good attitudes and VERY exceptional knitting!

And then there was the amazing location! We were at a historical education center in Littleton, with horses and geese, folks in period costume and lots of hay. Speeding by on a little motorized cart like some wacky Amish roller coaster.

And here is this lovely rustic gazebo where I spent my break time, refocusing and trying to breathe deeply.

I was stunned and flattered to have Cheryl Oberle in all of my classes - THANK you Cheryl, for your continuous patience and for helping out with others!

I'm not sure how the subject came up, but at one point I totally grossed the entire group out by mentioning my favorite dip for Fritos - 1 part peanut butter, 1 part tomato ketchup & some finely chopped red onion, too. Mix this up and you'll be so happy - seriously. Unless you're allergic to peanuts, then just don't do it.

Will Knit For Stress Relief
But along with one of the oddest physical sensations of my life (being 5,000 feet above my usual level of existence) I had one of the best physical sensations of my life - The Massage.

After my second class on Saturday, Jane - owner of A Knitted Peace (and a very lovely person!) took me out for a beer and dinner. I'd heard that alcohol had more punch when you're high up, and I guess I found that was true. Memory is dim.

Not long after I got back to my most enjoyable room, Ruth came by with her massage table and all the stuff that therapists usually carry around. She'd emailed me a few weeks before my visit, offering a full body massage to help offset the stress and recent back pain that I'd been suffering.

I don't think I've had a gift arrive at a better time. Thank you so much, Ruth.

Stress has been the word for the past few months - and finding ways to deal with it; humor, family time, knitting, walks - this has been my constant struggle. I hadn't realized, though, how all this stress had manifested itself physically inside of my body.

Ruth is exceptionally skilled - although I really don't have anyone to judge her against... - and after being worked on for the evening I felt like a new person.

And now I am a massage convert. Ahhhhhhh. Or should I say, a massage ho.

Something New
Lots of new folks have been knitting up the corset, it's like there's a fresh wave of interest.

This beautiful young woman is Ellie, who knit the corset as part of her wedding dress.

I get a lot of photos from folks, but I've seldom been as gratified as I am by this. I feel like a guest at the wedding!

Treading Water
I haven't been writing, designing or creating much - not as much as I have in past years - and projects that I'd hoped to have finish (or even start) are piling up like haystacks in my brain.

In my lowest moments I fear that I won't be able to get back to the place I was at a year ago - looking ahead toward new book ideas, design ideas, and feeling relatively secure in my place as a teacher & writer. I'm not feeling so secure now, though.

I'm trying to roll with it - not let it freak me out or stymie me more than it needs to. I'm thinking this is probably the best way to work through this period without making it worse by panicking in slow motion.

As I sit down to sketch, to do some research, to write a bit (beyond the blog) so many things come up. Go here, do this, get that done. Be a mom, be a provider, be a healer and organize future teaching enagements (oh, Orbitz, how I loathe you - and how I love you!)

The emotional and physical energy involved in meeting dozens of folks is more draining than one might think. It's true that I get so much out of my teaching and meeting new friends, but right now it's as if I'm receiving all of this love, this care and all of these good vibes - but I am not able to pour them into my designs as I have been able to in the past few years. I'm losing energy - and my kids will tell you that as I lose energy, I tend to get short.

Perhaps writing about it will help me barrel through? Or maybe I'm looking for a path around the boulder I seem to be facing?

So I have about 9 days before I leave for Virginia - longer at home than I've had for a while. Of course, during that time I'm teaching at two venues here in the Twin Cities - so it's not a complete break. But I'm sleeping in my own bed each night - and that's a relief.

I'm not going to push anything. I'm going to see if I can just let some new stuff - new designs, new books, maybe a DVD - flow naturally. Fretting is a damn.

But this not fretting is a bitch. I need a massage.

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Friday, October 26, 2007

Falling for CAP

It's fall - Autumn in Minnesota, which is exceptionally beautiful! And the best part, I got to share a bit of our lovely MN crispness with Laurie!!

I picked her up and brought her home on Wed for dinner, she met Gerry & the kids & Atticus & the cats. Atticus & Hannah are BOTH in LOVE with her, and the kitten absolutely adored her. Gigi was non-commital, she's that way.

We had some fine apple pie with custard sauce for dessert (Thanks, Amy! Your signed book is at my house!) and we all shared bad jokes and all kinds of giggly stuff.

It was a wonderful evening, and later Gerry proclaimed Laurie, "Delightful!"

And thus, a few new CAP fans were created! Arf!

Gerry was SO taken with her that insisted on going to Barnes & Noble on Thursday night - with the kids - which worked out beautifully. Laurie was funny - so self-effacing and dear and charming - what a treat!

I think everyone in the crowd was ready to take her home and I swear several women were cell phoning single sons and nephews to get their butts over to the B&N to meet this amazing, sexy, blonde best-selling author!

I was amused when Hannah raised her hand to ask what she would do if she ran into Mr. X. The answer involved Target Stores & Raoul the pool boy. (I did mention that Hannah has decided to take her as a role model, right?) Well, she's got to learn about pool boys from someone - who better than CAP?

Gerry took the kids home while Laurie, Jennie (the potter) and I went out and had rich, fatty foods and many, many beers (thanks, Andy!) Well deserved wind-down time for all - especially the hard working Laurie! Fabulous.

A stellar evening, and one to remember! I think if we could have kept her here for another few days we'd have another MN Convert.

Eh - maybe not - she does adore her LA world... And - fires aside - who can blame her? LA's pretty amazing...

Max's Second Sock
I'm enjoying having Max's socks as my on-flight traveling knitting. It makes me feel connected to him when I'm away. And I noticed as I was knitting his sock during Laurie's book talk he kept glancing over at me with a big smile on his face. He likes his socks.

I'm up to the cuff on #2, and then I'll do both heels in some really lovely green sock weight yarn given to me by A Knitted Peace, so that may be the contrasting heel (Max loves blue & green together) - we'll see...

Shelving
To get ready for CAP I finally cleaned up the dining room, putting away things and reorganizing my books. We can see all of the walls now - huzzah!

Here is my design library - research books, knitting books and books that feature my designs. When I get back from Denver I need to get serious about putting my designs from this past year into my portfolio - ever since we've moved I haven't scanned a thing, so I'm WAY behind.

Light Headed
I flew into Denver today and was picked up by Jane from A Knitted Peace at the airport. I hadn't had lunch, and felt oddly light headed. Airsick, almost - which usually doesn't happen to me.

I chalked it up to having a beer (or three...) last night, not my normal routine before I travel, but Jane reminded me of the change in altitude. Aha!

I'm DEFINITELY feeling the effects. Crazy, man. Bed's looking good...

Jane and I were going to go out to dinner tonight, but instead I'm going to just rest, lay low in my most BEAUTIFUL hotel room and watch some TV.


1855
And knit. I have a project I'm working up in 1855 wool - a new yarn that is dyed using materials that were available before 1855 (when synthetic dyes were widely introduced.)

I like the yarn a lot - it's a little bulky after fiddling with Max's socks, but I think changing from one weight to another is good for the hands. I wonder if they have plans for some lighter worsted weight yarns...

I'm also looking forward to balling up the Red Rocks Superwash using my lampshade trick, and fiddling with some of that for Max's heels. A full night. I guess it's a new yarn, because their website isn't up yet, but it feels very nice.

And then there's that swatch of DELICIOUS Lorna's Laces organic wool that I'm fiddling with (this stuff is so lovely to knit - but no photo yet...) I only have the non-dyed sample yarn - I can only imagine how amazing it will be when it's dyed!

AND a summer top I ripped out last week (all of my Austin knitting for naught) and will try to reknit in the Tilli Tomas Plie (this is some beautifully knitting yarn - and it stands up to ripping out VERY nicely!)

Rest, huh?

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Kiva

Since last November, when I first heard of it, I've been making small loans through Kiva - an non profit organization set up to facilitate micro loans to small business people, mostly in the third world, who could flourish if they just had a little help.

I feel strongly about this - and also about the amount of love and help our own family has been afforded in the past 9 months (just 9 months?) We're setting into a rhythm, just working through our own new reality day by day, but we would be in a much different position if folks hadn't helped us with our non-medical expenses as they have.

So - as a way of passing on some of the very good fortune that's come to us through the love of friends - I'd like to introduce you to someone I just lent $25 to so he can raise funds to build an enclosure for $600 to pen his sheep.

Here's a description from Kiva.org:
Mr. Hounkpati Koutsodji was born in 1947 in Atsansi-Djita, in the Vo prefecture. He is a farmer who also raises sheep.

He is a married father of twelve (12) children who would like to build and modernize his sheep-raising business, as he is getting older and can no longer intensely work his land.

His short-term project is to build a pen in order to keep his sheep from wandering away and to take care of them efficiently. He deserves financial support, as the success of this project will allow him to increase his income and to fulfill his role as head of the family.

He is thus requesting a loan of $600, which he promises to reimburse in sixteen months.
Okay - when I looked at the photo the goat got me. The little head turn, the soleful eyes that say, "PLEASE get these darned sheep penned and AWAY from me!" Goats are very smart, this one looks brilliant, and I can see that he and this farmer have big plans.

So if you've been hearing about micro-lending, and wondered what it is or how you could become involved in a person to person way - here's an opportunity.

Doctor, Doctor
Gerry's doctor visit yesterday was pretty uneventful (YAY!) with the doc very happy with Gerry's lab work and feeling that we don't really need to see him again until after Thanksgiving.

In early Dec we're heading back down to Mayo for his 100-day checkup, at which point they may put Gerry back on Zometa or some other similar drug to increase his strength.

Gerry told the doctor he'd just like to 'toss around a ball with his son' - which made me turn my head so neither would see I wanted to cry. Thankfully, right around the corner are triplet boys with a Super-Dad who is a baseball AND football coach (and an ER Doc - amazing, huh?) Gerry loves hanging out with these kids - they have a huge yard and there's ALWAYS some kind of pick-up game going on.

So, if Max doesn't have Gerry to toss a football to him right now, he has the next best thing - good friends nearby with a cool dad. Very good for Max, he needs that.

Gerry needs a haircut. He's clinging to his last few strands of hair and is in definite danger of entering Smeagol territory.

My Excitement
Today CAP arrives in Minnesota!! I'm SO excited to see her, and she reminded me on the phone yesterday that twice before we've gotten together on Oct 25th (which is a monumental day for her in many ways) so here we are again - getting together on 10/25!

When I edited the book of essays, Cheaper Than Therapy I asked Laurie if she'd contribute something, then I beat her over the head via email until I got it. Nice, huh? Her essay, Drunk, Divorced & Covered in Cat Hair is exceptionally funny - and now it's a book of the same name, which has sold, oh, 583 times as well as CTT. And it deserves to - it's so great!

She writes about a class she took with me [gleam] at Unwind in Burbank, and when I read that chapter for the first time at a yarn shop in Petaluma (Knitterly) I almost burst into tears. She's very kind.

Her schedule is INSANE. She's doing all of this while keeping her 'real' job because - as you may or may not know - writing a book is usually NOT going to pay the bills, if anything you hope it gives you a little space to write MORE books!

With any luck I'll see her tonight - I'd like to kidnap her and drag her over to meet the family. Who am I kidding? I want her to see the new bathroom & kitten!

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Monday, October 22, 2007

Max's Sock

Max's sock in Austin, 10:00 am

Max & I took Shiloh to the vet today for his final kitten booster shots & his worming medicine. He's a full POUND heavier than he was 3 weeks ago, and he's adorable. Photos later (when my battery charges)

While sitting in the waiting room I pulled out Max's sock and started working on it. He said he liked it, and his eyes lit up when I told him it was for him. A very nice moment. He's very excited to see how I put the heel in the sock later.

Max's sock in Chicago, 7:00 pm

The stress of Gerry's illness coupled with my traveling is definitely being felt by the kids, and Max tends to hold more in than Hannah does. It gives the illusion that he's so very easy going - and he is - but he can only take so much before it all becomes too much. So I'm making him a sock - two of them if I get them finished - and give myself something to work on during flights.

I'm loving the yarn - it's a really lovely superwash merino from Spinning Yarns Online, and I'm trying it out. I don't knit a lot of socks - but this is very relaxing and quite fun. And Max really DIGS the color, too.

Before Our Eyes
There's a transit ad here in the Twin Cities where a man grows old while sitting in his car. Gerry's still at the 'missing hair' stage of the recovery, and thus looks older than he will in a few weeks.
Watching this ad now, I feel as though it captures what Gerry's been through for the past few months. If I'm affected by it, I can only imagine how much the kids are struck by the physical changes in Gerry. Perhaps I notice them more because I've been traveling?

Oprah today was about cancer - and, perhaps for a reason - the two folks they interviewed were both very healthy-looking.

There were no great changes physically in their appearance, no major diminishment in their mobility (the man who has pancreatic cancer was doing pushups, the woman with cancer was flying from a trapeze) How surreal that must seem - to be so ill, but look so much the same.

I'm hoping that by Thanksgiving or Christmas we'll feel as though we're watching the ad in reverse.

Tomorrow we go to Gerry's oncologist for the first time since we left for the Mayo. Tests will be run, I'm sure, but I'll be watching the doctor & nurse to see how they react to Gerry after not having seen him for almost 3 months. A very rich and full 3 months. That's my own personal test.

I like the fact that in May, when Gerry had a bad dehydration episode, his oncologist actually became less doctor-like and more human-esque. It's odd - but comforting - to see that usual reserve slip in a doctor.

If the visit goes well, we may even stop by on the way home and see Rendition - that should cheer us up...

In happier news, Laurie Perry - Crazy Aunt Purl - will be coming to Minnesota!! I'm SO excited to see her, I can hardly stand it! Yo, yo! And I can't wait for her to meet the family (if there's time!)

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Sunday, October 21, 2007

Mess Not

I only saw one "Don't Mess With Texas" bumper sticker this time, and only one "W" window tag, which was light years different than the last time I was in Texas. That was back in May 2004, when my mom was sick. But then again, as I've been told numerous times this weekend - there's Texas, and then there's Austin...

I have very mixed feelings about my last week in Texas. The students in Austin were among the most engaged and excited that I've ever taught; willing to try new things, happy to laugh and almost as happy to get misty with me, supportive, kind and able to stand high temperatures.

I usually don't stay in folks' homes (I'm so anti social, I either talk WAAAY too much, or I'm silent, not nice traits in a house guest) but Suzanne didn't make me feel awkward about my silences - and I just loved being around such a sweet doggie as Miss Stella!

Good Shopping
The shops where I taught were wonderful - among some of the nicest I've taught at! I'm biased - I'm disposed to like a shop that hires me - but I continue to be blown away by the way that fiber, love, small business savvy and a good community can come together to create a livelihood and enhance so many lives.

It's easy to lose sight of how hard it is to run a yarn shop. Like being a parent, it's an incredibly difficult job that brings so much love & insubstantial rewards. When a shop is able to create a 'safe place' for knitters and develop it's own unique personality, THAT is quite a feat! I feel very blessed to be able to count so many shop owners among my friends.

Hill Country Weavers is monumental and has a well deserved reputation among just about EVERY knitter in TX. I definitely had the feeling I was inhabiting an institution when I was teaching there. I found myself playing the "Do they have THIS?" game, where I'd think of a yarn, book or knitting/spinning implement and then go look for it.

Guess what? They had it.

Bluebonnet up in Cedar Park has a smaller selection of yarns (who wouldn't? I've hardly ever seen more yarn than at HCW!) But what Bluebonnet does have is primo! I felt like a member of the family there - everyone was just SO lovely (and, let us not forget, the most excellent wifi courtesy of Austin Pizza...)

From the moment I stepped into the shop until I left, I just felt entirely embraced by the staff, the students and even the casual customers who wandered by. A beautiful atmosphere like that doesn't just happen by accident!


I cajoled and pleaded, but I couldn't get Pat to do any Irish Dancing. Dang.

Yarnivore in San Antonio is just so darned NICE! In fact, that when I got to my hotel room and found the bag of goodies Melanie'd left for me I thought, "This is so darned Minnesota..."

Included in the goodie bag was fine, fine Texas wine (yay), hot chocolate (yay for Gerry!) and a bag of cookies that I SWEAR my mother used to make every Christmas. Made with pecans, my mom used hazelnuts, but they're crescent shaped and covered in powdered sugar.

What makes the store unique in fiber terms is the very good selection of yarns and fibers, a nice grouping of colors (it's so good to see very usable neutrals in a yarn shop - they can be so hard to find!) Melanie has a good eye for blending yarns in an enticing selection.

I also found an excellent selection of Inox Express Circs (you KNOW I love those!) and - most important - just incredibly NICE people! Melanie is a doll - sweet, helpful, supportive - and her intern (whose name I can't remember - I'm SO sorry!) is a doll, and an exquisite knitter (I was watching her knit a beautiful sleeve, I think, in nice green yarn.)

San Antonio is lucky to have Yarnivore.

The shop's only been there a year, and it seems to be doing VERY well (which I'm so happy to see!) and the gathering of kind hearted knitters on Friday night - with Challah by Wendy, hearty and warm (the bread - and I guess Wendy, too!) - was a lovely rest after my drive down from Austin.

Missing The Beat
My visit to San Antonio was both amazingly good, and also confusing. I think I'm my harshest critic when I teach - I spend a lot of time post-morteming a class - thinking about where it succeeded and in what way it may have failed.

My classes evolve, I try to add new things that will seem to work well, retain the most useful stuff, and eject portions that may be confusing or not helpful. I don't think I teach the same class the same way twice, I do try to tailor the techniques and my 'patter' for each group.

For some reason in San Antonio, though, I just wasn't able to hit my rhythm. That's the best way I can explain it - I felt that I couldn't hear the beat. I just couldn't make myself understood in the way I would have liked to.

It really did seem to be a timing thing. Like when you tell a joke one day and it's really funny, then you tell it again and it's SO not funny? That's how I felt.

For me, being NOT funny is about the worst thing that can happen when I'm teaching. My classes rely on humor to 'open up' student's minds & souls; to make them receptive to the huge amount of technique I end up shoving down their throats. Hopefully in a nice way.

The classes were fine - not stellar, not bad - and I've already heard from a few of the students that they went home and practiced a few of the techniques and have a new feeling of confidence about some of their knitting idiosyncrasies.

It's wonderful to get those emails, but I also know there were folks who walked away without as much knowledge and confidence as I would have liked to have imparted to them. When one is tired, a feeling of failure can seem stronger than it usually might, I guess. Have I mentioned I'm tired?

Perhaps this is just the way it is after a long week of teaching? Maybe it's my own reaction to heat when I'm not expecting it?

Homeward Bound
To get the fare I got (which was still SO high it almost made me faint!) I had to take flights on 4 airlines, with LOOOONG layovers. My 4-hour layover in Chicago has turned into at least a 5 hour one as my connecting flight to Minneapolis was delayed. Dang (as they would say in Texas.)

But I met some nice knitters in the airport, and gave the guy who sat next to me on the way to Minneapolis a flip book for his knitting mom. And now I have a MOUND of mail to wade through.

Seeing Gerry - getting home and seeing the kids & the animals - was exceptional. Huge, HUGE thank you to Amy for the amazing cookies (which I'm snarfing right now!) The family felt so touched by that - the kids are VERY impressed that someone brought cookies over. See how my kids have their priorities right?

Future Shock
I'm thinking it's time for a pow-wow with myself about what I'd like to accomplish in the next year. I've put off thinking about it for so long, but I need to form a bit of a plan. I've heard from Potter that they may do a second printing of Romantic Hand Knits, and I've asked that the mistakes & unclear parts be corrected in this next printing.

Note: If anyone has written to me lately with a question about something in the book, I apologize for not getting back to you as quickly as I usually do. The travel is hard, and I find it very difficult to clear my mind enough to return to my designer mind-set and address a question when I'm on the road.

But tomorrow? Monday is my 'tackle the questions from readers' day. I promise. After all, tomorrow is another day...

Tease for tomorrow: I got a nice amount done on a sock for Maxie! And I'm using a new superwash hand dyed yarn that I am LOVING!

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Saturday, October 20, 2007

Make Yourself At Home

Hey Blog Readers -

I'm in Texas, traveling, and trying to overcome the side effects of a non-smoke-free room [cough] before I head off to my classes at Yarnivore.

I'll be posting again tomorrow - until then, enjoy Donna Druchunas's post about her new book, Ethnic Knitting Discovery, and make her feel welcome here chez Modeknit!

- Annie Modesitt (aka, Modeknit)


Thanks, Annie, for letting me visit your blog on my book tour for Ethnic Knitting Discovery!

I'm a little out of whack today because Arctic Lace is a finalist for the Colorado Book Awards, and I have to get ready to attend an awards banquet tonight. I want to win (who wouldn't?) but I'm a little nervous about the event.

I hate parties and big social events except for those that are related to knitting, so the evening will be a little stressful for me even though it's quite exciting.


So back to the business at hand -- designing your own sweaters with texture and colorwork patterns!

I chose the specific regions in Noway, The Netherlands, Denmark, and The Andes for Ethnic Knitting Discovery because I wanted to have two chapters on designing with texture and two on designing with color.

First, I'd like to talk a bit about color. There are some knitting teachers who offer pretty complex classes on working with color, where they talk about a color wheel, and discuss the kind of color concepts that you'd learn in art school.

I don't go into this type of technical talk at all in my book. There's nothing wrong with it, but it's not the way I think or work. I prefer to work with color organically. I use my own instincts to pick out colors that I like.

Unless you're completely colorblind, there's no reason you should be afraid to pick and choose colors on a whim. That said, to make something that will be one of your favorite garments and that will become a staple in your wardrobe long into the future, you should stay with colorways that you are comfortable with.

How do you know what these are? By looking around your house.


Start in your closet. Don't look at the expensive designer clothes hanging in the back of your closet collecting dust. Instead, look at the comfy sweats and other clothes that you wear every day. These are colors (and shapes, but that's a different topic), that you are comfortable with.

You'll find other colors that work for you all around your house -- what color is your furniture? the pillows on your couch in the den? the pain on your walls? your curtains? your dishes? All of these colors tell you something about your own personality and taste.

Learn to trust yourself.


If you have a moment of panic in the yarn shop when you are facing a wall of color, don't be afraid to ask someone nearby for a second opinion. But in the end, go with your own gut. Unless you're flamboyant by nature, choose old-familiar colors rather than new, exciting ones.

If you're new to designing with color, get one ball of each color first and swatch, swatch, swatch! I know we don't always relish in swatching, but the way a bunch of colors look in a basket of yarn skeins is not indicative of how those colors will look when knitted up in your chosen pattern stitches.

You can also make a photo copy of the charts you plan to use and color them with colored pencils or crayons to get an idea of how the colors you've selected will look when you put them all together. It's not as good as a swatch, but it is a quicker way to try out different color combinations.


Now a few words about texture. Texture knitting is my favorite. I love the rhythm of the knits and purls, and the way the texture doesn't really show up until you have several inches of knitting complete. (This is also true about colorwork, but it just doesn't give me the same feeling of satisfaction that I get from knitting texture patterns.)

From simple ribbing to moss stitch to elaborate all-over patterning, texture stitches add dimension to a knitted garment and make working with classic, smooth, solid colored yarns a relaxing and interesting experience.


You do have to be careful when designing sweaters that are not in Stockinette stitch, however. Again, swatching is the only way to know what you'll get. First, most texture stitches are heavier, both in thickness and in weight, than plain Stockinette stitch.

You have to take this into account or you'll end up with a sweater that might be too warm, too bulky, or too heavy to be comfortable. Sometimes you can use a dense texture pattern with a finer yarn and get a finished fabric that is similar in weight to Stockinette stitch made with a heavier yarn.


Texture patterns are also quite fickle about tension and fiber content. What looks good on size 7 needles in worsted-weight wool, might look sloppy in the same weight cotton yarn. What feels nice on size 6 needles in cotton might be too stiff in linen or hemp.

Because knitting is a hobby, I think it should be fun and relaxing. I'm much more of a process knitter than a product knitter, so I have to know that the feeling of making each stitch will be pleasant to me as I spend weeks and months knitting up a new sweater. The only way I can know that for sure is by swatching in advance.


Sorry! I didn't mean for this to be a lecture on swatching. But I know a lot of knitters don't enjoy making gauge swatches. But when you're designing your own sweater, there's much more to making swatches than just checking gauge. You are playing with color and texture, you are testing the needles and yarn to see if they feel good together as you work your pattern, you are making sure the fabric you knit is not too soft, and not too stiff, but Goldilocks just right.

So jump in there and get out those swatching needles! Pretend your yarn is paint and your needles are brushes and have some fun mixing colors and painting!


That's it. I hope these tips will help your readers feel more comfortable about choosing colors and textures for designing their own garments, and that they'll learn to have fun swatching instead of considering it an annoying chore.
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Friday, October 19, 2007

Didn't Even See It Coming...

Yesterday was a loooooooong day. It ended with a Shiner.

Excellent Texas Vintage
The folks in my classes have been among the best I've taught! Engaged, funny, lively and VERY quick with the knitting. They pick up concepts as fast as I can throw them down, and their passion for knitting - and for life - is so strong it has a taste.

Today I drive down to San Antonio for a gig at Yarnivore. Woo & Hoo! I'm really looking forward to seeing this town - I've heard SO much about it!

But - as I said to my class last night - if they could arrage for the temperature to drop 40 degrees I'd move to Austin in a heartbeat! Oh, wait - that would make this St. Paul...


Being at Hill Country Weavers has been pretty amazing - it's rare that I am in a shop and mention a yarn and, voila, there it is! They have a wonderful, very complete collection and an entire ROOM of knitting, weaving, spinning and crochet books. Yehaw!

Bluebonnet was also a delight - such a lovely shop! It's up in Cedar Lake, and I drove past it a few times before I realized I was RIGHT IN FRONT OF IT (dur...) but it was worth the extra driving!

The shop is very balanced; a wonderful blend of different yarns, good color selections, and good knit accessories. My personal favorite area was the section of Mission Falls 1824 yarn - such lovely stuff!

Fine Texas Whine
Having said that, this has been an incredibly draining trip. I'm sure it's my mental state right now, along with the feeling that I just can't entirely rest, but I'm feeling fragile. The heat isn't helping - I don't do well with heat. See what a delicate plant I am?

My resources; mental, emotional and stamina, were tapped so far that I was running on fumes. This routine of teaching in the morning, then taking a 5-hour break, then teaching until 9 pm is just too physically wrenching to do again.

It was entirely my responsibility - I didn't set the schedule, but when I saw it I should have mentioned something and had it changed. I didn't - so I take full responsibility for the timing of my classes.

It's hard to unwind after a class - I expend so much of ME that I need a few hours to come down from the energy level I adopt for teaching. By the time I read and fall asleep it's 1 or maybe even 2 am, then I've had to be up to teach in the morning again.

Once I'm geared up to teach in the morning, I can't really entirely RELAX until my last class is taught for the day, so having 5 hours to hang around (go to movies) sounds like fun, but it's hard for me. I'll be glad to get back to the world of 6-hours of classes within an 8-hour block.

Change in the Air?
As I left the class last night the air seemed lighter and cooler - not so thick and hot - and I felt like a new woman. Amazing how a breeze will lift my spirits.

Could it be there will be a little bit of coolness for the rest of my trip? Oh, great weather spirit of the Hill Country, hear my plea!

Off the Ledge
So I hate to write about this, but I feel I should. It's my blog - warts and all - and something that had so much effect on my teaching for the day should be noted.

Teaching - as in falling in love, picking an author you like, finding a favorite TV show - is chemistry. My own unique blend of instruction may not work well for every student, and once or twice a year someone just doesn't 'get me' (or my style of teaching.)

I can't really change the basics of who I am - I try to be as authentic as I can when I teach, for better or for worse... Usually it works pretty well, but this was an instance of failure.

I had a student yesterday who was NOT enjoying the fine subtleties and delicate bouquet that is my teaching style. She left early in the class, and it affected me more strongly than it should have.

The rest of the class was amazing - they did the best 'circle of trust' imitation I've ever seen, and I felt entirely surrounded by human-sized conestoga wagons.

Eventually I calmed down. It took me longer than I'd expected, and I felt quite silly and terribly emotional. Boo and Hoo.

Grati-dude
I'd love to thank everyone in the class who was so kind, so exceptionally understanding. I'd especially like to thank Lisa from the second class yesterday who brought me a beer. (I'm not sure if the rest of the class thanks you quite as much, but I'm very grateful!)

And while I'm at it- THANK YOU to the Austin Guild for the lovely, lovely basket of goodies which I've been snarfing late at night. I wouldn't be here if you hadn't asked me last year - so thank you! I haven't hit the wine yet - I'm
holding off on that... This week it's beer.

My own personal situation is rough now, and although I shouldn't let it invade my teaching, it's hard to keep everything compartmentalized.

And - in all honesty - that's kind of against my personal philosophy. You'll never find a balance in life if you don't put everything on the scale...


But sleep, a decent schedule (when I can actually EAT a nice dinner - I don't like to eat before I teach, so I've been eating late at night this week, stuff from the basket of goodies...) and some time home with Gerry & the kids will work miracles for me.

Oh, and that massage I'm going to have.

Tomorrow
Guest Blog Entry by Donna Druchunas, author of Ethnic Knitting: Discovery - The Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, and The Andes

I think I'm going to buy her a beer.

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Stella the First

I'm loving this dog here.

It's Suzanne's dog, Stella, which means Star. And, being in Texas, it's a fitting name.

She's an independent sort of dog, she knows her mind. She likes food, tolerates love, but lets you know when she's had enough. I respect that in a pooch.

I would be fearful to get her and Atticus together. Mr. Humpty Dumpty would enrage her, I'm sure, because she doesn't seem to be the kind of dog that likes to be dominated.

I really enjoyed the movie yesterday - it was a wonderful break, exactly what I needed, and I was able to actually get a nice amount of knitting done during the movie. Touch me. There were 5 of us in the theatre for the 2:20 show, so I was able to surreptitiously use my small, focused LED ruler to double check my work when I thought I'd run into a mistake.

The movie was grand - exciting and a costumer's dream. I thought the casting was really excellent, and although I can see much to pick at in the movie, it was exactly what I needed WHEN I needed it, and I'm grateful it was there to take me away.

So now I know - Calgon doesn't do it for me, but Elizabeth does... And also some good barbeque. And Stella.

Today I'm teaching at Bluebonnet Yarn, then I'll spend the evening with an old friend from NJ who's moved to Austin. It will be DELIGHTFUL to see her - I cannot wait! She has dogs, too!

Thank you for your really kind thoughts and good wishes. The buck in Suzanne's yard thanks you, too.

I think I was sort of hitting a wall. I think I do need a massage, and I'm scheduled for one when I get home (I'd rather do it locally, nothing against the massage folks down here...) and I'm also going to start some regular accupuncture treatment for my back.

I'm working back into the yoga (I have a DVD I used to do every day, it's time to start it again because I can take it with me wherever I go) and, if it weren't 102 here (actually, high 80's but rather humid) I'd walk more. I'm a feeb. Woof.

And now, off to Bluebonnet. Everything's better with Bluebonnet on it.
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Monday, October 15, 2007

It's 5 in the morning here in Austin, TX and I just can't sleep.

I have this overwhelming sense that something is on the horizon, but I have no idea what it is.

Obviously, the best way to deal with it is to get rest - yet here I am, writing! And listening to my peaceful, Italian 13th C. love songs performed by Anonymous 4. At least THAT is restful.

The Constant in the Back of my Mind
Gerry is recovering, but not at the miracle speed that we experienced immediately after the stem cell transplant. And it doesn't help that I'm away so much, that's hard with the two kids...

So here I am in Austin, paying the mortgage and fretting. And not sleeping. And listening to love songs.

I think I sort of like to be hermetically sealed after I finish teaching for the day until I go back to a shop the next morning. It's sad to say that - I feel like I'm not taking full advantage of the chances I have for meaningful personal interactions - but right now my mind is so full that I also need some 'blank slate' time where I'm just totally neutral.

I have a tendency, when I'm around folks, to chat. A failing of teaching and lecturing for a living. And my chatter recently has a brittle, one-sided vein to it that is hard for even ME to listen to, so I can only imagine how difficult it is for someone else to absorb.

And my chatter lately - today - has been more Gerry focused that it's been before. I need to curtail that a bit, more for my own sanity, and perhaps be a bit shallower when I interact with so many folks? Every day is another experiment in working things through.

And I just go on and on and on.

Large Gaps
I have a 5 hour gap between most of my classes each day this week - I finish one class at 1, then don't have another class until 6 pm. It makes for a VERY long day, and I can't totally relax until I finish my last class. So I'm sort of on 'standby' for those hours, still in makeup, hanging out.

It's enough time, though, to go see a movie. I'll find a local theater and go do that tomorrow. THAT will be a real treat, something I love (afternoon movies) but don't get to do much.

First Class in Austin
Class today was good - I felt a little off, which was due pretty much to my darned backache AND especially to the fact that my luggage did NOT arrive in time for class. Dang.

So I had to scoot over to a bead shop and spend $110 on beads & wire for the knitting with wire class before it started. An annoying way to spend my lunch hour.

I usually order my wire in bulk, wholesale, so I can put nice amounts of wire and beads in a kit that folks buy for the class. I don't really make any profit off the kits, I just like everyone in the class to have the same materials, but since I get the stuff wholesale I can put a LOT in the kit.

Today the suitcase arrived just at the end of class, enough time to give everyone an additional spool of wire and more beads - which means that I ended up losing a bit of money on that end, not really a big deal. I'd rather that folks have some extra material to play with at home.

I'm a firm believer that class is where you experiment and have the freedom to screw up. You go home, though, to work with new materials and perfect techniques.

Unfortunately, when the suitcase arrived all of my wire samples that I keep in the top part of my suitcase (so they don't get crushed against the inside contents of the luggage - I keep them in hard plastic boxes) were missing. It was only about 5 pieces - thank goodness I didn't just pack my large plastic box of samples - but it was 5 pieces I hate to lose. Five nice pieces. This is the second time in 6 months that I've had things lifted from my suitcase.

And these are 5 pieces that will be time consuming to reknit.

So now I have to face the additional cost / fret equity of sending my samples via UPS or Fedex when I travel. Yet another reason to love to travel by car rather than air. Nothing feels easy these days - like walking through sticky mud - and flying in cramped seating, waiting in lines, carrying/pushing/pulling so much luggage feels harder than ever.

I think a movie tomorrow is EXACTLY what I need to clear my mind. Maybe this one?

Wired / Weird
Austin is awesome (Ausome?) and different than the rest of the state - a kid rode by on a bike yesterday morning with a tie dyed T shirt which read, "Keep Austin Wierd"

I'm glad I'm here - but I've yet to really settle in and feel COMFORTABLE in my skin here. It generally takes a few days - and my luggage arriving late screwed my thinking up (that, plus the missing jewelry - I just sort of wanted to cry when I opened the case.)

I think tomorrow on the way into the shop I'll find a place where I can just get a nice bowl of oatmeal for breakfast. That always gets me started right. This place looks good...

It's hard to have a bad day when you start with a hot, fiber-filled breakfast!

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Saturday, October 13, 2007

Big & Bright

So here I am (Yeehaw!) in TEXAS. Yeehaw!

Some of my luggage is - ahem - delayed. NOT lost. Just delayed.

Just taking a little side trip through the Denver Luggage Spa, n'est ce pas? Yeehaw!

That almost rhymed.

I'm staying with the owner of Hill Country Weavers, she's run to get barbeque while I'm settling into her place with my feet up and the wifi going, blogging and enjoying the cinnamon soap. Yeehaw!

My room is great - and what was waiting for me but a basket of good, good, goodies from the Austin Guild folks. Yeehaw! A very nice lady from the guild actually came by as I was waiting to get my luggage, just at the point I'd realized that my luggage was MISSING, and my total confusion / irritation just shone through.

Poor, nice lady. I didn't mean to be so air-headed & distant, sorry! Thank you for the basket! I promise when I eat some of the chocolate from it I'll be much more myself...


Like Any Other Week
This was a busy week - a few doctor's visits, finally catching up on taxes from last year, continuing to organize the kitchen - but not a lot of knitting.

Ideas are floating around - when they finally feel like coming out it will be a torrent - but for now I'm spending an inordinate amount of time arranging cereal boxes.


The kids FINALLY had their checkup with our family doctor - the diagnosis? They're obscenely healthy. And Max needs new sox. How proud he makes me.

As long as we were all there, we all got our flu shots. Hannah, having just had a birthday, also had to get two booster shots - 3 shots in all - and she cried.

I would have, too, and she laughed when I got my shot (and pretended to cry) so all ended well. She certainly behaved more bravely that I did when I was her age.

Then the next day I returned to our family practice for some fine Minnesota Accupuncture. It did a really great job of relaxing the tense muscles in my back and adding to my mobility. Having the kitten climb on my back helps, too. He's actually turning into a MAJOR purr-er, very loud and happy! (In this photo he's giving Gerry hell, though...)

I still have a bit of pain - nothing like last week - and I will get back on the stick with my Yoga DVD and will finally make the acquaintance of a Chiropractor in MN.

Tomorrow is a cupcake brunch (mmmmm) and a knitting with wire class. We're crossing our fingers that the aforementioned suitcase (with ALL of my wire stuff inside) appears in time for class. Oy.

I have a feeling this will be a fun week, but an unusual week -

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

At Long Last - I Give You Shiloh!

Shiloh the kitten is settling in well, Gigi the cat has stopped hissing at him, and Atticus is absolutely IN LOVE with him. He thinks Shiloh is his own little pet, and is absolutely FASCINATED by him. He can be a little creepy, though, so we're always telling Atticus to back off!

This kitten gets lot of Gerry time - they're both loving it - and Hannah is constantly with Mr. S. Max and I are on the short end of the stick when it comes to Shiloh Time.

I'm the designated antibiotic giver (the kitten has an upper resp. infection & has to get part II of his dewormer later this week) so Shiloh already has good reason to fear me.

I pet it a lot - when we let it run around the living room in the evening it generally runs over to me and hangs out. It must really like that antibiotic medicine.

All in all, it seems that Shiloh is a very good addition to our family. We were missing an orange cat - and as soon as Gigi comes around, she'll REALLY appreciate another warm body to snuggle up with this Minnesota Winter!

Business CARDS
I've needed cards for more than a year now, but I kept putting it off. I get bored with business cards, by the time I run through a box I'm sick to death of them.

So I saw this cute thing at Flickr. They have a UK partner called MOO, who do cool things with your flickr photo gallery. 100 of these tiny (23mm x 70mm) cards are $20 (plus shipping) and they're absolutely adorable.

It's pretty great, too, to have business cards with my OWN designs on them!

Professional Teaching Vent
(almost moving into Rant?)

This has been on my mind lately - I've been trying to think of the best way to approach this sensitive topic. It's hard to write honestly and objectively about what one does for a living, but a few things have come up that I want to address on the blog.

As knitting teachers, we have no union or guild. There are guilds of knitwear designers in Canada and the US, but they don't cover what I need addressed.

I think we need to have a standard contract as a jumping off point for individual negotiation; a minimum amount that shops should expect to pay, and a minimum of travel expenses that need to be covered.

In exchange, we provide the shop or venue with quality teaching which will bring in students. As with any well-written contract, it would benefit BOTH parties.

I feel it's important to set a criteria of what's expected from teachers; and what teachers can expect from the venues where they teach. I make my own teaching requirements public - I have nothing to hide there - and then I negotiate privately with each shop depending on their individual needs, changing my standard letter of agreement as necessary.

I am NOT a one-size-fits-all kind of teacher, I believe we're ALL special cases - venues & instructors alike.

Math
In traveling to teach, there are expenses, and there is income. I'm upfront with my expenses, and expect the shops where I teach to help me offset these expenses so I'm not cutting into my income as a teacher.

Let's visit my life as if it were a word problem (click on chart to see the math);
Scenario One
Happy, owner of Happy's Yarn Shop, wants to hire Annie to teach four 3-hour knitting classes over a 2 day period. She wants her to teach 2 classes each on Saturday & Sunday. Happy's shop isn't large, so she arranges to use the vacant office next door to hold the classes so she can have up to 28 people in each class (total participants, 90). Her gross income is $6,550, netting her $3,890 after expenses.

Scenario Two
Happy wants to offer the same classes as above, but can't rent an extra space. She can accommodate 14 people in a class in the back of her shop (avg 12 per class), so in this case her book & yarn sales are less and the gross income is reduced to $3,680. Her expenses are also reduced to $1,760, netting her a $1,920 profit.

Scenario Three
Same as scenario 2, but now Happy's joined with two other shops in the same medium sized city and has reduced the transportation expenses by 2/3, and loses one night of accommodation costs to another shop. But a car has to be rented so this adds a bit to the travel expenses. Total expenses = $1,490, netting her a $2,190 profit.


As you can see, the best scenario financially (with the least investment by the shop) is #3, but that involves shops being open to 'sharing' me (not all are - which makes me sad. There's lots of me to go around, folks...)

Exclusive? Pas moi!
I don't like exclusives, I won't agree to them unless a shop 'fills up my dance card' and leaves no space for someone else to hire me. If a venue wants me to agree to teach exclusively with them alone, they have to either offest the money I would lose, or give me enough classes to make it worthwhile.

But I feel exclusives are bad for another reason. When I teach at several shops in a city, there's a good chance that some folks from Shop A, who usually don't visit Shop B, will find their way over there if that class fits their schedule better.

It's true that Shop A has "lost" that customer for one class, but there's also a very good chance that other customers from Shop B are 'discovering' Shop A in the same manner.

The buzz involved in a few shops publicizing my visit helps fill ALL the classes. A win/win.

So - why this rant?
The reason this has come up is lately I've had some wonderfully full, exceptional classes - and I also had two scheduling events that throw a little worm of doubt into my bushel-basket of fall classes.

Worm #1
I recently heard from TNNA that they haven't accepted any of my classes for the Long Beach show in January. I'm saddened by this. I love to go to TNNA, but I can't really afford to go if I'm not teaching.

I could set up some teaching gigs in the Long Beach / LA area - I probably should - but I'm confused by the decision because my last few classes at TNNA have sold out VERY quickly, and were very well received. I wrote asking if there were something I could do to help my classes for the next TNNA be favorably considered, but haven't heard back yet.

My classes aren't sponsored, though - meaning, I have no larger entity who's offered to cover my expenses for the class - so all of the funds would have to come from TNNA. Half my classes were sponsored last time, which makes it easier for TNNA - they have a budget, too!

Worm #2
A venue would like to hire me to teach a few days after a large knitting conference. Since I have no books coming out this year, and there's a good chance I may not be teaching at this conference (I'll find out definitely late in the year), I'll be covering my own airfare if I go.

This particular venue hires a lot of 'name' knit teachers for a sort of mini-conference, taking advantage of the fact that they're in the area for the bigger conference - which is a very wise move.

The venue anticipates that the teachers will have someone else covering most of their travel costs, so their travel allowance is low. They'll also only cover half of a room per night (forcing a teacher to either share a room, or cover the balance for a single.)

Now, I have no problem with a roommate - I LOVE rooming with folks when I'm not working. But when I'm working I have to sleep A LOT. I tend to be very boring - I teach, I go to my room and eat dinner, watch TV and SLEEP. I also LOVE my room to be practically freezing. I don't sleep well when I'm away from home, and a very cold room helps me to sleep better. This is (naturally) hard for a roommate.

So between the low airfare & the extra $ for a single, I could be out at least $400 if I'm at this venue for 4 days teaching. But I could find a way to make it work financially if I could set up other teaching engagements and split the travel expenses.

Unfortunately, this venue also insists that I not teach the classes I teach for them anywhere within a 300 mile radius for 30 days. This would include EVERY city of any size in the state.

So basically they want me to teach for them, for them alone, and they won't fully cover the expenses that are required. I even offered to stay at a different, cheaper hotel so I could sleep alone - but no go, they want all of us in the same place.

Did I mention they will also require me to attend two events for which I won't be paid, but at which I'm expected to meet and greet all the attendees for all the classes? I LOVE to meet folks, but not when it's my bedtime and I'm teaching the next day...

They sent me a list of teachers who have agreed so far - I know many of them and like all of them - and I'm glad they they're in a situation where their airfare is covered and they don't need to sleep alone.

I'm not in this position, though - and, to be honest, if the 'not teaching within 300 miles' clause were gone, I would have signed the contract.

So, sadly, I had to tell this venue "No." I would so love to do this, but not enough to agree to terms which are so one sided. I've been told by them that they can't work out individual contracts with each teacher because it would 'make them nuts.'

Teachers ARE all individuals
We have different needs, airfares, travel requirements.

Sometimes - NOT often - I feel that it's hard to get across that I'm not just a teacher, but a HUMAN BEING. When policies get in the way, humans have to deal with each other on a one-to-one basis.

I treat every venue where I teach individually, working out specific items in the contract as the venues require it. Yes, it may take more effort, but that's part of my job. And in the long run good communication/contracts are much less work.

Dealing with teachers based on their individual needs and requirements is no more work that treating a room of 30 students as 30 humans, helping each one with their individual problems as they arise. Not giving each student a private lesson, but explaining things in several ways so that every student can 'get it.'

One size does NOT fit all - isn't that one of the reasons why we knit?
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Monday, October 08, 2007

Gerry Status

I send out an update to friends every few weeks about Gerry - since many of you have been writing and asking how he's doing, I figured I'd make the text of the most recent email my blog entry for today.
Oh, and thanks for the heads up about Banff. Silly me. Somehow I got it firmly embedded in my head that it's in BC, but it's in Alberta. D'oh!

Don't feel bad, Canada, I get a lot of US geography wrong, too... Let's just chalk it up to the pain meds (aleve) and let it go...

Oh, and my back? Still hurts. Dang. It's better, though, and I'll be taking the advice of a poster to let the airlines know that I'm not running at full speed, so that I can be a Cart Person and ride in one of those little beeping vehicles.

Like the Pope - or royalty. Touch me!

So - without further interruption - here's the update on G!
When I was a little girl one of my favorite books was Little House In The Big Woods - the predecessor to the Little House On The Prairie series. And now here we are, living in Laura Ingalls Wilder country, and we've been working our way through our own deep, dark woods since we arrived.

We showed up after traveling through a storm, then even as we were unpacking Gerry's back was so bad that it was clear there was something really dreadful coming. Then Mr. Butkis was hit by a car in front of our house and it seemed that life was going so far wrong. A rough, rough February.

Gerry and I talked about it at the time - he, lying in bed because he was in so much pain from his 'mystery illness' - me, sweaty and exhausted from the unpacking, putting away, building of shelves & wardrobes. I remember that day as if it were yesterday.

I felt terribly guilty for dragging the family here, only to have all this bad stuff happen. He was philosophical - "It's like we're pioneers, as if we're fighting through our first year on the prairie - " Pioneers, and just a few short blocks from the local Caribou Coffee.

Since February life's been a blur - doctors, test, more doctors, more tests, and then the final - important - diagnosis.

Multiple Myeloma

Who knew?

Since the diagnosis there's been so much garbage - so much shit stuff - hardest on Gerry, but not a picnic for the kids and me.

But not really so bad, after all. Life isn't supposed to be happy and fun all the time - sometimes in the hardest situations there's a kind of gratitude we feel just for getting through it that is so sweet and encompassing. The kids wouldn't put it that way, but I know they feel the same kind of thing - an everyday joy in just getting through something really, really hard. And a giddiness in doing it together.

All of the stuff we've been through since February has felt as if we're working our way through a dark forest. Sometimes the trees are very close together, sometimes the ground is swampy, and sometimes it's actually quite nice, with views of the sky above - or the stars at night.

And now we've walked into a clearing - a meadow - where we'll be while Gerry gets healthier and healthier.

The transplant went beautifully - as good as anyone could expect - and the doctors at Mayo were very impressed with Gerry's resilience. My husband, the over-achiever! I was away for the more brutal portion of the chemo reaction - the part where Gerry couldn't eat and was so sick, lost so much weight and a good deal of his hair. I was in Southern France, teaching. Having fun. Nervous as a tick because I missed Gerry so much, and worried so much.

When I got home we were both shocked that Mayo announced that Gerry would be good to go home at the end of that week! We'd not planned on that - and although we were thrilled, there was SO much work to do to get the house in order! We were in the middle of a kitchen re-do, there was dust and other unsavory things all over the place, and I felt overwhelmed with the idea of so much cleaning.

But it got done - somehow - it's a fog to me. All I can say is that you get done what needs to get done - period.

And then Gerry was home, we were all home, the kids, Gerry, me, Gerry's mom Elaine, Atticus, Gigi - we were an all-together family again.

It feels so GOOD to be back together - and a little weird. So much happened while we were all apart, and now we're together and trying to figure out how we fit together. The kids have grown, I've grown - and we have a new kitchen - and a new kitten (for Hannah's 11th birthday) - and a new Gerry.

The nurse kept telling Gerry during his actual transplant on Sept 1, "Today is your birthday - Happy Birthday!"

"Great", I kept thinking, "Just what we need, another Virgo in the house..."

Gerry's so "new" that he'll have to have all of his childhood immunizations again in about a year, we have to be careful about sickness - we all have to have a flu shot this year.

He's like a baby - bald and adorable - and I feel as scared as I did when Hannah came home.

When we're 100 days into the transplant - they call it Day Plus 100 - it will be early December and we'll return to the Mayo for a full checkup for Gerry. A very kind woman wrote to me on the day of Gerry's transplant - it was her Day Plus 100 after her own stem cell transplant for Multiple Myeloma. She's kindly been updating us, sort of walking ahead of us in the woods with a flashlight, giving us an idea what to expect.

As a family we feel - scared. But glad to be together. We have no idea how long we'll be able to stay in this 'meadow' before we have to go back into the woods. How big IS this meadow - is it a prairie? Can we build a house here, write a series of books and make them into a series starring a self-reverential TV actor?

We have our moments when it becomes too much - usually I'm the one having those moments - and then we pull together as a family and try to find some sense in the whole mess. If we can't make sense, at least we try to make a joke. So far it's working.

But as much as we rely on each other as a family - our nuclear support system - life would be so thin and empty if it weren't for our friends who have made this potentially terrible past few months a 'walk in the woods'

And thanks to all of you - those of you who have left lovely posts, send nice emails, and make me feel a little less alone and more connected during those long periods when I only seem to be able to connect to students or nurses (or student nurses...)

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Sunday, October 07, 2007

Camera / Back

My Camera is back in the picture - huzzah!

And my back is out of commision - OUCH!

First the bad news...
As we know, I've been doing a lot of lifting, carrying, moving, stretching - all kinds of 'putting the house back together' stuff that begins to wear on a person.

I used to have a bad back problem, sciatica to be exact, which I developed in grad school. All of that drafting. But when I had my kids it seemed to recede into the background, and I hadn't had a bad attack for almost 9 years.

Did I say
background?

Friday night was Hannah's sleepover - which was small but beautiful! - and as I bent down to pour some seltzer for a parent, my back went, "Pop!" so loudly I was surprised no one else could hear it. I knew exactly what it was - and I was very sad.

I sat, I waited, I tried not to move too much or overreact - but the damage was done.

Something's not right in there, so I'll have it looked at on Monday or Tuesday. When I walk I look like - Gerry! We're a matched set, now. All we need are his & hers walkers.

Saturday I tried to rest for most of the day, but in the evening I bent over to dust something (because I am insane) and "Pop!" again. Pop goes the back.

So I'm in pretty bad pain - walking hurts, but not as bad as sitting. Laying down is agony. So I've been walking around, hoping to ease it up a bit. I'm flying out next Saturday for Texas, and I'm sure my back will be fine by then (it's time to become acquainted with our local chiro!) but I'm not looking forward to the flight, or to the lugging around of the suitcases that makes up most of my trips.

I just have to convince myself NOT to do any lifting - heavy or otherwise. Today we had a family meeting where I explained to the kids that the lax attitude they'd adopted about doing their chores and helping out had to change. Two months out of the routine will make anyone a little lax, especially a 9 & 11 year old!

So they've agreed not to make faces when I ask them to do their chores, and - even better - to try not to put me in a position where I have to ask. We're still pre-teen here, and I'm going to enjoy every minute of it while I can.

The Good News
On Friday, just as I was packing up the POD (Project Of Death, which has actually become quite enjoyable - I'm making peace with the inevitable) my new battery charger arrived. I was able to get my camera going again and take some photos of the mitered POD -

AND of the kitchen/bathroom!
So here's the re-do as it stands. This afternoon Gerry and the kids put away all of the food stuffs so our dining room is looking MUCH more like a dining room! There are still details to be ironed out, but it's pretty much finished.

I'm absolutely in LOVE with the new bathroom, having it on the ground floor has had an amazing impact on our family so far (very positive!) and it's the best decision we could have made as we work toward Gerry's recovery. You go boy!

Having the laundry on the ground floor is also wonderful in that it allows Gerry to do a load every now and then - making him feel much more a working, functioning part of the daily life of the family (with fewer stairs to manage.) Oh, me too.

But the kitchen itself is a dream. It's lovely, it looks like a wonderful complement to the dining room and the rest of the house, has a nice "period" look but is also quite modern.

I thought we might be tight on space, but after putting all of the kitchen appliances away (in the uppermost cabinets), stowing the day to day dishes (in the above-counter cabinets) the pots & pans (pull out drawers and lower cabinets) and the food (balanced between the uper cabinets and drawers) we seem to have a bit of space leftover.

Not after we live with it for a bit, I'm sure, but it's nice to get it all put away.

I love the chair rail / picture rail in the kitchen that matches what's happening in the dining room (here's a look at the doorway between the two) It looks so wonderful - so organic - as if it were always the way the house was built.

The financial damage was less than we budgeted - how often can one say that? Our contractor (the young, creative one) was a dream to work with and we're very happy. If anyone in the Twin Cities needs work like this done, I HIGHLY recommend AC Home Design!

We saved money in lots of ways by buying 'scratch & dent' appliances, looking for bargains on bathroom tiles, putting together our own lighting fixtures instead of buying pre-made, etc. Our line of credit came through, so it's entirely covered by that - it's now a happy and snug part of our mortgage!

In the next few days I'll also take some photos of the new kitten, those will come later. I just can't walk upstairs right now - you know why...

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Thursday, October 04, 2007

New Frontier

I'm a child of the 60's - I grew up thinking it was just a matter of time until I took a stroll on the moon, and that we could do ANYTHING because we had such smart scientists in America.

Today is the anniversary of Sputnik - I wasn't around then, but the race to the moon I grew up with was fueled by our need to out do the Russians and be the first in something even MORE important than a satellite.

I've heard a rumor that when NASA engineers explain relatively simple procedures to each other, they say, "After all, it's not lace knitting!"

Lace knitting takes a fair amount of technical ability, confidence, the ability to read a pattern or follow a chart, and a desire to work to the end of a motif.

Any scientist could do it - many do [hey grump!] - but I think our country would be a better place if one of the criteria for running for office was a demonstrable ability to knit lace.

I think we still have smart scientists in this country - brilliant, actually - but I also feel like they're working with their hands tied. In a society where creationism is taught with a straight face as scientific fact in some schools, and we're not permitted to fund stem cell research with public money, science is not given the respect that it deserves. After all, Guns don't kill people, pipettes kill people ...

As I said to a friend a few weeks ago - if you're against stem cell research because you feel that you're ending a human life, do you feel that in vitro fertilization must be banned, too? Because if you're not going to stop the mechanism for creating these petrie dish punkin's, then you can't really complain about stem cell research.

I've felt this way for a long time, but it's more personal now. Gerry's stem cell transplant was using his own cells, so embryonic cells didn't enter into it. However, research from one study has a way of enlightening other studies - information and knowledge expand.

I can't help but feel that, as far as we've come in treating Multiple Myeloma, we'd be further along if we'd had decent research going on in ALL areas of stem cell experimentation.

"Human-Animal Hybrids", indeed.

Sorry to get so far off the mark from the knitting. This is what's on my mind today.

And speaking of which, Gerry continues to get better - every day he seems a little stronger, a little more present, a little more his old self. But he's been wearing out in the afternoons and needing a nice nap. We all could use that. It's also time for us to get our flu shots.

Happy Birthday
Thank you so much for all of the good wishes - it made Hannah feel like a princess - a nice touch to a great day! This weekend is a 5-girl sleepover - hooray!

We had a nice little birthday dinner for Hannah last night - Grilled chicken followed by cupcakes from Wuollets (very beautiful, decorated like Autumn flowers!)

But the big news is that earlier in the day Hannah and I went to the Humane Society where she picked out a little orange kitten. Now we have two cats again, and we're very happy.

She's named it Shiloh. I'll post photos of the adorable little thing when my battery charger arrives [tapping foot...]

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Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Happy Birthday Hannah!

A short post - because today it's all about my girl!

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Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Sick Day

I'm taking a bit of a sick day today. Yesterday I did a lot of running around, I'm still getting over my trip(s), and I just need to lay low before a toe up sock class this evening at the Textile Center.

I've heard from Becka over there that they still have a few openings, so if you're in the twin cities and you'd like to take a toe up sock class with me this evening starting around 6:00, contact the center and I'm sure you can still sign up!

Until then, enjoy!


Update
The class was great - the students were fun but I just didn't feel as clear as I'd like to have been. They seemed to enjoy the class - I did, too - but I just wish I could have felt more present. I think it was the rain. Most of us were a bit late, and all of us had that "I've just been through evil rain-soaked traffic" look about us...

I did, however, stop on the way home and pick up a chocolate Black Cat for Hannah's morning birthday surprise - I try to give her something small and special when she wakes up on her big day.

I also got petit fours for her and Max to have with their breakfasts. Gotta love Whole Foods.

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Alison's Scarf
Link to pdf file of cable/trellis lace scarf


Hannah's Poncho
Link to pdf file of multi-sized poncho



Chullo-licious


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