Stitch by Stitch

When my younger daughter was two, my friend Jessica taught me to knit, which revolutionized my world. A life with little ones underfoot is improved by creativity which may be picked up or put down at any time. Unlike time (say, 2016), yarn can easily be unraveled, and the work improved.

Since my first knit, purl stitches, I’ve knit in numerous houses and meetings, across country on a train, in the ER, the endodontist’s office, at concerts, under trees, in the sugarhouse, in my bed.

With innumerable strangers, I’ve handed my knitting and their knitting back and forth, admiring and discussing. In despair, occasionally, I’ve thrown out knitting gone badly awry. My best knitting was a pair of mittens I knit my daughter for her 15th birthday, blue and white, compass pattern. Now I’m on a pattern a little too difficult, with yarn overs that are trouble to drop, with a pattern I am, stitch by stitch, accomplishing; it’s beautiful.

When my girls and I were talking about wishes for the new year, I thought work hard, but perhaps what I really meant was love well.

The products of science and technology may be new, and some of them are quite horrid, but knitting? In knitting there are ancient possibilities; the earth is enriched with the dust of the millions of knitters who have held wool and needles since the beginning of sheep. Seamless sweaters and one-row buttonholes; knitted hems and phoney seams – it is unthinkable that these have, in mankind’s history, remained undiscovered and unknitted. One likes to believe that there is memory in the fingers; memory undeveloped, but still alive.

Elizabeth Zimmerman (who else?), The Knitter’s Almanac



Snowed In…. and more

My brother borrowed my daughter’s car and returned it with the back door dinged in, which made us laugh. That’s all? 2016 has thrown a lot more at us. But here’s the thing: at the very beginning of my novel’s draft, I have that classic line from Dante: In the middle of the journey of our life I came to myself within a dark wood where the straight way was lost.

In my forties, the straight way is concealed, undoubtedly. But what I’d missed in that line until today is the coming to yourself gem buried within that sentence. Earlier this fall, I had a conversation with someone who described this phase of life as not solved by geography; this is an interior journey of the heart.

So, for a moment here, what better way to end a long year than with laughter? Big and little kids went sliding on the ice today – no sleds required; our kitchen is well-stocked; the snow falls – lovely as I remember from childhood; and my first novel hit the Galaxy Bookshop‘s 2016 bestseller list. Satisfaction.

Do not be afraid; our fate
Cannot be taken from us; it is a gift.

Dante Alighieri, Inferno


My garden in winter.

Womanly Arts

Cleaning out a storage room in our sugarhouse, my daughters found two large wooden shelves, intricately crafted from small pieces of wood hammered together. Who made these? the girls wanted to know. Decades ago, their grandmother scavenged slender strips of wood from a mill, and created these shelves, and also an entire ceiling in a kitchen she remade.

The girls washed dust from the shelves and set them to dry in the sun. Later, a friend of mine stopped by and asked about the shelves again. She ran her thumb over the wood still smoothly polished after decades and said, Nice work.

Without thinking, I began a list of my mother’s skills: besides her handiness with a hammer, my mother redid an old farmhouse; she sewed quilts, knitted aran sweaters, opened a children’s store in the ’70s, cooked about a million meals, planned extensive cross-country camping trips. An R.N., she dressed in my childhood evenings in a white uniform and nylons and drove off in the dark to a hospital, returning at breakfast with stories, and, one Fourth of July, an orange kitten who had been abandoned by the side of the road.

There’s a story from Elizabeth Gilbert about her aunt, who cut up her prized clothes and resewed them into baby outfits. It’s the same old story of women chopping up the finer parts of themselves and handing those gems right over their children. Unacknowledged and, doubtlessly, unthanked. The raw truth is that gender is not a label, that the pulsing lives of mother and father are inherently different, in a way that’s neither good nor ill: simply different.

In my own all-female household right now, one morning I found a word from a magnet set we had used on the refrigerator. I must have vacuumed the piece and then emptied the dusty bag on my woodstove ash heap. The word was woman. I pulled the word from the dirt, shined it up with my spit, and laid it on the center of my kitchen table.

The cold ugly fact is that marriage does not benefit women as much as it benefits men. From studies, married men perform dazzingly better in life, live longer, accumulate more, excel at careers, report to be happier, less likely to die from a violent death, suffer less from alcoholism, drug abuse, and depression than a single man…The reverse is not true. In fact, every fact is reverse, single women fare much better than married women. On average, married women take a 7% pay cut. All of this adds up to what Sociologists called the “Marriage Benefit Imbalance”…It is important to pause here and inspect why so women long for it (marriage) so deeply.

– Elizabeth Gilbert, Committed