Saturday, December 31, 2011

One-by-One Rib

Last week, somewhere in the sky above the midwest, I fell a little bit in love with one-by-one rib.  I had been furiously "making" things for weeks and weeks--peppermint bark, gift-buying lists, books, blog posts, HeyAllday Bags, trips to the post office, trips to the dog park--and I realized I had not spent a lot of time doing what I truly wanted to be doing. Relaxing. Enjoying the sensation of coming inside from the cold. Icy beers with friends. And I have been lacking a fraction of the dimension required to do what I have really been wanting to be doing these days: write. It was in the air, in a janky Spirit Airlines jet, that I began to make a new winter hat for Robb, and I found a fraction of an eighth of this space.

You see, I'm a knit girl, not a purl girl. I like to work round after round of mindless Stockinette without even looking down, then suddenly look at my hands to see that I've knit an inch or two. So I was a bit chagrined to discover that the hat I wanted to make was worked in 1x1 rib--one knit, one purl, over and over again, for what feels like the rest of your life. It's that bring the yarn forward, bring the yarn back thing that really slows you down and ruins the flow of the movement. There I was, on an airplane, in what was probably the first two hour stretch of non-rushed time I had experienced in a month, and I was concerned about speed. (Note: This irony did not occur to me until much later. I think we hardly ever realize, in the moment, when we are being ridiculous.) I slogged through the first few rounds of this hat, begrudgingly noting how smooth the merino was (it's Berroco Pure Merino). By round five, the fabric had started to double in on itself in that way that ribbing does, where the purl columns get hidden beneath the dense squish of knits. The fabric takes on a quality that I can only describe as "sproingy," and it just gets better and better with ever round. Denser, sproingier, squishier, cozier. Soon enough I realized that I could not put it down, and it wasn't because I wanted to be finished, but because I was fascinated by what I was making. I did not listen to music, I didn't talk to a soul, I didn't think about the people in the neighboring seats. I may not have even had a sip of water.

Enough has been said on the topic of knitting being a meditative activity, so I won't bore you with further description of my trancelike state. (Nor will I pretend that knitting this hat solved any of my problems or removed any of the knots in my shoulders--in fact, it probably introduced a few.) But having two hours to focus exclusively on something so delectably simple and repetitive was a necessary transition for my brain.
I'm sure at this point you're becoming scared that this blog post will get too serious, and so to assuage your fears I felt I should probably include this photo of Robb trying on his hat. Almost there!

And now, it's New Year's Eve. I'm decreasing the crown. I'm writing this blog post. We've taken the dog to the dog park every day since we've been home (sometimes twice!). We've seen our friends. We've watched really bad movies (including Mannequin and Christine). We've napped, we've slept in, we've eaten pizza three times this week. In essence, we've slowed down and enjoyed some peace, preparing ourselves for this new year. For its challenges, transitions, discomforts, and excellent successes. I've been asking myself today, what have I done this year? And aside from some obvious things that were pretty exciting (A promotion at work! A puppy at home! The creation of the Modern Carpet Bag!), I can't help but feel that this has been one of those years that sets you up for other years. Let's call it a stepping stone year.

I will tell you a secret: I write this blog so that I will keep writing. One of my authors asked me recently, in all seriousness, what book are you going to write? And I was a little surprised to find that she asked. And I was even more surprised to find that I didn't know. I do love crafting. Would it be a craft book? Probably not exactly, though I'm not ruling it out. What I do know is this: I like to write about life--both the awful and the hilarious--and that is what this eventual book will be. This blog, in its own peculiar way, is me practicing. I hope you like my drafts.

And to that author who asked me what book I will write, thank you for taking me seriously.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

To My Parents, Who Make Funny Faces

December in our family is not just about Christmas. It is about birthdays--two of them, in fact--my mom and dad, the love birds who are five years and one week apart. I could probably say something about both of them being Sagittarius--I do, after all, have a history of writing horoscopes--but truth be told, I don't know a lot about their shared astrological sign. What I do know a lot about is their shared tendency to make crazy faces in photos.

We recently stumbled upon a few prime examples from their youth, and my parents were just silly enough to put them into a digital format and send them to me. ME, who has a BLOG. Didn't they know that these photos would eventually find their way onto the interwebs?

But see, that's the thing--they don't really care. In my family, there has never been a lot of vanity. It takes quite a lot to embarrass one of us, and I consider that to be one of the greatest gifts that they could bestow on me and my sister. When we were growing up, comedy and kindness were always king in our house. Fart jokes trumped poise-and-beauty most days of the week, and when a camera came out, we tried to make nice faces--we really did--but more often than not, one of us looked ridiculous, and the most ridiculous photos always seemed to be the ones that made it onto the fridge.

The photo at top features my mom and her sister, and I see so much of me and my sister in their expressions. (Especially after a drink or two.) When we were growing up, Aunt Ginny and her family would come over for holidays, and we would watch our mother transform from a vacuum-wielding stress case to a goofy sister. Between the two of them, there would be jokes mumbled under their breath followed by loud eruptions of laughter. Each year as we got older, the mumbled jokes got a bit louder (and crasser), which was how we learned to be quite polite yet incredibly bawdy little ladies--one of the more important lessons I've learned in my life, I must say.

My dad, on the other hand, has always been an outright goofball--there's nothing subtle about it. I looked through one of his photo albums recently from when he was a kid and was delighted to see that he was making a funny face or doing something unorthodox in nearly every photo. On Halloween, his friends dressed as space rangers or cowboys, and there he was, dressed in a hula skirt with a coconut bikini top. And here he is again in the photo below--yup, he's the one on the right, in yet another bikini top. (Who the other two guys are, I'm not sure, but, um, they seem to share a similar sense of humor.) I guess I didn't realize that people took pictures like this in the '50s. Didn't their mothers scold them for making faces? Or tell them not to cross-dress? Did I imagine that everything looked like a Norman Rockwell painting? Well, clearly it didn't--my father is living proof.

And so, for their birthdays this week--my Dad's was the 13th and my Mom's is today--I wanted to pay homage to their goofy sides. This personality trait is one of my favorite inheritances, and, I believe, has contributed greatly to the richness of their lives. To know my parents is to know great fun. After all, nothing is so serious that we can't laugh about it.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Nothing Gold Can Stay

On the very top of Bernal Hill I found myself thinking, isn't there a photo of me in this very same spot from just over 5 years ago? I wasn't quite sure of the direction I had been facing, but I remembered the day. We had taken kites up to the top of the hill and let the wind whip them up into the air.  They got all tangled now and then, which led to a game called Kite Fights in which you would try to intentionally take down your pal's kite. I sat on the hill and watched the boys play. I wonder if I knew then that I would be leaving. Sometimes you know things before you say them to yourself, and in certain moments--particularly the sweetest ones--you can feel a golden glow of nostalgia, a pang of loss for what you are currently experiencing. Or as Ponyboy would say, nothing gold can stay.

And so, on this recent trip to San Francisco, I took a photo of myself in that spot. Everything was different, and yet everything was the same. I had a chill in my bones. You'd think five years in New York would have toughened me up, but I just couldn't get warm on this trip. I had forgotten how San Francisco homes lack those powerful radiators that dry us out at night in Brooklyn. I was always cold in San Francisco, but I got used to glorious years of frozen toes and summerless summers. It was ironic, I thought, that I was wearing a gray turtleneck and a black pea coat, my non-silly sunglasses--a New Yorker costume on a grassy green hill. Five years ago, I donned a cruddy red zip-up jacket from an ex-boyfriend and my Elton John sunglasses. My reddish hair was greasy and it whipped around my head. I had not yet discovered my anti-acne/anti-aging facial cleanser (that was in 2008), but the lipgloss has stayed the same (Burt's Bees in Raisin).

It rained in the morning. My friend Megan is pregnant and she was missing the taste of beer--compounded, I bet, by my presence in her kitchen--and so we decided to take a walk. These San Francisco walks were the very beginning of our friendship, up 20th Street to Sutro Tower (when the fog rolls in, the top of the tower looks like a ship lost in the ocean), or, as always, up to the top of Bernal. And with our feet marching forward, slightly out of breath, we talked and talked--the kind of talk that is about nothing specific, but feels greatly important. I guess you could call it dreaming. But on this chilly day, five years later, with everything different but everything the same, there was a great rainbow that spanned the entire city, starting at Coit Tower and stretching over into the Bay. It was almost cliche, and it was definitely indulgent--like dozens of red roses on Valentines Day--and yet I loved that nature had given us this most obvious of gifts. And there I was, once again, already mourning the moment that I was in, for the rainbow clearly couldn't last and I would soon be going back to New York, where we have no grassy green hills to speak of. But perhaps one day I will learn that a life is made up of many happy afternoons--none of which are to be mourned, and none of which can ever be repeated--and that this is okay. (After all, nothing gold can stay.)

Friday, December 2, 2011

Slightly Satanic Sewing

Last week I had the thrill of taking a spontaneous vacation. This never happens! But the world came together in several different ways to make a last-minute trip possible. The parents had bought a new house in the mountains I was dying to see, the plane tickets were cheap, the friends in San Francisco were willing to put me up for a couple nights en route, the husband was willing to take off some work, and my work was willing to let me sneak off for a couple of days, allowing me to effectively take off the entire week of Thanksgiving. Hallelujah!

While in San Francisco, I stayed with my dearest of dear old friends Megan. One night while lounging around her apartment, she told me that she had her great grandmothers old sewing machine. I immediately insisted that we pull it out and have a looksie! Old sewing machines are so much fun. I love that no matter how old the machine is, there's a good chance that it will still work...the mechanics of new machines and old machines are fundamentally the same, and the old ones were really built to last. So as long as you can figure out how to thread the machine, chances are the old gal will make some nice straight stitches!
When Megan pulled out her machine, I did not at first notice its name--I was too busy trying to figure out where the thread spool goes. Megan asked me to tell her the name of the machine so that she could look it up on the internet, and when I said it aloud I kind of couldn't believe me ears: The Charger 666? What the? Isn't that, like, the number of the beast or something?

We had a gooood long laugh about her satanic sewing machine, and couldn't help but wonder why oh why Brother would have picked that name for this model. I mean, hasn't "666" always been the devil's number? Or was "666" not considered satanic until the '80s or something?

After awhile, we figured out that a piece of the machine that holds the thread spool had broken off the back, so no sewing for us. (She's gonna super glue the piece back in place and see if that will work.) So at that point, we moved on from the Charger 666 and started rummaging through her great grandmother's vintage sewing supplies, which were a treasure trove of vintage notions. I was stopped in my tracks when I saw a little doo-dad called The Witch. (Something spoooooky was going on with this sewing kit, we must assume!)

The Witch, as we learned, is an old-timey needle threader. This one looks to be from about the '40s or '50s and was produced in "East Germany." I was having quite a time trying to figure out how it works until our friend Emma came along and solved the mystery. To see how it works, watch this video we made! It's very professional looking, I know.
Isn't The Witch super cool? I want one of my very own!! I actually hate threading needles, so if I were doing a big embroidery or hand-sewing project, I would absolutely invest in a Witch, which would make me feel less murderous each time I ran out of thread.

Anyway, if  you've ever wondered what old girlfriends do when they visit each other, now you know. They go through their old stuff and try to figure out why they have it and how it works, and then they  make crappy videos about their discoveries. Hope you enjoyed!