In December



Christmas 2015

Christmas 2015-3






On this final day of Winter Break—extended by 24 hours, thanks to a surprise ice storm—I’m watching puppet shows and Waltzes of the Flowers. (The children received many wonderful gifts, including the buoy swing shown above, but nothing made a bigger splash than a set of colorful tutus, which now feature in daily impromptu ballet performances. Just the thing for the indoor exercise we’ve desperately needed during the rainiest month EVER.) We’ve had lovely family visits, many games of War and Solitaire in front of the fire, a little bit of snow, a lot of cookies, and—best of all—whole luxurious days of unscheduled time. A fair bit of knitting transpired, but it was mostly hats and gloves and they were mostly gifts and only this purple pom for Jolly ended up in front of the camera. It’s made of Socks That Rock Lightweight in the color Morticia held together with Rowan Angora Haze. The STR swings from black to magenta; the Angora Haze is a solid plum color that matches the midtones and I was delighted to discover how effectively it muted the variegation. The angora also makes the hat ever so soft and cozy, of course, and this mother is pleased that her boy will agree to keep it on his head. I’m going to try the same experiment on a sort of muddy rainbow skein that Ada chose, pairing it with an ochre gold—although she’s just informed me that what she’d really like is a hat based on the yoke of my Flight sweater. She wants bright colors—leaf green, violet, pink or orange, yellow—with “the birds” in white and I’m intrigued by the design challenge of blending these to create an entirely different effect from the original browns! I think I’ve got Loft leftovers enough to pull it off and I’ve been using Brooklyn Tweed’s new online color comparison feature to dream up the right color run; Sap-Plume-Birdbook-Camper-Hayloft looks promising. Oh, and a pompon! Little children dig pompons the most.

2016 looks like a big and busy year for my little family! I’m kicking it off with a bit of self-indulgent insta-knitting: Thea Colman’s Stillhouse Vest. Mine’s in Hematite Quarry and it’s halfway done already, thanks to a couple of car trips and an evening of Sherlock. But next on the needles is something truly spectacular. More on that very soon!

Wishing every one of you an invigorating plunge into new possibilities or kindly tailwinds as your soul requires in this new year. Cin cin.

These days

Our first island day begins with blueberry muffins. The children, who chivvied my mother out of bed at six, helped mix them and are eager for me to try one from each batch. I’m late to come downstairs, sleeping until seven and then polishing off a quick work assignment while still abed, and they can’t wait any longer so I pull on yesterday’s clothes and go down unwashed, hair ahoo, for muffins and coffee and scrambled eggs. The sourdough starter we brought with us from Portland has bubbled out of its mason jar overnight, so I mix up the sponge and set it to rise.

After a shower, it’s off to town for the farmers’ market, origamied into the back of the Jetta between the car seats while my father drives so we don’t have to take a second vehicle. The children eat croissants and whole cucumbers and choose jam and flowers and fresh pasta. We play at the tiny playground beside the gazebo in Sunken Park before we have to go home for more food and a rest.

While Jolyon finally takes his nap (not in his bed, not in my bed, but on a stack of quilts on the floor in the closet), Ada plays with the dogs and trails her grandparents as they hang up the swings. I bring my knitting outside and proctor the dogs’ rumpus down at the wallow that was meant to be a pond but never quite filled. It’s a big deer print of shallow water in the woods, with real deer prints all over the muddy isthmus between the pools.

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Ada joins me to watch the dogs run and splash. The sun is strong and we make for the shade of the rising ground beyond the wallow. I’m barefoot and I follow gingerly, avoiding the thistles, the trailing blackberry, and then the baked ridges where the interstices of dog toes have printed the clay and dried hard and sharp.

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A tiny flash of movement on the ground I’m watching so warily—it’s a tree frog and I’m calling to my girl with such urgency that I can see she doesn’t know whether there’s wonder or trouble. She hops after the tiny frog and her quick fingers dart to encircle him. It’s her first time catching one and she’s deft but gentle, aware that he’s fragile and as keenly alive as she is.

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The dogs are stampeding around the east wallow so she releases him at the edge of the western pool, which is full of his tadpole cousins, some already sprouting hind legs. She is fizzing with excitement—we both are—and suddenly there’s another tiny froglet leaping just ahead of her sandals. They’re sheltering in the deep cracks in the clay, down where the mud is still damp and cool, and we marvel at their wee black eyes and pert snouts and extraordinary tiny toes.

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We wash the muddy dogs. I manage two more rows on my lace shawl before I hear wailing from the closet upstairs. I carry my sweaty, dozy boy down to view the installment of the see-saw, newly improved with handles.

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We play outside. We go for a walk down the hill and back again, sampling salmonberries, thimbleberries, trailing blackberries and blackcaps. I give a lecture on nettle identification. (The dog doesn’t listen and suffers for it.) These are the bones of an education for island childhood. There are all kinds of delights if you know where to look, and one or two things not to touch.

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Home again, we make salad and cook the pasta. Dad mixes gin and tonics. The kids play with the napkin holders carved in the shapes of African animals. And then it’s bedtime. We read Paul Bunyan and Horton Hatches an Egg. We sing “All God’s Critters Got a Place in the Choir” and “The Marvelous Toy.” We kiss the grandparents and try to wind down for the night.

The yawning windows admit the purling gyre of thrush song, the insistence of robins, and the occasional breath of cooler air wafting upslope through the trees. The children are a welter of damp curls and sticky limbs, still too hot and full of the day for sleep. The light lasts here at midsummer; not as it does in the simmer dim of Shetland or the neverdark of the highest latitudes, but longer than my little ones’ internal clocks can compass.

I lie down with them in turn on their twin mattresses, lightly stroke my girl’s bare arms in the way she likes. She murmurs and nuzzles and then collides with sleep, plunges abruptly into snoring, slobbering slumber. My boy is wide awake, owl eyed in the cool blue light. He makes room for me in his bed. We lie face to face and I close my eyes, setting a good example.

He whispers things into his memory bank: shards of song and science, snippets of myth and hypothesis. Some spiders live in spider webs and other spiders live in the dirt. Once I saw a tiny spider web and it had a black spider. His body was black becept his feet was dark brown. Spiders don’t have a tail. A frog doesn’t have a bottom, so how does he pee?

I peek and he is staring out the window at the sky. The divided lights and madrona branches are reflected in his wide pupils. I remember this. He has slipped backward into my own childhood and we are one three-year-old, awake long after bedtime and watching the cast of the summer evening in the woods on a little island surrounded by the sea. Quarters of hours sift by and still he’s whispering. Tickle, fickle, pickle. Dog and frog rhyme. I’m a big girl and I can help him dig a lot of clams fast so we can hurry up and go to Buck’s Harbor. Every set of utterances is stoppered with his thumb.

An hour has passed when he surrenders, drifting gently into stillness and quiet. Mt. Baker is beginning to slough the abalone colors from its flanks and the sea and sky are about to meld in the queer precise evenness of twilight. I put the heavy blue Dutch ovens in to bake the sourdough loaves for tomorrow, sit in the gathering dark in the living room and watch the lighthouses wink on across the strait. All is not really well, not with all the trouble in the world and the claws of cancer once more reaching for people I love. Perhaps this summer idyll is my way to push back against the helplessness. There’s so much I can’t do to keep my folk and other people’s equally cherished folk safe. But I can give my little ones this remarkable place, these ordinary blessed days of frogs and thimbleberries and homemade bread and the summer sea. And maybe that’s enough for right now.


I want to thank you all so much for your kind words about Flight! What a delicious few weeks it’s been. I’ve so appreciated old friends and acquaintances reconnecting after seeing my name in the Wool People 8 collection and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed chatting with knitters who want to make this design their own. I had the pleasure of doing an interview about Flight for the Brooklyn Tweed blog, which gave me an opportunity to tell this sweater’s story (and mine). Even more fun is seeing the first projects take shape on Ravelry. There’s a blue one, a lilac one… so many possibilities. My own first idea was to transition from browns through blues to white, but I really love the subtle play of the warm and cool browns we finally settled on. I can’t tell you how long I sat on the window seat with my whole collection of Brooklyn Tweed neutrals, squinting at one bunch after another. I knew the body of the sweater would be Pumpernickel, but there are so many ways you can proceed from there within the BT palette! Just for fun, here’s a not-quite-right version I knit up back in March to test a possible gradient:

Flight Swatchcap (2 of 2)

This hat used Truffle Hunt, Stormcloud, Barn Owl, and Woodsmoke as the contrast colors, which wasn’t a smooth shift in value and also seemed a little cool. So we took Stormcloud out of the mix, swapped Barn Owl for Nest, and brought Fossil in as the palest shade, and that grouping made the cut for the final design. A word on hats as swatches—Elizabeth Zimmermann was the first to propose this idea, as far as I know, making the argument that a circular garment ought to be swatched circularly, and why not end up with a useful accessory in the end? It was good advice. I don’t always follow it—I’ll often make a quick circular swatch for a colorwork project and then just cut it open to see how it’s going to look—but Flight’s long carries would be maddening to attempt on a small circumference. The pattern includes enough padding in the yardage requirements to knit an adult size hat like this one while you’re perfecting your three-color technique and making sure you love your chosen hues. My hat used 14 repetitions of the chart (fudged with more decreases toward the top to achieve a hat crown rather than a neck opening).

Melissa asked in the comments whether I’d suggest alternate yarns for those who can’t easily lay hands on Loft. (And sorry, Melissa, that I didn’t see your comment before you went shopping! I’m afraid I only just freed a bunch of lovely comments from filter purgatory last evening.) The answer is that it will work in anything fingering weight that isn’t too slippery. (I think superwash sock yarn might be unforgiving to carry evenly across long floats and you could end up with sloppy colorwork. But I haven’t tried it. It might be just fine, but definitely make a swatch cap to be sure!) The closest substitutes will be woolen-spun yarns like Jamieson & Smith’s Shetland offerings. I see European knitters using Holst Garn’s fingering weight in place of Loft pretty regularly. Both of those companies have a deep palette of color choices to give you just the gradient you want. A test knitter for my Winter Garden jumper introduced me to a Vermont-made yarn called Blackberry Ridge 100% Wool Fingering, which comes in shorter put-ups so you won’t be left with huge amounts of the contrast colors unused—an attractive option for knitters on a budget. If you’ve got a stash of Rowan Yorkshire Tweed from before it was discontinued—don’t tell me, because I might come rob your house—that could be glorious for a version with bolder chevrons. And of course, if you want to go luxe, a yarn with angora or cashmere content would give you a beautiful halo that would blend the colors even further, as in the fabulous Bohus Stickning sweaters. Toots LeBlanc’s natural shades of merino-angora, for instance… swoon.

I’m off to ScanFair, because I need to admit it’s December, and nothing gets the holiday engines revving like hand-carved wooden horses and little felt woodspeople and Scandinavian pastries. I’ll find a little something beautiful the Tomten can slip into the children’s Advent stockings, because that seems to be the quirky holiday tradition I’ve invented for my kids. Last evening he left a little sack of peppermint tea, and before that a miniature harmonica that one of my great-aunts Priscilla meant to give someone for Christmas in 1974. Santa can come to the grandparents’ houses, and I’ve quite enjoyed knitting stockings for the purpose, but he’s rather too commercial for me. I like the watchful mystery of Advent, I like the stable full of animals and the humble birth of a great ethicist, I like Saint Nicholas who looks out for the children and leaves treats in their shoes, I like the daily small magic of the winter world. But I’ll dodge all the over-the-toppery while I can, thank you. Tonight it’s Lesson & Carols at the cathedral. I love this service, despite a niggling worry that I’ll set fire to my music with the candle one of these years. Wishing you hope and light and calm in these short days.