Reminded of the BABES

You remind me of the babe
What babe? the babe with the power
What power? power of voodoo
Who do? you do
Do what? remind me of the babe
Dance Magic Dance, by David Bowie from the movie Labyrinth

Books are often the topic of discussion at social events. As someone who listens to audiobooks and reads myself to sleep every night, I am always eager to hear about a good one and avidly join in any discussion about books. Reading is a lone wolf activity, but talking about reading is a social mainstay. Social discourse about books can be a random event, when discussion wanders to recent reads, or it can be a formalized and scheduled group event, typically The Book Club. Having just finished a book club selection–and having suffered a bit of impatience to have it read and racked–I was reminded of the BABES. Book clubs come in all shapes and sizes with all manner of rules and expectations, and as a result a club can fit well or fit poorly, but there will never be another one-size-fits-all book club like the BABES.

Origin of the BABES

To find the origin of the BABES, I suppose one really must go back many years, decades if truth be told. As I remember it, two little girls were walking down the street with their dad when they were spied by a woman peering out from her veranda. It must have been summer, and the woman’s girls must have been terribly bored, because she needed playmates for her girls and she needed them now. Not wanting to miss an opportunity, Jamie burst forth from the house and halted the little group in their tracks, proposing her girls as their new best friends. Fortunately all the little girls took to each other, the moms subsequently met with equally positive results, and soon Jamie and Priscilla became friends through play dates. Not much later Priscilla’s daughter and mine landed in the same Kindergarten class, Daisy Girl Scout troop, and daisy-picking little girl soccer team. About this time Jame and Priscilla had the idea to start a book club, and I was one of the fortunate mothers-by-loose-association who they thought of to invite.

Memory is a tricky thing at my age, so many years on, but this is what I recall. The first meeting included Jamie (who it turns out is not really a stalker, desperate mothers just do desperate things), Jamie’s Mom (and who does not love a mother and daughter dynamic in the group, unless you are the mother or the daughter), Priscilla (the strolling little girls’ mom met by happenstance), Carol (Jamie’s neighbor and also a mother of a little girl), Joan (Priscilla’s neighbor and mother of an older boy), Krista (Priscilla’s friend recently moved from Chicago), Margot (friend and former real estate agent of Jamie’s, mother of an older boy and a younger daughter) and me (mother of fellow bunch-ball soccer playing, Daisy Scout Kindergartener). We were a gathering of assorted women with different backgrounds, careers, and interests all having one thing in common, a love of books. The first order of business was to select a book–I think it was one Jamie had in mind–and read it for our next meeting.

It was a rather long book as I recall, but I read it cover to cover, marked pages, and made mental notes for discussion. I arrived at the meeting, thoughts in mind and annotated book in hand. I was the only one who had read it. Make no mistake, this was a group of book lovers and everyone had read at least one book since the last meeting, just not that book. They may have been the wiser for avoiding it, I cannot even remember the title so it could not have been that memorable. I think it may have been something fluffy by Colleen McCullough, but would not swear by it. We drank some wine, nibbled some nibbles, and chatted some chats. Thoroughly enjoying ourselves, we decided to give it another try and allow everyone another month to finish the book.

At the next meeting, I was a bit fuzzier about the contents of the book and not quite so ready to discuss it as I had been the month before, but I need not have worried. No one had read it. Clearly what we had was a group of readers who loved reading, but only when that reading was to the beat of their own drum. Our second order of business was to find an alternative for those readers–pretty much everyone in the group–who do not like to be told what they must read. We came up with a brilliant solution, we would collectively select a theme, individually select a book, and discuss how our individual book reflected the theme. All was not lost, we drank some wine, nibbled some nibbles, and chatted some chats and had a marvelous time.

Our first theme was pretty broad, something like a book about American history. I read a fascinating non-fiction book that documented the journey west by wagon train. It was an illuminating read, the narrative relied heavily on source letters and diaries written by travelers on their dangerous and demanding trek. Again I returned with mental notes in mind and annotated book in hand. Everyone had read at least one book–and most had read more than one–but none of those books were related to American history. Well, clearly our theme was too restrictive, so we opened the door even wider. For the next meeting, we would read a historical book about women. It could be fiction, biography, non-fiction, any genre, any historical period, any culture, any anything, it just had to be about women. Here was a theme broad enough to allow every book loving member to find something worth reading. That decided, we moved to the important business of wine, nibble, and chat.

There was loads of fluff and fun to be had with this theme but, not wanting to be caught out as an airhead so soon after meeting this group, I found an interesting non-fiction account of the witch trials in Salem, Massachusetts. We gathered once more, everyone looking forward to wines, nibbles and chats. Once again my mental notes and annotated book were as useful as hot chocolate and a down jacket in a heat wave, everyone had done a lot of reading but no one had read a book about the theme. By now, all I had managed to do is get an unearned reputation as being the intellectual in the group when in reality all I was guilty of was being the compliant one.

An interesting thing happened over the course of these meetings. While we drank our wine, nibbled our nibbles, and chatted our chats, we found that many of the chats were about books that each of us had read. And in between meetings, when we were supposed to be reading a certain type of book, many people had read books that others had mentioned. In fact, some people had even begun to bring and loan copies of the books that they had read. Our third order of business, and the thing that really stuck, was to shamelessly keep our designation as a book club but to admit that in reality we were more of a book exchange.

Over time, individuals learned who had similar tastes and grew to trust their recommendations. We could easily have devolved to a social club–wine, nibbles, and chats certainly were a big part of it–but we did devote a good portion of every meeting to discussing and exchanging books. Sometimes, but not often, a single book would make the rounds and eventually we could discuss it. Very few books were enjoyed by everyone, preferences varied, and we were pretty selective as to which books went home with us. Usually only one or two of us would circulate a book based on another’s recommendation, but every now and then a book caught our collective attention; Loneseome Dove by Larry McMurtry and Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner come to mind as books enjoyed by all.

Becoming the BABES

A few years passed and, although we were quite comfortable with who and what we were, someone thought we should have a name. We decided that we would give it some thought and return to the next meeting with suggestions. I came up with a name to propose, the GLIB club, for Gossip, Literature, Issues, and Books. Being a working mother of a young child, at this point in my life it would take a high fever, flat tire, and a flash flood to keep me from a night out with the group, but something did happen to keep me from going that night. GLIB was not proposed and in my absence someone proposed BABES, Bay Area Book Enclave and Society.

Having said one size fits all perhaps is a bit too inclusive. When she moved from Chicago, Etta joined us a couple years later and, fitting right in, has been with us these many years. Other people came and went, some moved away and some just did not appreciate the lack of focus and never returned. We had no rules about joining save the one Jamie insisted upon, you had to have read at least one book in your lifetime. There was one person, not with us for long, who did not understood what we were about. I think she had read at least one book in her lifetime but when she hosted the book club it was not evident. We arrived to a table set all round with little pink mirrors and mini-tubes and tubs. Everyone looked as if this was exactly what they expected, sat down, painted their faces, and filled out order forms in triplicate with stubby little pencils. I thought that everyone knew about this in advance except me but I was wrong. No one did, and no one betrayed their surprise and confusion, each one of us thinking that everyone else was aware of the agenda. It was only later when this person drifted away from the BABES did we all realize that each of us was doing our best to go along with the others, but each of us was bitterly disappointed to be subjected to facials and face paint when all we wanted to do was to wine, nibble, and chat about our (different) books.

Nothing Like a BABE

Jamie, who herself has since joined other book clubs, called me a book club slut when I ventured out to another club. I was invited by someone who is quite easy going, or shall we say not at all detail oriented, to go with her to her book club. After being with the BABES, I knew I would like a book club that served wine and spread out tables laden with food, so I went. It was different, everyone had read the book and the discussion went methodically one person at a time around the circle. Only after everyone had spoken their thoughts was discussion allowed. Although it was not quite as social as the BABES, and had far more rules, I did enjoy the insights and discussions about a single book that had been read by everyone in the group. About 5 or 6 meetings into it, someone mentioned that they needed to schedule hosts for the upcoming meetings. I immediately volunteered; after all those times of being the guest and enjoying the hospitality, it was my turn to cook, clean, and burden a table with the weight of floral arrangements, bottles of wine, and piles of food. One woman turned to me as if I had volunteered to serve warm Gatorade and chilled dog food and said coldly, “You are not a member of this group.” She then went on to say, as my face burned with mortification, that I would not be a member of this group, that it would not be fair to other people who had wanted to join this group before me to even consider such a thing, and leaving off just short of telling me it would be a cold day in Hell before I was invited to join. This, in front of the entire group sitting who sat silently as my face grew redder and redder with shame. I did not know what to say, and being speechless was probably the best response as afterwards all I could think was, what a [insert your favorite term for such a person here]. Had the initial invitation come from a person who paid more attention to details, or had the group made it clear that it was exclusive and I a tolerated once or twice guest, I would have not kept coming back like a bad penny. I could have saved them the trouble of telling me, and avoided the humiliation of being told, that I was not welcome.

Currently I am in a short story discussion group, and generally I do not like short stories, but I was specifically invited to this group and so far they have not kicked me to the curb. For a writer to get in and get out, developing character, plot, and setting in just a few words is brilliant. However, so many of the stories we have read are just grim and grimmer. But I love the people in the group and, if I keep my mouth firmly in the shut position–not killing the discussion by being the first to blurt out, “That one was the worst EVER!”–often the discussion uncovers value and interest in the story. Not so I want to read it again, but at least forcing me to reevaluate the “worst ever” and restate it as “a miserable read” with some merit. There are chats and cups of tea, but never wine and seldom nibbles.

My current book club–also by exclusive invitation by virtue of it starting at work and I was working there at the time–is a rotate the book choice through each member format. My experience with the BABES, knowing which person’s recommendations align with my preferences, is reflected here. I look forward to the recommendations of some members and almost always enjoy reading their selection. With others, let us just say I hold my breath and furrow my brow a bit before the book is announced. Sometimes I am pleasantly surprised, sometimes I just slog through it, broadening my horizons but not enjoying the ride. The unique thing about this group is that, not everyone is on site and much of it is conducted remotely via conference calling. There are really good chats, both chats about the book and the many tangents leading from that book discussion, but as to the wine and nibbles it falls short. Even if it were not too early in the day for wine, I would be drinking alone. I could nibble, but in deference to others on the speaker phones and extensions it is probably for the best that I avoid crunching, chomping, and smacking my lips. Other than reading, it is surprising it reminded me of the BABES. But, with or without wine and nibbles, a shared love of reading is a common thread and the basis of a potentially wonderful group.

Lifelong BABES

This loosey goosey group has survived for decades. Over the many years, we have watched our children grow, leave home, and find their own way in the world. Life moved forward between the times that we periodically got together to eat, drink, and be merry. Among us we have lived our lives, spun our stories, suffered our losses, experienced our joys, endured our heartaches, and found our laughter. We grew older together, our life passages passed into collective memory. We begun to meet sporadically rather than regularly and there was much to catch up with and share each time we did. Another rule came into being without anyone ever stating it specifically; each person had an uninterrupted turn to update the others on the twists and turns of her life since last we met. If someone was in need of a pity party, a congratulations, understanding and undivided attention, or just a good laugh for her story, she got it.

Getting together is now a rare event as most of us have moved further and further away from each other, but we still get together when we can. We are people with a shared history, our pasts are in the past but remembered in the present. Months and even years  go by, and we are as comfortable with each other as we were when were young mothers escaping for a night out with the BABES. Time and distance do not erode those bonds. To a person, we will always love drinking our wine, nibbling our nibbles, and chatting our chats. Together.


All Roads Lead to Le Mouton Rouge

Knitting can be a very quiet, contemplative activity. It is often said by knitters that, “I do not knit because I am patient, I am patient because I knit.” It is so very rhythmic and calming, the perfect private time activity. One of my favorite things to do on a cold day is to curl up by the fire, listen to an audiobook, sip a cup of tea, and knit away (banking some of that knitter’s patience for my next mistake). But no knitter is an island. There is a whole world of knitters, and like the gathering of the Clans, knitters like to come together and share their accomplishments, knowledge, and love of knitting. There are knitting groups, knitting retreats, knitting events, and impromptu gatherings in knitting shops. There are virtual communities on social media and websites. There are virtual KALs (knit alongs) where participants ask questions, provide answers, and show their stuff. Even curled up by the fire alone with my knitting and cup of tea I can swap out the audiobook for a knitting podcast and poof, I am joined by another knitter.

One of the podcasts that is special to me is the Knitting Pipeline podcast. I first met podcaster and designer Paula Emons-Fuessle, aka Prairie Piper, at her spring Knitting Pipeline Retreat a couple of years ago. My friend Lynn encouraged our knitting group to go and, although I had never listened to her podcast nor was I familiar with her designs at that point, a couple of days away with knitters sounded fabulous and I was all for it. And it was fabulous. So many of the other knitters talked about this and that podcast, it was then that I discovered there were knitters serving up virtual chats at a touch of a mobile device button. When I returned home, I gave a few of them a try but the one that has stayed with me is the Prairie Piper podcast. It is like Paula is sitting in the other chair by the fire and chatting with me as I knit. But it is even better to actually sit and knit with her, so I jumped on an invitation to get together for a knitting day at a bit-of-a-drive-but-within-striking-distance yarn shop.

Paula sent out an invitation on the Prairie Piper Ravelry thread to join her and friends, Bronwyn and Sarah, for field trip to a knitting shop. Bronwyn, also a designer, and Sarah are key members of the retreats team and appear on the podcast periodically. The recently relocated Le Mouton Rouge knit shop was our host for a day of knitting and shopping. Fellow knitter Lynn joined me on our little road trip and we were surprised to see so many parking spots taken when we arrived. Two rooms full of lovely yarns welcomed us, as did a large table circled by others who had gathered for the day; some we remembered from earlier Pipeline retreats and some we were meeting for the first time. We were warmly greeted by Paula, Sarah, Bronwyn, and shop owner Kelly. A lively discussion was going on between a few knitters about whether one should pull yarn from the outside of the cake or from the center and if it was the twist of the yarn that determined “the right way” to pull it (no change in direction for me, I am still in the center pull and pray it does not tangle camp). Other discussions sprang up, some about knitting and some not. The noise level around the table climbed bit by bit, aquaintances and strangers alike were soon chatting and laughing like old friends.

I should mention that our knitting group did a field trip to Le Mouton Rouge less than two weeks ago, this time I was there for the knitting not the shopping. Those darn yarn fumes, I suspected I might succumb once again. This time I was prepared. I brought two wonderfully wild and wacky skeins of yarn that I had no idea what to do with. Thinking that if I could pair them with a tamer yarn, they might have a chance of becoming a project rather than remaining outcasts in my stash bin. I had a focused shopping mission, something to keep my eyes from straying and yielding to love at first sight.

Browsing for yarn is fun, browsing for yarn to match wildly whacky skeins was even more fun when several people joined in to help and to share their opinions. Color is such a personal thing, and we did find some colors that worked for the yarn but did not work for me. Eventually I found something for both wildly whacky skeins that got group approval. I had spied packs of Frabjous Fibers Chershire Cat mini skeins and had an Aha! moment. Finding a pack of Cheshire Cat in Jewels In a Nutshell–with colors found in my wildly whacky Miss Babs Yummy 2-ply Berlin yarn–I thought, why match for just one color when I can match six of them? Another person also had a skein of the wildly whacky Dream in Color Animal Menagerie and she was inspired to find a match for hers as well. I ended up with a russet red and she with deep tangerine orange. The best part is, even if we were to make the same pattern, our projects would look completely different; every knitter puts their personal stamp on a project and color is such a big part of that. Of course, at the time I had no idea what I was going to make other than the vague idea of some sort of shawly thing, but whatever it is, it will be different from anyone else’s.

After all the shopping, I had only manged to knit one row before it was time to leave for lunch. If anyone has ever met Paula, they know what a calm and evenly spoken person she is, there really is no tone of strident command in her voice yet in moments she effortlessly had everyone out of their seats and on their way to the restaurant. Well, everyone but us. Lynn had to finish her row and then we were further delayed when my GPS navigator, an App I call Doris, sent us on a twist and turn scenic route to our destination, the Destihl Brewery. Those two things combined made us the stragglers, but seats were waiting for us at the table.

One thing about sitting at the center of the table is the side-to-side conversations, I felt a bit like a spectator at a tennis match with my head turning from left to right and back again, but it was a great place to participate in all conversations. There were imageconversations about knitting of course, but there were also discussions about families, books, traveling, and all manner of general interest topics. As well as thoroughly enjoying myself, I left with a little more knowledge of knitting and a long list of interesting books to read.

Some people peeled away when lunch was over and many of us returned to Le Mouton Rouge for more knitting. Shopping completed, I sat at the table and knit and conversed with others. Paula, Bronwyn, and Sarah had to leave us, but a good sized group carried on. Not much later I finished a row, Lynn finished hers, and–saying our good-byes to the remaining knitters and our thanks to Kelly–we set out happily with our purchases in hand, our bellies full, and warm glow of contentment for our road trip home.

Friendships renewed and friendships made, we look forward to our next meeting. Hopefully it will be with the two wonderfully wild and whacky skeins liberated from stash, in and out of project bags, on and off needles, and completed by the time we do.


Having met their mates, the orphaned wildly whacky skeins are destined to escape stash exile to find their happily ever afters. Wildly whacky skein of Miss Babs Yummy 2-ply in Berlin will exit stash and be joined with Frabjulous Fibers Cheshire Cat Mini Skeins in Jewels In a Nutshell, living happily ever after as The Joker and the Thief by Melanie Berg. Wildly whacky skein of Dream in Color Smooshy in Animal Menagerie will depart stash to be joined with Dream in Color Smooshy Poma Grenade, living happily ever after as a Barndom by Stephen West. 

One day.

Detained in East Berlin Aftermath: Travel Insurance Limbo

I made it home safely from my travel and travails, described in great gory detail in Detained in East Berlin, but my journey was far from over.

I was ever so careful to purchase travel insurance for all my flights, but all I bought was a false sense of security. The school of hard knocks taught me many things I did not know about travel insurance, things I would never have known had I not tried to use it.

When I learned that I would be unable to return on my originally scheduled flight and found that I would not be able to change–but could only cancel–my reservation on Air Berlin, I realized my only recourse was to make a claim against the travel insurance. Even with a doctor’s note indicating that I would not be able to fly for medical reasons, I would have to make a new booking at the current and much more expensive last-minute fare. I was told all this by an Air Berlin agent in an indifferent too-bad-for-your tone. Their callous attitude, and inflexibility if I needed to change again, turned me away from relying on Air Berlin for a way home.

Allianz Travel Insurance Purchased through United Airlines

As things seemed uncertain, I opted to use miles on United to book my return; award travel can be easier to change. I made a reservation in exchange for some miles and odds and ends fees. On the booking page there was an option for travel insurance that, given my circumstances, seemed like a good idea. Not surprisingly, I did have to change the reservation and incurred more fees and had to use even more miles. When I returned home, I submitted the claim with a doctors note indicating why I needed to change my reservation along with supporting documents showing all my subsequent expenses. I will give Allianz credit on one point, they did send me a letter promptly within weeks after my claims submission. Unfortunately, the claim was denied for what they claimed was a pre-existing medical condition defined as “seeing or receiving treatment for or had symptoms of…” within 120 days. What you read on the United booking page does not make clear the massive restrictions on these policies. After subsequently reading their 20 pages of fine print, I really had to squint and search to find that exclusion. Yes, I should have read it throughly before purchasing, but I still felt the travel insurance option is misleading as seen on the booking page. It still is not clear to me if the 120 days is from the time of booking or the time of travel, probably both. I have also found out that, even if my claim had been honored, that award miles have no monetary value and I would not have received any compensation for the loss of miles.

Yes, I felt foolish for not having read their terms–in the 20 pages of fine print–before clicking the purchase button, but given my circumstances and state of mind at the time, even if I had read it chances are I would have blown right past the exclusion without understanding the implications. Still, thinking I am a person with some amount of comprehension, I had to think that it is a bit deceptive to sell this product without at least a bulleted list of exclusions, an “about” pop-up with basic facts, or some sort of warning that coverage is denied to people who have medical histories, injuries, or illnesses over such a long span of time. With that in mind, I wrote a polite letter to United relating my concerns. I am happy to report that not only did they write a nice letter in response but they also deposited the miles I had lost as a result of the change into my account.

Sadly, airlines are so fee happy and, assuming they get a nice kickback from these travel policy purchases, they are not likely to change their selling tactics. Lesson learned: read the fine print or research and purchase travel insurance on a site that allows travelers to compare costs, restrictions, and exclusions.

Three weeks after I returned from Berlin, and before I had received the letter denying my claim, I had flights to France via Frankfurt insured with Allianz. They were flights of fancy, as I flew with the naive belief that I had coverage at that time. They too would have resulted in denied claims had my ear not healed sufficiently to fly. Fortunately, although I was still healing, I was medically cleared and able to fly. It would have been a rude surprise to get one claim denied on the heels of another.

7-Corners Travel Insurance Purchased through Air Berlin

When I first learned I could not return on my original Air Berlin booking, I immediately notified the travel insurance company, 7-Corners, that I would be unable to travel on the flight. Within hours I got an email response giving me a link to the claim submissions form and quoting the allowable time span in which I would need to submit it. Within a week of my return, I replied to the email with the completed the form and the scanned supporting documentation. A few weeks passed, no response. I resubmitted the claim, attaching the claim form and documentation, to a web portal link on their site. This time I got an email response stating the claim was being processed. I finally heard back several weeks later, a letter dated in late December saying my claim had been approved for a little over $500 and that a check would be sent separately. There was no explanation as to how they arrived at that amount but no worries, I assumed an accounting would be included with the check.

Nearly 3 weeks after I received the letter but no check, I called to inquire about the claim. After a span of time spent in choose-from-the-following-options-and-please-hold limbo, I spoke to a representative who told me that they did not do any tracing of checks until they have been missing for at least a month. Okay, fine. I waited to see if it would turn up but put a note on my calendar to call two weeks later if it did not. It did not.

A couple of weeks after my first call, I ticked away more time in the choose-from-the-following-options-and-please-hold limbo before reaching an agent who was very pleasant and seemingly helpful. She researched it and said a check would be mailed but, as it was Friday afternoon, the check would not go out until Monday. She even offered to call me on Monday to let me know the check had been sent. No call, no check.

A couple of weeks after my second call, I invested still more time in the in choose-from-the-following-options-and-please-hold limbo. This time I reached a representative who listened to my story and put me back into the hold limbo as she transferred me to someone else. Once again I related my story, and once again I was told that the hour was too late to do it that day but the check would go out the next.

A couple of weeks after my third call, I wrote a letter relating my story and the dates of my phone calls. No response.

Three weeks after my third call and one week after my letter I filed a complaint with my state insurance board. Another lesson learned, travel insurance is not regulated by the state insurance board. They wrote a nice letter and recommended I file a complaint with the state attorney’s office.

Well, I thought, time for a new tact. I searched the Air Berlin site for contact information to file a complaint with them, given that I had purchased the policy on the Air Berlin site. All I could find was a portal to submit a complaint with a drop down selection box to target it to one of the various subgroups of their operation. None of the options was a good fit, but I selected the one that seemed to be the most promising. My immediate response was an its-not-my-problem-not-my-job message. I responded that I had purchased this policy from them and, if it is a bogus policy, they were the ones who sold it and collected the money from me for this questionable product. He bumped me to his supervisor who initially had a similar not-my-problem-not-my-job response. Again I used my “but you are the agent” argument, and I received a response that was a bit nicer but he said that they were not the correct group to handle this complaint. He included a link to file my complaint. The link was to the original portal where I had filed the original complaint. I wrote back to him saying as much and asked for the proper selection to make on the drop down list of subgroups. I also indicated I was willing to write a letter if he could provide a physical address. No response.

Around this time, someone recommended reaching out to a consumer travel advocate who has appeared in several major newspapers, the Washington Post and the Chicago Tribune to name but two. Christopher Elliot not only writes articles but he also has a site with articles, forums, contact information for executives at companies, and a portal for submitting travel complaints. I went to their complaint submission page, and within a day an advocate had contacted 7-Corners on my behalf. She recommended that I follow up with the Better Business Bureau if I did not hear anything within the week.  She also checked in on the progress of my complaint over the next couple of weeks. They do not take on and advocate for every complaint, but for anyone who has a valid grievance, I cannot recommend them highly enough.

Having found the tab that listed business contact information for executives, I found an email address for an Air Berlin executive in Germany. I wrote him an email explaining my frustration with the product that Air Berlin had sold, attaching all my email correspondence from the earlier Air Berlin complaint. No response, but perhaps a coincidence.

A couple weeks after my letter and a few days after my email to Air Berlin and the contact made on my behalf by the advocate at Elliott, a received a voicemail message from an ombudsperson at 7-Corners. I dialed the number and amazingly reached her directly, being spared the usual choose-from-the-following-options-and-please-hold black hole. I politely recited all the various calls, letters, and complaints filed. She said that just that day my letter to 7-Corners had reached her desk and that she had begun investigating it. And, just that day–such a strange coincidence–she had discovered that the check had been mailed that very morning.

Well, dear readers, I leave it to you to decide. Was it the consumer advocate’s contact, the Air Berlin executive following up with them behind the scenes, or my calls and letters? I held on to the precious direct number, the get out of jail free card from choose-from-the-following-options-and-please-hold dungeon. Happily, I did not need to use it. The check arrived, no explanation of benefits awarded in my claim, but a check that was deposited into and accepted by my bank. Perhaps, given the time, the frustration, the annoyance, and the effort, the amount received was not worth the time I put into it. But then again, as a matter of principal; it was a fight worth fighting.


Travel Insurance, Is it Worth It?

From reading forums on the Elliott website, there are brokers and websites for comparing policies. There are also many tales of denied claims, so knowing what you are buying is so very important. Death, injury, illness, family emergencies, and life happens;  it is up to the airline, cruise line, car rental company, resort, or other travel entity to show kindness or not. Reservations that are non-refundable, non-changeable are made and paid for at your own risk. Pay ahead of time, pay less than you would for a changeable reservation, and gamble that life events do not intervene. Sometimes a travel company will be understanding, sometimes they will not. I suppose my lesson learned in this is twofold, 1) insure only if the financial risk is way more money than I can afford to lose and 2) know what I am buying.

If I do purchase trip insurance again, you can be certain it will not be from clicking a purchase button on an airline reservation page.

Fashion a Cable Finale

Apologies to subscribers who suffered the unedited and incomplete version from a self proclaimed klutz who pressed the “publish” button instead of the “save draft” button. Once again I prove beyond a reasonable doubt that I am not perfect, yet.

When I first knit cables, they were like magic. And like magic, I did not know how it worked but just trusted the instructions and hoped for the best. The charted symbols for cables were absolutely meaningless to me, I found myself color coding the instruction key and the chart with something like “Red for right” and “lavender for left” and the highlighting did help me stay on track. There was still this issue with that extra little stick. I tried so many things–the plastic cable needles shaped like handlebars, a plastic needle shaped liked a short legged “U,” wood needles in different finishes with notches, DPNs, a locking stitch marker–but somehow it was always a fumble to find the darn thing when I needed it. The little stick favored hiding between cushions, falling under furniture, or just disappearing into the ether. I tried weaving it into the earlier stitches (it would fall out and hide), I tried putting it next to me on a side table (it would roll off and hide), and I tried putting in a pocket in my knitting bag (it would climb out and camouflage itself amidst the other detritus and hide at the bottom of the bag). No matter where it was placed when not in use, it never could be found when it was time to perform its duty.

Then I learned to cable without a cable needle. It was like a revelation, taking apart the cable and reordering the stitches got the structure of the cable into my brain. Once understanding the mechanics better, I even found reading the charts easier without having to resort to highlights and color coded memory tweaks. Unfortunately, it also confirmed beyond a doubt something I already knew, sometimes I am really a klutz. When I first started knitting, nothing could elevate my blood pressure and induce panic like dropping a stitch. Before I knew how to pick up stitches, I would watch it drop down several bars and, this is no exaggeration, I would put a removable stitch marker on the stitch to stop it from going further and knit back as many rows as it had dropped in order to put it back into place. So many stitches sacrificed for the one. Now I am pretty comfortable with picking up stitches, but in a cable it can be a bit dodgy. Perhaps because I am a loose knitter, or perhaps because there is more pull from crossed stitches in a cable, the stitches are always at the ready to escape down a couple of rows. Cabling without a needle, in theory, is quick and efficient, but for me I can spend more time picking up rogue stitches than I did hunting for the elusive cable needle.

There are loads of YouTube Videos for how to cable without a cable needle, including Very Pink Knits and and KnitPurlHunter. It is a method that many knitters swear by.

Very Pink Knits -Knitting Help Cable Without a Needle

KnitPurlHunter Cable Without a Needle

Then I found cable jewelry. A cable necklace is on an adjustable cord that hangs about my neck, with the decorative cable needle always at hand. A cable ring rests on my thumb until needed. But learning about cabling without a needle has been invaluable because, now that I understand the reordering of stitches better, I use cable jewelry to prevent my stitches from escaping but still use the same basic method as cabling without a needle.

Breaking Apart a Cable Stitch

A cable stitch involves a multiple of stitches, a simple and common one is a cable 4 right or left, crossing two stitches to the left or to the right across two other stitches. Although two stitches are being crossed, there are 4 stitches involved in creating the crossed pattern. To cable right, the first two stitches are put on a cable needle and held to the back, the next two stitches are knit from the left-hand needle, and the held stitches are knit from the cable needle. To cable left, the first two stitches are put on a cable needle and held to the front, the next two knit, and finally the two stitches are knit from the cable needle; the same operation but for the cable right the stitches on the cable needle are held to the back and on the cable left they are held to the front.

There are a few different ways to cable without a needle, but those methods involve dropping live stitches off the needle to reorder the stitches. With a cable necklace or ring, I do essentially the same thing but slip those live stitches temporarily onto the jewelry rather than let them dangle in midair. The cable jewelry can be used exactly as a cable needle, one can knit from it, but I find it really fast to reorder the stitches. I created a little video that compares cabling with a cable needle, without a cable needle, and with cable jewelry.

Cabling with Cable Jewelry

Note: stitches on the cable necklace are held towards the front for these two examples. I do not knit from the cable necklace, I like knitting from the consistently sized needles, but that is an option.

To cable 4 right I slip the first two stitches purl wise onto the rIgGot-hand needle with yarn in back, slip the next two stitches onto the cable necklace, return the first two stitches from the right to the left hand needle, and put the stitches from the cable necklace on the left hand needle. This swaps the first two stitches and they are now behind the second set of two stitches.  The first two are angled to the left \\ behind the second two and will be knit last. The second two are angled to the right // in front of the other two stitches and they will be knit first.

To cable 4 left I slip the first two stitches on the cable necklace, slip the second set of two stitches onto the right needle purl wise, put the stitches from the cable needle on the left hand needle, return the stitches from the right hand needle to the left needle.  The first two stitches are now in front of the second set of stitches, angled to the left \\ ,and will be knit last. The second set of two stitches are in the back, angled to the right //, and will be knit first. Alternatively, I simply slip the first two stitches on the cable necklace, knit the next two, return the first two to the left needle and knit them. This alternate method is more like working with a cable needle than swapping stitches.

There are many other versions of cables, but the idea is basically the same. Sometimes some of the stitches are knit, sometimes pulled, sometimes more stitches are involved, but the concept of reordering stitches remains the same. With 2 or 4 stitches I often just cable without a needle or necklace, but when more stitches are involved or the yarn is difficult to work with, I like to use the safety net of the cable jewelry. I prefer the necklace, probably because it is what I learned to use first, but for smaller work–like socks on tiny needles–the ring is handy.

Cable jewelry is available on Etsy. I found both my necklace and ring on Lesliwind’s shop by accident, I won one of her shawl pins on a KAL and went to explore her shop and was intrigued by the idea. I am glad I tried it. Cables are easier and more fun than ever.

My Cable Necklace

Frankenskeins: The Skein Experiments 

In an earlier post, Looks Like a Shower Scene from Psycho, I discussed color bleed, which is when a color from one yarn bleeds into and changes the color of another, turning a beautiful creation into a bleeding monstrosity. After reading differing opinions and approaches on Ravelry threads, I decided to do some experiments and form my own opinions.

Disclaimer. Experiments were not controlled using the same yarn; I used multiple skeins, not a single yarn in the same colorway, on the same base, and from the same dyelot. What I did use were two different sets of mini-skeins that I had purchased for projects. If someone wants to fund my yarn purchases–um, I mean my research–I would be willing to run my experiments with identical yarn. It would also be possible to cut a single skein into many pieces, but I would have to insist on a lab assistant to weave in all my ends.

Materials used: Yarn skeins, lace weight scrap yarn for tying skeins, Amish yarn swift, scissors, glass bowl, Kookabura Wool Wash, vinegar, Dawn dishwashing detergent, warm (not hot) water, and bath towels.

Yarn: One set of hand-dyed mini-skeins from Leading Men Fiber Arts and one set of mini-skeins from Miss Babs. Both sets contained skeins with reddish and purple tones, colors said to be the most problematic for color bleed.

I may have mentioned before that I want to just sit down and start knitting, all this pre-knitting stuff just delays take-off. Winding skeins of yarn into cakes is another one of those pre-knitting things that cannot be avoided. If everything goes well, the yarn is skeined without snags and tangles, the winder runs smoothly, and the ball comes off the winder cleanly, then I usually do not mind it very much, but it is not my favorite thing. It was certainly not something I wanted to un-do as I had to for one set of these skeins that I had already wound last week. But for the sake of science; if pre-washing is going to save my finished project from looking like Tammy Faye’s streaking mascara after a good cry then one must do what one must do.

The first experiment was with the brightest, fuschia color mini-skein from Leading Men Fiber Arts. I re-skeined it from the ball onto the swift and, using some scrap yarn, tied it in 4 places using a figure eight type method. I used lace weight, but string or any contrasting yarn should work. My little YouTube video shows how I tied the skeins.

How to Tie a Skein

I used a glass bowl to observe the amount of color-bleed. One of the things I read was that wool wash made things worse. It may be so because it bled the most and I did not repeat this method. When I first put it into the warm water, the water remained clear but when I checked it 20 minutes later there was a lot of color in the water. I rinsed it several times, not letting the running water touch the yarn so as to be as gentle as possible, and rinse after rinse color kept coming out. I soaked for another 20 minutes in plain water and did more rinses, still color was coming out. I changed the water to a warm water and vinegar solution and set the timer for 10 minutes, which turned into 40 minutes because my daughter called and I found I was more interested in what she had to say than playing Dr. Frankenstein. Call ended and water drained, I rinsed several more times and still some color drained out and leeched onto the towel. Speaking of towels, I threw it in and hoped I had done enough to not ruin my finished product. Looks like I will be relying on crossed fingers and the color capture sheets for this skein.



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The next four skeins were increasing shades of purple. I  did them, two-at-a time,  in a vinegar and water solution. No bleed, even after sitting 20 minutes. The final mini-skein in the set is black, and as I am mixing it with gray I am going to let myself believe that a little smudge of black on gray will not show, remembering that my color capture sheet will be there for the bright bleeding fuschia skein.

The Miss Babs set had a range of a reddish color to muted purples, the final two colors were close enough to the warm grayish background color so as not to worry about it. Because my fuschia in the other set was the most problematic, I did the reddish yarn by itself in vinegar and water. No bleeding. I did the next two in vinegar and water with the same result. I then changed the solution, putting a few drops of Dawn liquid in the bowl and adding some warm water. There were so many suds that I poured some out and diluted it a bit. I soaked the final two skeins in the Dawn and, once again, did not observe any color bleeding.

I ordered some organic, minimal ingredient hand soap and will try a squirt of that next time I wash skeins. I looked online for organic shampoo for color treated hair but, other than the one I found at $35 for 8 ounces, I was not conformatable with the ingredients lists. One for $17 looked promising, but it just said “safe for color treated hair” and I am not sure it is the same thing.

Conclusions. I think I am sold on the vinegar and water for a pre-soak. I am definitely sold on the concept of pre-soaking when it comes to a multi-color project. At this point, I am not trying to clean the yarn so I do not need a sudsing agent. If the water serves to release loose dye and the vinegar helps set the color, that seems like a reasonable first step.

However, I do like to wash a project after it has been dragged around to knitting groups, dropped on the floor, and pushed aside or shoved into knitting bags. For a project that is all one yarn or a knit with similar hues, my Kookabura is probably just fine. When it comes to a multi-colored project I am going to avoid using wool wash and look to other options. I am interested in trying the minimal ingredient organic hand wash I just ordered, and the Dawn certainly is another option. I think I am okay with missing the bus on the shampoo for color treated hair but if I come across a formula that looks mild enough I might give it a shot. The color capture sheets are definitely going into the bath, no matter what I use as a washing agent.

The yarn still looks saturated in color, I did not observe any noticeable fading. After the yarn dries it will be interesting to see if the yarn feels different after being soaked in wool wash, vinegar, or Dawn.

With my pre-washed yarn and a plan for washing at the end, I am ready to start my project and, as always, hope it is a beautiful creation, not a bleeding monstrosity.


Looks Like the Shower Scene from Psycho

After the many hours of planning, knitting, and finishing, the last thing I wanted to have pop in my mind when washing my project was, “OMG, it looks like the shower scene from Psycho!”

For those who are too young to remember the 1960 Hitchcock movie, there was a gruesome scene in the Bates Motel involving a woman traveling on her own, a shower, a knife, and a psychopath wielding it. The scene pretty much went from setting the scene with all those components, a shot of the woman screaming, and a cut to a great deal of blood running down the drain. Hitchcock was a master, he did not need to

explicitly show everything to scare the holy heck out of people. It worked, I saw it as a child and that final image from the scene is imprinted in my brain. I would not get into a shower shawl for weeks, opting for a bathtub and a securely locked door. When I finally did brave a shower stall, I had just sudsed up my hair when one of my brothers flipped off the light switch, let out a long howl, and ran into the bathroom with a big Halloweeny blood-coated rubber knife. It was to my mother’s horror when, moments later, I ran screaming through the living room–where she was sitting primly with guests–barely covered in a towel, streaming water and suds in my wake.

I knit a cross-over shawl, by that I mean something between a shawl, a cowl, and a poncho: looks like a shawl in knitting style but drops over your head as something larger than a cowl but smaller than a poncho. The yarn was a gradient in reds, the month December, and the project still too short when the skein was nearly gone. I happened to have some white yarn in the same base and, well why not add a little white border with some sparkly beads?  It was adorable, putting it on made me want to get in touch with my inner Marilyn Monroe and dance about lip syncing Santa Baby. Then I washed it. Evoking images of the shower scene was the last thing I wanted when soaking my project for blocking. But there it was, the basin filled with red, rinse after rinse after rinse. The border went from snowy white to peppermint pink. I really, really tried to like my pink peppermint trim, but I think I have worn that thing once or twice and, rather than Santa Baby, all I could think of was Sugar, Sugar. I hate that song.

Yes, a certain amount of preparation and planning is necessary before starting a project, but I just want to knit not prepare to knit. I know it is important to read the pattern carefully, a quick scanning before picking up the needles will seldom do. Do not ask how many times it took for me to learn that lesson. It takes all my strength of character to stop and swatch, and only then when I think gauge is going to matter in the finished product. Sometimes even then I fudge it by dropping down 2 needle sizes and hoping for the best. Like with a hat; I figure if I am charity knitting that–no matter what size the hat comes out–someone will have a head big or small enough to fit it. Getting gauge for a test knit is painful. Clearly I am just a loose woman because I have to keep going down, down, down in needle sizes to get anywhere near the designer’s stated gauge, knitting many a swatch along the way. For a shawl, what is the worst thing that can happen, other than knitting something too big or too small or running out of yarn? OK, I admit, the answer could be a peppermint pink border. This is all to say, I really do not want to add even more extra steps to my pre-knitting.

My imagination was captured by Melanie Berg’s On the Spice Market shawl and I started following the KAL thread on Ravelry. Someone brought up, horrors, color-bleed. There was some discussion on the thread, but the most useful comment was a link to the Miss Babs thread where color bleed was discussed in great gory detail. In particular, Miss Bab’s post number 19 provides a detailed explanation for why some yarns bleed and what her recommendations are for preventing it.

Miss Babs Color Bleed Thread

There were many  warnings, hints, and recommendations in the thread and, as usual, there were things that one person swears by that another would never do. But the basic takeaway was this: if you are going to mix colors, pre-wash your yarn. Especially yarns that are red or purple, and especially if those reds and purples are going to be mixed with lighter colors. Some people swore by Dawn liquid. I think I will take a pass on that one, when we had to quickly make up a DIY skunk wash for the dog at 6:30 one morning, the recipe we found called for hydrogen peroxide, baking soda, and Dawn. Not generic dishwashing liquid, Dawn. Anything that is strong enough seek and destroy skunk stench might be a bit much for my fluffy little knits. Others swore by shampoo for color treated hair. Some people warned against using wool wash. Still others recommended soaking in vinegar and water. Miss Babs said she used a mild hand soap and that she recommends pre washing her yarns, particularly if colors are mixed in a project.

So this is all interesting to me because three of my projects–one about to start, one in its infancy, and one nearly done–all involve light backgrounds with darker contrast colors. It is too late for the one that is nearly finished, the one with deep dark magenta highlights on a white/multi background. All I can do is hope the verigated pattern disguises magenta escaping its borders into the white. But for the others, sigh, looks like there will be a knitting delay to pre wash the contrast colors.

From reading and sorting through the thread, here is my game plan. First, make sure the yarn is made ready for a bath by using a contrasting yarn and tying the skein in at least 4 places. I am inclined to stick with my tried and true Kookabura wash in spite of what some people said, but I am going to use color capture sheets to be on the safe side. I will soak it for about 20 minutes, rinse, and repeat until the water runs clear (no Psycho shower scenes), wrap it in a towel, spin it inside the towel in my top loading washing machine, and hang it on a wooden dowel rack to dry.

I can read my patterns carefully while my yarn dries, but I will not be taking more time to swatch when it finally does. Besides–if I miscalculate and run short–I know how to make sicky sweet peppermint pink yarn. That goes with everything, right?

Life is Like a Box of Crayons

A little knitting shop in our community is quite cute, located in a tiny old house on the edge of a tiny old downtown. While it displays a lovely array of knit samples and packs the classics within its walls–Malibrigo, Madelintosh, Lornas Laces, Rowan, and so on–it is also distinguished by an I-knew-him-when association with an icon of the knitting world. A dance student at the local university wanted to learn more about this thing called knitting. It was here that the young man first learned about fine fibers and techniques beyond the knit stitch, opening up a whole new world of exploration. That exploration led to mastery of techniques, a thorough knowledge of knitting, experimentation, and eventually to design. His designs grabbed the imagination of knitters and soon examples of his designs became ubiquitous wherever knitters gathered. He had ascended the Mount Olympus of the knitting world, joining the revered knitterati. Yet every now and again he returns to visit the little knit shop in the little house. This spring he came for a week of events in our community sponsored by the shop, including classes and exhibits.

When our knitting group heard a circus was coming to town, we were in line to buy our tickets. Of course I had heard of Stephen West; I was aware of and had seen many examples of his designs. Anyone who had been to Stitches would find it impossible to miss the Stephen West and Steven B booth, both of them decked out in a cloud of colors and surrounded by hoards of admiring fans. But truth be told, I had never been bitten by the SW bug, never knit one of his patterns, and never braved the crowds at Stitches to elbow my way into his booth. In joining the parade, I had no idea what to expect, no expectation of learning anything substantial, and no thoughts of becoming a convert. However, I had no doubt at all that it would be entertaining. We signed up for a shawl class and a fashion show luncheon to be held at a charming B&B and waited in the coming weeks for our curiousity to be satisfied.

What I did not expect, but found, was a very knowledgable and patient teacher. He was so sweet and charming, no hint of impatience with any of us; he was there to share his discoveries with us and share he did. I have knit an abundance of shawls in my knitting journey–often chiding myself to get out of the shawl rut–yet he still managed to switch on a few lightbulbs. The class was structured with a pre-printed imagepattern and an assignment to knit a swatch from the pattern. While we did so, he gave us tips, helped individuals, and answered questions. Not only did he answer questions about the task at hand and knitting in general but he also answered many questions about his designs and his design process. I got the impression that his design process is more often–although not exclusively–the result of hands-on experimentation rather than intellectual forethought and envisioning.

With only 10 people in the class, it was a relaxed session. His mother joined us towards the end of the class, stayed for the luncheon, and was one of the models for his fashion show. We all enjoyed chatting with her, finding her as open and charming as her son. It was like a comfortable living room knitting group; a group with the purpose of learning but with the enjoyment of social knitting. There was ample time for individual attention, the time he spent with each student was unhurried and focused. Between the group teaching and the individual instruction, I believe every student, from novice to experienced, learned something.

Other students may have left with different impressions and different pearls of wisdom, but I am quite happy with my impressions and my pearls. These were my personal Aha! moments. I have included links to YouTube videos demonstrating what I learned but warning, you are trusting I paid attention in class and remembered it 😉

First Aha! moment. On a garter tab he casts on the number of sts for the border, knits his rows, and picks up the side stitches by inserting the left-hand needle into all the purl bumps before knitting them. For years I have picked up each purl bump awkwardly with the right-hand needle, but this was so much easier. Sure, I had a few twisted loops that I had to knit into the back loop to straighten, but it was so simple and neat and, as an added bonus, if there were not enough purl bumps it was simple to pull out the left needle and knit more rows to make more bumps. For some reason, it seemed easier to count the purl bumps when going from bottom to top rather than the reverse. To finish the tab, he picks up from the cast on edge, not bothering to use a provisional cast-on. I was skeptical, having religiously used a provisional cast ons for the bottom edge, but it looked fine. Using his method resulted in a garter tab that was smooth and even and, happily, easy to do.

Picking up stitches in a garter tab

Second Aha! moment. For M1L and M1R (directional increases with either a left- or right-hand slant), he substitutes a neutral (unslanted) increase by doing a single backward loop cast-on. In looking at my swatch I was not entirely convinced. I would not want to use this in all situations, sometimes the slant is a design or a shaping element that would be lost. However, it looked just fine for an increase on the edge or around the center stitch and did not tighten the knitting; no borrowing yarn from the row below to make an increase. It was also much quicker and saved me from reciting, “Came right through the back and left through the front,” as I do when knitting a M1L or M1R.

M1L, M1R, and backward loop increases

Third Aha! moment. Now that I knit continental, it is so simple to do a YO before a knit stitch, and it is pretty easy when I knit English style. But a YO before a purl stitch has always felt like a sloppy loopy ungainly action, leaving more yarn on the loose than I would like. He showed us an easy method for creating a small YO before a purl stitch, perhaps a little smaller than the opening left by a YO before a knit stitch but certainly better than my usual floppy gaping hole left by a YO before a purl.

YO into a purl stitch

Unexpected Bonus: a design consultation for the Daybreak Shawl. We had been told to pick out one of his designs and have our yarns caked and ready to start the project in class. I chose the Daybreak shawl. When I started working on the shawl, I discovered the first section has an increase every fourth row described as, “K halfway to [m/last 2 sts], M1[R/L]” which is simple when there are a few stitches on the needle, but as the piece grows the prospect of counting stitches was not a pleasant

one. He helped me see how to read my knitting so I would not have to count the rows and gave me a great hint so I would not need to count the stitches either. The next increase is always 3 sts from the previous increase. If I add a marker where I have made the increase, it will save me having to find and follow the increase up the rows to count over 3 sts. I had chosen a background skein of gray and a mini-skein pack of purples to black for the contrast stripes from Leading Men Fiber Arts.  He also spent a few minutes to help me decide on my color orders for the stripes and assured me that I could easily deviate from the pattern so as to make as many–or as few–stripes as I would like. Oh, and although I am sticking with the M1R and M1L for the once every 4 rows increase, I am definitely replacing the M1R and M1L sts on the edges and around the center stitch with the backwards loop cast-on. Save me from getting laryngitis saying my little “came right through the back and left through the front” ditty 4-6 times every row.
Big Aha! moment. Color. Perhaps it was uncertain April’s return to the winter weather that inspired me to dress in drab neutrals. Dressed like a gray cloud and the bare earth of winter, in coming to this event I stumbled into a wall of color and was awed by a kaleidoscopic brilliance alien to this colorless season. Stephen West designs are graphic and textured, but highlighting every design element is Color with a capital C. Even he was dressed head to toe in more colors than my color wheel.

Perhaps I should say that creativity that was the message of the day. During the class we talked about mistakes as design elements. I think anyone who has knit for a while is aware that many of the interesting stitches, increases, decreases, and so on were the product of someone really messing up and, rather than jumping into the knit, cuss, frog, repeat cycle, looking at it and saying, “Isn’t that interesting. Hmm, I wonder if I could use that…” When a knit dress was modeled–that he had started as a hat–followed by a cowl–that he had started as a hat–it became clear that one thing can morph into something else while on the needles. Not ready to go from A to Z quite so drastically, but I am inspired to follow my intuition more, to break away from what is written in a pattern and take risks. At the very least stop saying to myself–as I do with every project–that “mistakes were made” and start saying, “lessons were learned.”


Still, while there was a lot of inspiration for creativity, there is a strong argument for color being the overwhelming theme of the day. Throughout the class we were treated to a preview of the items we would see later in the fashion show. So many colorful creations, and creations mixing fiber types and fiber weights for the sake of the color or texture. I am inspired to pull out my neatly organized by weight and by fiber type bins of stash and empty them out on the floor, making piles of colors. It can be a bit tricky to join two colors together, but there are some tried and true combinations and I do feel fairly confident in my ability to make groups of two. Recently I have been meticulously trying to create 3-color combinations; trying to break away from the safe gradient tones to the more uncertain realm of contrasting colors. It blew my mind to see all 64 Crayola colors combined into single garments, and finding it worked. The take-away was, when using multiple colors, use more, more, more–keep going–more, more, and still more.

Life is like a box of crayons, you never know which sharp, new, unbroken ones you will find. We reserved our spots in class with no idea of what we would experience. After my day of color, creativity, and Aha! moments, am I a convert?  While I am still not ready to elbow my way through the crowds at Stitches wearing layers of Stephen West shawls and burdened with overflowing bags of purchases to make still more, but I think I am. I might just saunter by in my Daybreak and wave and, although there is no chance he would remember or recognize me, I am certain he would return the wave as if he did. In the end I am glad I joined the party as I did enjoy every minute and learn a few things and–more importantly–it may have changed me as a knitter. I may just take out more than 1 or 2 colors and boldly color outside the starkly drawn lines.


Memorable Meals: Lunch in Lyon On a Cloudy Day

On Friday the 13th of November 2015, Paris was viciously attacked by terrorists. On that day we were grieved by the events, we were also packing for a flight from the states to France amidst the uncertainty of closed borders and increased alerts. On the 14th, we flew to France via Germany. Our flight from Frankfurt was delayed as all passengers were individually screened by a quartet of German police at departure and by French police doing passport checks at arrival. We arrived to a somber country in the midst of a three day mourning period. Even after the days of mourning had passed, we saw increased vigilance, armed policemen, museum and monument closures due to lack of security officials to guard the most visited places, and impromptu memorials set up on town hall steps in villages, towns, and cities.

We also saw something else. The French being the French, carrying on as always, doing what they do day to day. Egocentric perhaps, but we felt that by not cancelling our trip–which many tourists did in the immediate aftermath of the attack–that we showed our solidarity simply by being there and engaging with the French people and their culture in spite of everything. In truth, there were moments when we forgot the somber atmosphere in which we moved about, but for the most part the weight of that horrible event accompanied us wherever we went. Hearing Ma Vie en Rose performed was an emotional moment, and with hearing it the thought occurred to me that no matter what befalls it, France will always be France. We were privileged to join France in her time of loss and uncertainty, we gained certainty in who they are and always will be.

Lyon, as with other cities, towns, and villages, had flags rolled up–their version of flags at half mast–at their Hotel de Ville [city hall] and the steps were filled with candles, flowers, and offerings in a makeshift shrine. This was not the only time Lyon has felt oppressive fear and loss. We visited the Resistance and Deportation History Centre, a reminder of another black period Lyon endured. The Butcher of Lyon once held sway here and many people did not survive that occupation, those who did will never forget. We visited tiny alleyways and hidden streets in the old town, once of use to the French Resistance. But, for all the reflective and somber sites, Lyon is a showcase for what it is known for, food.

While it can be debated which city or region boasts the best cuisine, Lyon certainly embraces a reputation for gastronomy and producing Michelin star chefs. As with any city in France, there are restaurants that would cost more Euros than what we could get for selling our first born child combined with her college tuition. Still, when in Lyon dining out seemed the thing to do. A group of people who were on our river cruise, a couple we knew from another trip and one we had just met, joined together for a meal to remember. The couple we had recently met had done research and graciously extended the invitation for us to join them at a restaurant known for training great chefs, including Paul Bocuse. The restaurant, La Mère Brazier, was founded in 1921 by Eugénie Brazier, the first woman to receive three Michelin stars. The current owner of this now two star restaurant is chef Mathieu Viannay. As we were to discover, he has kept the classic and quiet feel of the iconic restaurant.

We had walked all morning and, with a help of a little city map, found our way to a quiet side street on what seemed to be the edge of the city center. We were warmly greeted and taken upstairs to a semi-private dining room, just one other table and that table quite a distance away from us. The friends we had met earlier are food lovers, our new friends were less experienced but no less enthusiastic. One gamely tried pâté for the first time, and having decided once was enough left more for the rest of us to enjoy. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but as course after course came out those extra servings of pâté laid a base of rich food we had better done without.

Every course was small, very small by American standards, but the sheer number of them added up to a belly that felt like it had just endured a Thanksgiving feast. By the time the soufflé came, a crispy cloud with a foamy, warm, moist, delicious interior, we were wondering where to put it while at the same time unable to stop eating one of the most delicious things ever to be carried by spoon to mouth. And spoon it I did, mouthful after mouthful, and still there was much of that massive crispy cloud confronting me. When one after the other of us put our spoons down and admitted defeat, we pushed back a bit from the table and stared balefully at our partially eaten soufflés knowing we were done for the day. It was at that moment that our server came to the table and said firmly, to our utter surprise, “No, you are not done yet.” Every last person at the table was stunned and horrified, our faces a mask of confusion and fear. The mark of a fine restaurant is providing an enjoyable and satisfying dining experience for the customers, and this was a fine restaurant intent on making their guests content. The server, marking the look of horror in our eyes, released us from our fate of confronting still more plates. We were let go with a round of coffee and a shared plate of chocolates, none of which we could eat but a few of which we nicked for later.

With the magic of a wonderful meal, our group was convivial and relaxed as old friends by the end of the long lunch. After our extended time gathered about the table, we walked a couple of miles to our temporary travel home, a slow trudge back with a full belly. It was the best thing for us after our encounter with Lyon gastronomy, to walk it off. And what an encounter. The service throughout was attentive, courteous, and informative. The ambiance was quiet, elegant, and classic. The food was as fabulous as it was abundant. The tab, albeit in the category of splurge but not at the cost of a first born child, was worth every Euro for the experience we had and the memories we keep. This day, as with other days on this trip to France, was under the cloud of resolve, vigilance, and grief following the recent horror in Paris, but like the everlasting clouds of beautiful soufflés, France is and will be France.

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Kilt Along: The Comfort of Knitting

Our KAL, in our case Kilt-along, was something I have really been looking forward to. April Fools Day could not come soon enough for me to stop the planning and get started on the real deal. When we first launched this idea, I did not realize just how much I would benefit from a clear calendar and a quiet day of knitting along.

When asked why I knit, I can think of many reasons. Perhaps the most important is the sense of calm I get from the meditative practice of knitting. At any given time I have several projects on the needles and rotate them based on my frame of mind. For mindless, let-my-mind-wander knitting it is perfect to have something simple on the needles that does not require a lot of attention; also a perfect project for distracted knitting such as watching television or social knitting with a group. When I have a stop-the-world-I-want-to-get-off day, nothing beats a complicated project for taking my focus away from whatever is keeping me awake at night and putting it into concentrating on precise instructions and making complicated stitch patterns. From the difficult to to the simple, my knitting projects provide me with a sense of calm.

Sometimes the quest for calm is a difficult one. For anyone who has been told by someone in the medical profession that there could be “something” and it will require a closer look, the rotation of thoughts that ran through my brain might sound familiar. In that stressful period between hearing that more investigation is needed and waiting for the results of that investigation, the thoughts circled like a Ferris wheel from the highs to the lows; from the optimistic it-is-probably-nothing to the dire this-could-be-it thoughts. Yes I know we all will have our time, but I could not stop thinking that now is not the time. But maybe it is the time. Why now? Why not now?  Do I need to stop singing When I’m 64 and start singing If I’m 64? Above all, how could knowing the worst be any worse than all the dizzying thoughts repeated while waiting to know?

Matters are made challenging by the overburdened medical resources in our area. We have a large regional medical group, but clearly not large enough. In the days after being told I would be contacted to make an appointment for the follow-up test the phone did not ring. When I had enough of waiting on edge I called them. I was told that it would take 7-10 days for insurance approval but…they were not sure it had even been requested because, after all, it had only been a couple of days. A couple of days that my mental Ferris wheel has been spinning and picking up speed. When I finally received a call it did little to alleviate my nerves. They could not schedule me for several weeks.  The wheel still turning, I called back and inquired about other locations. The good news was, yes there was an appointment that was only a week later, but the bad news was it was an hours drive each way.

The day before our Kilt-Along commenced, the spouse drove with me on the long journey for my test. It took nearly two hours, and I was a bit shakey when at last we were through, but it was in the books. Although I know techs tell you nothing, when he said, “Be sure to make an appointment to discuss the results with your doctor,” I wondered if that remark did mean something. That worry joined right in with the many other crazy thoughts riding around on the Ferris wheel. Did he see something, or does he always say that? Round and round that thought rode along with the many others.

Kilt-Along morning, Ferris wheel in full spin, I gathered up my yarn and started in. Of course it is a fantasy to think of the yarn as Jamie’s kilt, but the colors as I knit made it so. I sensed the warmth and comfort of the soft browns as the yarn slipped through my fingers and slowly began to look like the beginnings of a shawl. The new pattern drew my attention away from my thoughts and brought it to the process of knitting. So worn out from the previous day and the worrying days leading up to it, this day was a gift to myself. I was making something that was giving me comfort as I knit and would give me comfort when I finished, whatever happened. The frustrations of scheduling and testing was over, I had only to await the results. When the phone rang around noon, I drew in a breath and answered with a tentative hello. A nurse told me the results. It was…going to be okay. When I was rather quiet, perhaps waiting for the proverbial other shoe to drop, she said, “This is good news.” I realized I was still holding my breath and had to struggle to let it go before I could hear, understand, or respond.

The Ferris wheel slowed and came to a halt, when I got off that spinning ride I found that I was emotionally and physically exhausted. Click, click, click, the rhythm of my needles sang as the soft brown yarn formed into patterns and slowed the spinning in my head. Like being weeks aboard ship, it took a bit of time to stop feeling the sway. It was the repetitive forming of stitches and the soft yarn sliding across my fingers that, stitch by stitch, eventually brought everything back to stillness.

Wrapped in the warmth of knitting to be wrapped in the comfort of a soft brown kilt. This is why I knit.

Be sure to see all our projects by searching for our project tag on Ravelry, “jamies-kilt-along”.

Kilt Along: a KAL to Arms

April Fool’s Day, the perfect day to start a KAL–or Jamie’s Kilt-Along more specifically–making anything that uses either the mini-skeins or the single skein version of Lorna’s Laces Jamie’s Kilt colorway.

Planning for it has been almost as enjoyable as diving right in. The fun has been in seeing what people are going to make and how they are going to incorporate the yarns. Some are combining the colorway with complimentary yarns and some using only the mini-skeins. Interestingly, everyone’s pack of skeins came in a different color order so there is no set gradient scale; how we order our crayons in the box is up to each individual.

imageMy favorite stage of a project is always when it is the images in my mind, imagining the what-can-be before the reality of the what-have-I-done hits followed by the inevitable coulda-shoulda-woulda regrets. For this yarn I pictured a cozy shawl in the warm colors, something to comfortingly wrap around my shoulders. Picking a pattern was a challenge in winnowing down the thousands of options; even limiting Ravelry searches to shawl, 450-600 yards range, fingering weight, and “in my favorites” resulted in pages and pages of options. I narrowed it down to shawls with texture, avoiding the lacy and delicate options as that did fit with the theme as I envisioned it. The candidates were Swan Lake by Penny Schumers, Cerasifera by Kirsten Kapur, Enticing by Jennifer Weissman, and Nutmeg by Ágnes Kutas-Keresztes. And, as things like this usually happen, I later stumbled across Issa by Katie White, a fairly simple shawl with loads of texture in a center panel. It also looked very easy to modify.

Being able to modify the size of a pattern is definitely a plus with multiple colors. It is always a challenge with gradients and mini-skeins to find a pattern that uses the yardage almost exactly, to work in all the colors while at the same time not run out of yarn. In other words, a game of yarn chicken. My personal best in the game of yarn chicken was about 15 inches of yarn remaining after I bound off, but it is not a fun game when winning is in doubt up to the last cast-off stitch. It is like penalty shoot outs in soccer or hockey, you may win in the end–or lose in a heartbreaker–but there is a lot of nervous energy spent before the results are in. Being able to modify a pattern increases my odds of getting out of a close game with a win.

Gradient yarns are fun to use–the colors gradually change as the yarn spools off the imagecake–whereas mini-skeins are more like stripes or swaths of color. Mini-skeins are more flexible in how the colors are mixed and ordered. Among the many options, one could do narrow stripes alternating the colors, narrow stripes of multi-colors within a main color, or wide swaths of non-repeating colors.  What I decided to do was a mirror effect, so that with 5 colors I do color 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 then 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 ending with the same color I had started with. The first thing that might occur to the reader is that many mini-skein color changes means many not-so-mini ends to weave in. I was very skeptical at first, but the magic cake used in the Magic Cake Ruffle Shawl by Paula Emons-Fuessle opened up my eyes to new possibilities for joining pieces of yarn together without the chaos of spaghetti hanging off the back of the work. Her “magic cake” is made by joining multiple pieces of yarn into a single cake using a magic knot to attach them. Jane Richmond made a nice You-Tube video showing the magic knot:

JR Magic Knot Video

It is not at all hard to do but if not done right it will not hold, there is no shame in watching the video again and again. As I do it, I say to myself that the top knot is “over-under-around-and through” and the bottom knot is “under-over-around-and-through.” It can probably done in the opposite, I think the important thing is that they are done in different directions but that is how I remember it. I also tug the yarn really hard after I have pulled the knots together and trimmed them, it is like checking for your keys before you lock your car rather than after. Now is the time to know if the knot has to be redone when nothing is at risk. Finding out it will not hold while knitting it would be annoying, finding out after the project is completed would be disastrous.

To make my project cake I first wound all my mini-skeins into individual cakes and weighed them each on my little portable scale. I placed my cakes in color order and, beginning with color 1, put the cake on the scale and wound 1/2 of it into a center pull cake on my ball winder. I then did the same for colors 2-4, joining each new color with a magic knot. Because color 5 was the center, I wound it in its entirety then completed the project cake by adding the remaining colors 4, 3, 2, and 1. Now I have a single center pull cake with the colors in the amounts and order that I plan to use them.

What I have found with a shawl that is shaped in something like a crescent or triangle is that the color swaths are wider at the top where the shawl is narrower and thinner at the bottom where the shawl is wider because it takes less yarn to do a row at the top and more yarn to do a row at the bottom. This holds true for both top-down and bottom-up shawls. Side-to side shawls would have wider swaths of color at the ends and narrower swaths in the center because the edges take less yarn to complete a row at the sides and more in the center. Because I am doing a mirrored effect with the yarns, I did not trouble to do something like 1/4 of the yarn to start and 3/4 to finish because I expect it will all work out nicely with the color repeats in reverse order. But…as I mentioned above, this is based on the images in my mind and I may be saying coulda-shoulda-woulda later on (smiley face). The one regret I have already is that I did not save out some snippets of each color; if I need to make any after the fact repairs I will only have the bits and bobs left over from the cast-on and bind-off in color 1. Whoops. Guess I will not be able to have any repairable mistakes, knitting perfection will be a must else the project will be a bust.

Well, there it is. Having answered the call to arms I am ready to begin my Kilt-Along. To steal a line from the British Baking Show, “Knitters, on your marks, get ready, set, KNIT!”

Here is hoping the reality will measure up to the beautiful vision in my imagination.

Be sure to see all our projects by searching for our project tag on Ravelry, “jamies-kilt-along”.