The third or so episode of Doctor Who (new Doctor Who that started in 2005, mind), the Doctor takes Rose back home for a quick visit, change of clothes, say hello, that sort of thing. Except there’s a calculation error somewhere, and they accidentally come back a year later. So Rose has been missing for a year, her family and friends all think she’s missing or dead, while to her she’s only seen them a few weeks ago.
That’s what I feel like visiting Pittsburgh. It was summer when I left, and it’s summer now. Suddenly being in all the same places I was a year ago, my brain thinks no time has passed at all.
But has time ever passed. Everything feels mostly the same, but here and there are differences everywhere. Some are little, just enough to make the familiar feel uncanny. Like the finished hotel behind Trinity, with its parking lot surrounded with new grass. A new dishwasher or updated washing machine in a house I’ve visited a hundred times. Other changes are more natural, if naturally shocking. Like our friends’ kids being a foot taller. Our home church growing, with many new faces.
The biggest and very best changes, though, are the babies. No less than four babies have appeared in our closest friends and family. There’s no denying or explaining or second-guessing babies. Like my friend Carrie says, who’s the mom of one of said babies: there’s a whole person here that wasn’t there before! Wiggling, smiling, existing as if they always have, because they have just as much right to do so as I have.
And those four families have a different shape, as each one bends into make a different polygon with room for one more point. My brain is disoriented to rejoin their circle – don’t I know these people? Why is there another one? – But five seconds of smiles or cuddles or coos and just like that, they were always there. That’s the miracle of life: the entrance into time of a new immortal.
One of these dear ones was promised a sweater before I left town. I wanted to make sure I could make good, so I bought yarn up in Iqaluit – nothing very fancy, as I wanted his mom to be able to wash the thing – but special for having come so far. (I may have spent more on the buttons than the yarn. They were really cute buttons.) Said little sweater accompanied me in three cities, and was completed in traffic on the way home from the Pittsburgh Zoo.
I was so excited to meet him that it was silly to care about a sweater. But his mom was a sport and let him try it on for me. He’s more cheerful and energetic and happy than I could have imagined, and just right for his parents.
(Pattern: “Oscar” by Julie Partie – exactly the little old man sweater I wanted. Yarn: Bernat Satin Solids in “Admiral.” It’s amazing how much less objectionable acrylic is to work with in the Arctic; i.e. when it’s dry and not-hot.)
The hardest part of all this is how short all these visits were. Each visit with friends was so precious, and every time someone shared with me it made me feel so cared for to be allowed to connect again, to allowed to be a part of their life, even though they knew how quickly we’d be leaving again. It’s hard, but so worth it, but so hard.
I suppose this is how every expat feels who comes back for a visit, but it’s all new to us, and who knows if we’re doing it right. It just seems important to connect, and to be grateful for what we have.
And, as is always right and good, to hug these littles while we can.
Love you, Pittsburgh. See you next year.
I’m curled up in bed, nose running, eyes watering, mouth-breathing, waiting for one last load of diapers to finish so I can get in the shower. We’re all packed, aside from those few last minute things, which means of course all our suitcases are still lying open in the hallway. At least, in a holiday miracle, I managed to clean [most of] the house.
We’re leaving town tomorrow for a month of travels: a probably-annual trek down through Ottawa, Pittsburgh, and Maryland. Which we can’t wait for, because May was a total jerk. Lots of grey skies and snow, but I didn’t mind that as much as the unceasing stream of minor illnesses. I managed to mostly avoid the plagues, but the last couple of days it finally hit me. The exercise of packing for a month’s travels while a sniveling wreck has been uniquely invigorating for my faith.
We’ve worked hard to wrap things up before we go; it feels very weird to leave such an involved job as pastoring for a whole month. Everyone does it, and the church ran perfectly fine before we came along, but still – feels weird. All the same, we’ve been in casting-off mode for a while, and in that spirit, I’ve tried to wrap up my knitting projects as well. You’ve already seen Dwarrowdelf; today I’ll show you this little beauty:
The long and short of it is, I am a very bad charity knitter. I super-enjoy going to the ACW (Anglican Church Women) groups on Monday nights, and the ladies there churn out a prodigious number of knitted, sewn, and crocheted items to sell at various craft sales throughout the year to raise money for the cathedral. At first, not knowing what was going on, I just brought my own knitting. But one week – I remember it was early February because it was when I brought my mom along – when the giant bins of yarn came out, I picked out something interesting. It was just two balls of boucle, but it obviously wanted to be more than that. Mom gave me some stitch markers, I made a guess at a good number of stitches to cast on for a top-down baby sweater, and away I went.
For a couple of months, I just worked on it when I was at meetings. When a couple months passed and I wasn’t yet through the yoke, I realized this sweater might be ready for a baby conceived in the next decade. So I took it home, found a pattern to check my guesstimated measurements against a real pattern for a 1-year size, and made a proper effort. Baffin Electronics had some smashing little pink buttons, so after a few more months, voila!
The neck is a little small, but it will either be sort of french-style, or will be worn with the top button open. Hopefully the 1-year-old who gets this will not have a 3-year-old sister who is completely neurotic about having ALL BUTTONS BUTTONED AT ALL TIMES.
I managed to get it done in time for ACW’s closing party Tuesday night, which involved epic quantities of awesome country food, hilarious games with lots of laughing and running around… you know, all the things that make Inuit parties the best parties. I have been so grateful to be accepted by this group of ladies, despite my very beginner Inuktitut, so handing in my small contribution for the next craft sale felt important.
Now that we’re going to the US for vacation, we’re going to meet all kinds of cute babies of our friends’ that we haven’t even gotten to meet yet. At least one of them has been explicitly promised a knitted item. Additionally, our suffrigan bishop and his wife just had their long-awaited baby last week. And I need to start thinking about fall sweaters for the girls. Add that all up and…
I think this is the start of a pretty serious baby sweater jag.
Yep, it’s on.
The first Lord of the Rings film came out fifteen years ago. Let that sink in. I saw it right around when I got my learner’s permit, and the film is now old enough to get a learner’s permit. Half my life ago. I read The Fellowship of the Rings right before the movie came out, too, and read the latter two volumes right after. These books – and the films that did so much to paint them in my imagination – have been a huge influence over my imagination for half my life. That just stopped sounding scary and started sounding cool.
I still remember sitting in the theatre during the fellowship’s trek through Moria, during that incredible moment when they step into the ancient hall of Dwarrowdelf. The massive pillars stretch off in every direction, flickering torchlight suggesting an infinite cavern. Looking back to that moment, I realize I was like Legolas many years later in Aglarond, raised in a forest, but shocked to find I was leaving a piece of my heart in a cave.
When I first saw Susan Pandorf’s Dwarrowdelf pattern, I was brought right back to that moment. There’s nothing shocking or novel about chevron shapes, but Alan Lee’s designs were so perfectly echoed in those lace columns that I was sold instantly. That was the pattern I had to have, and one of the reasons I bought that first pattern series.
That was six years ago.
Soon after we first moved to Pittsburgh, we had family visiting for Thanksgiving, and for a touristy outing, decided to go to the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. A few of us got distracted in the hall of gems, and one exhibit captured my attention completely. I’ve shared this picture before; I snapped it with for reference because the inspiration was that instantaneous. Pure white cloudy sparkling rock, with giant crystals of rose and sage rising out of it. A stone, dead as my fingernail shavings, but looking as alive as a flower.
I knew instantly that I wanted those colors for Dwarrowdelf, though conceptually, the stone is much more suggestive of the flowering caves of Aglarond, the Glittering Caves behind Helm’s Deep. From my first reading, I was moved by Gimli’s heart-bursting description of the beauties he found there. The vow he took with Legolas, that if they survived the war, they would take each other to Aglarond and Faragorn, and see them through each other’s eyes, is one of the most thorough moments of friendship I’ve ever read. To love and respect and trust someone, who is so different from you, so much that you will behold something that repels you through their eyes, and learn to love it too: I have had friendship like that. That moment, then, from a cave on the other end of the map of Middle Earth, in a different chain of mountains, would be planted in my Dwarrowdelf.
That was five and a half years ago.
I had those colors in my head, such that when the yarn appeared in Yarns Unlimited a few months later, I snapped it up right away. Madelinetosh Tosh Merino Light, in Water Lily.
I finally started this insane project, knitting through all the Fellowship patterns in such a way that matched them to their place in the story, about two and a half years ago. This slow, meandering journey has finally arrived in the depths of Moria. It’s also the moment when the pace of the book suddenly dramatically accelerates.
The fellowship has tried twice to cross the Misty Mountains, and only this terrible path remains to them. Geography and Saruman unite against them to prevent a southern path or a crossing of the pass. They know that mysterious unnamed horrors await them, and it takes the Watcher’s attack sealing the gate behind them to commit them to the underground way. A week-long trek in oppressive darkness ends with the revelation of the ancient glories of an impossibly powerful old Dwarven civilization, fallen from grace, awakening a longing for what was once possible. But the horror uncovered by ancient pride is re-awakened too. Then the confrontation with the Balrog, the fallen Maiar, is Gandalf’s match: these angelic powers fall, and the fellowship’s successfully passing the mountains comes with their greatest loss. That loss, too, will lead to rebirth, but they don’t know that yet. They just have to pick up and run, streaming tears along the way.
In what I am sure is no coincidence, I bound off this six-year-long journey on Sunday night: the day before I was ordained a priest.
Ancient halls, seeming-doomed. Ancient glory, whispered and obscure, but alive in dwarf that walks there. Ancient strength, achingly beautiful even in by the faintest light, stretching out into the ancient distance. Present friendship, hardship, darkness, love, loss, sacrifice. Future rebirth, unknown but secure, and hope in a quiet sovereignty greater than any present and visible evil.
This is my world.
I am only at the beginning of learning what it is to be a priest. I understand it theologically and have accepted the calling in confidence, but in actually taking vows and accepting hands laid on me, I am now taking my first step into a larger world. A world everyone inhabits, but for weak and small and selfish little me, this is the path God had to draw me on to make me see. An ancient lineage of priests is now mine, a stream within a wider lineage of saints. Small, scared, lost, honored, humbled, hopeful, confident, curious, open. I am all those things and more.
And because I am still me, I find all these things and I stitch them. Or rather, I look at what I have stitched, and reflect on what I have read, and find that I have knit what I have lived. Story and song, image and craft, stop my thoughtless consumption and make life a thing realized.
And now, for the details: because this blogging craftspriest can’t help it. I made this pattern my own in a few little ways.
1. The center panel is not bi-directional. I just didn’t like this aspect of the pattern. I didn’t think it was necessary to interrupt the central column to make the center panel symmetrical (after all, when you look at the stone columns, you only see them pointing one way). Also, there was just no way to graft the two halves to look seamless, at least not without much wailing and gnashing of teeth. Not worth it. So I just knit the whole center panel straight up.
2. I took advantage of this mono-directionality to block that center panel, and determine exactly what my row and stitch gauge would be. I noticed online that folks were having trouble with the side panels not blocking quite as wide as the center was long. Since I was knitting the center panel more simply, I could predict exactly how wide my side panels would come out, then very easily (if only slightly) adjust the length to match. Can I tell I felt very clever about this?
3. Not a pattern change, but a change in my plans: I did not notice the color difference between my skeins until the first one ran out. Thank God I did not start with the darkest, or not notice it until last! As it was, discovering the odd skein second gave me a chance to at least make it symmetrical. The gradient technique did not do much to reduce the offending difference, and it looks hopelessly striped. But at least it’s the same. I’m holding onto that.
4. Most obviously, I added beads! These were leftover from Mithril, and were exactly what I had always imagined to match the cloud-like rock from which my sage-rose crystals emerged. This idea was so firmly implanted in my mind for years that I actually thought the pattern had beads! By the time I discovered it didn’t, it was too late. I was married to the plan. I sketched and tested and fiddled, and changed the pattern stitch ever-so-slightly so the beads would nestle just right in the column bases, but in the end I’m perfectly pleased with how they came out.
The pattern is brilliant. At first I was not thrilled with the construction; I wanted infinite columns stretching their long legs from shoulder to shoulder! But this structure means that the symmetrical architectural effect is created when you actually wear it. Additionally, breaking it up into three phases made it loads more interesting to actually knit.
Maybe one of these days I will bring Dwarrowdelf back to Pittsburgh with me, and take it to visit the stone that was so instrumental in its long road to creation. In the meantime, I have it draped around my shoulders right now, and I will wear it and think of beautiful underground spaces, ancient wisdom, present adventure, and future glory.
For Mother’s Day, my children gave me the best gift children can give: that is, they were healthy, affectionate, happy offspring.
Then they gave me the second best Mother’s Day gift children can give: time to myself.
Down in the land of my birth, Mother’s Day weekend is also Maryland Sheep and Wool weekend. This is providential for my mother, who, due to a series of unfortunate events, went to the festival as a layperson, and not as a vendor, for the first time in years. She emailed me a play-by-play of her Saturday shopping (oh, the shopping!) and we face-timed on Sunday during a sheepdog trial.
I tried not to turn as green as the trees in the background of the video, and channeled my envy into inspiration. After all, I have years worth of prior Sheep and Wool purchases to shop from in my own cedar trunk!
In fact, I have with me a beautiful art batt that I bought from Wae four years ago, before she rebranded, partnered with another artist, and they bought Cloverhill. I had pulled it out when I finally got my wheel assembled a couple months ago (a story in itself, believe me), just to make sure I remembered how to spin. Now, I decided, was the time to pull it out and spin in earnest.
Unfolding the batt revealed the wonderful spread of stuff carded in, in a blocky way. I knew I was going for a fairly thick (worsted-to-bulky) two ply, something I could spin up fast. I wanted variety in the way the colors mixed, but relative consistency in the texture – artsy, but not too artsy, you know what I mean?
I unfolded it to reveal a layer of rose-pink merino underneath. I don’t know anything about carding art batts; is that normal, to have a consistent layer on one side, or maybe sandwiched in the middle? I’m just curious; it’s useful to me in this case to have a plain material to keep coming back to.
I started pulling it into strips and pre-drafting them a little. Did I need to pre-draft? The internet didn’t seem to think so, but (1) this batt has sat in my possession for four years, so a little aerating wouldn’t hurt, (2) I do want some control, since I’m going for some consistency, and (3) I love pre-drafting. Almost more than the actual spinning. I got about halfway through this process before my helper got a little too helpful.
That’s when daddy swooped in and provided some preoccupation.
I wasn’t about to waste precious spinning time trying to get my phone to play an audiobook or something, so I spun with just my thoughts to keep me company. What a novelty.
After a year’s hiatus, I got the feel of spinning back fairly quickly. That is, to spin as well as ever I did. I reflected, as the fiber flowed from my fingers, that my relationship with spinning is completely opposite to my relationship with sewing. I am pretty mediocre at both crafts. On the one hand, I sew when I absolutely have to, when it’s the only way to get some product I need, or to get it at a reasonable price, and I don’t really enjoy it. (Sorry, seamstresses.) On the other hand, spinning is an utterly superfluous activity for someone who owns as much yarn as I do. It makes a unique yarn that I couldn’t get any other way, but I do it mostly for the process – for the joy of touching the fluff and the rhythmic meditation of hands and feet as I spin.
Spinning makes me want to be a better spinner: to take classes, to craft specific yarns, to devote real time to it, but this point, I’m just a casual spinner. Right now, among my hobbies, spinning ranks a little below video games and a little above that little metal model of an X-wing I finally finished last week. It’s my fault; my own voracious curiosity has landed me with so many avocational interests! Only I can answer the question of whether to be content being a Jaqueline-of-all-trades.
I’m obviously not getting any better, as I popped off and bought a sealskin a few weeks ago, dyed the same color family as this batt. Hm… could these two materials go together? … NO. Stop, Rebecca. This is not the time to get ambitious for some new project way beyond your skill set! Stop planning; just spin and be happy!
An hour’s work yielded the beginning of some lovely singles. My work was smooth, but inconsistent, just as planned. Hopefully it’s consistently inconsistent. You know, like my parenting.
I confess that I was a teensy bit angsty about turning thirty. Jared and I both turned thirty in April: me on the sixth, him on the twenty-third (yes, such a cradle-robber, me.) Now that I’ve been thirty for a month, I’m pretty much over it.
Here’s my favorite thing about turning thirty: I’m really, really not a kid anymore. There are still a ton of adults who think of me as being “really young,” and hey, fair enough. I’ve got lots of life experience ahead of me, and I’m happy about that. But I don’t have to prove anymore that I’m an adult. Being “in my twenties,” I still felt like I had to apologize a bit for being precocious. Turning thirty, somehow having those big round numbers to my name, I feel like I can give myself permission to fill my own boots. Here I am. Adulting. Not, like, doing it well, but who even cares? I’m thirty, that’s good enough!
I had a few moments, in March, of wondering if I’d really accomplished anything in the first three decades of my life. Now, I can hardly remember where that thought even came from. I mean, Jesus started his ministry when he was thirty. We moved up here at twenty-nine. Really, we’re overachievers.
These are the best times of our life, right now. They’re flipping hard work. They could undo us. These years will change us. They will break us down and turn us inside out. But they will be amazing. We’re still beginning, but we’re beginning real life. We’re not rich or famous; we don’t have laurels to rest on. But we’re living. No more preparing. This is the real deal.
I really believe that, but I have to remind myself of that fairly often. I’ve thought for most of my life that I would end up as some sort of missionary, and do super-cool things for Jesus. But when you have a family, even if you live in some awesome unusual place and God uses you to do good work – you still spend a large part of your life doing dishes, cooking dinner, wiping butts, and wondering what you’re supposed to be doing with the fifteen minutes you have before you should really go to bed. That’s still true if you don’t have a family, except hopefully not the wiping butts part. Somehow they failed to bring this up at all those cool youth conferences with talks by visiting missionaries, but I probably wouldn’t have absorbed that reality if they had.
To be perfectly honest, even writing this post is an exercise in positive self-talk. At this moment, I’m fighting exhaustion because the baby’s been keeping me up half the night for a week, the kitchen table is surrounded by sticky clumps of oatmeal from yesterday’s breakfast, there are two days’ worth of dishes piled up, I don’t know what’s for dinner, let alone when I’m going to start the laundry, i’ve knit all of two rows in the last three days, and I have to strategically plan the rest of my week so that at some point I have a two-hour slot during which I have enough emotional energy to write a sermon. It’s so, so easy to get overwhelmed. I get tired. I spend a fair share of time feeling disappointed, or anxious, or unsure of whether I’ve done the right thing, or whether I’ve done enough. And I am looking forward to our vacation in June rather more than I wish to admit.
But then I remind myself. “You’re living the dream.”
The truth is, I’m incredibly blessed at this point in my life. In the current world economy, to be doing what I love, and actually employed doing what I love, at age thirty, is nigh unto miraculous. To be able to share a position with my husband, so we can both keep a good work-life balance and share our calling, is a fairly unique challenge, but also completely amazing. To have two precious daughters that we get to shepherd into maturity, is definitive. I get to study Inuktitut, make friends in two different cultures, be there for them as a pastor, and speak God’s word into their lives. When I take time to stop and reflect, I have a so much to be thankful for. This season is a continual exercise in thankfulness for what does go right, letting go what doesn’t, and bringing it all to God, to wrestle through it and find rest.
[Edited to add: In that vein, I should add that I’ve taken a lot of time to work on Inuktitut this week, I got an extra evening to play board games with my spouse, and I haven’t had to cook since this time last week. So let’s be fair.]
Wow, that got really sentimental. I’m a little too tired to tell if it’s trite, but it goes with the unwritten subtitle of this post: “good enough.” Speaking of which, Let’s talk about Jared’s sweater, shall we?
For Jared’s thirtieth birthday, I wanted to celebrate thirty ways: so for fifteen days, every day he got a gift and a special food. I confess to missing a couple days in the food department, and not all the gifts were from me, but we had a lot of fun. There was lasagna, grasshopper pie, angel food cake, walking taco, a few batches of sweet rolls, and schwarma. Jared got a couple of big gifts, like a snow knife from me (he has to learn to build illus so we can go camping next April, obvi), and several little gifts from Naomi, like a novelty candy where you dip pink plunger-shaped lollipops into a pink toilet full of pink sugar dust (I’d love to have been at the sales meeting when that idea was invented). In the midst of this, in the third-to-last day in April, I was able to give Jared his completed blue sweater.
Yeah, he bought the yarn. Yeah, he knew I was making it. Yeah, knitting it for him was kinda also his Christmas present. But dudes and dudettes, this sweater was a lot of knitting.
I worked hard to make this sweater just right, adjusting the pattern to make it more fitted, swatching carefully to find a fabric he’d like, and experienced miraculous provision when it became clear I was going to run out of yarn. But experience does not prevent mistakes, and apparently, I am always ready to demonstrate that fact.
I did not wash my swatches.
When I bound off the last piece, having re-knit the second sleeve cap because I knit most of the thing accidentally thinking the wrong side was the right side (I still think the bumpier side of half-fisherman’s rib looks more interesting), I dutifully washed the pieces, soaking them as is my wont. But when I went to lay them out to dry, they seemed… large. And kinda floppy. I did not stretch them, rather gently massaging them in to get them to dry as small as possible, but it was clear, the damage was done. This sweater had grown. All my work to change a pattern for a big floppy relaxed sweater into a fitted, professional-looking sweater was for naught. This is a big, relaxed, casual sweater.
Then again, think about what would have happened if I hadn’t adjusted it to be smaller and more fitted. The thing would have been a circus tent.
Yep. Being thirty is going to be about being grace-filled. Which really just means rolling with the punches, and being thankful, because Jesus.
Today, I’m grateful for my thirty-year-old husband, who looks great in blue, no matter the silhouette. I’m so happy to be spending the best years of our lives together.
Oh dear, my Martha, Martha my dear.
At the present moment, my younger daughter is coming out of a fabulously intense developmental stage. Suddenly my baby is no longer constantly clinging to me. She has new confidence to strike out on her own. I hear the sound of her distinctive scoot-slide, scoot-slide – whose efficiency she has now refined to get across the kitchen in just a few scoots – and these days, when I turn around, she might well be out of sight. She’s taken off for the great white north. Or at least for the great white tiles of the sealift room.
But. Within the first hour after she was born, I put her on my shoulder, and she draped one arm around my shoulder and the other around my neck. She’s still the expert hugger, and has taught us all to stand still to receive some affection. I adore that she still nurses to sleep quite often, and afterwards, when I transfer her from my bed to her bed, I linger in those moments that she’s asleep in my arms. Her body now takes up my whole torso, like a warm, breathing sack of potatoes, but for now, she’s still my baby.
Speaking of a sack of potatoes, my northern baby loves to be amuk-ed. She’s so happy to observe the world from my back, especially now that it’s warm enough that I don’t have to put our hood up or wrap her face in layers of knitwear. But I have to watch it – regardless of the time of day, if she’s on my back for more than half an hour, she’ll be asleep. She has some tolerance for frozen fish, and she was pretty interested in the illu (igloo) we visited last week, but her most northern quality is certainly her affinity for the amauti.
Martha is a joy and a delight. Between her maniacal laughs and her scrunched-up ham-face grins, she’s so determined to communicate: sampling new combinations of sounds, pointing gleefully at everything, pushing her way into whatever her sister is trying to do, saving her effective expressions of extreme displeasure for when she’s excluded, ignored or injured. She communicates quite well to her parents, though somehow her sister is the first to hear her saying that she needs a new diaper.
Her birthday party was so much fun, with all her and Naomi’s little friends, their grown-up friends, and their northern adopted grandmas. She slimed up the miniature carrot cake I made her, and let all the bigger kids help open her presents and blow out her candle.
Here’s to you, my peanut, my little monster, Maatakulu, Maataralaaq, Maatakallak, Maataga. Dear Martha, Little Martha, Chubby Martha, My Martha.