knitting on the front lines of life

Month: July, 2011

Children and Me

I spent three days this week with children. Some of them were youth, rather than children, but it all boils down in my mind to many hours with the under-18 crowd. It was rather exhausting and called some big life questions.

I’m teaching an ACT preparation class for four youth that want to go to college. Two of them are Seniors; two of them are Juniors. They attend two different high schools and have had four completely different high school experiences. All of them are leaving behind a teenage tendency that I like to call “failure to engage” so that they can get into the colleges of their choice. Teaching them allows me to brush up on some of the teaching skills (such as writing upside-down) that I haven’t used since I taught for a year in China 10 years ago. They are all bright kids with engaging personalities. I enjoy my time with them. Yesterday, I taught them rhetoric. Next week, we begin math. Kudos to them for pushing me to teach math sooner rather than later.

Last night, I was discussing the results of this week’s classes with one of the youth’s parents, and they asked me from whence I had pulled the idea of having an ACT prep class. This class is the fulfillment of a promise made to one kid. I had a very deep discussion about the future with one of these kids a year ago. I pushed her to stop failing to engage, to take the opportunities of her school system, to find what she excels at academically, and to do well enough in high school that she can go to college out of town. “If you do that this year,” I promised her, “I will make sure you get the best score on the ACT you can get, and I will write a letter of recommendation for you that will peel open the bored eyes of college admissions counselors.”

She did it! She tried. She engaged. She excelled. Choked-up proud of her, I began gathering materials for the classes. When I mentioned the tutoring I would be doing for her at church, two other kids signed up, quickly followed by a fourth. So now there are four. Although ACT prep is not a usual pastoral function, it is an awesome opportunity to walk with these youth through a very scary time of their lives that benefits from the presence of an adult who doesn’t have to be there.

After yesterday’s prep session, I took three little ones to see Rio at the movie theater. These kids are a little displaced right now, and their caregivers needed a break, so I took them somewhere where they would be quiet and manageable. Then I made the mistake of taking them to Village Inn for pie. There is far too much open space at Village Inn at 6pm, far too many things on the table to play with, far too many questions to ask the preacher now that the imposed semi-silence of the movie theater has ended.

worn out at Village Inn

Sitting at the table, trying to herd three gifted, active, verbal children while waiting for Alex to arrive and distract them with his accent and humor, I asked myself if I ever wanted to have children in my daily life. I was pondering it, as one of the kids leaned over to me and asked, “If we ever get put up for adoption, would you adopt us? I mean, if anything ever happens to my parents, can we come live with you?” This question was asked in all seriousness and then the others picked up the theme. I told the children that it would be better if we did not mention that idea to their parents, but it certainly was an interesting answer to the question I was asking myself.

I preached about children and Jesus on Sunday. And then I spent a week of children and Kim. I love other people’s children. I like talking to them, engaging with them, and then sending them home. I bet Jesus didn’t sigh in relief when the parents who brought their children to him turned around and took the kids back to their own hut, but I did. I’m going to keep thinking about whether a daily dose of children is in my future, but yesterday brought me to a big decision. I am setting aside the backup plan (you know, the “if I stop being a pastor someday, I will be a ______”) to be a veterinarian, and I now think I would become a… high school guidance counselor. My office would be filled with balls of yarn and dull needles, stacks of paperwork that need to be completed, and nerdy books. Wait, wait…that’s my office now! It’s also kinda my job… I mean, isn’t a pastor just a guidance counselor of sorts for people of all ages?

Maybe, for now, I just need to enjoy doing whatever guiding I can with all these children that Jesus brings to me.


The Full Monty

It figures. I finally get to the point where my designing brain shuts down and I buy the yarn to just knit MYSELF something when a package arrives from Italy. I mean, I was set to just knit. I bought yarn from Simply Fibers (Cascade Venezia, a chunky merino/silk blend), picked a pattern (Jared Flood’s Umaro afghan), got halfway through the first ridiculously long chart, and the doorbell rang. I couldn’t help it. Even though I was rolling my eyes at the interruption of my first “just for me” project in a long time, I was giddy as I flung the door open and said, “I’m so happy you’re here!” to the FedEx guy.

“I’m so happy, too!” said the FedEx guy. “I got here as quickly as I could.”

“This is from Italy!” I hollered as I continued our exclaimed conversation.

“I know!” he hollered back. “I’m so jealous!”

“It’s just yarn,” I said, toning down the conversation a little. “You probably wouldn’t want it.”

“But it’s from Italy!” he said, retaining all his excitement. “That’s so cool! Do you want me to carry it inside for you?”

“No! I’ve got it!”

I went inside carrying the massive but manageable box of 20 lbs of yarn, and began tearing at the tape with my fingers. The whole time I was ripping it open, Alex was saying, “Wait. Wait! Let me get my camera.” There was no time for that. There was cashmere in that box. There was self-patterning yarn for a shop in Michigan. There was bamboo. And there, at the bottom, what my buddy Monty has waited for… blaze orange luxury yarn.

This is how the early service at church has gone for several years.

Me: “Good morning, and welcome to worship at Bois D’Arc UMC this fine morning.”

Monty: “Did you make me a hat?”

Me: “No.”

Monty wants a hand knitted hunting cap. It needs to be a standard stocking cap. It needs to have a little pizazz. Most of all, it needs to be regulation blaze orange. Yeah. Blaze orange: everyone’s favorite color. It’s not a color that luxury yarn makers produce or yarn shops carry. I know. I’ve checked every single yarn shop I’ve visited in the last five years to find yarn for Monty’s hat. I can find that color in acrylic, but, um… I’m a yarn snob. A few months ago, Monty said to me, “If Alex imports yarn from Italy, couldn’t he import blaze orange yarn?” Sometimes I forget how cool it is that Alex imports yarn. I forget until the doorbell rings and I find a FedEx guy trying to help me open the boxes.

Alex and I had just finished putting together an order from several producers when we ran into Monty and his lovely wife Katherine at Wal-Mart. I dragged Monty to the car, pulled out the color cards, and said, “Find it.” He was immediately able to identify blaze orange in three yarns Alex carries, so we added them to the order. If Monty has wanted a blaze orange handknit for so long, surely there are other hunters out there who would also like a stylish hunting cap.

Now I need to design it. The beautiful merino/silk blanket will have to sit (boo hoo!) while I figure out how to create the perfect hunting cap that will work for Monty and anyone who buys the yarn Monty picked out for Alex’s business. We agree that it needs to be a little sharp. Alex always says the Italians don’t have the best military; they have the best-dressed military. So how do I knit a hat that will leave Monty the best-dressed hunters around? Any ideas would be appreciated.

Dye Me a River

Last week, my mom (a natural dyeing aficionado) and me (a yarnaholic) dyed 38 pounds of cotton yarn. Mom was in charge of process; I was in charge of color. We did not dye the 56 lbs we had originally been shooting for, but we were more pleased with the results than we expected. The best part of the process, besides seeing the results and being together for several days, was pushing past the normal process of cotton dyeing by our love for this particular environment into our own environmentally-friendly process.

The view

The view from the dyeing location

There’s nothing for making you want to avoid harming the environment like working in an environment you love. We were at the Lake of the Ozarks, known to other Missourians as “the land of the magic dragon,” but to me as the land of sunburns past, watersports learned, and parents relaxed. We vacationed on the LoO since I was 8 or 9, and my parents have lived 30 feet from the water for the past few years. This is the water in which my nieces swim, my dad fishes, and my soul is calmed.

The single biggest issue we faced when we began dyeing was salt. Our plan called for 131 pounds of salt. That’s not only ridiculous, it’s hard to dispose safely of that much salt. We couldn’t just drain it and let it flow into the property. It would kill all of mom’s plants and put way too much salt in the Lake of the Ozarks. Besides the environmental issues, I don’t want to do anything that would encourage shark infestation in the Lake. It’s silly, but that’s the first place my mind went.

12 hours before we began dyeing, I stumbled upon a method of dyeing that uses zero salt, which is very unusual for plant fiber dyeing. The process, known as Low Water Immersion Dyeing (LWI) or Crackle dyeing, uses very little water and no salt but yields unpredictable and practically unrepeatable results. It also threw all of my dye color recipes out of the window because the dye baths are too highly concentrated and in small quantity. It’s hard to balance for CMYK value percentages when you’re working with one or two teaspoons of total dye. We winged it (wung it, whatever). Along the way, we’ve also thrown in some Kettle Dyeing, some Dip Dyeing, and even some Ice Dyeing. 100% salt free.

We started with 200 skeins, and finished with only 30 undyed. At first, we thought we’d run out of dye, but in the end we ran out of energy.

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Our first few attempts were good. A few later attempts yielded disastrous results but were easily redyed with one of the funkier methods. Some of our attempts at semi-solids yielded our wildest variegates, and some of our attempts to variegate came out muted. Can we repeat any of this? Some of it. It’s really a matter of mindset and fun. My hands are still bruised and blistered, our thighs were killing us, and dye is still hiding out in our cuticles, but every result was exciting. Each round of dyeing was more and more adventurous. From the palest peach and teal to the deepest fuchsia, the cotton dyed beautifully.

The best part? All of the salt we purchased (160 lbs) went back to the store. The groundwater is safe, and there’s not a fin in sight.

Be Careful What You Pray for, Preacher

Toward the end of her life, my grandmother became a little grumpy about a few of her friends. On a visit home from seminary, I turned to her and asked, “Grandma, would you like me to have them smited for you?”

She paused. “YOU CAN DO THAT?!?!”

“No, I can’t do that,” I said.

“Well, I wasn’t sure. I’m Catholic, you know. I’m not sure what you pastors can do.”

Yesterday, after church, I proposed a trip to the grocery store. I never do that. I hate trips to the grocery store, especially on holidays. I prefer to do my shopping late at night when everyone else is in bed and the staff is busy restocking the shelves. As soon as we reached the store, I started stuffing all kinds of fruit into the cart while Ale just stood back and watched in horror. Ale doesn’t eat fruit. Too sticky. I usually skip the fruit as well. Too much sugar. But here I was, with a basket filling with apricots, mangos, pineapple, apples, and cherries. I just shrugged. Then I added meat to the cart, stuff we don’t eat like bratwurst. Ale looked at me again with a burning question in his brown eyes. Again, I shrugged.

Ale ran to the store again later (he loves shopping), and came home with another odd assortment of stuff we don’t eat. He had crackers and cheddar cheese as well as a bag of potato chips. Potato chips? Weird. He said, “Maybe we’ll have a holiday tomorrow, but I really don’t expect it.”

Ale has learned that bad stuff always happens on holidays. He watched me work on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, New Years Eve, and Easter. He knows. The phone always rings on holidays. It’s not something to be resented; it’s just something to accept and expect.

The phone rings this morning, and it is someone I have never met that needs something. They really need it. Without going into any detail at all, let me just say that fruit salad, bratwurst, and a potato chip-topped casserole with cheddar cheese were the perfect additions to what they needed.

As I stood at the counter gleefully cutting up fruit with extremely sticky hands, I realized that this was an answered prayer. Yesterday, we prayed for the lonely, the hurting, and the lost. We prayed that God would stick in our way the people who needed exactly what we had, people who needed to hear about grace and love in our own words. I had to put down my knife and thank God for answering that prayer so quickly and obviously.

I also prayed for rain, which Ale reminded me as the downpour began last night. “If anyone complains about rain on Facebook tomorrow,” he said, “I’m telling them to blame you.”

Pastors do not have any power to answer prayer. Our prayers aren’t heard any more than anyone else’s, no matter what my Catholic boyfriend and grandmother think and thought. The power is God’s, our loving God who does answer prayer. Sometimes prayer are answered quickly, but often God’s time takes longer than our patience and we give up or forget. I don’t know when I will stop being surprised by prayers answered. I think I need to pray more, expect more, and be careful what I pray for.