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Knitting up a storm. March 5, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Knitting means many things to me: relaxation (I love the soothing repetitive action); comfort (the warmth of wool on my lap on a cold day as I knit, or one of my scarves keeping me or our friend Ben warm as we brave the winter blasts); beauty (the gorgeous colors and textures of the yarn); wonder (to see how it looks knitting up); sharing (the joy of creating a scarf for someone in colors and textures I know they’ll love). So I’m always thrilled when someone gives that gift of joy to people who need it most.

This morning, I read an article in The Wall Street Journal, “Japanese Elderly Knit a Safety Net.” It’s about how a group of tsunami survivors formed a knitting group, Yarn Alive, in the temporary box homes to which they’ve been moved, sometimes indefinitely.

Having watched as all they owned washed out to sea, losing loved ones, homes, and businesses, and now living in 210- to 320-square-foot spaces in prefab housing with small hope of recovering their lives, hope must have seemed an alien concept to the 326,000 people whose lives have been reduced to these bitterly cold boxes. According to the article, as many as 30% of these people are elderly, living alone and on a pension, with little chance of affording another home or getting another job.

But now, thanks to Yarn Alive, a number of them (using yarn, knitting needles, and crochet hooks donated from around the world) are creating community through the knitting club, making new friends, and finding new purpose. Each week, they have a special “homework” project, such as knitting scarves or blankets for others whose lives have been shattered by the tsunami, or making legwarmers and other knitted wearables to sell in Tokyo to raise money to help rebuild their town, Shichigahama. 

The ladies of Yarn Alive, the recipients of their work, and their town aren’t the only ones to benefit from the project. Those who send yarn and supplies also have an opportunity to participate in bringing joy to others’ lives, often in incredibly thoughtful ways. Take Zonna Fenn, a member of a church knitting group in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, which sent yarn and supplies to the Yarn Alive group. Ms. Fenn “says she heard it was hard to get bright-colored yarn in Japan… [so she] made a point of picking out multicolored, variegated yarn—the kind she said looked ‘fun to work with’.” If you know how much fun it is to pick out special yarns, fabrics or jewelry for yourself or as gifts, imagine the delight of choosing something special for someone who would really appreciate it.

This is also a case where one person with a vision can make a real difference. Thinking about 326,000 people still living in unheated, unairconditioned, makeshift box homes a year after the tragedy that wrecked their lives and washed away their world, you may feel helpless. I remember how appalled I was watching an episode of “No Reservations” in which Anthony Bourdain visited New Orleans three years after Hurricane Katrina. The city was still in ruins, whole areas abandoned, its famous restaurant district a ghost town.

But Tony Bourdain made a difference by devoting an episode of his hit show to highlighting the city’s ongoing distress. Emeril Lagasse made a difference by keeping his restaurants open and finding work for all his employees either there or at his other restaurants across the country.

Yes, you may be thinking, but they’re famous. What about normal people? What could they do? Well, in New Orleans, every person who chose to stay, who chose to rebuild, or who chose to come and devote some of their time, skills, and resources to the rebuilding also made a difference. In Shichigahama, one American woman, Teddy Sawka, a longtime resident, had the vision for Yarn Alive and pulled strings (sorry, I couldn’t resist that) to raise awareness among knitting groups worldwide to make her dream a reality for a group of elderly widows who loved knitting and desperately needed a new vocation, new friends, and something to look forward to. “It cheers me up so much that I don’t even feel lonely at night, I just feel like knitting some more,” one 80-year-old Yarn Alive member was quoted as saying.

As it happens, I know firsthand what a difference one person with a vision can make. In my case, the time was October 2008, and the person was Kathryn Hall of the popular blog Plant Whatever Brings You Joy (http://plantwhateverbringsyoujoy.com/). Kathryn heard about a group of refugee children, many of them girls, facing a freezing winter in the foothills of the Himalayas. She decided to do something about it, and the Scarf Initiative was born. (You can read all about it in my post “Scarfing it up” by typing the title in our search bar at upper right.) Kathryn appealed to knitting garden bloggers and anyone else who wished to contribute to knit and donate a scarf to the children. At the end of the project, she had almost 80 scarves, and I was very proud to see a photo of mine displayed with the others before they were packed and shipped. I vividly remember the delight of choosing just the right yarn to make a small, cold child happy and brighten her life, and of course, the pleasure of knitting the scarf myself.

The Scarf Initiative was a one-time event, but the ladies of Yarn Alive would doubtless welcome your unused yarn, thrift-store finds, or, of course, treasures selected especially for them. I urge you to read more about it (and see a video of the group in action) at www.wsj.com.

And if you don’t knit, are colorblind, break out at the mere thought of yarn? Keep your eyes open for a chance to take something you love and turn it into a vision that will help others in need, in your community, your city or state, your nation, your world. (This of course applies to you animal- and nature-lovers out there, too; “others in need” isn’t just about people.) Yes, as one ordinary person, you may feel powerless. But remember: Vision is power. Passion and compassion are power. Community is power. So reach in, reach out, and use your talent, vision and passion to make a difference. It may make all the difference in the world.

            ‘Til next time,



Scarfing it up. October 27, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Today, I’ll finish knitting a scarf, cast it off my needles, and put it in the mail. But it’s not just any scarf. It’s a very special scarf I knitted for Kathryn Hall and her Scarf Initiative, one of almost 80 scarves people like me are sending her way.

Kathryn, whose blog, Plant Whatever Brings You Joy (http://plantwhateverbringsyoujoy.com/), is a perennial favorite on Blotanical, Stuart Robinson’s brilliant compendium of gardening blogs, decided early this summer to do something selfless for children—little girls in particular—who were likely to be very, very cold this winter. That’s because they’re refugees in the foothills of the Himalayas. Kathryn hit on the idea of knitting scarves for the little girls to help them keep warm this winter, but even more, to know that people far, far away loved them and cared about keeping them warm. She blogged about her dream, and other bloggers like yours truly responded. (Some volunteered—how, I’ll never know—to knit 13 scarves!!! Mercy.)

I went off in search of yarn I thought a little girl would love, and came up, thanks to my local yarn shop in nearby Kutztown, Pennsylvania, with a yarn in all the sherbet colors (hot pink, orange, lime green, yellow). I felt in my soul that a little girl would love the bright, varied colors in this scarf, and I started knitting.

I love knitting, because I’m so bad at it. Uh, say what?! Well, you see, I learned to knit at my grandma’s and great-aunt’s knees. They were both extremely accomplished knitters, but the same couldn’t be said of their eager and worshipful pupil. After many visits and many lessons, I finally got the basic idea by about age 8. But sadly, that was the only idea I ever got. I can knit, cast on, cast off, add or drop stitches, compensate for unintentionally adding or dropping stitches. But that’s the beginning and end of what I can do. I can’t even pearl. What this means is that I can’t make anything more complicated than rectangles and squares. I can make scarves, potholders, afghans. I can’t make socks, hats, or mittens, much less sweaters.

So okay, why do I love it? Being freed from expectation also frees me from pressure. I can go out and buy beautiful and fun yarn and then sit back with my needles and enjoy myself. I can sit, mindlessly knitting, and think about whatever comes to mind. I can watch a movie or nature program while my needles continue to work. I can love the feel and sheen and colors of the yarn, the smoothness of the needles, without having to give a moment’s thought to a pattern.

Last night, while watching a PBS “Nature” program on Arctic wolves, foxes, gyrfalcons, snow geese, and owls, followed by one of our favorite movies, “Galaxy Quest,” I came to the end of my second skein of yarn. This yarn has followed me everywhere, from our home, Hawk’s Haven, in the precise middle of nowhere, Pennsylvania, through our travels in Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia. By the time it reaches Kathryn’s mailbox, it will have seen a good deal of the East Coast.

Grabbing a yardstick, I measured the scarf, which Kathryn has specified as 5 feet long and 1 foot wide. I’m still 3 inches short. But Kathryn’s November 1st deadline is looming, so I’ll add those additional 3 inches today before I leave the house, and I’ll drop the finished scarf in the mail as I run my afternoon errands.

Needless to say, I’ve followed Kathryn’s scarf saga on her blog, and I’ve been astounded to see the number of roadblocks she’s encountered while trying to do a simple good deed. (I guess that ironic saying, “No good deed goes unpunished,” is in full effect here.) But unlike many, who’d have simply given up, Kathryn has pressed on, tirelessly working to find a way to get our scarves to the people who need them. Bless you, Kathryn! I want to be able to imagine my sherbet-colored scarf delighting some tiny girl as it gets colder and colder in her village. It’s the best Christmas present I could possibly give myself.

         ‘Til next time,