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Knitting therapy. October 9, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. The best thing about cool weather after the beautiful fall foliage is the onset of knitting season. And unlike the foliage, kniting can be enjoyed clear through spring.

I love sitting in a cold room (as ours invariably are here in Hawk’s Haven) with a pile of warm knitting in my lap. And I find the mindless, repetitive activity endlessly soothing. I tend to be one-pointed (not great at multitasking), so knitting for me isn’t so mindless that I can knit and, say, watch a movie at the same time. (Though I can certainly knit and listen to music at the same time.) But that endless repetitive stitch, the rhytmic turning of the needles, is enough to drive stress away and stop the running to-do list or worry loop in my mind.

For all you accomplished knitters out there, I don’t mean to imply that serious knitting is mindless at all. There’s nothing mindless about trying to follow a pattern or creating an elaborately knitted sweater or even a pair of socks. My knitting is mindless because I just knit scarves and belts: knit a certain set number of stitches, turn the needles, repeat. And repeat. And repeat. Simple as that.

Where my creativity comes in is in choosing the most beautiful yarns to work with, so the end result transcends the simplicity of its creation: People actually like wearing my scarves. I’ve seen people wearing them ten years after I made them. I’ve had people bring me back scarves, battered from use, and ask if I could restore them to like-new condition so they could keep wearing them. This is the beauty of the yarn, not some intricate technique.

I’m glad my scarves and belts can bring color and pleasure to other people’s lives. But even more, I’m so grateful to knitting for being such a wonderful way to calm down, to take cares away and keep stress at bay. Yes, it may all be still out there, but stitch by stitch, it’s not getting in here now. Knitting is my cold-weather safe haven. Thank goodness for knitting therapy!

               ‘Til next time,


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,


Knitting up some tinsel magic. January 15, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. As a child, I hated tinsel. Seems like I was always the one who had to hang those bazillion silver plastic noodles on our tree, being the oldest (and thus at that time, tallest) child, getting stabbed by sharp evergreen needles and criticized by everyone else if the tinsel wasn’t perfectly distributed. Worse still was having to take off every strand of the wretched stuff when we undecorated the tree, and the needles were even sharper. Ow! Yow! *&%$#@!!! tinsel!!!

I only came to love tinsel when I discovered antique German tinsel as an adult. The silvered, fuzzy tinsel ropes glistened softly in the light, and you wrapped them ’round the tree like strings of popcorn. When Christmas was over, it took five minutes to take them down and fold them in their box. No fuss, no muss, and best of all, no pain!

Thoughts of Christmas glitter must have still been with me on our friend Ben’s and my recent trip to North Carolina to visit family. When our hosts suggested going to nearby Seagrove, NC, a mecca for pottery lovers with over 100 potteries, I of course jumped at the chance. But little did I know that yarn lurked behind one of those innocent-looking storefronts. 

Yarn and Silence Dogood are a dangerous combination, as OFB knows too well. (He fled the store and sulked—I mean, sat—in the car until I emerged with my package.) As I proceeded to the back of the store where the yarn was waiting, I saw the most gorgeous hand-crocheted shawl. Like tinsel, it glittered quietly in the light, its soft texture and many colors singing a siren call. But I didn’t want a shawl. I didn’t even want to make a shawl. I wanted to make a scarf.

Searching the shelves, I quickly located the yarn—Moonlight Mohair in “Rain Forest.” But aarrgghhh, there were only three skeins left, not the four I’d been counting on! What to do? I saw that each skein showed a knitted scarf on the front and promised that, if you used size 13 needles, you could knit it with a single ball (skein) of yarn. (Complete instructions were printed inside the label.) It looked attractive, but of course I had something else in mind—a wider, longer scarf knitted on size 7 needles.

After agonizing at unseemly length (OFB was actually asleep when I returned to the car), I finally decided to get the three skeins and just see. Back home, I put Mary Chapin Carpenter on the CD player, cast on 34 stitches on my size 7 wooden needles (wooden and bamboo needles are my favorites, though I do cherish some of my grandma’s vintage plastic needles), and started knitting. What a thrill to see the tinsel-like gold metallic thread wound with the many mohair colors flashing in the light! It looked like magic come to life.

So far, I only have about 8 inches of scarf knitted. But I’m so looking forward to continuing! I find knitting as relaxing as some people find meditation. And, though the colors of this particular yarn look lovely in daylight, they’re especially beautiful, thanks to that gold tinsel, by lamplight. A lovely finish to the day. And who doesn’t want to keep that Christmas magic alive?

           ‘Til next time,


Twice as warm. September 10, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Do you know that old saying (please note that I resisted “that old saw”) about chopping your own wood: That it warms you twice—once when you cut it, and again when you burn it? (I think they forgot the parts about stacking it, hauling it inside, and hauling the ashes out again to put around your fruit trees. Not to mention that warm feeling of panic you get in the ambulance when you get distracted and cut into your leg or finger. But I digress.)

Anyway, I thought of that saying this morning when I read Aunt Debbi’s post “Scarf Initiative” over at Aunt Debbi’s Garden (http://auntdebbisgarden.blogspot.com/). Aunt Debbi was spreading the word about a wonderful thing that Kathryn Hall of Plant Whatever Brings You Joy! (http://plantwhateverbringsyoujoy.com/) is doing. Kathryn originally wrote about her Scarf Initiative in a post called “Get Out Your Knitting Needles!” I urge you all to read it.

Kathryn is asking her fellow bloggers to knit or crochet a 5-foot-long, 1-foot-wide scarf and mail it to her by November 1st. No, Kathryn’s not a scarf fetishist. (Well, maybe she is. Who doesn’t love a hand-knitted scarf?! But these scarves aren’t for her.) In turn, she’ll mail them off to Pakistan so Afghani and Pakistani girls attending Greg Mortensen’s Girls Refugee Schools in the foothills of the Himalayas will have something warm to wear in the frigid Himalayan winters, and so they’ll know that the rest of us have not forgotten them.

Those of you who’ve followed our adventures here over the summer have already met my oldest friend, Huma, and her adorable twins Rashu and Sasha. Huma’s family is from Lahore, Pakistan, so when I read Kathryn’s post, I felt an immediate connection. Pakistan, however distant, wasn’t an abstraction to me. And the plight of Afghani women has been a waking nightmare, an ongoing threat as long as the Taliban continue their quest to regain power.

My knitting skills aren’t what you’d call advanced, but I love to knit during the crisp, cold nights of fall and winter, and scarves are one thing I can do. I signed on as a scarf knitter, and headed out after my morning trip to Curves to the nearest yarn shop to select some skeins for my scarf. (I already had a scarf in fabulous fall colors started from yarn I’d bought last Thanksgiving in Asheville, NC, but it had been earmarked for our friend Ben, and Ben was not about to give it up. But that’s okay. Where yarn’s concerned, any excuse to buy more is a good excuse, as far as I’m concerned.)

I most enjoy knitting yarns in mixed colors. That’s because, when you’re not knitting a complex pattern, it can get boring if you’re working with just one color. Multicolored yarn is much more interesting. So I cruised the shop, looking for a multicolored yarn that I thought might appeal to a girl. Sure enough, I found some yarn in a color combo that would ban you from the country club for life, but would have boosted you to fashion greatness in the Summer of Love back in Hippie Heaven in the Sixties. Hot pink, orange, yellow, and lime green chased each other across the skeins. Wouldn’t girls love the brilliant colors? I knew it was the right choice when the shop owner explained that her 8-year-old daughter had begged her to buy that particular yarn. And, bless her, she gave me a 10% discount when I explained what it was for.

So please, if you knit or crochet, won’t you join Kathryn and Debbi and me and all the other bloggers who are creating scarves and making a little magic for poor, cold little girls a world away from our comparatively luxurious lives? Like chopping your own wood, making a scarf will create warmth twice: once in your heart, and once wrapped around a child who has little else, but now knows that someone, somewhere, cares enough to make something just for them.

            ‘Til next time,