All This And No Surprises

People followed us around in grocery stores when I was little.

This picture of my mother was taken by my father in 1971, probably.

You may recall my Dad died in 2007 on April Fool’s Day, which under other circumstances would have amused him greatly. Mom and Dad didn’t like one another much and divorced while dinosaurs roamed the earth and I was in middle school. Much to everyone’s surprise, including hers, Mom died a few weeks ago – on April Fool’s Day, which would have made Dad laugh and Mom reeeeeeeeally mad.

Of my siblings, I look the most like her, but not a whole lot. Our coloring is completely different, for one thing. For another, she resembled a blond Elizabeth Taylor, and I do not. Thus, it was unusual that at the funeral home viewing, with Mom laid out in the casket and everything, a mourner who has known me since I was a child approached me with trepidation, gasped and called me by my mother’s name, “…Lucy?”

“Shh!” I said, “Only you can see me.” I told her I was me, Domenica, but she didn’t let go of me for quite a while. The next day at the church service, Mom’s college friends couldn’t wait to show me a binder of pictures of their lives through the years, by which I mean the entire assembly behind me waited while I stood nervously in a doorway, glancing at pictures of my mother as a young coed, sitting in a tree.

Three days later, we all drove up to Cape Cod for the burial. In New Jersey, we left spring behind to find the end of winter in Massachusetts, for which almost no one was prepared. Mom wanted to be buried next to her mother. Her first cousin found a burial plot in the family cemetery. Next thing we knew, we were sitting and standing in a cold, wind-swept graveyard full of our ancestors and the Black, female minister from the Cape Cod church in which Mom, Daria and I were baptized before the invention of rope, when the minister certainly was neither Black nor female. But change is here, and now, and sometimes for the best.

Mom was diagnosed with bipolar disorder just over a year and a half ago, but a friend assured me Mom had suffered depressive and manic episodes for decades. Her depression I had seen, but I never saw manic behavior until these last few years. In her manic episodes, her sharp mind was somehow even sharper and she outwitted our efforts to get her help over and over again. Her anxiety made her postpone surgery she desperately needed, and waiting too long ultimately cost her her life. I’ve mentioned before the impact untreated mental illness has had on my life and the lives of my family members and friends. This did not have to happen. If Mom had gotten treatment for her anxiety and bipolar disorder, she might have lived to a ripe old age.

Mom was also really smart.

There’s no substitute for large hair curlers.

You might think this is a sad story, and in one way it is. Mom had a very rough childhood, and if ours was a society that invested in the physical and mental health of children, maybe Mom’s life would have been different and even healthier. On the other hand, at the funeral home, photo displays my sisters put together overnight showed a life in which my mother was smiling, active, athletic, singing, surrounded by family and friends, traveling, modeling silly outfits and dancing. Mom had a tough internal life she balanced with a life spent in happy motion.

Maybe the best thing we can do is keep moving.

I Just Can’t Handle It

 

 

It's a trap!

Pete and I found this bracelet on a garden wall on New Year’s Day, like an offering to the gods or a crow.

News happens faster than I can blog anymore. I gave up years ago in real life, but I do think about it. Can I take apart news stories and put them back together with bloggy masking tape and spit? Yeah, but I’d rather have my hands in bread dough and not have a nervous breakdown. So here we are.

Years ago, Dad died and left me homework: learn how to bake decent bread. I’ve been working my way through Dad’s cookbooks, but none has been as interesting as the late Carol Field’s The Italian Baker. Many recipes begin with a starter called a biga. If you want to bake bread tomorrow or in a few days, you gather yeast, flour, water in the right proportions, mix them and leave them on the counter overnight. The next day, if you’re not baking, you refrigerate the biga. You can freeze it if your dance card fills up and you just can’t watusi toward your loaf pans. Anyhoo, making a biga is effortless.

My daughter Miss Sasha asked me a few days ago what made a good cookbook. I said there were certain principles involved in baking and if a recipe writer asks me to depart from them, I’m immediately suspicious. Most cakes and cookies work this way: cream together butter/oil + sugar; add eggs one at a time; add flavorings; add some flour + some liquid, flour + liquid; add chunky stuff. If a recipe starts with flour in my mixing bowl, our relationship is off to a rocky start and our product will be inedible. A baker must trust a recipe writer. A recipe writer must offer directions for basic, medium and more complex recipes, let the baker work her way up and develop confidence.

Field does this. I can’t follow a recipe to save my life, but every one I study lets me produce decent loaves of bread. We eat them at home! I take them to work and foist them on my unsuspecting co-workers! When they dry out, I feed them to the chickens! I buy flour by the bale at Costco, but it’s all good. I’m not just baking bread, I’m stimulating the economy. Thank me!

And speaking of me, my daughter – again: Miss Sasha – wrote a book, which you can buy on Amazon. It’s called This Doesn’t Make Me An Expert, it is very interesting and full of surprises. Once chapter in particular blew me away, but they’re all good and I learned a lot reading it. You can buy it in print or in electronic form, and you should because reading is fundamental and you can’t spell fundamental without fun and mental.

I Am I Am I

Annual report time! I’ve been avoiding this for over a month because wild things have been happening. We’re having a winter without snow! My sisters and I have been fighting! The restaurant I work in part time is on the market! My office has gone full-metal weird, and in five years, it’ll be nothing but me and six Vice Presidents standing at my cubicle doorway, shouting, “MAKE MY PURCHASE ORDER BEFORE HERS!” Hahahaha – I’m on break! But let’s get this annual report into the books, shall we? To recap:

This started out as the Cat Blanket Project. The Lovely Georg, Ceiling Cat Remember Her With Fishy Treats, asked friends to knit or crochet blankets for animal shelters, which I did. But then people from all over – possibly including you – sent me yarn in large boxes; other agencies/organizations asked for yarny help. So! You trusted me with art supplies. This is what I did with them in 2014, in 2015, in 2016.cornery

In 2017, I was making blankets for the animal shelters, baby blankets for the hospital, lap blankets for veterans, etc., but in 2018, things changed. The hospital developed new rules that did not allow for baby blankets. My connection to the veterans in need of lap blankets moved away. I made lap blankets for the cancer treatment center but haven’t had the chance to deliver them yet. They will make my 2019 stats super shiny! Look at me go!

I made 56 cat blankets and 58 cat toys. They’re supposed to be 1:1, but as we know I cannot count and yay extra toys!

I made piles of pussy hats that will be delivered at a time when I can account for them, in the fuuuuutuuuuuuure!

The other thing I was doing with my hands in 2018 (watch it, you!) was writing postcards for Postcards To Voters. Last year was a crucial year in the history of our country and I started writing postcards to overcome my despair. Writing each postcard was an act of desperate hope in the beginning, and then the candidates I was writing for began to win races. I won’t lie. I needed them to win. I needed them to win enough that I wrote 405 postcards last year, putting a crimp in my 2018 crocheting schedule and making my hands, which don’t work well on a good day, feel like reheated crap. For 2019, I’m going to try turning out 30 postcards a week, but we shall see how desperate I feel and how many special elections fill out the calendar. By the way, if you’re feeling desperate, you too can write postcards. It’s easy to join up and it really does matter.

In 2018, two stitchers died and their projects, tools, patterns and materials came to me. Thank you for trusting me! Tiny, tiny crochet hooks went to a friend who teaches people how to crochet lace. Some of those hooks were smaller than any my friend had ever seen, and they were certainly too tiny for me to use or even see. Seriously: they were tiny. When my friend died, projects, tools and materials came to me and they were special, because that stitcher was my friend and mentor for decades. I sent her many knitting needles on to Georg, Ceiling Cat remember her with fishy treats! I finished one project and gave it back to her family. This was really emotional for me, because it’s hard to work in the stitches of another person and think of their hands touching the same project. Nearly all of the yarn has been made into blankets that will keep people and animals warm, and all of it will eventually move on.

So: 2018 was really different from previous years: productive, but really different. I haven’t got the faintest idea if I can keep turning out more blankets for the animal shelters each year. Anyway, I will keep trying. Thank you for trusting me!

 

 

 

 

Faith And Hope And Charity

Wut?

I’ve always been afraid gravity would lose its grip on me.

Here we are in the dark of January. It’ll be another two and half to three months before we can quit thinking of murdering people who touch us with cold feet. They deserved it! No jury would convict us! COLD FEET!

But I hope you will curb your murderous urges. Spring will come soon and you’ll think you were out of your mind to take out the garbage in January wearing flip flops. Shoes were a hassle. You were just taking out the garbage and you couldn’t find your other boot. One of the cats was probably wearing it, to go with the gloves you find everywhere, migrating around the house at night like there’s some sort of glove exchange you don’t really understand. By you, I mean me, and I’ll bet my feet are cold.

The Rhythm of Your Heartbeat

Please fix your nails, lady.

One December afternoon.

Kind, thoughtful people send me scrap yarn by the bagful for the cat blanket project. I can’t thank those enough – or, in some cases, at all, since I have no idea who they are or were. Every year, though, donations arrive with unfinished projects, piles of knitting needles and crochet hooks, notions, patterns, shopping lists; these are the last effects of a stitcher. This year, packages like this arrived twice: once, from a very elderly hoarder I didn’t know, but the second time, the late stitcher was a friend and mentor. She was a much better knitter than I will ever be, and her unfinished projects were daunting. I put them away for another, braver day. Yesterday was that day. It was also Christmas Day, and Christmas cheer might’ve had something to do with it.

My craft room has been disastrous since these donations arrived. Yesterday, I took out a giant homemade knitting bag full of unfinished throw blanket and laid it out on my dining room table to look at it. If I thought I could finish it, I was determined to try. If I could not, I’d tear out the stitches and reuse the yarn, but I was trying to avoid that. After a few minutes’ examination, I realized to my relief the blanket was crocheted. I didn’t know my friend crocheted, so that came as a surprise. My friend was right-handed. I am left-handed, and that matters. I was unable to figure out what stitches she was using or how she had made the very pretty dual colored pattern. Pete said, “If you can finish it, why don’t you give it to her granddaughters?” That was the encouragement I needed, and I decided I would, if not finish the blanket at her degree of skill, finish it to the best of my ability. In retrospect, a strong holiday cocktail might have boosted my confidence.

The blanket was about 7′ long with fringe on both ends. I worked out how she did that, but not why. She had started a row with single crochet. Her stitches slanted right. Mine slanted left. I couldn’t do anything about that, but on the second row, I figured out a solution to the problem that blended my stitches with hers and made the two edges a closer match. No match would be perfect, but this was pretty good.

It was Christmas Night. I texted my friend’s daughter, who is also my lifelong friend Trout, to say the blanket was finished and did she want it? At that moment, her niece was plopping gooey green slime into her hands, so my timing was somewhat off. Trout burst into tears and we agreed to meet up next weekend.

A couple of weeks ago, Paulie Gonzalez and I renewed the blog’s domain name for three years. As a writer and artist, I am not sure where I’m going or what I’d like to be doing, but finishing the work of a beloved stitcher gave me a feeling of satisfaction I haven’t felt before, and this brings us to the photograph above. Here, I declare defeat.

Buoyed by yesterday’s success, I pulled a bunch of sweater panels out of a garbage bag and found my nemesis at the bottom: a zipper. As bad signs go, that one said “Bates Motel.” The bag contained no pattern and no clue how the panels should be assembled. Worse: one of the panels stopped a few inches in. I laid this out on the dining room table and waved the white flag: these cream-colored panels were beyond my ken. After that, I spent two hours pulling out stitches and rolling the yarn into balls. Two hours. Come to think of it, a refreshing adult beverage might’ve helped with that, too.

Three years offers a lot of possibility. I might finish yarny stuff, garden or string words together. I might think the funny thoughts in public places or say serious stuff where someone might hear me. The future is wide open.