a girl and her boy

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February is for Finishing

Yes, I know. I know. The rules for February is for Finishing included having a list up by February 1. Well, I did have a list. A mental one. That list has just one thing on it.

I am *going* to finish this cross-stitch piece this month even if it kills me, which it won’t. It just might keep me sleep deprived, that’s all.

Since this photo was taken in January 2010, I’ve picked it up and worked on the wing and ribbons at the bottom of the piece and they’re now up and around the sleeve just under the earth. It’s pretty much a matter of finishing the ribbons, fixing the hair and wing gap, filling in the earth, and attending to the flowers. I can do that.

I couldn’t find the original photo that came with my pattern and this is the best image I could find for the finished piece online:

When I’m done with it, I have a plan for what to do with it. After I finish and attend to some details, I’ll fill you in. It involves preparing it as a gift for someone who has done a lot for me.

I began this cross-stitch piece in high school, freshman year I think. My best friend’s mom pulled the thread out of her own collection, gave me a hoop and needle, and put the first stitch in for me. I’ve thought of her every time I work on it and thank her for the wonderful person she is and example she was to me as I wandered blind in high school. Emmy, your mom is awesome, but you knew that already.

Emmy’s mom, Susie, is mother to everyone that walked through the doors of her home. Nearly every time I was over, there were a few extra kids in the house visiting Phil, Em’s brother, or just hanging out. People loved being there. I loved being there. I felt loved and welcome. I felt accepted. Em’s mom had a way of making every person feel special and capable of doing extraordinary things with their lives. She showed this love by word and deed:  she made every one of her “kids” a graduation quilt with a special message handwritten and sewn on. I have mine tucked away in a special storage bag in the closet waiting on a home where I can get a quilt rack to display it honorably. And she knew how to enjoy life and laugh. God. I don’t think I laughed as much or as hard anywhere else. Susie Estabrook, you are one of my greatest inspirations. Thank you for everything!

After I’m done with the cross-stitch piece, I have two sweaters, two cropped cardigans, and pair of socks to finish knitting. Hopefully I can keep the voices in the stash silent while I get this stuff done so I don’t add to the UFO list. Speaking of the stash, I have the goal of, other than specific items requested by people and funded, I am knitting and cross-stitching out of the stash strictly this year. As soon as I gather my courage to sort through the basket and two buckets of yarn, I’ll post photos of the stashed goods and post pictures and intended projects. Keep me honest and knitting!


Mittens: A Knitter’s Journey.

Image from the pattern of my favorite mitten "recipe."


I grew up with two grandmothers whom loved knitting. I was lucky to have them as mentors. Nonnie, my mother’s mother, sent boxes of mittens to us every winter in every color and size imaginable. Some of them were knit in acrylic, some in wool. I didn’t know the difference in material then, but I did know the difference in quality. The mittens Nonnie made lasted longer, so long as they didn’t get lost, than gloves or mittens purchased from a store.

Nana, my father’s mother and the knitter I thank for teaching me, as far as I remember anyway, knit sweaters mostly. She was working on a brown and pink cardigan for me in her final days of a losing battle with lung cancer; she never finished it. My aunt, Kelly, finished it. She, too, knits and would send us boxes of mittens each winter as well.

When the mittens arrived, I would study them carefully and wonder that anyone could make such things! I had no idea how one would go from cuff to thumb to fingertips. All I could manage at the time was miles and miles of flat garter stitch on my powder blue size 6 Susan Bates needles Nana gave me.

I began knitting at Nana Sirois’s knee in Byron on those size 6 needles when I was about the same age as the needle size. Wrapping the yarn around my finger, then transferring it to the needle opened a doorway to a world of creation and meditation that I hope never closes. Those beginning days of learning the knit stitch are still with me:  up through the window, around the back, down through the window, and off jumps Jack. With brows furrowed in concentration, I murmured those words as I taught my fingers to coordinate the needles and yarn.

My second year of college I grew weary of garter stitch pot-holders, dish clothes, and scarves and yearned for something more challenging; I had been knitting nothing but garter stitch for about fourteen years at that point. The resident assistant on my floor in my dorm knit and proudly showed off her hats to admirers. I asked her to teach me.

Then I knit boxes full of hats and shipped them off to shelters and other need-based organizations accepting donations.

I soon grew restless again. It was time to learn to make mittens.

Scouring the web, I found patterns but none that gave me the support I thought I needed to learn how to make this particular garment. Then I came across Katharina Buss and her book on knitting. This book is where I learned how to knit by gauge, how to adapt patterns for various sizes, and how to knit colorwork. And yes, she taught me how to knit mittens.

That first pair though. Oy! It pains me to think back on that pair now.

By this time, I was in graduate school. I cracked open Buss’s book and set out to make my first pair of mittens. I had a lovely lavender wool to work with and I was off to the races.

The cuff knit up just fine in a basic knit two, purl two rib. But when I got to the thumb gusset, that’s when I made my first error. I misread the pattern. It told me to increase by one stitch on both sides of the first thumb gusset stitch. No problem. But then, I continued to increase by two on both sides of the gusset, not the one stitch on each side as the pattern meant. By the time I had knit up the rows in the pattern, I had something like 50 stitches for the thumb, instead of the 15-17 that is typical! And I didn’t know the difference somehow. I continued knitting along and thought everything was fine. I made the second mitten for the set to match. Ay-yai-yai! The thumbs on that pair of mittens would have been appropriate for someone who’d just smashed their thumb with a hammer.

Luckily, the next pair was better and I learned. I’ve been cranking out the mittens since.

My most recent breakthrough with this garment, and the inspiration behind sharing this history of mitten-making, is learning a more effective and aesthetically pleasing way of making the thumb gusset increases.

I just finished the first mitten of a set for Gabe and when I came to the thumb gusset increases, instead of wrapping the yarn around the needle to make a new stitch like I would have in the past, I decided to try another form of increasing:  I picked up the back side of the stitch on the row previous that was between the stitches where I wanted the increase. I used this method through three rounds of increases. On the fourth, instead of correcting the twist from picking up that stitch, I left it twisted. This created a hole-less and smooth increase. It looks great!

For those embarking on the journey of mitten knitting, I’d like to share the mitten recipe that will help you make mittens for everyone you know! Classic Mittens from Free Vintage Knitting. If you have questions about mitten knitting, or knitting in general, please feel free to contact me via the new contact form on the “About The Girl” tab.

It’s Saturday! Enjoy your day! I’ll be knitting. 🙂

What a trip!

After importing my old blog, Little Bee, I took a quick spin through the archives from the beginning in 2007 to when I decided it was time to start a new project in 2009. It’s been a helluva journey. My first posts were at the tail-end of my graduate program when I was hard on the trail of my first teaching job and from there we went from Orono to Yarmouth back to Orono to Winthrop, and now to Boston following the sign posts of a long-term relationship culminating to a trip to the altar and then to signing divorce papers. Along the trail was a ton of knitting, reading, slices of daily life, and giggles at the shenanigans of my hamster, Clarence.

It made me realize how many loose ends there are! Let me tie some up so as you delve into the archive, you’ve got some sense of where the story ended up.

First things first, my dear little hamster, Clarence, died fall 2009. It crushed me. He was my confidant and entertainment during that first year of teaching living all alone in Winthrop. He’s now buried in the back yard of the house in Salem I lived at from July 2009 to July 2010. Poke through the “hamster” tag and you’ll find a video of him. He was the cutest little thing.

As far as people, Shana is still the bedrock of my life. She’s pretty much plain awesome. Amy is still kicking my butt and keeping me in line. Speaking of Amy, I need to call her. Allan and I are in touch from time to time. Luckily, things ended up amicable. Hallelujah to being friends with exes.

Ummmm, yeah. I think those are the biggest lose strings.

Have a great Friday night, all!

A Rose by Any Other Name: A Post on Books, Knitting, 2010 Adventures, Rumination on Names, and Hopes for 2011.

It’s been a while since I’ve posted. I’ve intentionally held off from posting because of how worked up I was about some specific parts of the holidays. And now that those are over, and I’ve had some time to reflect, I’m ready to write again.

You might want to take a potty break now. Fill your water glass, or grab a mug of tea or coffee. It’s a long one.

Read more of this post

Phoebe in Wonderland

One of my favorite things to do is knit and watch films or anime. This past week I saw a film that had a profound effect on me:  Phoebe in Wonderland.

Phoebe in Wonderland tells the story of a girl who, later in the film, is diagnosed with Tourette syndrome. She uses her imagination to cope with her differences. The film is rich in visual color and script. This film hit me on several levels. One, as an educator, I have worked with students with Tourette syndrome, and although I knew the signs, I didn’t really understand how it changed a person’s world view. This film taught me that. Second, the mother struggles to balance her hectic home responsibilities with writing her PhD dissertation which she hopes to publish when complete while watching her husband get book deals.

At one point in the film, after some family strife where the father says something hurtful, but true, to Phoebe, the mother says to the father (and I’m cutting out some of the earlier bits in this dialogue):  I’m mad that I blame myself for the way she acts. I’m mad that I think of mothers as just mothers. And I’m mad that I care if I’m a good one. I’m mad that when you said that I knew you were right. I couldn’t take another one like her. I’m mad that I’m not writing. And I’m mad that some day I will be seventy and going on about my kids because I won’t have anything else because I didn’t do anything important. And I’m mad that sometimes I’m not scared of that at all. Because my children make me live. They make me live.

I paused the film at this point. The mother hit a nerve. Her words echoed my own struggle. This is exactly how I have been feeling about my relationship with writing lately. I’m so upset that I’m not writing (anything that I feel is worthy of being called “writing”) and at the same time, I’m not.

T. S. Eliot, one of the poets that has inspired me over and over, said, “Any poet, if he is to survive beyond his 25th year, must alter; he must seek new literary influences; he will have different emotions to express.” And that’s really where I’m stuck. My internal landscape has altered, my influences have altered, but I haven’t allowed the expression and the tone of my writing to alter. I still expect that my work will look and sound like it did in the “peak years” and I shouldn’t! My voice and my influences have matured, my writing should, too.

Back to the film. This film evoked the essence of childhood, the necessity of creativity, and the delicate and changing nature of family relationships. I highly recommend it to all. To go back to Eliot, “A play should give you something to think about. When I see a play and understand it the first time, then I know it can’t be much good.” I’m still digesting this one.

The Day Job

Sitting in a meeting with my colleagues after the students left today, I caught myself wondering how in hell I made it. I’m glad I did, no doubt. And I’m doing well. But how did I survive? And what can I bring to the table to help my students?

I work in an alternative education setting now with students who have drug abusing parents, who have been raped or molested (repeatedly in some cases), who shoot up drugs to dull the pain of extreme poverty and neglect. They have anxiety and paranoia and PTSD and psychosis. These kids are just babies at 14, 15, 16, 17, and 18 years old. Some have have already sat for hours in front of judges or counselors or CFS agents at their tender ages with stony “yeah, and what the fuck are you going to do about it?” faces.

These youths, both in my classroom and in others all across our nation, are disenfranchised and in awful shape and are looking to us to do something about it. And what are we doing about it? One of my students fell through the systems’ cracks and is now missing on the freezing cold streets of Massachusetts.

It’s a 6 hour a day, 30 hour a week job that is paying the bills so why worry so much, right? But it’s more than that to me. These kids here in Salem and the ones I left behind in Maine are my  kids. They didn’t come out of my body (and I’m glad for that – can you imagine the stretch marks?) but they have my heart and dedication. I know I have to learn a certain amount of emotional separation, but I haven’t yet.

I’ll have something more intelligible to say about this eventually. I just had to get this off my chest.


I took this photo when I first moved here.

What a brave little flower growing alone by this house surrounded by cement.

I’m feeling a helluva lot better. I was in a pretty severe funk this past week. Got caught up in the past and forgot that although this stuff is pretty dark and severe, I still have a choice.

I can choose to be brave. I can choose to be positive. I can choose to be different.


Looking at my desk and walls reminds me of an art piece displayed in Lord Hall at UMaine created by Yvette Tardiff a few years ago:  a round kitchen table full of espresso cups with varying levels of fullness, with a wall full of sticky-notes behind it. I don’t remember the title of the piece, but it was something along the lines of “American Dream”.

I remember standing there staring at the installation and thinking:  Damn. That’s me.

It still is.

My desk is full of tea mugs that need to find their way to the kitchen and my desk, walls, and planner are full of sticky-notes reminding me of things I need to do.

What is the American dream to you? I asked a group of students this once as part of a unit on The Great Gatsby. I got a range of answers, but each one included being happy and healthy as part of it. It never occurred to me, until now, to examine my personal dream and how close I am to achieving it.

When I was in high school, and a half-hearted at best practicing Mormon, my dream was to have a modest home with a door open to the community, a bottom-less cookie jar, a few dogs, a cat, and lots of people to love coming and going throughout the day and year. This vision of life included being married, having a handful of kids, and being completely immersed in family life.

And thinking about it now, my vision hasn’t changed that much. I still want that modest home with a door open to the community, a bottom-less cookie jar, a few dogs, a cat, and lots of people to love. Unfortunately, the kids part won’t happen, at least not out of my body without serious intervention that is not certain to work.

A few months ago, after experiencing serious pain in my pelvic region for several days straight, I called my doctor in Maine. I told him what I was experiencing and asked for a reference closer to me in the North Shore area. I ended up spending a few days in southern Maine being poked and prodded and imaged. As if I wasn’t already sore enough. But it was necessary.

I waited and waited and finally the results came in:  between cyclical ovarian cysts from the time I was 14 and the damage my reproductive organs sustained from repeated sexual assault, I am unable to have kids. The pain was from a cyst that burst through years and years of scar tissue build-up. My organs are too scarred up to become pregnant without medical assistance. And the PTSD would make being pregnant and giving birth likely to change the chemistry of any child born of my body.

Even though I had already come to (mostly) decide I didn’t want children anyway (I’ll get to that later), having the choice taken away from me due to years of assault and a medical condition that often develops in people who have been sexually assaulted hurts.

I am still dealing with it.

And more than that. I have been feeling hurt and angry the last week because I am remembering what happened and realizing just how much it has affected me and how much it continues to affect me. How much someone else’s actions has changed how my brain and body functions, and how much has been taken away.

Looking around at these sticky-notes full of reminders and mugs of tea makes me wonder how close I am to that dream, and how far I have to go to overcome and tame these demons to get there.

Odds and Ends on a Sick Day

the mound of work

the mound of work

Leave it to a teacher to worry about getting caught up/ahead on work on a sick day. I’ve been grading and planning all morning in between naps and tending the wood stove. I figure, at least this way I’ll be all set when it comes time to leave for Thanksgiving to visit family – I’ll have everything caught up and ready to go.

I’m really looking forward to Thanksgiving. Of all the holidays, Thanksgiving is by far my favorite. It has fewer religious overtones, I don’t have to worry about the pressure of giving or receiving gifts, and I get to help make and eat delicious food with friends and family. What more could I ask for in a holiday!

This holiday also marks the period of the year where I really have to worry about my SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). I have to be careful to always use my therapy lamp, to get out on walks a few times a week, to exercise, and eat good wholesome foods. If I’m going to succumb to depression, between Thanksgiving and New Year’s is it.

I always crave intense color this time of year, too. I normally am not a huge fan of red, not berry colors or purples, I mean RED. But I’ve been going shopping specifically to seek out red things – red bags, red note books, red shirts or sweaters, red anything. The intense color of red always lifts me up a little this time of  year. It’s a bold color amongst the cold, drab, dreary and dark landscape. It’s warming and cheering. But I only really like red between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. Otherwise, I’m very attracted to soothing browns, blues, greens, and subdued plums and berry colors. I’ve even been attracted to fiery oranges lately, too. Weird.

Weekend Warriors

Little Abby

Little Abby

I’m so exhausted: the last three days have been busier than the last two weeks combined. It all started the day of my reception when I found out that my cousin Tracy’s baby was being baptized. I immediately went out and purchased yarn for a little cardigan that you’ve seen posts on the last few days. That little cardigan kicked my butt. It took so much longer than I ever expected. Saturday night I was up until 2 am trying to finish that thing. I got one button band done and decided to finish the rest on the hour and more car ride to Western Maine only to realize the next day that I picked up way too many stitches. The poor sweater was crinkled and bunched from it. I showed it to my cousin and let her know I’d fix it and mail it. At least she saw that I indeed had something for little Abigail. Tracy wasn’t worried. As a matter of fact, she loves the cardigan and can’t wait until I mail it out.

Allan enjoying the get-together, and the sun.

Allan enjoying the get-together, and the sun.

Spending time with my maternal extended family was cathartic. I distanced myself from them around 2003 when I began acknowledging the full extent of my childhood experiences and the truth of my parents’ actions because my only interactions with them to that point were through my parents – either going with them to visit or hearing about them from my parents. My need to heal emotionally led me to pull away from my family, and even some friends, to what felt like a safe, secluded space. And now, five years later, married, happier than I’ve ever been in my life, I was able to reconnect with them. And it was wonderful beyond measure.

My parents were unable to attend the baptism and following barbecue, which allowed me to interact with my family for the first time in my life without them. And further, I’m an adult with an adult perspective. I was able to fully be myself around my family because I tend to limit my emotional and verbal responses when my parents are around because of the pain and memories their presence evokes. For the first time since I was a child, I have an extended family.

We left western Maine mid-afternoon and promptly got lost in a very similar manner to Amy’s experience in the same region. It took us nearly two and a half hours to return from Andover. By the time we drove into the dooryard, I was tired, hungry and cranky. So, of course, we immediately left again to visit Allan’s parents in Vassalboro, another 35 minute drive away. It was worth it, though, as I had a long and leisurely swim in my MIL’s heated therapy pool (pool house built off the main house). It was a dream.

We got back from Sunday’s adventures around 11 pm. Monday’s adventures began at 10 am when we left to visit Grammie in Camden, about an hour and a half away. Earlier in our adventures, Allan’s only pair of sandals blew out and so we had to try and find another pair. We scoured three stores in Augusta only to find cheap, uncomfortable, and limited selections of sandals for far more than we would consider paying. This made us really cranky and made the additional car time a real joy.

We ended up arriving in Camden about 2 hours later than we estimated because of our delayed morning start (groggy) and searching for sandals.

Allan and his Grammie

Allan and his Grammie

From there our adventures started looking up. We went into Camden in search of lunch, intending on eating at this new wine bar, but they were closed. So, on our way to check out other place to eat, we ended up stopping into Sage as they just opened a shop in downtown Camden, and I fell in love. If I could live anywhere I wanted, I’d live in a coastal town similar to the Rockland/Rockport/Camden area. After ogling the spices and wine, we sallied forth and found a shoe shop where Allan finally found a pair of sandals that were comfortable, well made, and reasonably priced! Hallelujah! From there, we sought out a Japanese restaurant, but come to find out, they, too, were not open on Monday. We ended up eating at this great little Thai place. The food was to die for.

thai food - yum!

thai food - yum!

Frog Tree Fingering Alpaca Wool

After lunch, I brought Allan and Grammie to Unique One Sweater and Yarn where we were mesmerized and tantalized by the gorgeous stock. I walked out with three balls of Frog Tree Fingering Alpaca wool to make a Reversible Cable and Lace scarf. See, I told you I’m getting better, and braver! Two lace projects lined up!

Frog Tree Fingering Alpaca Wool

The adventures didn’t end there. We stopped by a market, grabbed stuff for kabobs, and went back to the cottage. We drank wine (Gnarly Head Cab), at cheese and crackers (rice crackers with a light honey glaze and blue cheese), and talked about old times. It was a great night.

And now, here I am, Tuesday, exhausted. Any wonder why? 🙂