How I Became a Climate Activist

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead

Last June, the Unitarian Universalist General Assembly (annual meetings) was held in Portland. There is always some kind of public witness event at these meetings, and last summer’s was about global climate change. Part of the ritual involved taking a piece of ribbon and writing a commitment on it, then hanging it on a tree outside the convention center. (Sort of like Tibetan prayer flags.) Except it was such a blisteringly hot day that we ended up holding the event inside the air-conditioned convention center… no trees.

I brought my blank ribbon home, as did my husband, and somehow we had acquired a third one as well. I thumbtacked them to the outside of my front door as a visual reminder that I had made a commitment to do something about climate change, though I didn’t yet know what that would be.front door

Perhaps a week later, as I was walking my dog home from the park, a neighbor stopped me on the sidewalk and, without preamble, said “I’m so concerned about climate change! Isn’t there something we can do? There must be something we can do at a neighborhood level. Will you do something with me?”

I didn’t know this woman well, only well enough to call her by name (Lynn) and say hello when I walked past her house. As we talked on the sidewalk that morning, her husband Michael joined us, and we decided to get together one evening that week to brainstorm what we might do.

My husband was interested as well, so we two couples started meeting about every two weeks over the summer to talk about how we might encourage our neighbors to get involved in something regarding climate change; we still didn’t know what it would be. At each meeting each of us made a commitment to do something specific, and at each subsequent meeting we reported back on what we had done.

We read some books: Joanna Macy’s Active Hope; Rebecca Solnit’s A Paradise Built in Hell; and This Changes Everything, by Naomi Klein. We started searching the Internet for resources that the City of Portland had organized, and we went to some meetings.

The place to start, we realized, was with neighborhood resiliency — building a network of neighbors who know each other and can offer immediate help if there’s trouble. We also decided early in the process that we would intentionally blur the boundaries between preparing for an earthquake or other natural disaster and responding to climate change, reasoning that climate change can (unfortunately) still be a political issue on which people might disagree, whereas no one can argue with the possibility of an earthquake in the Pacific Northwest. It’s definitely coming.

There is a long history of neighborhood block parties held for the 33 households on our block, so we decided to start there, holding a September 1 gathering. I made flyers which were distributed by hand to every household; on the day of the party, when rain threatened, I took reminder flyers to every house again, saying that the party would happen rain or shine.

Seventeen households were represented at the block party — about half the neighborhood. People wore name tags and were friendly in introducing themselves and finding various common threads. The only “business” was a brief announcement that we wanted to build neighborhood resilience by encouraging connection among us, which would start with a moderated e-mail list. Nearly everyone there signed up for the list. We also announced where the city-designated gathering place in our neighborhood is in the event of an earthquake.block party

We two couples met the next morning to de-brief and figure out who hadn’t attended, and we divided up that list to go door-to-door explaining that we were creating an e-mail list for neighborhood connection. We now have nearly every household on the list.

We decided to call ourselves “58th Avenue Resilience.” Our next effort was a little tour of the neighborhood on a Saturday morning in November, to show people what has already been done by some of us. One house has been bolted to its foundation, and they also strapped their water heater to the wall.Raphael Basement

Lynn and Michael have solar panels on their roof and a sophisticated water reclamation system. Our next-door neighbor demonstrated what should go in an emergency go-bag, with a handout about where to get the supplies. We have an earthquake emergency gas shutoff valve. gas shutoff

Also last Fall, Lynn attended a national climate activists training workshop sponsored by Al Gore, and she came home on fire! There were only a few attendees from Oregon, but they were significant contacts for us: a high-level volunteer with 350PDX (the Portland chapter of Bill McKibben’s organization,; and Bill Bradbury, the former Secretary of State for Oregon, who has become a full time climate activist now that he is out of office.

Lynn was so inspired by her few days of work with Bradbury that she wanted him to come give a presentation in Portland. He agreed to a Tuesday evening in January, and Lynn set to work getting co-sponsorship from 350PDX and two other significant environmental organizations, The Oregon Environmental Council and Renew Oregon. We got wide publicity through those three organizations, and we also sent publicity to every newspaper, radio station, business consortium, outdoor group, and any other organization that might be remotely interested. (Portland is loaded with such groups!)

Despite the fact that the State of the Union Message was in direct conflict with our event, and that it had been raining hard all day, we filled the sanctuary of a large neighborhood community center-church with about 200 attendees for Mr. Bradbury’s presentation. Though the event was free and open to the public, Lynn had suggested pre-registration, so we knew to expect a large crowd and we decided just a few days earlier to announce that this would be the first of a monthly series of presentations related in some way to climate change.Bradbury 3

I had designed a simple survey for the audience to fill out, asking what other topics they would like to hear about and whether anyone would like to help us in future efforts. The survey responses clearly indicated that we were onto something, and that people were hungry to learn more about the myriad issues related to climate change.

By this time I had invited another friend to join our planning group, a recently retired Professor of Environmental Studies who had moved to Portland the previous summer (around the time we were just getting started). She has proven to be a goldmine of resources and ideas, and she has clearly done her homework about how things work in this city and what the relevant organizations are for climate activists — in six months she has learned more about Portland than I’ve learned in four years.

The February event consists of two people involved with community solar power generation (as compared to individual rooftop installations) who will offer their expertise on solar cooperatives, policy tools, social equity considerations, and the current state of legislation to support these efforts. In March we will have a presentation by the city of Portland Department of Planning and Sustainability, talking about the City/County Climate Action Plan that was adopted last summer, and how they foresee it being implemented. The April event will, we hope, be a candidates forum among the leading candidates for Mayor of Portland, focusing on climate issues (we’re only in the earliest stages of planning that one). And in May we’ll have a panel discussion about climate justice, with representation from some of Portland’s minority communities.

To distinguish ourselves from “58th Avenue Resilience,” which really is just our block, we are calling this monthly series “Let’s Talk Climate.” In sending out publicity for our February event, I’ve been delighted to learn how cooperative and eager many organizations are to help publicize this effort. I haven’t hesitated to explain that “Let’s Talk Climate” is just five people who want to do something; we have no structure, no by laws, no money, and no restrictions. Thus we are nimble, flexible, and creative.

I constantly remind myself of the quote attributed to Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” We don’t expect to singlehandedly reverse climate change, or even to make a dent in the mountain of huge issues facing humanity as we (hopefully) adapt to the ways our lives will be affected by this crisis. But this tiny effort of ours might at least be helpful to someone in a modest way. I couldn’t ask for much more than that.


Now It Can Be Told

I made this.

Or to put it more accurately, I made these: two Advent calendars, one for each family of my two daughters and their children.  And now that they are duly done and delivered, I can finally reveal how I made this big project.  Here follows a long post with lots of links, photos, and project notes.

I was inspired by Stephanie Pearl McPhee (the Yarn Harlot), who made one for her nephew a year ago. She blogged about it with lots of detail, and I mostly followed her directions, giving mine a few personal touches. (On her blog, go to December, 2014 by scrolling down and looking on the right side, and see separate posts for Dec. 1 through 24.) I started in January and finished in time to mail each one to its destination before December 1, though I did make quite a few other things during the past year. However, this project was The Big Thing that was always on my mind until I finished it.

Herewith, the details.  First, The Things:

I started by making forty-eight Little Things, figuring that until they were all done, I wouldn’t know what size to make the tree or the pockets. For nearly everything, I used scrap fingering weight yarn and size 1 needles. For the ones that were stuffed, I generally finished by leaving a long end, going through the back of the object where it wouldn’t show, then coming through the front and pulling it before cutting, so that, when cut, the end would retract inside the object.

1)  Heartssnowmen, heartsI started with the heart, which was harder than it looked, but not THAT hard. Used sock weight yarn and size 1 needles. I increased by KFB on the first and last stitches. If there were a next time (that is, I.T.W.A.N.T.), I’d use stretchier yarn.

2)  Snowmen – easy peasy and fun! For these, I used sport weight yarn and size 3 needles. I added one row of knitting immediately after the cast-on to make it (slightly) easier to join the stitches in a round. Here is the designer’s page (actually five pages) and she has LOADS of amazing tiny patterns.  Oh, if only I had found the toilet pattern before I finished this!

3)  Then the birds, which were cleverly designed and not too tricky. Mods: for the head, begin just to the LEFT of the first c/o stitch, centered with the bird right side up, and work clockwise. Switch to yellow yarn (for the beak) in row 7 (the first round of K2tog).birds, gnome,acorns

4)  The acorn was a bit of a disappointment. I.T.W.A.N.T., I’d use larger yarn and needles; these were disproportionally small, though very realistic and acorn-like.

5)  Gnome baby. I LOVED these! Especially the fact that they have no facial features, which makes them anything you want them to be. I can picture a whole bowl of them set out as favors at a Christmas party. Where the directions start with “Sew up the Body,” when you get to the top of the back and reach the skin color, do NOT cut the yarn; use it to tie the neck together (later in the instructions). And when you cast on for the arms, leave a LONG end of yarn. (I didn’t bother to stuff them.) I downloaded the pattern before she added the vests and started charging for the patterns. Hopefully you can make them without the vests if you wish.

6)  The star pattern turned out to be a godsend, though it was fussy to start with. star close-upYes, with fingering yarn and size 1 needles, you really do need that many stitches. I ended up making a bigger one (worsted weight, size 5 needles) as a Christmas gift for my 100-year old mother-in-law, and an even bigger one (worsted weight AND fingering weight, size 6 needles) for the top of our tree. star on treeThis pattern is definitely a keeper! Once you figure out the pattern, it works like a charm, and it’s all one piece!.

7)  After a while I gave up on knitting a truck, and got a useful template to make it from felt. I found it here, but scaled it down and made it simpler. My trucks were customized with family names; quarter included for scale. TrucksBe sure to do any embroidery before you put the pieces together!

I made a few others from felt as well:

8)  The chickens (for which I used this pattern), and the (9) ornaments (no pattern, just winged it with bits of decorative stuff I had around, tracing around a juice glass, etc.).

10)  I tried to make the cats look somewhat like the families’ cats: the orange-multi one is Peach and the gray one is Fanny. cats, ornamentsBe sure to leave long yarn ends (for sewing together) for both the cast-on and the bind-off on the cat. Can’t find the original pattern, but here’s the designer’s page, on which there are many wonderful animal patterns, including a similar cat.

11)  The sailboats were lots of fun. boats, socksAs Stephanie did, I took out two rows of the bottom because these didn’t need to stand up (that is, omit the first two rows of the directions for The Base); for the mast, I did a 3-stitch i-cord rather than 4, and worked 26+ rows rather than 24. I used a bent paper clip rather than a pipe cleaner for the mast, ran it through first and then cut it to size. Very happy with how these turned out!

12)  Socks – used this pattern, which is actually a treasure trove and a great source of Little Knitted Things for ornaments, party favors, or gifts.

13)  The gingerbread people also were a bit of a disappointment; they are just funny-looking. gingermen, birdsPerhaps I should have stuffed them fatter.  Mods as follows: c/o 22 stitches, work 12 rows for legs, 9 rows for upper body. For head, rows 1-5 are st. st., on row 6, decrease 6 stitches (16 remain); on row 8, decrease 7 stitches (9 remain); on row 10, decrease 4 stitches (5 remain); then purl across the next row, draw yarn through remaining stitches, and pull up.

14)  The girl teddy bears were sort of weird, though I did learn some tricks making them. As much as possible, pick up the loops of existing stitches rather than making separate pieces, e.g. for the ears (worked especially well).  I.T.W.A.N.T, I’d do this for the legs and arms as well; sewing on the limbs was very fussy.Santas, teddy bears

15)  Santa – I used this pattern, and was a bit disappointed that the beard wasn’t fluffier. I.T.W.A.N.T, I would use fluffier yarn.

16)  Christmas tree – I followed Stephanie’s made-up directions as follow: cast on as many stitches as needed (odd number) to make circumference at bottom and join to work in the round. Decrease 4 stitches (K2tog and ssk at the sides) every 3rd round until there’s only 1 left. When done, sew on beads to front, stuff with a little stuffing, sew up the bottom, and add a tiny trunk.trees, gifts

17)  The presents were just rectangles of st. stitch folded around two pieces of cardboard and stitched together. “Ribbon” was a 3-stitch i-cord tied around and then tacked.

18)  Hat – I had made some of these before for little Christmas gifts for friends to use as luggage identifiers.  Cute and pretty easy.hats, trucks

19)  Mittens – same story. mittens, pants 20)  The pants with no one inside them were a find of my own and I love them so much! But now I can’t find the pattern. Here it is, taken from my printout:

Cast on 17 sts. for left leg, work across in K1, P1 ribbing until piece is 1 1/2″ from start, ending on WS row. Inc. 1 st. at each end of next row – 19 sts. Work even, maintaining K1Pi ribbing, until piece measures 2 1/2″ from beginning, ending on WS. Slip onto holder. Work right leg the same.  Then join by working 17 sts across R leg, P2tog, then work 19 sts of left leg from holder – 37 sts. Work even in ribbing as established until piece measures 3″ from beginning, end on WS. Knit next row, decreasing 17 sts across — 20 sts. Beg. with next row, work even in stockinette st. for 6 rows, ending on RS. Knit 2 rows. Bind off K-wise on WS.

Finishing: sew back seam to crotch. Sew inside leg seams, rev2ersing seams over lower 1/2″ of each leg. Fold lower 1/2″ of each leg back to RS.

Belt: work a 3-st. i-cord for 7″. Fasten off. Fold down top edge of pants 1/4″ and tie belt around top of pants below folded edge.

I gave each family a copy of  Dr. Seuss’s The Sneeches, which has a story in it called “What Was I Afraid Of?” featuring — you guessed it — pants with no one inside them. It was a sort of Christmas Quiz: what does this book have to do with the Advent Calendar? (The 7-year old got it immediately.) I had the perfect blue denim-ish yarn to make jeans, though I would have preferred brown for the belt.

21)  Wreath – one of my great successes! wreathMostly because I had exactly the right yarn, a sort of mottled, tweedy-ish green sock yarn, as yet unused. The small amount of yarn I used will probably not diminish the size of the eventual socks. Here’s how I did it:

Using fingering weight yarn and size 2 needles, cast on 16 stitches. Knit in blackberry stitch (see below) until the piece is 5 1/2″ long, ending on row 4. Bind off. Stitch long edges together. Stuff lightly. Close ends together to form a circle.

Knit a red bow to cover the seam: cast on 8 stitches, knit in stockinette stitch, slipping first stitch of each row for a smooth edge. When the piece is 4″ long, bind off, leaving a LONG piece of yarn, then sew ends together and tack them to the back of the center of the bow. Then wrap yarn around the center several times, tack down the wraps, and sew the bow to the wreath over the seam.

These directions will give you a wreath approximately 2 1/2″ across. Adjust size of yarn, number of stitches, and needle size accordingly if you wish a bigger or smaller wreath.

Blackberry stitch (multiple of 4 stitches, 4 row repeat).

Row 1: *K1 but don’t take off left needle, yarn over, knit into that stitch again (hereafter shown as [k1,yo,k1]; purl 3* repeat to end.
Row 2: *P 3 together, K3* repeat to end
Row 3: *P3, K1,yo,k1* repeat to end
Row 4: *K3, P3 tog.* repeat to end

22)  Sweaters – used this pattern and made “Dancer.”  This page also has a cute hat pattern.sweaters, wreaths

23)  The little houses with snow on their roofs were delightful, easy to make, and super cute! acorns, housesAs you will see, this pattern includes many little things that could be used for an Advent Calendar.

24)  Bells: A friend gave me a copy of an old pattern she had cut from a newspaper, so no link for this one. gnomes, bells(My notes to myself are a bit vague here, so you might have to experiment.) Directions: using size 1 needles and fingering weight red yarn, cast on 18 stitches, using a twisted cast-on and leaving a very long end for an eventual three-needle bind-off. Row 1: K 14, purl 4; row 2: knit. Repeat these 2 rows until you have 23 ridges (46 rows). Leave working yarn attached so you can make an i-cord top for the bell. Using the very long end of the cast on, do a 3-needle bindoff with right sides together (cast on and working edges); bottom edge of bell should turn under. Gather the top, then make an i-cord about 3/4″ long. Tie some little jingle bells inside.

For each Little Thing, I sewed a ribbon on its top, usually in a contrasting color, using a piece of tiny ribbon about 3″ long, also in contrasting colors.

Putting It All Together:

Once I had finished the Little Things, I laid them out on a piece of (used) easel pad paper fairly close together in a triangle,layout2 for tree drew the ensuing triangle onto the paper, then shaped the edges to make it into a tree shape, folding it in half before cutting so it would be symmetrical. pattern for treeI used this pattern on green felt to make the tree (and I.T.W.A.N.T., I would put a small trunk under the tree), and used the remaining green felt for the pockets.  This was all pretty seat-of-the-pants and unscientific.

For the backing, I bought a yard of quilt backing that was 96″ wide muslin, which unfortunately wrinkles badly (though it irons nicely). My plan was to make them wide enough to hang on a door, which meant somewhat smaller than the 36″ width. The 96″ length, cut in half, gave me enough room when it was hemmed all around (pocket at the top to fit in a wooden dowel hung from red satin cord)done, close-up to attach the tree with four rows of six pockets under it, all the same size and big enough to accommodate the largest item.

I machine stitched the tree to the muslin and then sewed on 24 buttons in various colors, being sure that each button stuck out a bit by putting a piece of toothpick under the stitches and then wrapping the thread several times around, under the button but on the right/top side, before tying off.button how-to

Version 2I discovered I had buttons to spell out the name of one child.  Do you see it?

To embroider the numbers, I made a table on the computer with squares the size of the pockets, then found a font I liked (American Typewriter) and typed the numbers 1 to 24 in the squares. I printed these on paper, then cut the paper into strips and pinned it onto the felt strips (one strip for each row of pockets.)

I made a running stitch of contrasting thread along each line between pockets.  Using two strands of red embroidery thread, I embroidered each number onto the felt strips, through the paper, using a backwards running stitch (to make a solid line). I picked away the paper pattern (tweezers helped get the littlest bits), then I machine stitched the sides and bottom of each strip to the muslin backing.  Only then did I embroider the lines between the pockets, using the contrasting thread running stitches as a guide and going through the muslin as well.

done in pockets2

Someone really likes this!  He isn’t talking a lot, but he knows how to say “Christmas!” when it’s time to hang another Little Thing on the tree.FullSizeRender









“The Delta Difference” — I’ll Say!


When you get on a Delta Airlines flight that actually manages to push back from the gate, an annoying little video comes on featuring Richard Anderson, President and CEO of Delta. He says that Delta’s top priority is maintaining strong positive relationships with its customers, and that is what makes “the Delta difference.”

Actually, Dick, I don’t think so. At least that was far from my experience on Delta Flight 2303 from New York’s JFK Airport to Portland, Oregon on Saturday, March 21, 2015. Nor was it the experience of the 300 or so other passengers, all of whom are bent on ganging up on Delta and insisting they mend the damaged relationships that ensued that afternoon, evening, dead of night, and on into the following day.

The irony is that, although we all suffered through a broken relationship with our airline, many of us built new relationships with one another that gave evidence of the human decency, compassion, and humor that always gives me hope.

Fresh from a delightful but busy visit with my daughter and grandsons, and looking forward to sleeping in my own bed that night, I arrived at JFK at about 5 p.m. for my 7 p.m. flight only to learn, when I reached the gate, that it was now scheduled to leave at 8 p.m. Oh well, it’s true that I had left the sound on my phone turned off, and hadn’t received their text notifying me of the delay. My bad. Our plane was probably late due to the previous day’s snowfall, which can often cause a chain reaction of delay throughout the entire airline system for several days thereafter.

I settled down with The Knitting Project From Hell and waited. At about 7:35, the gate agent announced that our aircraft would soon be arriving from San Juan, and as soon as it was serviced we’d board and be out of there. Okay, a slightly late departure, no big deal.

At about 8:00 p.m. we began boarding the plane, expecting a late takeoff. At about 8:30, when boarding was completed, the captain announced that takeoff would be delayed because they couldn’t arm the safety chute on the rear door. He said these problems can usually be handled quickly and we should soon be on our way. Self-important looking mechanics started hurrying up and down the center aisle, not making eye contact with us.

At about 9:15 p.m., after several more announcements from the captain which did not give further information (except to say that the repair was not going well), we were told that the door needed to be removed from the plane, and it couldn’t be done with passengers on board. He said we needed to debark the aircraft and wait at the gate while it was taken for repair. He also told us that another aircraft might need to be found, and that our flight crew could only work for another hour and 10 minutes, so it was possible that we would be flying with a different crew once it was assembled.

At this point, things really started heading south. From 9:15 p.m. until approximately 2:30 a.m., at least four gate changes occurred, keeping us moving around from one gate to another in Terminal 2. The flight was announced for departure at least four times: 10:40 p.m., 1:40 a.m., 2:30 a.m. and 3:30 a.m. Each time a new departure time was determined, a gate agent spoke from the corner of the L-shaped concourse without a microphone, assuring us that it really would be leaving shortly. Unless one was watching carefully, one would have no idea that he was speaking; many passengers were not kept aware of the changes, as we were scattered all over the concourse. Families with young children and babies were understandably reluctant to keep moving their sleeping children around for all these gate changes, so they were relying on those of us who were paying attention to keep them apprised. Somewhere in there, maybe around midnight, we began to realize that we’d better start taking care of each other, because Delta was showing little interest in taking care of us.

As we moved around from gate to gate and back again, we began to seek new seat partners, inquiring where they were headed and where they had been. A woman from Belfast, who was remarkably cheerful under the circumstances, told me she’d already been awake for 25 hours because her plane was delayed leaving Ireland due to New York’s snow storm the previous day. I kept an eye on my onboard seatmate, a Chinese woman studying at Portland State, who was concerned that her 80-year old landlady would be worried about her; she was also concerned that the teacher who was supposed to meet her plane had young children and really shouldn’t be bothered to come to the airport in the middle of the night. I assured her that my husband and I would take her home, and she bought me a drink to show her gratitude.

Another woman started interviewing her fellow passengers on her iPhone video, collecting testimonies about the terrible treatment Delta was giving us. I didn’t even bother to put on lipstick, figuring that the more haggard we looked, the more convincing our story would be.

The night dragged on. No more flights were leaving, and the entire concourse was ours. A few of the shops stayed open to sell us magazines and bottled water, and the cleaning crew began vacuuming the carpet around the bodies already stretched out on the floor. (Do they put metal arms on all the seats to discourage people from lying down?) Bright lights were glaring, canned muzak was driving us crazy, the night shift crews were talking and laughing loudly, and the bathrooms were filthy beyond belief.

We were still expecting a 3:30 a.m. departure, although one courageous gate agent admitted that there still was not a full crew to be found, and that the time of that departure was only a guess from the control tower.

Finally, at 2:30 a.m., the announcement was made that the flight would depart at 11 a.m. on Sunday, March 22 and vouchers for cabs and hotel rooms would be given to anyone who wished. Immediately, a long line formed at the Customer Service podium — a line which moved extremely slowly as the agents attempted to deal with the complex travel arrangements of several hundred passengers, many of whom insisted on being re-booked on different flights. Nearing the front of the line an hour later, I learned from another passenger that there were no more hotel rooms available near JFK, and that those wishing a hotel room were being told that we could take cabs to hotels near LaGuardia airport. They also said that we should allow at least an hour to get from LaGuardia back to JFK the next morning, and that we would need to go through security again.

By now I was unwilling to believe what any Delta employee was saying. They had already been leading us on for five hours, assuring us that the flight would be departing soon… over and over again. Leaving the airport felt risky; why should we believe that we could get from LaGuardia back to JFK in time for the 11 a.m. flight? And besides, by the time we got to a hotel there would be little time left for sleeping before we’d have to get up and find a cab to return us to JFK. Why bother?

A cohort of Portlanders converged on the man who seemed to be the supervisor, saying that we didn’t plan to leave the airport and could he please open up the Sky Club (whose floor-to-ceiling windows looked down on our concourse from the second story) so that we could find a quiet place to sleep? “Oh no, I can’t do that. That’s not within my jurisdiction. I don’t have the authority to do that. No, you will just have to make yourselves comfortable here. The Sky Club is closed anyway. It won’t re-open until 5 a.m. I’m sorry.” (How sorry are you to be going home to your own bed now, knowing that some other Delta employee will be handling our flight in the morning while you drink tea and read the paper?)

“The Delta Difference” at that point seemed to be that no one gave a rip about how we were feeling and the discomfort we were enduring. Apparently no one was thinking, “Hmmm, these people are undergoing something really unpleasant; what can we do to make things easier for them?” No one was wondering how he might go out of his way to try making something happen for us that could have made the next seven hours even slightly more pleasant.

Instead, we endured the next hour making small talk and passing the time until the Sky Club opened and we could plead our case with someone who might be a little more sympathetic. At 5 a.m. this sorry-looking group of seven or eight travelers dragged ourselves upstairs and pleaded with the Sky Club ladies (all perky and professional in their immaculate makeup and perfect uniforms — clearly they had slept in a bed the night before) to do us the courtesy of letting us get a little sleep or maybe even — gasp! — take a shower. Of course… but it would cost each of us $50 unless we had an American Express Platinum card, in which case it would cost only $29. No one had an American Express Platinum card. But by now we had already been scheming against Delta Airlines and listing our grievances to convince ourselves that they owed us something, so we each forked over the $50, expecting to be reimbursed, and entered Paradise.

sleeper2It was clean. It was quiet. It was empty, except for our scruffy band. The chairs were comfortable. The rest rooms were immaculate, and there were fluffy, fresh towels in the shower rooms. Several of us moved as far away from the entrance as possible and collapsed into sleep, making do with a combination of chairs and footstools to approximate a bed.


Someone else had a similar idea.

I found an upholstered chair whose high back came around to surround the sitter in a cocoon of quiet, and slumped down for 90 minutes of restless sleep.

Starting at about 7, feeling slightly refreshed after a bit of sleep in a quiet place, we began to gather for coffee and the Sky Club’s generous breakfast buffet. As we munched on bagels, granola, fresh fruit, and yoghurt, we picked up the stories we had abandoned a few hours earlier.

Mike had recently lost his IT job with a large Portland company, but he was very cheerful because a week after his layoff he received a call from “America’s Got Talent” asking him to fly to New York for a taping. He was now on his way home, looking forward to the courtship of the several headhunters who were wooing him and to the May airing of his “AGT” segment, about which he was constrained to secrecy. (But… remember to look for the talking broccoli.)

Angela’s husband and Mike knew some of the same people, since their companies work cooperatively, and Angela’s husband’s company has several positions open. Judy (the other one) lives in Beaverton, where the men’s companies are located. Kendra was collecting our e-mail addresses so we could compare notes on the responses we expected from Delta, in case we chose to press a further attack. After a refreshing shower, Kara let down her beautiful wavy hair and smiled like the happy person she obviously is.

Later, down at the gate, we compared notes with fellow travelers who had remained downstairs or taken the chance on a hotel room. The woman from Belfast managed to sleep on the floor “in a cozy corner,” while the man she had befriended told me “Yes, we made a campfire and sang Kumbaya.” The two dogs on the flight sniffed each other warily, and the babies were quiet. Delta sprang for “breakfast,” which consisted of hamburger buns containing scrambled eggs (no, thanks), and we all applauded when a flight crew showed up.

Because many travelers from the day before had rebooked, there were 66 empty seats on the plane, so we were able to spread out a bit and extend our knees another few inches. (Delta is notorious for squeezing its passengers into tiny seats with ZERO leg room.) Partway through the lengthy flight (5 hours and 45 minutes), the movie/TV/music system crashed, and a nice young flight attendant (this was only his second flight) offered me a $50 voucher because it couldn’t be restored. He asked what had happened to the flight yesterday, and when I told him that they were never able to put together a crew, he mused “Hmmm, I was on standby, and they never called me.”

If only. If only they had called him, we might have gotten home sooner. If only they had abandoned the flight when we deplaned at 9:30, announced its resumption at 11 a.m. the next day, and given us vouchers then instead of leading us on and repeatedly lying to us for the next five hours. I would have gone back to my daughter’s, slept in a bed, and had the sweet experience of more hugs and kisses from my grandsons the next morning.

If only the Delta difference made a difference.

Nature, Red in Tooth and Claw

I live in a quiet neighborhood of Southeast Portland, but there was drama this morning just a few blocks from my house, where two male bald eagles got stuck together while fighting in mid-air for territorial rights, and fell into a birch tree in someone’s back yard.

We learned of this at the nearby dog park, so instead of going straight home, we made a detour to see for ourselves. I was stunned as we came up the block and I saw these magnificent, enormous birds entwined with each other and entangled in the branches of the the tree, about 40 feet above the ground.


There was a small crowd of neighbors gathered to watch, including a woman who volunteers with the Audubon Society and seemed to know what she was talking about. She told me that there had been strong disagreement among the onlookers about whom to call, or whether to make the call at all. Voices were raised.Image

Because bald eagles are a protected species, it is against federal law to touch them or interfere with them in any way. Attempting to untangle them from one another could be assumed to be a federal offense. But there they were, helpless, dangling in plain sight in a tree in a residential neighborhood less than one block from an elementary school, where young children, soon to be released from kindergarten, would be walking up the sidewalk.

Had this fight and entanglement between the eagles occurred out in the woods where no humans witnessed it, the eagles would probably have remained entangled and died in the tree. Their bodies eventually would have been consumed by crows or other raptors, and no one would have been the wiser.

But this was Southeast, a community of liberals, nature lovers and bleeding hearts. How could we just leave them there to die in our neighbor’s back yard?  Should nature be allowed to take its course without interference, which would likely result in death? Or should humans intervene and try to rescue these splendid birds? I was close to tears watching them struggle, thinking “If there is nothing else I can do, it is at least my responsibility to bear witness to this suffering.”

About twenty of us stood murmuring on the sidewalk and waiting for something to happen. Two local TV stations were already on site, the reporters watching closely through long lenses set up across the street. An arborist appeared with a bucket truck, which he backed up the closest driveway to get as near the base of the tree as possible.Image

Next appeared someone from Oregon Fish and Wildlife, closely followed by a small team from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Then several people from the Audubon Society showed up, including a man who was a raptor expert. Huge nets on long poles were dragged out, and large cages resembling dog crates were hauled from the back of the F&W truck.

The eagles were alternately dangling in exhaustion and valiantly continuing their fight as they attempted to release themselves. The talons of the one hanging upside down were buried deeply in the thigh of the other, whose outspread wings were open over opposite branches of the tree.

I was holding my breath as the bucket, carrying two people wearing leather jackets and hard hats, slowly approached the birds. They were putting themselves in danger by approaching them — not just the danger of breaking federal law, but the physical danger of coming so close to these fierce and enormous birds.Image

As the bucket got closer, the terrified birds struggled more wildly against each other, clearly frightened by this approaching menace. Suddenly they separated, swooping low but not falling to the ground, and then soaring into the air and disappearing. A cry of relief went up from the bystanders, and I started to weep.

Was it relief that they had been released from entanglement? Was it awe at witnessing such glory? Was it celebration to see these magnificent creatures flying free again?  I don’t know. But I remember the wise words of my former minister, Frederica Leigh OBM, who said “where there are tears, there is truth.”

Reflecting on this event over dinner tonight, Duane and I were struggling to put some theological framework around the experience. Being versed in process theology, Duane was suggesting that God, observing all that is, was holding this event as part of objective immortality. And that God was luring all entities to choose love in the world, so that the eagles were becoming what they chose to be by disentangling and flying free.

I don’t speak the language of process theology. I just know that I was moved to tears by witnessing this event, and that the best possible outcome (according to my limited understanding) was what actually happened.

Who trusted God was love indeed
And love Creation’s final law
Tho’ Nature, red in tooth and claw
With ravine, shriek’d against his creed

— Alfred, Lord Tennyson
“In Memoriam, A.H.H.”


Intarsia:  Getting It Right

Having now completed two intarsia knitting projects done correctly (for the first time in a 50-year knitting career), I wanted to post about the right way to do intarsia so that it’s even and tidy on both sides.

Intarsia is knitting using blocks of color to make an image.  I find it fussy and messy, something to get done as quickly as possible so I can move on to the kind of knitting that I really enjoy (creating a design with stitches rather than colors).  However, as I wrote below, being the family’s Designated Knitter means that sometimes I make things out of love that I wouldn’t otherwise make.  Two recent projects are examples:  this and this.  And when I had done them right, I realized that intarsia isn’t so bad after all.  It appeals to my Enneagram Type One personality, which is all about “getting it right.”

The Wool Shop is gone but their bag lives on.

It was also a pleasure for me to carry on this family tradition, even to the extent of using my mother’s old bent pink plastic knitting needles and keeping the project in a bag from her favorite knitting store, which closed decades ago.

I couldn’t have managed this without this book, which I picked up years ago at the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival.  So here’s the deal… three things to remember:

Thing One:  Always start a new piece of yarn when starting a new area of color.  It doesn’t matter if it’s only a few stitches away from the last place you used that color.  Don’t carry your yarn over those few stitches.  START A NEW PIECE.   This means that (a) your knitting, and therefore your image, will be a lot less distorted; (b) you won’t have big loops of yarn running along the inside of your work; and (c) you will have a hell of a lot more ends to weave in when you’re done.

I got kind of carried away with using just the right length of yarn for a particular color section.  You don’t have to do this unless you are ridiculously committed to not wasting yarn.

Always keep your clipboard and calculator handy.

What I did was first figure out how much yarn was used in one stitch (in this case, .86″).  Then using my hand-colored chart, I figured out how many stitches I would need for a block of color when I came to it.  This involves counting stitches going in both directions (L to R and R to L) so that it would be clear where I would be starting and stopping each block.  Then I did the math, adding 12″ to each piece — 6″ for each end where I started and stopped knitting with that piece.

I gave up on using bobbins long ago, since they just get tangled with each other and are a nuisance.  I simply added long pieces of colors as I needed them, and didn’t worry much about untangling them unless they were too tangled to work with.  This meant that my work space looked like a rat’s nest, but I actually did know what I was doing.

Thing Two:  When starting a new piece of yarn, leave the tail hanging out on the right side of the work.  If you’re on a knit row, the right side of the work is facing you.  Lay about 5″ of the new yarn between stitches (immediately before you’re going to knit with it) with the tail toward you.  On the back side, where the long part of the new piece is, put it under and to the right of the strand you have been working with, then bring it up, looping it over the old strand, and start knitting with it. This will lock the new piece under the old piece.  It’s essentially the same thing if you’re purling, though the right side of the work will be away from you.  Lay the new piece on the right side of the work with about a 5″ tail, bring the working part of the new piece under the old strand (again it will be under and to the right), and then start purling with it.  What this means is that as you work your way along, you will have lots of ends on the right side of the work. Don’t worry.

It will look like this while you are working on it.

Or like this.

Thing Three:  When you have completed knitting the piece, you will need to weave in all those ends.  OMG, that’s a lot of ends!  But just be patient… one thing at a time.  You will have the beginnings of color blocks with ends hanging out on the right side, and the ends of color blocks with ends on the inside.

Yup, that’s a lotta ends to weave in. This is the right side.

We’re gonna weave in that white piece.

Start with the outside, thus:  Thread an end piece onto a large sharp needle with a big eye (for ease of threading).  Note that it should be sharp, not a blunt tapestry needle.  Carefully bring the yarn back through the hole it’s coming out of, so that you are working on the back.  It will still be anchored in place.

Poking the end back in.

Aiming in a downward direction (all starting ends should be woven in downward; all ending ends should be woven in upward), weave the yarn diagonally through the back loop of several stitches, going INTO the yarn of the loop rather than completely under it.  Going into the yarn allows the natural little barbs of yarn to grab onto itself and hold it firm.  Ideally you will want to weave the end into a block of the same color so that it won’t show at all on the right side.  (My book maintains that when done correctly, even yarn woven through a different color shouldn’t show, but that wasn’t always my experience.)  Go back and forth diagonally so that the woven-in end is in an S shape.

weaving 1

Starting the weaving.

Second part of the S.

Third part of the S.

How it looks like you’re done.

Before cutting it off (with about 1/8″ left), stretch the fabric in several directions to be sure that there is enough slack in your weaving.  Weave in all of the ends that are left on the outside; you’ll be left with a tidy piece of knitting and a pile of ends.

Outside done. That’s not so many pieces, is it?

But there’s still the inside to do.

Or this, as the case my be.

Then go to the inside (yup, lots of ends again!) and do the same thing, weaving in the ends in an upward direction.  Note that it’s okay if you have to weave ends into places where there already is yarn woven in; if done correctly, none of this should pull out.

inside done

When you’re done, you’ll have a bigger pile of ends and a piece of work where the image looks quite similar on the right and the wrong sides — not a lot of loops on the back obscuring the design.  I think that’s the indication that you’ve done intarsia The Right Way.


Have fun!

Christmas in May

This Christmas stocking pattern has been in my family for four generations.  My mother started making them probably 60 years ago.  She made one each for our immediate family (that’s 5), then one each for our spouses (add 3), then five for the grandchildren who were born before she died.  That’s 13 stockings she made.  Who knows?  Maybe more for friends…3 stockings

After she died, I became the Designated Knitter for the family.  I think I made one for the grandchild born after Mom died; I made one for my son-in-law, one for my niece’s husband, and one for my first grandson.  That particular one was made when I was under a lot of stress; Santa is facing in the wrong direction, and he has only one eye, which is red rather than black.  I refer to him as the Hung Over Cyclops Santa, but apparently my grandson loves him. My daughter Katy made one for my second husband so that it would be a surprise.

Recently I’ve been asked to make two more — one for my second grandson, and one for my niece’s son.  I want to be sure they’re done in plenty of time for Christmas, and before the Christmas Knitting Panic ensues.  So I’m starting them now.

The trouble is, that pattern is so old that it’s worn and ripped.  Unfortunately, the most illegible part is Santa’s face (which comes right where there’s a fold).  That might explain Hung Over Cyclops Santa right there.  Furthermore, the graph is microscopic, so that the pattern is nearly impossible to read anyway, even if it were in good shape.  Which it certainly is not.od pattern

So I decided, since it’s only May, and since that old pattern isn’t ever going to improve, that I would color code the pattern onto bigger graph paper.  Oh my goodness, I had no idea what I was getting into!stat of graphHere’s a shot of several attempts, using an enlargement of the original pattern (guess what — it was still illegible, just bigger).   I’d be going merrily along and then realize that I had made a mistake several rows earlier, so I’d cut up the paper and tape on a new one.  This made me slightly crazy, trying to keep track of which rows were done (they aren’t numbered on the original pattern.)

Then I got the idea to use my husband’s loupe magnifying glass, which he got to help him identify plants.loupe

Slowly I started to get the hang of it, and the colored image gradually began to appear on my paper, which by now consisted of many layers of tiny cut-out pieces.  (“Drat!  That stitch was supposed to be red!  Well, I’ll just color one square red and tape it on top of that one.”)graph paper with beerI don’t know if the beer actually helped, but it made me feel better!

Finally Santa emerged in all his squared-off glory.  I hope that this graph paper image of the pattern will last another 60 years, so that the next Designated Knitter in the family won’t go blind trying to make these.

Here’s the start of the next stocking to join the family.  The name will be added after it’s done.  Can you spot the mistake I’ve already made?  (Nothing that a little duplicate stitch can’t fix!)graph paper with knitting

Keep Those Wagons Rollin’

This strange little countertop, tucked between the dining room and the basement stairs, is at the geographic center of our house.  When we first moved in, it was a handy place to keep all the tools one needs for getting settled:  hammer, screwdrivers, tape, pencils, tape measure, assorted screws and nails, sketches, and all the  stuff you don’t know where else to put.DSCN1665


But when we invited a Feng Shui consultant over to help us figure out how to arrange the furniture with our quirky floor plan, she told us that the geographic center of the house is the most important location for something truly meaningful, something that reflects our values.  So we cleared away the tools and have tried to make this little spot into something artistic.  There have been a few holiday scenes, an arrangement of fruits and vegetables in a cornucopia, and now this.


A wonderfully talented artist (go here to see some other pieces of her work, and scroll down to the July 16, 2012 post) in our former congregation gave us these figures and the covered wagon at our retirement party.  After all, we were moving to Oregon; what better way to commemorate this move than to create an image of the Oregon Trail?  (Which ends in Oregon City, just down the road from where we live now.)

Side note:  did you know that Conestoga wagons were originally built along the Conestoga River in Conestoga Township, Lancaster County, PA?  That was right down the road from where we lived in Carlisle, Cumberland County, PA.  I’ll bet some of these wagons came right through town and down the street we lived on.

So here they are, these intrepid wayfarers westward, camped out for the evening after a long day on the trail.


There are always animals in the scenes our artist has created.  One fellow has a dog literally attached to him at the hip, and the other one has befriended an owl.


The third fellow is preoccupied with cutting wood for the fire.  (That’s a log to his left, and although the axe has a skinny handle, it is mighty!)


Look!  Their hats come off!  And the fellow on the right even has a little hair.


A real Conestoga wagon would be pulled by as many as eight horses, but these two guys are terribly strong.  AND they’re really good friends.

DSCN1678 DSCN1679

Look at the faces on these two!  Wouldn’t you love to ride across country on a Conestoga wagon with them?  Oh, the stories they would tell…


The children try to stay as close to the food as possible.  It’s hungry out there on the trail.  Their mother bought a whole bolt of that blue cloth, so they are always dressed in the same color.  One fellow has a pet bunny, and the other seems to have made off with a bowl of potatoes.


Now that they’ve made camp for the night, these guys have gone off to chop wood…


…while the women get ready to make dinner, and the dog has the good sense to stick around nearby.


The children play among the rolled up baggage, and this guy just sits around curling his feet up and holding his owl.    He’s not good for a lot of help along the way, but he has something special to offer to everyone at the end of a long day.


The Great Baby Blanket Event

When I learned last April that my daughter Katy was pregnant with her second child, it occurred to me that this would be the perfect occasion to knit a blanket that I had been lusting after for years, Shelly Kang’s Sock Yarn Blanket as described on her blog.  (Look for All About the Blankie on the right.)  If you are considering making this, go to her web site for excellent detailed instructions; I just want to chronicle for you my own experience with this really fun project!   #1 May 4  It took Shelley Kang two years to make hers the size of a double bed; surely I could make a baby blanket by mid-November?   Here I was on May 4, off to a good start.

It was super time-consuming, and super-fun.  Because every block is different (or can be), I found myself thinking “just one more” and continuing to knit for hours at a time.  By May 15, when this photo was taken,

#2 May 15I realized that even though I had MILES of leftover sock yarn from making zillions of hand knit socks over the years, I wasn’t going to have enough.  So I sent out an SOS to all of my friends who I thought were or might be knitters, explaining the project and asking for any scraps they could spare.  (Each completed square weighs only 3 grams, so even the tiniest scraps could be put to good use.)

For a few weeks after that, it was like Christmas and my birthday rolled into one!  Packages of yarn arrived nearly every day, some of them containing extremely generous gifts of full skeins of yarn!  In those cases, I checked with the donors to be sure they wouldn’t mind if I made a complete pair of socks from their gift rather than adding it to the blanket.

I put out a similar request on a neighborhood List-serv, and got a response from a woman who signs her e-mail messages “Molly Weasley.”  (If you don’t get it, you haven’t read Harry Potter.)  She gave me an entire bag full of self-patterning sock yarns left over from her own projects. We now meet for coffee and knitting every 3 weeks or so (and she has inspired me to get serious about lace knitting.)  Another time, I met a perfect stranger who lives a few blocks away when we were out for a walk one Sunday afternoon, and after chatting for a while I asked her “You wouldn’t by any chance be a knitter, would you?”  Indeed, she was a knitter, she was generous with her yarn, and we now have become such good friends that she came to our house for Christmas dinner.

#4 June 16By June 16, I was starting to realize that summer is not the ideal time to be knitting a wool blanket.  But I soldiered on, because I was getting nervous that it wouldn’t be finished by the time the baby was born in November.

#5  close-up  Here’s a close-up so you can really see the colors.  This is not your average pastel baby blanket!

Weaving in the zillions of ends was clearly going to be a problem if I didn’t get them under control.  (Raise your hand if you love weaving in ends.  I thought so.) I knew that if I left them all until I was finished knitting, I would throw the whole thing into a corner of my closet where it would languish for all eternity.  So I developed a system.  When the ends started to look overwhelming, I forced myself to weave in six ends before I was allowed to start another square.  (6 ends = 3 squares)  #6 back After a while I would be caught up, and I could knit with abandon until the ends started looking overwhelming again.  There’s no mistaking the back for the front, but it does look pretty tidy.

I decided that it was finished when it was about 45″ square.   I have no idea what size a standard baby blanket is, so I just tried to make it big enough that this little boy (yes, by now I knew that he was a boy) would keep it folded at the end of his bed for the rest of his life, or use it as a lap robe when he got chilly.  The knitting was done some time in October (deadline approaching!), and then began the tedious job of going all the way around it with a 3-stitch attached i-cord edging.  It was very fussy and slow, but the end result was great!

Clearly I was not the only one in the household who thought it was terrific!  Here it is being blocked on two beach towels on the den floor, the only low-traffic space in the house that was big enough.

#7 done & blocked


That beautiful baby was born on November 16, and two weeks later we traveled back east to meet him and congratulate his older brother on having such a fine new baby in the household.  The blanket was received with all the awe I was hoping for!

#8 Frank


I had made a smaller version of the same blanket for Older Brother’s doll, whom he named Hidgery.  He was quite delighted with his very own blanket for Hidgery-of-undetermined-sex, and immediately had to try it to see if it fits.  It does, because when I was visiting them in August I measured Hidgery when no one was around, just to be sure.

#9 Hidgery


And finally, the image I had in mind all along.  With every stitch and sigh, with every decision about which color came next, with every end woven in, I imagined this beautiful, healthy baby lying  under the blanket I was making for him with so much love.

Note that he is wearing a hand-knit made by his mother.  The acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree.

#10 Aengus