2014 Yarn Crawl

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It’s not the first time I’ve been into something – how should I say this? – different.

When I was little, I loved the pioneers. I learned everything possible about Laura Ingalls and the Oregon Trail, and I was convinced that I would have an electricity-free farm when I grew up. (That dream’s morphed a little, thank goodness.)

I had chickens before it was cool.

I wore leggings LONG before it was cool. (Imagine this: black stirrup pants over white socks and an assortment of sneakers. Pretty hot.)

These days, what I’m into still gets a little flack. Teasing from various gentlemen who don’t know the joys of a warm sweater knit with love. I’ve been called a hipster for knitting, to which I respond:

Please, I’ve been doing this since I was five, WAY before it was the hipster thing to do.

That of course seems to solidify said-hipsterness. I do not understand how to combat this problem.

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Last fall, my friend M and I went to a Fiber Festival. No, it was not a warehouse full of various digestion-boosting devices, small group friends. It was a warehouse full of yarn and yarn potentials. There was sheep, alpaca, bison, hemp, you name it. There were more colors than you could imagine, and there was undyed roving waiting to be made into art (roving is the clean, un-spun wool).

M bought me a drop spindle and some roving to get me started. I’ve wanted to spin since I saw a woman doing it in the sheep barn at the fair. Since getting my gift, I’ve attempted it a few times, sitting on the couch in front of my family and nearly hurling the innocent spindle across the room. I think I need to sign up for a class…

Despite my frustrations with the drop spindle, that festival got us addicted to yarn extravaganzas. Yesterday, we donned our best-knit pieces and trekked out on the Fifth Annual Yarn Crawl.

What’s a yarn crawl?

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A yarn crawl is a weekend-long event where the shops in the area have special deals. You get a “passport,” and at each shop you get a stamp which enters you to win a raffle. (One prize was a beautiful afghan pattern and all the yarn to go with it. MUST HAVE IT.) We had seven shops to descend upon, so we made a route, starting up north and ending near the sea. I went with my ravelry pattern in hand, a few ideas in my head, but really, the yarn world was my oyster.

[If you haven’t checked out ravelry.com yet, do it. So many patterns, so many ideas. Lots of free stuff.]

We started the trip off right with chai tea lattes and a 50%-off rack.

After a full day of crawling, this is what I came home with:

photo 5I could’ve bought a lot more. I was restraining myself. I admire M’s wisdom when she says:

There are some things I will not feel bad about spending money on: books and yarn.

I would add tea and coffee to that list, but that’s me.

We talked about how “good thing people we know are having babies so we have more opportunities to make cute things.”

Get crackin’, people, so I can get knittin’.

This is my next project. I am working under the assumption that my dear friend never reads this blog and will therefore still be surprised when she opens it for the darling.

photo 2If she does for some reason see this post, pretend, by all means.



London Awaits

This very moment I am awaiting my plane to London, England.

I am sitting at the terminal, surrounded by people, but I am alone. This is my favorite way to travel.

“Catherine, is anyone going with you?”

“Yeah, S is meeting me in London, but I still get to fly alone.”

My grandmother does not understand my phrasing – “get to” – and most people don’t. There’s something about the separation – the ability to exist without the confirmation of anyone else – that reminds me who I am.

C. S. Lewis wrote that it is only when we look at the other that our Self is able to be. I agree with him…mostly.

There is another Self that materializes at the Gate, and this Self is just a little different from the others. She doesn’t need to do anything. She doesn’t need to be anything for anyone else. All she has to do is be. Oh, and do what she’d like, of course. Which is write this, at the moment.

My bag is filled too full with books (check out the What I’m Reading to see what I brought), and as you can tell, I decided to bring my laptop after weeks of internal debate. Of course I could just write in my notebook, but the moments flit by so fast, I know I’d lose them.

I sit, eager and calm, ready and not ready, because I’ve learned that after each trip, I come back just a little different than before. Not in big ways – I don’t dye my hair or pierce body parts or change my name – but the landscape of my mind shifts. It grows. It changes. And the places my mind wanders in down moments now includes the place I’ve just come from, with all its colors and shapes and sounds.

Here I come, London.

Outside My Window

Every morning this week I’ve woken up to the sound of construction. It’s not down the beach or across the street, it is Right. Outside. My. Window. The radio is blaring classic rock and the men are shouting measurements and demanding tools and singing along. I like their backwards hats, their tattoos, and the easy way they work together.

What’s fascinating to me as I watch them through the window over the kitchen sink is this:

I have absolutely no idea what they’re doing.

Now, I’m a smart girl. I can write a decent sentence, grow a (fairly) plentiful garden, knit a cozy sweater, sing a pretty song. But put a tool in my hand, and I’m going to need you to hold my other hand the entire time.

I helped my Dad and brothers build the new chicken house a few years ago. I used a drill and a saw and a hammer, but I still don’t know how to remove screws without stripping them. My youngest brother (who isn’t so young anymore), took the electric screw driver from me in exasperation, saying, “Catherine, I really don’t understand why you can’t figure this out,” and he proceeded to remove every screw with ease.

So I watch these men out my window while I wash the dishes, make breakfast, put the coffee on, and I think how amazing it is that they know what they’re doing. They’re not reading a manual. They’re not listening to a podcast. And the house is being built day-by-day, a foundation and frame where there was nothing.

Sometimes I wonder what skill I wish I had. It changes, depending on my mood. Most often I answer: “Art. I wish I were a good artist. I wish I could depict beauty with drawing or painting or sculpting.”

But right now? This morning? As the saws blast through wood and Elton John sings “Levon”?

I wish I could build a house. Maybe then I’d get that tattoo.

Small Town Summer

What do you do when you realize old-fashioned doughnuts are the best?

You eat them.

It is the first week of summer vacation, and I’ve begun a terrible and beautiful habit. This past winter, a little cafe opened downtown. It’s so little that there are only three tables inside and two tables outside. They serve sandwiches and other things, but I go for the doughnuts. I’ve tried a few kinds: old-fashioned plain, maple-bacon (wow, sugar blast!), and a sort of puff-doughnut. But the one I keep coming back to is the old-fashioned cinnamon-sugar.

Yesterday morning, I walked down Main Street in the sun. I was alone, so I carried my journal, and I thought about all the times I’ve walked down that street growing up. I looked down the brand new development that’s engulfed my old woods, and I took a deep breath. Things change, I told myself, and who knows? Maybe those houses will be filled with children who discover life like I did, even if their woods will be a different shape.

I passed the street where dear family friends live, with memories of Man Hunt and swimming and screaming in fun. I passed the Richdale, notorious for its ugliness in our sweet town (and where I routinely purchased Snickers and Coke growing up). Past the graveyard and the old church I used to go to. Past the white house whose kids I still think of as tiny but who graduated this past spring. I hit the cafe faster than I thought and was a little dismayed to find one of the tables outside surrounded by three boisterous women (one of whom I used to know) – how was I supposed to write?!

Doughnut and iced coffee in hand, I sat down and took out my journal. I broke off pieces of doughnut, the kind with crispy edges and fluffy insides, and I thought about how a stranger had said to me recently, “Your hometown’s all backroads – no offense!” and I had looked at her quizzically and said, “Why would I take offense? That’s what I like.”, and it was uncomfortable, but only for me because she wasn’t aware enough to know what I thought of her.

I sipped my coffee and listened to the women pronounce “Elaina” like “Elainer,” “Linda” like “Linder,” and even though a part of me cringes at this botching of a beautiful sound, I secretly enjoy hearing it. I wondered if I would run into Eric of the white beard and full laugh and David of the middle-aged sweet arrogance and too-many-margaritas again. The week before they’d been sitting at the table next to me, their National Grid vans parked on the street, and we had been far too close to each other not to say hello. “Hello” turned into a twenty minute conversation.

[“We’re here every day!” they said. “We’ll be seeing you this summer!”]

I wrote and watched for about an hour, and I packed up only when I begrudgingly admitted I had ESL lesson plans to write. As I threw out my trash and headed to the sidewalk, a National Grid van drove by, and Eric’s white beard shown in the sun. He waved a big wave and said, “Catherine!”, and I smiled.

There is an ease to small-town living that I don’t know if I could live without.

The city is like…


The city is like a wide open field. A weekend cracks open the world to me and reminds me that life is big. I am small and life is big and because of grace I am full.

A small apartment that will never be mine is brimming with love and friendship. Just a few hours sprawled on couches, sprawled on floors, and mutual friends make comfort. We open the windows because even in the March coldness the heat is too strong, and the purple curtains flutter against the walls.

We talk about Lent and its strangeness and we rejoice at its shaping of us. Mine has been less than amazing – but I hold even that up as a sacrifice. I’ve decided it can’t all be emotion; I can’t always be in the throes of feeling. Praise God for that.

It wasn’t easy getting down here. I got lost, mapquest serving as much as a hindrance as a help. I got turned around and turned around and when I finally met up with K I couldn’t even smile. But it wore off quickly. We read each other’s minds: So I was thinking we would drop our stuff off and head out for dinner. Great, me too. And then get coffee before the cello recital. Great, me too. 

And we hit the town with our black and brown boots and feel free.

We sit in a Starbucks window, watching the lights and people passing by. I tell you you’re terrible for redeeming a free treat coupon and only getting tap water, but that doesn’t stop me from splitting the brownie with you. A man stands on the brick, smoking. He leans against the iron railing and watches the cars. Our faces are reflected in the glass, and I say, This is our life, and you laugh at me. But it’s true, and we are blessed. We are sitting right now in a coffee shop and there is nowhere we are supposed to be and nothing else we are supposed to be doing.

Fifteen minutes on a church’s cold stone steps and we laugh because sometimes it’s the only answer to the bizarrity of life (I know, ‘bizarrity’ is not a word, but that’s what it is). Three friends linking arms because it’s warmer that way, and that’s one of the reasons I’ll never really fit in – things are too posh and sophisticated and modern. We part at the street-corner, promising to see each other soon, but none of us really know what will happen.

The shower is running and I am writing and Sunday stretches before me empty and full.

This week of Tech Week and Alice in Wonderland and Good Friday and Easter seems far off.

[The cello rises over the room full of people, and I am transported back to four years spent studying practicing singing. Nostalgia fills me until I am dreaming of both those years and the years to come. The Dvorak makes me want to dance, the Beethoven makes me want to read, and the Barber makes me want to fall in love.]

[Cafe Sleep]

I could fall asleep with my head on this table, press

my hot cheek to the cool varnished wood splattered

with other people’s coffee.


I still like my idea of beds suspended from the walls,

folded out to catch your tired bones – who

wouldn’t like a comfy mattress for a few

minutes of rest?


The busy city wears out your feet and sores

your muscles; the least it can give is a café with beds.


But that would be so dirty, they remind me.

The logical ones. The ones who cannot

let go of fact to see perfection.


Yes, I admit, it would be hard to keep clean.

But oh how luxurious to sleep

to the muffled voices and toned-down laughs

of a Chicago coffee shop.

[Notes from The Student, Part 3]

[train thoughts]

That idea of “do not throw your pearls before swine” keeps running through my head. Maybe it also means that we should be careful who we tell our deepest thoughts to. Maybe we should guard ourselves – not open ourselves up too much to people we call friends, but who time and time again prove less than trustworthy.

K. says we’re dreamers. We think and dream and hope big. And that’s not necessarily bad, but that it could (and probably is) a large part of why we are so often unsatisfied. See the less-than-perfect sides of even our biggest blessings. Maybe dreamers are more likely to be unsatisfied than concrete people.

G. is funny, clever, gets things and people quickly. But there’s not a lot of grace in her. What’s the point of knowledge – even a shade of wisdom – if you don’t have grace? I see too much of myself – of how I could be.

[we don’t have to be all things for all people. we are finite. there is actually a lot of peace in that.]

[that was the only thing about last night; i looked around while i was dancing and just saw so much desperation. it was gross and sad at the same time.]

“I will walk about in freedom, for I have sought out your precepts.” -Psalm 119:45

So seeking after the Lord’s precepts – His laws, His will – is what brings freedom. Structure brings freedom. So counter-intuitive to how I think.

[overheard on the subway: “i went to zara and spent $700 on, like, nothing.”]

Gave a guy 50 cents. Said he needed $2 to get home, but I didn’t have $2 (literally, I did not have it). Can I have just $2? No, I don’t have $2. Can I have all your change? No, you can have 50 cents. Did I just help his drug addiction? Maybe. I don’t know. Where in the Bible does it say, “make sure they use your money wisely”?

[i keep thinking about M. maybe because i realized i’m older than he’ll ever be – i’ve already been given more time. i’m not sure. maybe i should email his mom, tell her we still think about him. tell her a story where he’s the young hero, showing me how to laugh, how to flirt, how to smile into twinkly, mischievous eyes.]

Marriage is such an excluding relationship. When others get married, you are eternally on the outside. Weird.

Don’t reduce your life to only one passion.

[in thinking about “Legends of the Fall” and how grotesque all the characters are; they could have lived beautiful lives, but instead they chose selfishness and reduced themselves to one passion, flattening themselves.]

A lot for a day, and yet only a piece of it.

Riding the Train

(So I started my TEFL class. More on that in another post.)

I stood up on the T today – it’s easier, really, to stand. I feel too small, too vulnerable, when I sit. Today I stood and held on to the rail, swaying a little with each stop.

I looked around and thought how strange it is to be in such close proximity with people I don’t know, people I will never actually meet. I will never meet them, but I could reach right out and touch them.

At the third stop, people poured in.

A man came and stood next to me, reached up and held onto the same railing.

His fingers grazed mine.

I never saw his face.

This isn’t the train I rode, but I kinda wish it were.

Cities and trains, subways and busy sidewalks. I don’t really understand that there is humanity all around me. Each person is as important as the other, but I will never know the stories.

I heard two people meeting for the first time; the girl had a cello on her back, and the middle-aged man claimed that he “used to be a professional cellist.” Before the next stop, the girl had invited him to a concert (“Are you free at 8:15 tonight?”), and it left me wondering if that’s how big stories start:

With a question that you almost didn’t ask.

. . .

I wonder if I’m the only one who’s watching. Maybe I’m the only one who wonders why the woman with shoulder-length gray hair, thick white nylons, and a knee-length purple skirt still takes the train. Still commutes in and out of the city. Still looks exhausted in the crusty blue train seats.

When I look at her, she turns and looks out the window, and I wonder who she’s going home to.

Too many thoughts for a train ride.

That’s the thing about the train: I come home quieter and more contemplative than when I left. I guess I lose my bubbly, excited self in the city.

Back Home!

Back from a week of the midwest. How’d I do with my list?

On the Plane
  • Finish Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking and start Slouching Towards Bethlehem
Let’s just say I finished The Year of Magical Thinking long before I got to the plane, and I didn’t have time to grab Slouching Towards Bethlehem. Did read Diane Keaton’s Then Again, which was pretty good. Could’ve used more pictures of Warren Beatty though…
  • Watch all the passengers
And make up stories about them…BIG CHECK
  • Write in my journal
Of course this happened, but it’s always harder for me to write when there is so much to look at and experience. What if I miss something?! The real writing comes later.
  • Hang out!
We got lost on the way home from the airport (not so shocking to people who know us), and we talked the entire time. And didn’t really stop until the last hug at the Tulsa airport three days later. A lot happens in two years, but it’s amazing how you immediately fall back into the way things always were.
  • Eat sushi and barbecue
Yes, I consumed both sushi and barbecue while in OK. I didn’t even have to ask for them. Now that’s good hosting.
 St. Louis
  • Relax
Definitely. Read. Wrote. Ran dogs in the woods. Went to Barnes and Noble, drank coffee, and looked through books with beautiful houses. Talked a lot. (I’m pretty sure I left A. exhausted, both emotionally and verbally. He’s not used to my lifestyle.)
  • Check out a church
Went to church. A lot. Early service in chairs in a make-shift sanctuary while the real sanctuary is being renovated. Then on to Sunday School (and yes, people are interesting/weird/lovable wherever you go). Then to help out in children’s church. I have a new appreciation for people who work with children. The patience those helpers exhibited could only come from God. Then at 6:30 there was evening church. The evening sermon was thought-provoking, and on the way home we got burgers. A good ending.
  • Check out a museum

Um, St. Louis closes down on Mondays. No art museums were open! But my girlfriends and a husband and I rode the tram up to the arch and looked out over the city. While we waited to go up, we strolled through the Lewis and Clark museum, so I guess that can count. The tram was like a little capsule for five people. We only had four in our group, so some unsuspecting bald man had to squeeze in with us. And the three of us girls sure know how to be annoying when we’re happy. Poor guy.

And I come home, a little more broke than when I left. But who’s complaining? Too many good memories to care.

A Smile Goes a Long Way

Today at the tea shop, we had a lot of entertaining customers. My coworker (S) and I would share a look of appreciation (and slightly raised eyebrows) as each one left. It’s crazy how many different kinds of people like tea. And not just tea, loose leaf tea. Before starting at the shop, I’d tried to do the loose leaf thing, but it was too annoying; I wanted something on the go, not something I had to dump dirtily out of my cup. Now, though, I am a convert, praising the qualities of loose leaf tea over the “floor sweepings” people call teabags (don’t worry, that’s not my term – I got it from a customer). I’d imagined most of our customers would be of the female persuasion with short white hair and possibly lipstick and manicured nails. Maybe the occasional green-tea-drinking natural thrown in. But the world of loose leaf tea is far more diverse than that.

Our first customer came in before we’d officially opened. He knew exactly what he wanted, Russian Caravan, and after quickly paying for it, he proceeded to leave. A mesh tea ball caught his eye as he walked out, and he promptly returned to buy it. That’s the way our day went: customer after customer proclaiming their personalities in a matter of minutes, movements of their bodies telling us if they were excited, sad, tired. So many couples today, and it was so easy to read their dynamics. They had me and S shaking our heads and saying, “Wow, he was way more talkative than she was. She seemed pretty cold.” And it goes on and on like this, with us psychoanalyzing and enjoying all the new kinds of people we meet.

A young family came in later in the day. They’ve been pretty regular customers since the fall, with two little children. The youngest had broken their teapot, and they’d come in specifically to get more vanilla black tea and a mug with a strainer. They found those quickly – and then proceeded to stay for about twenty minutes, just talking with us, smelling teas, letting their children smell teas, and all of us laughing. The dad even remembered S had gone home to California for Christmas, and he asked her about it. It’s crazy how much people remember.

That’s the way it is in such a little shop, where we have to get to know the customers in order to sell them the teas they’ll really like. At the end of the day, we had a woman bring her husband in, and when they came in the door, I heard her say, “Look! I told you they’d be here!” She introduced us to her husband, and then said how great we were and she was going to bring all her friends. Thankfully, I did remember her from two weeks ago, but I had no idea we’d made such an impression. She bought three ounces of Russian Caravan (the best seller of the day, apparently), and said she’d be back in a few weeks.

Just a little reminder that a smile and a little interest go a long way.