Cookie’s Last Dance

Cookie 6 months

Cookie the quirky, defective, anti-social white Chihuahua, was my best pal, although I was not his. A natural born heat-seeker, Cookie preferred and deferred to our other pack member, John, because John’s hands were always warm and mine always ice.

He wasn’t very smart for a dog, impossible to train, but he had his charms. The one trick he would perform on demand was the old “gimme five”, or more accurately “gimme four”. Cookie would sit and quickly touch his paw to your outstretched hand, but only if he knew you had a treat in your other hand. He also had his own happy dance, crazily spinning around like a compass needle, reserved for moments of ultimate fulfillment of longing and joy, like suppertime. We tried to encourage this natural behavior and get him to dance on command, but to no avail. Cookie did exactly what he wanted, whenever it suited him. So it had been from the day we brought the little brat home nearly 14 years ago until just last month.

In mid-March, Cookie stopped dancing and eating, not even tempted by his favorite treats, no longer aware of what he was doing or where he was.  Tests at the vet proved inconclusive; systems were failing.  I knew he was slipping away and all I could do was make him comfortable and wait.

That last morning I didn’t know it was going to be his last morning.  I groomed him as gently as possible, dabbing at the bit of dried blood that still matted his fur at the back of his neck where the vet had drawn so many samples the week before. I trimmed his nails, and for the only time in his life he did not protest, and wiped away the bits of yarn fiber that were constantly getting sucked into his soft, brown saucer eyeballs.

After we were done, I set him on the corner of the sofa, his beloved watch post, but Cookie didn’t stay there long. Eyes clouded with cataracts, legs weak and unsteady, he staggered down his little doggy stair steps and, drawn by instinct, found a welcoming spot on the floor, the place where the late morning sun hit and heated the carpet. He circled that spot once, laid himself in the sunny warmth, breathing heavily. I tried stroking him and calming him, but nothing would delay the inevitable.  His head drooped to the carpet, he shuddered and breathed his last.

I never understood, in the movies and TV, when grieving loved ones would say “he looked so peaceful” or “I thought she was just sleeping”.  I get it now.  And I have done some difficult things in my life; I birthed two babies, I sized crochet garment patterns, I lost my dad. But the hardest thing I ever had to do was that morning, bundling Cookie’s tiny, limp, still warm body and taking him to the vet for his final arrangements.

People deal with grief in their own time and in their own ways.  Today I immerse myself in my crochet and have been creating a remembrance. It’s not quite finished; it is a work in progress as is my grieving.

Cookie's Last Dance

In a while I will have my emotions in hand, will likely publish this filet project as a DJC Design so I can share with you Cookie’s Last Dance.

One more thing.  I am not sure if I have figured out how to do this, or if I have the right to do this, but I hope all concerned will forgive me.  This piece of music has helped me, a catharsis in four and a half minutes.  Written by Karen Taylor-Good and Burton B. Collins, produced by the late Phil Ramone, this song, performed by Laura Branigan, might be heard if you click through here a couple of times.

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CGOA Reno: I’m at WHAT convention?

So this is not the Star Trek Convention in Las Vegas, Nevada????  It’s four hundred miles away in Reno, I’m at a Crochet Guild of America conference, and this is September, not August 2012. But a little space and time shift didn’t bother me any.

Photo courtesy of Vashti Braha

And there’s the perfect argument for Star Fleet having a mandatory retirement age! That’s me, dashing about getting a few things we needed for the CGOA Fashion Show (lint roller in hand!), standing still only momentarily at the Crochet Design Showcase, an experimental booth I launched at the Reno conference. More about the conference in a bit.  As for the dress, it is only faintly recognizable as the Rockin Red Dress, my design published in the current Fall 2012 issue of Interweave Crochet.  In the magazine it is styled this way:

Photo courtesy of Interweave Crochet

Crochet the dress a couple of inches shorter, wear it with black boots, a T-shirt collar and a spiffy replica of Lt. Uhura’s insignia from the Star Trek 2009 reboot film, and, it reverts back to the original inspiration for the design:

Well, yes.  Zoe Saldana’ Uhura is much younger, curvier and hotter than me. And her uniform dress is scandalously short and fitted. But you get the idea.  Even we geeky fan girls can play dress up once in a while.

One to beam up!

Of Evil Orchids… and a Crochet Scarves Winner

I suspect many readers today are more interested in the latter than the former, so I will begin by announcing the winner of a copy of Sharon Silverman‘s new book, Crochet Scarves.  Congratulations to grannymax!  I’ll shoot you an e-mail and we can sort out the details.  I know Max will enjoy the book, as will everyone else who gets their hands on it.  Thanks for playing along and best of luck when the next carrot is offered! Here are some of the coming contributors to the Crochet Scarves blog tour, with more TBA:

StyledbyKristin.com (Kristin Omdahl) on 7/24; Modeknit.com (Annie Modesitt) on 7/27; GoCrochet.com (Ellen Gormley) on 7/30; CrochetbyFaye.com (Robyn Chachula) on 8/3; Handsindelight.com on 8/10; Crochetville.org on 8/13; Crochetconcupiscence.com on 8/23

If that’s all you need to know, then you may be excused.

Now, about the orchids. Plants can’t be evil, can they?  They aren’t sentient and don’t move, so if you leave them alone they leave you alone, know what I’m saying?  Not that you can’t be injured or killed by plants.  Heck, I’ve been stung by nettles, pricked by thorns, stickered by bushes and poisoned by ivy and oak (luckily never poisoned by mushrooms).  My bad for not giving all of those plants a wide berth.

It’s also your bad if you go hacking through an impenetrable  jungle or wander off the trail into the deep forest at night. We didn’t need The Blair Witch Project to show us that getting lost in the woods after dark is truly scary.  And even though it’s not the plants in the woods that are evil, still it’s a good idea to heed the warning: Don’t go in the woods at night.  Just don’t.  What if there are R.O.U.S. lurking?

Pop culture, science fiction and fantasy are rife with examples of plants that are out to get you (which assure and reassure me that I am not the only one who has these thoughts), from the ridiculously silly Killer Tomatoes to the mildly disturbing Krynoid pods in Doctor Who: The Seeds of Doom.  Hey, the flying monkeys in the Wizard of Oz didn’t spook me as much as the abusive trees. As a kid I thought twice before picking apples, or any fruit for that matter.

In the first season Star Trek episode This Side of Paradise, normally logical, stoic Spock gets shot in the face by a cloud of spores from an alien flower and under the influence turns into a stoned idiot. Yikes, somehow a gang of these flowers gets transported to the Enterprise, everyone is infected, and the entire crew mutinies and abandons ship. Dammit, Jim, I’m a crocheter not a botanist, but those plants are from the dark side. You do realize there are plant spores in the air all around us, like from mold and fungi, inhaled in every breath, and we hardly give them a second thought, but spores should not be taken lightly.

There are real-world carnivorous plants that creep me out.  It’s a short hop from an actual Venus Fly Trap to the ginormous, ravenous Audrey II from Little Shop of Horrors. And how about Pitcher plants? They are scary-sneaky, attracting insects with nectar bait, luring them to their drowning deaths in a pool of digestive enzymes.  Sweet, huh?

I look at certain shoots and tendrils that seek anything that can help support the plant, how they seem to reach out, grab and wrap around whatever they touch.  Even the fastest-growing of them only extend inches a day, so a person could easily get out of the way. But what if you’re incapacitated somehow, or asleep? How about the maze, the final challenge in the Triwizard Tournament from Harry Potter: Goblet of Fire? Yes, admittedly that was an enchanted maze, but still it was majorly creepy and didn’t your heart skip a few beats when the shrubbery snaked out and attacked Cedric Digory?

Roots are the freakiest bits, sickly pale fibrous things that slowly, inexorably spread, invade, entangle, engulf and even penetrate anything in the way, even rock.  Since most plants keep their roots hidden from sight, either under the soil or shielded by leaves, we are not constantly reminded of their grotesqueness.  But last year I met a plant whose roots scared the crap out of me. I was visiting Vashti Braha in subtropical Florida, so I knew there’d be stuff not seen here in Pennsylvania.  During a walk around her block she showed me my first strangler fig.  Just the name makes me uneasy.  I love trees; Ents are favorite characters of mine from Lord of the Rings. It made me cry to see what was happening to so many trees in Vashti’s neighborhood; slow, horrible, crushing death by strangler fig.  I still have nightmares.

I got that uneasy feeling about a plant one other time. It was the day I was Sharon Silverman’s guest at Longwood Gardens early last spring.  Although we are practically neighbors, Sharon and I had never met before that day and I was delighted to share an afternoon at one of her happy places. The day was blustery, and although we did a bit of walking around the grounds, we spent much of our visit in the conservatory viewing the Orchid Extravaganza.  The exhibit was pretty amazing, breathtaking actually, and we had a wonderful time getting to know each other over lunch. I didn’t think to capture the moments in photos, but Sharon did take a few shots. Since she was wielding the camera there isn’t a picture of her or the both of us, but here’s me.

And here’s a shot Sharon took of some pretty orchids.

There was an orchid hanging from a tree in a dim corner and I swear I got shivers just looking at it.  Unlike the delicate or gaily colored ones we had admired, this one was dangerous; lurid purple and blood, with vomit shaded accents. It was the tropical kind with aerial roots, a freaky wormy ball of roots that with very little imagination could turn into a wriggling, writhing mass that might slither over and hunt you for food if you got too close.  Sharon had a good chuckle over my comments about the scary orchids. But notice she didn’t take any pictures of them. And I never turned my back on them, not once. :-)

BACKSTORY: Spiral Crochet

Everybody remember where we parked.

One of many memorable quotes (memorable to me, at least) from the film Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, that line was delivered to amusing effect by Captain James T. Kirk after landing a captured Klingon scout-class warbird in the middle of Golden Gate Park in 20th century San Francisco. This reminder to the crew made sense in the context of the scene because the ship was cloaked and therefore invisible.  But even when walking away from your perfectly visible vehicle, it’s still a good thing to make note of where you’ve parked.

I can never remember.  I might attribute my lapses in recall to advanced age. But this is one instance I can’t play the “old” card because I have been losing track of the car ever since I learned to drive at seventeen.  You know that feeling, huh?  You emerge from a grocery store with a loaded cart, or from the movies with rowdy kids in tow, or from holiday gift shopping with arms filled with packages.  Your heart stops as you scan the sea of parked vehicles and you can’t find your car.

Only once in my life did I experience the worst case scenario where my vehicle was actually not there, stolen.  That’s another story.  In the back of your mind, especially after you’ve hiked up and down several aisles of the parking lot searching for and not finding your car,  this is a real, nagging possibility.  Most of the time, though, the car is there somewhere.

Way back when cars had sticky-out-y rod antennae, you’d often see funny things stuck to the tops of them to serve as locators.  I tried doing that for a while but annoyingly the stupid Smurf doll wouldn’t stay impaled.

If you don’t mind cruising for prime spaces, you could try parking as close to the front of the building as possible so your car is immediately and easily seen. This works well outside of destinations with only one entrance. But where there are multiple portals, like at the mall, it’s useful to park in the same place every time or within a few spaces in a specific area, someplace less frequented, quiet and therefore usually empty.  That’s why I automatically eschew the main mall entrance and head for an end cap, the door at the back of one of the anchor department stores. All I have to remember is which store, which entrance, and use it every visit.  After years of practice I now do it without thinking.

So every time I go to the mall I find myself winding through the same departments of the same store in order to get to the coffee, without which I cannot contemplate any shopping.  This path takes me through shoes, then menswear, then jewelry, handbags, women’s fashions and finally the scary, shiny cosmetics counters before I see the light from the mall. I routinely fly past everything, but once in a while something catches my eye and it’s always a garment display.

What captures my attention isn’t the garment itself, not the beauty or lack of it, not the style or even the color. I am drawn to fabric, the drape, pattern and textures of materials, knitwear, knits that mimic crochet and of course crocheted pieces. I see it all in terms of stitchwork and spend inordinate amounts of time dissecting the fabric and putting it in terms of crochet stitches and filing it away in my brain for inspiration later.

People who have the misfortune of accompanying me on these shopping forays get terribly disgusted with me. At first they might wait for me while I examine the enticing fabrics more closely, even when they can’t imagine why I’d be looking at those particular items. But after frequent long stops they generally abandon me and cover the retreat with “Hey, meet you at Starbucks later!”. This is why I go to the mall alone.

The point is, I see crochet stitch patterns everywhere, even where there’s no crochet to be seen. By stitch pattern I mean a set or combination of crochet stitches that have a cohesiveness or form an image, a discrete piece or parcel of crochet. We call that parcel a stitch pattern repeat, because that’s what gets repeated across a row and up the rows to form crocheted fabric. I encounter and experiment with many stitch patterns, but few can be counted in a rarefied group that has become my comfort zone.

And that’s where crocheted spirals live, in my stitch pattern comfort zone.  I am so familiar with the look of spirals, how they are made, and how they can be shaped and manipulated to get the desired results, that designing with them is really fun. Over the years I have used variations on spiral stitch patterns in several designs. With the release of the latest booklet in my self-published pattern line I think I’ve finally been able to get spirals out of my system and onto the page.

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So I present DJC: Spirals, a collection of seamless tops that puts spiral construction in your hands.  This top may resemble one of my old designs published in a now out-of-print magazine, but it’s so much more than a mere reclaiming and re-print of Sophisticated Swirls from 2006. With new, detailed written instructions, tips and techniques, options for body and sleeve lengths, a tutorial about interior shaping, stitch diagrams, fresh samples in current yarns, and extended sizing that covers XS through 4X with 12 sizes, DJC: Spirals is a master class.

DJC: Spirals is a 29 page pdf download, available for purchase at DesigningVashti.com.  I hope you will enjoy this pattern as much as I truly needed to write it.  :-)

An Obliquely Crochet Obsession

In a clear-thinking moment I’d be forced to admit that this is not a revolutionary product.  It cannot and does not stand at the pinnacle of human achievement in the same way as other inventions, for example the wheel, the light bulb, microwave ovens, Pop-Tarts and the crochet hook.  But the thing that has become my current obsession is so simple, so functional and  so majorly cool that I feel the need to share here.

From the moment I held this thing in my hand, judged the smooth curves and nearly weightless heft of it, I sensed I was witnessing something divine. What is it, you rightly ask. A better question would be why has it taken so long for someone to do this. It is the most perfect container/dispenser of hand cream that I’ve ever held.Working with yarn and crochet or knitting tools takes a toll on your hands, as do the mundane tasks of everyday living.  I have allergies to some animal fibers and to some extent to my own dog who is in turn allergic to wool.  Unspeakable torture follows if I touch my face or eyes directly after handling these things.  So I wash my hands frequently throughout the day, which takes another kind of toll on your skin.  To counteract and ameliorate the effects of this obsessive hand-washing I use a crap-ton of hand cream.

Although I will test drive any product that’s around, lately I’ve gotten pretty picky about what I keep in good supply.  I have my favorites, as I am sure you do, too. But today I am not evaluating the product itself, rather I am extolling the wonders of the packaging.

It would make sense to keep hand cream dispensers right at the locations where washing occurs or wherever else it occurs to me to apply hand cream. But as there are several sinks here and many places where I sit, work, write and ponder the nature of existence, like in my car, it became impractical to leave a dozen hand cream tubes lying about in anticipation. I tried this approach and discovered that those tubes never stayed put. They migrated. At the end of the day I’d find three in one place and none in another, or worse, just the cap from a tube next to the sink with no clue as to where the tube itself had gone.

The sane thing to do would be to carry one around with me all day.

Away from home it’s all about throwing the tube in your handbag.  Unless you don’t mind carrying a big purse, you’d need a container that is portable or travel sized, lightweight, crush-proof, with a cap that will never ever ever inadvertently come off and allow hand cream to be deposited all over the inside of your bag.  At home, assuming there are pockets in your pants or shirts, and that those garments are loose fitting enough to actually squeeze something into those pockets (neither assumption holds for most women’s clothing), you’d want something even more portable and not a pain in the butt if sat upon.This is the one; the ultimate in portable hand cream packaging.  Smaller and lighter (even when filled) than my cell phone, it sits perfectly cradled in you hand. There’s a soft little dent or depression in one side that accepts your thumb and invites you to squeeze. The plastic body has a satiny smooth finish and is seamless, with no points or raggedy bits to snag your yarn, purse contents or pockets. The cap is a tapered flip-top (no lost caps) that closes with a firm snap (no spills) and is flat (no jab in the butt). It’s sexy.  As sexy as hand cream packaging ever gets, anyway.

Admittedly, this little darling is a bit pricey for a mere 1.5 ounces (44ml) of product for $3.99 full retail. But the formula is fairly clean, labeled 97% natural (which begs the question what could possibly constitute the 3% part that is by inference NOT natural), no parabens, no mineral oil, no petrolatum, no lanolin. It currently comes in three fragrances, none of which are my favorite but none are objectionable or overpowering: cucumber in the green tube; fresh, white floral in the aqua tube; fruity berry in the pink tube.  Although the company calls it hand lotion, it is nicely thick like a cream, easily applied and absorbed, not sticky and so far effective.  I can’t say if the softness and moisturizing effects are lasting since I wash and reapply so frequently.  But for my money, it’s not about the product.Because once you have emptied the paltry one and a half ounces of cream (which I can go through in a couple of days), don’t cry and rush out to purchase another tube.  I am a firm believer in recycle, reuse, repurpose. If you do it carefully and gently, you can pry off the top. Don’t twist.  Insert the tip of a blunt blade under the lip of the cap and lift. Refill that baby with whatever you want.  Snap the cap back on. Smile. :-)

The company, EOS (Evolution of Smooth), could be a brand or division of some giant corporation.  Or not.  I really love their egg-shaped lip balm packaging, too, which my friends and most kids think is a riot.  You can find this stuff in drugstores and online.