Tag Archives: crafting

Rules of Yarn Crawl

I’m convinced there are few places on earth as craft-oriented as Portland. “Handmade” is kind of a big thing in these parts. In fact, you may have heard about our acquisition by Etsy a few years ago (check the date on that article before you take it too seriously).

The city goes a little goofy for yarn one weekend every year. This year, eighteen yarn shops in the Portland/Metro area participated in the Rose City Yarn Crawl. This is yarnie heaven. My best friend and I try to get out to visit at least a few of our favorites. The first year we went on the crawl, we visited ten shops in one day. We were exhausted. Last year, I got sick in the middle of the day, so we cut things short. This year, we learned from past mistakes and took it easy on ourselves, just taking in four of our favorite shops with a leisurely break for lunch and an early return home.

As we traveled today, I thought of some Rules for future Yarn Crawl endeavors:

First Rule of Yarn Crawl: Thou shalt be adequately fueled with appropriate caffeination from a local purveyor of the bean.

Second Rule of Yarn Crawl: Thou shalt read all yarn warning labels:

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Third Rule of Yarn Crawl: Thou shalt avoid fibers that must be treated as if they are made from cotton candy and fairy wings, even though said fibers are often quite shiny, sparkly, or soft.

Fourth Rule of Yarn Crawl: Thou shalt not be lured by the 45% off sign on the silk laceweight yarns.

Fifth Rule of Yarn Crawl: Thou shalt always read the yardage on every skein, hank, or ball of fiber before falling madly in love.

Sixth Rule of Yarn Crawl: Thou shalt repeat Rules Three, Four, and Five as many times as necessary.

Seventh Rule of Yarn Crawl: Thou shalt buy something new:

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Eighth Rule of Yarn Crawl: Thou shalt buy something useful and reliable:

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Ninth Rule of Yarn Crawl: Thou shalt laugh often.

Me, looking at little boy sleeping in a stroller: Don’t you wish you could just sleep in a chair and other people would push you around all over town?

Best friend, without missing a beat: Don’t worry. We’ll get there someday.

Tenth Rule of Yarn Crawl: Thou shalt take pictures of all the projects you want to do eventually:

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Eleventh Rule of Yarn Crawl: Thou shalt also take pictures of the stash thou hast acquired throughout the day:

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Twelfth Rule of Yarn Crawl: Thou shalt go home when thou hast spent all thy allotment of currency which hast been dedicated aforehand to the acquisition of said stash.

Thirteenth Rule of Yarn Crawl: Thou shalt determine to shun all requests of husbands, children, schools, volunteer organizations, workplaces, and churches for one day the following year that one might return to Yarn Crawl when it doth descend upon thy fair city.

It would appear that I have some hanks to wind.

Till next we meet . . .

J M

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At Last

The massive volunteer editing project is done. DONE. D-O-N-E. DONE!

Imagine me doing a Snoopy dance:

I cannot even begin to describe the absolute elation and lightness of being I feel in having this project off my plate. It was not a fun project in the slightest. Aside from the fact that a huge portion of what I did was take out wonky formatting, I had to also reword, delete, and edit some of the most painful sentences ever recorded in the English language.

All right. I may be exaggerating a bit.

Of course, I’ve gone right from the frying pan and into the fire . . . In the midst of this editing project, Thanksgiving snuck up on me. Of course, Christmas tends to follow very closely on Thanksgiving’s heels (even closer than usual this year–we don’t even have a full month between!). I’ve also had to confront three rather intense personal conflicts in my American Heritage Girls troop–all of them unrelated to each other, but all of them serious enough to merit discussion. And I don’t know if any of you can tell from this blog, but I’m actually not very good at the interpersonal stuff. I’m not good at relationships in the best of circumstances. I’m about a thousand times worse when there’s tension of any kind.

But also in the midst of this whole turmoil and through the pressure of getting my editing project done by the deadline, I made some decisions. They are not earth-shattering or mind-blowing, and the most important of them will take some time to set up. I won’t share too many details as some of them would be too revealing, but suffice to say that the next several months will be approached intentionally with a specific goal in mind–namely, setting up my life to re-introduce writing fiction on a regular basis.

I suppose the biggest thing I’ve learned over the last year is that there are only so many spots this leopard can change. I’m a writer. I need to write. Even if nothing ever leaves my hard drive, I need the outlet. And I have to just write and not worry about what other people think . . . so I will write without the intent to share it. It will be a hobby, but a hobby I won’t feel guilty about pursuing.

To that end, there are certain things I have to do:

Rebalance my spiritual life: I have fallen out of the habits I established when I left writing over a year ago. This editing project and the AHG responsibilities have just sucked the time right out of my schedule. And it’s true (and ironic) that when I’m stressed, the first thing to be sacrificed is my spiritual health. I neglect reading my Bible, I neglect prayer, and I neglect my Bible study. I have to rebalance that part of my life before I fall over.

Draw back on my volunteer duties: It always seems to be the case that 5% of the people do about 95% of the work. I certainly feel like I’m doing more than my share of work in the AHG troop, but I’m hardly doing anything at my kids’ school and nothing in my church. I have a plan for drawing back on the AHG duties. It will take several months, but it will make a big change in my schedule (and in my sanity).

Knit, sew, and read: The massive amount of volunteering I’ve been doing has also cannibalized my time for knitting, sewing, and reading. The result is unbalanced creativity and a frustrated spirit. I think what I’m realizing is that I have to just allow myself hobby/creative time, and then I need to give myself the freedom to do whatever my spirit needs that day, whether it’s knitting, sewing, reading, writing, crocheting, or even–gasp!–scrapbooking.

I know that I tend to retreat into busy-ness to avoid the hard things–in this case, writing. The problem is that it isn’t a permanent solution. It doesn’t work. Being busy doesn’t make me any less of a writer. It just makes me a more frustrated writer. My head still produces the stories. The characters still whisper to me in the quiet stillness of my restful moments. I still think, “what a fun piece of dialogue that would be” or “cool name–I should use it in a story” when I overhear interesting tidbits. And when I watch anything even remotely connected with the fantasy genre in any way (meaning, if you put a sword in a story), I immediately go to my own worlds and wish to renew my acquaintance with them.

So this is not an earth-shattering, ground-breaking post by any means, and it’s not as if I am making some kind of major announcement. But I am back, at least for now, and I’m feeling . . . well, if not at peace, at least in a place of greater clarity.

I think . . . I think that is a good thing.

Till next we meet . . .

J M

The Only Writing Advice I Can Give

I have never wanted this blog to be about writing. I set out, in fact, to specifically NOT write about writing. I wanted to write about everything else. My last blog was about writing. I even wrote a weekly column about writing for another website. I seemed to have no problem giving people advice about writing (as if I had any clue about anything to do with . . . anything).

I hereby rescind all of my writing advice. Should you ever find any of it, print it and burn it.

I had a very long talk with a lovely friend yesterday–a friend who understands this virus called “writing.” We shared our frustrations and fears, our fictional loves and our big dreams. But we also talked about our kids, our husbands, our childhoods, our hobbies, our shared faith, and a host of other things. And I realized that the thing that carried the conversation was not the writing. It was the connection.

I have thought a lot about what has changed in my life since I put my writing away last year. My house is still a mess. My kids still fight. I still get immersed in projects. I’m still insanely busy. What has changed?

On the surface, not much.

Internally? I’ve re-centered my spirit around what’s important–my God and my family.

And in the process of re-centering myself, God has given me back my writing.

If my kids get too obsessed with a video game, I’ll take the video game away to break the habit. Like a good parent, God pried my writing out of my clenched fists and put other things in my open hands–His Word, mostly. And then when He had lovingly applied a balm to palms that were shredded from obsessive clenching, He very kindly placed my writing back on my hands.

So I had a conversation with my friend yesterday, and it made me think–what writing advice would I give now?

The only writing advice I am qualified to give.

Don’t write. Breathe. No one can work on one thing all day, every day, for hours a day. I know the writing world is filled with stories of men and women who crank out hundreds of thousands of words every year and sell millions of books, but they aren’t you. They are often products of a publishing world on meth–a world that has to continue to crank out product like a soda bottling plant, churning words off an assembly line because it will die if it doesn’t. Remember, sharks die if they quit swimming, and publishing is full of sharks. Allow yourself time to NOT write.

Cross train. Runners who strength train run faster. Writers who creatively cross train write better. I have no empirical evidence of this–it’s just a theory based on my own recent experience. When I allow myself time to sew and knit, I find myself more inclined to pursue my writing endeavors. I find I enjoy them more and have a greater sense of satisfaction with the product of my writing sessions. Whether other people will agree is not the point. If you aren’t writing for yourself, there’s no reason to write.

Remember your audience. It’s you. Or in my case, it’s God. But that’s me. The point is that your audience isn’t “out there” so much as internal. I suppose this is sort of the “don’t write for the market” advice, but the problem with that advice is that it’s still focused on the market. Focus on the audience. And the most important audience, the one who has to live with it all, is you.

Redefine success. This is something my friend Laurel has gently convicted me of. Success is not defined by book sales or titles published or stellar reviews. I am convinced–after being rather chewed up and spit out by the world of writing and publishing–that those measures of success are a result of marketing and publishing efforts, not writing efforts. Success as a writer is something else. Did you tell the story you wanted to tell as well as you could tell it? Then you are a success. You are a storyteller. Define success in that context.

Only take responsibility for you. You are responsible for the story. That’s it. You can’t control reviews or sales, and anyone who tells you otherwise is lying. There are as many theories on how to sell books as there are writers, and all of them still have one problem: they depend on the consumer for success. And as much as Don Draper would like to think he can control the consumer, he can’t. The world of advertising and marketing is littered with the mangled bodies of failed campaigns. We only hear about the successes. So, dear friend, write the best story you can write. That’s all you can do.

Feed your soul. And your body, and your mind, and your heart. Close the Word document and look away. Nurture your faith. Hug your kids. Go out with your spouse. Read. Take a walk. Listen to the rain. Sing. Talk to a friend. Teach something. Go target shooting. Exercise. You are not just a writer. You are a whole person. Spend time acting like a whole person.

Write. If you are a writer, you know it. You have to write. It’s a virus that withers us from within unless we feed it. So feed it. Just . . . control its diet.

That’s it. No grammar, structure, or story advice. No marketing, publishing, self-publishing words of wisdom. Share your work or don’t share it–I’m not one to tell you whether it’s “worth sharing” or not. I know what I like to read, and there are plenty of novels that I think are utter trash. But that’s my responsibility as a reader.

Your responsibility, dear writer, is to write.

Till next we meet . . .

J M

Unplugged

When I left my old career, I determined that if I were ever to return to it, it would be as a healthy, thriving, confident practitioner of the art rather than a desperate one. It took some time to regroup after I made the decision to pull the plug on that career, but when I did, the first step I took in my quest to improve my health was to delete my Facebook account. It was around October of last year, and I found myself becoming anxious and frustrated by all of the political vitriol spewed in the days before the 2012 election. In addition, I lost a lot of respect for some of my friends and acquaintances–not because they didn’t agree with me, necessarily, but because their reasons for disagreeing were based on emotion and baseless fact and Internet rumor. In order to preserve my sanity and be a decent person when I saw these people in person, I exited Facebook and didn’t look back.

Best Internet-related decision I ever made.

Being away from Facebook gave me some mental space and eliminated the noise of the crowds. I believe that deleting my Facebook account is part of why I was able to focus more intently on hearing God’s voice through His Word. Perhaps that’s even partly why I felt the pull to deactivate the account–because He was calling me to return to the foot of the cross and listen to Him, not the Internet.

I wandered back into Twitter around the beginning of this year, about the time I started this blog. I had deleted my old Twitter account and wanted to start fresh following new people who were not in the same world I was in last year. Twitter is less personal than Facebook, in my opinion, and it’s easier to avoid Internet fights on Twitter, at least for me (some of you folks need to learn not to talk to trolls!). There is also a plethora of news on Twitter, and following journalists and websites that I like and respect allows me to winnow down the news to what I feel is beneficial without getting distracted by reading about Beyonce’s latest engagement at the White House.

I also started a Goodreads account so that I can keep track of what I’ve read and am reading these days and hopefully engage some other thoughtful readers on the topics of literature, speculative fiction, apologetics, and biographies. If you are on Goodreads, please find me there. I only have four friends so far. I could use a few more. I do love to talk books.

In any case, the first two days of this week found my calendar very full and my To Do List very long. I decided on Sunday night that I didn’t have time to even open my computer except for some Scouting-related tasks that needed to be done. So . . .

I went without the Internet for two days.

No Twitter. No news except what others shared with me. No blogs. No Pinterest.

I will confess that I did do a bit of e-mailing, but only a very little bit. I even put off e-mailing two friends until yesterday, and then only after I was finished with my volunteer obligations. It does seem like it’s almost impossible to function without e-mail these days, and many times, it’s very much more efficient than a phone call. And I confess to using Goodreads a very little bit, simply to record my progress on my reading (and I did this from the Goodreads app on my phone).

Otherwise? I went unplugged, and it was heavenly.

I have it as a goal this year to improve my all-around health. You will find the typical desires included in that rather amorphous goal–lose weight, eat better, get more exercise–but you will also find some more unusual health goals.

  • Improve my spiritual health by reading my Bible daily, praying more, meditating on God’s word, and studying apologetics.
  • Improve my intellectual health by reading more challenging books–classic fiction, biographies, literary fiction, history, and the like.
  • Improve my mental health by playing more, knitting more, laughing more, engaging in more creative endeavors without a specific goal in mind–in other words, create for the joy of creating.
  • Improve my emotional health by evaluating relationships, improving them where I can and eliminating those that are no longer beneficial to either party. (This may sound cold, but I have reasons. I plan to blog on them this week.)

When I was pursuing my old career, I spent a lot of time online. Much of it was “networking” (unproductive) and reading news from the field (demoralizing and discouraging). I wasted a lot of time talking to people about how I couldn’t get anything done. Yes, I have four children and many personal obligations, but to be honest, the Internet sucked a lot of time from my day. I do not want to return to that place where my life is all online.

So . . . Enter the days of being unplugged. Without news and chatting and blogs, I have more time and less worry. Without the Internet noise, I can hear God’s voice better and have more mental space to meditate on His Word. Without frustration from the latest idiocy out of Washington D.C., I can focus on my personal obligations with a clearer head. Without the distraction of Twitter, Pinterest, and all the news sites, I have time for life.

Over the last two days, I managed to:

  • Volunteer
  • Finish reading The Paradise Trilogy, by Ted Dekker
  • Cast on a pair of toe-up socks using a new pattern
  • Shepherd my children through chores and homework in a more peaceful and efficient manner
  • Exercise (I’m just now getting to the physical health goals)
  • Visit the craft store on a quest for beads for a shawl I currently have on the needles
  • Run innumerable errands
  • Finish reading the Old Testament

The Internet creates this weird sense of urgency in some of us, I think–as if we might miss something vital should we turn it off. But in truth, there is nothing so important online that it can’t wait a day or two–and if there is, we will surely hear about it in some other fashion. And as for my own contribution to the noise, there is nothing I have to say that is so vital to your well-being that it can’t wait a bit, either.

The truth is that despite our phones, laptops, iPads, iPods, and all the rest, life still happens in three dimensions, not two. Life happens out here, not online.

Engage in life. Unplug.

Till next we meet . . .

J M

Art vs. Craft

I enjoyed a lovely conversation about knitting on Twitter a couple of weeks ago. Mr. Roberts and I exchanged a few comments about knitting and the value of handcrafts and handcrafted items. Shortly after our exchange, he drafted this post, which I think is absolutely worth reading in its entirety. His post triggered a lot of my own thoughts, but it’s taken me a while to decide what I really want to say. I am trying to post carefully and avoid ranting. I will probably still mess this up, but again, sometimes I just need to say things.

Let me begin by reminding you, gentle reader, that I have been obsessively knitting since I gave up my creative career last summer. I have been fully aware that knitting has served as an imperfect substitute for the creative pursuits in which I formerly indulged. I have justified my crafty pursuits by reminding myself–and others–of the advantages over the former path:

Knitting is portable. I can knit anywhere, anytime. I often keep my project bag in my car or put a sock-in-progress in my purse. I can knit and still engage in conversation with other moms, so it is less socially isolating than reading.

Knitting is productive. Yes, I’ve been almost as obsessive about knitting as I was about my other creative pursuits, but at least I have something to show for it. I never felt like I was moving forward with my creative pursuits.

Knitting is guaranteed. Follow the pattern, do the stitches the right way, and I will end up with something recognizable and useful, most likely. Most of my projects turn out the way they should–or at least, close enough to still be useful. When one is engaged in artistic pursuits, there is no guarantee.

This last point brings me to the problem with my latest obsession. I’ve already admitted, here and in real life, that knitting is a way to avoid falling into my former creative pursuits. The faster my fingers fly, the easier it is to avoid thinking about and engaging in that activity which I used to think would be my lifelong career.

But it’s becoming clear that crafting only keeps the creative beast alive. I suppose I knew this already, deep down. I suppose I understood on some level that knitting was a way to keep my creative side alive during this season of parenting teens and tweens.

One has to wonder why I wanted to keep said creativity alive when I repeatedly tell everyone that I have no intention of ever returning to said career. Perhaps, as Mr. Roberts suggests, I wanted to have that connection with the Divine? I wanted to engage in something that required a little piece of myself?

Art is different than craft, as Mr. Roberts suggests. I submit that, perhaps, craft is a station on the road to art–a place one must pass through before one can create art. Craft is the “what” and “how”; art is the “who” and “why.” In other words, I’m crafting when I knit. I follow a pattern, most of the time. I do the what (a hat, a bag, a shawl) and the how (knit, purl, yarn over, bind off), but someone else has done the who (the pattern designer) and the why. Only the artist–the pattern designer–can answer the why.

“Why? Because I had this beautiful Malabrigo worsted fiber and thought it should have a hat pattern designed just for it.”

“Why? Because I wanted a delicate silk shawl to cover bare shoulders on cool summer nights, so I created one.”

“Why? Because . . .”

Because someone should fill the gap.

And therein lies the problem with my former creative pursuits. There are already so many people filling the gap with imperfect craft that I could no longer tell what was art and what wasn’t. My own efforts seemed good to me compared with many in the field, and some few agreed. And yet those efforts which seemed amateurish and unpracticed were the efforts that attained some commercial success. This realization created no small amount of confusion for me, and I had to admit that either 1) I was not a good enough artist to achieve commercial success, or 2) the public at large no longer cares about or recognizes good craft in the pursuit of art.

My mind was decided for me when I began to peruse the efforts of those who are pinnacles of art and craft in my field. My own work is shoddy, amateurish, and pathetic by comparison, and I determined that until I could hold up my work next to those works with some even small measure of pride, I would not share anything with anyone again.

Which led to a new problem: is art really art if it’s not experienced by someone other than the artist?

The odd thing is, when it comes to art, many people mistakenly believe they can skip the craft station. They believe that their passion is enough to produce something worth experiencing by consumers of the art. And when consumers experience shoddy craft and get some measure of enjoyment out of it, they mistakenly believe that “anyone can do that.”

“Anyone can paint. It’s just splatters on a canvas, right?”

“Anyone can be a photographer. I mean, I have a digital camera . . .”

“Anyone can write poetry. Most of it doesn’t rhyme anyway.”

But such beliefs cheapen the art of the Jackson Pollocks, the Ansel Adamses, the Edgar Allen Poes of the world. And when shoddy art achieves commercial success, the Pollocks, Adamses, and Poes lose hope that they will ever be recognized for producing something that is worth experiencing.

The odd thing is, most of the folks who believe that they can create art without first perfecting craft would never assume that they could knit without first learning stitches. The merest suggestion that perhaps one should stop and practice for a while before assuming that one’s art is worth experiencing is considered a piercing insult upon the art itself. It is then that the critic hears “who are you to say” statements.

Hear enough of those and you start to say them yourself. And while beauty is, to some degree, in the eye of the beholder as “art” is in the soul of the consumer, most of those consumers are not expecting art. They expect, instead, a momentary thrill akin to eating a supermarket cookie or a McDonald’s cheeseburger rather than the memorable experience of a five-star meal.

Does the artist then have any obligation to cheapen his or her art to appeal to those masses? Indeed, does the artist have any obligation to create art at all? If art–true art, art that is objectively well-done–is not important, then what obligation does the artist have?

I fear we, as a culture, continue our slow separation from the Divine by eschewing good craft, good art in favor of momentary thrills.

It is probably obvious that the cracks are starting to show. I have been without my art too long, and it calls me every day. Ideas pop into my head at the most inopportune times, and I press them down, push them back, pick up my needles or indulge in a book or find one of the thousand daily obligations I have at home to avoid thinking of my art. But every day, it’s harder and harder to keep it back.

My will is a dam holding back my soul, and I don’t know how much longer it can resist the pressure.

But still, I have no desire to return to the career side of the art. I have no wish to disappear into that creative space where everything else is neglected. I don’t know how to keep the creative spirit in balance with the necessary duties of a wife and mother. And even if I could figure out the balance, I have no desire to expose my soul to ridicule and obscurity again.

I ask again–does art have any value if it is only crafted for the sake of the artist?

This is long, and it’s rambling, and I could still write more. I have no answers. I may, perhaps, take this topic up again next time. Until then, your generous input would be most welcome.

Till next we meet . . .

J M

The Proverbs 31 Knitter

“She looks for wool and flax
And works with her hands in delight.”

— Proverbs 31:13, NASB

A few mornings ago, I had the privilege of watching my youngest daughter’s face break into an expression of radiant adoration when I told her the pair of rainbow-hued socks on the couch were for her. “You finished them?” she chirped as she promptly sat down to pull them over bare feet.

“Last night. How do they feel?”

“They feel good already,” she said. She wiggled her toes and smiled up at me, displaying a multitude of dimples. “Mom, I think homemade socks are the best.”

I do not think of myself as a Proverbs 31 woman. Indeed, I have feared and loathed this chapter most of my life. But I do think of myself as a knitter. A slightly obsessive knitter, in fact.

What do I mean by obsessive? Confession: I finished 60 projects between September 1 and December 31, 2012. Here is my breakdown:

20 Hats

9 cowls

6 winter scarves

1 winter hat/scarf combo

1 lace accessory scarf

2 shawls

8 pair handwarmers

4 pair mittens

2 pair convertible fingerless gloves/mittens

5 headband/earwarmer

2 pair gloves

Needless to say, my family and friends were warm the day after Christmas.

I have felt slightly guilty about my obsessive knitting habits over the last several months, largely because this hobby seems to serve as an imperfect substitute for the Career Which Shall Not Be Named. Yes, it’s a symptom of avoidance and denial, but it’s one that my family is happy to encourage since it means they end up with all manner of tangible, wearable expressions of my affection. Mr. P has been known to smile warmly and say, “I like it when you knit socks” when I pull out my needles and a ball of sock yarn. When I mention that I want to go yarn shopping, he has no qualms about increasing my “blow money” budget since he seems fairly certain that when I’ve been yarn shopping, he will eventually end up with something for feet, hands, head, or neck. I have joked that I am on a “high fiber” diet and that knitting is a “post-apocalyptic life skill.”

But until this morning, I had not considered that my habit might be a noble one–perhaps even a biblical one.

I knew I had to read Proverbs 31 this morning. I had it in my head to finish the book of Proverbs today, so I spent a couple of days gearing up for the usual feelings of inadequacy that I have when I read the picture of biblical womanhood in this chapter. I held my breath . . .

. . . and there was that beautiful verse 13.

“She looks for wool and flax
And works with her hands in delight.”

Why, I do frequently look for wool–not flax, perhaps, but I do look for wool, silk, cotton, acrylic, and anything else that feels good against the skin and might make something warm and cozy for someone I love. And when I work with my hands on a knitting (or crocheting) project, I do feel delighted.

“She is not afraid of the snow for her household,
For all her household are clothed with scarlet.
She makes coverings for herself;
Her clothing is fine linen and purple.” (Verses 21-22)

Ah, no, I’m not afraid of the snow. My family is wrapped in warmth from my hands. I’ve even made a few things for myself. As for the linen . . . well, that would require my sewing machine, and to be honest, it’s more economical these days to buy clothes than to make them.

The rest of Proverbs 31? I don’t know. I don’t feel very strong, and now that I’m not working, I don’t contribute to the family coffers. I don’t think I’m the sort who smiles at the future, and my tongue is too often waspish and irritable and contentious. But for some reason, Mr. P does trust me, and he does lavish praise on me, and my children are good enough to occasionally tell me “thank you, Mom,” even when I don’t hand them a new pair of handmade socks.

Hm. Maybe I’m doing better at this Proverbs 31 thing than I thought.

Now if you’ll excuse me, the eldest daughter has requested a tote bag. My needles are calling . . .

Till next we meet . . .

J M