Knitting (and reading) while coughing

Lynn at Colorjoy! recently wrote about having to (as in MUST DO) take a day off (two posts for 10/20/2006). This is really hard for a self-employed person with a lot of passionate interests, and no sick leave or other paid time off. Yet it’s essential. We are not, despite our intentions and hopes and sometimes appearances to the contrary, Energizer Bunnies.

I have gotten pretty good at recognizing when I’m running on the edge and powering back to avoid being caught by a bug, but I didn’t slow down enough last week. I’ve been in bed (except for times like now) since Tuesday, and I should have been there Monday.

One of the good parts about lying in bed with no energy is reading. Usually one of the good parts is knitting. I’ve been too fogged and coughing too much for real knitting, even though it’s here to do, although I found a solution for that, too. But back to the books for a moment.

I’ve read Charles J. Shields’ Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee. It’s a masterful job of writing biography from research without access to the subject although she might read the results some day (Lee protects her privacy and didn’t even want to review for factual accuracy). Shields walks the fine line of not conjecturing beyond what he learned and of getting depth to his writing and shaping the work with grace. (That wasn’t very gracefully phrased; however, I’m not in writing brain; reading only.)

I’ve read parts of The Forensic Analysis of Knots and Ligatures, by Robert Chisnall. Not my normal choice of reading matter. I’m fascinated by knots and have been researching particular types for my own purposes. A friend is writing a suspense novel and is fascinated by forensics. When I came across this book, I thought she might be interested. She was, and ordered it. It was due to arrive when she was out of town and my daughter and I were watching her house. She told me to open the package and take a look when the book appeared.

It’s very odd. I’ve learned a few interesting things applicable to my own general research, but I also need to take the content in small doses. Fortunately, it’s heavily illustrated with knots, not crime scenes. I did learn that most people know how to tie very few knots, so that some of the knots that I take for granted are considered "sophisticated." Also that "Evidence from nonperishable artifacts indicates that human beings have used knots and cordage for at least 300,000 years." And that analysis of knots has only been used in forensics for the last couple of decades. I assume that’s "systematically" used. And the system presented here is impressive, if sometimes gruesome for those with an ability to visualize. I don’t know how far I’ll read.

My daughter helped me counterbalance that book by bringing Anna Quindlen’s Rise and Shine from the library, and it felt good to read an excellent novel all in one pass (well, forty-five minutes of reading, fifteen minutes of napping; repeat). It was what our library calls a "here and now" title, which means it’s a recent release but you don’t need to be on a waiting list to check it out—if it’s on the "here and now" table when you walk in, you grab it and it’s yours, but you can only keep for three days (if you keep it longer, it turns into a rental book).

Then I pulled off the shelf a volume I obtained last spring and haven’t had time to open: Oliver Statler’s Japanese Pilgrimage, which is about a pilgrimage route around the island of Shikoku. The journey consists of visiting eighty-eight designated temples (plus, optionally, a number of unofficial temples) on a 1400-kilometer path around the island. (About 870 miles.)

Then I started (and will finish) Ian Reader’s Making Pilgrimages: Meaning and Practice in Shikoku, which has been on the shelf since about June, and it’s also superb, although I got derailed because. . . .

My daughter went to the library again yesterday and brought me a bunch of books (she’s trying to keep me in bed until I’m really healthy again). Three of them are "here and now" titles, which means if I want to read them, I need to complete one a day between now and Monday. I may or may not succumb.

I started on Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. Pollan looks at the U.S. food supply from four different sources: mass production (the current "norm"), large-scale organic production, small-scale individual farm, and hunter-gatherer. It’s more than fascinating, although I had to read something else to clear my brain before I tried to sleep last night.

Another book in the pile my daughter harvested is Anna Quindlen’s How Reading Changed My Life. I had told my daughter I have limited ability to concentrate right now and wanted short books (Pollan’s is not short). This slim volume was perfect for between 2 and 3 this morning, while I was sipping hot water with lemon juice and honey, to quiet the coughing enough that I could go back to sleep. I own this book and have probably read it, but it felt new (or new again).

All of this reading feels luxurious, even though I’m getting antsy at not being able to work much. I’m spending an hour or two in the office every day, just keeping up with the top 1 percent of what’s required to manage a small publishing business, freelance work, and whatever else it is that I do most days.

I’ve been wanting to knit. I’ve especially been wanting to design the upper body of the sweater I’m knitting that’s inspired by a garment in Norsk Strikkedesign. The original’s a pullover and mine’s a cardigan. I’m changing the neckline, although I haven’t decided to what (sleeves and lower body are completely knitted/steeked). Also, the charts are printed in such dark colors that they’re basically illegible, so I’m drafting my own designs that have a similar feeling. And, of course, I’ve changed the colors. But so far I don’t have the energy to THINK enough to get this knitting moving again, and thinking is normally a pleasure, especially when it’s visual and involves pattern. I need to wait until it is a pleasure.

So instead I am knitting baby caps for Caps to the Capitol, which is co-sponsored by Save the Children and Warm Up America. I have a lot of scraps of yarn. Each cap takes an astonishingly small amount of yarn, time, and brain. I’d like to be knitting vests for older Afghani kids, but both the amounts of yarn and the energy are harder to come by right now. They would require Thinking and More Consistent Effort than the caps. Besides, I have a lot of scrap worsted yarn in a bag within reach of the bed. I had wondered what it was doing there.

Here’s the basic cap pattern in worsted weight—a real no-brainer:

Needles 6 and 8. Knit in the round or back and forth, your choice (I’m in the round: easier).

Smaller needles: Cast on 44. Rib 1.5 inches (3.75 cm).

Change to larger needles and stockinette. Knit until 5 inches (12.5 cm) from cast on. Start to decrease (yeah, I go to four needles here).

Decrease rounds (so easy I can do them while coughing):

*K2, k2tog*
*K1, k2tog*
*K2tog, 1*, end k2tog


*K2tog* {last two rounds optional if you happen to forget them}

Pull end through remaining stitches.

This would bore me silly if I weren’t sick, but piling up these little caps has a different sort of satisfaction. When I’m well, I’ll run them all through the washing machine and feel proud of whatever I’ve done. Meanwhile, I’m just finishing caps and putting them in a small box. On the deadline for this project, January 2, 2007, I’ll mail whatever has accumulated. Maybe just what I knitted while healing. Maybe more. Doesn’t matter. I’m doing something useful.

I do feel blessed that I can read some books start-to-finish. That’s rare in my life under current "normal" circumstances. Statler’s been on the shelf since May, waiting. Lovely to read all the way through.

Yes, I can knit while reading. Sometimes right now that works, and sometimes it’s too much. That’s okay.

Maybe I’ll get enough energy to read the digital camera’s instruction book (past "how to charge the battery," which I’ve done) and figure out how to take a photo. Not this morning, though. Back to bed. One of the dogs will be ecstatic; she likes to snuggle. The other will join me occasionally and will make sure she’s guarding the front of the house the rest of the time. The cat will be disappointed; she’d rather be on my desk and keyboard, inserting typos and shoving papers onto the floor. Her work’s no fun for her if I’m not trying to do mine. She doesn’t visit me much upstairs.

If you want to read something more coherent that I’ve written (and see some
photos I took with a borrowed camera), check out this week’s Knitter’s Review. Yes, it was that beautiful, rain or shine, and the people were even nicer.

I hear The Omnivore’s Dilemma and two knit caps calling. I have one cap at the ribbing stage, one at stockinette. Sometimes right now even 1/1 ribbing is too taxing. But there’s always stockinette.


1 thought on “Knitting (and reading) while coughing”

  1. Hi Deborah,
    I do hope you are on the mend now, I had a bug last week and couldn’t be asked lifting a needle.
    I’m writing to say how much I enjoyed your report in the Knitter’s Review on Alaska. I explored all the links. I also like your blog and have bookmarked it.I live on top of a hillside in the South Wales Valleys, the other side of the great pond. Many thanks for such an interesting review.

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