Column: What have you done since January 1st?

By MARY K. OTTO

For the Valley News

Published: 02-27-2023 9:58 AM

What have you done since Jan. 1st? This question was recently asked of me by a friend on a morning walk. Post holidays, with changeable winter weather and fewer events on my calendar, I might easily have said, not much. Then another thought came to mind. “I’ve knitted a baby blanket,” I answered with a note of pleasure.

It’s deep turquoise and has large, alternating squares of stockinette stitch and seed stitch. Not a challenging pattern, but oh, so satisfying, row after row, in its regularity, soft texture, and vivid color. The blanket is for the most recent new baby in our family, born to my niece and her husband a few weeks ago.

It is filled with the facets of my life as I worked on it. Already it carries a spirit of travel because I brought it with me on several car trips. As well, it could have its own “play” buttons for classical music. Throughout the process, I listened to my favorite symphonic radio stations, WQXR in New York and Vermont Public Radio Classical. If you held it to your ear, it’s just possible you could hear the music of Mozart, Dvorak, Beethoven, or Copeland. The blanket also contains the sights outside my window at home: snow, squirrels, neighbors walking by, and the many birds at our feeder.

I could have added, in answering my friend’s question that morning, that another thing I have done since January 1st is to start over. That accomplishment may be even more significant than knitting the blanket. To begin again was a challenge and required looking at things more broadly and from varied points of view.

When I learned this fall that my niece was pregnant, I selected a knitting pattern from my collection and went to my favorite yarn store. With her due date of late January or early February, red seemed like the perfect color. After great deliberation, I bought the required five skeins of worsted weight wool that seemed just right.

Cataract surgery intervened, however, and I lost momentum. It was nearly Thanksgiving before I finally began to knit. Searching my supply basket, I found the right-sized needles and the row counter. A long drive to Buffalo for the Thanksgiving holiday offered me the time I needed to get a solid start. Throughout our trip, clouds hung low, but since it was daylight all the way, I could see my work well enough. Knitting happily as my husband drove and we listened to an audiobook, I made major progress.

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My joy was short-lived, however. Driving back home to Vermont a few days later, as I again knitted with dedication, I saw a problem. That day was sunny, and the brighter light made it obvious. The yarn I had so carefully chosen — pre-cataract-surgery — verged on being pink. And the baby was to be a boy. Should I continue? I’d need to give it some thought. In today’s world, did the color matter?

On the surface, of course color wouldn’t matter. Certainly my niece and her husband are beyond thinking blue is for boys and pink, only for girls. They are open-minded. Whatever their view of the color upon opening the gift, they would be generous in their thanks and send photos of their new baby out on a walk snuggled cozily in his new blanket. Still, in my mind, it was possible that the present might languish at the bottom of a drawer.

Taking a photo of the section of the red/pink blanket I had completed by then and texting it to one of my daughters, I asked her, “Can I do this?” “You can,” she quickly responded. “But do you want to take that chance?” She echoed my own conflicting views.

One voice in my head said, “You’ve invested many hours already in this blanket. Just finish it and hope for the best.” But another voice counseled, “Get some new yarn that you like.” I was unsettled. The fact that I had lost my enthusiasm because of the red yarn pushed me to consider the benefits of starting over.

And if I did begin again with yarn of a different color? Practically speaking, I could minimize my growing concern that my niece and her husband might not use the baby blanket. I could avoid hours of knitting accompanied more by distress than pleasure. Starting over became inviting.

But in terms of my niece and her family, such a decision became compelling. It would signal my commitment to the already close relationship we have. If I changed direction, there would be nothing hidden or awkward between us. And there could also implications for how I see myself. A woman who can shift gears to restore joy and purpose to a knitting project can be flexible and adaptable in other situations too.

I decided to return to the store to exchange the remaining skeins of red worsted wool for another color, the vibrant turquoise yarn that is now knitted into my finished blanket.

Mary K. Otto, formerly of Norwich, lives in Shelburne, Vt. Readers may email her at maryotto13@gmail.com

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