Saturday, November 27, 2010

Bestowing Warmth, Changing Lives

Baby, it's cold outside! Many areas in the US have already seen snow, ice, and that shiver-inducing wind that drives the freezing temperatures deep into your bones. I think you know what I mean... I'm chilly just thinking of it (and from the frigid wind that sneaks through the unseen chinks in my 1920's cottage).

But I am a knitter. And when knitters and crocheters think about winter, we tend not to rail (too much) against low temperatures and storms. Rather, we like to imagine working on a sensuous project while curled up with some hot chocolate in front of the fireplace. (Oh, how I long for a fireplace!) Most of all, we yearn to put on those woollies we've worked up over the summer and fall. So, in a way, winter itself warms us.

On the other side of the world, though, hundreds of thousands suffer through harsh winters without the garments they need to stay warm. To make matters worse, many are displaced by war and natural disasters. Hope exists, though, through the efforts of people just like us, who believe that one person can make a difference. Overwhelming, perhaps, but there are many organizations whose goal is to help individuals help others.

My personal favorite, Afghans for Afghans (A4A), is "a humanitarian and educational people-to-people project, inspired by Red Cross volunteers who made afghans, socks, slippers, and other items for soldiers and refugees during World Wars I and II and other times of crisis and need."

Through A4A, knitters and crocheters--warm-hearted and generous as we are--can send hand-knit and crocheted blankets and sweaters, vests, hats, mittens, and socks to the beleaguered people of Afghanistan. Your donations, made with love, "bring comfort and warmth to Afghan women, men, children, and infants who continue to suffer from oppression, war, hunger, poverty, and sickness."

The organization's current campaign focuses on Afghan youths. A4A is asking knitters and crocheters to send accessories and garments for Afghan children and teenagers who attend schools operated by their new partner, Help the Afghan Children (HAC).

According to A4A's website:
Help the Afghan Children has provided humanitarian aid, medical care, education, and hope to the Afghan people since 1993, the height of the civil war. Under the Taliban, they started 17 secret home schools for 425 girls. Since the fall of the Taliban, Help the Afghan Children has built 11 schools in four provinces that serve about 23,000 students. Their mission is to help Afghan children become educated, healthy, and productive citizens who contribute to building their country's civil society.
HAC's programs include: model schools, teacher trainings; and educating children about technology, the environment, and landmine safety. "The girls and boys develop job and social skills. Children plant gardens and learn to care for their surroundings and natural resources." Most importantly, HAC schools provide safe, stimulating, and welcoming learning environments.

For the current youth campaign, A4A is requesting the following items for seven- to 16-year-old girls and boys:
  • Vests
  • Sweaters
  • Mittens
  • Knitted Socks
  • Hats
  • Blankets
Because many regions in Afghanistan suffer harsh winter weather, A4A asks donors to use only 100 percent wool or mostly wool (or other durable, warm animal fiber). For more information, please visit the campaign's guidelines page.

Friends, this is important, incredibly fulfilling work. As you knit or crochet, you can imagine the child who will receive your garment, the excitement he or she will feel at receiving something so beautiful, made by a stranger who cared enough to create such a heart-warming gift.

If so moved, you may wish to say a little prayer (to whatever benign force you believe in) or send a loving wish for the child. Hold the little garment close to your heart and infuse it with love and compassion. Then, when you can, make another and do the same. This is meaningful work. It takes you outside yourself. It can change your outlook on the world and, quite possibly, your life.

PS. While you're on the A4A website, check out this page of gorgeous, Afghanistan-inspired knitting patterns. I love the Afghan Tulip Socks and the Friday Mosque at Herat Sweater! Your purchase supports A4A and the Afghan Widows Education Center's literacy classes for widows and other women in Kabul.


Monday, November 22, 2010

Destash Sock Yarn and Save a Life

Save the Children and Warm Up America! are asking knitters and crocheters
across the U.S. to pick up their needles and hooks to help save
the lives of nearly four million newborn babies in the developing world.

The Caps for Good grassroots initiative will run through February, 2011. People of all ages are encouraged to join in by making one or more caps; writing to policymakers; and, if possible, donating money (a little or a lot) to provide newborn care in developing countries.

At the end of the program, all of the collected caps will be distributed to pregnant women and new moms and their babies in Save the Children's programs in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

For more information--and to download a Caps for Good Action Kit with free patterns and more ways to get involved--visit Save the Children's website:

(Note: I designed the little hat shown above to send to Afghans for Afghans a couple of years ago. If enough knitters show interest, I can write it up and post it for download on Ravelry. Just let me know!)


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Ma Rêve (My Dream)

Les Deux Magots, 6 place Saint-Germain-des-Prés

Since I was a child, I've dreamed of going to France. Notice I didn't say "visiting" or "taking a vacation to" France. No, I really and truly mean going to. It's my goal, my wish, ma rêve.

I can recall studying while I babysat for a family in Mill Valley (where I spent two years at Tamalpais High School). Working hard, I promised myself that my ultimate reward would be working as a lawyer and having a gorgeous corner office in Paris. But I am a writer and knitting designer, and don't want to be a lawyer anymore.

Studying French from junior high school in the San Francisco Bay Area through college at University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia, I became as close to fluent as is possible without actually living amongst French-speaking people. Meanwhile, as I explored and reveled in the intricacies of the language, I also immersed myself in French culture, literature, art (Watteau, Renoir and Dufy), and music (Piaf and so much more!).

Later in my life, I could see myself as an old woman, living in a Paris apartment with tall shuttered windows looking over a little cobble-stoned courtyard. Sun would stream through them in the morning, and I could look out over some shade trees.

I'd have some sweet French-speaking kitties, of course, and would be a famous writer. I would live alone (treasuring solitude), write every day, go to lovely cafes and watch people strolling by, meet with my publishers and editors, and mingle with the literati at modern-day salons.

Chez Julien on Rue des Barres (close to Church Saint-Gervais)

Well, my life has once again adjusted itself, offering me the possibility to make my dream come true. I've yet to achieve the level of fame I dreamt of, but I'm working on that. I have time alone, and will have more of it in the near future. I also have time to find my little apartment, to figure out a way to move to Paris, to live there, to work there, and to navigate the mountains of bureaucratic red-tape for which France is famous.

Funny how life throws you a curve ball now and then. You don't see it coming. Maybe the pitch hits you and you double over in agony. But then you say: "Enough!" You stand straight again, you eye the pitcher, and you wait for the perfect fast ball to sail over the plate. You work the count, and then there it is. You swing, the ball sails toward the center field fences... (Have you had enough of my baseball analogy yet?)

Paris, to me, represents beauty, mystery, and opportunity. Perhaps some people see my plan as escapism. As "immature." What they don't understand, though, is that this has been a life-long determination, born of some inner knowledge -- instinct, if you will -- which, for me, makes going to Paris a "running toward," rather than "running away."

After all, what's "running away" about intending to live alone, to spend time with myself, to use solitude to get on with my life's work, writing. No, this is more than just a pie-in-the-sky fantasy. I am facing my future as I've always seen it, not seeking an easy way out. And that's why I will do this. And that's why it will work.

je vous souhaites le tricotage heureux!

(Translation: I wish you happy knitting!)