Category Archives: Knitting

Cowlin’ for You

I ventured out today. After two and a half weeks in a foot cast, I was ready. The sky was an egg, the fall breeze fresh, the sun silky on my arm propped up at the passenger window of the car. There was sushi, at our local place not usually the best, but which tasted great today. There were errands, to the grocery, to the library. I admit, I stayed in my seat and let Gil do the honors, crutches not being my strong suit.

But I did make it out of the vehicle and into my neighborhood knit shop in Tarrytown, New York, on my sticks.

There I got the largest needles in the world, a different kind of sticks, in a size 50.

size 50

On Ravelry, the site for knitting devotees, I’d found a pattern for an Outlander cowl, oversize, chunky and earthy. Based on one Claire wears in the Starz series.


The yarn I found is virgin wool and acrylic, charcoal, heather grey, black and a tinge of blue. Colors one might find worn in the Scottish Highlands 300 years back? I really don’t know, but I like to imagine it.


According to one patron of the shop, Flying Fingers, whose friend is crafting a similar cowl, the Outlander look is a craze that’s catapulting across the knitways of our nation.

I may be consigned to the couch for the near future, but I’m glad to be part of a larger purpose, fitting us all out in history-inspired gigantic wool neckpieces for the first cold snap.


Filed under Culture, Fashion, History, Home, Jean Zimmerman, Knitting

Leafy Air and Cheese

I can breathe again. I took a trip to Michigan and Wisconsin, the Great North Woods, which has leafy air worthy of inhaling.

Also, sweet black cherries worthy of devouring. They sell them, washed, plump and juicy, from little stands at gas stations.


I experienced a hailstorm that hit just as our sailboat anchored in that lovely private lagoon a ways into Lake Superior. Just enough to put every wet person on board in stitches.

I can breathe again because I turned in the manuscript of my new novel and my editor said he likes it. A lot. That’s an outsize sigh of relief. It made me open to everything around me.

I found that lying in bed on the shore of Lake Michigan, I could feel every delicious cotton fiber with my toes.

I saw the sights, hugged family, brought home souvenirs from people who had made them with their hands.


There was rye flour from the farmer who grew it, at Maple Hill Farm in Washburn, Wisconsin.

And fingerless gloves knitted by his wife. She sewed a pad of suede on the palm for good gripping.


The Northland is kind, even its rusty old trucks.


The region loves its fish. Smoked, fried or souped.


It offers a hundred different moccasins.


Thrives on pop (drive-in menu, top right). Known to us North Easterners as soda.


Then, of course, there is the cheese. I tasted a Michigan dairy’s Colby-style specimen, bright orange and moist, that was produced from a 1915 recipe.

Did I mention that my editor liked it? The novel, I mean, not the cheese.


Filed under Cooking, Culture, Fiction, History, Home, Jean Zimmerman, Knitting, Nature, Publishing, Writers, Writing

Saying It in Silver

Do you like sparkle? I do.

I’ve been happy lately to usher Savage Girl into the world, delighted to see people get ahold of the book and resonate to the story. There’s nothing like a fresh book out there reaching people to make you feel good — after all, isn’t reaching people a big part of why we do this crazy thing called writing?

And yet my head is partly somewhere else, where my next novel is coming into being. And that’s a little dicey territory sometimes, a dark place where I have to feel my way along rather blindly. It can be a challenge, figuring out voice and plot and characterization, all the basic ingredients in a novelistic stew.

And I’ll say it again, it’s sometimes the kind of dark where you need a heavy duty flashlight.

So I went and got some silver to lighten things up. Give my brain a break, and use my hands to knit a slithery sparkly something.
silver sparkleThe outlook seems brighter already.


Filed under Culture, Fiction, Home, Jean Zimmerman, Knitting, Publishing, Savage Girl, Writers, Writing

I Brake for Knit Projects

If I had to choose between these knitted winners, it would have to be the animal heads.


No, the full-body suit.

knitted suit

No, the meat. Definitely the meat.


After this short commercial break, we bring you back to the Oscars, live.


Filed under Art, Cooking, Culture, Home, Jean Zimmerman, Knitting

Knitting and Giving

Here is a Christmas tale involving soft wool, magic sticks and a sense of loving duty.

lady w scarf

A missionary working in Shichigahama, Japan, a place devasated by the tsunami in March 2011, instigated an outreach program called Yarn Alive that brought thousands of skeins of donated wool and a little knitting instruction to the people of the area.


The displaced, mainly elderly women who met weekly were living in shelter situations, with no personal possessions and little privacy, having lost loved ones and having had nightmarish experiences during  the disaster. Now, according to one of the participants,  they “knit and chat and comfort each other one stitch at a time.”

yarn alive class

It’s a fellowship. And the ladies are not only creating sweaters for themselves but gifts for others – cozy afghans laid across the chairs of the local postal workers, for example.

Now, as their brilliant 2013 Christmas gift to the world, the women of Yarn Alive have turned their sights farther afield – they’re helping the children of Syrian refugees in Jordan, sending over 200 articles of clothing to keep them warm.

syrian baby hats

Not only that, plans are underway to send knitting supplies to the Syrian ladies in Jordan so they can stay busy and productive too in their own difficult time.

syriaIf you would like to donate yarn, here is where to send it:

Yarn Alive
#36 TBC
Shichigahama Machi

United States, Japan, Syria, all knitted together by the willing hands of women who  are helping each other, helping themselves.



Filed under Culture, History, Home, Jean Zimmerman, Knitting, Nature

From the Chimney With Care

They’re waiting. Waiting in plain sight, hung from the chimney with care, assembled of felt and yarn and sparkles. Everyone in the house for the holidays is an adult now, but still we hang our stockings.


The practice of hanging a Christmas stocking… why hang a sock to collect treats, or put out a shoe as people do it in some cultures? I’ve never found a satisfactory answer, but I always associate it with the idea that your dog always wants to chew up your shoe, because he loves you and that’s the part of you that smells most like you.

O beseeching

He knows not what he does. That’s what I’ve always heard. So Santa is looking to find the part of you that is most you when he tracks down the stocking you hang with care.

1900 stocking

Auntie, my mother’s aunt, made her converted sweet potato shed in Greenfield, Tennessee into a cozy home. She had a tiny room that never failed to impress me with its huge stash of craft materials, from buttons to calico to giant skeins of acrylic yarn.


Auntie knitted, she made lace, she crocheted, she sewed. She was simply a craft adept. And she loved kids, though she never had any of her own, referring to her home economics students at Dresden High School as my children. My Christmas stocking and those of my brothers were Auntie’s creations.

auntie stocking

Last year I learned to knit a sock. I thought I could use it as a Christmas stocking if it ever got long enough. It didn’t. It was orange anyway. Luckily I still have my old beauty from Auntie.


For some reason people have competed over the years to set a record for the biggest Christmas stocking. That seems odd to me, as a Christmas stocking is by nature pleasantly ordinary of stature, somewhat roomier than an actual sock that fits your foot but no larger as that would be somehow… greedy. One time recently The Children’s Society in London organized a stocking of 6,000 squares of red knitting, as long as three doubledecker buses. I hear that it weighed the equivalent of five reindeer and bulged with with toys for the poor.


If you have a stocking that is yours and has always been yours, you are lucky. A personal stocking. Gil’s stocking reverted back to him somewhere along the way, emerging out of the Wisconsin Christmas Box, perhaps when someone noticed he was on the verge of entering a second childhood and needed all the treats he could get. He also inherited the Christmas ornaments his mother made for him, one for every year of his young life. Most of them seem to be assembled of toothpicks in some form or another.

gil ornament

Gil was the youngest of five, and that made it important that the old lady brought in to produce his stocking should knit the letters of his name in a bold block print around the top edge. He wanted his fair share of candy on Christmas morning.

gil stocking

Gil remembers the fascination he felt for the tiny plastic gewgaws that decorated his stocking.

gil stocking cu

The little drummer boy with his big sisters in this 1890 shot could actually be Gil.


Maud must have been around three when I decided to make her a personalized stocking. I remember carefully picking out the supplies at a crafts store near her grandparents’ house, where we were staying for the holidays. With enough glue, red, white and green felt and some pompoms would surely make something. And it did.

maud stocking

For some reason a curious mouse found its way onto the toe – maybe I was thinking of the Nutcracker.  The stocking had hearts and bow-tied presents and glitter, plus the letters of her name, all the trimmings my little sprite would want to see hanging near the fireplace. The girl herself looked all grown up. It was as if I was looking into the future. The stocking, I knew, would be a keeper.

hope your stocking


Filed under Art, Culture, Dogs, History, Home, Jean Zimmerman, Knitting

Bit by Bit

Stitch after stitch. The easiest in knitting is the knit stitch, worked over and over, row after row, dignified by its pattern name the garter stitch. Time honored and simple, it’s the foundation of sweaters and scarves all around the world. I man the couch (woman the couch?), man up (woman up?) to knit stitch after stitch, a surprise length of comfort for someone who deserves every form of it.


Song after song. Pandora seems to have decided that Ella, Aretha and Etta, with a sprinkling of Emmy Lou Harris, are the mainstays of my acoustic pantheon. Which is fine, as long as Etta James sings Just a Little Bit.

I don’t want much,

I just want a little bit

I don’t want it all babe

I just want a little bit

Just a teeny weeny bit, just a itty bitty bit of your love

Flake by flake. The snowstorm hits. The snow doesn’t give a soft white damn whom it touches, wrote E.E. Cummings. That’s the twisted magic of a white winter, after all, the stuff is so impersonal, impervious, and yet we extrapolate all soft and fuzzy feelings from it. Since I was a child I’ve made snow cream: put out a pot and collect the clean flakes, then mix the white stuff with milk, sugar and vanilla for a wintry treat that’s better than ice cream, especially if you’re a red-cheeked little kid.

Tweet by tweet. You stretch your brain a little and it keeps you young. That’s how it is with me and Twitter, which I’ve been dipping a toe into and coming up sometimes with a sparkly pedicure and sometimes a crab bite. Stephen King just opened a Twitter account, got twenty thousand followers instantly. “On Twitter at last,” he offered, not fully utilizing his 140 characters, “and can’t think of a thing to say. Some writer I turned out to be.” But it all comes down less to what you have to say than to the links, one by one, you make with other people. So follow me. Or at least tweet at me, @jeanczimmerman. And while you’re at it, tweet at Stephen.

Note by note. So much of publishing books is about the relationships with people you have along the way – writers and editors, writers and bookstore people. As an author you’re a cog in a bigger, complicated machine, one whose purpose is to put great books in the hands of eager readers. So I’m writing little remember-me’s to all the friendly, supportive booksellers I met while touring with The Orphanmaster. Letting people know about Savage Girl, that it’s coming out in March, and to look for it. Feral children have always fascinated me, I’m telling booksellers.

feral child

– but in NYC, in a world of Gilded Age opulence? An irresistable mashup.


I hope you fall for my Savage Girl, I’m telling my bookseller friends.

And little by little. The bones in my left foot are healing but won’t withstand an ounce of pressure or weight. It’s a good place to be, my couch, with my foot on a pillow, Etta on the box, a rollerball pen in my hand, knitting bag by my side, a fire in the hearth and a curtain of snow out the window. Bit by bit we move along, and today that’s just about right.


Filed under Art, Cooking, Culture, Fashion, Fiction, Home, Jean Zimmerman, Knitting, Music, Nature, Poetry, Publishing, Savage Girl, Writers, Writing

Witch-Healers and Bonesetters

Returning home with my foot in a plaster cast–yes, the time arrived for further surgery, the other foot dropped, so to speak, but now I’m an old pro–all I could think was what if I injured that limb a couple of hundred years ago? What if I didn’t have Dr. Voellmicke, the finest doctor in the land, to set my metatarsal bones with metal screws? What would happen to my life? Would I be consigned to a rocker by the fire–or, worse, a harsh straight-backed colonial chair– an endless ball of wool and a pair of wooden sticks in my lap? Lots of mittens, but a pretty limited life for a formerly active woman.

1764 John Singleton Copley (American colonial era artist, 1738-1815)  Mrs_ Samuel Hill, nee Miriam Kilby Thyssen Bornemisza Mus Spain

Instant crone-ness. Not too happy.

I took another look though at medicine back before men got hold of “physick” in the nineteenth century to see if I was correct.

Women were the healers, you know, for thousands of years. Back to the Middle Ages, witch-healers produced incantations and charms that were broadly sanctioned, like prayer, adding in remedies and painkillers, digestive aids and anti-inflammatories.


People relied on these women’s preparations. Sanctioned, yes, until they weren’t. The witches who were lay healers were hunted down in the thousands and roasted or otherwise tortured and killed. These were the doctors of their day!

In America by the eighteenth century, the period that interests me because I’m researching the Revolution for a novel, the situation for healers was a little more respectful. (Yes, I know, Salem, but that was aberrant.) Sometimes a couple would go into medical practice together, the husband handling the surgery and the wife, the gynecology and midwifery, eveything else shared. Hang out a shingle, man and woman laboring in the same field (much as they might in an actual field). That’s a familiar idea, and I can tell you from the vantage of a writer-writer household that it can be the bomb.

Colonial Women, 1876, H. W. Pierce-500

In the 1700s, sometimes a young woman would go into the healing business on her own after apprenticeship with a husband/wife team. A good idea for a character in a novel, don’t you think? One real person, Harriet Hunt, one of our country’s first female doctors, got her start caring for a sick sister, then worked for a husband-wife practice, then treated patients on her own.


These independent women favored herbal medications, dietary changes and a fantastic bedside manner. As opposed to the book-learned doctors who received their certification in London in the 1800s — they laid on “heroic” measures. Huge doses of laxatives, for example. Calomel, which caused patients to bleed from the gums, salivate uncontrollably, and evacuate without restraint. Opium. Massive bleeding–George Washington died in 1799 of a throat infection after his three physicians drained his body of nine pints of blood in twenty-four hours. Or the now forgotten “tractors,” a pair of metal instruments, one gold, one silver, that were supposed to draw off the electrical fluid at the root of suffering. These guys killed their patients.


But could a woman or a man in those times fix a fracture? Yale University’s Rebecca Tannenbaum published a  book on the subject of women and medicine in early New England titled The Healer’s Calling. She describes a 1760 case in which one Ebenezer Parkman got caught under a load of falling firewood. According to the injured man’s diary, the neighbors sent for Mrs. Parker, the local “doctoress” who was known as a bonesetter. She arrived with her apparatus for putting bones back in place, her splints and bandages. Bedside manner, check: a week later she returned to the Parkman household to see the patient and change his leg bandages.

Parents in New England were no doubt inordinately proud not only of “my son the doctor” but “my daughter the doctoress.”


Filed under Culture, History, Home, Jean Zimmerman, Knitting, Nature, Publishing, Writers, Writing

Tweet or Not to Tweet

The gloaming is coming earlier these days. The Cabin, cozy as it is, can be small.

Halloween Cabin

Our winter is heated by wood more than sun.


Fewer outdoor adventures, unless you want to really bundle up. A dive instead back into a small pink knitting project.

pink knitting

Oliver wants to lay down on the already-cold grass. I don’t.

oliver cold grass

What to do? Something new.

First I asked an intern to escort me through the twisted corridors of Twitterdom. Why do this at all? was my first thought, my eye wandering over the overwhelming Twitter feed. Well, said Carlos, my intern, you might find something interesting.


Ahhh, that.

I went to the Metropolitan Museum’s profile to see who the greatest art institution in America was wont to follow, and discovered a thousand crazy, creative persons and places I didn’t know existed, that I want to know more about.


Only connect, as Forster said. Easy for him to say. He didn’t have FB, Twitter, Tumblr, etc., etc.

Catch me at @jeanczimmerman and we’ll tweet.


Filed under Art, Culture, History, Home, Jean Zimmerman, Knitting, Publishing, Writers, Writing

Crushes on Crutches

At the movies I saw a woman on crutches. A young, pretty woman in a color-block sundress. As I watched, she hopped around the serve-yourself beverage kiosk, assembling her ice, her soda and her straw, putting the whole drink together before her boyfriend politely carried it away for her.

I saw her next swinging her way into the ladies’ room. Into a regular stall! Not the one with the wheelchair icon I was struggling to enter with my kneeling scooter The Bloke. I washed my hands, she washed her hands, the difference being that she was cool as a cuke, graceful and weightless, not perspiring and puffing like me. Probably about 24 years old.

At the film line she was waiting, as was I, to go in. We shared war stories. A motorcyle accident, she said.


A little piece of the bike flew off into her ankle. The doctor had her in her cast for six weeks. It was a little difficult, she told me, because she lives up four floors and the laundry’s in the basement. But she’s making do okay. Her bike? Came out of the accident perfectly fine. She couldn’t wait to get back on it.

By the next morning my conversation with motorcycle girl had begun to percolate. I had been proud of myself for managing The Bloke so well. But now I had crutches envy. How do you make the best of this particular situation, a bum foot, and do it with some measure of equanimity and grace? It helps if you are an athletically gifted person of 24, of course. I wondered, how do you take your lumps and move forward, albeit with a cast on your foot that feels like a stiff leather ice skate with no sock? A little sand drizzled in for good measure.

Recently I asked my brother Peter for blog ideas since I knew I’d be less able than usual to go on gallivants and cover eclectic cultural happenings like I usually do. Why don’t you just catalogue all the stuff in your house, he suggested.

I feel, though, that I have already catalogued some of the things I like best. My vintage cookbook-pamphlet collection, for example.

salad book

The heirloom lace created by my foremothers.

lace cu 2

I don’t know that I’ve ever indexed the bones that have surfaced from the marsh in front of the Cabin, mainly carried helpfully to us in Oliver’s mouth. We joke that he is trying to assemble to assemble a full deer skeleton.


Or the skins that have been sloughed off by so many snakes just to the south of the house.


But, like motorcycle girl, probably I do get to a few things every day, even now, move my constrained life ahead bit by bit. Take some action, even if I’m not swinging effortlessly on my axilla mobility aids. Thus, a catalogue of 10 actions taken today.

1. A shower bath, my leg encased in a plastic bag, with streaming hot water and a worn-down bar of soap a revelation.

2. A knitted row of  angora, hopefully without a slipped stitch.


3. Perused some passages in Travels in North America, a volume published by Swedish naturalist Peter Kalm in the 1760s. In it he expounds on such scientific matters as the way bears kill livestock in Philadelphia: by biting a hole in a cow’s hide and inflating it until it dies.


4. Stumbled upon a recipe for Warm, Cheesy Swiss Chard and Roasted Garlic Dip. As soon as I’m up and around the kitchen again!

5. Checked out the Thanksgiving episode of Orange Is the New Black.


How many programs have a cast that is 99 percent female, let along with a heavy lesbian slant? Mindblowing.

6. Pushed The Bloke to the sushi bar at the back of a Japanese restaurant and had the treat of watching the chef halve a bright pink, yard-long salmon with finesse, season it with rock salt and layer it in a tub with its perfect filet brothers.

7. Scootered through a supermarket I usually despise as being too plastic but which today looked cheerily kaleidoscopic after two weeks of grocery deprivation.


8. Brought home the beer in The Bloke’s handy basket.


9. Visited my garden for the first time since the surgery. The collards were begging for a simmer with a pork hock.


10. Visited with Oliver on his turf, the front yard, for a change, rather than him visiting with me on the couch.

oliver rolling

I’m getting back onto that couch now and elevating my aching foot. Ahhhh. But… I wonder what motorcycle girl is up to. On her anime-sparkle-titanium-neon crutches. Rocking the lead vocals with her hip hop crew? Bottle-feeding a new litter of rottweiler-lab pups? Baking a dozen loaves of vegan meatloaf for her closest friends? Or just getting ready to fly down those four flights and go out to the movies again? Because she can do just about anything she wants. As can I.


Filed under Cooking, Culture, Dogs, Fashion, Film, History, Home, Jean Zimmerman, Knitting, Music, Writers, Writing

I Am the Walrus

I’m about a foot shorter and slightly less blubbery, and my tusks have not come in, but my habit of lolling on the couch is pronounced.

walrus face

I could be lying atop a Greenland ice floe. A tooth-walking seahorse (Odonus rosmarus) through and through, cast-footed variety. Basically sedentary. Shellfish savoring. Laughable? Don’t people sort of snicker at walruses?

My main function these days, when I’m resisting the urge to watch past episodes of Orange Is the New Black, is to absorb information. That and try to knit a mohair bandana with a pair of metal toothpicks, willing Oliver not to drag the tiny wound-up ball of pink fluff under the coffeetable.

oliver snout

(Not successful, and I nearly rebroke the bones in my foot retrieving it.)


Walruses show affection.


There’s more where that one came from, walrus fetishists.

Aside from walrus kiss-bombs, I sourced a few more of life’s interesting details today.

1. A California man named Jerry Gretzinger has spent 50 years drawing an enormous map of a world he invented.  Hmnh, you say, don’t people do this every day? Well, maybe brainy 3rd graders do something similar on a sheet of oaktag.  But his is just so much more carefully delineated than others, did I mention 2,000 feet long, and he uses a weird deck of cards he pasted up to determine next steps he will take on the thing. Including which neighborhoods get what he calls “voided,” or just suddenly blasted out of existance.


There is a great mini doc about him, and you might want to bring home some colored pencils when you’re out today. (Note the envy in that: when you’re out today.) For more great stuff on do it yourself cartography (and moving gigantic maps) try Making Maps.

2. I never knew what was in O magazine – lists upon lists of Oprah’s fave books that were going to earn more than my books ever would? But today I checked out the September issue because we got a subscription in error. And it turned out the issue was all about hair. Here is something so inutterably weird I reread it a few times. A timeline of how glamorous hair extensions come to be. It begins with Hindu pilgrims shaving their heads at the temple Tirumala in Tiraputi, India. (I did a little further research. As many as 10,000 pilgrims get their hair shaved by 500 temple barbers every single day.) The hair is fumigated and wrapped in bundles in Bangladore, then shipped by private courier to Rome to be bleached and dyed. Six weeks later it goes to U.S. salons. After 3 to 6 months use the repurposed locks get tossed in the trash. Footnote from the same O: 90 percent of celebrities at the Academy Awards are wearing extensions – everyone except, according to one expert, children and women with pixie cuts. I guess men, too, go unextended. But who knows.

3. A lot of people consider the Hudson to be “my river.” Me too. That’s why I was surprised not to have known before that the actual start of the estuary, the southern terminus that is, is deemed by scientists to occur precisely at Manhattan’s Battery.


I knew it began down there in the Harbor someplace, but everything seemed pretty watery and diffuse to me. Now I realize that you have Hudson River Mile 0 at the Battery, the George Washington Bridge at HRM 12, the Tappan Zee at 28, Bear Mountain at 47, Beacon-Newburgh Bridge at 62, the Mid-Hudson Bridge at 75, the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge at 95, the Rip Van Winkle 114, and the Federal Dam at Troy, the head of tidewater, at 153. The tidal section of the Hudson constitutes a bit less than half the total distance – 315 miles – from Lake Tear of the Clouds to the Battery. I learned this scrap and so many other things from the State Department of Environmental Conservation’s weekly easy–to subscribe to e-newsletter, Hudson River Almanac. If you want to know how many hummingbirds appeared in someone’s yard this May, and how that compared with last year’s count, or the story of a kingfisher riding the back of a hawk, or that Atlantic blue crabs are known to rivermen as “Jimmys,”(mature males) “Sooks,” (mature females) and “Sallys (immature females), this is the place for you. I find I want to know these things.


It’s amazing what you’re ignorant of as a walrus.


Filed under Art, Culture, Dogs, Fashion, History, Home, Jean Zimmerman, Knitting, Nature, Photography, Publishing, Writers, Writing

A Hut of Candy Floss

Magical, feel good potions of the day: a tall iced coffee, a small pain smoother, a delicate skein of candy floss.


There’s a lot you don’t know about crutches before they come into your life. Like what good yarn-winders they make in a pinch.

crutch winders

This silk-angora begs to be knitted into a Barbie evening wrap.

candy floss

I seem to be rendered all thumbs by the work on my toes.

floss knit

Don’t you love it when you come across an actress just casually knitting in the movies?

Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s makes a famous attempt, looking fetching while botching her pattern.


Or Myrna Loy in the Thin Man movies. She makes knitting snazzy.

Myrna Loy

Sylvia Sidney appears in a fantastic shot on set, needles in hand.

Sylvia Sidney A

That last comes from one of my favorite blogs, One More Stitch, whose author researches and recreates garments of the past.

All these glamour pusses make it look so easy.

When I feel like tossing my needles, I think about entering the knit world another way — through  the example of this guy in France who soaked sweaters in milk and lime, threw them over a frame of branches and covered them with black soap and linseed oil. He padded the inside with earth and, for some reason, horse manure. He lives there now.

Hepburn would probably even look more cool knitting her sweater in this knit hut.

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Filed under Culture, Dogs, Fashion, Film, Home, Jean Zimmerman, Knitting, Nature

Day 1-In Which I Learn to Hobble

It was a success, the surgery, though I awoke from the anesthesia blubbering like a baby. It’s normal, said the orthopedic surgeon, come to check on me. A lot of people cry. Then it was hip, hop, on to the wheelchair, on to the crutches, off to my new full-time lair, my living room, my foot on pillows above the couch.


My snouted nursemaid wedged beside me.

ollie nurse

My other nursemaids scurry to my orders. My computer, please! My muffin! My book! Put it close, I’ve got to get an NPR review done this week. Could you please turn that light off? Or on?

I have a good view of Maud’s metallic blue fighter fish, Brussels, making his small way around the bowl.


Somehow, thinking about the immediate future, though I never had much patience for that fish, I now feel kindly toward it. Brussels reminds me of myself in my own little living room bowl. Except I hobble, can’t float at all, when I want to go brush my teeth.

Trying to stretch myself outside this world, adventuring via pictures of the past to the motor adventure taken in 1918 by John Burroughs, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone.

This brilliant crew took a 12-day car camping trip in Burroughs’ automobile when he was 81.


John Burroughs, less well known today than the others, was ragingly popular by that time in his life. Gil and I used to visit his country retreat, a tiny cabin called Slabsides that stood beside a celery marsh in West Park, New York.


Burroughs’ fans have kept it intact, so you can see it as he did. Being there always made me want to inhabit a cabin, and now  mine is virtually like his.


… I was offered a tract of wild land, barely a mile from home, that contained a secluded nook and a few acres of level, fertile land shut off from the vain and noisy world by a wooded precipitous mountain… and built me a rustic house there, which I call ‘Slabsides’, because its outer walls are covered with slabs. I might have given it a prettier name, but not one more fit, of more in keeping with the mood that brought me thither … Life has a different flavor here. It is reduced to simpler terms; its complex equations all disappear.

Young college women used to travel in hordes by train to Slabsides to pay homage to the great man, a pioneer of nature writing who published some 25 volumes, of which a million and a half volumes were sold during his lifetime.

In 1918, a convoy of eight vehicles accompanying the brainy colleagues toured Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Tennessee, and Virginia, stopping to camp on farms, examine old industrial sites, take hikes along rivers, and measure farming implements for fun, documenting as they went.

Some shooting entertained Ford and Firestone.

ford and firestone shooting

At night around the campfire the two industrialists, the naturalist and the inventor wound down by chewing over Shakespeare, Thoreau, chemistry. Don’t you wish you could have been there? In a way, you can, because photos from the trip are stored at Harvard’s Widener Library, with a smaller portfolio at my favorite website, Slate’s The Vault.

Closer to home yet exotic in its own way, the wool I am sending away for to keep my hands busy during this nonambulatory period.

What is mohair, anyway, I wonder, as I fawn over the silk and mohair skein available from the chicest yarn store I know, Purl in Soho, New York City.

It’s from a line called Haiku made by a company called Alchemy. The shade is called Teardrop. Is that not irrisistable?

Alchem's Haiku-Teardrop

The yarn comes not from a sheep but a goat, the Angora, which emigrated from Tibet to Turkey in the 16th century, and it’s one of the oldest textile materials in use. It’s made of keratin, like hair, wool, horns and skin. Mohair is warm in winter, while remaining cool in summer. It is flame resistant, crease resistant, and does not felt. The goats are mainly bred in South Africa now.


And it is of course beautifully luxurious. Makes your fingers sing. Should I choose this color instead? It’s for a slip of an elegant bandana, not the kind you’d wear around a Slabsides campfire. Evening Pink.

Haiku-Evening Pink

If Firestone and Ford and Edison were on their way over to roast weenies, maybe a scarf in this hue would be more refined: Blue Jay Way.

Haiku-Blue Jay Way

So many choices when your leg is up and all you’ve got to do is dream.


Filed under Art, Culture, Dogs, Fashion, History, Home, Jean Zimmerman, Knitting, Nature, Photography, Publishing, Writers, Writing

Simple Stock With a Side of Butter

We in the northeastern U.S. have been deluged with a cool spring rain for several days now. Not good weather for adventuring, though I managed to get out and about yesterday and sample some history and some garlicky pork chops.


The weeds are thriving. Our sump pump is heaving, with the Cabin set as it is down into an overflowing marsh. And the room around me is dim and shadowy, a womb of dark lumber. The pictures stare out of the murk.


Chestnut, a building expert recently assured me. The Cabin is built of chestnut logs. How do you know? I asked. I just know, he said. You can see it in the fireplace mantle.


Today is fit for a few errands – dry cleaning, library, Good Will. Then as many rounds of a knitted cowl as I have patience for. Beautifully soft merino wool in a heathery blue-brown. The proprietor of my local knit shop, Flying Fingers, after salvaging yet another botched project of mine, confided that business falls off after the winter, that people seem not to think of knitting as a year-round activity. I immediately bought some new yarn.


I think I’ll take another listen to Barry White’s Ecstasy, which I heard in the car for the first time in a long time. At least 20 years, in fact. Is it still brilliant or is it just me?


Perhaps a chapter of What Maisie Knew, the original by Henry James, which I’m newly interested in after the disturbing contemporary movie version I took in earlier in the week. Perhaps a start on The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner, which just appeared in April and takes place in 1975 in New York City, where a young woman named Reno is intent on conquering the SoHo art world.


I know I’ll make a big pot of chicken soup, and dive into another pot: links I’ve been saving to mull over on a day just like today.

Here are some you can sink your teeth into.

Have you ever wondered about butter sculpting?

butter sculpting

Linda Christensen, a master at the craft, typically spends a week and a half in a booth chilled to near freezing at the Minnesota State Fair in order to render likenesses out of 90-pound blocks. An artist friend of mine once imagined making sculptures out of breast milk butter, but it never came to pass.

How about houses so small they can be mounted on grocery carts?

Early water pipes under New York City carved from whole trees.

wood pipes

Archaeologists are finding them now.

Italian prison inmates who make award-winning chocolate truffles.

The question of whether Michael Pollan is a sexist pig – an excerpt from Homeward Bound: Why Women Are Embracing the New Domesticity, a new book by Emily Matchar that sounds an awful lot like my decade-old Made From Scratch: Reclaiming the Pleasures of the American Hearth.

Is it time to order a new supply of Goatboy Soaps, handmade from goat’s milk and shea butter on a farm in New Milford, Connecticut?


The one called Heavenly does indeed have a celestial aroma, I can vouch for it,but you can also choose from among Blackberry Sage, Cherry Almond, Clean Greens, Lavender Oatmeal, Serious Citrus and others, including Red Clover Tea, the company’s bestseller. No breast milk in evidence.

Research showing why the act of pointing makes babies human. It turns out, according to Slate, that “Babies point to refer to events in the past and the future. They point to refer to things that are no longer there. They can figure out, when an adult points across the room toward a group of objects, what exactly the adult is gesturing toward (the toy they’ve previously played with, say). They can deduce that, by pointing, an adult is trying to communicate something specific (find that toy hidden in that bucket). And not least of all, babies point because they want to share their experience of the world—that puppy—with someone else.”

The fascinating blog of an Irishman elucidating a video of Dublin phrases.  You’re in for a treat if you make posts from Sentence first a regular part of your day.

A recipe for how to make Mango Sticky Rice, at a site called The High Heel Gourmet, brought to you by Miranti, a young chef who seems to know exactly what she’s doing.

high heeled gourmet

And, finally, a piece so lively it will drive all the rain away (by tomorrow, I hope, when I plan to go mushrooming in the Westchester woods), a photo doc on skateboarding in 1965, courtesy of Life magazine.

girl skateboarding

I am sure that some of the individuals pictured have traded skateboards for walkers, but then everything was a breeze.

If you wind up wanting to make home-made soup, a chicken elixir, here’s how.

A Recipe for Simple Stock

1 soup fowl/heavy fowl/soup hen

A bunch of chicken feet if you can get them

2 big fat carrots

2 sticks celery

1 large onion

1 large purple-shouldered turnip

1 large parsnip

a bunch of dill if you have it

salt and pepper to taste

Bring chicken to boil in a pot large enough to accommodate all ingredients.

Skim off scum and reduce to a simmer.

Add all other ingredients.

Simmer 3 hours or until chicken starts to fall off the bone.

Strain stock.

Add noodles or matzoh balls, use as a base for leek-and-potato soup, make gravy for chicken pot pie or stir up some risotto. Perfect for anything that ails you. And if you dribble a little over the kibble, your dog will love you for it.

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Filed under Cooking, Fiction, Film, History, Home, Jean Zimmerman, Knitting, Nature, Publishing, Writers, Writing

About To

Cloudy and damp, good planting weather. And just the right climate for the annual plant sale at Teatown, the nature preserve down the road from the Cabin.


Teatown has 875 miles of trails, a large lake, hemlock forests and laurel groves, a wildflower island and, dear to my heart, a collection of wounded raptors, lost souls that have here been given a safe haven and a purpose: educating visitors about how wonderful they are.

I like the owls, some of them one blinded in one eye, most paired in their environments in a perfect, companionable matched set.


I collected my little starts at the herb table, dill and chamomile. Thought I’d try some eucalyptus. Wished I had to space for the native plants for sale all around.

Then I noticed a stalky bearded iris obviously about to burst.


I realize that they more I go along, the more I like things that are about to

Like the iris. You can just see a fringe of furled purple petal above the green.

Like a novel about to be published.

Rolls about to come out of the oven.

A cardinal about to skitter up into the air.

Oliver about to enter his snoring slumberland.

oliver about to

Water about to boil – test it for salt with one hardy finger.

About to speak at an engagement, that shivery feeling in your stomach.

About to buy something exquisite, but expensive. Then deciding not to.

About to start to knit, a chunky skein and needles in hand.

My 21-year-old Maud about to have the most glorious adventure, working in a school for Teach For America, living in New York City, the whole shebang laid out ahead of her.

maud smiling

Rolls about to come out of the oven.

Water about to boil.

The iris about to pop.


Filed under Dogs, Home, Jean Zimmerman, Knitting, Nature, Writing