Reflections on January 6th, 2021: Hope

We had a prearranged visit with our son and his three children yesterday afternoon, leading to an early dinner. After morning work meetings, I started watching the Joint Session of Congress as they began certifying the election. We all know what happened once they got to Arizona and the subsequent storming of Congress.

I have visited Washington, DC many times. I had relatives nearby at various times and my sister Madeline has lived outside DC for years. I visit her a couple times a year. While our visits tend to not include the government sites, I have certainly seen them – as a child, and as a parent, taking our own kids. I also had the wonderful opportunity to work in the Capital as a news intern for The Hartford Courant, Connecticut’s major newspaper.  Seeing rioters destroying media equipment added to my broken heart. I remember interviews with all members of  the Connecticut delegation, regardless of party, all willingly answered my questions.

https://cyclingrandma.wordpress.com/2012/01/25/state-of-the-union-2012-1979/

my press pass

On all these visits, I remember the reverence, the feeling I was walking on sacred ground, where giants of history had tread, where our democracy’s laws are made. The architecture awes; the size alone could easily make one feel small and insignificant; instead, you feel that as a citizen, you are part of this structure dubbed, “The Peoples’ House.”

These memories returned while watching the chaos yesterday, cuddled up on the couch with the grands, and our dog. They have yet to visit Washington, DC, so what they know is from school and books. I’d love to take them to visit the inspiring, historic sites. Sadly, January 6th, 2021, will now have its place in history.

The scenes intrigued the children as we tried to explain what was occurring in a way not to either bore or frighten them. We answered their questions, satisfying their curiosity enough at least to take a break and walk to the park. Happy to be distracted for a bit, we all enjoyed watching enormous construction vehicles tearing up and re-tarring the street. Breathing in the dust and soot seemed almost cathartic– something normal on an abnormal day.

I thought of my parents, who had participated in many protests, including the March on Washington in 1963, and several anti- Vietnam war events. A few times while my kids were in school, my parents visited their classrooms to share their experiences. My father talked about it here: https://cyclingrandma.wordpress.com/2013/08/28/march-on-washington-my-fathers-reflections/

I talked to my father this am. He had watched the unraveling and destruction and had plenty of choice words to describe the perpetrators. In some ways, I’m happy my mother didn’t see this assualt on the country. She had always worked so hard for justice.

The good news– the election of two Democratic senators from Georgia– slumped to the bottom of the news feeds– yet can’t be overlooked. I wrote postcards. My sister wrote 1,000. My town wrote over 10,000. We can’t lose this momentum and passion for our democracy.

Let’s hope this ugly violence is behind us. Let’s hope we can unite as a nation.

Let’s hope.  For your grandchildren and mine.

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“Take Advantage”

“Take advantage of everything,” it sounded like my mother  was trying to tell me and my sisters over a zoom call while she was in the hospital.

We assured her we have and will always do so.

That’s one of the many lessons we all got from our parents. They were always looking for things for us to do, mostly together as a family, whether locally, or when we travelled around the United States and Canada.

In 1967, my father had a blood clot in his leg that nearly killed him. He was forced to take some time off. For a farmer, this isn’t something one does. Livestock need attention every day of the year. But he listened to his doctor, leased the farm to one of his nephews, and bought a recreational vehicle, a Dodge motor home. We then proceeded to travel every school and summer break, covering long distances.

We stayed in national parks, hiking and taking in ranger talks, we joined factory tours, and explored small towns.

This mantra, “take advantage” is ingrained in me. With the grandkids now, I’m always looking for activities that are fun and educational, whether inside or out.

Over the holidays, we took advantage of a visit to the local fire house. While this is a typical nursery school field trip, I find the magic and fascination – and ultimate respect– can engage all ages. Our neighbor is a volunteer fireman. He proudly explained all the equipment, allowing the kids to climb ladders, sit in drivers’ seats, and don his uniform, oxygen tank included.

We also visited the waterfalls that are part of the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area.

The thunderous sounds of surging water, the chandeliers of icicles, the slip sliding on the icy trail, the caves made by rocks and tree roots kept us enthralled, creating rosy cheeks and desires for hot cocoa.

“Take advantage,” mom said. We do.

Dingman’s Falls, PA. 2016

Joey & Kamala: Picture Books for Everyone

When my children were in elementary school, I volunteered in the school library and was lucky to work with Arlene Lambert, the librarian. She called picture books, “Everyone Books.” I was studying for my Masters in Education, and eventually specialized in Children’s and Young Adult Literature; perhaps partly thanks to her influence.

I love children’s books and still have quite a large collection left from my own children and from my years teaching. Even with middle schoolers, I’d read picture books to use as writing prompts. My grands are all reading on their own now; ensconced in e-readers, graphic novels, and also regular print books. The youngest, nearly 7, will allow me to read to him now and then and I jump at the chance to cuddle up, open a book, and read. We discuss the illustrations, and comment about all the elements of story: plot, character, setting.

So seeing soon-to-be First Lady Jill Biden’s book, Joey: The Joe Biden Story and award-winning poet Nikki Grimes’ Kamala Harris: Rooted in Justice, I knew I had to buy them for Hanukkah gifts this year.

We read how young Joey, while smaller than most his friends, seemed to look out for others and acted as a leader. We hear how his mother would tell him: “Bravery resides in every heart, and yours is fierce and clear.” and how his father encouraged him to get up from every stumble. As the oldest of the four children, he took responsibility for them, and made sure they followed the family rule: “I give you my word as a Biden.” We read about his stutter and how he persisted to overcome it, his years as a high school athlete, and how he was elected president of his freshman class at the University of Delaware. After college and law school, he ran for the US Senator, at age 29. Several photographs and a timeline complete the book.

A story within the story frames Kamala Harris’ story. We meet Eve, a first grader, who complains that her classmate told her that girls can’t become President. Her mother proceeds to tell Eve about Kamala Harris; about her mother from India and father from Jamaica; about their professions and political activism. Eve asks her mother to explain words like justice as the story follows Harris’ journey from school to college to law school. Eve’s mother tells her daughter that Harris achieved thanks to hard work and that the Senator (the book was written before Harris was elected Vice President), is still writing her story.  The book includes a timeline and bibliography.

I’m thinking about my mother and her love of books and reading. From early years, I remember her taking us to the library; then enrolling me in a children’s “Book of the Month” and how I enjoyed receiving a book in the mail. When we cleaned out my childhood home this past spring, some of those titles still sat on the shelves, my name written in the front cover in my elementary handwriting.

Mom loved reading to her grandchildren and great- grandchildren, and loved buying books as gifts.

Never one to forget a birthday or miss a chance to buy Hanukkah presents, she patronized her local bookstore, RJ Julia, in Madison, Ct. When she became too frail to climb the stairs to the 2nd floor children’s section, the staff would bring a basket of books to her. Sitting in a  comfortable chair,  she would peruse the books, selecting titles.

I know she would have loved these picture books about our soon to be President and Vice-President. As an active participant in local government, and avid campaigner for civil rights and political candidates in all elections, she would have appreciated how these stories extol the devotion to justice and serving the country.

My grandkids also liked these books. They got the message and related to the challenges the politicians faced as children. Like Mrs. Lambert said years ago, these are “Everyone” books.

Losing Mom

When I walk Moses in the morning, usually with my neighbor, Vikki, and her adorable dog, Peanut, we often go to the playing fields near us that are behind an elementary school and small playground. Frequently, there’s a lost item on the ground: a mitten, a glove, a hat, a sweatshirt, a sneaker, a sippy cup, a teddy bear. We place the items on one of the benches, hoping the owners will return.

It reminds me of when my eldest son was in kindergarten and he lost a wool sweater vest. Thankfully, it wasn’t one I or my mother had knit; but nevertheless, a good quality garment. I nagged him on end to check the lost and found in the school. He said he did, but I doubt it. At one point, he told me he forgot what the vest looked like. So that was that.

Of course I lose things. My keys and phone while they’re in my hand; my glasses when they’re sitting on my face. I’ve been losing gloves and earrings lately; gloves because I am texting while walking the dog; and earrings, only one of course, because between wearing a hat, glasses, and a mask, something’s got to go.

Friday, December 18th, I lost my mother, Barbara W. Klein, at age 90. While her demise wasn’t from Covid, it was certainly Covid- related. Isolation, quarantine, lack of family visits; the closure of the pool where she loved the senior aquatic exercise and of the senior center all contributed to inactivity and eventually, infection. There’s really no way of knowing.

A proud 1952 graduate of Hunter College in New York City, she grew up in Brooklyn. After graduating with a degree in Zoology, she worked at Sloan Kettering Cancer Center doing nicotine research. She loved all the culture the city offered and was about to enroll in pharmacology school when she met my father, Martin. They were married April 4th, 1954 and she moved to my father’s poultry farm in Madison, CT. My mother worked along side my father on the farm. Shortly after my sister, Madeline, was born, in 1964, we moved  to Killingworth, a few miles away, where they had  built their dream house, an Arizona-style stone ranch house. There was plenty of room inside and out for the four of  us kids to play.

In writing the obituary, my sister Naomi asked the town for a record of our mom’s community service. The long list is impressive for its scope and depth: ranging from founding a nursery school to being elected town selectman. I do remember her attending night meetings; I don’t think I paid much attention to what she was doing.

After my father stopped farming, he began traveling as a poultry consultant. My mother accompanied him and wrote the reports from far-flung places in South America, Africa, and eastern Europe. They served in the Peace Corps in Tunisia and then as VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) at the Knox Park Foundation in Hartford, Connecticut, helping to start community gardens. For more than 20 years, they drove to Thermopolis, Wyoming, to soak in the hot springs.

To me, my mother seemed to do everything with perfection; whether it was knitting and sewing or cooking and baking. She spoke several languages; she read across genres with passion and a continual thirst for knowledge. She dressed with style, never without earrings and a silk scarf, elegantly tied. She sang opera along with the radio while driving us to activities and medical appointments; she would have dinner ready when we’d arrive home. She took us to ballets, plays and museums. She was a consummate mother, grandmother and great-grandmother: she remembered every birthday and anniversary and always insisted on buying presents.

At the age of 82, my mother started blogging. It gave her great joy to write about her marriage, family, their travels, and her life. Here’s her blog: https://bestofbarbara.wordpress.com/

We had tremendous fun putting together A Glub Glub, & and Shake Shake, a cookbook of family favorites.

Two years ago, mom had a stroke. So in many ways, I feel I lost a lot of her then. She recovered quite remarkably, and was able to walk, talk, and take care of herself for quite a while. Up until a few months ago, I was giving her books and we’d discuss them together. Among the titles was James Shapiro’s Shakespeare in a Divided America.

Covid has made seeing my parents difficult. It’s about a 2 1/2 hour drive, and unless they had doctor appointments to attend, they were confined to the place. We visited through the window.  In October– Covid had eased a bit — and she was allowed to leave for a short outing. We went for ice cream- she had butter pecan and I had pumpkin– and she inscribed her cookbook for my son and his wife.

The last time I saw her in person was last Sunday. The assisted living facilty allowed us in, in full PPE, since hospice had determined she was nearing the end of life.  I sang and hugged her, and wished her a peaceful journey.

My three siblings and I have been so blessed to have had her in our lives so long; and my father so fortunate to have had a 66 -year- long marriage. Mom’s legacy is passed along to nine grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.

We held a zoom gathering today, giving family and friends a chance to share various memories. Like so many thousands this Covid-year, we couldn’t be together. We’re hoping to hold a celebration of her life in the spring.

While expected and inevitable, I know this is a profound loss that won’t go away. There will be moments I will be swamped in missing her. The world is a different place without her in it.

A life isn’t a mitten; there’s no replacement.

Finding Peace

I’m a big fan of Louise Gallagher, creator of the wonderful blog DareBoldly. https://dareboldly.com/2020/12/11/love-is-always-present/

I met Louise years ago through the blogosphere. She’s a talented, inspirational writer and artist. A Canadian blogger and artist, check out her “ShePersisted” series of notecards and calendar.  I’m in awe how she manages to blog every day. I have been in blog fog for months; finding it hard to describe all the angst and anger around the election, the fear and fury about Covid-19,  and the overall feeling that I had little to say that wouldn’t come across as being privileged in a world gone astray.

Louise offered me a prompt: “Where does your heart find peace?”

I thought of that while walking the dog, taking in the fresh air; admiring the trees and the stillness of the lake. We’ve seen a couple bald eagles soaring around. They are truly majestic in their power and wingspan; like they own the sky. The dog has been a terrific companion in Covid isolation. He forces me to get outside several times a day, finding peace and getting exercise.

I thought about the grands. The three in NJ we’ve seen since the beginning, forming our pod, starting with short hikes and ice cream sandwiches in a local park  and continuing throughout summer, fall and holidays. I am so grateful for their presence, their laughter, their innocence. We play lots of games, cook, walk and talk. Most recently we celebrated my eldest’s 11th birthday. Going around the table, we offered what we each appreciated about him, and also a blessing for the next year.

I fret about when I’ll see my other 7 grands – January marks a year since my last trip to Israel. I have missed a lot. Birthdays. Soccer games. And mostly, my son’s remarriage after a year of tremendous pain and heartbreak. We watched over zoom, and even dressed up for the event; but did it hurt not to be there to dance. His happiness and my immense gratitude about my new daughter-in-law brings me joy.

Then there’s my parents. They moved from my childhood home in late-June, after over 60 years in the house they built. We never had my mother’s 90th birthday party. The two of them have shuffled back and forth between the assisted living apartment and the rehab side of the facility, thanks to each having several hospital visits. Falling is the old person’s demon. At present, my mother is hanging on by a thread; each zoom call or window visit seems like the last. I’m not alone in seeing loved ones through windows or computer screens. I’ve been blessed with their longevity and the lessons learned from them as parents.

I put up a pot of bean soup today, using the rest of the turkey carcass. As I chopped carrots, onions, celery, and parsnips, I thought of my mother’s soups, how she always would bring me a container when she made them. And how I always brought them mine when I visited in past years. I’ll freeze the containers now, and give one to my son. Cooking brings peace.

So too: reading, baking, playing piano, and of course, knitting.

How about you? Where do you find peace?

Green Tomatoes: Pickles & Chutney

What to do with green tomatoes?

My mother used to pickle green tomatoes and I have used her recipe when given some from people’s gardens. The process involves packing clean, wide-mouthed jars with cut celery, garlic cloves, and pickling spices, stuffing the tomatoes, uncut into the jars, and pouring a brine made from boiled salted water. I’d then place the jars in a dark, cool place, like the basement. You’re supposed to check the salinity of the brine every week or so; adding more salt or more water as needed, and the pickles are ready in about three weeks. They were always a side dish on our Thanksgiving table.

My friend presented me with a bonanza of green tomatoes and a case of mason jars for my pickling.

I’ve usually made a few jars of pickles; never so many as this bounty. He had given us some pickled runner beans he prepares by simmering beans briefly in apple cider vinegar; this eliminates the need to store the product as the vegetables are ready to eat as soon as they cool.

Curious, I browsed different recipes. Sure enough, using apple cider vinegar and cooking the tomatoes a few minutes in the hot brine, makes the process quicker. Pickles in an hour!

I tried this recipe: https://www.ruralsprout.com/pickled-green-tomatoes/

We did a tasting, and while the vinegar-infused tomatoes do taste different than the plain brined ones, they were still delicious– tangy, but not too salty or vinegary. I pickled most of the box with this method. Everyone I’ve given a jar too reported back with satisfaction.

I saved some to make green tomato chutney. https://www.marthastewart.com/1159908/green-tomato-chutney.

A perfect accompaniment to meat or cheese, or  whatever suits your fancy.

Canvassing App, Campaign Forums, & A Suffragists’ Songbook

Tomorrow and again next weekend, I volunteered to help get out the vote in Pike County, PA, where we spend a lot of time at our lake house. I signed up for two slots, and then received an email about training to canvass.

I’ve canvassed– gone door-to-door, connecting with voters, to remind them to vote, where to cast ballots, and so on, for decades. I’ve done literature drops and assisted in phone banks; I’ve driven people to the polls. Training? What’s to learn?

Plenty. In these Covid- campaign days, there’s health and safety precautions for one. Mask wearing, six-feet distancing, no contacting anyone over age 75. With the many ways to cast ballots now, there’s informing people of their options: by mail, in drop boxes, or in person. There’s reminding them of deadlines and how to complete their ballots securely.

And what else? Oh, no need for the ol’ clipboard and pen. There’s an App called MiniVan that gives us volunteers the names and addresses of voters, the optional scripts to recite, and places to record their responses. So part of the training was downloading and becoming familiar with MiniVan. In addition to wearing comfortable walking shoes, carrying our own water, we have to be sure our phone is fully charged.

Campaign forums have taken on a new look too. Last year, I moderated a few candidate forums for the League of Women Voters. These live events are usually held in high school auditoriums or town hall meeting rooms. This year, the League moved all its forums on-line, via Zoom, and live-streamed on various sites. We’re now discussing that on-line forums should continue post-Covid; viewership increased compared to live events, and voter participation in early elections and primaries also surpassed previous levels. Additionally, moderators didn’t need to drive long distances at night to assist with the forums.

It’s important to remember the struggles people have faced in getting the right to vote. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the passing of the 19th Amendment, that granted women the right to vote. To commemorate that historic event, my League chapter has created and published a book, Songs of the Suffragists: Lyrics of American Feminism from 1850-2020. 

The woman’s suffrage movement used songs, plays, posters, and clothing to advocate for women’s enfranchisment. Songs of the original suffragists were printed in newspapers and on broadsheets; many were performed for local audiences as part of the suffragists’ campaign. The book is a fund-raiser for the League of Women Voters and makes a great gift: a small slice of history told through song.

 

 

A Day at the Beach & My Octopus Teacher

We hadn’t been to the beach since early March and have been yearning to go. We had a small window this morning; we had to be back for afternoon work calls. Leaving about 8, we arrived around 9 to our favorite beach– Sandy Hook National Seashore , spread out an old bedspread and unfurled our low chairs. Moses  had no interest in sitting; we promptly rose to walk along the beach.

There’s nothing like a post-Labor Day beach day; and during Covid, the beach seemed even emptier.

What better distraction from daily news than to have sand between toes, cold water lapping ankles, salt sea smells, and sun sparkling over windy water? Looking out, we saw a pod of dolphins, leaping and diving with grace and agility.

The dog has provided wonderful company and entertainment these isolated months; we take great joy watching his antics. More a trail hiker than a beachcomber, Moses’ curiosity amused us: he seemed to search for chipmunks in driftwood; looked askance at seagulls, and generally romped in the sand, sniffing and being a dog.

I’m mesmerized by the ocean– its vastness, power, and life. I was reminded of my respect for these bodies of water that comprise 70% of the earth’s surface when I watched the Netflix documentary My Octopus Teacher.

The film captures how marine biologist Craig Foster spent a year observing and ultimately befriending, a common octopus in an underwater kelp forest off the west coast of South Africa in 2010. Taking to the water, a place he’d known since childhood, to alleviate depression, Foster spent days diving, bare-chested and without scuba gear in freezing cold waters; over time he was able to hold his breath longer and longer.

One day he noticed a strange blob of shells and rocks that appeared to be moving slightly with the water. He realized the creature was an octopus, an incredible invertebrate that evades detection by camouflaging itself depending on the environment, shape shift, and squeeze its liquid body into tiny crevices.

After 26 days of observing the common octopus, a member of the cephalopod species that grows to about four feet and weighs about 22 pounds, the octopus reached out and touched him. Foster had won her trust. He would continue to observe this octopus for nearly a year; watching how she captured food, detected danger, and used her myriad of defense mechanisms to protect herself. An attack by a pygmy shark– as nerve-wracking and suspenseful as any thriller– leaves her with one of her eight arms chopped off. Over time, the arm regrows.

This is an amazing film; good for all ages; and an important reminder of the fragility of our oceans and its vast life.

For me, the film, that took 10 years to make, made me more curious about octopuses. So I headed to my local library, to the children’s room where often the non-fiction can be succinct and informative. I also picked up Sy Montgomery’s The Soul of the Octopus from the adult section and have been reading parts aloud to my husband.

Here’s some more info:

There are more than 300 species, found all around the world in salt waters: in coral reefs, kelp forests, tide pools, open oceans and deep seas. They range in size from the two inch Star-sucker Pygmy to the 16 foot Giant Pacific. They can survive very low temperatures and can crawl onto a beach to hunt during low tide as long as they stay moist.

Their ability to camouflage is unmatched: they have between 30-50 different ways to change color, pattern and even the texture of their skin and do this in a fraction of a second. Scientists believe these defense mechanisms are not instinctual but deliberate decisions.

They eat invertebrates like shrimp, lobsters, crabs, snails and clams. They capture prey with the suckers on their arms– each arm has its own brain and can work independently of the others and use a small beak to pierce the shells.

Octopuses are solitary creatures until it’s time to mate. After mating, the male dies and the female hangs the eggs, tens of thousands of them, in her den, and slowly looses strength. Once the eggs hatch, they are about the size of a grain of rice, the mother becomes weak and dies.

Foster is quoted saying:

“Your own role and place in the natural world is singularly the most precious gift we have been given.”

 

 

 

 

 

Lunch by the Pond: A Chapbook

Two years ago this summer, two weeks before her 88th birthday, my mother had a stroke. I was in northeast Pennslyvania, a dinner party, when I received the telephone call from my brother. There was a mad rush to leave and return to New Jersey, so I could retreive my car and drive to the hospital in New Haven, CT.

My mother’s speech and mobility were affected; yet the prognosis was good. She was transferred within a day to another hospital with a rehabilitation wing; and from there to a rehab facility closer to their home. Of course, it was horrific to witness her in this state; it was even worse to witness my father’s grief and fear. 

Sometimes, to keep myself busy, I’d write down some things they would say; particularly what my father said to my mother.

Over time, with the help of a small army of therapists, she recovered her speech and mobility; albeit weakened by age.  I visited them in CT often, and continued to document snippets of their conversations. 

Poems started to emerge. I started writing more, including other topics, like childhood memories and nature poems I’d written at our lake house in PA. My whiz book designer, Solveig Marina Bank, helped me create a “chap book” of my poems. I self-published Lunch by the Pond last year.

I shared one of the poems about my mother in my last blog.   

The title poem is a remembrance of when my father needed our help to unload baby chicks on our farm. Here it is:

Lunch by the Pond

Our school absence note:
Not the typical sore throat
or family funeral
We helped deliver baby chicks
Twenty thousand fluffy peeping
soft downy black golf balls
with yellow bellies
arriving in pizza-like boxes wih
aie holes
Wearing dungarees,
work boots, cleaned of
all mud and muck,
bandanas in our hair
Quickly
gently tipping boxes under
heated brooders
then eating
lunch by the pond

Knitting like a River

A recent obituary caught my eye; after all, it’s not too often one reads about the death of a knitter.

Cat Bordhi learned to knit from her grandmother. In 2000, frustrated with complicated instructions for knitting socks, she created new techniques using circular needles. She self -published a book, sharing her discovery. Socks Soar on Two Circular Needles sold more than 100,000 copies in its first decade. (It’s now a small fortune on Amazon.)

She published several other books and ebooks, gave tutorials on YouTube, and ran fiber-arts retreats outside Seattle. She led overseas knitting trips and taught knitting to middle school students, noting how the methodical and mediative process of knitting helped students focus.

Bordhi died last month at age 69 from cancer. Prior to her death, she posted her pattern, the Rio Catalina cowl; https://catbordhi.com/wp-content/uploads/Rio-Calina-Cowl-1.3-1.pdf, saying the cowl, that winds and flows like a river, “teaches you to let go.”

The obituary is here: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/02/style/cat-bordhi-dead.html?referringSource=articleShare

My mother knit socks; I still have a couple pairs she made me. When all her friends were making argyle socks for their beaus in the 1950’s, she didn’t join in until she was engaged. I’ve made a pair of socks. One pair. The craze never caught me; I don’t understand why I’d spend all that time on something that’s hidden by pants and stuffed into shoes.

Knitting is methodical, mediative and overall relaxing. I hope to make Cat Bordhi’s Rio Calina cowls; knitting, like a flowing river, lets one let go.

Here’s a poem I wrote about my mother knitting argyle socks. (Published in my self-published poetry book, Lunch by the Pond.)

Mom dated men with M names
Like Marvin Morris Milton
to knit argyle socks for
None were good enough
Though her friends
knit for their beaus
she insisted
she wouldn’t
devote that work
until engaged

On a blind date
she met Martin
They listened to jazz
And smoked cigarettes
and after the second date
he told her
we’re getting married
She said
you’re crazy
then knit him argyle socks.

I have made my husband two argyle vests.

Does that count?