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Amy headshotI can’t let today pass without mentioning my friend Amy who lost her battle with cancer four years ago on Wednesday. Today would have been her 38th birthday. I miss her dearly and think of her often.

She was the staple of our weekly knitting group, but I’m proud to say that we have continued to meet the last four years. We’re going on nearly 9 years now.

I wrote the following essay a few months after she died. It was part of the First Person Arts Museum. The project demonstrated how personal objects can carry memories and stories for the people who own them, and cherished objects can help us remember the loved ones we have lost.

 

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Amy's sock

A single sock. It’s not a rare thing, a sock without a partner. But this sock’s partner in crime wasn’t lost in the black hole combination of washer and dryer; it was never created.

On June 18, 2010, my friend Amy lost her battle with lung cancer at the age of 33—only three days from her 34th birthday and 15 months after her original diagnosis. Fortunately, due to successful early chemo treatments, she was able to return to some sense of normalcy for several months. She went back to work as a nanny, moved back into her Center City apartment, and rejoined our weekly knitting group.

When I first moved to Philly in 2006, Amy was just a friend of a friend who I was told to look up once I got here. “You should call her,” our friend Scott said. “You two would totally get along.”

I did. And we did.

Amy invited me to come to her knitting group although I didn’t even know how to knit. “I’ll teach you,” she said. “Or, you can just come and eat and drink and socialize.”

After the first week of eating and drinking a little too much, I thought it would be best if I had something else to keep my hands occupied. Amy took me shopping and helped me pick out my first knitting needles and the yarn for my first scarf. She taught me to knit and purl and follow a pattern. I made scarves, hats and blankets, and she walked me through my first pair of socks—red socks for my husband, the RedSox fan.

Amy was the heart of our knitting circle. She was the uber knitter—she even lived above Loop, the yarn store on South Street. She knit sample products for them to display in their front windows. She listened to knitting and fiber podcasts and even had a gig knitting sweaters for an artist who had sold a line of sweaters to Anthropologie. We joked that she was the underpaid sweatshop worker as she slaved away to complete two sweaters a week.

Although Amy disliked social networking sites such as Facebook because she didn’t want everyone knowing what she was doing all the time, she was one of the first members of Ravelry, a social site for knitters. Amy tracked all her knitting projects on Ravelry, found patterns, made friends with far away kindred spirits and posted on discussion boards.

When Amy was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer, it of course, came as a shock to us all. But Amy kept her quirky, sarcastic sense of humor and demonstrated so many inspirational qualities until her final moments. In her last year Amy’s mantra was “Life is short. Learn new things.” She created a “hit list” of things she wanted to do, of things to learn, new skills to obtain.  She took an embroidery class, a sewing class, a quilting class. She started a blog and finished some of the books she’s always wanted to read, but had always put off until later.

I feel fortunate that I got to see Amy in the hospital the day before she died. She even mentioned a knitting project she was working on, but said she couldn’t talk about it because it was a secret. After her death, a little digging on Ravelry revealed it was a baby blanket she was knitting for a friend. On Ravelry I also found a finished baby blanket Amy labeled ICCKMA Blanket. I clicked on the project and in the Notes section she had written, “in case cancer kicks my ass blanket–so my yet to be born nieces and nephews will have something from me :)”

In the week after her death, Amy’s family went through the things at her apartment. Overwhelmed by all of the yarn, knitting books, other knitting supplies and unfinished knitting projects, they gave most of it to the knitting group. We were encouraged to take something to remember her by, to use her yarn to knit hats for preemies or blankets for cancer patients, to knit something for ourselves that we would enjoy. In the pile of unfinished projects I found this bright blue sock. I later found it on Ravelry titled “My Tumor Shrunk Socks. Yay!” She started it in June of 2009 when the chemo was working well and the tumor in her lung got smaller. My Tumor Shrunk Socks. Their intricate knit looks almost like lace. They are well above my skill level, but I took them home anyway. They are Amy’s challenge to finish a pair of socks without her. To always be learning new things.

Amy's sock2

 

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Today is the six-year anniversary of the day Tim proposed. He probably doesn’t even remember the exact date. In fact, he’s probably upstairs right now annoyed that I haven’t yet come up to bed – that I spend too much time on devices and the Internet. Little does he know that I’m writing about an important date in our relationship history and digging through my email archive to find original emails where I gush about the news to my family and friends.  Here’s one I found:

Hi guys,

It’s been a while.  How is everyone?  I just wanted to let you know that Tim and I got engaged!  At the beginning of June, Tim and I made a quick trip to Providence and Boston for a long weekend.  On the last day of our trip, in Boston Public Gardens, Tim proposed!  And I said yes!  Tim and I have been dating for what will be 4 years in September, he’s my best friend and I knew he was the one I wanted to marry.  I guess I thought we would probably get engaged in the next year or so, and I can’t say I wasn’t aware of the fact that our Boston weekend would have been a perfect time.  Still, I really didn’t think it was going to happen right now, and I was genuinely surprised.  We’re thinking a Summer ’08 wedding here in Philly.  I just wanted to share my happy news.

Hope all is well with you.
Love,
Beth

 

After he proposed, I asked a couple walking by if they would take our photo.

the bench couple

I took this image to capture the view from the bench.

the bench view

We sat there for a while enjoying the view of the city where we met. We talked about our future together. Then, as we walked away, I snapped this photo of “our bench.”

the bench

We walked up to Faneuil Hall, sat at the outdoor bar at The Salty Dog (the restaurant where I worked three summers earlier) and toasted ourselves with a celebratory beer.

On the drive home to Philadelphia, we stopped back in Providence at the restaurant where I had worked there. We told the news to several friends who were working and our friend Evan, the bartender, surprised us with complimentary glasses of champaign. Then, we made the drive home and took turns driving and calling our parents and siblings and friends. It was a Tuesday night, so it was knitting night and I knew all my Philly girlfriends would be in one place. I called my friend Amy and she put me on speaker phone. That was the fastest roadtrip. The time in the car just flew by.

And here we are, six years, one marriage and one 22-month-old daughter later. I’d say “yes” all over again, and I do every day.

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I found out late last night that a dear friend of mine lost her baby. She was 7 months pregnant and expecting a boy. I can only imagine the heartbreak she and her family must be feeling.

I received the news in a message from my friend’s sister-in-law who asked me to pass the word on to the other women in our knitting group. Apparently, my friend hadn’t felt the baby move in a few hours so she went to the hospital. They couldn’t find a heartbeat so they induced her and she delivered the next day. There were no obvious signs of trauma to the baby, the cord or the placenta and they have no explanation as to why this happened. They don’t know what happened, which I’m sure makes it even harder on everyone. My friend’s family has already had to deal with so much over the past few years, why this too?

I can’t begin to wrap my mind around such loss. It’s just so tragic. I am devastated for her. Living several hundred miles away, I don’t know what I can do that would possibly help. No parent should have to endure the loss of a child. I remember a line in Anne Lamott’s Operating Instructions that said if she could have one wish, it would be for her son to outlive her. She didn’t know how she could possibly survive his death.

Somehow we do. Humans survive the unsurvivable all the time. But I don’t think the pain ever disappears.

On this Memorial Day, I am thinking of those who served and lost their lives in service. I am also thinking of all our lost loved ones and the families they’ve left behind. I’m especially thinking about my dear friend, her husband, their 20-month-old son, and the son they lost yesterday. I just want her to know that she is loved by so many.

I’ll be hugging my little girl a bit tighter today.

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A while ago I posted about my talented friend Erin Parker. I thought I might make it a regular series by posting about my many other talented friends. Only 20 months later (haha), it’s now time for installment number two.

I met my friend Suzie in 2006 — shortly after I moved to Philadelphia. She’s part of the knitting group I’ve spoken highly of here. Suzie is an awesome singer-songwriter and in the few years she has pursued music, she has received many awards, including “Best of Philly” Music Talent by Philadelphia Magazine. Her first full-length album “Heartstrings” was released in May 2011. It’s a favorite around my house. Suzie’s story is unique in that she hasn’t been a struggling musician all her life. In fact, Suzie is a trained medical doctor and when she’s not writing songs, performing (or knitting with friends), you can find her working part-time as a cardiologist. I know, right?

Well, Suzie is presently in Nashville recording her second album with Oliver Wood of the Wood Brothers fame. It was her dream to work with him, so she just “called him up” and asked him to produce her next album. To her surprise, he said yes. You can join me and support her new record by pledging on her PledgeMusic site (it’s like Kickstarter for musicians) — there’s only 24 days left! Once you’ve made a pledge (as little as $10), you get exclusive access on her PledgeMusic page (such as behind-the-scenes video footage and updates).

I heard a few of her new songs when she performed at Philadelphia’s Tin Angel last month, and I’m really excited about the new work she’s producing. Check out Suzie’s website and follow her escapade’s on Facebook. I’m proud of all my talented friends (please, you’re all talented in some way), and although I recognize the brilliance surrounding me, I want to be better about sharing it with the world.

Suzie’s official video for the song “Heartstrings”:

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I’m behind on my holiday updates – Thanksgiving, Christmas…I can’t believe it’s the middle of January already. I’m of the philosophy that it’s better late than never, so here’s a holiday flashback.

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This Thanksgiving was pretty low key. I spent the morning flipping back and forth between the Macy’s parade and the Philly Thanksgiving parade. We ate leftover pizza for lunch and had leftover soup for dinner. We did get to Skype with both sets of grandparents, and Adelaide’s great-grandmother got to “see” her for the first time. We had our Thanksgiving feast on Saturday.

I follow Babble.com‘s Baby’s First Year on Twitter and at the end of October I saw an adorable roast turkey hat mentioned in their archive. The original site was charging $30 for the knitted baby hat, and while I figured I could knit it myself, I didn’t think I had the time. I showed the photo to a few of my knitting friends, and when I posted it on Facebook, my friend Kendra encouraged me to give it a try. “You must find a way to make this!!” were her exact words. I Googled “knitting pattern baby turkey hat” and to my surprise, a free pattern came up. I bought yarn later that day. While I started the hat right away (it’s really just a baby hat with the two legs attached by picking up stitches), I spent a good part of Thanksgiving weekend finishing it. I was still sewing in the ends when Tim’s brother and his wife knocked on the door Saturday evening. Still, I got it done for Thanksgiving photos and that was the whole point. As you can tell from my Halloween photos, I’m taking full advantage of being able to dress my baby in whatever I want at this point. She’s too little to say no.

The pre-feast table

Modeling the turkey hat with Aunt Adrienne

Turkey hat photo shoot the next day

What a happy turkey! This is what I'm thankful for this year.

 

You can follow me on twitter at twitter.com/nextlifechapter

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The girls in my knitting group are my Philly friends and my Philly friends are the knitters. They’re mostly one in the same. Sure, I’m closer to some of the knitters than others, but I call them all friends. I also have a few Philly friends outside of the knitting group, but I could probably count them on two hands.

Our knitting group has been meeting every Tuesday for more than 5 1/2 years.  I joined in the fall of 2006, shortly after Tim and I moved to Philly, so they were almost a full year in at that point. When I joined the group, I didn’t yet know how to knit, but a new friend invited me to the group and I was anxious to meet more friends.

The knitting group is full of strong, creative women. We have doctors, lawyers, a designer, an accountant, a musician, a social worker, two who work for the EPA. We’re an eclectic bunch.

Last Tuesday was my week to host. We run a sign-up sheet and each take turns volunteering to host at our house or apartment. The host usually provides a bottle or two of wine and light snacks.  The knitters bring anything they’d like to add: a bag of chips, cheese and crackers, fruit, a bottle of wine.

Monday night I realized we didn’t have anything alcoholic in the house. Normally, this wouldn’t be a big deal. I’d just pick up a bottle of white and a bottle of red over lunch. But, at 29 weeks and obviously pregnant, I was a little nervous about going to the liquor store (in Pennsylvania the only place to purchase wine is at the state-owned Wine & Spirits stores).

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I take a deep breath before opening the door. I’ve come prepared for someone to say something to me and I have a ready response – just because I’m buying it doesn’t mean I’m drinking it.

I quickly make my selection and get in line at the register. No one says anything to me… until I get up to the cashier and she catches sight of my belly.

“Aww. How cute,” she says. “Do you mind if I touch?” She motions toward my stomach and is already coming in.

Too busy worrying about being in a liquor store, I was distracted and caught off guard. “Oh…. sure,” I found myself saying as she put both palms to my belly.

“Some people don’t like it,” she says. “Do you know what you’re having?”

“Yeah.  It’s a girl.”

“She’s small.”

“Well,” I say, not feeling at all small, “I’m not due until August.”

“Still…”  There is a short pause while she scans my bottle of wine.  “Do you have a name picked out?”

I explain that we are still deciding between a few.

“How about Mallory?” she offers.

I am surprised by her directness, but I smile.  “Why? Is that your name?”

“No,” she says. “I just really like that name.”

I almost say something about how I will save the name for her to use, but my instincts tell me to keep my mouth shut.  I can tell she’s a talker and don’t want to get an earful about how she can’t have children or about how she gave her daughter up for adoption when she was younger. I try to avoid the personal.  Instead, I make an off-hand remark about how Mallory is a nice name.  It reminds me of the show Family Ties.

As I walk back to my office, I shake my head in disbelief with a smile on my face.  I had heard about how strangers would offer advice and ask to touch my belly, or worse, touch without asking, but it hadn’t happened to me yet.  Now my first stranger had asked.  At the liquor store of all places.

When I repeated the story to my coworker she said, “Well, at least now you’ll have a good story to tell Mallory when she grows up.”

Now that I think about it, I do kind of like Mallory.  It’s not a name I had considered before, but it’s pretty.  Not too popular.  Hhmm…

 

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