knitting small things with great love

better world, knitting


When we traveled to China to meet our daughter in 2002, we were also permitted to travel to the orphanage that had overseen her care from the time she was three days old until we adopted her at 10 months. The American interpreter who had been to many orphanages throughout China, said of this particular orphanage, “I’ve been better and I’ve seen worse.” To me the children appeared well-cared for but seven years later I still wish I had been able to do something more personal and direct-to-the-children than writing a check to the orphanage. We have sent them boxes of art supplies, made donations to various charities that work to improve the conditions in Chinese orphanages and an employee at Mrs. Grossman’s Sticker Company factory store once tearfully and generously gave me her annual allotment of free stickers when I explained to her why I was buying so many stickers, so I could send a huge box of stickers to the orphanage. But for the past few years I haven’t known what else I could do.

My answer came through the wonderful charity-knitting group I joined this year. One of the women in the group told me about Warm Woolies, an organization that sends hand-knitted wool garments to orphanages around the world. They have free patterns that you can use for the donations and because the patterns are knit with double strands on 10 ½ needles in the round, they knit up very quickly. Above is my very first Warm Woolies vest, made with Lion Brand 100% wool bought for $2.50/skein at Michael’s on sale. It took about three skeins to complete the vest. So given that this vest will probably be handed down from child to child, that $7.50 and my time feel really well-spent. Mostly it feels as though I’m fulfilling a small part of the silent promise I made to those children I met at that orphanage so many years ago. I promised that I would do what I could to make the lives of orphans better. It’s that great Mother Theresa quote I love: “In this life we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love.” I will never solve the Israel-Palestine land issue but I can knit a vest in the evenings for an orphan. Small things with great love I can do.

Now Warm Woolies is teaming up with Land’s End to make garments for homeless families on tribal reservations. Land’s End will donate 7-10 lbs of yarn to a group if they promise to knit and ship the garments by Dec. Our group found out about this project through the Warm Woolies July newsletter which does not appear on the website, so contact Warm Woolies for more information. The offer is limited to the first 150 groups to apply. Our group is anxiously awaiting our allotment of yarn next month. Between getting our daughter back to school, making quilts and finishing a book, I’m going to try to knit a few things to contribute to our group’s box of donations. By December, it will put all of my other holiday preparations into a really healthy perspective. Stay tuned and I’ll post my progress.

through wind and rain, Wheezy Rider rides CowaLUNGa 2009

better world, experiences, inspiration


On Friday night we stared and stared at the weather forecasts for southern Wisconsin and Northern Illinois on my laptop but they kept showing the thunderstorm icon. I had raised nearly $1,400 for the Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago, my story had made it into two local newspapers and I had the names of 23 people ready to tie on my bike. In my previous four CowaLUNGa rides we had only ever had brief periods of rain. Heat was the usual problem but cool, wet, gusting winds are far from ideal riding conditions for a regular rider and really problematic for an asthmatic. Until I hear thunder or see lightning, I decided, I was riding.

There were 350 of us lined up ignoring the gray clouds hanging over us. Microsoft and various bike clubs had matching jerseys as did “Team Pactiv,” which I surmise was made up of employees of the company that makes Hefty bags. I later told Bill that I was glad not to have ridden all day with a jersey that read “HEFTY” in huge letters on my backside! I mean, come on! I had my favorite Girl Power jersey on, which is as cute as it gets for bike jerseys.

Bill and our daughter Sophie volunteered at the first rest stop and told me that somehow I was in the front third of the pack, which seemed impossible given all of the young testosterone-filled racing guys who would sprint past me going up a hill talking in normal voices to each other. Do they not need to breathe? I wondered. Bill said what I wasn’t realizing was how many people weren’t passing me. One impossibly fit guy passed me going really fast UPHILL and I yelled out to him, “You’re killing me here!” to which he laughed. Then I saw that his fanny flag read “Speed Racer.” Now see, you put that on your fanny flag and it’s a lot of pressure. Me, I had “Wheezy Rider” on my fanny flag so there was no pressure to go faster than others. People had low expectations, so I was guaranteed to exceed them!

Much of the day I rode alone and had lots of time to think. Despite the headwinds that were exhausting us all, I thought so much about all of those names on the back of my bike. I thought about all of the encouraging emails I received and donations from people I’ve never met. As I was pushing my way up steep hills I would replay the stories people had sent me about loved ones who suffered from various lung diseases. I thought about how many people I knew who struggled to break the grip smoking has on their lives. Amazingly 66.1 miles flew by. I had to hold back tears a few times, most notably when I came up a hill about 40 miles in the day to see on the edge of a cornfield a post that had red heart-shaped balloons attached to it and a sign that said, “Go Weeks!” My family made me cry again when they parked on the side of the endless hill known as “Killer” at Mile 64 and were yelling, “Go Weeks go!” as I struggled to stay on the bike and not walk the bike up as so many others were. Bill helpfully yelled out, “No crying! You’ve got to get up that hill!” Indeed, with good training and excellent asthma medications I did make it to the top of the hill without walking and it felt like my greatest physical feat ever.

Although the endorphins are still pumping through my body, I’ve got quilts to quilt. Back to work but oh was it sweet.

wheezy rider wants to ride for you!

better world, experiences, free patterns, just a thought, quilting


Have a seat. This is going to be a long one.

When I started Craft Nectar I didn’t want to blog about how many loads of laundry I had done that day or what I had for dinner. I wanted it to be about inspiring people to be creative. In that sense I decided that I would only write about my life within the context of making something that might be inspiring to my wonderful readers. In short, I wanted Craft Nectar to be about you, not about me.

So you may not know that I’m a lifelong asthmatic who cannot walk up a flight of stairs without daily medications. I grew up in the 1960s, which were still the Dark Ages of asthma care. I could not run 50 yards and I wheezed night and day. I spent a tremendous amount of my childhood at the doctor’s office. Life changed for me when I was 16 and a new medicine came out on the market. I started to exercise daily then and have never stopped.

Though sometimes sidelined by respiratory infections, I exercise an hour a day. You will never hear me complain about exercising. For me, being able to do an hour of kickboxing or spinning is a gift from researchers and other asthmatics who spent years developing medications that make it possible for me to live the active life I waited 16 years for. I am grateful to be able to exercise.

I’ve also watched a number of loved ones struggle with lung disease as a result of smoking. Both of Bill’s parents died way too young as a result of illnesses caused by smoking.

With this history Bill and I have long supported the efforts of the Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago (formerly the American Lung Association of Metropolitan Chicago). They fund research for asthma, emphysema and other respiratory illnesses. They also offer smoking cessation programs for people who want to quit smoking and asthma camps for kids to learn how to manage their illness.


Every year they host a 3-day/190-mile bike ride called Cowalunga to raise money. It’s called Cowalunga because we ride through the dairy farms of Wisconsin and see a whole lot of cows along the way. Most years we’ve ridden all 190 miles but with a young child, sometimes it’s just been one 60-mile day of the ride. One year they asked me to speak to all of the riders and share with them what it’s been like to battle this disease every day of my life. I told them that they were my heroes. During Cowalunga, they attach a “fanny flag” to your bike with your “ride name” on it and I have them call me “Wheezy Rider.”

This year the ride begins on August 1 and I want to ride for all of those people who can’t. That’s where you come in. I am attaching to the rack on my bike strips of cloth with the names of people who struggle with lung disease and for those who are trying to quit smoking. As I ride I want to remember the names (first names only please). I’m also hoping to raise some money for lung disease research.

So here’s a link to my Cowalunga 2009 page. If you or someone you love are suffering from any lung disease or are trying to quit smoking, I, Wheezy Rider, want to ride for you! Send me those names and pledge a few bucks if you’re so inclined through their secure website. I’ll happily ride for you even if you don’t pledge. You can leave the names on my Cowalunga page or here.

In addition, we always make a simple quilt for RHAMC to offer as a raffle prize to the riders. As a thank you to you, here’s a free pattern of the quick and easy, bike-themed quilt we made for the raffle this year. Just click on the thumbnail below to download the pdf.


charity-quilt-pattern-thumbI decided to blog about my asthma because I think we’re all here to learn from each other. I’m living proof of how medical research and clean air laws can change a life. I’ve got lots of paying back to do. And if you or anyone you love is battling this disease too, I want you to know that I’m cheering you on in your fight.

Lastly, please be good to your body. It’s working hard for you and it’s the only one you get.