The Last Time I Worried About My Weight

About two years ago, I sat my husband down on the couch, the one I dyed purple because it made both of us happy to have a purple couch, and I told him that I was fat.  That I had been fat for years.  That I was tired of trying and failing to do anything about it.  And so I was going to be fat for years to come.  What did he think about it?

I wasn’t asking for his approval.  We never have thought that we required the other’s approval for things like this, and he didn’t mistake my question for a request for it.  And in many ways, this felt a little redundant to even be talking about.  He lives with me.  He sees me naked almost every day.  Surely the state of my body was not a surprise to him in any way.

Except that he sort of flipped out.

I was a little shocked.  My husband has always, clearly and unmistakably, found me attractive.  He has never cared about the current mainstream beauty standards and how closely I matched them.  He thinks that I am wondrous and amazing when I am happy and content with myself, and he loves what my body can do for me and us.  No longer fighting to fit my body into molds made to sell clothing and self-hatred and and thereby making me deeply unhappy should be a good thing.  So what was going on?

It turned out, after some conversation and going around in circles, that his definition of the word ‘fat’ included being unable to do things.  That ‘fat’ was a limiting condition that kept people from participating in activities, caused severe health issues, and that got in the way of living the life that people wanted to live.

Let’s be clear about a few things.  First, I am not going to argue about the relevance of those connotations for anyone else.  I am not writing about anyone else.  I do not live in other people’s bodies, I am not married to other people, and so we’re going to skip right over whether my husband was right or wrong to define fat in such a way.  Not the discussion at hand.

Second, this would be the point where I offer up the justifications of how I’m not really all *that* fat, how I’m really just a bit more than average, right?  And perhaps a long paragraph or two about the things that I have done to try to lose weight and excuses about why they didn’t work for me.  Well, I’m skipping it.  I’m fat, the details are not relevant to anyone except me and the medical professionals of my choice (although apparently terribly important to a wide variety of people who don’t know me and never will get a chance to after they open their mouths), and doing so would just reinforce the idea that this is something to be justified anyway.  Instead of what it is: a fact.

Once we had both figured out what he was reacting to, we spent some time cuddling and calming down, and then started to unpack his reaction.  What was he afraid of?  How did our lived experience of my body match or differ from his fears?  Were there things about his fears that rang true for me?  What did we want to do, if anything, about the situation?

Some things were easy to refute.  My weight did not keep me from doing the things that I and we wanted me to be able to do.  There have been people in his life for whom this was not true, and I understand that this fed his fears.  But it was not the case for me.  Yes, being fat is statistically likely to increase health issues.  So is growing older.  So are depression and stress, and being depressed about my weight and stressed trying to lose weight didn’t seem like the better alternative.

Finally, what life did we want to live?  I didn’t want to compete in body building competition, or win Mrs. America.  We liked the life we were living, and I could do all of it, and he could do all of it, and so who cared about the things where my weight, or his, might be an issue?  We were not inhabiting those spaces, not spending time with those people, and – until I’d decided to bring this up explicitly – it hadn’t bothered us.  So we decided to let it coast.  See what happened.  Keep an eye on my health, and his health (he still eats like a teenager), and make sure that we were still doing the things that we wanted to do.

And it worked for about a year and a half.  Until there was a medical reason to do otherwise.

During that time, we achieved pregnancy and then lost the baby just before three months.  That story is told elsewhere, and not the point here.  About five months after the miscarriage, I asked my doctor when we could talk to fertility doctors if we decided to go that route.  She said we had to show that we’d been trying to get pregnant for a year after the last proven sign of fertility, and a miscarriage counted as a sign of fertility.  I didn’t dare ask how many miscarriages we’d have to have before they no longer counted.  My doctor also said that the fertility doctors were likely to have more options for me if I lost a bit of weight, and she named a number that seemed very achievable in seven months.  So I set off to do it.

And along the way, achieved pregnancy again.

The diet I picked explicitly stated that women who were using hormonal birth control might be wise to also use barrier methods until they were at the maintenance stage of the diet.  I didn’t mention that this was an attraction for me . . . and a mere two months later called up the diet support person to explain that I was going to stop the diet, since dieting and pregnancy are frowned on at the same time.

Separate-entity baby is still about three months off at this point, but I haven’t looked at a scale in months.  I have no idea how much I weigh.  I am very clearly pregnant to other people, in addition to being fat.  I eat the things I need to for the baby, and don’t worry about my weight.

I went to the doctor the other day, and was asked to step on the scale.  I politely declined.  The nurse moved onto taking my blood pressure with no comment.  It was lovely, and unstressful.

I will need to let them take my weight as I approach the end of pregnancy, to watch for water retention, but as soon as that’s done, I expect to go back to ignoring the scale.  Not ignoring my health, not ignoring my levels of exercise and food intake.  But the scale can’t tell me anything useful about my health, and I refuse to use it as a substitute any longer.

Is this the right choice for anyone else?  I don’t know.  I’m not a medical professional providing care to someone concerned about their weight.  And chances are reasonably good that neither are you!

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What have we been doing all this time?

I’ve been watching the last season of the West Wing again recently.

I enjoyed it the first time maybe about three years ago, all seven seasons of it, although I admit there were pieces that dragged.  But it’s good, tight story telling for the most part, and I loved it.

Now, I’ve been watching it because I want to watch a post-Convention election season that isn’t filled with horror and disbelief, and this seemed to be one way to get it.

But the episode today was something else again.  Episode 7, “Undecideds.”  I watched it and I cried and I find that I don’t know what to do now.  Because that episode aired ten years ago.  Ten years ago this past winter, and all I could think during most of the episode is ‘what the fuck have we all been doing for a decade?’

For those who haven’t seen it, one of the major plot points of the episode is that a young black kid gets shot by a Latino cop.  You blinking yet?  Wondering if I saw a news broadcast and got confused?  Yeah, I wondered about time warps, too.  Ten years ago, and it was such a hot button topic they based an entire episode around it.  Ten years have passed and not a damn thing has changed.

Black kid gets shot by a cop.  Black kid gets shot by a Latino.  That story is ten years old, and four years old, and a year old, and a week old, and all the other times that I know nothing about because those people and their deaths didn’t make the news, and all the other configurations of people killing each other because they think they have no choice.

This kid we’re bring into the world.  How do I explain this to him or her or they or it?  How do I tell my child that people kill other people?  When I was three, my mother lied to me and said that people don’t kill people.  But they do.  All the damn time.  For greed or pain or not knowing they can choose differently.  For safety.  For food.  For righteousness or their god or money or whatever.

All those kids we will foster, and the ones we will adopt, and the one we are making, and the babies that will grow to be young men and women standing so tall and proud and trying to do the right thing.  How will we explain that people kill people?  How will my babies, soft and small and cute, turn into scary strangers on corners that people might try to kill?  How can I protect them from the people holding guns in pain and fear and rage who don’t even see them enough to distinguish their humanity?

What the fuck have we been doing all this time?  That ten years later, it’s the same damn story.  And fifty years later, and a hundred years later, and a thousand years later.  All that time, and people still kill people, and we.  can’t.  stop.  it.

There’s got to be a better way.  If only I could think of it.

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Training to be a Parent

So we have the bare minimum of space and furniture, and passed the initial not-crazy assessment.  And now it was time for training on how to be a foster parent.  A friend of mine who is recently divorced told me that there are required classes for divorced people on being a parent.  And adoptive parents have to take classes.  You’d think this kind of thing would exist for people creating their kids from scratch, too.  But nope, apparently there’s an expectation that carrying the kid for nine months, or watching your partner do so, is all the training you need.  This is clearly bonkers, because hunching over the toilet every few days (if you’re lucky, or it might be more often) in no way compares to changing diapers.

The assumptions I have heard about foster kids and foster parenting are many and varied, and usually not terribly related to the truth.  I won’t say there is no relation, because there are some people who give rise to such stereotypes, but not much.  Note that some of the stereotypes contradict others.

Foster Kids

  • Foster kids are blank slates.  Like puppies, you can raise them however you want and they will reflect what you teach them.
  • Foster kids come from terrible homes and birth families, and are grateful to be in your lovely and warm home, and will behave beautifully because they don’t want to go back to their birth families.
  • Foster kids are taken away from their terrible-horrible-no-good-very-bad parents and are placed in care until they are adopted or age out of the system.
  • Foster kids are irreparably damaged, and taking them on will destroy your family.
  • You should never foster kids that are older than any biological children in the house, because the foster kids will bully them (or worse).

Foster Parents

  • Foster parents are saints, who put up with demons disguised as foster children.
  • Foster parents can’t have their own children, and adoption is too hard or expensive, so fostering is the best choice they have to get children.
    • Corollary: if foster parents manage to conceive a biological child, they instantly stop fostering and raise their *real* kid, and have no further use for foster kids.
  • Foster parents are greedy bastards out to collect as much cash from the state as they can, and treat their foster kids terribly.  (This one never gets repeated to my face, but I have come across it in more anonymous spaces.)
  • Foster parents only wants kids that are like them: race, language, religion, etc.
  • Foster parents are rich, in order to be able to afford to take on children not their own.
  • Foster parents must be married (two parents of opposite genders, only, please), own their own home, own a car, and have one parent who can stay at home with the foster children full time.
    • Interestingly, the stay-at home parent does apply depending on which agency people go through, at least as far as not working more than a set number of hours a week outside of the home.  However, Massachusetts Department of Children and Families doesn’t require or expect it.

Let me back up here and add a bit of context.  My understanding of how foster parents works right now in Massachusetts is as follows.  I make no claims for other states, and the process does change over time.  But here and now.

  1. Child is taken from their home.  This means someone has reported abuse or neglect or something else, and the person sent to investigate agrees that the child (children) is in immediate danger.
  2. Child is placed in a foster home, hopefully one that can keep the child for a long time if needed.
  3. No more than 72 hours from removing the child from their home, a judge must rule on the situation.  The child is then either returned to their home, or placed in the care of the state for the foreseeable future.
  4. Assuming the child is placed in care, a plan is drawn up with the parent/guardian of the child.  This includes the weekly visiting schedule with the child, steps that must be taken, time frame, and other details.
  5. After three months, the plan with the parent/guardian is revisited and the parent/guardian’s progress is evaluated.  If steps are being completed, plans are made to carefully and over time reunite the child with the parent/guardian.  If no progress or not enough progress is happening, the plan is revised accordingly, and another three months passes.

During all the time, the hope is to return the child to their home.  Generally speaking, the state is not interested in removing a child for good, unless there are extenuating circumstances, and those have to be pretty bad.  Only after at least a year has passed do children start to become available for adoption, and even then things might change such that they are returned home.

Further, kinship placements or fictive kinship placements are sought before unrelated fostering or adoption.  If a child you are related to is taken into care and you are willing to take that child, the state will do their best to make that happen.  If you know a child but are not related by blood or marriage, but are related in affection, the state will still try to make that happen if you are willing.  We saw this with one of the families getting certified along with us who knew a young girl who’s mother died during our training period.  The family hadn’t finished training, but because they knew the woman who died and her daughter, their certification got pushed through and they were able to care for the girl immediately.  They still had to complete everything later, but the important thing right then was placing the girl with someone who knew her and who she might be more comfortable with during that rough time.


Back to the training.  Much of the first few weeks of the foster parent training was designed simply to get the prospective foster parents away from these stereotypes and out of our own heads.  Why would a foster kid, knowing only their birth family and feeling loved there, feel grateful to be removed from that situation?  It might be better for them, but chances are really good that they are not going to appreciate that, nor are they going to look with any favor on these strangers who are now in positions of power over them.  Imagine that you are suddenly removed from your own and placed in another family.  That family wants to love you and hug you and take care of you.  But they are not your own family, not your partner/child/parent/cat.  Why on earth would you jump in happily and without regrets?

After trying to make sure we were thinking about foster parenting from the kids’ perspective, we then moved on to more of what I expected, mostly development stages, possible things we might see, what the legal processes look like, and lots and lots of stories — both good and bad.  We had speakers several days: people who work in foster care and adoption from the state’s side, foster kids, and foster parents.

Some of the stories were lovely.  I adored the one about a sibling group of five kids in care.  Who has space in the Boston suburbs for five extra kids?  So they had to be broken up.  But there was a group of foster homes all within a few blocks of each other, so each home took one kid.  Kid is having a rough day and needs her older brother?  No problem, we can arrange for a visit after supper.  Birthday coming up?  Let’s get all the kids together and have a party.

Others were harder to hear.  Parents who couldn’t or wouldn’t get themselves together to regain custody of their kids, and how hard that was on the kids.  Parents who seemed to get it together only to backslide and have their kids taken away again.  Relatives who thought they could take in their young grandchildren, nieces, cousins, or nephews, but who realized they couldn’t manage.  Sometimes these stories had happy endings, and the kids found homes with adoptive families who loved and cared for them.  Sometimes the best options was just to be in care until they aged out of the system.

And now we are up to today.  Training ended two weeks ago.  This afternoon, the social worker is coming back to inspect the house.  We’ll see what’s next.

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We’re not crazy, really

So she came in March, the social worker, to see the house and talk to us.  And make sure we’re not crazy.  Not the crazy that thinks we’re going to make money off foster care.  Not the crazy that thinks we’ll get to keep the beautiful baby we can’t help loving.  Not the crazy that thinks all foster kids are broken and should be grateful for a safe place to live.  Not that crazy that believes all foster kids are blank slates and we can write what we want on them.  So many kinds of crazy she must have to check for at every home visit, and did she remember to ask the right questions to check for all the latest versions of crazy out there in the world?  I don’t know if she did remember all the questions, but just listening to what she did ask was an education in all the ways people might be crazy when it comes to foster kids.

We do not have any children of our own, so we started off by telling her that any recommendations she could give to help us child-proof the house would be welcome.  She pointed out the usual things: child locks on the kitchen cabinets with cleaning supplies, a carbon monoxide detector, and the plastic outlet covers.  Nothing too complex or expensive – except for the radiator covers.  We have steam radiators in every room, and they are the source of heat, and they do get very hot.  Happily, my dad is a carpenter, so he’s going to build us covers and that should fix the last of the obvious things.

He’s a nanny and used to be a kindergarten teacher, and I used to be a respite care provider in Connecticut, so we figured we at least could get past the question of did we know what to do with children.  And we decided that since we have experience with small children, and none at all with being parents, we’d start with small children, say less than school-aged.  You know, start (more or less) where everyone else starts, and learned over time.  It turns out you can tell the state these kids of things, and they nod and make careful notes.  Will they call us about older children?  Probably.  But not for the first few calls.  If they scare us off before we are emotionally hooked on fostering, they’ll lose our house as a place for their foster kids.  Me?  Cynical?  Sure — but it’s true, and I still want to foster children.

She asked about how we felt about foster kids, and biological parents, and what did we think were reasons for kids to end up in foster care.  How were we going to manage when foster kids returned to their biological families?  How did our families feel about us fostering?  Who was going to care for the children, and what did we have planned for medical care?  And on, and on, and on.  Also, there was a ten page application, which I filled out while we talked.  Personal recommendation, work recommendations, medical recommendations . . . .  And this was just to pass the Not Crazy, Have Space check!

The weaponry we have in the house was a surprise, although not a disqualifier.  Most houses, those that aren’t lived in by friends of ours, don’t have throwing knives sitting in a bag on the front porch, ready to take to practice on the weekends.  But then, having guns in the house wouldn’t be a disqualifier, either, it turns out (not that we have any, unless you count the rubber-band gun).  As long as we keep them locked up, apparently weapons are alright.  Bless the man, he asked the social worker point blank at the end if there were any red flags, and she said the throwing knives had startled her, but were probably just fine.

And then she was done.  Two and a half hours later.  She told us that her office, our office based on geographical location, wasn’t planning a foster parent training until the fall.  We told her that if one of the other offices in the area had a training, we’d be happy to go there instead, because the fall was a long way away.  She said she’s be in touch.

And three weeks later, I got an email from her, telling me her office was going to run a training in May, and we could be part of it, and after the two month training, we might get to be foster parents.

Wow.  TINKs (two incomes, no kids) to parents in merely two months.

I think we might be crazy, after all.

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Space

In the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, in order to a foster child, you need a bed, a bedroom that is not shared with an adult, a dresser, and 50 square feet of space.

That’s practically nothing.  Until you consider the number of people who don’t have even that much.  And the number of people who let that much space sit empty.  When i first moved to Boston, I shared a three-bedroom apartment with four other people.  True, it was two couples and single person, but it had one bathroom, no dining room, and no counter space in the kitchen.  While we lived there, I worked for a family in Brookline who had a housekeeper’s apartment on the third floor of their house which was the size of my apartment — and it sat empty for the entire year I worked there.  Their house, in which three people lived, had seven bathrooms.  How much space do you need?  How much is too much?  How much is too little?  Who decides — and who gets the leftovers?

According to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, if you want to foster children, they decide.

We were living in a one-bedroom apartment when I got pregnant.  Wait, I hate that phrasing.  It makes it sound like pregnancy happened to me, that I blinked and suddenly!  I get no agency in that sentence construction.  Some outside force, almost certainly not Himself, decided that I should be pregnant and then made it happen.  Which is just creepy.  Okay.

We were living in a one-bedroom apartment when we achieved pregnancy.  We planed to move sometime before the kidlet reached one year old, but were a little unclear about exactly when that move might happen.  I miscarried just before three months (yes, agency for that part of it should certainly rest somewhere else!), but we were still thinking about that move.  Among other things, we also wanted to do foster care, and as previously stated, this required more space.

About three months later, we lucked out and found a three-bedroom apartment only about a mile away.  We moved in January, somewhat by accident picked up a long-term house guest, and tried to figure out when we wanted to talk to the Department of Children and Families (DCF).  Not right away, sure.  We wanted to unpack a lot, and make it look like we actually had plans and space for a kid.  But then, when?

I finally called the main Boston office just to get some info.  And called back two weeks later.  And was about to call back again, when I got a call which started out with the woman on the phone wanting to make really sure I understood that there were no babies available for adopting through the foster care system.

I was surprised at the time, but it made more sense later.  Think about it.  How many calls must they get from people who want to adopt, but think that international is too hard, and private agencies are too expensive?  Doesn’t the state have lots of kids available for adoption?  Surely some of those are babies, and I can easily see some people thinking they had found the quick way to get the babies they so desperately want.  As it happens, the state does have lots of kids available for adoption, but none of the are blank slates, and most of them are not babies.  All things considered, it’s probably best that DCF warns people about this right away, so they don’t waste  everyone’s time.

Since we really weren’t looking for babies to adopt, but kids to foster, the woman said she’d pass on my name.  And then we went back to waiting.  For another two weeks.  And twiddling our thumbs.  And waiting.  I think it’s a result of the environment where I work, but if someone’s waiting to hear back from me, I try to at least give an update after a few days!  Two weeks, then three, was a very long time.

But one morning at work, the phone rang!  And DCF wanted to talk to me!  And ask all the terribly intrusive questions you’d expect of a government agency contemplating giving you a real live child to care for.  She apologized for asking about things like our plans for biological children (yes, I told her about the miscarriage), but really, again, if we were just trying to substitute foster kids for the biological kids we couldn’t have, then she wanted to know sooner rather than later and stop wasting everyone’s time.  I get the feeling that the first few rounds of interviews eliminates a lot of people who think they want to be foster parents, but really have no idea what they are asking to get into.

Finally, after two reschedulings, the social worker showed up at our door to do the first in-person interview and initial inspection of the house.  We had the space, we had the plan, now we just needed to convince DCF that we weren’t crazy.

But that story’s for another day.

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The Soul (or Sole) of the Sock

Part II of the Soulless Socks

So, as previously mentioned, wearing through the soles of a pair of hand knit socks is a pain in the neck.  Pain in the foot, I should say.  And then you pull out your darning egg, and you darn the darned thing.  And then next thing you know, you wear through the darn, or around the edges, and suddenly you have holes again.

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This is a red sock, with a black darn on it, and a hole through which you can see my brown darning egg.

So, fine.  That didn’t work for very long.  My mother snips a thread just at the ankle, at this point, and carefully pulls the foot of the sock away from the leg.  She reknits the foot, from the ankle down, and ends up with some very lovely, but varied, socks.

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Sometimes the feet match each other, although not the legs.

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Sometimes the feet match, but the legs don’t.

I thought about doing this, but what I really wanted to was to replace the heel of the sock.  A huge patch, right on top of the existing sock, so that all the little ends would be hidden, all the sole would covered with new and stronger yarn, and I could keep enjoying the lovely patterns on the top of the sock.  I mean, when I make DNA socks, with RNA ribbons, I don’t really want to throw out the entire foot of the sock, just because the bottom of the sock wore through.  The top is still perfectly fine in most cases.  So I knitted a replacement sock heel, and sewed it on.

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darned sock                                               new heeled sock

The new heel was a little bulky, but it covered the entire darn, and the yarn was extra strong, so I was unlikely to wear through the new heel anytime soon.

Then, the  yarn wore out right next to the new heel.

FINE.  I’ll replace the entire sole of the sock!  I knit a new sole, including a heel turn, and sewed that on!

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darn and hole                                          lovely new sole

Surely that would work?  Strong new yarn, all the holes sealed.  Sure, the sole of the sock was now two or three layers thick, but that just made for a comfy pad to walk on, right?

Until the new sole wore out.

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That would be the black darn from before poking through the hole I wore through the new sole under the heel, exactly where all the other holes were.  If I darned that, I’d be looking at four layers of sock yarn, and that started to get uncomfortable.

And with that, I threw the socks away.  My lovely, hand knit socks with a DNA helix on the top went into the trash.  I just didn’t want to deal with it anymore.  Time to try something else entirely.

(To Be Continued)

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Darn it! – patching holes in knitted things

Part I of the Soulless Socks

So you learned how to knit scarves and that was awesome.  Then you learned about knitting in the round, and hats appeared!  Tall hats, short hats, beanies, big floppy hats, maybe even top hats!  And then you learned about how to knit socks.

Now, readers of this blog might have noticed that I like to knit socks.

Two socks.

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Four socks.

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Red socks.

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Blue socks.

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I knit socks with diamonds,

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socks with stripes,

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socks with DNA patterns,

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socks on the bias,

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socks with flames,

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and multiple variations on each.  I like knitting socks.  They’re small to carry, only take one skein of yarn, and are very useful.  Also, souvenir sock yarn packs small.

Somewhere along the way as you learned to knit socks, you realized perhaps that socks have a very important difference from scarves and hats and even sweaters.  That is, they get a lot more wear.  Like, more wear than anything else you can knit that I can imagine.  They sit between your foot and the floor or your shoe and then you apply PRESSURE.  As a result of this, you might notice that you go through store-bought socks pretty fast.  Going through hand-knit socks that fast is NOT acceptable.

Are you kidding?  I worked hard on those socks!  And I got to wear them for one to two MONTHS before there are HOLES and THIN SPOTS?

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Not fair.  If they were store-bought socks, I would just throw them out.  But there’s no way I am throwing out my HAND KNIT SOCKS that I WORKED on for MONTHS ( or maybe weeks, or maybe years – depends what else I was doing at the time).

Well, darn it.  Now what?

Oh, wait.  Darn it.

No, really.  Darn the socks.

Darning is to patch something.  Often, with socks, one does it by weaving a small patch over the hole, such that the fabric is not further distressed, and the darn instead takes the pressure and wear.  I have a darning egg that my mother gave me to use while darning, but a ladle or even a large soup spoon works perfectly well.

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There’s a good video here which shows how to darn socks.

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And you end up with socks that still keep you warm and have no holes!

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At least, for a little while . . . . . until you wear through the darns . . . .

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or around them . . . .

(To Be Continued)

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