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Next order of business: I had a wonderful (well, that’s how I remember it) conversation about NFP, Humanae Vitae, chastity, and Jell-o with Joe Heschmeyer of The Catholic Podcast (unfortunately Chloe Langr, the regular co-host, couldn’t be there). You can hear the podcast here, and check out tons of other resources we mentioned in the conversation.
Imagine you’re a college campus minister, and you’re also the mom of two young kids, both with special needs, who each have “specialists up the wazoo.”
Imagine you live out in the country in New Hampshire, with only your chickens and your vegetable gardens for company as you boil sap for maple syrup and research the ins and outs of farming hops. Your husband is in the military, and you’re waiting to hear if you’ve been accepted to a Ph.D program at the University of Aberdeen. And you have your eye on some goats, and maybe beehives.
These are thoughtfully composed knitting kits designed as gifts “for anyone who needs something to keep their hands full while their heart is on the mend.”
Cheshire received a similar gift herself several years ago, after enduring the traumatic birth of her first child in Juneau, Alaska. The newborn was airlifted to another hospital, and Cheshire was too weak to join her for several days. Then followed a time in the NICU that she describes as “brutal, brutal.”
A friend gave her some knitting materials and instructions, with the note: “You need something to keep your hands full until you can hold your baby.”
That idea of full hands remained with her, and now she’s offering it to other people, hoping to share some healing while helping to build connections between people.
People don’t know what to say, so they say nothing
Since Cheshire works with college students, I asked if she thought it was mainly modern people who struggle to come up with appropriate words. She does believe modern people have trouble sharing “deep, authentic communication,” and that pervasive social media can make human interaction superficial; but she’s defensive of millennials. In the past, she said, there was no internet, but people were not necessarily warmer or more connected.
“I know some 65-year-olds who don’t know how to relate,” Cheshire said. “Very often, people don’t know what to say, so they don’t say anything. The tragedy is, that happens when their friend really needs them to say something.”
A beautiful experience
Each element of the Busy Hands Boxes is chosen with care.
“Anyone can go to Michael’s and get cheap yarn,” Cheshire said. “I wanted it to be something that had heart at every level. Something sourced from a company that cares, something aesthetically pleasing, and beautiful to open. I wanted it to be a whole experience, to make you feel good even if you’re not knitting yet.”
The hand-painted knitting needles are made from New England maple and Russian birch.
Like the needles, the wool yarn Cheshire chose is locally sourced from Peace Fleece, a New England fiber company that “works to support pastoral communities that have been historically in conflict with the U.S.”
They are currently blending domestic wool and mohair with Navajo Rambouillet, which has been purchased at fair market prices from families living on the reservation.
Then there’s the slightly cheeky “empathy cards” from Emily McDowell , which bear messages like “I promise never to refer to your illness as a ‘journey’ unless someone takes you on a cruise” and “Please let me be the first to punch the next person who tells you everything happens for a reason.” One Full Hands box includes a foil card featuring a medal that simply reads, “KEPT GOING.”
Value in particularity
For Cheshire, a natural introvert who spends much of her day in pastoral work, knitting is often how she keeps going. “I need alone time, or I go crazy,” she said.
After a series of stressful meetings at work, she’ll often find a quiet corner and knit for five or ten minutes. “Knitting gives me something to do in that space, to clear my head.”
She also knitted her way through a batch of nervous energy while she waited for a response to her dissertation research proposal. The topic? Identity Formation in Pauline Communities.
Cheshire says she wants to use the baptismal formula used in Galatians, Colossians, and Corinthians “as a case study to see how those communities might have understood identity, on a community and on a corporate level.”
She says, “When we read there is ‘no slave, no male, no female,’ we mostly use it as a kind of whitewashing. It doesn’t matter, we’re all one in Jesus! Everyone’s one!”
But this kind of thinking, she said, can make it easy to ignore how identity categories are actually hurting people in the congregation.
“It just perpetuates power cycles,” she says. “People in charge continue to be in charge, and they don’t have to look at other people’s experiences. But everyone has value in their own particularity.”
What do you want to do with your time?
I asked Cheshire if focusing on that particularity isn’t something of a burden for her, an already extremely busy introvert whose mission it is to foster personal, intimate connections in her work on campus.
She thought for a while, then listed all the many responsibilities she juggles. She noted that when people ask her how she does it all, she tells them she’s not doing as good a job as they think she is.
But also, she said, “God has made this situation into something good. He’s forced me and my husband to figure out something about ourselves. What’s non-negotiable? What do you really want to be doing with your time? Because you don’t have that much of it.”
Although she and her husband have no background in farming, they’re slowly learning.
“It’s a little difficult to really engage in care for creation when you’re surrounded by concrete.” she said. She’d rather work the land than support industries that exploit workers and contaminate the soil.
Their first harvests have been small, but encouraging, and they’re hoping to add berry bushes and fruit trees in the future. Of their harvests, the Cheshires save some, sell some, and give some to the food pantry. Cheshire was recently overjoyed to hear that, after she donated fresh eggs, one client was able to make brownies for the first time in ages.
“In my career,” Cheshire said, “I’ve gotten very comfortable with the fact that I rarely see the harvest. My entire job is to plant seeds and let God grow them, and maybe a few years down the line I’ll get a text message or an email from a former student saying how much their time at Newman meant to them.”
But establishing a farm gives her “something very solid to hold onto.”
Spiritual health is a real thing
One professional project she’s chosen is to reignite an interest in the spiritual life among apathetic college students. Very few students feel any kind of religious affiliation, she said, and the ones who consider themselves Catholic aren’t much interested in community; so she’s working on reformulating her approach.
“You can’t convince people to enrich their Catholic identity if they don’t see the value of spirituality to begin with,” she said. She had been warned that the campus was an anti-religious place, but is proud of the connections she’s made. She collaborates often with other groups, and sponsors “crafternoons” where students can work off some nervous energy of their own, making and building together.
“We’re trying to encourage the campus community to tend to their spiritual health, to realize that’s a real thing, just like their physical and emotional health.”
Cheshire is currently working her way through the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius, which, she said, are about “finding the dignity of everything, finding God in everything.”
I asked whether even knitting was part of that.
She said, “I love watching the process of turning a pile of string into something beautiful. It’s something that’s real, and something that’s very elemental. It’s the absolute opposite of digital, and it connects you to all these generations of people who have done this before.”
Cheshire said knitting forces her to notice and intentionally relax the tension she holds in her hands. She was recently contemplating the hidden years of Christ, before He began His public ministry. The takeaway, she said, was Christ saying, “Remember, I was an artisan, too.”
Why the name, “Bethany Farm Knits?” Her shop, and her five-acre farm, are named after Bethlehem Farm in West Virginia. It’s a family of intentional Catholic communities, where Cheshire has led mission trips with the students from the Newman Center. The farms are named after Biblical towns, and the Cheshires chose “Bethany” for theirs.
She said ,”It’s where Jesus experienced friendship and hospitality” with His friends Mary and Martha — and also resurrection, when He raised their brother Lazarus from the dead.
“Those things are very much a theme in our family life,” Cheshire said: “Hospitality and resurrection.”
“I watch my kids cover themselves in duct tape and use whole rolls of wire to wire their siblings together,” says Kyra Matsui, proprietor of Iron Lace Design, “and I can see who I was from the beginning.”
“I was an isolated child, hiding in my room, making stuff. I remember when I was six, there was this plastic dollhouse stool. I figured out if I wove Kleenex around it and wet it, then when it dried, I could slip it off, and I would end up with a little basket. I started painting Kleenex with food coloring and hanging it all over the ceiling. My parents were so patient!”
Kyra, 39, who is separated, has boys ages seven and nine, and five-year-old twin girls. She recently got a diagnosis of autism for her oldest son, who also has diabetes. Kyra uses a combination of homeschooling and public school.
“My own public school experience was pretty bad,” says Kyra. “I didn’t really learn any kind of work ethic, or how to concentrate, but I did learn how to be quiet so I could get away with anything.
“What I wanted to do [with my own kids] was give them a space to socialize with people not just in their own grade level, but who were interested in the same thing. To give them the space to figure out what they were interested in.
“For me, that was making stuff. I remember reading Rosemary Sutcliffe’s Warrior Scarlet when I was nine or so, and teaching myself to weave on a little loom I made out of a cardboard box. I was supposed to be doing schoolwork. Instead, I pulled stuffing out of a pillow and figured out how to make a spindle.”
Here’s the rest of the conversation I had with Kyra about her current work:
How did you get started making jewelry? What is it about chainmail that appeals to you?
It’s because of my Japanese cultural heritage, plus historical interest, plus fantasy. When I was fourteen and hiding in the school library, they had a couple of really good costume history books, and I devoured those.
I was briefly in the Society for Creative Anachronism doing costuming, and some friends were doing chainmail. The kind I do, Japanese, is the simplest. Usually what you see in movies is European. It runs in one direction, almost like snake scales.
What I like about Japanese chain mail is you can hang it any way, like fabric.
You can attach dangly stuff to it and incorporate it into the construction.
You also have some jewelry made of watch parts on your page. Tell me how you got your hands on that.
It all belongs to my father, whose parents emigrated from Japan in the 20’s. He was eight or nine when the Japanese Canadians were interned. His family ended up in Toronto after they were relocated. He trained as a watchmaker and repairman and jeweler, and he had a workshop in the house I’m sitting in now, the house I inherited.
When digital watches came, he became a tool and die maker, but did watch repair privately. He had a workshop that was floor-to-ceiling tiny drawers full of watch movements, gears, springs, some of them almost microscopic. You need tweezers to pick them up.
After he died, I was clearing out all his stuff, and thinking, ‘This is beautiful stuff. ” I’m not going to learn to do watch repair. I tried to sell it, but I didn’t get any takers.
What would he think of the jewelry you make with his watch parts?
He would be appalled!
Well, he would be happy it was being used, but perturbed. He wanted me to go into fine arts and into jewelry-specific programs, metalworking, gemology. But I’ve always come at things more from a costuming and textile end.
Chainmail is a lot more like working with fabric then metalwork. I’d like to learn to solder, but that requires a lot of precision. Chainmail is more like knitting.
How long does it take you to make one of those necklaces or rosaries?
A rosary takes about four or five hours of intensive labor. Because I make them out of stainless steel, it’s really hard on my hands, so I split it up over two or three days.
I’ve ended up with carpal tunnel from doing too much! I made a Mexican wedding double rosary over a weekend, and that was a bad idea.
It’s very intricate work.
And I’m extremely myopic. I was told by an ophthalmology student that my close-up vision is excellent. I can see much finer detail than most people, as long as I hold it an inch and a half from my eye. I also have a jeweler’s visor loupe.
You have four kids, you’re completely renovating your house, you exclusively homeschooled up until recently, and you’re a single mom. So in your abundant free time, what do you do?
When I was in my early 20’s, I did about ten years of belly dance classes. Then I had four kids in four years. But I love to dance. I found that goth clubs are the only place you can go and belly dance for the entire night without being hassled. My friend Cynthia and I found this lovely place that has industrial goth night once a month.
It’s the same people from twenty years ago. We’re all older and tireder. We have a few drinks, thrash around on the dance floor, and then go back to our lives as attorneys or whatever. There are some really terrified-looking twenty-year-olds who turn up, too. Half of them embrace it, and half of them sidle quietly out the door away from the scary, old people.
[Below: Kyra in her Halloween costume as Jadis, Queen of Charn:]
If you had unlimited time, energy, and resources, what would you make?
I was looking around Etsy and found this chandelier thing you hang between your nipples. This . . . is not what I’m going to be doing.
If time and money weren’t a factor, I’d love to be working in precious metals and gems. I’m learning how to solder and make my own findings. I’d love to do some sort of elaborate fantasy set, with headpiece, necklace, hand flowers, and neck piece, and make a dress that goes under it. I’m not watching Game of Thrones, but the costuming is fantastic. I’ve been looking up jewelry for the Southern Kingdom. Very East Indian-Ottoman Empire-Persian stuff.
If people want to order from Iron Lace Design for Christmas, when should they order?
If they want a special order shipped before Christmas and they’re in the states, get the order in by early December. Regular mail tends to be a week. Priority mail is faster, but pretty expensive. But if I have to source material, I may have to order it online.
[Two special order stainless steel rosaries, one in lapis, one in garnet:]
In today’s podcast, I interview my father, Phil Prever, about living through the Six Day War fifty years ago.
He and my mother and my two oldest sisters in Jerusalem in 1967. He was half a block from the border with Jordan when the radio suddenly started repeating, “The window is open. The window is open.” Half the people in the office abruptly got up and left. He realized it was code, and the war had begun.
Hear the interview to find out what my parents were doing in Israel in the first place,
what was the one Hebrew word he learned right away,
what made him realize the war had broken out, and what it was like as it happened,
what “The window is open” means,
whether he thinks there were actually angels fighting with the Israeli pilots
and what was the city like after the fighting was over.
Here is a recording of the song he mentions, “Jerusalem of Gold, written in 1967 and played everywhere on the radio after the war was over:
. . . will be my next podcast, which comes out next week! Eeee, I’m so excited! No website more consistently cracks me up than Eye of the Tiber (“Breaking Catholic news so you don’t have to”), and it’s been getting funnier over the years.
“We ask a few questions in the survey,” the congregation’s de facto superior Cardinal Velasio de Paolis told the press. “We first ask, what the hell kinda name is ‘Marcial?’ Second, we ask what the hell kinda last name is ‘Maciel?’ Third, we ask how the apostolate can redefine their charism. And finally, we ask how in the living hell you have the last name of ‘Maciel,’ and choose to name your son ‘Marcial?’” Experts say that these are all imperative questions to reflect upon for the new leadership.
So HOW, you ask, can you hear this fabulous podcast with the fabulous S.C. Naoum, who’s recently released his first book? C’est so easy. You simply become a patron of this blog through Patreon. You can pledge any amount a month, even a dollar, and I’ll send you a private link to my weekly podcast. There are also other, ridiculous perks you can earn in return for pledges at various amounts. I’ve been doing the podcast with my very patient husband, but I’ll be adding in more guests as I find my feet in this new medium.
This blog is entirely independent, which means that nobody tells me what to say or what not to say . . . and nobody writes me a check, either. I’d love to keep this site uncluttered and ad-free with the help of readers. Please do consider pledging. A dollar a month is wonderful. Two or three dollars is wonderful. Five is excellent. Ten is stupendous. And so on!
Yesterday’s podcast, creatively titled “Podcast #3,” included absolutely zero mentions of YELLOW JOURNALISM (except for the part where we pledged not to talk about it), but we did discuss parthenogenesis and whether or not the alternative would make Jesus His own grandpaw; whether or not a new model of the causes of addiction (“it’s the cage, not the rat”) seems true, based on Damien’s decade of experience as a crime reporter; which is better, the Roman Catholic Banjo Mass or eating as much lamb as possible at the Greek Orthodox festival; and the opposite of Ernest Borgnine. I also attempt to class up the joint by reading “Marginalia” by Richard Wilbur, with some help from Corrie, even though I TOLD them to keep her out.
Fellow Patheosi and National Catholic Register blogger and all around Catholic pants expert Simcha Fisher and her rambunctious crew will be on the radio with me today at 6 PM Eastern talking about all things Christmassy (and maybe Hannukkahy too).
To listen to Catholic and Enjoying Live! on line go here at 6:00 PM EDT. The show is live, so feel free to call in at 1–866–333–6279 and you can chat. And if you want to hear archived shows interviewing such folk as Sherry Weddell, Brandon Vogt, Steven Greydanus, Tom McDonald, Dale Ahlquist, Tricia Bolle, Kevin O’Brien, and Elizabeth Stoker-Bruenig, go here.
I literally can not think of a literally better way you could spend an hour of your Christmas eve, and I mean that literally. Would love to chat if you want to call in!
From my new article in Our Sunday Visitor about Sam Rocha and his new album, Late to Love:
[Rocha] experienced his first high liturgy at St. Joseph’s Cathedral in downtown Columbus, Ohio, and a whole new aesthetic world opened up. “I felt like I walked out of the folk tradition and walked into a marble hall,” he said. “It helped me process the idea that there is a bigger Church out there.”
But stark aesthetic contrasts can sometimes be deceptive. “Whenever I heard a High Mass,” Rocha said, “I would say, ‘No more guitars at Mass for me!’” But then his family moved to a tiny town in Indiana, where the Mass had no music at all. “It was so sad and little,” Rocha said. So he brought in his guitar, and returned once again to his Mexican roots.
Since then, he’s been trying to reconcile all his various aesthetic experiences of the Church — the folk music of his Mexican parents, the slicker sound of Life Teen and the charismatic movement, and his hard-won love of jazz, which he deliberately cultivated out of a desire to understand as much about music as he could.