Monday, October 14, 2013

A Christmas Cowl

A couple of years ago, I was singing a capella with The Nashville Belles (you can read about one of our adventures and the power of a pair of fingerless gloves below), when our fearless leader, Christina, mentioned she was about to go on a trip to Sweden.  It was winter, near the holidays, and Christina was well aware that it was going to be VERY COLD in Sweden.

Modelled by Lauren

I had some lovely yarn, Plymouth Baby Alpaca Grande Handpaint, that I thought would make a nice cowl for Christina, warm but not as floppy and potentially intrusive as a scarf might be, especially when traveling many hours overseas with a tiny baby in tow.

The blue/variegated cowl is the one I gave to Christina; it's a somewhat fuzzy photo, but that's all I have of that one.

I like the pattern so much, I have made several more with various kinds of chunky yarn.

The fiery-colored one above is also Plymouth Baby Alpaca Grande Handpaint, the blue self-striping one is James C. Brett Marble Chunky, and the white one is Berroco Comfort Chunky.

It is really fun to knit, super easy and fast using chunky yarn, and with the holidays coming up once again, I thought it would be great choice for knitters who want to churn out some gifts quickly.  So I decided to write down the pattern and make it available in my Etsy shop here.

I call it the Christina Cowl after our wonderful conductor and singer, and also because I have another dear friend named Christina;  the name has good associations.

So that's the cowl, and read on to learn more about one of its namesakes.


I didn’t want to be the one to say it was too cold to go.  So the wind chill brought the temperature down to eleven degrees; so what?

“It’ll be an adventure,” Mom said.

Our a capella group was performing Christmas carols to raise money for charity.  We were booked throughout December at the usual retirement homes, the public library, and the like.

The gig in Franklin, Tennessee was called “Dickens of a Christmas,” an annual outdoor festival offering carriage rides, chestnuts roasting, and other Dickensian treats.  Everyone was encouraged to dress as a character from Dickens.

Our group, however, was singing jazzy arrangements of old standards like Jingle Bell Rock, for example, rather than, say, Hark, the Herald Angels Sing.  No glorias and allelujahs this year, and nothing remotely Victorian.  I could just picture Tiny Tim on his crutches, rock, rock, rockin’ ’round the Christmas tree.  Why not?  It would be an adventure.

We didn’t even know we had the gig until the last minute.  A flurry of e-mails ensued.  In the rush to get our group listed, the organizer billed us as the Hip Dickens Carolers instead of our actual name, the Nashville Belles.

The billing confused one of our sopranos at first; she thought we were replacing another group.

“Then we could be the Hip Replacement Carolers,” she said.  There were certainly enough of us in the grey-haired department to qualify.

Meanwhile, the snow was falling, the temperature was dropping, the wind was rising, and I kept hoping someone somewhere would please, please cancel.

Instead, my ride came early.  One of our first altos,  Leslie, had pressed her husband and their snow-worthy, gas-guzzling, heavyweight SUV into service.

Everyone’s Prii (the plural of “Prius”) got left at home.  There’s a time to go green, and there’s a time not to slide off an ice-covered road in an ecologically sound heap.

Leslie and her hubby picked up my mom first and then came to get me.  On the way to Franklin, Leslie kept offering Mom a hat, and Mom kept saying, “No, no, I look terrible in hats.”

“It’s awfully cold out there,” the rest of us said.

“There’s the wind chill factor,” we said.

“When the snow is falling practically parallel to the ground,” I said, pointing out the window, “you know there’s a bit of a breeze.”

Mom relented and pulled on the black knit cap Leslie handed her.  I started giggling, more from the martyred look on Mom’s face than the stylishness, or lack thereof, of the hat.

“I think you look cute!” Leslie chimed.

“See?  That’s a real friend,” Mom said.

In her swirling black cape-like coat and black skullcap, Mom looked like a Dickensian prelate.  Perfect!  On Dasher, on Dancer, on Gas-Guzzler....

We arrived early and waited in the car, watching occasional passersby struggle through the snow and wind.

“She looks cold,” one of us would point out.

“Yes, she does,” the rest of us would agree.


“He looks really cold.”

“He certainly does.”


“They look absolutely frigid.”

But we couldn’t put it off any longer.  We tumbled out of the SUV, me with my bad back, Mom with her aching knee, and we trudged out into the parallel snow.

The outdoor stage was built from metal poles, with black plastic sheeting hinting at what we all wished would have been walls and a ceiling.  Several men were sweeping snow off the stage.  (Yes, snow on the stage.  You read that right.)  The men kindly sent us over to City Hall to wait in the lobby for the rest our troupe to gather.

Then it was our cue.

“Once more into the breach,” Mom and I Shakespeared at each other as we trudged out into the gale again.  (The actual quote is ‘Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more; or close the wall up with our English dead.’)

I had fingerless gloves, not in deference to Dickens, but just so I could turn the pages of my music and still have something resembling wool on my hands.  I held my notebook with one hand and jammed my free hand into a pocket before it turned blue.  Others were not so lucky.  I felt sorry for them, with their pale little frozen fingers clutching at their notebooks, their little palms practically frozen to the binders.

“Oh, the weather outside is frightful,” we sang.

Christina, our leader, was conducting.  Most people need two hands for this, but not Christina.  She corralled the pages of her music, which were flapping in the wind, with one hand, and she conducted with the other, and she was singing soprano through it all.

The black plastic sheeting around the stage snapped and billowed, a syncopated drumbeat to “Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.”

Christmas standards are mighty big on snow.

Our audience was small but enthusiastic, clapping wildly (no doubt trying to get warm) and cheering after each song.  We were all so proud of ourselves for simply showing up, performers and listeners alike.  Plus, this being one of the few gigs where we got paid, we made three hundred dollars for the Tennessee Respite Coalition.

We sang well--and quickly!  “The Marriage of Figaro” was never doo-bah-doo-bah-done so fast!

Then we trudged back to the car and inched our way home, circling the long way around to avoid cars already piling up, stalled on steep hills, unable to get traction.

Mom was right, it was an adventure, and actually, a ton of fun.  But when several of our members, including Mom, came down with colds the following week, Mom said, “Never again, not when it’s that cold.”

But she has sung the national anthem in 110 degree heat to open a baseball game and, afterwards, she barely even looked wilted.

Me, I can't take the heat.  Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.

© 2011 Reyna Thera Lorele