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Dear Kay,

Just back from a long weekend that included a magnificent hangout with the knitters of the Common Cod Fiber Guild, as well as time spent with my two lads, a lot of art, and a date with a ship I had to see.

The Knitters

I will forevermore be able to lord it over Hubbo that I gave a talk at MIT. (Thank you to @weijingsaw for this proof of event—Hubbo still doesn’t quite believe me.)

Building 42. That lecture hall in the way-back of beyond. I think MIT is designed for people who are not stumped by elaborate and wacky floor plans. It’s a test of mettle—if you can’t find the classroom, you shouldn’t really be at MIT.

I’d like to thank the board of the Common Cod Fiber Guild: Margery, Carolyn, Willa, Emma, and Sheeri. (Who was home hanging out with her six-day-old baby. Let’s all pause and think about the sublime miracle of a six-day-old-baby.)

Carolyn, Willa, Emma. (Sitting beside me so therefore not in this photo: Margery. Sitting at home with the baby: Sheeri.)

Could there have been a mistier, cozier evening for a knitting talk?

No, there could not.

Could there have been a more genial, brainy, welcoming group of knitters?

Absolutely not. (Emma with the Fish of Door Prize Destiny.) (It frankly looks like a Speckled Trout of Destiny to me, but I wasn’t going to say anything.)

It was truly delightful. Thanks to everybody who came out—such fun.

I met Cathy of the Indigo Squirrel, who gave me some of her exquisite indigo-dyed yarn, such a treasure. Her indigo dyeing workshops are a hot ticket in the Boston region. And her indigo-dyed yarn is just waiting to be adopted.

Next month’s speaker is the amazing Brooke Sinnes, whose Sincere Sheep yarn is among my favorites. If you’re in the Boston area, clear your calendar for May 17—she’ll be running dyeing workshops that weekend, too. Details here.

The Ship

I’ve been to Boston many times, and I’ve always managed not to see the USS Constitution. On Saturday, that all changed.

See, I’m obsessed with naval ships these days, and the USS Constitution appears as a character of sorts in The Fortune of War, the sixth book in Patrick O’Brian’s 22-novel series featuring Captain Jack Aubrey and his particular friend, the ship’s surgeon Stephen Maturin.

The ships really are characters in these books—their flaws and strengths are integral to what happens to everybody aboard.

So when I realized that I had the chance to board the actual ship that is the star of The Fortune of War, well . . . let’s just say that we got our fill of Ragnar Kjartsansson then hightailed it across Boston Harbor.

It was a dream come true. It was spectacular. All the spaces that I’ve been living in via O’Brian’s novels are even more claustrophobic than I’d imagined. Here’s what a fourth lieutenant gets.

The rigging is astonishing.

The head clearance is brutal.


The hammocks really are 14 inches wide.

500 sailors in a ship this size . . .



PS I’ve been writing this with a window open to the Bald Eagle Cam in Fulton, Illinois, where three bald eagles are raising three floppy gray bundles that apparently will turn into bald eagles. It is so so so reminiscent of my days as a parent: the half-eaten meats piled up, the long stares into the middle distance. (Thanks to the Stewards of the Upper Mississippi River Refuge for this amazing thing.)


  • How wonderful that you got to visit The Constitution on top of everything else! Your photos remind me of my visit to the HMS Victory in Portsmouth, England. Went straight from Heathrow to Portsmouth so I was extremely jetlagged, which gave the whole experience a somewhat surreal tinge.

    • You mean . . . I can visit HMS Victory too? That’s a Captain Aubrey ship, too.

  • I love reading your Letter every day but this one was especially fun. Thank you! I’m thinking I need to read the book series. 22 of them? That’s a lot of immersion on a ship.

    • Reading about 22 naval voyages is a good deal easier than actually sailing them, that’s for sure. Especially for somebody as queasy as me!

  • I was also in Boston recently (sadly, not at the same time you were speaking at MIT!) and also visited the ICA for The Visitors. Indescribable but lovely. (Weirdly, the earworm I got has left me by now, and I can’t even remember the basic phrase involved). Did you manage to resist the charms of the U.S.S. Constitution long enough to see the very end?

    • They were way down in a field when we left! If I tell you the phrase again, it’ll start your ear worm all over again… !

  • OMG I am obsessed with the Aubrey-Maturin novels!!! It was exactly why I made my son go see the Constitution when we were in Boston! As if you weren’t cool enough already!!!

    • So good, so good.

  • Simply love the name Common Cod Knitting Guild!

    • Hi! It’s named after two important areas for Boston textiles – the Boston Common was where foods and goods were bought/sold/traded, and the fishing industry (lots of cod) had a big demand for nets.

  • This whole letter, your photos, and your writing style bring me such joy on this gray Minneapolis day! Thank you for everything!!!

  • What a wonderful Boston trip! One of my all time favorite cities to visit, and you got to see your offspring!

  • Fourteen inch wide hammocks? People were smaller then. Sounds like a grand visit. We saw Old Ironsides in 1976 and it was amazing, I still remember how cramped it was below decks.

    Blundstones! I love yours and love mine too. Just the thing for a tramp around ol’ Boston with the Lads who, by the way are, are way too grown up to be believed.

  • Really enjoyed your sharing Boston and the boys…hope to visit that ship myself someday…

  • Ann you are adorable!
    I love your enthusiasm for adventure!

  • I love your writing style with your personal thoughts and such running along within the writing.
    I am wondering where you got your 21 volumes of the Aubrey-Maturin series? Also you mention 22 volumes,,,,,,,,, what is the 22nd?

  • Thank you so much for coming. Your talk was great fun and it was an honor to meet you after enjoying your books so much.
    Carolyn (not actually a board member but maybe someday)

    • So great to spend time with you, Carolyn! Really fun!

  • I’ve read 19 of ’em. Patrick O’Brian was a tremendous writer. I re-read whenever I feel like visiting an old friend. And my son is going to start his freshman year in Boston next fall. I know where I’m headed.

    • Wow! I just started Treason’s Harbour and can’t even imagine what the second half of the series will bring.

  • I just heard Lance Oppenheim speak at a Harvard event! Were you at the same one?

    • How fun! I totally did not attend, sadly. He is awfully talented.

  • If you like sailing adventures, I heartily recommend the Swallows and Amazons books by Arthur Ransome. “We Didn’t Mean to Go to Sea” is the 7th book but it can also stand alone and was the first I read. Also, find some time to visit the Constellation in Baltimore Harbor when you are over this way. Equally storied and beautiful.

    • Filing this away for the tragic day when my sailing with Captain Aubrey comes to an end!

  • Both your sons are really cute! My oldest son turned 32 today (what??) and our other son is 24. They are such a joy to me.

    • Thank you! I love ’em and am completely unobjective about them–maybe you know what I mean? ; )

  • Those O’Brian novels are lovely as audio books.

    • That’s what I’m listening to–Patrick Tull is the most amazing narrator.

  • What a fun weekend! I love the Patrick O’Brian books, too – and compliment you on your perseverance to get through 22 books!

    If you ever find your way to San Diego, do try to see the Maritime Museum, where you can visit the HMS Surprise – the ship used in the movie Master and Commander. (

  • Oh boy, I was only a year older than your eldest is now when I started reading MDK (original flavor). All those glimpses of life in the Mom Bomb, knitting your way through school events and skate park excursions sounded so exotic to me then. Visions of another world.

    And now here I am, um, *quite a few* years later in the thick of it with a toddler and this idea that someday the grey floppy things will actually fledge? And you’ll get to bask in proud irrelevance? It’s hard to imagine, but look right up there, clearly it is possible. Thanks for continuing to expand my horizons, even after all these years.

    (And count me in favor of more old sailing ship travelogue content! I had a fierce and inexplicable attachment to the Constellation as a child, so you should definitely go see that one next)

  • I spent close to the first 20 years of my young adulthood in and around Boston (I guess 20 years into your young adulthood you are really no longer young). I believe I lived in the city at least 10 years before I visited the Constitution, and was also amazed and glad to have seen it once I did. It’s such a great city, I’mstill only about 50 min away and don’t visit it often enough!

  • I did a post-doctoral fellowship at the Charlestown Navy Yard buildings. I remember taking my toddler son to see the Constitution. Lots of happy Boston memories! Thanks for sharing.

  • You could learn to sail on the brig Niagara… don’t give up the ship!

  • Ann, what is that metal thing attached to the wall in the cabin, across the “window,”withthe peg dangling? I cannot figure out it’s function, but feel confident you know the answer!

    • Not Ann, but I think it’s the handle that opens/closes the porthole.

  • Ann, was totally bummed not to hear your talk since I was out of town that weekend. You are right about MIT — its a rabbit warren of a place, the modern version of a medieval old town. So glad you enjoyed your visit to “our fair city”.

  • I visited the USS Constitution in October 2017. It’s quite the opportunity and a real eye opener to how they lived back then!

  • What a lovely post – thank you!

    I was much taken with the idea of “Clif … dressing the world (if by “the world” you mean young people who favor anything pre 2003 and probably black)” – but that inevitably led to thoughts of the tantalising commission of the Barnett Newman zip sweater. I can’t help myself, I have to ask – how did it go?

  • Just saw this and my heart leaped up, thinking you had been on a Boston Harbor Cruise, possibly narrated by my tall son, recent college grad/aspiring actor who is currently doing the embroidery step on the *amazing* Game of Thrones afghan he’s been working on for four years. . . Not that you would’ve known each other by sight, but the idea of two such knitting mavens being in the same place is exciting! Glad you had a good visit. Have you read the Hornblower series? My history professor father raised us on them as bedtime stories.

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