Friday, May 29, 2015

Abundant Rains: The Good, Bad, and Interesting


The gray wet weather pattern continues to roll across eastern Nebraska and other parts of the midwest. One night a few weeks ago, Lincoln recorded 7 inches of rain overnight. Six months ago, the city experienced another a storm that dropped 5.27 inches of rain. Both were classified as hundred year storms. We haven't had any damage but friends and family have not been so fortunate. The ground is saturated. Flooded basements have caused heartache, backache, and property damage. Piles of carpet and other goods have been dumped into the local landfill. In the evenings, a bumper crop of mosquitos buzzes around my neck and face making the outdoors a little less pleasant.

However, established trees are thick with green leaves. In my back yard, the columbine are a riot of color and a rose blossom grew to a seven inch diameter. Iris are blooming over a longer period of time. The basil could use some sun but the cilantro is growing well. Even after several cuttings, lettuce that I planted in a rectangular container provides tasty salad greens. Last year the Japanese Lilac tree had very few flowers. Right now it looks to be lush with blooms.

On one of the few sunny mornings this month, I was out removing the compost tumbler lid to dry out the too-soggy contents. I found this stinkhorn mushroom (photo below) in the yard. My husband had mowed the previous evening so this fungus just popped up over night. The other worldly looking stinkhorn grows in many places including woods, gardens, fields, or any place with decaying plant matter. I've never seen one in my neighborhood or yard. Supposedly it emits a foul odor but I didn't get close enough to find out. My four year old grandson is going to love the name of this oddity.

While traveling under gray skies, I finished a pair of socks in KnitPicks Felici (Sorbet) self-striping sock yarn. The colors are almost too bright but they will be fun to wear next winter. I knit heels in contrasting plain yellow (Wildefoote by Brown Sheep Yarns.) I planned to use the same yellow yarn for the toes but it was a heavier weight. I thought the difference would make the toe too big to fit well. Next time I'll pay more attention when choosing a contrasting yarn for toe and heel. The Vanilla Latte Socks pattern is easy to follow. I did modify it in order to center the ribbing over the top of the foot but forgot to make notes so I'm not sure I could describe how I changed the pattern.

This afternoon I hope to take a walk. If it rains again, I will reknit the bottom ribbing of a sweater and perhaps tune up my sewing machine. Both are good rainy day projects but right now I'd rather be gardening.


Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Encouragement In the Spirit of Cooperation


Thanks to Linda Hasselstrom of Notes from a Western Life Blog for nominating my blog for the Liebster Award. The award is given by blog writers to other writers in an effort to encourage and support each other. The distribution method helps other bloggers increase their readership. Award nominees, if they choose to participate, tag others for the award. I don't usually participate in chain letter activities. However I chose to participate in the Liebster project to support other writers as well as encourage civility and kindness on the internet. In this spirit, I nominated the writers below. They are under no obligation to participate and I understand they may choose to pass for any number of reasons. Regardless you might want to look at their blogs.

Here is how I interpret the guidelines for this award. First I will answer the questions Linda posed for her nominees. Then I will list my nominees and post a new set of questions for them. Nominees do not have to answer all of the questions. I passed on two of mine.

Questions Posed To Me
1. What event made you start writing? 
Sometime in my forties, I begin to think I would like to try and write but never did so. At age fifty, I attended a reading given by women who had been published in Leaning into the Wind, an anthology of women writing about the West. The writers were ordinary women with busy lives. As I listened to  them, I decided if they could write so could I. Around the same time my seemingly healthy mother was diagnosed with multiple myeloma. Her illness reminded me how quickly our lives can change. I decided if I wanted to try writing that I should begin.

2. What do you enjoy reading?
I enjoy reading a well-written story. I read fiction, biography, nature writing, poetry, and some mysteries.

3. What do you read for inspiration or encouragement?
When I find a writer whose work appeals to me, I read their earlier work. Studying a writer’s growth over time encourages me. 

4. Why do you write?
I write because I like to tell stories and I like discovering my own story. I also enjoy playing with words and language.

5. How much time do you spend writing each day?
When I have no other commitments, I spend about three or so morning hours at my desk.

6. How might you realistically rearrange your schedule to have more writing time?  Since retiring from public school teaching, I feel fortunate to have most mornings to work. I am quite pleased with the amount of time I spend writing.

7. What do you do for relaxation and enjoyment?
I spend time with my family, including my grandchildren. I also knit, read, quilt, walk, practice yoga, and garden.

8. What incident have you never written about?
Pass

9. What is the best thing you have written and why?
I recently finished a small collection of poems about containers and ordinary days. I printed and bound them together in handmade books for family and a few friends. This is my version of environmentally friendly self-publishing. 

10. What question do you wish I had asked? Pass


My nominees for the Liebster Award are:

Kate of Beyond Kale - A Mother's Mindful Journey
My daughter Kate writes about her family's journey as they try to teach their children to love and conserve the world with a healthy lifestyle. She writes from the perspective of a mother with a professional career about issues that face young families.

Bonnie of Blue Peninsula
Bonnie, an artist and knitwear designer, writes from Massachusettes.  She designs knitting patterns, creates embroidered artwork, sketches, and supports small independent yarn dyers.

Karen of Pumpkin Sunrise
Karen posts beautiful photographs about her knitting and reading. I enjoy her posts about the beauty she finds in ordinary days.

Sarah of Whistling Girl Knits
Sarah of Oregon is a writer, pattern designer, and photographer. Her strong writing skills inspire me.

Becky and Lucy of Writing in Community
Becky and Lucy write their blog from Nebraska to encourage writers. Both Becky and Lucy have published poetry. Together they wrote and published a book, Writing in Community: Say Goodbye to Writer's Block.

Questions for Writers:
1. What made you decide to write a blog?
2. If you could have dinner with a famous craftsperson (poet, writer, knitter, artist, musician, master gardener, or ???) who would you invite? What would you ask them?
3. Have you ever memorized a poem? Which one do you remember?
4. Do you practice other crafts besides writing? If so what connections do you find between writing and the other crafts?
5. What blog topics do you like to read about?
6. What authors do you admire?
7. Where do you write? What setting works best for you?
8. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or prompt?
9. How do you make time and space for practicing your crafts?





Monday, May 11, 2015

A Nebraska Prairie


My sister and I enjoy the work of Willa Cather. Several of her best known novels are set on the Nebraska prairie. In 1923, she won the Pulitzer Prize for One of Ours, a novel about a young man from Nebraska who finds himself in France during World War One. Recently we took a little road trip to visit the Willa Cather Memorial Prairie and Red Cloud, Nebraska, the small town close to the Nebraska/ Kansas border where Cather spent much of her childhood.

We stayed at the Kaley House, a bed and breakfast in Red Cloud. The gracious old home has been lovingly restored by the Innkeeper and her brother. It was comfortable, immaculately clean, and beautifully furnished with antiques. It also had all the modern amenities we seem to think we need these days. After checking in, we toured the Willa Cather Foundation office/store/gallery, Cather's childhood home, the Red Cloud Opera House, and the bank/museum that was the setting for A Lost Lady.  Later we walked past several other buildings associated with the Cather family.

The next day, we drove out to The Willa Cather Memorial Prairie south of Red Cloud. The Prairie, preserved and restored by the Nature Conservancy and The Nebraska Environmental Trust, is currently maintained by the Willa Cather Foundation. It is located up on the "Divide," a plateau of rolling prairie. We spent several hours on a beautiful April morning walking the trails. The prairie grasses were mostly green and we saw a few wildflowers scattered here and there. As we walked a swallow flew and dived quite near to us. Perhaps she had a nest nearby and preferred we move on down the trail.

Prairie is defined as an extensive area of flat rolling grassland. In that description, lies the subtle contrast. Although the prairie may look flat from a distance, up close or on foot, gentle swells and dips in the land are apparent. One can dismiss the prairie as boring. I say look more closely. Look for the beauty in subtle greens and browns under a great big bowl of a blue sky or a bank of ominous gray clouds. Listen for the familiar five notes of a meadowlark. They are the same notes that Native Americans knew before European settlers arrived. The prairie is an acquired taste. It doesn't grab your attention like a mountain range, an ocean, or a redwood forest but when the grasses bend with the wind and small prairie flowers bloom, is quite something. The few Spring wildflowers hidden among the grasses speak to the possibilities in well cared for land.




Thursday, April 30, 2015

Poem in Your Pocket Day

The end of Poetry Month is marked by "Poem in Your Pocket Day." Poetry lovers copy poems and carry them around in a pocket. The idea is to share a poem with someone you meet. "Poem in Your Pocket Day" seems like a fun activity for children who love rhyme and stashing things in their pockets. My sister made some small felt pockets and tucked a poem into each one. Today she is handing them out to a class of first graders.

When I find a poet whose work I enjoy, I try to read their early work. Knowing that every poet and writer has a beginning encourages me. The way a writer's work changes and grows as they become more skillful is an interesting and useful study for my own writing. I write poems and have shared some with close friends and family. I have not published them in blog posts because copyright violation (someone copying parts or all of my work and then claiming it as their own work) is easily done and hard to prevent. Today I am making an exception.

In honor of "Poem in Your Pocket Day" I am posting a poem I wrote about poetry. Some years ago I heard a nationally known poet state something to the effect that "writing poems about writing poems was rather boring and shouldn't be done." If I could remember the poet or find the quote, I would give her/him credit, but I can't. I took the statement as a challenge and wrote this poem.

Small Thin Poem
Jane Wolfe

I prefer slim books of
poetry that slide easily
under the seat of my car.

Heavy anthologies with
new and selected jam
against the undercarriage.

Instead I carry books of
Nye, Hasselstrom, Stafford
for their early work.

They write of lilacs, icy
highways, and Kansas women
wearing their shawls.

With a thread from my shawl,
I measure words into a small thin
poem, one that fits into the hand.


Please enjoy this short poem and know that if you copy any part of it and claim it as your own, I will haunt you for the rest of your days!

In knitting notes, I cast on the Aggie pullover in yarn reclaimed from another sweater project gone awry. Soon it is going to be too warm to have a sweater's worth of merino/kid mohair blend in my lap. Socks will be my carry around project while the Maple Leaf Press Shawl will be my more substantial project. Right now the shawl looks like a blob of lace but after blocking I think it will be lovely.

Spring has come to my neighborhood, knitting, and writing. I hope you are finding something to enjoy on these lovely warm days. I encourage you to celebrate poetry by putting a "poem in your pocket."




Saturday, April 11, 2015

April

Today I am watching a young blue jay hop from limb to limb in the birch. In the sunshine, the bird's coloring reflects as a vibrant blue. The grass is brilliant emerald after three days of light rain. Trees are beginning to put out small leaves in a myriad of greens. Maples sport a red fringe. When I walk this afternoon, I will check the progress of a tree leafing out in vivid chartreuse. Spring colors are a welcome change after winter's landscape.

Shades of green have also been part of my knitting for the last few weeks. I recently cast on the Leaf Press shawl, striping Madelinetosh Merino Light yarn in a sage green color with another variegated skein reminiscent of a Monet watercolor. I finished the little green Antler Cardigan. As I knitted, I pictured an active toddler wearing this sweater outdoors on a cool Spring day. Green was a good idea in late January when I bought the yarn for the Antler sweater. While I choose colors I enjoy, my choices are influenced by the seasons.

April is National Poetry Month. Poetry brings another kind of color to my reading and writing. Local and regional poets offer wonderful work. Linda Hasselstrom and Joyce Sutphen write from different parts of the Great Plains. Twyla Hansen, the Nebraska State Poet, and Marjorie Saiser are even more local to me. These poets and many more help me see the world in new and different ways.

Join me in discovering a new-to-you poet this month. Browse the poetry section of your library or bookstore. Try reading a poem out loud to feel and hear the unique rhythm and sounds in the words. Enjoy the colors and sounds of an April Day.


Friday, March 27, 2015

Turning Toward Spring


Spring brings me renewed energy. I am working on inside projects before outdoor gardening season begins. Although it is tempting to clean out perennial and herb beds, I wait until the first week or so in April leaving weeds and last year's growth to protect plants from fluctuating temperatures. Ten days ago, temperatures reached 80 degrees but yesterday afternoon rain turned to sleet and the roofs were covered with frost this morning.

Recently, I finished two knitted projects created without a pattern. Although I will never be a designer, it is nice to know enough to make my own simple projects. I finished a sweet little shawl out of yarn I purchased at least five years ago. I knit a garter stitch triangle, increasing on the edges and spine until I had the number of stitches (including edges, center stitches, plus a multiple of the 18 stitches) necessary to repeat seven motifs on each side.

I have also been working on baby knits. The little green antler cardigan is done all but sewing on the buttons and being photographed. I made a hat and mittens for a niece expecting a baby in July. I referred to Ann Budd's Handy Book of Patterns and Stephanie Purl-McPhee's Knitting Rules for a general idea on size. The idea for the purled row in the stripes comes from Susan B. Anderson's Itty Bitty Hats. I have knit three or four variations of this striped beanie in different yarn weights for other children in the family.

I find my writing also reflects the season outside my window.  I am almost finished with a small group of poems created during the winter from writing prompts. I am looking forward to new knits and new thoughts in the colors of Spring. The season turns ever so slowly. I am taking notes on its arrival. 




Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Shawls, Shoulders, and Spring

The March days are growing longer and this week's temperatures are considerably warmer in Nebraska. Yesterday, in solidarity with the local public school teachers and students on Spring Break, I sat on the deck in the sunshine and read "Old Mrs. Harris," a short story from a book of Willa Cather's collected short stories, articles, and essays. Reading early and less well known work by an author reminds me that all writers were once beginning writers.    

Last week I finished this shawl to give as a gift. The Red Robin Shawl pattern by Helen Stuart is well written. She includes a small spread sheet stating percentages for each section so the knitter can use up the entire skein of yarn. Once the blue shawl was blocking, I finished the pink raspberry shawl. When I cast on the pink shawl, I knit garter stitch rows until I had a multiple of stitches needed for a pattern repeat of eighteen stitches plus the center and edge stitches. Then I knit a feather and fan border because I enjoy knitting that pattern. My encapsulated (frozen) shoulder joint was healing but I needed the easy comfort knitting that I find in simple shawls. Although today's knitters and designers have updated shawls in interesting new ways, the little pink shawl is not one of the new fashion forward wraps. I think I it will join a few other sturdy shawls I use for keeping my shoulders warm during winter's cold.

After two months of physical therapy, the range of motion in my shoulder is near normal. I have been discharged from therapy with instructions to diligently stretch and strengthen the joint and surrounding muscles for at least two more months. I will be following the recommendations as well as taking frequent breaks and using good body mechanics while knitting as I don't want to repeat the experience. Besides, the warmer temperatures and sunshine are calling me to the garden. I want to be ready to pull weeds and thin perennials. Green shoots of crocuses and daffodils are just up above the ground. Spring is around the corner.