Saturday, July 25, 2015

Summer Moments

As July winds down, I'd like to slow the passage of this summer. We have stayed close to home, enjoying the garden, reading, knitting, sewing, and spending time with our three grandsons. Here are a few highlights from July:

My book group met at A Novel Idea, a local used bookstore with a good inventory of fiction and nonfiction. We spent a pleasant few hours browsing books, enjoying cold drinks, and chatting with two bookstore employees. Both are avid readers so it was fun to compare notes. Part of the charm of this bookstore is finding the unexpected. I happened onto The Last Gift of Time: Life Beyond Sixty, a book of essays by Carolyn Heilbrun. The author was a professor at Columbia University during a time when women struggled to be accepted in academia. I particularly enjoyed "Unmet Friends," an essay about the kinship she felt with poet Maxine Kumin. Since the two women never met, Heilbrun's sense of kinship with Kumin allowed her to explore the relationship between reader and writer. Some essays are dated but they remind me of the strides women have made in my lifetime. Helibrun lived about the same time as my mother which may have been another reason I enjoyed reading her work.

Now and then, our four-year old grandson and I take a field trip around town. Late Spring, Lincoln hosted a public art project to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Lighthouse, a program that benefits middle and high school students during after school hours. Large lightbulbs have been decorated by community artists and installed around town. E. and I are driving around to look at them. We have fun locating them on a city map, planning a route, and then finding them. Now when either of us says, "I have an idea . . ." we joke that a lightbulb has gone on. I will remember this"lightbulb summer" for a long time. I hope he does too.

His younger brother, soon to be two, doesn't have the patience for lightbulbs but he loves to read. Currently truck books are his favorite. This sweet little guy will pick out a book, pat the couch and say, "sit down, read" meaning he wants the adult to sit down so he can snuggle up with his favorite books. I am grateful to the creator of "Little Blue Truck" as it gives us lots of time together.

We had a surprise visit from our Texas daughter-in-law and grandson. We took A. and E. out to A's favorite breakfast spot for waffles and hot chocolate with sprinkles and whipped cream.

Early this month, my husband and I attended the funeral of an elderly gentleman. He lived a good long life, worked hard, and loved his family. He was ill and his death was not expected. At his request, pizza and salad were served after the service. Having grown up during the Depression, I doubt he complained of the customary cold cut/macaroni and jello salad lunches often served at funerals. Still his request for pizza brought smiles to the faces of his family and friends. Later in the day I stopped at a local fabric store to buy some buttons for a baby sweater. The little lime green sweater seemed to call for ladybug buttons. I found some just the right size.  As is my custom, I parked a distance from the store in order to walk extra steps. Not too far from my car was a sweet patch of wildflowers. I had never seen them before and they were certainly prettier than cedar bark mulch under traditional landscaping plants.

These summer days filled with ordinary moments have been quite wonderful.  More please.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Tidying Up: A Clean Knitting Slate

I have been in a "tidying up" mood lately. Many folks are inspired to do this in January. When I taught school, summer was the time I cleaned kitchen cupboards and closets so I associate hot, humid weather with more extensive sorting and straightening of my belongings. Last week I decided to get my knitting projects in order.

In June, I finished this Nurmilintu shawl. The name of the shawl comes from a line in a Finnish lullaby that translates to "Sleep, sleep my little bird." Isn't that sweet? I believe the designer is Finnish. My dear sister gave me the Collinette Jitterbug yarn. I enjoyed the pattern and the yarn. I think the shape of the shawl makes it very wearable and I have never met a shade of blue that I didn't like. I finished the knitting three weeks or so before I washed, blocked, photographed, and posted the project on Ravelry.

Since Spring, I have been knitting in fits and starts on a Leaf Press Shawl. The pattern is well written and easy to follow. Both yarn colors are lovely but the variegated yarn seemed to get lost in the stripes. I was also tired of twisting and untwisting two balls of yarn at the color change. I might have persevered if I had liked the finished knitting but I didn't. The project spent a lot of time tucked away in a closet. After trying again to knit a few rows while listening to Garrison Keillor's Prairie Home Companion, I decided both skeins could be used to better advantage so I ripped out the shawl. As Garrison's entertaining voice went on, I ripped out another project that had been languishing in the yarn bins for quite some time. Many years ago, I ordered some pink cotton yarn to make a shell. I have tried three times to make something from that yarn and have been unsuccessful. The color is a little sickly sweet. I ripped out the last attempt and decided the yarn might make a baby sweater or wash cloths. Ripping out projects doesn't bother me. I think of it as getting more value (money and time) from the yarn.

I also blocked a Rocky Mountains Cowl I finished earlier in the week. Although the pattern calls for a worsted or chunky weight yarn, I used a sport weight yarn and added a few repeats of the pattern to get the size I wanted.

Then I finished up a washcloth that had been riding around in the car with me for months. Last night I knitted the heel and gusset on the second top down Evergreen Sock which is my only project on the needles. I hardly recognize my knitting self. Sometimes though, a clean knitting slate is a good idea. Now, if I could only transfer this tidying up frame of mind to the storage area in our basement. A clean slate down there is a good but impossible idea. Still, a few trips to the Goodwill would help.


Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Another Woman's Needlework

Abundant rain continues to fall in our area. On dry days, I duck out to weed the small vegetable garden, the perennial flower beds, and herb garden. The tomato and cucumber vines look healthy. The cucumber vine has blossoms and the cherry tomato plant begins to bear green fruit. The oregano is exploding with long branches and larger leaves while the basil needs a little more sun. Hollyhocks I planted along the fence are blooming. Some years the hollyhock seeds have not germinated but this year they are doing well.

Several rainy afternoons, I searched through my handwork supplies and sewed project bags for my knitting. I purchased this pattern. It is well written and easy to follow. The designer offers a free tutorial for a small bag suitable for a sock or mitten project. I wanted a few that were larger so I purchased the pattern. I used the red geranium fabric for the small bag (free tutorial.) The purchased pattern gives instructions for eight sizes, including a recipe for making a custom sized bag. The two slightly larger bags are made from leftover quilting fabrics and old linens. Using the linens is not an original idea. Browse Etsy and you will find all kinds of uses, including bags and purses, for new and vintage embroidery.

Over the years I have inherited and purchased vintage linens trimmed with hand embroidery. I use them as dresser scarves and small tablecloths until they wear out. I keep a few stained worn pieces because I don't want to throw away the embroidery work. Once a long time ago, a family member sold my Grandmother's Depression Era Double Wedding Ring quilt to a second hand shop. She didn't mean any harm nor did she realize anyone in the family (like me) would liked to have kept the quilt. I have always wondered whether the piece found a good home, was repurposed into other projects, or was used to cover old furniture in a barn.

Because of that experience, I either use old textiles or find them a good home. When I saw these pieces among my supplies, I decided to sew them into the exterior of the bags. The pink flower may have come from one of my Grandmother's dresser scarves. The embroidered bluebird piece is one I picked up at a second hand store. I fused the embroidery to white cotton fabric so it would be more stable. The lined bags have tidy insides and the drawstring closure doesn't snag yarn. I also didn't have to purchase or install a zipper. The embroidered flower is more proportional than the bluebirds but even so I like the way the bags turned out. They were good entertainment on a rainy day and will be useful for knitting projects. I enjoy using bags that carry the work of another woman's needle.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Matching Sleeves

In April and May, I knit the Aggie Sweater. This sweater was knit in the round from the top down. The lace panel in the back kept the project interesting. After knitting the body, I picked up the sleeve stitches at the underarm and knit them down to the wrist. In order to have sleeves that fit my arms, I shortened them by two inches. Decreasing the length meant changing the rate of decreased stitches in order to have the correct width at the wrist. I did some math, took a deep breath, and began the first sleeve. Each time I decreased, I clipped a stitch marker into the stitches, leaving a visual record of the decreases. Between my notes and all the stitch markers on the first sleeve I was able to knit a second matching sleeve. I added the lace motif at the wrist.

Over the years, I have tried a variety of ways to knit two matching sections in a garment. Most often I used sticky notes. I wrote down row numbers or made tick marks to record increases, decreases, or rows between cables. However now and then I'd be chatting or thinking of something else and then wonder if I had really written down a number or made a mark. Of course, sticky notes on knitting patterns get lost. I've often wondered if anyone found the notes with my cryptic knitting code and whether they puzzled over what they had stumbled upon. Perhaps others aren't so interested in the little pieces of found paper. I also tried substituting a small notepad for the sticky note but made the same recording errors. Now I simply count rows of knitting which works well when it involves only a few rows.

In between the first and second sleeve of this sweater, I had to purchase more stitch markers but I am always happy to support the local shops. Stitch markers seem to have a life of their own. I've found them on the floor of the car, in my pockets, in the bottom of knitting bags, inside books on the end table, under the couch, and in cushions. Some day soon I'll take the cushions off the couch and retrieve a few of them.

Several years ago, I bought this yarn to knit a garter stitch cardigan. After knitting most of the sweater body, I ripped it out because I didn't think the garment would hold its shape. Usually I just wind the yarn into a ball as I rip out a project. This time I skeined it up so I could wash and hang it to dry. The weight of the wet yarn relaxed the kinkiness made by  previous stitches. After it had dried, I wound it into balls. I did this all without a ball winder. I was able to reuse some lovely yarn and may have solved the matching parts dilemma. Aren't low tech solutions great? Now I have a Christmas Quilt top to finish. I am also working on a shawl and some socks. Sooner or later the rain will stop. As summer warms up, I won't want a lap full of sweater yarn.

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?

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.