Tuesday, January 19, 2016

January Days

As I write, light powdery snow sifts down on a bitterly cold morning. Last week my daughter safely delivered a healthy baby boy. He arrived to the open arms of his family and extended family. This beautiful little guy is a lucky one. His older brothers, aged 5 and 2, stayed with my husband and I for a few mostly delightful days. The two year old wore the same superman shirt, with a few peanut butter smears, for three days. In life with a two year, this is not a problem. We played, read lots of books, and took turns visiting the new babe and his Mom in the hospital. My husband and I are fortunate to be able to share this time with our daughter and son-in-law. They are all home now, trying to learn a new routine.

After picking up the house and restocking peanut butter and Cheerios, I am back to walking, writing, and reconsidering my knitting projects. Prior to the baby's arrival, I sorted through my yarn and knitting bags. I had knitting tools and notions tucked everywhere so I divided them into three small zippered bags and put them in a basket with patterns I might use soon. I sorted and stored the yarn by weight and made a few notes about what I might knit with the yarns.

Then I put three works in progress in separate bags, each with pattern, needles and yarns. When I actually looked at the projects I discovered a Goldilocks tale. The Oliveta Shawl was just right. The sock was too small and the sweater was too big. I ripped out the almost finished So Simple Silk Garden sock #1 (smallest size) because it wasn't going to stretch to fit. The cable running down the side of the leg was almost on top of the leg. I kept pulling it over to the side thinking, I can make this sock fit. Why, I wonder, does it take so long, to listen to the knitting voice that says, "stop, this isn't working." I cast on a different pattern, toe-up, to learn something new. That is a tale for another blog post. Sometimes knitting just goes haywire. 
I am also working on my version of a September Morn pullover. Evenings, I tried it on over flannel pajamas. When I finally put it on over a long sleeved T-shirt, I knew it was too big. The sweater body took more yarn than I had planned. Since knitting faster doesn't mean I won't run out of yarn, I ordered more. I enjoy the Quince and Co. Chickadee yarn but this shade is definitely a solid color with no tonal variations. Alternating skeins of different dye lots will produce a sweater with striped sleeves. I ripped out seven inches of the sweater body and am putting in more waist decreases. I'll gain a little yardage from the original dye lot but I don't know if it will be enough. I want this sweater to be warm and comfy with long sleeves. I may order a light gray in the same yarn base and go with a color block contrast.

My plan is to knit the body down to the ribbing and put the stitches on waste yarn. Before I start knitting sleeves with the remaining yarn, I'm going to weigh it and divide it so I can knit the same amount of light blue yarn in the sleeves before switching to the contrasting color. I plan to knit the neck ribbing in the contrasting color also. Wish me luck.

In the meantime, I'm going to bundle up in well fitting socks and sweater (I have a few of those) and take a walk in the snow. I plan to savor the peace of this January day while I dream about snuggling a newborn grandson. All is well.

Monday, January 4, 2016

A New Year

Light hoarfrost covers the trees and bushes this morning. I made coffee while watching juncos huddle in the linden. Later as I filled the feeder, the slightest powder of snow sifted down on my hands. After autumn, winter is my favorite season. The landscape, inside and out, is less cluttered. The garden harvest, dried herbs, and Christmas decorations are mostly put away. The open spaces are more accessible for dusting but I'd rather write about knitting projects and the season.

Before Christmas, I knit my two youngest grandsons mittens. Since reindeer were a big topic of conversation, I chose the Antler Mittens pattern. One evening I showed the five year old his mitten in progress. He asked how he could ever wear mittens with pointy antlers. My daughter explained the wooden antlers were the tools I used to make the mittens. He is a guy who likes tools so calling a knitting needle a tool made sense to him. I explained the cable as a design in one of his school art projects and assured him the finished mittens wouldn't have real pointy wooden antlers. Together we convinced him he could safely wear the mittens.

On New Year's Day I chose a skein of a soft gray wool/alpaca blend and some leftovers and decided to have another try at the Align Mitts. I like the clean look of half stockinette with half ribbing. The first time I knit these mitts, I ripped them out to get a left and right mitt. The second time, still not understanding my mistake, I left them as a mismatched pair. In the light of day, I sat down to think about the pattern. Since this pattern is free, I'm not giving away "for purchase information" when I explain my lightbulb moment. I am a loose knitter with smaller hands so I often decrease the number of stitches to get a mitt that fits snugly. The instructions call for casting on 50 stitches that are divided between 25 ribbed and 25 stockinette stitches. The thumb gusset begins in the center (stitch 13) of the ribbed section. When I knit the mitts with 48 stitches, the division was 24 stitches. The way the pattern is written, the thumb gusset can't be centered on an even number of stitches. The total number of stitches needs to be divisible by two AND AT THE SAME time be an odd number. Eureka, I think I figured it out. Maybe it is time to dust off a few more Math skills. I am a seasoned knitter so understanding the construction of patterns is a reasonable goal.

Since then, I decided to make "understanding" my word/theme for this year. Truly understanding, whether it is the perspective of a child, a knitting pattern, someone's point of view, or the winter season is a good start to the New Year.

Speaking of understanding, we are still waiting for our new grandchild. Babies have a sense of timing all of their own. After posting, I will tidy up my desk. Then I'll pack up the last odds and ends of Christmas: cards, wrapping paper, and mugs and whatever else turns up. I may dust and I may not. First I plan to go for a walk under the falling frost and enjoy the grays and whites of winter.

Happy New Year!

Monday, December 21, 2015

Winter Poetry

Some years I write a winter/Christmas poem to include in my holiday cards. After working with several ideas that seemed like a muddle of nothing, I decided this was not going to be a year for a poem. After all, we are expecting a new grandchild shortly. I also reminded myself that creative writing isn't all writing and revising, sometimes it requires thinking and waiting.

A few days later, in the wee hours of a mid November night, I couldn't sleep. While wandering around in the kitchen, I glanced out the window to see clouds clearing from the sky. Within a few minutes, an absolutely gorgeous moon appeared. The bright crescent rested in the shadow of the darker but visible part of the moon. Stars in Orion's belt shone brightly. Even through bleary eyes, the sight was magical. Why, I wondered, if the people of the earth all live under the same sky, can't we get along? Growing cold, I went back to bed.

The next morning I carried a cup of coffee to my desk. I looked over some old notes and definitions about light because the light of changing seasons is interesting to me. I love the contrast between the soft yellow gray November skies and the deep reds and browns of the deciduous trees. My notes didn't suggest anything other than rambling thoughts so I set them aside and flipped through a book of writing prompts. Randomly I chose one with the instruction to change forms in an unfinished piece. That is, to write a story from a poem, dialogue from an essay, or to choose a specific format for a poem. For no particular reason, I penned the word luminous down the side of a page and jotted down some words from my notes about light into a rough acrostic. Somehow the night sky and the crescent moon crept into the poem. I worked on this little poem for several weeks before it became the piece I sent out into the world. 

So I am publishing it on the eve of the Winter Solstice. (Copyright belongs to me.) Advent is the season of waiting and the Solstice, marking the darkest day of the year, is about hope for the return of light. Hanukah is a Festival of Light. Many faiths and cultures have a winter celebration around the idea of the return of light and hope. 

Luminous: A Prayer for the Season

Luna casts silver light onto
umber earth, wrapping us in a
mantle of kindness. She
illumines shadows with a
nocturne of peace, an
opus for all seasons. Then
ushers us into winter with
slivers of wonder and grace.

Peace, Love, and Light to you and yours.


Wednesday, December 16, 2015


Last night when the wind came up, I looked out to a bit of moon and a few stars in the partly cloudy sky. After four days of rain, the sun is shining. We prepared a little early for the holidays, so this next week I will be baking and enjoying the days. Retirement has its advantages. After Thanksgiving, I got out a few Christmas mugs and serving dishes. Another day, I hung a wreath on the front door and looked at cookie recipes. My cards are in the mail and the few gifts (books all around and a few handmade) are wrapped. Of course there are some extras for the three boys. My two youngest grandsons helped decorate the tree. The ornaments are clustered around the bottom half of the tree and I don't even care. Each evening when I plug in the lights, I am reminded of their smiles and willing hearts.

Sunday after Thanksgiving has become Christmas Quilt weekend at their house. I am happy to write that both little boys have Christmas quilts. E. has the quilt I made for my daughter so many years ago. Last January I wrote a blog post about working on a second Christmas quilt for M. I finished his quilt top in August and delivered it to a local woman who does machine quilting. Although I forgot to photograph the back side of his quilt, I will. This artist quilted a tree in cream thread in each open space and also outlined the embroidered and pieced designs. The large red border is quilted in red thread with a holly design and the narrow green border is quilted in green with a cross-hatch design.

I gave M. his quilt and snapped a few quick photos while he pretended to sleep for "just a minute, Grammy." The two quilts have many of the same designs but also a few that are different. My Texas grandson has the pieced Christmas quilt I made for my son. I haven't begun to think about a Christmas quilt for the baby yet to be born but that will be one of my projects in the New Year. As usual, I saved the coloring book motifs I used for embroidery.

Yesterday I finished the Sail Away With Me sweater for the soon-to-be born babe. Knit in pieces, the sweater required a fair amount of seaming. The buttons on the shoulder closure came from my button box. Many of them belonged to the Grandmother who taught me to knit and sew. I can't say for sure whether these three came from her projects or are leftover from mine but they seemed just right for this little sweater. Drinking hot tea with bright wool on my lap was a good way to spend two rainy days. So we are ready and so are my daughter and son-in-law, at least for their new baby.

If I don't get back here before Christmas, my best holiday wishes to all.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Begin Again

Like everyone I know, I am hugging my loved ones a little more often this season. The inexplicable violence in the world makes me want to keep them safe, warm, and loved. Right now that feels like a tall order, even for a knitter. Each time a mass shooting hits the headlines I set the news aside, then take a deep breath, walk, and/or make contact with someone I love. Then in the evening, I make a cup of tea and sit down to knit.

Last night I wondered, what if knitting were the metaphor for our communities? What if we cared for others the way knitters knit? That is, what if we realized that one dropped stitch or lost human being compromises the fabric of our communities? What if we tried to fix our mistakes? What if we cast on community projects again and again, trying to embrace the tension sometimes created by diversity? The problems are so overwhelming, I just drink my tea, knit, or escape into a book.

Still, I try to practice kindness, that is smile and speak to my Jewish and Muslim neighbors, thank the man with a disability who sacks my groceries, let the other guy into my lane of 5:00 p.m. traffic (well at least sometimes) and then knit like crazy. I finished the little baby sweater. Soon I will seam it together and knit the neckband so it will be ready for our soon-to-be-born grandchild. Last year I made mittens, hats, and slipper socks for my three grandsons and I will knit for them again soon. However, their parents are able to buy the next bigger size of snow pants and snow boots so I know they will be warm this winter. Other little ones are not so fortunate. Recently, I found the Bundles of Joy group on Ravelry. The group knits for babies and children on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Last month, I sent three newborn hats knit from sock yarn scraps to the OB ward of their hospital. This weekend I knit a pair of mittens and am working on a second pair. These are very small gestures. At least, three newborns have winter hats and two children will have warmer hands.

This afternoon I am headed out for a long walk to begin again. As I put one foot in front of the other, I will take some deep breaths of cold crisp air. I will send love to my dear ones and promise kindness to strangers. Then this evening I will knit, stitch by stitch beginning again.


Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Almost Ready

How did we arrive at Thanksgiving? Earlier this week, we had some beautiful sunny crisp autumn days. This morning the clouds are rolling in from the west carrying the possibility of rain/sleet late today and into Thanksgiving morning. I wish safe trips for all travelers. We are ready for a modest dinner at home. Weather permitting, I'd love to drive out to one of the city trails and go for a long walk. If not, my husband will watch football while I read or knit. Generally, I don't knit on a deadline but right now I am working on a project I'd like to finish. Our fourth grandchild, gender unknown, will arrive sometime the end of December into the first of January.

While waiting for each of the other grandsons, I knit two baby sweaters, one for a boy and one for a girl. I gave away two pink sweaters to the grandchildren of friends. I do have one special little newborn sized sweater knit in a blush color that I knit six years ago and a bright little green sweater that is gender neutral. I knit that sweater because I had the yarn and it is nice to have a baby gift on hand. Early in my daughter's pregnancy, I knit both a pink and a blue hat so I thought I was ready.

Then I brought home a new knitting book from the library, One Skein Wonders for Babies. I often check out knitting books from the public library so their data reflects an interest in knitting. I also enjoy looking at new books. Imagine that? The little Sail Away With Me sweater knit from a multicolored skein of Opal sock yarn caught my eye. A garter stitch row creates texture in the body of the sweater while reverse stockinette makes a sailboat on the front of the sweater. One shoulder has a button closure which is nice for those sweet baby heads. Somehow, I thought this little babe should have his/her own sweater, knit with love just for him/her. The colorway used in the pattern was discontinued but I found something similar and cast on. The colors will be cute on either a girl or a boy.

When the oldest brother of this new babe looked at the ultrasound photo, he predicted he will have a new brother. The baby didn't have a ponytail so it is a boy! Three little boys would be a very fun team. Regardless, we are waiting to welcome this little person of either gender with love and warmth. In the meantime, I have a sweater front and sleeves to knit. Snow is on the way, if not tomorrow then soon.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

Monday, November 2, 2015

In Praise of Friendship

I recently completed this Friendship Quilt of blocks made by the Crafters, a group of friends. I sewed the top together by machine and then quilted the piece by hand. Some Crafters will make their own quilt, others will seek help or hire someone to do machine quilting. Eventually we will all have a similar quilt.

Originally, the Crafters met through our work in public schools and special education. In 1979, four or five members got together, ostensibly to carve out a little time to work on handwork and to chat. I knew several of the women from my first three years of teaching and joined them in 1983, when we moved back to Lincoln from Cheyenne, Wyoming. Once a month, we gather in each other's homes with no agenda other than to enjoy being together. The only rule I can ever remember is, if one gets new carpet they are excused from cleaning house. Now days we don't worry too much about cleaning house or new carpet. Dessert is still important. For a good number of years, we were twelve. Now we have two empty chairs. One woman moved out of state and the oldest passed away. We miss them but their blocks are in this quilt.

Everyone brings or doesn't bring their own projects to craft. In the earliest years, counted cross stitch was the rage. Several of us discovered quilting and others knit. Over the years, my friends have stitched, mended, hemmed, quilted, knitted, clipped coupons, sorted through photos, and cleaned out their purses. Now days three or four of us may be working on something. More important is the friendship stitched together through the years. When we began, we talked of our babies and sleepless nights. We commiserated over divorce and teenagers. Then the children grew up and we danced at their weddings. One by one we have lost parents and other loved ones. These days we celebrate grandchildren and new parts via joint replacement surgery. Lately we toasted a bride at her happy second marriage. When I hosted the Crafters in October, we picked up exactly where we left off in September.  

I love being part of the on-line knitting community so this isn't a question of which is better. My knitting friends support each other and charities in other ways. Friendships reach across the country and knitting gathers us together. Locally, I am also part of an intelligent thoughtful group of women who meet monthly to discuss books but that group is worthy of another blog post. I treasure all of these connections to other women.  

Some ten or thirteen years ago, the Crafters set out to make Friendship Quilts, exchanging blocks and helping each other along the way. I honestly can't remember the year we began this quilt. I do remember the times friends from both the Book Group and the Crafters have showed up at my door with a hug and dinner in a picnic basket. They never blinked an eye at the dust in the living room, laundry on the couch, or the sticky kitchen floor. They understood I'd spent a long few days at the hospital with my husband or that I'd just seen my father or mother to the end of his or her life. Books come and go and quilts may be folded away but the friendships remain. They are as rich as deep reds and golds on an autumn day.