Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Ordinary Days

Last night as I drifted off to sleep, the wind began to blow. Today promises to be warm, windy, and sunny. The wind matches my unsettled spirit. Although I try to separate from the cacophony of news coverage, I find it hard to ignore undercurrents of wide division. My feeble answer is to smile and offer courtesy to fellow citizens while savoring ordinary days. This week I joined good friends for coffee and dinner in addition to completing chores, errands, knitting, walking, and reading. Monday I came out of a store and noticed a large flock of migrating birds, perhaps sandhill cranes. I waited for them to pass overhead, hoping to hear their calls. The noise of vehicles and construction across the parking lot made that impossible. Somehow in spite of our strife, the birds respond to patterns of light and darkness in each season.

Late one night, I pulled an old favorite from my bookshelf. Louise Erdrich's Books and Islands in Ojibwe Country, published in 2003, is an account of a trip to Lake of the Woods in Southern Ontario. Traveling with her baby and the baby's father, an Ojibwe spiritual leader and guide, she "reads the islands like a book." (Erdrich, 2003) They also visit a fragile island housing Ojibwe artifacts and the large library of Ernest Oberholtzer. In 1912, Oberholtzer, an immigrant of German heritage and an Ojibwe man, Billy Magee, canoed and mapped an area bounded by Lake Winnipeg, Hudson Bay, and Reindeer Lake. As Erdrich reads the island paintings and visits the Oberholtzer cabin lined with books, she explores the question, "Books: why?" as well as the importance of language to the Ojibwe culture. Small beautiful illustrations by Erdrich accompany the text. Although I have read this book previously, I am enjoying her meditation on the North Woods, language, and Ojibwe culture.

Last week I cast on Norah's Christmas stocking but am waiting for another skein of red yarn. I am not interested in playing yarn chicken while knitting a good sized intarsia Christmas stocking. Even though the yarn will be a different dye lot, I plan to use it for knitting her name and the red parts of other small motifs. I found several yarn shops with an online presence still selling the Brown Sheep Lana Loft in sport weight. Now I wonder if it might have been better to order three skeins and just knit the entire stocking in the same dye lot. Time will tell.

While I wait for the yarn to arrive, I picked up scraps of Cotlin, the cotton linen yarn I use for wash cloths. Garter stitch is always a good idea. After knitting blanket squares, I am giving in to the siren call of mitered squares. I have used this yarn enough to be fairly certain it isn't going to fade. Fading and color bleeding has kept me from knitting a sock yarn blanket. That and the amount of knitting such projects require. I admire those of you who do make those blankets. Now I wonder if my leftovers of Chickadee by Quince and Co. would knit up into a scarf or small lap blanket of mitered squares. These squares are a rabbit hole but first I have some gift knitting to do. I plan to savor autumn but as sure as cranes fly south, Christmas will come. 

Today, I join Kat and the Unravelers. What do you read and make on an ordinary day?


Wednesday, September 26, 2018

A New Season

The Autumn Equinox marking the time of equal light and dark has come and gone. On September 21, the last day of summer, my daughter and husband delivered a healthy baby girl. She arrived safely via a scheduled C-section. Monday she and her Mom went home to her wonderful Dad and three big brothers who are lining up to "keep care of her." When I heard they were headed home, I suggested someone tell Norah to take a deep breath. She is loved to the moon and back. On her first evening at home, the family watched part of a televised baseball game and the five year old wanted to make sure she could see the game.

Our hearts are full of joy, wonder, love, and gratitude. I am so so thankful for this safe delivery and a new granddaughter to add to our fabulous four grandsons. Though as my daughter says, the celebration would have been the same for a little boy. The news came to us early Friday morning and by Friday evening she had a name, Norah Jane. The name Norah comes from a Hebrew word light, as in God created the light. I was surprised and honored beyond measure for her to carry my name. The name goes back at least four generations in our family. I have a niece with the same middle name. And so little Norah brings joy, love, and light to her family. 

While I was waiting for her birth last week, I knit toddler sized mittens and hat. Our new little gal has plenty of warm knits so I plan to donate this set in honor of her safe arrival. The color work was a bit of an experiment and worked out better in the hat than on the mittens. The mittens don't match perfectly although they are the same size. They are soft and snug and will keep a little one warm. I also finished this toddler sweater for later because babies grow. If this child had been a boy, this sweater would have been a gift for someone else. I will pick up three buttons this week.

While I "kept calm and knit on," I finished reading A Gentleman in Moscow. I thoroughly enjoyed the writing, character development and narrative of the novel. The writer's comments and asides to the reader were very well done and added to the story. I also read a few poems from Voices on the Air by Naomi Shihab Nye. Recently she read her poems on the podcast, "On Being." Nye and her work are remarkable in many ways. She works with young people around the world. If you need your spirits lifted, read or listen to Nye.

I am joining Kat and the Unravelers this week with my knitting and reading. Kat is working on a mitred cross blanket project, seaming together squares contributed by a group of knitters. Holy cow, that is a big project.

The season is changing. Norah has arrived. Monarchs are fluttering over the zinnia patch. Last week a pair of ruby crowned kinglets stopped in the birch on their way through. When the pesky squirrels aren't chewing on our deck, they scramble up the trees to pad their nests. Soon we will travel to meet little Norah and her family. All is well.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Watching and Waiting

On Monday my sister and I spent the day together. We planned to pick apples and share a picnic lunch. Although our apple picking wasn't the quintessential outing planned, we had a nice day. I had missed the notice on the orchard website stating they were closed on Mondays. Even so, the owners graciously let us pick and buy apples. The recent hot weather and above average rainfall made for abundant apples and mosquitoes. Although we dressed in long sleeves, long pants, and hats, they swarmed around us. I used a little insect repellant (I hate the stuff) on my neck and around the bottom of my pant legs but it didn't phase them at all. We picked as fast as we could and took our picnic lunch home to eat indoors. The apples are tart, crisp, and delicious. We escaped without bites. Thank goodness as West Nile Virus is reported in the area.

Mosquitoes or not, we chatted away about our knitting and our families. Naturally we talked about the baby my daughter will deliver any day. We are eager to welcome this new little child. Though there is no reason to expect anything but a safe delivery, I am a little anxious. My sister, who knows exactly what I need to hear, remarked, "We will knit this baby safely into the world." So we shall. I used to tell my son nearly the same thing when he went to school in Laramie, Wyoming. He thought nothing of setting off at 5:00 p.m. and driving home through the night. I usually talked to him before I went to bed and would tell him I was knitting him safely home. That winter I knit him a sweater. One winter evening, I knit so furiously I overshot the body length by ten inches.

My sister and I are knitting this week while watching and waiting for Baby Coconut. Last week I reknit the infamous mitten, managing to get the cable and thumb in the correct place. I ripped out the rose colored shawl and cast on in yet another pattern but will create Ravelry notes when I know it is a go. Yesterday I needed some easy knitting so I cast on a baby hat. I don't have a pattern. I adapted the color work from a free mitten pattern and am using a tape measure frequently. I plan to knit matching mittens.

I am thoroughly enjoying A Gentleman in Moscow. The story "shows instead of tells" as the main character creates an interesting life in spite of house arrest in a hotel. Call me old fashioned but the characters' good manners and courtesy are refreshing. The writing, dotted with sly humor and asides to the reader, is excellent.

Linking with Kat and the Unravelers today.  I am looking forward to see what others are knitting and reading.  Then I am off to make some applesauce.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Summer's End

I walk in my neighborhood all year long. Each season brings its treasures. This summer I saw the wildflower, Hibiscus trionum, tucked in around the bottom of a street light pole. The plant is commonly called "Flower-of-an Hour" because it blooms for a short period in the morning. The stem is prickly but the cream flower with the maroon center and yellow stamen is beautiful. Blue jays flew from tree to tree with their familiar shrieks. They seemed to be checking in with each other. "I am here. Where are you?"  "I am just down the street." All summer the trees do a yeoman's work absorbing noise, dust, and carbon dioxide while giving back green color, shade, and shelter. When we moved into this subdivision in 1991, the area was being developed. Newly planted saplings now provide bountiful shade. As summer ends, the vibrant greens fade. The trees begin to let go of leaves, following a natural rhythm. 

Whether the life cycle of a tree is long or cut short by disease or storm, losing one is hard. Trees are lovingly attended on the Great Plains. Willa Cather once remarked, "Trees were so rare in this country we used to feel anxious about them." Thousands of ash trees grow in southeast Nebraska. All of them are threatened by the emerald ash borer beetle. The landscape will look very different without the ash. As I understand it, chemical treatment may extend the life of the tree for five to ten years but eventually the tree will die. The poison treatments damage the tree and need to be repeated. We don't have an ash in our yard so don't have to decide whether to remove or treat a mature tree. I understand it is a tough call. I venture into controversy when I wonder: What are the long term effects of the chemicals on ground water, or the birds that shelter in the trees, nearby pollinators, or children who play in the soil underneath the canopy? What conditions created the ability of this insect to thrive? I don't know the answers but I think the long view is worth considering.

These ideas are on my mind as summer nears its end and I unravel my knitting. I am knitting swatches and then unraveling them. I knit loosely so achieving correct gauge can be a challenge. I'd like to knit the sweater Archer. Both stitch and row gauge are critical for shaping the yoke of the sweater. I have modified patterns based on a different gauge but the construction method of this sweater makes modifications seem quite daunting. Monday evening I ripped out and reknit the thumb gusset on the second mitten. Last night I knit on the mitten only to discover the cable was two stitches too wide and ran up the side (instead of the center!) of the hand. What was I thinking when I set up the pattern on this mitten?! I unraveled it and went to bed to read A Gentleman in Moscow. I've only just begun this novel but am enjoying it. Reading about the gentle kind intelligent man is a treat.

Linking with Kat and the Unravelers today as  I leave you with a poem I wrote over the course of three summers of walking. Who knows I may unravel and work on it again next summer.

Morning Walk

Walking with knives and forks clattering
in my mind, I sink into the stretch of my calf.

Air conditioners hum as the sole
of my shoe scuffs the pavement.

I nod to a runner. Chickadee calls.
Cardinal marks his territory.

I pause under trees, compare
canopy of pear, linden, and ash. 

Beneath a maple I plant my feet,
breathe into side ribs.

Rib to vein, vein to spine, breath
from breath, I meet another.

Jane A. Wolfe Copyright 2018


Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Hello September

Heavy rain fell on southeast Nebraska over Labor Day weekend. The coming week looks to be just as soggy. No matter, I had a lovely birthday weekend filled with phone calls, FaceTime, flowers, and many birthday wishes. My husband brought me a sweet red and white bouquet and the Connecticut team sent very September-ish flowers. My sister knit me a pair of beautiful cozy socks.

Our son, Aaron was here for his annual Fantasy Football draft with friends so having him was an extra treat. Although the weather was warm and muggy, he and I decided a soup supper was in order. We made a pot of chili and semmel, a family recipe for a German hard roll. Although the rolls are made from basic ingredients of flour, water, yeast, and salt, the ratio of flour to water varies with the brand of flour and the day. The best way to learn is to apply one's own elbow grease and experience the heft of the sticky dough under a wooden spoon. After the dough rises it is dropped in big clumps onto a well seasoned cookie sheet to bake at a high heat. The well seasoned, battered up cookie sheet is another factor in getting the outer crispness of the bread just right. Sunday was a good day for his semmel making lesson.

This hard roll comes down from my Dad's family. My grandmother and her sisters, as well as other cousins in the same community, stirred the dough up on Saturday evenings and then baked semmel for breakfast before Sunday church. I imagine Grandma Catherine learned to make semmel from her mother. These hardy rolls supported hard working farmers and their families. My Mom learned to make them and added poppy seeds to the top so I do the same. My siblings and families like them with soup or breakfast. My Connecticut grandchildren call them "Grammy Bagels." Every family member has their preferred topping - butter, cheese, jelly, peanut butter, or honey on a warm semmel. The second and third day after baking (if they last that long) they are a little tough but quite good when buttered and warmed under the broiler. Sunday evening, the three of us ate a few and I sent the rest home with Aaron. I didn't think to take photos but loved being shoulder to shoulder with him in the kitchen. He is a great cook so I have no doubt he can make these at home.

Sunday evening I finished two mitered blanket squares that will be part of two blankets for cancer patients. A number of bloggers are making squares. My skills in picking up stitches have improved since I knit one square twice. The pattern is a bit of a puzzle. I just had to trust and follow the directions and guess what? Designers know how to write patterns. This one is written quite clearly. The squares are blocking and may take a bit longer than usual to dry in this weather. After I weave in the ends, I'll send them to Kat who, bless her, is sewing them together and knitting the edging.

While knitting on the blanket squares, I listened to two Mary Russell mysteries, Locked Rooms and The God of the Hive. The mitered squares will forever remind me of this September weekend, stirring up semmel with Aaron, and the Russell and Holmes stories. This series by Laurie King, is a spin-off from the Sherlock Holmes stories. I have read some of them - out of order - as they were available from the library. I love the library but I get a little annoyed when part of a series is missing. I haven't read or listened to this series for awhile so it was fun to return. The series begins around 1915. Mary Russell, a smart independent woman, marries Holmes and together they travel the world, have adventures, and solve mysteries.

Yesterday I played around with a sweater swatch to no avail and then picked up mittens and knit on them. Someone can always use a pair of mittens. This yarn was to be part of a scrap blanket that I am not very enthused about knitting. The project has been sitting in the basket in a closet all year. I may reclaim the unused yarn for other knitting, most likely mittens and hats. The main color of the afghan isn't in my favorite palette of blue/gray/purple/sage green.

Linking with Kat and the Unravelers on this first week of a new month. Hello September.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Stitching Away

While the temperature and humidity hold on to the end of this Nebraska summer, the morning and evening light comes at a different slant. Some mornings the spider webs are hung with dew. Yesterday a front blew through so this morning feels like autumn. Grandmother Spider is busy repairing her web.

All summer I have been making quilt blocks for our new grandchild. Come December this little one will be sleeping in a crib and have no need for a large Christmas quilt. I am under no immediate deadline to finish and am taking my time. I enjoy thinking about Baby Coconut (temporarily named by her eldest brother and due in mid September) while I stitch away on the blocks. I have completed seventeen of the twenty. I will stitch the last one after Baby Coconut arrives. I need the child's given name for the block with my name and date. Come autumn, after a visit to meet this new babe, I will set the quilt together.

I finished the Petty Harbor socks. The alpaca/wool/nylon yarn makes warm soft socks and worked well with the textured pattern. I often buy a skein of Alpaca Sox yarn from a LYS in Omaha. My sister and I shop the store's end-of-the-year sale together. These socks remind me of a cold December day in a yarn shop with my sister. The summer shawl and a toddler sweater remain on the needles but haven't seen much knitting time lately. Currently I am joining some other women in knitting Mitered Cross blanket squares as a gift to a cancer patient. The construction of the garter stitch square is interesting and makes the knitting go by quickly.

I am reading several books. The Cottonwood Tree by Kathleen Cain, a native Nebraskan combines science, ecology, natural history and Cain's experiences with the trees. Most of it is quite readable. A section or two describing the science of the tree are a little technical but still interesting. The other two books are from the library. Knit Mitts by Kate Atherley is a resource with patterns as well as mathematics needed to design mittens in a range of sizes with various weights of yarn. I am always on the look out for knitting books and found this one on a shelf of new nonfiction. After listening to an episode of "On Being" podcast featuring poet Michael Longley, I requested his Collected Poems via Interlibrary Loan. Listening to his Irish Brogue as he read and talked about poetry led me to search for his work. His poems are beautiful.

I'll link to Kat and the Unravelers today. It is always fun to see what others are reading and stitching or even unraveling.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Knitting Needles

One of my summer projects was to sew a fabric case for my double pointed needles. Since becoming a dedicated knitter, I have stored DPN's (in the original packaging) at the bottom of the basket that also holds circular needles. Other than the time spent looking for DPN's and buying a few unneeded duplicate sets, the system worked well. Lately some of the packaging has worn out, letting needles slip through the wrappers. On our last road trip, we pulled off the highway and stopped so I could retrieve a needle that fell down beside the seat. 

During the past few days I made a case from supplies on hand. I did purchase some twill tape printed with a tape measure that I used to label needle sizes on specific pockets. Every time I pull out supplies from storage, I think whoever finds this mess after I am gone will say, "Well, she had a lot of good ideas." "Egad and little fishhooks," as my Grandmother used to exclaim. Gram was a sewer of all kinds of projects and had a sewing room full of interesting supplies and tools so she would understand my collection. I inherited her buttons, a few pieces of fabric, and many knitting needles. 

Anyway, my sister has a fabric DPN case, so I asked her to measure and photograph it for me. This project would have been much more difficult without that information. First I inventoried sizes, lengths, and duplicate sets of needles. Then I spent three afternoons measuring, cutting, trimming, pressing, and sewing to create the case. 

I finished it by hand stitching down the binding and attaching size labels. Hand stitching the size labels seemed like the best way not to inadvertently sew the pockets shut. Oh dear. I enjoyed the puzzle of creating and sewing the case but will say that whatever Etsy makers charge for a DPN case is a fair price. 

While sorting needles, I came upon these Susan Bates needles. Look at the prices. I remember buying one pair of these but the others probably came from my Grandmother's collection. She didn't knit much on DPN's but used them to cable.

I also have some of her straight needles in the pastel aluminum colors. I don't use them often but keep them in a small pitcher that also belonged to her. She had a set of "Tickled Pink" dishes she used everyday. Pink was her favorite color but that is a story for another day. 

I am reading the last chapter of Craeft. The author, an archeologist, traces the history of craeft and tools that enabled agricultural life in England and Wales before petroleum products came into widespread use. His ideas are intriguing and mostly readable. Some technical sections about tools were a little tedious for me. I enjoyed the section about sheep farming, spinning, and weaving as well as the story about baskets. 

Linking with Kat and the Unravelers today. May your books and knitting needles stay neatly in their assigned places and projects.