Friday, December 12, 2014

Handmade Books from Mom's Carbon Copy Trick

My brothers, sister, and I went to college in the days before personal computers and cell phones. Tablets were made of paper. When I wanted to call my parents, I went down to the lobby of the dorm and put coins into a pay telephone in order to call collect and reverse the charges. In those days, hand written letters were a special treat. Mom wrote weekly. Since I was the oldest, I was the first to trundle off to college. As my sister and brothers left home, Mom put carbon paper between paper so she could type and send the same letter to all of us. She referred to this as her "carbon copy trick." Often these letters began with a poem she had composed. She wrote in rhyme about ordinary and funny things that happened to her. One of my favorite poems is the tale of how she accidentally locked herself into the dog kennel over the noon hour, climbed onto the top of the dog house, and jumped out with nary a bruise or broken bone. As my sister-in-law said, "that could have gone so wrong," but it didn't.

My sister and I saved quite a few of the poems so I decided to transcribe them and make them into a book for my siblings and their children. I enjoyed arranging and formatting her poems into book pages. My printer prints only one-sided pages so I transcribed the poems and then copied them into landscape orientation. I printed those pages and used old-fashioned cut and paste to arrange them in booklet order. Next I printed the pages on resume paper and folded them into two signatures. I used some variation of a pamphlet stitch to sew the signatures together and then attached them to a cover with a variation of the three hole pamphlet stitch. I improvised with stitching so don't ask me exactly how I did it. As my grandmother would say, I stitched "by hook and by crook."

I experimented with the cover which I wanted to look like an envelope. I used art paper designed for charcoals and pastels and tore a booklet sized strip. First I folded up the bottom of the strip lengthwise to make a pocket. Then I folded that strip twice to simulate an envelope. I folded one side flap into a triangle and made a slit for the point. I tucked informal photos of Mom with the recipient into the pocket and tied a ribbon around the entire booklet. Then I made eleven copies, one for each sibling as well as my children, nieces, and nephew.

Like anything crafted by hand, the booklets are not perfect. I found a few typographical errors before I handed them out. However Mom would not have cared. I loved rereading and working with her poems. She had a great sense of humor, especially about herself. Whether she was whipping cream for the infamous orange torte or walking her black lab in the snow, she enjoyed life. Her personality shines through the poems and I wanted my family to have copies. I handed them out to most of my family last weekend. We enjoyed soup, semmel (a German Mennonite hard roll, recipe from my Dad's family), conversation, family stories, and laughter. Life is good.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Toward a Kind and Gentle Holiday Season

Once again the temperature has dropped, the days are shorter, and the birch outside my window has dropped all leaves. A downy woodpecker has come and gone from the suet feeder this morning. After our Thanksgiving company headed for home, I visited with a few friends, dropped off a library book, and took a walk on a balmy November Day. As the wind blew out the last day of November, I made a cup of tea and sat down without my knitting. Recently, I knit myself into an aching shoulder and upper arm. Long hours of sitting in one position to knit gift hats, mittens, slippers, washcloths, and socks made for a sore right arm. This injury is very silly on my part. After a five day hiatus from knitting and reading about good body mechanics, I am determined to heal. This ache is my cue to turn toward a gentler holiday season.

On Thanksgiving Friday, my family gathered at the table for soup and bread. I also made a lousy pie. Now I think the search and fuss for the perfect pie crust recipe is a reminder to serve fresh fruit or simple cookies for dessert. I enjoy making cookies so I will be baking a few carefully selected recipes. One of our traditions is to join hands and sing the Johnny Appleseed Grace.  Mom loved to sing and so we teach three grandsons how to sing grace. My four year old grandson, now knows the words and sings along with the rest of us. That moment, with joined hands, enthusiastic voices, and warm soup was the best of Thanksgiving.

Decor, like dessert does not have to be fussy. Yesterday I spent an hour arranging the nativity set and a Christmas wallhanging my sister made for me. I bought an evergreen wreath for the front door. I don't enjoy fancy decorating so I decided not to do it. I got out a few nonbreakable, non precious ornaments for the Christmas tree. Two of my grandsons are coming later this afternoon to trim the tree.  

My gentle holiday season calls for some solitude. I intend to make a cup of hot tea mid-afternoon and actually taste the herbs and tea while it is warm. I plan to sit in the sun in the old maple rocker and watch the finches and chickadees flick seed from the feeder. I may also read some beautifully written poetry and prose. Poets Mary Oliver, William Stafford, Ted Kooser, Linda Hasselstrom, and Twyla Hansen, the current Nebraska Poet, are among my favorites. Terry Tempest Williams is another writer whose work is worth rereading.

Best wishes for a kind and gentle Holiday.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Local Color

All the colors of autumn make me think about the multiple meanings of the word "color." As a noun, color is defined as "a phenomenon of light or visual perception that enables one to differentiate otherwise identical objects." As a transitive verb, the word color may be used to give meaning, as in "the story has plenty of local color." The word originates from the Middle English, colour, that comes from Latin. The American Heritage College Dictionary gives the Latin origin as "kel" from "kelos" (color and hue) and means that which covers. "Kelos" is related to "occulere" or the occult and means to cover over. So this is my vocabulary lesson for today. 

As a knitter, I am drawn to yarn by both texture and color. I often choose yarn colors related to the season. Late winter/early spring I knit some yellow socks, a yellow cowl and matching mitts. When I ordered the sock yarn, I meant to trade the monochromatic landscape of winter for something warm and bright.

The pale yellow yarn in this cowl was left over from a sweater knit fifteen years ago. The color reminded me of the soft yellow daffodils in my yard. During the summer I knit two shawls in shades of lavender and two pairs of socks from two different greens. Lately I have red yarns on my needles.  I knit a pair of slipper socks for my Texas grandson. He requested socks and red is his favorite color. I knit another gift, a Biscuit Cowl from bright red colored yarn. In between the slippers and socks, I worked on a Tea Leaves Cardigan from a deep cherry/garnet red.

When I knit socks or shawls, I don't worry about colors in the yarn pooling. To me, a pool of color across an ankle or in a thumb is the charm of a hand knitted garment. Sweaters from tonal yarns are a different story. I'd rather not have a blob of color across my torso or in an armpit. This cardigan is knit from a tonal Madelinetosh Merino DK. Shortly after casting on the neck edge, I opened the skeins and looked at them in daylight. Three of the skeins were quite similar, while the fourth was a little darker and the fifth was considerably lighter than the others. I knit the yoke in one of the three similar skeins. As I knit down the body of the sweater, I changed skeins in order to blend in the lightest colored skein.
I didn't alternate every two or three rows because I didn't want to create stripes. I used the darkest skein for the bottom 1.5 inches of body and sleeves while leaving enough of the three similar skeins to knit the garter stitch borders and button bands. All of this left quite a few ends to weave into the finished sweater but that doesn't bother me. I rather enjoy the tidying up chores that finish a garment.

I plan to weave in ends and sew on buttons this afternoon while sitting on the deck in the golden light of October. Mother Nature is doing a magnificent job of pooling colors this autumn. While walking I've enjoyed the crimson and orange-red maples as well as ash trees that are yellow at the bottom with tops tinged a golden brown that turns toward a deep eggplant. The yellow locust trees lining one street look like fringe on a shawl. Yesterday, I was so enamored with the colors, I almost tripped on a raised edge of sidewalk. I am soaking up all the pools of glorious color in order to welcome the gray-blue hush of winter.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Slipping into September

Once again September and Autumn are slipping into Nebraska. The basement shelf is full of canned tomatoes for use in winter soups and casseroles. Yesterday I clipped a tray full of seed heads from the zinnias at the end of their glorious bloom. After they dry, I will store them in a paper bag in the shed for next year's garden. This week I hope to get to a local apple orchard to pick some fresh apples.

The changing season reminds me of a book I read to my children when they were youngsters. "Over and Over" by Charlotte Zolotow was published in 1957 and illustrated by Garth Williams. In this quiet story, a little girl celebrates a holiday or notices a seasonal change and asks her mother, "What comes next?" At the end of the book, she celebrates her birthday, wishing for all of it to happen again.  The story ends with these lines, "And of course, over and over, year after year, it did."

September is a birthday month in my family. My grandfather and I were both born early in September. Four years ago, my first grandson was born mid September. This year we had two small birthday dinners, one for the four year old and one for me.  E. chose firetrucks as his theme so his Mom made him a firetruck cake. I tied red, yellow, and orange balloons to his chair and we set the table with firetruck napkins and cups. Perhaps remembering his monster truck party from last year and looking forward to his firetruck party this year, he decided I should have a "yoga" birthday party. He and his Mom drizzled frosting stick figures in yoga poses on cupcakes. Everyone chose their favorite yoga pose for dessert and we all wore yoga pants. I kept the menus simple so we could enjoy the time together. The balloons and the firetruck cake were a big hit. Sharing a birthday month with my Grandson and Grandfather make me think of the little girl in the book, looking forward to the change of season.

Autumn is my favorite season. I love the chilly mornings and warm afternoons. I look forward to soup in the kettle, knitting in the evening, and warm apple crisp. Later this morning I am going to try a new recipe for pumpkin scones. These first quiet days of autumn are very good.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Summer Socks

Knitting socks in the summer means I can knit with wool and alpaca fibers without accumulating heavy warm fabric in my lap. This summer I knit two pairs of socks from green yarns. After a long cold winter, I longed for the green of summer. I knit the first sock of each pair on a road trip to north central Minnesota. I cast on the first sock of the second pair while knitting with my sister at their lake home so it seemed logical to finish that sock on the trip home. As the miles ticked away, I stitched together memories of loon calls in the evening and my grandson's joy at catching (and releasing) small frogs along the shore.

Both pairs reflect my preference for socks knitted in simple textured stitches. Once I made some lace socks only to have the cuffs stretch and sag around my ankles. Last winter I wore out the first two pair of socks I knit for myself. They were simple stockinette stitch socks but they warmed my feet for seven or eight years. Hand knit socks are my insurance against Nebraska winters.

Before we left on vacation, I cast on the skyp ribbed socks.  The Bluestocking yarn spun from the wool of blue-faced leicester sheep. It also has 20% nylon content. While it is not quite as soft as merino or a merino/cashmere blend, it is sturdier. I have knit another pair of socks from the same yarn and pattern and they have worn well.

I knit the second pair of socks from a pattern called Couplet.  Since I have a narrow foot and knit at a slightly looser gauge, I adapted the pattern to knit a sock that fits my foot. The pattern by Bonnie Sennott is well written and easy to knit. I knit these socks from Malabrigo Sock, a soft merino yarn without any nylon content. The lightweight fingering yarn is not as sturdy as other sock yarns. I wonder how it will wear over time.

I finished both pair of socks at home. Even though I count rows and write notes on the pattern, I find it challenging to knit two socks that are exactly the same. While I used the same set of needles on the second skyp sock, it looks slightly wider.  Perhaps knitting in short spurts at home changed my gauge. As my grandson frequently asks, "How does that happen?" Rather than reknit the sock, I am embracing the variation that occurs in anything crafted by hand. I am also looking forward to wearing the socks this coming winter. They will warm my feet as I remember summer afternoons at the lake and knitting with my sister on their screened-in porch.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Everyday Hollyhocks

When my sister and I were little girls, my grandmother showed us how to make dolls from hollyhocks. Often we placed two blossoms end to end to make a bodice and skirt and then placed a bud on top for a head. On others we added a second toothpick and used more buds for arms. A few dolls rated tiered skirts of several blossoms. We didn't play with the dolls but occasionally we put them in a bowl of water and used them as a centerpiece. Like many childhood amusements, the fun of hollyhock dolls was in the making as well as spending time with Gram.

Gram, who was quite particular about things like popsicle juice on the front porch and the finish of her hand sewn garments, was generous with hollyhock blossoms and buds. She never fussed about the flowers we cut from tall stalks growing between the gravel driveway and the house. She grew up in Omaha in the early 1900's so perhaps hollyhocks were everyday flowers to her. Indeed they often grow without much care in alleys and along fences.

Hollyhocks are part of the hearty mallow family. The word mallow is derived from the Greek, althea, which comes from altheo, meaning to cure. Historically, parts of the plant were used for medicinal purposes. The plant is native to Turkey and other parts of Asia but came to Britain in 1573 from China by way of Palestine. Crusaders may have brought back the plant with them because it soothed horses' hooves. (landreth seeds)

The word hollyhock may be derived from the Anglo-Saxon terms holy (holly) and hoc (hock.) Hock might be a reference to horses' hooves or it might come from the term ad hoc, hoc meaning place. Thus the name hollyhocks could be interpreted to mean a holy place because they originally came from Palestine.  Regardless of how the flower came to be called hollyhock, I enjoy the reminder to find the sacred in ordinary flowers as well as ordinary days. (Hollyhocks: Dancing Ladies)

Gram probably had none of this in mind as she entertained two little girls on hot summer days. When I see hollyhocks in city alleys, small towns or in farmyards, I think about the women who plant and tend flower gardens which include hollyhocks, zinnias, and cosmos. I wish them joy and beauty in their ordinary days.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Garden Work

After I read about several local yard and garden tours, I began to write a poem about my ordinary garden. As I muddled around in the poem, I thought about my frugal approach to gardening. I grow vegetables, herbs, and perennials that do well in southeast Nebraska. I observe my yard for differences in sun, wind, shade, and water and then plant accordingly. Sometimes when plants don't thrive, I move them to a better location. If they die, I replace them by dividing a perennial that already grows in my yard. This year I tucked rosemary and tarragon in the bed along the fence because the location is sunny and protected from the wind. I plant basil near the tomatoes so both can be watered with the same drip hose. I water new plants to get them established but choose hardy herbs and flowers that withstand heat and wind. I conserve water and keep down weeds by mulching with grass and leaf clippings from the top of my compost bins.

About every two years, I get a good amount of rich composted soil from two large wire bins. This year, we added a covered tumbling bin so the table scraps won't attract possums and raccoons. Turning the compost in the bins makes my back ache so I hoped the ease of flipping the new bin would speed decomposition. Unfortunately, that hasn't happened. Like other worthwhile work, transforming raw materials into compost takes time.

All of this brings me back to the unfinished garden poem. After working on the poem several mornings in a row, I put the rough draft and notes in a folder to wait for work on another day. Will the poem be a tour of my garden, a comment about conservation, a story of my connections with plants like the rhubarb that comes from my grandparents' garden, or something else entirely? Often words and ideas or leaves and scraps make a fine risotto. Other times, the transformation requires a change in the ingredients and more time. Both benefit from stirring. While poems and compost brew, I am going out to pull weeds, dig black gold back into the ground, and enjoy the green colors. I plan to leave electronic devices indoors.