Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Scrappy


Last night I finished eight placemats. This project started with sorting and organizing the chest of drawers that holds quilt projects and fabric scraps. When I was teaching and my children were at home, I bought quite a few fat quarters. They weren't expensive and made me feel like I was quilting when I wasn't. Anyway, the cleaning project turned into a creative mess on my sewing table. Funny how that happens.

I pulled out quilt blocks that were never sewed into a quilt because they were the wrong color or size or just plain wonky. I retrieved a few fat quarters for the backing. As I sewed pieces and blocks into rectangles, I didn't worry about all points and corners matching. I just sliced and diced until the edges were straight and the mats were sort of the same size. In the past, I worked hard to piece accurately because I enjoyed precision. On this project, I cut and sewed to my heart's content and the randomness was freeing. Really, I think I need to break the quilting rules more often.


I finished two placemats before a cataract obscured my vision. On one of those mats, the backing is is wrong side out. I hadn't even noticed. I just left the mat as is, I doubt anyone at my house will turn over a placemat to examine the back side. I never would have settled for such imperfection in my younger quilting days. Another rule tossed aside.

This week I sewed backs to the fronts before hand stitching up the small opening left for turning the pieces right side out. I fused sturdy interfacing to the fronts hoping not to need any machine quilting. The placemats would hold together better if I machined quilted along a few seams. Who knows I may break another rule and leave them as they are now.

Scrappy means made of scraps - bits and pieces. It also means being fiesty or having a determined spirit. Hmm, if the scrap fits, maybe I should wear it. 

Linking up with Kat's Unravelers - not ravelers as I wrote last week. I continue to savor Eleanor Roosevelt's short pieces in My Day.  If ever there was a woman with a determined spirit, she was one. Last night I kitchenered the Shallows Cowl together. This project is that perfect match between yarn and pattern. While knitting, I listened to How The Light Gets In by Louise Penny.


Will Inspector Gamache and his friends succeed in solving the intrigue going on in the Quebec police force? I suspect it might take another book but won't know for sure until I listen to the end. I do love that quote by Leonard Cohen, "There is a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in."  I'm enjoying both books.


Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Eleanor


On our recent trip East, we toured the Roosevelt homes and FDR Presidential Library Museum in Hyde Park, New York. The Hudson River Valley was dressed in rich autumn colors. The park rangers were friendly and knowledgeable. I felt right at home with the park ranger/retired child care provider who drove the tram to Eleanor Roosevelt's home, Val-Kill. Originally the structure housed Val-Kill Industries, a wood working and furniture making business she and two other women created to teach skills and provide work during the Depression. Some historians think Val-Kill was a model for FDR's New Deal programs. Later it became Eleanor's home. She had never been comfortable in the large Roosevelt home run by her mother-in-law, Sara. So she created this more modest place with relaxed comfortable furnishings in cozy spaces. Here she wrote, entertained family, friends, as well as the young John F. Kennedy. She also held picnics for local children from disadvantaged circumstances. 


Just before traveling, I read Eleanor and Hick. The thoughtful well written history describes the public and private lives of Roosevelt and her friend, Lorena Hickock. Roosevelt was an advocate for peace, human rights, civil rights, and children's welfare. When a reporter asked her what America should do about racism, she replied, "we should face it." In 1939 she resigned her membership in D.A.R. because the group refused to let African American Marion Anderson sing in Constitution Hall. Then she arranged a concert for the contralto with a gorgeous voice at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. She advocated for people living in poverty and stated that the function of government is to make life better for people. Truman appointed her as the U.S. delegate to the United Nations. She was an important member of the commission that wrote the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a document adopted by the United Nations. She traveled widely until just before her death in 1962. At times I wonder what else she could have done had she lived slightly later. However she used her position and resources to accomplish a great deal. Perhaps she lived in the time that was right for her. 

Eleanor was also a prolific writer, publishing numerous articles and books. I am reading My Day, a compilation of syndicated newspaper columns she wrote from 1935 - 1962. The chatty columns range from an account of dinner indoors on a winter evening to social and political issues she wanted to present to her readers. For many years, she wrote this column six days a week. And she was a knitter. In one column she wrote about the progress made on a sweater while "sitting around in a hospital." Her son had just had four wisdom teeth pulled. Several photos and videos show Mrs. Roosevelt knitting while chatting with her husband or on a plane.


As I knit I continue to think about Eleanor. My mother who became a nurse just after WW2, admired and read about Eleanor Roosevelt. Now I wish I had asked her more about those books. I am sure she admired Eleanor's indominable spirit as I do.  This week I finished the blue cowls. They need to be blocked and tucked away into the gift basket. Last night I cast on a shawl. I purchased the yarn last April on our trip to the East Coast. I have one more skein of sock yarn from last October's trip to Fort Worth. We hope next year brings more traveling to see our children. Until then, I am enjoying the autumn leaves. They are falling today after last night's heavy frost.

Linking, I hope, with Kat's Unravelers. What are you knitting and reading?

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Home and Away



I am most at home on the prairie under an endless sky. Two weeks ago, I walked among the tall grasses to enjoy the last greens of the season. While there are two or three benches on Spring Creek Prairie, I prefer to sit on the ground, eye level with the native plants. By late October the insects are mostly gone. I saw one or two sluggish grasshoppers. The wind rattled dry seed pods as it blew through the grass and over the land.


I saw a few stems of red coral berry and a little bittersweet near a draw. Just before leaving, I watched a great blue heron fish the pond. That evening I wound up a skein of sock yarn and packed my bag for the East Coast.


Since our children and their families live in Texas and Connecticut, we travel in their directions. Recently my husband fished with our son and grandson on the Texas Oklahoma border. This time the two of us flew into Hartford, CT. and drove into the Hudson River Valley before visiting family. The drive across the north central and western Connecticut into New York State was an autumn treat. We toured the FDR Library and the Roosevelt homes in Hyde Park. Although the New York Sheep and Wool Festival was the previous weekend, we had lunch in Rhinebeck, NY.  More about Hyde Park in another post.


We had a grand visit with our family. We celebrated Halloween, read books, and walked around the Point with three little boys. We walked Emmett to school and watched him in the school Halloween parade. One morning I read to Micah's preschool class. Another day my daughter took Lance and I to the beach to see the sun rise over Long Island Sound. The last morning, she put the youngest in a backpack and we went for a walk in a wooded area. The Connecticut woods were full of subtle autumn sights.


While it is hard to say "bye-soon," we are grateful for the time together and a safe trip. After all it is November on the prairie and I came home to my own tea cup.









Monday, October 16, 2017

October Comforts


Today begs for a walk. The sky is bright blue and the morning air is crisp. Everyday the trees wear more autumn color. I admire the leaves as they let go so easily and float to the ground. The time we live in feels so unsettled. I take comfort in the beauty and predictability of the changing seasons.  Of course, the company of good friends and family, as well as reading and knitting are also comforting.

Yesterday I read "My Mortal Enemy," a short novella by Willa Cather. Although the piece was written in the early 1900's, Cather's message about kindness of spirit and what happens when it is absent is timeless. Even early in her writing career, Cather's writing was skillful. The storyline develops through the depth and description of characters' lives. I am a Cather fan and am enjoying some of her early lesser known works.

If you haven't noticed, my knitting projects often favor shades of blue. I am working on two cowls, both blue. One is an old favorite, a Shallows Cowl. For some reason, knitting this pattern is peaceful. The easy lace reminds me of gentle waves of water rocking grasses at the edge of a lake or river. I am knitting the cowl on some old aluminum needles - blue. I rarely use straight needles but this project seemed to call for them. They belonged to my Gram who taught me to knit so it is fun to use them now and then.



This weekend I cast on the Dance Around the Trees cowl in a Mirasol yarn, a new to me yarn. The label says that a portion of the profit from this yarn goes to support a school in a remote region of Peru. I chose the yarn because I thought it would work well for the pattern and it is a rich teal color - blue. Doing a tiny bit of good is a nice bonus. I am enjoying both projects. They may become gifts. Heaven knows I am well supplied with knitted gear.



I am off to dig out a pair of fingerless mitts to wear on a walk. May the leaves fall gracefully on your October days.



Saturday, October 7, 2017

Joy


This past week, my daughter, Kate and her family visited so we had a house filled with family and joy. We threw a dinosaur party to celebrate their visit. For these three little guys, a party means a theme based cake with coordinating balloons, napkins, cups, and desert plates. The balloons said Happy Birthday but in a flurry of balloon bopping no one noticed or cared. The party-ware and sidewalk foot prints were easy.



As for cake making, let's just say I am more skilled at knitting and quilting. The boys didn't care one bit that the cake wasn't bakery perfect. They thought the "smarshmellows" and lumpy chocolate glaze were delicious.



The two oldest requested a trip to Morrill Hall, The University of Nebraska State Museum so off we went. The museum includes a hands-on science encounter center, dinosaur fossils and skeletons including dinosaur poop. They remembered the poop from last years visit. Poop is always a hit with little boys. Emmett requested I take their photo in front of Archie, the wooly mammoth statue. I don't know if Archie is his name but that is what they call him. They wore their Husker shirts.



Jonah received his quilt. We played at the park, read lots of stories, and enjoyed the days. I returned from the airport yesterday to a quiet house filled with toys, books, laundry, and happy memories.


Today my husband is off fishing with our son and other grandson so the weekend is my own. I may cast on some Christmas gifts. If I can find my shoes, I'm going for a walk. I have one bit of knitting to show. Late September, I finished these Antler Mittens to go with the Peace Cowl I knit last winter. The set will be a November birthday gift.


This morning, my teabag message read, "Love has no boundary." A good message for today and always. I wish you abundant love with no boundary.





Monday, September 18, 2017

Stitching Life Together


A welcome rain is falling this morning. I finished Jonah's little gray sweater. Photographing a gray sweater on a gray day is not optimal but I think you can see it against the quilt. This is a larger version of last year's Flax sweater. Jonah is growing and by winter, he will have grown some more. The sweater looks big to me but he is a good sized little guy. He loved last year's sweater, so I am hoping he hasn't changed his mind. As he cruises into the terrific 2's, his opinions will develop and change. If so, my daughter can find a good home for it. The sweater, knit on size 6 needles and a familiar classic pattern, was an easy peaceful knit during pre and post cataract surgery.

I also finished the scrap quilt underneath the sweater. My quilts and quilt fabrics are hopelessly out of date but that doesn't bother me. I love using pieces from other quilts and from family and friends. I enjoy working with the humble nine patch block. The pattern can be arranged in many ways. The nine squares in the block are predictable, and easy to piece from small bits of fabric. Heaven knows I have plenty of fabric scraps on hand.


I added the half-square triangle and split blocks for fun. It makes me happy to break a few quilting rules. Some of the spacer blocks came from a very worn tablecloth I bought at a second hand store. I used it as a dresser scarf until it fell apart and then saved the embroidered sections done by an anonymous woman. I mended the fabric near one of the motifs so I could put it in this quilt.


I don't know why or when I started piecing these blocks and tossing them in a box. Last September, after my daughter and family moved to the East Coast, I was straightening up the basement family room and came across the box of blocks. I carried it to my corner of the couch and began piecing the top. Although I didn't think about it until now, I realize I did what I often do. When life changes or throws me a curve, I often stitch it back together.

I finished the quilt a week before cataract surgery by threading my needle under a magnifying glass. The tiny almost invisible hand stitch securing the binding is called a blind stitch, quite the accurate term for this summer's stitching. By August, I sewed mostly from muscle memory. At least the last blind stitches are on the back of the quilt. They are staying in the quilt as they are part of this previous year. My new glasses lenses are due to arrive by Friday. I can't wait. While I am grateful for medical technology and an excellent ophthalmologist, I am anxious to be able to read a knitting chart and any book I choose. I am celebrating with a trip to the library.


Until then, I hope everyone is safe and dry. I wish you a good week this mid-September.   


Wednesday, September 6, 2017

September Threads



Early September days pull me from the generous tomato/basil harvest of summer toward autumn. My favorite little summer bouquet of old fashioned sweet peas and black-eyed susans decorates our table. The lavender is blooming so I add a bit of fragrance to the old syrup pitcher. The sun warms my back. As I walk, I savor bright marigolds, a lush bed of impatients, and the red/purple morning glory vine cascading over a neighbor's railing. I share parsley in my herb garden with very hungry caterpillars that will become butterflies.


I finished this summer shawl. The yarn is lovely, a very slight blush color in a light fingering. After reading the Ravelry notes of others, I made the shawl slightly smaller than the pattern specified. It is still a generous size. I think it will be good for summer wear which is one of the reasons I chose the yarn and pattern.


Until I get new glasses, I am happily knitting away on Jonah's sweater. I wonder if it is too big. This afternoon I am going out to find a toddler sized sweatshirt for comparison.


I had a lovely birthday weekend. My son was home, the little guys sang Happy Birthday via FaceTime, and my dear sister knit a beautiful pair of two color mittens for me. Both children gave me flowers. My husband brought me a latte and helped me order some new knitting needles. September is also the birth month for my grandfather and first grandson. That grandson and his family will be visiting here the end of September.  As awful news spirals through the newspapers and media, I give thanks for all that I have and do my best to offer kindness and support to others. I also knit on.

Yesterday the prevailing summer breezes shifted, coming from the north. When I walked I saw two trees with small streaks of red. Looking from the top of a hill, I noted muted browns showing along the edge of some trees. September threads connect us to a new season.

What threads connect your September days?


Sunday, August 27, 2017

Through the Lens


Last week was a week of new lenses for me. On Monday we watched the total solar eclipse at a friend's country home. Despite a few cirrus clouds blowing in and out, we saw most of the moon's movement, a small solar flare, and the silver diamond ring of the sun. I thought the changes to the blue gray twilight were stunning. Naturally we wore the funky ISO approved eclipse glasses. My favorite eclipse instructions were don't drive or walk around while wearing the glasses. Well of course not, the lenses obscure everything but the sun. I was also pleased I could see the eclipse given the cataract in my left eye.

On Thursday, I had the cataract covered lens removed and a new lens inserted. Surgery went well and my eye is healing. On the drive home, I noticed bright vivid colors with sharp precise distance vision. I am forever grateful to medical personnel skilled in the newest technology. As I type, I can see all the markings on the chickadee at the feeder. Literally, I have a new way to see. Now I wonder how else I limit my vision by looking though my own cloudy point of view. It's worth considering.

While my eye heals, I have no lens in the left side of my glasses. I will need some bifocal correction for that eye and more powerful correction for the right eye. The right eye isn't ready for surgery. Until this eye heals, reading remains a challenge. Friends, family, audiobooks, enlarged fonts, and knitting are the answers. Thank you all for your kind words and thoughts.

I am also grateful to be a knitter. I finished the striped socks before the eclipse. I prepared for the post surgical transition by choosing two skeins of yarn. If I absolutely couldn't knit, I planned to wind yarn. However, the night of the surgery, I propped my glasses over the large bandage on the left eye (the doc's suggestion) and knit on this washcloth. It was comical as the glasses kept sliding down my nose. Early the next morning, the bandage was removed at a followup appointment. Since then I've finished the Gemma Shawl (it is blocking), worked on Jonah's sweater and cast on a pair of mitts.



Yesterday I found a mostly red maple leaf. The color was beautiful. Today I may wind the pink yarn for mittens or I may toss a bin of yarn just to look at the colors. Mitten and wool sock weather is around the corner.



Saturday, August 12, 2017

Under the Canopy

Most days I walk in my neighborhood. I wonder if the neighbors are amused by my habits. In the summer, I walk one direction to have the sun at my back. During cooler weather, I reverse the route so the steeper hill comes first. On hot summer mornings, I zig-zag back and forth across streets to stay in the shade. I leave electronic devices at home. I look folks in the eye and greet them. Lately I've been noting the arrangements of porch furniture and pots on the small front porches. Many decorate these spaces but no one ever seems to enjoy them. Our porch is very small, about large enough for two flower pots. My dream home has a large wrap-around front porch with a swing and comfortable chairs and pillows.

This week I stopped to look up and into the canopy of trees. This morning I stood under the very dense, deep green canopy of a linden and the layered leaves of a maple. I stood in the sun dappled space under an ornamental pear and was almost hidden by low hanging limbs of a large oak. The sound of the breeze through the leaves is peaceful. I didn't have a camera. Honestly if I'd stood under trees and took photos, the neighbors might think I was really unravelling. At home, I stood still and breathed deeply from the canopy of a linden. A pair of chickadees flitted among the branches and called to each other. Across from me, a mama house finch fed a fledging. I discovered a hint of autumn in the yellow leaves. Despite the craziness in the world, the rhythm of the season continues. The trees stand in the rain, sun, wind, cold, and heat. They take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen. Every year they grow a little taller and stronger. I find all of this reassuring.


Earlier this summer, I picked up a copy of The Cottonwood Tree, at a used book store. It is on a list of 150 books by Nebraska authors created as part of  Nebraska's sesquicentennial celebration.After cataract surgery, I plan to read it and learn more about the tree.

In the meantime, I am knitting more than reading. Although I set these socks aside, I tried again because I wanted to learn how to knit an after-thought-heel. Never one to give up easily, I placed the sock on the table, held a magnifying glass with my left hand, and picked up heel stitches from waste yarn with my right. This first sock was a little saggy so I ripped it out. It was a tangled mess but I did manage to save the yarn.


This heel doesn't fit my foot as well as a traditional heel flap and gusset. However, I might knit it again in order to maintain the sequence of stripes in self-striping yarn. Yesterday I cast on the third sock of this pair. Three socks for the price of two - more knitting time from the same amount of yarn. I may just carry my sock and chair outdoors in order to sit under the canopy of the linden. The day is fair and the leaves are rustling in this sheltered space.






Saturday, August 5, 2017

Jonah's Christmas Quilt


When my children were young, I made them each a Christmas Quilt. When they had children of their own, I gave the quilts to them. Austin now has Aaron's quilt and Emmett has Kate's quilt. Emmett loves "his" quilt and was not inclined to share it with his younger brother, Micah. Honestly, I didn't think he should have to share so I made a quilt for Micah. A week or so after I finished Micah's quilt, my daughter and son-in-law announced they were having another child. First I knit Jonah a Christmas stocking, then I began his quilt.


Jonah's quilt contains many of the same motifs as his brothers but unlike the others, I set the blocks together with sashing. After arranging them, I merrily cut and sewed the green vertical pieces to blocks, forgetting to square up the blocks. I fudged and fumed as I ripped out long and short seams. Eventually I lined up the blocks as best as I could and sewed the top together. My excuse is that I was sewing while taking antibiotics. Or maybe I'm just getting forgetful. It's a good thing I love these little guys like crazy.


I had the top machine quilted by a local woman. Her work is meticulous and she is really a quilting artist. She matches thread color to compliment each motif and piece. She combines stippling and designs in a way that makes a quilt sing. On this quilt, the red border is quilted with red Christmas trees. She quilted around each tiny snowflake in the plain bright blue fabric blocks. On the light blue fabric blocks she quilted a large snowflake. She also saved the angel by quilting a wing that I had forgotten.




Each Christmas quilt includes something unique for each child. When I made Aaron's quilt, he requested "stars that twinkle." Aaron/Austin's quilt is pieced stars with sashing that meets in a small star at the corner of each block. The three brothers have motifs I traced from an old coloring book. Kate/Emmett's quilt has a boy and a girl hanging up their stockings. Both Kate and Aaron's quilts have a poem/message written to them. Micah's quilt has an extra lamb as he has a beloved 'baa baa." Jonah won the snow and snowman lottery for winters in the northeast. The quilts are set together differently.  Each quilt contains a sprinkle of mistakes topped with a heaping scoop of love. Little Jonah will have a Christmas quilt when he moves out of his crib. Meanwhile, I have to figure out the best way to get this quilt from Nebraska to the East Coast. Perhaps a hand delivery and a hug would be best.


P.S. I realize the quilt photo skims off the top of my head. It was either me or the quilt. I opted to show the quilt.



Saturday, July 29, 2017

Life as a Monet Painting


Summer continues with its glorious colors. The bright cone flowers and black-eyed-susans shout joy amid vibrant green leaves. This season a cataract is growing in the lens of my left eye. I debated about whether to write about it but decided to be honest. Cataracts are one of the unavoidable processes of aging. The vision in my right eye is good but constantly adjusting to the increasing cloudiness of the left. The good news is surgical removable is low risk with excellent results. Last week I saw an ophthalmologist and scheduled the procedure to be done in three weeks. Hooray! I'd have it done tomorrow if I could but at least I am in the queue. I have a new appreciation for clear vision and good ophthalmological care. I think of others who can't afford treatment and/or cope with more serious, not so easily treated vision issues. I also recall some former students with significantly impaired vision. They struggle with poor vision all of their lives.

In the meantime, I am adjusting to life as a Monet painting. Reading from a Kindle works well. I am not driving on the highway. If the glare and light of a day is too challenging for driving, I call on my husband or a friend for a ride.


Wonder of wonders I can still knit with light colored yarn, a repetitive pattern, and good lighting. As my husband says, "thank goodness." I set aside some socks on size 0 needles because I want to try an after thought heel and I can't see well enough to pick up the stitches. They will keep. I finished the HItchhiker - most of it knit during the miles from Minnesota. I continue to work on the Gemma Shawl. I put the stitches on a dark needle for contrast. Where there is a will, there's a way.


I cast on a Flax Sweater for my youngest grandson. Last winter, the same sweater was a big hit. The yarn washed well and the little blonde guy was handsome in soft gray yarn. Best of all, he liked the sweater. Once he grabbed it off a chair and crawled over to his Mom so she could help him into it. I ordered the same yarn and am knitting the next size up. I have washcloth yarn for garter stitch, if necessary.


If my photos are slightly blurry, know that they will improve in a few weeks. For now, put on those sunglasses, have your eyes checked regularly, and enjoy the flowers.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

High Summer

Hello. Recently we drove to north central Minnesota to spend a few summer days with my sister and brother-in-law at their lake home. We also were able to catch up with my Montana brother and his daughter. Our lake visit of warm days and cool nights was lovely. The company is very dear to us. I love being shoulder to shoulder with my sister in the rocking chair, the kayak, along the roadside for a walk and in the kitchen. North central Minnesota had a late cool spring so the wildflowers continued to bloom with wild abandon. One afternoon, Lance and I walked with our niece. We heard all about middle school, piano competitions, and her upcoming trip to Japan as she snipped wildflowers for a bouquet.

Close to the lake, my husband saw a fox slink across the road. Small frogs hopped in and around the grasses at the lake bank. A great blue heron fished intently from a small floating dock anchored near the shore and a pair of loons bobbed on the lake. During the day, birdsong floated into the screen porch where my sister and I sat in rocking chairs with our knitting. My husband and brother-in-law completed a small woodworking project in the garage. Two evenings we played board games around the table. I didn't take many photos but instead tried to make the most of time with wildflowers and family.

Both coming and going, we stop at a rest area outside of Worthington, Minnesota. It is a good lunch spot with shaded tables and a path around and through a big meadow of wildflowers. The flowers are bright and beautiful this year. I discovered a variety of coneflower with fluttery lavender petals and patches of bright orange milkweed. Both varieties were new to me. On the way, I knit the second foot and toe of a pair of socks, kitchenering up the toe just before we hit the last 45 miles of winding road around the lakes.


While at the lake, I knit on a hitchhiker. I made good progress in the rocking chair and on the return trip to Nebraska.


Since arriving home,  I'm catching up with my own garden. The black-eyed susans are beginning to bloom. This morning I spied an orange tomato in the vegetable bed. High summer season has arrived. I hope summer is treating you well.