Monday, November 25, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving

This year, Thanksgiving marks the end of a glorious autumn. Perhaps because southeast Nebraska had adequate rainfall in May and June and fewer 100 degree days, the fall colors were gorgeous. In October I took several walks in a wooded park.  Although the area is different from the evergreens and forests of north central Minnesota and Wisconsin or the Rocky Mountains, these woods, with oak, elm, and hackberry trees, have a rustic beauty of their own.  

Early in October, I examined the last chicory blossoms which I have long admired while driving on highways. One quiet afternoon, I stood still and identified a flicker, a downy woodpecker, and several red-bellied woodpeckers hopping up and down large trunks. I still wonder how birds, without binocular vision, dart through a wooded area without flying into trees.  I finally understood how purple can be an autumn color and wondered if I could find yarn in a similar color.  At the end of the month, I savored the smell of decaying leaves and the last golden light of October.

My favorite walk was the one I took with my daughter and grandsons. The three year old was exuberant with his discoveries. When we came upon a downed tree, he explored the hollow trunk and thought hard about what kind of animal might shelter inside. After he bent over to study a fuzzy caterpillar, he watched it "go home to its mama" and chose a broken stick for a treasure. He eagerly walked to the next bend in the woods looking for a deer but was happy to find a milkweed pod. We paused on the trail while he worried it might sting. After we assured him it was a plant not an insect, he worked up the courage to touch the rough exterior of the pod and laughed as the soft fluff and seed grazed his hand. The baby slept in a front pack carrier on his mother's chest. He woke up as we were returning to the car so she took him out and held him so he could see the afternoon light coming through the trees.

Now, it is late November. I will miss the scarlet and butterscotch leaves of this glorious autumn. Something in the west wind tells me it is time to draw in, grind up cranberries, roast a turkey breast, and wrap up in wool. The first dusting of snow fell last week and my grandson called to ask if I liked to go sledding. Echoing one of his favorite responses I replied, "Sounds fun." As some wise person (whose name I can't remember) said, "Thanksgiving is about what you have." I am so thankful for all that I have and wish the same for you. Happy Thanksgiving.  


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Story of an Old Sewing Rocker

About ten years ago, a friend, who I will call Mary, gave me this old sewing rocker. Rocking chairs without arms are called sewing rockers because the person sitting in the chair can do handwork without bumping into the arms of the chair. This chair is small and sits about sixteen inches from the floor.
Mary and I are both retired teachers. On the first day in a new job, I stopped to talk to her because she was reading a picture book about quilting to her first grade class. Our friendship developed from common interests of quilting, knitting, and gardening. Mary's husband's grandmother, Olive, was the original owner of the chair. Family members recall the petite woman sat in this rocker as she pieced and quilted. Mary owns a few of her quilts. We both agree she did beautiful hand piecing and quilting.

When I placed the dusty chair in our basement, I wondered if someone had taken an ordinary chair and screwed it onto rockers in order to make a comfortable chair for Olive. This fall I contacted a local man who refinishes old furniture and made arrangements for him to inspect the chair. When my husband and I took the chair to his shop, we enjoyed looking at his work. He is a meticulous craftsman who enjoys restoring old pieces. The gentleman thought Olive's chair was quite sturdy and was willing to take on the project. We agreed on the cost of his work and left the chair. About six weeks later, we returned to pick up the rocker.

Olive's refinished chair is beautiful. The craftsman took the rocker apart in order to remove all of the paint. Then he carefully cleaned each piece, put the rocker back together, stained, and finished the chair. At least, I think he put it together before staining and finishing. I was so taken by the newly refinished chair I forgot to ask about all of his process. The chair is made from four different woods. The seat and back are made from oak paneling while the rungs under the seat are from oak. The rockers are made from maple, a hard wood, while the legs and other curved pieces are alder wood. Alder, related to birch, is a softer wood often used for carving or pieces which need shaping. The thoughtful craftsman had used oak and maple in the pieces that needed to be sturdy and alder when he needed to shape curves. I imagine he thought the paneling would do for the back and seat.  Perhaps he chose it for the distinctive grain.

Recently, I asked Mary what she recalled about the long ago quilter. In 1877, Olive and her husband Hugh left Black Earth, Wisconsin and settled in southeast Nebraska. At the time Olive was twenty-five years old and the couple had been married about a year. Hugh and Olive had two daughters and one son who was disabled due to his difficult birth. Mary thought Hugh ran a "team and wagon business." He may have rented out a team of horses and a wagon. He also repaired wagons. Perhaps he crafted the chair for Olive or perhaps he received the chair in trade for his work. Perhaps he hired someone in the community to make the chair. That part of the story is lost.

When I look at the chair, I imagine Olive rocking as she mended socks, made clothing for her family, and sewed quilt blocks. I wonder how many needles she had and if she unraveled garments in order to have sewing thread for quilt piecing. When Hugh died in 1916, Olive was fifty-two years old. Perhaps she rocked in this chair as she grieved and pieced her life back together. Perhaps she helped with the business or perhaps she sold it and lived on the income. I do know she hand quilted through her lifetime. Together Olive and her unmarried daughter took care of the son who was unable to walk until Olive died in 1940. She was 86 years of age.

The little refinished chair does not look as if it is over one hundred years old. It is quite sturdy and I plan to spend some time rocking in it. After the holidays, I may go through my quilt projects and find something to finish. Perhaps I will knit in this chair. Mary is now in her eighties and happy for the rocker to have a new home. I like to think Olive would also be pleased the chair is being used by another woman who enjoys handwork.



Monday, October 28, 2013

Warm Hands

Several years ago, I worked in an old portable trailer outside a middle school. The drafty trailer was divided into two small rooms connected by a short narrow space. This portable did not have running water so we used the restrooms inside the middle school. In the winter, cold air came up from the floor so I wore long wool socks and kept an old shawl over my lap. Outside doors on either end of the trailer opened directly into the rooms. Eighteen itinerant teachers shared the space so we let in more than adequate amounts of fresh air as we came and went from home visits. We arranged file cabinets to make a little entry space to protect those sitting closest to the doors but still the portable was chilly in the winter.

During one of those cold winters, my sister knit me a pair of fingerless mitts from a blue/gray cashmere yarn. I kept them in my desk and wore them often. Her gift, made by hand, was a great kindness. I knew I was loved and my hands were warm. When I retired I brought the mitts home and still wear them on chilly mornings as I work at my desk.  

This autumn I knit a pair of fingerless mitts combining leftover yarn from two previous projects. I added four stitches to the palm for a better fit with this yarn and my hands. I wear them while driving. I knit a second pair using pale pink alpaca yarn. I finished the first mitt and the cuff of the second before I realized I hadn't twisted the second cable. Alpaca yarn doesn't have as much memory as yarn spun from wool. If I ripped out and reknit the yarn, the twist might have loosened and made the mitts less sturdy. Instead, I decided to call the omitted cable a design element and keep them. I'll see how they wear with only one cabled twist.

While knitting the pink pair, I thought about knitters and hands. As a knitter, I applaud both knitwear designers who create patterns and the dyers and spinners who create yarns. I knit by hand rather than by machine. While many knitters, knit gifts for family and friends, others knit for charity, giving hats and mittens in order to lend a hand to someone else. What would the world be like if we were all willing to extend tolerance and grace with a warm hand of friendship?

All musing aside, I am enjoying the fingerless mitts. I knit the deep melon colored mitts for an elderly friend with arthritic hands. Over the years, we have shared quilting and knitting projects. Lately arthritis makes it difficult for her to piece and quilt by hand. She still knits so I hope these fit and keep her warm in the mountains of Montana. I don't have a recipient in mind for the smaller cabled mitts but I'm sure I will find someone who will enjoy wearing them. The wool yarn is leftover from the first lace shawl I knit in 2002 so I am pleased to have used up the remaining skein. I plan to knit the same mitts in a solid colored yarn so the cable is more visible. Currently, I am knitting a wee green hat for my youngest grandson to wear on Halloween. He is only two and a half months old but Halloween is four days away so I will knit for him on this autumn evening. In the meantime, I wish you warm hands and a Happy Halloween.   

Friday, October 4, 2013

Happy Zinnias

Weekend temperatures are predicted to range between 39 and 55 degrees. I plan to finish a few outdoors chores on these cooler days. Hopefully, the zinnias, roses, and a few sprigs of lavender will continue to bloom in my yard for another week or so. If not, I will let them go. I rarely cover flowers but let nature have her way with frost.

 I planted zinnias because the bright flowers require little work but bloom all summer. For example, I planned to thin the plants but never did so. The zinnias didn't seem to mind. After one summer storm with wind, my husband and I were staking up tomato plants. Since the zinnias had also blown over, we wrapped twine around the flowers and two short stakes at either end of the plants to bring them back to an upright position. The hearty flowers never stopped blooming and grew even taller. Perhaps the closely planted stalks support each other in the wind.

Zinnias also remind me of my Mom. She struggled to grow vegetables and flowers in the hard clay soil around our home. She liked zinnias and frequently planted them. If I remember correctly, they were one of the flowers that thrived and bloomed. Toward the end of her life, Mom had a stand of red zinnias. After she passed away, I found a jar of zinnia seeds on an old table where she kept plants and gardening things. On the top of the jar, was a piece of masking tape with my name. She must have picked the seed heads early in the Fall before she got sick. On a sad dreary day, I took those seeds home and planted them in my garden. Twice I gathered red zinnia seeds and replanted them the following Spring. Then because red zinnias made me sad, I quit gathering the seeds. Eight or nine years have passed.

This year when I selected cucumber seeds at the garden center, the pictures of zinnias on seed packets tugged at my heart. I purchased and planted a packet of a large multicolored variety. The bright colors made pretty summer bouquets for several family dinners. In September, I put some in a Mason Jar and tied bright ribbon around the jar for my grandson's third birthday party. My sister remarked on the bright flowers and we talked a minute about Mom. Earlier this week I picked another bouquet of zinnias. My daughter, Kate says the flowers look happy. She is right. These zinnias make me happy and my Mom would have loved them.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Late Summer Knitting

Labor Day brought a touch of Fall. However, the last few days have been very summery with temps in the high nineties. Evenings I have been knitting with fingering weight yarn. In July, I finished a Shallows Cowl designed by Bonnie Sennott and am working on a sweater called Current by Cecily Glowik Macdonald. Both women are independent designers who use the internet to sell thoughtfully crafted and well written patterns. 

When my grandmother taught me to knit, needlework books and magazines contained projects identified by number. Patterns with corresponding numbers were printed in a separate section of the publication. These books record knitting history and I am glad they continue to be produced. Now and then I buy a hard copy knitting book but I also enjoy the convenience of browsing and buying individual patterns from independent designers.

Regardless of the way patterns are published, designers name them. The names, helpful in marketing, entertain me as well as give me an interesting way to refer to my projects. When sewing this cowl together, I noticed the short section of garter stitch rows rippling like water along the top and bottom of lace sections. The columns of lace resemble stalks of grass and reeds at the edge of a body of water. Sennott, the designer of the cowl, lives in Amherst, Massachusettes and perhaps considered these images when creating the design.

Early August I transitioned into full fledged retirement and began knitting Current, a sweater edged with a cabled rib reminiscent of a meandering stream. Macdonald, from Portland, Maine, might have been thinking about the ocean as she designed the pattern. To me, the word current suggests wind blowing across the Nebraska prairie or water flowing in the channels of the Platte and Elkhorn Rivers.

Some currents run deep and are hidden from view while others are quite visible on the surface of grasses or water. Although both are diverted by rock, sticks, tree branches, and land formations, they continue in a general direction. When the movement of a current increases during heavy rainfall or snow melt, areas of shallow water and/or plants buffer land and leave behind rich silt. The movement and change in currents promotes healthy ecosystems rich with plant and animal life. Kids and adults often enjoy poking around in spaces where land and water meet. These thoughts, meandering around and through this summer's end knitting, carry me into retirement toward cooler autumn weather.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Sharing Summer's Bounty

Summer weather with rain in June and seasonable heat in July and August produced a great crop of tomatoes and herbs. I've harvested chives, basil, oregano, sage, oregano, and lavender from the bed of herbs next to the house. Parsley, a biennial crop, was sparse and went to seed early. I was going to cut it back but found a monarch caterpillar feeding on a stem. I left the scraggly plant alone because drought and decreased habitat have created hard times for butterflies. I hope the parsley will reseed itself. Three weeks ago I noticed honey bees in the oregano. Again, instead of cutting off the flowers of the plant, I let them grow. I have plenty of oregano but have seen only a honeybee or two in my yard for a number of years. I am happy to leave the oregano flowers for them.

Earlier in the month, I tried to give excess cucumbers to the neighbors and no one would take them so they went into the compost. Currently basil and tomatoes are delicious and plentiful. I gave tomatoes to my daughter and my sister. Today more tomatoes ripen in front of a window in the basement and wait on the kitchen counter for eating and sharing. Yesterday, on one of the hottest days in August, I canned tomatoes. While I know adding humidity and heat to the kitchen increases my energy consumption, tomatoes do not wait for a change in weather. Besides my locally grown pesticide free tomatoes taste much better than any trucked in to a grocery store. As a good friend of mine once said, "Come December, opening a jar of home canned tomatoes is a little taste of summer."

As I worked yesterday, I thought about the way my great grandmother preserved food for her family. Charlotte lived her adult life on a farm in south central Nebraska where she and her husband reared nine children. In the early 1900's, gardening helped feed her family. If her garden and fruit trees didn't produce, they had less to eat. When she canned, Charlotte and her daughters pumped water and built a fire in a large cookstove. Ventilation consisted of opening a window or stepping outside into the hot Nebraska wind. When they finished preserving fruit and vegetables from the garden, they pumped and heated more water for scrubbing pots and pans. Then, instead of ordering a take out meal because she was too tired to cook, she prepared, served an evening meal for her family. Then her daughters pumped and heated more water to wash more dishes.

My aunt recalled Great Grandmother Charlotte kept a beautiful garden until the day she died. She loved to be outdoors and enjoyed growing fruit, vegetables, and flowers. No doubt, the flowers fed her soul while the other produce fed her family. I'm sure neither her vegetable garden nor flower bed ever looked as messy as mine do right now. Weeds, tomato vines, and tall zinnias mingle together. When I go out to harvest tomatoes I can barely reach the red orange fruit in the middle of the garden plot. I made some garden notes for next year which include better spacing for tomatoes and a much smaller bed of perennial flowers. In the meantime I've plenty of tomatoes and basil and I can get other ingredients at the local grocery store and farmer's market. In spite of my out of control garden, life is very good.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

I Need to Keep Looking

Last week E., my three year old grandson, and I went for a splash in an outdoor swimming pool. He brought a nerf water toy which consists of a plunger inside a barrel. When he pulls out the plunger, the barrel fills with water. Pushing on the plunger expels a long stream of water which is great fun. Earlier in the summer his parents taught him not to shoot water at other swimmers so when I reminded him of the rule, he understood and followed my direction. E. shot water over the edge of the pool along the surface of the deck, straight up into the air, against my arm and hand, and across the length of the pool. He also requested I shoot the water at his tummy which was tricky given the pool depth is 4.5 feet and I need to support him while we are in the water. When I told him I wasn't sure I could do this, he reminded me to "keep trying."  Somehow I managed to keep him afloat and tickle his tummy with enough water to make him giggle.

As E. and I left the building, we passed the tall flag pole and flag flapping in a stiff breeze. My little grandson stopped under the pole and looked up at the flag. The noise of the chain clanging against the pole startled him. He also worried the flag was blowing away. I squatted down beside him to look up at the flag from his perspective. When I explained the flag was attached to the chain with hooks and would not blow away, he asked,"What (are) hooks?" I told him the hooks on the chain were much like the hook on his dog's leash. Since he helps walk and feed Kona, the explanation made sense to him. Reassured, he climbed happily into the car.

I like to chat with him and also wanted to keep him awake for his supper so I suggested we look for flags on our way to his home. In between our "I Spy" flag game, we talked about flag sizes, colors and shapes. When I called his attention to stars in the corner of an American flag, he replied, "oh yes, stars, sun, moon, helicopters all in the sky." He was delighted every time he spotted a flag.

The drive takes 20 minutes so I didn't have long to keep him entertained. Neither his parents nor my husband and I have video players in our cars. While I might have resorted to DVD player on a few 500 mile vacation days, my children remember trips when we played twenty questions, kept a record of out-of-state license plates, and made goofy figures with pipe cleaners. I packed crayons, paper, stickers, and books. We also consumed lots of animal crackers, grapes, and raisins. Mostly, we had a good time.

Playing with my grandsons reminds me the world is full of wonder. Everyday events are opportunities for play and learning that don't require electronic gadgets or organized activity. As we drove through residential neighborhoods where flags were not as large or as visible as in commercial areas, E. didn't complain or fuss. Instead he reminded me, "You need to keep looking. I need to keep looking."  And so we will.


Monday, August 12, 2013

Blue is a Fine Color

Last March on a snowy day, I wrote about making yarn butterflies for a baby sweater. Eventually, after much tangling of yarn ends, I knit this cardigan and matching hat. On August 8, 2013 my daughter and son-in-law delivered a healthy little boy. We are all thankful for his safe arrival and Kate's recovery. This little blue sweater is for their second son.

Since Kate and Patrick chose not to know the sex of either baby before birth, I knit a boy and a girl sweater for each grandchild. Now I have two little girl sweaters for another day. Baby sweaters are fun to knit. Like yarn butterflies in March, they are full of hope.

The following is my Grandmother's story of my grandson's birth. On the morning of August 7, I noticed a yellow and black swallowtail butterfly flitting around our deck and neighbor's apple tree. After seeing the butterfly for the third time, I wrote to my daughter, wondering if the butterfly was the spirit or sign of her new baby waiting to be born. While running an errand at noon, a large yellow and black butterfly flew in front of my windshield.

A few hours later, Kate was in labor so I picked up their oldest child. While I drove him to our home, I saw another yellow and black butterfly. I was going to investigate to see if the butterflies were migrating through our area but I've been busy. E. and his Grandfather assembled ladder ball frames while I cooked dinner. After dinner, we played a wild game of ladder ball with E. appropriately reminding us to "stand back!" Then we picked cucumbers, played cars and trucks, squirted water out of bathtub frogs, and read stories. Before I tucked E. into bed, he taught me his toothbrush dance. Brushing my teeth will never be the same again.

The next day at 11:45 a.m., Patrick and Kate safely delivered their little son. A few hours later, Pops and I were present when E.'s Dad carried him into the room to meet his baby brother. This week E. and I continued to build towers, chase a soccer ball, and dance with our toothbrushes. Every morning, he threw his arms around me and greeted me with a kiss. He did a great job being a three year old away from home. I will cherish the time I had with him forever.  I also spent several very sweet hours holding the new little guy and chatting with Kate as she rested.

Back at our home, E. saw me put some knitting into a bag. He asked me if the long scarf was for the new baby and I said no. Then he asked if I'd knit him a blue scarf and I agreed. After pushing the umpteenth car down the ramp, reading the fifth bedtime story, and getting one last drink of water, E. told me, "you need to go get in your bed" which was very true. Instead I booted up my computer and ordered some inexpensive superwash yarn for his scarf. Like most preschoolers, E. has a mind of his own so he may decide he doesn't want a blue scarf.  However, I'm more than willing to take a chance for this new big brother.

Today Kate and family start their new adventure at home. The days ahead will be busy but we are honored to share their joy and help as needed. I am grateful not to be working around the "back to school" schedule of a teacher. Instead I'm free to cook dinners, watch butterflies, cradle a wee little babe, and toothbrush dance with E. As soon as the washable blue yarn arrives, I'm casting on a scarf. Blue is a fine color.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Winding Last September's Yarns

I am knitting mittens from Mountain Mohair yarn from Green Mountain Spinnery, a workers' coop which produces yarn with environmentally friendly methods. Although the company is located in Vermont, I bought this yarn from their booth at the 2012 Wisconsin Wool Festival.

Before knitting with the yarn, I needed to wind it into a ball. Since I don't own a ball winder or swift, I draped the skein over an old desk chair and wound by hand. The chair carries scratches from past moves, the fabric seat is stained, and the back sports a drip of pale blue paint from the most recent painting of my writing room. When I was nine or ten years old, Grama Dickinson placed her yarn over the back of this chair and showed me how to wind yarn. She also taught me to knit. After her death, I brought the chair and matching desk, which once had belonged to her mother Lucy, to my home. I now write at Lucy's desk (see an earlier post) and wind yarn from the chair.

Winding by hand takes more time than using a ball winder and a swift but I don't want more stuff in my house. When I draped this this skein over the chair, I recalled time spent with Gram. As I flipped the yarn over the back of the chair and pulled it through my fingers, I enjoyed the vivid blue color and considered other odd balls of yarn I could stripe into the mittens. I also noted this yarn was a little heavier and not quite as soft as Cascade 220 or Galway worsted yarns. Since Green Mountain Spinnery sources wool from New England sheep, the wool is sturdy and well suited to winter garments. The area sheep grew this fiber to insulate themselves from New England winters.

As the ball grew larger, I unwrapped the memory of attending the wool festival with my dear sister. We spent one day shopping and visiting with small independent companies selling yarn, fiber, books, and other fiber related accessories. We also enjoyed downtown Madison by eating dinners in locally owned restaurants and browsing a great independent bookstore,  A Room of One's Own.

For me, hand winding and hand knitting are time well spent. Knitting yarns spun from fiber of sheep, alpaca, llama, cashmere or mohair goats is my antidote to hard plastic chairs, styrofoam take out containers, and processed food. When I knit, my heart and respiration rates slow. My hands develop new muscle memory of the stitches. Depending upon the complexity of the project, I can learn new techniques, day dream about a happy road trip, recall stories about the women in my family, or figure out what to prepare for dinner. When I'm finished I have a warm and sometimes beautiful shawl, sweater, hat, mitten, or sock.

 The second mitten still needs a thumb but these mittens will be warm and bright on a winter's day.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Diving In

Summer weather is here. Recently my daughter and grandson invited me to spend a late afternoon at the swimming pool with them. Water play with an almost three year old was fun and exuberant. Over and over, my grandson jumped into his mother's arms with reckless abandon. He also requested at least fifty games of "Ring Around the Rosy" so he could duck under the water. When asked about his soon to be born sibling, E. predicted he will have a sister. Although I knit the little boy sweater first, which is my guess, I have baby sweaters ready for either sex. Recently I knit another little girl sweater, the Louise Cardigan from Vintage Baby Knits in Sweetheart sock yarn from Tanis Fiber Arts. The pattern and the yarn were a good match. I'm currently knitting a hat to go with the sweater. Someone in the family will eventually have a girl.

I also decided to knit a shawl for my daughter, the soon to be the Mom of her second child. I wanted to make a soft shawl to wrap up my daughter whenever she needs warmth and/or a hug. Looking on Ravelry, I found this knitting recipe for Diving In, an asymmetrical shawl. The contemporary geometric design with stripes seemed just right for Kate. Besides becoming a mother is rather like diving into deep water. One never knows what lies ahead. Thankfully, most of us find our way through those first months of being new parents. Still a handknit shawl to wrap around my daughter was one more way to give her a hug so I asked her to choose three colors of Quince and Co. fingering weight yarn. Knitting the garter stitch was meditative and just what I needed during my last days of June summer school. The way the designer created the stripes was quite ingenious and kept me interested in the project.

I'm not sure if I find serendipity between knitted projects and life because I look for it or if the stitches carry memory of their own. Regardless, I told my daughter, the asymmetry in the shawl was a reminder that life can be off kilter, that is, sleep will be interrupted by a new baby needing to be fed, housework will pile up, and E., still a young preschooler may have some moments when he is out of sorts. Even so, crazy days can still be good. One of my wishes for Kate is that this shawl warms her with unconditional love and support. God's speed as you dive into yet another new adventure.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Bindweed and Broccoli: Growing Like Crazy

This Spring southeast Nebraska has had adequate rainfall which means vegetables, flowers, herbs, and weeds are growing well. I learned to garden from my grandfather and my mother. Mom began with a yard of clay and celebrated anything that would grow. One year, she allowed summer squash to grow up a hedge of lilacs. She loved bright clematis vines and red zinnias. Vegetables from my grandfather's garden were plentiful and near perfect. Even on the hottest days, he donned his battered straw hat and carefully tended rows of beans, broccoli, corn, cucumbers, onions, peppers, and tomatoes. I can still remember his summer smell of dust, sweat, and sun. When he finished working, he sat down in an old metal lawn chair which he placed in the shade of a big elm. My grandmother never understood why he spent so much time in that chair. She used to say, "I don't understand it. He just sits there." Now I wonder if he thought about his mother who loved to grow hollyhocks and vegetables.

Even though I wasn't able to plant tomatoes and basil until early June, they are thriving. My youngest grandson brought me three leftover broccoli plants from his garden which did fairly well for awhile. This week, since I prefer not to use chemicals, I pulled the broccoli out. The leaves, although quite good sized, were full of  jagged holes and I didn't want nearby cucumbers to become infested. Cucumbers, fresh and pickled, are a highlight of my summers.

Herbs, including oregano, lavender, sage, chives, and parsley are also growing well. A new oregano plant has produced large leaves and is an improvement on the older plant which was more stem than leaves. Since the herbs are planted in a raised bed near the house, they are protected from the wind. I can dash down the deck steps to gather a few fresh sprigs for cooking. The bed is easy to weed when I have a few minutes in the evening.

Spring tilling and summer hoeing keeps weeds down in the tomato patch and raised the bed. However, the large perennial bed is another story. Between the rain, work, and personal obligations, I cleaned out only a small portion this Spring. Prolific larkspur and sweet peas battle bindweed for survival. A similar weedy vine has taken over the trellis meant for the sweet peas. Although I made a space for volunteer strawberry plants, nut sedge has popped up all around them. Now most of the strawberry plants look as if they have some sort of blight. Two volunteer trees are growing at the back of the bed. Usually, I chop them off at ground level but the tall thick larkspur tied together with bindweed makes it hard to get to the trees. In short, the bed has gone wild. I'm pretty sure neither my grandfather nor his mother ever had a flower bed that was such a mess.

Yesterday after I pulled several buckets of bindweed and cleared only a small space, I concluded maintaining the bed is no longer fun or satisfying. Come early autumn, I'm pulling it all out, reducing the size significantly and changing the shape so maintenance is easier.  

Just as I finished cleaning up, my grandson and daughter arrived with warm cinnamon rolls from a local bakery. Sitting on the deck in dappled shade with them was much more pleasant than pulling bindweed. As my daughter and I talked about mulch and ground cover in flower beds, my grandson pushed a monster truck toward me. Then he joined our garden conversation by telling me, "my broccoli is growing like crazy." I love the thought of this almost three year old and his parents carrying on the gardening tradition in our family.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Multiple Perspectives

I regularly walk a route around my neighborhood, walking cul de sacs, up and down a hill, and then retracing some of the route to lengthen it to 2.75 miles. After late snows, plentiful rains, and crackling thunderstorms, my neighborhood is lush and green. This morning, storm clouds threatened rain so I shortened the route by walking some blocks in the reverse direction.  

Walking the opposite direction, I caught a glimpse of a sweet backyard vegetable garden I'd never seen before. A row of lettuce and another of onions grew in front of tomato plants. A few yellow flowers lined a small fence designed to keep critters away from vegetables. In another yard, I saw a color combination in a planter that would translate into a colorful quilt. Yellow and lavender petunias with their green foliage cascaded from the planters fitted to a front porch railing. Usually I watch the southwestern sky for interesting colors but today I watched clouds clear from the eastern sky. While doing so, I noticed a large bird I dismissed as yet another common crow. As she circled the neighborhood, I saw thin long legs stretched out behind the large flapping wings which identified the bird as a Great Blue Heron.  I also remembered a morning in August when early haze and high humidity made spider webs, usually invisible, appear to hang like ragged lace all over the neighborhood. These observations and thoughts keep me walking.
Truth and beauty are found in multiple perspectives. In addition, different perspectives create a richer notion of what I have in common with others. For example, my great grandmother loved to garden.  My aunt told me Charlotte had a beautiful garden until the day she died in August 1940. While I garden haphazardly, I prefer spending time with knitting and quilting. Below is the baby girl sweater which is ready for a new grandchild should it be a girl. (See previous posts for the little boy sweater.) Although my hobbies are different than those Charlotte enjoyed, the work of our hands creates beautiful and useful things for our families.

This summer I hope to finish my story about Great Grandmother Charlotte. When I began, I thought of her as a mother of two World War One soldiers. Then, while reading between the lines of my grandfather's letters from France, I began examining her life from other perspectives. I searched for information in family photos, old newspapers, land records, and history of central Nebraska. Differing perspectives helped me get acquainted with her as a woman of her time. I also hope I have crafted a story which comes closer to the truth about her ordinary days.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Empty Basket

Carving out writing time and space is challenging. In the late 1990's, I set up an old computer on a table in our basement. I knit a lace shawl and wore it to signal to my family I was writing and wanted to be interrupted only in the case of blood injuries or similar catastrophes. When my daughter went to graduate school, I claimed her room as my own. I pushed her desk under a window, piled files on a twin bed, and began searching for a story about my great grandmother Charlotte. In 2011, I moved a smaller more comfortable desk belonging to another great grandmother, Lucy, into the room. I draped the shawl over my chair and placed an empty basket inside the door as a place to drop off "to do" lists and school worries. Last summer, my dear husband and I moved everything out of the room, ripped up old carpet and had new flooring installed. After he repainted and set up the twin bed in the basement, I stored knitting supplies in the closet, reorganized the bookshelf, and set up my writing space. I hung a few pieces of handwork done by my sister, mother, grandmother, and myself on the wall.  Finally, as Virginia Woolf wrote, I had a "room of my own."

For twenty nine years, I have arranged my family, writing, knitting, quilting, cooking, housekeeping, and vacations around a school calendar.  In 1973, the first year Nebraska was required to hire certified teachers for significantly disabled children, I graduated and was hired to teach children with mental disabilities. Four of the six of us hired for the program at Arnold School were new graduates. Together we learned as much as the children. In 1977, I earned a Master's Degree in Early Childhood Special Education from the University of Kansas. Once again, I was one of the first in the state to be certified in a new speciality.  Later that year I married. In 1980, I became a mother and stayed home for eight years.  Since 1988, I have worked as an itinerant Early Childhood Special Education teacher in homes and community settings where I supported parents and caregivers of preschool children with developmental delays. Over and over I have watched as children with challenges learn to eat, walk, talk, and play. Teaching allowed me to be home with my children on most of their vacation days and the changing seasons of a school calendar suited me. This week marked the end of my last official school year as a public school teacher. After working ten days in June, I'll officially retire. I am proud to have been a public school teacher. Like many others, I worked hard and gave my best effort. I made a difference in the lives of many children and their families. 

Before you ask, let me say I don't know what I will being doing every day of the coming years.  Instead, I am going to be. Right now, I am watching the morning light reflected off the birch bark as a robin feeds her young. I want to savor the seasons with my family, blow bubbles with my grandchildren, eat dinner with my husband, study the sunset, and read deeply. I have a 401K of lovely yarn, mostly blues but some reds, lavenders, and greens. On weekday mornings, I plan to make a pot of coffee and finish the story about my great grandmother Charlotte. I have a room of my own and the basket is empty.   




Sunday, May 5, 2013

Birds of a Feather

Spring weather has been cool with rain and even snow into late April and early May. The temperatures are too cool for planting tomatoes but good for knitting.  I finished this baby sweater and am knitting a hat to match.

I also cast on Piper's Journey, a crescent shawl with a simple border attached to a body of garter stitch.  I am knitting it in sport weight "Chickadee" yarn by Quince and Company. The yarn is 100% wool and has a lovely hand. 
Quince and Company, located in Maine, spins and dyes American wool and linen "sourced from overseas earth friendly suppliers" in a restored mill. Although they use minimal recyclable packaging, ink, and paper in products, their design aesthetic is sophisticated and beautiful. Cleverly, they named yarn lines after birds: chickadee, finch, tern, sparrow, lark, and owl.  For all of these reasons, I think their yarn company is worth supporting.

In other Spring aviary news, a robin is working on a nest in the clump birch outside my window. She is building on the southeast side of the tree where a strong limb meets one of the tree trunks.The tree will shelter her nest from the north and west wind while the house will protect it from the south.  This morning a pair of young cardinals call to each other and a chickadee searches for insects in the bark. A bluejay flew in to inspect the nest and a starling contributed one twig. Maybe this nest is a community building project. I'll be interested to see if the robin can maintain her claim on the nest.

                                                                                                                                                                 Meanwhile, a group of starlings continues to tut- tut on the ground underneath the tree. They keep their beady eyes on the small space in front of them, pecking at the ground for no good reason and then occasionally gobbling up earthworms before glancing around to see if their neighbor needs food.  Following each other in shiny black suits, they remind me of groups of U.S. Senators sticking together as they totter around opening and closing their throats in self-importance. In the evening the starlings roost together in the birch, cackling noisily and soiling the ground below them. Perhaps the robin's nest, just under another limb, is protected from the starlings' mess. I wish the American robin the best of luck as she attempts to build a home and rear a family during this precarious Spring.   

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Spring Irony

I've finished my version of the  Deephaven Cowl and mismatched mittens from Prairie Silk Yarn by Brown Sheep Company. I modified the cowl pattern so both edges are the same. Working late into several evenings while listening to an audio book, I lost track of rows knitted on the second mitten. Although I tried three times, I made mismatched mittens. The thumb construction, made by knitting a piece of waste yarn into the hand which are later unraveled and picked up to make the thumb, left holes which I cinched up with needle and yarn. This may or may not be due to the pattern design. Still, I felt like my workmanship on the mittens was inferior. I planned to wear both pieces next winter and then the temperature dropped and snow fell.

 After trying on the mittens, I took them off and looked at the way my thumb grows from the top of my wrist.  The curve of my hand tells me a gusset made by increasing stitches just above the cuff makes more sense than knitting the thumb from an opening created by knitting stitches with waste yarn. I think the mitten would fit better and it wouldn't pull the cable sideways. Many mitten patterns use the waste yarn method so adjusting the position of  thumb stitches might improve the fit. The cable design in this pattern is the same on both mittens. Since I prefer cables to mirror each other, I'll pay more attention to cable twists in the future. However the mittens are serviceable and warm and there are no knitting police, I declared the mittens finished and counted them as a lesson learned.    
Life is full of irony, including spring weather and knitting. While the cowl pattern, was designed to be asymmetrical, I modified the pattern to make it symmetrical. The mittens were intended to be symmetrical but due to my errors ended up asymmetrical. For now, this yarn and I are finished. The two leftover skeins are in the basket of yarn scraps waiting for another day. Perhaps because I went to a funeral last week, life seems too short to reknit a mitten four times.  Even though the daffodils are drooping after April cold and snow, the rhubarb is up. I have a baby sweater that needs buttons, and a lovely garter stitch shawl on the needles.  Forward into Spring!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Butterflies and Robins in the Winter

Two days ago we had heavy snowfall and I am grateful for the moisture.  I love the peace of January but by March I'm ready for warmth and color. Today, the sky is blue and a stiff March wind is blowing.  I think it is a Spring chinook that will help melt seven inches of snow. Whenever I feel winter weary, I think of my great grandmothers and how relieved they must have been when the year turned toward Spring.

Right before this last snowfall, I spotted crocus and daffodils coming up in my yard. This group of robins, huddled in the neighbor's apple tree, makes me hopeful. Perhaps best of all,  I made some yarn butterflies for a baby sweater.  My daughter and her husband are expecting their second child in August.  Butterflies and robins in February, wind and snow in March, and a new grandchild in August are sure signs of a changing season.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Teacher, What did you learn on your snow days?

Note for non-knitters:  Frogging and frog pond are not terms I created. Frogging is knitting jargon for the process of pulling needles out of all stitches and then tugging on the yarn to rip out a knitted piece. Rip it, rip it, rip it sounds like the ribbit, ribbit, ribbit of frogs. Frogging is faster than tinking back. Tink, knit spelled backwards, is undoing one stitch at a time. It is more tedious but sometimes necessary when repairing mistakes in textured or lace knitting.

During the two snow days last week, I ripped out an entire winter's worth of knitting.  I learned some worthwhile lessons from the frog pond.

1. Although knitting cardigans in one piece is tempting, patterns with more structure suit me better.  Seaming sweater pieces takes time but is not something I will actively avoid in the future.  Even when knitting sweaters in one piece, button bands and some sort of ribbing or edging give a garment more structure and fit.

 Greenfield Cardigan:  When I tried on the body of the sweater, the bottom rippled, the neckline sagged off my shoulders, and the fronts drooped. The leaf motif in the bottom front corners puckered. This pattern make work well for others but I prefer a more fitted sweater. I ripped the entire piece out and saved the yarn for future inspiration.  

2. There are no knitting police. Although the designer intended for one edge of the Deephaven Cowl to curl, I prefer two finished flat edges. I ripped out 8 inches of the cowl and started over with a pattern modification and one size larger needles. Larger needles make the tension in the stitches more comfortable for my hands and wrists. Before casting on the cowl, I tried to knit a vest with the "Prairie Silk" yarn by Brown Sheep. Even though I was knitting the yarn for the third time, it felt as if it had never been used. Brown Sheep Company no longer manufactures this yarn which is all the more reason to savor knitting the cowl. I hope to have enough yarn to make a matching pair of mittens.  

Deephaven Cowl by Blue Peninsula Designs


3. I need to learn more about shaping shawls by adjusting short rows. While knitting Twig and Leaf Shawl, I knew I'd run out of yarn before I came to the end of the project. In order to compensate, I increased the the length of short rows by one stitch. Doing this on enough rows to use 400 yards of yarn made an extremely long but narrow crescent shape garment that was neither shawl nor scarf.  I'm sure if I had knit the shawl in lace weight instead of fingering weight AND shaped the shawl as the pattern directed, the result would have been beautiful. The mistake is not the designers but mine. The yarn is too pretty to waste so I  ripped it all out and cast on another scarf.

Shallows by Blue Peninsula Designs

4.  Bonnie Sennot, the designer of Blue Peninsula Knits writes an artistic blog.  Her photos and posts are as lovely as her knitwear designs. The blog is inspiring in any weather.

5. Ripping out a winter's worth of knitting wasn't nearly as painful as I anticipated. In fact it is rather freeing. Now, I don't have to soldier on with projects that aren't going to have good results.  I'm just getting more enjoyment for the same amount of yarn money.

6. Knitting is both process and product. This winter my knitting was about process. I wonder if I could be as philosophical about my writing pieces and process. Both require practice, patience, and persistence. The finished products can be lovely and inspiring or frumpy and frustrating. Sometimes yarn is better suited to a soft scarf than a shawl. A piece of writing that begins as an essay ends up as a poem. While editing improves all writing, there are times when it is best to begin again.  

7. Snow day lessons are as tricky as the weather in Nebraska. As an example Storm Q which was predicted to bring as much as 18 - 20 inches dropped six inches instead. 

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Gray Wool in January

I love the peace and quiet of January. Whether the sky is brilliant blue or deep gray, I find the contrast with bare trees and neutral colors restful. Simple meals of soup, fruit, and bread warm my body while quiet evenings indoors with a book, journal, or knitting restore my spirit. Early mornings and evenings, I wrap a shawl around my shoulders. These days, I'm enjoying my latest finished object, a Gray Wool Shawl.

In 2005, I began writing a story about my great grandmother and a gray wool shawl she made by unraveling yarn in an old sweater.  In 2009, while helping my Dad to the end of his life, I began the first gray wool shawl. I cast on stitches while I was at a Windbreak House Writing Retreat.  As I watched daylight fade from the short grass prairie, I taught myself to purl stitches using the continental method. Although, I loved the gray shade of the worsted weight wool/alpaca yarn, I decided the checkerboard pattern stitch was not something my practical great grandmother would have chosen.  When I returned home, I ripped out the stitches and cast on a garter stitch shawl.  After knitting on the piece for quite some time,  I admitted to myself the fabric was stiff enough to be a horse blanket. Once again, I ripped out the shawl. Eventually I knit a lovely warm sweater from the yarn.

Next I tried knitting a shawl from a lighter weight deep charcoal gray yarn and a beautiful Mountain Colors Yarn of deep variegated colors. The weight of the charcoal yarn was suitable but the combination of  the yarns created a triangular shawl that rippled in an unattractive way. Both of these yarns eventually became mittens given as Christmas gifts.

In July 2011, I bought some soft gray Frog Tree alpaca yarn spun into sport weight and cast on the Wool Peddlers Shawl. I adapted the pattern in several ways. I began with a garter stitch tab because it creates a more finished look. For the same reason, I changed the increases along the center spine of the shawl.  I also added one stitch to each edge because I think two stitches look better and are less prone to snagging. I finished the shawl on November 30, 2011.

In between all this knitting, I revised the Gray Wool Shawl Story several times. I'm still not certain the latest version accurately reflects my great grandmother's time and place so I'm about to work on the story again.  Like knitting, writing benefits from revision and new beginnings. Perhaps the quiet space in January will be conducive to a better story. Happy New Year!