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.