Friday, December 12, 2014

Handmade Books from Mom's Carbon Copy Trick

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Toward a Kind and Gentle Holiday Season

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

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

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

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

Best wishes for a kind and gentle Holiday.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Local Color

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 22, 2014

Slipping into September

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 15, 2014

Summer Socks

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Everyday Hollyhocks

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Garden Work

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

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

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

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Necessary Shawls

In this crazy world, I find wrapping a soft knitted shawl around my neck and shoulders is necessary. Old lady-ish or not, I have a few stalwart shawls that I wear around the house for warmth on cool evenings or mornings. I let the shawl rest on my shoulders and tie the ends into a loose knot. If the weather is very cold, I wrap up in a larger shawl and toss the ends over my shoulders. Comfort, not fashion, is my goal.  

Recently I finished knitting two warm weather shawls. Although they have a shade of plum in common, the patterns were quite different. Zephyr Cove by Rosemary Hill begins with a small leaf knit at one end of the shawl and ends with a simple lace pattern in a second color. Garter stitch short rows shape the shawl into a long boomerang. While the construction was interesting, it was the name of the pattern and the leaf drew me to the design. Hill named the pattern after a cove in Lake Tahoe and knit the original in teal blue and forest green. I'm not sure I'll knit a shawl with such an elongated shape again but the ends will wrap twice around my shoulders. I knit this shawl in fingering weight yarn, Tosh Merino Light.

The Red Robin Shawl by Helen Stewart is knit from Blue Sky Alpaca Silk. Stewart's pattern made a simple but elegant shawl. Her meticulous design includes an ingenious beginning which eliminates the pesky little point that sometimes happens at the beginning of triangular shawls. She also added a stitch to the edges that eliminates the awkward increases next to purl stitches. I had a few wobbly looking rows in the stockinette section of the shawl but blocking smoothed them out. I will probably knit this pattern again.

Shawl knitting offers a wide variety of designs. Some shawls come with intricate lace patterns while other create simple lines with stockinette or garter stitch. Shawls can be shaped in a crescent, rectangle (stole), large circle, triangle, or some variation of a shape. I happen to prefer a triangular shaped shawl for the straight forward construction and ease in wearing.  Summer is a great time for knitting a lightweight shawl, as the garment requires less attention to fit and finishing. Matching the pattern to yarn is a delightful process.  My advice for the summer is to choose a design, choose a yarn, knit, and enjoy. Then wrap up in your shawl and a book from your reading list.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Spring News

After several rains, the trees and yards in my neighborhood are a glorious green. One yellow iris is blooming while others are growing lavender buds. Last week a Baltimore Oriole stopped for nectar in the neighbor's apple tree. Yesterday morning I was doing breakfast dishes when an unfamiliar bird caught my eye. I knew from his slender shape he was different from a robin so I studied him through binoculars and identified a brown thrasher. His rust-red colored back, cream and brown streaked breast, and yellow eye were striking. His long tail and curved beak also made him stand out from other birds that frequent my yard. Since this thrasher prefers a wooded area tangled with undergrowth, I wondered if Sunday's strong storm blew him off course. He was only in the yard for a few hours and I haven't seen him since. Hopefully he found his way back to more familiar territory.

The last few summers, my large perennial flower bed has grown wild and weedy. Taking advantage of cooler Spring days, I spaded up a strip four feet wide along the fence and in front of the shed. I dug out weeds and ruthlessly thinned and moved perennials that grow well in the space. I added tarragon, rosemary, and three gaillardia because they will grow if bindweed and larkspur don't choke them out. I potted some lemon balm for the patio and plan to share a few leftover plants with friends. Now I'm trying to decide whether to mulch. The bed gets a fair amount of hot Nebraska sun so mulch would keep moisture in the ground. If I mulch, I prefer using leaf and grass clippings mixed with a little dirt or compost over newspaper because the mixture will eventually break down and contribute to the soil. However anything I use will have to be anchored against the wind.

Inside on wet or rainy days, I used these two books as references, Cover to Cover and Book Craft, and made several small books of my essays. First, I manually formatted the essays into landscape orientation and made a mock-up for the book. I folded and assembled pages into three signatures (sections) before sewing and glueing them together. In separate steps, I glued end papers to the book block and a piece of mesh fabric to the spine. Determining the correct size and spacing for the spine was tricky as it required measuring spaces to 1/16th of an inch. Making the cover reminded me of covering school text books with grocery sacks on my parents' kitchen table.

Nothing made by hand is perfect and these four little books are no exception. Although I revised and edited the copy many times, I found two typographical errors. Two of the books have spines that are a little too wide. I did manage to make two copies in which the the book block sits remarkably well inside the cover. The notion of handcrafting a container for my writing appeals to me. I have also learned a book is worth the price on its cover.   

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Knitting into Spring

Last winter I ripped out several knitting projects and reknit the yarn into wearable objects. This winter, I knit one pair of socks, several pairs of fingerless mitts, and washcloths to give as gifts. I combined leftover yarns into a Downtown Cowl and knit a Zilver shawl using the last skein purchased on a trip to the Wisconsin Wool Festival, September 2011. Then I finished a sweater. I am always a bit surprised when I knit a sweater that fits. My Current sweater is a success.

 In August 2013, I cast on the sweater in Breathless yarn, a merino/cashmere/nylon blend I had previously purchased for a large shawl. The yarn is a shade of sage green which reminds me of prairie grass being rippled by the wind. Shalimar Yarns named the color Limerick. The yoke and fronts of the sweater are trimmed in a checkerboard rib which includes a small cable twist reminiscent of a current of water meandering around the sweater.

As I knit, I thought about currents of all kinds. In rivers and streams, currents are diverted by sandbars, dead trees, and plants at the water's edge. Eventually the current creates a path by following gravity to lower elevations. If one watches long enough, patterns emerge. Moreover currents keep bodies of water from becoming stagnant. Water remains healthy when it circulates. Although currents of sound evaporate, they have a rhythm much like the rhyme in a limerick or sonnet. Ancient epic poems often acquired a rhythm as they were recited because rhythm helped storytellers  memorize and recall stories. The rhythm of poetry is part of its beauty. Currents of wind and air affect weather. Wind currents blow across grasses, through trees, neighborhoods, and open country. They leave evidence on rocks, mountains, lake surfaces, snow in ditches, and leaves against my garden fence. They shape trees in many places, including Interstate 80 through Nebraska. As the wind blew through autumn and winter, I knit on this sweater. I finished it about the time of the spring equinox. The lighter weight yarn makes this a good sweater for Spring.

Right now, I have three projects on my needles, a yellow sweater for a toddler, a pair of socks in a bright yarn variegated with yellow and blue, and a pair of fingerless mitts, also a soft yellow. I do believe I have put away the blue and gray yarns of winter. However, blue will be back in my knitting rotation come summer.

Nine months into retirement, I enjoy the changed pace in my life. For years I have wanted to savor Spring's arrival and now I can do that without being distracted by the end of the school year tasks. Late last summer I was diverted by a chickadee hanging upside down on a deck chair. In February, I watched the gradual change in light foreshadowing Spring. This week, despite Sunday's snow, buds are forming on the birch outside my window. The wind is blowing and I hope the prevailing current is toward Spring.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Making My Own

Recently on an early March afternoon, I read one of my favorite Margaret Wise Brown books, "A Home for a Bunny" to my grandson. "Spring said the robin. Spring said the frog. Spring said the bunny." I don't know anyone who isn't happy to see Spring. All winter I knit with gray, sage green, and shades of blue, so while winter lingered in my neighborhood, I ordered one skein of brightly dyed yarn to knit some cheerful socks. Sometimes you just have to make your own Spring color.

A few days later, I went to the grocery store for a few items, including a lemon. The bright yellow fruit was so inviting, I bought enough to fill a small glass bowl. I made lemon muffins and some lemon flavored simple syrup for lemonade. On one warm afternoon, I made some fresh lemonade and enjoyed it on the deck in the sunshine.

Indoors, I am learning to make books. I checked out some references from the public library and then searched the internet. At Christmas, my daughter gave me a book on bookmaking and I was off on a new adventure. I began by making two small books with blank pages. In the first project, I used the cover of a book I bought at an antique mall for seventy cents. I also improvised some bookmaking supplies from my embroidery, sewing, and quilting days. Instead of ordering book binding tape, I reinforced the spine with a piece of fabric backed with iron-on interfacing. When I made the second book, I cut the cover and spine from cardboard leftover from framing a piece of embroidery. I covered the board with cotton quilting fabric. I substituted a strip of linen left over from an embroidered sampler for mull, the speciality fabric glued to the spine of folded papers before they are attached to the cover.

Next, I made two chap books of my poems. I purchased some watercolor paper for covers. I used pearl cotton embroidery floss and a tapestry needle to sew the books together with the pamphlet stitch. One of my daughter's photos became the cover art. I finished the book with a contrasting strip of 1/8 inch ribbon. The book contains a title page, a dedication, the poems, and a copyright statement, all exactly the way I want them to look. While publishing and marketing my writing is intimidating, making my own books intrigues me. After all there was a time when books were made one at a time by hand.

Whether the subject is books, socks, lemonade, or spring, sometimes you just have to make your own.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

February Color and Light

January and February is a good time for comfort knitting. I knit a scarf from Shepherd's Wool in a pattern called Danger. While I knitted, temperatures dipped below freezing and remained bitterly cold. In fact, the weather was so cold, I completed the bind-off, wove in the beginning and ending ends, and wore the scarf without washing and blocking. For some reason, the name "Danger" reminds me of the "here be dragons" phrase cartographers of the early 1500's used to indicate danger. As I walked on bitter cold days with the scarf wrapped around my face, I thought, "here be danger." Still on those cold days, the neighborhood is quiet and there is a certain kind of beauty in the contrast of snow and bare tree trunks. As I came home to soup bubbling in the crock pot or carrots and squash roasting in the oven, I savored the peace of winter days. Soon enough lawnmowers and other power tools will disturb the quiet.    

Yesterday was unseasonably warm so I drove out to a trail bordering a wooded area for a walk. Even though I walked in a fleece jacket without hat or scarf, the grasses and adjacent wooded area looked like winter. Songbirds were not visible. Instead I saw only a hawk riding thermals in the wind and two big crows perched in tall elms. On the last leg of my walk, I found this wispy feather attached to the twig of a bush. I wish I knew what kind of bird shed this tiny feather with the splotch of gray along the shaft. After a walk through a monochromatic landscape, the feather made me smile.

February marks the month when the light begins to increase. The change is quite subtle, nevertheless the color of the sunny sky seems different to me. The days of slightly increasing light offer the hope of Spring. I hear more bird song too. I recently read that birds don't migrate based on temperatures but on the changes in light.

Last night I put another inch on the "Current" cardigan I cast on last summer. The yarn is a soft sage green. Knitting an adult sweater from fingering yarn with miles of stockinette stitches is a bit like slugging through winter. I wanted to make sure the sweater was worth my time so I put the body stitches on waste yarn, tried it on, and decided I like the fit. Tomorrow the forecast is for cold and snow but yesterday after my walk, I planted basil and chamomile seeds. The basil seeds came free in the mail. I don't know if they will germinate but I decided to plant them in pots and tend them from the kitchen counter. Any extra green color is welcome. I wish you enough color and light to see your way through the remaining days of February.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Used Book Adventures

I happen to think I can learn about anything by finding the right book. Currently I am studying poetry. In the past, I collected and read work by poets Hansen (the new poet laureate of Nebraska), Hasselstrom, Kenyon, Kooser, Nye, Oliver, Saiser, and Stafford for the sheer beauty I find in their language. Now I am reading several other poets whose work speaks to me. I am reading more slowly and making a few notes about the ways they use word sounds and origins, rhythm, and space in their early and later work. Some of my poetry books are new and some are used. I love a new book as well as any book lover. I enjoy the smell and feel of new paper in a book. I love the heft and crispness of a new hard back book as well as the slight tension in the binding of a new trade paperback. I have attended readings to have new books signed by the author.

Still, I enjoy looking at the typeset, the little symbols between sections, book jackets, and cover art of used books. Finding another reader's note in the margin intrigues me. Very old books spin more than one tale. For example, my great grandfather, Harry Ulmer, lived in Omaha in the early 1900's. I know him through my grandmother's stories about him: the car he rented on Sunday afternoons for family outings and the latest contraptions, including a radio in a wooden cabinet, that he carted home. He also brought home books. I know this because I have inherited a few of them, including this small volume of "Snowbound," a poem by John Greenleaf Whittier. This little worn book was published in 1907. From Harry's inscription on the title page, I know that my great grandparents attended a party, perhaps playing cards or charades on June 23, 1909 and he won this little volume. I can see him tipping the straw hat he often wore and smiling broadly while telling his five children about the winter poem he won on a summer day.  

Early in my used book buying, I purchased a few lemons. Once, I received a book that reeked of cigarette smoke. Even propping it open on the deck in full sun of ninety degree days couldn't remove the odor. I notified the seller about the condition of the book and then put it in the garbage. While a notation or two in a book is interesting, a book heavily marked with fluorescent pink high-lighter is distracting so I learned how to read descriptions of used books. Shopping at A Novel Idea, one of my local used bookstores, is a great adventure and a way to view books before purchasing.

Recently, I ordered a couple of books by a lesser known author because I wanted to compare her poetry and prose. When the book arrived in June, I put it on the stack in my writing room. When I opened it this winter,  I discovered it was a signed copy. The paperback is worn but author's signature is very clear.

This month I ordered an anthology of poetry by May Sarton. I have read her journals but decided  to study her poetry. I wanted this anthology in order to make my own notes in the margins. When the book arrived, I noticed a newspaper clipping tucked into the book. The clipping, dated July 18, 1995, was the article published by The New York Times at her death. I think proprietors of used bookstores enjoy the idiosyncrasies of used books as much as I do.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy New Year

All morning a fine dry powder of January snow has blown across my window.  The forecast is for one to two inches but I wonder if more will accumulate. On the Great Plains, moisture is good and snow insulates the perennial flowers and bushes. Snow also cleans up the landscape and speaks to me of fresh starts. What could be better on a New Year's Day?

A few days ago, I sprinkled seed on the brick ledge outside the window in order to feed the birds and observe them closely. When I pulled up the blinds this morning two female cardinals and a junco huddled on the ledge pecking at the seed. Soon they were joined by three male cardinals flying back and forth from the nearby birch. Tiny pieces of ice encrusted the mask of an older male. One of the females had a piece of ice at the hinge of her beak. They all differed in coloring and build. The slightest and youngest male was the most aggressive, flying at any other bird who tried to join him on the ledge. The other two males commanded the best spaces on the ledge by turning their heads quickly back and forth. The female cardinals were aware but unconcerned with the presence of other birds. Now and then a pair of nervous chickadees flitted in for a quick treat before darting down into the bushes in front of the house. Snow highlighted the remarkable patterns of the sparrows' markings. One sported a bib of closely spaced charcoal dots while another had a white line around his neck, much like a turtleneck shirt keeping him warm. Little flakes of snow clung to the beaks of the juncos. Sparrows, juncos, and finches fed in groups gaining warmth from each other and reminding me that sharing a meal is an age-old way to connect with others.

My personal New Year's Day parade ended late morning leaving me time to consider my own New Year. Rather than make resolutions for 2014, I plan to "Begin as I mean to go on." (Quote from Charles H. Spurgeon, courtesy of Wikipedia) Yesterday I put away the Christmas decorations and straightened the living room and dining area so the house is in relatively good order. Spotless, I have decided, is not necessary. On the eve of the New Year,  Lance and I shared a meal with another couple. We came home early so I made a cup of tea and opened a new book. Lance wrapped up in the afghan I finished earlier in the week.  The afghan was a two winter project knit from a basket of leftover yarns which only goes to show I don't always need new skeins of yarn.
The cardigan from last Spring is still in progress but I need a small portable project. Today seems like a good day for mittens so after lunch I'm going to find a pattern for some yarn I bought at a sale last week. I will also record birthdays and anniversaries in my 2014 calendar.  Late this afternoon I am making a simple meal of tabbouleh salad and baked chicken because simple sounds good after the holidays. If the wind dies down, I might take a walk in the fresh snow and enjoy the quiet of this winter day. And so I begin 2014 as I mean to go on. I hope you are all warm and looking forward to the New Year.