Monday, December 21, 2015

Winter Poetry

Some years I write a winter/Christmas poem to include in my holiday cards. After working with several ideas that seemed like a muddle of nothing, I decided this was not going to be a year for a poem. After all, we are expecting a new grandchild shortly. I also reminded myself that creative writing isn't all writing and revising, sometimes it requires thinking and waiting.

A few days later, in the wee hours of a mid November night, I couldn't sleep. While wandering around in the kitchen, I glanced out the window to see clouds clearing from the sky. Within a few minutes, an absolutely gorgeous moon appeared. The bright crescent rested in the shadow of the darker but visible part of the moon. Stars in Orion's belt shone brightly. Even through bleary eyes, the sight was magical. Why, I wondered, if the people of the earth all live under the same sky, can't we get along? Growing cold, I went back to bed.

The next morning I carried a cup of coffee to my desk. I looked over some old notes and definitions about light because the light of changing seasons is interesting to me. I love the contrast between the soft yellow gray November skies and the deep reds and browns of the deciduous trees. My notes didn't suggest anything other than rambling thoughts so I set them aside and flipped through a book of writing prompts. Randomly I chose one with the instruction to change forms in an unfinished piece. That is, to write a story from a poem, dialogue from an essay, or to choose a specific format for a poem. For no particular reason, I penned the word luminous down the side of a page and jotted down some words from my notes about light into a rough acrostic. Somehow the night sky and the crescent moon crept into the poem. I worked on this little poem for several weeks before it became the piece I sent out into the world. 

So I am publishing it on the eve of the Winter Solstice. (Copyright belongs to me.) Advent is the season of waiting and the Solstice, marking the darkest day of the year, is about hope for the return of light. Hanukah is a Festival of Light. Many faiths and cultures have a winter celebration around the idea of the return of light and hope. 

Luminous: A Prayer for the Season

Luna casts silver light onto
umber earth, wrapping us in a
mantle of kindness. She
illumines shadows with a
nocturne of peace, an
opus for all seasons. Then
ushers us into winter with
slivers of wonder and grace.

Peace, Love, and Light to you and yours.


Wednesday, December 16, 2015


Last night when the wind came up, I looked out to a bit of moon and a few stars in the partly cloudy sky. After four days of rain, the sun is shining. We prepared a little early for the holidays, so this next week I will be baking and enjoying the days. Retirement has its advantages. After Thanksgiving, I got out a few Christmas mugs and serving dishes. Another day, I hung a wreath on the front door and looked at cookie recipes. My cards are in the mail and the few gifts (books all around and a few handmade) are wrapped. Of course there are some extras for the three boys. My two youngest grandsons helped decorate the tree. The ornaments are clustered around the bottom half of the tree and I don't even care. Each evening when I plug in the lights, I am reminded of their smiles and willing hearts.

Sunday after Thanksgiving has become Christmas Quilt weekend at their house. I am happy to write that both little boys have Christmas quilts. E. has the quilt I made for my daughter so many years ago. Last January I wrote a blog post about working on a second Christmas quilt for M. I finished his quilt top in August and delivered it to a local woman who does machine quilting. Although I forgot to photograph the back side of his quilt, I will. This artist quilted a tree in cream thread in each open space and also outlined the embroidered and pieced designs. The large red border is quilted in red thread with a holly design and the narrow green border is quilted in green with a cross-hatch design.

I gave M. his quilt and snapped a few quick photos while he pretended to sleep for "just a minute, Grammy." The two quilts have many of the same designs but also a few that are different. My Texas grandson has the pieced Christmas quilt I made for my son. I haven't begun to think about a Christmas quilt for the baby yet to be born but that will be one of my projects in the New Year. As usual, I saved the coloring book motifs I used for embroidery.

Yesterday I finished the Sail Away With Me sweater for the soon-to-be born babe. Knit in pieces, the sweater required a fair amount of seaming. The buttons on the shoulder closure came from my button box. Many of them belonged to the Grandmother who taught me to knit and sew. I can't say for sure whether these three came from her projects or are leftover from mine but they seemed just right for this little sweater. Drinking hot tea with bright wool on my lap was a good way to spend two rainy days. So we are ready and so are my daughter and son-in-law, at least for their new baby.

If I don't get back here before Christmas, my best holiday wishes to all.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Begin Again

Like everyone I know, I am hugging my loved ones a little more often this season. The inexplicable violence in the world makes me want to keep them safe, warm, and loved. Right now that feels like a tall order, even for a knitter. Each time a mass shooting hits the headlines I set the news aside, then take a deep breath, walk, and/or make contact with someone I love. Then in the evening, I make a cup of tea and sit down to knit.

Last night I wondered, what if knitting were the metaphor for our communities? What if we cared for others the way knitters knit? That is, what if we realized that one dropped stitch or lost human being compromises the fabric of our communities? What if we tried to fix our mistakes? What if we cast on community projects again and again, trying to embrace the tension sometimes created by diversity? The problems are so overwhelming, I just drink my tea, knit, or escape into a book.

Still, I try to practice kindness, that is smile and speak to my Jewish and Muslim neighbors, thank the man with a disability who sacks my groceries, let the other guy into my lane of 5:00 p.m. traffic (well at least sometimes) and then knit like crazy. I finished the little baby sweater. Soon I will seam it together and knit the neckband so it will be ready for our soon-to-be-born grandchild. Last year I made mittens, hats, and slipper socks for my three grandsons and I will knit for them again soon. However, their parents are able to buy the next bigger size of snow pants and snow boots so I know they will be warm this winter. Other little ones are not so fortunate. Recently, I found the Bundles of Joy group on Ravelry. The group knits for babies and children on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Last month, I sent three newborn hats knit from sock yarn scraps to the OB ward of their hospital. This weekend I knit a pair of mittens and am working on a second pair. These are very small gestures. At least, three newborns have winter hats and two children will have warmer hands.

This afternoon I am headed out for a long walk to begin again. As I put one foot in front of the other, I will take some deep breaths of cold crisp air. I will send love to my dear ones and promise kindness to strangers. Then this evening I will knit, stitch by stitch beginning again.


Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Almost Ready

How did we arrive at Thanksgiving? Earlier this week, we had some beautiful sunny crisp autumn days. This morning the clouds are rolling in from the west carrying the possibility of rain/sleet late today and into Thanksgiving morning. I wish safe trips for all travelers. We are ready for a modest dinner at home. Weather permitting, I'd love to drive out to one of the city trails and go for a long walk. If not, my husband will watch football while I read or knit. Generally, I don't knit on a deadline but right now I am working on a project I'd like to finish. Our fourth grandchild, gender unknown, will arrive sometime the end of December into the first of January.

While waiting for each of the other grandsons, I knit two baby sweaters, one for a boy and one for a girl. I gave away two pink sweaters to the grandchildren of friends. I do have one special little newborn sized sweater knit in a blush color that I knit six years ago and a bright little green sweater that is gender neutral. I knit that sweater because I had the yarn and it is nice to have a baby gift on hand. Early in my daughter's pregnancy, I knit both a pink and a blue hat so I thought I was ready.

Then I brought home a new knitting book from the library, One Skein Wonders for Babies. I often check out knitting books from the public library so their data reflects an interest in knitting. I also enjoy looking at new books. Imagine that? The little Sail Away With Me sweater knit from a multicolored skein of Opal sock yarn caught my eye. A garter stitch row creates texture in the body of the sweater while reverse stockinette makes a sailboat on the front of the sweater. One shoulder has a button closure which is nice for those sweet baby heads. Somehow, I thought this little babe should have his/her own sweater, knit with love just for him/her. The colorway used in the pattern was discontinued but I found something similar and cast on. The colors will be cute on either a girl or a boy.

When the oldest brother of this new babe looked at the ultrasound photo, he predicted he will have a new brother. The baby didn't have a ponytail so it is a boy! Three little boys would be a very fun team. Regardless, we are waiting to welcome this little person of either gender with love and warmth. In the meantime, I have a sweater front and sleeves to knit. Snow is on the way, if not tomorrow then soon.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

Monday, November 2, 2015

In Praise of Friendship

I recently completed this Friendship Quilt of blocks made by the Crafters, a group of friends. I sewed the top together by machine and then quilted the piece by hand. Some Crafters will make their own quilt, others will seek help or hire someone to do machine quilting. Eventually we will all have a similar quilt.

Originally, the Crafters met through our work in public schools and special education. In 1979, four or five members got together, ostensibly to carve out a little time to work on handwork and to chat. I knew several of the women from my first three years of teaching and joined them in 1983, when we moved back to Lincoln from Cheyenne, Wyoming. Once a month, we gather in each other's homes with no agenda other than to enjoy being together. The only rule I can ever remember is, if one gets new carpet they are excused from cleaning house. Now days we don't worry too much about cleaning house or new carpet. Dessert is still important. For a good number of years, we were twelve. Now we have two empty chairs. One woman moved out of state and the oldest passed away. We miss them but their blocks are in this quilt.

Everyone brings or doesn't bring their own projects to craft. In the earliest years, counted cross stitch was the rage. Several of us discovered quilting and others knit. Over the years, my friends have stitched, mended, hemmed, quilted, knitted, clipped coupons, sorted through photos, and cleaned out their purses. Now days three or four of us may be working on something. More important is the friendship stitched together through the years. When we began, we talked of our babies and sleepless nights. We commiserated over divorce and teenagers. Then the children grew up and we danced at their weddings. One by one we have lost parents and other loved ones. These days we celebrate grandchildren and new parts via joint replacement surgery. Lately we toasted a bride at her happy second marriage. When I hosted the Crafters in October, we picked up exactly where we left off in September.  

I love being part of the on-line knitting community so this isn't a question of which is better. My knitting friends support each other and charities in other ways. Friendships reach across the country and knitting gathers us together. Locally, I am also part of an intelligent thoughtful group of women who meet monthly to discuss books but that group is worthy of another blog post. I treasure all of these connections to other women.  

Some ten or thirteen years ago, the Crafters set out to make Friendship Quilts, exchanging blocks and helping each other along the way. I honestly can't remember the year we began this quilt. I do remember the times friends from both the Book Group and the Crafters have showed up at my door with a hug and dinner in a picnic basket. They never blinked an eye at the dust in the living room, laundry on the couch, or the sticky kitchen floor. They understood I'd spent a long few days at the hospital with my husband or that I'd just seen my father or mother to the end of his or her life. Books come and go and quilts may be folded away but the friendships remain. They are as rich as deep reds and golds on an autumn day.  


Saturday, October 17, 2015

Ginger Mitts

Last week I knit these mitts. About ten o'clock one evening, I finished the second thumb and wove in the ends on both mitts. Then I tried them on to admire them, the way we knitters do, only to discover the thumbs are differently placed in the ribbing. Rather disgusted with myself, I set them aside and went to bed with a book.

I knit these while listening to a Charles Todd mystery, A Pale Horse. I particularly liked the end of this story. Charles Todd is a mother/son team who have published two mystery series set in England and France during and shortly after World War One. One series features Bess Crawford, an English woman serving as a nurse during the war. The other longer series, that the above book is part of, is set in England after the war. The protagonist is Ian Rutledge, a Scotland yard detective, who served as an English officer in France. Rutledge suffered shell-shock during the war and carries his demons with him. I find both series well written with the right amount of plot, history, and descriptions of place and characters. While they are about murder, they do not contain gory details that keep me up at night. Occasionally I wish Rutledge could find a little peace but Todd's portrayal of shell shock is more authentic. I enjoy the mysteries so I was probably imagining the English countryside or listening for red herrings while drinking tea and knitting merrily away on the second mitt.  

Many others have knit the Align Mitts successfully so the mistake is mine and not the fault of the designer. I did think to knit an inch cuff of ribbing to keep the stockinette portion from rolling up along the bottom edges. The mitts don't take much yarn and would be easy to size up or down. I like their tailored non-fussy look. I will probably knit them again as the pattern is well suited to leftover fingering weight yarn. Other yarns could be substituted and the stitch count changed. The designer made a few suggestions on how to do this on the pattern page. I used Entice Yarn by Hazel Knits that was leftover from the Shallows cowl. The yarn is lovely around the neck or to wear on the hands.

My first inclination was to rip out the second mitt and reknit it so the two would be a perfect match. Indeed, I think of ripping and re-knitting as getting more value and enjoyment from the yarn. I have ripped out sweaters because I knew they weren't going to fit. I have ripped out lace patterns in order to maintain the melodic rhythm of the stitch patterns. I stand by the idea that if, I don't like a mistake now, I won't like it ten stitches, ten rows, or ten inches of knitting later. I have fixed and fudged all kinds of mistakes.  

Earlier this week I happened to have a conversation about perfection with an acquaintance. I didn't know the woman well enough to offer advice so I listened as she stated her home would never measure up to the newly built new homes of her friends. I countered with my thoughts on accepting less than perfection when celebrating the winter holidays. When I got home, I looked up the dictionary definition for perfect. My old hard copy of the American Heritage Dictionary listed eight definitions for the word used an adjective, two for usage as a noun, and several more about verb usage and verb tense. Only once did the dictionary define "perfect" as being without defect or blemish. Other notations in the list included the following: lacking nothing essential to the whole, completely suited for a purpose, excellent and delightful. More over, some of the word origin comes from a Latin participle meaning "to finish" or "to do."

I decided not to redo these mitts. They are very warm and comfortable. They fit well and are sturdily made. I wove the ends in with care and the cuff won't roll up out of my sleeve. And for heaven's sake, they are made of merino, cashmere, and nylon yarn that is perfectly delightful next to the skin.

Perhaps you will join me as I raise my knitting needles high and salute whole and delightful perfection!



Saturday, October 10, 2015

Happy Autumn

Recently my husband and I drove up the Minnesota shore of Lake Superior. I kept thinking of the line from The Teddy Bear's Picnic, "If you go out in the woods today, you are in for a big surprise." We didn't see any bears but we had several picnics and found other surprises in the north woods of Minnesota. Autumn is my favorite season and traveling early in the season only improves the scenery. The leaves on deciduous trees were starting to turn colors. I loved the cooler temps and crisp air. I took a fleece jacket and was pleased to wear it.

Previously, when we visited Duluth, I considered it to be a northern outpost. This time we continued up the shore to Grand Marais, Minnesota. The banner strung across the main street proudly proclaims, "The Best Small Town in America." I might agree. Grand Marais is home to a thriving community of artists. My favorite artist's studio, complete with beautifully illustrated children's books, was that of Betsy Bowen. We stayed at the MacArthur House, a lovely B and B, and ate delicious dinners in small local restaurants. There wasn't a chain restaurant in town. One day we drove up to Grand Portage National Monument and hiked a short distance to Pigeon River along the Canadian Border.  On the return trip down the shore, we toured Split Rock Lighthouse. We might visit this area again.

My husband likes to drive so I logged plenty of knitting miles. I finished the Shallows Cowl and cast on a sock in some wild self-striping yarn by Desert Vista Dyeworks. Duluth has a great little yarn shop called Yarn Harbor. I bought a skein of Three Irish Girls fingering weight yarn because it is dyed locally in Superior, Wisconsin. The color, Bayfront, is about the color of the lake on a clear autumn day. I am not sure whether it will become socks or a shawl. I do know the stitches will carry a hint of autumn days in the North Woods.

In the past few days, the leaves on the birch in my front yard have begun to change. I'm off to walk around the neighborhood and watch autumn arrive. I hope you find time to enjoy October. Happy Autumn.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Knitting Inspiration

Where did September go? This morning, the day of the Fall Equinox, a thunderstorm is in progress, bringing a change in recent warm temperatures. The word equinox originates from two Latin words, aequus meaning equal and nox meaning night. Today the hours of day and night are equal but tomorrow the northern hemisphere begins the turn toward shorter days. Fewer hours of light cool the earth and bring winter to our doorstep. Word origin aside, I am ready to bite into a crisp apple from a local orchard. Autumn is my favorite season. I prefer crisp cool temperatures of sweater weather. I haven't worn any wool socks yet but I will be pulling them on soon.

I read a blog called My Sister's Knitter. I enjoy Andi's photos and notes on knitting and life in general. Last December, a knitter in her Ravelry group created an informal knit along challenge to knit a pair of socks a month in 2015. The idea was to put twelve different skeins of sock yarn into twelve paper bags. Then each month, the knitter chooses a skein to knit a pair of socks. The socks knit from a variety of yarns, patterns, and colors are great inspiration. While I don't knit a pair of socks each month, I usually have a pair in progress. The small project is a good way to fill travel or waiting time. Though I admire the intricate textures and designs, I knit repetitive easy to memorize sock patterns. Having my hands occupied in rote movement frees up my thoughts. I keep small notepads in my knitting bags in order to make notes about a project. Sometimes I set the knitting aside to jot down an idea or thought that becomes part of a poem or at least begin to solve a challenge in a piece of writing.  

Last Saturday evening while listening to Garrison Keillor's Prairie Home Companion, I finished the Frosty Garden Socks. Inspired by Andi's blog, I took a photo of socks I have finished in 2015. Surprisingly, there isn't a blue pair in the pile. I will remedy that soon. Whether my finished objects are poems or socks, reading or looking at them often inspires me. I am not sure what that says about my working style but I am not going to fret about it.

I cast on Shallows cowl in a Hazel Knits yarn to celebrate the autumn season. The color way, henna, reminds me of pumpkin spices and is different from my usual color choices. I have always wanted to knit an autumn colored yarn in the autumn and decided to seize the moment. I also cast on a baby hat. We have another grandchild due in January. Here in Nebraska, that little one is going to need a warm going home from the hospital hat. Now I am off to find a skein of blue sock lingering somewhere in the yarn stash.  

What inspires you?


Friday, September 4, 2015

Creating from Scraps

I am a saver. Whether projects involve knitting, writing, bookmaking, or quilting, they generate leftover materials that I have a hard time throwing away. Some scraps inspire me to make something new and some do not. The trouble is, I never know what will be useful so I save papers from bookmaking, fabric pieces, embroidered table runners, sentences, bits of poems, and small balls of yarn. My husband is patient with me. He saves other kinds of stuff but that is a story for another day.

Recently, I wanted to make a backing for a queen sized quilt top that I finished last summer. I pieced the Apron Strings pattern from scraps and leftovers. While I have plenty of fabric from my quilting years, I don't have long lengths suited for quilt backs. Rummaging through boxes of scraps, I unearthed pieces of a Boston Commons quilt that went awry ten years ago. The quilt was to be made by machine piecing strips, sewing them together, cutting across those pieces to make strips of small squares, and then piecing those strips with others into a checkerboard of squares. I miscalculated the seam allowance and ended up with quilt sections that didn't fit together. I tried some solutions but nothing worked so I packed up and stored the whole frustrating mess. Last week I retrieved the project and removed large corner sections. Then with more joy than precision, I trimmed and sewed the larger and smaller pieces together into strips to use in the quilt back. I found one good sized piece that never became a quilt and sewed the strips to either side. My goal was to square up the uneven edges and create a sturdy fabric that would lay flat on the back of the quilt. Eventually, I succeeded. Next I'll have it machine quilted. When the quilt is finished, I'll have an extra blanket for my grandsons' sleepovers. I wouldn't even care if they used it to make an indoor fort on a winter day.

At the same time I knit what I am calling the Blue Yoga Shawl from leftover yarn. I think the simple garter stitch will make a good wrap for the end of yoga class. I started with the Diving In Shawl recipe pattern and added three rows of eyelet and a narrow border from Numinlintu, another pattern I had recently knit. Most of the yarn is Quince and Co. Finch although I had one small ball of a leftover variegated sock yarn that went quite well with the colors. I wish I had done the increases, one stitch in from the edges, like those in the Numinlintu pattern. They would be neater with a more finished look but I didn't think about it until I had finished my shawl. I considered ripping it out but decided this is a shawl from scraps made primarily for warmth and comfort.

Meanwhile, I have started completely over with the blue Sundara yarn. I fixed the edge of the Ishbel shawl only to knit too far in the stockinette section so I ripped out the extra rows. Then I did something goofy in the center increase on the first row of lace. I pulled the needle out and discovered the piece looked like a miniature sample so I frogged the project. Some years ago, I knit an Ishbel shawl in some yarn I bought from a dyer no longer in business. I really like that shawl and this blue light fingering yarn wasn't going to make the same kind of fabric. After muddling around in patterns, I chose one called Tympani from a knitting book on my bookshelf. Now, there is a novel idea, actually looking through a book I already own, right? The shawl is back on the needles and I've found the sweet spot of knitting that occurs when needles, yarn, and pattern play well together. I've had the yarn for several year and who knows when I bought the book. This will be the third pattern I've tried to knit with this yarn. It is holding up well which means any leftovers may be useful.

I hope your fabric or yarn, and patterns play well together on this Labor Day weekend.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

August: Gardening and Knitting Notes

As the nights cool, my garden has that end of the summer look. Despite this earlier photo, most of the beds are none too attractive. The tomato vines are a mess. They are dying back while a few pieces of green fruit dangle from dry branches. I planted them two weeks later than usual because of heavy May rains. More rain fell in June so they had a slow start. I'm not complaining about the moisture but I am glad I don't depend on my garden to feed my family in the way my great grandmother. I have harvested some tomatoes but will not have enough to can for winter soups. However, the cucumbers thrived in the cooler damp weather. I made plenty of bread and butter pickles and gave away as many cucumbers as I could find willing takers. I'm pulling up the last wilting cucumber vine today. I also made a gardening note to plant only one hill of cucumbers. How many pickles can one family and neighborhood eat? For the first time, I had good luck with a bell pepper plant. We have been eating "orange blaze" peppers in salads and with hummus. Yesterday I chopped up three extras and put them in the freezer. I also have lush basil plants and will freeze some pesto. My slightly haphazard approach to composting seems to be working. I added a fair amount to the vegetable garden, herbs, and perennial flowers along the fence.

The hollyhocks were beautiful before some sort of blight grew on the underside of the leaves. I usually let them go to seed but this year I cut most of them down hoping to minimize the spread of whatever was growing on them. I don't use gardening chemicals or even natural/homemade sprays. I've never found anything that worked very well or seemed worth the time to mix and spray. If a flower, vegetable, or herb grows and thrives I keep it around, if it doesn't I let it go. The perennials in my garden have to tolerate the Nebraska summers and winters.

In knitting notes, I am chugging away on the second gray variegated sock. The single cable running down the side adds just enough interest to keep the project interesting without requiring too much concentration. The cable on the right sock twists to the front and the one on the left sock twists to the back. This thoughtful detail of a mirrored cable on a free pattern is typical of meticulous detail by the designer, Glenna C. I have an Ishbel shawl on the needles - in blue of course. Late last night I picked it up and discovered a few rows back, I had began to knit two edge stitches instead of three. I decided to wait to fix it in the light of day. I'm going to try to drop down and reknit the stitches instead of ripping out six to eight rows. Wish me luck. I am looking forward to cooler temperatures and a chance to wear a shawl. I hope the end of summer is treating you well.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Tomorrow is the Day

Most mornings the temps have been slightly cooler. By afternoons, the air is back to the typical heat and humidity of a Nebraska August. A couple of times this past week, I thought I sensed a slight touch of fall in the air. This morning I found a red maple leaf on the sidewalk and remembered that tomorrow is the first day of school for many students in Lincoln. I remember lining up my two children in carefully chosen outfits on the front porch for photos. I remember the sense of anticipation, excitement, and feeling as if they really were a year older on the first day of school. Our daughter went to a first day of preschool on a hot August day wearing a purple and pink long sleeved sweatshirt because her Grandmother had given it to her to keep her warm at school. The sweatshirt was stuffed into her backpack within the first twenty minutes but she had it with her, just in case. Our son started kindergarten in his favorite turquoise, orange, and black surfboard print shorts, sneakers with black and white checks and psychedelic green and pink designs, and emerald green and white striped wrist bands because that is what he wanted to wear. He is our second child and by then I was less worried about coordinated clothing. I have no idea what the kindergarten teacher thought of his outfit but he had a good day. He still has a wonderfully quirky sense of humor.

This year we watch two grandsons begin the school year. The oldest one, living out of state, begins middle school and the little guy, close by, enters his second year of preschool. Taking stock after the summer, I notice both boys have grown by leaps and bounds and look a year older. I love the idea of a fresh start including new school supplies, new socks and shoes, (they always need new socks) as well as a new teacher and new grade with new chances for learning. Tomorrow morning as I walk, I will watch the neighborhood children on their way to school with a lump in my throat. I wish them all well. I hope they all feel smart and successful at school. In this crazy world, we need all of our children to be successful.

In knitting news, I cast on several projects from stash yarn. I am knitting a pair of So Simple Silk Garden socks, a free pattern courtesy of Glenna C., in Socks That Rock lightweight yarn. The color is called Stormy Weather. These are gift knitting for someone who likes a gray/black/white variegated color scheme. Knitting with these colors didn't appeal to me in January but on these dog days of summer, the silver frosty color is rather refreshing. And no, that is not frost but humidity on the patio table.

Inspired by Susan B. Anderson's blog post on a Louise sweater, I cast on a similar sweater from a pattern called Ramona. After reading her post, I remembered a sweater's worth of teal colored Montera yarn, stored deep in the stash. My sweater will be knit from one color and it will be heavy enough to wear as a jacket. I knit the yoke and separated for the sleeves but have set it aside until the weather cools off a bit. The maple leaf tells me those days aren't too far away.

Happy First Day of School to one and all!

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Summer Moments

As July winds down, I'd like to slow the passage of this summer. We have stayed close to home, enjoying the garden, reading, knitting, sewing, and spending time with our three grandsons. Here are a few highlights from July:

My book group met at A Novel Idea, a local used bookstore with a good inventory of fiction and nonfiction. We spent a pleasant few hours browsing books, enjoying cold drinks, and chatting with two bookstore employees. Both are avid readers so it was fun to compare notes. Part of the charm of this bookstore is finding the unexpected. I happened onto The Last Gift of Time: Life Beyond Sixty, a book of essays by Carolyn Heilbrun. The author was a professor at Columbia University during a time when women struggled to be accepted in academia. I particularly enjoyed "Unmet Friends," an essay about the kinship she felt with poet Maxine Kumin. Since the two women never met, Heilbrun's sense of kinship with Kumin allowed her to explore the relationship between reader and writer. Some essays are dated but they remind me of the strides women have made in my lifetime. Helibrun lived about the same time as my mother which may have been another reason I enjoyed reading her work.

Now and then, our four-year old grandson and I take a field trip around town. Late Spring, Lincoln hosted a public art project to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Lighthouse, a program that benefits middle and high school students during after school hours. Large lightbulbs have been decorated by community artists and installed around town. E. and I are driving around to look at them. We have fun locating them on a city map, planning a route, and then finding them. Now when either of us says, "I have an idea . . ." we joke that a lightbulb has gone on. I will remember this"lightbulb summer" for a long time. I hope he does too.

His younger brother, soon to be two, doesn't have the patience for lightbulbs but he loves to read. Currently truck books are his favorite. This sweet little guy will pick out a book, pat the couch and say, "sit down, read" meaning he wants the adult to sit down so he can snuggle up with his favorite books. I am grateful to the creator of "Little Blue Truck" as it gives us lots of time together.

We had a surprise visit from our Texas daughter-in-law and grandson. We took A. and E. out to A's favorite breakfast spot for waffles and hot chocolate with sprinkles and whipped cream.

Early this month, my husband and I attended the funeral of an elderly gentleman. He lived a good long life, worked hard, and loved his family. He was ill and his death was not expected. At his request, pizza and salad were served after the service. Having grown up during the Depression, I doubt he complained of the customary cold cut/macaroni and jello salad lunches often served at funerals. Still his request for pizza brought smiles to the faces of his family and friends. Later in the day I stopped at a local fabric store to buy some buttons for a baby sweater. The little lime green sweater seemed to call for ladybug buttons. I found some just the right size.  As is my custom, I parked a distance from the store in order to walk extra steps. Not too far from my car was a sweet patch of wildflowers. I had never seen them before and they were certainly prettier than cedar bark mulch under traditional landscaping plants.

These summer days filled with ordinary moments have been quite wonderful.  More please.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Tidying Up: A Clean Knitting Slate

I have been in a "tidying up" mood lately. Many folks are inspired to do this in January. When I taught school, summer was the time I cleaned kitchen cupboards and closets so I associate hot, humid weather with more extensive sorting and straightening of my belongings. Last week I decided to get my knitting projects in order.

In June, I finished this Nurmilintu shawl. The name of the shawl comes from a line in a Finnish lullaby that translates to "Sleep, sleep my little bird." Isn't that sweet? I believe the designer is Finnish. My dear sister gave me the Collinette Jitterbug yarn. I enjoyed the pattern and the yarn. I think the shape of the shawl makes it very wearable and I have never met a shade of blue that I didn't like. I finished the knitting three weeks or so before I washed, blocked, photographed, and posted the project on Ravelry.

Since Spring, I have been knitting in fits and starts on a Leaf Press Shawl. The pattern is well written and easy to follow. Both yarn colors are lovely but the variegated yarn seemed to get lost in the stripes. I was also tired of twisting and untwisting two balls of yarn at the color change. I might have persevered if I had liked the finished knitting but I didn't. The project spent a lot of time tucked away in a closet. After trying again to knit a few rows while listening to Garrison Keillor's Prairie Home Companion, I decided both skeins could be used to better advantage so I ripped out the shawl. As Garrison's entertaining voice went on, I ripped out another project that had been languishing in the yarn bins for quite some time. Many years ago, I ordered some pink cotton yarn to make a shell. I have tried three times to make something from that yarn and have been unsuccessful. The color is a little sickly sweet. I ripped out the last attempt and decided the yarn might make a baby sweater or wash cloths. Ripping out projects doesn't bother me. I think of it as getting more value (money and time) from the yarn.

I also blocked a Rocky Mountains Cowl I finished earlier in the week. Although the pattern calls for a worsted or chunky weight yarn, I used a sport weight yarn and added a few repeats of the pattern to get the size I wanted.

Then I finished up a washcloth that had been riding around in the car with me for months. Last night I knitted the heel and gusset on the second top down Evergreen Sock which is my only project on the needles. I hardly recognize my knitting self. Sometimes though, a clean knitting slate is a good idea. Now, if I could only transfer this tidying up frame of mind to the storage area in our basement. A clean slate down there is a good but impossible idea. Still, a few trips to the Goodwill would help.


Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Another Woman's Needlework

Abundant rain continues to fall in our area. On dry days, I duck out to weed the small vegetable garden, the perennial flower beds, and herb garden. The tomato and cucumber vines look healthy. The cucumber vine has blossoms and the cherry tomato plant begins to bear green fruit. The oregano is exploding with long branches and larger leaves while the basil needs a little more sun. Hollyhocks I planted along the fence are blooming. Some years the hollyhock seeds have not germinated but this year they are doing well.

Several rainy afternoons, I searched through my handwork supplies and sewed project bags for my knitting. I purchased this pattern. It is well written and easy to follow. The designer offers a free tutorial for a small bag suitable for a sock or mitten project. I wanted a few that were larger so I purchased the pattern. I used the red geranium fabric for the small bag (free tutorial.) The purchased pattern gives instructions for eight sizes, including a recipe for making a custom sized bag. The two slightly larger bags are made from leftover quilting fabrics and old linens. Using the linens is not an original idea. Browse Etsy and you will find all kinds of uses, including bags and purses, for new and vintage embroidery.

Over the years I have inherited and purchased vintage linens trimmed with hand embroidery. I use them as dresser scarves and small tablecloths until they wear out. I keep a few stained worn pieces because I don't want to throw away the embroidery work. Once a long time ago, a family member sold my Grandmother's Depression Era Double Wedding Ring quilt to a second hand shop. She didn't mean any harm nor did she realize anyone in the family (like me) would liked to have kept the quilt. I have always wondered whether the piece found a good home, was repurposed into other projects, or was used to cover old furniture in a barn.

Because of that experience, I either use old textiles or find them a good home. When I saw these pieces among my supplies, I decided to sew them into the exterior of the bags. The pink flower may have come from one of my Grandmother's dresser scarves. The embroidered bluebird piece is one I picked up at a second hand store. I fused the embroidery to white cotton fabric so it would be more stable. The lined bags have tidy insides and the drawstring closure doesn't snag yarn. I also didn't have to purchase or install a zipper. The embroidered flower is more proportional than the bluebirds but even so I like the way the bags turned out. They were good entertainment on a rainy day and will be useful for knitting projects. I enjoy using bags that carry the work of another woman's needle.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Matching Sleeves

In April and May, I knit the Aggie Sweater. This sweater was knit in the round from the top down. The lace panel in the back kept the project interesting. After knitting the body, I picked up the sleeve stitches at the underarm and knit them down to the wrist. In order to have sleeves that fit my arms, I shortened them by two inches. Decreasing the length meant changing the rate of decreased stitches in order to have the correct width at the wrist. I did some math, took a deep breath, and began the first sleeve. Each time I decreased, I clipped a stitch marker into the stitches, leaving a visual record of the decreases. Between my notes and all the stitch markers on the first sleeve I was able to knit a second matching sleeve. I added the lace motif at the wrist.

Over the years, I have tried a variety of ways to knit two matching sections in a garment. Most often I used sticky notes. I wrote down row numbers or made tick marks to record increases, decreases, or rows between cables. However now and then I'd be chatting or thinking of something else and then wonder if I had really written down a number or made a mark. Of course, sticky notes on knitting patterns get lost. I've often wondered if anyone found the notes with my cryptic knitting code and whether they puzzled over what they had stumbled upon. Perhaps others aren't so interested in the little pieces of found paper. I also tried substituting a small notepad for the sticky note but made the same recording errors. Now I simply count rows of knitting which works well when it involves only a few rows.

In between the first and second sleeve of this sweater, I had to purchase more stitch markers but I am always happy to support the local shops. Stitch markers seem to have a life of their own. I've found them on the floor of the car, in my pockets, in the bottom of knitting bags, inside books on the end table, under the couch, and in cushions. Some day soon I'll take the cushions off the couch and retrieve a few of them.

Several years ago, I bought this yarn to knit a garter stitch cardigan. After knitting most of the sweater body, I ripped it out because I didn't think the garment would hold its shape. Usually I just wind the yarn into a ball as I rip out a project. This time I skeined it up so I could wash and hang it to dry. The weight of the wet yarn relaxed the kinkiness made by  previous stitches. After it had dried, I wound it into balls. I did this all without a ball winder. I was able to reuse some lovely yarn and may have solved the matching parts dilemma. Aren't low tech solutions great? Now I have a Christmas Quilt top to finish. I am also working on a shawl and some socks. Sooner or later the rain will stop. As summer warms up, I won't want a lap full of sweater yarn.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Abundant Rains: The Good, Bad, and Interesting

The gray wet weather pattern continues to roll across eastern Nebraska and other parts of the midwest. One night a few weeks ago, Lincoln recorded 7 inches of rain overnight. Six months ago, the city experienced another a storm that dropped 5.27 inches of rain. Both were classified as hundred year storms. We haven't had any damage but friends and family have not been so fortunate. The ground is saturated. Flooded basements have caused heartache, backache, and property damage. Piles of carpet and other goods have been dumped into the local landfill. In the evenings, a bumper crop of mosquitos buzzes around my neck and face making the outdoors a little less pleasant.

However, established trees are thick with green leaves. In my back yard, the columbine are a riot of color and a rose blossom grew to a seven inch diameter. Iris are blooming over a longer period of time. The basil could use some sun but the cilantro is growing well. Even after several cuttings, lettuce that I planted in a rectangular container provides tasty salad greens. Last year the Japanese Lilac tree had very few flowers. Right now it looks to be lush with blooms.

On one of the few sunny mornings this month, I was out removing the compost tumbler lid to dry out the too-soggy contents. I found this stinkhorn mushroom (photo below) in the yard. My husband had mowed the previous evening so this fungus just popped up over night. The other worldly looking stinkhorn grows in many places including woods, gardens, fields, or any place with decaying plant matter. I've never seen one in my neighborhood or yard. Supposedly it emits a foul odor but I didn't get close enough to find out. My four year old grandson is going to love the name of this oddity.

While traveling under gray skies, I finished a pair of socks in KnitPicks Felici (Sorbet) self-striping sock yarn. The colors are almost too bright but they will be fun to wear next winter. I knit heels in contrasting plain yellow (Wildefoote by Brown Sheep Yarns.) I planned to use the same yellow yarn for the toes but it was a heavier weight. I thought the difference would make the toe too big to fit well. Next time I'll pay more attention when choosing a contrasting yarn for toe and heel. The Vanilla Latte Socks pattern is easy to follow. I did modify it in order to center the ribbing over the top of the foot but forgot to make notes so I'm not sure I could describe how I changed the pattern.

This afternoon I hope to take a walk. If it rains again, I will reknit the bottom ribbing of a sweater and perhaps tune up my sewing machine. Both are good rainy day projects but right now I'd rather be gardening.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Encouragement In the Spirit of Cooperation

Thanks to Linda Hasselstrom of Notes from a Western Life Blog for nominating my blog for the Liebster Award. The award is given by blog writers to other writers in an effort to encourage and support each other. The distribution method helps other bloggers increase their readership. Award nominees, if they choose to participate, tag others for the award. I don't usually participate in chain letter activities. However I chose to participate in the Liebster project to support other writers as well as encourage civility and kindness on the internet. In this spirit, I nominated the writers below. They are under no obligation to participate and I understand they may choose to pass for any number of reasons. Regardless you might want to look at their blogs.

Here is how I interpret the guidelines for this award. First I will answer the questions Linda posed for her nominees. Then I will list my nominees and post a new set of questions for them. Nominees do not have to answer all of the questions. I passed on two of mine.

Questions Posed To Me
1. What event made you start writing? 
Sometime in my forties, I begin to think I would like to try and write but never did so. At age fifty, I attended a reading given by women who had been published in Leaning into the Wind, an anthology of women writing about the West. The writers were ordinary women with busy lives. As I listened to  them, I decided if they could write so could I. Around the same time my seemingly healthy mother was diagnosed with multiple myeloma. Her illness reminded me how quickly our lives can change. I decided if I wanted to try writing that I should begin.

2. What do you enjoy reading?
I enjoy reading a well-written story. I read fiction, biography, nature writing, poetry, and some mysteries.

3. What do you read for inspiration or encouragement?
When I find a writer whose work appeals to me, I read their earlier work. Studying a writer’s growth over time encourages me. 

4. Why do you write?
I write because I like to tell stories and I like discovering my own story. I also enjoy playing with words and language.

5. How much time do you spend writing each day?
When I have no other commitments, I spend about three or so morning hours at my desk.

6. How might you realistically rearrange your schedule to have more writing time?  Since retiring from public school teaching, I feel fortunate to have most mornings to work. I am quite pleased with the amount of time I spend writing.

7. What do you do for relaxation and enjoyment?
I spend time with my family, including my grandchildren. I also knit, read, quilt, walk, practice yoga, and garden.

8. What incident have you never written about?

9. What is the best thing you have written and why?
I recently finished a small collection of poems about containers and ordinary days. I printed and bound them together in handmade books for family and a few friends. This is my version of environmentally friendly self-publishing. 

10. What question do you wish I had asked? Pass

My nominees for the Liebster Award are:

Kate of Beyond Kale - A Mother's Mindful Journey
My daughter Kate writes about her family's journey as they try to teach their children to love and conserve the world with a healthy lifestyle. She writes from the perspective of a mother with a professional career about issues that face young families.

Bonnie of Blue Peninsula
Bonnie, an artist and knitwear designer, writes from Massachusettes.  She designs knitting patterns, creates embroidered artwork, sketches, and supports small independent yarn dyers.

Karen of Pumpkin Sunrise
Karen posts beautiful photographs about her knitting and reading. I enjoy her posts about the beauty she finds in ordinary days.

Sarah of Whistling Girl Knits
Sarah of Oregon is a writer, pattern designer, and photographer. Her strong writing skills inspire me.

Becky and Lucy of Writing in Community
Becky and Lucy write their blog from Nebraska to encourage writers. Both Becky and Lucy have published poetry. Together they wrote and published a book, Writing in Community: Say Goodbye to Writer's Block.

Questions for Writers:
1. What made you decide to write a blog?
2. If you could have dinner with a famous craftsperson (poet, writer, knitter, artist, musician, master gardener, or ???) who would you invite? What would you ask them?
3. Have you ever memorized a poem? Which one do you remember?
4. Do you practice other crafts besides writing? If so what connections do you find between writing and the other crafts?
5. What blog topics do you like to read about?
6. What authors do you admire?
7. Where do you write? What setting works best for you?
8. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or prompt?
9. How do you make time and space for practicing your crafts?