Tuesday, November 11, 2014

And Just Like That...

...It's Winter!

Well, not quite, but pretty darn soon. I awoke to the first snow of the season, and even though it won't last, it's a harbinger of things to come.

So what happened to Autumn? And the end of summer? How could I skip a whole season? 

The summer did not end well, and Autumn, although not terrible, has not been the best either. In mid-August, a close friend of mine was killed in a car accident on her way to work on a Monday morning. I'd known Patrice for 26 years; we'd met through the Weavers and Spinners Guild, and learned to weave together. At the time she was raising sheep, and trying to make a living from wool and weaving. Over the years we went to many workshops and classes; sold our fiber art at shows, and helped each other figure out tricky patterns and techniques. Since she did not knit, she often commissioned me to make things for her to sell using yarn processed from her flock. She encouraged my creativity immensely, and some of my first attempts at designing were for her. 

After she got out of the sheep business, we remained close friends, getting together often for supper or road trips to interesting places. Our last evening together was just a few days before she died, and it had been such a wonderful get together, I was really looking forward to doing it again soon. Now it will be my final good memory of her. 

At the same time, the mother of another close friend passed away. Someone whose home I'd been a guest in many times, and who came to visit for Thanksgiving a few years back. Although her passing was not unexpected, it was sad all the same.

In September I spent another wonderful day visiting with close friends, only to learn soon after that one of them had been diagnosed with a fast growing form of breast cancer. The outcome there looks good, but it was just another bit of sadness to deal with.

And in October, I finally had to say goodbye to sweet Lily cat. She'd been diagnosed with renal failure 18 months ago, so every extra day with her was a triumph really, even though she'd had a rough go of it at times. Sometimes, the way she acted, you would never even know anything was wrong with her. But she slowly lost ground. The end came swiftly - so fast really, that I knew there was no way she was going to pull through anymore, and that made the final decision much easier. She was 14 years old, although I'd only had her for the last eight years; adopting her after she'd been surrendered to the local Humane Society. She was my princess, and I've never known such an elegant cat. 
So it's been a heart-breaking few months, and I'm ready for the quiet of winter to come and bring some peaceful solitude. Time to settle in with a cozy fire, some knitting, and a cat on each side of me. Time for music, old movies, and holiday traditions. Time to read, and relax, and restore. I'm ready.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Ahh...Summer! Sunday, August 24, 2014

I think this will be the last entry in the series. Although the official end of summer isn't for a few weeks yet, Labor Day will soon be upon us, and there are signs that the season is coming to an end. Leaves have started to turn and fall, most of the perennials in the yard are spent, and the mornings are foggy - true late summer weather. I'm not sure I could come up with any more true summertime pleasures. And frankly, I'm not in a pleasure mood right now. I need a season change, a page turn, and a fresh outlook. It's time.

This last summertime treat is one that I've experienced every year since I was a little girl. Our small town on the Mississippi River gets a small taste of the steamboat era a few times during summer and fall, when paddlewheel steamboats pass by on their way up and down river. When I was young, only the Delta Queen came by - a wooden hull steamboat built in 1929. In the 70's the Mississippi Queen was added to the fleet, then the American Queen. There is also a local boat - the Julia Belle Swain, that makes more frequent trips. 

Over the years, whenever the boats came through, it was such a special treat. Years ago, we would all pile into the car, and hurry down to the Lock and Dam to watch. Back then, the only way we knew the boat was coming was by hearing the steam whistle as it made an approach to town. So sometimes it was a mad dash, leaving the dinner half eaten, or mom in housecoat and kids in pajamas! Now, with websites and such, we know more accurately when the boats are due to pass through, but there is still much anticipation surrounding the event. Lots of people from all over show up down at the river, and a very festive atmosphere develops. 
As the boat locks through, which can take 20 minutes or more, people on land shout back and forth with passengers on the boat. They throw candy or trinkets for the children. If we are lucky, and the boat comes at the right time, they play the calliope as they are locking through. There is no more amazing and unique sound than the music from a steam calliope bouncing off the surrounding bluffs and traveling down the river valley. It can be heard for quite a distance!
This year, the American Queen's first trip through was on a mild evening, and my brother and I had an impromptu picnic supper on the lawn at the Dam while waiting for the boat to arrive. We visited with friends and neighbors and enjoyed this tradition of summertime in a small town. 

The boat will come by a few more times, on Autumn color trips, and I hope that I will get to see it again, and enjoy this lifelong tradition.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Ahh...Summer! Tuesday, July 8

If you asked me, I'd probably say that summer is my least favorite of the seasons, due mainly to the heat and humidity. However, I have a feeling that there are plenty of summer-specific items that are really special for me. I thought if I put together a little online scrapbook, I would be able to convince myself that summer's not so bad after all!

Today's entry:
Our Municipal Pool

30+ years ago, I learned to swim at this pool, just after it had been built. I spent all summer at the pool, then went off to college. I did not get to keep up with my swimming, and over the years my skills dissolved.

Suddenly this summer, thanks to a nudge from Land's End (they tempted me with a clearance price plus size swimsuit that was not repulsive), I am back at the pool. I still can't swim the way I used to, but I am having a blast taking water aerobics, and going to lap swimming on the weekends and jogging back and forth. 

I've been working on treading water, and floating in a sitting position, and it's interesting that it made me realize just how tense I am. I was concentrating so hard, that I forgot to breathe, so I started sinking! I made a conscious effort to breathe slow and steady, and it all worked much better. Later that day, I researched how to swim on the Internet, and read that in order to float, one must totally relax. Well! There you have it. I won't be able to swim again until I'm retired! HA! 

Actually, it's very relaxing at the pool, and even after a solid hour of water aerobics, I feel so much more soothed and refreshed. Just what I need to forget about the stress and worries of the day. Magical!

Monday, June 30, 2014


I’ve mentioned before that I like to watch the Hoarders type programs on TV, to get motivated to clean up my clutter around the house. If you’ve ever seen any of them, you know that one of the common hoarder arguments for keeping umpteen “what’s-its”, is that “someone might need it someday”.

Anyone with a yarn stash or fabric stash probably understands this completely. “Perhaps I don’t adore this yarn, but someday I might need to make something that calls for it.” “I picked this yarn up at a garage sale in a bag with some good stuff, so I’ll keep it just in case.” Those are familiar excuses for hanging on to yarn or fabric that we aren’t truly in love with. And the psychologists on the hoarder programs love to counter with “you need to realize that SOMEDAY is NEVER going to come”.

And today my answer to that it – POPPYCOCK!

Last week, a neighbor lady called up and asked if I could help her with a knitting project. She brought over a beautiful piece of knitted lace that her daughter, who passed away almost two years ago, had left unfinished. It was meant to be a christening gown, and the pattern was there, but no more yarn to make the bodice.

I was sure that I could finish the project for her, and since the bodice was mostly stockinette, and the lace portion was done, any variation between my knitting and her knitting would be unnoticeable. The live stitches were in a tangle though, as though the needles had been pulled out and then put back in. Some stitches were dropped, others were split.

I spent part of the evening liberating those stitches, carefully undoing the knitting until I got back to a place where all the stitches were present and accounted for, and then I studied the pattern to see exactly where I was and what came next. Then, I studied my stash database, and went hunting for Bin #61.

Yes, that’s right 61, and fortunately I have room to store all those bins, and no, 61 is not the end of the inventory. It’s a work in progress.

Bin #61 holds mostly acrylic baby yarns, of various brands, colors, and ages. Everything from current day yarns to 40 year old dime store yarn, gleaned mostly from thrift stores and rummage sales. And lo and behold, here were some skeins of – you guessed it – Red Heart Baby Yarn – that were a perfect match to the yarn in the gown. I picked one, joined it, knit a few rounds, and checked – you could not tell the difference at all!

Do you have any idea how satisfying that felt? To come up with the perfect yarn match to fulfill this special request? To be able to honor this kindred knitter’s spirit? It’s very special indeed , and if that doesn’t justify the need for stashes, big and small, I don’t know what does!

Here’s a photo of Peggy’s christening gown, where she left off. I’m ready to start working the bodice. Look at all that lovely lace. It would have been a terrible shame to waste all that good knitting for want of some acrylic baby yarn. Justified, indeed!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Ahh...Summer! Tuesday, June 24

If you asked me, I'd probably say that summer is my least favorite of the seasons, due mainly to the heat and humidity. However, I have a feeling that there are plenty of summer-specific items that are really special for me. I thought if I put together a little online scrapbook, I would be able to convince myself that summer's not so bad after all!

Today's entry:
Penguin Zesto in Winona, Minnesota!

Nothing better on a warm day than a chocolate soft-serve cone from this iconic Winona landmark, which is only open seasonally. It makes a hot day bearable!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Yarn Along - June 11, 2014

I really hope this is the last time I show these socks as a work in progress! 
I looked back at my notes - I started this pair on July 11, 2013, and I can't believe it's taking a whole year to finish them. I just kept setting this project aside to work on other more important knitting, I guess. I'll tell you what, when I get them done, the next pair is going to be bright and colorful! I really like this yarn, Cascade Heritage Handpaints, but I've done my fair share of knitting dark brown and black lately, so I'm ready for some fun.

My book is the latest cozy mystery from Hazel Holt, who writes the Mrs. Malory series. I love these books more for their depiction of British life than for the story sometimes. I was really worried that the series had come to an end, because there hadn't been a new book in quite a while, but I was pleasantly surprised to find this one when I checked Amazon recently. I'm trying not to gulp it down, it's a quick read, but I want it to last!

Joining with Ginny...what are you reading?

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Are We Having Fun Yet?

What to do while waiting to see the vet? Take selfies, of course! Rollie is not amused, and wishes the whole ordeal was over.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Rainy Rambling

I took an extra day off this week to turn the three day weekend into four days. It was a nice rest. All weekend I looked for rain in the forecast, and it kept skirting us, until just now.

The smell of fresh rain on wet pavement is one of my all-time favorites. It conjures up the best memories so vividly. It is one of the things I love most about summer. 

The thunder that is accompanying this cloud burst is lovely too - close enough to sound powerful, but not so close that it sounds threatening. No need to head for the basement with the flashlight and saltines.

I don't know why I bother with gutters on the house. They are all overflowing - AGAIN. Even though they are seamless they leak at all the corners. On the back of the house the downspout is at the wrong end, so water is perpetually sitting at one end, making a lovely rearing pond for mosquitoes. Since I've lived here they've fallen off twice due to ice dams, and I halfway hope that happens again so I can justify replacing them with bigger gutters that slope properly and don't leak.

Still, having rain barrels is one of the best things about the downspouts. I hope to have one under each downspout eventually. Right now I enjoy the two I do have. They fill up fast, and I almost never have to use the hose to water plants anymore.

The brief rainy interlude is almost over. The thunder is fading into the distance, the downspouts are trickling rather than gushing, and I'm going to turn from daytime chores to evening relaxations. What a lovely, restful day!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

April Showers

We had a doozy of a thunderstorm this morning. I slept in a bit, and was trying to convince myself to get up and get moving. I thought I'd just finish the current chapter of my book first. I barely got through a paragraph, when it got too dark to see the words on the page! Lots of close thunder and lightning. Poor kitties. I was feeding them their morning canned food, and Rollie, who is afraid of storms, had to wolf his down and then quick go hide under the blankets! We had a brief power zap, and quite a bit of pea-sized hail. Hello spring!

Which brings me to a recent finished project - the April Showers cowl. I named it that because the colors of this Malabrigo yarn remind me of the puddles you see after an April shower - all the blues and grays, and light and shadows. 
The pattern can be found here, and I used up the whole skein of yarn, coming up just a bit short in the top shaping. The fit on me is more snug than loose, but I prefer that. It makes for a nice, soft neckwarmer.
The storms are over for now, but the forecast says they might return this afternoon. I suppose I should get outside while I can, and then get busy on the endless list of indoor projects. The sooner I finish, the sooner I can get back to my knitting!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Yarn Along - March 19, 2014

This is one reason why it’s taking me so long to finish those brown socks I showed last week – I keep starting new projects!
I made this little soap sack over the weekend. It’s a little pattern I made up, and the yarn, or crochet thread really, is Katia Jaipur. I picked up an oddball at the yarn store, thinking I would use it in some catnip toys, and I have, but it works very well for this purpose too. I’m such a sucker for rainbow colors!

And although I don’t like to do this, I’m reading two books now instead of just one. I had reserved “How to Be a Woman” by Caitlin Moran through the library, so once it arrived, I had to get going on it. I’m alternating evenings with “These Rich Years” and let me tell you – two books could not be more diametrically opposed!

These Rich Years was written in the 1960s, and is a very accurate reflection of the time period and of the age of the authors writing it. How to Be a Woman is current day non-fiction, so it reflects current day morals and also the age of the author writing it. There are descriptions in both books which make me cringe a little, and that makes me wonder – if I’m not satisfied with the feminine role of 40 years ago, or the ultra-feminist role of the present, where then, do I want to be? I’m not sure I have an answer, and I probably would not even think about it had I read each of these books at different times.

In the end I just go back to my knitting, and hug a cat and try not to think about it too much. And start another project…and yarn along with Ginny...

Monday, March 17, 2014

Hope Springs Eternal

Last year, I bought a share in a CSA, and enjoyed a variety of fresh veggies, eggs, and mushrooms all summer long. Actually though, it was a little overwhelming toward the end. Part of it was not having the free time when the box arrived to plan out what to make. Some veggies were easy, others took more planning. I did get quite a bit frozen, and that’s been nice this winter. But I ended up wasting some, and that was disappointing.

This year, instead of the CSA, I’m going to try gardening again. Until recently I’ve always had a big garden. Over the years though, I’ve managed to create too much shade in my back yard for a large plot, and had a few bad years, so I cut back to just containers for a while, and last year not even those. But now, I think I’ll make a new garden bed and see what happens.

To that end, yesterday I started the first flat of seeds in the house. Now, most of these are pretty old, so if they don’t germinate I’ve got plenty of time for a plan B. First I sorted all the packets by start dates, and filled a flat with those that take the longest. I planted tomatoes, green peppers, and herbs, including parsley, thyme, rosemary, chives, marjoram, and more. In another two weeks I’ll plant the faster seeds, and in the meantime I’ll sort the flower packets by the same rule, and get some of them going.

If all goes well, I should have nice fresh vegetables to enjoy, and maybe even enough to put some by for winter. If not, well, there’s always the farmer’s market to fall back on!
Rollie contemplating his favorite herbs

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Yarn Along - March 12, 2014

Finally – back on the Yarn Along bandwagon! Joining with Ginny this week, and hoping to catch up with regular blogging after a very long, but very enjoyable winter.

And look – I’m still knitting the SAME SOCK I was knitting back in July! It’s not even the second sock – it’s still the first one! Part of the reason is that I have had numerous commissions to work on, so the personal knitting gets put on the back burner, and when you have as many projects going as I do, some really get neglected.

Another reason is that this pattern, although simple in concept, is just not laid out in a manner where I can pick it up and find my place and catch up. I know what I’m supposed to be doing, but just trying to double check the stitch count, etc. was a confusing chore, and I’d have to start reading from the beginning. Also, I’m not used to following a pattern to make socks, so I’d print out a copy, and then misplace it, and have to print another one. I’m sure I’ve filed many copies of it in with bills, recipes, and trashed it with the junk mail.

Last night I printed yet another copy, STAPLED it together, found my notes in my notebook, went to bed early, and finished the gusset shaping and started the foot. Now that I’m smooth sailing once again, I’m hoping it won’t take a whole year to get these socks finished and off the needles.

The book I started this week is These Rich Years – A Journal of Retirement by Jean and Robert Hersey. I will be eligible to retire in less than four years, and I’m hoping to have all my ducks in a row so I can do it, and start another chapter in my life. This book, written in 1969, is nothing like any of the contemporary information I’ve read about retirement. No how-to’s, or statistics or charts, or new age thinking. Just observations, good advice, simple pleasures, and even a few basic recipes. Here’s a quote from the opening pages, to give you some idea of why I like this book:

There is no feeling in life thus far quite like those first days and weeks when we wakened to realize that Bob didn’t have to be anywhere at nine o’clock. It was October, and we reveled especially in things that happened on weekday mornings. Walking on the beach and around the marshes at low tide, contemplating snowy egrets and eider ducks, gathering armfuls of the last goldenrod, watching gulls soar over the whitecaps and blue, blue water offshore. Undeniably all this could have been equally fine on any Saturday or Sunday, but it has a very particular charm when it occurs on Monday morning at ten and when you are just retired.

I’ve read several of Jean Hersey’s other books, and her quiet, conversational style is so gentle and unassuming. I’m looking forward to this one, another step on the path to a new adventure.