Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year's Eve

2009 ends with a lovely family dinner, followed with a stroll about town, greeting friends. Perfect.

Christmas Part II

The reality of 21st century life for many families with parents of a certain age is that our children and our children's children ultimately will settle far from the family homestead. Honestly, I do understand that careers beckon and, truth be told, I love visiting our daughter's home, even though we all grouse about the day-long drive to get there. However, because we were in North Carolina for Christmas, we were unable to share Christmas with our son and his new bride, but that is what today is about! It seems somewhat removed to have Christmas on New Year's Eve day, but we are doing it, and it finally feels okay. I am coming to terms with the need to stretch and change traditions as our family blends and expands, and that is a beautiful thing....

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Post Christmas Strays

For months leading up to Christmas, my knitting has been focused on making gifts. But now the gifts are (almost) all given, and I am left to think about more leisurely and serendipitous knitting. Yesterday, I ordered some purple yarn to make the Big Sack Sweater from Stitch'N Bitch. Until it arrives, I thought I would use up some stray balls of yarn, piling up. I made a couple more Bulky Mittens and started a Neck Warmer/headband. Quick and easy gratification both!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Some of my most favorite Christmas presents...

were spending time (wrestling and playing "Go Fish") with red-robed Alexander, finishing (Christmas Eve!) the Shalom cardigan for my darling daughter Barbara; and gathering our family (as many of them who could be there) around a North Carolina Christmas tree...

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Gifts of Writing

I have a traditional, before-holiday break activity that I do each year with my high school students--it is called "Gifts of Writing." This year I added "Reading" to the descriptor so today was the day of "Gifts of Reading and Writing."

A little backstory. Each night, my students are required to read 15 minutes of a book of their choosing; that is their primary homework assignment. When I announced this in the early fall, these kids (all struggling readers and writers) groaned audibly. Today, the gift we gave each other was to bring in a book we had read and chat about it..a book club of sort for teenagers who would "never-no-way-ever" be in a book club. The conversation was heartwarming, and I now wish I had turned on a tape recorder. Our following activity was to make a "gift of writing." More groans. I described to them my desk drawer full of notes, letters, special programs, newspaper clippings, and cards--all gifts of writing that preserve time, occasions, and loved ones for me. I challenged them to think of one person- a friend, a parent or grandparent, or even (gasp!) a teacher who would cherish a gift of their words. They roll their eyes in disbelief. But it never fails, and today was no exception. I gave them some ideas of forms, provided models, pretty paper, piled up usable cards, and put out ribbon, glitter and glue. By the end of the period, I was writing late passes, passing out more cards, and oohing and ahhing over what they have produced. Later in the day, five kids returned to make "just one more...."

And here is the coolest cookie I have ever seen, presented to me from one of my at-risk learners. My last name, written in cookie dough with READ! written in red on the first letter. A gift of me.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The end of December is upon us

and I have not posted one time. My shopping has concluded, the gifts were wrapped just this morning, the tree is up and decorated, the house looks festive, a few batches of caramel corn (destined for neighbors) sit on the counter,
I I am almost finished with my gift knitting, and today we have had a steady falling of light, white, snow. Beautiful.
Tomorrow is the last Sunday in Advent...."O come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord."

Monday, November 30, 2009

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas

My knitting needles have been humming Christmas tunes for a while now. I always have bigger aspirations than time; however, in the end, I acknowledge that giving everyone on my list something hand-made is simply not doable. This weekend, I finished some mitts (I am in love with Fetching) and now am in the middle of a hat project to give a co-worker who has twin baby boys. It has been fun to stripe the red and green. The Hat by Jan Brett will be wrapped together with the two hats.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Baby Knitting

I have been doing a lot of baby knitting lately, experimenting with organic yarn and baby hat patterns. Here are the latest soft things off and almost-off my needles. The blanket, for my neice Beth, is a simple, traditional basketweave pattern made from Lion Brand Nature's Choice Organic Cotton. The pink hat pattern is from Last Minute Knitted Gifts and the white hat with the cute braided tassels is the pattern "Baby's First Hat" from Blue Sky.

A saint beside me

All Saints Day
dawns and the night before
I felt her arms, wound tightly
around me, protecting me,
shielding me
from whatever ails.
Nine years have passed since I knew
that touch
and yet my body melts
into familiar safety.
It takes me by surprise
when my mother appears,
that line between
heaven and earth
drawn so faintly.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Fur people fans

Today another cat found us. Last week I snapped a charming photograph of our Gracie and Max sleeping together on my favorite chair; I immediately sent it out to the woman who fostered Gracie and to the woman who made it possible for us to adopt her from our local PAWS shelter. Both of these women dedicate large portions of their lives to helping rescue and care for cats, in need of homes. Heretofore, I categorized such people as eccentrics, perhaps slightly turned from people for some odd reason. I was so wrong. I sit in awe of Jackie, the woman who set up business on 88 posted acres of woods to create a lodge for boarding and caring for animals. Her grooming room is home to the revolving colony of the cats she keeps, providing rescue and shelter to some of the too many kittens continually bred out-of-control or safety. Hermione Grace, our darling Gracie, was one of those kittens and her story of living in a barn, raided nightly by coyotes chills us as we cherish the black sprite prancing through our house and our hearts. Jackie asked us in July if we might consider taking another kitten, a little tiger-striped one whose eye was scarred by a birth infection. We were tempted, but it was too soon. This week she asked again (people who rescue must get good at this). This time, it seemed right.

I believe in pet therapy and have seen our pets work magic on our Matthew when he spends his weekend with us. We thought having his own pet, learning how to care for a pet, and calling one of our cats "his" might be good for him. So we took Matthew out to meet this little cat, and she will be joining Max and Gracie and us as soon as next week. This will be the fourth cat who has entered our lives and our home, all of them finding us at just the right time. Her given name is Athena. Matthew said he thought Tiger was a good name and I added Lily, a nod to Peter Pan, a reference to a flower, and fitting recognition of her gender. He already says her name, "Tiger Lily" ; I already think of her as Lily. And she will have a home here with us...three people and two other cats who will grow to love her.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Cakes of yarn

I just wound five skeins of yarn into beautiful cakes--two skeins of Blue Sky Organic Cotton and three lovely skeins of Manos del Uruguay, yarn that is spun from over 800 artisans in cooperatives scattered throughout the countryside of Uruguay. " The aim of the organization is to bring economic opportunities to rural women." I love that people do this and that I can knit yarn from other parts of the world. I feel as if this yarn passes through many hands, women's hands, to get to the people I love. This yarn is intended for family Christmas gifts. I am not even sure what or for whom yet. I keep changing my mind as I mull over patterns and sift through ideas.

Friday, October 23, 2009

What I Believe (a poem written along with my students)

What I Believe

I believe in starting my day by sipping a cup of good
coffee, nestling in a cushy chair, reading the
newspaper and
spending time in prayer; I also believe in apple pie
for breakfast, just as my Grandpa taught me. I believe in exercising both the body and the mind,
and I believe knitting keeps me sane.
I believe in looking up at the sky. I believe in eating
locally, composting, recycling,
and leaving a smaller footprint.
I believe that teaching is head and heart work,
requiring knowledge, patience, understanding,
and stamina. I believe that reading and writing
can save us. I believe in my students,
even when they don't believe in themselves. I believe
that being a teenager is really tough, and
today's teenagers are stronger than most.
I believe in my family--my husband, my sons,
my daughter, my grandson, my son-in-law and
my daughter-in-law; we are stronger together than apart.
I believe my grandson is
a red-head, freckled-face package of
pure joy; no one in my family, especially him, should
reside farther away than a one-hour car trip.
I believe that most often the best heroes are unsung,
and that my father looms largest as my hero.
I believe in goodness, kindness, gratitude,
appreciation, and forgiveness. I believe that
labeling people is a problem and
calling someone a "retard" or “gay” is
as damaging as other profanities.
I believe it is unproductive to complain or whine,
even though I do...far too often. I believe in
the power of true friendship, the inherent
power of democracy, and that
a better world is possible if fighting over religion,
wealth, power, and privilege ceased.
I believe art, music, and poetry
help people slow down, listen, and think,
and a day empty of these is wasted.
I believe hope is extraordinarily powerful;
and I truly believe life is celebration
every, every day.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Noro Stripes

There is a blog that occasionally makes me think I should give up knitting; this knitter creates art, and my attempts with sticks and yarn seem so pedestrian and prosaic in comparison. When I look at Brooklyn Tweed, I console myself, saying I knit for therapy and to make gifts for those I care about--tangible, touchable proof of my love. So it was with a certain sense of intimidation that I decided to make a Noro Striped Scarf from a Brooklyn Tweed pattern. I love the look of this scarf, so easy and interesting to make. It is the first thing that I have worked on that my husband commented, "I think it is time that I have a scarf you've made." I guess this one is gold!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

October in Central Pennsylvania

When my children were young and watching Sesame Street, there was a little ditty asking viewers to choose which "one of these things just doesn't belong." Snowfall in October just doesn't belong in a month of apples, sauce, pies, and beautiful fall foliage. But we had it this week, a historic storm and snowfall that brought down leaf-filled tree limbs and put the power out all over our picturesque town. We were without light, warmth, and the use of our kitchen for 18 hours.

Our sister Margie is here from North Carolina, and last night as we sat bundled in blankets talking over wine and candles, she sincerely questioned her decision to come "home" to Pennsylvania to take in a football game with her brother. Thankfully, our power returned, she and I took warm baths, and normalcy resumed. This morning, when I awoke to brew a cup of coffee and read the morning paper under my corner lamp, I reflected on all I take for granted, the abundance of blessings enjoyed each day. And things warranting whining of late, no longer seem all that important.

Monday, October 12, 2009


Tomorrow is my eldest child's 37th birthday. Hard to believe. By slightly less than one month, I was only 20 years old when our first child, Matthew, was born. It was a time when fathers routinely were not welcomed in delivery rooms, and my husband was ushered out just before his first-born son appeared. He was permitted to watch through the window; he didn't. I think he went out for a smoke. After a long night of painful labor, he had seen enough of me and a baby trying to be born.

Matthew has been a singularly defining presence in my life. He has taught me patience, tenacity, tolerance, belief, perseverance, hope, and faith. He has taught me to say "yes" to whatever life serves up.

Tomorrow, he, his housemates, and his "staff" (..someone in our family really does have "staff!") will gather around this autumnal table for lasagna, garlic bread, salad, and cheesecake (his dinner of choice) to celebrate his life, a life that has defied many who said he would never lead it the way he lives it--independent (as much as he is able), productive, out-in-the-community, and happy.

Happy Birthday to you, my dear son. I too celebrate your life.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Finally, a picture

I have been wanting to have a picture in my blog title for a long time. And now I do. Thanks to my multi-talented friend Denise, I have a photograph of my new mitts (Fetching), with fingers tapping keys of a vintage, manual typewriter.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Thinking organically

So, I finally ordered organically grown yarn. Yes, as many seek to "go green," the yarn industry is not to be left behind. Of course, there is a price to pay for purity, and the cost of organic yarn surpasses the run-of-the-mill (wow, really fitting this particular vernacular expression!) yarns. My niece, the only other granddaughter of my beloved parents, is having a baby, and somehow her baby gift must reside on a different plane from all the hats, sweaters, blankets, booties, and toys I have knit for other mothers-to-be and new babies; I am, after all, the "matriarch" of this branch of the Herman family tree. I feel the weight of that role as I imagine my mother's voice directing me me to take care of such things.

Organic cotton seems and sounds just right. In my search for the perfect gift and perfect yarn, I have ordered two skeins of two yarns--Blue Sky Organic Cotton and Lion Brand Nature's Choice. I will make two striped hats and then compare softness, quality, drape, and look. And finally, I will calculate how much it will cost to make the blanket I have in mind...we'll see.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Birthday blooms and 'bobs

Yesterday was my birthday, but it was a long, workday, capped with dinner with our small group. Even though we had marvelous soup, chocolate (!) cake and singing, today--a day that is really mine to enjoy-- and tonight's dinner seem more like my birthday. Matthew arrived home with a bouquet of flowers, and Jim is grilling up kabobs, chicken and vegetable, for dinner. Happy Birthday to me!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


Shelling lima beans takes me back to a quiet and gentle childhood memory...

Every summer, my brother and I spent a week or two with my grandparents who lived on several acres outside Pittsburgh. Grandma and Grandpa Herman both came from farm families, and so they grew gardens--big, expansive flower and vegetable gardens. My summer memories at their home are filled with mornings of running around the property exploring or afternoons of "going calling" where I carried a basket of flowers and Grandma carried a basket of vegetables, sharing both beauty and bounty with friends. Grandma froze cherries, pears, and applesauce from the fruit trees lining the perimeter of their land. Grandpa disappeared in his garden to pick fresh vegetables or dig potatoes for our dinner each night. They were living locally and off-the- land, even before that way of life was so named.

One summer evening, Grandma traveled off to a meeting, probably at church or her garden club. She left Grandpa, Dick, and me with a a huge pile of lima beans to shell so she could bag and freeze them the next morning. I remember the three of us, seated on an old bench and battered chairs, circled around our task--shelling, talking, laughing, shelling, and shelling and shelling. When Grandma returned home, it was dark, and though we had finished, we were still sitting and talking, the porch light shining into the shadows. I remember the shelling and Grandpa and the astonishment that we could have shelled our way through that mountain of pods. I wonder what Grandpa remembered? But perhaps I know; my sweet Alexander has taught me that.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Lutheran Layette

Just like many of the characters who populate Garrison Keillor's "A Prairie Home Companion," I am a Lutheran. Denomination didn't used to matter so much to me, but as of late, I have thought a lot about what it means to be a Lutheran. My father's family, on the Herman side, has a long tradition rooted in the church Martin Luther began during the Reformation. There is turmoil in my church right now. A few short weeks ago at the national assembly of the ELCA, a social statement was approved that allows gay clergy to serve while in a committed relationship. The ripples from this action have been far and wide, rocking many boats, even in our local congregation. We were at a Labor Day picnic where heated discussion was held. I have a hard time expressing my differing thoughts and beliefs when I am in places with family or friends, people I really care about. On this issue, I just don't know what all the fuss is about. I don't believe any of us really know what Jesus thinks about this, and I prefer to believe that His model of love really is our yardstick.

So my own statement on this is to knit a sweater for a layette that Lutheran World Relief will distribute to mothers in refugee camps, hospitals, and villages throughout the world. I guess what I am saying with my yarn is that the important work of the church must go on in the name of love....

Friday, September 4, 2009

Happy Birthday to you

Happy Birthday to you
Happy Birthday, dear Alexis,
Happy Birthday to you!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Baby Gifts

A new life has entered the world of my friend Kaylene and a baby gift is in order. Babies and new moms are so much fun to knit for. Working on little things for little ones is quickly satisfying. For little Brummett, I tried a new baby cap pattern from The Shetland Trader (appropriately labeled Little Love). I used Lion Brand's Cotton Ease for the cap, and then knit up some remaining yarn into City Mouse, a Lion Brand toy pattern. I'll wrap them up and send them off this weekend.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

School starts...

...tomorrow for my students, the constituency that really matters; it started Monday for me and my faculty colleagues. My teaching spaces are ready, my plans and planning finalized, my mind wrapped around the notion of a new year, and my heart primed to welcome a new cast of teenagers to the unfolding part of my life-play that is school.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Final Summer Project

I always begin summer with a pretty ambitious "to do" list. The ever-evolving list sits in the top left corner of my laptop, written on a digital stickie note. I must say, I am not unhappy with what I have accomplished this summer. My reading log lists nine books, two of the books rather large tomes (The Story of Edgar Sawtelle and The Mists of Avalon). I knit two pair of socks, oodles of washcloths (look at earlier post), a chemo cap, a pair of bulky mittens and two felted purses. Sewing projects included skirts for both my daughter and new daughter-in-law, a lunch bag, and lining for one of the felted purses.

Our son got married to a beautiful woman on a glorious summer day. We biked, vacationed with family, enjoyed our grandson, ate at an Amish farm, visited our son's new classroom, and sat atop Mount Nittany to celebrate Jim's birthday dinner. I canned, cooked, and froze enough to content my homemaking heart and fill my freezer. Gracie, our darling cat, arrived to live and lounge among us. I regret not cleaning more (but not overly much) or working outside as often as I typically do; overall, I pronounce it a very good summer.

Monday, school starts...

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Back to School

For those of us in the education world, the year is divided into definite seasons, the year beginning now with Back to School and all that brings. I feel it as August arrives, accompanied with a sadness that the summer days now are all too fleeting. I have an urgency to accomplish more, and no matter what I do, it never seems enough. I start drifting into school more, perusing my teaching space and discovering where our janitors "re" positioned tables, desks, bookcases, etc. The emails begin, my back-to-school packet arrives with letters from our superintendent and the opening days schedules. I have breakfast planning meetings or like this year several presentations to make to in-service groups of para-professionals or guest teachers. The high school band practices, and the stores fill with all kinds of Back-to-School paraphernalia, clothes, and bargains. Truthfully, I have always liked this aspect of teaching: the entity of the school year--its definite beginning, middle, and end.

This week in addition to working in my own classroom, I visited my son's classroom and the classroom of my friend Chrissy who is moving to another school. Chrissy and I have been teaching together for four years, and in that four years, we have eaten lunch together almost every day. I know I shall miss the ease of her presence in my classroom, and I know I shall miss hearing the stories of her family as I eat my packed lunch without her. I found a great pattern from Favorite Things pattern designs--The Lunch Bag. And as I checked out Chrissy's new room, I delivered a lunch bag to her that I made. So, even though I won't be with her in body, I will be with her in spirit.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Doth not the appetite alter?

I think my DNA is primarily Germanic. While my mother’s family is a melting pot of largely Scottish, British, and a little German mixed in, my father’s family is, as far as I know, exclusively, German (or Pennsylvania German). And I think I am too. The older I get, the more I remind myself of my grandmother Herman, my “Grandma.” I am built like her, shorter and sturdier than the other women in my family; I think I keep house like her (neat but not immaculate and functional but not overly focused on decorating: I-have-it like-I-like-it-and-I-like-it-fine...for a long time). I am a school teacher just as she was, and I suspect my quiet sense of activism (perhaps even my quiet sense) comes from her. I recently found a black and white photograph of her (second from the right) fronting a banner advertising the United War Fund. I am proud she stood for something, and I proud that she did something.

I, thus, attribute my new fascination to making and eating relish to an ethnic hardwiring for pickling vegetables. This week I canned 15 half pints of Dixie Relish, a concoction of cabbage, sweet and green pickles, and the usual vinegar, sugar, mustard seed, and celery seed.

Did you know you can do a lot of things with relish? Put it in potato salad, macaroni salad, deviled eggs, and my daughter tells me it is quite tasty in tuna salad. You can serve it with hamburgers, hot dogs, and as a side with any meat. I like it with turkey wraps. I also read that it is good mixed in with meatloaf or meatball mixtures or stirred into yogurt for dip or mayonnaise for sandwich spread. Additionally, it is good for tarter sauce or thousand island dressing. Who knew there were so many uses for relish, simply pickled vegetables.

I never ate relish before, never fully “got” the notion of the relish tray or the Pennsylvania Dutch propensity to put out Chow Chow or some other pickled delight with a meal. But tastes do change….

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Relishing the bounty of summer

The vegetables are ripening with a flourish now. Last night for supper, we had morning-picked sweet corn, sun-ripened tomatoes, sweet white onions, and beautiful green peppers. Oh, and we had hamburgers from the grill too. A perfect summer meal.

This morning, I canned 7 pints of corn relish, a condiment I love to slather on the turkey wraps I am fond of packing for my school-day lunches. I still have peaches ready to be jammed and peppers ready to be chopped and frozen; tomorrow it is back to the Amish farm stand to see what else I can preserve of summer.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Lazy dazing days of summer

I guess the anticipation and lead up to the wedding was more taxing emotionally and physically than I thought it would be. This week consisted pretty much of days coasting in neutral; I felt I accomplished very little and sort of walked around in a daze. However, today, (thankfully), I began to see some return of focus and energy.

I had an eye doctor appointment, spent time doing preliminary work for a workshop I need to present on writing, and took a 10-mile bike ride with my husband, cycling some off paths around State College. Tonight, I made a homemade Magherita pizza with tomatoes and basil from our CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) box. A glass or two of wine helped as well!

With my knitting, I have been playing with a design for a felted tote bag.

For a teacher, August somehow signals the beginning of the end...of summer. I am starting to think about new units already.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Ordinary Knitting

"Small minds are concerned with the extraordinary, great minds with the ordinary."
-Blaise Pascal

I have been knitting a lot of dishcloths lately. Something about the lazy days of summer, long car rides, and hot weather always brings me back to Sugar 'n Cream yarn and dishcloths. Raising additional monies for the CROP Walk this fall, our church is planning a Time and Talent silent auction. Offering my time and talent (loosely and humbly defined), I thought I would make a pile of dishcloths--items practical and affordable. These quick, seemingly prosaic projects provide just the right amount of creativity in pattern and color that suits my July state of mind. Honestly, I simply like the look of stacking them up and the pleasure of counting them!