Wednesday, August 31, 2011


When Alexander was here this summer, we helped him learn how to ride his two wheeler without training wheels.  That blessed event took three days of falls, wobbles, false starts, frustration, and tears before success occurred.  It was hard to watch. Each day, Alex would say to me, "I want to practice riding my bike," and each day we would go out on the sidewalk, review the guidelines of successful bike riding, and go at it.  Finally, that magical moment occurred when Alex and the bike took off without my fingers stabilizing the seat.  And oh, the thrill and the joy of it all, not only for Alex but for his proud Nana and Grandad too.

I've been thinking a lot about practicing lately.

Knitting has taught me that getting better necessitates doing it over and over and over again.  So it only made sense that after making my first baby quilt, I needed another quilting project. I am not yet confident enough to branch out into new patterns so I decided to make the same pattern, London Crossroads, and scale it down into a table runner.  Practice ensued.

First came cutting.
Believe it or not cutting, for me, has not been as easy at it seems.  Using a quilting ruler and rotary cutter are skills that require a certain vigilance.  I learned the hard way when I reversed my ruler away from the 1/2 inch side, and I cut a whole set of 2 inch strips, rather than 2 1/2 and 3 inch strips rather than 3 1/2.  Back to the fabric store with the adage, "Measure twice, cut once" (in my father's voice) resounding in my mind.
I worked on even seam stitching. In my first quilting class, our instructor had us practice stitching 1/4 inch seams before we began piecing our quilts.  At that time I didn't fully appreciate the necessity for exactness in seam width, but that became  utterly clear when we began putting our blocks together and matching points.  

Quilting is so exact and each piece of it contributes to the whole.  Even pressing has rules which guide setting the seam and the way the seam is pressed.  All of this requires concentrated thought, since for me the art of quilting is far from automatic.
 I layered the backing, batting, and pieced top and then pinned the sandwich all together. And now I start quilting, trying to remember how to bring my thread to the top and very carefully "stitching in the ditch" to quilt this piece.  I deliberately reread instructions and slowly proceed.
My life right now imitates the practice I attempt. 

Yesterday, I held conversation with a young woman who followed up her did-I-work question with a what-do-you-do query.  I paused, seeking words to define what "retired" means for my life.  I told her that I was still learning how to be retired.  It feels like spending more time with family, intensifying volunteer time at church and with Strawberry Fields.  Reading more, exercising more, pausing more, and breathing more slowly and deeply.  I stammered a bit, then changed the subject. I really don't know yet fully how to do this, because, you see, I am still practicing.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


Yesterday, for the first time in over two decades, school began without me.  I really am a retiree, aren't I?

I spent the day putzing around the house, stopping off to deliver a baby blanket, pulling together little plant gifts for a few desks of my teacher friends, and taking my first gentle yoga class.  At the dimming of the day, Jim and I pedaled through the Penn State campus, the setting sun painting the sky and lilting brass notes from the Blue Band offering soft ambience. It was all good....

This is the blanket I delivered.  I don't often post a pattern, but from time to time it feels right, especially if it is such an easy yet basic one.  This Basket Weave Baby Blanket never disappoints.  I used Berroco Comfort Yarn (isn't that the perfect name for yarn used in a baby blanket?), a soft, worsted weight yarn that is rapidly becoming my go-to yarn for baby projects.  And here's the pattern:

Simple Basket-Weave Baby Blanket

Yarn needed: 5 skeins (2 oz. each) worsted weight yarn
1 size 8 circular needle, 24 inches long

1. Cast on 105 stitches.

2. Row 1-6:  Work in seed stitch.

3. Row 7: Work first 5 stitches in seed stitch starting with a knit stitch and ending with a knit stitch.  Then, work across the row in knit 5 purl 5 pattern until there are 5 stitches remaining.  Again, work the last 5 stitches in seed stitch, beginning with knit 1.

4. Row 8: Work the first 5 stitches in seed stitch. Then work across the row in purl 5 knit 5 pattern until there are 5 stitches left.  Work the remaining stitches in seed stitch.

5. Row 9 through 14: Repeat rows 7 and 8 three more times, for a total of 8 rows in the pattern.  You should see the basket-weave pattern begin to take shape.

6. Row 15: Work the first 5 stitches in seed stitch.  Then work across the row in purl 5, knit 5 pattern until there are 5 stitches left.   Work the remaining stitches in seed stitch.

7. Row 16: Work the first 5 stitches in seed stitch.  Then work across the row in knit 5, purl 5 pattern until there are 5 stitches left.  Work the remaining stitches in seed stitch.

8. Repeat rows 15 and 16 three more times for a total of 8 rows in the pattern.

9. Continue the pattern repeating steps 3 through 8 until the blanket measures 32 inches.

Work 6 rows in seed stitch.

Bind off. Weave in and trim loose ends.  Block if desired.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Two Weeks

Each summer, we host our grandson for a week we call "Camp Alexander."  This year's Camp Alexander was sandwiched into a two-week period surrounding the birth of Alex's new baby brother.  It was a very full and very busy two weeks. And while both Grandad and Nana were plum tuckered by its end, memories were made...

We built Hot Wheels tracks all over the lower level.  We took a day to go over the mountain and into Rothrock State Forest to visit our friend Jackie and her cat room at Stone Valley Pet Lodge, check out the raptors at Shaver's Creek, and take a cold swim in Whipples Dam.  We spent one sunny afternoon wading at Spring Creek Park and the second sunny day of the week at DelGrosso Amusement Park in Tipton.  Alex taught me how to play Angry Birds on my iPad, and we taught him how to ride his bike sans training wheels (conceivably the highlight of the week for us all). We had shakes at Baby's, saw the Smurfs in a movie theater, and played on the slides at Sunset Park.  At the end of the week, Alex and I flew home to his newly expanded family where he lovingly assumed his new role as big brother.

Monday, August 8, 2011


Our daughter with our new grandson, James Timothy Thomas born at 4:19AM on Tuesday, August 2, weighing 8 lbs. 12 oz. and  measuring 21 inches. True beauty, both of them.