Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Setting Off

I almost did it at the close of December 2013. Five years seemed an opportune time to stop, an appropriate anniversary to draw to a close this ongoing narrative.  I began writing in this space as a teacher and one who needed a place to step out of her classroom for musing about other aspects of life and identity.  I began this space to catalogue my knitting, to consider what I created in my kitchen, and to ponder life and family a bit.  So for a nickel of years, I did that, and it has served well my hopes of providing time for reflection and a place to preserve some family stories.

One of my professors once said he believed that each teacher has a few intrinsic themes guiding her life, and she fundamentally teaches from those themes.  I found truth in that, not only in my teaching life but in my overall life as well.  In this blog, I have written on and around the themes coursing through me.  The stories captured here pretty well represent the flow and flavor of my life and my days. I am content with their tales.

This past spring at my daughter's art show opening, someone asked her how she knew when a painting was done.  "That is a good question," she responded and then proceeded to describe how she comes to that point when she just knows it is finished.  For almost a month, I have not settled into this space to add anything....that itself is telling.

I still knit, I still sew, I still putter in my kitchen, I still walk about and notice and think about the bigger story and what it all means, but the urges that drew me here have shifted, and this volume has reached its conclusion.  New stories whisper to be written as new paths unfold to be explored, but for reasons not entirely clear, this shall no longer be the canvas I use; this painting is finally finished.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014


Few things seem more like summer than licking dripping popsicles.  Rosie sure seems to enjoy this one!  I cannot believe it is July 1 already, and summer is truly in full swing.  The temperature is hovering in the 80's now, weather reports describe the daily dew point, and most green things have budded and now bloom,  My freezer is filling with frozen strawberries and blueberries, and some of the empty jars on my caning shelf now contain jams.  This morning, I go off in search of the elusive sour cherry to make a few batches of yummy cherry pie filling.  My body feels more toned and tanned, the effect of outside work and play.  Nice.  All of it.

We had some family visit last week-Lissa and Lydia and Rob and Rosie.  Lydia and Rosie became fast and good buddies--second cousins becoming friends.

This week, Jim and I prepare for our family beach week, a yearly tradition begun over three decades ago.  I've been playing with a family quilt to share with the Campbell clan. I am pleased how it is coming together.

The blocks were fashioned from pants and shirts donated by several members of the family.  I continued the emerging color scheme with stash scraps and backed it with a piece of striped duck purchased two weeks ago at a fabric sale organized by a friend for the benefit of the Salvation Army in York.  The quilt was entirely pieced and made with old clothes and scraps cut into strings, except for the backing fabric which cost me a buck.  My grandmother and great-grandmother would be so proud of me making a quilt in such an old timey way.

I savor this change of seasons, the changing light and palette, the temperature fluctuations, the pace of vacation, and the presence of family.  Happy summer, y'all!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

He did each single thing.
as if he did nothing else.
-Charles Dickens

This quote popped into my life the other day, via a Facebook link to a blog--a twenty-first century connection to 19th century wisdom.  Funny, I never really considered that a Victorian writer would struggle with our contemporary malaise of multitasking and fragmented urgency.  Perhaps it's simply a common human struggle, this seeking focused presence.

Living each moment, really seeing and breathing it in as it occurs, is not always easy, but I do try.  There is no reason in retirement to ever be harried or hurried.  I really do have the time to take it more slowly.  I have time to enjoy the hulling and tasting of the sweet, succulent strawberry, and I have time to enjoy each step in making the jam.  I have time to embrace the setting of my house in order (a better word for housework)--the physical demands of it and the soft satisfaction of living in a space well kempt.   I have time to love the warmth of the summer sun and notice the movement of my shoulders while I push the mower and the pull the weeds.  I have time to enjoy the evening bike ride on the paths that wander through our sweet town.  And I have time enjoy the luxury of a crossword puzzle over the breakfast table.

My yoga teacher quietly yet firmly pulls me back and pushes me forward each week as she leads us in breathing deeply and stretching further and that practice helps in centering.  My quiet time in the morning, the early part of the day spent nestled in my chair with coffee, newspaper, computer and bible begin the day in peace (although I ought to abstain from the computer more often!).  In the evening, at the closing of the day, my knitting, the comfort of the repetition of hand wisdom and the book by my bed lull me into quieter places and soul spaces from daily life. 

It is a good goal--to be present every moment, to do each thing, one at a time, not fretting about what was nor worrying about what shall be.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

The Prosaic Dishcloth

The sophistication of the form of the word belies its meaning: prosaic--a three syllable word meaning ordinary, everyday, commonplace, run-of-the-mill.  The etymology reveals prosaic comes from the Latin prosa meaning prose or the opposite of poetry.

Prosaic is how I categorize my knitting of late.  While I knit dishcloths from time to time (great car knitting!), about once a year, I come under a spell of dishcloth knitting, picking up ball after ball of the simplest cotton yarn and fashioning a pile of domestic tools, most likely destined as hostess gifts or stocking stuffers. 

I knit a couple from this durable, classic ballband pattern, titled thus because the pattern traditionally was found printed inside the band wrapped to secure the ball of yarn.

And speaking of classic patterns, there is nothing more classic than this grandmother's favorite pattern, the pattern I made over and over and over again when I first started knitting.  I think it still good practice for new, practicing knitters.

Less well know patterns but two more favorites are this pattern, an old one from the Thrifty Knitter which is a modified version of the ballband pattern above

and this one, a Waffle Knit dishcloth from Homespun Living where there are patterns other great dishcloths too.

I am not certain what fuels my urge to immerse myself in making these little squares for the kitchen sink.  Maybe because they are so quick to knit, such easy gratification.  Maybe because they are light on the hands and in the lap, or maybe it is because every so often I like to revisit the roots of my knitting life. I have many knitter friends who get their kicks from working through elaborate sweaters and complicated shawls filled with cables and lacework patterns.  I, on the other hand, always gravitate toward basic lines and simple variations of knit and purl with maybe a few tucks of interest here and there.  I wonder sometimes if that means I am simply a prosaic knitter, basically mundane or humdrum, lacking imagination...lacking poetry.  Then I think about my favorite poets who look deeply into the ordinary to find the extraordinary.  Jane Kenyon wrote a simple poem about a clothespin, a meditation where she suggests that pinning clean sheets on the line with a "gray-brown wooden clothes pin" is better than moaning about your life.  Maybe that is what I knit dishcloths, my own simple retreat from the moans of life.  And perhaps that is actually more poetic than it may appear.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

A Little Milestone

It was the first time.  The first time Rosemary and Nana took a road trip from her house to ours, just the two of us. It was also the first time Rosemary spent an overnight at Nana's and Grandad's by herself.  A great time was certainly had by all.

We walked to the park and went sliding...over..and over...and over.


We colored, cooked, rode a tricycle, met the neighbors, read, slept, and ate. Simple things.  Fun things, both inside and out.  

It feels like a big deal, this first solo step a little farther away from home without Mama and Daddy. This little bit of independence adds another chapter to the story we write with our sweet, little girl.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Memorial Day

Happy Memorial Day!  May your remembering be bright, breezy, and as colorful as this beautiful Monday.  It never ceases to stir me to see the new flag placed by a veteran next to my father's grave and as I look out over the cemetery to see others flying, marking other graves of those who also served.  I am proud of you, Dad, for this and for so many other reasons.  And I still miss you...every, every day.

Thursday, May 22, 2014


Spring cleaning the attic unearthed a box of old jars that once sat on shelves lining a back wall of our old country home kitchen, from a time that now seems another life.  Not quite done looking at this luminescent blue Mason jar (dated 1848), I filled it with some yard sale vintage buttons and perched it on the window sill next to my sewing machine.  I really do love buttons, and this jar adds to an ever-growing stash.  Lately, I have been attaching vintage buttons to my knitting, like these white ones that went on this lovely little baby sweater, I made for a silent auction at church

The quirky, big, bright, unique ones have landed on a stack of button headbands I have been knitting for Christmas giving.  I bought some discounted Plymouth yarn (Sin City and Europa Tweed) and used a free online pattern to knit my way through the yarn and my button tins and jars.

The pattern is pretty simple:   You simply cast on 64 stitches, choose to knit in a k2 p2 rib or seed stitch, knit in the round for 3 inches and bind off. The little band that goes around the head band is a 5 inch strip of 8 stitches (garter or seed stitch) which you secure around the head band to crimp it a bit.
I used a 10.5, 16 inch circular needle.

And then the fun continues--you secure the band with a button!

And oh my, I have such wonderful ones to choose from!  I just read that one way to tie a quilt for binding is to attach a button.  Well, that certainly seems like a good idea to me.

Monday, May 12, 2014

A Disappearing 9-Patch Holiday Quilt

The quilts our sewing group sew for Lutheran World Relief are constructed within a few prescribed perimeters--they must be 60 X 80" and not contain any materials that suggest either religious or patriotic messages.  Our group interprets that to mean no fabric with Christmas or Fourth of July type images or design.  We do, however, get donated fabric that is clearly Christmas and other holiday themed and most recently, some kind parishioner even cut 11" squares (which we delight to receive) out of fabrics that while lovely were definitely Christmas and patriotic.


A while ago, I saw this pattern, A Disappearing 9-Patch technique that seemed like an easy-to-do, fun thing to try; hese patches presented the perfect time to experiment.  Since we can't use this quilt for Lutheran World Relief and since we are asked each Fall to give a Silent Auction item for the CROP Walk Silent Auction, using these squares for a quilt top for that purpose seemed like a good use of that fabric and my time.  So here it is...

The patches above (and more--a total of 5 group of 9 or 45 squares) were sewn together.

Then, each large square of 9 patches is cut in the middle, both ways (see above link for a good description of that) and arranged in any way you like.   This is a great method and quick way to make a different pattern from groupings of patches!

I may just have to make another one now for us or someone else.

Saturday, May 10, 2014


 May brings flowers of varied hue, fresh green grass, and outdoor fun of all kinds.

After the winter just passed, this Spring and this May seem especially beautiful and especially welcome.  It has been a Nana intensive spell for me.  We spent almost a week in NC caring for our grandsons, while their mother and father took a well deserved break for some couple time on the West coast.  Both Jim and I have renewed appreciation for the juggling act and stamina required to raise children.  We managed to hold down the fort (although not always with energy or aplomb), making memories for us all; our boys are magnificent.

Yesterday, I made the trek to spend a day with our magical granddaughter, which made it a three for three grandchild week, truly a rare treat (why can't we just all live in the same town the way it is supposed to be!).  We did a lot of drawing, one of her favorite pastimes of late.

This weekend is graduation day here at Penn State, and our town bustles and bursts. Tomorrow, of course, is Mother's Day.  Rarely does a day go by, that I don't think of and miss my mother.  During times like last week, when I am immersed in my role as Nana, I recall Mom at the same time in her life (and my Grandma Herman) and wish for a conversation about those days when she was doing what I am doing now.  A different lens offers one a different perspective.

Today, I am off to a baby shower celebrating a new mom-to-be.   Life begins anew in more ways than one this May.

Happy May!  Happy Mother's Day!

Saturday, April 26, 2014

That Nasty Nemesis

I dyed a big pink streak in my hair this week, a pretty randy gesture for this 60-something Nana.  Dying my hair is new for me (just never started) and dying it pink is really quite afar from my style and comfort zone.  Younger friends call it "hip" or "punk," neither adjectives generally ascribed to me nor desired by me.  But following a fashion or trend is not the reason I did it.  

A friend from church, a fellow teacher, a mother to two teenaged girls, and a strong beautiful woman is waging war against a rather virulent form of breast cancer.  I know a little bit about that nemesis who once visited me uninvited.  I was fortunate in that fight, the treatment was clear, defined, and successful.  Her battle may not be as easy, I fear.  She began five months of chemotherapy last week. She shaved her head this week to beat cancer to that punch; I admire that.

Her daughters streaked their hair and invited a few of us to do the same.  So I did, without hesitation.  The pink still jolts me a bit, and choosing what color to wear challenges me, but Mardi comes to mind every time I look in the mirror, and the comments this pink swoosh invite allow me to build awareness for this dreadful disease.

In addition to hair dye, I employed tools much more comfortable to me--my knitting needles.  I know the changes in body temperatures and fatigue that cancer treatment can wrought and a light, cotton summer shawl seemed in order for Mardi.  I used Cynthia's Make a Million Shawl pattern, the easy garter stitch version, and picked out this yummy yarn at her yarn store in Pine Grove Mills.  I delivered it this morning with my love and prayer for strength, comfort, and healing.

Mardi, her hair shorn but her eyes and smile as bright as ever, looked beautiful, her shoulders wrapped in it.  In those seemingly impossible situations when we stand by so helplessly, even small gestures matter...I know they do.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Holy Week Hope

Holy Week, that solemn reflective walk toward Easter, is upon us, and the church calendar is filled with services from Palm Sunday to Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday.  Yesterday, our church held a Holy Week service of different ilk--Spirituals, Prophecies, and Songs:  A Celebration of Hope.  Our amazing musical director organized and directed an ecumenical concert of choirs, bells, dance, and instrument, giving voice to hope-giving, life-affirming songs born of the suffering of our African American brothers and sisters. It was a spirit-moving evening unlike any I have attended during Easter week. After it was over, someone, who knows her fair share of sorrow, exclaimed, "I am now ready for Easter!"

As part of this orchestration of music and dance, our sewing group was asked to coordinate a quilt exhibit.  Legend and lore has it that abolitionists employed symbols as code sewn into quilts to help signal safe passage on the underground railroad, thus the connection between spirituals and quilts.  Our group was pleased to include the visual art of quilting into the this celebration.  

We put out a call for quilts that held family history and story.  The response was enthusiastic, over 50 quilts spanning the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries were promised for our display.   Yesterday, we spent hours of aesthetic and tactile joy, arranging these fabric artifacts on quilt stands around our church, their stories clothes-pinned to their tops.

The artistry and craftwomanship was amazing!   Beautiful embroidery and appliqué

as well as incredible piecing and hand stitching.

 The stories told by these family heirlooms and artifacts were truly touching:

a granddaughter's year in Germany...

a son's struggle with MS and a friend's battle with breast cancer...

a quilt with historical significance for our parish, made by the wife of Dr. John Harkins, a former pastor who served Grace Lutheran for 38 years, from 1918 until 1956.  

Our sewing group displayed our in-process collection of two dozen quilts we are making for Lutheran World Relief, coverings destined for people in need wherever that need may exist or arise.

In times of sorrow, art (in whatever form it might take--music, song, dance, painting or fabric) has the power to transport and transform, recasting toil and strife into strength, hope and faith.  In the midst of our Easter journey this week, it is good to pause, listen and look in reaffirmation of where ultimately our hope and future lie.