Saturday, August 6, 2011

Early August

Summer weather in Nebraska brings heat and humidity. Today my google weather chart says the humidity is 100%. Last night, a monsoon downpour fell while I was grilling dinner. When I walked this morning, the tree leaves were dripping with moisture under an overcast sky. The combination of light and humidity meant spider webs were visible. I counted at least 19 webs on the large blue spruce next to our driveway. An eight year old from the neighborhood was outside with his mother exclaiming about the webs. Across the street, a large web connected by long lines of silk to a tree and a car seemed to be suspended in mid air.

Other years I've noticed these webs on humid August mornings so perhaps spiders spin more webs in late summer. Although webs are susceptible to wind and those of us walking through them, the tensile strength of spider silk is greater than the same weight of steel.

My aunt passed away yesterday. She had a rich life and had been ill so her death was not unexpected. Still, I thought of her when I saw the spider webs this morning. Life is so fragile.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Summer Milestones

Even though I teach ten days through June and July, summer bring a slower pace and days to spend with those I love. This summer feels like it has been a season of change.

My sister taught me how to paddle a kyack. One quiet July morning, J took me out on a beautiful Minnesota lake. I learned to steer, stayed upright, and am looking forward to another visit when we can paddle around the lake on our own steam.

Throughout the summer, I have spent some days taking care of E., my 10 month old grandson. When this little guy is awake, he is curious about everything. He crawls very fast and pops up and down into standing with great ease. Although he sleeps in a crib, eats in a high chair, rides in a five point harness in his stroller and car seat, he is free to move and explore the rest of his waking moments. He is healthy and fortunate to have parents (my daughter and son-in-law) with resources which allow him this freedom. When caring for him, I scoot around the wood floor on my rear end trying to keep him safe while giving him room to play. We shake paper, toot into a toilet paper tube, and roll an oatmeal box. He uses his whole body to shake noisemakers. The other day we took turns blowing raspberries, that is we stuck our tongues out between our lips and blew breath out. In between turns, we laughed from our bellies. One day I played a game of kissing/tickling his neck. When I stopped to see what he would do next, he reversed the roles in the game. When we were finished, he planted his first sloppy open mouth kiss on my cheek, a very sweet moment. When E. got tired, we sat in the rocker while I read a very short story. We rocked while I savored the sleepy little boy on my chest.

Tomorrow when I close my father's estate, my work on his behalf will be finished. Serving as the personal representative of his estate was quite a journey.

My fall semester begins on August 9 but summer is not over yet. This afternoon I'm spending some time with friends and tomorrow I'm taking my son out to lunch. I'm looking forward to hearing about his adventures as a trainer of adults. Neither one of us ever thought he would become an educator but I am so proud of the way he meets and enjoys this challenge. Friday I'm going to take care of E. all day. If the next week is quiet, I will spend time revising a piece of writing, knitting the border of a lace shawl, and reading a novel.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Warm Hands

Inspired by my sister's beautiful color work projects, I sent for a Frostrosen Mitten Kit from Nordic Fiber Arts, a shop located in Durham, New Hampshire. In July 2009, I cast on the first mitten using size 1 double pointed needles. Carrying white yarn in the left hand and red in the right, I fumbled through the project and created a rather long, lumpy mitten. At that point I considered hanging the finished mitten with a sprig of holly as holiday decor. The following winter, I cast on the second mitten and promptly deposited it into my knitting hope (as in I hope I finish this some day) chest where it remained until June 2011. Knitting two colors on size 1 DPN's appealed to me about as much as pulling a bucket of bindweed on a hot July evening.

Early this summer I carried the unfinished mitten to the deck and began knitting. I quit worrying about whether or not the mitten was too long or lumpy and enjoyed the symmetry of the pattern. Two weeks later I finished the second mitten and then washed them in Eucalan, a soap designed for hand knits. The lavender bath relaxed the stitches and smoothed most of the lumps. Laying on the table, the mittens still look a little like boxing gloves. However, the long cuffs will tuck up under coat sleeves and the tightly knit double stranded fabric will keep someone's hands very warm. The pattern is well written and the yarn, Rauma Finullgarn is good quality, strong wearing wool.

Now if I could just make peace with the bindweed in my perennial flower garden.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Lavender and Larkspur

The lavender and larkspur in my garden were given to me by two friends. Once during a trying teaching assignment, a veteran teacher next door befriended me. At the time, she lived nearby on an acreage which she had landscaped by herself. As our friendship grew, we exchanged plants, seeds, and quilting projects. Even though she has moved out of state, my blue columbine and peach iris continue to grow in her western garden. Her yellow iris and larkspur bloom in my garden.

Every year, I let the larkspur go to seed and replant themselves. The seed pods are full of tiny black conical seeds which grow well in the clay soil of my perennial garden. The old friend who gave me the first seeds built a second home in a western mountain valley. Anticipating the day when she would need wheels to move around, she designed her mountain home with roll-in shower and wide doorways. In her late 70's, she now hires yard and garden help but hasn't lost her ability to speak her mind or take care of herself. In order to retrieve her mail, she drives a riding mower down a long lane to the mailbox. When the bright blue larkspur petals and sharp pointy seeds sift onto the garden floor, I admire the "can do" determination of a dear friend.

About five years ago I began attending a yoga class. The instructor is another master gardener so each week I look carefully at her yard to see new blooms. Several years ago, after experimenting with methods of plant propagation, she handed each of us a paper cup with a tiny new lavender plant. I planted the fragile shoot in my herb garden. This year, the gray/green mound is blooming profusely. When I breathe in the lavender scent, I find the fragrance much more pleasant than any commercially produced product. I also recall the teacher who encourages me to breathe deeply in order to cultivate a little extra stretch in my muscles and joints.

I love the way the lavender flower stalk has two single blossoms further down the stalk. It is almost as if the plant found a little extra space for beauty. Savoring the natural lavender scent, I vow to find some quiet space each day in which to breathe.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Humble Garter Stitch

Knitting Update: Currently, I have "Cassidy," a worsted weight cabled cardigan, waiting to be blocked and sewn together so I can knit the hood and button bands. I may finish the sweater in a cooler season. I knit an inch on some patterned socks which I started in order to learn a new cast on. The cast on went well and looks very polished. I'm working on size 1 needles so the twisted stitch ribbing is slow going. I am midway through an Ishbel shawl knit from a Slackford Studio yarn called Nimbus Cloud. The cashmere/alpaca fiber slides like butter across and occasionally off the needles. About ten rows back, I knit a stitch incorrectly so the project is waiting for repair in a day light knitting moment. Late last winter, I began swatching for a textured cowl but never finished the swatch. I knit the first of two color work Frostrosen Mittens last Spring but the second mitten is languishing in a basket. Two color work, while beautiful, is not my favorite knitting technique. However, I'm determined to finish the second mitten by knitting a few rows each evening.

This week I began teaching the Monday, Tuesday summer school schedule. The two days are crammed with student visits and paperwork. By the time, I finished this week's paperwork on Tuesday at 6:00 p.m., grilled and ate dinner, and watered the garden, I was too tired to tackle any of the above knitting projects. Instead I cast on a garter stitch shawl in Blue Moon Fiber Arts Medium weight sock yarn. A few short rows worked in lovely repetitive stitches of merino yarn were just what I needed at 9:45 p.m. Anyone who knows me won't be surprised the yarn is a blue/gray color. Garter stitch is my antidote to paperwork, email, bindweed, hectic schedules, public restrooms, and iced tea in plastic "to go" cups. The humble stitch brought a moment of calm into my day.

Sunday, June 5, 2011


My husband and I made a cemetery trip to our parents' and grandparents' graves on Memorial Day. The sky was overcast and the wind was blowing. I found the visits peaceful. I also remembered several family stories with a chuckle. My parents' first date was a ride through the cemetery. One Memorial Day, my Dad drove by a park where my mother and her sister were playing tennis. He stopped to talk to the two lively pretty girls and wanted to prolong the encounter. Not having any other ideas, he asked them to go for a ride to look at the flowers in the cemetery. They accepted his offer and my parents' courtship began.

Ten years of so before my mother died, my parents moved into a new home which was adjacent to a cemetery. When a family member asked Mom if she thought living next to a cemetery was a bit eerie, she laughed and replied she enjoyed quiet neighbors. With her nursing background, she understood death was part of life. Among other many other things, I miss her sense of humor and our walks through the cemetery with our dogs. As her arm brushed mine, we talked, laughed, and untangled dog leashes. I miss those talks about our family, books we were reading, and the bunnies nesting along the fence. When I was in the cemetery with her, she frequently remarked she didn't like gaudy artificial flower arrangements on graves. Perhaps my Dad remembered Mom's remarks when he picked someone else's lilacs from an alley and placed them in a coffee can on her grave.

My husband's mother is buried in a small sweet country cemetery. When we arrived there, a gentle mist was falling. We left a pot of red and white flowers near her stone because she loved red. Although I visited there with her one time, I am less familiar with the stories associated with that cemetery. I wish I knew more of them.

Cemetery visits are only one way to remember. As I planted my beans and tomatoes, I thought of my grandfather who always had a beautiful garden. Lilacs also remind me of him. I think of him when he was a young man in 1918 who wanted nothing more than to come home from France "before the flowers bloomed." The smell of fresh baked orange rolls carries me back to my grandmother's pink kitchen. Spending a few minutes remembering those who have gone before enriches my life.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Yard and Garden News

Two weeks ago, my husband built a raised bed frame to add to my garden space. He combined this

and this

so I can rotate the tomato crop around the garden.

Seeds for green beans, summer squash, and one hill of cucumbers have germinated and pushed up from under the ground. Noses of resident rabbits are twitching in anticipation of fresh beans. Last evening my dear husband put up the infamous "bunny fence" made from chicken wire. Because I usually fall over the fence at least once each summer, he made a makeshift gate by lapping the wire around the last corner rather than threading the stake through the wire. I'm getting older.

In other news, the blue jay couple is feeding two babes. The arborist who trimmed the tree reported four eggs but I can see only two offspring. The nest is getting crowded and Mama looks like she could use a bath.