Thursday, August 12, 2021

Vibrant Celebration

As summer begins its gradual fade toward softer autumn days, I look back at the vibrant splashes of color that have punctuated this season of my life. My days have been filled with working remotely as a professional writing consultant for a community college, which I love tremendously. In the deepest part of our isolation due to the Covid pandemic I never felt alone. Though that took place last winter, it bears mentioning because it's an integral component to my color explosive summer. 

My workdays consist of hour-long writing consultations with students in which we are "live". The faces and voices of students fill my days with purpose, satisfaction, and comfort. The tongues of many nations often surround me as I work with students from all over the world. A bittersweet feeling always sweeps over me at the end of each semester. I must say goodbye to some I have worked with who are moving on, but I celebrate their academic achievements and am thankful to have been a small part of their journey. 
As the fall semester begins next week, I will remain in the online environment. While tidying my workspace and mentally preparing for a new semester, it occurred to me that my home is overflowing with joyful color. I attribute this to God's faithfulness in an unprecedented time; a time when the world turned upside down, yet I faired well. It has dawned on me that the profusion of color is my celebration of the resilience of the human spirit. Given the work that I do, I have been allowed a unique glimpse at just how strong we are individually and collectively. My soul overflowed and burst into colorful testaments throughout my house that will forever be a reminder to me that we are survivors. 
My kitchen drawer soon began to burst once I discovered this pattern for the Farmhouse Dishtowel and Farmhouse Dishcloth. It is addictive to crochet because the pattern is easily memorized with a simple two-row repeat. I found it self-soothing, and loved the customizable aspect of the pattern as I recently purchased a new double oven. For those of you who have one, you know that a standard length towel hangs down over the handle of the lower oven. You can crochet these with any worsted cotton and hooks you prefer. I used Knit Picks Dishie and Tulip Etimo Rose Crochet Hooks. The Dishie yarn holds up longer than other brands of worsted cotton and these hooks are worth the investment for those who have issues with hand or wrist pain.
There have been serene moments of colorwork on the porch swing, as I soaked up the freshness and promise that green life fortifies the spirit with. This cheery Giant Granny Square blanket is a free pattern that Sandra from Cherry Heart has offered for ages. The photo at the top is Sandra's Painted Roses Blanket in the vintage colors option. After longing to indulge in the crocheted splendor of both of these patterns for some time, I decided this was the right season of my life. The same soft Stylecraft Special DK yarn is used in both blankets. Typically having a preference for natural fibers and an aversion to acrylic yarn, I must admit that I love this yarn. I messaged back-and-forth with Sandra for reassurance on this fiber. Now that it is settling itself into my house, I believe it's here to stay. The overgrown granny square is nearly finished, but the blocks for the painted roses will be a work in progress for the unforeseeable future. 
I kicked the season off early with a smattering of embroidery. The floral piece in the round frame is a kit I purchased from the Crewel Ghoul. You can find the frame at Modern Hoopla.
The pieces above and below are both kits purchased from Nicki Franklin at the Stitchery Studio Shop.
When you look at her website you'll notice I added extra floss here and there to both of my pieces. That's not because the kit doesn't supply enough, it's because I have hoards of embroidery floss and don't know when to stop. The lovely wreath with the nest and blackbird is the Seasons Spring Wreath kit. I decided the overall roundness of the work would be enhanced by a square frame. I found this one at our local shop The Quilt Corner. It's safe to say I enjoyed stitching this more than any embroidery piece I have ever done in my life. 
Since pink trees have always made me stop and gasp for breath out of sheer delight that God would create such a wondrous thing, I knew I had to stitch this one! The lighting in the embroidery photos does not do the pieces justice, but they really are lovely sprinkled throughout my home. This sweet little tree is the Mini Embroidery Kit - Spring Blossom Tree. The darling frame and stand came as a set. As mentioned before, I went crazy with an abundance of French knots. I do love it though! 
My life is lived in and shaped by words, so many words. The words of others; written words and spoken words. It is also formed by my own words as I offer guidance, share stories, write essays for classes in which I am the academic student, and write poetry in which I am the continual student of life. In between it all, my days are filled with moments snatched at random and filled with a celebration of color because, above all else, the spirit within must always give thanks.

"Every secret of a writer's soul, every experience of his life, every quality of his mind, is written large in his works."
Virginia Woolf

Monday, March 1, 2021

Soothing Sock Knitting

Lately, I have been in the mood to knit socks. They are a small knit that can be picked up and worked on when time allows, or left in the bottom of my knitting bag to quietly await my return. Although I have countless patterns, I felt the desire to try something new and maybe a bit different. I took my time and searched through Ravelry. Then I began the treasure hunt anew on Etsy for just the exact thing. Admittedly, I had no picture in my mind of what I was looking for, just the heartfelt assurance that it would leap out at me when I found it. My hallelujah moment came when I found this beautifully feminine pattern for a pair of slipper socks on Lavender Hill Knits
There's a delicate lavender bud lace pattern that vines up the side and across the top of the foot. The lacework is simple and the pattern is well written with beautiful photos. It's part of the designers Summer in France collection and it's called Lavender Lace Socks. You can see in the first picture they have a sweet picot edging that is added after the slipper sock is completed. The pattern gives instructions to either knit or crochet the edging. Mine is crocheted on. Although I can do either, I much prefer to crochet a picot edging to knitting one because it is much faster to accomplish and the end result looks about the same. 
I must admit, the piece de resistance for me was this gorgeous lacy heel. When I saw the photo depicting it on the Etsy website, I literally sucked in my breath. That's when I knew my search was over. The best part was that when I downloaded the pattern and cast on to knit, this delicious square of lacy heel was the first thing made. The entire pattern is so unique and wonderful to knit. I enjoyed it so much that I am knitting a second pair. This first pair is fitted snuggly to the feet of my eldest daughter, Hilary, who absolutely loves them. The second pair on my needles will warm the feet of my younger daughter, Chelsea. With spring and summer around the corner, these slipper socks will be just the thing for them to pad around the house on their carpeted or hardwood floors. 
Although it may seem like it to those who have never tried it, sock knitting is not a magical bit of hocus-pocus for the advanced knitting elite. If you have wanted to try your hand at it, I recommend this pattern. It can introduce you to a more instant gratification version of a sock we commonly call a "footie", while providing you with some uncomplicated lacework stitches. Each pair takes only a small amount of fingering weight yarn that can be purchased new or rescued from your stash. Mine was happily waiting for just such an occasion. I am knitting them on my favorite double pointed needles from Signature Needle Arts. My preference is for the stiletto tipped needles, which are especially handy for lacework. I typically like the 8-inch option, but they are available in 4, 5, and 6-inch lengths as well. You will, however, need an 8-inch length needle for this project. Regardless of what yarn or needles you choose, you will find that sock knitting is altogether soothing for you as a knitter and the overjoyed recipient of your time and love as well.
                                          "One can never have enough socks." 
                                                               J.K. Rowling

Saturday, February 6, 2021

The Wisdom of Marmee

One of my favorite books is Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, and, consequently, on a cold, snowy day I love to return to the much-loved movie adaptation, in which Susan Sarandon plays the beloved character of Marmee. I have read the book countless times through the years and watch the movie at least once every winter. This winter as several things culminated in my life: a worldwide pandemic, my love for baking, a brand new convection oven, a lifelong love for literature, working remotely, continuing my education in the discipline of English/Literature, and my ever present affinity for Marmee (who is totally real to me), I was thrilled to discover there are cookbooks out there based on classic literature! 

These lovely little "Vanilla Butter Cookies With Mr. Bhaer's Chocolate Drops" are quick and easy to mix up and bake when you feel the need for some snug comfort, especially when the frosty winds are blowing outside. The first time I baked them was on New Year's Day 2021. After all the things each of us experienced individually, and globally, I felt like it was more important than ever to ring in this new year with something totally different. My entire family was so delighted with the buttery taste of these simple cookies and the perfect chocolate star center that I plan to make this my New Year's Day tradition from now on. I feel like there's a bit of Marmee telling me, "After 2020, out with the old and in with the new has a whole new meaning!". I always listen to my inner Marmee.

When you take these out of the oven and that fresh-baked aroma hits you, it will make you happy to be alive. You will want to bless everyone who crosses your path with a melt-in-your mouth, this year will be better, I am sure it has to be because Marmee says so, cookie. It's the chocolate star in the center. I really think it's the star that we hang our hopes on. Well, actually, it's the wisdom of Marmee. Although the character "Jo" is primarily based on Louisa May Alcott, I think of Marmee as the heart of her creator, who was an abolitionist and a feminist. If you have never read  Little Women or anything by or about this great lady, I highly recommend it. She was a strong, independent thinking woman in a time when it was not yet fashionable. 

                        "Don't shut yourself up in a bandbox because you are a woman. 
                              Educate yourself to take your part in the world's work." 
                                                                   - Marmee 
                                                               Little Women  
                                                           Louisa May Alcott

Sunday, January 31, 2021

My Own Fairyland

When I was a child one of my favorite Disney movies to watch over and over was Mary Poppins with Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke. The biggest thrill for me was when she opened that magical carpetbag and started pulling items out, one after another that should not possibly have fit within. Every single time I watched the movie I held my breath in anticipation of that scene more than any other, even when I watched the movie with my own small children and, later, grandchild. For me, that beautiful bag was full of magic; I knew I must someday have a Mary Poppins bag of my very own.

So, imagine my absolute delight when my lifelong search culminated in a dream come true and I discovered Max Carpetbag Works on Etsy recently. I took time to scroll through all the fantastic options for just the right one; believing it would reveal itself to me because it had been waiting a lifetime to do so. The moment I found this incredible bag my heart jumped for joy as I'm certain I heard it say, "Finally, you found me!". Isn't that part of the allure for all of us who are irrepressibly drawn to the timeless charm of a carpetbag? There's a hidden part in us convinced they contain practically perfect magical moments deep inside. 

When this long awaited treasure arrived on Saturday I could barely contain myself. I knew from the first glimpse and brush of my hand, as I began to pull away the wrapping, that my carpetbag had found its way home. As I lovingly perused it I experienced an emotional rush of memories. I was a little girl with blonde pigtails on my grandparents farm, watching Mary Poppins with my cousins, wearing baby-doll pajamas. Suddenly, I became a young mother with two little girls, one with blonde pigtails, the other with auburn, staring with rapt attention at Mary Poppins, while I waited beside them for that scene I never tired of. All those years later, my own children were just as thrilled as me by the never-ending stream of magic Mary's bag produced. Finally, my heart warmed at the memory of a tiny granddaughter, with springy brown curls and delight in her eyes as she watched my favorite scene with me for the first time. 

This carpetbag has lured me back into my own fairyland. All I had to do was open it, reach in, and start pulling the memories out one by one. Although it just found its way to me, it has the sense of having always been mine. I believe it's packed full of more magical moments waiting to reveal themselves to me every time I open it. I also feel strongly about surrounding myself with things of beauty that make me happy. If those things are functional, well-made, and stand the chance of serving the purpose for which they were intended for many years then the purchase is a wise one. 

                  "Don't you know that everybody's got a Fairyland of their own?" 

                                               Mary Poppins - P. L. Travers

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Tiny Stars

One of the most satisfying things in the world to me is to spend time knitting and crocheting baby items. They are so like the sweet little bundles they will eventually find themselves snuggled around: tiny, soft, warm, delicate, and beautiful. Making a special gift for a baby can be done fairly quickly and conveys love to the expectant parents. When invited to a baby shower or "sprinkle", I much prefer to give a handmade gift than something purchased. A handknit item can be passed down through the years and achieve heirloom status. This set pictured above is one of my favorite baby gifts. I've used various fibers over the years but have decided I prefer Knit Picks Andean Treasure above all else. It's soft, breathable, one hundred percent baby alpaca and is available in an array of beautiful colors. Pictured here are Cherry Blossom, Fog Heather, and Finnley Heather. The hat is "Baby's Cabled Milk-Silk Cap" designed by Susan Boye. The leg warmers are "Cashmere Baby Leg Warmers" designed by Patti Ghezzi. 

 The lovely golden hat pictured above is "Merino-Silk Cables for Baby" designed by Isela Phelps. The buttery soft and bouncy yarn used to make this cabled hat is Sirdar Sublime Baby Cashmere. If you love to knit tiny baby hats you will really love this hat! It is too precious and it's unisex. So it's a win-win pattern and gift! A mommy can pass it along from baby to baby, especially when it's knit in a neutral color. What's not to love?! The patterns for both hats and the leg warmers can be found and purchased in this book on Amazon.

My absolute favorite baby booties (shown at top in the pink set) "Cute Cables" are designed by Frederique Alexandre and can be found in the book featured below, which can also be purchased on Amazon. The somewhat squared toe and multitextured effect of these booties never fails to cause delight, not only in the recipient, but in me every single time I knit a pair. They simply make me happy. Also, once again, they are unisex, making them an absolutely perfect pattern to return to time and time again.

There truly is something special about a couple of stolen hours in an afternoon spent quietly knitting baby items that's different than doing anything else. The stitches hold a particular charm unknown to all other pursuits. One can almost smell that magical essence of baby as the needles glide along smoothly. Baby knitting takes therapeutic value to a whole new level of nirvana. It must be experienced rather than described. If you love it like I do, you understand; it's a feeling, not an action. 

Choice of color and adding embellishment (or not) makes this exquisite cabled earflap hat unisex also. For my favorite go-to crocheted rose and leaf pattern you can hop over to Attic 24 and whip up as many May Roses as you like.

Few things fill my heart with the same measure of joy as the sight of one so fresh from God nestled warmly in one of my handknit items. Babies are like tiny stars dropped down from heaven sent to add sparkle to all the dim corners of the world. They grow and shine their light into every crack and crevice, helping us to focus on the bright and beautiful things in life. For that we owe them a great deal.

  •                 “Like stars are to the sky, so are the children to our world. 
  •                                          They deserve to shine!”
  •                                           Chinonye J. Chidolue

Thursday, January 21, 2021

To Dwell In Possibilities

 There once was a girl of only sixteen who lay across her bed feeling ill. A young man, whom she already loved with her whole heart, quietly entered the room. In his hand was a small volume of poetry covered in blue velvet with silver lettering. The room was awash in the soft glow of late afternoon, which enhanced the golden aura the young man naturally exuded. 

Although he was only twenty at the time, he knew the secret way to her heart; the tender language of love. He sat quietly in the chair next to her bed, opened the book, and began to read aloud. His voice was melodic and gentle as it mingled with the words penned by Emily Dickinson from a time gone by; a time of once and future possibilities. 

Tiny dust motes shimmered in a beam of light from a window and danced as fairies in the fading sun. They were joyous because they knew, as the young man continued to read, the magic of possibilities swirled in the air. The young girl was soon soothed into a peaceful sleep. She awoke completely restored. The young man still sat by her bed in a room full of dusk with a book of poetry in his hand. 

Many years later, though the girl is not so young, she still loves that same man with her whole heart. A man who, when he was young, sat by her bed and read poetry to her. It was the beginning of possibilities. Possibilities to experience many times over. The reading of poetry, the carrying of one another through illness, the joy of togetherness, and the love and friendship that deepens over time.

What would life be if we did not dwell in possibilities; if we did not live on the edge of what if? There would be a myriad of things and people we would miss along the way. We never outgrow the ability to reach for and achieve new possibilities. Do you have a dream, a desire, a longing, a passion to be or do something? The time has come for you to dwell in possibilities. May you reach for the stars and on your way up enjoy the thrill of reaching. 

Though some of the pages are loose from nearly forty years of being read, the beloved blue velvet book of poetry is still one of my dearest treasures. It has been my constant reminder that life is full of possibilities. 

"I dwell in Possibility - "
Emily Dickinson

Monday, January 4, 2021

The Spirit of Winter

Hush, hush, hush … Do you hear it?
Hush, hush, hush … If you listen very closely, with your heart wide open, you will know the silent, soft stillness of white. There is a magic that swirls in the air and settles into each tiny crystalized flake. As it dances round and round it captures the hopes and dreams of all humankind to sprinkle them in glistening purity throughout the land. 
Soon the treetops are reaching towards heaven under the collective, glorious weight of the promise of a land filled with people who continue to hope and dream through even the bleakest of days. Each delicate snowflake holds the secret of the ages; each unique crystal knows the magic is in the believing. They know, too, that as beautiful as they are individually, they have the ability to create great moments of awe when they stick together. 
When the things of the world strip us to our core, the trees don their winter finery to stand tall and regal before us in the hazy days. If we listen intently we will feel their message. We will hear the truth that can never be suppressed within them. The trees, no matter what, will always continue to sing for joy, and they invite us to rejoice with them in every single season. They want us to behold their remarkable, unchangeable, and beautiful resilience; to recognize that God has placed that age-old magic deep within our DNA as well. Our Creator equipped us to be overcomers and He uses the wonders of nature to bestow peace and instill new hope in us.  
As I enter this new year of 2021, with the world just beyond my window holding her cold, frosty breath, I, too, am holding my breath. I am holding it in anticipation of all the good things that lie ahead. Although I have one last week of being cocooned in warm, slow days of knitting, while the dogs lay curled up in beds nearby, I will lay down the needles and return to the clicking of keys again soon. The holiday break has held much joy and given me a needed rest, however, it is time to look to the future. After taking a six month sabbatical I will resume my education starting next Monday. I earned one degree last summer and it's time to work towards the next degree (and the next … ). As much as I have loved taking a step back from school and filling the spaces with more knitted stitches than I had accomplished since I began this journey, I am ready and excited to dive back in. Books, literature, and writing have always been my great pursuits in life. Therefore, earning a BA in English has been a lifelong dream for me. 
The following week I will resume work, which I am still doing remotely. There are not enough words in the world to express how much I love my job as a professional writing consultant. When we went into pandemic mode in March and I began to work from home I was uncertain at first about my capabilities to connect with the students. Before long my hour-long consultations were finding their new rhythm in a world that had suddenly gone somewhat sideways. Those lovely, wondrous students filled my home and shaped my days with their diverse views, insightful conversation, and eventual friendship as the months continued to stretch on and on. 
So, even though there were many challenges along the way last year, I have to say I am thankful for every one of them because they got me from there to here. And here is exactly the place I always want to be. Wherever here is I have learned to trust it is the place I am meant to be, which means all things will come together as they were intended to, usually better than if I had planned them on my own.

"Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them; let the trees of the forest sing for joy."

Psalm  96:12

"I am not afraid of storms for I am learning how to sail my ship." 

Louisa May Alcott 

Little Women 

Knitted dishcloth pattern "There's Snow Place Like Home"

Designed by Rachel van Schie

Yarn is Dishie from Knit Picks

Colors: Blush, Dewdrop & Clarity