On Giants' Shoulders

Saturday, September 29, 2007

The Feast of the Three Archangels

Today we celebrate the feast of St. Michael, St. Gabriel, and St. Raphael the 3 archangels named in Sacred Scripture. Since our son is named after one of them I have been prodded for years to do something special. A goose would have been best, a duck would have worked, but in a pinch a capon had to do (apparently my supermarket saves ducks and geese for later in the fall...). Most people are familiar with St. Gabriel because of his appearance to Mary, people literate in even the Protestant Old Testament are familiar with St. Michael because of his battle against Satan, but most Protestants have never heard of St. Raphael who appears in the book of Tobit. He appears in this interesting story about a woman whose new husbands keep getting struck down dead. The final husband, Tobit, manages with St. Raphael's help to live through his wedding night and beyond.

So I have a capon roasting in the oven stuffed with a bread stuffing seasoned with herbs from my herb bed), and in a little while will through some potatoes in to bake alongside it. I can't say I've had the energy to throw together anything to rival Danielle Bean's Octoberfest, but we will be thinking about the ways that the heavenly messengers have spoken to people in the past.

Now if I only weren't so sleepy I might be able to throw together Danielle's cream cheese brownies...YAWN!!

Friday, September 28, 2007

That Purple Yarn

As I've begun the reknitting process this purple yarn has actually brought back a lot of memories. There's the trip Abby and I made to Duquesne when she was just contemplating going there where I knit with this purple yarn in the car while we discussed Derrida (really and truly). Then the frustration when I got home and figured out the sweater was going to be too small and had to rip the whole thing out.Then there was the trip to Duquesne to actually leave her there, especially the trip back where I think my purple yarn actually made Jim sneeze (it had gotten dusty while sitting around) and David got us horribly lost. Knitting while overseeing the canning department at the fair came next. Then the trip to NYC with Jim and knitting in the car and at the Bronx Swift's house. Then there was the trip to Duquesne, alone, when Abby was actually there, when knitting happened in a motel room and in her apartment. Then the months of putting it down and picking it up again and getting frustrated because it wasn't exactly coming out the way I wanted. Blogging about it, complaining about it. This yarn has had tears dropped on it, made people sneeze, gotten criticized, gotten compliments. Now it's beginning all over again. I love it (the color is really vibrant), I hate it (it's so fine...). Even the spinning of it has memories attached: watching Bonnie and Clyde while spinning, marveling at the softness of Sophie's fleece (while spinning), watching ER while spinning, watching Brideshead Revisited while spinning. This time so far it's been knitting at red lights (you can get a good twenty stitches in), knitting while praying (about 10 stitches per bead), knitting while watching MASH, but absolutely no knitting during Red Sox games (that's a memory too).

There are more memories ahead. This purple yarn will travel to a Chesterton conference and give me something to do with my hands (since taking notes seems to be a waste of time because I always lose them). It will give me something to do in the car when I'm not driving (can I hope the entire trip???). I suspect it's going to be my most frequent companion all fall. Who knows how many discussions this yarn will be knit through, how many comments other people will make about it. Will it be cried over, sneezed over, complained about (whoops that's already happened!), marveled at, delighted in, laughed over or what? How many happy days of knitting, frustrated days of knitting, days when knitting is what helps me retain my sanity in the midst of chaos remain ahead. I really don't know. What I do know is that at the end, the finished product will retain traces of those memories, as well as traces of the earlier ones, and now those earlier memories have a special place all there own, even if I did have to rip all the stitches out.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


That's what I've begun doing this week. I took my purple sweater (that infamous purple sweater) and ripped it out because 66 pounds later it was now too big. I'm reknitting it to my new size. You have no idea (unless you are a knitter who recycles her yarn), how painstaking it is to unknit a sweater. You'd think you could just start raveling and go for it. For part of the way you can, but if your sweater is a Jackie Fee type with grafted armholes, you're going to have some very tedious stitch by stitch unraveling when you get to that point. If your yarn is sport weight and dark colored it will be tedious unraveling indeed. Then when you get to all those points where you wove the yarn in you will also have a challenge to unweave before raveling further. The unknitting process didn't take as long as the knitting (thankfully), but it wasn't the work of ten minutes either.

Now I'm starting at the bottom, once again and I'm remembering all over how slow this sweater went the first time. It's smaller, it should go more quickly, but it's still 204 stitches per round on size 3 needles. It's not going all that much more quickly. I figure that maybe by February...Oh well I guess I need to stop complaining about it and just start knitting. It's just that everytime I work on knitting while the Red Sox are playing baseball they lose (or so it seems) so I'm sort of banned from knitting during Red Sox games. I wish it worked with the dreaded rivals it would give me more knitting time for sure.

Anyway, it's the time of the year when I like to knit and my last project went so quickly I really shouldn't complain. Besides the yarn was free (except for my time in the spinning process) and it's really too pretty to abandon. So let the re-knitting contine (at least as soon as the game is over!).

I wish I had some great metaphorical comments to add to all of this, but I don't. I know that unknitting is an exercise in patience and that the reknit sweater isn't going to be identical to the old one, but I really don't have any great insights to compare reknit purple sweaters to, at least not tonight.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

The Death of Civility

It sometimes seems to me that we've learned too many lessons from nasty stand up comics in the past couple of decades. The sort of humor that attacks men, or attacks women, or attacks mother's-in-law, or teenaged children, etc. has become more and more common everywhere. There is a sense in which we can identify with the frustrations, but it sometimes leads to a radical lack of charity and civility. Then the people being attacked strike back. Blogging seems to bring out the very worst in some people.

Earlier this year I spent a fair amount of time at one website. A discussion ensued in which one of the commenters got really vile as he told me in not so nice language to "shut up." The person who owned the board did nothing to correct him, so I stopped going there and I took the link to that site off my blog. There are enough places (like Danielle Bean's site) where civility is expected, that I don't really feel like spending my time at places where it isn't.

I think that this even spills out into "real life." This is really sad because we already live in a society where people seem more and more separated from each other and less and less charitable to each other. The drive to watch out for number one may start in rush hour, but it frequently spills over into the rest of our lives. We've spent 40+ years now worrying about minority rights and public expression of discrimination, but it doesn't seem to have made us behave more politely to each other. I didn't live in the south during the pre-civil rights era and I'm sure that there was discrimination going on, but it sometimes seems that there was also more civility then than there is now. Women aren't better off for having attacked men in endless diatribes, all that's happened is that the men have responded in kind. Minorities of all kinds are not better off for having verbally attacked the majority. They may have secured some rights, but their rhetoric has earned a lot more hatred. We do have to fight against things that are wrong, but we have to do it by attacking ideas, not by attacking persons. We need to reason with people, not tell them to shut up. We need to continue to practice compassion and forgiveness, often when someone doesn't even deserve it.

That may sound like Pollyanna speaking, but the result of taking to heart the biting satire of stand-up comedians and even some internet humorists has not been pretty. Some things are simply better left unsaid, sometimes it truly is better to offer it up just one more time. After all Jesus's teaching was: If your enemy thirst, give him drink..." and as far as forgiving a brother the advice was "seventy times seven." We were also admonished not to call our brother a fool. Seems like Jesus was in favor of kindness and civility rather than mean spirited satire.

Friday, September 21, 2007

You Know You're Catholic When...

As a Protestant Christian I was well aware of, and involved with prayer meetings and prayer chains. I always asked for the prayers of friends and family in the midst of times of difficulty, hardship, sorrow and even joy. As a Catholic I still ask for the prayers of family and friends (I asked for prayers just this week both from an online friend and a friend who lives close by. As A Catholic, however, I also have this other network of friends whose prayers I ask for. They include The Blessed Mother, St. Therese, St. Anthony, St. Joseph, St. Francis de Sales, St. Margaret Clitheroe, St. Paul, St. Peter, St. Monica, St. Augustine, St. Michael and others. Well this week I learned of a new person to address some prayers to whom some of you might want to consider as well. The Church is about to beatify Franz Jaggersdotter who refused to serve in the military after being drafted by Nazi Germany. He was beheaded as a traitor.

Sometimes I bug these friends pretty boldly. I'll walk by my little statue of St. Therese, pick it up and remind her of what I've asked her to pray for. When I did that yesterday the thought I had was, "you know you're Catholic when, you're bugging the saints for their prayers." But you know something nice about it. With your friends there is sometimes a situation where saying everything about a given problem would be Too Much Information, with the saints you can pour it all out without any censoring required. The heavenly prayer warriors are always interceding for us and they can be trusted with all the information. But, contrary to my fears as a Protestant, it doesn't mean I'm giving worship to idols. I'm only asking for the prayers of my friends.

Of Indian Huts and Operation Dolls

When my children were growing up, I'm not sure I always noticed some of the places where the important stuff was going on. We had our curriculum, we had the read aloud books, we had 4-H, and Sunday School, the sheep, the horses, cooking in the kitchen, learning to make things, etc. Those things I noticed. But on the periphery were other things, things that they initiated themselves, things they sometimes got outside assistance with, but not things that I thought up, or even really thought about. However, it turns out some of those were most important in their lives.

My daughter and her friend Merry had an Indian hut in our front yard for a year or two. They were even allowed to have a fire (supervised from a distance by her father, but which the girls themselves were really in charge of). That experience in independence and creative play is always one of the things that my Abby mentions to people when they ask her what homeschooling was like. The interesting thing is that the Indian hut didn't cost a penny to us. It was made out of pallets that we got for free and other scrap material that was just lying around. They had vegetables out of the garden to cook or make into some mysterious Indian medicine, they had scraps of wood to burn, but no one went out and bought an Indian hut kit. It was an example of a lifestyle where you weren't dependent on the big corporations for everything. They weren't dependent on Mattel for fun.

My son was an inveterate encyclopedia reader. We had the set of encyclopedias from the 1950's that I grew up with as well as an almost complete set of the Americana that I bought for $10 at a library discard sale (did I ever mention that I'm extremely frugal!). Anyway, he learned a lot from the encyclopedia, but what I didn't know was that part of his bedtime reading was articles on theology and the Catholic Church written by Bishop Fulton Sheen. Is it any wonder when he was in eighth grade he announced he was going to become a Catholic when he turned 18. It obviously wasn't a wonder to the Holy Spirit, but it was some surprise to his mother, who hadn't been noticing that particular learning going on.

My daughter and her cousin spent one summer's visit playing with operation dolls that they made at their grandmother's with supportive assistance in providing materials and books by Grammy. I was vaguely aware it was going on, but had no inkling of how detailed they got in their research. My daughter said that what she learned really helped in animal anatomy and physiology in college. My niece announced this summer that it had really helped her in her EMT class (she just passed her EMT boards, YAY!).

My son spent many hours tracing maps at his grandmother's. She provided the atlas and tracing paper, he provided all the interest. When he took geography in college it was a total breeze, he'd already learned the basic material. Today his knowledge of geography surpasses anyone else I know. I, however, never would have thought to give him maps to trace.

When my daughter was 13 she began training her own horse. I told a woman at camp about this adventure and she was utterly appalled. Didn't I know that she could get badly hurt in the process. Well, I can report that she didn't get hurt at 13. As a matter of fact she never took a bad spill off Eclipse until after she was pretty much fully trained and that one was due to the fact that Eclipse got spooked by a sheep (Abby was 22 at the time). She did train her own horse (with careful supervision and a bit of paid instruction later on) and now she's training Eclipse's daughter. You can believe that experience helped when she took horse training in college.

Does this mean we were total unschoolers? It doesn't mean that at all. I gave careful thought to curriculum, I selected read-alouds not only that were delightful and of good literary value, but ones which supported our curriculum as well. Some of those things clearly impacted their lives too. However, perhaps the biggest thing that impacted their lives was being rooted in a family where books, learning, and even adventures (with some discrete supervision) were encouraged.

My daughter has had some people tell her that her parents were irresponsible to let her have a fire. I'm sure those same people would have looked askance at the fact that I made her as about a 13 year old pack her sheep's vaginal prolapse in repeatedly instead of just doing it myself. She learned by experience why you select against that particular genetic trait, and I don't apologize for it. They also would have been appalled to see her as a 6 year old wielding sheep shears at a point where most kids are only handling round ended kindergarten scissors .That adventure was with her father's discrete supervision - I almost freaked out about it because I thought she was going to put gouges in the sheep's fleece, in fact she became by the time she graduated from 4-H one of the best wool sheep fitters in New England (brag, brag, brag, but it happens to be true).

Now not every kid is going to grow up with sheep and horses, or even where they can have an Indian hut in the front yard. Not every family is going to have access to real syringes for the operation dolls (that one got probably also got raised eyebrows from those college friends of my daughter's). However, any family can provide an atmosphere where children can choose things to learn, can have discretely supervised adventures, can be allowed, nay, even encouraged to play creatively without the plastic, battery operated inventions of the big toy makers. Don't get me wrong, my kids had toys, but the ways in which they used them also leaned towards the creative. Abby was making saddles for her My Little Ponies out of various scrap materials before she was 4. My son's Lego creations were never simply what was on the box. The log trucks he was creating out of blocks when he was under 3 were nothing anyone showed him how to do.

Perhaps the fact that we didn't have video games until the kids were well into their elementary school years and that we always had both a limited selection and a very limited tolerance for playing time made a difference. I honestly don't know. What I do know is that living with supportive family around made a big difference. We wouldn't have started with either sheep or horses if my sister-in-law hadn't started us down those paths. The kids wouldn't know how to play poker if their grandfather hadn't taught them. Now this last may not seem like an important skill (they didn't grow up to be card sharks!). It was the relationship it helped cement with their grandfather that was important.

What's really significant to me is that, other than the sheep and the horses (which admittedly aren't cheap to raise) none of the other experiences cost much in the way of money. What they cost was someone's being there, frequently in the background to supply tracing paper, scraps out of a rag bag, wooden pallets, an old kettle, encyclopedias, hypodermic syringes etc. What they cost was a father who was willing to supervise a fire from a far, a mother who sat on a log and watched while a 14 year old rode a horse whom other people thought she shouldn't be riding. In short, it cost time, a willingness to be somewhat inconvenienced, and sometimes a little bit of heart in your throat courage. Maybe today those are the biggest expenses of all, but it was worth it.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Sage Advice From Our Priest and Other Thoughts

When you are failing in charity focus on faith. When you are struggling with faith, focus on charity. It seems backwards, but it really does seem to work. When you are struggling with both?? Well I'll have to ask him that next time... It will give him yet one more opportunity to laugh at me in the confessional. It's good for me, it helps me take myself less seriously. I wonder if that's the secret of the saints that were able to "fly." Is it possible that they learned how to not make it all so difficult and simply let God be God without over analyzing everything? They certainly were violating the laws of physics which no one would do while studiously pondering them. Did they learn to trust God to be a loving Father who gave them good things (even the delightful ability to levitate) instead of seeing Him as a heavy taskmaster who was looking for slaves and wanted to deny them things which would delight them? I don't ever expect to fly, or walk on water, but I'd sure like to get to the point where simple trust came a bit more quickly.

There have been very few times in my life where I was willing to step out of the boat and do something that looked very, very scary. Becoming Catholic was probably one of the most notable examples, but there have been times when I've prayed totally unreasonable, illogical prayers, only to get incredible, miraculous, totally impossible answers. Of late, it's been hard to see answers at all, other than some great big NOT YET's emblazoned across the walls of every corner of my life.

What I realized today is that in the midst of all of that NOT YET, that I've actually finally found kindred spirit friends. I spent time with two sort of casual friends in the past two days. We cried together, laughed together and shared our individual agonies of life and of spirit. Afterwards the shared burdens seemed just a bit lighter and I realized that despite the sense I've had for some time that I don't really HAVE any close female friends anymore, that I really do. It's just that the friendships are still in the formation stage, and they have a different focus than the kindred spirit friends of the past. So maybe there's one YES in the midst of all those NOT YET's. Hmm, I guess He's listening after all.

So maybe that's why, once again, I'm praying some totally unreasonable, illogical prayers. Hey, what can it hurt? I sometimes refer to my daughter as "the princess" and joke that when "the princess" wants something her father has a difficult time saying no (for example he's now buying a new hot water heater because she complained about the lack of hot water last Saturday - YAY!!!!). So I'm going to make unreasonable, illogical requests and hope that perhaps my Father is listening to His "princess" as well. The worst thing that can happen is that He can say NO, and just maybe He'll say YES. Meanwhile, I guess I need to practice charity. Loads and loads, buckets and buckets of charity! Not because God will listen more if I do, but because my faith will be the stronger for it, at least according to Father Mattison.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Now That's What I Call Fast

On Friday morning I spun the last skein of yarn I needed to knit a short sleeved sweater. On Friday afternoon the yarn for the sweater went through the dye bath. At supper time the yarn was still finishing drying on the fence outside. This evening I snipped the last yarns after weaving in the ends. The sweater is finished. Now lest you think that I did nothing but knit all weekend I must say I actually had quite a busy weekend and knitting took up only a little of my time. On Saturday there was the awards ceremony at the fair, followed by serving as reader at Mass, followed by a trip to the grocery store. I didn't actually get to knit until after supper, although I think I did knit for a few minutes Saturday morning. On Sunday I spent the day in Burlington at the Vermont Sheep and Wool Festival and the UVM library. I did no knitting until after dinner again. Yesterday I did knit a bit in the morning, but not in the afternoon. Again my knitting mostly waited until evening. Today I knit some in the morning after dropping my grandniece off at school, but didn't knit again until late afternoon. This just happens to be a really quick pattern when you use bulky yarn and big needles. It was actually as quick as the last pair of socks I knitted.

What was also amazing was how close I actually was to running out of yarn. I have a small ball left (enough to mend holes, if necessary, down the road, but not enough to do anything else with). I guesstimated pretty well this time. The last sweater I made I came even closer. I was sure this time that I had overestimated, but once again not really. It makes me a little nervous about that bag of yarn I've spun for my son's sweater. I think I'd better spin one more skein worth before putting it into the dye pot. I really don't want to run out.

When I pulled the skeins out of the dye pot I was a little disappointed because there wasn't nearly as much pink in the yarn as I'd hoped for. However, in the actual sweater the pink shows up very nicely. There's a lot of serendipity about space dyed yarns anyway and my methods tend to make it even more serendipitous. It's always amazing to me that my space dyed yarns are not all that attractive as hanks, look pretty good as balls, and are downright pretty once knit up into a garment.

Anyway I now have my very first 100% Dorset wool sweater in variegated pinks, blues, and purples. I also have more dyes (acquired at the sheep and wool fest) in order to do more dyeing of even more variegated yarns.

Next project on my page is a nice long letter to my niece.

Oh, and the babysitting is going... better some days than others. This child has a VERY short attention span and only likes to be read to in very, very short sessions. The most successful stuff we've done has involved cooking. We've made cookies twice already (to the delight of my dessert deprived family), cake once, and she helped punch down the bread yesterday. She tried knitting, but got frustrated and fidgety. She tried spinning, but decided it was too hard to make yarn (I can sympathize because when I started it seemed pretty hard to me as well). She'd prefer watching television, but the programs she wants to watch are ones I won't allow and the programs I will allow she doesn't like. A child who doesn't like Winnie the Pooh can this really be? Well I guess if your parents have let you watch Drake and Josh on a regular basis Winnie the Pooh may seem like baby stuff. So the adventure continues. Hopefully I'll find something that peaks her interest for more than 3 minutes.

Tomorrow we're going to make banana chocolate chip muffins...

Sad News

Yesterday my daughter said to me, "Did you hear that Madeleine L'Engle died?" I hadn't yet heard the news, although I'd been aware that she was in a nursing home for the past few years. Abby had been hoping (and so had I) that there was one more Vicky book yet to come. Now, unless there's one stored in a vault at her publishers that is not to be.

I first encountered Madeleine L'Engle's writing after reading an article about her in Christianity today back in the 1970's. I bought the boxed set of a Wrinkle in Time, A Wind in the Door, and a Swiftly Tilting Planet and I was soon caught up in all things L'Engle. I found her Crosswicks books at the regional library (and eventually bought my own copies), I found stores that carried her poetry and her Austin family books. When my kids were little The Twenty-Four Days before Christmas was one of our pre-Christmas reading books. My copy of Walking on Water is battered from countless readings (by my daughter as well as me). We had to buy a new copy of A Ring of Endless Light because the old one was literally falling apart.

I didn't always agree with Madeleine. I often thought I'd love to take one of her writing seminars just to be able to talk with her and argue some points. I was frustrated with A House Like a Lotus. While I enjoyed the story, there were scenes that seemed inappropriate and unnecessarily graphic. I loved Friends for the Journey which she co-authored with Luci Shaw, it seemed like it captured the multi-faceted person she was. I particularly liked the description of the meals they shared (the story of the roasted garlic and its aftermath was priceless).

Unlike most readers, who seem to like the Murray books the best, I loved the Austins. I especially liked Vicky (frankly I found Susie obnoxious, I didn't even particularly like the grown-up Susie in A Severed Wasp). Vicky was a kindred spirit, for me and my daughter. We would have loved to have seen a novel with a grown up Vicky. We got a grown up Meg, a grown up Susie, a grown up Calvin, Dennys and Sandy,but no grown-up Vicky. Madeleine's characters may have continued growing (as she said in one interview), but she never did share the later days of Vicky's story. Perhaps Vicky as a character was too close to Madeleine herself. Those of us who loved the character can dream that Vicky ultimately married Adam, became a famous poet, and lived in a big house in the country where she behaved far more like Mrs. Austin than Susie. Of course there'd have to be adventure along the way and Adam seemed to be easily planted in the midst of some scientific misadventure. Uncle Douglas would have almost certainly gotten planted in the story as well since he seemed to have dropped out of things after The Moon by Night, but clearly had a stronger connection to Vicky than to any of her siblings.

Alas, it's not to be (unless as I said before there's a book in the safe at Farrar, Strauss, Giroux). However, we can still read the work of this wonderful writer who, joins the ranks of Lewis, Tolkien, and Macdonald as authors of fantasy with a Christian underpinning. And of course we can commend her soul to God's mercy.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Skinny Girl Update

This is probably my last post on this particular subject because any additional weight loss would be nothing more than tweaking things a bit and at this point I'm not really interested in any more tweaking. I have rediscovered the skinny girl. I now weigh 65 pounds less than I did at the beginning of the journey. I weigh under 130 for the first time in 27 years. I wore my wedding dress on our anniversary. I can now run a mile relatively easily and two if I push myself. I've been accused of being obsessed with losing, but it seemed to be what was required. Now as long as I don't go back to my sedentary ways and high fat diet, I should be able to maintain this while moving on to a different obsession (like spinning Dorset yarn). I've decided that while I like running moderately well, it's never going to become an obsession. I enjoy exercise now, but I still love reading, knitting, spinning, and other quiet pursuits. If I could run and spin at the same time maybe I'd run more (or spin more). I've also discovered that skinny girls can eat chocolate chip cookies without gaining back all the weight they lost (especially if they only eat the half a cookie their daughter left for them).

So a big thank you to Weight Watchers. I'll keep hopping on the scale daily and doing the 8 HG's, but I'm moving on with my life.

Oh Dear, A New Addiction!

I've been spinning Dorset wool for a sweater for my son for months. I've been spinning it fine so it took hours and hours of spinning to make each very light skein (I've been doing them two ply so each skein is at least 7 hours of spinning and 1 of plying and we're talking skeins that weigh about 2 ounces). I've gotten pretty good at spinning fine and had resigned myself to the fact that Dorset seemed to "want" to be spun that way. However, while that sort of spinning was reasonably relaxing I felt like the girl in Rumplestiltskin. There was so much fleece and it took so long to spin it.

In June I found this knitting magazine with an almost sleeveless sweater on it that I fell in love with. The problem was the sweater was made out of a lumpy bumpy Merino yarn. I don't buy yarn anymore (at least not wool yarn). The closest thing I had to Merino was Dorset. However, I haven't deliberately spun lumpy bumpy yarn at all (not that my yarn is perfectly consistent, but that's what I aspire to produce). So what to do. The Dorset wouldn't "want" to be turned into lumpy bumpy yarn, would it?

Well it turns out that it didn't mind at all. I actually was able to spin lumpy bumpy Dorset yarn in way less time than fine fairly consistent Dorset yarn. Yesterday I spun the last skein I needed for the sweater (or at least I hope I have enough) and dyed it with two shades of Rit Dye on the stove in an aluminum roaster pan. The colors didn't come out quite as expected (dyeing is almost always experimental and serendipitous around here), but the resultant yarn is still pretty.

Last night I started knitting. I love the feel of this yarn. It's bouncy and lofty. It's softer than Romney. It feels nearly as nice as the commercial merino I knit with nearly a decade ago. Because I'm knitting with a reasonably bulky yarn and size 10 1/2 needles the knitting is going quickly.

Now I understand how someone can spin yarn to sell. If you're spinning lumpy bumpy yarn the work goes quickly enough that you can actually produce a significant number of skeins in a reasonable time. Now I have hopes that I will someday get through all those bags of Dorset fleece that are sitting in my computer room. Now I no longer look at them and sigh in dismay. Now I actually like spinning Dorset. Now I believe that Dorset wool isn't just destined for the compost pile. Now I wish there were more hours in the day that I could spend spinning and knitting it. Oh dear, I really do think I've acquired a new obsession...

Do you think once I finish this sweater that I should sit down and spin up several skeins of the Dorset and send them to friend Karen so that she can support her knitting addiction???? She'll have to let me know.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

One More Time

This week commenced my adventures in babysitting (at least for the next 6 weeks). My grand niece started kindergarten and for the first 6 weeks it's only for half a day. Since her mother works in the city nearby she needs somewhere to go after school. We live right in her neighborhood so I was the logical person to take care of her. We've been having a fun time together. The first day we read stories and made a cake. Yesterday I began to teach her to knit and we made felted wool balls. Today we read again and she fell asleep (apparently I haven't lost my touch - Millions of Cats is just sing-songy enough to lull even a 5 year old to sleep if she's tired enough).

It's fun to be reading picture books again. My own kids had pretty much outgrown them by 5, but this 5 year old hasn't been read to very much, so it's all pretty new to her. She's got the personality of a Labrador retriever puppy. Everything is new and exciting, but her attention span isn't very long, so you have to keep things hopping.

It's exhausting in some ways, it's a lot of fun in others. It certainly brings back memories and it certainly is a wonderful pleasure having a warm little body pressed up against my side while I read old favorite books. I have to admit I'd also forgotten what a relief it is when a high energy kid finally falls asleep for a nap.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Rooted In My Memories

I was pondering the other day about the fact that all of the places I lived in while growing up are either no more, or altered to such a degree as to no longer look even close to the way that they did when I was living in them. Meanwhile my husband lives around the corner from the house he grew up in, which really hasn't changed much in over 35 years (they did build an addition just prior to his teen-aged years. It's not even just the places I lived. The churches I attended are no longer churches. One is now an Episcopal rectory, the other is now offices for a school. My grandparents' houses are also no more. One burned down in a fire (after my grandmother's death. I'm not sure why the other one seems to have been completely reconstructed, but there may have been a fire there as well. My elementary school is now vacant and the junior high torn down. The high school I attended was altered significantly after our graduation. Meanwhile, my husband's childhood church is only superficially different than it was when he was growing up, and his elementary school is still in use.

Now obviously when it comes to the churches and the schools, other people have solid memories of them as well. I have cousins who remember the grandparents' homes. The homes I grew up in though are different. There it's only me to remember. They were all gone or altered by the time I got married, so my children have no memory of them. By contrast they spent much of their growing up years at their father's parent's home. They have true memories there, what they have from my growing up is only my stories.

Memories are a funny thing. I can go back to the towns where I grew up and suddenly remember names or events that I haven't thought about in years. It's strange, however, to realize that no one else has those reference points. The trips picking flowers with my mother and my grandmother, the trips to the plum orchard, the trips in the jeep with a pig or a calf tied up in the back reside only in my memory. All of the other participants are gone. I feel this most acutely when I sit around with my husband and his siblings and they remember their growing up years with stories. Their parents are gone, but all of them are still there to fill in the pieces of a story. In a sense they can still go home again. I can't. That's the long and short of it.

Now I'm not the only person for whom that is true. I know young adults whose families have been torn apart by divorce or death, whose childhood home is likewise out of reach. I know people whose families never really settled in even a particular part of the country. All of this serves to reinforce the idea that we have on earth no permanent dwelling, that our true home is elsewhere. Still when you grew up with strong roots it sometimes feels odd to know that the physical roots and the people who gave you the roots are no longer here. The roots remain, but they remain planted within me. Hopefully I have passed much of those roots along to the next generation, but sometimes I wonder. When I have discussions where I'm told that the things I cherish are no longer true, no longer practical, are now unrealistic, I wonder whether I've passed on much at all.

This week I'm back doing the canning department at Rutland Fair. The entries are down this year, not just in my department, but all over the fair. It looks as if a whole generation failed to pass things on. Sometimes it feels like those of us who continue to do this are merely dinosaurs who have lingered on past our time. Yet, we continue to believe that there will come a day when the skills we are encouraging will be valued again. I take some comfort from the fact that knitting has made a comeback. Even at the fair there's been more knitting the last few years. Spinning has made a comeback, there are far more spinners out there than there were 40 years ago. Perhaps the other home arts are simply lagging behind. There will come a day when petrochemical prices go high enough that buying petrochemical based fabrics made into clothes in factories half a world away won't be cost effective anymore.

Of course when I'm really discouraged I remember how difficult it was for my mother to instill these particular values in me. At 16 I was determined to have all new store bought stuff when I grew up. I thought farming was a stupid way to live. I hated canning, I couldn't knit, and my sewing was barely passable. The amount of time I spent complaining about picking raspberries and about the number of times they were served a week now makes me shake my head in disbelief. Growing roots, effecting values, are not the work of a day and sometimes you have to be in the right situation to finally appreciate what you've been given.

So, like the generations before me who raised me in places I can no longer go, I will continue to encourage, pontificate, and attempt to challenge the notions of our media brainwashed culture. After all: "All that is gold does not glitter, not all those who wander are lost, The old that is strong does not wither, Deep roots are not reached by the frost." So I may feel like I've wandered a bit, but the roots remain as do the memories.