Reading

Book Club: Four Winds

Even as The Directors – my library loving, book reading, wine drinking group of retired friends – have begun carefully venturing out into our Covid plagued environment, we continue our online book discussions.  Our most recent title was Four Winds by Kristin Hannah.

Our intrepid discussion leader prepared 26 questions, each with such perceptive depth that responding to any one of them could easily have filled a college exam blue book.  With our limited time, we focused on the millenia of challenges women have endured and those specifically presented by the author through the lens of the protagonist Elsa Martinelli.

book cover of four winds by kristen hannah

We wondered how so much strife could affect one person but coalesced around the knowledge that there are those whose lives seemed blighted by every bad thing that can happen – whether as a result of misguided decisions or circumstances beyond their control or an unlucky combination.  And, indeed, we each realized that there was someone we knew who could be identified as Elsa-like.

Of all of Hannah’s descriptions of her charcter’s hard life, (Dust-Bowl storms which my mother remembers, a deadly flash flood, and hours of bloody, back-breaking labor picking cotton which my father did for only one day) I connected most closely with the unending debt created at the company store.  When I was small, maybe around five while visiting Alabama, I walked to the store with my Granddaddy. I had a nickel (a large amount to a child in the 1950s) to buy whatever I wanted.  But I could not spend my precious five cents.  I remember being both elated and disappointed.  Excited that the penny candy was free (or so I thought) and deflated that I could not make the cash transaction like a big girl.  Years later, long after the company store had became just a corner grocery did I realize that even a child’s treat went “on account” against Granddaddy’s next payday.  Tennessee Ernie Ford’s classic song, I Owe My Soul to the Company Store was a truism for thousands of workers including the tragic heroine of Four Winds.

Baking

Cranberry Baking

seven oatmeal cookies on a blue speckled plate
Oatmeal Craisin Cookies with Pecans

My afternoon bake was oatmeal cookies with sweetened craisins just purchased last week direct from the source at W.D. Zawistowski Cranberries.  This cranberry marsh is located on the corner of County E and Victory Heights Circle in Sawyer County Wisconsin.  Set back from the road, on the edge of the marsh, the small white concrete block building serves as a berry receiving and sorting center at harvest time, as well as a rudimentary farmer-to-customer sales counter. And, it is just a mile from Mom’s Lac Courte Oreilles cabin.

Cranberries grow on short evergreen shrubs and thrive in acidic marshy soil in the northern climes of our hemisphere – with Wisconsin leading harvest numbers (Go Badgers!).  At harvest time, the bogs are intentionally flooded so the lighter-than-water bright red fruit will float to the top and can be scooped or raked for collection.  This unique harvesting method, often seen in TV ads promoting cranberry juice, leads to the common misconception that cranberries grow in water.

If your only experience with cranberries is mass market sauce plopped from a can at Thanksgiving you are missing a culinary treat.  This versatile fruit provides a tasty addition to any course from appetizer to dessert.  And, while I have never planned a menu featuring cranberries in every dish, it could easily be accomplished.  I was lucky to make my craisin purchase as this year’s fresh cranberries were sold out after last week’s Stone Lake Cranberry Fest.

Knitting

Hitchhiker

three handknit scarves in red, purple and green
Hitchhikers for Lani, Jane & Ann

Among the nearly 1.1 million patterns inventoried on Ravelry, Martina Behm’s Hitchhiker is the most popular and it is one of my favorites as well.  Since casting on my first version of this asymmetrical scarf / shawlette in June 2016, I’ve completed 21 projects – the most recent just off my needles.  I’ve kept and wear only one, all the others have been shared as gifts or fundraising donations.

Hitchhiker is the perfect design to showcase a single skein of fingering weight yarn and can be easily adapted by adding intermittent lace rows or bead embellishments.  The knitter begins by casting on just three stitches, increasing one stitch each row, decreasing five stitches every eight rows to create the zigzag steps and simply knitting until all (or nearly all) the yarn is used.  The yarn’s textures and colors take center stage, although the saw-tooth border along one edge offers a unique sculptural effect.

With the perfect yardage, Hitchhiker will deliver 42 points on the saw-tooth edge, Martina’s homage to The Hitchhiker‘s Guide to the Galaxy in which the reader learns that the answer to the “Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything” is simply 42.  But not to worry, should the yarn run out before reaching the mythical number, the end result will still be perfect.

Gardening · Other items of interest

Pandemic Fatigue: Real not imagined

The last burst of pandemic summer color

My across the street and next door neighbors each recently acquired new garden tools.  With a cordless power drill and a hex drive auger to serve as bulb bit, my neighbor to the north planted 160 tulip bulbs on either side of the walk leading to her front door.  Not to be outdone, my gardening neighbor to the west made a quick Amazon purchase for this same handy tool and scattered 80 daffodil, hyacinth and early snowdrop bulbs among her well-established perennials.  Promises of spring – that is assuming the scurry of squirrels that nests in our 80-year elm tree doesn’t dig up the bulbs as winter appetizers or the fluffle of rabbits under the neighbor’s shed across the alley doesn’t devour each green shoot just as it pokes through the snow. Normally all this activity would have inspired garden envy and set me on my own quest to add spring color.  And, last fall I would have enthusiastically joined the planting challenge but not this October.

When we first entered our global quarantine, I accepted it as an inconvenience and then joined two new book clubs, enrolled in an Impressionist art appreciation class, and participated in an earth-based meditative retreat led by French knitting designer, Solène Le Roux.  But what I am feeling today, 18 months into our shared Covid experience is a bit like the title of the 1971 S.E. Hinton coming of age novel, That Was Then, This is Now.

When mass media began mentioning “pandemic fatigue” I recognized some of the symptoms as my own but also wondered about the power of suggestion.  Then articles in the Journal of the American Medical Association and The Lancet validated my feelings.  The World Health Organization even has entire publication devoted to “pandemic fatigue” which is defined as:

…an expected and natural response to a prolonged public health crisis – not least because the severity and scale of the COVID-19 pandemic have called for the implementation of invasive measures with unprecedented impacts on the daily lives of everyone, including those who have not been directly affected by the virus itself. 

An expected and natural response to a prolonged public health crisis.  The validation that what I am experiencing is an international phenomenon may not be a precise recipe for an attitude adjustment but it certainly is a step toward reducing my irritability.  Getting back in the garden, if only to put things to bed for the winter, may also help diminish my pandemic fatigue.

Knitting

Kool Way to Dye

multi-colored yarn on wooden bench
Top to bottom: Cranberry Chutney, Sage, Tutti Teal, Speckled Peach Melba & Grapefruit Sparkler

Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.

Throughout the week, we tackled a colorway a day.  My original plan was to set up a temporary dye studio in the garage with a borrowed Coleman camp stove as my heat source.  But that was me worrying unnecessarily about Kool-Aid spills and stains on the parquet floor.  Dyeing in the garage required far too much extra work to move cars, assemble a work surface, and collect tools and supplies each day since the Audi Q5 and VW GTI would need to be parked back under cover at night.  Our final production line was in the kitchen with water, heat, and tools all close at hand.

During Knit Camp at the Coast, Heather Best from sew happy jane promised to “turn some pretty skeins into some Pretty Amazing skeins.”  While we carefully mixed our Kool-Aid combos and watched the pot (to make sure it didn’t boil) our skeins of bare merino DK yarn artfully shifted from au naturel to subtle hues.  As a readily available foodstuff, in a multitude of flavors (which translated into colors) the Kool-Aid packets provided easy to mix, manageable quantities that already contained citric acid, thus they eliminated the need to add chemicals possibly less friendly to the environment.  One by one, each skein went through a multi-step immersion process:

  • Soak.
  • Simmer.
  • Steep.
  • (Speckle & steam – just sometimes.)
  • Rinse.
  • Dry.

Two days into our routine, with Kool-Aid Sage twisted into a loose hank and Speckled Peach Melba steeping, I made a discovery – dyeing would not become my new passion.  As the work continued, we had fun creating the lovely semi-solid fibers, as well as sprinkling contrasting specks.  By skein five, I even concocted my own colorway – Tutti Teal (a variation of Heather’s Tutti Fruiti).  But I am comfortable knowing my excitement comes from the craft of knitting – finding the perfect yarn, pairing it with the ideal pattern, and creating just the right gift while, hopefully, learning a new technique rather than playing with pigments.

When I first started buying yarn, facing a wall of color in different weights and textures was a bit overwhelming.  Now, I can easily spend an hour or more immersed in tactile and visual sensations enjoying whatever my local yarn store (LYS) has on display.  While, possessing only the most rudimentary understanding of yarn production, I already recognized that a lot of work went into each skein in my hand.  That appreciation has grown exponentially with this micro-dyeing project.  But hand dyeing, to paraphrase the witches in Macbeth, at least for me, is akin to “double, double toil and trouble; fire burn and cauldron bubble.”  Although, in the interest of full disclosure, my fire and cauldron consisted of a white LG glass top stove and a Marshall Field Marketplace stainless steel stock pot.  Then again, one does have to wonder what colors might emerge if, instead of Kool-Aid, the pot contained any of the natural ingredients from my high school drama role as Second Witch.

Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the cauldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt and toe of frog,
Wool of bat and tongue of dog,
Adder's fork and blind-worm's sting,
Lizard's leg and owlet's wing,
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.
     Macbeth, Act 4, Scene 1
Other items of interest

Autumnal Equinox

fall colored trees and a blue sky

And just like that, it is fall.  Or so it feels as the temperature this morning was 47 degrees and the trees on First Street have a tired look before they change from previously verdant greens to vibrant reds and yellows.  It is just a feeling since, intellectually, I know the earth never paused in its orbit.  Today is different because the calendar says so and science agrees.  Today the earth’s axis is neither tilted toward or away from the sun and we enjoy an equal amount of daylight and nighttime.

Knitting

Yet more virtual knitting fun!

As if Knit Camp at the Coast, a virtual, two-day retreat with Marie Greene, hundreds of other Knit Camp campers, fun classes featuring  nationally known instructors, and “get-to-known each other” break-out sessions, was not enough to fill my Friday and Saturday, there is a virtual yarn crawl this weekend and next.  Through the wonder of technology (one of only a few benefits of pandemic living), 36 small shops, from distant corners of the continent, will be transformed into the viewer’s local yarn store – LYS.   From California to Quebec, Oregon to Alabama with Minnesota well represented.

logo for 2021 Have a Ball Fall Crawl

Using Zoom and Facebook, each fiber entrepreneur will share exciting new products, fun kits, bundles, and unique offerings.  And, best of all:  Prizes!  Registration is free so sign up today and join me at the Have a Ball Fall Crawl.

Knitting

Meditative Knitting – Good for the Soul

blue and teal handknit lace scarf

Released early during our pandemic lockdown, Christina Campbell’s Metanoia Wrap artfully achieves its goal of blending simple garter stitches with classic lace to create a meditative experience while knitting.  Ever the teacher, she offers a translation for the Greek title: 

‘Meta’ means life and ‘Noia’ is change … A knitted journey during a tumultuous time as our way of life changes.

Calling for two contrasting skeins of yarn, each half of the scarf mirrors the other with rippling color.  The repetitive lace segments appear different from each other but this is only an illusion since they match row-for-row.  The Boca Chica colorways in rich blue Hurricane and subtle flecked aqua Seaglass artfully capture the vibrant hues of the Florida Keys for which these limited hand-dyed skeins are named.

Travel

Pink Dashes for Dogwoods

lavendar mums

You will have to imagine (as I didn’t snap a pix) large pink dashes in the center of the lane not the center line but in the center of each driving lane.

During a Labor Day weekend visit to Tennessee for a family wedding, I learned these “road blushes” mark Knoxville’s famous Dogwood Trails.  The trails date back to 1955 (nearly as old as me) and cover more than 85 miles, winding through 12 different neighborhoods.  A portion of the trails is just steps from my Aunt and Uncle’s front door.  For those visiting in early spring, the dogwoods are plentiful on the rolling Smokey Mountains and intermixed with azaleas, flowering crabapples, Japanese cherry trees and a myriad of Planting Zone 7a blossoms.  Riotous color after dreary winter days to be envied by gardeners in our hardy Zone 4b

But not to be outdone by southern cousins, Dad’s Mums are just starting to bloom as I returned to the North Country.

Knitting · Travel

Denmark – Not to Be

green grass, small stone houses, mountains, blue sky with white clouds
A picture perfect day on the Faroe Islands
Rowan Tree Travels and fibercraft

It feels like every suspense novel ever read, every film noir ever screened, this waiting to learn of what will be and will not be in our ongoing Covid saga.  This morning’s email made it official — the Rowan Tree Travel Fiber Adventure to Copenhagen and the Faroe Islands has been postponed – AGAIN.

The tour planners, Heather and Suzie, have carefully monitored EU travel requirements, health notices for specific stops along the way and they have even gone so far as to take a trip to Scotland to assess just how difficult international travel might be in these strange times.  (Suzie’s blog offers her travel musings along the way with an array of photos such that the reader can almost feel the crisp highland air.)  But in the end, with cases of the Delta variant on the rise in the US, the frequent testing points mandated while traveling, the uncertainty surrounding quarantine procedures in situ for anyone testing positive, and time delays required for laying low upon arrival, even when healthy, all became just too many variables to manage.  The fun of adventure and exploration lost to the stress of pandemic travel.  So I am no longer counting the days and will stay Minnesota bound.