Four+ years ago, as I approached retirement I knew I wanted to stay peripherally involved in my profession. After all, it is hard to undo 45 years of immersion into every aspect of librarianship – from a page shelving books to a director testifying at the legislature – but I vowed I would not become the dreaded old retiree who attends every meeting spouting “…but we have always done it that way” or, even worse “… we tried that in #### [fill in the blank with a long ago date] and it didn’t work…”MALF, the Minnesota Association of Library Friends, let me support libraries, their trustees, and Friends but also graciously decline requests for more visible involvement.
Continuing Education is a key service in the MALF stable of support. Pre-pandemic, MALF hosted live events, even going so far as to “round-robin” the state to minimize windshield time for participants. With the aid of very talented staff and dedicated board members, MALF reacted nimbly as Minnesota went into the 2020 quarantine. Quicker than many other organizations, MALF shifted plans for its first annual Saturday Splash from an in-person event keynoted by author, William Kent Krueger, complete with book sales and Friends’ awards to a virtual experience. The attendance exceeded all projections and Saturday Splash 2021 stayed in the ZOOM cyberspace and featured the always witty Lorna Landvick. ZOOM also enabled MALF to begin offering quarterly webinars – one of which is broadcasting today and will be the last of my official MALF board duties.
In September, I was excited to learn that Christina Campbell (one of my favorite designers) was mulling over themes and working on designs for her sixth annual Project Peace knit-along (KAL). I have been a faithful participant and my completed project list includes seven of her patterns among which are four previousProject Peace designs. (The 2018 cowl just never made it to my needles.) At the time, I even thought to create a Ravelry project page as a placeholder just to get ready.
Then, as the days slipped from autumn into winter without any additional hints of her creative direction, I wondered if this year’s Project Peace might be yet another pandemic casualty. And, on what should have been launch day, she alerted the readers of her blog that even with a new pattern created, an appropriate theme selected, and original artwork designed, her heart just wasn’t into managing a knit-along and leading a month of daily meditations. She was “letting go” Project Peace, not for forever but for 2021. While disappointed from a craft perspective, I applaud her honest courage. My first thought was, with two of Christina’s designs in my project queue, I would simply substitute one for another and create my own KAL (just without the “along”.) Then, after a bit of reflection, I decided to follow her example of “letting go” to focus on the six projects already on my needles and leave her beautiful designs for another time.
The last of the 2021 gardening tasks is complete! Although, planting for next season’s garlic harvest might be more correctly classified as getting a jump on 2022. With a sunny day, autumn temps in the comfortable 30s, and the ground cool but not frozen, it is the perfect time for hard-neck, porcelain varieties, such as Music, to go into the ground.
Sporting a large blub with 4-8 individual cloves, Music is easily identifiable by its pinkish to purple hued thin papery skin. It is dubbed hard-neck because of its stiff center core. Porcelain garlic prefers cooler weather, perfect for Minnesota.
My sixth grade studies included a year of world history. We began in Egypt with pharaohs and pyramids, moved to Greek city-states, before traveling across the Adriatic Sea to Rome and eventually migrating throughout Europe. As mine was Catholic parochial school education, interspersed with historical events such as the Battle of Hastings or the signing of the Magna Carta, there was a generous amount of information on popes and the lives of the saints. While in geography class we knew there were countries around the globe, our history curriculum was Eurocentric – that is until 1492 when Columbus sailed the ocean blue after which our study of world history broadened from one track to two and included a large dose of American Manifest Destiny.
I don’t share this story in condemnation of that hard working teacher. I will not judge Mrs. Menard’s teaching methods by a modern litmus test. She used the tools she had at hand, at a very different time than today. She was enthusiastic. She made learning about history fun (albeit a narrowly focused history). It is well documented that most of our curricula, not just that of my childhood and adolescence but continuing in today’s classrooms, regardless of the intended age group, still highlights European accomplishments over those of other cultures.
When Black History Month was first designated in the early 1970s, the library where I worked created a book display pulling together titles scattered throughout the collection. I wondered why a special month when these important contributions should simply be integrated into the normal flow of information. Now, I better understand the need to spotlight lives and achievements whether it is in March as part of Women’s History Month or during the 30 days of November for Native American Heritage Month. These months of celebration are not intended to diminish mainstream accomplishments but rather are a simple acknowledgement that the sheer volume of information and resources presented from a white, male perspective creates an almost impenetrable monolith whether it is history or literature, science or art.
Each of these designated months gives us permission to explore an author, a musician, a filmmaker, that would not be a normal “go-to” source. My study plan for November includes:
Reading a book of poetry by Joy Harjo of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and Poet Laureate; and
Viewing the films featured as part of this year’s Native Cinema Showcase sponsored by the National Museum of the American Indian.
Join me in “Holding History” by organizing your own personal mini history course and learning more about the rich culture and history of Indigenous People.
* Kitchen, T. , Junior, and John Evans. A new map of the world: with all the new discoveries by Capt. Cook and other navigators: ornamented with the Solar System, the eclipses of the sun, moon & planets &c. London: I. Evans, 1799. Map. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/2003630537/>.
Leave it to Jon Stewart to tackle the tough topics and shed light on injustices. Just as he advocated for the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, even going so far as to lambast Congress in a 2019 impassioned testimony on Capitol Hill for a woeful response to health care for emergency personnel, he is now shining a light on the traumatic impact of Burn Pits.
Never heard of Burn Pits? Neither had I.
During Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) government contractors burned TONS of hazardous waste using jet fuel. Think about a micro-minute of annoying smoke when you’re roasting a marshmallow over a campfire and now multiple that irritation by an incalculatable number with acres of fires raging 24/7. Military personnel breathed contaminated air day and night as fires consumed the products of everyday life – plastics, rubber, human waste, all mixed in with war waste – amputated body parts, ammunition, and chemicals. The resulting exposure to this toxic cocktail has wounded thousands of veterans. But just as it took decades for our government to acknowledge the long term effects of Agent Orange, there is only minimal recognition that breathing this bad stuff is bad for your health.
In his new series, The Problem with Jon Stewart, Jon does what he is famous for – shares a hard truth encased in humor to make us think. We hear his opinion but, more importantly, we hear from people impacted by the problem. And, not just “Wendy Whiners” but people offering solutions to affect change. His first episode introduces the viewer to veterans and their families facing life threatening health challenges as a result of Burn Pit exposure.
As we celebrate Veterans Day and Richard’s 75th birthday, on this day commemorating the end of World War I on “the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month” and honoring all U.S. military veterans, we are making a contribution to Burn Pit 360, a 501(c)(3) “dedicated to improving post-deployment health outcomes.” Join us in supporting our troops and veterans – for real.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
(Speckle & steam – just sometimes.)
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