Writing

Bloganuary?!?

Today’s whim – – join a blogging challenge.  I’ve done Squares times four with BeckyB of Winchester, reading challenges with The Uncorked Librarian and this month I signed up for Bloganuary.  (There is even a badge for participants!)  With a promise of daily writing prompts from WordPress, the challenge is intended to nudge writers to write.  Now, lest you worry you will be inundated with posts, I promise only sporadic musings.

With today’s prompt:  “What does it mean to live boldly?” Mary Oliver comes to mind.  While her poems, inspired by our miraculous natural world, might not on first reading seem audacious – they are. And, her advice in Sometimes is bold indeed. 

Instructions for living a life:
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.
blue and white badge graphic denoting bloganuary 2022 participation
Baking

Chilly Day Chocolate Cake

portion of a square chocolate cake and spatula with frosting

While not the most photogenic dessert (cake decorating has never been a skill in my baking tool box), I can tick off a list of positives accomplishments:

  • Meets Richard’s dessert request
  • An easy mix using Joy of Cooking Quick Cocoa Cake and Chocolate Butter Icing recipes
  • Very moist and deliciously tasty with Divine Cocoa in the cake and Ghirardelli bitter sweet chocolate in the frosting
  • Just the right size (as Goldilocks would say) and, as directed, baked in two-8 inch square pans; perfect for eating one and freezing another.
Knitting

Vivi KAL 2022

ten laser cut knitting stitchmarkers and gold coil-less safety pins on linen background
Vivi custom stitch markers from Olive Knits

After a wardrobe review, I admit I do not need another sweater. Having knit two in 2021 that I wear infrequently due to our continued Covid stay at home-ness, I initially decided to pass on Marie Greene’s 4th annual January Workshop KAL (knit-along).  But then I was swept up in the enthusiasm of my fellow Knit Campers’ yarn selections and color choices, plus Marie’s newest design features (my favorite) cables!

Ironically, while my September trip to Copenhagen and the Faroe Islands was cancelled, I will enjoy Danish artistry virtually with Vivi. Pattern pictures reveal a lattice of cabled diamonds gracing the sweater’s front and Danish stars decorating the sides.  Unlike the intricate colorwork of Scandinavian cousins, these Danish designs rely on subtle stitch definition against a monochromatic backdrop.  And, as always, during the eight weeks of this annual workshop KAL, Marie will share historical background, new techniques via video tutorials, and ethnic recipes for culinary exploration, as well as a large dose of “hygge” – perfect for this lingering pandemic.

Happy knitting!

Photo credit: © Marie Greene

Knitting

Mistakes Encouraged

red, yellow and green pine shape lollipops with red ribbon

When I was little girl, I used a variety of rhymes to help make choices.  You may have as well.  A syllable paired with each point of the finger to choose the grape or the cherry lollipop or to determine which of two sides would kick first in kickball.  Back then, the very act of recitation felt quite magical.  A difficult decision simplified.  As adults we know the decision was made with the first point of the finger because of a set number of syllables.  

And yet, even knowing that in many aspects of our lives there are a set number of syllables, I am always surprised when what appears to be the disparate aspects of my life come together.  How is it that liturgical preparations and searching for a new knitting pattern can blend so seamlessly?

Living with Intention is the theme of my spiritual reflections this month and I discovered very similar language in these meditations and recent blog posts by two of my “go-to” knitting designers.  Christina Campbell in Iowa and Solène Le Roux in France both infuse nature into their designs, whether incorporating leaf patterns or revealing rippling water as yarn is transformed from skein to knitted object.  Both designers take a very holistic approach to their craft.  It is not about just the design or the fiber, but the whole experience; encouraging the reader, the knitter to pause, to develop the muscle of inspiration, to connect with nature and each other; encouraging the knitter, encouraging the person to act with intent.

In Navajo weaving every thread tells a story.  The weaver brings the strands together not just to accomplish a function – a finished blanket or rug – but with the specific intention to communicate the culture, the land, a way of life.  Traditional Navajo weaving requires the weaver to incorporate a mistake.  This is done in homage to the belief that only the creator is perfect and acknowledges the weaver is not.  To live with intention or in this case to weave with intention. 

Now, I admit I have a difficult time with mistakes when I am knitting.  I have been known to rip out an evening’s work – rows and rows, thousands of stitches when I discover a break in the design, something that jumps out as an eyesore.  Even with all my experience knitting the same row again and again, I cannot claim that I have ever come close to knitting anything without error and I am certainly not good enough to emulate the Navajo weavers such that the mistake becomes a design element enhancing the final piece.  And so the advice from English writer, Neil Gaiman, spoke to my heart and hands and I hope his words will resonate with you as well as we move into a new year; a new year in which there are sure to be plenty of unknowns.  Gaiman writes:

I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes.

Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You're doing things you've never done before, and more importantly, you're Doing Something.

So that's my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody's ever made before. Don't freeze, don't stop, don't worry that it isn't good enough, or it isn't perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life.

Whatever it is you're scared of doing, Do it.

Make your mistakes, next year and forever.

Photo credit: Old Fashion Lollipop Recipe from Taste of Home

Travel

Crossing the River

Mississippi River with lock and dam mid-frame
The Mississippi River at Lock & Dam 4 – August 2005

Every time I cross the river, I take a quick glance upstream and down through the blue bridge girders.  With the season for barge traffic and pleasure cruising long since complete, I check ice buildup along the shoreline.  Knowing only later, after deep-freeze temperatures, will the ice floats appear in the main channel.

When you go “over the river and through the woods” as often as I do at Wabasha it is easy to see this small segment of a massive watershed as simply another sight along the trip.  But the Mississippi is anything but commonplace.  It is a river that people from around the country, from around the world, wish to visit; simply to claim they have seen, or crossed, or boated on the Mississippi.  And while the scenery may not be as dramatic as the Matterhorn, numerous Swiss cousins (once – fünf Frauen am Fluss) have enjoyed a day spent along the river, watching barges work their way through Lock 4 at Alma.

Starting at the confluence of the Mississippi and the St. Croix Rivers (Hastings, MN and Prescott, WI) the Mississippi becomes more than just a navigable waterway, it takes on the monumental task of separating governmental units, state-by-state, as it flows south to the Gulf.  But, before Hastings, west and north, the Mississippi wends its way through fields, prairie, and forests to humble beginnings at Lake Itasca.

While history books, written from the perspective of the white immigrant, attribute the discovery of the headwaters to the Henry Rowe Schoolcraft expedition in 1832, this small beginning of a massive waterway was known and sacred to Indigenous People for millennia.  And, it must be noted, Schoolcraft reached his destination only with the aid of an Anishinabe guide.

Poet Mary Oliver, whose poems always present the perfect blend of words to describe our world, offers us this observation:  “It is the nature of stone to be satisfied.  It is the nature of water to want to be somewhere else.”  Each time I stand on the sandy shore where a small stream flows into Lake Itasca there is a sense of awe.  Regardless of the number of people laughing and splashing from one side to the other, I recognize I am in a holy place.  My 21st century, rational mind knows that the droplets sprinkling in the sunlight may cease to exist as flowing water; diverted to human consumption, agricultural irrigation or simply becoming part of a natural evaporation – precipitation cycle.  But there is also the real possibility that the very water that I see flowing over the CCC-placed stepping stones, water that will touch millions of lives before a wide river slides muddily past New Orleans, will finally blend with the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico.  That connection with an entire continent transforms each visit to Lake Itasca into a spiritual experience.

Baking

Candy Cane Cookies

three red and white candy cane cookies on a pine tree shapped plate framed by holiday greens

I cannot remember the year I first made these almond flavored cookies but I do remember the kitchen. The front of the house, second floor apartment on 2nd Street, above the chiropractor’s (my landlord’s) office, and across the street from the Brodhead Public Library.  That gives me a three-year window of Decembers from 1976-1978.  The recipe was part of a multi-year Betty Crocker recipe club subscription (think book-of-month club only recipes) where the tangerine orange recipe box and the first 24 recipe cards were the free gift for subscribing and a thematic packet with 24 additional cards arrived each month for the next two years.

These candy cane cookies are my must-bake Christmas treat.  If I make nothing else, it will be these.  The result is a shaped cookie without the extra steps of frosting and decorating cutouts or requiring the technical skill of applying the perfect pressure necessitated for Spritz cookies.  Although I do own a Sawa 2000 Deluxe Swedish cookie press complete with 24 nozzles, circa 1985.

As we gingerly plan for another Covid Christmas, Mom and I have agreed less is acceptable.  She baked only two batches of family traditional sweets – Pecan Crisps (a double batch, of course) and Holiday Fruits – instead of the usual six varieties; to be served with her purchase of Rosettes, Pizzelles, and Sandbakkles courtesy of the St. James ethnic bakers.  With what is in her cookie jars plus my Candy Canes and a vanilla cheese cake on a chocolate wafer crust topped with cranberry glaze for Christmas Day, our holiday cookie platter should be merry and bright.

Reading

Adieu MALF

three shelves of library books

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.   

Adieu MALF continue the good work!

Photo credit: Prexels – Element5 Digital

Knitting

Covid Craft Casualty

green and white knit cowl on wooden hanger
Camino de Paz (a path of peace) Cowl – 2017

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 previous Project 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.

Gardening

November Gardening

fresh garlic bulbs with roots and stems

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. 

Happy gardening!

Other items of interest

Holding History

A new map of the world: With all the new discoveries by Captain Cook and other navigators (Ornamented with the Solar System, the eclipses of the sun, moon & planets) *

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/>.