Other items of interest

My first Mahjong!

three rows of mahjong tiles with white backgrounds and red and green imagery

When Richard began playing Mahjong in 2015 he invited me to join him but, as I was still two years from retirement, learning the game landed on a future to-do list.  Even during Covid, when many were learning new skills, from baking sourdough bread to mixology, the game did not pique my interest.

I am clueless as to what inspired me during this year’s 12 Days of Christmas but the time was right.  As a skilled player, Richard patiently introduced me to the unfamiliar imagery of the Chinese characters and symbols printed on the 144 tiles.  Some people claim Mahjong is like Rummy or Solitaire only with tiles.  I disagree.  Unlike Rummy, where a winning hand is a winning hand whether today or five decades ago when, one semester, I played cards in the Blugold Room on the UW-EC campus until my GPA dropped, winning hands are determined by the National Mah Jong League and change annually. 

After several weeks practicing at home and observing the Tuesday group play at church, I joined actual play, won a game and shouted – Mahjong!

Photo credit:  Mahmoud Yahyaoui from Prexels

Knitting

Happy Yarn

white mailing box surrounded by skeins of different colored yarn

Martina Behm’s Strickmich! Club has gone on hiatus for 2023 so no squishy packages will arrive this winter from Damsdorf, Schleswig-Holstein, Germany.  Lest I miss the excitement of mystery yarn deliveries, I have filled the gap by joining the Sew Happy Jane Hand Dyed Happy Yarn Club.

Heather Best is an amazing fiber colorist.  I used her DK tweed in the Brighter Day colorway for my Fireworks pullover and a matching cowl.  The yarn was lovely to work with and that sweater is among my favorites for a bit of warm color on a gray winter day.  Using her Kool-Aid formulas, (Yes, the sweet summer drink concoction!) I took five skeins from au naturel wool to subtle hues all the while learning that my passion is not as a dyer.

She begins dying each month’s palate only after club orders are placed.  This ensures accurate quantities without overstocking and enables members to choose Fingering or DK weight yarn in single 100g. skeins or to double the fun with a pair of perfectly coordinated hanks – 1 tonal and 1 painted.  And, if beautiful yarn is not a prize in itself, each themed box includes curated gifts.  Club members may vary weights and quantities each month and even pause participation for a month or two without totally disengaging.  The flexible subscription plan is great for participants, although I imagine this marketing approach requires more recordkeeping.  Waiting is the only downside of this new yarn service.  On these gray January days, while Heather is deep in color-filled production, I must wait to discover the treasures of my February Happy Yarn Club box.

Happy knitting!

Photo credit:  © 2023 Sew Happy Jane

Knitting · Reading

2022 Highlighted in Knitting & Books

Taking an inventory of the old year is by no means a unique task.  It is, however, not something I have done previously in this blog.  So here are a few highlights of my 22 knitting projects (some of which you will have already seen) and my titles read – 82 – although to be honest, I indulged in a number of quick read YA fantasies and enjoyed a variety of easy-listening titles while driving to-and-from Eau Claire and hours spent gardening last summer in order to reach this quantity.

Spirituality

“Wrapped in blue cloud cloth…”

heart shaped antique glass Christmas ornament on tree with three lights (blue, red and yellow)

We celebrated my Mom’s 99th birthday on Thursday.  She still lives in the house my Dad built 60 years ago.  During the past few months, she has undertaken a new task – finding those things she has not used in years and feels she no longer needs.  Nearly every day, when I call her, she proudly describes what she has moved to the small green bedroom (her designated collection point) there to await my next visit when I will deliver these gently used items to the thrift store.

Following her example, I have started de-cluttering our house.  It is amazing just how much stuff is tucked up on closet shelves, hidden in desk drawers, or stashed in the way-back corner of the bottom kitchen cupboard; items that certainly served a purpose or filled a want but which have mostly been forgotten.  It feels good put into practice the three Rs – reduce, recycle, reuse..

My first thoughts about 2023 were tinged with wariness.  After all, this past year was filled with false starts and yet more uncertainty.  Then I began nudging myself toward a change in attitude; if only a shift in semantics.  Rather than looking at the coming tomorrows with trepidation, I am trying to change my language and look at the new year as time of mystery; balancing cautiousness and excitement; looking at the days ahead with a sense of wonder. 

I recently rediscovered a volume of poetry by Langston Hughes, originally published for children, but with lyrical phrases that offer weighty advice to children of all ages.  His poem, “The Dream Keeper” gave me insight as to how I might approach my attitude adjustment.  He wrote:

Bring me all of your dreams, 
You dreamer,
Bring me all your
Heart melodies
That I may wrap them
In a blue cloud-cloth
Away from the too-rough fingers
Of the world.

That phrase “That I may wrap them in a blue cloud cloth” rang true as I gently wrapped my Grandmother’s heart-shaped mercury glass ornament and put it away for another year; carefully handling the fragile heirloom all the while joyously celebrating childhood memories and thoughts of future holidays. 

The poet’s words also reminded me that my hopes for today and tomorrow will need tender protection from “too rough fingers of the world” and that I need to keep that “blue cloud cloth” close at hand so that I might safely wrap my dreams while looking for the wonder and the mystery in the days ahead.

Happy New Year!

Knitting

Solstice Mittens

blue-brown knit mittens
Slightly wonky but very warm fulled mittens

With winter storm warnings blinking on my computer tool bar and anticipated temperatures hovering below zero all day, it seemed the perfect time to wear my first ever fulled wool mittens. 

The timeline from knitting to fulling to wearing spans nearly a decade.  These mittens were knit between February – March 2013 during a course at a local fabric store no longer in business.  But the class only provided the pattern and a knitting circle on two evenings.  I took my new project home and worried about how to actually create the thick mittens without ruining my work.  I finally deduced that whether I ruined the mittens during the hot water agitated washing or if they simply continued to sit at the bottom of a wicker yarn basket, they were equally unwearable.  A Covid Finishing Fest hosted by Northfield Yarns in May 2020 gave me the impetus to watch several how-to videos and violà mittens!  Not needed with springtime temps, I tucked them away to be forgotten, thought lost, then found, and worn today for the first time.   

Happy winter solstice!

Note:  The distinction between fulling and felting is one of timing.  In the textile world, felting is a done with fibers, not with woven cloth while fulling describes the act of wet finishing the woven cloth or knitted item with water, temperature and agitation.

Spirituality

Enter the Season with Intent

a box of chocolates with white numbers for each day of December

Growing up, my Advent calendar was made of decorative blue cardboard with simple paper flaps that folded back and revealed religious holiday images:  an angel, a star, a shepherd and, eventually, a nativity scene.  Since it was used year after year, the flaps didn’t always stay closed which allowed this impatient child to sneak a peek at the treats for the coming days.

My 1950s calendar was very simple compared to what is available today.  If you do a quick search you will find a multitude of themed choices ranging from chocolate to wine.  There is even a Lego Advent calendar, although daily assembly is required. 

Lest you worry that knitters have been forgotten, there are patterns featuring a different color or design for each day of Advent.  These are usually built around 24 days of surprises so that the hat or scarf can be gifted on Christmas morning.  Periodically, a yarn store may offer a very pricey calendar that contains 25 unique skeins providing the recipient with a daily tactile experience and the added benefit of stash building.

Such varied product availability is the reason that after surviving months of political endorsements, we are now inundated with holiday ads all promoting a sense of “must have-ness;” ads with the potential to take us further and further away from the original intent of the seasonal holydays of Hanukkah and Christmas.

Hanukkah – the festival of lights, commemorating a time of miracles when the faith of the Jewish people sustained them to reclaim their holy temple and keep the light of the menorah burning for eight days.

Advent – the weeks of preparation before Christmas, the celebration of the humble birth of Jesus in a stable; days that Rev. Megan Lloyd Joiner calls “the waiting time.”

But waiting can be hard especially when Christmas-themed stores are open year-round and two-day delivery requires just a click of the mouse.  In a society reveling in perpetual motion, the idea of waiting is often translated into a sense of doing nothing.  That we are somehow disloyal or disconnected if we seek the quiet or admit to being overwhelmed by the barrage of 24/7 news reporting on the war in Ukraine, or volcanic eruptions in Indonesia, or the nearly daily gun violence in the United States. 

For this feeling of disconnection Rev. Joiner offers this advice “…not just to wait, but to wait actively:  to do the work of preparing hearts and tilling the soil that awaits seeds of hope and love … to be present in each moment of waiting.”

Or as Rev. Luke Stevens-Royer preached last Sunday in his annual “Humbug” sermon there is “the reminder to slow down, be it by blizzard of the sky or blizzard of the soul.  That to pause, to wait, to rest, is not an invitation to isolation or hibernation but, when the world feels like storm, it is our natural reminder to pause … to find ways of entering the season with intention.”  

With the beginning of Hanukkah yesterday at nightfall, as Advent continues and as we approach the Winter Solstice when we explore seasons and cycles and celebrate the light of days growing longer (if only by seconds), may you enjoy lighting a candle (or eight); may you “be present in each moment of waiting” and may you “find ways of entering the season with intention.”

Photo credit: Marcus Spiske from Prexels

Knitting

Before the next sweater…

Since my knitted contributions to this year’s church auction (the Mallory Shawl and the French Oak Scarf) were successful in raising funds and as Brezel, Marie Greene’s new design for her 2023 January Sweater Workshop, is waiting in the wings, I just completed several smaller projects.  Using worsted weight tweed yarn in vibrant magenta, the matching beanie and scarf combo with reversible cables was a quick project.  Plus, this set gives me a head start on next year’s auction donations.

And for a sneak peak at Brezel details — With a release date of December 30 for Knit Campers like me, Bretzel incorporates Bavarian twisted stitches and German short rows to create an overall design resembling a platter of carefully crafted pretzels.  And, yes, the name of the sweater is the German translation of this symmetrically twisted, salty snack.  In the weeks ahead, in addition to the knitting lessons shared during this sweater workshop, there is a promise of pretzel baking lessons.  Yumm!

Baking

Plus Pecans

nine oatmeal cookies on a blue-green plate

Today was a snowy baking day although I wasn’t ready to make Candy Cane Cookies or Cappuccino Flats. Yes, I know Christmas is just two weeks and a few days away and holiday baking should be in full swing but I am still in Advent mode.

From the autumn section of Beth Dooley’s The Northern Heartland Kitchen and using craisins harvested just a mile from Mom’s Lac Courte Oreilles house, I tried Beth’s Oatmeal Chocolate Chip and Dried Cranberry Cookies, with two small modifications:

  1. Mine include coarsely chopped pecans – a nod to my southern heritage. Each year, Aunt Mini Lou would send a bushel basket sized box of just fallen pecans, raked from her Alabama lawn and mailed to our Wisconsin house. (Although one year she sent Vidalia onions much to the amusement of our postal delivery person.)
  2. The recipe calls for the stiff dough to be dropped by tablespoon but I opted to use my teaspoon scoop as Richard and I prefer petite rather than ginormous desserts.

They might not be the most photogenic, but the crunch of oatmeal and pecans, combined with the sweetness of chocolate and the cranberry tartness make a delicious treat.

Bon appétit!

Art

Not so new art installed

After a four month wait, we were quite excited to experience supply chain improvements with a November rather than a February delivery of our Stressless™ recliner.  But then came the real challenge – what art to hang where as the seating configuration in that corner of the living room no longer resembled what had been.  Having quickly discovered the comfy leisureliness of an afternoon nap, the empty space necessary for the recliner to do its thing – that is recline – simply demanded to be filled.  As it turns out, the right piece of art was hanging in the closet.

In September 2006, we drove to Knoxville, Tennessee to celebrate my aunt and uncle’s 50th anniversary.  This family occasion also included a visit to the Knoxville Museum of Art located in the World’s Fair Park.  With a diverse collection, the museum “focuses on the rich culture, old and new, of the Southern Appalachians” and the museum’s perquisite gallery shop provided an eclectic sampling of local artists’ work.  While I had packed appropriately for all of the various anniversary festivities, I found a beautiful woven stole –the perfect wardrobe upgrade for the celebratory dinner.  The loosely woven wool shawl includes shimmering gold thread, a trio of silk ribbons running the entire length, and Czech crystal bead embellishments.  

Due to its size (21 inches x 96 inches) and its elegant structure, I tended to save it for special occasions like my aunt and uncle’s 50th anniversary, Minnesota’s sesquicentennial celebrations at the Capitol when I presented Governor Pawlenty with two sesquicentennial flags that had flown over the state’s public libraries or library meetings when power dressing sent the correct message.  I never imagined my 2006 purchase would offer a complementary color palette in our renovated space, as well as provide an acoustical benefit in a room with a new red birch hardwood floor.  The shawl that was safely tucked away amidst layers of tissue paper is now installed as art.

Spirituality

All Souls: Sunday Reflection (a tad late)

Yesterday, as I sat in a pew of an old Lutheran church nestled among recently harvested rolling fields, I hummed along as my friend sat at the organ and played For All the Saints.  I reflected back a week to our All Souls service.  In the days leading up to All Souls Day, Richard and I toted five pots of marigolds to church.  In the spring, small seedlings had been planted in hopes of warding off nibbling critters while anchoring the corners of our garden; they provided brilliant color throughout the summer; and then, with frost warnings forecasted, these hardy plants were transplanted into pots and moved under grow-lights to thwart the season’s chill just so the bright blossoms could render one last service scattered among a hundred clear glass votive lights on our Altar of All Souls – a visible symbol of remembrance to honor our ancestors.

I believe it says a lot about who we are as individuals, as a church community, as a society, in how we honor our dead.  In our ever more hectic, every day world with corporate-driven practices that define grief in HR policy and relegate just three days for sorrow before it is back to business as usual, there is a lot to learn from studying the traditions of other cultures.

In the Romany graveyards of Eastern Europe, nestled next to gold domed, centuries-old churches and scattered among the headstones of family plots there are often elaborate gazebos built with permanent tables and benches that provide regular gathering places.  When family and friends come together they bring their tastiest culinary treats, a portion to be enjoyed among the living and a portion left for the spirits.  Flowing with the libations are the shared memories which braid together the stories of the departed and the lives of the next generation.

In her poem, Into Every Conversation, Carrie Newcomer writes:

Into every conversation,
At least those that matter,
I carry my stories like a book
Tucked under my arm or secured deep in my heart.
A forward written by the ancestors,
Side notes and commentary in the margins, 
Written by mentors, tormentors, and friends.

Not that we should walk lock-step in the beliefs of our ancestors because that would render us unable to see injustice and work for change; unable to recognize inequity and dream of the possibility of a different world.  Rather, in remembering those who have come before us, we need to build on our heritage bringing together the good news and those parts in need of transformation.

Last Sunday, we lit candles for those whose memories live in our hearts.  At a time when the old tales speak of “the thin veil between worlds” – of All Hallows Eve and All Souls Day – it was good that we gathered and remembered.  It was good that we spoke aloud the names of those who have died.  And, having been heard by family and friends and even strangers we acknowledged those individuals.  In the words of the poet we continued to “carry our stories like a book tucked under our arms or secured deep in our hearts.”