Gardening · Writing

Blueberries after a year & a month of blogging

First Picking – 2021

Inspired by Suleika Jaouad, I started Knit+ Librarian as a Covid survival technique early into our worldwide pandemic quarantine hoping to capture random thoughts and images.  Over the past year and a month, I never gave any thought to what might happen as topics cycled back through my life.  I knew the Knitting and Reading blog posts would stay fresh as there would always be a just-knit sweater or shawl to describe or a new favorite book to review.  But with today’s first picking of blueberries even while reveling in their dusty blue hues, I realized there may be some repetition in the Baking and Gardening categories whether I am describing the last rhubarb crisp of the summer or this season’s blueberries. 

There is a simple beauty in the natural cycles each following one after another, season by season which especially deserve our appreciation in this northern clime where we go from warm days of verdant greens to frigid, frosty whites and grays and back again.  And, I am certainly in good blogging company, as Christina Campbell on The Healthy Knitter shares monthly posts about each full moon and Solène Le Roux at Knit Pause leads meditative knitting retreats focused on nature.  As I celebrate the ebb and flow of the seasons in our garden sans any exotic varieties and filled with plants I can only describe by their common names without knowledge of scientific nomenclature, I will simply enjoy “playing in the dirt” and you may see a similar but never identical new post or photo.

Reading · Travel

The Directors’ Getaway to the Shades of Green Garden

assorted pots filled with summer plants
Entering Shades of Green Garden – 2021 © M. Brechon

A restless night spent worrying about my first public overnight outing proved needless as the two-day excursion with The Directors was as fun filled as expected.  As the last member of the group to travel so far as to necessitate a motel room, I was also the last to indulge in restaurant dining.  While I did make that first brave step on tax day, this trip required my second restaurant experience.  My friends were exceedingly gentle as I ventured (still somewhat timidly) into our formerly masked, now vaccinated world.  As we wove through the green farmland of east central Minnesota and western Wisconsin, there were stops along the way for wine tasting and shopping, and while this later activity is usually not a high priority for me the company made the day enjoyable.

I attribute my lack of shopping enthusiasm to a career move to Georgia just after grad school.  My next door neighbor was also a northern transplant, a cataloging librarian from Michigan, and she loved to shop.  Faced with unexpected resistance to implementing what I considered standard library operations like offering storytimes for the public rather than only by appointment, I took solace from workplace challenges by joining her at the mall.  (Remember when window-shopping under one roof in a temperature control environment was a new, novel experience?)  When we moved after 18 months on the job, she to Augusta and me to Peoria, I had two maxed out credit cards.  And, while that debt was paid off years ago, there is still a residual caution when considering what I want versus what I need.  Although, on this trip, I was less hesitant at the bookstore and the two wineries as evidenced by the assorted vintages and the stack of new books that filled the boot.

Also on this trip, The Directors (my library loving, book reading, wine drinking group of retired friends) initiated a new but to-be-repeated practice of secret book gifting.  We each brought 1-2 recently read titles, wrapped to hide any clue as to content other than to know we were exchanging books.  After tours of the Shades of Green Garden and delicious home-prepared meals our hostess initiated a quick game of “I am thinking of a number between 1 and 100…” and we picked our surprises.  Each book will guarantee good reading for the weeks ahead, as well as a promise to exchange these gently used reads next time we meet.

Gardening

Nasturtiums

orange nasturtium blossoms and green leaves
Our 2013 Nasturtiums

Easy to grow, nasturtiums provide vibrant color all summer with the added treat of edible leaves and blossoms which bring culinary diversity to simple salads.  They have been a staple in our vegetable garden for years plus they are beneficial companion plants for our raised-bed tomatoes. 

This spring, I was overzealous and planted an entire seed package with a thought to experiment with drying leaves and blooms for winter flavorings.  But, alas, unlike the fertile yield of previous years, the 44 seeds produced only five plants which we are carefully tending with a hope to enjoy the peppery flavor by summer’s end.

Other items of interest

Juneteenth

Our new Federal holiday honors the emancipation of enslaved people in the United States – a celebratory reminder that all are … “created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

While Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation became the law of the land on January 1, 1863, that land was in the midst of Civil War.  It was not until June 19, 1865 (two months after Lee’s surrender at the Appomattox Court House) and the arrival of Union troops in Galveston Bay that thousands of enslaved people in Texas were freed by executive order.  Whether called Jubilee Day or Emancipation Day, Juneteenth commemorates the end of slavery and celebrates a second American Independence Day.

Other items of interest

Trevor Noah – Summer Hiatus

Last night Trevor Noah thanked his viewers for keeping him sane and promised he was “…going to take a bit of time to figure out what the new show is going to be.”  While a summer hiatus to regroup after 15-months of producing the tightly written, fact-based comedy news program from his New York apartment makes sense, the show-ending Moment of Zen felt deeper than just the conclusion to seeing his colorful collection of hoodies four nights a week.

One of the joys of regional library work, in the days before GoToMeeting or Zoom, was the need to travel, not just in the 11-southeastern counties of Minnesota to visit libraries but all through the state to participate in meetings.  During all those decades of windshield time, my listening preference and primary news source was Minnesota Public Radio.  And, I paired the unbiased, well researched radio broadcasts with the satirical comedy offered by The Daily Show.  While dubbing itself a fake news program, its comedy bits were always laced with poignant reality.  We watched through the Jon Stewart era (1999-2015); easily made the transition to Trevor Noah as host, and certainly relied on Trevor’s unique perspective during the uncertainty of COVID and troubling racial times.  The Daily Show is a mainstay of our TV viewing.

Even though it has been five years since The Nightly Show aired, I still miss Larry Wilmore acting as my on air guide to a confusing array of topics that may be common knowledge to any number of People of Color but are foreign to me as a middle-aged, financially comfortable white woman of privilege.  I definitely need The Daily Show and Full Frontal with Samantha Bee as reality checks, albeit with humor, today and into the future.  Just like waiting for the next publication from a bestselling author or holiday release of a favorite movie, we’ll have to wait patiently until September 13 to see what Trevor might offer with a “brand new look”

Reading

The Midnight Library

Whether it is because of a career immersed in libraries or just that libraries provide intriguing settings for the storyteller, I am always drawn to stories (even badly written ones) where the library becomes its own character integral to the plot. For instance:

  • The Star Trek episode from the 60s set in a dying planet’s library;
  • When David Tennant, as the tenth Doctor, takes Donna (personally not my favorite of The Doctor’s companions despite her importance in saving all of humanity) to a planet-sized library holding every book every written where they meet River Song (definitely among my most favorite of the Whovian characters);
  • To Joss Wheadon’s setting for Buffy the Vampire Slayer where the school library is the gateway to magical powers, as well as the entry point for the terrifying beings that only Buffy can defeat;
  • And the list goes on…leading me to The Midnight Library and the most recent The Directors’ book discussion.

Chosen Best Book of 2020 in the general fiction category by nearly 74,000 Goodreads’ members, The Midnight Library introduces the reader to Nora Seed, a young woman so wracked by regrets she attempts suicide.  But in that in-between time – between life and death – she enters the Midnight Library with its infinite collection of green covered books all of which enumerate the stories of her life, each different depending on the subtle or dramatic decisions she made.

Unlike Buckaroo Banzai in one of my favorite movies, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, where Buckaroo is simultaneously a rock star, neurosurgeon, brilliant scientist, and a test pilot who just happens to save the world from evil alien invaders, Nora experiences one-by-one what might have been as Olympic swimmer, rock star, mother, or glaciologist.  Some lives are deeply unsatisfying while others are almost, but not quite, comfortable as she is suddenly inserted into these parallel realities.

Despite an abundance of book challenges, expertly curated title lists and even a fun assortment of book bingos to choose from, The Directors (my library loving, book reading, wine drinking group of retired friends) elected to reverse engineer its own reading challenge.  We read a book recommended by one of us and then assign our 2021 reading challenge nomenclature with The Midnight Library dubbed magical realism fantasy.

Happy reading!

Knitting

Halley & Fiadh: A pandemic year of projects

There is something oh so satisfying when a project is laid out on the blocking squares.  And, I can claim double the fun (just like double mint gum) having finished Fiadh, my January-February sweater knit-along (KAL), and my friend’s Halley within just days of each other.

Fiadh is a dense Aran sweater with swirling Celtic cables and funky bobbles designed by Marie Greene and knit using Kelbourne Woolens Lucky Tweed in medium gray with white and black flecks for a very classy look.  After some self-psychoanalysis to discover the why behind being stuck on sleeve island, I hunkered down and finished the cabled sleeves, picked up 338 stitches for the ribbed front band, shawl collar, and added the vibrant orange hidden pockets.  All just in time for 100 degree days, a very unusual meteorological phenomenon for June in Minnesota.

Designed by Martina Behm, another of my go-to designers, Halley incorporates a lacy zigzag reminiscent of Halley’s Comet, as well as stars and meteorites crisscrossing the night sky.  Knit using HiKoo Popcycle, an environmentally conscientious blend of 50% bamboo rayon and 50% polyester from recycled plastic bottles.

Knitting, reading and a bit of writing have been my primary activities during our pandemic lockdown.  As we slowly emerge fully vaccinated from home into public spaces my COVID project inventory totals 35 between March 2020 to June 2021 with Halley and Fiadh being projects #34 and #35, respectively.  Quite an assortment of productivity including three sweaters, seven hats, seven shawls, two pairs of socks, nine cowls, six pairs of mittens (fingerless included) and one cabled, reversible scarf.  Swatching for Fireworks is complete but I am waiting for the pattern release on July 1 before beginning Marie Greene’s fifth annual 4-Day Sweater KAL.  And so I find myself in an unusual state of affairs with nothing on my needles.  Time for a quick delve into the project queue.

Knitting

4-Day Sweater Redux – Actually Anew

skein of golden tweed yarn and swatch with stitch counter

Having become un-Stuck on my January sweater knit-along (KAL) Fiadh, although still not quite finished, I am already gearing up for Marie Greene’s fifth annual 4-Day KAL with Fireworks.  My swatches to test gauge are complete and all that is missing is the pattern – which will be released July 1 complete with a celebratory Virtual Cast On Party (with prizes) at 8 am PDT / 10 am CDT for me.

This commitment to a sweater, or any project, sight unseen is highly unusual for me.  While my first mystery KAL (where portions of the directions were revealed week by week) actually resulted in a very wearable item, I usually wait days or weeks or even years before joining other KAL knitters just to make sure that the pattern is a good fit with my knitting style and preferences.  With great faith in Marie’s classic designs, her well-tested patterns (sometimes by over a 100 test knitters plus technical editing to find every bug) and the cheerleader-like support from the Olive Knit staff and my fellow Knit Campers, I made the plunge and purchased seven skeins of luxurious DK weight, merino yarn hand-dyed by Heather Jane at sew happy jane before the pattern reveal.

While dubbed a 4-Day KAL, pacing can be my own after all, I am the boss of my sweater.  There will be those who will slam through but I plan a more sedate summer project spent on the screened porch with ice cold libations close at hand while listening to our new solar fountain bubble.  This will be 4-Day number three for me.  Foxtrot (2019) took over two months but I greatly reduced my completion time to 22 days for Soundtrack during our COVID lockdown.  Who knows what Fireworks will bring?

Happy knitting!

Knitting

Stuck

knit sleeve with cables still on knitting needles
WIP – Fiadh left sleeve just inches from knitting the cuff

It is not often I admit to feeling “stuck” while knitting.  My list of frogged projects is surprisingly small as only two have moved from my needles back into balls of yarn and into the realm of never more.  Three colorwork projects have drifted lower on my queue awaiting more research on stranded knitting and five are hibernating with yarn purchased just needing time to start.    

While cast on with great gusto in January, my Fiadh sweater is still mid-sleeve with front band and pockets yet to be started.  I am oh so close but so not done.  The only other time I remember feeling this stuck was my first (and to-date only) felted project.  The pre-fulled mittens made it off my needles.  As the pattern directed, the mitts were much larger than any hand (unless the hand belonged to an MMA fighter) but I was intimidated by the wet felting process, so they sat for seven years.  But my sweater delays cannot be blamed on a lack of technique.  I have the stitches covered.

I keep trying to analyze how my January enthusiasm for the interlocking cables and framed bobbles waned.  At first, I attributed my glacial-like progress to the spring temps and the urge to get herbs into the backdoor pots.  That my Fiadh sleeves were stuck mid-bicep, then at the elbow and now just before the cuff because I was gardening rather than knitting seemed a valid rationale.   But not really.  I was not gardening after dark and I was knitting every night and even during the day if there was a Cubs baseball game or Formula 1 free practice, qualifying, or race to watch.  Just not working on this sweater.

I finally realized I deeply associate Fiadh with the many months of our social distanced, masked quarantine.  Previously in awe of intricate Aran designs, the COVID lockdown gave me license to tackle something big and beautiful.  My “stuck-ness“ may be a visual example of my own version of re-entry anxiety; that somehow the completion of this sweater and my re-entry are linked even though I know I control when and how I choose to re-engage.

The revised Re-Gathering Guidelines for church begin with this practical yet inspiring statement. And, when applied to my everyday life, these words remind me to treat myself kindly and help re-infuse my enthusiasm for Fiadh cables and bobbles.

With care for each other’s health – body, mind and spirit – we will move into new phases gradually while valuing inclusion, science, flexibility, and grace.