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.

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

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.

Knitting

A Day to Celebrate Yarn

Or, more correctly, a day to support yarn stores.  Today is the brick-and-mortar shop appreciation day designed to bring together fiber lovers of all types whether they knit (my personal passion), crochet, weave or spin as we celebrate our craft and give a most appreciative nod to local entrepreneurs. 

Small businesses have it tough in any era slugging it out against big-box stores and online ordering but COVID has dramatically increased those challenges.  Kudos to my (almost local) local yarn store, Northfield Yarn, for carefully following COVD guidelines to help keep me healthy and for their marketing flexibility.  My online and phone orders arrived pronto via priority mail and, once in store shopping resumed, Cynthia and her trusted sales crew tucked away my special orders until I could find a bright sunny day to travel the rural Minnesota countryside.

Happy Local Yarn Store Day!

Other items of interest · Reading

Another Minnesota Shooting

The news that a Brooklyn Center police officer fatally shot Daunte Wright during a traffic stop Sunday afternoon haunts my thoughts this week.  There is a shocking dissonance in this spring time, this vaccination time, when we should be focusing on new beginnings as the sun shines longer, crocuses offer a burst of color and vaccinations rates are increasing, that we are once again facing the ugly underbelly of an unjust society.

Last summer, I was appalled by the sinful video footage showing George Floyd’s murder on a Minneapolis street.  After the death of so many black men and, as we know from the shooting of Breonna Taylor in her own home, the shooting of black women, I wondered, how can this happen?  With those first thoughts of outrage I wanted to place responsibility for what we as a society were becoming on the rhetoric of the past four years.  But life is not that simple.  I knew we did not simply become a racist society with the results of one election.  I recognized that it was only as the hateful rhetoric went viral and the incidents of violence against People of Color went virtual that I became increasingly aware of what is and what has always been a dramatic difference between my safe white environment and threatening world faced daily by People of Color.

I did take some hope that we may have reached a tipping point last summer as people across the world spontaneously marched.  White celebrities sat down with Emmanuel Acho for Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black ManLewis Hamilton wore a Black Lives Matter t-shirt on the starting grid and on the winner’s podium even as racers sprayed champagne.  And, Formula 1 cars now carry a #WeRaceAsOne logo as a visible display of a new “initiative aimed at tackling the biggest issues facing the sport and global communities – the fight against COVID-19 and the condemnation of racism and inequality.”

Over the past seven months, our Common Read at church delved into the hard and realistic truth that the injustice playing on our screens again this week is not new but is as old as the country itself.  As we read, we were reminded with each well crafted paragraph, each page we turned that injustice is deeply woven into the fabric of our society.  That violence happens every day.  We need only look to other April days to recall shocking events: 

  • April 1873 – A white mob massacred an estimated 150 Black voters over the results of a hotly contested gubernatorial election;
  • April 1956 – Four white men attacked signer Nat King Cole while he was on stage performing for a white audience;
  • April 1968 – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated.

Earlier, I blogged about one of our Common Read titles, a powerful anthology, A Good Time for the Truth:  Race in Minnesota.  It is an eye-opening collection of personal stories shared by 16 Minnesota authors of Color that sheds light on life in our state and in our time.  In the book’s introduction, poet Sun Yung Shin, who edited A Good Time for the Truth, offers both a challenge and words to help guide us.

Good people need to take action continuously, and I would say daily, until [racism] is dismantled.  Because lives are at stake, every day; on sidewalks, in doctor’s offices, in the waiting room of the bank, and, most importantly, in classrooms.

I believe we can do it.  I know I am not alone in this conviction.

People of color and Indigenous people know with a specific, agonizing intimacy that racism was constructed and upheld by white society (in spaces such as the police precinct, the courtroom, school board meetings, newsrooms, Hollywood studios, mortgage loan offices, and everywhere power has resided in America) in order to confer unearned advantages on white people.  It is as simple as that.  It’s not a law of nature.  It’s culture.  It’s something we made, invented, maintained.  Since it was made, like a vast machine, it can be unmade, and it must. ...

Change is necessary.
Other items of interest

Shoulda been…

It is March and we have been in pandemic quarantine for a year.  For me, our world shifted on March 15.  I know others may mark a slightly earlier day of that same week, but I started counting on a “Sabbath Sunday”.  That first day when we stayed home with a Covid purpose, treating Sunday as if it was a snow day, without gathering at church but still creating quiet time for reflection and meditation.

Like others, I could not have envisioned I would be writing this post 365+ days later.  Our Covid journey has been varied.  Days when it simply felt right to be home and other times when anxiety took hold in my temporal lobe and I wondered would it ever be safe to be together.  Now, with the first vaccines in our systems and second doses coming next week, I am starting to think beyond our small Kutzky Park environ, especially today when we shoulda been celebrating John and Hannah’s wedding in person rather than online.  Maybe we will all gather for an anniversary party next year but, in the meantime, Lynn Ungar’s poem, written as we went into lockdown, still offers sustenance.

Pandemic
What if you thought of it
as the Jews consider the Sabbath—
the most sacred of times?
Cease from travel.
Cease from buying and selling.
Give up, just for now,
on trying to make the world
different than it is.
Sing. Pray. Touch only those
to whom you commit your life.
Center down.
 
And when your body has become still,
reach out with your heart.
Know that we are connected
in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.
(You could hardly deny it now.)
Know that our lives
are in one another’s hands.
(Surely, that has come clear.)
Do not reach out your hands.
Reach out your heart.
Reach out your words.
Reach out all the tendrils
of compassion that move, invisibly,
where we cannot touch.
 
Promise this world your love–
for better or for worse,
in sickness and in health,
so long as we all shall live.
 
–Lynn Ungar 3/11/20

Art

Missing Lunch

Pressed Leaf by K. Lindsay, 2020

February 20, a year ago, was the last time I had lunch with the friends I dub my Art Group.  We were in that in-between time.  Corona virus was already in our vocabulary.  We had made the definitional change from epidemic to pandemic.  We had friends or family in parts of the world or on either coast that we were worried about but, in our small corner of Minnesota, Covid-19 still felt distant.  We were still a month away from our first statewide lockdown.  That day, as always, the food and libations were delicious and the company even better but little did we know as we set a March date for our next Ladies Night Out Lunch that it would simply slip by in a flurry of social distancing, masks and sanitizing wipes.

Over the years, I have self-described as the voyeur among this talented group of women all of whom were or still are SEMVA artists.  Despite being the odd duck without any artistic training (although I did get A-s in my art appreciation college classes) I was always enthralled by the intriguing discussions about gouache and pastels, resists and French dyes, plein air and pallet knives.  When I was still working, it was such a treat not to talk about library politics and, believe me, librarianship can be filled with intrigue.  In my retirement world, lunch with my Art Group was always inspirational and nudged me to explore new fibers and different knitting patterns.  Plus, what is not to like (and certainly miss!) when people appreciate the newest project off my needles.

While missing my lunch companions, I enjoyed a touch of Covid humor shared by a friend. This math word-problem is a spot on description for the year just ending and how 2021 is shaping up:

If you’re going down a river at 2 MPH and your canoe loses a wheel, how much pancake mix would you need to re-shingle your roof?

Knitting · Reading

Knitting in the City

Knitting in the City © Penny Reid

When launched as a Covid coping tool, Knit+ Librarian was intended to highlight my current reading without being too book-reportish.  However, a quick review of recent posts reveals a dearth of titles and lest you think this librarian has given up on books – not to worry.  I have simply opted not to report each book title-by-title.  My Goodreads account is a finely-tuned tool that provides titles, dates and ratings on a five-star scale, as well as a list of what I am reading and an ever-growing want-to-read list. At the moment I have six titles open:

  • Ghosts of the Shadow Market by Cassandra Clare – a YA paranormal fantasy audio book for multitasking while I knit
  • Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson and A Good Time for the Truth, an anthology edited by Sun Yung Shin – for upcoming book discussions I am leading at church (reported on earlier)
  • The Bookseller by Mark Pryor – the first in the Hugo Marston murder series for the upcoming The Directors’ bookclub
  • The Art of the Wasted Day by St. Paul author Patricia Hampl – a recent gift from a friend
  • Knitlandia by Clara Parkes – another gift from a friend that I come back to chapter by chapter.

Let me recommend – – – For light reading with a knitting tie-in, author Penny Reid, provides the right combination of good things – character development, dialogue, humor, all set against a Chicago backdrop – in her Knitting in the City series.  I have finished Book 5:  Happily Ever Ninja and downloaded book 6 to my iPad.  These contemporary romances can be read as stand-alone titles but there is a nice flow between the books as we meet seven good friends who gather every Tuesday night to knit or crochet all the while enjoying adult beverages and offering great worldly advice.  As with every title within this genre, the expected occurs – girl meets boy, attraction, romance and love happen albeit with some challenges.  Unlike some series where the characters are so interchangeable so as to be cardboard cutouts from one title to the next, the women of Knitting in the City are as unique as any collection of your friends.  Reid uses knitting as a connecting thread week-to-week as the story and relationships develop sufficient to keep any fiber lover happy but without overwhelming the non-knitter.  Sometimes she even slips in references to Ravelry patterns.  And, for the really knit-nerdy, Reid offers a companion title that includes 27 patterns based on her characters’ knitting creations.

Happy reading!

Knitting

Project Peace – part 3

Project Peace Shawl – a 2020 Knit-a-long with Christina Campbell

And with the end of 2020 came the completion of this year’s Project Peace shawl.  I started with three stitches and, just before midnight, I cast off 483 stitches while enjoying Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse sing and dance our way into the New Year. 

December was another Covid month; all our gifts arrived by mail but also sunny drives in rural Wisconsin, the first shovelable snow, and quiet knitting while enjoying Christina Campbell’s daily thoughts on peace.  Her words reflect my sentiments on both knitting and peace:

Knitting... such a simple act, one stitch followed by the next,
lined up in columns of stitches, twisting and turning, 
openings here and there, 
ultimately creating a beautiful fabric to warm the recipient...
     knitting ... one stitch at a time from one continuous fiber...
     knitting does not promise to be easy...
     knitting does not promise to be without mistakes and flaws...
     knitting does not promised to be a constant state of harmony...
     and so it is true with peace.
           Christina Campbell, December 21, 2020