31 January 2013

A stich in time [Part the Third]

Sadly it was a lean autumn for having anything of note on my knitting pins.  (I think my marathon single-sock-a-thon over the summer may have had something to do with that.  Is there such a thing as knitters burnout?)  Whatever the reason, I wasn't nearly as productive as I was last year and there weren't as many hand-wrought Christmas gifts as I'd hoped.

Things picked up slightly after Thanksgiving and a few items were completed and dispersed:
  • a green buffalo plaid fringed fleece blanket for my brother [say that three times fast]
  • a rich butternut-colored pair of socks for a friend
  • an oatmeal tweed toque for a friend's husband
  • dusty rose spiral tube socks for a friend's elderly mother
  • tiger-striped fitted socks for a friend
Two projects are in progress now and will be finished by the weekend, in time for mid-winter birthdays:
  • hunter green fitted socks for my aunt
  • oatmeal tweed bed socks for my uncle
And then there are the yet-to-be-started projects glaring at me from the knitting basket by the sofa:
  • pale turquoise bed socks for a friend
  • mauve/lavender fitted socks for a friend
  • hunter green fitted socks for a colleague
  • chocolate brown bed socks for my sister-in-law 
  • oatmeal tweed spiral tube socks for another aunt
It remains to be seen whether these last items will be finished in time for birthdays or Easter, or if they will simply be put aside in tissue and brought out next Christmas. (Talk about getting a jump on things.)


The spiral tube sock is a favorite pattern of mine from "Knitting Vintage Socks" by Nancy Bush.  There are several variations of the pattern on Ravelry.com and it's a wonderfully cozy sock to wear paddling around the house.


I also have a lovely piece of tapestry that I hope to sew over a pillow and send out for a family member's birthday. And another pillow will be covered with a beautiful tea towel commemorating Queen Elizabeth's Jubilee. That one's for me.

30 January 2013

File under "What was I thinking?"

"... the worst idea in the long, sad history of bad ideas."
— Dr. Ian Malcolm in Jurassic Park

I'm sure I'm not alone when it comes to those bursts of self-directed anger and frustration over the myriad bad ideas I inflict on myself throughout any given year.

I'm not talking BIG bad ideas... like buying an automobile from a salesman in flood-ravaged Louisiana, or trying to walk two miles in 4 inch heels. I'm talking about the small and maddening bad ideas that I seem to indulge with alarming frequency.

Like thinking I can hold a heavy tray of glasses in one hand, a carafe of iced tea in the other, and then open the screen door with my left foot without all of us (me, the carafe, and the glasses) ending up on our knees on the patio in various states of disrepair.  Or thinking the paint can I'm holding will balance on a too-narrow window ledge for the 3 seconds it takes me to reach for a smaller brush. Or doubting it's windy enough to blow the front door closed (and locked) behind me in the time it takes to collect the mail.... in my nightdress.  Those kinds of bad ideas. 

When these witless notions come to me, the cautionary train of thought that runs through my alleged mind in the milisecond between  bad idea  and  horrible consequence  usually runs something like this:
"I shouldn't be doing this.  Just take the extra time...."  

The time it takes to bring a tray and a carafe outdoors in two trips instead of one.
The time it takes to go out the side door which needs a key and won't lock behind me.
The time it takes to bring a paint can down the ladder with me.

Sadly, these wise urgings fall on deaf inner ears making the post-disaster irritation I experience so much more pointed. Because I knew better.

I have stood in everything from pools of water (mismanaging the time it takes to fill a watering can from a rain barrel) to shards of china (trying to carry too many cups and saucers to the sink at one time). I have ruined nightdresses and slippers thinking I could dash out to the dustbin and back again and still remain pristine, despite the previous night's heavy rain. I have burned myself, cut myself, fallen down stairs and dropped things on myself. I have placed jewelry on the edge of sinks, carried one too many boxes of ornaments down the stairs, carried full platters of food from the kitchen whilst attempting to operate the lightswitch with my pinkie finger.  None of these efforts ended prettily.

Yes... the long, sad history of bad ideas is peppered liberally with my own humble contributions.  And until my daily life comes equipped with glaring yellow caution signs, this will no doubt continue to be the case.

29 January 2013

Stayin' Alive

No getting around it, we live in a dirty world.  Little wonder people are ill and (quite literally) dying from influenza and pneumonia.

You can sit on any public conveyance on any given day and watch a man (or a woman or a child) wipe his or her nose with his or her bare hands and then grasp the bars we all end up touching to steady ourselves.  Those same hands will be touching just about everything you use over the course of the rest of that day:
  • the pen the store clerk hands to you so you can sign the credit card receipt
  • the stylus on the ubiquitous signature pads you'll sign, either in stores you visit or to claim packages from FedEx or UPS drivers
  • the faucets you turn on and off in public restrooms
  • the door handles to every building you enter or exit
  • the buttons on every possible keypad you use at the store or ATM
  • the buttons you push to get on elevators and the ones you push to make it take you where you need to go
  • the aforementioned bars, handles, knobs, turnstiles or seat backs on buses, cabs, trolleys, subways, trains, or airplanes
It's enough to make you.. well... SICK.

You think you're okay?  That you have a good grasp on personal hygiene? So did I, before I was flat on my back for three weeks.  I realized then that all bets are off if you're trapped in line at a pharmacy behind a person who used the credit card stylus after sneezing into his hand. 

Sadly, not even the best-intentioned most fastidious citizens can protect themselves on the basis of mere hand-washing.  Not when every surface we touch is like a petri dish of infection.  If you want to stay well and live through the winter, what's needed is a hygiene strategy worthy of any neurotic germaphobe.  Here, then, are some recommendations:
  1. carry your own stylus (you can get a pack of 3 for $14) and keep one on you at all times so you can whip it out when you need to sign an electronic signature pad
  2. carry your own ballpoint pen to sign paper receipts and NEVER accept the pen a clerk tries to hand to you
  3. always have cheap knit gloves with you when you go out (they're sold in packs of 3 in the Dollar Store) so you can put them on when you need to use anything in public, including ATMs, door handles, steadying bars on the bus, elevator buttons.  If you do need your hands free, then remove the gloves and store them inside-out in a pocket you're not using for anything else. And when you get home, throw them in the laundry and take a clean pair out for next time.
  4. get in the habit of not touching your face -- the chances that you've recently handled something that was swimming in germs is too high, and those little suckers live for 48 hours
  5.  if someone tries to shake your hand, beat them to the punch by touching the side of their left forearm with your right hand and saying "It's SO nice to meet you!" with a big smile 
  6. clean your office or home computer keypad (and the mouse) with sanitizing wipes once a day
  7. clean the buttons, dial, and handset on your telephone once a day
  8. many stores provide sanitizer wipes for grocery cart handles -- carry your own in case they don't
  9. put guest towels into the laundry as soon as a guest leaves and wipe down the faucets
  10. if you work in an office, wipe down doorknobs, handles, photocopier buttons, microwave and Keurig surfaces before you touch them
Does this sound extreme?  Perhaps.  But when I read that a computer keypad is 4x dirtier than a public toilet seat, I'm willing to give extreme a try.

Carry on.

28 January 2013

Winter thoughts

I was thinking today of how colors influence my thoughts of each season. Or perhaps it is the seasons themselves that inspire the hues my mind embraces at certain times each year. The verdent green of Summer, the browns and taupes of Autumn, the Winter whites and ivories, and all those lovely Spring pastels.

My frequent circuits around the garden each day in spring, summer and fall have been replaced by only the quickest jaunts out-of-doors, usually to collect the mail or to gather another armload of firewood before hurrying back inside and shaking the cold from my shivering limbs.

I have enjoyed the occasional snowfalls we've had over the past month, even though many dissolved into a rhythmic dripping sound against the windows as white flakes changed over to freezing rain.

I wonder if my rain barrel can hear these weekly splatterings from within the darkened garden shed and is yearning to be pressed into service again?  I can hardly blame it. Now that the New Year has come and gone and the month is nearly spent, I find myself thinking about the garden quite often.

My spring daydreams have been emboldened by the teasing harbingers I've seen here and there: yellow-centered primroses that have suddenly appeared in the market with their bright maroon, yellow or purple petals; green daffodil and hyacinth fronds that seemingly pushed their way into the frigid air overnight. Even the mud pooling around the base of trees during January's brief thaw was a welcome sight and a glimpse of things to come.

These heartening reminders always come at just the right time, it seems, assuring us that the winter will end eventually, giving way to warmer days, bluer skies, softer ground, and green shoots waking from their 'long winter's nap.'   Heralds that lift the heart and give hope on the chilliest days, tempering the sound of biting wind and filling my mind with visions of roses, iced tea, and verdent leaves overhead.

But for now?  Now there is snow falling outside, a gossamer veil of white, with a promise of icy rain later in the night. Frost flowers limn their spidery patterns on the window panes, and wood waits on the hearth for an evening fire.

Carry on.

25 January 2013

Favorite Thing No. 91e (for Ephemera)

Throughout a busy day it's nice to stop, breathe, and look around at all the whimsical items I've collected (or been given) to brighten my work space and keep me anchored to my so-called real life.

A photo of my father the day the war ended ...   

An old broadside touting my great-uncle's singing skills ...

My voodou poppet who reminds me to think good thoughts ...  

Several posters and invitations ...

Various cartoons and humorous photographs ...

Pretty dishes to hold biscuits or sweets to have with my coffee ...

And so many, many more:
a kitty-head candy jar ...
bunches of mardi gras beads ...  
a tiny porcelain candy corn ...
lithographs of Bach and Handel ...
a snow globe of the NYC skyline ...
a slab of concrete from a favorite building that was renovated ... 
a mini Caravaggio calender ...
a flower pot of dried roses ...

And a sign that never fails to make me grin,
even thought a lot of times it's not true:

How can I not not look around and smile
and return to work with a lighter heart?

Time to bring a smile to Claudia's Party...

24 January 2013


"Three of anything is a collection" a friend once told me. If that is the case then I am a collector.  No getting around it.

It's odd the things we collect. Odder still not to realize you collect them until you start taking inventory.  Ah! I guess I do collect hats, as I glance at  innumerable floral band boxes stacked prettily in my bedroom. (In fact, 'collect' is something of an understatement since I could easily outfit the entire BBC costume department for their next Edwardian drama.)  

So yes, I am surrounded by numerous 'collections.' Indeed, more than any one person should admit to owning or have to curate. And yet being the custodian (or as I sometimes think, the "DUSTodian") of all these items is a joy in itself, thanks to the pleasure they bring in function, whimsy and beauty.

Books are the primary culprit, although not for show (despite how truly lovely many of them are) but for reading, holding, savoring, and re-reading. I need only walk to one of more than a dozen book cases, turn my head and read the spines to immediately enjoy them again, remembering favorite passages or the place I purchased or first read them.

And then there are the dishes, ranging from complete place settings for eight to some with only enough for two; a variety of transferware cups and saucers for the tea parties that take place in the parlor by the fire in winter, on the verandah in late Spring, or in the garden in Summer; a small collection of "blue and white" chinoiserie dishes and bowls that are scattered here and there on surfaces throughout the house; and several flowered creamers grouped on the guest room dresser, as well as those that are routinely pressed into service on the breakfast, dinner or tea table.

I am also a fool for glassware, and the corner china cabinet is filled to overflowing with flea market finds, gifts from friends, or family stemware handed down over the years, allowing opportunities for everything from diminutive cordials to brandy snifters so large they hold enough water for the birth of a nation.   

And no knitter is without his or her stash, Mine is squirreled away in bureau drawers, baskets, blanket chests and—when Christmas is near—in haphazard piles on parlor chairs. (Although despite this bounty, I can barely walk past a yarn shop without being sucked through the front door into what becomes a vortex of fiber temptation.  I generally limit myself to the sale bin, allowing only the merest fondling of yarns that are too costly.)

The baskets I have collected over time—too many to countare used for holding everything from dishtowels, the aforementioned yarn, hearth supplies, aprons, recipes, candles, old toys, blankets, and magazines. And there is the handled NEIGHBORLY basket kept in the back hallway so my neighbor and I can ferry food gifts, books or whimsical odds-bods back and forth the road to one another. 

Where to begin with linens?  There are table linens I've purchased myself—new ones as well as vintage pieces picked up at flea markets and thrift shops—and linens handed down from a variety of grandmothers and great aunts with names like Harriet, Bessie, Eilleen, and Edith. I cannot eat a meal or even drink a cup of tea without a cloth serviette at hand, so this collection is well-used and well-loved and is joined in a lavender scented linen closet by many pillowcases... all with a similar heritage.  Mercifully, my favorite house chore happens to be ironing, so that works out well.  

Tins of any size are always a temptation, be they genuinely old or merely vintage reproductions, and depending on their size they may find themselves filled with biscuits, cookie cutters, crackers, incense sticks, baking supplies, candies, hairpins, handkerchiefs, old wine labels, pen nibs, the usual tea, coffee, or cocoa, and even my grandmother's old metal hair curlers.

As for Ephemera, I have difficulty passing it up when I see it, and tucked here and there are old placards, hand-lettered ball invitations, vintage labels and gift-tags, menu cards or old advertiser's fans.

For someone who has so little to put inside a purse, I have a remarkable penchant for collecting them. There are the new ones (invariably gifts) as well as the vintage used ones (invariably thrift-store finds), and they range from old book-bags to small clutches that belonged to my mother to a $3 Kate Spade leopard print to a doctor's satchel to a denim one with sequins and another covered entirely in purple satin roses. (The dresses have yet to be found that can serve as a proper canvas for those last two purses but I live in hope.)

The combined monetary value of all of these lovingly collected items cannot be more than a few hundred dollars, by virtue of their "previously gently used" pedigree or having been gifts from family and friends, or purchased new so long ago their ticket price would seem laughable.  But their sentimenal value cannot be estimated, and to me they are "priceless".  And, yes, a little dusty now and then.  So aren't we all.

Carry on. 


18 January 2013

Favorite Thing No. 3a (for Alice)

One of my favorite things is my statue of Alice In Wonderland
which I bought one day at a thrift shop.
She's over two-feet tall, is made of resin, 
and my intention was to place her somewhere in the garden.
But as soon as I brought her indoors, I knew she belonged in the house!

I gave her a small crown of flowers when she first arrived,
but over time I've added more and more dried flowers from the garden—
roses, lily of the valley, babys breath, bits of hydrangea—
until it's become quite a splendid diadem!
 On Valentine's Day she was given a strand of pale pink heart-shaped beads
to drape over one shoulder.  (She is still wearing them.)

If you look behind her, she is holding a KEY in one of her hands,
tucked amidst the folds of her pinafore.

Suddenly she came upon a little three-legged table,
all made of solid glass;
there was nothing on it except a tiny golden key,
and Alice's first thought was that it might belong to one of the doors of the hall;
but, alas! either the locks were too large, or the key was too small,
but at any rate it would not open any of them.
However, on the second time round,
she came upon a low curtain she had not noticed before,
and behind it was a little door about fifteen inches high:
she tried the little golden key in the lock
 and to her great delight it fitted! 

Follow Alice as she makes her way to Claudia's party

17 January 2013


I have always been curious about the preferences people have for where they live. For some, I think a predisposition for a particular residential landscape is rooted in upbringing, faery tales, personality, dreams, or desires.  

Some folks require great teeming cities, like New York or Chicago, in order to feel alive. Others crave the nearness of Western mountains or New England woodlands. There are those who prefer to be surrounded by vast expanses of land where the horizon is a distant smudge—think Texas or any of those plains states that seem to go on and on and on before you see any sign of life.  And some gravitate to a beach-like environment with palm trees, pastel buildings and upscale shops like the ones you find in Miami or certain cities in California. And certainly there are many, many more places that attract people, landscapes they cannot imagine leaving.

And then there are those for whom surroundings aren't very important at all. These are the people who are as likely to end up in Idaho or San Francisco if it means following a job or a loved one hither and thither.  

As for me, I need the sea nearby and would become a bonafide psychopath if I lived further inland than I do. (I was in Pittsburgh for two weeks once and began to feel positively claustrophobic.)  I need to know I will be smelling the salt air and at the ocean's door in the time it takes to drive 30-40 minutes. And not a palm-laden shore but a rocky coast that doesn't warm until August and guides worried ships with lighthouse beacons.  

Lakes and rivers do not suffice, sadly, as beautiful and comforting as they are. (A kind-hearted soul brought me to one of the Great Lakes once. I pointed out that it was moving left to right... ) No, I need tides ebbing and flowing, pulling and pushing the sand beneath my feet and rocking me gently.  

A city with a river fed by a Bay that empties into a nearby sea... my home is like this, and the places I am drawn to as a tourist are like that too: New Orleans, Scotland, Venice, England. 

Now I would like to think I might follow someone I loved to the ends of the earth, never minding whether I found myself in a land-locked mountain hideaway or a plains-surrounded farmhouse. But the truth is, unless that place happened to be within driving distance of the sea, I'm not so sure.  Sea captains and pirates, those are the lads for me.

16 January 2013

Winter Wonderland



Sleigh bells ring, are you listening?
In the lane, snow is glistening.
A beautiful sight! We're happy tonight.
Walking in a winter wonderland.

15 January 2013

Not a creature was stirring...

The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men
Gang aft agley
— Robert Burns 
On Christmas Eve, I sat back amidst the pillows on the sofa with a contented sigh.
The tree was casting a beautiful glow over the filled-to-bursting stockings and colorfully wrapped gifts that lay beneath its adorned branches.  The last four days had been spent in the kitchen, making fudge, peanut brittle, chocolate dipped pretzel rods, gingersnaps, chocolate brandy truffles, molasses biscuits, white chocolate candy cane bark, mince tarts, and cookie press cookies sprinkled with red and green glitter. These were packaged in waxed paper and placed in sacks, ready to distribute as enticing tokens from the mischievous "Lord of Misrule".

Christmas Day dawned with an icing-sugar layer of snow on garden gates, tree branches and arbors.  The ride to 'grandmother's house' was a jocular one, collecting great aunts and packages along the way. The day began with the traditional snapping of Christmas Crackers before the meal, trading the riddles and toys that came inside, and wearing our tissue paper crowns throughout the feast, the present opening, and dessert. 

Later that evening, I settled down by the tree in my cottage with a cup of hot chocolate, envisioning what the days leading up to the New Year would hold: a pleasant succession of visits from near and dear friends and far away loved ones, plates of cookies and pots of tea, exchanging gifts and gossiping by the fire.  On New Year's Eve I would stand at the door and ring my great-grandparents' old cow bell to welcome in another 365 days of promise. And then on Twelfth Night, once the 12 days of Christmas had played out to a happy conclusion, I would dismantle the tree, put away the decorations, and bid adieu to another lovely winter's holiday.  

What I did not envision, as I drifted off to sleep on Christmas night, was a visitation by three unwelcome Christmas Spectres: 'flu, head cold, and respiratory hacking, all of which left me indisposed for the next 19 days. Throughout it all the gifts remained beneath the tree, the near and dear and far-away folks I'd hoped to see kept their safe distance (and who could blame them?) while my tree and I communed daily from my pillow-and-blanket-strewn perch on the sofa.  

New Year's Eve found me fast asleep, bell-less and dead to the world as the year turned over. Twelfth Night came and went and still the tree held court, albeit a drier and droopier version of itself.  Fearing spontaneous combustion, I finally managed to dismantle it four days ago, packing up all the ornaments and removing all but the small table tree in the dining room.... something festive to have on hand for any late visitors who venture closer now that the worst is over.

It wasn't the holiday season I had imagined, despite my careful planning. I had not anticipated being so contemplative, quiet, and solitary for those twelve-plus days of Christmas, unable to share the sweets, gifts and festive garnishment of my home with those I loved. But perhaps, as an old year rolled back and a new one arrived, seeing how little control one truly has over life's peculiar twists and turns was a valuable lesson to take to heart in a hubris-laden world. After the last magazine was read, the last crossword puzzled out, and the last version of "A Christmas Carol" watched for the umpteenth time, I realized with some self-deprecation that planning anything—from a Christmas holiday to a garden bed—must always be balanced by that teeter-totter of optimistic hopefulness and loins girded for disappointment.

All things considered, the holiday was not a total loss. I did manage to read most of Marie Antoinette's biography (which put my own situation in stunning perspective) and, like Tiny Tim, I did not die.  However, I've eaten most of the candy I was going to give away.
The Lord of Misrule made me do it.

Deck the halls with boughs of holly
Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la

'Tis the season to be jolly

Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la  
Fast away the old year passes...

 Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la 

Hail the new, ye lads and lasses...

 Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la
(Are you going to eat that last pretzel....?)