Thursday, May 10, 2018

Down to the Mighty Mississip'

Annie Dillard comes to mind as I wander, in mind and body, drinking in the river, the bright blue and rough flood waters pouring down through the open dam, the tranquil, flat grey ribbon that is the Mississippi just a few hundred yards later, as it flows east to west. As I breathe in and just become one with the river and the sky and the I lose the becoming with the thought that I will just be, just stop thinking and become a part of it? Do the moments right after, even during the time when I let go and be, do they count, or have I already given in to thought and words and descriptions simply in thinking the thought, "let go."

As I ride along, I free myself not to worry about whether or not I have become hopelessly entangled in the same twists and warpings of thought and worry I wished to avoid on this early morning ride. This is a cleansing time, a time for pleasure in the spring morning, the wind, the sun, the budding trees; a week past the first furtive, pale green ideas of leaves sprouting forth all around me, now full-on leaves and blooms everywhere you look. The pinks, lavenders and violets riot with color and snow down petals. So brief! comes to mind, like life, and that thought too, is squashed back down by the choice not to think, just to enjoy, to revel, here and now, to be.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Moving from Dream it to Living it

Motivation and children, motivation and employees, motivation and is a topic that takes up a whole lot of mind and soul space for me. I can feel the power of it, and feel the urge to change, to do, and know, at the same time, that when it comes down to the mountains of effort required to move that hill, there are many times when I might choose to do the dishes instead, or read a book, or finish a knitting project. But I never, ever falter in my belief that the impossible-sounding is really doable, really just waiting to be done, and sometimes I DO do it. I never, ever question the enormous potential we all have to completely turn the world upside down.

As to motivating someone else, helping them to see and claim their own potential...this is what I want most. I see the world that we could have, and the joy we could each find in life every day, if we opened our eyes to that gift sitting right in front of us. Ah, but what specifically am I doing to bring this to my children, spouse, siblings, parents, nephews, nieces, friends?

Mostly, bugging the begeezers out of them lecturing, explaining, pushing, encouraging, and, doing my best to model. Today, dear reader, it is your turn. Here are a few of my favorite sources, quotes, etc, just for you:

Thich Nhat Hanh: Start here, with an in-breath: "Waking up this morning, I smile. Twenty-four brand new hours are before me. I vow to live fully in each moment and to look at all beings with eyes of compassion."

The real Winston Churchill quote; (I have always liked the misquote; "never, never, never give up." but the true one is this:) "Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never, in anything large or small, great or petty, never give in, except to convictions of honor or good sense."

And Rumi: "The breezes at dawn have secrets to tell you. Do not go back to sleep."

A ten-minute talk by a guy named Astro; You won't regret listening to this one, it is so short and so cool. /

Seth Godin: "I think the most productive thing to do during times of change is to be your best self, not the best version of someone else."

Arianna Huffington: "Fearlessness is like a muscle. I know from my own life that the more I exercise it the more natural it becomes to not let my fears run me."

In case the jury is still out for you, let's end with Abigail Adams, a truly remarkable woman of her time...and all time: "I have always felt that a person's intelligence is directly reflected by the number of conflicting points of view that he can entertain simultaneously on the same topic."


Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Destination: France...and Ireland!

It has been four years since we visited family in France, and it is over-due. This year, we will set out with only three children, how strange that they grew up and into their own lives this quickly, and how good too. Cate will actually meet us there, as she has earned a grant to conduct her own research project in France this summer. It is always good to spend time in France, and always so hard to leave again.  What I am also looking forward to is a little three-day leg of the journey in Ireland...I have always dreamed of seeing this ancestral homeland. Just like a large percentage of the population of the US, my family has a lot of Irish in us. Even my husband has adopted his right to claim Irishness (by marriage and by love of a good brew).

Thierry discovered, in his own travels back and forth, that the easiest way to survive the whole customs and passport process was to travel through Dublin. He has found it so very less tedious, that he insisted we find a flight that took this route to France. The discussion may have taken on a "fine, then YOU book the trip, honey." It was tricky, because it seems there was not a way to book a three-day layover on the way home. If I have to fly through Dublin, I figured we might as well take a look around for five minutes, right? 

In the end, about three months after the beginning of the proceedings, I did my research and became the travel agent of the family again. My homeschooler, Gael and I, had been listening to "Ireland, a History," by Thomas Bartlett. He absolutely wants to visit New Grange, I know we have to see Galway, so flying back out of Shannon made more sense than sticking around Dublin the whole time.
In what had begun as a private session between my computer and myself, but ended up in bad couples therapy, I simply booked from here to Bordeaux, via Dublin, then a return ticket out of Shannon, back home, ignoring, for the moment, that we had no way of getting back to Ireland from France. I had confidence it would all work out just fine.

True, the last time I did that for Paris, we ended up hauling seven suitcases up and down a million metro and train staircases to take train upon subway upon train, to get from one end to the other. Oh, and there was a subway strike that further prolonged the journey. Fortunately, no one bothered to blame me for the plans gone a bit wonky, they were too excited to be in Paris. The time before that, we went through London, the cheapest way, and got stranded because of a volcanic eruption in Iceland. One adventure after another. My most-observant husband, breathing down my neck as I was triumphantly hitting "BOOK" on the screen, almost had heart-complications. He gasped, "but wait; you don't have a flight from Bordeaux to Shannon; hey; how are we getting back to Ireland? Wait!" Click, done.

"Honey, I'll figure it out; look; the return flight was only $400, what a deal! We'll drive, take a train, a ferry or a bus or whatever, chill." Half an hour later, during my son's viola lesson, I calmly booked five tickets for Bordeaux-Dublin (there is no flight for Bordeaux-Shannon), and a rental car to get from there to the other side of the island (a whole two hours), and then on to the airport to return home. The small detail that we have never driven a car on the "wrong" side of the road did not elude Thierry. I figured we might have a lesson or two at a British driving school in France while we were there. I guess I should go figure out if such a thing exists, right? Ooo; or maybe an IRISH driving school; beers following the lesson. That should do it.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Gauge, a Knitting Tutorial

I can't fix everything, but I can rip and repeat, something not all knitters love to do. You can consider it an opportunity real life seldom offers; a chance to redo, make it better, prettier, before presenting it to the world/recipient. Each day, we wake up with a chance to make this one a better day. Each knitting project, in theory, can be undone and reknitted. (But I draw the line at ever frogging this one.) Here is a recent project, a three-piece set in an accidental three size differentiation.

Pretty, huh? And that quilt in the background? It was made for baby Charles, by a dear friend I knew through a parenting group, a family treasure. Sadly, the layette set I so happily knitted with gauzy dreams of a future baby in mind, is made up of at least three different sizes. There is no baby that is going to be wearing all three pieces at the same time...a question of gauge gone wrong.

What can I say? I found the yarn in a cute shop in Estes Park, just before heading home with five kids in the car. I quickly downloaded a cardigan pattern before I lost all possibility of doing so, and got to knitting. 

Of course, I knit a swatch and checked my gauge before beginning. No I did not. It was for a baby, any baby, how much could gauge matter? It would fit at some age, very briefly, then be passed on to another baby who would be at the right size for about 2 and a half minutes as well. News for me; this sweater would fit a small premie, maybe, or a large doll. Dang. Let's fix this.
First problem; the bottom ribbing is clearly sloppy and loosy-goosy. Need: smaller needles. Always use 1-2 sizes smaller needles for a project's ribbing.

First; before unknitting, use what you've got. Take a ruler and measure the gauge you had with this needle and this yarn. Take a look at your knitting; how did this gauge work out for how you want the piece to look? Measure the dimensions of the piece you achieved with these needles this time through. Compare it with the size of the object you desire, if you want it to fit anyone. Take notes.

To measure gauge: use a sample, ideally, of at least 4" by 4", or 10cm by 10cm. Flatten out the swatch, no stretching, pulling or pushing, and, using a ruler (tape measures can stretch and move, I like rulers better), measure how many stitches you can count in the middle of your swatch in a 1" section. To be more precise, measure across several inches and divide it by that number. DO include half and partial stitches in your overall count. This is your gauge. 

Make a decision, take a deep breath, then frog the whole thing. Eat a large piece of chocolate. It will help, it really will.

Then choose a different needle, and/or change the pattern dimensions; a size up, if you like the look of the gauge you achieved. Maybe I had a limited selection of needles in the car, perhaps I cast on at the neck and that ribbing looked OK, so I did not question it once I arrived at the bottom. Maybe I used different needles for the bottom any case, I will switch to size 1's for the ribbing this time around, as the sweater and hat were knit with size 3's, and clearly, the ribbing should not be. And, for sure, the pattern instructions for this yarn and these needles and my tension, did not produce the right size. 

Once you have measured and compared and NOTED, you have a choice. You may proceed using your pattern, simply going up a size, or you may use your own judgment and measuring skills to decide how many stitches you need to cast on in order to achieve the size you require. For best results, measure the person in question and multiply your gauge by their size, plus an inch for give, if the object in question is a sweater.

Let us say, for instance, that the circumference of the small person's chest is 20" around. Your swatch says you have knit, with this yarn and these needles, a gauge of 6 stitches per inch. To obtain the correct size, you add in an inch for give, then multiply 21X6, for a total number of stitches to cast on of 126.

You do, however, need to knit your swatch in the same way you mean to knit the garment; if you will knit it in the round, knit the swatch in the round. If this seems like a lot of work, just think that a swatch knit in the round, as Elizabeth Zimmerman liked to point out, can be made into a hat; you get two for the price of one. If it will include cables, you had better include cables in the swatch, they take up room and can shrink a knitted piece by quite a bit. A flat, cabled swatch makes a pretty wash cloth. Accuracy comes from paying attention.

If it is for a baby not yet born or it is a surprise or you are knitting for someone who lives far away, here is my best hint ever: go to Ravelry. Read the reviews you can find on the pattern you have chosen. Ravelry is the best thing that has happened to the world of knitting and crocheting since Elizabeth Zimmerman and Barbara Walker. If you are not familiar with it, check it out and sign up for a free account.

On Ravelry, you can search and find a list (with photos) of any project you might ever have dreamed of crafting. You can click on the photo and find out what yarn, pattern and needles were used, what the knitter thought of the pattern, and, if you wish, a short bio of the person who did the handwork. You can send messages and store your projects (finished and future) in your own little box. You can even find a skein of yarn for that awful moment when you realize the yarn you begun a project with three years ago is no longer available, and that you will not have enough to finish it, and some kind soul is willing to ship it to you, for free, from Germany...true story. 

Look me up if you stop by; on Ravelry, I am deartricot. You can post your own name in comments too.

Happy knitting!

Friday, March 30, 2018

I Have Knitted: (Pattern Links)

Booties, in my series of "future grandmother knits". Nothing in view! But I have five kids and I am a slow knitter, nothing like planning ahead. (free pattern at link) Send me a message on Ravelry, if you knit too! I am: deartricot.

Sweet Bon-Bon baby blanket for sweet baby girl (free pattern at link)

Hospital Knitting: whatever Gael picked; he chose the zombie (really not auspicious, to my way of thinking, but it was his call), so I knit the zombie, and the dirt grave to go with it. Talk about giving way to one's darker impulses.

The owl born of a skein of yarn that "looked like an owl" (free pattern at link)

The monster, like the zombie, from:
Highlander Cowl for silent auction (no pattern; just K2, P1 in big ol' yarn and needles).

Well Again...Back from the Inferno

The greatest fear of any mother is for the loss of a child. I came face-to-face with this fear three days ago and I am grateful to be on the other side of it, for now. Life is so, so precious. Children are the greatest gift, bestowed by heaven but they are not ours to keep, only ours to love and care for, as they pass through our wombs and through our lives. But it is a hard lesson to remember. 

My darling youngest boy went from flu to walking pneumonia to rhabdomyolysis in the blink of an eye, and from "recovering" to stat blood work and hospitalization faster than I knew possible. He is home and well, and he never knew how close he was to truly not well, but I did. And it was terrifying. I could clearly see the catastrophe of a young life lost because of a technical failure. I could very well imagine the muscle loss breaking down proteins that led to kidney failure and...the unmentionable.

At the time, I was dealing with the all-encompassing pain and fear of my baby (no matter how old, every child will remain forever your baby). He was in absolute dread of a needle, any needle, and especially the IV insertion. The two blood tests of the preceding days had drained him of all his courage. What he desperately needed, now, however, was an IV delivering fluids to begin to restore what he had lost.

Things went downhill, to begin with, at the infiltration of the initial IV site, which meant pain, swelling, redness, and a redo after about a half hour. Then it was failed attempt after failed attempt to place the port in a vein in a way that would allow the fluid to flow. He bit into his stuffed reindeer and did not cry, though he was terrified of doing it all again. I smiled and told him how brave he was and that now he would never be afraid of a mere needle again. I did not show that I was dying inside and losing faith by the minute that life would ever be the same again because things were proceeding in a way that only tv shows and that ER article in the New York Times ever talked about. The sixth attempt, over three hours later, finally took. The nurses were kindness itself, but I still really wanted to blame, yell, punch, shake someone into action. I refrained, and stayed focused on looking and acting calm for my kiddo.

I know families who go through this on a monthly or weekly basis for a child. My heart goes out to you. There is nothing so hard. 

He is well, and the whole family is grateful. Easter is soon to come with the celebration of life reborn, of the spring come again. I thank the Universe, the Great Mother and the Lord above, that my children live, one more day.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Influenza Do's and Don'ts

Dang; do I need two apostrophes for "don't's"? That looks stupid, never mind. Your list then, ladies and gentlemen:
If a loved one has the flu, thou shalt NOT:

1) Look up the latest news story detailing all of the deaths from complications caused by the flu; whether it be A, B, H or a new one just in. It is a source of unnecessary angst. 

2) Or do your very best to avoid: quickly pull up a window shade, too quickly, breaking it and assuring no more shade for the present, while you took the opportunity to air out a child's room while changing yet another set of soaked sheets. Said grumpy teen was in the shower and had not wanted room aired in the first place. Luckily, dad was working from home and we were able to repair it with packing tape real quick before he even made it back out of the shower.

3) Accidentally laugh whilst announcing that you are very sorry that his elbow turned out to be fractured, not just hyper-extended. This, because, even though you are truly, very sorry for him, the memory that it happened while he was arm-wrestling at the cafeteria table with another 8th grader and it is his own dang fault cracks you up every time. And it really shouldn't, not if he has the flu and you are a good mom. 

However, thou shalt:

1) Provide as many cups of tea as you can force a child to down in a day.

2) Give him whatever remedies will help for pain and fever; honey, oscillococcinum, warm rice bags, back-rubbing, tv, comic books...(I draw the line at video games, they just make your head hurt.)

3) Make a quiet space for her to rest. 

4) Ensure that the parent in charge takes a 30-minute break to stretch or take a walk or watch half an episode of a period show with brave warriors and braver princesses in fabulous costumes, or out of them...while on your trampoline, and another 30-minute break to sit quietly and knit or write.
PS A-ha! Apparently, if we want to be consistent, the correct spelling is: Dos and Don'ts. That looks stupid too. I will keep my grammatically dubious, but more aesthetically pleasing title.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Mid-March...and Counting

Grumpy me HATES Daylight Savings Time. To which we just switched, here in the U.S., this past weekend. But I caught myself with a smile as the sunshine poured into my windows at around 6pm last night, and I felt a new breath of energy and optimism for the returning spring. I don't like summer either, much, in case you were wondering. Except when I do, like when things are growing and thriving and green. I'd rather have an extra month of snow right now though.

Show Choir season will end tonight with a banquet. (and an "ooomph" of relief) It has been fun this year, and so crazy that I have not one single photo to post. The above link goes to a video of one of their numbers. If you are unfamiliar with the whole show choir phenomenon; these kids can DANCE and SING. My Valentine had a solo for the first time; and she nailed it! It was not the mournful (soulful?), sweet, sad ballad, but the rockin', deep,  wake-up-the-house song; her style. Parents and teachers are almost as involved as the kids, and I spent one memorable weekend trekking from one end of the venue to another, doing my duty, or "parental volunteer commitment," for 25 hours, give or take. Come to think of it, it was not memorable, it is all a blur.

Boy Scouts has managed to take up another good chunk of my time; to which, as with Show Choir, I have gracefully submitted. It was either that or spend my time grumbling about how much of my life it takes up. This beautiful, loyal Troop 7, all showed up to welcome Gael as a new member, for his bridging ceremony. I was touched. Here, his brother putting on his new neckerchief:

 There I am; third, doting mom from the left, he is third Webelo from same:
 A big chunk of Troop 7, and their parents:
From the memorial service for Dave Hill, Scoutmaster. The saddest day in a sad month. Someone great has passed our way, and passed on. There are not many like him, and he meant a great deal to Charles; mentor, buddy, motivator.

I am dawdling over my screen when I really should be folding laundry or exercising. Don't forget your good intentions when it comes to moving more. Go, get up! I'll see you outside.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Minimalist Winter Fitness

The Midwest, like many places, is not the best place to get in a good daily walk or run, or even play in the backyard, in the winter. If there is snow, it is glorious for sledding, skiing and building forts for hours on end. Provided the wind chill is not in the "you will freeze within 5 minutes if you do not find shelter," range.

But a woman's gotta move if she does not want to go crazy around here (things have been on the wilder side of nuts).  My sweet, active, normally very helpful husband was down with a knee injury, one kid is in a wrist brace after multiple appointments with the same orthopedic people husband saw the week before). The immediate need for restructuring of a scout troop after the death of my sons' beloved scoutmaster, a very important sanctuary project getting underway at our church, preparation for one kiddo's audition for a creative arts academy, and show choir season beginning for another. And the flu; did I mention the flu? They are not all on a par, but they do have one thing in common; they are part of life's messiness that sucks time out of a day and leaves you flabby and cranky because you did not take a nanosecond to exercise.

The plan; DO IT FIRST and put the basement/living room/bedroom space to good use. One mini-trampoline, one screen and two DVDs. Cardio: 30-45 minutes on the mini-trampoline while watching the only tv I ever take time to watch, or listening to an audiobook (yesterday I tried to read a novel I'd unwisely gotten caught up slows one down, or makes you nauseous as the words jump around a bit), and a half-hour or so of Essentrics to stretch it out, relieve pain and muscle tension and make my day more comfortable. There are days when I cannot do both, and days when I spend more time on one or both. The only real secret is to do it. Go. Turn off the screen. See you later.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Epiphany...La Fete des Rois

We have come to the last celebration of the Christmas season; Epiphany, or La Fete des Rois; the day the wise men finally arrived after following the star, all the way to the baby Jesus. And we eat cake...must be a remnant of Marie Antoinette in there somewhere. This is my brioche galette des rois: 

But this was nothing, compared with Valentine's master creation of her (she has taken over the tradition, and she is better at it than I ever was); of her buche de Noel;(made from our favorite Julia Child book):

Other Christmas creations, always include gingerbread houses and snowflakes:

Celebrating my two December birthday darlings:

Back to the galette des rois (Epiphany cake)...there are two traditional cakes in France for this feast; I have always made the brioche version; a yeast dough that needs two days to develop: but my ever-patient husband told me last night that he loves the frangipane version; which takes making a mille feuille from scratch, and almond paste. I hate almond paste and not even an excellent French cook would think twice about buying her mille feuille ready-made at the grocery store. Not an option here. I DID once make a mille feuille, from Juila Child's not-so-simplified instructions. Once. But I will give it a try again, soon. He is also waiting for me to finally learn how to make creme brulee...maybe this year! I have made several attempts, even buying my kids' favorite-kitchen-item EVER: a butane torch to burn the caramel. Turns out I am great at the burning part; and I have a bunch of helpers willing to lend a hand, it's the inside that is a little trickier. New opportunities. 

May your 2018 be full of peace, joy, and opportunities seized and lived to the fullest!

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The Stockings Awaited St.Nicholas...

...and he came, deep in the night, to fill them with care. One was delivered to a college student's apartment, the others here, in the pre-dawn.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Thanks-Giving Still This Week

I cannot resist holiday is such a happy time, with all of the family here. Waking up to the full feeling of all of my children under the same roof is so warm and joyful. L-R: Duncan, Valentine, Charles (who did smile, only it was when someone else's eyes were closed), me, Caitlin, Gael, Thierry.

Here are a few photos of the day:

 Gael made this sign to congratulate his uncle on obtaining a fantastic grant to redo his very cool pub, The London Underground, a historical building in Iowa.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

A Thankful Bird

Happy Thanksgiving to all, from our family, and from the bird who is not in the oven today.

Friday, November 10, 2017

November:Making Peace with Disruption

The first thing that came to my mind today when I thought of my little blog, was that I keep getting interrupted by unimportant  details that take on a huge significance, sometimes to me, sometimes to others around me.  I allow them to get in the way of the rest of my life. But perhaps those disruptions are there for a purpose. Maybe I should see them as building blocks, places to pause and breathe, instead of simply rushing through them, trying to get on to the next item on my agenda, even if it IS the next project to knit.

I am still trying to figure out how my second car accident in six months could be seem as a guide post from the universe. Honestly. I was driving REALLY slowly both times. 

Another very unpleasant experience took on all of the aspects of an opportunity for learning, once I had stopped being positively furious, a matter of only two weeks, give or take a few days. I have learned how to file a motion, electronically even, which may or may not come in handy in the future. If given the choice, I certainly hope it will not EVER be needed again. I suppose I learned that some things cannot be rushed, even though you were wishing they did not have to happen at all.

One child has a theatre festival out of town this weekend. As I drove home from dropping her off at 6:30am, I took the side streets through the old section of town. There were some stunning old homes in these parts, but most of them are in a sad state today. Families just like mine are raising children here, in the midst of violence and drug deals. Their plumbing probably sucks even more than mine. I bet the roofs all need replacing. I get to wake up every morning in a warm home, with a back yard where the kids can play in safety. My house has a working fireplace and there is a pile of wood to burn. Gratitude goes a long way toward joy and hope returning to one's perspective.

Our garage was the center for a "please join us, all!" Halloween fest again this year, dressing up is so much fun. And a whole lot of creative effort went into the costumes, from the children themselves. Above: Gaƫl, as a medieval plague doctor, or something. His mask was a work of devotion and love; papier mache, leather piecing, punching and stitching, by himself and our friend, Juniper, below:

Charles made his costume in the garage, his other dwelling place; he went as SportsMaster, I think, a comic book character:

Valentine, aka Little Red with Toto, visits with the Lion. She recycled her now completed red cape I made her.

Friends who came to play, Jon and Molly:
And, the grown-ups, dressed up, at the Witches' Ball: (Charles graciously loaned his costume to his Dad for the evening).

Thierry had to leave the country again, but this time it was a sorrow as well as a privilege. His grandmother passed away, at the age of 96. Goodness how we all loved her. She was incredible, and very much small scale, fiercely devoted to her family and taking care of them. The rest of the world could go hang; except for the church festival and others needing her knitted layettes. If you asked, she would knit. And yet, as her family grew and grew, she touched more and more lives every day. She did small things with great love, as seems to be the secret of all sages everywhere.

When my grandparents passed away during my time in France, we had not a penny to spare for me to return. It broke my heart not to be able to grieve with my family, but I had my husband who loved me and that made all the difference. It also meant that I had complete empathy with his need to be with his family. What we needed to do to make it happen was going to happen. Easy? No, but then, most things that are worth doing are not going to be easy.

I gazed at the sunrise from my car while waiting in the parking lot this morning. I breathed in the beauty and imagined millions of people all breathing in unison, praying for peace, at that moment, and you could tell; those colors were not easy to mix to make this picture just so. And it happens over and over, every single day. Courage and light to you.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

The Trip Not to Do Over: 2010 and a Volcanic Eruption

"Are we there yet?" has taken on a whole new meaning. It's been 43 hours, but who's counting? We are still not there, not sure how we are going to get there, but we are trailing around 6 suitcases and various other backpacks, purses, cosmetic cases and knitting bags, and a toddler (no sling, nice going mama.) I am writing from a McDonald’s in a dubious quartier in downtown Paris, while the kids go up and down the escalator of the eerily empty mall we are in.

We have been caught up in one of the craziest natural disasters to hit the western world in a long time. A volcano erupted, in Iceland (it's always Iceland with me.) The volcanic ash from the fall-out, as it were, has formed itself into a giant cloud that has shut down all of the airports in Northern Europe.