Tag Archives: knitting

The Color of Winter

popsicle sweater

When it turned into late January and February, I started remembering the flowers that would be blooming at my old house in California.  First the crocuses and hydrangea and the plum tree in back, then the magnolia tree,  tulips, irises, and finally, my absolute favorite, the lilac.   I found a special lilac to plant, one that didn’t need really cold winters in order to bloom, and it paid off — it was such a beautiful bush every February, that people walking on the street wanted to take pictures and smell it.  It is one of my favorite scents, even if it is old fashioned, it appeals to my love of vintage everything.  I worked hard the first few years I lived there to have lots of color in my yard as well as in my house, and I appreciated every new bud that I saw on my way to work, as well as inspected the yard when I got home for the latest flower to show its face.

It is very brown here on the ground in New Mexico during January and February, unless there is snow, and then it’s white.  It turns out that I don’t mind the cold here at all, in fact I am usually warmer than I was in California, even though the temperature is lower, I guess because of the dryness.  I also don’t mind the snow, and find it absolutely beautiful, whether it’s drifting or blowing.  And we do have amazing skies to constantly watch (now that I can actually see the sky, which was often hidden by trees and buildings in the Bay Area), and the skies are often pink, orange, gold and gray-blue.  But I do miss my daily dose of flower color that helped me get through the hard months of Jan. and Feb.

I realized, as I sat doing my knitting in the new studio, watching the sky out the windows and feeling the peace of the space around me, that I have found my color elsewhere, although I hadn’t yet verbalized that to myself.  I am now knitting a pullover, using variegated yarn that is called “popsicle.”  It is very bright, orange, pink, lavender, yellow, and there is no doubt that I will be quite visible when I finish it and wear it.  It makes me really happy to work on it, and I think its gorgeous colors are the reason.  The other thing I’ve been doing is sewing a lot.  I’ve been ordering some really fun material, and 90% of it is colorful — warm oranges with East Indian prints, bright greens, several pieces of aboriginal prints that include all kinds of color and design, pink flannel, mauve with gold spots, Japanese indigo material with little dragonflies on it, and on and on.  I actually sort through the material several times before deciding which one feels right to work with and then I find just the right pattern for it.  I get immense pleasure from looking at all that I have.  Colors, designs,  and patterns are soul satisfying to me, and today I have realized that even though this is probably always true, it is especially true in winter, when I’m missing color in the outside environment, and when I’m prone to feeling gray inside, if the day is gray outside.  I like that I can figure out solutions to problems before even worrying about them much, it makes me trust myself and my ability to take care of myself.

I look forward to putting up pictures in the new studio, as I’ve just realized that is another way to find color when I’m inside.  Although that’s usually the first thing I do when I move, it’s taken a while this year, and they are still packed in the garage for a few weeks more.   Their brightness is in my mind’s eye, but it will be better next winter when they are surrounding me everywhere in the house and studio.

As for the outside here in New Mexico, we have planted bushes and bulbs and trees that are supposed to have color on them at some point, but I don’t really know this climate yet, and if and when they will actually bloom.  I know that there will be amazing wildflowers in the desert in the spring (if we have rain), and I know that I am ready with all kinds of seeds to throw in my new yards around the studio when it is time.  I’ve heard that mid May is the time to plant outside, before that is still prone to frost.  But now I feel like I can wait more patiently, understanding this strong desire for color and how to get it at all times of year.

I  heard that a woman who lived here and recently died, always had bright, plastic flowers in her car.  They got “planted” by a good friend in a little plot of dirt on Main St. as a memorial to her, and look almost shockingly colorful in the gray of winter.  I think she and I may have had something in common.  Someone else who figured out just what she needed.

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Winterly Thoughts

As the time comes nearer when we will be all the way moved to Trail’s End, I find there is a never-ending number of tasks to be done.  Which means that I know the time will go very quickly.  But for now, it is winter, traditionally a difficult season for me, as I am extremely S.A.D.   Lucky for me, Sarita has helped me learn to enjoy winterly things that can change my perception just enough to get by.

One thing that we find is a favorite activity, is reading aloud to each other, with the little Christmas lights on the mantle, and the house cozy and warm despite the early nights.  We sit on the couch and one of us knits (or spins) and the other one of us reads out loud from one of many books we have for just this purpose.  We have two wonderful books of Christmas stories that are not very commonly known, but are thought provoking and sentimental all the same.  I think I got them both on discount from Barnes and Nobles.  One has Newberry stories, the other is just old tales by old writers, who seemed to really capture the spirit of Christmas.  Then we have a book called “Knitting Yarns” which are stories about yarn and knitting by writers we know from other genres.  Since Sarita and I are both knitters, and I am the newbie, I can especially relate to many of the wonderful and troublesome aspects of knitting that are brought up in the stories. It turns out that my learning curve is not necessarily as unique as I thought it might be, which is actually helpful to know.   And many of the stories are quite funny.  Finally, our latest find is a book called “Sheepish” about two women who have a sheep farm in Minnesota, and lots of adventures and dramas, as is the case with any farm.  But the one who is writing also has a good sense of introspection and humor, and since Sarita is interested in sheep, it gives us a lot to think about.  (Mainly, maybe we really just want fleece from someone else’s sheep…)

Another favorite part of winter, especially during vacation, is staying up late, past midnight, and then getting up late the next morning.  Although I know this doesn’t really make sense with the daylight savings time we have, it does make sense with our body clocks.  Even the dogs actually slept in till 10;00 one day, unheard of!!  That shows you how late we must have stayed up the night before!  But we just love the cozy time at night, and we’ve been hooked on watching “All Creatures Great and Small,” an old BBC show based on the books of James Herriot, the country vet in England.  These shows make me laugh and often cry, as it’s hard to see animals in difficulties, but it totally validates our love of our animals.  Even our little chihuahua, Penny, watches the show with a focus I’ve not seen in any of the other dogs.  I think I could say that it is her favorite TV program!  She gets quite involved, growling and even barking at the dogs that appear, and she has perfected a way of lying on my lap, resting her head on the arm of the chair, so that she can still see the TV.  It’s a family activity!

The other thing that goes with this cozy scene, is good food, and we certainly have had that.  I am not always into cooking, in which case we eat a lot of popcorn and do a lot of snacking (but it’s actually healthy snacking).  Or, I have found some wonderful cookbooks that have really good vegetable recipes and do not take long to prepare.  “The Longevity Kitchen” by Rebecca Katz is one of my new favorites, and “Five Ingredients, Ten Minutes” by Jules Clancy, the blogger who does Stonesoup.  And then when I’m really in the mood, I get my chemistry “fix” by baking gluten free goodies from my new “The Essential Baking Guide to Gluten Free” volumes 1 and 2.    I have to admit, 99% of what I cook or bake turns out really well.  And I really think I am feeling better because of being mostly wheat, meat and dairy free.

Also, this beginning of the new year means it’s time to think about what to take to Trail’s End, what to leave here at the house for my daughter to use, and what to actually get rid of.  We spent a lot of time clearing out junk and emptying out furniture this vacation.  We took quite a bit to our local recycling station, which also has a place for “Exchanges” that allowed us to get rid of books, bags of yarn we don’t need, and a couple of old instruments that were broken, but could be used for parts. What a wonderful place! Now I can actually start to pack things in boxes that we won’t be using for the next six months, and I am definitely in the mood.  Although I am sure I’m not going to get rid of things as thoroughly as the next person, I am plugging away on it.  We are project people, and readers, and collectors, so there will be an excess of stuff that will have to be stored in the new garage until we figure out a place for it.  But because we are thinking of building a separate bedroom/bathroom, the good news is, we will already have the furnishings whenever it is finished.

Oh yes, we were told about a structure that we are really thinking seriously about building on our lots next to the house we have at Trail’s End.  It is called an Earthship, and it’s based out of Taos, NM.  It is a house made from old tires, and the interior walls are build from cans and bottles (including plastic) and concrete.  It is self sustainable, with cisterns and sophisticated plumbing that takes the water all around the house,  there are no bills associated with it, and the temperature stays a pretty constant and comfortable one, no matter what the weather.  It’s also inexpensive to build, not bad looking, and we think would be so perfect, that if we can figure out the funds to build it, might just move into it and leave our other little house to be a studio and guest house.  Well, we have to figure out the financing, but it’s a great dream to have, and winter and coziness is for having dreams as well as all else I’ve mentioned.

Finally, last but not least, one of my favorite winter activities is just plain reading for enjoyment.  Nothing sweeter than curling up somewhere under an afghan (hand knitted or quilted) reading a great book.  Even better if the book inspires writing.  My latest find is about a woman’s relationship to her grandmother’s store of vintage dresses. (“The Secret Lives of Dresses”) Each dress comes with a story that is told in first person about its experiences being worn.  Well, loving vintage, dresses, and stories, I think that is an amazingly creative idea.  It makes me want to think of amazingly creative ideas to write about based on the things I love.  Of course that is basically what I do when writing songs, so my vacation hiatus of song writing is about to be over.  And who knows what else may come out of my mind, it feels like the possibilities are endless.

Possibilities — I saw the Queen Latifah movie called “The Last Holiday.”  It’s not necessarily a movie with a  deep message, but her character had a Book of Possibilities, and I’ve been thinking about that a lot.  I guess that is a book of dreams.  And in winter at the beginning of the new year, whether that is December 21 on the solstice, or January 1 in the calendar year, I’m finding that creating dreams and working to fulfill them is a perfect activity.  I know there is a chance that they will change before they are fulfilled, but I’m sure that will only be for the better.  I have one of the biggest transitions of my life coming up, (well, I guess it is, besides retiring and getting through cancer).  My Book of Possibilities is brimming over, and my life is all about both doing exactly what I want to do in each season that comes upon me, and preparing for this major change.  I have a lot of curiosity, excitement, and some nervousness about the year coming up.  But tonight it’s dark and cold, and I think I’ll knit and cuddle with Penny and Max while we watch another episode of “All Creatures Great and Small.”   It looks like I might learn to like winter after all.

Taking it out, and doing it over

It isn’t often in life that a person gets to undo something they’ve done and re-do it until it is perfect. In fact, I’m not even sure most of us would have the time, energy, patience and stress level to deal with such a concept.  But we are supposed to learn from our mistakes, and I just read in a book that some people believe that we just encounter the same experiences over and over until we get them right — kind of like the movie “Groundhog Day”.  I think we do have very similar experiences over and over, which is why we have deja vu, and I also believe that we often make the same mistakes many times, which is why it’s a good thing we have many chances to do something better, we need every one of them!  But rarely do we get to undo the past:  perhaps forgive, perhaps forget, but not erase those things we’ve done that we might regret.  And after all, they bring us to the point we’re at now, and hopefully for many that is a good place.

Well it is a good place for me, but now that I have time and space both in reality and in my mind, I have been delighted to find that there is one area I CAN undo things, and re-do them until I am satisfied, and that is knitting.  When I first saw my partner taking out a sweater, which she often does at the beginning of a new project (until she gets it just right), I marveled at her patience.  I never thought that could be me.  And then I saw her take out a whole sweater, one that had been a gift.  She liked the yarn, but not the style of the sweater, and just sat calmly unraveling until it became several balls of yarn.  I couldn’t believe it.  What if the yarn was funky after it unraveled?  What about the fact that it was a gift?  What about the finished product that just disappeared?  I thought it was a sin, at least until she said she was using it to make a cardigan for me, and then I decided that maybe it wasn’t so bad after all…  But I could never never imagine doing such a thing.

When I finished a sweater, if it didn’t fit just right, I took a picture of myself wearing it anyway, and then put it in a plastic box under the bed.  If something I made for someone else wasn’t right, I cursed, perhaps even cried, said tough luck, and put it away somewhere.  I just couldn’t imagine taking anything out.  But as yarn starting eating up my credit card, and I got faster with completing my projects, I decided I’d try this strange task by taking out the first sweater I ever made, which I never ever wore, but was bulky enough to take up a lot of drawer space.  It was hard to do, the yarn kept catching on itself, I had to find just the right end to pull to make it unravel, and it took me a long time.  But I did it eventually, and felt almost the same pride I did with finishing making a sweater!  I then had the excitement of planning a new sweater, a new pattern, one that fit the kind of yarn better, one that I really knew I wanted to wear.  Since then, I have done this many times; the sweater I made for my partner that was too short with too wide of a neck, I re-did and now she wears it all the time.  The one I made that fit absurdly, but has beautiful bamboo yarn, I have just finished taking out and am totally thrilled about what I might make with it next.  You see, it has taken me a while to discover that certain kinds of yarn are better for certain kinds of projects — the weight of the yarn, the thickness, the feel of it (do I want it next to my skin, or over a shirt?), the way it lies (or lays).   This seems obvious to most knitters I’m sure, but it wasn’t to me.  Like everything else about knitting, I’ve had to learn this the slow way.  But now I can be thoughtful, while also knowing that if it doesn’t work out the way I imagine, I can take it out.  Eventually.  I always need a little space after knitting it before I can do that.  And I try to plan my projects so that I’m finishing one sweater around the same time I’m taking one out.  Just for a little positive reinforcement.

 

So how can I use this new and amazing patience, forgiveness (or rather allowance) to make huge mistakes, and persistence for getting something right without being a perfectionist, in my other life (the non-knitting one)?  I honestly am not sure, but I am confident that it will come in handy somewhere either now or in my future.  Perhaps in the fixing up of our little adobe in NM, (some improvements are just what I wanted and expected, others are now quite up to par),or in the dealings with my daughters, who although adults, are still having all the trials, tribulations, and joys of being in their twenties and are sharing many of these with me (and how good it is to remember that as a young person, one also makes many mistakes and lives through them).  Perhaps in my letting go of my past and moving forward into this next life with excited and creative ideas about what can come next for the still-good yarn detritus of my old life.  Something to think about.  Another knitting and potential life lesson for me.

Knitting forever

My mom taught me to knit when I was young.  When I was about 15  I even made a knitted kangaroo, and then a dress, using really really big kitting needles and multiple strands of yarn (I probably had a lot of help from mom).  We were in Australia, and I think I wore it once, and then it was so stretched out of shape I got rid of it.  Little did I know I could wash it and it would probably go back to its original shape.  I only knew that I could not afford to look too strange when I was already strange enough in a different country at that tender teenage time of my life.

After that I knitted things once in a while, but they tended to be rectangles; scarves, shawls, and I even found a sweater pattern made of rectangles that were sewn together.  Although I enjoyed it, and found there were many years of my  twenties and thirties when I could not watch TV without working on a project such as knitting, I was limited by my abilities.  So when my back became my new limitation, and I found myself spending a lot of time on the couch, I decided to tackle real knitting patterns, and learn both how to read them and how to knit the stitches they were talking about.  I got myself a book that called itself a visual way to learn knitting, bought a book with Asian inspired patterns (modified rectangles), and spent Sarita’s gift certificate for a local knitting store ( given to her from the parents of the kids in her class) on some beautiful expensive melon- colored cotton yarn.  And then I just did it.  I made lots of mistakes, which caused me to start over about 4 times, made lots more mistakes, which Sarita fixed for me (being that she’s an excellent knitter), and kept going until I was done.  It wasn’t bad, maybe a little big and not very lightweight, but not bad!

That was the beginning, and I was hooked!  It’s not very often in life that we get to learn this way, the really slow way, by doing and making mistakes, and doing again and again. It’s a joyful and meaningful way to learn!  Thankfully,  I find that each sweater is a little better than the last one.  Knitting is a slow process, so it takes a while to get to the end, and the yarn isn’t cheap, so each sweater is a rather expensive way to improve. But I have time, and I’ve found a site on the internet where interesting yarn goes on sale, so I just keep knitting. I always try to tackle something different for each project so that I continue to learn new stitches and techniques, and I find that it’s working:  the sweaters are fitting better, and they are looking more complicated.

Although there is a knitting store just a few blocks from my house, and last year I measured my health progress by finally being able to walk there, I was not interested in taking a class.  I didn’t know if I could sit up comfortably, and I’m shy about being in a class with others who are probably better than I.  So I continued to practice and use my books and figure things out myself.  Finally, I  got tired of my panics when I made mistakes, waiting for Sarita to get home or bothering her in the middle of whatever she was doing to help fix them.  I bravely decided to take a class on how to fix mistakes.  That turned out to be more helpful than I could have realized, just in the fact that I don’t panic as much anymore, and I can also fix most of whatever crazy things I manage to do.  But while taking the class, I learned that i do not hold my needles correctly, and I really “should” change that.  It reminded me of teaching myself to play fiddle, and then after playing for years by myself and with others, being told that my bowing was all wrong during a one-time lesson with a professional fiddler.  (I was so discouraged, I didn’t play for many years after that.)  I also taught myself to play guitar, and remember being told by one of my dad’s graduate students that my strumming arm was not appropriately positioned against the guitar.  It seems to be a theme for me, but at least I’ve grown up enough to know that even though I’m no professional, what works for me works just fine, even if it is “wrong”.  So I continue knitting up a storm, preparing myself for the coldest of weather in our new home (or the coldest of weather inside the CA house), and enjoy every second of it.

I look forward to the time when I’m able to feel confident enough to give away more homemade garments, but meanwhile, I’ll just keep trying new things and keeping my eye out for sale yarn.  I also have two friends who knit/crochet with me while we talk and catch up on life.  I can’t imagine a better way to spend my time waiting to move to New Mexico.

Cold

I hear that it’s about zero degrees at Trail’s End, and pipes are freezing all over town.  Well, that’s better than twenty five below, which is what it was a couple of years ago, but I guess pipes don’t care how cold it is, as long as it’s below 32.  When we first looked into Trail’s End as a place to live, we heard that the average winter temperature was in the twenties, and there were light dustings of snow occasionally.  Well, the first year after buying the house was the cold one mentioned above, and last year we had two feet of snow just during the ten days we were there, so I think we were misled!  When we are there in cold weather, we have to have the water running through the faucets in a dripping fashion all during the night.  It drives me crazy, because I am so concerned about the waste of water, plus it’s darn noisy.  Next time I’m taking ear plugs.  However, we do catch as much water as we can in pans and buckets, and then we use it all day long for all our activities, from brushing teeth to washing dishes.  The only time we run the water during the day is to flush the toilet or take a quick shower.  That relieves my conscience a bit.  I also think, that at this time, we are saving water during all the months we don’t live there, so that’s not too bad.

 

But water is the resource of the day, and right now there are battles going on over water rights that will affect our little town.   The “bad guy” is an Italian, rumored to be tied into the mob, trying to get water rights to an underground source that will drain all the little tributaries that give water to the wells and to the town.  His petition keeps getting turned down, but he keeps re-applying with minor changes.  Many people are up in arms, but others look at the money that he offers to get rights to their resources and realize how much better it could make their lives (at the present moment). New Mexico is known for droughts, and I can see that this will be an ongoing issue.  We bought a cistern to put under the drain pipes when we move there. We figure if we can catch the rain from the summer thunderstorms, we can use it for watering a garden, or water for the dogs, and who knows what else.

 

 

I minded the cold when I lived in Minnesota, a terrible bitter cold that went way below zero with wind chill, and caused me to permanently scrunch my neck into my coat.  So I worried about how it would feel in New Mexico, my home of choice.  After all, the summers are hot but not too hot, dry but with exciting rainstorms, and perfectly comfortable to my arthritic body.  So I bought some great coats on sale, dug out the old silk long underwear, found some boots, and knitted scarves and hats.  Everything worked wonderfully, because it turns out, if you dress appropriately, you can be comfortable, even in the cold!  I’ve never been too cold there, and in fact, feel more comfortable than I do in California when it’s many degrees higher, but damp and cloudy.  Even the house stays far warmer than the California house.  Adobe, plus 2 little propane heaters, plus a great little wood stove, equals warmth that lasts, throughout the day and the night.  I have central heating in California, which works well when it’s on, but the house seems to retain and sustain the cold when it’s not.

 

There is another reason however, that the cold does not bother me in New Mexico, like I thought it might.  That is simply because I am knitting up a storm and making lots of sweaters and can’t wait to be able to wear them all winter long.  I have pullovers and cardigans and vests of all colors and weights, and will have to practically build a new room to hold them all by the time we get fully moved there.  Of course that is my absolute joy at the present moment, knitting and trying new patterns and styles, and eventually I will be giving away more than I am keeping, but for the time being I’m still learning and shy about giving things that are much less than perfect.  And that will be the intro to my next post…