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"Dogs are better than human beings because they know but do not tell."  --  Emily Dickinson

Yesterday marked the second anniversary of Gerttie's death.  It's hard to believe.    Though I now share my home with these two mad cap creatures, they aren't Gerttie. 
Gerttie was one of a kind.  She was the schnauzer of schnauzers.  When I owned my yarn store, she was the official door greeter.  The store's lease had her listed by title.  Everyone stopped by to see her.  On my final day as shop owner, one customer spent 2 1/2 hours one way by bus to say good bye, not to me, but to Gerttie.  He brought her a box of treats and a rawhide bone.  I received a handshake.   

Gerttie lived a long 16 years.   She picked me out when just 7 weeks old.  While her sisters shied away, Gerttie had no fear.  She grabbed me by the thumb.  I was only 23 and smitten.  She was so tiny she fit easily in my coat pocket.  From that moment we were inseparable.   We traveled the country, climbing mountains and swimming in lakes.  She was my pal and my protector.  She chased burglars, snarled at gang bangers and insisted our nightly walks be quick.  Named after Gertrude Stein, Gerttie knew her mind and was not to be swayed.

This was especially true of my boyfriends.  She decided who she liked and who she didn't.  Those gentlemen of whom she held in disdain were left "presents", that or she outright peed on them.  She was such a good judge of character. If only I had paid more attention....

Jack, the Pomeranian, has his new gal pal in the form of Josie, the Monster Pup.  He's tried to take on Gerttie's role as boss and protector, but Josie has him firmly under paw.   The same goes for me.   


"Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, 'What! You too?  I thought I was the only one."  --  C.S. Lewis

If you haven't participated in a swap, it is time to give it a try.  It is fun to send and receive packages with people you have never personally met.  So many things to consider.  What represents you?  What represents your country?  What can you fit in a small box? 

For the past year Steph and I have been exchanging goodies from our respective countries, the United States and Belgium.  Look at the magnificent goodies that arrived today by post!  Steph is an artist who frequently makes jewelry.  I am so lucky to be the recipient of her creativity.  I love the earrings.  They match my new glasses (20 points to you if you remember their color from a previous post) and the poppy bracelet is quite clever.  My favorite piece is a "rock" she made from fimo clay.  It receives frequent compliments.  But then again, that button ring....  And did I mention the chocolates, teas and books in French?

My packages are eclectic.  As I live in a Polish Hispanic neighborhood of Chicago, I frequently send Polish and Mexican candies in addition to Wrigley gum.  As a hoarder of all things shiny, I tuck in a few beads and baubles, as well as postcards, magnets, magazines and whatever else suits my fancy.  I try to tailor make them for the recipient.

So give it a try.  Gimme your stuff!  You may find yourself making a new friend.

middle age

"Middle Age is when your age starts to show around your middle."  -- Bob Hope

According to Isaac, I must be at least 100 if not older.  When I informed him that I am only 41, he shrugged his shoulders and declared "That's still old."  Remember when you counted your age in fractions?  Isaac is 5 and 3/4 years old.   His perspective on age is different from my own.  Anyone older than 7 is old to him.   To me, age is less about a number and more about an attitude, a will to live life at its fullest.

Meet Mary.  She is 100% pure sass.  She tells you flat out that she doesn't care about her age, she has decided to be a born-again child.  She figures she has earned the right after years of work.  She's been learning to knit in a class I teach.  She prefers the knitting frame and is on to her second hat after just a few sessions.  Notice her choice in colors; there is nothing subdued about them.  The brighter and bolder the colors, the more the hat suits her.  She isn't worried about whether it matches her coat or mittens, just bring on the color.   

These days I am worried about my mother's health.  She had a pace maker inserted last summer and since that time has been taken to the hospital twice.  At the present moment she is at home with the flu and is so weak she claims she can't climb the stairs.  By her account, the end is near.  Ask her doctor and she says no worries, the flu will pass.  I have trouble with this drama queen approach to health, let alone having empathy when she refuses to make even small adjustments to improve her quality of living.

There is something to accepting that one's definition of living must change as the body ages, call it a phenomenological view on aging. It's not a negative, far from it.  Since childhood, I have lived in the land of the sick.  I know my body can't do everything that it should.  My spine is crooked, so I'm always in pain.  I can't stand or sit straight.  But it doesn't bother me.  It doesn't stop me from doing what I want to do.  At 39 the pain could no longer be ignored, so I started physical therapy.  I detest the gym, but I'd rather do the exercises than not have the strength to  garden.   

Several of my senior students are wheelchair bound.  This is a relatively new adjustment for them, but it doesn't stop them from getting about and doing their "good works" - ie volunteering.  They can't live the life they lived at 20, but rather than mourning the change, they've adjusted their definition of living.  They can't imagine sitting at home watching tv all day or staying in bed complaining of aches and pains. When my grandmother could no longer comfortably climb stairs, she moved into a high rise.  After that she was no longer at home, she was always out visiting folks or having them over for dinner.  I teased her that at 84 she had a better social life than my own.  She retorted, "Your age is defined by you, not society and not a calender." 

So when Isaac told me I was old, I laughed.  He was right.  I am old.   But I am younger than the universe.

expectant little knits

"By far the most common craving of pregnant women is not to be pregnant."  --  Phyllis Diller

I have a petite framed body and a daughter who is adopted, so I was at a serious disadvantage when initially thinking of designs for this book.  The scale of the specs looked huge and out of proportion.  How to take them and make them into something flirty and fun?  Call 6 friends who recently had children and ask them what they loved and hated about maternity wear.  Uniformly everyone mentioned loving their larger chest.  "Show it off!"  "Make it feminine."  So I did. 

Two of my designs are in the book, but the others are amazing.  I mean really amazing.  I loved the one with a twisted bodice.  Very flirty.  So is the black knit dress with side pleats.  I thought it was crazy to consider knitting a sweater worn for such a brief time, but as my friends all said, that time seems forever.  My knitted models are now rotating among other friends who are currently pregnant and they love having something a bit different and comfortable to wear.  My designs are for winter, fall, and early spring, but there are quite a few fun summer ones too. 

For me, this was a great design challenge.  It took me out of my comfort zone.  I usually have several fittings during the knitting process to be sure that my measurements are on track.  This time, I had to wing it.  Fortunately a pregnant colleague tried them on just before being sent off for the photo shoot.  They looked great on her.


black balloons

"No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear." -- C. S. Lewis

A student's work from when I taught at Northern Illinois University several years ago.  While thinking of what image I wanted to use to capture what I am feeling, this work came to mind.  Hollow shells, balloon-shaped, lifting toward the sky.  You can see the beautiful setting of the campus on a golden fall afternoon.  I grieve for the students injured and who died.  I worry for my colleagues who have to handle the many concerns students returning will have while still processing their own fears.  I mourn for the campus that was once such a place of lovely, peaceful respite.   

As I've been on a news diet, I didn't hear of the shooting until late that evening when my brother called to see if I was okay.  "What?  What do you mean?"  He then told me about the tragedy.  He didn't realize that I am no longer teaching at NIU.  He confused it with another university where I now teach.   He waited as I processed the news and then talked with me for a few hours about everything and anything.      

I have to admit.  I'm a bit spooked.  I taught at NIU.  My father lives near Columbine High School.  My grandfather attended Virginia Tech and the wife of a regular customer at the family restaurant died in the recent shooting rampage in Kirkwood, MO.  The coincidence is uncanny and only slightly unnerving.  But like the balloons lifting upward, I have hope despite the violence. 

I have to have hope, because the only thing left is fear.

modern ice

"Some say the world will end in fire, some say in ice." -- Robert Frost

Yesterday the temperature was tolerable.  I took a stroll around Chicago's Museum of Modern Ice.  I wanted to see Gordon Halloran's ice paintings.  They are remarkable in scale and construction.  All color and shape, they are a definite flip of the proverbial finger to gray winter weather.
I couldn't help but smile, though that may have also been caused by the pervasive sound of water dripping.  The museum is melting!  Yes, melting which means my alley may soon lose its status as an ice rink.   

Hallorman's work reminds me of my own desire to create work that isn't permanent.  The Red Thread Project depends on the donating of hundreds of hats constructed for the performance to those in need of a little warmth.  Here today, gone tomorrow.  This method of making is considered crazy by some.  "Why don't you auction off the hats?"  "Can't you sell them?"  "All that work...!"  That's not the point of my project and it certainly doesn't seem to be the point of Hallorman's.  His work celebrates community.  It  celebrates color and light.  It brings people together at a time when most would not bother. 

baking love

"Love is a smoke made with the fume of sighs." -- William Shakespeare

Butter cookies are the stuff of childhood that endures.  So simple - butter, sugar, flour, eggs, vanilla, baking powder, a dash of salt, add some heat and voila!  Alchemy at its yummiest. 

My cookbook collection is becoming obscene.  It spills out of from the kitchen and into the office and bathroom.  My current favorite is one given to my daughter for pastry school graduation.  I like how clear the directions are, right down to those small tricks that make a cookie go from divine to sublime.   Of course, most of these tricks are ones my daughter learned in pastry school, but which I never knew.

I have become one with parchment paper and silicone cookie sheet liners.   If you haven't tried a silicone cookie sheet liner, you don't know what you have been missing.  There is no need to grease a cookie sheet when you have one of these handy items.  Let the tray cool a moment and cookies will slide off.  Baking love!

knitting a novel

"Spinning, weaving, knitting, all part of the long tradition of women's work, skills that had survived even the efficiency of the industrial revolution. Why did people still do it?" -- description taken from the back flap of Knitting: A novel by Anne Bartlett

A friend wrote that she had finished this book, giving it a two knitting needle rating - ie it is a must read, especially for those who love the textile arts.  What came as a shock was to learn from her that I am listed in the acknowledgments section.   I thought she was kidding, but she read it to me over the phone.  She wasn't kidding.   

May I just say - HOW COOL IS THAT!  To know that my work actually influenced another in even small measure is always a thrill, but to have it in print in a novel is amazing.   Needless to say, the book is already on order. 

Now that I am thinking about it, there are a number of fictional titles with a textile theme.  A few are:

The Friday Night Knitting Club by Kate Jacobs

Knit One, Kill Two by Maggie Sefton

A Deadly Yarn
by Maggie Sefton

Needled to Death
by Maggie Sefton

Indigo Dying by Susan Wittig Albert

news diet

"For most folks, no news is good news; for the press, good news is not news."  -- Gloria Borger

I am on a news diet.  I told that to a recent acquaintance and he looked at me aghast. Why do I wish to be so ill informed?  The answer is simple - I can't take all the negativity especially when repeated in every media format possible at the top of every hour.  I listen to a 1/2 hour of news on NPR in the morning and maybe a 1/2 hour on the drive home in the evening and that is it.  This may seem like a lot, but this is a drastic reduction from reading one local daily paper, the Sunday New York Times,  the British Guardian online and picking up the occasional Manchester Weekly.

And yet, I am beginning to think my radio listening is too much.

Last week I woke to a news update about 6 women shot during a burglary in a Chicago suburb followed by a shooting spree in Kirkwood, MO in which several also died.  My family knew one of the folks who died in the  Kirkwood shooting.  Even so, deaths that I hear having occurred 1/2 way around the world effect me too.  War, flood, famine, earthquake, murder, terrorism, etc, etc, etc.  The news is always dismal. It's a small wonder that anyone can get out of bed in the morning. 

It's been an interesting experiment to reduce my daily news intake.  I actually sleep better.  My dreams aren't filled with images of tsunamis and muggings.   I am also less tense.  I don't think about the commute home.  I know there are pot holes all over the city.  I don't need to read an article, hear a story and see a news clip about it.  I completely flunked a quiz in French class on French politics and pop culture.  I used to know this information, but haven't kept up since I began my news diet 2 years ago. 

This small experiment began with canceling my newspaper subscription.  I couldn't afford the paper and my French lessons.  Taking a class is more social.  French lessons allow me to converse with more of the world.  I can't answer who the girlfriend is (now wife I heard, I heard) of the French president, but I can tell someone that I am an artist with one daughter who grew up in the United States and spent part of her adulthood in Great Britain.  I can tell them what I am thinking and how I feel.  I can't tell the newspaper that another George Bush policy is ticking me off to no end. 

Give it a try.  Reduce your news intake for a week.  You may sleep better too.

snow revision


Snow drifting in wind,
falling, blowing in cold air.
One piece: earth and sky.

-- Sondra Ball

Okay, I revise my earlier statement about snow.  It's pretty despite unpleasant driving conditions.

Today was one of those "bloggable" camera days and I left my camera at home.  I wanted to share with you the winter wonderland of the Chicago Botanic Gardens as I saw it this morning.  One piece: earth and sky.  It was crisp and overcast.  Grey clouds melded at the horizon of white snow and frozen lake.  Ice crunched underfoot.  I lost my way as the typical floral landmarks I seek were frozen.  As a result, I saw bits of the garden I seem to have missed in visits past.

Afterward, I headed back to the visitor's center where I had a fabulous mushroom and spinach painini with a warm cup of Earl Grey tea.  I had my knitting with me, so I looked out over the lagoon as I finished a hat for a friend. 

All this while waiting for the new brakes for my car.  The dealership where I take my car has a shuttle to the Garden.  Lovely.   All very civilized, don't you agree?

The above photos are from the CBG website.