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Thursday, May 21, 2015

Alice



Her name was Alice. I wasn’t named for her, but I always liked that our names sounded alike. Alice and Allison. Our own secret code.

She made me cups of milky black tea, the way she liked it, and made a tea drinker out of me. Each morning as I pour a splash of milk into my teacup, I think of her. I think of the balls of snickerdoodle dough she kept stashed in the freezer, ready to pull out to bake a few fresh whenever she had company. She taught me how to make pies, to roll out the dough just right. She told me stories of waking early on Sundays as a child to bake pies before Mass. She was famous amongst her friends and family for her Christmas candy: peanut butter cups, divinity, chocolate-covered toffee, and more. She had a sweet tooth like me, and I feel lucky that one Christmas, just before she gave up candy-making for good, I got to be in the kitchen with her, melting chocolate and whipping egg whites.

I remember Sunday dinners at her house when I was a kid. I played in the woods behind the house with my cousins until it was time to eat, and then we’d retrieve the table leaves from under my grandparents’ bed so that the whole family—her eight children, their spouses, and a bevy of grandchildren—could gather around the table for a big meal that would stick to our ribs, most often something like a roast with carrots and onions and homemade bread, fluffy and white, still steaming as we cut it.

She taught me about mysterious things like guardian angels (hers was named Claire) and the stigmata. She told me if you prayed the rosary enough it would turn gold. She said she smelled roses the moment she knew my grandpa had entered heaven. She had an enviable faith, an unflappable belief in Catholicism, God, the Virgin Mary, and heaven. For most of her life she attended Mass daily, and sometimes when she babysat me she took me on her nursing home rounds, where she visited residents and helped with Mass.

She did a killer impression of the Wicked Witch from The Wizard of Oz. I can easily recall her cackling, “I’ll get you, my pretty, and your little dog too.” She enjoyed playing cards and drinking wine. She traveled the world—Cuba and New York when she was young and then in her older years places such as Washington, California, France, Germany, Italy, and Yugoslavia. She inspired my dream of traveling to Alaska after she told me stories of her Alaskan cruise, about the beautiful scenery and the lady she traveled with who’d packed enough underwear so that she’d just throw away each pair after wearing them. What an adventure!

She sent me a bouquet of flowers after I gave birth to my son. It was a memorable gift because so many presents were for the baby, but those flowers were for me. A congratulations. A pat on the back. A welcome to motherhood. She always said my boy looks like “a doll baby,” such a great-grandmotherly compliment.

I just caught myself writing that last sentence in the present tense. Even after a couple weeks, it seems strange to think that she’s gone. How can it be that she won’t be at the next family gathering, won’t take her seat at the poker table, won’t hug me or my son again? Her death was really the best she or anyone else could hope for. She lived a long, happy life, was independent for most of her 86 years, suffered for only a short time at the end, and was able to make the choice not to pursue treatment for kidney failure and a recurrence of ovarian cancer. Yet, even with this best-case scenario, the loss feels huge. It passes over me in waves of realization, most often in that moment between wake and sleep, a split-second of terror and grief.

The good part is that with eight children, fourteen grandchildren, and ten great-grandchildren, there are plenty of people to tell stories about her, and she passed down a feistiness and zest for life that really comes out when we’re all together.

And in those moments when the loss feels like too much, well, there’s always tea, with an extra splash of milk for Grandma Alice. 

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

tonight, with the possibility of frost


Tonight, with the possibility of frost hanging in the chilly air, I wrapped up in my gray wool and alpaca cardigan and stepped out into the twilight. I carried a bundle of old linens to my fledgling kitchen garden and tucked my herbs in for the night, the orange and white striped sheets making it look like a middle school campout, and I secretly longed for a campfire and starlight.

As I walked through my small garden, the black-capped chickadees came to visit, gathering seeds one by one in their tiny beaks. I hugged my sweater tighter and took in the work I've done over the past few days. The strawberry plants are blooming in their new spot. The peas are flowering too, and the lettuce seedlings in the raised bed are lined up like a parade, just waiting for a cymbal crash of sunshine to spring into action. The peppermint, lemon balm, and Kentucky Colonel spearmint are growing strong already, lush green growth stark against the cinnamon-colored soil.

I picked a handful of peppermint leaves for a cup of hot tea, crushing them just slightly between my fingers so I could breathe in their fresh scent. I lingered as the darkness began to fall, returning to the house only when the sounds of a neighbor and his dog broke through my garden reverie, scattering my thoughts like seeds for the chickadees.

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I hope your night is warm and filled with simple comforts like fresh tea from the garden and the work of your own two hands.



Monday, April 20, 2015

in bloom









{from top: Angelique tulips, Japanese maple, dogwood, Tom Thumb pea shoot, herbs--yes, two-thirds are lavender, violet cake}

We celebrated all the spring flowers this week with a violet cake, picking the violets before the rainstorms rolled through one morning and letting their petals dry on our kitchen counter. We used the vanilla cake recipe from Apples for Jam, which yielded a simple, buttery cake and a sweet vanilla frosting. Definitely a recipe to pull out again and again, adding in berries, peaches, lemon balm, and mint as the seasons progress.

We filled our raised beds with soil, and now they're just waiting to be planted. I've got beans, cucumbers, carrots, peas, lettuce, chard, and flower seeds ready to go, but I need to figure out what to plant where. I'm thinking Companion Planting for the Kitchen Gardener by Allison Greer might help out (I love Allison's blog, Homesprout, and Liesl recently recommended this book on her new podcast).

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What's growing where you live? Have you been doing anything special to celebrate the seasons? We've been eating outside every chance we get. It gets so hot and humid in Kentucky during the summer, so we're taking advantage of the mild weather right now.


Wednesday, April 15, 2015

sunshine and clouds



In between rain showers, my boy and I spend hours outside. He rolls in the grass and makes flower soup in his bucket, adding wild violets and dandelions that stain his hands. He throws in rocks for good measure and stirs the pot with sticks he finds littering our yard. I seem to always be digging in the dirt or clearing more space to plant. The garden is going to be a magical place this year.

Those outside hours have seeped into my knitting basket. The other day when I pulled out my works in progress I saw sunshine in the Carrie's Yellow Chickadee yarn from Quince and Co. and clouds in the undyed yarns from Kentucky's own Littledove Farm and Ballyhoo Farm. An unconscious homage to spring, if you will.

The little hats were inspired by this one, which looks like a Barley hat with a pompom to me. I love the simplicity of it, the squishiness of the garter stitch, and the whimsy of the pompom. These two just need pompoms attached!

I've also been working on a yellow Livingston sweater for my boy to wear next fall. I've just gotten to the body section and love seeing each little bird appear as I knit.

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This year I told myself that I'd read more fiction. Somehow in the past few years I've strayed from my novel-reading roots and ventured into a solid habit of nonfiction reading. There's nothing wrong with that, but I'd like a little more balance in my reading. The Namesake has been on my to-read list for years, and it hasn't disappointed. Lahiri explores the lives of two generations of an Indian family living in the U.S. and finding different ways to define themselves. I'd recommend it!

Also, I just listened to "The Living Room" from the Love + Radio podcast (via Radiolab). Have you heard it yet? Oh my, it's good. Get listening!

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Linking up with the Yarn Along today. 

What are you making, reading, or listening to this week?

Monday, April 6, 2015

uniform






I recently spent many nights of monogamous knitting to make myself a Uniform cardigan. I actually love knitting miles of stockinette and garter stitch. It's like eating macaroni and cheese or curling up with a favorite book: so comforting.

As soon as this sweater was off my needles it did indeed become my uniform. It's serving as an ersatz jacket during these early spring days, which just means I'm wearing it unapologetically every single day. It's my go-to sweater for gardening, neighborhood walks, farmers' market trips, and everything else (except clearing brush--that was a mistake that left me picking brambles out of my stitches!).

My favorite parts of the sweater are the pockets (handy for keys, lip balm, and chilly hands) and the long garter stitch cuffs. I chose dark wooden buttons to complement the earthiness of the sweater.

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What's your uniform these days? Or do you mix it up? I'm happy to wear a black t-shirt, cardigan, and jeans every day, at least until it warms up a bit more. I'm such a creature of habit.

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P.S. Thanks to my mom for the daffodil for these photos. Ours are in bloom too!


Sunday, March 22, 2015

mothering



It feels strange to be back in this space after so much time away. February passed in a fog of cabin fever; we were cooped up on bitterly cold days and were more than ready when the last snow of winter melted.

Now my boy and I are wholeheartedly embracing spring. He begs to eat every meal outside, even when we have to bundle up in coats and hats. We water our pea plants and check to see how much the tulips and daffodils have grown. It's easy to mark their daily progress and see where rabbits have taken a nibble or a bite here and there. I'm trying my hardest not to begrudge those rabbits their first taste of spring.

I planted those bulbs in the aftermath of my miscarriage last fall, orderly rows of tiny white daffodils, tall yellow ones, and tulips in white, yellow, and pink. I needed something to hope for, and so I buried those bulbs like promises to myself that come spring things would be better. All winter long they slumbered in the frozen soil, and I must admit that on more than one occasion I doubted they would sprout.

But they have!

I sometimes feel silly at how much delight I take in our daily ritual of checking on the sprouts, but I do delight in it nonetheless. My son and I share in the joy of these growing things. It's not a new baby, but it's new life, and I'll take hope where I can find it.


Wednesday, February 11, 2015

henny hat












Have you seen Liesl's first pattern, the Henny Hat? It's beautiful. It has a simple lace pattern and just the right amount of slouch. The pattern is well written and includes both charted and written directions. It's a quick knit too, so it's perfect if you're looking for a project to curl up with this weekend.

I was lucky enough to be able to test the hat pattern and a skein of Buckaloo View black walnut yarn. I'm smitten with the rich caramel color the black walnuts gave to this wool-alpaca blend and can't wait until Liesl opens her shop so I can get my hands on some more. Wouldn't this yarn look great as a cardigan?

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See my Henny Hat notes here.

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Have you tried any new patterns lately? I'm excited about Canopy, Charcoal & Ash, and the colorwork patterns in the latest issue of Pom Pom Quarterly.

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