Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Planner Bug

I've got the planning bug bad right now. Not just the planning bug, but the planner bug.

Two weeks ago when I was next door at church, my neighbor innocently showed me, with some great excitement, her new, red planner. She said she had been looking for just the perfect one for weeks and she was so pleased with this new one, for it held everything she needed and included pockets for her various cards, change, photos, etc. And in that instant, I knew I was hooked.

Blithely, though, I said, "Oh, yes, that is so nice. I have one that I made and I just love it. I really have to have one that can hold all my school papers, so have a binder. That way I know all the girls work and forms, etc. will just fit in there nicely." And it was true. Or... at least partly true.

My current planner that I've used for a year and a half works very well for me on a number of levels. Given that it is homemade, it has exactly what I need as far as categories go and I can add and subtract from those categories at will. Given that it is a binder, pages do easily fit in and that paper is commonly available - no weird sizes. And the price is seriously right. With free, online calendars available to print and pretty clip art it has been easy to make and has been easy to make attractive to me. I change the clip art from time to time to freshen things up and change colors too. I can also change the cover at will, since I can slide any picture into the front and back covers.

However, of late I have been noticing drawbacks. They started coming in the form of late fees at the library and other missed items on the to-do list. That is because my planner stays at home... and so does my computer. I do try sending myself reminders via e-mail that books are due and it does help a lot of the time. But the biggest problem is that my planner doesn't travel with me. And why? Because of that great and easy size... so nice to fit all of my 8 1/2 x 11 pages... and just too big and unwieldy to carry around with me on a regular basis.

My mind drifts back to the red planner...

... soft, imitation (yes!) leather cover, a pretty, snap closure, very nice size - not too small, nor too large - and those pockets... did I mention the pockets?

What is it with pockets? And I'd like to say, what is it with women and pockets? Does it seem like women are suckers for pockets? Maybe I just have been trained to think that way, but it does seem that purses are more popular the more little nooks and crannies they have for keeping your stuff. And the same seems to go for planners.

I am not usually like this. You know me; I'm all about the homemade!! *sigh* But the lure of the perfect planner... ah, yes, the elusive, perfect planner. Don't we all just get sucked in? Or at least a lot of us do. I know that it has to do with wanting control in our lives. But for me, too, it has to do with wanting to live efficiently and getting the best use of my time. That doesn't mean I live by scheduling every hour of every day, but if I can remember to pick up that item at the health food store on the day that I go over to my Mom's and remember to drop off the library books that are due in the same trip, I will be not only preserving my time, but also my fuel.

Last night I had two friends over to watch a movie. Before we started, we were talking a bit about our days and the hectic feeling we share. Obviously, one of my friends can handle so much more than I can, because if I had her schedule, you could just have me committed. The other friend is here for a couple of months, keeping out of winter's cold. She and her family moved last March and their house here hasn't sold yet, so they're "camping" there for now. Her husband is away for a certain number of days at a time and then flies back to join them. She also homeschools. She was sort of thinking aloud saying, "I think if I were just in one place back at home, I would feel like we would have rhythm to our days."

Rhythm. Balance.

That's what it is. That's what it seems so many of us are striving for.

I confess I kind of laughed when she said that and noted that even though I am here in my permanent home, my days don't have as much rhythm as I would like. It's not that I don't ever achieve it, it's just that those days often feel fleeting: the trip to the library to pick up the books on reserve gets botched because now, because of cut-backs in county spending, the library has changed its hours; the grocery store had everything but that ONE thing that you actually must have for that meal and you need to stop at the other store on the way home to "just run in and get it"; the myriad of little favors we do for family or friends who are in need; the bump in the road in math and now some changes need to be worked into the plan to be sure she's actually getting it before moving on. None of it is wrong, it's just not planned for and disrupts the rhythm of the day.

I just feel myself walking around with a mental to-do list in my head and not enough of it on paper and not enough of it in one place - accessible, portable.

What do you use to plan? Are you a fan of all the technology available? I know some people who live by their Palm Pilots, iPhones, and Blackberries. Being a stay-at-home, homeschooling mom, it's not that I might not have a use for those things - I'm busy enough - but I certainly couldn't justify the cost and I have a hard time believing I would be stopping long enough to key in all the info I wanted to have about the next field trip or play date while my kids stood around waiting for me to be done with all those tiny keys.

I think, really though, that despite my true enjoyment of the internet and all its wonders, after that my interest in gadgets slows WAAAAAAY down. I have always been more of a paper and pen type of gal... and the prettier the pen and paper, the better. They must still be pretty popular, because the Office Max site lists over 130 planners/ refill pages to choose from. But the prices... wow... that's what's going to be the greater challenge.

I know I will be perusing some of the office supply stores over the next few days... just to look... right? Just to price things out... and then maybe...

Isn't it silly the way I do go on over a pretty simple decision? But this is how my mind seems to work. I don't just go out and get things without really weighing the costs. But at least this time, I have tried the homemade version... and I know I'll still use it a lot with school. But like I said, I think I need something more portable. I'll let you know what I decide.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Links and Books and News From the Sidelines

I've been feeling like this (and this is a wonderful website if you have any of these folks in your family!) lately and I think that is why I haven't been here in a few days. I keep thinking that I should pop in and have something to say, but I've felt a bit like a turtle in her shell. Not unhappy, mind you; just regrouping I think.

In the meantime, I have been working on crocheting my afghan, knitting on the blanket our knitting group is doing for Project Linus, and reading. As I've mentioned before, I am not a big fiction reader; I prefer non-fiction books. But my mother's book club is going to be watching The Secret Life of Bees after they all finish the book and she invited me to watch it with them. So, I'm reading it. I'm enjoying it... though not LOVING it. That's not to say it isn't good. Not at all. I'm just a tough audience I think, considering that I prefer biographies and other non-fiction, etc.

That said, I am curious. Have any of you jumped on the Twilight wagon? Am I the only one who hasn't? I am curious because I hear so many women raving about it. Now, I love a good love story, but, if you are Christian, have you read it? I am not asking if I think it would be okay to read it... I am just wondering if the subject matter is too... creepy. I could be completely wrong. And then again, I also know myself. For someone who counts A Girl of the Limberlost and Anne of Green Gables as some of her all time favorite books, I don't know if this would be for me. It's not that I've never read anything creepy. There was a time in my life when I read a couple of the Anne Rice books about vampires. But that was also a different time in my life, before I returned to Christ... and I did a lot of things differently. I wouldn't read them now. I don't belive that it is sinful to read it... but I do prefer to read things that line up with Philippians 4:8:

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

I don't follow this lovely scripture - one of my favorites - legalistically. I just find that it works quite brilliantly for me and I always feel good when I do.

So, if you have read the Twilight books, would you please share with me what you think of them?

And speaking of books, I got hooked up with Goodreads through Facebook recently. Like so many cool tools on the internet, I find I have only so much time to thoroughly enjoy all that it has to offer, but I have enjoyed looking around on it from time to time.

The website linked at the top was something I found today on StumbleUpon which is another cool, new-to-me site. And do you know about Pandora? Given that I have no discresionary income for music these days, I am loving having new artists introduced to me through this incredible site.

Yet, there are only so many hours in my day and some days I really struggle with spreading myself too thin. Among Facebook, my blog, your blogs, Ravelry, Goodreads, Flickr, and more, I often struggle with balance. Certainly no one is making me do these things. No, I truly enjoy them, but I think the myriad of selections becomes almost a mental agitation... too much stimulus, as the site on introversion suggests and I find myself retreating from time to time. This is good for me, I know. Good for all of us really. But I may need it more than the next person, so forgive me friends, when I am gone for a string of days from time to time.

I sincerely admire those of you who manage to post with greater frequency and always love to see your latest entries. Believe me when I say that when I am away from here I am still thinking of all of you. Yet, for as chatty as I may be on the page, I am more often - unless with a small, intimate group of people - a quiet one observing from the sidelines.

Well, I hope you all have had a lovely weekend! Mom treated us to Riverdance and while we all agreed that the singing and whatever the narrator was saying (we had a hard time understanding him) was over-the-top cheesy, the dancing was truly fantastic - inspiring! Today with nicer weather than we've had of late, we took a nice, long bike ride with friends. I hope you're all rested up and ready for the week before you. Look for me to pop in and say hello; I've come out of my shell for a while. :)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

New Day in America

Well, I feel I would be remiss if I didn't say something about THIS day! I'm not going to wax eloquent about it; plenty of folks have done so already and I'm sure there is more to come.

But I can tell you I am excited and happy. I am happy that I will be getting the opportunity, as a homeschooling mama, to watch all the festivities with my children. I plan to make a batch of "Inauguration Cupcakes." Nothing fancy, but just some yummies to mark the occasion.

I am thrilled to be alive at this moment in our nations' history. I feel blessed to see all the people who were part of our nation's civil rights movement have the opportunity to enjoy this pinnacle moment in time.

I'm sure we'll be spending a lot of time in front of the t.v. tomorrow. I know I'll also be spending a lot of time on my knees for this new president who stirs up so much emotion among people. Please join me in remembering him and his family throughout his time in office. I look forward to seeing the whole of what he has to offer.

Happy Inauguration Day!

Saturday, January 17, 2009


I've been feeling a little down lately. Perhaps I've mentioned that? It comes and goes, but it is linked with the economy and the fact that we will not be able to put our house on the market as soon as I'd like to get back to the place I call home. Most of the time I'm fine with this, but over the past couple of weeks it has gotten to me. I know I will be fine, but sometimes you just go through these times in your life. And the fact that I know I will be fine doesn't mean it's any fun.

That said, I am always surprised at the power that yarn can have over my mood! lol! :) This time it is crochet. My knitting is coming along nicely, but I am working two projects in very similar shades of dark taupe. Obviously I needed a punch of color! After a day of feeling quite low, I went ahead and began the granny-squares blanket that I have been waiting to start and my mood instantly began to improve. I am absolutely smitten with this project!

I would just like to give a shout-out here to Vanna's Choice yarn. I have some wool yarns from left-over projects and from some that were given to me, but I have been trying to stay clear from purchasing wool, since I've returned to my vegan diet. I have to say that I absolutely love this yarn! I love the colors and the soft, smooshy-ness of it. I know that there are those who would look down their noses at almost any acrylic yarn, but for $3.99 a ball - and it is often on sale for 2/$5.00, which is when I bought mine - it is a great deal with 170 yards a ball. I realize that Caron has yarns that offer more yardage and I like those for certain projects, but to me, Vanna's mimics wool quite well without being scratchy and that is what I was looking for for this project.

These are the first color combinations I'm using and there will be many more to come. I took this one here with a flash, so that you could see a more accurate color. I actually like this combination so much, I could do a whole blanket of it, but I'm excited to see the color variations as the squares progress.

I wonder what it is about knitting and crochet that cheers me so? I know that it is something real and that it works on me. I feel it as a physical sensation sometimes and that is a wonder to me.

Years ago, I worked at a non-profit organization that served the women of the Native American community in Minnesota. This was an organization that worked to address, specifically, needs of the women struggling with chemical dependency, which afflicts a large proportion of the Native American community. The center offered counseling and treatment among other things. One thing that I found quite interesting was the practice of using craft in many settings. My supervisor explained to me one day that unlike white American women who seem to respond well to traditional group therapy settings, the Indian women were not the same.

I will not presume to speak for all Indian tribes, because they vary greatly as independent nations. But the tribes with whom I worked were, as a whole, quite quiet. I had to learn that they did not wear their emotions on their sleeves as much as I did and while their humor and warmth became more evident over time as I grew to know them better, they did not spill themselves out readily.

Talk-therapy, therefore, was not the easiest, most healing method of meeting their needs. But, to bring quilting or beading into the picture - well, now you might begin to see progress. These crafts were part of their tradition and allowing them to work with their hands and focus their minds elsewhere, and they freed them to talk about things they otherwise might hold onto longer inside.

I am not suggesting that this is something that would work for all Native American women. What I am saying is that we saw the value of craft in healing in our workplace. Now, I find, I have felt that same healing happen in myself time and time again. I don't know that it works for all people, but I do know that it works for me and some other women in my life. Like music is to some people who pursue it with a passion and it "takes them places," craft, specifically fiber arts, does this for me over and over.

Over the past few years, I have given more time to crafting and art of a number of types: visual journaling, painting, embroidery, collage, working with clay, and more. I enjoy all of these and can see that they make my life richer. I know I will return to them again and again as joyful excursions from my daily walk. However, I know now that knitting (perpetually!) and crocheting (occasionally), will remain constant companions in my life. I love that something so small can make me smile - on the inside and out - so very much.

I have thought that some day I would like to volunteer to teach knitting and crochet in some places where women are struggling. I think about organizations that serve single mothers or something like that. Part of the power of crafting something useful is that you can make something beautiful not only for yourself, but you can also give your work away. And we all know the healing power that giving has for us. Particularly when we are suffering ourselves, I think still being able to reach out and help another reminds us that we have value - even when we are low.

So, smitten with this project and yes, in love with these fiber arts. You wouldn't think that a ball of yarn could take you places so deep and wide, but I believe it can.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Great Tent Rescue

Part One: The Sinking Disaster

Three boys live next door to us and their antics are always a good source of bemusement to myself and my girls. Not having any brothers (but some beloved boy cousins, that's for sure), I am happy that we have this steady source of good, boy energy in the house next door.

For the past 3 days, the two younger boys have been camping out in the back yard. The evenings have been mild and cool, only in the 50's. So the tent has been out with a tarp over it for good measure to lock in the heat a bit more. But, it was a windy day today. The boys were away at school and so it was Eve who first reported the terrible discovery. The wind had picked up the tent and carried it juuuuust far enough that we could not reach it, not even with the long-handled orange picker! Someone had to be called!

We called their mom, who was away working, but hoping that she could get ahold of Son #1, who attends community college not too far away. Alas, it was farther than we thought - he's at a different campus this semester. Thankfully, Mr. Lang, the firefighter who lives just down the street, is a veteran rescuer and he was called in to duty.

Part Two: The Rescue

And he arrived just in the nick of time! Above, you can see his feet on the penninsula, as well as the first attempt he made to snag what remained of the tent with his boat anchor. Can you see the tent?! It's just barely there! I don't think the pond is especially deep... I don't think - never having swum in its murky, occassionally alligator-occupied, waters. It appeared to me, though, that the tent had settled on the bottom. Unless it moved to an even deeper spot closer to the middle of the pond, we'd have a chance.

The action provided for great lunchtime theater, though Lucy the Westie wouldn't take her eyes off a potential snack!

One more toss at the pitiful target and it was a hit!

Of course, an anchor being an anchor and all, there were a couple of nice holes in the roof of the tent after its rescue. Mr. Lang had to get to work and the tent was completely full of water and too heavy to lift out. So, the skeleton poles of the tent were taken out and the flat tent was staked to land and left floating for the boys to rescue the remains upon arriving home.

Though you can't see it from the pictures, it had begun raining steadily, which provided for even greater drama. My girls are drawn to rain outside like moth to a flame.

The rescue was finally complete. I can see the tent from my window now, drying in the lawn, well staked down... and yet, it is sandy soil here, which was likely the problem in the first place. I wonder if they'll patch the holes? I can't say I'd like crawling into a tent that had been at the bottom of a retention pond, but boys will be boys, I guess... and that's why we love 'em.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Knitting 101

So, I've had a few people ask me about getting started with knitting. I thought I'd post a few of the ideas I've shared with them, so that you, too, may feel confident getting started on what can prove to be a lifelong pleasure.

First, I would say, that if you have someone you know who can show you how to knit, don't be shy; ask them! I am confident they would love to share their hobby (passion... um... obsession...) with you. If you don't have this person handy, there is no reason, especially nowadays with all the internet has to offer, to teach yourself with the help of books and your virtual friends.

So, what yarn, what needles, how to start? Not all yarns and needles are created the same way and I think there are certain choice for beginners that are beneficial.


There are 3 kinds of needles: straight, circular, and double-pointed. All these needles are made from various materials including aluminum, bamboo, plastic, and various woods.

First, let me say, with all knitting materials, including needles, there is a wide range of cost. I did not know this when I went to a local yarn store and bought my first set of double points and paid $23 dollars for them. They are gorgeous and made from rosewood. But guess what? I could also have paid $6.00 for a fine set to get me started. I honestly don't think the yarn store owner was trying to sucker me, though I have often wondered why she carried only those double points exclusively, leaving me to think that that is just what double points must cost. They do not have to cost this much - learn from my mistake!

All needles come in various sizes to correspond with the type of yarn and knitting you want to achieve. Smaller needles are for finer yarns and are good for making socks, things for babies, and lace. Medium needles will help you make hats and sweaters and scarves and blankets. Larger needles will do the same thing with thicker yarns. You can also knit rugs and bags and other things with thicker yarn.

Needle sizes correspond to gauge. Gauge is the measurement of number of stitches per inch and rows per inch in a pattern. Taking your gauge helps you to achieve accurate sizing of particular garments. For beginners, though, you do not need to worry about gauge just yet. I tell you about it just to help you understand why there are differing sizes of needles. If, for example, you have more stitches per inch in your test swatch (which you should always do before you knit a pattern other than something like a scarf or blanket in which size does not always matter), you should go up one needle size. Likewise, if you have too few stitches, you should go down a size in your needles until you achieve the gauge called for in your pattern.

So, what size needle should you choose to begin practicing knitting? I suggest a size 9 or 10 to go with a worsted weight yarn. Worsted weight yarn is the most common size yarn you will find at discount or craft stores such as Michael's, JoAnn's, Wal-Mart, or Hobby Lobby. Its numeric size is "4" which you will often find on the ball band (label).

I would choose a set of straight needles made from bamboo, as they are not as slippery as aluminum. Plastic is somwhere in between aluminum and bamboo. Wood needles are usually specialty needles and will likely cost a bit more. I know that many people will suggest getting the finest yarn or needles you can afford so that you can thoroughly enjoy the whole sensory experience of knitting, but I don't believe in making that kind of investment in any hobby until you are sure it is something you'd like to pursue. You can have plenty of enjoyment while you are learning using inexpensive materials. Just be aware that if you find a cheaper yarn is splitty or doesn't feel as nice or soft as you might like - especially if you are using a cheap, acrylic yarn, such as Red Heart Super Saver - you should know that there are gorgeous, plush, delicious yarns to be had. There are lovely, soft, affordable yarns out there too, but it will take a while for you to establish your own tastes.

Back to needles.

Straight needles are used for knitting blankets and scarves and knitting garments in pieces to be sewn together later.

Double-pointed needles are impressive looking! They come in sets of 5 usually and are for knitting things in the round. As their name suggests, they have points on either end. Knitting in the round with these looks impressive, because you are knitting with multiple needles at once, but you actually are still just knitting with two at a time as usual, while the other needles hold your yarn.

Circular needles are used for knitting in the round and knitting flat (as with straight needles). The difference between circular needles and straights is that with circulars you just have the top portion of the needle and the rest is a cable that connects the two. It is nice to work with them for knitting something like a blanket, for instance, as the bulk of the blanket can hang in between the needles on the cable instead of moving from one straight needle to the other. You should note that circulars also come with differing cable lengths - longer cables for bigger projects and shorter for things like hats or for doing arms on a sweater. Pay attention to this when buying your circulars. The length of the cable will be listed on the package along with the needle size. Having too long a cable for a smaller project will make your knitting of that project difficult or impossible.

Again, for beginning purposes, though, you only need a pair of straights, size 9 or 10, bamboo. The size is big enough to feel comfortable to a beginner and the bamboo will keep your yarn from slipping.

Now for the yarn.

Choose a worsted weight or bulky weight (size "5") if you prefer. Choose a fiber and color that feels good to you. I don't recommend wool, simply because it's not vegan and there are animal cruelty issues surrounding it - especially if the yarn comes from a larger company rather than a smaller or local source which you know may treat their animals humanely. There are plenty of plant and man-made fibers out there to satisfy a beginning knitter. Cotton, acrylic, polyester, nylon and even bamboo fibers are widely available. Note that cotton does not have stretch and may feel rougher on your hands than another fiber. Dishcloths are usually made from 100% cotton and are a good beginner project. Just be aware that you may not like the feel of it after a while. It does not bother me, personally, but I know it bothers some and I would not want you feeling badly about knitting in general if you chose a cotton yarn. Also, there are better cotton yarns than others out there too, so shop around. Caron Simply Soft is a very inexpensive, widely available, soft, acrylic yarn that is a nice brand for beginners to try and it comes in a wide choice of colors and prints.

So, now that you have your needles and yarn, how do you start? I started with the children's knitting book by Melanie Falick called Kids Knitting. I found the instructions clear and the pictures in the book are bright and lovely. I figured if children could knit, I certainly had a chance! Kids Knitting is a few years old and can be purchased used for only a few dollars online. You also will likely have good luck at your local library finding it or something similar. But I know that the illustrations in Falick's book were clear to me.

We have the luxury of the internet too, though, and where illustrations fell short, it was a lifesaver! is beautifully put together. She has many, many videos from beginning to advanced stitching and she shows them in the two most popular styles of knitting - English and Continental.

There is no wrong way to knit. I knit English and I hear that it is often easier. I certainly found it easier to hold my knitting English than Continental. Continental is supposedly faster, though I do believe the record-holder in speed knitting (yes, there is such a sport) knits English. Whichever way feels the most comfortable to you to knit, use that and enjoy it!

Other than, Youtube has many, many videos available with different folks giving you instructions in their own way. I have happily used many of these for help with crocheting.

The great thing about the videos, of course, is that you can pause them and replay them as much as you like while learning a new technique.

Next, be happy with making a practice piece rather than thinking you are working on a "project" as you begin. Just knit and knit and knit and be okay with holes and accidental increases and decreases. All knitters make mistakes - even after years of knitting!! I have ripped back the knitting on my current sweater two times in the last three days. That is unusual for me, but it happens. There are plenty of ways of learning how to fix - or live with - your knitting that you will learn over time; you don't always have to rip back. But try to be okay with it; it's a process and it's just part of knitting.

When you are ready to start a project, a scarf is the natural place most folks look. But starting with a dishcloth or hat or headband or something small like that (I did the smaller, children's square hat with pom-poms for my kids as my first project) is quicker and more gratifying. Simply put, scarves just take a long time and you wouldn't want to get discouraged or bored with your first project. You would likely be only doing garter stitch which is knitting back and forth and the length of a scarf can make that tiring after a while. The whole of knitting is made up of two stiches, the knit and the purl stitch, which are simply opposites of each other. They are combined in so many magical ways that make up all the beautiful patterns and textures you can find in knitting. Using these various stitches, scarves can be quite delightful and endlessly creative. But it can get kind of long with just straight knitting. So, do yourself a favor and choose something smaller.

Finally, is the knitters' and crocheters' community where you will find nearly 250,000 other knitters, crocheters, fiber artists and designers. You will find literally thousands of free, downloadable patterns (including dishcloths!) as well as patterns for sale. You will find groups that chat and become friends on message boards: Do like parrots and knitting? Do you watch NBC's The Office and knit? Do you participate in Civil War reenactments and crochet? Do you homeschool and knit? There is a group for you!!

One of the beautiful things about Ravelry is that not only can you peruse the thousands of patterns, but you can also see how others have done that pattern. So not only do you see the designer's version of the pattern (and perhaps the great photography on the slim and beautiful model), but you can also see all of the myriad of ways the pattern has been interpreted on real people in all colors and fibers. It's a wonderful place that can eat up many hours of your knitting time!! Tread lightly! :) But do sign up. At the time of this writing, I believe there is a 2 to 3 day wait to get invited to join, as it is still in beta status. But it is SO worth the wait; a fantastic resource.

Well, I hoped this has helped someone be brave enough to put their toe into the ocean that is knitting. It's a calming, life-long hobby that provides hours of inexpensive pleasure, as well as always providing something new to learn. I hope you'll give it a try one of these days and be sure to let me know if you do. I'll be happy to cheer you on!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

There's No Place Like Home

I thought you all might enjoy some sunny, brightly colored pictures - a bit of my January yard for your January.

Despite all the bright colors about me, I must admit I've been in a bit of a funk over the last few days. I'm feeling better today - coming out of it by and by - but it's never fun. I suffer from a serious case of homesickness, despite having lived here the last 5 years. Now, don't worry, I'm not about to bash Florida. It has its pluses - number one being the weather. Especially when home is in Minnesota! :) For those who know of my longing to return to the northland, they usually want to point out the obvious: but it's so COLD! Yes, I know. And I am cold-natured, so that's even worse. But I don't want to go home for the weather. I want to go home because it's home.

Just for the record: I would like to point out that France shares the same parallel as Minnesota and I don't think I've ever heard people say, "You want to go to FRANCE?! It's so COLD!"

To tell the truth, I didn't even realize it was home until I left it. See, I have lived in many places in my lifetime. Yes, I was in MN the longest, but it wasn't as if I was born and raised there. So, I was most certainly surprised to discover this continued longing for what I have come to understand as a feeling for home. Of course, a big piece of it is family. But what I have also come to understand is that it is also regional culture - the ways of doing things, the foods, the humor... all of it. If you ever listen to NPR's "A Prairie Home Companion," you will come to understand the things that I miss. You may not totally "get" why I miss it, but it just boils down to the fact that these are "my people." All those Germans and Czechs and Scandanavians and Lutherans and the "ya, you betcha's." No, I don't even say that, but that's what I'm used to having around me.

I watched Frontline the other night and they were showing a documentary about one man in his eighties who is re-building his home in New Orleans. His family is scattered all over the country thanks to Katrina. They interviewed one of his daughters who has been displaced to Texas. She still lives there now,because she has two small children and New Orleans just doesn't have anything for her to go back to presently. Except that it's home. She was talking about her own homesickness and how she misses her people and customs.

I have visited New Orleans. It was not a place I would like to live. But I understood her completely. I appreciated her tears too, because I guess it validated my own and helped me realize that it is perhaps not so unusual... to live with a kind of ache inside of you that just won't seem to go away... and all for a place. I guess because I didn't grow up with a real feeling of being rooted somewhere, as I mentioned, this has taken me a bit by surprise. I am used to missing my family, but the piece of place is newer.

I have always been curious when folks move away from the place they've grown up in to a new place that they find fits them so well and it becomes their adopted home. I have a new neighbor who has returned here with her family from San Francisco so that her children can grow up nearer to their grandparents - one set here and another in Alabama. "But," she said, "I'll go back to San Francisco someday. That's where my heart is - that's home."

So, her place is not attatched to her family, but instead is a place that welcomed her in a way and felt right for whatever reason. It's just an interesting phenomenon to me.

It was good weather today for a bike ride to the park to meet up with a few freinds for a while today.

I have to say, that in the midst of my longing for community and a place that feels like home, the blogging community has been somewhat of a lifeline to me. I am continually amazed at the number of people I meet and the blogs I visit that share so many of the same interests and concerns that I do. I acutally find this a bit shocking, because I so often feel like an island in my real life. In fact, I don't think I can say that I know anyone, personally, who shares my passions for homeschooling and a vegan diet and a strong faith and the environment and has more left-leaning political tendencies and likes to knit. I mean, you pretty much come to realize that you can't possibly expect to meet someone who shares so many of your interests. But, believe it or not, I have met bloggers who like all of these things!! It is so surprising to me and such a delight to find them and read their pages. I love to see books that they enjoy, because I know I will like them too. It is almost spooky, to begin with, to see that we have nearly identical bookshelves, but it becomes a real treasure to find that they can recommend something new!

I have found many of these people through comments left here and by looking at those who list themselves as "followers" of my blog. What a treat! I am so thankful to all of you who have done that and have introduced yourselves to me by this unique tool. I am really loving getting to know you through your own writings and photos. As a child who was an avid pen-paller, I think blogging is such a natural fit for me. During a time in my life when I have struggled to build community that I long for and to live out the kingdom, I am ever grateful to each and every one of you who have offered bits of conversation and have added another dimension to my life. When I have not found that I have "fit" into certain areas of my life here, I am thankful to be able to come to a place that no matter where I am - wherever I go - feels very much like home.

I was on a blogging hiatus this summer during my 2 year "blogaversary" and so I never did get to say anything about this. So, thank you, friends. :) Thank you for nearly 2 1/2 years of making this place home.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Knits for the New Year

How I have been enjoying my knitting the past few days!! I have some fairly easy, comfortable patterns that I am doing that are providing such a nice rhythm to my evenings in the rocking chair, listening to a podcast or watching a post-season football game with my husband (or sometimes doing both!).

This weekend, Eve and I began unraveling what was the beginnings of a blanket. A friend of mine, this past summer, knowing Paul was unemployed at the time and that I was not buying any yarn, brought me a garbage bag FULL of beautiful yarn that a friend of hers wanted to de-stash. I have been able to use so much of it already. Many of the colors were actually not the colors I ordinarily knit with, but they make for fine gifts and charity knitting. One color, though, was one I was attempting to get to by unravelling said blanket. The color is more of a raspberry and will fit so nicely in the blanket I am so excited to crochet. It is a granny-square blanket, but I am excited to begin with all the different colors.

Recycling old yarn is one thing that seems right up my alley, don't you think? I haven't found any sweaters yet at Goodwill, because I haven't really needed any yarn for a particular project with all the Christmas knitting I was doing, but I hope to try it sometime this new year. Unravelling the blanket was a good place to start practicing. The footstool provided the perfect apparatus to wrap the yarn around:

Eve loves to unravel the yarn and so between the two of us, we did the first, lighter pink in the blanket. Medium pink will be next and then the raspberry. After winding it around my stool, I tied a loop of other yarn around each end of the oval, soaked the yarn, gently squeezed out the excess water, and then hung it. I looped one end around a plastic hanger and then used another hanger with a towel clipped to it to hang on the other end of the yarn to straighten out the fibers. I didn't take a picture of that, but I'll try to remember to do that next time.

Finally, I finished another hat from Soule Mama's pattern. I did 3 of these at Christmas and loved it so much I made one for myself. I made it from some Bernat Bamboo I had leftover from a baby gift I knitted last summer. The color is Linen and the yarn has quickly become one of my very favorites. SO soft and squishy.

It's a good hat for Florida... as you see, we don't get too many cold days! :) But we do get some cool ones and bamboo is a naturally cooler fiber. A soft light hat for chilly days - we do actually get some of those!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Orange and Yellow January

Do you "color" your months? I usually think of colors associated with the months, but I must admit that January has never mentally appeared to me as orange or yellow. And yet, here in Florida, those colors abound every year with the citrus boom. Semi -trailers loaded with oranges from farms "out east" head westward every day down State Road 64 to the Tropicana plant that operates out of our very own city, Bradenton. Check the carton the next time you get a chance. Yep, that's where we live.

We've got our own white grapefruit and tangelo tree in the backyard. Mom keeps bringing over lemons and tangerines and so does our neighbor down the street. The juice freezes alright. It's not as good as fresh, but when the season winds to a close and the fruit is going to get too ripe on the trees, it's worth it to freeze some. Certainly the lemon juice is worth freezing for cooking and cleaning, which is just what I was doing today - the juicing... oh, yeah, and I guess the cooking and cleaning too! :)

I gave my kitchen a bath today. The toaster oven that we love (we don't own a microwave), but that we've only had for 2 years, died due to the timer knob going on us. Frustrating. The one previous to that died for the same reason I think. They were both gifts. Now we're looking into buying one with digital controls. It's frustrating, because dh could fix it if parts were available, but even looking online, he can't find anything.

When it rains, it pours, right? We just paid $700 to have the car fixed, dh had a forced day off of work with no pay (he has no vacation time), and now we'll likely need to buy a new toaster oven for round about $100 for a good one. Oh, well. Walking in faith one day at a time, right? :)

So, because the toaster oven was gone and I could see all the crumbs and dust behind the thing AND because it's the new year and somehow I think every part of my home needs a makeover to somehow reflect this... and all before Monday, thankyouverymuch, when I need to start school again, I decided to just clean and rearrange the kitchen.

It didn't really take very long. I did some of the juicing too and now the kitchen smells so nice and citrusy.

So, a clean kitchen and a clean slate with room for Resolutions '09.

My word of the year is kind of a serious one. My resolutions add a bit more fun into the mix. Don't get me wrong; kingdom building IS fun stuff. I love practicing hospitality and just lovin' on folks. Who doesn't like that? But I just don't have any real heavy-duty resolutions this year like trying to give up things or commiting to a huge project or anything like that.

This year I'd like to:

- practice carrying my sketchbook with me in my bag, so that when I get a moment if I'm out and about, I may be able to sketch my surroundings. I put my sketchbook away part way through the year last year for just a while. I needed a break and needed to not feel so divided between knitting and drawing. Knitting, I've learned, is my true passion, and though I may not do the sketching every day - or even once a week, as was one of my goals last year, I still enjoy it and want to just have it available when inspiration strikes.

- PLAN my Christmas knitting/crafting. I'm serious. I want to sprinkle projects throughout the year amongh other things, so that we don't have another repeat of this year'rs frenzied, midnight, crafting!

- just keep building on what I did last year with the charity knitting and hosting craft nights at my house

Well, that's it. My fun and - hopefully - simple list of resolutions for the new year. Planned to keep me smiling! :)

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Ring in 2009

Welcome to 2009 everyone!

Another chapter has closed and another begun. If you listen to the news much, you may not be feeling all that optimistic about what this year is to bring. But it's still a baby now, so let's give it a chance, shall we?

Certainly, the new administration in our country is something to look forward to. I am very, very excited to see what will happen! I remain prayerful for President-Elect Obama and his family, wanting to see them all safe and him safely inducted into office.

And now for the Word of the Year!

In thinking about the economy and the year to come, I posted this quote from my Advent devotional in one of my entries a few days ago:

Hope is a state of mind independent of the state of the world. If your heart's full of hope, you can be persistent when you can't be optimistic. You can keep the faith despite the evidence, knowing that onl in so doing has the evidence any chance of changing. So while I'm not optimistic, I'm always very hopeful. - William Sloane Coffin

And the writer of the devotional, James, A. Harnish, said this,

Advent hope is not naive optimism that things will get better if we wait; it is acting in the present on the basis of what we believe about the future.

I really started thinking that this year's word for me might be, "hope." I thought about having it, but more, I thought about being it for others. But while hope is something we all need, it casts a bit of melancholy - for me - in thinking about it. I guess I didn't want a word for my entire year to have such a feeling of longing attached to it.

Still, these quotes were - ARE - inpiring to me. I do want to be hope for others, because that is what we Christians have to offer to others. "Christ has no body now on earth, but yours; said Saint Teresa of Avila, yours are the only hands with which he can do his work, yours are the only feet with which he can go about the world, yours are the only eyes through which his compassion can shine forth upon a troubled world. Christ has no body on earth now but yours."

One of the things that keeps me excited in my walk with Christ is that He can use me for His purposes. And what are His purposes? Well, one of them - and the one we participate in - is building His kingdom.

...thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven...

Jesus spent a great deal of his ministry explaining to everyone in so many ways, just what the kingdom looked like. He talked to us about sharing and about how the last will be first and about how the promise is the same for everyone and about how we are all given individual talents and opportunities to grow what He gives us and to grow His kingdom.

Seek ye first the kingdom of God and its righteousness...

Part of my imagining last year was just what that is all about.

When I began thinking about resolutions I wanted to make this year, I was struggling a bit to add more to what I've been doing. But then I heard, what to me sounded like the Holy Spirit, saying that I don't need to add more, but instead to build on the foundations of what I have already begun this last year. Continue to build on hospitality through the craft group and the girls' group, expand the giving through charity knitting and other opportunities that come along, continue to grow intentionally in my community, in short, continue to grow the kingdom.

Did you happen to read A Christmas Carol this year? We read the whole of it last year, but I confess, we got started too late this year to complete it. But we did read the first chapter, of course, and I am always so struck by Marley's impassioned plea toward Scrooge:

"Oh! captive, bound, and double ironed," cried the phantom, "not to know that ages of incessant labor by immortal creatures, for this earth, must pass into eternity before the good of which it is suseptible is all developed! Not to know that any Christian spirit working kindly in its little sphere, whatever it may be, will find its mortal life too short for its vast means of usefulness! Not to know that no space of regret can make amends for one life's opportunities misused! Yes such was I! Oh, such was I!"

" But you were always a good man of business, Jacob," faltered Scrooge, who now began to apply this to himself.

"Business! cried the Ghost, wringing his hands again. "Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!"

Yes, this is our business and I do not want to squander the things God has given to me in order to build His kingdom. To me, building the kingdom is about more than witnessing to a bunch of folks and hoping they will become Christian. That has never been something I have been comfortable with and I know I do not have the gift of evangelism. No, for me, building the kingdom means living with that hope in spite of the "realities" we see in front of our faces. In spite of less income, we will share; in spite of ugliness and war and hateful words, we will be beauty and peace and kindness. In the the face of all that is harsh, we will be gentle.

My word for the 2009 is kingdom.

Our own country may face troubles and may begin to crumble, but God's kingdom will stand and I want to continue to be a part of it. This one word will continue to remind me of the real business at hand.

This post has grown, and so I believe I will share my resolutions in the next one. In the meantime, welcome 2009!
p.s. Did you see the title on the New Year's picture at the top of the post? I can't believe I found that one! :)
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