Thursday, October 21, 2010

Yarn and Heartstrings

Yarn and Heartstrings

Varied are the things that will pluck a mother’s heartstrings. For me knitting is one of them.

Can you guess what I’ve been making on my double pointed needles for a baby due in November?

My first fruit cap was a strawberry. A small modification to the pattern makes a pumpkin. The curl on the edge forms naturally. Decrease between leaves until you have eight stitches remaining. Knit these for six rounds for a stem. It’s that simple.

Are you looking for a pattern that will suit a fairly new knitter? I have gotten much use out of Ann Norling’s fruit caps, pattern #10. Sizes are for newborn to 2 years.

William (age 2½ ) agreed to temporarily be my model. He wore the pumpkin cap at my bidding in spite of it being a warm day and in spite of the cap being a little too small.

Last year I was happy to receive word that my fruit caps were spotted on the heads of two babies. One baby is a relative in California. My mother-in-law telephoned, “I saw a photo of Zoë’s baby. She was wearing the strawberry cap you made her.”
A week later my daughter Sophia reported, “At the garden wedding reception Rebecca’s baby was wearing the pumpkin cap you made him. He needed it. It was chilly.”
“He matched the bridesmaid’s dresses then didn’t he?” I giggled. It was October and she, her sister, and the other bridesmaids wore gowns of a striking sherbet-orange satin. Anyway, into my imagination popped two cuties wearing my knitted caps and I was tickled. Isn’t it funny how such a small thing can pluck a heartstring of motherhood? The gift is a trifle. But one of the joys of knitting comes from knowing that someone is blessed by something you made with your own two hands.

A cap can be completed in a week of sittings. Knitting is so conveniently portable that you can carry a project to the car as you leave the house and knit a dozen rows during your child’s piano lesson, etc. And if your husband is driving to church, the children are securely strapped into their seats, and you have your hands free . . .

When I’m in the cap-making mood I knit a small stash for reserve. It might be a blueberry, sweet pea, strawberry, or blackberry. The pumpkin cap is especially ooed and ahhed over when the baby shower happens to take place in autumn. Light weight and indestructible by mail handlers, these caps are economical and safe to send cross-country, even overseas, at Christmastime.

Washable wool makes the caps soft and warm. I experimented by using 100% cotton yarn for one strawberry cap, attaching black beads for seeds. It was endured for less than a minute by my model who told me by his body language that when it comes to strawberry he draws the line. Blueberry is his preference.

Have you noticed which things pluck at the heartstrings of motherhood?

P.S. I finished my toddler socks.

These calico asters bloom in our autumn woods. Who picked a handful of them in the last chapter of Pocketful of Pinecones? 

Thank you for visiting.
Karen Andreola

Monday, October 11, 2010

A Victorian Spark

A Victorian Spark

“We do not remember days, we remember moments.”
                                                             Cesare Pavese

    Reconstruction on our house covered our windows and screens with stone dust, which would take days to clean. “Mom, you need a holiday,” one of my daughters told me when she saw I was “under-the-weather.”
    Secretly I thought, “A holiday? That’s the last thing I need.” She meant the word to be encouraging. It brightened her face. Could it be that our family celebrations over the years were memorable to good measure?

    Holidays don’t make themselves. Moms make holidays. And I had no “umph” for making anything that resembled a holiday.
    It was the end of a drab week of rain and cloudy weather. Whatever room I was in was dark and chilly. Outside, between raindrops, I clipped the wet, wilted flowers off my perennials. Inside I rearranged closets and brought down the sweaters from the top shelves. The word “holiday” revisited me and I remembered my book, Mrs. Sharp’s Traditions. For years this book, embellished with color Victorian illustrations and old black & white photographs, had equipped me with ways to make a holiday festive. My copy had been unread for too long. It was time I reopened it.

    The author, Sarah Ban Breathnach has an old fashioned, genteel, but friendly flavor to her writing. She wraps her readers in such a warm outlook on family and family celebrations that a mother who enters her pages can’t help wanting to try at least one of her ideas. The first edition, in its wide landscape format, is out of print. Yet you can still find used copies online.

    Knowing I’d wish to bring Mrs. Sharp’s Traditions to your notice I took it with me to New Jersey. Dean and I had an important appointment there. The book proved to be a romantic match for its surroundings – the Victorian bed and breakfast where we stayed overnight. This post’s photographs are of Main Street Manor in Flemington. Donna Arold, the proprietor, is a lady who has been an avid reader since girlhood. She was curious to see Mrs. Sharp’s Traditions. I left it on the oak buffet – in the room with the pretty red flower wallpaper, so she could leaf through it at her leisure.

    First Dean photographed it on the rocking chair. But at my further suggestion, for I could not make up my mind, he photographed it in the parlor. A corner cupboard filled with dishes is also in the parlor.

    That evening Donna met us by the stairway and told us that she found Mrs. Sharp’s Traditions to be so lovely that she had a copy on order for $5.00. For a hardcover book this is a deal. In one of the photographs you can see that Donna sets the table for breakfast as part of her evening preparations. 

    At breakfast I sat in Donna’s dinning room gazing at her collection of antique teacups. One of her large sunny windows was open and I watched how gently the morning breeze blew the lace curtain while Dean and I chatted. I savored the moment. My hands were folded. How strangely splendid it felt to have idle hands. Donna was in my place. I mean, she was the one cooking and serving. A home cooked meal made in the heart of the house – the kitchen – is unsurpassed. And served to a homemaker who, year ‘round does the cooking, makes it all the more ministering.     

    “Nothing will live up to Donna’s breakfast for the remainder of the week,” I said to Dean as we drove along the interstate highway headed for home. He agreed but cautiously. Donna’s fresh berries that topped stemmed glasses of vanilla yogurt, the mint leaves in her quiche, the thyme and shallots in her potatoes and chicken sausage, the apples chunks in her and cinnamon muffins were dainty, delicious touches I was resolved to incorporate in my own cooking.     

    When we returned to Pennsylvania I acted upon a spark of renewed enthusiasm. I systematically removed the clutter from our long table. I ironed my autumn colored tablecloth, spread it on the table and topped it with gourds, a jack-be-little pumpkin, a candle, and started cooking. Baked butternut squash with pumpkin pie spice filled the air. I called my daughter and her husband to an October Sunday dinner and said okay to my son for inviting a friend or two from church. When the young adults arrived I lit the candle. Lo and behold, out came the cell phones for photos of the table. I smiled at this gesture, unheard of when Mrs. Sharp’s Traditions was written in 1990. But of course that was another century.

Thank you Ken and Donna Arold for letting us photograph your gorgeous house. Our stay was delightful.  

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Parents As Inspirers

Parents As Inspirers

Ask anyone in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania about the annual agricultural fairs and you will be told that they are serious business. They’re fun, too. Our town begins with a parade. The streets are lined with enthusiastic faces. Three days of exhibits on the fairgrounds follow. Ferris wheels and all other rides are barred from the fair, so are prize stalls. Therefore no ticket stubs litter the ground.



The fair is free. Many volunteer to run it. Many more enter exhibits. Five years ago, the first time the Lady-of-the-house stepped into an exhibit hall, she was astounded. She wasn’t expecting to see so many entries, so carefully crafted by both children and adults (displayed safely under plastic). Within moments a tear filled her eye and she wiped it away instantly as she does not like to appear emotional in public places. She was impressed. Even more wonderful is she felt inspired.

The Lady-of-the house examined the knitting, sewn garments, quilts, embroidery, and knew from experience the unmarked hours that had gone into each entry. She marveled at what was home grown. Flowers more beautiful than in a florist shop. Fruits, vegetables, herbs, baked goods, and preserves glowed more appealingly fresh and delicious than what can be bought at the grocery store. Indeed things are still made in America – as long as there are pumpkins . . .  

Never had she seen such fastidiously groomed and healthy dairy cows and other farm animals. She couldn’t help notice their owners – the young people. They handled their animals with pride and confidence.

The isles of photographs, the tables of crafts and a wall of paintings spoke to her that people have found things to like about their world - enough to capture it in art. The dreary, murmuring attitude of “why bother” was put to shame. 

The key word here is inspiration. Those who were inspired to make an entry in the fair had to have been inspired by someone. From whence do you derive your inspiration?
Our Educational Responsibilities
To educate is to inspire. It is to sustain the inner life of a child with ideas. Ideas come by inspiration. We find them in books and experiences. As home teachers we are tempted (when exhausted) to tackle our educational responsibilities with the burdensome view of getting through a stack of educational materials. So much needs to be covered before the week is out, before the semester is out, before the year is out. This singular thought can weigh us down.

A Yoke That is Easy
The Lady-of-the-house once mentioned in A Charlotte Mason Companion: It isn’t how much a child covers that matters most but how much he cares. When we understand that education is much-much more than covering all the material, we are refitted with a yoke that is easy. We are more willingly harnessed to the task and work faithfully, carefully and lovingly. Why does the yoke seem easier? We recognize the importance of our call and have taken on a special role. Parents are to be inspirers. 

A Child’s First Copybook
By the very lives we live we are sowing seeds of ideas in our children. A sobering old proverb states: Parents are a child’s first copybook. Because we love our children we seek God to help us demonstrate understanding, kindness, patience, cheerfulness, hard work, and reverence in our homes. How else can children learn how to show these to others? Through books, written by people inspired by ideas, we give children what is pure, lovely, noble and just to think about. Books alive with ideas do the teaching.

Passing on the Torch
  This fallen world is not all sweetness. Therefore we reach for books that accompany life’s hard truths with hope. In literature, we meet sorrow but we ought also to meet large-hearted characters that comfort. In history we meet those who destroy so we look for those brave souls who build, defend, or minister the gospel. Science rises to meet the challenge of hardship and sickness and so we read about the inventors and the healers. Inspiration comes by way of those who uncover truth and pass on the flaming torch of ideas (especially needed in dark places). Someday our children may be one of the torchbearers.

In Parents & Children, page 39, Charlotte Mason borrows language from Ecclesiastes.
"The duty of parents is to sustain a child’s inner life with ideas as they sustain his body with food. The child is an eclectic; he may choose this or that; therefore, in the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thy hand, for thou knowest not which shall prosper. . ."

Thanks to the Man-of-the-house for the photographs. Congratulations, Nigel, for being awarded “best of show” in the painting category for your butterfly.