Thursday, November 24, 2011

Christmas Yo-Yos

Christmas Yo-Yos

The day before Thanksgiving my daughter telephoned. “Go to Dad’s office and look on his computer,” she said. (It’s a bigger screen than my laptop.) “I just sent some photographs.” Dean (also Dad or Grandpa) has gotten used to this.  

"Oh look," I exclaimed. "Baby Joseph is wearing the sweater I made for William. I almost forgot I knit it. It fits him perfectly,” I said now on speaker-phone.
Grandpa added, “Why didn’t you slip the sweater over the pumpkin? It would have showed it off just the same.”
Not really taking him seriously his daughter informed, “Well, he’s wearing long Johns. That’s why he might look a little stuffed.”
“Just in time for Thanksgiving,” Grandpa couldn’t resist.
“Don’t you notice something?” she asked.
Grandma noticed. “Yes,” said Grandma all agog at Baby’s progress. “He’s sitting up.”
“A minute later he fell over and cried. But he sat still long enough for the photo,” she said. 
“He’s a Humpty Dumpty,” cooed Grandma. At this last bit of "cuteness-appreciation" Grandpa winced (to be funny).

Now, to the main part of this post.

For the homemaker preparations for Christmas are mostly done on her feet. Making yo-yos for a Christmas garland is one way a she can be festive with her feet up.
Have you ever made a yo-yo? I explain how on a previous post. It is a frugal way of using up some of the smallest snippets of fabric that may be leftover from another project. For Christmastime, however, I splurged and purchased some new fabric with a Christmas theme, adding it to the calico scrapes I had on hand.

For a small yo-yo circle a cut 2 ½ in diameter makes a 1 inch yo-yo. Using the top or bottom of a half-pint jelly jar is about the right size. When strung together loosely the yo-yos can be twisted on the garland so that krinkle and smooth sides alternate along the row. A garland of yo-yos sewn together more snugly will show all fronts (krinkles) on one side and all backs (smooth) on the other – which is nice, too.

Placement over an image works well with a jelly jar or drinking glass. Brandy’s sells a template. Either way allows you to center a circle over a design. I chose to showcase a tiny dove, a wreath and a poinsettia on the back of my yo-yos.

A few years ago when I spotted a fabric of antique toys I was charmed. “I’ll make a yo-yo garland for my daughter’s large tree for the eyes of my grandchildren,” I thought. To showcase the toys, this time I needed a circle cut 3 ½ inches in diameter. This is more of a standard size yo-yo. It creates a garland that grows in far less time than one done in smaller yo-yos. The toy garland is at my daughter’s house and therefore not pictured.  

Small yo-yos compliment a small tree. Tiny prints, calico and small plaids are suitable. I like the metallic thread that glitters on the red and green plaid. Upon entering a yo-yo craze all kinds of ideas will suggest themselves to you.

Garlands mail light. This makes them good gifts for long-distance friends or relatives. I sent a garland to a long-distance friend one Christmastime. She is adept at crafting (expertly and artistically so). And I don’t know anyone who is more proficiently frugal in making one penny do the work of two. This is why what I read in her letter pleased me. My gift had given her the idea to make a garland for a long-distance friend of hers. These garlands are apparently becoming a grape vine of friendship.

Because it isn’t possible to send each of my blog friends a garland I am doing the next best thing: sharing my craft idea with you.

Post Script

Dean would like me to have my old crewel embroidery reframed. I stitched it in 1981. (Can you believe it?)

It had to be cut away from a rusty-stapled frame after it was saved from a basement flood years back. Perhaps the framer in town can do something about the shrinkage.

Click any image to enlarge.

Thank you for visiting,

Karen Andreola 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Qualities As Would Wear Well

Qualities As Would Wear Well

A friend of mine with a master’s degree in English once told me, “The best way to “pick-up” good English grammar and vocabulary is to be absorbed in an 18th century novel - monthly. Hmmm, this seemed sensible. But I remember only nodding my head to it. I felt dumb. Few 18th century novels came to mind. To rely upon 19th century novelists seemed more conceivable. I did, however, hand my children (two young ladies and one young man) when they reached high school, my old copy of Oliver Goldsmith’s The Vicar of Wakefield. The story was published in England around the time of our American Revolution.

None in my circle of friends has mentioned reading this book so I am coming straight out and asking. Have you read it? Because it seems to be a lesser-read novel I bring The Vicar of Wakefield to your notice. It is delightful. So many of the kinds of things I like in a novel live there. The atmosphere of home and family ring as clear a bell. Historically it provides an interesting peek at 18th century domesticity.

Oliver Goldsmith’s refined language makes his descriptions of the vicar’s life (in first-person) both charming and humorous. As men sometimes do he writes a little over-the-top. His subtle touch of the ridiculous is intentional. It’s meant to make us smile. It makes me smile. And yet as Shakespeare said it, “Many a truth is spoken in jest.”

I could place dozens of amusing excerpts on this post but I must resist. The first paragraph will have to suffice in giving you a taste. Dr. Primrose, the vicar, begins:

I was ever of the opinion that the honest man who married and brought up a large family, did more service than he who continued single and only talked of population. From this motive, I had scare taken [ordination] a year, before I began to think seriously of matrimony, and chose my wife, as she did her wedding-gown, not for a fine glossy surface, but such qualities as would wear well. To do her justice, she was a good-natured, notable woman; and as for breeding, there were few country ladies who could show more. She could read any English book without much spelling; but for pickling, preserving, and cookery, none could excel her. She prided herself also upon being an excellent contriver of housekeeping; though I could never find that we grew richer with all her contrivances.

How kind hearted the vicar is. He is sincerely unworldly. Take this up a notch and we can even say Dr. Primrose is a little naive. What a refreshing change from being bombarded by the opposite (in the news). If you are looking for a book to read by the fireside, with humor to lighten darkening days, a book of refined English, The Vicar of Wakefield will satisfy. My choice for Mother Culture, it carries mature but clean amusement and honest-to-goodness English Literature for high school students, too.

Within this fairy-tale-like plot are lessons to be observed. For instance, the etiquette of Englishmen (specifically gentleman callers) in those days could mask true character until it revealed itself in consequence and secrets came to light. At the turn of the page the “moral of the story” becomes plain and it is interesting to hear a student’s spin on matters.   

Those who are fond of the novels of the Charlotte Bronte, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens and Louisa May Alcott might be interested to know that The Vicar of Wakefield was thoroughly enjoyed by them. We know this because they have referenced this book within their own novels. 

Very few writers gain immense wealth by writing. Nevertheless – writers write to pay the rent and sometimes “back” rent. This is exactly what The Vicar ofWakefield enabled Oliver Goldsmith to do during a time of financial distress. One of the conflicts in the story is a change in finance. Another difficulty is the question of who will marry his daughters. You’ll notice that these themes are also woven with success by the subsequent and well-loved authors above. 

Laying over the pages of my book are three elegant bookmarks made by a friend. I show them here because they are a simple craft that matches the skill of most mothers’ nibble fingers. Creative flair is employed in choosing beads and charms to be threaded on the ribbon. Would you or your children enjoy designing a ribbon bookmark for gift-giving days ahead? It is sure to please the 18th century novel reader. 

Thank you for visiting.
As always, Karen Andreola 

Monday, November 7, 2011

Two November Sweaters

Two November Sweaters

The first November breeze makes us reach for a cardigan with alacrity. The Lady-of-the-House took a fancy to designing a little girl’s cardigan that gave the feel of a forest in November. The natural brown wool resembles the bark of trees – and the fallen leaves that have dried and crunch like brown toast under a garden boot.   

Acorn buttons also speak November, don’t you think? The yoke is knit in a luxurious Noro yarn. Garter stitch sets off its colors from the body as does a round of soft-white above and below.

The yoke style of sweater has the attractive feature of being seamless. If self- stripping yarn is used it forms its own interesting design. And the decreases are hidden among the varying colors.

Any plain pattern invites possibilities for designing. Knitting creative touches into a sweater for little ones already arrived, and those yet to be born is, for the Lady-of-the-House, a doubly comforting experience – a mingling of dreams and relaxation.

"People have to know what relaxes them, and not feel guilty about using a piece of time when it is necessary for them, or when they do not use it exactly as somebody else would."
Edith Schaeffer

The yoke sweater was made some years ago. This November the Lady-of-the-House finished a sweater for Baby Joseph. She used left-over Brown Sheep from the yoke sweater adding a Lumber Jack check at the bottom. The colors would go nicely with his dark hair she thought. 

She altered the pattern to make less seaming for herself. The cardigan’s front panels join the back on a circular needle. They form one wide piece. She knit up to the armholes finishing each panel separately to the shoulder. The only seams are at the shoulder.

Here’s a tip. A crochet hook picks up stitches easily and neatly. Chained onto the hook this readies them to be slid off the back of the hook onto needles where they are knitted in a nice workable tension. 

She picked up the sleeves this way (no seams here) and then knitted in a round - top down.

On Sunday afternoon, after sewing on the wooden buttons, she held it up to show the Man-of-House with a delightful feeling of accomplishment.

“Very nice,” he said.

“Let me see your buttons,” she said.

“What for?” he asked, puzzled.

“I just remembered something.” She stepped closer to see which way his shirt was buttoned. Then she examined the sweater in her hands.  “Oh, no, I put Baby Joseph’s buttonholes on the girl’s side!” She was crestfallen. The thought of unraveling the ribbing to start again was discouraging. 

The Man-of-the-House instantly consoled her with his familiar stand-by phrase, “No one ‘ll notice.”

"I suppose so,” she said weakly. Exploring the subject further she reasoned that with the amount of sartorial slackness going on these days the button placement could very well go unnoticed by the average onlooker.

“And it’s not like he’ll be buttoning it himself,” he added.

This last statement made the strongest appeal. The Lady-of-the-House was won over. The November sweater is tucked away (as is) in the Christmas closet awaiting wrapping. Please do not breathe a word of our secret to Baby Joseph – about the buttonholes, I mean. 

Until next time,
Karen Andreola

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Room to Grow

Room to Grow
I began writing this post on Saturday the 29th. Snow, of all things, was swirling outside. It covered the ground and weighed heavily upon the leafed trees in clumps, breaking branches and disabling electric power. Our server has been down for days so I am visiting my daughter Yolanda to be connected today.

October snow is extraordinary in southern Pennsylvania. It brings to mind a story I wrote for Story Starters. In “Deborah Misses Dad” the first snowfall is early. It is October snow. This is significant and provides a bit of suspense because Deborah’s father promises that he would return from his long sea journey at (or before) the first snowfall. Would he return in time to fulfill his promise?

The day before our snowstorm I had taken a more usual autumn photograph while standing in our driveway.

I also made Autumn Leaf Decorations from the leaves I gathered on a brisk and refreshing walk. The leaves were gathered at the height of color - and just in time, too. 

Goodbye to a garden of pink verbena. 

A More Together Feel
I enjoyed two very nice letters from blog friends and also a conversation recently. Something common to each dawned on me. My friends mentioned how in earlier years, home learning had a more “together feel.” Now that the children are maturing they are off at their own desks doing lessons on their own. The family still gathers ‘round the dinning room table for Bible, poetry, a song, or Picture Study but much of the children’s skills and acquiring of knowledge are being achieved by independent effort or by taking turns one-on-one with mother.

A Second Look
Change is inevitable in home education because children grow. It seems that just as we grasp of a workable timetable one year, the next year, it is altered. When change occurs we take a second look and wonder “Is this going well? Is this working for us?” It may take a few months but eventually the timetable takes shape as we adjust to our children’s growing abilities.

A New Suit of Clothes
Actually a wonderful thing is happening. These home taught children still enjoy a degree of companionship; the family isn’t growing apart but growing up alongside one another. And the children are trying on a new suit of clothes. Miss Charlotte Mason would call this suit self-education. And a very fine suit of clothes it is – with room to grow. One that too few students have the opportunity to try on for size. Why? Out of insecurity perhaps, or out of a need to ensure a good showing of right answers on tests, teachers do too much for students.

“If we give him watered-down material, many explanations, much questioning, if we over-moralize, depend on the workbook to work the mind, what thinking is left for the child to do? How is his mind to grow?  Pg 41 A Charlotte Mason Companion

The mind feeds on ideas. These ideas are found in books of literary quality. A student digests this mind-food by narrating and after a while he develops a taste for knowledge. With each new idea digested and each new bit of knowledge made personal, he grows.

“Miss Mason believed that there is no education but self-education. Our business, she said, was to give him mind-stuff. Both quantity and quality are essential. . . . Self-education by means of [living] books, narration, first-hand experience and observation is such a very satisfying and rewarding process that it naturally continues throughout life.” Pg 43 & 44 C M Companion

Driving a Horse That is Light
During our fist summer here in Pennsylvania Dutch Country I was waiting at a traffic light. When I looked in my rear-view mirror I was startled. “Oh my, it’s the face of a horse!” Waiting behind me in traffic were a horse and buggy. During that time it was no easy task to teach the last two of our children how to drive with the added feature of passing buggies safely, I can assure you. With every venture down our roads comes the unnerving necessity to pass at least one or two.

Anyway, this summer, when I was in Historic Strasburg with Dean photographing some handsome old houses (here shown) I kept an eye out for the opportunity to snap an action shot of a horse and buggy. I anticipated illustrating a post on “self education” with it.

Since first reading the following paragraph in Philosophy of Education I have been immensely fond of it. It is enlightening. Miss Charlotte Mason assumes that her readers, born in the 19th century, are as familiar with the behavior of horses on the road as we are in Pennsylvania Dutch Country. She wrote:

“In urging a method of self-education for children in lieu of the vicarious education which prevails, I should like to dwell on the enormous relief to teachers, a self-sacrificing and greatly overburdened class; the difference is just that between driving a horse that is light and a horse that is heavy in hand; the former covers the ground of his own gay will and the driver goes merrily. The teacher who allows his scholars the freedom of the city of books is at liberty to be their guide, philosopher and friend; and is no longer the mere instrument of forcible intellectual feeding.”

Do you see how the gentleness aspect in “the gentle art of learning” is an embodiment of self-education? 

Charlotte Mason takes no credit for being the first to recognize the advantages of self-education. She refers to the Christian educator, John Amos Comenius (1592-1670) at the very start of her book Philosophy of Education: “. . . that golden rule of which Comenius was in search has discovered itself in the Rule, - ‘Whereby teachers shall teach less and scholars shall learn more.’”

Story Starters
I made it a point to support Miss Mason’s urgings to trust in self-education (of teachers teaching less and students learning more) when I created Story Starters. The multi-skill levels of narration-composition give the student “room to grow.”

All in one English course a child can rescue those in danger, comfort the sick, cheer the lonely, laugh with the ridiculous, tame the wild and do battle for good. The exercises in Story Starters suspend the student in the middle of a predicament. He is then faced with the question “What happens next?” This is his cue to expand and embellish the story however he wants. The settings are sometimes exciting, sometimes funny, sometimes sweetly domestic, but they always pose a challenge.

Are you looking for a writing course that will engage a student in critical thinking as well as awaken him to write boldly, freely, with imagination and zest? With Story Starters a child will write in ways he has never written before – and with willing effort – like a horse that is light in hand. 

Post Script
Our family tradition of making Autumn Leaf Decorations can be found in A Charlotte Mason Companion page 316.

Sonya Shafer of Simply Charlotte Mason invited me to contribute to the discussion of her articles “The Gentle Approach” on her blog. Thank you, Sonya.

Comments are warmly welcome,
Karen Andreola