Friday, March 25, 2011

Spring is Sprouting

Spring is Sprouting 

It isn’t spring until you can plant your foot upon twelve daises. Folklore

The side entrance to our house has a place for boots and a coat closet painted Colonial yellow. It serves as a narrow mudroom. Those who enter are greeted with a welcome in cross-stitch.

The welcome was designed in period style reminiscent of a Pennsylvania Dutch Frakur. Like the old folk-art paper frakurs the cross-stitch uses primary colors, tulips, birds, and a large central heart bearing an inscription.

Over the years our family has had seasonal opportunities for hospitality. I would be happy to tell you, sometime, about our series of home classes and the different ways we opened our home. Food was always part of the welcome. 

Whether it was our Shakespeare plays, a speech class, our Beautiful Girlhood get-togethers, or a ladies’ brunch, the kettle was set to boil and platters were arrayed with refreshment. I was reflecting upon those happy, hard-working home school years when friends shared food with us - along with food-for-the-mind and heart. It was my custom to serve tea sandwiches with alfalfa sprouts. Larger sandwiches may accommodate lettuce. But little sandwiches fare better with sprouts.

 Earlier this month I was impatient for spring. I couldn’t wait for spring to start sprouting all the bulbs I had buried. Then I realized it had been some years since I’d taken a few minutes out of my day to make sprouts -inside the house. All in one shopping spree I acquired a pot of faux daffodils for my kitchen windowsill and a sprouting kit.

The kit comes with three plastic lids for different size seeds and for consecutive stages of rinsing. A few teaspoons of alfalfa sprouts are soaked for a few hours and then rinsed twice a day for several days. The instructions recommend keeping the bottle in a slanted position for draining.

After a couple of days of sprouting in a shaded part of the kitchen the sprouts are given a window seat. Leaflets emerge and chlorophyll mysteriously is produced all in one or two days. Using a lid with larger holes, sprouts are rinsed of their casings.

Sprouting can be a healthy edible science experiment for young children. They will enjoy remembering to “make” their sprouts. Wrapping the jar with black paper before the day your sprouts do their sun bathing more dramatically demonstrates chlorophyll production for children.  

I like to sprout lentils, too, for a fresh, crunchy green salad. Goat cheese and/or cream cheese with chives and cucumber make a traditional tea sandwich. A pinch of sprouts adds a dainty springtime interest. (Click to enlarge and you’ll see Tom Kitten on the teacup.)  

Outside my crocus and daffodils are sprouting and my chives are reviving. Very soon the dairy cows in Lancaster County will have luscious green grass to graze upon. I’ve read that milk production in mid-spring (from grass-fed cows) is highest in vitamins A and D than any other time of year. This is one blessing of small farms and green pastures. Isn’t Chlorophyll a wonder?  

Dean’s farm photograph was taken from the window of the passenger car of a train. The Strasburg railroad cars are pulled by a renovated steam engine. There is nothing more thrilling in William’s eyes, than riding on a real “Thomas.”   

 Thank you for visiting,
Karen Andreola

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Employing A Mother's Prerogative

Employing A Mother’s Prerogative

In the home school:

Do some of what you have to do
With some of what you like to do

The Lady-of-the-house has listened to mothers confess sadly that their home school amounts to little more than dull routine. After determining where the trouble lies, she came up with the above motto.

We are aware of the required subjects. But, do we stop to consider what we want our children to know? Is there anything we’d like to teach?

How lovely is the freedom to use all kinds of odd and interesting books and experiences in the goal of knowledge. This is why the Lady-of-the-house has shelves full of a hodge-podge of books and her spring-cleaning mainly consists of a war on dust. Books collect dust. Books create dust. With a dust-cloth in one hand she took a book off the shelf. “It’s been ages since I’ve read a poem by Emily Dickinson,” she thought. One of the poems she had committed to memory – something she probably wouldn’t have thought to do outside of home educating. Inside the 1893 edition of Poems – Emily Dickinson she discovered something delightfully mysterious. A handwritten letter tucked between the pages for more than 100 years. It reads:

Dear Miss Van Pelt,
Why do you never write to me?
Yours sincerely,
Herbert Ingalls

The book was once in the possession of the grandfather of the Man-of-the-house because his name is penned inside it. The Lady-of-the-house mentioned this to her mother-in-law who said, “I remember that book. It was the 1940s. I was twelve years old. My mother and father and I were with a realtor looking at a big Victorian house for sale in New Jersey. In the basement was a small pile of abandoned books. My father, who had a love of old houses and all things antique, picked up a book with gold-edged pages, blew the dust off the cover and looked at it closely. The realtor told him to take it and that the house had once been a girls’ school.”

  “How intriguing! And what did Grandma and Grandpa think of the big house?” asked the Lady-of-the-house. 
  “My mother was put off by the tall ceilings and enormous windows. She imagined herself doing half her housework lugging around a ladder.” 
 “Yes, quite wise. Dust, certainly, must be considered in the bargain,” the Lady-of-the-house affirmed. 

Gazing at the letter in her hand her mind wandered. How long did Miss Van Pelt save Mr. Ingalls’ letter? Did she reply? What was taught in that 19th century girls’ school? Were the poems leisure reading or mandatory school curriculum? Why was the book and letter left behind?The answers are not knowable but the poems in the book are.

Because her daughter made an entry of a verse by Emily Dickenson in her Nature Notebook when quite young, the idea to incorporate the same entry into the story of Pocketful of Pinecones surfaced on page 116. Sharing the poems of Emily Dickinson all those years ago were, for the Lady-of-the-house, a “like-to.” By sharing a “like-to” with her children a mother takes on a shade of satisfaction in home education not otherwise enjoyed.

A Brighter Garden, illustrated by Tasha Tudor, supplies a sampling of choice poems by Emily Dickinson. Picture books of this sort have always made a strong appeal to the Lady-of-the-house. Another title is Poetry for Young People - Emily Dickinson by Frances Schoonmaker Bolin.

That is why she also owns one titled, Emily. Its pictures are by another of her favorite illustrators, Barbara Cooney. The author, Michael Bedard introduces us to the reclusive Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) through the eyes of a little girl who lives across the street. While her mother goes to play the piano at the “yellow house” the little girl goes too. When no one is looking she tiptoes up the stairs and meets the gentle Miss Dickinson. The theme of the story seems to be one of friendship.

Picture books can be enriching resources that give any subject introduction. They also create a pleasant learning atmosphere. Mom’s study “like-to” entailed only a week of short after-lunch readings. She wonders. Will her children one-day share the same poems with their children? Whatever the case, she hopes that they will use their prerogative and:

Do some of what they have to do
With some of what they like to do  

Click book title if you are interested in Emily by Michael Bedard sold at Rainbow Resource Center. 

First Lines of Emily Dickinson’s poems on Mom’s Like-to List:
(Among her other poems are some Mom doesn’t understand.)

A bird came down the walk
Dear March – Come in –
Eden is that old-fashioned House
Hope is the thing with feathers
I’m Nobody? Who are you?
I never saw a moor (committed to memory)
The bee is not afraid of me
The morns are meeker than they were
To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee

 Post Script

The Lady-of-the-house wears the pink-as-can-be Laura-Ashley floral for the Man-of-the-house who purchased the dress for her on e-bay. She hasn’t the courage to be seen in such a flamboyant thing outside the house. Emily Dickinson would say that’s okay and would approve of the existence of a private home life.

Karen Andreola

Saturday, March 5, 2011

A Little Dabbling for Down the Road

A Little Dabbling for Down the Road

The Pink Stripe is Finished
Someday, I’ll know who the recipient will be - someday down the road. But today it is being saved in Grandma’s Someday Box.

Do you see the sleeves? Don’t they look like little scarves with a bit of ribbing? If you can knit a washcloth or a scarf, in light of the circumstances, you can knit a sweater. Really.

Knit the back and front panels like little scarves decreasing for the neck. Seam the shoulders and attach the sleeves. Fold and seam some more. I referred to Nici McNally’s instructions for finishing. For the first time my seams appear seamless.

Edging the sweater is the tricky part. Nici McNally shares a tip on her DVD for picking up stitches. By following this tip my ribbed edging now lays smoothly.

The finished sweater, with its tiny Beatrix Potter character buttons, rests on a pieced quilt top (above).

The Story of a Toddler Quilt
I’ve since added fabric yo-yos to the quilt top.  They are the same yo-yos pictured in November’s post. I had first cut out hearts to appliqué onto each square but changed my mind. I remembered my lonely pile of yo-yos. “I wonder how well the colors will match,” I thought.

Digging them out of the closet and counting them, I raised my eyebrows in surprise. Not only were the colors in harmony, the pile had the exact number of yo-yos; one per square, no more no less. 

Five years previously I made those yo-yos. I was dabbling for the fun of it (and in my initial yo-yo craze) unconcerned where they’d end up. This year the yo-yos met their destiny. You might be surprised at what a little dabbling will amount to down the road

Because the quilt was only tufted and because they yo-yos were pre-crafted, the project was accomplished in a month of Sundays. That’s all. I tied extra strands of cotton crochet thread to each tuft, to make a sort of decorative fringe that will go fuzzy when washed.

Approximately How Far - Down the Road?
It is good to have an idea of how much time a project will require, especially if it is for an upcoming gift. But when a new interest to dabble occupies you, the amount of time required to complete a project should be secondary.

Some days I dabble. More often I plan. Even when I’ve planned carefully I might have a false start. Have you ever had one? When it comes to knitting I humor myself by calling a false start: “an elaborate gauge.” The blue stripe came to a halt two years ago when I realized, after nearly finishing the back piece, that baby William was already too big for it.

Young children grow fast. I’ve been keeping the stitches “on hold” on a piece of contrasting yarn because I borrowed the needles for the pink stripe. I’ll need to pick up the blue stripe soon because another little boy will be joining us not too far down the road.

A Minute for Cute
I’ve been told that the expected “little boy” is motionless in the womb all night but wakes each morning (and starts kicking) as soon as he hears his big brother’s talkative ramble. Three-year-old William stretched out his arms toward his mother’s stomach, cupped his little hands palms up and said, “You can come out now.”
“He’ll come when he’s ready,” his mother told him.

 A Patient Teacher
Letters in my mailbox reveal: all that is separating my readers from learning to knit is an hour of leisure and a good teacher. I found the teacher. All you need to do is find the leisure. After sitting through a number of instructional knitting DVDs I chose one put together by Nici McNally. 

(My green toddler socks, knit with self-striping yarn, are meant to dress up the photograph – taken on our attic steps.) 

Mrs. McNally is not a hired actress. She genuinely loves to knit and enjoys sharing her skill. She demonstrates each step in clear, colorful close-up photography. The DVD is not preoccupied with the razzmatazz of distracting entertainment. With Mrs. McNally you can take your time to peacefully focus on your knitting. Pause the DVD at her suggestion. “Press play when you are ready,” she says as she guides you pleasantly all along the way.  

Happy Dabbling,
Karen Andreola