Saturday, July 30, 2011

A White Robin

A White Robin

The Lady-of-the-House sipped a green smoothie for breakfast. She stood staring out the French doors of her kitchen/keeping room, rather than exiting them. It was hazy and already hot at 8 o’clock in the morning. It would be another 100F degree-day in July. The public was urged to stay indoors due to dangerous air quality. She stood mesmerized and motionless watching a flock of robins eating their breakfast on the lawn. 

She was contemplating what to do with the pumpkin zucchinis (her word for them) that she had been harvesting from one prolific plant - trying to remember what had come over her to buy the seedling in the first place; novelty she supposed. I’ll carve out the seeds, fill them with seasoned brown rice and bake them, she mused.

First I want to work on that apron I started months ago. It’s been a work-in-progress too long, she sighed. What a time she had with it over the summer. It is a fussy pattern. She almost made a mess of it by taking it in three inches on both sides of the bodice. She questioned why she trusted claims of one-size-fits-all while she sewed buttons (as camouflage) over the places where she had made adjustments indelicately. She took a break and laid it over a chair for another day.

Having finished the last bite of his toast, the son of the Lady-of-the-House noticed her staring out the French doors. He stepped up beside her. “Mom, what are all those spotted birds?”

“Teen-age robins,” she answered. “They still wear the speckled breast of fledgling days but are almost as large as the adults.” This satisfied him and he left the room to start his day at the computer.

That is when she spotted it - a white robin - not snow white but a creamy blonde. It had an orange breast but the rest of it was blonde – beak and all. She was excited. 

“Get the camera,” she called out. "It's a white robin." His office being in earshot, these words sent the Man-of-the-House jettisoning into the kitchen with camera in hand.


“There,” she pointed.

“Why isn’t the camera beeping?” he said. He then realized that it was set on manual focus. “I’ll be right back.”

“Where are you going?” his wife spoke to his back – in a tone of anxiety.

“To get the telephoto lens.”

When he returned the bird, by that time, had left the feeding ground and had fluttered onto a branch. “I see it,” said the Man-of-the-House twisting his large lens in place. Then he dashed outside. One shot (blurry) was taken from a distance in the nick of time before it flew further into the woods.

“I can’t believe I saw a white robin,” said the Lady-of-the-House. I guess they're on my mind. You did just order that copy of The White Robin for me a few nights ago. The coincidence is uncanny.” She was preparing a post to recommend the stories by Miss Read – delightful stories in which she occasionally indulges. This gave her the idea to add a few more novels to her collection.

That afternoon the book order arrived. The White Robin was in the parcel. “I can’t believe it,” she said again.
“You should tell your blog friends,” suggested the Man-of-the-House.
“I will.”

Albino robins or red-breasted blonde robins aren’t as rare, perhaps, as people suppose. One only has to do some lingering to look. A few days hence the Lady-of-the-House had another visitation of the blonde robin. It landed in view while she was at the kitchen sink washing dishes. She began calling it her robin. Within the week her new-used library discard of The White Robin was read and enjoyed. Truth can be as strange as fiction, she pondered as she closed the book – twisting a line from Shakespeare. 

She was also happy to have finished her apron.

The White Robin (out-of-print) begins with a child of the village school spotting an unusual white bird on a hot day in July. It is part of the Fairacre series. Village School begins the series. Here we meet, Miss Read, the main character of most of the Fairacre novels. She is hired as the headmistress of the two-room village school and proves a dedicated teacher. She enjoys her quiet single-hood when off duty but also takes part in village festivities.

Nothing too dramatic happens in Fairacre. In fact it might be said that there is less conflict in Fairacre than may exist in our own face-paced lives. Many find it soothing to read about the routines of a long-established way of life in an English village where people walk to shops, greet passers by, pop in for chats and sips of tea. Simple folk with good manners (most of them) live their tidy British lives among stone churches, train stations, hedgerows, thatched houses and back gardens lined with ancient perennial flowerbeds. Beyond the village is the tranquil countryside where Miss Read leads her children on nature walks whenever it fancies, whenever the weather is ideal for it.

Inside any copy of a Fairacre novel is a handy list of other books in the series. All the stories make for the kind of light easy reading so appreciated at the end of a particularly tiring day.

A favorite of the Lady-of-the-House is Miss Clare Remembers (out-of-print). In the early part of the 20th century Miss Clare is a little girl who lives in a white cottage that her father freshly thatches. When a young woman she looses the young man she loves in the First World War. Miss Clare teaches the youngest students of Fairacre's village school without a college degree but with some training. Her firm-but-kind methods are carried out in a lady-like demeanor to her credit.

Mrs. Pringle of Fairacre was chosen as a read-aloud after Village School to share with a grown daughter. It is a good example of how to get along graciously (and with sympathy and a sense of humor) with those one or two people God may put into our lives who are “prickly.”

The Man-of-the House voiced his liking of the new apron. Therefore, the Lady-of-the-House is saving it for “best.” She cannot bear the thought of finding a splash of spaghetti sauce on it – not until she makes another one – from another pattern – with less fuss. For now, it rests on the drying rack of the kitchen/keeping room.

Post Script
If you have a copy of Edith Holden’s The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady, you may be interested in page seven. In her January 26th 1906 entry she talks about a “curious robin” . . . that “when it is flying it looks like a white bird with a scarlet breast.”

Hasn’t Baby gotten roly-poly?

Indoors, lingering at windows, lingering with book friends, anticipating a visit from grandsons,

Karen Andreola

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Most Precious Earthly Treasure

The Most Precious Earthly Treasure   

Far away there in sunshine are my highest aspirations. I may not reach them, but I can look up and see their beauty, believe in them and try to follow where they lead.
                                                                                                     Louisa May Alcott

A British television series aired earlier this year. It is a period drama with episodes about an aristocratic family trying to hold onto their ancestral estate. The opening scene brings news of the sinking of the Titanic and the drowning of a daughter’s suitor. With no male heir in the family the daughters must marry advantageously.

The house and scenery are luxurious; so are the Edwardian gowns and hairstyles of the females. The father, the “Lord of the Manor,” is kind, generous, affectionate, fair, patient, stands firm in his decisions and yet is not lacking in sensitivity. I like him. I can use none of these adjectives to describe his coming-of-age daughters. Their self-absorption, lack of restraint and failure to feel even a little remorse for the injuries they cause to themselves and to the family leaves me speechless. All the while they stand with poise and decorum, beautifully arrayed - miserable perhaps - yet without the slightest nudge of conscious or a change-of-heart.

Seeking to immerse myself in a kinder world I opened our copy of Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott. The girls in this story are refreshingly conscientious. They struggle with their natures. The first lines of the story begin with exclamations of complaint among the March sisters: Jo, Meg, Amy, Beth. Their new poorer circumstances, since their father went away to serve in the Civil War, require them to work longer hours and in ways they hadn’t before. I can’t help but chuckle over their ever-so-emphatic girlish grumbling because I know what’s coming. On the next few pages a nudge of conviction sets the girls upon nobler ideas. With the little Christmas money they have saved, each turns from thinking of the special (and well deserved) present they wish to buy for themselves, to a gift for their mother. “Glad to find you so merry, my girls,” said a cheery voice at the door. Marmee is home. 

“Character Building” is a chapter of instruction in my revised edition of Beautiful Girlhood. It shines a light upon what had disturbed me in the television series and also what refreshes me about Little Women. I share highlights from Beautiful Girlhood (in lavender) following it with excerpts from Little Women (in blue). The ideas are such a close match that it leads me to believe that they were once prevalent in the minds of the Christian readers of our great-grandmothers' day.  

The most precious earthy treasure a girl can have is good character.

 Character is not given to us; we build it ourselves. Others may furnish the material, may set before us the right standards and ideals, may give us reproof or correction, may guide our actions and mold our thoughts. But we build our own character. It is we who absorb good influence about us, adopt ideals, reach for standards, and make ourselves what we are.

 Youth is building time.

 Sometimes I have wondered why youth should be given the responsibility of laying the foundation of life’s character just when the heart is the most merry and the thoughts the least settled; but if the responsibility came later it would be at a time when the help of parents and teachers is not be had.

 A pattern is needed.

  . . No character is built right and true if the builder has not in her mind a picture of the woman she wants to be. And the pattern for good character must be chose carefully.

 She who has an ideal character is first of all pure and true, then earnest and sincere, patient and gentle, and more ready to serve than to be served.

 Many things that are fun end in wrong . . . we dare not allow ourselves to be continually guided by what others do. Christ is our Perfect Pattern, and only those who form their lives after Him are building the best character.

In chapter eight of Little Women Amy falls through the ice. This dangerous incident is alarming. Jo trembles. Then she realizes how sorry she is for her bad temper toward her younger sister Amy. Feeling terribly unsettled in her soul she asks her patient mother, “Tell me how you do it . . .” Marmee starts by confessing her own struggles with learning patience. While a young mother Jo’s father had been a help to her. She says,

 “. . . [He] showed me that I must try to practice all the virtues I would have my little girls possess, for I was their example. It was easier to try for your sakes than for my own; a startled or surprised look for one of you, when I spoke sharply, rebuked me more than words could have done; and the love, respect, and confidence of my children was the sweetest reward I could receive for my efforts to be the woman I would have them copy.”

 “O mother, if I’m ever half as good as you, I shall be satisfied,” cried Jo, much touched.

 “I hope you will be a great deal better, dear; but you must keep watch over your bosom enemy as you father calls it, or it may sadden, if not spoil your life.”

Jo agrees to try. She understands that it is she who must build her character. On the next page the conversation ends similarly to the chapter in Beautiful Girlhood in that it points to a girl’s highest pattern.
“My child, the troubles and temptations of your life are beginning, and may be many; but you can overcome and outlive them all if you learn to feel the strength and tenderness of your Heavenly Father as you do that of your earthy one. The more you love and trust Him, the nearer you will feel to Him, and the less you will depend on human power and wisdom. His love and care never tire or change, can never be taken away from you, but may become the source of life-long peace, happiness, and strength. Believe this heartily and go to God with all your cares, and hopes, and sins, and sorrows, as freely and confidingly as you come to your mother.”

 Jo’s only answer was to hold her mother close, and, in the silence which followed, the sincerest prayer she had ever prayed left her heart without words; for in that sad, yet happy hour, she had learned not only the bitterness of remorse and despair, but the sweetness of self-denial and self-control; and led by her mother’s hand she had drawn nearer to the Friend who welcomes every child with a love stronger than that of a father, tenderer than that of any mother. 

May the excerpts and ideas from these books encourage you kindly to keep growing into the woman you aspire to be whatever your age.

Post Script

The photographs of the flowers are our roadside Queen Anne’s lace; a wildflower that I’ve always assumed is one being collected by the girl in the picture at the start of the post. I embroidered it years ago. It stood on a dresser in our daughters’ bedroom. I still remember how I enjoyed making all those French knots in wool. 

The painting is of a young woman pressing flowers in a book.

Permission was granted for the liberal use of quotations from chapter four of Beautiful Girlhood.

I am making steady progress with my reproduction sampler.  

Thank you for visiting,

Karen Andreola

Thank you, Nigel, for all the times you enter the computer language behind a post to place the colored boxes up at the request of the Lady-of-the-House. 

Monday, July 4, 2011

Red Yarn at Night, a Knitter's Delight

Red Yarn at Night, a Knitter’s Delight

The Lady-of-the-House can’t imagine being without a skein of red yarn in her stash. If there is a yarn that will start her digging to the bottom of her purse while she is standing at the till in a yarn shop - for any stray coins that will enable her to complete an unplanned purchase – that yarn will mostly likely be red.

She’s been pretty frugal so far this year about relying on her stash. Spring planting and general gardening upkeep with its telltale sign of poison ivy on her weeding hand, where her knitting needles normally rest, deterred her. Not stepping into a yarn shop for her usual quiet moments of perusal has kept her stash down to size, too. (She expects this will change soon). Lancaster is sprinkled with cubbyhole size yarn shops that display the softest and prettiest wool. None are as conveniently close to the Lady-of-the-House as she’d like. Once there, however, she has had some nice chats in knitter’s language with the owners. “I’ll wait outside,” says the Man-of-the-House if he is with her. 

One such red impulse skein, which had been too comfortably lodged in her stash for an incalculable amount of months, was recently dislodged. This is how it happened. 

She was leafing through the spring issue of Spin Off magazine, eyeing its pages of frilly feminine scarves. The subscribers were previously invited to submit a scarf knit in their own handspun following pattern guidelines. This issue features them in a “Handspun Gallery of Helix Scarves.” The beautiful hand-dyed homespun is quite impressive. 

The scarf pattern sparked the interest of the Lady-of-the-House. “Ooo, I’d like to make one of these,” she decided. I’m not proficient enough yet at the wheel to spin yarn as pretty but  . . . there must be a red skein in my stash somewhere?” her intuition told her.

The crimson wool the Lady-of-the-House had purchased, on . . . what day she couldn’t remember, was the right weight (sport weight) and had just enough yardage. She was so pleased she responded out loud with a rhetorical, “Well, how do you like that?” If the Man-of-the-House were in earshot he would have asked her who she was talking to. But he wasn’t.

The title of this post came to her on an evening when the setting sun was glowing a peaceful deep pink through the trees. Red sky at night, a sailor’s delight. On that evening her project was started. 

The camera inaccurately portrays the shade of red wool which is prettier in person.

“This pattern is simple enough to share with my new knitting friends. They will be impressed with how they can do frilly with one trick – wrap and turn,” she thought. Garter stitch (all knit) keeps the project simple. The Lady-of-the-House likes the look and feel of garter stitch. Next to stockinette, garter stitch is far more practical than conventional pattern makers give it credit for. 

Several years back she knit the yoke of William’s baby cardigan in garter stitch, keeping the sleeves and body in stockinette. It’s to be handed down to baby Joseph. 

Frilly Scarf Pattern

CO – Cast on
K – knit

With sport weight (240 yards) try size 5 or 6 straight needles, knitting a swatch or two for gauge, until you settle on a fabric that has the tension you like.

CO 24. K a row

K8 – wrap n’ turn – K to end of needle
K4 – wrap n’ turn – K to end of needle
K across all 24

Repeat the three rows until the scarf is the length you like.
Knit an extra row as the last row. Bind off. Weave in ends.

The set of three rows is easy to remember after it is repeated a few times. You can visually check where you are by examining any wrapped stitches on your row or a previous row. If you skip or repeat a row on occasion (because the telephone rings, the baby is crying, or a pot is boiling over) and forget where you left off - there is no need to stress – and probably no need to rip. Unlike the accuracy required of a sweater, a skipped or repeated row in this scarf will be imperceivable. You are making wedges on either side of the scarf. The wedges create the frill. Keep knitting.  

How to Wrap and Turn
Rows K8 and K4 are your short rows. At the end of each short row: wrap and turn.

With working yarn behind your needle slip the next stitch purl-wise to the right needle. Bring yarn forward.
Return slipped stitch to left needle.
Turn work.

For instance:
K8, slip the 9th purl-wise onto the right-hand needle, bring yarn forward (hold yarn low enough so you can insert the tip of your needle to) slip the 9th back onto the left-hand needle. Turn the work and knit 8 back to the end of your needle. Do the same with K4. The wrapped stitches will be knit when you knit across all 24. The Lady-of-the-House gives a bit of a tug on the working yarn when knitting the first stitch after a turn.

She started another “wrap n’ turn” scarf in peacock blue. One must use up one’s stash. Do you see how she has wound her ball so that it unwinds from the inside?

Fingering weight is ideal when making a small scarf that can be worn indoors as an accessory. The Lady-of-the-House chose to work with a thicker yarn - sport weight - because she couldn’t resist the call on her curiosity to be finished with the project sooner. If you are patient and don’t mind working on size 1 or 2 needles, here are the numbers:  30 – 10 – 5. 

For Fingering Weight (yardage 350)
CO 30. K a row
K10 – wrap n’ turn – K to end of needle
K5  - wrap n’ turn – K to end of needle
K across all 30

Until next time,
Karen Andreola