Sunday, November 20, 2011

One of those days . . .


 
Every once in a while I have one of those days.   I know what you are thinking . . . one of those days where everything goes wrong.  Sure, I have days like that, as we all do.  On those days I  tell myself tomorrow will be better, and it usually is.  What I am talking about is one of those days where everything seems to go as planned, and everything goes well.  Sometimes even a few little unexpected nice things happen that you didn't plan for.  I would call this a good day.

On a good day, when I leave dreamland (where I am in a quilt shop with an extra hundred dollars and ten pounds thinner) I can slowly open my eyes and not have a million things pop in my head that I need to do today.  Can it be?  Do I really have a day where I can focus on me, myself, and I?  Of course I will have the usual daily duties being a mom and wife and daughter, and some days are more filled than others, but today . . . I think I have nothing urgently calling for my attention.  Yipeee!!! 

On a good day I will hear my son moving around getting ready to go to his classes.  Oddly, I don't actually hear him and wake up.  I just instinctively wake up when I DON'T hear him moving around.  I look at the clock and realize he isn't up and go rouse him from his sweet dreams. Somehow my mom gene takes over and wakes me when it is around the time he should be up and moving. Isn't it amazing how the brain works?  He is not a morning person, and neither am I.  He is in college now, and after finishing off his last year of college he will hopefully get a nice job that pays well and that has a 2nd shift.  I worry that I will have to call him every morning for the rest of my life to wake him up when he moves out.  

On a good day I physically feel well, or at least not too bad.  The usual minor aches and pains don't get me discouraged anymore, just a part of life I guess.  On the rare occasion when I wake up feeling pretty darn good, in combination with a day I might have some free time -  I declare it to be an official "Today Is Whatever The Heck I Want To Do Day".  I try to squeeze these special days in every once in a while, especially after a long string of those other days. You know what I mean - those busy, tiring, stressful days that unfortunately occur quite often. 

I start off with my prayers as I am still in bed, and continue with them as I get up and fill my teapot with water.  I make my bed and put on my oh-so-comfy sweats that my family would love to burn.  I head back into the kitchen to pour the steaming water into my mocha chocolate-french vanilla cappuccino mix and take in the heavenly smell.  Mmmmmm.   So far, so good.

Yes, this day would be a PERFECT  "Today Is Whatever The Heck I Want To Do Day. "   I must decide what I will do.  I am pretty sure it will involve some sewing or at least craft or sewing related activities.  That usually translates into shopping for these activities, like a fabric store or quilt shop.  I will gather my sales ads and coupons as I enjoy my 2nd cup of coffee and put them into the back seat of the car so I won't forget them.  Have you ever been shopping and realized your sales ad was still waiting for you at home, sitting in the mudroom or on the kitchen counter?   Yikes!!!

I plan my little trip out in my mind.  Most of the places are in the next town, all within a couple miles of each other.  I believe I will start off here at the local yarn shop, then go into the next town and visit the quilt shop.  Then I will stop at the antique mall. After that I will visit Michael's and Hobby Lobby. Then Joann Fabrics.  I love looking at all the quilt and crochet books.  I'll probably pick one up too because I have a 50% coupon.   I will eventually  end up at Barnes and Noble.  I will start off by grabbing an armful of the newest magazines, usually a mix of craft and baking and decorating magazines.   I'll get a cup of something yummy, like a hot chocolate with a shot of peppermint. I'll stand before the glass windows peering into the beautiful display of baked goods and select whatever looks best to me - regardless of the calories! I'll choose a nice comfy overstuffed chair or pick a table next to a window with the afternoon sunlight streaming through.   I'll sit for an hour pouring over the magazines.  This sounds like a lovely day to me,  I better get going!

I quickly throw a load in the washer and hop into the shower.  A bowl of cereal, a little makeup, some electric curlers, a big, over-sized comfy sweatshirt and my favorite jeans.  Throw the load into the dryer, run the dishwasher. Gather the eggs and give the chickens fresh food and water.  Food and fresh water for my little dog Sophie.  I'm outta here!

I hop into my car, Diet Coke all ready for me with one of my favorite bendy straws, and a backup can of pop waiting for the ride home.  I turn on the radio and start humming along.  Wait -  am I hearing Christmas music???!!!  Yaaaay!  Woohoo!!! Now don't all of you throw up.  I know some people just hate it, or at least don't like hearing quite so much of it.  I  love it!  I actually have about ten Christmas CDs which I listen to all year long.  Go ahead and laugh, I don't mind.  I just love Christmas music.  It is usually Bing or the Andrews Sisters, or Bing sings Christmas with the Andrews Sisters.  (No, I am not kidding) :)  I even have Burl Ives. . . and the Time Life Christmas Treasury, a two pack!  Woohoo! Yes - I realize I am a dork! But remember . . . He sees you when you sleeping,  he knows when you're awake.  He knows if you've been bad or good so be good for goodness sake!
 As I begin my little journey I will lose myself in the pretty views. I always take the scenic country roads with the farms and open land. I sigh deeply as I tell myself I should be living on a farm. I think the fact that I spent a lot of time on farms as a child visiting southern relatives really influenced me.  I honestly feel my body relax and my mood improve when I am driving down a country road. I take in the beautiful open land dotted with red barns and pristine white farm houses with wrap-around porches. I try to memorize these  wonderful scenes, safely tucking them away to recall at another time.
 I sip my beloved Diet Coke, my only bad habit left next to overspending on fabric, and sing loudly along with the music. I feel the excitement building about all the beautiful things I will see today that I have ALWAYS wanted and just CANNOT live without that I never even knew existed.  Please tell me you know what I mean!! The excitement builds as I wonder what treasures will be waiting for me.  Who knows what wonderful things I will see today?  I will also be thinking that I am really glad there isn't a dashboard camera filming what a nut I must look like singing along to Mr. Grinch and Jingle Bell Rock.   All thoughts of housework, chicken coops and  flower beds not yet cleaned out are long gone. 

As you can imagine I will lose all track of time, and might not even get to all the stops I had planned, but I usually end up at Barnes and Noble.  The ticking clock will remind me that this wonderful adventure must come to an end. I will gather all my magazines and put them back.  I really need to get home.  Well, just one quick peek into the craft department . . . there might be new books.  A half hour later I usually walk out with either a magazine I couldn't part with or a book I just didn't have time to really look through, and head to my car.  Thoughts of home and all the things I need to do or should have done are trying to take over my brain, but I won't let them . . . yet.

One half hour drive home . . . 27 minutes to be exact if the traffic is good . . . and I am smiling and singing along to the Christmas music.  Life is good.  

Tomorrow will be another day, God willing.  I will deal with tomorrow tomorrow. Right now, I will continue to tuck away all the memories of my wonderful little adventure into the back of my mind to bring forth when I need a little boost.  I  look forward to another day like this.
 My wish for you, my dear friends, is that you also have some special days.  We all spend so much time taking care of everyone else that we forget about ourselves.  When is the last time you took a bubble bath?  Or spent hours wandering around in your favorite store or mall?  Or had an free afternoon to spend sewing or knitting or painting or reading or baking?  Do you ever just feel happy and content and find yourself humming and realizing that life is good?   Why is it we put ourselves on the bottom of the list?  Don't we need to take care of ourselves so we can be there to take care of everyone and everything else? 

 I want you to pencil in on the calendar a day or so that says "Today Is Whatever The Heck I Want To Do Day".  Did you realize this is a nationally recognized holiday,  and you need to be politically correct and observe this day? (Well not really but whatever!)  Please observe this day several times a year, maybe monthly.  Your loved ones want you to be happy too.  We don't have to be martyrs.  Take a day whenever you need one, or whenever you can pull it off.   Please enjoy it and let me know how you spent your special day!

P.S.  Many thanks to my friend Meri for all the darling images.  Do stop by and visit her blog, you will love it!   imagimeris.blogspot.com/

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Farewell Ethel


Well, I'm sorry to bring you sad news.  I had to say goodbye to a dear friend, Ethel.  She was such a sweet little thing.  Short, stout, kind of an Aunt Bea looking type.  Sweet just isn't enough to describe Ethel.  She is one of those dear souls that wouldn't harm a fly. Ethel  just loves everyone.  She always made me feel special. When Ethel saw me she would jump up and come to greet me, so obviously happy to see me.

You may be wondering why Ethel had to leave.  For some reason the other girls were just not getting along with her.  Out of the blue, after a year and a half, Ina decided she didn't like Ethel.  Then, one by one, the others joined along.  First Ida, then Lucy, then Millie and Minnie, Fannie, Clara, and finally  Lilly. Eventually the bullying got worse. It was so hard to watch - Ethel just trying to join in and the others really obviously not accepting her.  It actually got violent. This makes me so sad.  I just don't understand why some are just not valued by others.  . .  why some get bullied . . .and why some are bullies. 
As a child I was often bullied. While walking home from elementary school, I was actually hit and pushed to the ground by a mean little boy.  This lasted for several months, and then I guess he just got bored with it.  There were a couple other mean little boys that would occasionally torment me, chasing me, kicking me.  I can't tell you why.  Looking back, I can't imagine why a parent or teacher on the playground never noticed it.  Oddly, I never told my parents.  I guess by then I felt so badly about myself that it didn't occur to me that I shouldn't have to put up with it.  
The girls were mean in another way - by not accepting me and by making fun of me.  I was a tiny child, very sensitive and easy to intimidate and pick on.  Isn't that the way it always goes?  The little ones always seem to get picked on. And please allow me to add in an afterthought here, my friend Meri points out that not only the little ones get picked on, the big kids get picked on too, and many other kids who are different are easy targets.  Her comment brought to mind another sad little girl that used to wander the playground alone.  She was quite chubby, and very shy.  I did try talking to her a few times but she would turn away. Sad but true. Just now remembering her and the sad look in her beautiful blue eyes breaks my heart.  

I really didn't like school at all.  I didn't mind the actual classroom part, but recess was really lonely.   I would wander around and try to join in on games with the other children, but they had their little groups and I wasn't welcome.  I guess I was a little different than them.  I remember for weeks watching the girls in my class playing with the jumprope. Not just the ordinary jumprope but the really long one, the double dutch jump rope.  I wanted so badly to try, but was never included.   I mentioned this to my mom, and a few days later there was a bright pink with yellow handles double dutch jumprope on the kitchen table when I got home from school.  I was so excited!!!!  Now for sure they would play with me.  I could barely sleep that night I was so excited.  The next day I carefully packed my jumprope along with my bag lunch.  Sitting in the classroom, I  stared at the clock all morning, willing the hands of the clock to move a bit faster.  After what felt like an eternity the bell rang  and it was time for recess.   I rushed outside with my new jumprope and stood in the spot where the other girls normally played.  It didn't take long for me to figure out that nobody was really interested in joining me.  The same group of girls gathered together, just like every other day.  After a few minutes I just folded it up a few times and jumped by myself.  At lunch recess I tried again, with no luck. By afternoon recess with nobody to jump with I just sat on the school steps and waited for the bell to ring.  I was so sad.   When I think back I just wish I would have been bolder and asked people from a different grade to jump with me. I'm sure there were a few lost souls like me wandering around.  I wish I would have gathered them all together and we could have played together.


I wasn't your typical cutesy little girl.  I had long, unruly, wavy locks, thick glasses, and didn't really care all that much about my appearance.  I was a tomboy to be sure.  Playing with dolls was not my idea of fun.  I would much rather climb trees or play football.  I do think the fact that there were a million boys on the block and very few girls had something to do with it.  I was also sandwiched  between two brothers, each of us two years apart.  My sister came along six years after me, but she was really much younger.   That was back when large families were the norm, and I'm telling you that block must have had a hundred kids on it.  Mostly boys, and a few girls with . . . you guessed it . . . . Barbie dolls.   
As I got a little older, the boys were getting so much bigger than me that playing football and the rough and tumble games boys play was not really a good idea anymore. Even though I would still join in on Kick The Can and 'Round The Moon at night, little by little I withdrew into myself and found ways to amuse myself.  I think right around then is when I realized I like doing things with my hands.  My grandma taught me to knit and I enjoyed it.  I liked to color and draw.  I recall putting a piece of paper over a leaf and rubbing a  crayon back and forth and getting a tracing of the leaf.  I also read a lot as a child.  I would ride my bike the mile and a half to the local library and spend hours going through the books. As I parked my bike in the metal bike rack, (remember those?) and walked up the cement steps into the red brick building I felt I was no longer alone, the outcast, because within these walls I had more friends that I could count - Laura Ingalls Wilder, the Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew, The Boxcar Children, and countless others.  I can still remember the smell of the library. I would get as many books as I could fit in my bike basket each week. On the ride home I always rode down the street paved with red bricks.  I would sing aloud and hear my voice vibrate as I drove over the bricks.  
Once home, I carried my huge stack of books upstairs and  opened the door to the balcony outside my bedroom. The huge maple tree in the front yard would provide shade, and I could watch the world go by unnoticed.  I spent so many wonderful  hours out there reading the afternoon away, writing poetry, daydreaming of the many adventures I would surely have as I grew up.  I remember getting a little certificate, a summer book club award for reading such a huge amount of books.  At night I would sneak a book under the covers with a little flashlight, keeping one ear uncovered so I could hear my mother coming upstairs to tell me to stop reading and go to sleep.

No, I didn't really have any friends to play with, but my life was full of little adventures.   I would climb trees, ride my bike, swim in our little backyard pool, rake leaves into a huge pile, make snowmen and snow angels, all the typical things children will do.  Just with my siblings instead of friends.  There were always tons of kids nearby since we had a family of 7 children right next door, so who needed friends anyhow?  Weekends I would spend with my grandma and grandad.  Talk about feeling loved, right?  My grandad passed very young unexpectedly, and after that I spent as much time as I could with my grandma, who missed him so.  I spent a great deal of my summers there with her after his passing.  I didn't want her to be alone.

As an adult, I find I spend most of my time with my family, and any spare time keeping myself busy with my crafts.  I guess that is where I feel the safest and happiest.   Of course we had the sibling rivalry at home growing up, but  I never had the feeling of not being good enough or different.  Lucky for me I had a wonderful family and I have many wonderful childhood memories to offset the sad ones.


Back to Ethel.  I don't know if you might have figured it out yet, but Ethel is a chicken.  A Salmon Faverolle to be exact.  I did lots of research before picking out the breeds of chickens I would purchase. My top priority was for them to be very docile and calm and quiet.  I didn't want noisy chickens since I'm technically a "chicken outlaw" and not zoned to have them, and I didn't want aggressive chickens, since I would be scared to handle them.  Ethel was such a sweet little thing.  In my research I remember the description for her breed noting that in a mixed flock this bird often gets picked on because they are so docile. Since all the other breeds I picked out were supposed to be especially calm and nonaggressive, I didn't think this would be a problem.  

Watching Ethel get bullied was so difficult for me.  It upset my husband too. He's another one of those sensitive ones. It probably would be hard for anyone to watch.  I guess I am the defender of the underdogs, the protector of all things too weak and small to stand up for themselves.  Because I lived through the bullying I never forgot how it feels. Looking on the bright side, I do think it made me a better person.  By some crazy twist of fate, I actually made the cheerleading squad in high school.  At that point the bullying was over and I was instantly in the "in" crowd.  Walking down the halls of the high school I would look at the faces of some of the other girls passing by and recognize the look of wishing to fit in with the crowd, wanting to belong, longing to be popular.   I made a point of always saying hello to people by name, especially the ones that weren't considered to be the most attractive or talented or popular.  Seeing someone's face light up because a "popular" girl actually singled her out from the crowd and said hi to her and called her by name made me feel really good.  I knew how happy I would have felt to have someone treat me like I mattered.  I ended up being friends with a lot of the girls, cheerleaders and non cheerleaders, but my two best friends throughout high school were girls who were not "popular", but just really nice girls.  My high school was pretty big, our senior class had around 700 graduates, so there were actually many different "popular" groups - band, sports, art, drama, etc. It was easy to find a place you kind of fit into, but it was also easy to get lost in the crowd.


I guess Ethel and I are just a different breed.  I am certain there are more of us out there.  I know it to be true, because I have met many of you. We love deeply, we are compassionate and sensitive, and only want to be loved. It must be genetic, because my children seem to have the same trait.  Each of them is sensitive and very kind, and would never hurt someone else. They are the ones who say "Thank you" to the speaker on the fast food drive through, and smile at the bank teller and ask how they are doing. They tell me they love me each time we end a phone call even if we talk every single day. I am so lucky.  I have three boys and one girl. One granddaughter and two grandsons.  I am so proud of my kids, they are such wonderful people, each of them, and I am so blessed to have them as my family. And, as before, when I am with family I feel accepted, and loved.  I think this is why I wanted a large family, and other than being a teacher my only wish in life was to be a mom and housewife. I never did finish my college education, but I was a teacher in more ways than one! 



My youngest son actually took on the role of playground protector and stood up to the bullies who would try to pick on the weakest kids at school.  I was so happy when he would tell me about it because I knew he just couldn't stand by and watch someone get bullied. My heart would swell with pride and gratification that my children were not the "bullies", and also not the "bullied".

I made a temporary home for Ethel in the shed at night and let her run loose during the day while the others were in the pen. It was double cleaning, double feeding, and just plain double work, but I was determined to keep her safe.  And happy.  She got extra treats.  I would get her out early in the morning and she got to run loose around the back yard all day while the other girls  watched enviously from within the fenced in area.  I can't tell you how many times I would let them know how displeased I was with them and throw the little remark out to them, "Well, that's what you get for being mean". The saddest thing for me was during the day going back to check on her.  I did this several times daily to make sure she had enough food and water, and to make sure she was alright. We had a fenced in area in the backyard for the chickens, right next to the coop, to keep them safe from predators. Every time I went back to check on her, there she was, peering in at all the other girls, obviously wanting to be in there with them.  She would just stand or sit right next to the fence, getting as close as she could to her "friends", even though when she was allowed to mingle they would again bully her.   It was so pathetic.  It almost made me cry.  I would go pull some lettuce from the garden and give her a huge pile to eat and throw a little in for the girls, but I was still mad at them. I know they are just chickens and maybe this is more instinctual than anything, but it was still sad.

Eventually a friend offered to take Ethel.  She just bought a new batch of young chickens, and we were hopeful that the little chickens would be intimidated by Ethel's fluffy chubby little body and look up to her as a leader, not someone to bully. A mother hen, if you will.


I don't want to end this on a sad note, so let me say that throughout the years I have met some wonderful, kind, sweet people, both through my blog and in the "real world", and my faith in human nature has somewhat been restored.  My husband is one of those kind-hearted people who would never hurt someone.  I am very lucky to have met these wonderful people, and some of you are reading this right now.

Sadly, if I am asked if I was one of the popular ones, I would probably have to answer no.  I can still relate to the outcasts, the unpopular, the unattractive. I was one of them.  Nobody likes to get picked on . . . we all just want to be loved.  

My hope is that all of the people who feel unloved will have love,  those without friends will find friendship, and those who are certain they will never be good enough will know that they always have been good enough . . . all along.  


P.S.  I never did learn to jump double dutch.

 

Friday, September 2, 2011

Handmade


Does anyone out there remember using a handmade washcloth? Do you recall the colorful, soft cotton washcloths that Grandma or Mom or Aunt Betty would knit? They were so popular. Not only were they pretty, but they were fun and inexpensive to make - and maybe, just maybe, the dreary job of washing dishes might be just a little more pleasant. 
I actually enjoy washing dishes by hand. The soap smells so nice and the warm water feels so good. And who doesn't love bubbles? Now, throw in a colorful handmade washcloth and I'm actually having fun! I don't limit them to the kitchen. I use them to wash my makeup off at night and in the shower too! The next time you wash your face, try using one of these. I do believe you will be converted and will not want to use anything else. They are soooooo soft. They feel wonderful on your skin. I'm guessing many of you remember these - and maybe some of you still use them. They last forever!!  I love my washcloths.  They just cheer me up.  I put a little vintage into my modern world every time I use one.
The next time you are washing dishes with an old time "warshrag" as my dad and grandma would say, let your mind wander and allow yourself to go back to a time long ago. I'm picturing a family sitting outside on the front porch, relaxing together after the supper dishes were washed.
I can almost smell the blooms of the lilac bush now.  Mom and Dad are sitting on the porch swing enjoying the breeze. The frosty glass pitcher of pink lemonade is ready for anyone who cares to wet his whistle. Granddad rocks in the old wooden rocking chair lighting up his pipe. Brother and sister are perched on the steps of the front porch, ready to visit with neighbors and friends passing by. Uncle Joe throws a stick for the beloved family mutt to chase and bring back, over and over again.  Little brother runs around the front lawn with a Mason jar, impatiently waiting for dusk to arrive so he can catch fireflies.  Now, of course, when the warm summer breezes would bid a fond farewell and old man winter started sending those chilly north winds, everyone had to leave the  porch and gather in the front room around the fireplace. The smell of the burning oak and the beautiful glow of the fire drew everyone near. They stayed warm and toasty from the heat of the blazing embers. Sipping homemade cocoa and toasting marshmallows, they enjoyed listening to the old time radio shows.  It seems to me people did sit and relax a bit more.  They were probably exhausted from doing the day's chores, and most likely had no extra money to do anything else anyhow. Cooking and cleaning and laundry took a lot longer back then without all of today's modern marvels, the appliances that make our lives easier.  It was a very common thing to see women doing handwork. Some women quilted, some did mending or embroidery, some crocheted, and some knitted. It was relaxing, yet productive, and was a pleasant way to pass the time. I always wish I was born one generation back.  Yes, maybe my time here on earth might be done or nearing the end, but oh, to have experienced the simpler, more innocent times our previous generations lived.



About ten years ago, while visiting my husband's parents, my mother-in-law brought out her knitting basket.  It was filled with several knitted washcloths, knitting needles, crochet hooks, and yarn. I was so darn excited when I saw that old basket; she might as well have brought out a pot of gold. I jumped up off the couch and ran over to her and told her how much I loved those knitted washcloths. I also told her I would love to learn to knit one. She let me pick one to take home, and told me she would gladly show me how to do it. I tried not to appear overly excited and not be too much of a dork, which I am. I really mean that - some people are computer geeks, I am a craft geek. If she knew how excited I was about learning to knit a washcloth she would probably have been concerned. I do try to act normal when I'm around my husband's side of the family, for his sake.  I'm like a craft/handwork junkie or addict. Perhaps I should start a support group. I have a feeling I wouldn't be alone! I just love making things with my own two hands, and I really value things that have been handmade. I get so excited when I master a new skill or learn about a new craft. It's like winning a lottery to me! Some people read or watch tv in their spare time. I make things. I might sit on the porch and rock, or watch tv, but usually I will be doing some kind of handwork at the same time.

My grandma taught me how to do a basic cast on, knit, and purl stitch. She also taught me to sew on her old black Singer sewing machine. The woman was a saint. Very patient. I don't think she ever taught me how to bind off; I guess I just kept on knitting all the time. I don't recall ever actually finishing anything or making a project; just practicing the stitches. Every time I knit I can hear her telling me "Not so tight!" as apparently I was holding the yarn too tightly and was having trouble knitting the stitches. Last year I took a knitting class for some rather fancy gloves, with a decorative cable running down the front. It didn't go well. I just can't follow patterns. I think I have attention deficit disorder - I have a hard time staying focused for very long. The instructor would walk around and check our progress and told me that I knit very loosely.  She claimed knitting tension  was supposed to be an indication of the knitter's personality, and that I must be a really laid back, relaxed person. I almost spit out my coffee laughing as she said it -  I can't sit still very long unless I am doing something . . . like knitting or crochet.  I explained to the knitting instructor that I have never been accused of being laid back before, and that I was certain my loose knitting was due to my beloved grandma's voice in my head telling me not to knit so tightly. I miss my grandma. She was so cute. A little southern lady from Kentucky.


Anyhow, back to the story.  My mother-in-law, Lucille, explained this VERY SIMPLE, VERY BASIC washcloth pattern step by step, and said it was really easy and that I would have no trouble with it.  I watched her as she showed the steps, and tried to memorize it.  By the time I got home I had completely forgotten it.  I actually didn't quite understand it anyhow. I decided I would just knit washcloths the only way I knew how.  My way. Straight knitting in the shape of a square. Nothing to think about or remember. It was easier, still fun and relaxing, and they turned out fine.  Just without the pretty edge. Actually I have made a lot of really nice scarves the same way, only longer. Now don't laugh, they were fine, and warm. I like that homemade look anyhow.  


A few years later I was searching on the internet for knitting info, and what do you know?  All kinds of patterns and tutorials.  Let me encourage all of you, even those who don't know how to knit, to just Google "how to knit" and watch some of the many tutorials.  I have found Planet Purl to have many excellent ones, and I will refer you to some of those with this pattern. You can watch them over and over and over until it sinks in, and it is so much easier than trying to learn it from a book. If you don't have a grandma or mom or aunt to teach you, don't worry. If you are interested enough in it to really try to learn, then you will learn and you will love it. I promise.  Visit Planet Purl, and on the home page click on "How to videos" and see what you might be interested in. There are tons of other sites to visit, but this is a good place to start. 

For this washcloth, I'll give you the supplies needed and the basic pattern. Then I'll try to talk you through it for those of you who are challenged like yours truly.

You will need knitting needles.  I use size 8.  I love the bamboo ones, they feel so good in my hands. Some people love the aluminum ones. I do like the little clicky sound they make when I knit. Have you ever seen the short  knitting needles that are connected with a plastic cord between them?  Well, it turns out they are for knitting in the round, like a tube. I bought some once when I thought I could knit socks.  Well, I never did make the socks, but I found out those needles are wonderful!  Since the actual needles are shorter than the regular needle length they are easier to hold in your lap.  I even can use them when I am lying reclined on the couch without the ends poking me in the stomach!   I love them.  That is all I use now. I have two sets.  Both are the bamboo size 8, one is the shortest cord possible (approximately 9 inches), and the next set is a slightly longer cord, (approximately 18 inches). The way these work is when you are knitting and you have too many stitches on the needle the extra stitches just overflow onto the cord.   So if you are knitting a huge sweater or afghan or something where there is too much knitted material to fit onto the needles, the cord holds the stitches.  Ingenious!! Either way, I love the way they fit into my hands, and I am not constantly dropping a needle between the couch cushions or on the floor.  Seriously try them.  Click here and here for more info about circular needles.  
You can do just plain old regular knitting on these needles, you don't have to knit in the round. As I mentioned earlier, the actual needles are a little shorter than normal needles, which make them so portable and easy to hold. Each size needle comes with different sizes of the cord; the size of your project will determine which size you need.  If you are making a huge afghan you need to buy a needle with a longer cord to hold all the stitches.  I use the needles with the shortest cord at the beginning and end of the washcloth.  When I get to the middle of the washcloth I switch over to the size 8 with the 18" cord.  Those needles are just the right size to hold all the stitches of the washcloth.  The only reason I don't use the needle with this size cord throughout the entire washcloth is that the longer cord is great when I need it, but I don't like having in my way when I don't.  But, the combination of the two works great for me.  I am a little fusspot though, I don't like to be bothered.  My knitting is my therapy.  I actually get into a sort of a rhythm, and if I have to stop to adjust my knitting onto the needle from the cord, or move the longer cord out of the way it annoys me.  Like I said, I'm fussy.  Just sayin'.
Now for the fun part. Go shopping for yarn!! Pick up some beautiful cotton yarn in your favorite color.  Lily makes Sugar 'N Cream yarn which is perfect, very inexpensive (less than two dollars) and comes in so many beautiful colors you will have a hard time choosing.  You can find this yarn in any store that carries yarns; JoAnn Fabrics, Michaels, Hobby Lobby, and even WalMart carry this brand.  You can also find many beautiful, soft yarns in many color choices at your local yarn store. Just be prepared to pay a bit more.  Keep in mind that if we don't patronize our local yarn and quilt shops they can't stay in business and the larger chain stores will be our only option, and that would be sad. I would miss being able to walk into my local shops and visit and get help with my projects. The selection and quality of these goods is way better than in the chain stores, and you can't put a dollar amount on the friendships and good times you will surely enjoy. If you are new at this, maybe for your first try get the Sugar 'N Cream.  But, DO visit your local yarn store and support the store. You will be amazed at how many beautiful yarns there are that you would NEVER see in a chain store.  Talk to the owner and instructors, meet some new friends that have a common interest, take a class or a field trip with a group. You'll have so much fun!!! 

Pattern:  For the experienced knitters, here is the basic pattern.
Cast on 4.  
Row 1: Knit four.
Row 2:   Knit 2, yarn over, knit to end of row.  
Continue in this pattern until you have 45 stitches on needle.
Next row:  Knit 1, knit 2 together, yarn over, knit 2 together, knit to end of row. Continue in this pattern until you have four stitches left. Bind off.



So, now for the beginners. I am going to give you links for tutorials for all the steps. These are excellent tutorials from Planet Purl. Remember to turn up the volume so you can hear the instructions. It is just like having a friend sitting down with you showing you. Keep in mind you don't have to sit through the entire tutorial, you can slide the little bar on the bottom to fast forward through the very beginning if you want. I usually listen at least once to the whole thing because there is always something new to learn! This washcloth starts out at one corner.  As you increase you get wider until you get to the middle of the washcloth, where you will have 45 stitches.  Then you start the decrease and you go back down to 4 stitches.  

Pattern for beginners:

Make a slip knot. Click here for tutorial.

Cast on 3 more stitches. Click here for a tutorial. This is a really quick and easy cast on.  There are many different ways of doing it, this is the way I was taught. You now have a total of 4 stitches on the needle. The slip knot counts as one, your three cast on loops are the remaining 3.   See, I told you this wasn't hard. I do want to remind you about the voices in my head.  I can still hear my grandmother saying "Not so tight!"  If you pull the yarn too tightly around the needle, especially on the cast on row, it is harder than blazes to knit the first row.  So chill. Lighten up, no death grips please. I think at this point you should maybe go pour a beverage. Relax.  Maybe some chocolate too.   I know you can do it.

Next step: Knit 4. Click here for a tutorial. You will knit all four stitches in this first row.  Remember this row is kind of the hardest since the cast on loops are always a little snug.  I was going to try to explain the knit stitch, but this little video tutorial is so good I am just going to hand it over to her. Honestly there are so many informational videos and tutorials, and even several Learn To Knit CD's you can buy at the craft store (which I did many years ago by the way, since I am a very basic knitter). Every little bit of info helps.  Now you can find it all online, but when I bought the Learn To Knit CD many years ago the online tutorials weren't available. Even better, you could visit your local yarn store.  They are beautiful shops, filled with wonderful people who want to help you and want you to love to knit!

Did you do it?  That wasn't hard, right?  Once you have the knit stitch down you are there.  I promise. So all you beginners put down your needles and applaud yourself.  I know I am silly, but I get so excited about learning something new.

Ok, next row. Knit two stitches, then do a yarn over (otherwise known as YO). Click here for a tutorial. Then knit the remaining two stitches. You now have five stitches on the needle. 

Knit the next row in the same manner; knit 2, yarn over, and knit to the end of the row.  You now have six stitches on the needle.  Keep going in this pattern until you have 45 stitches on the needle. If you want a bigger washcloth you can keep going, 50 or 55 stitches. . . it's your washcloth . . . whatever you want.  If you stop at 45 stitches the washcloth should measure around 8" square.  Some end up a little smaller, some a littler larger, depending on the tension and the yarn used.

Now we decrease, using a method called knit two together (otherwise known as K2T). Exactly like it sounds, simply knitting two stitches together. For tutorial click here. Starting with this row, you knit one stitch, knit the next two stitches together, yarn over, then knit two together. Then knit the rest of the stitches to the end of the row. I know this sounds kind of counter-productive, but trust me.

Next row, same thing. Knit one, knit two together, yarn over, knit two together, knit the rest of the row. Keep doing this every row till you get down to four stitches.

Last row, the binding off row. Not sure how to bind off stitches? So easy you won't believe it. Click here for a tutorial.

You did it. You're done. I'll bet you are smiling and very pleased with yourself. Well you should be!! You did a great job. I knew you could do it. I'm so excited. Send me pictures. Seriously. Ric Rac and Polka Dots has a facebook page. Click here here to visit. Please share with us.


Is there anything nicer than a handmade washcloth? I think not. Of course unless it is a crocheted washcloth, which I also love. If anyone is interested I would be happy to put up a pattern for that also. It only takes a couple hours to make one, but the years of enjoyment are countless. I take care of my mom, who is homebound and not able to do many of the things she used to do for herself, and every time I give her a shower and use one of my washcloths she always comments on how much she loves them. They are so soft and so pretty. I have crocheted an edge on one of hers and I must admit that each time we use it I admire how pretty it is. I have decided to have nothing but handmade washcloths in my home. Using one of these is like taking a trip back in time. I think of all the moms and grandmothers who would sit and knit these and share them with family and friends. I hope that those of you who are lucky enough to have been given one of these little gems really appreciates them for what they are, a gift from the heart.



I do realize that some of you have absolutely no desire to knit or crochet a washcloth, so I have decided to put some of my extras into my Etsy shop. They are nothing fancy, just a soft, sweet, made with love washcloth that needs someone to love them. If anyone actually buys them it will be a good reason to keep on knitting. I will try to keep the price very reasonable for those of you who are not able to make one for yourself but would love to have one. 


I would like to send many thanks to my friend Meri at ImagiMeri's for the wonderful graphics. Do visit her blog, you'll love it!  Click here to visit Meri.
 
I would be really happy if you are inspired by this post to try making a washcloth. I have heard from some of you who are going to try it.  I really enjoy making them.  It must be genetic, because my dad even knew how to knit and I have a scarf he made - nothing fancy, just straight knitting. I love and treasure that scarf.  Every time I see it I think of him. I hope you love making them and that you love your washcloths. I also hope you will consider sharing them with your friends and family. I give them as gifts, usually a set of three coordinating colors with a beautiful ribbon tied around them. I usually include a bar of homemade soap purchased at craft shows.  You could also include a favorite body wash or lotion.  They make wonderful baby gifts, so soft for that delicate skin. Whoever the recipient, they absolutely love them . . . which makes me very happy.   




Thursday, June 16, 2011

Splish splash, I was taking a bath!


"Gasp . . . . big sigh. Oh my gosh, I love it!  I want it!  What in the world would I do with a little pink bathtub?"  

These were all the things that came out of my mouth, quietly of course, as I was shopping alone and didn't want to frighten people. That's the thing about talking to yourself - it's ok as long as nobody else hears you!

It all began as I was walking down the main isle at Michaels and spotted this darling little pink bathtub. I gingerly picked up the bathtub, smiling and giggling to myself like a fool, admiring it as though it was a priceless heirloom in a museum. I placed it carefully in my cart, and as I wandered through the store I couldn't stop glancing down at it perched proudly in the front of my basket. Now, I can't say for sure, but I thought I noticed admiring glances from shoppers passing me in the aisles.

The bathtub had a personality of its own: retro but whimsical, fun and funky. It was the most perfect shade of pink, with a touch of girly-girl attitude. At least I thought so.

The guilt feelings for not staying home and cleaning out the basement swiftly left my head.  Note to self:  Next time you feel like cleaning or something crazy like that - don't give in to the urge! 

 


 I tried to imagine who came up with the idea for this little gem. Obviously I'm not the only crazy person out there.  Wait . . . crazy is kinda harsh. Eccentric sounds nicer - yes, eccentric.  I like to think that my unique tastes are part of my charm.

Pushing my cart along the aisles of the craft store, I tried to enjoy all the beautiful shades of pink and teal yarns, but my mind kept going back to the bathtub - what possible way I could justify buying a pink bathtub?  I have so many little silly things like this in the house and just one cabinet to put them in.  The entire cabinet is pretty much filled with little antique figurines picked up over the years and handmade treasures from my children. The bathtub was much too big for the cabinet anyhow. After a few more minutes of strolling up and down the aisles I placed it back on the shelf, reassuring myself that if I still really wanted it in a few days I would come back and buy it.  And maybe by then it would be on sale, because I never buy anything unless it is on sale or I have a coupon. This is how I try to control myself from impulse buying. It usually works - I just tell myself if  I still want it as badly tomorrow or the next day I'll come back.  Unless it is the last one or a one of a kind - then I must buy it immediately.        

Fast forward one week.  I must admit I thought of the bathtub many times during the week, usually at least once a day when wiping off the bathroom counter.  Hmmm, where could I put it?  I could set it on the ledge surrounding the bathtub, but it would look kind of funny there and most likely get knocked off.  How about on the wall on a shelf?  Well, we actually don't have much wall space except around the tub, and that is all ceramic tile with an accent border of smaller tiles, so that wouldn't work.  Not much space on the bathroom counter either.  I think it would fit nicely on my husband's side, since his is always emtpy, but I was pretty sure he wouldn't care for that idea.  Hmmmmm.

This week my only sister, Susie, whom I love dearly, came in from out of town, and we decided to do some shopping.  I told her I wanted to show her this cute little bathtub, so we stopped in and saw it.  She smiled and said, "That's so you!" She thought it was very cute and was not a bit surprised I loved it. I explained my dilemma about where to put it, and she felt certain  I would find just the perfect spot.




Now, I'm not positive, but right about then I thought  I saw a beam of light shining down from Heaven on this bathtub, and off in the distance I could faintly hear a choir of angels singing - and there it was:   a sign showing 40% off.  Well, who am I to go against the universe and angels and planets lining up and everything else that fell into place?  So I grabbed it.  Only two left anyhow.


I told her I felt it needed to have bubbles, and I dragged her over to the floral department where they have those little mesh bags of pretty decorative marbles or stones you can put in vases.  I then agonized over whether to have white or clear, and decided on an opalescent clear bag and another pearly white bag. My sister is always amazed at how I will debate over such little details, but again, just part of my charm.  I just crack her up! While not super expensive, they weren't cheap or on sale. My mad money was going fast, but I realized I could put some crunched up paper or something into the tub to fill it most of the way up, and then put the marbles on top!  See, I saved money already!!

So now we had a bathtub, and we had bubbles.  I remembered that near the display where I found the bathtub I had noticed a delicate little pale pink ceramic flower that was actually a votive holder, and a vintagey-looking shabby-chic candle holder with beads dripping off.  I'm not sure why, but for some reason it all looked like it belonged together.  We went back and put those in the cart.  Beautiful!  Love them!  We grabbed a couple candles on the way out and headed home. I left the store with my precious pink bathtub and these other items:


Once I got home I cleared off my side of the bathroom vanity and Susie and I got to work filling up the bathtub with bubbles.  We put the candles in the candle holders, and set everything up.  It didn't look right.  Just not quite right.  We moved things this way, and that way, traded places, changed the angles, but for some reason I just didn't love it . . . yet.  I remembered a beautiful old doily my grandmother crocheted, tucked safely away in my desk drawer.


I took it out and placed it on the vanity.  I placed the bathtub and candle holders on the doily, and VOILA . . . much better.  We stood back admiring our work, chuckling over how silly but charming it was. Yet . . . something was missing.  "I know, something needs to be in there taking a bath!" I exclaimed.  Surely with all my little antique figurines  I had to have something that would fit perfectly.  One by one I brought out little girls, angels, bluebirds.  None of them looked right. 

"Wait a minute, I just remembered something" I yelled over my shoulder as I ran out of the room. I thought about how last weekend at the antique mall I found this really cute, silly little mouse.



 I have no idea why I bought this little mouse. It was just so darn cute, I had to. I took it out of the cabinet, and  Susie starting laughing when I brought it in the room.  We carefully placed this little mouse into the bubbles . . . PERFECT!!!  We both laughed out loud and congratulated ourselves on our masterpiece!


We tried to think of a name for the mouse.  On the bottom it is stamped "Made in Japan".  I thought of Yoshi.  That was kinda cute.   I also like Pepino, because there is an old Italian song called Pepino the Mouse. My sister's boyfriend later suggested Topo Gigio.  The mouse actually looks like Topo Gigio. If you don't know who Topo Gigio is, Google it.   So, what do you think?  Maybe you can comment and tell me which name you like or suggest another one.


Did you notice the tiny teal washcloth our little mouse has? 


I made this for my little mouse. I feel any little mouse that has it's own pink bathtub should have at least one hand-knit soft washcloth too. My next post is going to be a tutorial on how to make your own washcloth.  It is a beautiful little luxury that we should all have.  There is nothing like a homemade washcloth.  I knit them while watching tv at night, and all my friends and family love them.  I can't make enough.  My sister-in-law, Diane, whom I also love dearly, asked me to teach her how to make one. I'm thinking she is not the only one who would love to do a simple little project like this, so I'll teach you how on my next post. If you can do a basic knit stitch you should have no trouble at all. If you don't know how, just Google "how to knit" and you will find a multitude of instructional videos on the web you can watch. I will put up some links for some along with the post. We will do it together, and you can treat yourself and your loved ones to a little luxury. Handmade, with love.  For them . . . from you.

If you are going to join me in making a washcloth, pick up some size 8 knitting needles, (or if you have a size close to that - don't worry, good enough)  and a beautiful little skein of some 100% cotton yarn or washable cotton blend in your favorite color.  You can buy this yarn at Walmart, Joann Fabrics, Michaels, or Hobby Lobby. You'll have no trouble finding it.  Not too expensive, (around two dollars) but so nice. Even better, you could visit your local yarn store, but be prepared to wander around for hours drooling over the beautiful yarns available.

So pick out your favorite color of a very soft yarn. You will love your washcloth. Simple, basic, but sweet and soft. Like Martha says, "It's a good thing."

Thursday, May 12, 2011

A new beginning

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Ah, spring. A new beginning, for sure. I thought this delightful young lady would be perfect to begin my blog. Opening my front door I notice the grass is growing and turning a deep, beautiful shade of green. As I peek outside I smell that wonderful smell of earth warming after a long winter's nap - a truly lovely thing after the long, bitter cold, and snowy winter. I open all the windows and hear the birds tweeting and chirping, surely just for me, calling me to come out and play.


This morning my husband asked me to step outside to look at something. He pointed to a little bird's nest some busy mother had prepared in anticipation of her own new beginning. It was perched in the ladder on the side of the shed, up safely out of harm's way. Of course I had to peek, and to my delight, this is what I found!

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I literally squealed when I saw these four tiny, bright teal eggs. I've never seen such a shade of blue on a bird egg before! It dawned on me that this would be perfect for my first post, so I ran for the camera and started clicking away. I tried to get the mother sitting on the eggs but she took flight every time I tried. I told my husband that maybe I'm not like a lot of women, because finding these beautiful eggs made me happier than shopping for a $300 purse! I felt absolutely rejuvenated, and even though I am suffering with a nasty cold, (whine, whine, feel free to say oh you poor thing), I asked him to pull out all the planters from the shed. Sick or not, I am going to buy some plants today. I usually start some things from seed, but since winter hung on so long this year I'll pick up some plants already started to get the show on the road. I'll still plant my morning glories and sweet peas and and zinnias from seed though, as I have had pretty good luck with those!


Today I will go to the charming little garden center down the road. I try to frequent the small family businesses in town whenever possible, instead of the big box chain stores. The customer service is great, and the people really know about gardening. They will be more than happy to walk up and down the rows of the greenhouse with you and help pick out the perfect plants. They'll even carry it to your car with a smile, and wish you a good day as you leave. Whatever happened to those days? And just for the record, I also get good service at the larger garden center in town, but this place is just so charming.


Where I live winter sometime doesn't want to leave us, and it can still be really cool, even at the end of May, so today I am just buying some cold weather crops, lettuce, spinach, and onions. I already have garlic coming up from last year, so I'm thinking spaghetti sauce! I will also pick up some organic garden soil, because when it comes to anything we will eat I like to stick with all natural, no fertilizers. I'll plant most of the lettuce and spinach now in the garden, and in about a week I will fill the planters we dragged out of the shed with soil and plant some herbs and flowers and some more lettuce and spinach. I will set the planters along the edge of the back porch, with southern sun exposure. When I sit out in my wicker chairs to take a break and relax with my embroidery project or crocheting, I will enjoy all the wonderful smells of basil and oregano and mint, and whatever little plants that call out to me as I peruse the greenhouses! This is my version of a kitchen garden. I especially enjoy having these plants on the back porch, as I get to enjoy their beauty and fragrance, as well as have them nearby for cooking.


So, this is my goal for the day: Go to the little garden center to pick up these items, and perhaps start weeding one of the many garden beds. We live on a little under two acres, and I have about six HUGE garden beds! Every spring I go crazy planting, and by August I am scratching my head out in the heat, wondering why I must always go overboard! And guess what . . those are just the beds in back. I have another HUGE flower garden in front. Fortunately it is all perennials, so I just need to do some weeding and watering to keep it looking good. I promise to post pictures of all of them for you to see. I know, I can just hearing you sighing now, saying "Oh no, not that!" like having to sit through someone's vacation pictures, but these are the things that make me happy, and perhaps you will enjoy seeing them too!


This blog will be filled with all my hobbies - quilting, crocheting, gardening, painting, knitting, embroidery, baking, (I'm guessing my husband wishes I liked to cook a little more!) sewing, antiquing, and a few others. Little by little you will be seeing them. I used to have my own pattern company where I designed my own dolls and quilts and clothing for children. I no longer have a pattern company, but I continue to come up with more fun ideas. Sometimes I wish I would quit thinking up things to do because I can't even finish the ones I already started! I occasionally have some things for sale, which you can find in my Etsy shop. There is a link on my blog home page.


There will probably never be anything earth shattering or really amazing on this blog, but I'm thinking there are those of you out there who just enjoy the simple things in life. I really look forward to sharing all the little things in my life that make me so happy, and would love to hear about the things in your life that you treasure. May God bless you as you go through your day. Happy spring to you . . . may it bring many wonderful new beginnings!