Sunday, November 28, 2010

Elephants, Knitted and Otherwise

Yesterday, I had planned to put the lights on our Christmas tree, but it turned out that dealing with lights was the last thing I wanted to do. I puttered for a while, and finally decided to accept the order of things, and knit instead.

I had tried to start knitting the Elijah Elephant pattern Friday evening. Ysolda Teague uses an unusual cast on, and I struggled with it. The cast-on itself wasn't so bad, but as soon as I would try to knit the first row, the stitches would all fall apart. Sigh.

I turned to Ravelry for advice, which generally was, "yes, this cast-on is challenging, but keep trying, you'll get it." I tried a bit longer, then put it to rest and went to bed.

In the morning, I sat down to try again. I kept the needles on the table while I got started (one bit of advice), knit the first stitch through the back loop (another bit of advice), concentrated, and finally got it going.

Finally - a successful cast-on!

So, later in the day, when I couldn't face the Christmas tree lights, Elijah Elephant was ready for me. By evening, I had most of the head finished; in just a couple more rows, I'll be starting the trunk:

An elephant-in-the-making

But I think I'll call this work-in-progress "Echo," instead of Elijah. I've been told this will be a girl elephant (the pink color is a good clue, don't you think?), so "Elijah" really isn't an appropriate name, is it?

It happened that while I was knitting Echo's head, I watched an old episode of Nature that we had recorded - Echo: An Elephant to Remember.

This turned out to be a fascinating story about Echo, the matriarch of a great herd of elephants. She had died of natural causes, and now the program was fondly recounting stories of her life, and of how she led and cared for her family. One story focused on her calf Ely, who was born with crippled legs, and struggled to stand and walk. Echo waited patiently while he tried again and again to stand, and then stayed with him as he slowly walked after the herd. Amazingly, Ely lived and thrived in spite of this handicap.

Another segment showed Echo giving birth to another calf, this one healthy and adorable (there is something sweet about a baby that is so big!). That calf was later kidnapped by other elephants, but Echo led her herd in recovering the baby, who happily rejoined her family. One of Echo's daughters died, and Echo took her grandson under her paw. Although it is unusual for orphaned elephants to survive, she successfully raised him. During droughts, Echo knew where to lead her herd for survival.

When I knit, I like to think good thoughts, and channel them into the finished product. I think if this stuffed elephant can capture some of Echo's love, caring, and devotion, that will be a Fine Thing!

P.S. I finally tackled those lights. We now have candles in the windows; a Christmas candle on the table; and lights on the tree. Outside, there is frost on the ground, and crisp sunshine just starting to brighten things up.

Friday, November 26, 2010

On and Off the Needles

Recently, a friend asked if I would knit something for her. What she had in mind was not particularly large, or difficult to knit, but I declined. I have a loosely defined goal to knit something for every member of my extended family. (Now that I've posted that in my blog, I suppose it is no longer "loosely defined.") I just made a list, and I have some 28 family gifts to knit. These have to be gifts that I enjoy knitting, and that I think the recipient will enjoy, so I don't churn them out; they take time. (For that number of projects, and this particular knitter, probably years...!) And of course, I occasionally knit for myself (really!), and for charity, and for the odd non-family occasion...

Meanwhile, here are some photos of one recently finished project, and several that I'm working on.

This wrap-me-up pup was knit for one of my nieces (she chose the colors). The pattern is from the book Itty Bitty Toys, by Susan B Anderson.

The toys in this book are Simply Adorable. But, let me just say that if you use this pattern (or any in this book, I suppose), be sure to review the errata. And, be sure to read through the pattern completely. When I made the blanket, I bound off, keeping my needle in the last stitch, as per the instructions. Then, I looked at the instructions about choosing between the knitted and crocheted edging, and read "for the knitted edging, don't bind off." Grrr. I know, I know - I should know better...

This was not hard to knit, but it did require making small pieces and sewing them together. This apparently is not my forte, as the legs and tail languished unattached for an inordinate amount of time. Finally, when I hosted knitting night, I vowed to tackle and finish the pup - and I easily did, that very evening.

The next stuffed animal I'll be knitting is an elephant, designed by Ysolda Teague. There are no seams with this one - you knit and stuff the head first, then pick up stitches for the body, and for each of the legs and arms - so when I'm finished knitting, I should be Finished. Clearly, this will be a good thing for me.

I plan to start this one as soon as I post this blog. Then I'll be able to share a picture that's  more than just yarn...

This is a sweater I knit for myself. You may think that it looks finished, but you would be wrong. See how the sleeves have a nice little roll at the wrists? This is good. See how the sweater has an out-of-control roll at the waist? Not so good.

(It may not look out-of-control in this photo, but it is. Trust me.)

I made this in a class at Stitching Memories, and Lu (who taught the class) suggested that when I block it, it won't roll that much. So I'm going to block it, but even then, I think I made it a bit too short. (This was in an effort not to make it too long.) Plus, I think maybe I need it to be a bit wider at the bottom. So I will probably rip some of it back, reknit it with some increasing on the sides, make it a tad longer, and then see how it looks.

None of that, of course, is the kind of knitting that I really enjoy. But I do want to actually wear this sweater, so I'll do the reknit anyway. That's because I'm a Mature Grown-Up Person.

I love this blanket, which is designed by Anne Hanson. The color in this picture is awful - the yarn is really a very lovely green - but at least you can see the stitch design. I have to pay attention while I knit this, since each row uses different combinations of knits and purls and yarn-overs and knit-togethers. I call this my Tortoise project: it goes slowly, but I am steadily making progress.

The Kalamazoo Knitting Guild recently sponsored a class on double knitting. This is very cool knitting, but it is also Tortoise knitting. Basically, I'm knitting two hats at once - of course, it will end up being just one hat, with a double thickness. The mainly blue part is the outside of the hat; the beige is the inside of the hat. The design is formed by switching which yarn gets pulled to the front, and when. We spent a day figuring this out, so don't worry that it makes no sense. Just believe me - it is very cool knitting, and the hat should be very warm. And reversible!

This is my project for knitting in the car, and while waiting wherever it is that one waits (restaurants, offices, meetings). It is a very simple hat, but the detail makes it interesting. I'm afraid this picture doesn't do it justice; hopefully I can get a better shot when it is finished.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Rest Unto Your Souls

I just reread Elder Per G Malm's recent conference talk, "Rest unto Your Souls."

He says that "rest unto your souls includes peace of mind and heart." So often, I feel conflicted, and full of doubt and worry - I would like to feel some peace!

Elder Malm counseled,
The thoughts that we dwell on inside our minds, the feelings we foster inside our hearts, and the actions we choose to take will all have a determining impact on our lives, both here and in the hereafter.
I notice that he assigns responsibility for this impact to me, and not to others. My thoughts, feelings, and actions: my responsibility.

He shared a simple story to illustrate how our actions can also influence others.
In our day-to-day actions, it is often the small and simple things that will have a long-lasting impact (see Alma 37:6–7). What we say, how we act, and how we choose to react will influence not only ourselves but also those around us. We can build up, or we can tear down. A simple and positive example is a story told about my grandmother. She sent one of her young children to buy some eggs. The trusted child was probably joyfully walking home along the road, but most of the eggs were broken when the child arrived home. A friend of the family was there and admonished my grandmother to scold the child for behaving so badly. Instead, Grandmother calmly and wisely said, “No, that will not make the eggs whole again. We will simply use what we can and make some pancakes that we can enjoy together.”
When we learn to handle the small and simple daily things in a wise and inspired way, the result is a positive influence that will solidify harmony in our souls and build up and strengthen those around us.
Note to self: If I work on controlling my thoughts, feelings, and actions, I can find harmony and peace within myself, and build up those around me as well.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Working at Home

Once I was lamenting that the only time to rake leaves was during the day, when I was at work and therefore couldn't be raking. My friend, surprised, commented, "but you work at home?!?"

Ah yes.

Working from home, for me, means flexible location, not flexible hours. The nature of my job requires that I be generally available during "business" hours, when my co-workers are available for discussion, brainstorming, problem-solving, and so forth: I may work at home, but I seldom work alone. So, even though I am at home, the leaves lie undisturbed on the lawn.

Even so, the flexible location, working from home, offers benefits. There is no commute, no wear & tear on my car, no gasoline expenses, no weather delays. I can easily walk Bonnie at lunch time, without having to spend part of my lunchtime rushing home. And, of course, Bonnie loves having someone around to let her in and out whenever she fancies it. I can listen to whatever music I like, without offending anyone. I can knit during meetings (well, it depends on the meeting). I avoid a lot of office gossip & politics, and the wasted time that goes with it. I don't have the risk of picking up whatever illness is spreading through the office.

Nothing is perfect, and so there are some downsides to working at home. For one thing, there are never any weather delays! You laugh, but really - I don't get to share any heroic or hair-raising stories. And I never get a snow day (although I have had a few "power outage" days).

Sometimes, missing the office gossip & politics leaves me in the dark; I miss some incidental information that really would be helpful. Fortunately, I have some contacts in the office who do a pretty good job of keeping me informed. I do miss some of the social aspects of working in an office. Frankly, I've always been fairly introverted, and not too involved in office chit-chat, but even my limited participation offered a connection that I no longer have - no potlucks, no donuts...!

A good manager can help a lot, making sure that his staff knows what he knows, and making sure that information is shared.

Currently, my co-workers are in four locations: Pittsburgh PA, Columbus & Cleveland OH, and here in Kalamazoo MI (this last would be me). We work together pretty well, in spite of that fact that we seldom see each other. But, earlier this week, we all traveled to Cleveland. We spent several days working together, with some playing in between: we went out to dinner together, played arcade games, and generally relaxed.

And I took pictures, so we can remember what we look like!

Top row: Marty, Steve, Lowell, Janice, & Paul. Second row: Ron, Dave, Diane, & Cindy. Bottom row: Scott, Ruth, Deb, Robin, & Bonnie

“Work is either fun or drudgery. It depends on your attitude. I like fun.”
Colleen C Barrett

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Kalamazoo Stake Conference

Last weekend, we attended our Stake Conference. We were fortunate to have an apostle presiding: Elder Dallin H. Oaks. Elder David L Cook, an Area Seventy, also was there. What a wonderful experience for us! They weren't here to reorganize anything; they just came to preside, and to teach.

The Saturday night session was packed. As Elder Oaks observed, typical attendance at the Saturday meeting suggests that maybe they are "secret," but that was not the case for this conference. The chapel and gym were full. (The parking lot was full, too - people parked at the high school, about a mile down the road, and were shuttled back and forth in vans. We, of course, simply walked from home.)

I can't remember specifics from the Saturday night talks (note to self: take more notes). What I remember is how pleasant it was, watching and listening to Elder Cook and Elder Oaks. They felt like friends, rather than authorities. They laughed and smiled, and spoke to our specific needs. More than once, I felt that Elder Oaks was looking right at me, looking into my eyes as a friend would.

For Sunday's session, we met at the W.K.Kellogg Auditorium, in Battle Creek. What a nice facility! We arrived early, so that Jim could rehearse with the choir - they sang an arrangement of "Beautiful Savior" that really was lovely (definitely not the familiar tune). We were able to find comfortable seats, right up front, with leg room for Jim.

I remember a few thoughts from Sunday's meeting. Elder Cook talked to youth, about staying the course during high school, and the importance of finding good friends. He shared his own experience, in which he decided to separate himself from the friends he'd grown up with, because of their choices. On his first day of school, he entered the lunch room, and sat alone. Gradually, over those first days of school, others joined, until he had a core of new friends. Elder Oaks spoke of missionary work, pointing out the benefits of talking about religion with our friends; sharing literature; sharing our testimony; and inviting friends to activities with us. (This all makes sense, and yet we are afraid of offending our friends - why is that?)

Anyway... it was a lovely weekend, and I feel loved by our leaders, and (by extension) by the Lord.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Looking for Chihuly

Kalamazoo Ruby Light Chandelier
The Kalamazoo Institute of Arts has a chandelier by Dale Chihuly, and a few years go hosted an exhibit of his glass works. It was spectacular! The pieces were so amazing. We took lots of photos when we visited; here are just two.

The is a permanent exhibit at the KIA - a magnificent chandelier that hangs at the entrance.

Mille Fiori V
The Mille Fiori V is one of my favorite pieces from that exhibition. (I think my very favorite was the red boat, but we really didn't get a good picture of that one.) For me, it evokes a remarkable image of grasses by the shore.

If you're curious, here's a link to our photos from that exhibit: Chihuly in Kalamazoo. There's even a photo of a museum curator dusting the Mille Fiori, very carefully!

Yellow Boat

This past May, we were able to see more Chihuly - this time, at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, in Grand Rapids. Again, the pieces were astounding. So full of drama, and larger-than-life. There was another boat piece (this time, actually floating in water).

Citron Green and Red Tower
Here is a tower, and a close-up. I think about how many pieces were used to create this, and I am astonished by the patience required. (You would think a knitter would be patient, but this amazes me.)

(I originally had two detail shots - but I'm struggling to get these pictures intermingled nicely with the text - so I'm leaving it at one...!)

Detail: Joslyn Art Museum Window
In Omaha, at the Joslyn Art Museum, what did we find? More Chihuly!

This is a close-up from the installation in the 50-foot-high atrium. In Chihuly's words, "over two thousand handblown parts create a monumental window of color and form. (See here.)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Seita Scholars

 For youth who age out of the foster care system, the transition to adulthood and college (for those who go on to college) is fraught with anxiety, stress, and confusion. I remember my college years, and how much I depended on my parents and family, for both moral and monetary support. I can't imagine being 18, in college, and on my own.

I've learned of two groups who offer help to these kids. One is the Orphan Foundation of America. They provide scholarships, grants, mentoring, moral support, internships, and advocacy. One of their programs is the Red Scarf Project, where they assemble Valentine's Day care packages, the highlight being hand-knit red scarves. I've contributed a few red scarves to their effort.

A more local effort is Western Michigan University's Foster Youth and Higher Education Initiative. (The abbreviation seems to be FYIT - I'm not sure how that correlates with the name...!) The program focuses on outreach and recruitment; retention and well-being; and career transition and graduation. One facet of this program is The John Seita Scholars Program. This includes a tuition scholarship, as well as support to promote student well-being and academic success. Students who receive the scholarship are known as Seita Scholars.

I recently learned of an effort to knit hats, scarves, and mittens for these students. I like some of my charity knitting to have a local impact, so although I'd already sent a couple scarves to the Red Scarf Project, I knitted a scarf and hat for the Seita Scholars as well. These are pictured here. I think they both turned out well, don't you? Hopefully they'll find their way to students who agree!

(And maybe the scarf will be imbued with extra wisdom, having briefly graced this wise owl...)

Monday, November 8, 2010

A Not-So-Random Act of Kindness

Saturday morning, I answered phones at Ministry with Community. As I drove home, shortly after 1 pm, I noticed someone blowing leaves in our back yard. As I puzzled this, I kept driving, and saw people with rakes, in our front yard. And then - more people, with more rakes. People I recognized - youth and leaders from church!

In the words of George Elliston,

How beautiful a day can be when kindness touches it!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Large Covered Wagon

In June, Jim & I traveled to Ponca, NE. We attended a family reunion with my brother & sister-in-law, Dave & Joyce, and their children & grandchildren. (Doug and Mandy bravely organized this affair.)

On the way home, we visited Joslyn Art Museum, in Omaha NE. This piece was in their outdoor sculpture garden: "Large Covered Wagon," by Tom Otterness.

I love the whimsical depiciton of the ox, and the pioneer woman. But most of all, I was amused by the children fighting in the back of the wagon.

It reminded me of childhood trips with our family. I think we generally were well-behaved (really!), but I'm sure the back of our station wagon had scenes not unlike this scene at the back of a covered wagon.

Where did we travel as a family? The trips I remember most were our epic journeys from Pennsylvania to Idaho, to visit Grandma & Grandpa (Dad's parents). Different trips followed different routes, so we saw lots of the country en route, such as Yellowstone Park; Glacier National Park; the Black Hills of South Dakota. I think we saw Mount Rushmore - or am I misremembering?

Dad also stopped at the places kids like, such as Mystery Spot. I don't remember where this was - there are many such tourist traps - but I remember that Dave (tall) & I (short, of course) stood next to each other, and our heights apparently changed...? Ah, the mystery of it all.

Some of our travel arrangements will no doubt elicit horror from today's safety-conscious parents, though I will point out that I lived to tell the tale... We generally travelled in a station wagon, sans seat belts. Mom & Dad had the front row seats, and we four kids held court in the middle seat, and in the 'way back,' generally with that seat folded down to make a flat area. At night, we would stop and set up the sleeping arrangements: we folded down the middle seat, and then Dad arranged plywood boards across the very back, from window to window. Dave & I unfolded our sleeping bags under those boards, with our heads in the middle seat area (not under the plywood; that would have been a bit much!); Paul & Lori slept on top of the plywood. Mom & Dad then drove into the night, and we would wake to find the car pulled off somewhere along the road, with them sleeping in their seats. What a way to travel!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Post The First

I feel like I'm standing on the edge of a swimming pool, shivering, and trying to decide if I really want to jump in. But, as my niece Annie says, "everyone and his dog" has a blog now. And, although I frequently question whether or not I have a particularly interesting life, I'm hopeful that writing about it will reveal the unexpected delights that I tend to overlook.

So. Let's jump in.

In Sunday's Relief Society lesson, Jennie shared the following quote:
Real charity is not something you give away; it is something that you acquire and make a part of yourself. And when the virtue of charity becomes implanted in your heart, you are never the same again.

Perhaps the greatest charity comes when we are kind to each other, when we don’t judge or categorize someone else, when we simply give each other the benefit of the doubt or remain quiet. Charity is accepting someone’s differences, weaknesses, and shortcomings; having patience with someone who has let us down; or resisting the impulse to become offended when someone doesn’t handle something the way we might have hoped. Charity is refusing to take advantage of another’s weakness and being willing to forgive someone who has hurt us. Charity is expecting the best of each other.

Elder Marvin J Ashton, "The Tongue Can Be a Sharp Sword," Ensign, May 1992, page 18
I'd like to become a person who displays Elder Ashton's kind of charity. Jim would probably like that as well. :)