Forum Holitorium

Living at the Sunrise

Funny how quickly I find myself addicted to watching the sun rise. The interplay of colors and clouds is never the same, will never repeat itself. Since no photograph will ever do it justice, it’s best to get up in time and experience it through your own eyes. My favorite this week started with an introduction that included all the colors of the rainbow.

It’s also funny how often I resolve to do something I enjoy involving a reasonable investment of time and resources and then find myself doing something completely different. Despite getting off to a good start reading Don Quixote and making a thin scarf, I channeled my energy this week into knitting a bunch of small projects to use up a motley assortment of leftover balls of yarn and finishing Time and Tide in Acadia. It’s the sunrise that distracted me, you see. Look at the colors of the felted bowls and especially the salmon entrelac squares on the zippered bag.

The book touched upon sunrises too. A passionate observer of the landscape and wildlife on Mount Desert Island off the coast of Maine, author Christopher Camuto practices “being indigenous,” as he puts it, walking its trails, exploring its shoreline by kayak and canoe, noting its rich variety of birds and animals, trying to appreciate “the eventfulness of every step you take.” The island was first inhabited by the Abenaki, whose name means “those living at the sunrise.” From the way he writes about his relationship to the island, I can’t imagine that Camuto feels any less connected to the place than its original population did. You do not need to be born in a specific location to become native to it. And you may be born and live in a place where you never feel like a native. And you can live in a place for many years and never feel native. And you can yearn to return to a place where you feel native. The world offers you many options.

The last chapter starts out with the sentence, “We travel to islands to be partly at sea.” It dawned on me that most of the places I would like to visit are islands. Perhaps the cotton bag above will accompany me to an island this summer.

Enjoy the colors and clouds in the sky wherever you are!

Time for Privacy and Indwelling

I am nearing the final section of Sue Hubbell’s book A Country Year: Living the Questions. A friend passed it on to me a short time ago, saying she didn’t need to have it by her any more and that she thought I might like it. It is the story of one year in the life of a woman who lives alone in the Ozarks and makes a modest living keeping bees and selling honey. Starting off with a quote by Rilke, the frequently cited “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves” one, the book pulled me in quickly. I have been reading it in small, nearly daily doses for the past two weeks. Hubbell writes clearly and sparely, honestly and compassionately about encounters with her neighbors, her bees, and the other animals and plants that surround her – coyotes, opossums, and monarch butterflies being a few of my favorites.

Yet the phrase that has struck me the most is her description of winter: “…it is a time for privacy and indwelling.” Yes. The word indwelling piqued my interest. It is a word I couldn’t define, yet I fancied I knew what it meant. I imagined it to mean being in oneself, being in one’s home, taking full possession of the space available to you, whether your body or your home. What indwelling actually means is slightly different. My Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary defines the verb indwell as meaning “to exist as an inner activating spirit, force, or principle, to exist within as an activating spirit, force, or principle.” This is followed by the noun indweller. I guess I could consider myself an indweller in my own home – I activate it, make the space come alive simply by my presence, right?

Another definition I invented of indwelling was not reaching out into the world but making do with what has been gathered and brought into the home. Using up what’s stored in the larder, working through the stack of books, knitting up what’s been lurking in the corners of your stash. All actions proper to winter. I feel my spirits are starting to limp not so much from the cold and dark but from the repetition of routine and the remarkable similarity the days are starting to have. One potentially uplifting similarity, however, is the sunrise and its time-lapse scattering of salmon pinks and smoky blues in myriad combinations. What’s more, this morning I spotted four of the five planets – I think it was just Mercury I missed.

Don’t forget to enjoy the sunrise and keep an eye out for visible planets!

Blue is All Around Us

Since elementary school, I have associated January with the color blue. One of my teachers – I forget which one – changed the paper background behind the large calendar on the wall each month, and in the fateful year when the combination of colors with months made such an impact on me, January was blue. Was the logic that your fingers turn numb when it is so cold, or that you notice the varying shades of the sky more as they contrast with the pale snow? Sometimes the snow appears blue too, like shortly after sunrise a few weeks ago by the Kenosha harbor.

Blue permeates my knitting this month. Super soft Austrian spun alpaca is taking the shape of a mottled blue shawl, while cornflower blue Icelandic wool contrasts with a faded, pale grey in my first two stranded project ever. A wonderful small sampler of different designs, the Julesokk pattern caught my eye during Advent. As a secret stripe enthusiast, I must confess I found the vertical lines more thrilling than the snowflake patterns themselves. I love the Latvian braid finish. All these shades and stitches reinforce the message from this picture found in the newspaper.

A nameless photographer captured this blue jay, one of my favorite birds. Though I didn’t see any during my recent visit to their habitat, I heard them calling from the neighbor’s trees. Few are the birds in the Northern latitudes that can compete with blue jays for their brilliant blue plumage. These intelligent birds have complex social relationships and often mate for life. Great fans of acorns, they feast on nuts and fruit and to a lesser degree insects. For now I’ll just have to be satisfied with seeing the flash of blue on the wings and crest of Cyanistes caeruleus, or Blaumeisen, as they are called in German and this household.

Despite appearances, I don’t have the blues, nor have I ceased to gravitate towards all hues of brown. My project to tide me over until spring is twofold this year. Like last winter, I have chosen a thick classic novel as my companion on cold, dark evenings. Instead of being irritated by a tubercular Prussian at a sanatorium in Switzerland, I will be laughing at the foibles of Don Quixote de la Mancha, a man who refuses to see things as they really are. He is an insufferable optimist and dreamer who insists on infusing the world with a meaning it doesn’t have (or only he sees). Sounds like a good counterpoint to the newspaper, doesn’t it? If the first 30 pages are any indication of the remaining 910, it will be a much easier ride into spring in 2016. The second part involves knitting the Winter Mists Wrap with the Schokotatze (chocolate paw) colored lace yarn mentioned in December. Since I am not a chocoholic, I’ve dubbed it my Espresso Scarf, for it will most likely warm my neck on the well beaten path to the coffee shop every morning.

Hope you are keeping the winter blues at bay in your own way. Happy reading, birdwatching, knitting and waking up to the beauty around you!

Janus’s Passage

One of the few ancient Roman gods with no Greek counterpart, two-headed Janus rules over doors (Latin ianuae) and covered passageways (iana), transitions and new beginnings. The English word janitor has its origins in the Latin ianitor, meaning doorkeeper or porter. I enter the new year through the passageway of January, looking back one last time before moving forward. The last week of December, I read through my journal entries, reflecting on the range of experiences I had had and the questions and wishes that arose over the course of the year. Of the many books I read in 2015, the ones that made the deepest impressions were My Two Italies by Joseph Luzzi, Refuge by Terry Tempest Williams, Yarn by Kyoko Mori, While Glaciers Slept by M Jackson, and A Tour of Bones by Denise Inge. Reading Inge’s book a few weeks ago, I was struck by the timeliness of the following passage:

“Living isn’t something outside you that you will do one day when you have organized your life a little better. It comes from deep in the centre of yourself. You have to let the life in there at the deepest part, and live it from the inside out.”

Last year was a year of decluttering and getting organized,  maintenance activities you need to do from time to time but no replacement for devoting yourself to your calling and to fulfilling pursuits. One year from now, how will I look back on and describe 2016 ? How will the year have unfolded? I refrain from making resolutions this year, vowing to listen to what wells up from inside me and to seek out a path that allows me to live “inside out,” as Inge writes. It will be a more intuitive year. As explained in previous posts, I set very specific knitting goals for 2015, which I achieved to a great extent. Interestingly, three quarters of everything I knit last year was a present for other people. As a reward, this year I plan on doing more knitting for myself, but there will be no targets to reach. Instead, I will listen carefully to the knitting muse’s directions on what kind of project to undertake. There is a common phrase in German ich lasse mich überraschen, I’ll let myself be surprised. Though I sense there will be much more blue in the future, this bag with a looped cable I recently completed is very brown.

Did you set any New Year’s resolutions? Hope your January is full of new beginnings, good books, and pleasant surprises!

Recapitulation

The moon is waning, as is 2015. It’s time to look back at the path you followed throughout the year and take stock. Whereas 2014 was the year I paid close attention to what nourishes me, 2015 has been a year of sifting and winnowing and decluttering, a year of deciding what objects I want to have around me. Lots of clothes and books made their way out the door, ones I had worn out, ones I no longer felt I needed, in certain cases ones whose presence had become a burden or irritation. We need very little, and though we tend to surround ourselves with a plethora of objects, very few of them are regularly used. This year I tried to make more space for what is truly important, and what I found is this.

The yarn above is what I purchased this year that still hasn’t been turned into knitwear. No matter how hard I try to reduce my stash, more yarn appears to fill the space. Nature abhors a vacuum.  Over the past few months, a voice in me has become more persuasive, saying keep going in this direction, learn as much as you can about textiles, see what happens. I feel the need to try out new techniques. Looking back on my knitting goals for 2014, I have been mostly successful in producing the number of items I set out to knit, but I was not particularly adventurous in my choice of techniques. I completed six sweaters including a cardigan and a pullover, though I didn’t make a turtleneck or try steeking. I also set myself the ambitious goal of 15 pairs of socks. When I finish my Christmas knitting, I will be up to 11, which is an average of nearly one pair a month. I’m also satisfied with that, though it has in no way turned me into the sock expert I had hoped to become. I have a few favorite sock patterns that I keep repeating. The last two goals were to try brioche stitch, which I did by making a hat, and to knit something with lace weight yarn. Once the Christmas knitting is done, I plan to settle down on the couch in my new Saturn Sweater with a pair of needles and the ball of lace weight yarn below. This tiny Schokotatze (chocolate paw) colored skein has enough yards wound up in it to make a large and warm yet fine shawl or stole.

  Hope you are making space for what is important to you and enjoying the mistletoe!

The Parsimonious Onion Greets Winter

A while back I wrote about how stubbornness need not be viewed negatively. While cooking down onions last night, the word parsimony came to mind, one of those words I have rarely heard anyone say but know from reading. In the beginning, parsimony was not tarred with the connotation of stinginess, of miserliness. It simply meant frugality or thrift and was derived from the Latin parcere, to be sparing, to refrain from or to economize. Cheap and easy to store for weeks on end, onions are a parsimonious vegetable. Just one can add a basic layer of flavor to any vegetable dish. Whenever I sauté vegetables, I inevitably start by sautéing onions for 10-15 minutes before the main actor makes an appearance. A couple of months ago, we bought a big 10 kilo / 22 pound sack of onions for a mere 4 euros. My original plan was to make a lot of onion jam, but that didn’t happen. Instead, we have had a constant supply that will peter out in a couple of weeks, coinciding well with our departure for the holidays.

Last winter I discovered a recipe in The Moosewood Cookbook where onions play a starring role in a sauce paired with pasta. A modified version graced our table for dinner last night. Cooked buckwheat groats, which are very warming on a cold evening, replaced the pasta, and we used up most of the rest of an open bottle of white wine “bought” using frequent flyer miles. The handful of arugula was thrown in for free at our local greengrocer’s – it pays to be a regular customer. And TC gathered the walnuts himself this fall. A thrifty yet very filling meal.

Onion Sauce with Buckwheat

4-6 medium sized onions, sliced

1/4 cup olive oil

1/2 tsp salt

1 cup / 125 ml white wine

One bunch of greens (here arugula), chopped

1/2 cup chopped walnuts, toasted

Cooked buckwheat groats (125 grams before boiling)

Sauté the onions in olive oil on medium-high heat for 15 minutes. Add salt, lower heat, and sauté as long as you like but at least 15 minutes. Add white wine, turn heat back to medium-high and sauté another 15 minutes. Add greens and cook 5 minutes more. Stir in walnuts and buckwheat. Serves 2-4 depending on how hungry you are.

My needle case knit from part of a skein of yarn dyed in onion skins is finally done. It was a good challenge – not the knitting but the finishing, which demanded that I learned how to properly sew in a zipper, first backstitching and then basting. This tutorial was very helpful. Perhaps there is hope for me yet as a seamstress. Adding the zipper is one small baby step toward being able to sew. Matching the needle case well, the candles are TC’s masterpiece. He bought a candle mold and used the beeswax stubs of last year’s Advent candles to fashion new ones that will outlast than the Christmas season.

Though there is a lot to be thankful for, this Thanksgiving rings a bit hollow because I am not able to spend it with my family, which for me is what Thanksgiving is about. I am thankful, however, that I will be able to spend Christmas with them. And there is something important to celebrate today: the promise of winter, the shift from the gold and orange autumnal palette to the grey and white sheen that covered the land and sky this morning as the first snow of the season arrived.

Take pleasure in observing the colors around you and spending time with people whose company you enjoy!

Exiting October: A Still Life

Why is it only today that I realized how much I enjoy still lifes and that I would like to learn more about their history? In art museums, I gravitate toward them, not portraits or landscapes, perhaps because they offer a glimpse  into the everyday life of the painter, the objects lying around at the moment brush touched canvas. Food is a common subject – fruit, for example – and flowers too. And then there are still lifes with a momento mori touch: a skull here, an hourglass there, reminding the viewer that everything in life is in a state of perpetual change, that all is fleeting.

Of course still lifes can be joyful, a carefully arranged composition of disparate objects. The one you see above offers a visual summary of the previous week. I finished knitting a cabled rectangle that will soon be folded and made into a pencil/double point needle case. A friend gave me the blank yellow notebook for my birthday. The pendant with the Roman goddess Ceres is a souvenir of a trip to the living history museum at the site of Carnuntum, a camp along the Limes which protected the ancient Roman province of Pannonia and where Marcus Aurelius wrote his Meditations. The loaf is a Striezel, a braided yeast bread with raisins typically eaten on All Saint’s Day in Austria and southern Germany. TC will make a batch of laundry detergent with the horse chestnuts we gathered. And the leaves are from one of the oldest trees in Austria.

This oak tree near Bad Blumau in eastern Styria is more than 1,000 years old – not the oldest oak in Europe as it claims to be, but still awe inspiring. Younger than the Roman walls at Carnuntum, yet older than the House of Habsburg. It was wonderful to be able to approach it, to walk around it, to touch its bark. I am thankful it was not roped off like a museum piece. My thoughts meandered back to a story I had just heard. There was a storyteller at Carnuntum reading ancient Roman myths. TC and I sat down to listen to one. It just happened to be a version of Ovid’s tale of Philemon and Baucis. The gods Jupiter and Mercury disguise themselves as peasants and visit a town, looking for a place to sleep at night. The only people to offer them hospitality are an old couple, Baucis and Philemon. As a reward, the gods grant them one wish. Satisfied with their life up till that point despite living in poverty, they ask to die at the same time so as not to be alone in old age. The gods grant them their wish, and after the couple die, they are transformed into two trees, an oak and a linden, whose roots grow together intertwined, keeping them united in death. I did not see a linden near this oak tree, so it must have been a bachelor.

After our visit to Carnuntum, we took a stroll along the Danube at Bad Deutsch-Altenburg, a small spa town also dating back to Roman times. We were not alone as we watched the traffic on the river. I have heard of trainspotters, so I assume the middle aged man taking a selfie of himself against the backdrop of each of the boats that went by is a member of the species Homo sapiens boatspotterus. In a lovely park full of fallen leaves, we happened upon this sculpture of the river god Danuvius. Previous visitors had left him an offering of horse chestnuts.

Autumn is a beautiful word, derived from the Latin autumnus of uncertain origin. One theory I like is that it comes from the Etruscan and means the passing of the year. Its synonym, fall, comes from the Old English feallan, to fall or die, indicating the prevalence of deciduous trees in the area where the language developed. The German word for autumn/fall, Herbst, is related to the English word harvest. The Polish word for November, listopad, means leaves fall, and by the end of the upcoming month this natural process will be complete for the year. Only a few more weeks to marvel at the blaze of yellow and feel the sink of your feet into a layer of leaves.

Enjoy the fleeting beauty of everything around you!

Peter Quince and Nick Bottom

The autumn rainy season arrived last week and continues. When there is a pause of an hour or so in precipitation, TC and I throw on the wool and hiking shoes and head out in search of adventure. One such foray led to a serendipitous sighting of three donkeys chewing on a fence near the parish church in Straßengel. I feel a certain kinship to donkeys, and not just because my great-grandmother’s maiden name was a Tuscan dialect word for donkey: this animal and I are willing to work hard to do what we want to but have no difficulty refusing to do something that another creature wants us to do if we are not convinced of its appropriateness. Stubbornness need not be seen as a negative quality – a stubborn individual is not easily pushed around.

After a few failed attempts at sweater projects with this yarn, I finally finished a bulky jacket of handspun wool from sheep on an island in the Baltic Sea whose name eludes me. I modified a popular pattern by adding an intricate cable from a scarf and lengthening the sleeves. There are so many cable patterns out there. While many speak to me, others leave me cold or make me wrinkle my nose. The trend at the moment is extravagant. Designers seem to be capitalizing on the appeal of cables by trying to cram too many into a single project. (This may have the inadvertent effect of scaring away potential cable knitters who are daunted by the number of different charts they need to follow on one piece.) Just a few well positioned cables on a classic design (like the mostly stockinette base of the jacket above) are all you need to jazz up a basic sweater. I’ve started printing out cable patterns that I like and collecting them in a folder. Then when I find a basic pattern I like, I will be able to incorporate cable elements into it. There is still so much to learn, but it is fortunate that there are so many good resources for knitters available on the Web.

There is still much to learn about quince processing as well. TC transformed our first windfall of quinces into membrillo, or quince paste, and quince jelly. The second group of beauties shown above came from the farmer’s market. Since their beautiful skin is unriddled by bruises, they should keep awhile. What an intoxicating aroma they give off! I can’t bear the thought of cutting them up. I think we’ll plan on getting uglier ones at the market on Saturday, ones that need to be processed right away.

Though the lack of sunshine (and thus adequate light for taking pictures) is getting to me, rainy weather is conducive to reading and knitting. I have decided to experiment with setting specific goals for what I want to read and knit over shorter periods of time and see if this helps me work through my stacks of books and yarn stash any quicker. I’d like to read the books and knit up the yarn in the picture above by the beginning of November. If this weather holds, it shouldn’t be difficult.

 Keep warm and dry, be stubborn when necessary, and good luck with your projects!

The Woods are Watching the Bounty

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We thought we were alone, walking along the trail to the reconstructed Celtic farmstead near the village of Kleinklein. But then I spied this fellow, most likely an intimate of the Green Man, and recognized my error. These hills have long born witness to settlement, to cultivation of the land, to farmers and smiths and weavers and people not incredibly different from you and I in their hopes and dreams. Love, understanding, acceptance, meaningful work, prosperity, good health, enjoyment. In our pursuit of our dreams, we humans tend to leave traces, and those in southern Styria date back more than 6000 years. This past weekend, TC and I visited numerous sites populated by the Romans, the Celts, and those who came before them. The lush, fruitful landscape of the Sausal region is still an attractive place to live, work, and play, with a microclimate much warmer than the Alpine region located just to the north and nourished by the Sulm and Lassnitz rivers. It is equally beautiful yet much more peaceful than the popular South Styrian Wine Road to the south.

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Harvest time: gathering, collecting, celebrating the year’s bounty. The grape harvest is in full swing. Apples, pears, and quinces may or may not still hang heavy on the trees in the Streuobstwiesen, or traditional small orchards that can feature a variety of different kinds of fruit trees and that are unfortunately endangered by the spread of monocultures like grapes or corn and the building of new houses.

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Though the idyllic image of life in the countryside rests upon the expectation of peace and quiet, working farms are loud with heavy machinery like tractors, harvesters, and liquid manure spreaders – at this time of the year in particular. The fresh air often contains pockets of diesel fumes from said equipment or tourist automobiles (thank you, VW). Nonetheless,the chance of finding pockets of stillness where you can breathe deeply without fearing for your life is much higher than in the city, and we were very fortunate. Autumn is truly a splendid time to visit the Sausal.

The hikes we took over hill, over dale, over the rivers and through the woods, were incredibly restorative. At night when the clouds rolled away, I could see the stars and waning gibbous moon. In the early morning when the mist had risen up from the valley, I felt cozy and happily cut off from the rest of the world. And in the late afternoon sun, it was so warm that I was able to sit outside knitting, drinking lemon balm tea, and savoring homemade walnut cake.

Yes, it is nut season, and I am married to a squirrel. We drove home with a car weighted down by 10 kilos of walnuts, 2 kilos of chestnuts, and several kilos more of apples, pears, and quinces. Bounty: abundance, plenty, something given in generous amounts, a word that dates back to the 13th century, when it meant goodness or generosity.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Enjoy the bounty of the season!

Space for Autumn

The autumnal equinox is a good moment to pause and think back on summer. It is one in which I swam against the current. While harvest time is a time of abundance and seeing the fruits of your labor, my actions over the past three months have been devoted to reducing what I have and emptying the space around me.

It started with pulling all of my clothes out of the wardrobe and removing what I no longer wear, what didn’t suit me anymore, what was unflattering or getting threadbare. Every time I open the door now, I get a little thrill at how nicely organized everything looks. Then the bookshelves came under scrutiny. I forgave myself for what I hadn’t read yet and realistically never will, separated the wheat from the chaff, and decided to donate or sell a significant amount. Next, I sorted and brought order to all the bookmarks in my web browser and deleted over half of my computer files. A friend quipped: if I lose files now, it will only be the important ones. Though that is not likely to happen because after seven years of living dangerously, I have finally backed up my hard drive. And the coup de grâce: I got rid of the wooden inbox tray on my desk, working through what needed to be done and tossing what I realized I would never do. It is a wonderful feeling, no longer being confronted by a stack of unfinished business each time I sit down to work.

When you undertake a decluttering action, you see how easily your life can become full of unimportant things. I have weeded out most of what I don’t need and am curious what will arise in the newly created space. One voice has already become audible: learn more about sustainable textile production and design, take the plunge and finally learn how to sew and how to spin fiber. Will it get louder?

TC’s pullover, meanwhile, is nearing completion. I just need to sit down for an hour or so and do some short row work on the collar and then he’ll be ready for cooler temperatures. I started a bulky fisherman’s rib scarf and continue working on a thin brown cardigan for myself.

Coming to the end of this post, I realize what I said at the start is false: I haven’t been swimming against the current. Before you bring in the harvest, you need to have an empty storage space, and I’ve made room for what I need to nourish me through the winter. TC has started working on his walnut collection; now it’s time for me to start stocking up.

Good luck making space and bringing in the harvest!

To know emptiness…is more like stumbling into a clearing in the forest, where suddenly you can move freely and see clearly. To experience emptiness is to experience the shocking absence of what normally determines the sense of who you are and the kind of reality you inhabit.” – Stephen Batchelor, Buddhism Without Beliefs.

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