Forum Holitorium

Category: Knitting

April Braid

A cold clouds my mind. I puzzled a few days over how to tie together pictures and thoughts into a coherent blog entry. How about braiding together three strands of my preoccupations in April: baking bread, knitting neck warmers, and walking in the woods?

The leftover wool wrap in brioche stitch is finally done and protecting my neck and shoulders as I write. It was a good exercise to improvise a pattern, to go through the steps of envisioning what I wanted, researching and learning a new technique (two color brioche), and bringing this vision to life. It had been months since I last made a garment for myself. This is one I will get a lot of use out of; I have already worn it every day since finishing it. Along with one blue sock, my knitting bowl now holds yarn for two cowls – one thick, one thin – that will match most of my spring wardrobe.

It is finally warm enough to open the windows and let in fresh air. Despite my cold, I have gotten out walking every day and can’t get enough of the sunshine and milder temperatures. Tuesday I visited St. Radegund again, my favorite forest near Graz. It has been weeks since I was last there. Fresh air, sunshine, a circling kestrel, eight deer. I am learning a lot about the forest in Germany and Austria from Peter Wohlleben‘s book Der Wald: Eine Entdeckungsreise (The Forest: A Journey of Discovery). Over the course of his career as a forester in Germany, Wohlleben has turned his back on practices he learned during his training and is attempting to forge a more sustainable forestry practice by moving away from the status quo of spruce and pine monoculture (spruce and pine being trees common to the taiga further north) to the restoration of the beech forests that originally covered Central Europe.

One great obstacle to the restoration of beech forests is the overpopulation of deer brought about by the absence of natural predators (wolves and lynx) and their protection by hunters. Yes, you read that correctly. Hunters want their hunting grounds to be full of deer, so they feed them. Yet they do not kill enough deer to keep the population in check. Instead of a sustainable density of one deer per square kilometer, the density today is more like 40 to 50 deer. The result: the deer eat up the young deciduous trees. More deer also means more ticks and thus more Lyme disease. Lots of questions about “my” forest in Radegund are forming as I read this book. Since it is in the Alps, I wonder to what extent the spruce and pine there are native – where the beech forest ended and the conifer forest of the Alps began. There is so much to learn about trees.

There is a lot to learn about baking bread too. Since I will soon be on the other side of the Atlantic for some time, I am putting off working with a sourdough starter. Inspired by Fanatic Cook’s recent no-knead whole wheat bread experiment, I have made two loaves with yeast and long fermentation (40 hours plus) that have turned out tasty. Since I don’t have a special pot for bread, I have just plopped the dough into a square cake pan and let it take on whatever shape it wanted. The elongated hexagon of the latest loaf is quite elegant.

May April bring you fresh air, fresh baked bread, and a warm neck!

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Putting the Finishing Touches on Winter

As of yesterday, it is officially spring: daylight will soon trump darkness. Thick wool scarves should give way to thin scarves and hats and knee high socks should disappear until fall. In three months’ time it will be all linen and sandals. After a week of spring temperatures and sunlight that sent me out on many a walk in the clement weather, nature has thrown a bit of a wrench into the order of things. It’s cold again, and yesterday was one of the coldest first days of spring on record. I’ve been making the best of being back indoors by finishing up a few winter projects. Pictured above is a small purse I will use to hold business cards and other desk supplies that size; below is a close up of the button band of a large cardigan that after three months of sporadic knitting is finally done. Since the weather was too cold for a nice walk, I celebrated the start of spring by learning a technique for sewing buttons onto knitwear.

For thousands of years, buttons served as decorations. Though the ancient Greeks and Romans used buttons as fasteners, it wasn’t until the Middle Ages that buttonholes and functional use of buttons became widespread in Europe. I never really learned how to sew buttons well and have winged it in the past, often choosing to secure cardigans with a wooden pin made by a family friend. But as an inveterate cardigan wearer, I figured it was time to expand my finishing repertoire. In most cases, a buttoned cardigan keeps out the cold better than a simple pin. And it was time to bring the winter cardigan project to a close in more ways than one.

Lemon slices are round like buttons. My palate is ignoring the cold and has spring fever, yearning for the freshness of herbs, lemons, and leafy greens like spinach, arugula, and dandelion greens. Last week I discovered a delicious recipe for focaccia with rosemary, olives, and lemon slices. Prepare your favorite focaccia, oil bread, or pizza dough. Drizzle the dough with olive oil and top it with 1 Tbsp dried/4 Tbsp fresh rosemary, a handful of olives, and one or two sliced organic or unsprayed lemon (with the seeds removed). Sprinkle with coarse sea salt and then pop it in the oven for as long as the bread recipe requires.

Happy spring!

The Long Winter Week

The long winter week started out last Saturday with dinner guests bearing tulips and a bottle of Rioja. Knowing that temps in Graz would drop to normal Wisconsin winter temperatures, I had made preparations, buying food to last five or six days. The grocery store is only a five minute walk, but a five minute walk at -4° F / -20° C is to be avoided if at all possible. Been there, done that enough in college. Working at home is a definite plus in winter. I was looking forward to a cozy week. The red-orange of the tulip blossoms were a wonderful companion at the kitchen table and provided a good contrast to the bright white of the moderate snowfall outside.

To get in the mood, I pulled Laura Ingalls Wilder’s The Long Winter off the shelf. It tells the story of how she and her family survived an unusually harsh winter in the Dakota Territory. Though they lived in town, there were so many blizzards that the trains couldn’t run and bring supplies. By mid-February, most of the food was gone and only thanks to a risky run by two of the town’s young men to buy seed wheat at a distant farm is the town saved from starvation. How easy I have it today in comparison. No need to twist hay to burn because the coal ran out, no need to go to bed early because there is no more kerosene for light, no need to sleep in an unheated attic where the snow blows in. Though there are days where most of the calories I consume come from bread and potatoes, that is my choice and not because that is all that is left.

There is much talk of wool wraps, mufflers (in the older sense of the word as in something that covers the throat), and shawls in the book; making your own clothes and knitting were what everyone did. I started knitting a wrap for myself that will use up leftover blue and gray bulky yarn. Reversible patterns interest me because they look good regardless of what side faces forward. I decided on knitting three panels in brioche stitch. The end panels are single color while in the center panel, I am trying out two color brioche.

Pioneers need to be industrious, keeping things in good repair and being able to fix whatever needs fixing. This week I finally took time to mend clothes and hand wash scarves and wool socks. For the first time ever (and with the help of the internet), I actually darned socks. And they weren’t even my own. Since I have nearly knit through my yarn stash and thus the dream of a future in which not more than 10 skeins of yarn lay dormant looks like it will soon come true, I have started to think about What Next. A major in sock knitting and a minor in lace weight neck warmers are at the top of my list.

The cold spell has broken and above freezing temperatures are working their way in my direction. The snow will soon be gone and it is time for white to be replaced by green. I couldn’t resist a pot of basil at the grocery store. What a difference a few leaves make as a garnish. A shot of color in the kitchen is also very welcome.

May you find the patience and the right technique to repair what needs fixing!

Aunts and Blankets

A week ago I had a dream about my aunt who has been dead for nearly eight years. I was standing in my grandparents’ kitchen and saw her sitting on the couch in the living room watching TV, bundled up in an afghan as if it were a cold winter evening. She appeared as she looked in the early eighties, slender and with short permed hair that had recently been cut. She turned her head and saw me and a smile spread across her face. A tremendous yet calm joy began to radiate from her. We smiled at each other awhile, and then I woke up.

I am lucky to have four aunts – three of whom are still here. They are all very different and special in their own way. The aunt I dreamed about liked to knit and crochet. Her specialty was afghans. When I was a child, she crocheted me a pink and lavender afghan. Though I can’t stomach the colors any more, I have held onto it because she made it for me. Funny to dream of her right after I finished making my first throw blanket. After a few attempts at knitting various cardigans, I decided the heavy alpaca-wool mix might be better as a blanket. It needs a good blocking, but it is nice and warm on my lap. It is quite different than the colorful cotton blanket with Celtic designs that has followed me around from apartment to apartment since I was a teenager.

Last summer I knit an eggplant colored merino wool baby blanket for my cousin, who was expecting her first child. Since she and her husband do not have siblings, their daughter does not have any aunts. I have always wanted to be an aunt and especially to have a niece, but that is also difficult as I don’t have any siblings either. When I lived in Poland, I learned that many of my friends had a “ciotka”, and auntie, who wasn’t technically the sister of their mother or father but simply a woman who was close enough to have this title bestowed on her. So maybe one day I too will be called aunt. At any rate, I have already behaved like my aunt by knitting a blanket that is now keepiny my cousin’s daughter warm. The cabled blanket below was a gift from a woman who you might say is an unofficial aunt of mine.

The days are getting longer, but it is still blanket and afghan weather. Since I have enough to keep me warm inside, my focus is now on jackets and cowls for staying warm outside.

May you enjoy and appreciate your aunts and blankets!

Tying Up Loose Ends

Powdered sugar

It started snowing last night in the city, more cosmetic than anything else. The street and pavement are clear, but the plants and roofs are coated nicely. It is a very peaceful backdrop to the genesis of my first blog entry in 2018. Energized after a peaceful break over the holidays, I did what many a knitter does in January: assess all the unruly yarn that has accumulated and see what I can do to tame the leftover skeins. Having turned most of the larger balls of yarn into hats a few months ago, I decided to conjure up bags and containers and a sachet. The two larger baskets still need to be felted.

Stashbusting

It is amazing how much you can make out of small bits of yarn. When I started knitting, someone told me to save all the scraps, no matter how small, and I have. After nine years of knitting, I have quite a collection. A week ago, I went on a word fast for 24 hours: no phone, no books, no computer. One of the many benefits that emerged from this fast was an impromptu organization of all those loose ends. After emptying the ziplock bag full of yarn ends (which no longer seals) and corralling all other leftover wool in my stash, I divided the ends into three categories: 4 inches/10 cm or shorter, medium lengths that could be used as ties of some kind, and longer pieces of yarn that could be wound into mini-balls and still be used for knitting.

Loose ends

The ziplock bag is now full of the 4 inch or less ends. So nothing goes to waste, I plan on using these ends to stuff a small pillow that I will knit at some point in the next few months. (Family and friends: anyone want a 7″ x 9″ pillow?) The tie length yarn is organized by color and put in the cardboard container shown above. And the mini-balls of yarn that could still become part of a collaborative effort are neatly placed in a tin (which now closes easily, without me having to push down hard on the lid). Invigorated by this action, I knit nearly a project every day in a frenzy of industriousness that Benjamin Franklin would surely have found laudatory: “Be industrious and frugal and you will be rich.”

Industry and frugality are the catchwords for January and extend into the kitchen. Over the holidays, I found my groove again with cooking and baking, two activities that were more of a chore than a joy in 2017. January is a good time to look at the best by/expiration dates on dried goods and use them up. A large pack of raisins inspired me to bake a Gugelhupf, to which I added a shot of Italian wine and two teaspoons of cinnamon to jazz up the basic buttery yeast leavened dough. The recipe called for a glaze of rum and powdered sugar, neither of which I had in the pantry. Now I can look out the window at the snow while I eat a slice – that is enough powder for me.

GugelhupfMay you enjoy the fruits of industry and frugality on the needles and in the kitchen!

Septentomology

Tuesday as I was eating lunch on the terrace, I felt something on my arm. It looked like a cross between a yellow pipe cleaner and a multicolored toothbrush. But it was as alive as me: a male caterpillar that one day will transform into a rusty tussock moth (Orgyia antiqua).  My new friend received a free ride from the table to the mint, where I presume he felt a bit more at home than on the polyester tablecloth.

A few days later I was visited by another small creature, this time one that landed on my thigh. He seemed to be quite comfortable and unbothered by the movements of my arms as I worked on my knitting, so I let him stay until he left of his own accord. Can any readers identify what type of bug it was?

Yesterday I received a third visitor. The last name of one of my great-great-grandmothers was Mosca, the Italian word for fly. I recall this when pestered by the nervous comings and goings of a fly, trying to muster up compassion and understanding for its erratic nature and establishing a link between my life and that of my nearly least favorite insect (in unpopularity only surpassed by the mosquito). Rosa Ausländer wrote a poem entitled “The Fly” that has started to rehabilitate this insect’s status in my eyes. The poem ends with the following lines:

ihre unermüdliche Sucht    /     its untiring obsession

nach Flug und Flucht         /      to fly and escape

Wiederkehr und Verweilen    /    Return and stay

ihre Liebe zur Wiese deiner Haut – / its love for the meadow of your skin –

rührt es dich nicht            / doesn’t this move you

The dry season of little knitting is over; every week a new project leaves the needles as I try to use up my stash of yarn. The shawl above matches the stowaway eggplant that somehow managed to hitch a ride home from the market amid the heads of lettuce. The cowl below turned out to be much larger than I expected and is in search of a good home – but what a nice pattern.

Friday I would have had a perfect front row seat to view the penumbral lunar eclipse, but for the first time all week there were clouds in the sky that obscured the view of the harvest moon, the full moon closest to the autumnal equinox (for a song about the full moon, listen to this one by Robyn Hitchcock, who incidentally is known to sing of insects). Two nights before, I had captured the following image of the nearly full moon.

Wishing you pleasant encounters with insects of all kinds and clear skies to see the moon!

The Summer of Unexpected Events

This summer has been marked by a number of unexpected events. A particularly momentous one was this week’s delivery of three monster zucchini that may have crossed with other squash in the vicinity: 7.25 kg / nearly 16 lbs. I sense that August’s menu will be green.

The Paul Robeson tomato plant I bought on a whim in April has produced exactly the same variety of tasty heirloom tomato that I normally buy at the market. I am not adept at matching name with appearance because most full grown tomatoes are not identified by variety at the market where I do my shopping. This surprise is a pleasant and tasty one.

There has been a severe drought in knitting this summer. The only project I have finished is a linen purse that matches everything and brings me joy whenever I look at its simple form. I wish I were skilled enough to put in a lining to help it keep its shape better. Maybe it’s not so bad after all – I am putting fewer things inside so as not to stretch it out, which is ultimately better for my shoulders!

If you had told me in May or June that this would be the summer that I finally started seriously reading poetry, I don’t think I would have believed you. It’s not that I haven’t wanted to devote more time to the lyric literary genre – this wish goes back to my teenage years. I just never seem to be able to break out of the mindset of prose and make time for poems.

There is a receipt in my copy of the Duino Elegies by Rainer Maria Rilke dated May 30, 2009. It reminds me of what I had forgotten: I bought it at Libreria Minerva in Trieste, less than an hour away from Duino Castle where Rilke was inspired to write the ten elegies. How fitting. While walking along the cliffs above the Adriatic Sea, he heard a voice say what became the first line of the poem: Wer, wenn ich schriee, hörte mich denn aus der Engel Ordnungen? Who, if I cried out, would hear me from the orders of angels? Ten years, one world war, and several bouts of depression later, Rilke finished the work in 1922.

There have been moments when I wanted to cry out in frustration at the challenge of moving back and forth between the literal meaning of the words and the images Rilke uses in the hope of coming up with an interpretation of the verse. Poetry is truly another mode of using language to describe the world that is radically different from everyday speech and prose. As I learn to read poetry, I am practicing another way of deciphering the world.

Rose Ausländer, another poet I am reading intensively this summer, wrote the poem below that features the following insect spotted in my flowering savory. I had thought this would be the summer of feasting on all the herbs growing on my patio, but I have rarely taken the time to pick anything but a few leaves of mint here and there to put on top of bowls of strawberries. At least the bees are happy.

May the unexpected events you encounter be pleasant ones!

Dienen II

Ich habe Flügel und

viele Gestalten

 

bin Biene und Mensch

suche Blumen und Worte

 

Ich diene meiner Königin

der zärtlichen raubstarken

im fleißigen Spiel

 

Ich kann liebkosen

und stechen

taufrisch-himmlisches

Erdengeschöpf

 

Service II

I have wings and

many guises

 

am bee and human

seek flowers and words

 

I serve my queen

tender strong as a robber

in a busy game

 

I can caress

and sting

dew fresh heavenly

creature of earth

Silver Lining

Clouds generously sharing rain everywhere, every day, every time it starts to warm up and it seems like I am finally going to catch up with summer, who is still in the lead. The gap widens, so I tell myself stories to keep up my spirits. I pretend that I live in Scotland, where this would be normal summer weather. Or project into the future to autumn when I will wear an incredibly heavy cardigan I have nearly finished knitting, one that will keep me very warm. Or wrap myself up in a wool blanket and end up taking a nap. Or stuff myself silly with strawberries topped with a few grinds of black pepper and a splash of balsamic vinegar. Or ponder the allure of Minnesota and the north for Karen Babine, author of Water and What We Know: Following the Roots of a Northern Life. Nearly halfway through the book, I stop and catch my breath. Babine tackles topics that move me, that excite my interest. One’s relationship to the place we are from. The legacy of our grandparents. The power of water. The stories we tell ourselves about who we are, where we are from. The color green.

I have been to Minnesota four times. The first time was on a road trip with a friend while I was still in high school. What remains are memories of listening to a Nina Hagen mix tape on the drive up, of touring Minneapolis’s art galleries, of eating delicious Ethiopian food with my hands. The second time was a perfunctory visit to check out the University of Minnesota. The third time was an afternoon side trip from Superior to the delightful city of Duluth, a city lucky enough to be perched on Lake Superior that I hope to return to some day. The fourth time was to attend a seminar on posterior cortical atrophy at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester. All urban experiences of Minnesota. I know nothing of the landscape Babine passionately describes. Reading this book is taking a journey to a real place filtered through her perception, and I am having a good time on this vacation. The name Minnesota comes from the Dakota language and means “somewhat clouded water.” It’s fitting to read these essays under a very clouded sky.

Yes, on a rainy day like today, I’m forced to accept the terms and conditions for living intimately and in harmony with this element. Babine writes: “We want to be surrounded by all the forms water can take because humanity is not predictable and constant. We want the ice, we want the snow, we want the rain, the hail, the flood-even when the presence of water is destructive, it still reminds us that water is a give and take, and we can’t always have it good. We want the humility that water brings. It reminds us that things can always be worse.” In another chapter, she narrates her experiences “on the fringes” of the major 1997 flooding of Fargo-Moorehead and Grand Forks-East Grand Forks by the Red River. We tell stories to make sense of events larger than ourselves and to put a finger on what has changed in us as a consequence. I think of what just happened in Orlando and how important it is for those who survived to tell their stories about what they experienced in the hope of making sense of it all.

Hope makes an appearance in this book as Babine seeks to understand the effect that the mythology of the American West had on her ancestors who lived in South Dakota. As I type this line, hope resurfaces with the sun, which has already started to dry the tiles on the patio. One day the tomatoes will ripen into a blushing red and it will be warm enough for me to wear this cotton sweater and and attempt to blend in with the sand.

Don’t lose hope as you wait for the sun to come out again!

The Orange Road

This week I finished reading two books received as gifts. In a previous post, I talked about The White Road by Edmund de Waal, a sprawling story of the obsessive quest to make porcelain. I have zero interest in porcelain, but the book vibrates with de Waal’s enthusiasm for the subject. The most interesting parts were those in which he talks about why and how he creates his art and what he associates with the color white. Porcelain, he concludes, comes at a great cost, and he honors those who have made it possible to work in this finicky medium by telling their story, describing one of his motivations for writing this book as a journey to pay dues to those who have gone before him.

Inspired by his exploration of white, a color I associate with paper, rice, swans, the moon and snow, I am knitting a new sweater for myself. My first striped project will alternate two cotton yarns of different off white shades. Earlier this year, I described why I associate certain colors with different months. May is orange, and June is blue, but it wasn’t until June 1 that I finished my previous journal (green for April) and started writing in a new orange notebook. Though I am a little off with coordinating month and notebook, I have been very drawn to this warm color lately: my journal matches my v-neck and the cover of the second book I just finished reading, Amazonen der Arena: Zirkusartistinnen und Dompteusen (Amazons of the Arena: Circus Artists and Female Animal Tamers) by Stephanie Haerdle.

One of my secret dreams has always been to run away and join the circus as a contortionist/trapeze artist/tightrope walker. Knowing this, a friend presented this book to me last summer. It profiles strongwomen, female animal tamers, female circus directors, and stuntwomen in the circuses of Europe in the 19th and early 20th centuries. I started it but soon put it aside, disappointed because my desired circus careers weren’t highlighted. Fast forward to a week or so ago. One of my projects this year is to read biographies of women who have done unconventional and extraordinary things. Restarting the book, I was captivated.

The world of the circus, writes Haerdle, was probably the first where women were able to work on an equal footing with men. All positions were open to women, who were able to earn a living as well as escape from the strict social control of the day and live however they wanted: on their own or with a husband, partner, or children. One of the strongwomen profiled, the Belgian Athleta, performed feats of strength with her talented four daughters, while most of the animal tamers remained single, preferring the company of their troupes of lions or polar bears to human society. The fearlessness and audacity of women like Hélène Dutrieu (stunt driver and pilot) and Mauricia de Thiers (stunt driver of Autobolide fame who suffered numerous injuries but kept performing) are phenomenal even by today’s standards.

So now I’m dreaming of the circus again, the circus as a symbol of unrealized visions I have for my life. We all have them collecting dust in a corner. Instead of the white road to porcelain or the yellow brick road, I am seeking out the orange road, the road to my inner contortionist.

Hope you dust off some of your idling dreams!

On Craving, the Alps, and Frugality

This past week I started getting minor cravings for eggs and cheese for the first time since I went vegan for Lent. Most of the time it was not difficult to do without these foods because my normal diet includes an egg or two a week at most and cheese only once or twice a month when I go out to eat. Is my body telling me that it needs animal products? I don’t think so. I have felt full and healthy the past few weeks without them. The problem is that I am planning an Easter journey to a region whose traditional cuisine relies heavily on dairy products, a journey that will include visits to people’s homes where the choice will be meat or dairy. I stopped eating meat decades ago because the taste mostly disgusted me; plain milk has also always disgusted me. But with cheese, it’s different. When I stopped eating cheese, I went through a bit of withdrawal – when from time to time I ate cheese again, my body irrationally wanted more right away. Yet I felt better when I didn’t eat it; I was very pleased with the magical disappearance of hay fever and of a nasty rash and better digestion that occurred within days of eliminating dairy products. What is going on now, I think, is purely psychological. I know that I will be able to indulge in tasty forbidden food for the week after Easter. This is the craving of anticipation brought on by reading too many guidebooks and researching places to eat on my trip, a distraction from the delicious present. Last night we had slices of TC’s special sourdough bread with oatmeal stout toasted and topped with white beans and homegrown kale. Hearty and filling, a good way to bring to a close a day that greeted us with grey skies and snow clinging to the bushes and trees.

It pays to be an early riser because in two hours the snow had vanished. The scene was set for spring and a pecking at the window could be heard once more. We have been receiving visits from a strange bird that will sit on the windowsill outside and peck sharply at the window as if he wants to grab our attention. We look at him, he pecks a bit more, then flies away. He’s come by numerous times over the past week. At first I was worried he would fly into the window and hurt himself, but he has his routine now. What would he like to communicate? I’m rereading one of my favorite childhood books, The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, a copy in mint condition despite being rescued from a paper recycling bin. In the book, the protagonist Mary is befriended by a robin who ultimately shows her the way into the locked garden. I can’t help but think of the robin when our new friend comes calling.

Besides visiting Yorkshire in this novel and China in The White Road, I’m also underway in the Alps in Werner Bätzing’s Die Alpen: Geschichte und Zukunft einer europäischen Kulturlandschaft. The book explains why the Alps should be regarded as a cultural landscape, i.e. one shaped by humans, and not untouched nature. The first traces of humans in the Alps date back to 85,000 years ago, and they have been there ever since. Bätzing has succeeded in writing a scholarly book that can be read by a lay audience, explaining the different agricultural systems in use in the Alps and their impact on the natural world. In the section I just read, there is a lot about cheese production. The Swiss came to specialize in large scale cheese production for export to towns, choosing to import grain instead of growing it themselves. Putting all their eggs in one cheesy basket, so to speak. I hadn’t realized how important Swiss cheese was on the journeys of discovery made in the sixteenth century. Hard cheese could be taken on board ships because it would last a long time. Sheep have also played a major role in transforming the shape of the Alps. The book describes them as genügsame, or frugal, animals. Yes, sheep make good use of what grows in rough terrain, and I in turn make use of every scrap of leftover wool to make small pouches, for example.

Hope you make the most of any rough terrain around you!