My New Reality

It’s been almost two months now of altered reality, that is, staying-in-place and avoiding personal contact with people outside my household. In the beginning, it felt like a “snow day,” kind of nice to stay home and take care of the little things you never have time to do. But when I started venturing out for walks, the empty streets felt almost post-apocalyptic. As the weather improved, more and more people appeared on the streets, but it’s not the same. One person or the other steps off the path or takes to the street to avoid getting too close. Even though Indiana is starting the process of opening up in the next few weeks, my new reality will persist much longer because I want to be around to enjoy life after a vaccine is developed.

Even though I miss interacting with people, I try to look on the bright side.  One of the more exciting things this spring has been the discovery of a cardinal nest in a bush beside the garage. Mother cardinal laid these eggs in warmer days. If you look closely you will see the one baby that hatched and survived a night of below freezing weather.

A good friend moved away last year, and before leaving town she gave us some of her irises. Their vibrant blooms are beautiful reminders of a very special person.

It seems like everyone is baking sourdough bread these days. I have fond memories of my mother baking loaves of bread every week during my childhood, and I always looked forward to the one loaf of raisin bread she’d make as a special treat. I baked these two loaves last Sunday. As you know, homemade bread always tastes best fresh out of the oven, which is why the one loaf is nearly gone.

Signs of the times–we continue to make face masks for friends and family (and others, as needed) and we’re washing our groceries in soap and water before putting them away. I love the colors of the fruits and vegetables, and I’m thankful to have a variety of meats in the freezer.

Gardening has been a bit of a challenge due to the recent cold wave. Even though I know I should wait until after Mother’s Day to plant, I’ve managed to start my garden in late April the past few years. The zucchini I grew from seeds appear to have survived the cold so far, but unfortunately, most of my tomato plants paid the price for my eagerness. Our local greenhouse hasn’t been able to keep up with demand for tomatoes, and when I stopped there a few days ago, I found only a few spindly heirlooms. If they live, it will be fun to see what kinds of fruits they produce.

Elfie wants me to tell you that she’s been helping me knit a sweater. She’s a very good kitty, and doesn’t chase the balls of yarn, no matter how tempting they might look.

Until this spring, I’d never heard of Zoom, but now I’m on it several times a week. I started by attending Zoom knitting nights hosted by yarn shops. Then both of my book groups turned to Zoom when it became evident it will be a long time before we meet in person. I’m also taking piano and horn lessons on Zoom, and find I’m less nervous than when sitting next to my teacher. And last night I really enjoyed giving a presentation to students in a class at UCLA. One of the students participated all the way from Australia!

Stay well!

 

Posted in Bird watching, Bloomington, Indiana, Cats, cooking, Gardening | 1 Comment

Quarantine Diary, or, Eight ways to Entertain Yourself While Staying at Home

Dear Diary,

I’m thankful to my parents for raising me to be a self-starter. It’s a useful skill in any unfamiliar circumstance, whether it’s a new school, job, community, or sheltering in place due to COVID-19. Sure, I miss my volunteer activities, band practice, and concerts at Indiana University, but I’ve no lack of things to do.

1.Washing produce from the grocery. And the eggs, cans of vegetables, tins of tuna, and more.  I know, we should have been doing this all along!

Wash produce

2. Putting together jigsaw puzzles. I love doing them and they’re so addictive, which is why the only time I get one out is during a blizzard…or a pandemic.

Puzzle

3. Practicing my high notes. Some days it sounds like I’m getting better, but I do try to keep the windows closed. It’s fun to record one part of a duet and then play along with it, but it’s much more enjoyable to play duets with my horn teacher.

Horn

4. Going for a walk. It’s been an early spring, and the flowers have been quite beautiful. Lots of people are out, but some are wearing masks and most are keeping social distance. Yet, when you see the ducks in the pond and the squirrels feasting on nuts buried last fall,  you would never know there was such chaos in the world beyond this sidewalk.

5. Adding soil to the garden plot and planting the early crops. We had beautiful weather yesterday for spreading a dump truck load of soil on the garden. After recovering from spreading it on the plot, I returned to plant onions, carrots, lettuce, and peas.  I can’t wait to see them emerge from the ground. But I do need to do something about those pesky dandelions in the foreground.

Garden just planted

6. Speaking of dandelions, I’ve been out in our house yard with my handy dandy dandelion tool attacking the dandelions. It’s very satisfying when you get one to come out of the ground, root intact, but without too much soil.

Dandelions

7. Use leftover yarn and join an online Crochet Along. Once I got this pattern going I could listen to a digital audiobook checked out from the Monroe County Public Library. I need to spend more time crocheting because I only have the book for 7 days!

Crochet along

8. And when all else fails to entertain, you can teach your fifteen-year-old cat to do tricks. This former barn kitty is very food motivated and Deb is a good trainer!

Teaching Elfie Tricks

 

Posted in Bloomington, Indiana, Cats, Gardening, music | 2 Comments

Keeping Busy During the COVID-19 Stay-at-Home Order

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I’ve always been a person who likes to keep busy, and thanks to our governor’s Stay-at-Home Order I may finally finish a few of my numerous unfinished projects. I started the above Elizabeth Bradley needlepoint about a year ago. It’s a wonderful kit and I love seeing the color emerge on the canvas. If I only worked on one thing at a time, I’d have it done by now, but…

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Last year I joined the Yarn Club at the Bloomington Hospital. We make crocheted shawls for patients. The pattern is easy, and they are good projects for long car trips, which I’m not taking these days. When it comes to choosing yarn, I normally work with shades of purple or rose or blue, but the last time we met they challenged me to make one with a brighter color. This tangerine is the brightest thing in my study, where I keep the project on the sofa so I can make a few rows while waiting for inspiration. (Lurking in the background is a lace shawl waiting for its turn), but…

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It will have to wait until we sew more masks. Thanks to a stash of my Mom’s sewing supplies, we had enough elastic to make these. There’s been a run on quarter inch elastic in Bloomington, so we’ve ordered it online but the delivery date is sometime in May.  In the meantime,  we’ll try using some bias tape from Mom’s supplies. And I can also keep busy by finishing…

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This knitted afghan. I found the yarn and pattern at the Dutch Oven Yarn Shop in Alanson, Michigan, last summer while visiting friends in the area. It’s a great project for watching favorite shows, like Call the Midwife or The Crown. But there are some projects that require greater concentration…

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Like these toe-up socks. I started them a few years ago when I took a class with Kathy at Yarns Unlimited. She provided excellent instruction and detailed handouts but for some reason the socks languished after I returned home…until this past week. Yesterday I not only finished the first one, but managed to start the second sock’s toe, turn the heel, and with a few more hours of knitting I should be able to cast off. I wanted to finish them because…

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Last Tuesday I joined a virtual knitting group hosted by Erica Kempf of the Nomad Yarn Shop. I had the pleasure of shopping at her mobile yarn truck last fall when she and her husband visited Bloomington (which no longer has any yarn shops). I fell in love with her hand-dyed yarn and the rich colors lining the truck’s walls. When she announced plans to teach an online sock class, I grew motivated to finish my toe-up socks so I could Zoom into her class guilt free. I have high hopes of learning how to make two socks the same size.  And I’m hoping my previous experience with socks will teach me not to put down a project until I finish…

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Because if I didn’t learn that valuable lesson from socks, I have from knitting my own cat. A few years ago I was given the book, How to Knit Your Own Cat.  As you can see, I bought calico-inspired yarn and knitted the legs and tail. For some reason, I got stalled on the body, and fear of failure made me put down the needles. But if I’m successful with Erica’s sock class I’m going to return to the cat and see what I can do. Maybe one day in the not-to-distant future I’ll be posting a picture of a knitted calico cat.  Stay tuned!

And stay healthy!

 

Posted in Bloomington, Indiana, crafts, Crochet and Crocheting, Knitting, Knitting Stores, Sewing | 2 Comments

My 40-year Friendship with Nancy Lair (1926-2019)

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Nancy in 2016, thrilled to have seen a woman’s name on the ballot for president

The first time I walked into Nancy Lair’s classroom, I knew she was going to be one of my favorite instructors, but I had no idea she would become a dear friend, and that our friendship would span 40 years. Nancy was a much-loved instructor of cataloging at Indiana University’s School of Library and Information Science, but one of my favorite memories is from her Literature of the Humanities Reference course. Throughout the semester she took our class to the University Library’s Reference Department and gave each of us a red and white envelope of questions, then set us loose to find the answers. Each question, carefully crafted to test our detective ability, reflected Nancy’s lifelong passion for art, music, fine printing, literature, philosophy, religion, history, and language. She sat at a library carrel while we scurried around the room searching for answers that met her approval. If we struggled, she’d look at us with a twinkle in her eye and offer hints until we succeeded. By the semester’s end, we could find the answer to virtually any question presented us, and this was in the pre-Internet era!

Nancy was one of our favorite instructors for many reasons. No matter how large the enrollment in her classes, she not only remembered our names but also knew us as individuals. She continued to inquire about our families, hobbies, and pets long after we finished her course. Nancy always took great care in grading our work, putting far more effort into her critiques than some of her students put into the original assignment.

Nancy enlivened lectures with stories from her experiences at the University of Kentucky, where she worked as a cataloger, served as Head of Acquisitions, and learned the fine art of printing books under the direction of Carolyn Reading Hammer and Victor Hammer, an Austrian-born typographer who fled Nazi Austria in 1939. Carolyn founded High Noon Press, thus named because a small group of librarians (which included Nancy) spent their lunch hours printing.

In 2014, Nancy, with the assistance of Sarabeth Noggle, spent countless hours setting type and designing the last book to be printed by The Press at Chelsea Court, an edition of “Street Haunting: a London Adventure,” by Virginia Woolf. Nancy dedicated the book to her mentor and friend, Carolyn Hammer.

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At a women’s basketball game, with Deb and Catherine

I, like countless other students, remained in contact with Nancy after graduation. A wonderful letter writer, she encouraged our efforts and delighted in our adventures. But it wasn’t until I retired to Bloomington in 2014 that I realized one of the main reasons I  had stayed in touch with her all these years:  it was the joie de vivre with which she approached life. If we asked “Would you like to go to a women’s basketball game, Nancy?”, she responded “Of course! When will you be here?” Her response was the same no matter what we invited her to do. She said “Yes!” to life.

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I don’t know if Nancy loved Thai food as much as we do, but she was always ready to go with us to several of Bloomington’s Thai restaurants, where we celebrated birthdays and other special occasions with pineapple fried rice, Pad Thai, and hot tea. Nancy also was always ready to go out for ice cream, ordering a big scoop of her favorite flavor.

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As a student, I had heard many stories about the many dogs, cats, geese, and goats Nancy and her husband tended on their farm, but in later years, Nancy was devoted to her cats. One day she phoned to say she had something to show us. When we arrived at her house, Nancy said “it” was upstairs. While waiting in the sitting room for her return, we heard a meow, and turned to one another. “She must have a kitten!”

Deb and Jazz

Imagine our surprise when Nancy, who was quite slight of frame by this point in her life, walked down the stairs with a 25-pound feline in her arms. “I’d like you to meet Jazz Cat!” Upon questioning, we learned she had seen a picture of Jazz in the newspaper, driven to the shelter, and offered the kitty they despaired of placing a home. Jazz, along with Lucy, were great companions to Nancy, even after she moved to a retirement community.

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Nancy was a regular guest at our Thanksgiving table, keeping everyone entertained with stories of growing up in West Virginia in the 1920s and 30s.  After the meal, we’d visit and perhaps play music or a game like Quiddler. As she held a handful of cards, Nancy would groan and make all kinds of faces, only to brighten when she discovered words worth dozens of points.  In the above picture, from 2017, she’s reminiscing about events prompted by a box of photographs.

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Nancy still wore a joyful smile in December 2018 when her library school colleague and friend, Shirley, Deb, and I joined her for an early Christmas celebration. A year later, Nancy departed this earth on Christmas morning. Rest in peace, my dear, dear friend.

 

Posted in Aging, Bloomington, Indiana, Cats, Christmas, friendship | 2 Comments

Our Christmas Plum Pudding

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It was the early 1960s. Frost melted under my fingers as I strained to glimpse my grandparents’ car cresting the hill. When headlights pierced the late-afternoon gloom, I rushed to the front door of our gabled farmhouse. “They’re here!” Driving across the snow-covered lawn to the porch, my grandfather opened the door to reveal my grandmother holding a platter of plum pudding.

After Fort Riley’s expansion took my grandparents’ farm, they moved from Kansas to Ohio to be near my mother. Products of the Great Depression, they brought many things with them—an oak dining room table and buffet, a sofa and armchairs, and bedsteads and walnut. There were crates of canning jars, trunks of clothes, suitcases filled with old schoolbooks, boxes of postcards, portraits of English relatives, hundreds of letters, and recipes. (Pictured below: my great grandmother, Anna Townsend, her husband Thomas Quantic, and children Hermina and Burton).

Thomas and Anna Townsend Quantic, Hermina and Berton circa 1897

My great grandmother was a cook in London before she immigrated to the United States in 1894. After passing through Ellis Island, the thirty-year-old woman traveled by train and wagon to Riley, Kansas, where she married a family friend, thirteen years her senior. I like to imagine her assembling pudding ingredients for her first Christmas in Kansas—beef suet, eggs, flour, sugar, raisins, citron, currents, nuts, and spices. Spooning the batter onto a muslin cloth, she would have tied the ends together with a length of string (leaving enough space for the pudding to rise), and lowered it into a kettle of boiling water, where it remained for four hours.

By the time I was old enough to sit at the dining room table, plum pudding was a deep-rooted family tradition. My great grandmother prepared it every Thanksgiving and Christmas until her death in 1930, when the responsibility passed to my grandmother. When Grandma could no longer manage a kettle of boiling water my mother started making the pudding, but in the 1970s she started substituting margarine for suet and using Egg Beaters because of my Dad’s high cholesterol. I don’t know how many other substitutions she made, but one day our tastebuds rebelled and my brother urged her to return to the original ingredients, which he provided. (Pictured below, my mother, Almeda, her brother Neal, and their parents, Roger and Hermina Harrison)

Roger-Hermina-Neal-Almeda Passet circa 1940

Mom carried on our family’s Christmas pudding tradition well into her eighties. By then I had moved away, flying home for the holidays in time to eat a pudding I never learned to make. When Mom died eight years ago, I filed her recipe away, never expecting to use it. Guests to our table had never been as enthusiastic about plum pudding as our family, people were dieting, and my brother’s children hadn’t acquired a taste for our pudding or the ritual surrounding it.

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One day my brother phoned. “Say, do you have the recipe for Mom’s pudding?” Running upstairs to my bookshelf, I found the recipe on the last two pages of a homemade cookbook. “Next time we get together,” I promised, “we’ll give this a try.” Ever since our mother’s death, my brother and I have been in sporadic contact. He’s not one to write letters, and I’m not fond of making phone calls. When he decided to visit this December, I headed to the grocery for beef suet, which I ultimately found at a butcher’s shop.

Beef Suet

With that in hand, I assembled everything but citron and currants, which I didn’t find. The batter mixed up easily, and I had help pouring it into a square of white fabric and tying it with what I hoped was enough room to rise. Like my great grandmother before me, I lowered it into a kettle of boiling water and turned it every fifteen minutes for the next four hours. After the pudding cooled, I held my breath as I untied the bag. It wasn’t pretty…yet.

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The real test came a few days later when my brother arrived. By then the pudding had darkened, and resembled the ones my mother and grandmother had made. When he ladled sauce over his slice and took a bite, a broad smile spread across his face and I knew my first plum pudding had passed muster.

Much has changed in the decades since my great grandmother carried her plum pudding recipe across the ocean. While I can never fully comprehend what it was like for her to go into service at age nine, for my grandmother to battle the red dust that permeated her home during the Great Depression, or for my mother to marry a soldier during wartime, one event links us all—the making of our Christmas plum pudding.

 

Posted in Christmas, cooking, family, family history, Kansas, Women | 1 Comment

There’s a chill in the air, so let’s knit!

I love to knit and crochet year-round, but when the temperatures drop and leaves crackle under my feet, I’m especially motivated to examine my stash for the perfect worsted weight yarn to turn into hats, scarves, and socks. Once again, I have too many projects on needles, and it’s probably a good thing Bloomington still doesn’t have a yarn shop to tempt me with luscious textures and colors. But the stash isn’t diminishing as fast as I would like, in part because the Bloomington Hospital’s volunteer coordinator provides skeins for the Yarn Club (where I knit every two weeks in the company of members pictured below).

Knit in Public

Thankfully, I haven’t had reasons to spend much time at the hospital. As I walk its hallways, I find myself immersed in a completely different world than the one I normally inhabit, one where people have different priorities and lingo. Perhaps I would feel more “at home” if I watched more television dramas set in hospitals. The hospital may be a place of joy for those celebrating the birth of a child or a loved one’s recovery from a serious illness, but it also can be a stressful, scary, and overwhelming place for others.  Maybe that’s why it’s so satisfying to join other members of the Yarn Club in turning colorful skeins of yarn into shawls, lap blankets, and hats for patients in need of a little comfort.

Evidently, it’s a custom to have employees do a ceremonial signing of the last I-beam before it is put in place in a new building. Bloomington is building a new hospital, and recently this beam was in the hospital lobby for staff to sign. Since this happened on a day when the Yarn Club met, we volunteers were honored when they invited us to sign it too. Soon after, it was hoisted into place. It’s kind of neat having this small connection to the new building.

Ply Fiber Arts

Another reason my stash isn’t diminishing as fast as I would like is because I recently had a birthday and was the recipient of some very lovely yarn. Sam, who runs my favorite yarn store, Ply Fiber Arts, in Richmond, Indiana, filled this lovely West African basket with  Medina yarn and a mosaic shawl pattern. I told myself I couldn’t start it until I finished several other projects, one of which is a set of four placemats (the pattern can be found at Rebecca Langford’s great website, Yarnandchai.com).

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I’m happy to report that I started the fourth one last evening, and they are turning out well. But true confessions are in order–I also started the mosaic shawl, and it’s going to be beautiful!

One last yarn-related update. If you drive through Bloomington’s downtown, you’ll see many trees covered with knitted and crocheted sweaters. This is part of the “Wrapped in Love” project to benefit Middleway House, a local resource that “provides meaningful alternatives to living with violence.” I took part in making Granny squares for one of the tree sweaters several years ago, and it warms my heart to see it still in use for a third season.  Here’s hoping that you also find things to do this fall that warm your heart, along with the hearts of others.

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Posted in Bloomington, Indiana, crafts, Crochet and Crocheting, Knitting, Knitting Stores, music

Top Ten Highlights of Summer 2019

In homage to David Letterman’s Top Ten lists, I’ve created one for my summer 2019. It’s really difficult to limit the list to only ten things, and of course this is my list of top ten things. It’s a bit of a challenge to rank order them, but here goes.

10. Visiting the Nomad Yarn Truck, Participating in the Bloomington Hospital’s Yarn Club

Nomad Yarn truck

Bloomington is currently without a yarn shop, which is probably a good thing for me because I have plenty of yarn in my stash. But I do love visiting yarn shops to savor the colors and textures, and to get ideas for new projects. Of course, I usually succumb to a few skeins of something I can’t live without. So it was a joy when the Nomad Yarn Truck parked on the town square.  The owners used to have a yarn shop in Plainfield, but now they’re  on the road with skeins and skeins of beautiful fibers. What a novel idea!

img_5329-2.jpgThe second part of #10 on the top ten list is the Bloomington Hospital’s Yarn Club. A group of women meet every two weeks to knit and crochet items (primarily shawls and lap blankets) for the compassion cart. I really enjoy getting together with these women and it’s nice to know there’s a use for the things we’re making.

 

9. Making Music with Michigan friends and attending the World Youth Orchestra Concert at Interlochen Music Camp with Dorothy Kunkel

We no longer travel light, not since we started playing dulcimers, flute, and French horn. But I don’t mind making room for our instruments in the car when we have the opportunity to brighten the day for Margy’s Mom by playing “You are my Sunshine.”  It was also great to visit the Interlochen Arts camp with Dorothy Kunkel, our conductor and the reason we are playing the flute and French horn.

8. Flute Soiree

Flute Soiree

A flute workshop and soiree with Leighann Daihl Ragusa is becoming a tradition for us. After performing my piano solo, I enjoyed listening to the flutes perform. I’m constantly amazed at the progress Deb is making after playing flute for only three years.

7. The Bloomington Fourth of July Parade

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Our Bloomington Community Band had a fine location on the courthouse square for watching the 4th of July parade. There’s red, white, and blue everywhere you look. I love seeing the Boy Scouts, twirlers, bands, groups representing various organizations and causes, and even the fire trucks!

6. Attending the Monroe County Fair

For the first time in many years, we didn’t get to the state fair, but we had a great time at the Monroe County Fair. I had no idea the “Dressed Sheep” competition involved costumes on the children and sheep involved. And it’s always fun to eat fair food with friends.

5. Playing with the Bloomington Community Band and Bloomington Brass Band

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Belonging to a band is a lot of fun. Work too, but it’s a great way to meet other people who enjoy making music, and I’d like to think our audiences enjoy hearing us. It’s been a lot of fun performing with both bands this summer at parks, farmers’ markets, festivals, retirement communities, and more. And the year is not over–we have many concerts remaining between now and Christmas!

4. Attending the Barn Theatre with friends

Group at the Barn

I’ve written about the Barn Theatre in a previous blog entry, but the experience of going there with a group of friends rates high on my top ten list! This year we saw “Big,” and stayed for the after show in The Shed.  Fun!

3. Attending my oldest great nephew’s graduation party, and meeting my youngest great nephew

Since my mother passed away, I don’t see my family as often as I would like, so it was great to join in the celebration for my oldest great nephew’s graduation from high school and to meet my youngest great nephew for the first time.

2. Touring Salzburg, Vienna, and Budapest with In Mozart’s Footsteps

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I’ve also blogged about the great trip we took to Salzburg, Vienna, and Budapest with Professor David Nelson. We’ve been listening to and playing Mozart ever since our return!

1. Deb’s birthday concert/party, where Thomas hit the High Note

Deb knows how to celebrate a milestone!  Invite friends and family, and have the Bach-Beethoven Experience musicians play a house concert. And the best surprise of all was when Thomas sang Queen’s “Bicycle Race” for the woman who loves riding her bike.

It’s been a great summer, and I hope yours has been too!

Posted in Bloomington, Indiana, Interlochen, Knitting Stores, Michigan, music, Travel and Tourism