Harvest-Time Drive

Last Monday we rose early and hit the road at 5:30 a.m. in order to beat the traffic between Bloomington and Indianapolis. During the construction of I-69, with its inevitable delays, detours, and closures, we have made only limited trips north, but the lure of visiting friends in Richmond proved too strong. It was very, very dark, and traffic was fairly heavy, prompting us to wonder if commuters have altered their work schedules to accommodate road construction delays.

We drove in the dark, but I love this picture of morning sky and want to share it–sunrise at a couple of days later.

Our first stop in Richmond took us to the founder of Sweet Annie’s Soapworks. I met her at the local yarn shop years ago when she was first starting to make soap from goats milk. I love the scent, texture and how it leaves my skin feeling soft. It’s harder to get now that I’ve moved away, so it seemed like a good idea to stock up!

This tub of soap smells quite good! Will I be able to give any away as gifts???

Next, we continued on to our friend C’s home for breakfast and a discussion of Paulette Jiles’s Simon the Fiddler. Years ago we were in a larger book group. Over time the group faded away, but the three of us continued to meet sporadically over the years. More recently, COVID-19 and the ability to connect via ZOOM gave us the boost we needed to meet more regularly. Meeting in person once again was a real treat!

After a good visit and discussion, we left to meet up with our friend M. for a picnic at the Middlefork Reservoir. It was a beautiful autumn day, and with the exception of bees eager to taste our Frosty, we had a great time. After much laughter, stories, and a walk around the grounds, it was time to head for home. I wish we lived closer and could visit more often.

The bees loved our “Frosty.”

Instead of facing traffic on I-70, we drove the “long” way home through the countryside and soon found ourselves in corn country. Country roads like this take me back years to the place I know as home. Growing up in Ohio, I am used to the grid pattern established by the Land Ordinance of 1785, where townships were laid out with 36 one-mile squares of 640 acres each. I used to think I preferred symmetry because of my German heritage, but now I think it’s because I grew up with it. Order can be very comforting,

I’d love to ride my bike on this road, watching the corn as it breaks through the ground and grows.

As a farmer’s daughter, I have many memories of cornfields, how they smell and how the stalks rustle in the wind. After harvest one year, I spent hours in the field gleaning corn to raise money for a trip to New York City to attend a Luther League convention. From cornfield to Madison Square Garden and Greenwich Village. What an eye opener.

M., who is a poet, once wrote a poem about soybeans, so this field made me think of her. I love this brief moment when the fields are shimmering gold. And red barns always remind me of home.

The fields were busy with farmers harvesting their crops. Even though my pictures were taken from a moving car with a phone, they capture the dust, the power of the corn shooting into the wagon, and the size of the machinery farmers use today. I still have vivid memories of my mother swatting me when I, as a preschool child, tried to climb up the ladder of my father’s 1950s-era combine.

Fall is such a fun time to drive through the countryside, in part because of roadside stands selling mums (I’ll pass on the kale), tractors constructed from bales of straw, apple orchards and cider for sale, and fields of pumpkins. Soon there will be signs advertising corn mazes. I’ve never done one, have you?

The road home happened to take us by Nashville, home to a well-stocked yarn shop, The Clay Purl. Talk about a perfect day, a drive through country roads and an opportunity to feast upon colorful skeins wool. I hope your autumn days are filled with sights, smells, and sounds that delight you. Happy fall!

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Golden-hour Garden Photography

The fence keeps out the deer, but this flower wants to join them!

Recently our community garden advertised a golden hour photography workshop. While I have a real camera, I am not much of a photographer, so it seemed like a good idea. With great anticipation, I arrived early, my fee in my pocket, eager to learn how to take better pictures. When the hour for the workshop came and went, I wondered why I was the only person there. Did I have the wrong day? I rechecked the poster on the gate, confirmed the date on my phone. Hmm.

At last I saw someone arrive at the other end of the garden. Could this be the teacher? Hurrying by late summer gardens dotted with red, yellow, and pink zinnias, hundreds of cherry tomatoes, and mysterious vines, I inquired.

“Oh,” she said when I asked if she was here for the class. “Didn’t you get the message? It was cancelled.

How disappointing! But since I was at the garden I decided to snap some photos anyway. I only wish they could do justice to a perfect fall evening and nature’s bounty.

Even the moths enjoy zinnias.

Like many gardeners, I planted zinnias after my crops–beans, carrots, peas, beets–finished for the season. Did you ever wonder why there are so many shades of pink in each package of zinnia seeds? And they come in different heights, too. To ensure their continued blooms, I’ve been cutting bouquets for the kitchen table for several weeks now, and the simple act of carrying them home puts a smile on my face and on the faces of people I meet.

Canna Lily

The plot next to mine has beautiful Canna lilies. When I asked about them, the gardener told me she digs up the bulbs each fall, and that these particular bulbs had been in her family for many years. Through moves across country, she had for a time thought they were lost to her, but then someone else in the family shared their bulbs with her, and so the tradition continues. I love the splash of color, as do the hummingbirds.

Coxcomb

When I looked up Coxcomb to make sure I had the correct spelling, I read the definition: “a man who is too proud of his appearance.” Fortunately, this dense, velvety flower prompts a much nicer memory for me. I was working in the Education Library a number of years ago when head librarian Wilmer Baatz walked in wearing rubber boots and carrying a bucket full of flowers. It was quite an assortment, but the only one I remember are the Coxcomb. For a number of weeks, he became a regular feature on campus, carrying his bucket of flowers around to various offices and giving them to various staff and faculty. His thoughtful gesture brightened many people’s day. I wish I had asked to see his garden–it must have been amazing.

Before leaving the garden to walk home, I took time to pick a few more tomatoes. My plants have been so generous this year, ensuring that I, my neighbors, and friends get plenty of vitamin C. We’ve had the best BLT sandwiches this summer, plus I’ve roasted the cherry tomatoes and made stewed tomatoes for the freezer out of the larger ones. Think how delicious this taste of late summer in the middle of next winter!

Even though I was disappointed about the cancelled workshop, I enjoyed my time meandering through the garden. Maybe another time I can learn about light, frame, and focus!

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Pandemic Projects

I miss knitting with others!

Those of you who know me well, know that I can often be found with yarn, knitting needles, and crochet hooks in hand, or at least nearby. At the beginning of the pandemic, I was in a really good place, as far as knitting was concerned. I had found a great group of women to knit with, and while Bloomington no longer had knit shops, I could look forward to the occasional visit from the Nomad Yarn truck. I couldn’t think of a better way to spend my birthday money in 2019.

At the beginning of the pandemic, when I didn’t know how long it would last, I thought I would use the extra time at home using up my yarn stash. The volunteer coordinator at the hospital had provided me with plenty of yarn to use for crocheted shawls, baby blankets, and chemo hats, and I had lots of supplies in my “yarn room/office” for other projects. Most of these have found a home.

Then I decided to experiment with a few crochet patterns from one of my new favorite websites, Yarn & Chai. The designer, Rebecca Langford, has so many great patterns available, and I decided to start with the mosaic bucket bag and the fading stripes bag. They were lots of fun, even though I don’t need any more bags! Then I found the pattern for her placemat pattern, which I love, and have put to good use.

A friend told me about a Yarnspirations crochet-along, and since I had purple and white yarn left over from another project, I decided to give it a try. This afghan turned out beautifully, but it is heavy, and I gave my self a sore wrist long before I was ready to stop. Time to return to knitting, which is easier on my hands.

For the purple lover

Since I usually have unfinished projects on needles, I didn’t have to look too far before remembering my unfinished shawl made from Crazy yarn (purchased at the Clay Purl in Nashville, Indiana), and a Persica shawl (made from yarn purchased from Ply Fiber Arts, in Richmond, Indiana). Have I mentioned that I really miss having easy access to a good yarn shop??? Anyway, the pandemic gave me plenty of time to finish both.

Naturally, I felt guilty making something for myself, so I went back to knitting items to give away. I saw an announcement in the church newsletter asking for baby items, and a friend said one of her friends was having a baby, so that kept me busy for a little bit. Then it was time for Easter, so I had fun crocheting baskets to give away (my hand had recovered enough from the earlier crochet projects).

I’m always looking for a failproof pattern for baby booties–one that guarantees they will be the same size. Fortunately, I heard of babies in need of them, so I had more opportunity to practice.

As I explored my yarn stash, which did not at all affected by my many projects, I decided it was time to go large…knit sweaters and vests. I’ve always been a little hesitant to do so because my previous results have never fit quite right. I’m pleased to say that recent efforts show marked improvement. But…they didn’t diminish my yarn stash as much as I would like. My friend Nancy ordered some navy blue acrylic yarn by mistake, and gifted it to me, so I decided to turn it into a cardigan. Much to my surprise, it fits, but I’m still waiting for it to be cool enough to wear. I was so inspired by my success with the sweater, that I finished a vest, too!

Sometimes when I look at my yarn stash, I wonder why I purchased certain types or colors of yarn. I suspect more than a few of them have come from “sale” shelves, which seem to call to me when I enter a yarn shop. While wondering what to do with soft cream-colored Cascade Cherub yarn, I happened on a cute pattern for knitted kitties. They’re fun to make, so I definitely plan on knitting up some more. Here you can see the stages of these kittie’s development.

As I look around my “Yarn room/office,” I have some satisfaction in knowing that a few of the drawers of yarn have been emptied, but I have lots more to knit up. Hats and scarves, here I come!

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I’m back…again

After experimenting with another blog hosting site, I’ve decided to return WordPress, primarily because it’s familiar…at least I hope it hasn’t changed too much in my absence. For continuity’s sake, I’m going to republish the two blogs I posted elsewhere before adding new ones.

The first, written June 20, 2021, was about the return of the 17-year Cicadas in early summer.

Ready to take flight!

This past year has been so extraordinary–starting in March 2020 with the beginning of our COVID-19 caution and continuing until now, June 2021, with the arrival of billions of cicadas raising their voices to the skies…or should I say, billions of male cicadas raising their voices. I’m going to give the cicadas credit for nudging me back to writing–I couldn’t let my blog lie dormant another moment with so many amazing things happening in the world around me.

Instead of rehashing challenges of the past year, I’m going to focus on the bright side. After all, Eleanor Porter’s Pollyanna, was one of my favorite books as a child. You may wonder why I was reading a novel published in 1913, but I suspect it belonged to my grandmother, who allowed me to borrow books from a suitcase full of turn-of-the-century literature she kept in her attic.

This past year I missed my active social life–going to the theater and concerts, volunteer activities, hosting dinner parties–but I’ve always been a self-starter so I had no problem filling my COVID-quarantine days with home-based activities. First came the purging of things no longer needed. It felt great to see spaces open up in drawers and cupboards. Second, I found myself more aware of birds, flowers, clouds, and all the colors nature had to offer as I set out on regular walks. I marveled at how many other people took to the city’s paths–keeping distance but smiling with their eyes. A knitter with a large stash of yarn, I vowed to finish projects and knit for charity. While I did complete many items, I seem to have acquired more yarn along the way, some of it needed to finish projects, but other skeins purchased to lift my spirits. Then there was a renewal of my interest in sourdough bread baking.  I discovered Zoom–for book clubs, and yoga, and horn and piano lessons.  

All of these activities, plus more, helped pass time and distracted me from the daily news. Better yet were the driveway and garage get-togethers with friends and neighbors, spontaneous conversations on sidewalks, and regular Zoom calls with friends. While we seldom had any earth-shaking news to share, it was nice to compare notes, even if our main topic of conversation was how busy the grocery was at 7 a.m. or where you could find a certain brand of margarine.

Now that more of us are vaccinated, guidelines are changing, people are beginning to resume former activities. It’s been hard for me to get used to going without a mask, and I still carry one everywhere I go. But I am venturing out into the world a bit more every week, and it feels good! So, like the cicada, I’m ready to take flight. 

The second blog, written June 24, 2021, was about my morning walk to the community garden.

Look what a good rain will do!

According to a CNBC article, 42 percent of Americans “reported undesired weight gain” this past year due to staying home during the pandemic. I don’t know how accurate the figure is, but I’ve heard lots of people mention they’ve gained a few pounds due to spending more time in the kitchen making things like sourdough bread and gourmet meals.

I was feeling pretty good about myself, managing to maintain the same weight all year even though I spent a lot of time making sourdough bread, oatmeal dinner rolls, apple pie, as well as Julia Child’s boeuf bourguignon and lots of pulled pork (for some reason, the grocery kept putting pork tenderloins on sale this past year). But this spring, as the community started to reopen, I noticed my clothes felt tighter and I stepped on the scales. Yikes! Perhaps the unwanted pounds came from all the accumulated sedentary time in front of my computer while Zooming with book groups, music teachers, and friends. Perhaps it was from the stress of learning to re-engage with the “real” world. Okay, I know, I ate too much and didn’t get enough exercise!

It wasn’t like I spent the year without any exercise. Like many people in my neighborhood, I’ve taken lots of walks because it felt so good to get out of the house. And I did yoga (over Zoom), all year, twice a week, with an incredible yoga instructor named Jayme. But this past month, for some reason, I’ve been far too inert. As things around me reopen, I faced the realization that I still have a lot more I want to accomplish at home before I resume my regular volunteer and other activities.

This week I’ve taken a first step by getting back into my morning walk routine. Walks are so invigorating and refreshing, especially on a 70-degree morning like this, plus you never know what you will see.

Our yard always puts a smile on my face because of all the color. This morning the lily by our doorstep had fourteen brilliant yellow blossoms, temporarily overshadowing the deep red geraniums, purple petunias, red and yellow cactus blooms, and gladiolus peeking out of their buds.  

Going on a walk with Mama

As I walked through the neighborhood, I found myself in the company of ducklings on a stroll with their mom. Two others scurried away before I could snap a family photo. I sure hope they don’t make a habit of walking in the street.

On the other side of the street I noticed a doe standing in the middle of the sidewalk staring at me. I didn’t think too much about it, but on my return trip I spotted two fawns under a tree on my side of the road. They’re in the cute stage now, and it’s always easier to admire them in someone else’s yard. Thankfully, they and their mom haven’t discovered our lilies…yet!

My morning walk isn’t complete without a stop at at the community garden, where I’ve had a plot for a number of years. It’s a basic garden–beets, carrots, lettuce, zucchini, tomatoes, onions, cabbage, beans–but it gives me so much pleasure. I get a thrill if recently planted seeds have pushed through the soil, or if I see zucchini or butternut squash forming on the vine. I don’t even mind pulling weeds. 

Time for the walk home, where I’m not, repeat not, going to have a snack before I start to work!

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Moving on

I’ve thought a lot about writing in the thirteen months since my last entry, but I couldn’t find the motivation. Recently, though, I’ve been inspired to start over, so I’ve started a new blog, which you can find at: https://bepresentinthemoment.blogspot.com. Thank you for reading, I hope you’ll check it my new location!

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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.

 

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