Sunday, November 25, 2012

Readin' up a Storm...

And I should be crafting...well, I am...working on my very first pine needle basket...It's coming along nicely...I'm trying to figure out how to add shells to the sides while still coiling the basket around. Haven't figured it out yet....
But I'm loving my new Kindle Fire HD...It's really fun downloading books to it...Less than two minutes and a whole book awaits to draw me in and capture my imagination and deteriorating thinking skills. I say deteriorating because I haven't read an entire book in more than five years. I love magazines instead. Guess that sort of fits my ADD personality...Quick read, lots of pictures...  :-)  I love "light" magazines---People, Shop Smart (published by Consumer Reports), Oprah, and the Woman's World and First magazines. Those last two are truly "light" reading. 

So when I got my Kindle, I had previously made a list of books I wanted to read if I ever thought I'd slow down enough, put down my crafts and read seriously. I started working my way through my list....Wild by Cheryl Strayed, a memoir about a young woman, Cheryl, trying to find herself by hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, over 1000 miles. A woman who had made many bad decisions, she had never hiked a day in her life. It's a compelling read, and hard to put down...I enjoyed it! Made me think briefly about hiking the Appalachian Trail....I think about that a LOT, off and on, I'd really like to do it, despite my age (62). You are never to old to follow your dreams. There are just a lot of things demanding practicality that are preventing me from fulfilling this dream at the moment..And if I never get to do it, that's ok...I'm hiking while traveling, and that's pretty wonderful, too!

In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larsen....all about Germany in 1933 through the eyes of Walter Dodd, a very ordinary man reluctantly chosen to be the ambassador to Berlin. Dodd served for four years, the worst time to be in Berlin. Larsen chronicles Ambassador "Dud" as he was known in political circles, as he tried to maintain his dignity and convince America of the rising dangers of Hitler's command. The flirtatious exploits of his daughter, Martha, as she dabbled with the enemy, were intriguing. It was interesting to see  Germany's and Hitler's rise to power from a different angle. I found this historical narrative hard to follow at times. But anyone interested in world history would probably find this a fascinating read.

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins--the final installment in the trilogy, The Hunger Games. These are young adult novels, (Catching Fire was #2, which I also read) but appealed very much to me, having taught teenagers for many, many years. The author was inspired by the Roman gladiator battles and Greek mythology. I really got into these books, and the themes of hardship, starvation, poverty, the effects of war, making moral decisions and persistent loyalty had me glued to the books. They were hard to put down!

As a child, I read an amazing number of books of all different kinds of genres. We had to read lots of different types of books in middle grades and high school..The Good Earth by Pearl Buck stands out in my mind. I remember reading LOTS of science fiction, that seemed to be one of my favorite types of reading while in elementary school. I used to read the Book of Knowledge Encyclopedia for fun (!) as a grammar school kid. Reading was an escape for me from a very unhappy childhood. Then, as I went off to high school, college and beyond, graduating, starting a family, reading became a lost art to me. For years, I worked hard, raised my girls as a single parent, and kept working at a frenzied pace in my spare time after the girls got older, to make stuff...I crafted all kinds of things. Crafting became a way to have some beauty come into my life, to forget about unhappy times, difficult times and very lonely times.  I submersed myself in my crafts and forgot about reading. I didn't have time! Once I retired, I had trouble sitting still and relaxing. I couldn't seem to just sit and read...I was still going 100 miles an hour....

Finally, this year seems to be the year after 2 1/2 years on the road, where I'm starting to slow down a bit...You just can't plan some kind of outing or exploratory trip every day to see the local sights. So I thought by getting a Kindle, since I like technology so much, I might like reading a book on a Kindle, and I do! I'm on a roll. Getting my books through the public library...Next book is Anna Quindlen's Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake. With only two weeks allowed to hang onto the book, it forces me to take time to relax and read. I should have thought of this a long time ago! :-)  

It's so weird...the book "disappears" from your device...where does it go? How does the library "store" a digital book? They seem to have only a limited number of digital copies. That I understand, it costs money to have them. But how does the library get the book "returned"? And how about "the Cloud"? I know that's digital storage space "out there" but I still don't get it. Some of my books are stored in the "cloud", some are stored on my device and I don't know why. But I'm working on trying to get a handle on it. Some technology I'll never quite grasp, especially as it moves faster and faster to new technology. But I sure enjoy the fruits of it!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Another Craft? Just What I Need!

Oh, boy...something new to learn and kinda fun, until you start having trouble...Pine needle basket making! I saw a lady down our street at the RV park making baskets and just had to stop. Her name was Carol Moore, and she had some beautiful baskets in the works in front of her. She offered to teach me how to make one for a small fee for the materials. I said sure, and sat down to learn....She gave me a small kit that had some Coats Red cotton for lacing the needles, a piece of copper tubing that her  husband had flared at one end, which is your gauge to know how many needles to gather at one time, an upholstery needle for sewing, and some pine needles. That's really all you need to get started: LONG pine needles 10-18" long, an upholstery needle, a certain type of twisted nylon thread, or waxed thick thread, or even artificial sinew, a gauge to thread bundles of needles through and a base with holes to start the bottom of the basket. You can use a drinking straw for your gauge if you want to. The gauge helps keep the bundles of needles at a consistent circumference as you wind them around to make your basket.

Carol had the coolest bases for her baskets...circular sections of wood which have predrilled holes in them, agates which her husband coated with rosin and then drilled holes all around the edge and leather pieces which had been etched with designs....She got me started with a simple wooden base....I started stitching. It looked fairly easy. She recommended a book that is VERY clear and well written to get started making baskets, so I ordered it. It's called Pine Needle Basketry and it's by Judy Mallow. Judy has supplies on the Prim Pines website...Carol says that her prices are very reasonable.

I went home and thought, I can do this! It looked easy. HA! But it wasn't. There's a real trick to feeding your pine needles through the gauge. You have to feed them through the center of the previous bunch of needles, and you are supposed to insert them just halfway through to the center of the gauge.  It's hard to tell where the needles are in the center of a copper gauge. You also have to keep feeding needles through the gauge before you run out of needles and they all stop at once, giving you a bunch of ends. Then it's hard to start another bunch of needles. (Ask me how I know.) It's hard to know where the center of the  copper gauge is, so I kept shoving needles through the gauge too far which ended up being too close to the open end of the gauge. After stitching awhile, the needles seemed to all stop at once, and I was having bunches of ends sticking out. Trying to stitch those down, I got really frustrated.  Way too many pokey ends sticking out!

The other hard part is the actual stitching. There seem to be two basic styles of stitching the bundles of needles as you go along. Once is sort of a straight stitch from the back side to the front side, and you just keep "wrapping" the needle bundles catching part of the row below as you go. The other way is to stitch diagonally from the BACK left side of your previous stitch coming forward and through the pine needles to the RIGHT and front of the previous stitch row. It's a much more slanted stitch, but makes for a prettier up and down lacing look to the basket. You'll have to either get a book or watch a Youtube video for how the stitching is done. I'm still trying to figure it out! Carol has been making baskets for over 15 years and her stitching is wonderful!

I ended up trying to take out the stitches and start over. I had made so many "extra" stitches to secure all my loose pine needle ends that it was no simple matter to pull the needles out and use them again. I ended up cutting through the needles with a pair of wire cutters and scrapping the whole thing. Now I have to go get more needles to make a basket. It takes a LOT of needles to make a 6" basket.  But I'm determined to try again.  It's also not easy to find really long needles..The best ones are 12" and longer. They are called appropriately enough, "long needle pines". There are LOTS of long needles in Gulf State Park, but not 12" and longer. Long needle pines for basket weaving are also found in Missouri, Mississippi and Florida. 

The cool thing about pine needle baskets, is all the neat bases and nuts you can use to decorate your baskets as you go...Hickory nuts and walnuts seem to be favorite accent pieces on the baskets. Agates are another popular bottom for the baskets. I am so disappointed I didn't get some agates back at the Diamond Caverns gift shop when we were there. But the agates have to be dipped in some kind of rosin to be able to drill holes in them before using them as a base. Oh, well...I'm sure I will find some on our travels this year....The leather bases with designs burned into them were cool, too....Here's one Carol has started using a leather base.

I am inspired and I am going to try and keep learning how to do this...We leave in a week, and I want to try and get my first basket made with Carol's help before leaving and having to do it on my own....Wish me luck! Hopefully, next time, I'll have a photo of a finished basket I've made--or not!  Sigh.......

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Hats Off!

To those who serve our country....

I am so proud of my daughter who is a first lieutenant in the Virginia Army National Guard and who has served in Iraq. She's a great logistician for the Army and a great leader. She does her job well, and makes me so proud! It's Veteran's Day today, and I really enjoyed seeing the photos posted on MSN in their galleries, and reading Facebook and blogs with special mentions about Veterans' Day--loved the poems and stories I saw today....
To those people who, when reflecting a difference of opinion on blogs, aren't afraid to say who they really are, instead of hiding behind "anonymous" and making nasty, rude comments. I'm amazed at how rude some people are on blogs I read..But then, I shouldn't be, because the world is made up of all kinds of people and rudeness seems to be the norm these days. Why that is, we could discuss for days, so I won't. It just bothers me that kindness, respect, caring and politeness are rare.  I've tried very hard to bring my daughters up to be kind, to respect their elders, to show compassion and empathy for others. I think I have succeeded!  My daughters are both loving, caring, compassionate people....
Speaking of hats off, I made a hat today...crocheted, for my youngest daughter..Did I pay attention to the gauge? Nope....It WAS going to be for her, but it ended up being too big, even for me, and I wear an extra large hat size! She has a smaller head, so the hat is going to get donated somewhere....And I'm off making it again, two sizes smaller crochet hook than what the pattern called for. Hope it works this time and I did check the gauge....  :-) I know the yarn was ok, it calls for worsted weight and a size G hook. The hat pattern was purchased on Etsy (5.00)...It's called the Checker Beret, an original design by Yoshie Wakabayashi for Momohana Kobo and is "sized to fit most adults". [with big heads, haha!] This would probably be a great hat for warmer weather/cool nights as it has a lot of "breathing" holes in it...
I enjoyed making this hat, even if it did turn out too big. The directions were excellent and easy to follow. Maybe I'll start making hats instead of minis (ornaments) for awhile....But first, I gotta get the size down right! I'm going to try an "E" hook and see how that works.

Until next time......

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Christmas Presents?

It's only a few weeks till Christmas as I write this blog...My kids are coming to visit us for about a week. Their present is a place to stay with us in Florida...But I still want to give them something, so I've been working on little knitted gifts. At least I was for awhile, but the whole month of October got by me with very little getting done...We were visiting family and friends, getting appointments out of the way, and indulging ourselves in our favorite things to do...ride our bikes and eat at our favorite hometown restaurants.

I hurt my wrist when I fell off my bike. I don't think I broke anything, because I have very good range of motion with no pain in the wrist part. But I do have pain on the side of the wrist that shoots up my arm in doing certain activities, and knitting has been one of them...sigh! So I bought myself a wrist guard, and it's helping. I know I should go to the doctor, but have such a high deductible, I have been putting it off. I figure immobilizing the wrist would be what they would do if I have fractured a tiny bone somewhere. It's been hurting too long for it to be just a tendon. 

I have been knitting little sweaters for ornaments for a Christmas tree in the past and got back into making them again....They are quick and easy. The pattern comes from an amusing blog title by the name of Chewy Spaghetti. It's a free pattern she posted for an ornamental mini sweater. Here are two done from leftover sock yarn..They take very little yardage to make---she doesn't say how much in the pattern. I used size 2 circulars for the body, then switched over to DPN's for the sleeves...The blue one is a lot smaller because I was afraid of running out of yarn so I made the body and sleeves shorter and used size 1 needles.

I'm going to make little handmade mini hangers for the sweaters and give them as gifts to my kids or they'd make cute package tag ties....I love making minis!    Happy knitting!