On the Road, Again

Phew! I’m a bit discombobulated right now and I haven’t finished half this month’s comings and goings. But suffice it to say that I’m a little bit here and a lot there—there being Virginia, Minnesota, and Chicago. I love to travel, but I’m also a real homebody and so there’s always a little conflict in my soul when it’s time to head out. There’s never a trip I’m sorry I made, once I’ve made it, but I always resist going away…always!

My most recent venture was to Virginia, for my niece Anna’s vocal performance senior recital. For an hour my sisters and I and our husbands and my nephew, Anna’s brother Karl, sat dumbfounded as we listened to Anna sing. I don’t see her often and was in awe at the growth in her vocal abilities and at her stage presence. Even her parents and brother were left with their mouths hanging open. I loved the way her friends pitched in and performed parts, both from operas and musicals, to add fullness to the evening.  (That’s her to the left, wearing a honey cowl. She’s so gratifying to knit and sew for: I’ve made her two Birdie slings  —here and here—and she’s used them until they fall apart. This time she opened the honey cowl and immediately put it on and wore it all afternoon.)

Photo courtesy of VA Quilt Museum

While the event was lovely and it was fun to be with family, Virginia itself was a real highlight. Daffodils, forsythia, and budding trees gave me hope that spring might eventually come. We wandered through the farmer’s market, sampling doughnuts from Mennonite bakers and locally roasted cups of coffee. We took a little hike along a rushing stream, where bloodroot and May apples pushed up, through the forest floor. And we even stepped inside the Virginia Quilt Museum for a look at Material Witnesses, an exhibition by the Manhattan Quilter’s Guild of New York City. There were also a few Civil War quilts—so graphic and so amazingly preserved.

VA Quilt Museum civil war display—hexagons have a long history!

Heading out to MN tomorrow for a weekend with my aunt, in honor of her 87th birthday. I delayed my trip by two days, as we’ve been having torrential rains and flooding and she’s getting snow. But she says it’s for the best, because there’s a quilt show there this weekend. I’ll try and take a few photos!

Resolved: To Share the Holiday Glow

The month before Christmas had more than its fair share of deadlines, and Pearl the Squirrel suffered serious neglect. My Thanksgiving knitting frenzy came to an end and I spent most of my days trying to keep up with the work, while still enjoying a bit of the holidays. I did manage to see friends and host some holiday get togethers including a craft party, birthday gathering for two Scrabble friends, and a knitting night with rowing buddies. I remind myself when things are especially crazy that in a year I won’t remember how nuts I felt, but I will remember having my friends come by for food and fun.

The culminating event to all this was our family’s Christmas in Oaxaca. After our trip there last February, we decided it would be an interesting place to spend the holidays. The time crunch became even crazier as we had to leave one day early due to an airline screw-up, and then another day earlier to foil an incoming blizzard.

Thankfully all four of us managed to arrive in Oaxaca from three different parts of the country and the subsequent days were incredible—the perfect mix of sightseeing, eating and drinking, walking through town, meeting wonderful folks, and never ceasing to be surprised by the brass band or fireworks or choir concert that seemed to be taking place around every corner. (There was also an amazing line-up of brides at every church—getting married around Christmas seems highly desirable.)

We spent an especially wonderful day at Seasons of My Heart cooking school, which included a tour of the Etla Market in the morning and the opportunity to make (among other things) mole and cook on a outdoor comal in the afternoon.

And we met other wonderful tourists, as well as enjoying time with Luis, our fantastic driver and guide, and spending a bit of time with alebrije-carvers Saul and Alma Arragon.

The colors and sun of Mexico never fail to make me feel like a new woman this time of year and I feel so fortunate to have traveled there. I hope you, too, enjoyed the holidays, wherever they found you, and are feeling refreshed and ready to take on 2013.

Visit Mexico!

I’ve got a poster in my house that belonged to my grandparents. In it, a robust and smiling young maiden with long black braids and (yes) nipples erect under her shirt holds a basket of fruit with her impossibly long arms and beckons you to “Visit Mexico.” I’ve always loved doing just that, although most of my visits have been confined to Baja or the Yucatan.

IMG_7096 Handwoven bracelets (pulsers)

But last week I went to Oaxaca. We were lucky enough to have friends who had been multiple times and so were taken to see all the “best” places. In addition, they are friends with a number of wood carvers and we spent several days visiting carvers’ homes and shops (which were typically just a shelf or two in their house). We helped one carver, Saul Aragon, set up an Etsy shop. Be sure to check it out.

IMG_7438 Maria with her carving

Here’s a smattering of my photos, including some that may appear in a story I’ll be writing for Etsy on the wood carvers and for Magic Patch on Oaxacan textile traditions. Iowa looks pretty monochromatic after a week in Oaxaca.

IMG_7611 Etla Market

IMG_7131 Car at night

IMG_7622 Embroidered table cloth
IMG_7504 Lunch-stuffed squash blossom
IMG_7754 Santo Domingo library
IMG_7762 Textiles in shop
IMG_7018 Basket weaver at Bautista   <a href=IMG_7494
IMG_7773 La Morena

Seed Savers

In my previous post I mentioned a three-hour drive to Decorah, and it was to visit Seed Savers for today’s post on Etsy. I’d been to Seed Savers once before, but it was autumn and after a hard frost. It was lovely, but not quite like going this time of year, when the urge to garden is strong (in late October, my gardening instincts are usually ready to be rested and revived by several months indoors).

At any rate, my friend Anne (see post below) and I thoroughly enjoyed our time in Decorah and especially appreciated John Torgrimson, the Seed Saver executive director who showed us around. The work they’re doing there is nothing short of amazing. If you haven’t read the Etsy story, please do, because it explains some of what Seed Savers is about. If you’re really interested, make sure to visit their extensive website, because I could only fit so much into an 800-word post.

One of my favorite facts that didn’t make it into the story is that while at the grocery store you might be able to buy 4 kinds of potatoes, Seed Savers has 800 kinds. And they have more than 4,500 varieties of tomato seeds! Their seeds are available online and at 500 seed racks around the country. And if you’re in Iowa, make sure and plan an afternoon at Seed Savers—nearly 900 acres, with hiking trails and gardens.

The sweetness of summer

[We interrupt this textile blog for some important announcements about food.]

Between the Farmer’s Market and grocery store’s fresh offerings, I always become a little unhinged at this time of year. I buy tons of fresh produce and then my week becomes a mad meal-planning and cooking scramble to use up everything before the next market, when the cycle repeats itself all over again. If I were really brave I’d opt for a CSA, but I’m not really brave.

This Saturday’s market resulted in a fridge full of broccoli (for steaming), cauliflower (which will be the basis of a long-time favorite: Mollie Katzen’s Cauliflower with Cumin and Cheese), green beans (to accompany a Sumer Barley Salad from Cooking Light ), the first-of-the-season sweet corn, and beets (roasted an hour in the oven…I used to steam them, but no more).

After the market I came home and got Paul and we drove out to pick blueberries.

I grew up picking gajillions of blueberries each summer during out vacations in northern Minnesota—the tiny kind of berry on tiny bushes. As I’ve gotten older I confess that these high bushes with larger blueberries appeal to me much more—and they were just loaded and will be for weeks to come.

Paul and I picked more than 8 pounds (here you see the owner weighing our two buckets).

(Blueberry pie is also on the menu this week, along with blueberries on cereal and handfuls of berries every time the fridge is open.)

Then, it was on to Wilson’s orchard, where they had fresh Michigan cherries and where I saw this lovely Queen Anne’s lace overlooking the apple trees.

We got two pounds of each type of cherry…does anyone see a pattern here? Like, I’m nuts? Still, there’s something about getting things so close to their growing location and season that makes me a little giddy…it’s an impulse I can’t seem to control.

…and did I mention I’ve got half a watermelon in the fridge, too? It’s leftover from making a salad, the recipe from an Austin Farmer’s Market last summer while visiting my eldest daughter—there are a number of variations floating around—here’s one. The remaining half melon is going to become watermelon sorbet…following in the footsteps of my rhubarb sorbet of earlier in the summer.

Christmas Eve eve

Although I may be new at blogging, I do realize that ten days between posts is pushing it. I mean, I even had a Pearl the Squirrel follower request a new post (okay, okay, so it was my son-in-law).

But a joyous thing happened: I turned my grades in on Monday and breathed a huge sigh of relief. And though there is still much to do for Christmas, I gave myself permission to sew a bit on my new machine. But more about that later.

Now, here are the hats I mentioned in the previous post. They’re all made of yarn handspun and hand-dyed by Abi Hutchison, who sold it every Sat. a.m. at the Farmer’s Market. I’ll admit that the hats aren’t necessarily things of beauty—they’re definitely on the clunky side. 

But I had so much fun making them and my bookgroup friends dutifully oohed and aahed. Maybe next year it will be scarves.

All this, and breakfast in a diner…

A day spent in preparation for Christmas (after French toast and sausage at the Bluebird diner). Paul and I wrapped presents and got all the boxes in the mail—such a great feeling. We bought a small tree (skinny, because we couldn’t find one small enough to sit on a table). It’s narrow enough that we won’t have to move the living room furniture around. We thought about putting a tree in the family room, where we’d see it more often, but decided that might not be wise given that Pearl the Squirrel spends the day in that room while we’re at work. Who knows what havoc she’d wreak?

I went yesterday to one of my favorite holiday sales, the Eastside Artist’s Market. Wonderful textiles, wood, paper, paintings, and more, all created by local artists. I was looking for a gift for my bookgroup buddies—we meet on Tuesday night and have a cookie and gift exchange. I wasn’t able to find anything and was feeling bereft, when I remembered my summer hat-knitting obsession. 
Nearly every week at the Farmer’s Market this past summer I couldn’t resist a beautiful skein of hand-dyed, hand-spun yarn. And many of those weeks I whipped out a hat. I had no plans for these toppers: they were simply an excuse to caress the gorgeous colors and fibers. At the end of the summer I had eight hats and this a.m. I realized they might be the perfect bookgroup presents. Here’s a picture of Pearl with one of the skeins earlier this summer. I’ll post a shot of the hats soon.