Monday, September 30, 2013

Mountain Retreat

The man in the overalls is making apple butter.

After navigating through the fast-paced, densely packed traffic on the interstate circling around Charlotte, there is something very liberating about reaching the west of the city.  As one heads toward the Blue Ridge mountains, the number of cars thins out, the road begins to wind, and then there is a prominent hump in the distance--King's Mountain--a landmark which signals a dramatic geographical change.  Soon snakelike twists and turns take one into the mountains.  The air cools.  The vegetation changes and rocks jut out from steep slopes along the roadside.  When heading to quaint Burnsville, North Carolina, one also gains the sense that the clock is winding backwards, taking one back to simpler times.

My knitting retreat in Burnsville with a group of women from the Tuesday night knitting group at Cottage Yarn this past weekend offered cold nights, charming 19th century architecture, a farcical production of a Sherlock Holmes drama replete with vampires in a musty old playhouse, and an Old Time festival on the town square featuring antique cars and tractors, people dressed in Civil War garb, and a variety of vendors selling produce and crafts.

Handspun and dyed yarn was for sale right outside the doorway of our lodging, the Nu Wray Inn.

The charming little town offered so many attractions, that even though I'd traveled there to spend some time knitting, I didn't make many gains on my works in progress.  And while I did cast on a new hat, I realized after knitting about four inches that I'd purchased the wrong yarn and the weight was inappropriate for the needles I was using and had to frog this project.  The magical allure of the mountain town must have dulled my senses a bit; it certainly did distract me from accomplishing much.   

I was able to visit a couple of yarn shops during my time in the mountains--Yummi Yarns in Burnsville and Friends and Fiber in Asheville--but, uncharacteristically, I didn't buy any yarn!  Both shops did offer a wealth of wonderful merchandise and I did covet some soft green Rowan Felted Tweed DK yarn in the Asheville shop, but decided that I already have too many projects on my needles along with a few patterns selected for which I've recently purchased yarn.  

Rather than satisfying my desire to take part in a lazy mountain retreat, my few days in Burnsville are prompting me to return to the Blue Ridge in a week or two, when the leaves have turned or maybe at the end of October, when the Southeast Annual Fiber Festival take place.  By then I might be ready to do some serious yarn shopping.  

I felt right at home in this town (notice the name on the music store awning).

Monday, September 23, 2013

Block Schedule

"Oh! Do not attack me with your watch. A watch is always too fast or too slow. I cannot be dictated to by a watch."
                                         --Jane Austen, Mansfield Park

Over a decade ago the high schools in my county underwent a shift—changing from days comprised of six year-long class periods to those with four semester-long classes.  On the surface this plan was a practical one—students and teachers would be able to spend a longer amount of time on daily lessons and, since teachers would all have one more section of students (teaching six classes instead of five in a year’s time), individual course enrollment would be smaller.  Of course, ultimately, class sizes are larger than ever and the actual amount of instruction and time for students to complete reading and homework is compressed.  Life and knitting seem to behave in the same manner—when burdens on time are seemingly reduced, time seems to put on its gloves and fight back, shrinking and compressing itself.

Last night a friend called me lamenting this phenomenon.  A teacher who is raising two children on her own, she was upset because she can’t fulfill all of the demands on her time, even during a weekend, which one might think offers a wealth of free hours.  "How am I to be a good friend, a good parent, and a good teacher?” she queried.  I couldn't offer apropos words of wisdom except to remind her that she could only continue to do her best and to reassure her that friends would forgive her if she didn't call us back immediately or get together with us every weekend. 

While I have a recently retired husband whose dogged domestic work has freed up much of my time, as a working mother I still undergo conflicts about responsibility, self-fulfillment and the hours in each day.  I haven’t blogged in weeks, as I have had so much to do for school (and the thought of sitting in front of a computer on the weekends is unappealing as it is reminiscent of what I do every spare moment at work when I am not teaching).  

This past Friday I had a day “off,” but found myself spending over five hours in Starbucks grading Beowulf essays.  (Mid-day I switched from caffeinated beverages to water to avoid heart palpitations.) Late that afternoon, I decided to squeeze in a trip to the movies before attending my older son’s evening football game.  When I arrived at the theater, I realized that the show time posted online was off by twenty-minutes, and that I had arrived early.  I sat in the parking lot fretting.  Should I go in and be away from my 13-year-old son and husband at dinner time, before rushing to my older son’s football game?  Was I a bad mother yet once again indulging myself?  (I had, after all, spent two weeks away from my family this past summer.)  The movie I really wanted to see was only playing at one theater in the entire Charlotte metropolitan area, and the length of its run time was dubious.  After driving out of the parking lot to forgo the movie and head home, I decided to let go of my guilt and ended up as one of only four women in the theater, where I laughed my head off at farcical Austenland, a film whose heroine is a kindred spirit—a Jane Austen fan obsessed with Mr. Darcy. 

I found some wise words by Madeleine L'Engle (a writer I enjoyed as a child and
whose autobiographical works have inspired me as a adult) that seem appropriate to
share with this picture:  "I like the fact that in ancient Chinese art the great painters always
 included a deliberate flaw in their work: human creation is never perfect."  Madeleine L'Engle
(Of course, my flaws weren't "deliberate.")

With this movie, two football games, a hair appointment, a get-together with my husband’s family, and a Sunday afternoon college fair squeezed into this past weekend, it is a bit surprising to me that I actually cast off and blocked two projects.  And one of them is my nemesis sweater!  If this weekend has taught me anything, it is the very lesson that I imparted to my harried friend.  I need to carry on and keep working, doing the best I can.  There will be rewards to reap, even if they are slow to come—and, as a teacher, there is always summer to sustain me.  Even now as the weather cools and I am in the throes of hectic school year, dreams of future summer days with endless hours whisper to me of their promises (and memories of this past summer in magical Oxford sustain me).  As I finished my Prairie Shawl, made with a pattern purchased in London and yarn obtained in Oxford and my Midsummer Aran—a project I took with me to England this past July with plans to finish it before I returned home—I am no less satisfied now with the final products now than had they been done in a timelier manner. While I can envision a schedule made up of conveniently laid out blocks, life has its own agenda against which I am powerless.  This coming weekend, however, I might elude this foe.  I am suppressing any working mother's guilt and am escaping to a 19th century inn in the North Carolina mountains for a knitting retreat, where, perhaps, I can escape clocks and obligations for a bit as I sit on a rocker on a wide porch and ply my needle.  

Monday, September 2, 2013

Labors of Love

Labor Day weekend marks the official end of summer.  Neighborhood pools close their gates for the year on Monday night, and, in many places in the US, the first day of school is the next day.  Since my teaching semester started on August 5, however, it's difficult for me to kick back for a final hurrah, as my mind is already focused on work and the coming fall season.  I have stacks of papers to grade and have long since packed away my bathing suit.  

When I browse Facebook on or around Labor Day, I see images of beaming people swimming or enjoying boating or getaways to the mountains.  My husband and I did toy with the idea of going somewhere, but with football season and school in  full force, a long weekend is time to do laundry, stock up on food for school lunches, and to do some household repairs.  (I even attempted to fix a leaky bathroom faucet on Saturday.  Time--and my kitchen ceiling--will tell if I was successful.)  We also had a football game to attend on Friday night, and after sitting in steamy weather for three hours on metal bleachers next to a raucous group of middle-schoolers, somehow the thought of jumping in the car with two teenagers for a three-and-a-half-hour trip to the beach lost its appeal.

At the end of August, too, there are hints that summer is weary and a change is in the air:  flowers and vegetables go to seed and their stalks look leggy and barren (save for a few droopy yellow leaves), hot temperatures make the grass wither, and pool water is tepid or sometimes bathtub warm and  provides little relief from the heat.  My mindset mirrors the climate.  I am ready to move on.  

Part of moving into fall, of course, is nesting for the coming season.  So this weekend I spun some wool, canned some jam, knit some of a sweater for a niece's baby that is due in December, and seriously began to plan for some Christmas knitting.  I also worked a little bit on the nightmare sweater that's been the star of several of my blog posts--I've decided to limit myself to working two or three rows of this garment each morning, when I'm focused and fired up from coffee--and completed several inches of my Prairie Shawl.

This is llama fiber I purchased at a local farm last spring.  It is wonderfully soft. 

I am a novice spinner and don't possess much technical information about this hobby.  But I do enjoy it.  Note:  That is not a funky pillow on the floor at my feet--it's my devoted Cocker Spaniel, Stella.   

Here, two strands have been plied together. 

The peaches I bought were pretty big and sort of pale. 

Canning is easier with a husband who was raised on a farm.  When he was a child, he and his family would spend an entire day, from early morning until eight or nine at night, preparing bushels of peaches for cooking and canning.  Hence, he shares none of my romantic notions about rural life. 

The peaches are uncooked here. 

Here they cook with a scary ten cups of sugar and some pectin, too.

The jars are sterilized in a big pot and then filled and returned to the pot for processing.

My final product is a bit runny, but still tastes rich and peachy--especially on vanilla ice cream.

In the midst of winter, I'm sure I'll look back on this past summer and wish I'd swum more at the pool, gone to the beach, or spent a few days sitting by a rocky creek in the mountains.  Or maybe not.  Right now, my summertime finances and energy are exhausted, and I'm ready to hunker down for some cozy knitting, spinning, and cooking.  I do, however, have a knitting retreat in the mountains to attend at the end of this month.  Maybe the mountain leaves will be turning by then, and by then summer will be just a dreamy memory.

I even found a couple of hours this weekend to work on an unfinished pair of pants that have been sitting in a bag for two years.  I'm not done yet, but hope to be before Christmas.  These would be great to wear in New York for Vogue Knitting Live.  Don't know if I'll be able to make it this coming January.  Sigh. . . .

The pants are made out of a mohair-wool blend.  I love this fabric and know that I would have to pay a fortune for a store-bought pair of pants with similar fiber content. 

I made some progress on my Eiffel Tower Pullover.

My Prairie Shawl is slowly growing. 

After a lunch out with family, Dennis and I were able to sneak out in the late Sunday afternoon on for some wine (dark ale for Dennis) and a cheese plate.  The brie on the left was made in North Carolina and was delicious, as were the other items on this plate.