Anticipation of Fall

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In the midst of summer, under July heat and between berry-picking and trips to the lake, my mind always begins to move to fall. On chilly mornings, or when a breeze picks up and thrashes the plants out front, I feel it coming, though its arrival is still months off yet.

It’s always been at this time of year that I start knitting. Crafting for cold weather lets me channel the euphoria and creativity that the first chill and yellowing trees light in me. As I work I imagine the smell of rain and fallen leaves and pumpkin and roast chicken, and my soul leaps with excitement.

Now that we’re back in the Pacific Northwest I am overjoyed for the promise of cooler weather and rain.  The season will be rung in by my daughter’s second birthday. We’ll return to cooking inside and lighting the wood stove.

I’m not knitting my way through this summer– partly for lack of time; partly because my daughter would object– but instead I’ll be thinking ahead as I dig and plant our fall garden. I’ll be stacking firewood, storing potatoes, picking hazelnuts, and nailing siding up on the hay barn.

As always, there is more to do than there are hours in the day or energy in my body. But we’re moving forward, chipping away, and I’m feeling blissfully inspired.

The Christmas Pig

This year rivals last, when our daughter was a fussy 3-month-old, for craftlessness. Packing and planning have consumed us. Available afternoons are spent cooking and winemaking, so with the exception of Suzanna’s stocking and a few hats, handcrafts have fallen by the wayside.

Therefore I think of travel time in the car as a gift– sleeping child and myself forced to remain seated. I intended to whip out a few gifts in the three hours on the road to my mom’s. However, I spent every moment up to our departure checking off the packing list: appliances, cookware, plates and silverware, extra warm clothes, dog food, a few books.

So as I finally prepared to walk out the door with my purse in one hand and our toddler in the other, I grabbed the nearest skein of pink fingering yarn and a crochet hook. I had no plan, but when I started stitching, this is what resulted: a tiny Christmas pig and a headband for my daughter. I hadn’t brought any sort of stuffing, so I balled up a paper napkin from Grand Central Bakery that was stuffed into the seat pocket beside me.

Tomorrow we have ten more hours of driving, so we’ll see what materializes.

How To Make A Fabulous Easy Wreath For Free

I’ve been making wreaths from scavenged greenery since I was a small child, using anything from grass to ivy to palm fronds to conifer branches. This one took about 20 minutes and used nothing but the plants in my yard.

Don’t have any trees to rob from? Christmas tree lots generally give away their trimmings for free, and they make spectacular wreathes. No flowers or berries? Try using herbs, such as the rosemary accent pictured, or pinecones dropped along the street. I make a habit of taking walks just to collect artful pods and cones to later use on decorations like these.

Since they have no wire, ties, or glue, these wreathes can be composted or burned when dry. But even better: once they drop their leaves, they become a perfect base for next year’s wreaths.

Here’s how to assemble them:

Start with several long, thin (1/4-1/2 inch at the base) branches that bend easily without breaking. Willow is perfect, but conifers work well, as do fruit tree suckers. (You can use ivy, crab grass– you name it. It just won’t be as sturdy.)

Bend the longest one into a circle the desired size, starting with the thick end and winding the thin end through and around to secure the ring. Ignore the leaves or needles at this point; you won’t see them.

Gently poke the thicker end of each additional branch between the already woven ones to secure it, starting in varied places in the circle. Wind them around to strengthen each side of the wreath.

When the base feels solid and there are enough layers to poke new greens in without damaging the circle, add the filler foliage.

Use the leafy tips of shrubs and tree branches with enough “stem” to secure it; poke the twig straight through a hole in the base, pull it through until the leaves are where you want them, and in the back wind the remaining stem through another layer to hold it in place. Keep adding until the base is fairly concealed and the wreath appears full and even.

(I’ve made plenty of sparse bare-twig wreathes as well– design it how you like!)

Finally, decorate. Tuck contrasting greens and colorful accents in sporadically; try rosehips, pepper berries, cones, fruit, or dried flowers.

Wreathes make the pretty decorations year-round. Since these use only what’s growing nearby, they are a perfect way of capturing any season as a festive welcome on the front door.

The Lyra Hat

I’ve knitted several of these hats, inspired by The Golden Compass, from infant-size to adult. They’re simple, whimsical and warm. I made this one with the handiest yarn, which turned out to be nearly the same color as the last hat I made. Fortunately, the color suits my slightly red-headed daughter well.

Staying Warm

As we listened to stories of kayakers in Healdsburg’s parking lots and highway closures in San Francisco, as my mom complained that she thought her windows might shatter behind the wind and rain in Sonoma County, and as local people scrambled in the path of the anticipated “megastorm,” we went to bed last night under a gentle drizzle.

We had prepared to cook by candlelight, perhaps in the fireplace with the Dutch oven. We’d gathered flashlights and moved the penned goat to a stall in the barn. And when it appeared nothing would materialize, we were disappointed if not surprised.

In a place, and a time, where even clouds are a rarity, I’ve come to use my imagination to enjoy a cozy winter hunkering-down. Even on warm days if the clouds roll in I turn on lamps and keep a pot of chili or stew simmering on the stove. Just to enjoy the feeling of warmth, of desiring warmth.

So yesterday, excited but skeptical, I bundled up and donned a hat and scarf for my drive to work.

My drawer of handmade winter accessories have hardly been touched since we left Oregon and I miss them. Making new ones was my way of welcoming the fall. I’ve kept my husband and me in more hats than there are chilly days for, and my daughter’s supply is growing. Soon enough, they’ll once again be essential.

This morning at 4:30 I got up to make coffee and noticed lights glimmering off the front field as if it were a lake.

It’s still too dark to tell the extent of the flooding, but on the flat, drought-hardened valley floor, rain backs up quickly. The old, old house groans overhead, and I’m enormously grateful that we managed to remove the dead trees from our backyard earlier in the week. Today will be a first, and likely a last before we leave the Valley for good.

Handmade Holidays

I’ve always been a lousy consumer. Handmade gifts are mandatory, and I almost never think beyond them. When time is tight and hands are rarely free, though, such little accomplishments become quite large indeed.

These small hat and scarf sets make a simple bottle of wine far more meaningful. They’re quick and fun to make, because each one can be unique and as ornate as you like.

This project is a perfect use for leftover portions of yarn skeins.

Ours come out each year as new decorations, and I have no doubt that in a few years, they’ll double as cute little dolly clothes.

The Christmas Stocking and Self-Gratitude

The wi-fi wasn’t working, but I didn’t have the gumption to call the provider. The clock in the kitchen had just gonged 5, and I hadn’t even poured a cup of coffee.

Instead I dug through my yarn. I’d squirreled it away over a year ago in disheveled heaps, not long after my daughter was born. The vision of my new infant snoozing on my lap while I stitched away at sweet baby blankets and sweaters was far from a reality, and my guilt for having failed to even make and hang a Christmas stocking for her in her first year of life lurked in the shadows of the year since. I wanted to have one done before the tree went up this year.

I couldn’t find red or green, and I didn’t want to wake my husband or daughter. Instead I went to look for the other stockings, the ones with initials for my husband and me and for our two dogs. I made them in college– unsophisticated, clunky attempts at novice knitting. I located them in a bag, along with a tremendous gift from my past-self.

The red, green, brown and white yarn was snuggled in with a halfway-crocheted stocking that I’d started last Christmas season, obviously in the delirium of new parenting, such that I completely forgot I’d even begun it. I wanted to hug my past-self.

Subtle little favors for your future-self are not like treating yourself to a pedicure or indulging in a chocolate sundae. They’re truly generous actions that I find myself feeling truly deeply grateful for, as if they’d been done by another person as an act of love.

Little things, like filling the coffee-maker with water the night before, and placing the filter, so all I have to do is grind the coffee. I wake up feeling like someone left me a special surprise. Or when I stash a little cash in a small box on the mantle, then forget about it. It’s all the better when the act is forgotten, then discovered. Like the stocking.

So instead of writing, or perusing the internet, I crocheted the final rows on a simple stocking for my daughter for her second Christmas.

The day– and holiday season– began peacefully and full of gratitude.