Saturday, November 29, 2008

Packing light

When the Knitternall clan travels, we pack lightly. I can get enough clothes, necessities, etc. for me and the kids into one mid-sized rolling suitcase (they carry THEIR necessities - game gear, books, journals, etc. in backpacks). T takes care of his own stuff in a handy-dandy multi-tasking bag he uses for business travel. So that's usually two suitcases and two backpacks.

The hiccup is my knitting and reading bag. This never gets checked in with the luggage. It doesn't reach the back of the van for road trips. It stays with me on buses and subways, in limos and taxis - always within reach. My bag has to be carefully chosen to accommodate several works in progress, 3 to 4 books, some light reading (aka knitting magazines and the latest Real Simple or Southern Living), my camera, chargers for cell phone and camera, emergency meds for A, plus gum, mints, headache remedies, and hand lotion.

I have to confess. My knitting/reading bag is often bigger than our suitcase.

While it takes me less than an hour to pack the clothes, I plan for the knitting bag for DAYS ahead. Which WIPs are best for small quarters? How far along am I and will I have enough yarn to finish? How complicated is the pattern? Will I like the books enough to be fully absorbed during the take-offs and landings that are my own personal Fear Factor? The considerations are never-ending.

When I finally do head out the door, it isn't without a last fretful look back. What did I forget? Do I have enough stitch markers? What if I drop a stitch? What if I hate the WIP and don't have ANYTHING ELSE TO DO? I don't worry about the luggage - there's almost always a Target nearby to fill in the gaps.

'Tis the season to be visiting family and friends. My shopping is finished. I've planned out meals and picked up some nice hostess gifts.

Now the stress really begins. What will go in my knitting bag? Maybe I should take a page from the people knitting in REALLY stressful situations. Like Baghdad.

I really do need to keep things in perspective.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thankful knitting

I have weird ideas about relaxation. I love cooking and cleaning, preparing for a gathering whether small or large. It's a joy to be at home, with no have-to's on the immediate horizon and nothing more ambitious than a hike tomorrow with my son and his birthday next week.  A toss of the compost pile, a few loads of laundry so everyone sleeps on clean sheets, and life is good.


I cooked most of last evening - a cheesecake and brownie pie, sweet potato crumble and frozen fruit salad, plus brining the turkey. This morning was roasting and mashing time. The Knitternall clan sat down for lunch around 1, sharing thanks and enjoying this quiet holiday together.

Dishes cleaned, I pulled out an assortment of oddball yarns in creams, grays, and blacks. Now I'm knitting a prayer shawl, my own Thanksgiving for all the blessings God has given us. 

The Comfort Shawl is aptly named.  Knit one, yarn over, knit across to center marker; yarn over before and after, knit across to end of row, yarn over, knit one. The shawl grows peacefully across the needles, flowing onto my lap, inviting caresses of prayer and reflection. Someday it'll wrap the shoulders of someone who needs a hug, and I'll send one their way even if I'm not with them.

Happy Thanksgiving. 

Monday, November 24, 2008


We had 1,000 luminarias last night for Cocoa & Candles. The energetic and fearless Dunwoody High School Key Club opened white paper bags and popped in a cup or so of sand on Friday, then returned at 5:30 to add a tea light, spread them along trails, wetlands boardwalk, and the lane, around the meadow and fairytale playhouse, and through the treehouse, then light them with our  handy-dandy stick lighters. 

It was lovely

This morning dawned gray and raining. One thousand luminarias wilted on the ground. So I started picking them up. An hour or so later, one of my compadres arrived and joined me. Then one of our amazing volunteers showed up. He'd already put in a ton of hours over the weekend stringing lights, decorating the outdoor fireplace, and supervising the roaring fire as marshmallows roasted. 

So we worked.

That's 1,000 squats. Crouch down, pick up wet bag, pull out tealight, dump sand on ground, toss bag and tealight into garbage bag. Continue. 

After awhile, it felt meditative. Just us, a long line of luminarias, rain dripping through the woods, and a woodpecker high up on a lofty limb to provide a working beat. 

The luminarias are gone now. They'll be back next year. And I'll enjoy the beauty of candlelit trails despite the labor that precedes and follows.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Howdy, neighbor

Just a few of the reasons I love being in Dunwoody for the holidays . . .

1.  Light Up Dunwoody and Cocoa & Candles. The Knitternall family can walk the three short blocks between our house and the farmhouse, enjoy the jostling, smiling, familiar crowd, and shiver in the shift from sunset to darkness before hitting the luminaria-lit trails at the Nature Center with warm cocoa in hand.

2. My darling little Preschool Phonics friends starting to wear Christmas dresses and shirts, with bows in mussed up hair, lick-lipped chap marks making perfect circles around their mouths, and hands shooting up into the air to tell me everything and anything going on in their families (I promise I believe only half what I hear).

3.  The rare quiet of very little traffic on Mt. Vernon Road on Thanksgiving and Christmas Days.

4. Red Velvet Cake from Wright Gourmet, Moravian Sugar Cookies from the Fresh Market (a taste from Winston-Salem that we'd otherwise miss), a smoked turkey from Olde Hickory House, and peppermint cocoa from Starbcks.

5.  Redfield's Christmas Eve gala, with hundreds of cars meandering through street after street of magical Christmas lights displayed by neighbors competing for bragging rights in a variety of categories (Knitternall Family Favorite: the Kids' Choice!). Plus, we always have to see the gi-normous display at the estate in the heart of Dunwoody Club Forest.

6.  The huge Great Dane who walks his owner through my neighborhood with genteel dignity, foot-long stuffed bone pillow grasped firmly in his slobbery mouth and a happy gleam in his eye as he ambles along. 

7.  The local Griswold house in Wyntercreek.

8.  The 11:00 Christmas Eve service at St. Luke's,  with its carols, communion, chrismons, and candlelit lullaby.

9. Running into friends and familiar faces in the aisles of Kroger and Publix  as I make yet another run for that one ingredient I thought was on my list but completely forgot and the gingerbread/stuffing/fudge/buckeyes/hard sauce etc. MUST BE MADE.

10. Holiday dinner leftovers. Yummmmm.

I love the holidays!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Finding a pattern in the chaos

I want to knit a simple cardigan, one with a crew neck, raglan sleeves, lightly ribbed waist and understated texture. I want it to fit well, not billow, and hit my waist line with some simple shaping. I want thicker than the paper-thin weights currently jamming the store racks, but not the bulky of over-achiever cables and chunky yarns. I want to trust that the pattern will result in something I can actually wear.  I'm feeling a preppy, 1980's collegiate kind of vibe.  In the cacophany of over-the-top designs currently filling the pages of my favorite design magazines and websites, such a simple design is nowhere to be found. So I'm going to visit Cast-On Cottage in Roswell this weekend to see what I can find. 

I look forward to the search, but even more to the knitting I hope to enjoy.



Tuesday, November 18, 2008


Dunwoody's temporary City Hall will be in Sandy Springs. At first, I didn't like the idea very much, no matter how practical and cost effective the decision was. But now it's gelled a bit and I'm glad our first City Council is so frugal.
In the past two weeks, I've heard several instances of parents not taking responsibility for their own inattention/oversight/ignorance and threatening lawsuits against whomever. For Pete's sake. It makes it hard for those of us volunteering and trying to make things happen to even try in the first place.
Light Up Dunwoody has a trolley! It's going to travel from the Shoppes at Dunwoody to the Farmhouse to Dunwoody Nature Center for Cocoa & Candles and back again. Fun!
Fast Nall School Night Dinner: boiled a bag of tortellini, heated up some Hunt's Traditional Spaghetti Sauce and mixed in a dozen frozen meatballs. Mixed together, topped with mozzarella, and tossed in oven. Baking 30 minutes while A's Algebra tutor works with him, and dinner will be ready.
John Heneghen and Pattie Baker are two of my favorite Dunwoody bloggers. One keeps us in the loop with the City of Dunwoody birth pains and the other keeps us looking ahead to a sustainable life in this wonderful town. My favorite website? Dunwoody Nature Center, of course!
Dr. Christopher Price, senior minister of St. Luke's Presbyterian Church for nearly two decades, preached his last sermon this past Sunday. I was fairly dry-eyed until he paid tribute to T for his service as Clerk of Session through two epochal changes to the church. Tears flowed, friends patted me on the back, and the kids stared wide-eyed because I never lose it.
T and I had breakfast Saturday morning at Olde Hickory House. Over plates of not-so-healthy but yummy Southern fare, we discussed holiday plans and caught a few adult moments together. Meanwhile, a young fellow commanded and demanded his parents' undivided attention in the booth behind me. "Wow," T said. "I don't think those parents said one word to each other." Oh, we remember those days!
There's this amazing new wine/beer/liquor place called Total Wine in the Perimeter. They bestowed a much-appreciated $2,000 donation to Dunwoody Nature Center in celebration of their grand opening. I will most definitely be shopping there for the holidays!
As Delta Airlines and Northwest Airlines merge, the hiccups are just beginning. For example, T travels EXTENSIVELY, mostly on Delta. He had a day trip today. The "new" airline is adopting Northwest's policies on priority seating for frequent flyers, which is a horribly inept system. T spent way too much time trying to move out of the middle seat, a process that would have taken five minutes on the computer before the merger. Favorite bit of stupidity in the process: the new system says you can't change a seat until 24 hours before the flight. But in a day trip, the return trip can't be changed until you're in the city of departure. Come on.
I love the Dunwoody Library. I love it in spite of its quirks, due largely to the fact that it's funded and managed by the chronically dysfunctional DeKalb County. I love the staff and their obvious passion for all things library-ish. I love the fact that I can reserve books at home and then pick them up whenever. What I don't love is their disdain for knitting books. Come on . . . when are you going to add Mason-Dixon Knitting's sequel and Nicky Epstein's latest?
I'm on Ravelry! To date, more than 150 people have favorited or queued Sox Shawl, Trimiters, and Knitting Tote.
The Sunday Night Knitting Circle is going strong, though only a handful of us come each week. It's peaceful in the St. Luke's library and we have a marvelous time with our WIPs, chats, and confiding moments. This past Sunday we used my swift and ball winder to turn a mass of donated yarn into center-pull balls. Fun!
One of my favorite breaks is to take a walk with Scooter the Wonder Dog in the late night darkness of Dunwoody Village. The lights are glowing, traffic is light, and the crisp air smells faintly of the hardwood fires wafting from Olde Hickory House throughout the day. Peaceful, comforting, and familiar, it's a marvelous transition from busy day to quiet sleep.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

A giving week

I've had a lot of fun this week!

It's been a giving week, filled with memory-making and calendar-stuffing dates.

I've chaperoned a team of 6th grade brainiacs from Peachtree Middle School during their Quiz Bowl tournament at the Westminster Schools (a surreal place, by any definition), escorted my son to a Mock Trial practice at the Georgia State School of Law (cool), worked feverishly on piecing together 42+ 8" squares for a prayer blanket due for presentation this weekend (whew), consulted on the new church website design (yay!), prepped for the Square Foot Gardening classes at Dunwoody Nature Center (fun), and knitted a few more inches of a gift for one of the kids' teachers.  Add teaching my darling Preschool Phonics friends, working at the Nature Center, and the regular cycle of household chores, and I'm feeling a tad bit breathless.

I'd been thinking about things too much, focusing energy on worries about the economy, family health, finishing a few projects . . . much better to DO something. Service keeps my focus outward, so worries about the here and now flow deeper underground and don't consume energy and attitude. 

I feel much better now. 

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Carrying too much at one time.

It's not just me.

The Armful . . . by Robert Frost

For every parcel I stoop down to seize
I lose some other off my arms and knees,
And the whole pile is slipping, bottles, buns,
Extremes too hard to comprehend at once,
Yet nothing I should care to leave behind.
With all I have to hold with hand and mind
And heart, if need be, I will do my best.
To keep their building balanced at my breast.
I crouch down to prevent them as they fall;

Then sit down in the middle of them all.
I had to drop the armful in the road
And try to stack them in a better load.

To all my fellow bearers of too-fractious loads, who would rather lurch painfully from point A to point B than make multiple trips, who have dropped bags of groceries and loads of folded laundry because there was just-one-too-many-to-carry, who have taken twice as long to transfer a load because bits kept falling off: we're perfectly normal.

To those who laugh at us, suggest practical alternatives, and roll your eyes: grab that pair of socks that just fell off the top of the load and shut up.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Now what.

The various elections ended as I thought they would, and now we all wait to see what happens next. Some people are giddy at the prospect of a sea-change in America's culture and daily life. Others are fearful of the same thing.

Once the celebrities go back to their surreality, the thrill of making history is past, and talking heads have chewed the election results to tatters, Americans will get down to the business of life as usual, though perhaps not quite as usual as it might have been.

I hope that . . .

  • the new president will be a role model for choosing education and service over self-indulgence and defeatism.
  • the new president won't follow through on his idea to put citizen soldiers into the communities to police their fellow people (that really smacks of an oppressive regime, doesn't it?).
  • the new president will surround himself with many voices and many philosophies, choosing pragmatism over ideology.
  • the economy recovers far more quickly than the last depression (yeah, we're in one).
  • the world thinks better of us than they have in a long time.
  • we think better of us than we have in a long time.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Have I mentioned that I hate being sick?

It borders on the ludicrous. 

  • I have broken an ankle, hobbled on it for two days because I had too many appointments, then finally driven myself to a clinic for an x-ray. 
  • I have caught a cold, which turned into bronchitis, which escalated into a full-blown upper respiratory bacterial infection, and finally, fussily driven myself to the only urgent care place open on a Sunday morning and in our network to get two mega-shots of antibiotics.
  • I have ignored the early signs of shingles to the point where the rash spread into one eye and put  me on the verge of vision loss.
So I'm stubborn. The older I get, the less I'm willing to accept pains, creaks, injuries, etc. because I have TOO MUCH TO DO. I don't have TIME to be sick, hurt, out of action. So I will it away. I tackle physically demanding chores and walk those ten-mile hikes with my Eagle-bound Scout.  I lift tables and gigantic boxes full of who-knows-what and turn over mattresses and reorganize storage. And if something hurts, I just take a Motrin and keep on moving.

Most times, willpower works. Sometimes it doesn't. Right now, it isn't going so well.

On the other hands, if one of my kids sniffles, I'm at the pediatrician's office in no time flat, checking for strep, etc. With a kid living with Crohn's and the other under my vigilant eye for signs of its sister autoimmune afflection, rheumatoid arthritis, I don't underplay a thing.

Gotta love self-denial. So far so good! Or not.

Monday, November 3, 2008

No strings attached.

As I drove by Dunwoody Nature Center this afternoon (I left work early to take AG for a strep test), I saw one of our volunteers using his own leaf blower to clear the entry. This same volunteer has painted, installed a new light fixture, built much-needed shelves, and re-organized special event storage. 

I am so grateful to the volunteers who come singly, in families, and in groups to Dunwoody Park. Their motivations are quite diverse: some do it because their companies are committed to volunteer service. Many do it for the love of the outdoors and a desire to preserve this little oasis in our urbanized community. Schools bring children for hands-on environmental education. A few teens and adults come to us for community service hours required by schools and institutions. They mulch trails, pull out overachiever invasive plants, organize special events like our silent auction and wine-tasting parties, wash comforters and towels, pick up trash,  tend to the bees, and make the park a magical place for our visitors.

When I explained to the kids my political philosophy during the cacophany of rhetoric they can't tune out, one example I gave was volunteering. If someone is hungry and I give them a meal, should I then have the authority to tell them how to eat, when to eat, and what to eat? If I take care of the trails in a public park should I also have the authority to say who can walk those trails and when? I shouldn't. No one should. But that's one of the debates going on in our country - those who want the government to take care of everything and those who want people to take care of each other because it's the right thing to do.

If someone is hungry and can't afford food to eat, I want to do more than just give them a meal.  I want to feed them AND help them learn how to get the next meal - and leave it up to them what they choose to eat. If someone is homeless, I want to do more than shelter them.  I want to give them a safe place to sleep AND the tools they need to take care of themselves - as well as the freedom to live where and how they wish. Independence and self-reliance are the truest freedoms we have. 

Dunwoody Park is the beneficiary of hundreds of people who each year decide they should take care of it and preserve it for the future.  Then they step back and let the community enjoy the fruits of their labors, with no strings attached.

Thank you.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

The pleasures of a free weekend

Most weekends are filled with must-do's in the Knitternall house. Homework, school projects, Quiz Bowl, church activities and retreats, freelance copywriting assignments, and never-ending chores make the time fly too quickly for respite. 

This weekend has been an unexpected exception. Such wealth of free time. So many options for fun!

Saturday I transplanted four shrubs, divided hostas, cut back some overachiever hollies and hydrangeas, turned the growing compost pile, and planted two dwarf gardenias. Today, after church, I'll focus on seaming 60+ squares for a huge prayer blanket. I have two DVD's ready to go and plan to enjoy myself completely.

  I've also been busy with Christmas knitting:  Rolled brim hats, Urchin berets, Maine Morning Mitts and a few felted handbags will fill the stockings of teachers and friends. 

Funny how I'm just as busy as usual, but because the work is my choice, it's so much more pleasurable.

 Now it's time for church. A beautiful day, the satisfaction of completed labors, and time with my family: bliss.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Food memories

I didn't get to spend a lot of time with my grandparents, but that time was certainly powerful. They lived a Southern farm life in the outskirts of Durham, keeping with them the patterns of childhood and adapting them to the city life they had to take on during the Depression. There was a large garden, much bigger than their little bungalow, to the side of the house on a sun-baked hill. My grandmother found local sources for molasses, fatback, lard, and other staples. They hunted wild game for food and, for a long time they had chickens, until a grocery store finally opened a mile down the road.

I was fascinated by their lifestyle. I, a child of the Air Force move-every-two-years life, couldn't imagine living in one place for years on end, let alone near the extended family that had settled in the Bethesda area of Durham. They were by no means the salt of the earth, however: it turns out the family  made more bad choices than good ones, with my grandmother deftly ignoring or denying the shenanigans of her progeny.

During the small bits of time I had with my grandmother, she taught me a lifetime of skills: how to make perfect buttermilk biscuits and pecan pie,  sew basic hems and repair tears and replace missing buttons, crochet, harvest beans and peas, and more. She filled a need I didn't understand to work with my hands and tend to home.

This morning the tweens are sleeping off the aftereffects of too much candy and long jogs from one street to the next. The teen is powersleeping his exhaustion away (nightly homework lasting until midnight takes a toll). Halloween started with a block party hosted by the Neels and ended with a quiet ramble down the street with AG and her friend. 

I decided it was a good morning for biscuits. So I took out my grandmother's wood bread bowl, mixed the ingredients, and the house is now filled with a luscious, buttermilky scent that fills me with contentment.


Buttermilk Biscuits
6 cups self-rising flour 
1/2 to 3/4 cups shortening 
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
Mix and knead until dough is slightly sticky. Powder hands with flour and shape dough into 2" diameter biscuits. (My grandmother never used a biscuit cutter - her biscuits were always rolled and flattened by hand.) 
Bake at 425 degrees for about 15-18 minutes. Check carefully - don't over-bake. The ideal color is a light golden brown.
Serve with butter, molasses, bacon, eggs, cheese - a buffet of yummy fillings.