Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A break in the summer heat

Did you get up this morning and discover that summer is wonderful again?

The dense, humid heat that has broiled Dunwoody for the past few weeks has finally broken. The sky seems clearer, plants look greener, and the air feels breathable. The tween and I enjoyed an afterdark stroll last night, I enjoyed some meditative plant watering both at home and at Dunwoody Nature Center, and all the windows at work are open to let in the fresh air.

While we're all still very tired from the Butterfly Festival (the clean-up is neverending), the refreshing temperatures make the work much more pleasant. Soon, the last recyclables will go to the collection site and the park will give no hint of the throngs who chased butterflies last weekend.

A family visited the park today for the first time, fresh from unpacking boxes that traveled from New York City to Dunwoody. They've already planted a vegetable garden and are eager to uncover all the sustainable living opportunities in our blooming city. We told them about Sustainable Dunwoody, the Farmers' Market in the village, our square foot gardening classes and camps for their children, where to find Farmer D's magic compost, and how the city is putting "green" into its longrange planning. Soon we were bubbling over with opportunities and ideas until the parents begged for notepaper so they could write everything down.

I love chatting with visitors to the park. The business of operating the nature center is sometimes all-consuming. Then someone asks for a park map, a child runs in with a mysterious insect to identify, a tiny hand inches toward the candy jar I keep filled on my desk (they know I'll say yes), and we all remember once again what we love about working at the nature center.

We had another little guy come to camp on Monday who was not really sure it was a good idea. He sobbed inconsolably, impervious to our hugs and coaxing. So we called Mom, I hugged him in my lap and chatted with him until she arrived, and off he went with a wave and relieved smile. (I wish she could have seen the way he lit up when he heard her step - I kid you not. He recognized her footsteps! "My mommy! My mommy!")

This morning he arrived holding hands with one of his big brothers. After some encouraging words from Mom, he stayed the course. Later in the morning, I saw him skipping down the hall. "Hi!" he waved as he passed my desk. "I got in the cweek!"

I'm glad he came back and gave us another try.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Think Pink.

For the past two weeks, every waking moment has been consumed by by Peachtree Charter Middle School's Executive Council Retreat (I have the honor of serving the school as Chair) and by this: the 2009 Butterfly Festival at Dunwoody Nature Center.

To cool my roaring jets, I've played with a design-as-you-go shawl, incorporating a series of motifs and trims from several sources with some archaic soft, worsted weight pink yarn found at an estate sale.

The result is:

Think Pink: A Shawl That's The Sum Of Its Splendid Parts.

Worsted weight yarn, approximately 900 - 1000 yards, depending on number of repeats and your gauge

Size 10 knitting needles, straight and circular

Section 1: Dean Crane's Candle Flame Shawl pattern, notated by Linda Clark. Continue pattern repeats until there are 12 flame medallions across the top, then bind off.

Section 2: Crochet-Trimmed Frill (without the crochet trim), 150 Knitted Trims by Lesley Stanfield. Pick up 108 stitches along one side. Repeat rows 5 & 6 until there are 5 bars (14 total rows). Now shift to Hoops, trim #59. Follow pattern for Rows 1-7 and bind off.

Section 3: Repeat Section 2.

Section 4: Modular Diamond motif from Patricia Werner's Dazzling Knits: Building Blocks to Creative Knitting. Pick up 16 stitches along right facing crochet-trimmed frill end, one center stitch from tip of Candle Flame motif, and 16 stitches along left facing crochet-trimmed frill end. Follow instructions for Basic Diamond. Bind off.

Last Step: Single crochet an edge around entire boundary of shawl and weave in loose ends.

Certainly, a knitter can follow my "recipe" and create the same shawl. But the beauty of this shawl is its spontaneity. I finished one section, switched patterns before I got too bored with repetition, studied the lacing and drape, tried another pattern, and created something very unique. Yet not one stitch is an original design.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Scooter's Red Ball

Scooter loves his routines. If it's time to go "out" for any reason, whether for a walk or for dog business, he charges down the front hall and launches himself at the front door. A quick slap on the door, a few vertical springs straight up in the air, and he's good to go.

Most of his day is spent lounging in a chair in the sunroom or on the floor near one of the front windows where he can keep an eye out for his nemesis, Brother. Miss Peg's orange tabby roams the neighborhood in slow, sinuous disdain for Scooter, rolling his eyes as Scooter barks madly to let us know THERE'S A CAT IN THE YARD. Same cat. Every day. Same frantic alarm.

Meal time is bliss time. Scooter warbles his delight that his belly will soon be filled and chows down in terror that someone will steal his food. That's a legacy of his brief abandonment as a newborn puppy in a dumpster. He's never gotten over his fear of hunger.

Then comes the highlight of Scooter's entire day. Some time around 10 pm, the kids and I troop upstairs for showers and reading and other pre-bedtime necessities. Scooter charges up the stairs with his beloved red ball.

This stretchy, holey, 6" diameter ball rests at this moment in Scooter's kennel, with his head lovingly braced against it for an afternoon nap. This evening, I'll toss it from the chair in my bedroom, out the door, and down the stairs. It's a straight shot (though I hit the door frame as often as I get it "in the groove"). Scooter tries to catch it on the fly; if he misses, he charges down the stairs after it. We repeat this toss and fetch at least a dozen times before he changes the game to tug-of-war. Growling ferociously, he snaps and pulls at the red ball as I hold on to it as best I can. He's pretty darned strong. And stubborn.

Finally, he lays the ball down and lies down at the top of the stairs until everyone is settled into their own beds. "Downstairs," I say to him, and he taps down to his kennel.

I'd say Scooter has the Knitternall family well trained.

Monday, June 15, 2009


A box turtle decided to lay her eggs in the middle of the meadow at Dunwoody Nature Center. Campers hiking to the creek discovered her, busily digging a deep hole in a sunny spot in their path.

"Why is she making her nest here?" they asked. "Wouldn't she be safer in the woods?"

Talk about a teachable moment!

Box turtles love to make their nests in very vulnerable spots, including dirt roads, drives, and paths. The reason is they want loose dirt and direct sun, both of which can be found in well trafficked areas.

The children were very worried about mama turtle, especially since it looked like she'd be digging most of the day. They made a ring of river rock around her and posted a sign, "Sssshhhh - turtle laying eggs!" All day, visitors watched her digging the hole, relentlessly and tirelessly.

When I came to work the next morning, mama turtle was gone, and the ground was still grooved by the arching ruts of her rear feet. (No, that isn't her photo - she'd laid the eggs in the dark of night while the park was closed.)

We've covered the spot with chicken wire to keep out predators and will watch closely to see if baby turtles emerge. Unfortunately, the spot is prime real estate for the Butterfly Festival (Saturday, June 27), so we'll have to move the cage temporarily.

Want to know what to do if you see a box turtle in the road or your yard? Check out this very helpful site: http://www.marietta.edu/~mcshaffd/boxt/faq.html.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Knitting doldrums.

What do you do when something isn't fun anymore?

I've had a prolonged bout of knitting doldrums that started right after Stitches South in April. The show was inspiring and overwhelming at the same time. So many yarns. So many designers. So many opportunities.

I left feeling somewhat inadequate.

I cast on a sweater coat. And ripped it apart after I'd knitted 12 inches. Boring.

I thought about a new design for a felted handbag, something I've thoroughly enjoyed in the past. Nada.

I tried a new knitting technique for socks. Sigh.

What the heck?

Then the synergy of Miss Pettigrew Lives for A Day, a stormy evening, and a clean house led me to noodling in my yarn stash. I am too restless to sit still and watch a movie, so I decided to give knitting another chance.

I played with some lovely pink German yarn I found at an estate sale more than three years ago. It said "shawl" to me, so I adapted the traditional candle flame lace pattern and will add an edge pattern that frames it perfectly. I'm back in the knitting game again!

It's hard when something you've enjoyed so much stops giving the same sense of pleasure. I even thought maybe knitting would no longer be the linchpin it has served for so long.

I guess I just needed a break, to not take it for granted, and to focus on the pleasure of the process rather than just the results.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Rush hour on the sidewalk.

One of my favorite indulgences is an hour plus walk early Saturday morning before the family stirs. In the winter, I watch the sun rise in solitary peace. In the summer, I bump elbows with runners, bikers, dog walkers, jogging strollers, and phone-chatters as the sidewalks around Dunwoody Village fill with neighbors enjoying the morning cool. (Why do people walk and talk on the cell phone at the same time? Don't they WANT to disconnect from busy-ness?)

My dog longed to meet two stately chocolate labs who walked shoulder to shoulder next to their owner. We met them twice; I crossed the road to avoid a mix-up the first time; the owner stepped kindly into a yard the second. His dogs were much better behaved than Scooter the Wonder Dog.

Two neighbors ran past me on the last leg home. We have a meeting this afternoon to discuss our pending litigation about the daycare center going in behind us, so we called a greeting and a reminder to each other.

There's a stretch of sidewalk on Womack, near the library, that's so overgrown that the sidewalk is half its normal width. Of course, that's invariably where several of us will need to pass each other. Two runners jumped into the lane of traffic to go around me and the dog. I stopped and stepped back into the overgrowth to let a stroller pass by. I thought that if we were all in cars, there might have been much less "after you" and more "get out of my way."

When the light changed at the intersection of Chamblee-Dunwoody and Mt. Vernon Road, I had the pedestrian go-ahead to cross. I stepped into the crosswalk, then had to stop when a car came from behind and darted left in front of me. Hmmm . . . pretty sure that was both rude and illegal. But it happens nearly every time I walk, so I'm careful.

The outdoor seating at Starbucks was filled with guys in baseball caps, gals in pony tails chatting before their tennis game (I'm not a mindreader - they were wearing really cute tennis outfits), and several reading the morning paper. I love the smell of coffee that wafts from the shop.

The Fresh Market had a great display of seasonal fruits outside; soon, their grill will join the one at Publix to fill the air with roasting meat. Add the smokey barbecue coming from Olde Hickory House, and it's hard to fight the temptation to fire up the grill at home.

It's Saturday morning in Dunwoody. What a wonderful start to the day.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

There's a big playground trying to take root in my back yard. Practically.

A daycare center (a Goddard franchise) wants to build a ginormous, 9,000 - 11,000-square-foot playground a few steps from our back yard. Within the stream buffer of our creek.

I love kids. I have a couple of my own. I work happily in the chaos of summer camp at Dunwoody Nature Center. Children roam across the yard and down the street as they play and ride bikes and sell lemonade and Girl Scout cookies. But the thought of a playground spilling raucous cries of frenetic children from 7 am to 6 pm is . . . not good. When the leaves come down from the lovely hardwoods that buffer our home from the village, we'll see nothing but playground, with its hard-metal curves and less-than-organic shapes. My very elderly neighbor next door, trying to live as many independent years as possible in the home she's had since the early 1970's, is in tears. The couple down the street, ready to downsize and sell their home to recoup some retirement funds, is very, very worried because their house is closest to the new daycare center. And the wonderful path that takes us from neighborhood to village, will disappear.

As we neighbors attempt to make the playground "go away," or at the least move to the other side of the building, I have discovered once again that the wishes of the many (the city's planning department and ever-yearning search for tax dollars) outweigh the needs of the few (our little neighborhood).

Nothing can make you feel more helpless than to have a government entity take away your quality of life. Our town's planning department thinks the daycare center (the 5th in the one-square-mile center of our town) is a great idea and is working with the developer to make it work. We neighbors, who have to invest in an attorney and struggle through contradictory zoning and codes, fervently disagree.

Yes, we bought a house next to the village. We wanted a "walkable" life in the heart of Dunwoody.

Yes, we knew there were offices across the stream. They're very quiet, with businesses that are open from 9 to 5 and generate modest traffic.

Yes, we voted to make Dunwoody a city so zoning fiascoes by DeKalb County would stop. We thought that our town would be more reasoned and farsighted.

Growing pains, I guess.

One of the silver linings of the neighborhood's opposition to the rezoning has been a comfortable bonding across cul de sacs and down past the curve in the road. We're waving to each other even more and stopping to chat during our evening strolls. I've always loved living in this neighborhood and enjoy it even more as we come together to protect our peace.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Tears and fears.

Imagine having the first day of school every single week. That's what every Monday is like at Dunwoody Nature Center. It's the first day of a week-long camp, which means new teachers, new campers, new parents, and the whole "where do I go what do I do is my mom/dad gonna come back" angst.

There's always at least one tiny camper who most definitely does NOT think this is a good idea. This morning it was a little guy, nearly 4, who was not happy one bit about Dad leaving him behind. Scrunched face, big fat tears, and gulping sobs followed Dad out the door. (I think Dad wanted to cry, too, but he took a deep breath and kept going - good for you, Dad!) I sat Little Guy down on a bench and asked him to show me his hand.

"See these five fingers?" Sniffle.

"One, you're going to make something cool. Two, you'll play a game. Three, you'll have a snack. Four, you'll play in the creek and get all wet and messy. Five, Dad will come back!"

Little Guy stared at his hand, then at me.

"See? One, make something. Two, play. Three, snack - did you bring a snack?" Definite head nod this time and quickly drying tears. "Four, play in the creek. Do like to get wet?" Small smile this time. "Five, time to go home."

Little Guy studied his hand a bit, then nodded solemnly.

"It's time for one. Ready to make something?"

Little Guy hopped up and got to work. When I saw him later in the morning, covered in sand and carrying a rock he'd found in the creek, he was all smiles.

I love my job.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Wait, wait . . . don't tell me!

I tend to be a bit of a contrarian when it comes to technology. I just don't want to be THAT connected via social network sites, Twitter, TiVo, On Demand, you name it. I like blogging because it's chatty and undemanding. But then I miss things I really enjoy and start to feel out of step with my culture. What to do?

Some of my favorite radio programs come on when I'm too busy enjoy them: Car Talk and Wait Wait Don't Tell Me! on Saturday mornings, Fresh Air and All Things Considered during crunch time with the kids, Thistle and Shamrock on Sunday evenings. Just as I never schedule an appointment for a haircut (walk right in to Azima and they always take care of me), entertainment has to be spontaneous. Regularly scheduled programs demand attention when they're on and I just don't live that way.

Then I discovered I can listen to previous broadcasts of my favorite programs on the computer. While I'm cooking dinner or doing the laundry! And that I can download them FOR FREE as podcasts!

Yeah, I'm slow about some things.

I took Scooter the Wonder Dog for a wonderful, hour-long walk yesterday morning with gray clouds overhead and cool, humid air whirling around. First I caught up with last week's Wait Wait. Roy Blount, Jr. mused about his ability to look and sound a lot dumber than necessary ("it just comes natural") and I learned a lot more about Skull and Bones' nicknames than I really want to remember (I'll never think about President Bush-the-elder the same way again).

Before I knew it, I was several miles from home and thoroughly enjoying myself. When the podcast ended, I dialed up the latest edition from Knit Picks and discovered a few things about iCord I didn't know (it makes a great edge treatment and adds definition to stockinette).

Entertainment when I'm ready for it. How about that?

I can't believe I waited so long to get an iPod.

Friday, June 5, 2009

The politics of daily living.

It's one of the quirkier aspects of life that things happen in threes. Lately, the Knitternall family is delving into political waters on many fronts: a zoning appeals hearing with Dunwoody's appointed commission, the search for a new principal for Peachtree Charter Middle School, and our son's first steps into government regulation as he attempts to attain that all-important driver's license.

Our little neighborhood, tucked warmly up against the Dunwoody Village town center, has coexisted peacefully with lovely Williamsburg office buildings and the back of some of our favorite places to eat, shop, and celebrate. A developer wishes to add a very large daycare center and playground adjoining our back yard. Sigh.

DeKalb County Schools is in the process of appointing a new principal for Peachtree Charter Middle School. The most excellent Steve Donahue is "moving up" and away from the principal's office - we're delighted for his advancement but very sad that we have to lose him. As Chair of the Executive Council, I'm charged with the execution of our state-approved Charter, which includes making sure parents and teachers provide input for the selection of the new principal. How do you describe the perfect principal? I don't think "someone exactly like Mr. Donahue" will be sufficient.

A is worried about passing his test and I'm not looking forward to introducing him to the DMV. It's a rite of passage for every young teen, but sometimes it can be unexpectedly pleasant. All it takes is one friendly examiner and his fears will melt.

The politics of daily living can be emotional and enlightening at the same time. Our children will learn much from the process and from the way we parents handle it.

No pressure there!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The care and feeding of volunteers.

One of my great pleasures is tending to the many volunteers who staff Dunwoody Nature Center's camp programs. They range from brand-new junior counselors barely in their tween years to just-graduated veterans who are volunteering the summer before college just because they like being at the Nature Center. AG and her BFF D are working next week with our smallest campers, the Teenies, who need laps to lounge in and lots of hugs in their first camp experience.

Gotta love 'em.

Last year, I inaugurated "Wonderful Wednesdays," bringing fresh-baked treats to the volunteers and teachers to enjoy as they darted from one activity to the next. Favorites have been the old school peanut butter bars reminiscent of my high school cafeteria outside Goldsboro, North Carolina to fresh, organic blueberry bars full of plump berries and topped with a cheesecake-like icing.

I'm trying a new recipe for them tomorrow: chocolate peanut butter squares. They taste like Reese's and are a breeze to make. If they're a hit, they'll make a return visit later in the summer.

Here's the recipe, submitted by "Nancy" to www.allrecipes.com:
Peanut Butter Bars
  • 1 cup butter or margarine, melted
  • 2 cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 2 cups confectioners' sugar
  • 1 cup peanut butter
  • 1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
  • 4 tablespoons peanut butter
  1. In a medium bowl, mix together the butter or margarine, graham cracker crumbs, confectioners' sugar, and 1 cup peanut butter until well blended. Press evenly into the bottom of an ungreased 9x13 inch pan.
  2. In a metal bowl over simmering water, or in the microwave, melt the chocolate chips with the peanut butter, stirring occasionally until smooth. Spread over the prepared crust. Refrigerate for at least one hour before cutting into squares.

Monday, June 1, 2009

I am so lucky.

One of my favorite people, who happens to be on the cusp of Kindergarten this fall at the Knitternall alma mater, Austin Elementary School, rang our doorbell yesterday and asked the tween to deliver a gift and message.

The gift: a handwritten card on cherry yellow construction paper.
The message: that she's reading "a really big book" all by herself.

Sublime joy. Teaching little ones the fundamentals of phonics has been such fulfilling work. In each class of 12 children, 12 different light bulbs pop on at 12 different times. Through the past few years, I've seen more than 600 of those light bulbs twinkle. What a privilege it has been.

Oh, Elizabeth. Thank YOU for your hugs and grins, for your determination and fearless jumps into alphabet soup (emerging, victoriously, with letter-sound connections), and for that wonderful card you wrote all by yourself.

Someday soon, I hope we'll sit on the front stoop and share a book together. I'd like that, very much.