Day 30 Creating an Heirloom

The first time I picked up a pair of knitting needles, it was to make a baby blanket for my firstborn. A dear friend of mine taught me how to cast on, knit, and purl. At the time, sonograms were not a part of routine prenatal care, so I didn’t know if I was expecting a girl or a boy. I chose a gender-neutral yarn of pastel colors and started knitting.

I made some mistakes in the creation of my first knitted project, but I did complete it. When my children grew out of the baby stage, I tucked the blanket away in my cedar chest where it stayed for a few decades. I saved it to give my son when he had children.

Son's teddy bear and blanket

Son’s teddy bear and blanket

I put away my knitting needles years ago because my friend and knitting teacher moved away. Last year I decided to enroll in a knitting class, and I completed a sampler scarf and hat. When we learned of the baby on the way, I felt confident in my improved knitting skills to tackle another baby blanket. This time, I wanted to try a simple lace pattern.

Unlike the first blanket I knitted, I had access to thousands of patterns online from which to choose. I picked one out and bought the yarn, a lovely white acrylic/washable wool combination. (Yes, I have learned about yarns too.)

Needles and yarn for the blanket

Needles and yarn for the blanket

I purposely chose quality yarn for a couple of reasons. I was the one handling it in order to create a beautiful blanket. I wanted something soft to the touch. I also wanted something easy to care for, which meant it had to be washable. When creating an heirloom, saving money on cheaper skeins of yarn was not an option. It makes no sense to scrimp on yarn for something that may last decades and be passed down to another generation.

I started knitting the blanket about four months before the baby’s due date. The pattern was a good choice, simple enough to do while I watched TV. Knit 1, yarn over, knit two together. The yarn overs made the holes which created the lace. Every four rows I completed the lace pattern.  I did it over and over again until the blanket was the desired size.

The lady at the yarn shop recommended I double strand it since it was a sport weight yarn. As the knitting progressed, I was concerned about the weight of the blanket. I joked with my husband, “I hope this blanket isn’t so heavy the baby can’t turn over!”

His response, “Well, she will be living in a cold state. She’s going to need a warm blanket.”

The baby shower would be held some time in October, and I knitted furiously to complete the blanket in time. Even when I tired of the project, I pushed on, knowing if I laid it down and started something else, I might not finish in time. “I’m creating an heirloom,” I told my husband. And he would admire my work as the blanket grew longer day by day.

I finished the blanket mere days before the shower. I pulled that first knitted baby blanket out of the cedar chest for inspection. The mistakes I made left visible holes, and I had tried to fix it years earlier. One corner looked like it was about to unravel. I took it to the yarn shop to ask if it could be fixed. One of the ladies fixed the corner, and she showed me how I could weave a piece of yarn in and around the holey places to camouflage my mistakes.

Once that was done, I carefully folded it, placed it in a gift box and wrapped it. I attached a gift tag explaining this was my son’s baby blanket and I was passing it on to his family as a keepsake.

My first knitted blanket and the new baby blanket, both heirlooms

My first knitted blanket and the new baby blanket, both heirlooms

The new blanket went into another gift box. As I tucked it in the pink tissue paper, I felt a little separation anxiety. Coming to the end of the heirloom project tugged at my heart. I ran my hand over the soft folds of the blanket and said good bye. My husband reminded me, “The next time you see the blanket, it will be wrapped around our new granddaughter.” That made me smile.

Boxing up the blanket

Boxing up the blanket

Waiting until the blanket was finished to send the big box of presents wasn’t my best idea. It was important to me that it reach the mother-to-be in time for the baby shower, so I paid the piper the big bucks to express mail it.

In a separate box I shipped my son’s first teddy bear (see photo above) dressed in the outfit he wore home from the hospital. I’m so sentimental. I told Stephen he could do whatever he wanted with those items, but he’s pretty sentimental too.

It took about two months to knit this lovely, lace blanket, but I am so glad I took the time and effort to create this heirloom. I look forward to holding my baby granddaughter very soon, nestled in the folds of the blanket I knitted for her.

This post is part of my 31 Days of Family Joy linking with http://www.thenester.com.

Day 29 Mom’s Butterfly Quilt

I have always loved quilts, especially the stories that accompany them. My mother inherited some quilt blocks from her mother.

Grandma Sommers Frank started a butterfly quilt before my mother was born, more than eighty years ago. She always loved butterflies. I guess she liked their colors and their freedom. When I asked Mom to tell me the story of the butterfly quilt, this is what she said:

My mother kept the quilt blocks in a green, brocade box. We moved a lot during the Great Depression because there was no work for my dad. We would stay with an aunt and uncle for several months at a time, then move on to the next family member. Wherever we went, the green box went too.

As a child I remember asking my mother what was in the box. She showed the fabric squares to me. She had appliqued pieces of butterflies made from materials she kept from the 1920s. Then she embroidered around the butterfly shapes. I asked if I could help her sew, but Mother answered, “No, you’re too little to do it.

I don’t know when she stopped working on the quilt, but she kept all of the squares. Some of them still had the skeins of embroidery floss in matching colors pinned to the squares.

My mother crocheted and did crewel embroidery when I was growing up, but she never took the quilt squares out to work on them. I never even knew it existed until a few years ago.

Mom decided to have someone else complete the quilt so she could enjoy this keepsake. She supported a mission through her church and found out from their newsletter the ladies in the mission could complete her quilt. She corresponded with one of them and settled on a price for a queen-size quilt using Grandma’s squares. She laid the quilt squares out on her couch and took this picture before mailing.

Quilt squares

Quilt squares

Mom sent the squares in May, and received the completed quilt in September a few years ago.

Twelve ladies worked on the quilt, and did a beautiful job finishing the embroidery, assembling the squares, putting the backing and border on it, and finally quilting it. Mom was thrilled when she received the finished product, and happy that it helped support the mission at the same time.

Mom with the butterfly quilt

Mom with the butterfly quilt

My mother found a way to carry out Grandma’s vision, and now she enjoys a very special quilt. I’m happy to add another story to our family scrapbook of memories.

Day 26 I Go to Prepare a Place For You

Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.” John 14:1-2

Our lives were interrupted this week by news of the untimely death of our great niece, Savannah. When we heard about the car accident that took her life, we were all in shock. This beautiful girl had just celebrated her twentieth birthday, and now we would be attending her funeral.

Today’s post was delayed because of the service and time spent with the family, but I wanted to honor Savannah’s memory by posting something even late in the day.

I thought the pastor did a wonderful job comforting the family with Scripture and words spoken from his own heart. His comments focused on the love of God, and he said even though we can’t answer all the tough questions about why this happened, we can look to God for strength and comfort. He is with us and will be with us every day as we continue to live our lives.

Although our hearts are saddened at this great loss, I am thankful that Jesus is an ever present help in time of trouble. He is our peace that passes understanding.

Rest in Peace, Savannah

Rest in Peace, Savannah

Day 23 Not Enough Zzzzzs

I’m reading a book on prayer for a ladies’ Bible study, and I just read a section about the author’s writing success. “Sleep deprivation,” he says. He has to get up hours earlier than everyone else in his household in order to write, but he goes on to say that it’s worth the sacrifice when he hears that someone’s life was changed through his writing.

It made me think about the times that sleep deprivation affected me. Most people can identify. Think back to the times you have dealt with a lack of sleep. You’re groggy, cranky, and just can’t seem to function. Now think about the reasons you were sleep deprived.

BABY BRYNN*

BABY BRYNN* (Photo credit: gobucks2)

It’s been a long time, but I do remember having a newborn in the house. I did the night feedings because I was breastfeeding, but when all my efforts to get the baby back to sleep failed, my husband stepped in. He would walk the floor with the baby, soothing both the child and me, the frustrated and tired mom. I so appreciated having him there to take over.

As the kids got older, there were times I was up in the middle of the night tending a sick child. Who can sleep when your toddler is crying in pain with an ear infection?

Years later when our teenaged daughter was dealing with excruciating pain, we had to take her to the ER. When I asked her to rate the pain level between 1 and 10, she said,”30.”

“Okay, we’re going to the hospital now,” I said.

Hubby and I sat in plastic-molded chairs in the exam room, waiting for results on her tests. She would have an emergency appendectomy at 4:00 a.m., and we were up all night. Major sleep deprivation, but we didn’t care. When your kids need you, you power through the grogginess and shake off slumber. It’s not like I could actually rest in one of those chairs anyway.

For the most part, my sleep deprivation occurred because someone needed me. It’s been worth it. Sacrificing sleep was a small price to pay to take care of my family.

This post is part of the 31 Days of Family Joy, linking up with http://www.thenester.com.

Day 21 Hillbilly Breakfast

Back in 1974 when my husband and I announced our plan to get married in three days and go to Florida, my mother-in-law told him, “You know your Mamaw and Papaw won’t be able to come.”

“I know,” hubby answered, “but we will stop on the way to Florida and spend a few days.”

Mamaw and Papaw Miracle lived in Tennessee at the time, but had raised their family in the hills of Kentucky. When we arrived, Mamaw (Hazel) Miracle waited on us like we were royalty, and the next morning she laid out a spread our family calls Hillbilly breakfast–bacon, eggs, biscuits and milk gravy.

Buttermilk Biscuits

Buttermilk Biscuits (Photo credit: Bordecia34)

Mamaw’s biscuit-making procedure was new to me, even though I was the daughter of a baker. She put shortening and milk in a bowl of flour and worked it in with her fingers, making one biscuit at a time. I ate five of them that morning! Delicious.

For several years. Mamaw’s was our half-way stop on the way to and from Michigan. She would cook for us as long as she was able, and she’d press a few bills into my husband’s hand for gas money as we were leaving.

Mamaw Hazel Miracle telling stories

Mamaw Hazel Miracle telling stories

On one of our stops, the power was out when it was time to make breakfast. Without missing a beat, Mamaw went into her shed. She got a fire going in an old, black, cast-iron stove and cooked breakfast for us. I was in awe of how easy she made it look. The biscuits were baked to golden-brown perfection, and my eggs cooked over-easy. It was no great stretch for Mamaw to make breakfast on a wood stove. She grew up in the hills too and ran a home without electricity for years.

Woman cooking on a wood cook stove in a house ...

Woman cooking on a wood cook stove in a house at Delta Cooperative (Photo credit: Kheel Center, Cornell University)

Our kids were fascinated to watch Mamaw at work. While we sat and watched her, a big, aluminum washtub caught their eyes. After breakfast Mamaw pulled it and a washboard out and showed the kids how to use them. (Notice little Sarah’s concentration in the lower right corner picture.) At the time (about 1991) Mamaw still used an old wringer washer.

Kids and the washtub

Kids and the washtub

The flavors of the south continue to be a traditional part of our family gatherings. Any time we are in Michigan to visit, we have a big Hillbilly breakfast. My father-in-law, Glen usually starts by cooking the bacon, and he often fries up a skillet of potatoes too. My mother-in-law, Millie made scratch biscuits for many years before she chose to take a shortcut and bake frozen biscuits. It takes a big batch of biscuits and gravy to feed the whole gang.

As a young woman, I learned how to make the milk gravy, although it was never as good as Mamaw’s or Millie’s. As I am writing this, I realize my own daughters haven’t yet mastered the art of making milk gravy. It’s not their fault, though. They are still young enough to be on the receiving end of this family fare. As we get older, they will keep the Hillbilly breakfast tradition alive.

What traditional meals do you have at big, family gatherings? What are the roots of those favorite foods?

Day 20 Grandma’s Ring

English: Breat Cancer ribbons

English: Breat Cancer ribbons (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I’m writing about my Grandma Merchant who lost her battle with cancer in 1973. She was diagnosed with breast cancer and had a mastectomy when I was a teenager. I don’t remember how long it was, but the cancer came back the year I graduated high school. I was on a cross-country evangelistic trip that summer when my dad told me about it over the phone.

Grandma Merchant with my sister and I

Grandma Merchant with my sister and I

Me and Grandma, 1970

Me and Grandma, 1970

A few months later, Grandma was hospitalized and went downhill fast. I had already lost both grandfathers by the time I was eight, and now this dreaded disease threatened my grandmother’s life. That fall I was away at college during the week, but came home on weekends. I saw a marked difference in Grandma’s health from week to week when I would go visit her.

I specifically remember visiting her in the hospital with my then boyfriend, Mic. Grandma pointed to her engagement ring and said, “You know this will be yours one day.”

I didn’t know how to respond. She was leaving me her diamond and told me this in Mic’s hearing. Did she say this on purpose in front of him? Did she ralize he would  be my husband in a matter of months? I was somewhat embarrassed by the fact that she spoke of her own demise so matter of factly while planting a thought in Mic’s mind.

One December morning about a month later, I took a call in my dormitory hallway. Grandma had passed away. Following the funeral, Mom put Grandma’s ring in the big safe in our bakery. It was out of sight, but not out of mind.

Mic and I did indeed become engaged a couple months later, just as Grandma suspected. My mother suggested to me that I use Grandma’s diamond as an engagement ring. “Do you think Mic would be offended if we offered it to him?

“I don’t know, but I can ask,” I answered.

Grandma's diamond in my engagement and wedding ring

Grandma’s diamond in my engagement and wedding ring

What I didn’t know was Mic was thinking the same thoughts about my grandma’s ring, but he didn’t know how to bring it up. He didn’t have much money to buy an engagement ring, but he didn’t want to assume I would want to use grandma’s diamond.

We did have a conversation about it, and I offered him the stone. He gratefully took it to the jeweler’s and had it put into a new setting.

Grandma’s ring is a beautifully-cut stone, but the value is not in the diamond itself but in what it stands for. I can look at it any time and remember my grandmother. I’m sure she would be honored to know that I have worn her diamond for almost forty years.

Day 15 Eat Well and Prosper

English: Atsugi, Japan (Aug. 23, 2003) –...

English: Atsugi, Japan (Aug. 23, 2003) – Local children meet “Popeye, the Sailor-man” during the annual American Festival held aboard the Atsugi Naval Air Facility. U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 1st Class John D. Yoder. (RELEASED) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As part of my 31 Days of Family Joy, I am writing a few posts this week about taking care of yourself.

Cartoons today are mostly glorified toy commercials in my opinion. Our oldest grandson loves Legos, and he likes the cartoons too. I often wonder, which came first, the toy or the TV show?

Back when I was a kid, marketing wasn’t as obvious, but one cartoon positively affected our dinner table. I’m talking about Popeye the Sailor man and spinach. In every episode, Popeye needed strength to pummel the bad guy, Brutus. He would pop open a can of spinach and eat the whole thing in one gulp. Immediately his muscles were electrified with super strength so he could save the day. I’m sure spinach sales were up while that cartoon was on television.

Canned spinach is a dark green, limp mass, not very appetizing to say the least. I would eat it anyway, because I thought it would make me strong. As I raised my own kids, I bought frozen spinach to cook for my family, but Popeye wasn’t around to sell it.

We have gradually changed our eating habits, trying to eat less processed food. It was only a few years ago we started buying fresh spinach to add to salads.

One day when my grandson and I were at the grocery store together, I tried to explain how we should eat as much fresh food as we can. To make my point, when we came home I laid all the produce out on the counter to show him how much of my groceries were in their natural state. “Look at the beautiful colors,” I said. “Doesn’t that make you want to eat it?” He wasn’t convinced. It’s still a chore for him to eat anything green.

Fresh food is beautiful

Fresh food is beautiful

My husband is definitely on board with eating healthier. Last fall we bought a juicer and started juicing greens and other vegetables. It wasn’t too bad, but a bit of an acquired taste. A few of my husband’s co-workers started making green smoothies too. I couldn’t imagine drinking spinach and other greens, but I was willing to give it a try.

We ordered the mack daddy of blenders, something I have wanted for many years. To my surprise, the green smoothies are delicious. You can’t taste the spinach or kale or whatever greens you put in there. The fruits sweeten it up, and the blender does the job of combining the healthy goodness.

Blender is loaded

Blender is loaded

I was so proud of finishing a huge bag of spinach that I took a picture of the empty bag.

Large empty spinach bag

Large empty spinach bag

We have never been able to eat it all before it goes bad–until now. Each batch of smoothies takes about two cups of greens. You can use spinach, kale, bok choy, or other greens. If you want to try it, you can Google green smoothie recipes for ideas.

Green smoothie

Green smoothie

After just a couple weeks of one smoothie a day, I can definitely feel more energy. Maybe Popeye really was on to something. I won’t go looking for any bad guys to beat up, but plan to keep eating well so I can live long and prosper.

My 31 Days of Family Joy is linked up with http://www.thenester.com and her 31 Day Blogging Event.