Making Bread

I love fresh bread. I could never do one of those diets where you can’t eat bread. I have been gradually changing my diet in recent years to be more healthy, including eating less meat and processed food, and transitioning to whole and multi grain bread.

When the kids were young we ate white bread. Occasionally I would buy wheat bread, but it always seemed dry and no one would eat it. Over the years I found some brands of multi grain and oat bread that I liked for sandwiches. These days I never buy grocery store white sandwich bread, although our local bakery has some amazing olive bread and french boule that are a regular treat.

During the stay at home order I have been experimenting with a bread maker that we have had for years. I had only used it a couple of times a year with mixed success. I never knew what went wrong with the flops, but probably one problem was old yeast because I did not use it very often. I wanted to give the bread maker away when we moved last summer, but my husband convinced me not to and I am glad about that.

Now that I have more time and fresh ingredients, I have been trying the bread maker again. So far I have made french bread, 100% whole wheat bread, and multi grain bread. I have also used the “dough only” option for egg bread and pizza dough, where the bread maker stops after mixing and rising so you can do the baking yourself in the oven. I separated off part of the egg bread dough for buns. They turned out quite good.

Whole wheat flour, oatmeal, 7 grain cereal, brown sugar, honey and salt ready to add to water, olive oil, white flour and yeast in the bread maker.

Today I made a loaf of multi grain bread with a recipe that I tweaked a bit from the one in the bread maker booklet. I have made this version successfully several times now.

Following is my version of multi grain bread: 1 cup plus 2 tbsp water, 2 tbsp olive oil, 1 ⅓ cup white flour, 1 cup wheat flour, ¼ cup oatmeal, ½ cup 7 grain cereal, 3 tbsp brown sugar, 1 tbsp honey, 1 ¼ tsp salt, 2 ¼ tsp yeast

Ready to close the lid and press “start”

The multi grain bread takes 5 hours, so if we want to eat it fresh, it is going to be an afternoon snack or a side with dinner. Or I guess I could get up earlier.

One problem with the home made bread is that it is hard to cut evenly. I am particularly inept at it and usually end up with a slice that is thick on top and thin on the bottom. To solve this problem I ordered a bread slicer gadget that is really slick. It is a bamboo sort of frame with slots on each side to keep the knife slicing even. There are different widths of slots so you can have thin, medium or thick slices. It folds down for storage.

Bamboo foldable bread slicer
Completed and removed from the bread maker
Slicing a piece of bread
Fresh bread with dinner…yes that looks like a lot of butter

There is a recipe for croissants (using the dough only option) I would like to try when we have more people around. The recipe uses seven ounces of butter, so how could it not be good? Watch for a future post about that.

Mother’s Ten Rules for Living

My mom passed away last fall. To honor her for Mother’s Day, I am sharing a little bit about her. My mom loved being at home. She rivaled Martha Stewart in her homemaking and creative abilities which included entertaining, cooking and baking, gardening, sewing, knitting, painting, ceramic art and writing.

My mom circa age 12
My mom holding me, with her mother and grandmother

Following is a photo of my mother taken a few years ago, holding an afghan she was knitting. Later in this post are more photos of her ceramic art, a painting she did in 1957, and a dress she made for me when I was a child.

My mom holding an afghan she knit

Here are a few sentences my sister and I shared at the memorial service last fall, including her 10 rules for living a good life.

From the Elizabeth Sweder Eulogy

Liz Sweder was living the dream.  How many people know exactly what they want to do, excel at it, and get to do it their whole adult life?  In her later years, I think she was increasingly conscious of and grateful for this fact.  Many of you heard her say this past year “I was so lucky, I got to be a homemaker.”  

You could say our mom was lucky.  But I think the fact that our mom was clear about her values and lived them is the more important ingredient.  She focused her time and her energies on the things that were important to her: her family, keeping a home that was warm and welcoming, her creative activities, and her spiritual life.  Our family could have had more money, gone on fancier trips, and gone out to eat more if she had gotten a job outside the home.  But she willingly chose a different life and was so happy with it.

Since we know our mom would want each of us to be as happy as she was, we want to share with you Liz’s 10 rules to live by:

  1. Start each day with a cup of hot cocoa.
  2. Eat three square, home cooked meals every day.
  3. Make sure you are put together every time you go out. You simply cannot have too many sweaters, scarves, purses, shoes, coats, and jewelry.
  4. Always be reading a good book.
  5. Show up.  Ideally show up at family and community events with a pot of homemade baked beans, or an apple pie, or a pan of brownies.
  6. Stay informed about current events and be prepared to discuss them in a civil fashion.
  7. Do some Bible study or other activity every day to feed your soul.
  8. Keep the porch light on and the coffee pot plugged in so you are always ready for company.
  9. A little travel is nice if it involves a road trip to visit friends or relatives; otherwise, there is no place like home.
  10. Go all in on the activities that bring you joy.   
Part of a series of ceramic sculptures focusing on chairs
A dress with smocking my mom made when I was a child, in front of her china cabinet
Hand knit sweater to go with the smocked dress
A bust my mom made of her mother
A ceramic elephant pitcher and cups my mom made
A lake shore scene painted by my mom in 1957
The cover of my mom’s memoir

There is more information about my mom’s memoir on the tab “The Red Cottage” in the menu above, including links to the Amazon listing. When she realized that my sister did not remember where she was born, my mother abandoned her ceramic studio mid projects and started writing.

I am grateful to be living in my parents house where there are reminders everywhere of all my mom’s creative accomplishments.

Socks

I finished knitting a pair of socks that I started ages ago in March, when we were in California.

Completed sock knitting project

One of my knitting mentors, my mom’s cousin Mary Turak, once told me how she could not understand the popularity of sock knitting. In her mind that is boring, they wear out, and it makes more sense to buy socks. For many years I never tried making socks because her words were in the back of my mind, the pattern seemed complicated, and I usually prefer knitting with thicker yarn and needles. In recent years I decided to take on the challenge and have made several pairs of socks with mixed success.

There are many methods for knitting a sock. You can start at the cuff and knit down to the toe, or start at the toe and knit up to the cuff. There are multiple ways to knit the heel, including the flap heel, short row heel, square heel, fish lips heel, and afterthought heel. You can use double pointed needles, tiny circular needles, or something called “magic loop” using a circular needle with a super long connector. You can have more or less ribbing on the cuff, you can make the cuff longer or shorter. You can make them very basic, or with a complicated stitch pattern.

Starting at the cuff with magic loop needles

Once at a fiber fair I saw someone with a cool antique circular sock knitting machine. You can buy a brand new circular knitting machine that can make socks and smaller tubular or flat items. There are also larger flat knitting machines. Is that cheating?

Page from an antique sock machine manual

For the current project I used some purple merino wool and nylon blend Madelinetosh yarn, and a pattern called “Smooth Operator Socks” by Susan B. Anderson that I purchased on Ravelry, where I get most of my patterns. I cannot recommend this pattern enough if you are a little nervous about knitting socks, or in any case. It is 20 pages long but includes a summary version as well as detailed explanations of every step, instructions for multiple sizes and gauges, many photos, and links for video demonstrations.

Cuff finished

The Smooth Operator pattern uses an “afterthought heel” which means you knit some placeholder rows where the heel is going to go, and then go back and complete the heel later. Some of the advantages of this method are that you can easily use a contrasting yarn, and it is easier to replace later if it wears out.

Preparation for the “afterthought heel”
The bamboo needles are on the heel stitches, the other needles are on the foot

I used a tool called a “sock ruler” for measuring how much foot I had knitted, so I knew when to start decreasing for the toe. It can also be used for measuring how much cuff you have, or if you started with the toe, how much foot you have knitted before starting the heel. It is more accurate than trying to measure the project on your foot or laying on a surface.

Sock Ruler
Measuring the length of the foot with the sock ruler

I love the dark purple yarn that includes tones of blue, but knew it would be harder to work with than something in a lighter color. I had to make sure to have plenty of light and wear the right glasses when knitting, or I was subject to mistakes and frustration with not being able to see what I was doing. Not surprisingly, I had to fix some mistakes.

Knitting the foot, with the completed heel underneath
Completed socks!

There was quite a bit of yarn left after completing the project, so I decided to knit a pair of tiny socks using a pattern called “Infant Socks” by Judy Ellis. I finished one baby sock using the cuff to tow with heel flap method, but have something else in my queue to work on before I finish the second one.

Adult sock with baby sock out of the same yarn

Now that this adult pair of wool socks is finished, it is past the season for wearing them. Oh well, fall will be here before we know it.

Dryer Balls

I have been making dryer balls, which are an environmentally friendly alternative to dryer sheets. Dryer balls reduce static and absorb moisture resulting in less total drying time, without any harmful chemicals.

Felted wool dryer balls in one of my mom’s ceramic fish platters

I have seen dryer balls in plastic and wool. The plastic version has little spikes, resembling a covid-19 virus. Usually people use three or more in one dryer load.

Dryer balls in plastic and felted wool

There are various methods for making a dryer ball with wool fiber or wool yarn. You can wrap wool fiber into a ball with or without a core of a different non felting material, put it inside a nylon stocking, and felt it by rubbing it with soap and water, or in the washing machine. Another method is winding wool yarn into a ball and felting that. I experimented with knitting a ball, stuffing it with wool, and then felting it in the washing machine.

After many attempts and versions of a pattern that turned out too big, too small, too lumpy, or too floppy, I came up with a successful pattern that I could document and get consistent results.

Last fall I made some dryer balls and sold them at Tangles to Treasures in Fergus Falls. They were popular and sold as fast as I could make them in sets of three for $15.00, a price consistent with other wool dryer balls available for sale. Even though I have not spent any money on materials, one dryer ball takes a couple of hours to make which is not the best use of my time for the amount of money I make on it. Also I generally don’t like making the same thing over and over again. As it got closer to the holidays, I had other priorities, so I did not try to sell any more.

More wool dryer balls

I started to think that maybe I could sell the pattern instead of selling completed dryer balls. Over the winter I spent more time documenting what I was doing, tweaking the pattern, and researching how to sell a pattern on Ravelry.

Ravelry is an online community and database of projects, patterns and yarn (www.ravelry.com). Knitters and other yarn crafters use it to document their projects, search for patterns, look at examples of patterns made up in various yarns, or figure out what items have been made out of a particular yarn. Many patterns are available for sale on Ravelry. When I have a new knitting project in mind, Ravelry is my go-to place for browsing patterns and checking what they look like knit up. I also use it to keep a record of my projects.

This week I successfully listed my dryer ball pattern for sale on Ravelry for $1.00. I started out thinking I would sell it for $3.00, but found there were several other dryer ball patterns offered free of charge. I decided that listing it for $1.00 was a compromise. If no one wanted to pay that, then I was not any worse off than offering it for free. I had a sale about five minutes after it was listed. By the end of the day there were a total of four sales, but nothing since then. After the PayPal fee I net 67 cents per pattern sold…woo hoo. It will be my Caribou Coffee fun money. If you have a Ravelry account you can find my dryer ball pattern easily by searching the patterns for “dryer ball”.

Following are photos showing a dryer ball in progress and completed.

Getting started with the knitted outer layer
Switching to double pointed needles before beginning decreases
Decreasing while knitting in the round
Knitting complete
Wool batt used for stuffing
Wool batt rolled and stuffed into the knitted outer ball
With the slit closed up and ready for felting in the washing machine
After 2 loads in the washing machine and dryer

I may still knit and felt more dryer balls for sale. They are quick and mindless when I am in between other projects. It is satisfying to watch the transformation from yarn to knitted ball to felted ball, resulting in a useful product.

Quarantine 1950s Style

My mother-in-law spent over a year in a sanatorium for Tuberculosis after my husband was born in the 1950s. It seems timely to share an essay he wrote about this experience.

Wayne’s Essay about his Mother’s TB Experience

On my birthday in late March, as the Coronavirus pandemic was being declared, I thought about the year I was born. I suspect that as Mom was recovering from childbirth in the hospital (mothers may have been allowed a week or more hospital stay in those days), she was probably infected with the tuberculosis (TB)  bacteria when someone in the hospital sneezed. 

Wayne’s parents
Wayne at the hospital after being born


TB, which primarily attacked the lungs, reached epidemic proportions in the early half of the 20th century. Communities across America built isolation sanatoriums where TB patients could be isolated and treated. Antibiotics were introduced in the late 40s and 50s that proved effective in most/many cases to treat the disease. Mom had TB and soon after I was born she had to go into the Glen Lake TB sanatorium in Minnetonka, not far from our future home. My Dad took me to my grandparents house in Hatton, North Dakota, where Grandma and my Dad’s younger sisters took care of me. He continued to work in Minneapolis, away from his newborn son and away from his wife. This went on for more than a year. 

The Glen Lake TB Sanatorium operated from 1916 to 1976

It is not hard to imagine what a mental and physical hardship this must have posed for my parents. My Dad had also been in World War II, pulled from his family at a young age to face the stress and uncertainties of war. And he and Mom had been born into the Great Depression. They had to face and endure some of the hardest times in our history. 

Wayne and his Mom reunited after she spent more than a year in the TB sanatorium

Yet Mom recovered, and went on to have three more children and enjoyed remarkably good health until she passed away at age 93. My parents were able to enjoy many years of raising the family and watching their grandchildren grow. 


Thinking about this helps me put some perspective on our current crisis. It will be hard and stressful. For some, it will be far worse than that. But I am confident we will get through it. Our parents and grandparents have showed the way. 

Loom Knitting

While having more time at home I learned about loom knitting, which is a different way to knit using a row or circle of pegs, and with a hook and your fingers rather than needles. I had seen knitting looms before but never used one myself. My niece had given me a set in various sizes, after deciding she wasn’t going to use them.

A set of round knitting looms in different sizes
Instructions with hook used to knit with the loom

Knitting looms come in different sizes and shapes including a straight line with one row of pegs, a rectangle with two rows of pegs, or a circle, and with different numbers of pegs for smaller or larger projects. You can make tubular things like hats and sleeves using a round or rectangle shaped loom. You can do flat knitting with any of shape of loom. I have seen at least one rectangular loom where you can move the “end” back and forth to adjust the size and total number of pegs for a project.

Knitting looms seem limiting to me since the pegs are a fixed distance apart and there are a limited number of pegs. With knitting needles you have a wide range of possible length and width of needles appropriate for any thickness of yarn, and you can cast on however many stitches are needed. However, if you have the right yarn and project, the knitting loom can result in exactly the same result as traditional knitting, and provides an option for people who have problems using regular knitting needles.

The information in the pamphlet that came with the set was enough to get started, but youtube videos with instructions for different methods of casting on and doing stitches were more helpful. There are very simplistic cast on and “knit” stitches that would be good for a person who has no experience with knitting and wants to get the hang of it and actually make something pretty easily, but it will look a bit different than traditional knitting. After reading information I found on the internet and watching some videos I realized that there was a way to get the exact same result as the regular knit stitch produced with knitting needles. I cast on and started knitting and ripped it out several times before I was satisfied that I knew what was going on.

I started out thinking I was making a chunky cowl using two years together, from a loom knitting pattern I found online. I did not try to figure out the gauge (bad idea) since the yarns combined and the number of stitches seemed about right. That was a mistake because after several rows I realized it was going to be a baby hat. OK fine.

Casting stitches on to the loom by wrapping the yarn around the pegs

To make a “true” knit stitch (so it produces the same result as with knitting needles), you lay the working yarn across the next peg above the loop that is on that peg, poke the hook under the loop on that peg, and then scoop up the working yarn and pull it through the loop. Then you use your fingers to lift the old loop off the peg and place the new loop you just made on the loop. There is a simpler way to make a stitch by picking up the loop currently on the peg with the hook and lifting it up and over the working yarn and over the peg. This results in a slightly different stitch.

The first step of a knit stitch is to pick up the loop with the hook
Then use the hook to pull the working yarn through the loop on the peg
Lift the previous stitch off the peg and put the new stitch on
In progress..too many rows it turned out
Removing the stitches from the loom while pulling the tail through each loop

In addition to having a much smaller circumference than I was expecting, I knit too many rows for the width of the hat. It could have been a very tall clown baby hat, but I decided to rip some of the rows back before cinching up the final row of stitches by threading the working yarn through each loop. Finally I added a braid at the top.

Completed baby hat using a knitting loom

Sewing Face Masks

I sewed two face masks using bandanas for the fabric and two different patterns I found on the internet. I used to do a lot of sewing, including making many of my clothes, but in recent years I have only used my sewing machine for mending.

The face mask I sewed using an old girl scout bandana

Fabric stores used to have large selections of beautiful wool and other good quality cloth for making garments. Today most of the fabric for sale is polar fleece, and cotton for quilting. The clothing industry has changed so that buying clothes is relatively cheap, which is related to “fast fashion”, a topic for another blog post. One reason I do not sew much any more is that it is hard to see that tiny hole in the needle.

My mom was an excellent seamstress and I started learning from her at a young age. When my junior high home economics class was hemming dish towels and making aprons, I had already made simple garments at home.

When I was about 11 or 12 years old, my mom and grandma bought some of the inventory from a sewing store that went out of business. After that we had entire display cases of thread and drawers full of zippers and seam binding in the basement. Any time I needed thread for a project, I went downstairs to pick out the right color. I still have some of the thread and zippers leftover from those days.

Zippers from 1970

For my high school graduation present my parents gave me an Elna Lotus compact size sewing machine. The Elna Lotus machine did not have any fancy attachments or stitches, but it was well built and reliable, and has served my purposes to this day. I even used it to make my own wedding dress.

Back to the face mask project, I realized it may be necessary to have one when out and about in the coming months. I think part of the purpose for the mask is to reduce fear in other people you might have to interact with at a store. I found a couple of bandanas and some cotton fabric in my stash that would be suitable. There was plenty of elastic and thread in the house.

Plenty of thread in the house

I researched ideas and patterns for masks online. There are many variations with a center seam or side pleats for shaping, with or without a pocket for inserting a filter, and different methods for attaching the elastic or ties. For the first one, I settled on a pattern that had a bit of shape to it and was designed for health care workers with a slot for a filter. I made a simplified version without the slot, using only one of the pattern pieces provided. Here is the link for the pattern: https://northmemorial.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/north-memorial-health-homemade-healthcare-masks.pdf

Cutting out the pattern pieces
Sewing the center seam
Sewing together the two layers
Adding a casing on the side for elastic
Not my most attractive look

I decided to try a different pattern for the second face mask, using another bandana for the fabric. This one was basically a rectangle with pleats to give it some shape, and with the elastic sewed into the corners instead of threaded through a casing.

Second face mask

Sewing the elastic on makes the face mask more or less one size fits all, so for the next one I will try ties on the side instead. I hope face masks won’t be needed for much longer. I think we are all ready for our lives to go back to something like normal.

Self Quarantine

We are almost done with our two week self imposed quarantine, after leaving California and traveling across the country back to Minnesota. In the meantime a shelter in place order has started, so after the quarantine period is over we will continue to spend most of our time at home.

I don’t know where the time goes, even when I am home all the time. It would help if I got going earlier in the morning, or was productive later into the evening. People ask if I am a “morning person” or a “night owl”. What is the term if you are neither? I have trouble waking up in the morning, but I also start to get tired and unproductive by about 9:00 pm.

It took almost a week to get through mail and related paperwork, unpack everything we had brought on the snowbirding trip, and do all the laundry. The house was grungy and needed cleaning. I am still working on knitting the same pair of socks I started in California. We have been watching Outlander on Netflix. Every episode I notice the beautiful 18th century knitted shawls, capelets, wraps, wrist warmers and other accessories worn by the ladies.

Sock in progress

We have been going on walks every day. Since we are in a rural area, we usually do not see anyone else out at the same time. The other day we drove to a dam on the Otter Tail River a couple of miles away and walked around a bit, just to get out of the house. There were no people anywhere.

Walk near the Otter Tail River with no other people anywhere near

Like many others, we have experimented with new forms of socializing remotely. We had not seen my dad in the nursing home since January, and now we are not allowed in. We were able to arrange a Facetime visit. It was good to see him and know he is OK. We participated in an online game using our phones and Zoom, with our son and his girlfriend and members of her family. We were in four different locations but enjoyed time together laughing and connecting. There have been a couple more sessions using Zoom with different groups of family members and friends.

I am careful about not wasting food since we have a limited supply of fresh produce during the quarantine period. I kicked myself one evening when I got distracted and incinerated some broccoli I was baking in the oven. There was not much left in the refrigerator and I would not be able to run out to the store and get more. It made me appreciate the fact that in past times (and in some places today) every bite of food on hand might be needed for survival.

We had one loaf of fresh bread. It was a seedy multi grain bread that was one of the few options available when we stopped at the store in South Dakota. There were a couple of partial loaves of multi grain bread in the freezer from before we left for Arizona. I hauled out our bread maker that was still in the garage from when we moved here last summer. The only flour in the house is white flour, so I made a loaf of french bread that turned out well. I used to have some very old whole wheat flour but I am now regretting tossing it out before we left on the snowbirding trip. I look forward to trying other more healthy recipes once I can get to the store and buy some different types of grains and flour.

I don’t know how I functioned when working full time and also raising a family and doing other things. I know that I was stressed out much of the time. I usually did not get enough sleep, and only the most important tasks got done. The closets were a disaster. There was always a backlog of paperwork. There were years when the only television I watched was the news while working in the kitchen. I missed several entire TV series, because (before streaming) I could not remember when they were on or be available every week at the same time.

I have the most amount of time on my hands that I have ever had or ever will have. I am plugging away at necessary tasks, having time to knit, watching TV in the evenings and reading for a half hour before bed. Being retired at home under self quarantine is the opposite of working full time at home, with children at home trying to do school remotely or needing care. I don’t know how those families are making it work. My prayers go out to the many people having their lives disrupted, fighting for their life in the hospital, having to work more hours than before while at risk of being exposed to the virus, or in some cases not even having a place to shelter at home.

In the time since we have been back in Minnesota most of the snow has melted, except for some drifts and shaded areas. The lake is still frozen. Everything is brown and drab, except the sunsets. A winter storm is in the weather forecast for tomorrow night, including wind, rain, freezing rain, and up to three inches of snow. We are already having a “snow day” at home, so we’ll keep hunkering down as usual.

Spring sunset

Journey Home

We got back home to Minnesota late Friday evening after driving for three days with our small dog and a loaded down car. When we left California on Wednesday morning we did not know what to expect as far as food and lodging, or anything else, on the long journey home as the coronovirus crisis escalated.

The most direct route goes through northern Arizona and Colorado, but there were snow storm and even blizzard warnings for those areas. Last fall when we drove from California to Minnesota the GPS routed us on a series of smaller “highways” with many turns and small towns along the way. That was an adventure we did not need this time. Instead, in order to avoid the bad weather, we took a very southerly route through Tucson, and then on through New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska and South Dakota. We stayed on interstate highways where we expected there would be more services.

The short version is that yes, we were able to find gas, food and lodging the whole way home, but it was a very different experience than normal.

At the first gas stop in a rural area I cleaned my hands down with a wipe before entering the building to use the rest room. I used the facilities by hip checking the stall door open, then washed my hands thoroughly when done. I used a paper towel to get out of the room without touching the door. We needed something for lunch, so I selected a pre-made sandwich from a refrigerator case to go with fruit we had in the car. As the attendant processed the transaction, I asked her if they had any hand sanitizer. She said “no” but she had wipes, and offered for me to take one from a cannister while volunteering that she did not think the virus situation was “real”, but that it was something conjured up by “the government.” My mouth dropped open while I thought of how to respond. Finally I said “no, it is real”, and she responded with “you think so?” OMG.

The first day of driving through the deserts of California and Arizona featured heavy rain. The second day we passed through more rain with high winds, saw a rainbow, encountered sleet and snow, and later watched dust storms in the distance. Finally the last day was smooth sailing. One bonus was that gas was cheaper than we have seen for years, as low as $1.85 per gallon at one station. A strong tailwind also had us getting 43 miles per gallon.

Cheap gas

There were many truckers on the roads and gas stations were open. It was clear customers were all trying hard to not touch anything, using hips and shoulders and elbows to push through doors. One mother of two small children was having a hard time helping them wash their hands after using the rest room. She was having them sing the happy birthday song, and repeatedly telling them not to turn the water on again, not to touch the garbage can, etc. We only stopped at one gas station with a make shift take out window that was not allowing customers inside the building, not even to use the rest room.

Amazing rainbow

Fast food restaurants were open for either take out or drive through. This was not the most healthy journey. Larger truck stop gas stations were busy and had decent options for take out food. I was tempted to ask the fortune teller at one stop to let us know how long it will be before things start to get back to normal. I suspect life will never be the same.

Fortune Teller in a truck stop

Of course I had a knitting project along on the trip. I am working on a pair of socks which is good for the car since it does not take up much space, and especially while I have the dog on my lap, which is most of the time. You would think I would get more knitting done given the number of hours we were in the car. However, much of the time I was doing other things such as taking shifts driving, helping with navigation, watching beautiful scenery, reading, eating, or napping. I will write more about the sock project when it is finished.

Knitting a sock while on the trip home

Navigation using the GPS feature of a smart phone is one of the things that has changed my life for the better. I seem to have a sort of directional dyslexia so that I automatically turn the wrong direction when coming out of a restaurant bathroom or trying to reverse written directions when coming home from somewhere. Also I am hopelessly lost in any kind of amusement or nature park with intersecting paths, or inside the downtown Minneapolis skyway system. After a few minutes of walking around I have no idea where I am. I do like looking at a paper road map because you can see a bigger picture, but sometimes it does not help if you do not know where you are. I remember the days of the AAA TripTik where they made you a packet with paper directions for the entire route of a long trip, with suggestions for hotels and restaurants. My parents used to get a TripTik before heading out on a road trip. It is just short of a miracle now that I can turn on the GPS app to see exactly where I am and how to get where I want to go. Another feature that is amazing to me is being able to find hotels or restaurants or other services that are nearby or near a specific location you are headed to. We used a phone hotel app to find pet friendly lodging with no problem.

As we approached Minnesota we had to figure out where to get some provisions since we had been gone for an extended period and would be self quarantining once we got there, having returned from virus zone California. Since we would be getting home late in the evening, the best option seemed to be stocking up in South Dakota. Around dinner time we pulled into a grocery store parking lot. Wayne took the dog for a walk and then waited in the car while I went in to get food and other necessary items. I cleaned my hands with a wipe before entering the store, washed my hands again thoroughly after using the rest room, and then wiped my hands and the cart down with sanitized wipes near the carts. I could not remember what food we had left in the house, but for sure there was no fresh produce or dairy. I filled up the cart with fruit and vegetables, dairy products, eggs, and other food that seemed like it would work for meals over the next weeks. Most areas of the store were fully stocked, but interestingly the bread aisle was close to empty. We have a bread maker so had the idea of using that, but the flour was pretty cleaned out too. The bread maker uses “bread flour” but they did not have any of that, or any whole wheat flour either. I was able to buy a big bag of all purpose flour. I could not find any yeast in the regular location, but there were a few packets in the “organic” food section. I snagged a 12 pack of toilet paper. Yay! A full cart and $300 later I wheeled the provisions out to our already packed car. We moved some things around and then had to take items out of bags and shove them into any nook or cranny where there was some space. The things that needed to stay cold went in the trunk, an option when in a cold climate. When we were ready to go we looked like the Beverly Hillbillies.

Finally late in the evening on Friday we arrived home to 17 degrees and snow on the ground. We plan to self quarantine for at least two weeks. It is sooo good to be home despite it still being wintery here and having to cut short our snowbirding trip.

Still wintery at home in Minnesota

Snowbirding Part Two in California

Knowing we had been through challenges in 2019, some family in the Los Angeles area invited us to house sit for three weeks in March while they went on a trip overseas. After considering for about one minute, we said YES. That was arranged before we knew about the RV/Golf Resort reservation in Arizona for February, and way before the Coronavirus was a concern. Our host family is returning earlier than planned due to the current world health crisis, and our time here will also be shorter than planned. We will have been gone for almost two months by the time we get back home to Minnesota. The most severe months of winter will be over, although there can still be nasty weather through April. Any snow that happens after we get home will melt quickly.

The weather in Los Angeles in March has been similar to the weather in Phoenix in February, maybe even cooler, with highs in the 60’s and cooling down at night. We went from dessert landscapes in Arizona to ocean views in California. The house we are staying in is large and open, which is quite a contrast from the 400 square foot rental in Arizona.

We drove through some amazing scenery to get from Arizona to southern California, including mountains with canyons and crazy switchback roads, red rocks, boulders, forests and deserts. We had planned on doing some hiking in Joshua Tree National Park on the way through, but it was snowing there! We drove around in the park instead of hiking.

Snow in Joshua Tree National Park in California

In southern California while on a cliff walk, we saw whales spouting, sometimes two together indicating a mother and baby, on their spring migration from Baja to Alaska. We also saw small crabs, anemones and other signs of sea life in a tide pool area. There are beautiful flowers, and lush green trees and bushes everywhere.

So many pretty flowers everywhere
Beach scene at low tide
Rocky tide pool area

Last week we took a one hour ferry boat ride over to Catalina Island. We brought our ten pound Yorkie-poo dog along because it was allowed and we could not leave her alone all day. Rules for bringing her on the ferry included either wearing a muzzle or having an airline approved pet carrying bag. We bought a muzzle that she hated and looked ridiculous on her, but we also had the idea of carrying her in my backpack. That worked great and she tolerated it for the most part. Catalina Island was charming and scenic. There are two small towns, but most of the island is undeveloped. Residents and visitors get around mostly with golf carts or bicycles. We rented a golf cart for one hour, allowing us to cover more territory than on foot.

Lyla was not pleased about wearing a muzzle on the ferry
Catalina Island
Snoozing in my backpack on the way back from Catalina Island

Another day, before everything started to close down due to the Coronavirus crisis, we went to Universal Studios. This time our dog stayed at a pet day care / spa. She did not seem too traumatized when we came back to pick her up after 10 hours. I have mixed feelings about going to these touristy places with their exorbitant entrance fees and overpriced food, but the attractions are pretty amazing. You can be sitting in a seat that is wiggling around a bit or going along on a track, but with the virtual reality technology it seems like you are careening around in the air or being attacked by giant creatures. Maybe it is worth it.

Bike riding along the “The Strand” beach path and stopping at a Farmer’s Market were other fun activities we partook of before self imposed sheltering at home.

A bike ride on “The Strand”
Hermosa Beach Farmers Market

Throughout the entire trip we have been able to find a balance of doing things and taking it easy. A planned day trip down to San Diego to see relatives and friends was cancelled due to social distancing recommendations currently in place. Very disappointing but we expect to be back next year.

Southern California sunset with a rainstorm in the middle

We have loved our time in both Arizona and California. I am able to adapt and find positive aspects about many different kinds of places and situations. I am lucky to have traveled to many states and cities, rural and urban areas, State and National Parks, east and west, north and south. There are so many cool and beautiful places in our country, no way can anyone say that one place is the best.

The last part of our trip has been weird and disconcerting with the Coronavirus concerns and restrictions. Suddenly we are not able to be out and about partaking of attractions and sights, so we have been chilling at the house, which has beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean. We also have been able to take daily cliff side walks along the ocean, just a few minutes from the house.

The couple we are house sitting for are returning in a few days, and soon we head for home. Who knows what challenges and delays we might encounter on the three day journey. I am ready to be at my own house.