Thursday, March 31, 2011

Flowers and Friends

Yesterday, it finally started to warm up, and Bonnie & I shared our lunchtime walk with friends.

 I'm told this guy has moments when he is not smiling, but I've seen few of them. Mostly he's happy as can be. Sometimes I think he looks like his big sister, but this picture makes me think immediately of his big brother.
 Here is the aforementioned big brother, sans shoes (it really wasn't that warm!), doing things the unorthodox way (as usual).
... And the aforementioned big sister - equally shoeless, equally unorthodox, and equally happy.
My favorite beagle, smiling after a nice long walk. (Note: those are not her boots!)
Today, Bonnie and I walked in the Friendship Village woods, looking for signs of spring. I love the way the new flowers grow up wherever they are, even if it means sprouting through the middle of an old leaf!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Wyeths: America's Artists

The Kalamazoo Institute of Arts currently has an an exhibition of works by three generations of artists in the Wyeth family - N.C. Wyeth, an illustrator and painter; Andrew Wyeth, known by many as "America's Painter;" Andrew's sisters, Henriette Wyeth Hurd and Carolyn Wyeth; and Andrew's son Jamie Wyeth.

The exhibition includes 90 works of art by the Wyeths. The paintings (oils, tempera, and watercolor) and drawings are on loan from the Farnsworth Art Museum, Brandywine River Museum, Terra Foundation for American Art, and three private lenders.

Jim and I attended this exhibit (in February? can't remember), and really enjoyed it. We both particularly appreciated the pieces by N.C. and Andrew Wyeth. (I looked at the original oils by N.C., and the illustrations in the books, and wondered how the printer went from one to the other.)

Jim liked King Edward, an illustration N.C. Wyeth painted for the book The Scottish Chiefs.

 (If you live in Kalamazoo, you may have seen a banner with this illustration, hanging from one of the downtown buildings, to promote the exhibition.)

My favorite was Her Room, by Andrew Wyeth. When I saw it, the sunlight on the door took my breath away: it looked so real. I guess that is what I like about Andrew Wyeth's work: it looks 'real,' but not like a photo; it looks like what I might see when out walking Bonnie.

Another that Jim liked was N.C.Wyeth's Bright and Fair - Eight Bells.

We are fortunate to have the KIA here in town. They've presented some terrific exhibits over the years, and I've been grateful for the opportunity to see pieces that you might not expect to find in a town this size - unless that town were Kalamazoo!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Knitted FO's, Beagles, Flowers

Yesterday, Bonnie and I were enjoying a walk, and she let me snap a picture. I'm not sure why she was licking her chops...

Today's walk was cold but sunny - and look what we found (in a yard on Devonshire)!

The double knit hat is finally finished. It reverses nicely, and, with the double thickness (and four layers where it rolls up over the ears), it is warm and toasty. The finishing was fiddly - I was using two circs, but had the wrong sizes with me. I was breaking in new trifocals, with lenses that didn't sync. And I was puzzling over how to separate the inner and outer hats, to finish the top of each. Happily, I finally succeeded. I like how this hat turned out, but I don't expect to knit another any time soon...

As soon as I finished the hat, I started the shawl project that has been waiting in the wings. This little bit is the set-up that will grow into a triangular shawl. So much more relaxing than that hat!!!

One more finished object - yesterday, I finished a scarf for OFA's Red Scarf Project. (Wrapping it around Jim's owl, of course, imbues it with wisdom...!)

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Relationships and Snow and Cacti

I made this wordle to help me remember my one lonely resolution of 2011: to focus on relationships. I was reminded of that focus in February, when we had our Ward Conference at church. During the Sunday School session, Presidents Anderson and Petersen conducted a discussion on "Improving Marriages and Other Important Relationships." One of their suggestions was to use the language of respect and request.

They described three types of roles in relationships, and the corresponding language for each. (These are roles I've heard described before, by Dr. John L. Lund.)
  • Parent/Boss - uses directive language, e.g. You should...; You ought to...; You must...
  • Child/Employee - uses permission language, e.g. May I...; Can I... 
  • Equal - uses Respect & Request language, e.g. I would appreciate it if...; It would mean a lot to me if...; Do you think we might be able to...   
In their discussion, of course, they emphasized that in a marriage of equals, there is no need to ask permission (like a child or an employee) or to direct each other (like a parent or a boss). Good - but hard - advice.

This whole discussion reminded me of a stake conference, long ago, when John Carmack spoke (he was then a member of the Quorum of the Seventy). He taught, "There is no room for criticism in marriage." I believe this was in the fall of 1988 (we were newlyweds). After more than 20 years I have never forgotten that counsel. I've not always followed it - Jim might say that I hardly ever follow it - but I've always returned to trying to heed that advice. That counsel fits well with the idea that husband and wife are equals. As equals, we need to speak with respect, not criticism, for each other.

I also remember that Brother Carmack quoted Robert Frost's poem, "Dust of Snow." Jim & I both liked that poem, and so his quoting it endeared him to us. And thinking of that reminds me that this morning, when I looked out the window, I was astonished to see snow - not a lot, mind you, just a dusting on the pavement and on our neighbor's roff - but still: Snow? Where did that come from? And  the cold? It was 29 degrees or so when Bonnie & I walked at lunch. Brrr!

I know, I know, this is Michigan, and such things shouldn't surprise me, but still... I love snow in November and December (which is pretty much still fall, you know). I still like snow in January, and even in February (maybe in early February). But this late in March, once spring has arrived (according to the calendar, anyway), any snow is Too Much Snow.
Too Much Snow
by Louis Jenkins

Unlike the Eskimos we only have one word for snow but we have a lot of modifiers for that word. There is too much snow, which, unlike rain, does not immediately run off. It falls and stays for months. Someone wished for this snow. Someone got a deal, five cents on the dollar, and spent the entire family fortune. It's the simple solution, it covers everything. We are never satisfied with the arrangement of the snow so we spend hours moving the snow from one place to another. Too much snow. I box it up and send it to family and friends. I send a big box to my cousin in California. I send a small box to my mother. She writes "Don't send so much. I'm all alone now. I'll never be able to use so much." To you I send a single snowflake, beautiful, complex and delicate; different from all the others.
Notwithstanding the cold, and the scattered snow, the sun was out on our walk, and we enjoyed ourselves, and I have pictures to share.

I think this is a prickly pear cactus, although the thought of cacti here in Michigan still astonishes me. There are similar plants near the park (these are in Friendship Village), and they've had beautiful flowers in past years. I'll keep an eye on these (once the snow is gone...!)

Another photo from Friendship Village. I'm hopeless when it comes to identifying flowers, but I am hopeful that these are daffodils...

Just a path in the woods (I can identify paths in the woods).

Check out the birches in the background; I don't think they are bouncing back from the ice storm...

ETA: added a label

Friday, March 18, 2011

Good Reads, New Yarn, Spring Photos

I enjoyed several recent reads.

Connie Willis wrote the science fiction time-travel books Blackout and All Clear - well, I should say 'book', because it apparently was written as one book, and then unceremoniously chopped into two books. The first book abruptly ends, with no resolution, so you will have to track down the second - unless you have no interest whatsoever in the dilemma faced by Mike, Polly, and Merope.

These are the three time-travelers that the book focuses on. Their time is 2060, their place is Oxford, England, and their pursuit is history, and the study of World War II. But they don't just read about it - they travel to the time and place, for first person observation. Time travel has been used for forty years, but the trio discovers that it doesn't always work out quite as expected.

These aren't perfect books - the plot drags in places, and occasionally I wanted to slap the characters for whining so much. There are several episodes that completely confused me, until things were cleared up later in the book. But the story did pull me in, and I did care about the characters (esp Elaine & her charges). Enjoy!

 When We Were Strangers, by Pamela Schoenewaldt, is the story of Irma Vitale, who travels from her small town in Italy, across the ocean, to New York, Cleveland, Chicago, and San Francisco. She makes friends with a series of remarkable women - and, indeed, proves to be rather remarkable herself. Schoenewaldt's descriptive narrative is spell-binding, pulling you into the good and bad of Irma's immigrant experience. I recommend this book highly; I couldn't put it down.

Jim came home the other day with a surprise of yarn. This is one of the skeins he gave me; it is likely that it will become another elephant. It's the same yarn I used on my latest elephant, but a different color: Apple Tree. I'm looking forward to knitting with it - but I'm striving for Discipline, which means that first I need to finish the hat I'm making for my grand niece. And, I'm happy to see, that hat is almost finished! The fifth repeat of the pattern is almost done, and Jim & I agreed that I should skip the recommended sixth repeat (the hat would be astonishingly tall, with that additional repeat), and finish the crown. So... it will probably be finished Next Week. (Alas, still too late for wearing this season, but...).

I also finished my sweater, and think it turned out pretty well. I confess, I thought this would be a sweater to wear hanging around the house - but I find I'm more protective of it, and only wear it when going out. Perhaps with time I'll relax a bit!

Next on the needles: the Forest Canopy Shawl. I've had the yarn for several years, and finally knit a swatch last month - so I'm ready to get started, just as soon as the hat comes off the needles. Stay tuned!

The weather the past couple days has been just lovely. Today Bonnie and I walked in the Friendship Village woods, and observed signs that spring is on its way. I'll leave you with a few photos:

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Elephant, Sweater, Scarf, Hat

This past weekend, I finished knitting another "Elijah" elephant.

I bought this yarn back in August 2009, and it's been lurking in my stash, waiting for just the right project. I originally thought it would make a cute baby sweater, and considered it for several other projects, but it worked out well for this elephant. (This was the "4 Elements" color. I see on the website there is a "Neptune" color that would make a really cute elephant...)

I love all the details in this elephant. For instance, the ears are knit in the round, using short row shaping to create the 'wave' in the ear. And then, they are closed using Kitchener Stitch, so that you really can't see a seam - it just looks like more knitting. The technique is a little tricky, and I don't use it often, so I always grab one of my books for the instructions. When I reached this part of the ear, I was not at home, but no problem: I was at our local knitting store, surrounded by knitters who remembered how to do it - and one women who carries the instructions with her knitting at all times, so I was in good hands!

An interesting tidbit: the Kitchener Stitch was developed by Lord Herbert Kitchener, during World War I. His seamless graft was more comfortable for soldiers, and for sock wearers today.

I really need to knit an Elijah Elephant for myself, and experiment with washing it, so I know what to recommend when I give it to a new mother - because you know it will need washing, probably sooner rather than later! But I'm resisting the urge to start another, until I finish up my other projects.

Such as...
 The green sweater is nearly nearly finished. I added to the length, and am happy with it. I've ripped out the collar, and will bind off again, with larger needles - so maybe it will go over my head more easily. With any luck, this project will be finished today or tomorrow.

 I'm making good progress on a scarf for OFA's Red Scarf Project. The pattern is my old stand-by, the Corrugator. And I love the yarn. It's nothing fancy - Paton's Classic Wool, sort of a workhorse yarn. The color I'm working with, cognac heather, changes subtly as I knit - very nice!

Finally, the double knit hat is coming along nicely. I feel like I'm getting used to handling the two colors, and knitting faster. I don't know if I'll ever be a real fan of double knitting, but this hat will be very warm to wear, and reversible to boot.

Oh, I guess I have one more work in process,  the Forest Canopy Shawl. All I've done so far is swatch, so I know which needles to use. I'm not doing anything else on it until I finish the hat.


Thursday, March 3, 2011

Ready for Spring

Even days after the ice storm last week, the trees were beyond description, still covered in ice:

In the park, looking south
The ice is gone from the trees now, but sidewalks and driveways, and some roads, are still covered with packed snow, the top surface melted and refrozen into slick ice. Walking the dogs is fraught with challenge; it's all I can do to stay upright. (The dogs, with twice as many legs and feet, seem to be at an advantage.)

Today, when we walked, the temperature was 34 degrees. Last week, 34 degrees was warm, but today, with a March wind, it seemed bitterly cold.

Today, finally, I have to admit: I am tired of the ice and cold. I am Ready For Spring - a sentiment recorded nicely in this poem:

Ready for a Change
by Elizabeth Talmage

I am ready for a change of seasons.
This autumn
with its brilliant testimony
of summer’s end,
this winter
with its harvest of ice and frost—
they are wearing me down.
I am tired of these seasons
of watching and waiting.
I am ready for some days of beginning.
Bring on spring.
The dogs, on the other hand, don't seem to mind the weather. I do think Tonks is happy when we find dry pavement to walk on, and neither dog seems to find much use in the wind.

They their walk around lunchtime (Bonnie must have explained this to Tonks), and they race around each other in circles when they see me getting ready to head out. When we get home, they nap together.
Bonnie & Tonks

Here are some bonus photos of trees, after the ice storm.
Now that the snow and ice have
melted, these branches are again
high enough to clear the car

Close-up of the pine tree

Amazingly, the oak tree didn't lose
any branches
Below are more photos of birch trees in the park. They call to mind Robert Frost's poem, Birches:
When I see birches bend to left and right
Across the line of straighter darker trees,
I like to think some boy's been swinging them.
But swinging doesn't bend them down to stay.
Ice-storms do that. Often you must have seen them
Loaded with ice a sunny winter morning
After a rain. They click upon themselves
As the breeze rises, and turn many-colored
As the stir cracks and crazes their enamel.
Soon the sun's warmth makes them shed crystal shells
Shattering and avalanching on the snow-crust—
Such heaps of broken glass to sweep away
You'd think the inner dome of heaven had fallen.
They are dragged to the withered bracken by the load,
And they seem not to break; though once they are bowed
So low for long, they never right themselves:
You may see their trunks arching in the woods
Years afterwards, trailing their leaves on the ground
Like girls on hands and knees that throw their hair
Before them over their heads to dry in the sun.
But I was going to say when Truth broke in
With all her matter-of-fact about the ice-storm
(Now am I free to be poetical?)
I should prefer to have some boy bend them
As he went out and in to fetch the cows—
Some boy too far from town to learn baseball,
Whose only play was what he found himself,
Summer or winter, and could play alone.
One by one he subdued his father's trees
By riding them down over and over again
Until he took the stiffness out of them,
And not one but hung limp, not one was left
For him to conquer. He learned all there was
To learn about not launching out too soon
And so not carrying the tree away
Clear to the ground. He always kept his poise
To the top branches, climbing carefully
With the same pains you use to fill a cup
Up to the brim, and even above the brim.
Then he flung outward, feet first, with a swish,
Kicking his way down through the air to the ground.

So was I once myself a swinger of birches;
And so I dream of going back to be.
It's when I'm weary of considerations,
And life is too much like a pathless wood
Where your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs
Broken across it, and one eye is weeping
From a twig's having lashed across it open.
I'd like to get away from earth awhile
And then come back to it and begin over.
May no fate wilfully misunderstand me
And half grant what I wish and snatch me away
Not to return. Earth's the right place for love:
I don't know where it's likely to go better.
I'd like to go by climbing a birch tree,
And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk
Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,
But dipped its top and set me down again.
That would be good both going and coming back.
One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.

Only time will tell if these birches will stand tall again.