Monday, May 28, 2012

When Family Comes to Town

Lori, Dave, Robin, Paul

On Friday, my sister Lori drove up from Morgantown, West Virginia, to spend the weekend with us. On Saturday, my brothers Dave & Paul joined us - Dave from Chicago, and Paul from Plymouth, Michigan.

We wanted a picture of us four siblings - we hadn't all been together since Dad's funeral in 2008 - and Jim obliged us. It was not easy. He took nearly two dozen photos, in an effort to create one where we were all paying attention, without eyes shut or mouths open.

I like the photo above - even though my initial reaction was to cry "I look so short!" Everyone in the room burst out laughing, wondering that I had not previously realized that I am, in fact, Short. I like that we are laughing, which is what relatives ought to do.

We didn't do anything earth shattering. After Lori got here on Friday, I dragged her to the store, so we could buy enough food for a small army, thereby ensuring we wouldn't run out of food on Saturday. (We didn't; I'm taking the leftovers to a Memorial Day get-together later on.) We picked up local produce at the market on Saturday, and spent time cleaning and chopping and washing and spinning.

Once everyone was here, we sat around eating and talking, and trying to take photos and to catch up on our lives. Jon and Laura had their little guys - the toddler and the baby - and I was delighted to spend some time with each of them. The toddler headed straight for our Noah's Ark toy, showing us the animals (and labeling most of them 'dog').

Jon and Laura's delightful toddler

I look ridiculous, but the baby is adorable!
The toddler thought Bonnie was wonderful, and both of them - toddler and dog - behaved appropriately (gentle petting and tolerant patience). But Bonnie really was more interested in the goings-on in the kitchen, and did her best to employ Jedi mind tricks.

You WILL drop some ham...
We gave Joyce the dog mug, which she accepted with good humor (better the mug than the dog).

We had flower pot dessert. We claim we make this because it is Jon's favorite. I don't know if this is still true (it definitely was true when he was growing up), but it is a good excuse to make a decadent treat. (Something else I persuaded Lori to help with...) We also had caramels from the farmers' market - another decadent treat...!

Jon with his baby, and Paul's youngest boy
The picture of Laura, alas, didn't turn out
Paul's kids were very patient with us. I think sitting around talking must be very boring at that age, but they stuck it out, and even consented to be photographed with their dad. (Rachelle and the older girls were visiting NYC.)

Before the Chicago crew left, we took flowers to Mom & Dad's grave site. These are Sweet Williams, that we picked up at the farmers market. (The vendor told us they were perfect for cemetery flowers, because they have a long vase life.)

Lori & Jim & I chilled for the rest of the weekend. We played with electronics (I tried out Lori's headphones, they are much nicer than my ear buds) and walked Bonnie (aiming for the cooler parts of the day). On those walks, I was impressed that Lori knew the names of so many flowers and plants; she says she has always been obsessed with naming things - maybe I should make an effort to learn at least a few names...!

We played Scrabble (I "let" Lori win - ha!). We watched the Masterpiece Classic movie, Birdsong (which pointed my thoughts toward Memorial Day). There was knitting (of course) and more eating (of course).

And now Lori is en route home (or there already), and we are headed back to our daily routine - not nearly as much fun as visiting with family.

On a totally unrelated note... I was reading our Sunday paper, and the travel section included this link to webcams at Yosemite National Park - kind of cool!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Five Things for Friday: Knitting Update

I've been trying to alternate my knitting time between my five projects, and I've concluded: five projects is too many! It's good to have a variety of projects - some require minimal concentration, some travel easily - but as I move from project to project, there is not a lot of visible progress. As I finish these, I need to avoid the temptation to immediately start a new project, and instead stay with a more manageable number!

Meanwhile, here is the status of the WIPs.

- 1 -

This scarf (based on Jared Flood's Noro Striped Scarf) is about a third complete. The red Kauni is finally start to show shifts in color, and I'm finally getting adept at handling the color changes.

- 2 -

This second scarf (based on Jackie Lauseng's Hurdle Stitch Scarf) is about 2/3 complete. This is the project that I carry when Jim & I are out and about - it's easy to knit a couple rows here and there, and it is slowly moving towards completion. I'll donate this scarf to the Red Scarf Project.

- 3 -

Jim gave me this yarn - Plymouth Jelli Beenz - for Christmas. It wanted to belong to a baby, so I'm using it for Ingrid Aartun Bøe's Pine Forest Baby Blanket. The yarn color is pretty busy, but I think the pattern still shows up nicely on the blanket.

- 4 -

Look! I finally finished the first mitten (Laura Linneman's pattern, Mittens for Me!). I'm going to knit the second mitten in opposite colors - brown for the strands on the cuff; green for the body; brown for the thumb. With any luck, I'll finish the second mitten before winter...

- 5 -

My Free and Easy Pie Wedge Shawl (designed by Lorna Miser) is coming along nicely: I've almost finished three of the six wedges, the fabric is soft and has a lovely drape, the colors are rich. I'm eager to finish this one, but alas - it will be awhile...

Bonnie's take on all this:

 All this photography is exhausting!
See Heather's blog, Women in the Scriptures, for her Five Things for Friday adventures.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Knitter's Life List

I borrowed Gwen W. Steege's The Knitter's Life List from our excellent library, and enjoyed reading it. I've renewed it twice now, and think I'm going to have to finally return it. I may have to break down and actually buy a copy.

The author writes "Wouldn't it be fun, we thought, to create a 'life list' of things to do, patterns to try, techniques to explore, places to go, movies to see -- and much more -- all related in some way to knitting."

And that's what she did, with this book. Of course, she couldn't include everything in this volume, but my goodness, there is a lot there!

It is organized loosely into 11 chapters:
  1. The Yarn Life List
  2. The Know-how Life List
  3. The Sweaters Life List
  4. The Socks Life List
  5. The Scarves & Shawls Life List
  6. The Hats Life List
  7. The Gloves & Mittens Life List
  8. The Bags Life List
  9. The Kids-Knit Life List
  10. The Home Dec Life List
  11. The Fiber-Lover's Life List
Each chapter begins with a list of suggestions for your Knitter's Life List, in categories such as Meet; Discover; Do/Try; Learn; Go! This is followed by short articles - a page or two each - which are easy (and quick) to read and enjoy. (It lends itself to bathroom reading; even Jim commented on  how interesting the book was.)

There is a detailed appendix, with lots of references to other books and websites. There are no patterns, but there is a list of sources for patterns for the items photographed (I was happy to find that I have some of those patterns in my library).

The many ideas guarantee that you'll not get stuck in a knitting rut! If I had When I have my own copy, I expect I'll be making notes throughout it, and starting my own list.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Five Things for Friday: Blossoms and Babies and Food

Heather's blog generally features Five Things for Friday, although I don't see it yet today (watch for it!). My Five Things blogs are rarer, but here's one for today.

- 1 -

The Kalamazoo Farmers Market recently opened for the season, and Jess & I made our first visit last Saturday. It's not too busy this early in the growing year. Nearly every vendor had asparagus to sell; some had tomatoes, which, this being Michigan, seemed a bit sketchy. Our favorite egg vendor was there, and the vendor with those delicious caramels. The guy with heirloom tomato plants was there; I bought one (1) plant - Mayo's Delight - we'll see if I can manage to keep it alive. (Last year I harvested one tomato before the plant died; but that one tomato was delicious!)

- 2 -

We've welcomed lots of new babies at church over the past six or so months. Last Saturday, we had a celebratory shower for all of them. Here are six of the new little ones - a photo taken shortly before Baby Meltdown. Starting with the little guy on the top, and continuing clockwise, we have the newest members of the Wesel, Brown, Burnham, Betzold, Tensmeyer, and Ballard families. (Alas, no Thompson baby that day . . .)

- 3 -

For Christmas, Jim gave me a set of lace blocking wires, and I finally got the chance to use them. Not that I have finished anything (ha! I've been knitting steadily, but there is no end in sight for any of my projects). My friend, on the other hand, recently finished knitting a scarf out of a merino / qiviut / silk blend lace yarn - so yummy! - and I agreed to block it for her.

Here is a not-very-good photo of the scarf, stretched on the wires. I think probably I could have blocked it more aggressively, but I was being cautious - it was the first time using the wires, after all, plus it was not my scarf!

But the wires did work well. It was rather tedious, threading them through each stitch, but the end result was a much smoother edge than when I have to place individual pins. (The pins in this photo are holding the wires, not the yarn.)

- 4 -

Last year, Bonnie and I talked to a fellow at Friendship Village. He was clearing out a new area in the woods, and had planted three dogwood trees. I figured it would be a couple years before they bloomed.

But look what Bonnie and I saw yesterday. I could hardly believe it - the trees were in bloom, and the flowers were huge - the size of my hand! I've never seen a tree quite like these. A placard said they are venus kousa dogwoods. An internet search revealed that the blooms are indeed 6", and that they are drought- and deer-tolerant to boot (a good thing in this woods, which periodically sees deer).

- 5 -

I love these flowers. Wouldn't this be a lovely color for yarn - shades of purple and white, with a bit of green here and there?

Friday, May 11, 2012

Mid-day Breaks

Work was stressful today; I was so happy to call it a day. No matter what I was working on, something else came up that demanded my attention. At one point, I picked up the phone to call someone, and at that same moment, the phone rang, and two people IM'ed me with questions - all of which was interrupting my own tasks. And the whole day was like that. I could easily work long days, and have plenty to fill them, but I just don't have the heart for that anymore. So tonight I'll try to relax - and I should probably throw some clothes in the dryer - and maybe pay some bills - and tomorrow work will still be there, waiting for me.

Thank heavens for Bonnie, who insists I go out with her mid-day (at least for now; when the hot weather settles in, we'll have to change her walk schedule). The change of scenery does me good!

Here is some of that scenery. I don't know what these are, but how interesting they are - both before and after they bloom.

We saw these by Friendship Village, just growing in the grass. Pink! Who'd have thought?

We came across these pretty yellow flowers along one of the paths in the Friendship Village woods. I love the delicate layers.

This is the area between Frays Park and the entrance to Friendship Village (the back door, so to speak). I love these purple flowers - this time of year, they seem to be everywhere. In fact, I worried that they were purple loostrife - an invasive plant - but I found a good description here and I think these are not the problem children. So, I don't have to feel guilty about liking them.

We continue to see many Red Admiral butterflies, and one day in particular Bonnie & I saw them swarming around a patch of goldenrod. My camera takes pretty good closeups, but only if the subject agrees to hold still - so no butterfly photos! I found this photo in this article.

It explains that every ten years or so, the Red Admirals have a population explosion, and a major migration. Apparently, this is the year!

One day, Bonnie and I came across the remains of a rabbit - mostly just bits of fur. Bonnie was pretty interested (she is a beagle), and I had to drag her away. I wondered if a fox had killed the rabbit (I saw a small grey fox in the area a while back). But yesterday, walking on that same path, we saw a cat come around the bend. He took off as soon as his saw us, and I suspect he's the one who dispatched the rabbit.

We saw deer tracks in the mud, but I haven't seen any deer this season. We did see what might have been a ground hog one day. It was scooting through a yard, hunkered down close to the ground, doing its best to quickly move from point A to point B. I say 'we' saw it - but Bonnie misses a lot of these things, or simply isn't interested. She spends most of our walks with her nose to the ground! She did spy a rabbit through the park fence one day, and stood gazing longingly at it...

One day we saw a bird chasing a squirrel. The squirrel was really moving, and the bird was really mad. I wonder what brought that on; maybe the bird was tired of the squirrel's stealing his bird seed.

We saw goldfinches one day! There was a group of them, in a semi-open area at the Village, hanging out in a tree and singing. Yet another species that won't sit still for a photo, but I found a photo (and their song) at this site.

And today, I saw what I think was a scarlet tanager. I couldn't see it clearly - it was above me most of the time (let's be honest; with my stature, most things are above me, especially things that fly), back lit by the sun. But it was red, and didn't have the shape of a cardinal. I found a photo and song here and it seemed to match this bird's song. I feel privileged to have seen such a pretty bird.

Bonnie couldn't have cared less, I'm afraid. But she is learning to be patient while I take photos of flowers and plants - at least sometimes!

Come on, let's go already!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

House Where a Woman

I want to talk about a book of poems, House Where a Woman, by Lori Wilson. By way of full disclosure, I should say that Lori is my sister, of whom I am quite fond, and so I promise to be completely biased in my comments.

I have no qualifications regarding poetry, or how to read and analyze it, or what makes a Good Poem and what does not. Still, I enjoy reading poetry, and I believe I can recognize Bad Poetry (and Lori’s poems do not fall into that category).

I know what kind of poems I like. I like poems that tell stories – even if the story is a brief one, mere moments long. I like poems that use simple lines and phrases to convey larger stories and meaning.

I decided to read through Lori’s book again, and put a sticky note on every poem that I really liked, and then write about why those poems appealed to me.  That plan proved to be a bit problematic, since I now have a forest of green sticky notes growing out of the book.  In the end, I've chosen just a few poems to mention; otherwise, this would end up being a horribly long post. (If you find you like the excerpts, you can get a copy of the book from Autumn House Press or from Amazon Books.)

In spite of my ruthless tossing of poems onto the cutting room floor, the post is still pretty long. I've shared excerpts from several poems, and a couple complete poems, along with the briefest mention of my impressions.

* * *

In This Night’s Cave, a mother struggles with her inability (I won’t say failure) to protect her son. Ultimately, children grow up and make their own choices – but that does little to assuage a mother’s grief.
I couldn’t keep him safe,
the little boy, his face buried
in the black dog’s fur,
& I’m his mother so don’t tell me
I did my best, don’t excuse me.
Please. What I know
can obliterate hope
with a sweep of one weak arm.
* * *

Slap shares a young mother’s remorse.
It wasn’t / I shouldn’t have / I’ll never (I never
did it again.) No comfort
to say I was young, I was learning –
no one told me
that some days I’d want to upend the table,
hurl dishes, crawl under the couch.
* * *

Hope surfaces again in Eight Springs Since – the hope exhibited by all who plant in the fall, and look for flowers in the spring.
That first November on the untamed ridge
I buried my longing for spring
with handfuls of bone meal
in a stone-circled plot of dirt well dug.

. . .

Each spring since, the late March sun
finds easy passage through poplars and maples
and charms the daffodils from thawing ground.
I love that image of the sun coaxing the daffodils from the ground, just as Indian snake charmers coaxed cobras from their baskets.

* * *

In the poem January, Wilson Avenue, Lori introduces the topic of the cold weather with two simple lines describing cause and effect:
Yesterday the gas bill came.
Last night I put up storm windows.
* * *

With wry humor, the poem Dear Paul contrasts the different lives and personalities of two siblings. Paul’s letter describes remodeling a bathroom, preparing dinner, singing in a talent show; the poet’s reply recounts simply:
Last week
our dog found a hole in the fence.
She was gone for a night but she came home again
smelling of garlic and fish.
* * *

We find signs and memories of love in the objects around us, as Lori describes in Green Glass Bird. I love the memory, the story, and the wonderful images in this poem.
From a box marked Lillian’s Desk
I lift the green glass bird
I bought when I was seven,
the Christmas I was old enough
to buy her present myself
with two dollars my father
pressed into my hand.

I hold it up to the basement bulb,
remember how she kept it
on the coffee table all those years,
glass-to-glass, remember her hands
cradling its weight, remember
the bristle of rug on my arms,
my cheek, as I watched her wait
for late-afternoon sun to ignite
the green heart of that bird.

North Carolina, West Virginia,
Michigan– green glass bird
in and out of packing boxes,
onto the sill, the curio shelf, at
last her desk the winter and spring
of oxygen tanks and feeding tubes,
where it caught the inadequate light
until there were no more breaths.

In the basement with boxes
I rock on my heels,
cold bird cuddled to my neck
like a frightened cat. And I stroke it,
murmur Stupid bird, poor fat green bird,
a careless move could crack you
on this painted concrete floor.
Did you think it was you that she loved?
Poor bird, it was me.
It was me.
* * *

The poem Stripping Paint from the Trim of an Upstairs Window also speaks of memories, and relationships, and objects that link them together. It asks the question: when a relationship ends, how do you strip the bad memories from objects, and preserve only the good?

I like the humor in this small segment:
I’m wearing your red flannel shirt
Which no longer smells of you

nor did I think of you
when I pulled it from the hanger

though when I threaded my hand
through the hole in the elbow,

I thought I heard your laugh.
* * *

We sometimes feel that we live in our cars – no wonder they hold memories for us! The Bearing Falls Out of the Pump is not just a poem about a car, but about a life that went on, after the marriage didn’t:
But I’m thinking about the day
I bought the car, paid for it
with my money: twenty-five
hundred dollars cash—
first thing I bought without my ex.

. . .
It was blue with a dent in the door.
When it rained, the rear windows
fogged so you couldn’t see.
The battery died at the high school.
The serpentine belt broke in Michigan.
The rear-view mirror
snapped off on Cheat Mountain.

I drove it to my mother’s funeral,
to Chicago for the family reunion.
I drove it fifty thousand miles
hauling kids and dogs,
lumber and trash, hockey bags, bikes,
the remnants of duct tape decals
still stuck to back windows:
Go Lady Blades
* * *

My Father Made a Cabinet shares a sweet, intimate moment between a young girl and her father, as she pretends to be asleep while he carries her to bed.
His white shirt was untucked,
top button undone,
the knot of his tie pulled loose.
I can’t remember his smell.
His beard must have scratched my skin.
I took what I couldn’t have taken awake.
I reached for his neck and held on.
* * *

In the poem Lillian, 1999, a few lines conjure up a summer day.
My mother made the music in our house.
Summer afternoons, my braids
still damp from swimming,

I’d lie drowsy on the rug
while she played her grand piano
and the dog sprawled on the hardwood floor.
* * *

In 1990, We Moved to the Woods is a poem that I find particularly moving. It is also a poem that makes me angry.
I said yes when I wanted to say no.
When I couldn’t say yes anymore, I said nothing.

We lived in the woods and nowhere
 in my life was there quiet,

except for the silence I carried, silence
pressing back all those years
When I read this poem, I want all women to read it, and to acknowledge that "no" is a perfectly valid response. Women should not have to hide their feelings in silence, while they “scramble for something clever to say.”

* * *

I particularly like these lines, from House Where a Woman. They reflect my own feelings, as I try to find what it takes to keep moving forward, when it would be easier to just withdraw.
Where is the well for drawing
bucket after bucket of what it takes to sit up in bed –
no, just to pull the blankets from my face?
* * *

Lanterns from Mandarin Orange Crates is one of my favorite poems in this collection – actually, it is one my favorite poems, period. In just a few lines, it captures a family coming together for an evening of tradition and magic.
It should be at his house this year,
but her car won’t start
so he drives down the mountain.
He says on the ridge there is ice,
four inches of snow on top of that.
It’s something they do for the kids,
this coming together on Christmas Eve.
Around the table they pull staples,
slice balsa boards. The kids
drill holes for light, break skewers,
build crazy lanterns with wire and glue,
tissue paper, waxed paper wrapped,
vanilla-scented candles tucked inside.
They fill the kitchen sink just in case.
Only one catches fire, and they toss it
into the water in time, light the candle again.
He leads the kids outside in the night
and they knock at the back door
singing, lanterns swinging, pale
paper panes glowing red, yellow, red.
For a moment, while the candlelight
holds in the wind and the rain, she believes
that a moth might lay its gauze wings
against a hot lamp and not fall,
that she could be surprised, just once.
* * *

There are other wonderful poems in this book. The Wedding Present offers raw pain and disappointment. In Just Past Coshocton, a mother muses while her daughter sleeps. Taking Apart Praetorius describes the happy chaos in a home. So Shall Thy Barns Be Filled with Plenty is a wonderfully lyrical song of praise for onions.

Really, the book is full of riches.