Friday, July 20, 2012

Five Things for Friday: Catching Up

Work has been unbelievably hectic these past weeks, as we head into our long-awaited project implementation (tomorrow! are we excited? yes! are we nervous? yes!). When I haven't been working, I've either been vegging out, or collapsing in a nervous ball of worry, or pulling myself together sufficiently to do a bit of laundry or pay a few bills. But now, in the calm before the storm, I'll use Heather's Five Things for Friday tradition to do a bit of catching up.

- 1 -

Look! I finally finished one of my knitting projects:

This is my pine forest baby blanket, knit with Jelli Beenz yarn. I love the way it felt on my lap - substantial, but not too heavy. I threw it in the washer & dryer when I'd finished, and it handled that well. The finished blanket is 29" x 29". (I am desperately trying to come up with a way to bring Prime Numbers into this blanket discussion, but inspiration is lacking...)

People are always asking me how long it takes to knit something. That's hard to say, because I knit in small bits of time, scattered over weeks or months (this blanket was started April 15 and finished July 18). But during one of our trips, I tried to measure how long it took to knit a row, and it seemed to be 20-30 minutes per row.

This blanket has 43 repeats of the 4-row pattern, plus 36 rows of knitting at the top and bottom. Going with the more conservative 20 minutes, and applying some knitting math:

((43 repeats x 4 rows) + 36 rows) * 20 minutes / 60 minutes per hour = 
(approx) 69 hours

So, if I could give up my 8-5 job, I could make another blanket like this in a couple of weeks. But for now, I have to settle for the slow-and-steady pace, and remember that, while I enjoy the finished product, I also enjoy the process.

- 2 -

On Wednesday, Bonnie wanted to go out, so I opened the kitchen door to let her out back. I was stunned to discover this in our driveway:

As seen from inside the garage

A black cherry tree, growing in the park next to our home, simply snapped, about 15 feet up, and toppled into our yard. It didn't hit or damage anything, but completely blocked the garage. Jim usually parks his car right where the tree landed, so if he'd been home, it would have been another story.

We called the city (since it's a city park), and a crew came that afternoon. They quickly and neatly took care of the tree and cleaned things up. We're very appreciative of that!

The pictures also show how dry our lawn is. We water some - not enough to keep the grass golf-course-green, but hopefully enough to keep it from completely dying. Wednesday night and Thursday we finally got some rain, which everyone celebrated (except Bonnie, since there was lightning involved).

- 3 -

Today, when I opened the kitchen door to let Bonnie out, I was again surprised - not by a tree this time (thank goodness):

My friend Jess left a supply of my favorite snack, to help me survive the weekend!

- 4 -

Looking west; our home is behind those trees at the left

Since I've not been out regularly walking Bonnie, I didn't realize there had been a fire in our park.

On the Fourth of July, we worried, along with our neighbors, about the risk of fire. For years, there's been a family that provided a fireworks show. Those fireworks were probably purchased across the border in Indiana, since they were illegal (for home use) in Michigan - until this year.

The state legislature decided that it was wrong to let all that money cross the border into Indiana, so they legalized the purchase of fireworks here. (To heck with safety concerns!) And this year, in spite of the near-drought conditions, there were at least four or five groups shooting fireworks in the park. Happily, we survived that unscathed.

But last week, some kids were lighting fireworks, and the wind was blowing, and.... well, it happens. Luckily, our neighbor was home, and he and his grandson went after the fire with shovels and put it out.

I wish people would leave fireworks to professionals, people with the proper know-how (and insurance), who take the appropriate precautions and use a little common sense. But fireworks will always have that lure and appeal, I suppose. I'm glad that nothing was harmed in this case beyond a bit of grass.

- 5 -

I mentioned in my last post that Bonnie had hurt her back. I'm happy to report that she's been slowly improving. We continued with the medication a few days longer than the vet had suggested, because she still seemed stressed a bit. She had a couple short walks last weekend (just around one end of the park), and then we curtailed the walks again. This past Monday and Tuesday, she slept The Entire Day - no pestering me for snacks, no leisurely stretching at lunchtime - just snoozing!

We couldn't decide if that snoozefest was due to back pain, or because she ate something she shouldn't (we caught her hopping in and out of the window well, and rooting around in there). But she seems to be her normal self now, and I think we're ready to don the leash and head out again. That will make her a happy beagle.

Sunday, July 8, 2012


At the end of June, Jim and I took a couple days off work and created a four-day weekend. It was lovely!

On Thursday, we drove to Rockford Illinois, to the home of our friends John & Dominque. (We had planned for an early arrival, but there was a rather unexpected problem at work Wednesday night, with the result that I didn't even get to bed until 4 am Thursday morning - that delayed our departure somewhat.)

We visited Thursday evening, and had a relaxing Friday morning while John dealt with his work (read: he saw patients). That, by the way, is when we saw the marvelous clouds I shared in this post.

Friday afternoon, we headed for Galena. We stayed at a Bed and Breakfast, the Farmers Guest House.

This is a lovely old inn. Our room was off the main floor - it seemed like an addition of some sort, but apparently an old addition, since we saw versions of it in the old photos on the wall. The breakfast room was large and roomy and pleasant - perfect for a late-night game of Scrabble.

(We'd stayed at Farmers once before, and another time at Annie Wiggins Guest House - the latter was nice, but we preferred Farmers, and were glad to get rooms there this trip.)
Once we were settled, we walked over to the historic downtown area of Galena. We crossed Spring Street, walked a path up a hill, cut through the library parking lot, and landed on Bench Street. The topography is not unlike what we grew up with in Pittsburgh, with the town spreading upward from the river. Commerce and Main Streets run parallel to the river. Bench Street is the next parallel street, but above the river. Higher still is Prospect St.

We walked along Bench towards a restaurant for dinner. We stopped to visit the library, and wandered inside so that Jim could chat with one of the librarians.

Eventually we made our way to Jim's choice for his birthday dinner, Vinny Vanucchi's.

John and Dominique

Robin and Jim

After dinner, we walked back to the Guest House for a game of Scrabble, a movie (The Tourist), and chit-chat.

Jim, John, and Dominique - Jim won the game

There are several long sets of stairs, leading from the upper neighborhoods to the downtown area. This is one leg of one of those sets, that we passed on Bench Street - this set has 149 steps (the other has 215). When Ulysses Grant worked at the leather shop in Galena, he used these steps (or the other set - not sure which...) to walk home for lunch with his sweetheart, and then back to work - true love!

We spent a leisurely day on Saturday. It was another hot day, but we were in no hurry. We wandered in and out of shops on Main St, and managed to avoid most of the junk shops.

One of the stores I'd been looking forward to visiting was FiberWild Yarn Shop. I'd been in their store the last time we went to Galena, but I'd also been a new knitter, and it was all a bit overwhelming.

This time? Not overwhelming at all. They had lots of lovely yarn, but I asked if they had any locally sourced yarn, and ended up buying three skeins of Suzy the Shepherdess Fingering Weight Yarn, along with a pattern for a shawl. (Heavenly only knows when I'll actually knit this; more yarn is not really something I need!)

 Soft and yummy yarn

Love this label on the yarn!

In the ads for this store, their logo is this cat, Scout, in this red sweater. I asked Sean (co-owner) if they really had managed to put the sweater on the cat - I couldn't imagine such a scene - and he assured me that it was the real thing, not photo-shopped. He said "we were working one Friday night, it was slow, there may have been some wine, we looked at the sweater, we looked at Scout..." Apparently Scout consented to wear the sweater, and put up with it long enough for a quick photo shoot.  And this was the result.

Alas, I didn't meet Scout

In the afternoon, we made our way to the Galena and U.S. Grant Museum, and spent several pleasant (and cool) hours going through the exhibits. There were display cases full of artifacts from the Civil War era, and from Galena's glory days, when the lead mines were flourishing and steamers were traveling up the Galena River from the Mississippi - Galena was bigger than Chicago back then, before the river silted up and railroads led to Chicago.

When mine shafts were being filled in, they left one open, and there's an exhibit that lets you look down into it - amazing, and a bit scary (I don't think I'd have the guts to be a miner, down in the bowels of the earth...). There was also a topographical display, showing how hilly that part of Illinois is, around Galena.

The exhibits showed a side of Grant that I'd not seen before - a more personal side. There was memorabilia from his daughter Nellie's White House wedding; the display said that after the ceremony, Grant went to his daughter's room, and was found there, sobbing - not so different from most fathers...

Galena and U.S. Grant Museum
Jim found these splendid doors somewhere along Bench. Lots of homes there, with steps up and steps down, managing to fit on the hillside.

Jim & The Owl

Dominique & Robin
More pictures from our trip are here.

When we got back home on Sunday night, we were happy to see our girl.

Somehow, she'd hurt her back while we were gone, and Sunday night she could barely climb the step from the back yard to the breezeway. We took her to the vet Monday morning, and she's been on Azium and rest this past week; she finally seems to be perking up a bit. Happy for that - I don't like to see our girl unwell.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Dogs and Horses

I've had a couple books stacked in my office for a while now, waiting to be blogged about. (Happily, neither is a grammar book that would be offended by prepositions in the wrong place.) They are very dissimilar books, but even so, both are landing in this post.

The first is Abigail Thomas' memoir, A Three Dog Life, which our book group recently read.

In April 2000, Abigail Thomas was living in New York City with her husband Rich, and their beagle Harry. Out for a walk with Harry, Rich was hit by a car and suffered a severe traumatic brain injury. Over the next five years, Thomas had to define new roles for Rich and for herself. She was comforted by her dogs (Harry was joined first by Rosie, and then Carolina Bones). She learned to balance and satisfy her needs, while caring for Rich to the extent possible - which, it turned out, was pretty limited. She struggled with guilt, and handled the details of car repair and appliance purchases. She developed her skills as a writer, and became fascinated with outsider art. She documents this in her memoir, a series of stories and vignettes.

She writes
One day I look out the hospital window high above Central Park, and I feel as if there's a tightrope connecting Rich's hospital room to our apartment, and all I can do is walk back and forth on it, the city far below... This is when I learn that I have to take care of myself, even if my leaving makes him angry, or worse, sad. I need to eat and sleep. I need to do something mindless, go to a movie, fritter away an afternoon. And I realize something even more startling: I can't make everything all right. It's his body that is hurt, not mine. I can't fix it, I can't make it never have happened.
The book contains a lot of subtle humor - which I imagine is vital while navigating this new reality - and a lot of sweet rememberings. Thomas shares Rich's comments, such as "If I wasn't with you and we weren't getting food, the dark would envelop my soul," and "I feel like a tent that wants to be a kite, tugging at my stakes."

Thomas writes about guilt. At one point, Rich had been in a facility for about ten months, and they couldn't meet his needs. The head of the program there was discussing options with Thomas; one suggestion was to take Rich home.
Take him home?

I was terrified. What would happen to us? Where would my life go? I wouldn't be Rich's wife; I would be his jailor and my own. This was a sacrifice that made no sense, I couldn't do it.

It has taken me almost five years to accept this about myself. What kind of woman was I? What about my wedding vows? Who was I that keeping hold of my own life was more important than taking care of my husband? I kept forgetting the fact that I actually couldn't take care of him. My terror obscured the truth: no single person, no two people could have taken care of a man in Rich's condition. Why then did I feel so ashamed? What standard do we women hold ourselves to? After all these years I can finally say the words I want to live my life without feeling unnatural, selfish, cowardly.
In the end, Thomas cobbles together a new life, a new partnership with her husband. She writes, "Rich is necessary to my happiness; I love the person he is now, I love who I am when I'm with him, and I can sometimes hold these two truths in my head at once: I wish he were whole, and I love my life."

And Rich declares, "Abby, our life has been so easy that the days glide by."

This is a well-written book, full of questions and insights, love and caring; I recommend it highly.

*  *  *  *

The second book is not a memoir, but I suppose it is biographical, being the story of the racehorse, Secretariat.

When I was writing my post about the Kentucky Derby, and looking up information on previous winners, I came across a quote from William Nack's book, Secretariat: The Making of a Champion. Nack's description of the Derby race was captivating, and led me to track down the book at our library.

The first chapters deal with pedigrees, both of horses and of owners (I couldn't help but think of the lists of begats in the Bible), and I skimmed through that information. Once Nack finally started telling Secretariat's story, I was hooked. His behind-the-scenes details and insights made for interesting reading, and the races themselves were spellbinding. He offered the perspective of jockey Ron Turcotte, as he rode the great horse, and of the crowds, as they watched history being made, again and again.

When I read his play-by-play of the race at Belmont, I realized that my own heart was racing with excitement - even though I knew full well what the ending was.

A good read!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Summer Non-Storms

Last Friday, we were visiting friends in Rockford, Illinois (en route to our weekend in Galena). They've had much the same weather as we have - lots of heat, not much rain. Friday morning, the skies seemed dark, and we stepped outside to see if rain were imminent.

The sky was amazing - layers of cloud on cloud. (I think these are cumulonimbus clouds - but don't quote me on that...) We all grabbed cameras, and snapped photo after photo. I loaded mine to a Picasa album, here.

But, after all that drama in the skies, we saw just a few drops of rain...