Saturday, March 30, 2013

Spring Crocus

It's a beautiful, warm spring day. I took this photo while walking Bonnie and Tonks (no, we haven't adopted another furry friend; we're dog-sitting).  Let me assure you: you haven't lived until you try to take a close-up photo while two dogs try to persuade you to move along so they can find something more interesting (i.e., something stinky).

I've seen snowdrops this year, but these are the first crocuses I've come across. They reminded me of a haiku I read recently (even though my crocuses aren't white):
Urban detritus
Heaped in a small garden plot
Still – white crocuses.
This is from the blog A Haiku Each Day (this year's March 28 entry), by  Abigail M. Parker.

While trying to remember where I saw the haiku, I came across this poem, also about crocuses. (And I just did some googling to determine that the plural of crocus is crocuses or croci, but also can simply be crocus...). 
First Crocus
by Christine Klocek-Lim

This morning, flowers cracked open
the earth’s brown shell. Spring
leaves spilled everywhere
though winter’s stern hand
could come down again at any moment
to break the delicate yolk
of a new bloom.

The crocus don’t see this as they chatter
beneath a cheerful petal of spring sky.
They ignore the air’s brisk arm
as they peer at their fresh stems, step
on the leftover fragments
of old leaves.

When the night wind twists them to pieces,
they will die like this: laughing,
tossing their brilliant heads
in the bitter air.
This poem speaks rightly about the risk of winter's return, but leaves me smiling at the image of crocuses "laughing, tossing their brilliant heads in the bitter air."

Friday, March 29, 2013

Baby Blanket of Many Colors

The other day, I finished another Lilly blanket.

Entrelac Knitting - so magical

Jess' friend Jeanna, collects "Angel Blankets" in memory of her (Jeanna's) little boy who was born, and stayed on this earth just long enough to meet his parents. She gives them to our local hospital, so that mothers in similar circumstances will have a memory of their child to take home with them.

My grand-niece Lilly made a similarly brief appearance, on April 9, 2009, and this blanket is in her memory. In this Easter season, I'm reminded that we will see her again, one day, thanks to the blessing of Christ's resurrection. Hallelujah!

I am happy with this blanket. The cotton knit up nicely; I learned to knit in reverse (which is not as hard as you would imagine, and yet makes the entrelac knit up much more easily); and the crochet edging (my first) gives it a nice finish.

Tonight I will swatch for a child's sweater, for afghans for Afghans, using this yarn:

Supposedly this color is teal heather;
I think this photo is misleading

I'm looking forward to working with this yarn (Cascade is a nice, workhorse sort of yarn), and the pattern has a simple cable, which I'll enjoy. It will, on the other hand, require seaming, which just goes to prove, we can't have everything. And I'm not entirely sure where the yarn is - somewhere in my office, I think ... I'm curious to find it, and see what color it really is!

Meanwhile, I can always share another beagle photo:

Bonnie, saving her energy,
so she can bark while I swatch

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Knitting Update

First of all, a reminder - we are still raising funds for Girls on the Run. Every $5 contribution buys an entry to win this scarf:

We've nearly reached our goal, so if you were thinking about making a contribution, now's the time! At this point, we can only accept checks (made out to Greater Kalamazoo Girls on the Run) or cash; contact me to work out the details: RobinVanderRoest @ gmail dot com. Thanks!

My entrelac Lilly blanket is nearly finished:

That top row of blue needs one more triangle, there on the right. I'll add a final row of purple triangles to fill in the gaps, and then I'm planning to edge it with single crochet all around. That sounds like I know what I'm doing. I don't - the crochet bit will be a new adventure - but I'm optimistic that I can figure it out.

The baby blanket is slowly growing, and is about half finished:

I still think it's a bit wonky. When I started this pattern, I envisioned columns of smooth, even stitches, which don't seem to be happening. I'm hoping it will relax when I get it finished and washed.

And my woodland shawl is looking good:

I've finished 44 out of 112 rows. That sounds like it's 39% complete, but not so: each pair of rows increases by 4 stitches, so they get longer and longer as I knit. The row I just finished has 81 stitches; by the time I reach the ruffle edge, there will be 189 stitches, and that ruffle increases the stitch count to 300+. I had an early set-back - the "knit 4 rows / rip back 8 rows" variety - but it's been behaving since then (and I've been paying more attention).

My sky scarf is progressing as well, a day at a time, but I'll wait til my monthly checkpoint to post another photo.

I listen to all sorts of podcasts while walking Bonnie. One of my favorites is  the Knitmore Girls Podcast. Mother-daughter team Gigi and Jasmin talk about all things knitting, and it is delightful. I recently won a drawing on their show, and received Jane Slicer-Smith's book Swing, Swagger, Drape: Knit the Colors of Australia.

When I learned I'd won this book, I looked up the patterns on Ravelry. My initial impression was "Eh. It's nice I won, but none of these patterns excite me."

Then the book showed up in my mailbox. It is gorgeous - the photography is by Alexis Xenakis, and includes so many wonderful images and colors, buildings and nature and Australian scenery. There are design sketches, and lots of good photos of the knitwear.

The book itself was a bit confusing, at least for me. I struggled to match patterns with modeled knitwear, and to understand how the patterns themselves were written.

Notwithstanding that challenge, and notwithstanding my initial reaction, I fell in love with the mitered patterns (and some of the others as well). The Miter Vee Capelet is rated 'easy+,' and I'm pretty sure I want to knit this. I've even found where I can order a kit with the yarn (a dozen different colors) online. I wonder how much the shipping costs from Australia would be.... And which colourway would be best... Decisions, decisions...

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Nothing Says Spring Like Potatoes

Last night, Jim and I were walking downtown, and saw something unusual in a tree:

Do you see it there? Take a closer look:

Yes, friends, that is a potato nestled in those branches. Why, you ask, is there a potato in that tree? I will tell you: I have no idea.

Is this some sort of ritual I missed out on? Maybe someone's lunch, waiting to be microwaved? The stash of a confused squirrel? Perhaps it is Kalamazoo's answer to Punxsutawney Phil: "When potatoes appear in the trees, it means spring is around the corner."

No doubt about it, we are slowly sneaking up on spring. On Thursday, our yard looked like this:

When Bonnie and I were out yesterday, it was a balmy 36 degrees, with sunshine and blue sky:

Granted, underneath that sky, there was still snow on the ground. And today it's a chilly 31 degrees, with cloudy grey skies. But that is how spring works here in Michigan. We bounce back and forth, gradually working our way along that continuum of warmer temps and bluer skies, until one day, spring is here to stay.

I don't think it has anything to do with potatoes.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

First Day of Spring 2013

Today's Kalamazoo Gazette reminds us of the crazy weather we had last year at this time:
The 'heat wave' of spring 2012 started on March 14, with a high of 79 degrees, followed by eight more days of record highs - 76, 79, 77, 76, 81, 85, 87 (the hottest day on record in March) and 84.

The average high temperature during that stretch was 80 degrees, more typical of a July in Southwest Michigan... The normal high temperature for that period in March is 46 degrees.
Many locals enjoyed that warm respite, but the unseasonable temperatures caused fruit trees to bud early. This led to disaster when April freezes came, "wiping out Michigan apples, cherries, peaches and plums for the entire season."

With that in mind, I am delighted to report that when I walked Bonnie today, the temperature was a very non-balmy 25 degrees, with a wind chill of 8. We ventured into the snow-filled woods by Friendship Village (we got several inches of snow yesterday):

By the time we were headed home, snow was again falling and blowing wildly (although this picture doesn't capture it very well):

That's more like it, Michigan!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Library Books

Spoiler alert! If you're in my reading group, be aware that I discuss this month's book - if you haven't read it yet, you might want to skip this blog post...

I love libraries. I love being able to borrow and enjoy a variety of books, from a variety of genres (although I still manage to buy a book or two...). Here are four that I've read over the past few months .

The Dressmaker of Khair Khana, by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, tells of Kamila Sidiqi, a young woman living in Kabul, Afghanistan. In September 1996, she had just graduated from a two-year teacher training program, and was looking forward to earning a bachelor's degree and becoming a teacher.

That all changed, as the Taliban regime took control in Kabul. Freedoms that women had enjoyed were curtailed, and Kamila found herself trapped in her home, with her sisters. Kamila's resourcefulness provided the means for their support, as she began a dress-making venture that employed her family, and, eventually, many other women in their community.

I appreciated this insider view of the Taliban, and what their arrival meant for the women in Kabul. I was amazed at Kamila's accomplishments in such an environment. This is a book worth reading!

Vicki Stiefel and Lisa Souza's book, 10 Secrets of the Laidback Knitters, was not as satisfying. I'm not sure what I expected - I think perhaps more insights, along the lines of Stephanie Pearl McPhee or the Mason-Dixon ladies - but this book didn't really offer that. The '10 Secrets' came across as introductions to the different patterns, and didn't strike me as particularly innovative or inspiring.

That said, the photography is terrific - lots of color, lots of cute animals, lots of inspiration. And there were some patterns that caught my eye, especially Sivia Harding's Smoked Jewels Hooded Shawlette and Janice Kang's Inside-Out Hat. If I found a used copy of this book somewhere, I might consider buying it for those patterns.

I have mixed feelings about Ron Hall and Denver Moore's book, Same Kind of Different as Me. It tells the story of two men: Ron, who grew up in Texas and became a successful art dealer, and Denver, who grew up as a sharecropper - essentially a slave - in Louisiana. Denver eventually makes his way to Texas, where he lives on the street, and the two meet.

That part of the book was fascinating. Both stories offered insight into worlds I've never know (which is why we read at all, isn't it?).

The book also tells the story of Ron's wife, Deborah. She is the one who has a vision of the friendship between Ron and Denver, and encourages her husband to pursue the unlikely relationship. But, while extolling her goodness and insight, the authors don't give me enough to really bond with or care for her; her presentation is too one-dimensional. I really struggled to finish the book, which got bogged down in describing her fight with cancer and the folks who rallied around her.

I recommend this book as a story of Ron and Denver, and their lives, and Ron's effort to cross societal boundaries and become friends with Denver. But, for whatever reason, I didn't find the spiritual uplift or insight it tried to offer.

The fourth book I'm returning is Jennifer Chiaverini's The Wedding Quilt. This is another "Elm Creek Quilts Novel," most (if not all) of which I've read. I enjoyed the early books, which told of women, from different backgrounds and ages and professions, who came together to establish a retreat for quilters. The blurb on the back of this latest book includes this comment from the New York Journal of Books (from a review of one of her other books):
"Jennifer Chiaverini's strength is not only writing strong female characters but also placing them in interesting lives and times."
I think that was true with her earlier novels, but this book has practically little in the way of plot, and way too much sentiment for my taste. Oh well - can't win them all!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Quick Trip to Chicago

Last weekend, Jim and I took a quick trip to Chicago. Our motivation was to hear Dave & Joyce sing with the Apollo Chorus, and we slipped in a couple other adventures as well.

We drove over Saturday morning, and made our way to Jon and Laura's place. (We foolishly followed GPS Thelma's route, which meandered through roads we'd never seen, but at least landed us at the correct apartment.) We enjoyed lunch with Laura & the boys (delightful boys!!!), and Dave & Joyce.

After lunch, we went Visit to Powell's book store. Jim left with a stack of history books; I left with two great knitting reference books (two of the Harmony Guides - Knit and Purl, and Colorwork Stitches - great price, great condition).

We enjoyed walking around the neighborhood there, looking at buildings and such. It was, I confess, a tad brisk (!), but it was sunny and so we ignored the cold.

We grabbed sandwiches for dinner, and headed to Rockefeller Chapel, the venue for the Apollo Chorus performance.

We walked around that area as well. Here's the Rockefeller Chapel, in the late afternoon:

We liked this tower. It was located north of Rockefeller Chapel; I think it is the Chicago Theological Seminary:

We discovered that the Oriental Institute Museum, located next to the chapel, was hosting the exhibit Between Heaven and Earth: Birds in Ancient Egypt. We had enough time to slip in and take a quick look.

We both were quite taken (of course) with this limestone carving of an owl, which depicts the head of the owl hieroglyph:

photo from

From there, we headed back to Rockefeller Chapel, for the concert. The interior reminded me of cathedrals we saw in England. We decided we need to go back when we can take a proper tour of the chapel.

We sat very near the front, and I was impressed by the organ pipes (we also need to come back for an organ concert), and by the inlaid marble on the pulpit, which you can just barely see in this photo. That is, you can just barely see the inlaid marble (at the lower right); the pipes are rather obvious:

photo from http://pipe-organs.

We enjoyed the concert - Mozart's Divertimiento in D major, Charpentier's Te Deum, and Haydn's Mass in B flat "Theresienmesse." Again, I was reminded of a choir we heard in England, in one of the cathedrals, and how beautiful the voices were in that space.

Afterwards, we headed to the Beer Hotel (we followed our own common sense and experience, rather than relying on Crazy Thelma). Joyce had picked up some decadent brownies, so we talked and ate, then headed for bed, and in the morning, for home.

Bonnie was happy to see us the next day, although she still wasn't particularly happy to have her picture taken:

And wasn't this a beautiful day to come home to?

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Sky Scarf March 2013

On February 10, I started my Mostly Michigan Mostly 2013 Sky Scarf. Today, I finished the first month of knitting skies, and here's what it looks like:

Month 1
I'm pretty happy with it. Jess tells me that I look too hard for bits of blue, but I think I've really been pretty honest with what I'm seeing. (Really!)

I'm not sure I like this photo - I used the scanner, and I see that I used camera shots for my original sky scarf post, and I think I like those better. I'll keep that in mind, 30 days from now...!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Does This Look Comfortable to You?

This morning, I couldn't find Bonnie.

She wasn't snoozing in her crate.

She wasn't sprawled on the loveseat, sofa, or easy chair. (Yes, she claims all of these as her own.)

She wasn't watching Jim ride the stationary bike.

I finally found her, sound asleep, sprawled across shirts and shoes:

Yes, there are shoes under those shirts

That cannot possibly be comfortable, and yet that is the spot she chose. This dog loves to sleep on clothes...

Saturday, March 2, 2013

The Rules Have Changed

Just a quick update on the Girls on the Run Fundraiser... The websites that Jess and her daughter were using have been shut down (frankly, they'd been open quite a while; we're slow fundraisers), so you can't contribute there any more.

We are still trying to reach their fundraising goal.

You can still contribute by check. Make it out to Greater Kalamazoo Girls on the Run, and contact me regarding delivery (my email is RobinVanderRoest at gmail dot com).

Every $5 donation still gives you one entry to win the Kal-Haven Trail Scarf.

Thanks for your support!!!

The sooner you donate, the sooner we reach the goal,
and the sooner someone wins this scarf!