Sunday, August 25, 2013

Last Stop: Rockford

Our trip from Spillville to Rockford was uneventful. There was some rain (as predicted by the clouds when we left Spillville), and we did finally pick up some dinner en route.

It was getting late when we arrived at Holdens - 10? 10:30? I really don't remember, but here is the funniest part. We rang their doorbell, knocked on their door, called their home and cell phones, all to no avail. We sat on their porch swing, chatting, until their son finally got home. He let us in, where we found John & Dom' had fallen asleep, notwithstanding all our efforts to alert them.

Guess we're all getting old...!

Friday was a relaxing day. We hung out with Dom', reading and chatting and knitting, while John worked. I needed a different needle size, so we set off in search of a yarn store. We'd been to Unique Yarns back in 2010, and it was a nice enough store, but now it is out of business. We found another on the internet, just north of Rockford (Loves Park), but when we arrived, it also was closed. But, we noticed another LYS, The Wool Gathering, in the same strip mall, and headed there.

They carried Knitter's Pride interchangeables, so I was able to get the needles I needed. We also looked around a bit at their yarn. There wasn't a huge selection, but they did have a nice bit of Dream in Color, some of which jumped into our car:

720 yards, currently marinating in my stash

I wonder if this LYS will survive. The owner's chatter was all about herself, and how she has to compete with the internet, and about how she's "the only game in town," and will she have funds to buy more yarn for the fall... It sounded like she is struggling - but really, there was not much about the store that said, "Come back soon!" Maybe if I lived there, it would grow on me.

John had to be on-call (on-site) at the hospital Friday night, so we ordered pizza from Giordano's and spent the evening in his break room, playing Ticket to Ride and eating really bad malted milk balls (the pizza, however, was excellent).

On Saturday, we decided to go to the Nicholas Conservatory & Gardens. En route, we passed the Anderson Japanese Gardens. When John and Dom' realized we'd never been there (after all these years of visiting Rockford), John immediately turned around and we went there instead. This was a great choice - it turned out to be one of the highlights of our trip. 

Here are their mission / values statements, taken from their webpage:
In our hectic and stressful world, Anderson Japanese Gardens opens minds to a different culture while offering guests a place of peace and tranquility where they will find healing, renewal, inspiration, and a re-energized soul.

We are an authentic Japanese Garden maintained by the highest of standards that touches the soul of our guests. With grace, elegance, and gentle awareness we exemplify the Japanese cultural heritage of respectful humility in service to people of all cultures.
It really was a beautiful place - so much green and beauty. We enjoyed walking along the paths and admiring the gardens. Here are just a few photos:

Jim, Robin, John, Dominque

Lots of Koi in the pond

Isn't this a nice photo of Jim?

West Waterfall - Nishi No Taki

I love ducks.

We did take LOTS of photos at the Japanese Gardens; if you want to see more than this handful, there is an album here.

We stopped at Chocolate by Daniel, located in downtown Rockford. It was something of an oddity - there wasn't much else in the way of business in its neighborhood, and the store itself was very quiet and dark.

Daniel was the only other person in the store, and patiently described the available chocolates, so we could make our choices. We sat on a couch savoring them, and chatting with Daniel. He explained the lack of lights (to protect the chocolate, of course), and told tales of chocolate discoveries. Maybe the chocolate was pricey (as some of the reviews suggested), but we enjoyed the visit and the chocolate.

We then drove up to Lake Geneva, WI, about an hour north of Rockford. John & Dom' knew of a restaurant there, and we decided to celebrate both our anniversaries (our 25th, and Holdens' 32nd).

Along the way - clouds...

... and more clouds

We were early for dinner, so we wandered around looking at the tourist shops:

We had dinner at the Grandview Restaurant and Lounge, at The Geneva Inn. It was a lovely meal - we could see out onto the lake; our food was delicious; we enjoyed the piano singer; and we enjoyed relaxing together.

The restaurant put this card at our table,
with "Happy Anniversary" wishes

The next day, we went to church with Holdens, and then had an uneventful trip home. It was good to be back with our favorite beagle!


Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Meanwhile, Back in Iowa: Spillville

When we left Mason City, we considered stopping for a late lunch - but we were eager to get on the road, to be sure we arrived at Spillville before the Dvorak museum closed. So, off we went, figuring we'd grab some fast food on the road.

Bad idea. What Thelma the GPS knew, and we didn't yet know, was that the road to Spillville was nothing more than one county road after another, with an occasional bar and not much else. So, no late lunch until long after we left Spillville!

This building was our destination in Spillville. In 1893, it housed a tinsmith, and, during the summer, the upper floor housed Antonin Dvorak and his family.

Today, the upper floor houses an exhibit on Dvorak and his visit to Spillville. At the time, he was living in New York, heading a conservatory for Jeanette Thurber. Dvorak's secretary, Josef Kovarik, invited him to visit Spillville, a community of Czechs, thinking he would feel at home there. The letters and memories in the exhibit suggested that he was very much at home there, taking walks, visiting with neighbors, playing the organ in the local church, and composing several pieces. The exhibit was well-done, and very informative.

The lower floor houses the Bily Clock exhibit, which was an unexpected treat.The Bily brothers, Joseph and Frank, were born in the 1880's, and never traveled more than 35 miles from Spillville. They were farmers and carpenters, working with their father on his farm, but their hobby was carving clocks. Over their lifetime, they made forty clocks, none of which was ever sold - in fact, they are all in this museum.

Here are a couple examples of their clocks, scanned from the souvenir booklet we bought.

This first is the Old Swedish Clock. It was originally carved in Sweden, and was brought to the Bily brothers, in pieces, for restoration. They repaired it, and made a number of additions. We liked it because the base (which they carved) includes a bear and an owl.

Still running, after 250 years

This second clock is the American Pioneer History Clock. (The tour guide said that the Bilys named the clocks.) It was the first original clock designed by the brothers, and is considered to be their masterpiece. Supposedly, in 1928, Henry Ford offered 1 million dollars for this clock, but the brothers turned him down. (According to this inflation calculator, that is 13.7 million dollars in today's money. Wow.)

8 feet tall, 500 pounds

Our next stop was Rockford, Illinois. As we drove, the weather looked like this:

It did actually rain some, as we drove to Rockford, but not much. Guess all those clouds were just for show.

More on Rockford in the next blog post...

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore

Robin Sloan's latest novel, Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, is a winner. It is not classic literature, it is not a brilliant mystery, it is not a suspenseful thriller.

It is simply fun.

Clay Jannon, looking for work, stumbles into a job working the night shift at Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore. It doesn't take him long to recognize that this is not your standard bookstore - the stock is limited, the clientele few and far between. This doesn't consider, of course, the unusual books in the back part of the store, and the unusual customers who show up to quickly exchange one unreadable book for another.

Clay is determined to figure out what's up. He calls on his roommate's creative skills and his girlfriend's Google connections. He uses data visualizations and cardboard scanners. He calls in favors from a childhood friend who has become a wealthy entrepreneur. He learns of an ancient fellowship, and meets its quirky members. He turns to an archaeologist and the curator of a knitting museum (!) to locate missing artifacts.

And, with a mix of technology and friendship and books, he solves the puzzle.

There are flaws in some of the logic, and the story requires a few leaps of faith, but this book was a wonderful romp, which I thoroughly enjoyed. The puzzle's solution is lovely - but I don't want to spoil your read, so I'll keep that to myself.

Enjoy! Festina Lente!

Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith

I thought I was doing a good job of sharing, via this blog, the books I've read. Recently, however, I've been looking for my thoughts on books I've read, and those thoughts are not to be found. Either my blog is eating them, leaving no trace (which, admittedly, is unlikely); or I have put off sharing the books until they've completely fallen off my radar.

So, I'm going to quickly share two books I've just finished, before they disappear into the ether that is my brain - one in this post, the other in a post that I hope will be written... soon.

Anne Lamott's Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith describes, in a series of essays, Lamott's path to God. There was nothing earth-shattering or deeply profound, but I enjoyed her writing, her stark experience, her insights.

At one point, she describes why she (a single mother) makes her son go to church with her, and I think this describes her own reasons for going:
The main reason is that I want to give him what I found in the world, which is to say a path and a little light to see by. Most of the people I know who have what I want - which is to say, purpose, heart, balance, gratitude, joy - are people with a deep sense of spirituality. They are people in community, who pray, or practice their faith; they are Buddhists, Jews, Christians - people banding together to work on themselves and for human rights. They follow a brighter light than the glimmer of their own candle; they are part of something beautiful. I saw something once from the Jewish Theological Seminary that said, " A human life is like a single letter of the alphabet. It can be meaningless. Or it can be a part of a great meaning."
She talks about things breaking - "hearts, health, confidence" - and shares words from her preacher:
Our preacher Veronica said recently that this is life's nature: that lives and hearts get broken - those of people we love, those of people we'll never meet. She said that the world sometimes feels like the waiting room of the emergency ward and that we who are more or less OK for now need to take the tenderest possible care of the more wounded people in the waiting room, until the healer comes. You sit with people, she said, you bring them juice and graham crackers
(which made me think of Alma's teaching that we be willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light, and that we be willing to mourn with those that mourn, and willing to comfort those that stand in need of comfort).

Lamott shares Raymond Carver's poem, Late Fragment, in her chapter on belonging to a community:
And did you get what
you wanted from this life even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.
We take many paths to find our community, and our God, and I don't think one is more right than another. Lamott writes about the many mistakes and bad choices she's made in life, and about the losses she's experienced. And then she celebrates, not just being beloved by her community of faith, but by her God:
The mystery of God's love as I understand it is that God loves the man who was being mean to his dog just as much as he loves babies; God loves Susan Smith, who drowned her two sons, as much as he loves Desmond Tutu. And he loved her just as much while she was releasing the handbrake of her car that sent her boys into the river as he did when she first nursed them. So of course he loves old ordinary me, even or especially at my most scared and petty and mean and obsessive. Loves me; chooses me.
The title of her book comes from what the old people at her church said when anyone left for a while: "Traveling mercies: love the journey, God is with you, come home safe and sound." Her book, really, describes her journey, which leads her, finally, home, safe and sound.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Spindles and Yarn and Goats, Oh My!

I know that my many readers were anticipating a blog post about Spillville and Dvorak, but they will simply have to wait; today it's all about Michigan Fiber Fest!

I completely missed last year's Fiber Fest, owing to a never-ending, all-consuming project from work. Happily, there was no similar obstacle this year. Jess and L and I attended a spindle-spinning workshop, taught by Nancy Shroyer, where we spun yarn using a drop spindle. Mine was not particularly stellar yarn, but it was yarn nonetheless.

Look - yarn!

Jess & L

After our workshop, we wandered through the vendors, and looked at animals. My goal was to buy no yarn unless I saw something I absolutely had to have. I really have plenty of yarn at home (including five still unused purchases from prior Fiber Fests). By not looking too closely, I avoided succumbing to the yarn fumes, although I was tempted at the Knitting Notions booth (but I have her yarn in my stash already, so....).

I did buy a yarn swift from Knitting Notions, something I've contemplated over the years. And, I bought a festival sweatshirt, which this year featured a pygora goat. Oh, I also bought the swift I used in the workshop - the price was right, and it will allow me to continue to play with drop spindling.

During our wanderings, this shawl caught my eye. The woman at the booth explained that it was knitted with short rows, using leftover sock yarn. I would love to figure out how to make this (she didn't have a pattern). My Pie Wedge Shawl is made with short rows, but is only a semi-circle; this shawl is a full circle, and hung nicely. Possibly I could just make more sections on my pie wedge shawl, and tweak it to use fingering weight yarn instead of lace. But this shawl seemed to have more shapes than just the pie shapes, so it will take some puzzling (or searching in Ravelry; this pattern seems similar.)


We admired rabbits, sheep, goats, and a camel - not as many animals as we'd see on a Saturday, but still a nice selection. Here are some of them (I'm at least moderately confident that I've correctly identified the breeds):

French angora rabbit - so soft!

Pygora goat

Lincoln longwool sheep

Shetland sheep

This hanging is made from t-shirts from previous years' Fiber Fests:

And we spotted this very appropriate license plate:

YO and SSK are knitting instructions

It's much less crowded on Friday than on Saturday, and we were trying avoid yarn temptation, so we made our way through the fair quickly, and arrived home earlier than expected. This gave me time to work on my Limited Edition Cowl. The last time I worked on it, I discovered Something Wrong - I had somehow switched patterns in the middle of a row. It was going to take some time to figure out where I'd gone astray, and get back to that point, so I had put the cowl in time-out.

This afternoon I was able to sit down and study it, knit back to where things were still as they should be, and then knit forward a couple rows. Now I should be able to make progress again, hurrah!

At the halfway point!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Wright and Wilson

After our visit with family, in Chicago, we continued into Iowa. There were some places Jim had been wanting to visit, and we decided to combine it with a trip to Rockford Illinois.

We drove as far as Cedar Rapids, and stayed in a hotel by the river. In the morning, we noticed a sign showing the water level, from the flood in 2008  - it was well above my head! The cashier said that the current was so strong, no one could get near the hotel. It's hard to imagine what that must have been like.

(I remember the 1972 flooding in Pittsburgh. Dad took us to Neville Island, to see where water was coming up through drains. This was not nearly as impressive as seeing the Golden Triangle under water - I guess it was a perspective that was more easily grasped. I remember coming across the Fort Pitt Bridge and seeing roadways under water.)

We continued on to Mason City, Iowa, where we visited the Stockman House, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. The Interpretive Center was quite interesting, describing the Prairie School Architecture used in a number of homes and buildings in Mason City.

Robin, outside the interpretive center

Window in the interpretive center

The Stockman House

Alas, no photos allowed inside

I loved the openness of the house - with some modernization, and insulation, it would be a pretty nice place to live. Jim disagreed - the ceilings were a bit low. Apparently Wright didn't like tall people; he called them weeds. Humph. I'm rather fond of my "weed"!

We stopped by the Park Inn Hotel, also designed by Wright, but decided against a tour there. We looked around on our own, and then visited the Meredith Wilson Museum. Wilson, of course, is known for writing The Music Man, but I was surprised to realize he had quite a career, in the service, in radio and TV, and on Broadway.

Meredith Wilson


The museum also had instruments on loan from the National Music Museum. (We stumbled on that gem back in 2010, when we visited family in Ponca, Nebraska. It is an amazing place.)

This instrument - a nyckelharpa - caught our eye - we had no idea what it was. According to this site, it is a traditional Swedish instrument, "somewhere between a typewriter and your grandpa's old crackly fiddle."

This video shows Peter Puma Hedlund performing Blekingepolskan on the nyckelharpa. - according to another YouTube site, this is a traditional tune from the village Bingsjö in Dalarna, Sweden (That video had drums - not really what I was looking for!).

When we'd finished with the museum, we headed for Spillville, Iowa, where Antonin Dvorak once spent the summer - more about that in the next blog post.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Family: M-M-Good!

It's nice to live fairly close to family. Dave & Joyce (and Jon & Laura) are a couple hours away in Chicago, and Paul & Rachelle are a couple hours away the other direction, in Plymouth. We can see them (and their offspring, when they're around) without too much stress.

In July, we took advantage of this closeness, and drove over to Chicago, timing it with Emily's visit to her parents. It was a quick visit - she and her girls had driven from Colorado, and would continue on to a family reunion in West Virginia (where my lucky sister would get to see the very newest member of our family, Sarah & Adam's new baby boy) (I'm not jealous at all).

In Chicago, we ate and talked and played games and relaxed.

Joyce, Emily, and S.



Jim, showing off his Farkle roll

Jim's roll: six of a kind!

They introduced us to Campbell's Alphabet Dice - a terrific little game. (Who doesn't love a game that allows the word "m-m-good"!).

Laura & Jon & the boys were also there, and Emily's youngest, M. We had a terrific (but short) visit.

Just this past Saturday, Jon and Laura came to Kalamazoo. The boys were delighted to see Bonnie, and she behaved really well with them. It was another laid back visit, eating and talking and playing at the park with the boys. Jon's been looking for a job, so there's a possibility that this branch of the Beers will move away. We're hoping for the best, even if it takes them away from us. :(

Sky Scarf and Other Knitting (The August Version)

Time for another knitting update.

First of all, here's the latest iteration of my Mostly Michigan, Mostly 2013 Sky Scarf:

6 months - halfway there!

I finished my Waves of Color Bermuda Shawl:

I had mentioned that I would have to keep an eye on my yarn, in an effort to use up as much as possible, without running out.

After washing, Before blocking

I managed to do just that - I finished with just 9 yards of yarn left.

Another perspective

I'm still working on the WMU Scarf for the Seita Scholars (it's about half finished). My Woodland Shawl is still on hold, although I came close to picking it up the other day.

But I started a cowl instead.

One of several swatches I knit for the cowl

The yarn is a limited edition skein that I bought at Stitching Memories a while back - 90% polypay wool (from Holland, MI) and 10% alpaca (from Reed City, MI). Raised, spun, and dyed in our fine state, it is a pure Michigan yarn!

I am knitting the Fresco Basket Whip Cowl. I dutifully swatched, starting with a 6 (one needle size smaller than recommended, because I am a relaxed knitter), then trying a size 7. That still was wrong, but we were traveling and I had no more needles with me. We stopped at a yarn store, Wool Gathering, near Rockford, IL (where we were visiting friends), and I was able to buy a size 8. Frankly, that swatch was also still off, but frankly, I no longer cared - it seemed close enough, and the idea of increasing needle size again was crazy.

So, I am knitting away on the cowl, and have finished several pattern repeats; it goes quickly!

My next fiber adventure is this coming Friday, at the Michigan Fiber Festival. I'll take a spindle spinning class in the morning, and then look at animals and check out the vendors in the afternoon. It should be a fun day!