Monday, August 25, 2014

Tony and Antonia and Friends

A couple weekends ago, our friends John and Dominique drove over from Illinois and joined us for a quick trip to Sterling Heights, to see one of Jim's favorite performers.

Tony Bennett!

Lately, it seemed that every time we traveled, we'd see a billboard promoting a Tony Bennett concert, but it was always sold out. Jim started keeping an eye on Tony's website (yes, we're on a first name basis), and was finally able to purchase tickets to this show.

The show, with Tony Bennett and his daughter Antonia, was at the Freedom Hill Amphitheatre. It was a beautiful evening, and we got there early enough to get food at the concession stand, and relax. (This is because our tickets listed the time as 6 pm. We thought we were late, but it turned out this is when the gates open, so we had time to spare.)

The sun was starting to set as everyone got settled in. 

Jim, Dominique, and John

It was a delightful performance. Antonia sang first, and was a real showman, chatting with the audience, highlighting the band members, and singing great songs. Tony performed a few numbers with her, as well as on his own. He is really amazing. He turned 88 on August 3, but still has a great voice, and charms and delights the crowd. At one point he asked, "would you mind if I sing some old standards?" Would we mind?!? What a silly question...

We spent the night at the Warren Courtyard Marriott, on Van Dyke (once we finally got out of the Freedom Hill parking lot, the hotel was just a few minutes away). (Nice hotel, decent breakfast in the morning.) We enjoyed a late dinner at Buddy's Pizza, nearby (Yum! Great pizza, and a charming waitress).

The next day, we drove up to Frankenmuth, since John and Dom' had never been to Bronner's Christmas store. We wandered around for a good while - they have every imaginable ornament, I swear. Showing great restraint, we bought just a couple ornaments (really, our tree has no room for more ornaments...!).

Bonnie was glad when we got home:

She got a walk, and we humans got some dinner, and then we talked and played Settlers of Catan (Dom' won on Saturday; Jim won Sunday's game).

With all the driving we did (and a late-night push), I finished knitting my hat:

It's reversible; this is the "inside"

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Shawl and Hat (Short and Sweet)

I have two projects to share today. First is my Mushishi Shawl, which I just finished this past weekend. The yarn, Mushishi, by Plymouth Yarns, was spun very loosely, which I think means that it will hold more air and make for a cozily warm shawl. It was also very pleasant to knit with.

This hat is one of several works-in-progress. I'm knitting it with a wonderful yarn, Winnifred's Washable, by Farmhouse Yarns. It is a hand-dyed merino / acrylic blend. The color is not as bright as this photo would lead you to think, but is instead very rich. This will be a luscious and comfy hat, I think.


Mother Nature Does Her Thing

Recently, we noticed that a branch from our neighbor's tree was drooping into our yard. Jim contacted a tree guy, but he hadn't yet scheduled a time to look at it, when this happened:

August 2, 2014

Apparently, the branch had broken in the past, and was only being supported by our AT&T line. This, of course, made the line hang lower than normal. A truck driving by our house caught the line, and it snapped, letting the branch fall to the ground. This left us with no landline, no internet, and no cable.

We finally found a phone bill with a customer service number listed on it (hint: if you eliminate the paper copies of your bills, you should write down the contact number somewhere; looking it up online was not an option). Jim called, and spoke with a sympathetic operator who scheduled the repair, and said it would probably be fixed on Tuesday (this was Friday night). Happily, an AT&T truck showed up Saturday afternoon, and after a couple hours, we were good to go again.

Handley's Tree Service came by on Monday (after Jim reached out to them again), to scope things out, and on Tuesday made quick work of the downed branch, as well as trimming and thinning our maple. (They'll be back after Thanksgiving to thin the oak as well.)

Here are "before" and "after" photos of the maple. The trees hadn't completely filled out in that May photo, so it doesn't show how much those lower branches were drooping. At least you can see that the lower trunk is more open now. It should be much easier to mow under there!

Before - late May


Sometimes Mother Nature offers less drama and more beauty. Here are photos of the latter, from some of my recent beagle walks:

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Mr. Darling and Mrs. Wiggs

I've recently finished two books, both very satisfactory reads.

I read Julia Glass's Three Junes some time ago, and it was a splendid read. I hoped that The Widower's Tale would be equally enjoyable, and it was. The tale concerns Percy Darling (the widower), his two daughters, his grandson, and an assortment of other characters.

Percy has been widowed for thirty years, and is sliding into a contented retirement. As events unfold, we learn about his deceased wife, and watch the shifting dynamics of his family. We see Percy inexorably pulled back into the community he has managed to avoid. I liked the character development - and the characters themselves - and the feeling of being a fly on the wall of this family.

The book wasn't quite as good as Three Junes, but I recommend it nevertheless as a good read.

I've been wanting to reread this book, and finally found an electronic version on the library's ebook database. Mrs Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch, by Alice Hegan Rice, was originally published in 1901. The version I first read was the one pictured here, which was published in 1962.

From my original reading, all I remembered was that Mrs Wiggs had Sunday School in her home, on wooden planks laid on chairs, and that she sang "Count Your Many Blessings." (I first heard that hymn years later, when my family started attending the Mormon church, and was immediately reminded of Mrs Wiggs.)

There is more to the story than that, of course. Mrs Wiggs is quite the character. and, notwithstanding her family's severe poverty, always looks for the best:
Well, I guess I ain't the best by a long sight, but I may be the happiest. An' I got cause to be: four of the smartest childern that ever lived, a nice house, fair to middlin' health when I ain't got the rheumatiz, and folks always goin' clean out of the way to be good to one! Ain't that 'nough to make a person happy? I'll be fifty years old on the Fourth of July, but I hold there ain't no use in dyin'  'fore yer time. Lots of folks is walkin' 'round jes' as dead as they'll ever be. I believe in gittin' as much good outen life as you kin -- not that I ever set out to look fer happiness; seems like the folks that does that never finds it. I jes' do the best I kin where the good Lord put me at, an' it looks like I got a happy feelin' in me 'most all the time.
When I was a child, we didn't have any bookstores in our area (at least none that I recall). Horne's, the department store in downtown Pittsburgh, had a book department, but we didn't get there often. I found Mrs Wiggs and the Cabbage Patch at Kresge's, at the West Hills Shopping Center. This was a "five and dime" store, the precursor to K-Mart. They had a rack or two of books, with a limited selection of children's books, along with coloring books and the like. I took a look at the selection each time we went there.

Kresge's also had a small snack bar, where you could buy ice cream. My mother and her friend Mrs Huesken would often share a sundae. There were balloons hanging at the counter, and you picked one and popped it, to see what your sundae would cost. Mom said that they always ended up paying the full price for their treat.

In addition to Kresge's, there was a Thorofare grocery store, and maybe an A&P Market, and also a barber shop and other shops. One time my sister and I lost the money Mom had given us to buy groceries, and didn't want to admit it. We dug into our savings to cover the loss, and (as far as I know) never 'fessed up.

I was trying to find a picture of the shopping center. Alas, what I found was that it has been razed, and a Walmart is going to be built in its stead. Walmart will never have the character of that old shopping center!

Famous for....?

Finding a poem used to involve a bit of leg work. I can remember going to the library, armed with a poem's title. I'd look it up in the Granger's Index, which would in turn direct me toward an anthology or a magazine. With luck, the library would have one of those in its collection, and I could finally find and enjoy the poem.

It is so much easier today. A while ago, my nephew shared a snippet of a poem by Naomi Shihab Nye. All I had to do was turn on my computer and Google a few words, and voila! there was the entire poem, on the Poetry Foundation's website:
By Naomi Shihab Nye

The river is famous to the fish.

The loud voice is famous to silence,  
which knew it would inherit the earth  
before anybody said so.  

The cat sleeping on the fence is famous to the birds  
watching him from the birdhouse.  

The tear is famous, briefly, to the cheek.  

The idea you carry close to your bosom  
is famous to your bosom.  

The boot is famous to the earth,  
more famous than the dress shoe,  
which is famous only to floors.

The bent photograph is famous to the one who carries it  
and not at all famous to the one who is pictured.  

I want to be famous to shuffling men  
who smile while crossing streets,  
sticky children in grocery lines,  
famous as the one who smiled back.

I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous,  
or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular,  
but because it never forgot what it could do.  
This poem (along with my habit of scanning the obituary page) leads me to wonder what I will be remembered for. I hesitate to use the word "famous," since I am pretty sure that term will never apply to my life. But I hope my friends and family will remember me, not only as one who quietly observed from the sidelines, but also as one who was kind, and who looked for the best in others, and who smiled easily.

Speaking of famous... Highlights, in the August issue of their High Five magazine, had an article about stuffed animals enjoying a pretend campfire with pretend s'mores. Annie lent her elephant (that I had knit) for a photo, so now it is famous!

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Stash C̶h̶a̶o̶s̶ Control

Bringing order out of chaos is a challenge. My office has been cluttered for a while, but I've slowly been whittling away at it, getting rid of things I don't need, finding better ways to store what I do need. Yesterday I tackled my yarn stash. That is no small task - I think I could knit for about five years, just using my stash yarn. It had reached the point where my yarn cubbies were full, the bins in the closet were full, and yarn was piled in bags and boxes randomly scattered around my desk.

At this point, it's not a lot better. (At this instant, it is really awful.) I've gone through all the yarn, which - in addition to facilitating this ordering process - let me look at all my yarn, and allowed me to find the perfect skein for a gift I want to knit this fall. It also allowed me to eyeball the yarn for signs of moths or other critters (none spotted, happily). I tossed some yarn into a box of "yarn that I am pretty sure I don't want to knit with" - mostly cotton yarn that someone gave me, once upon a time - and I will pass it along to some unsuspecting soul. Other yarn went into a box of "yarn that I like, but there's hardly any left, so maybe someday I'll combine it to knit some project."

Those two categories didn't really account for much yarn, so I still have a rather large stash. I had yarn spread all over the living room - lace on one end table, bulky on another; sport weight hanging out by the fireplace, fingering yarn perched precariously on the rocker, aran on half the love seat, and worsted taking over the couch. At one point, I stepped outside briefly, and when I returned, Bonnie had awoken from her post-walk stupor and was sprawled on the love seat - but not in the spot I had left for her:

This isn't my yarn?

With the yarn sorted by weight, I pulled out a few skeins to use for some upcoming projects, and put them on my "project shelf" (doesn't that sound official! organized! over-the-top!), and then I bagged the rest of the yarn, in large garbage bags, by weight. The smallest are sitting on top of new bins in the living room, and the rest have taken over my office. I also cleared out several cubbies in my shelf system, that were holding random non-yarn things, and now need to hold yarn. Those former contents are now on the floor of my office, and stacked on my chair.

What a mess.

I realize there is danger in putting perfectly good and wonderful yarn in garbage bags, but my patient and long-suffering husband is really happy to have the living room furniture back. I promise that the yarn will quickly move from bags to cubbies and bins and closets. (And the other stuff will move from floor and chair to appropriate homes.)

Just to show that I'm not the only nut with a stash, you can read the some of the Yarn Harlot's insights here or here or here. I've heard of people storing stash in pianos, freezers, and coat sleeves - at least I haven't done that! (Yet.)

Bonnie is also annoyed that, as long as those bags of yarn are taking over my office real estate, her unsupervised visits are banned. Hopefully, a couple of evenings should bring order out of this new chaos.