28 April 2011

Plenty o' Nuthin'

Life as well as my brain seems scattered at the moment, so this post will consist of things that have popped into my brain recently that of course are so magnificent, I would hate for you to miss them ...

One thing I can say that is certain and true.  Thank you for your thoughts, prayers, and kind words about Doughboy.  I plan to forward the link to his family, so they can see how much of a fan club Doughboy had that they didn't even know about!  I'm sure if he was here, he'd be wagging his tail, and possibly drooling on everyone who was paying him attention.  Truly though, I appreciate that you took the time to leave a comment.

Easter weekend was quiet, pleasant, and enjoyable.  The Tim took some good pictures of the kitties enjoying themselves, which you do realize will be in a post of their own, right?

The weekend before last, Andrea, who is my Sunday co-worker at Rosie's, showed me this pattern, which she really wants to knit.  So of course I became obsessed with it.  And the week before, someone had bought some of this yarn for  a gift, which is a yarn I hadn't paid much attention to before; but I decided I should look for a project for it.  (This is of course of the utmost importance, given that I have no yarn, no patterns, and nothing in progress at the moment.  I'm sure you understand).  In the end, I bought the pattern, some of the yarn in a beautiful turquoise color, and plan to cast on tonight. 

Then I also realized that everything I am currently knitting is in some shade of blue.  Not a total surprise, but it meant I had to pull out some other yarn to wind and start a pair of socks ... I blame Andrea for all of this.  Because like most things, it can't possibly be MY fault ...

If I had money, one of the things I would do is go back to school and study social history.  Since I don't have money, I like to find things that I can read/learn/do that are related.  So imagine my excitement and happiness when I found this after the link was shared by a Facebook friend.  Social history and Food history - plus, I have always wanted to work for the New York Public Library. (HA!)  Seriously, when I was finishing library school, I was offered a job there, which I would have loved to take, but I knew we couldn't afford to move there based on my salary alone.  The Tim said I should take it and just commute back and forth, since "it wouldn't be hard."  No - not for him, but I just wasn't too tempted by commuting back and forth from DC to NYC every day ... (he often offers this kind of "helpful" advice, by the way)


Yesterday, it was 85 degrees here in Philadelphia.  And it was 82 degrees in my office.  That was also after they turned on the air conditioning in the building.  Granted, my office is always between 80 and 82 degrees, which sucks even in the most freezing winter - but you'd think there would be a few reasonable days before summer sets in.  I've been telling myself it's all a fluke, and spring-like weather will return soon.  Then at least outside will feel nice.

Our boss has been out for the whole week, but will be returning on Friday.  So far, lots of people have been coming in to the library, all of us have gotten a ton of work done, and nothing that has cropped up has been so incredibly important that everyone has to drop what they are doing.  Would you believe that we're all happy little campers too?  And actually dreading Friday???

For a three-legged cat, Pip moves faster and more frequently than anyone else in the household.  I think I've mentioned that he has two speeds - FAST and zonked out.  It's usually just a blur of orange going past you ...

The Tim and I are having a little party for just the two of us on Friday evening, to celebrate that the Royal Wedding will be over.  I wish them well, etc., but will be so glad not to have to hear how Prince William will be arranging his nose hairs for the big day or whatever.  This morning, one of the morning news shows was talking to a British reporter, who said, "Once Friday is over, Kate's purpose is breeding and not much else."  Who of us wouldn't love that sentiment?

Don't say that I didn't warn you that this post was plenty.  And nothing.

24 April 2011

22 April 2011

The Best of Dogs

Sometimes your heart just gets broken; not because you actively caused anything to happen, but just because the universe took charge.  This has been the case for us this past week. 

If you have ever met me, talked to me for even less than five minutes, or read this blog more than just right now, you know that in our house, Doughboy was *the* dog.  All of us love him (the kitties have a different way of showing love, ahem ...), and I have always thought of him as my canine soulmate, so to speak.  As I've told friends on more than one occasion, we would often call him our "part-time dog" but we love him full-time, that's for sure. 

We have been looking forward to some Doughboy time that was coming up.  He was going to be with us this Easter weekend, and then again for a whole week in another few days.  We couldn't wait for him to meet Pip, and I especially was looking forward to many pleasant walks. 

But the week before last, we got a phone message from Ben saying that he wasn't doing too well.  He had suddenly gotten sick, and the vet said he had "old dog vestibular syndrome," which is similar to acute vertigo.  Apparently it is usually self-correcting in a few days, but Doughboy hadn't really improved.  Then a day or two later I got an e-mail from Halden, saying that he was really not responding much to anything, and that the vet said that if he didn't improve by this [just past] Tuesday, that he wouldn't be likely to recover at all. 

A week ago this evening, Doughboy died.  Thankfully Ben was with him, which is a major comfort to us, as I'm sure it was to Doughboy, since Ben was "his" person, and they were incredibly devoted to each other.**  To say that we are sad here at Chez Ravell'd Sleave would be the understatement all time.  Not just said for the loss of the best dog ever, but also for Ben, Halden, and little James, who now have a gap in their household.  I am truly grateful that Doughboy did not suffer, or linger being sick for weeks.  I would have loved to stroke his head, kiss the top of it, and shake his paw one more time, but he was too sick to notice, and I am too much of a basket case at a time like that to do anyone any good.  I know I would have only stressed him out more, and probably upset everyone else even more than they were. 

But you know what?  I know what he feels like, and smells like, and liked to do.  I know I will unlikely ever have a friend like him again.  I know that he is in heaven, where Abigail is showing him the ropes (he was with us the day she died, and they were sharing his doggie bed!), and Tess is batting his nose to keep him in line.  I know that he loved to come and stay with us, and was better behaved than most children I know.  I know that the Garden Kitty is shocked (no news there), but now truly knows that he doesn't need to be afraid.  I know that Doughboy is back to himself, feeling happy and, though missing his family, still watching over them.

I know he had a happy life, and was greatly loved.  I know that when I was recovering from two cancer surgeries in a five-month period (that was when he and Ben first moved in next door), taking him for walks was the highlight of my recovery, and having him to cuddle was some of the best medicine ever.

I know I miss him beyond words.  He was quite simply, the best of dogs.

So please, if you will, say a prayer for Doughboy, his family, and give your family members (regardless of species) a hug.  I hope that your Easter weekend will be free of any heartbreak, and full of good memories. 

Ben, Halden, and James - thank you for letting us be so much a part of Doughboy's life.  He made ours so much richer with his sweet pup presence.  Everyone should be so lucky!

One of my favorite pictures - Doughboy the "lap dog" in Tess' bed,
while she stares him down with death ray glances ...

**(As a matter of fact, I don't know anyone who has ever taken as good care of a dog, as Ben did for Doughboy. He has set the bar way over everyone else's head.)

14 April 2011

Hilarious C.A.T.s

That's what I have decided Jetsam and Pip would call themselves if they decided to become a rap duo.  Because yes, they are hilarious together, but they apparently think they are about ten times as funny as we do!  Which is a good thing, because it's clear that Jetsam is happy to have a playmate again, and Pip is just plain happy ...

The two of them have become best friends, though it's clear that now and again Jetsam would like the chance to be left alone and regroup.  As if.  Pip has two speeds - FAST and zonked out, so unless he's zonked, Jetsam doesn't have much of a chance to, er, relax.   Things are good for them both as a result - Jetsam has lost some weight, and Pip has a lot of his fur grown back where he had his surgery and IV. 

A few weeks ago, we had a gorgeous Saturday afternoon when everyone was home, so we decided to get at least a small start on cleaning up the garden, which had not been touched since last summer.  Of course the kitties joined us, and Pip was amazed to find out there was an outside to the house as well as an inside.

They had a good time, Jetsam checking things to make sure they smelled the way they should:

and Pip, sniffing and checking out everything - being particularly curious about noisy dead leaves:

After a while, a fire truck headed up the street at the end of ours, on its way with the sirens going, so Pip had to rush inside.  This led to several variations of the picture below, where the two cats tried to "attack" each other through window:

This seemed to be by far the most entertaining part of the afternoon for both of them.

Because of weather and/or other things going on, we haven't been out in the garden to make any more progress, but it's finally starting to feel like spring might be actually sticking around for more than just a day or so.  I'm glad because I really enjoy spring, and also because the garden needs more work!  I'm sure our "snoop-ervisors" will be up to the task once we get back outside ...

To close, I thought you might like this picture that The Tim snapped one day when he was home.  Apparently, Pip kept trying to get right. next. to. Jetsam, but Jet kept moving away, so Pip was forced to get close any way he could:

So that's the latest kitty news (with pictures) from around here.  Right now everyone at our house is glad tomorrow is Friday - have a good weekend!

09 April 2011

When Worlds Collide

If you have been reading this blog for a while (and really, you should have been!), you may recall that I was employed as a tour guide at Eastern State Penitentiary during the 2009 season.  I really loved that job - it was perfect for someone like me, a social history/political science geek, who loves to read.  Plus, it was a fascinating place to be, both for the history and the architecture, as well as for the chance to people-watch.

Since January 2010, I have been working at the Academy of Natural Sciences, in the library.  And one of the people I've met while there, who has become a good friend, is Greg Cowper, one of the entomologists.  Though insects still make me itchy to think about, knowing Greg has also made me realize that they are interesting, and often quite beautiful.  And he is amused by the fact that I am often worried about any given [live] insect injecting me with its venom and thereby killing me.  (This comes from watching too many movies and TV shows where such things happen.)

So, where am I going with all of this?  Well, every year, Eastern State chooses some new art installations for the site, and this year, Greg Cowper's project made the cut!  Greg's project involves the collection of insects he has found on the site, and he managed to find some really great things (and because they are dead, no worries about injecting venom!).  

That could be considered When Worlds Collide, Part One.  Because, believe it or not, there's another one!

The entire reason I started this blog a few years ago, was to talk about knitting and knitting-related things.  However, because I love to write, and because I am a slow knitter, it soon became about anything else I felt like writing about.  I still, though, refer to it as "my knitting blog." 

Ready for When Worlds Collide Part Two?  Well it also turns out that one of the art installations this year has to do with knitting - I mean, really, what are the chances?  A local knitter, Karen Schmidt, has knitted a "cell cozy" for one of the cells at Eastern State.  You heard me, a cell cozy - check it out here.  I have never met her, but I "know" some of her patterns.  And, as it turns out, I know her husband ... Greg (see above)!

To summarize, here's what we have: Eastern State + Academy of Natural Sciences + Greg + knitting + Karen Schmidt being married to Greg = quite possibly the most ridiculous collision of worlds that has happened (at least to me) for a long time.

Having said that - no matter why you go, just GO.  Eastern State is an amazing place, and so interesting that you will not believe you have never visited before.  Being able to enjoy these two new art installations, as well as all of the other ones, will just be icing on the cake.

And who knows, you may find a world collision all your own ...

**oh, and you should visit the Academy of Natural Sciences, too - no knitting exhibits (at least not right now), but LOTS of other great stuff to see and do!

07 April 2011

Take a Breath

This post is not knitting- or reading-related.  I'll just say that the books offered in my book report post have been spoken for.  I always wish I had more to give away when more than one person responds enthusiastically to an offer.  But hopefully there will be other times that those people are the "winners."

Please note:  If you don't want to read my thoughts and opinions on things other than knitting or what I've read, etc., I am warning you now to go and do something else.  I try to keep my political beliefs to myself for the most part, but something I read today made me want to speak up.

OK, now on to my topic:  Air.

I'm gonna take a wild guess and say that everyone who reads this breathes the air.  All day, every day.  For as long as they can remember.  As a matter of fact, when you aren't breathing air, that's when you are in trouble.

Some air quality is better than others.  A person living next to a garbage dump breathes air that is at a minimum smelly, and probably full of toxic ick.  People in Japan are currently breathing air that they worry may carry large amounts of radiation.   Coal miners breathe terrible air while at work, to the point where they have a condition called Black Lung.  Yep, the air that they breathe has so many dark, terrible particulates in it, that it turns their airway and lungs dark black.  My sister who lives in southern California is always telling me how the air is so much better there - but anytime I've visited her, I've needed my inhaler more than ever.

When I was a little girl, we moved around a lot, mostly because of my father's job I (or lack thereof).  Though I was born in West Virginia, we first moved away when I was too little to know I was even moving anywhere else.  By the time we moved back, I was old enough to wonder why everyone else was talking about everyone they knew there, and all the relatives who would live closer than ever before. 

But my first memories of Pittsburgh, and of Wheeling (WV) were that they were dark, black places.  Dirty-looking, to be exact.  All of the houses were black or occasionally dark gray.   Sidewalks were the same shade, even in "regular" neighborhoods.  I remember that we stopped to visit someone, and the kids were sent outside to play.  I sat down on a front step, and when I got up, the back of my legs and my shorts were covered in black!

In Pittsburgh and Wheeling and the areas nearby, this was due to the steel mills; and in other places, coal mines.  There were no regulations that kept companies from polluting the air; as a matter of fact, I don't remember ever hearing the term "air pollution" until a few years later.

I can also remember that people talked a lot about rivers and creeks, and how disgusting the water was; it was a well-known "fact" that Lake Erie would be "dead" in few years, due to the accumulation of seen and unseen garbage.

(I have always had respiratory problems, and I really can't blame them on air pollution in the larger sense; actually, I think a lot of my problems were made worse by another type of air pollution - cigarette smoke (my parents were both heavy smokers).  But that is a topic for another day.)

Now I'm not saying that the air and the water are perfect and pristine - but I can certainly tell you that as a result of the Environmental Protection Agency and the hard work of many individuals, the air and water are a heck of a lot better than they used to be.  By the time I was in the latter part of elementary school, houses and sidewalks looked like houses and sidewalks again, not like props for a modern day production of a Charles Dickens work.  It really was easier to breathe. 

Sure there were problems, and there still are.  And a lot of corporations manage to get away with polluting, and making their workers labor in hazardous conditions (I'm looking at you, Massey Coal Company).  A lot of people think that there are too many restrictions on what can and cannot be released into air and water.  They say it's too expensive, that there's no scientific proof, etc.  Some in our government want to severely cut back or do away altogether with the EPA, saying that it's unnecessary, because the problem is not nearly as bad as it used to be, and the EPA has too much power, and is a political tool.

All I can say about this is: a) I'm wagering few if any of them ever lived in a house covered in black dust, b) maybe it takes a political tool to know a political tool, and/or c) they are likely all just too used to hot air, if you know what I mean.

Perhaps the EPA will survive to see another day.  Perhaps the American people will realize how much better our lives are without tons of stuff floating around into our lungs.

I for one,  will not be holding my breath ...

01 April 2011

February and March Book Report

Last week one day, I was thinking that soon it would be time to post about the books I read during March ... then I realized that I'd never shared my valuable and insightful thoughts with you about any books finished in February!  I'm guessing that this means you have been in a state of limbo regarding your own reading material, since you surely count on my opinions before making your choices.  I apologize, and will try to remember that I don't just do this for myself, but for the tens (fives?) of you who wait anxiously for me to give you these updates ...

Mr. Chartwell, by Rebecca Hunt.  I had absolutely no idea what to expect from this book. My husband brought it home, as it is an Advance Readers' Copy, and no one else where he worked seemed to be interested. He thought I might like it based on the cover alone (yep, true).

Anyway, this is the story of Mr. Chartwell, a large black dog (they referred to him as a Labrador Retriever-type; I think he was more of a Newfie). He appears at the door of Esther Hammerhans, who has advertised for a lodger. She is a librarian at the House of Commons, and it is coming up on the anniversary of her husband's death. Mr. Chartwell is also an acquaintance of Sir Winston Churchill, and has come to London for Churchill's retirement as Prime Minister.

I don't want to give away anything that would spoil the story, so I'll just say that Churchill's retirement and Esther's profession turn out to be something that causes their paths to cross, and each one has no idea at the beginning that either has met Mr. Chartwell before.

I enjoyed this book, because the author had an excellent way of describing actions and behaviors of large dogs, while also having an excellent ear for what "conversations" Esther and the dog might have. She is intrigued by him, while also a little bit appalled at his messiness, and afraid of his physical strenght. Churchill has known Mr. Chartwell for a long time, so their relationship is a completely different one, but just as interesting.

I do have to say, that the arrival of a physical being such as Mr. Chartwell at my house, would be unlikely to mean the same things it does for Esther and Churchill.

This would definitely not be everyone's cup of tea, but I really liked it, and am glad I had the chance to read it.

**The Teaberry Strangler, by Laura Childs.  This is only the second or third book in this series that I've read, and I haven't even thought to read them in order, so there may be background in the stories that I'm not aware of. But this was an enjoyable read, and just the sort of thing I was in the mood to read at the time, so I consider it a win-win situation.

In this installment, Theodosia Browning is heading home one evening after the Back Alley Crawl, an event that was her suggestion, giving visitors and residents of Charleston, South Carolina, a chance to visit all of the small independent shops in her part of town. Theodosia owns the Indigo Tea Shop, and as she leaves at the end of the event, she witnesses her friend Daria, who owns a map store down the street, being strangled to death. Unfortunately, she doesn't get a clear look at the person who killed her friend, only a sense of a minty scent.

As Theodosia and the local police try to determine who killed the woman, we meet many of the other shop owners, and people around the town. There are quite a few suspects, some for obvious reasons, and others just because their stories/interests/attitudes to the murder just don't add up. The person who is revealed to be the murderer at the end of the story was a surprise to me, but another person I know who read this book informed me that the person was "obviously the murderer from the beginning." So go figure.

The book is not great literature, or full of amazing language and writing. But it is an enjoyable read,and the author is good at invoking place and time. I will admit that reading it made me wish for a cup of tea every single time, and I wouldn't have minded some of the food served with it in the story, either! Some of this is taken care of by the inclusion of a few recipes at the end of the book, which I think is a nice touch.

**The Weird Sisters, by Eleanor Brown.  I've been reading pre-publication reviews of this book, and thinking to myself, "Gee, I don't know if I want to read that or not." Then I realized I had an Advance Readers' Edition in my stack of books I want to read. Dumbass. (me, not you, kind reader)

Anyway, I decided to give it a read, and I really liked it. The things that gave me pause in the reviews I had read - that the family communicated with one another using Shakespearean language, and that it was "a classic story of sisters" - were only true in the broadest sense, and therefore not annoying.

The Weird Sisters of the title are Rosalind (Rose), Bianca (Bean), and Cordelia (Cordy). They are the adult daughters of an eminent Shakespearean scholar who teaches at a university outside of Columbus, Ohio. They have been exposed to Shakespeare and his works all of their lives, so yes, they do speak to each other sometimes using lines from various plays or poems - but they also speak like average people do. The story begins as the sisters are brought together again after learning that their mother has been diagnosed with cancer. They all have their own reasons for coming/staying home, that just happen to coincide with the news.

The thing I liked most about this story was the way it was written. The author makes it very conversational in tone, so that most of the time, you feel that one of the sisters is telling you what is happening or has happened. It's not divided like some books, where each character tells the story in their own voice all at once, but rather, it's like one person started telling you something, and another came into the room and added to the story, or told one that was related. (Unfortunately, my ability to explain the writing style to you is not as coherent, but I hope you get the idea.) Though I wasn't completely crazy about any of the sisters, they all seemed like real people, with good and bad characteristics.

Another thing I liked was that the story was not as predictable as I thought it might become as I was reading it. Yes, the mother's cancer is talked about, dealt with, etc., but it does not suddenly drive the story and make everyone a transformed person. The sisters face fairly common types of problems and situations, but the author does not make them always take the easy route to reach the end of their story.

I don't want to say too much else about the book, in case anyone reading this wants to read it for themselves. But I can say that I thought it was well-written and really interesting.

**Amaryllis in Blueberry, by Christina Meldrum.  My husband brought home an Advance Reader's edition of this book a few months back, and I just now got around to reading it. It's the story of the Slepy family, and the father who suddenly decides they are all moving to Africa where he will serve as a medical missionary.

I did finish this book, mainly because I kept waiting for it to get better. I had a hard time getting into it in the first place, and should have just stopped at that point. In short, I found it tedious, with poorly-drawn characters, and a story that was neither new in any way, nor well-written.

If you want to read a book about a family and their experiences when they are all taken to Africa by the father of the family, read The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. Not exactly the same story, but close enough and so much better.

**The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing, by Tarquin Hall.  Well, here we are again with Vish Puri, Most Private Investigator, in the second of this series. This time, while dealing with his appetite and his family, Puri is also investigating the murder of a prominent gentleman who has been trying to disprove the claims of the "Godmen" - those who gain followers by convincing them that they are a god here on earth, and a guru able to perform miracles. From all witness accounts, the victim, Dr. Suresh Jha, was killled when a Hindu goddess appeared and plunged a sword into his chest - a sword that immediately aftewards, dissolved!

Vish Puri suspects Maharaj Swami, who has built a large spiritual retreat and has many followers all over India. Swami has his own TV show where he performs miracles, and he travels the country "helping" people with their problems, curing them of illnesses, etc. Granted, there was a young woman who supposedly visited his retreat and committed suicide while there, but that has not seemed to cost him any followers. Along with his ace team of investigators - Tubelight, Flush, Facecream - Puri infiltrates the compound and finds out a lot more is going on there than just spritual enlightment.

In the meantime, at home he is dealing with his daughter Jaiya, who has returned to her parents' home (as is the custom) to give birth to twins. Vish's wife, Rumpi, is busy not only with that, but doing some investigating of her own, along with Vish's mother. They recently attended a "kitty party" (a social/charitable get-together where money is pooled and one of the group members gets part of the amount that doesn't go to charity. I'm not explaining it very well, but that is the overall jist), where burglars entered the house and stole the entire amount collected. Rumpi and Mummy must do their sleuthing without Vish finding out, since he doesn't approve.

I enjoyed this book, as I find the characters amusing and the story involved enough to make me want to keep reading. Vish Puri is quite a character, being very old-fashioned but trying to adjust to the modern world. His thoughts and observations are often insightful, if presented in an unusual syntax! The one difficulty I have with this book, as I did with the first, is that reading it makes me hungry for Indian food!

I think the first book was slightly better, but still really liked this one. In my opinion, this is a promising and entertaining series so far.

As usual, anything marked with asterisks (**) is available as a giveaway to interested parties.  (Mr. Chartwell will be available in the future - The Tim wants to read it first.)  I also still have a copy of You Know When the Men Are Gone, by Siobhan Fallon, that I read in January and you can read about here.  Leave me a comment to let me know what book(s) you are interested in, and if more than one person is interested, Pip will choose a "winner"; I'll leave it open until through Monday, April 4.