28 March 2012

Birthday Recap

Well, it's two weeks after the fact, but I thought I'd share some pictures from my  birthday.  I had a really great one this year.  Even if people on Facebook were tired of hearing about it (courtesy of Carol, who counted down with several updates every day), I was happy to receive many happy wishes there, as well as here on the blog.

I took the day off for my birthday, as did The Tim.  But the day before, my co-workers surprised me with a little party of cookies, tea, and a pretty bouquet of tulips.  I just think that's so nice, especially since The Evil Boss gave me grief for wanting to take a day off for my birthday last year!

The morning of my birthday, The Tim bought us breakfast:

The sight of this box made me sooo happy!  Even more so when I looked inside:

Our plan for the day had depended on the weather: if it was a nice day, I wanted to go hiking; if it was a rainy day, I wanted to stay put and watch movies all day.  Well, it was a gorgeous day - if a little too warm for me - and we packed ourselves and Dug into the car, and headed to Pennypack Park, in northeast Philadelphia.  It's a huge place, with horse trails, picnic areas, etc., and we followed a combination of one of the horse and hiking trails.

Hard to believe that less than 1/2 mile from here is a major traffic major artery of the city:

Dug encountered some honking geese (I think they were warning others of a DOG and PEOPLE!), and found it quite intriguing:

You may notice that Dug's leash looks like a piece of rope.  That's because it is ... we spent all kinds of time getting organized, attaching poop bags to his leash, and other related things.  When we got out of the car, we realized we forgot the leash altogether!  Fortunately, there was a length of rope in the trunk of the car, and Dug is not really rambunctious on the leash.  But still ...

We saw some people riding horses.  Dug didn't seem too interested (actually, he was more interested in what the horses left behind, if you know what I mean), and the horses kind of gave him a look as if to say, "What a shrimp!"

We took each others' pictures with our pup:

And after about 2 hours, we headed home to take a break before going out to dinner.  After dinner, we had cake, ice cream, and presents, including a skein of Bridget sock yarn, and this book.

The next day I had a couple of doctor's appts, and that Friday we headed to West Virginia to get together with the family for St. Patrick's Day, so it was a fun and especially nice birthday week!  With all of that, and your wishes, I really think that this birthday was particularly great.

Though I am of the belief that birthdays in general are always great.  They certainly are better than the alternative, as far as I'm concerned ...

22 March 2012

What Can I Say?

Sometimes I just suck.  Sigh.  Oh well.

Happy [belated] first day of Spring!  Which to be honest, has not been all that different from our alleged Winter here in Philadelphia.  Other than knowing it was officially here, the weather has not been as different as usual, so the first day of Spring just sort of came long.  And then went.

Anyway, I didn't mean to disappear for so long.  But at least I had things going on - a trip to WV to hang out with the family for St. Patrick's Day weekend, enjoying a zeppole for St. Joseph's Day on Monday, and then my last quilting class this past Tuesday.

Our trip was a blast.  And Dug came with us, meaning that as The Tim said, "He expanded his fan base westward."  He was a perfect traveler in the car, and a well-behaved guest at my sister's house.  Of course, he loved all of the extra attention and new smells.  We spent a lot of time just hanging out on the porch, and Dug thought that was pretty great.  The cats stayed home, and I told The Tim that they probably spent the time partying like it was November 2011 ...

My last quilting class was spent adding the binding and then learning how to finish it by hand sewing it, which I hope to do this weekend.  I'm very glad I finally took the class, I enjoyed it, and can see more quilts in my future.  At the moment, I am not feeling as obsessed as I felt when I first learned to knit, so maybe I can be more reasonable with quilting.  Who knows?

I had a couple of days off from work last week before we went away, and I realized that I have missed a lot of things, and that I often suck as a friend.  Even as a cyber-friend.  Both Marji and Kim tagged me in a meme that has been going around, and I missed that altogether.  I have missed several birthdays, anniversaries, and written notes.  Once this knowledge hit me, I tried to figure out what I was doing instead of all the things I feel that I missed or just failed to do.  I was willing to admit that the pneumonia in January threw me off, and until recently, I felt like I was playing catch up.  But I could not think of anything else that kept me from doing things for the past few months.  I'd like to say I was living in the moment, or treasuring the time I spent at home, etc.   But - I.Have.No.Idea.  And it is also not lost on me that this is not that kind, during a year when I have pledged to try and be more kind.

So I am recommitting myself to being more aware of time - my own, the universe's, whatever.  Because time is really all any of us have, and I don't want to fritter the bulk of mine away!  I know from experience that I do need to be conscious of the here and now, because life can change in an instant.

I would therefore like to apologize to anyone I've neglected, or has found me to be incommunicado, or that I seem to have forgotten about.  I can honestly say it was not a conscious decision on my part.

In other news, I do have some pictures to share.  And I promise to do so, if I ever get them out of my camera ... !

17 March 2012

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

May you have warm words on a cold evening,
A full moon on a dark night,
And the road downhill all the way to your door.
- Irish Blessing

14 March 2012

It Happens Every Year at This Time

Yay for me - it's my birthday!!

12 March 2012

The Fastest Route from A to B

... is not a straight line, at least if it's something I'm doing.

Tomorrow evening will be the fourth session of my five-session Beginning Quilting class at Spool.  You may recall that I was signed up and ready to go earlier this year, and then whined to all of you when I had to cancel out of the class due to the return of stupid pneumonia.

Fortunately, Laura - the owner of Spool - said that I could just be in the next session of the class, so this time around, I finally got to see what quilting was all about.  I'd been curious for a while, but kept telling myself that I didn't need another hobby.  Each time I'd see the class schedule though, I'd think "Hmm, maybe I should try it."  Finally, I just thought I would do it.  I figured that there could be three possible outcomes:  a) it would not appeal to me at all, and I'd have it out of my system; b) I'd love it, and want to make at least a couple of other quilts; or, c) I would like it well enough, but not care if I ever went any further with it.

Part of my hesitation is that I am simply not able to draw, cut, follow, or line up a straight line.  I see it as straight, but once I've "done" it (drawn, cut), it's obvious even to me that it is not straight.  Since I know this about myself, I don't mind.  But I've taken classes for things that ideally use straight lines, and even if I'm fine with my work, the instructor can't deal with me.  (I took a bookbinding class once and the instructor developed an ulcer ...)

Our instructor, Ashley, is not that way at all.  She keeps telling us that quilting should be fun, and not to overthink it.  When one person in the class was freaking out because she didn't have the correct number of strips in one of her fabrics, Ashley just told her not to worry, and use another one of her fabrics instead.  It was nice to hear a class instructor say something like that.

We've also had homework for most of the weeks, and this week we were to cut  and sew the inner and outer borders onto our quilt tops.  At the end of last week's class, we were all holding up our completed squares sewn together, and one woman in the class said to me, "That looks like something a blind person made!"  (Everyone else had very classic, coordinating blocks.)


I responded, "My husband is blind."  Which as I've said when I have told people this story, was not the right thing, but it did shut the woman up.  (The instructor was out of the room at the time, or I'm sure she would have said something.)

In any event, I cut and sewed my borders onto my squares, and I'm very happy with how it is looking:

(again, folded)

Ashley has said that tomorrow night, we'll do the actual quilting, and then next week will be backing and bindings.  I've really been enjoying the class, and when I showed this to The Tim yesterday, he said, "I know you will take this the way I mean it, but I can't believe that you made that!"  (For the record, I knew what he meant - I couldn't believe it myself.)

So the last two classes will tell how much of a quilter I will or will not become. At a minimum, now I know what is involved, and the various steps that must be followed.

And that - at least in my case - straight lines are vastly overrated.

08 March 2012

International Women's Day

If you have looked at other blogs, Twitter, or Facebook, you know it's International Women's Day.

I just don't know.  Don't get me wrong, I consider myself a true feminist, and I think that A LOT still needs to be done for women everywhere.  But I am also troubled about the whole Motherhood, Sisterhood, and Wonderfulness thing.

For one thing, I get really really really really tired hearing about Mothers As Heroines.  No, I don't have children.  Lots of people do, and good for them.  However, I don't feel that because they gave birth, they are in any way inherently better than anyone else.  Being a mother doesn't automatically make you the answer to all of the world's problems.  I don't envy my mother her experiences putting up with me after my father died, when my older sisters were already on their own.  I was thirteen, and though my mother and I were good friends and got along really well, I am 99% sure that I was a PITA most of the time.  And you know what?  Even though I loved her immensely and miss her terribly every single day, she was no prize either.  True, she was my heroine, but that's about it.  She also drove me as crazy as I drove her.  And I don't think that she cared that she wasn't being held up as The Perfect Mother - she loved us and took care of us, and I'm sure it was just as much because when she got up every day that needed to be done, as it was because she was A Mother.

Also, I am often embarrassed by the Women Are Completely Superior approach to life - you know, the God Men Are Stupid/Useless/Whatever group.  I know plenty of men who fall into that category.  Sadly, I know plenty of women who do as well.  My father, The Tim, my brothers-in-law, my nephew, and my nieces' husbands - they were/are all pretty amazing guys, who tried/try every single day to be decent human beings.  They love their families, they work hard, and they count on being able to laugh and enjoy their lives at least every once in a while.   I can think of plenty of men AND women who are great, funny, smart people that I always enjoy being around.

And oh my holy God - Sisterhood!  Don't get me started.  I would do anything for my actual sisters, friends, and some other females that I know.  I hope that they would say the same about me.  I try to encourage people to support equal rights for women, and to fight for justice for women here in the U.S. and also abroad.  I would LOVE to live in a world where women didn't have to be baby-machines, sex slaves, or servants to anyone.  Where any accomplishments, educational opportunities, or personal decisions were not dismissed or "corrected" by others (male or otherwise).  So you might think I have a strong sense of Sisterhood.  But I don't.  I am a person who will work with any group for anything I believe in, but that doesn't mean I am just like them, and want to be like them.  Particularly when I had cancer, I was expected to become part of the Sisterhood - of patients, survivors, advocates for care, whatever.   And when I would not immediately respond "Oh that's great, count me in!," people were taken aback.

I'm reading this post, and I fear that it sounds a) negative, b) anti-female, and c) preachy.  If you have read this far, please let me tell you that I don't mean it to sound like any of those things - particularly the last two (I know myself well enough to know that I can often seem negative even when I don't think I do).  I'm just trying to say that International Women's Day should be a day when we can celebrate the accomplishments of all women - those who we know made a difference in the world, and those who get up every day and live their lives because they don't have the luxury of a lot of other choices.  Plenty of well-known women weren't nice people. But every woman is just as important as every man and/or child. Because every person is important.

We are fortunate to have this day that asks/reminds us to think about women and their lives.  But it also reminds me of when I was a little kid, and would complain about Mother's Day and Father's Day, and adults would say "That's because every day is 'Children's Day'," which is of course a crock.  Every day should be everyone's day.  No matter where they are or who they are.  And it will take women AND men to accomplish that.  Every. Day.

04 March 2012

Now That It's March ...

What better time to show a completed gift from 2011??

As you may recall, The Tim had asked me to make him a pair of fingerless gloves, after seeing all of the Fetchings I made for my nieces for Christmas.  I decided I would give it a try, using the Dashing pattern, designed by the same person.  Of course, I decided all of this on Christmas Eve ...

But even though I knew there was absolutely no way that I would have them finished the next day, hope springs eternal, and I was certain I'd have them by January 6 - the last day of Christmas.  Not. Even. Close.  Oh well, by that time I had one finished, so surely it wouldn't take long to get the other one knit.

Except that I got pneumonia.  I was so out of it, there is just no way I would have been able to knit at all, much less pay attention to any pattern.  So ... they were finally finished, by the third week of February.  Better late then never.

Of course, since we have had a non-winter winter, it meant that his hands weren't freezing most of the time anyway, and that is the only good thing about this winter, as far as I'm concerned!  In the end, he really likes them, and has gotten some use out of them on chilly mornings.

If you look closely, you can see the cable in the pattern:

The yarn is kinda fuzzy, so the cable is hard to see in these pictures.

Pattern:  Dashing, by Cheryl Niamath
Yarn:  Classic Elite Montera, Gray
Needles: US size 7
Modifications:  I made them shorter than the pattern called for, since the way they were going, they were plenty long and I was running out of yarn!  If I knit these again, I would probably not use such a fuzzy yarn, since the cable is really hard to see, even in person.  But overall, I'm happy with them, and he likes them, so it's all good.   :-)

Oh - and yes, that's an accordion in the picture.  We have three of them, as well as one concertina.

One of the accordions was purchased on a trip to Canada.  But that's a whole 'nother story ...

01 March 2012

January and February Book Report

Looking over the books I've read so far this year, I'm amused by their variety.  Lots of the time I tend to get on a roll with certain things - mysteries, biographies, etc., and I am primarily drawn to reading those one after another.  Apparently the past couple of months have not fallen into that pattern.  But I have read some things I've really liked.

A Hoe Lot of Trouble, by Heather Webber.  Since I came down with pneumonia shortly after Christmas, I haven't really been able to concentrate well enough to read anything.  I am slowly but surely feeling better, and I saw this book was available (inexpensively) for my Nook Tablet, so I thought what the heck.

The main character is Nina Quinn, a landscape gardener who owns her own business, Taken By Surprise.  Their specialty is one-day makeovers of peoples' yards and gardens.  As the book opens, Nina has just found out that her police officer husband Kevin, is having an affair with his partner, and has kicked him out of the house.  Her stepson Riley (a teenage boy) is even more surly than usual, and she learns that he is involved with a gang at his high school called the Skinz, who seem to be pretty serious troublemakers.

As if that isn't enough going on, her friend Bridget (!) contacts her.  Bridget's father-in-law recently died, and the family is beginning to think it was murder, because the family would not sell the family farm to a developer.  Bridget asks Nina to investigate.  Things get confused right away, as Bridget's husband Tim (!) tries to demand that she step away from the investigation.

Between the cheating husband, the surly stepson, and her investigation, there is plenty going on.  But there's also a problem at her business, where tools have been mysteriously disappearing - so Nina is also trying to figure out which one of her employees is stealing from her.  Oh, and the stepson's pet boa constrictor has escaped from its tank, and is someplace in their house!

This was a really enjoyable read.  It moved along quickly, and the characters were both amusing and realistic.  Nina is a pretty amusing heroine, and her friends, neighbors, and family were all interesting.  I think this was just the sort of thing I needed as I was recovering, and I really want to read another book in this series to see if I still enjoy it.

Lost in a Good Book, by Jasper Fforde.  This is the second installment in the Thursday Next series, and another enjoyable read.  Just as Thursday and Landen, the love of her life, and the father of their unborn baby, are able to have a life together, the Goliath Corporation eradicates him.  So Thursday has to become a Prose Resource Operative (PRO) in a section called Jurisfiction, where the inside of books is regulated.  She becomes a protege of Miss Havisham, who here is shown as a real man-hater, and a crazy driver!  Thursday is - at the same time - trying to prevent coincidences, using a tool her time-traveling father gives her, and trying to find authentication for a newly discovered play by William Shakespeare.

Once again, the story goes back and forth in time, book titles, and the weirdness that is the daily life of Thursday Next.  Again there is a lot of amusing wordplay, and of course Thursday's family and her pet dodo, Pickwick.  I'm pretty sure that there were things I missed in this book, but there were enough things that I understood to make it interesting and amusing.  At one point, Thursday even finds herself in "The Raven," after a series of events leads her to agree to try and rescue Jack Schitt from spending eternity there.

Oh, and the villain from the last book, Acheron Hades, has a sibling show up who is trying to kill Thursday.  Plus, she has to try to remember to not allow a pink, gooey substance to end life on earth.

It's all very ridiculous, but so much fun!  I will definitely read another one in this series.

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, by Lisa See.  Well.  I don't know what to say exactly about this book.  I've been meaning to read it for a while, and finally got around to it.  It is very well-written, and evocative of 19th-century China.  But between the constant reminders that women and girls were useless, and the footbinding, it just about did me and my sensibilities in!

The story is narrated by Lily, who is the second daughter of rural family in 19th-century China.  As a young girl, she is matched up with Snow Flower, a "laotang" or "same" - meaning they share a birthday and several other characteristics.  Lily and Snow Flower become like sisters, and share a lifelong love.  They experience footbinding together, preparing for marriage, becoming wives and mothers together, and seem like they will never lose touch.  They also learn "nu shu" which is a secret writing used by women.  They exchange notes using this secret writing system on a fan that goes back and forth between them throughout the story.

As I said, I wanted to keep reading, because the story was overall very good and so well-written.  But Lily and Snow Flower had pretty depressing existences and there were times when it was especially hard to take.   I know that the writer was portraying life as it was at that time, but it was often so disturbing and/or depressing, I'd have to put the book down for a while.

The whole process/meaning/practice of footbinding itself can send you into a whirl.  I remember reading several very graphic descriptions of what was involved in the whole practice, and that was bad enough.  But then a few years ago, I went to a program at a local museum, where they had an actual shoe on display that a woman whose feet had been bound would wear, and seeing it actually made me sick to my stomach.  As mentioned in the story, the "ideal" lotus flower foot was about the length of a human thumb!  Lily's younger sister dies from an infection that is a result of footbinding in the book, and apparently this was not that unusual.

Anyway, it is a good read, and when Lily learns something that sends all of her thoughts/ideas/beliefs about Snow Flower out the window, you really want to find out what will happen to their intensely strong relationship.

I don't know that I "enjoyed" the book - but I am glad that I read it.

Birds of a Lesser Paradise : Stories, by Megan Mayhew Bergman.  I gave this book a two-star rating, because a) I didn't finish it, but b) it is nicely written.  I had a completely different idea of what to expect, or maybe it just wasn't the right phase of the moon to read it.  Who knows.

The biggest reason I didn't finish this book is because after reading the first four stories, I just found it too depressing.  None of the characters was really that likable, and the stories themselves were just far too sad for me to keep reading.

As I said in the first paragraph, the writing is quite nice, and I can see plenty of people I know really liking this book.  It's just not for me, so I'm stopping now and moving on.

The Mill River Recluse, by Darcie Chan.  I read a short review of this book a month or so ago, and it sounded interesting, so when I saw it was on sale for the Nook, I decided to give it a try.  

Mill River is a small town in Vermont - one of those places where everybody knows everybody else.  Mary Hayes McAlister grew up there, on a horse farm with her father.  A traumatic experience when she was in high school caused her to suffer such severe anxiety attacks, that she never finished high school.  Patrick McAlister comes to the horse farm one day to purchase a horse, spies Mary, and determines that she will be his wife.  Because he is a privileged, obnoxious lout with a plan, he manages to gain Mary's trust to the point where she marries him.

When the book begins, Mary is in her big marble house on a hill overlooking Mill Run, dying of cancer.  She hasn't left the house in years, and few people have ever seen her.  Through chapters of flashbacks told by her lifelong friend Father O'Brien (one of the very few people she would ever see in her adult life), and current-day chapters about the various townspeople, we learn about Mary's life over the years, and how being able to see the town from her window in the house on the hill has sustained her.  

The book is really a good read, and though it's not the most amazing thing ever written in the history of the universe, it is a good study of characters, and portrays the life of someone with extreme anxiety but a desire to be part of something larger really well.  Mary is not a saint, nor is Father O'Brien, or anyone else in the town; but you come to know them and accept them because they are all just human.  I also liked it because it is a story of generosity of spirit and kindness to others under difficult conditions.

A Reliable Wife, by Robert Goolrick.  I enjoyed this book.  It takes place at the turn-of-the-20th-century, when Ralph Truitt, an extremely wealthy businessman living in remote Wisconsin, meets his future wife, Catherine Land, at the train station in the town, after she answered an ad he placed for a companion/wife.  Truitt has had an unfortunate and somewhat violent past.  Catherine's past has been not quite on the up and up we suspect (and eventually learn).  Right from the start, Ralph Truitt is in a violent, life-threatening accident, and Catherine decides to take care of him.  But she keeps mentioning "the plan," and making sure she has "the blue bottle in her luggage."

I found this book not just very readable, but full of twists and turns that I just was not expecting.  The writing is very evocative of time and place, not just in the Wisconsin farmland, but also in St. Louis and Chicago when they are important to the story.  I tend to forget that many cities were pretty rough-and-tumble when they first started having large populations, and Goolrick manages to make you feel like you are witnessing events at the time they actually happen.  

Each of the characters has an interesting - and to some degree, mysterious - history, and none of them are 100% percent right/wrong/likable.  Which is one of the things that appealed to me - they were like real people.  

Now ... what to read next???

Let me know if you try any of these, or if you've read them - I'd like to know what you think!