Thursday, December 31, 2009
So yesterday, I started a project I had on my list for Xmas break: set up a Facebook account.
Although most people just think of it as socializing, Facebook is so much part of the online writing world--especially for those who need to know about guerilla publicity and public relations--that I figure I better figure out how it works! (I teach an upper-level writing workshop class that lots of PR majors take.)
When I got to my new Facebook page, it feels like I'm stepping into a lively party, populated by my friends. Some of those friends are people I haven't seen or heard from in years, some live far away. It's amazing to see them all in one place.
Like a party, it's loud. That's the only way I can describe it. Everyone's talking at once, and about all different things. I overhear conversations my friends are having with other people, and some people try talking to me amidst the hubbub. Some people don't seem to care if anyone's listening, some seem to need a response, others seem to be asking for a response from me in particular!
It's exhilarating. But it seems exhausting, too, like many big parties are. You have to be in the mood for it.
So I don't think facebook is going to replace blogging for me. I like the quiet of blogging, the time to think, the time to formulate some ideas and maybe come back to them. I like reading the blogs and long e-mail messages that my friends write, too--it's kind of like having a quiet one-on-one conversation with them. Actually, I am the sort who likes quiet one-on-one conversations more than parties!
Still, I'll check into the FB party now and then. And if you're there, stop by and say "hi." Or, as they say, "friend" me!
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Did you know Santa made amigurumi? These appeared in my boys' stockings on Xmas morning :-)
You might recognize the 1-up mushroom from Robbie's earlier post. And Eli kept saying this fall that he wanted a baby raccoon as a pet, so that's probably why that little fellow appeared in his stocking.
Monday, December 28, 2009
After I sent those crocheted mitts to my sister-in-law (btw, the pattern's in Fall 2009 Interweave Crochet, and the yarn is a Japanese silk/wool blend), I heard that my niece Anna always has cold hands and was eyeing them covetously :-) So I decided to send her and her sister Maggie a couple pairs of fleece mitts. They take practically no time at all to make, and I love the ones I made for myself.
And in case Anna and Maggie would like to make a pair--or anyone else, for that matter--here are the instructions.
scrap of fleece--at least 9"x20" or 18"x10." If you buy fleece you can get by with 1/4 or 1/3 yard.
1/4 inch elastic
scissors or rotary cutter, ruler, and mat
Begin by cutting out two rectangles of fleece, 9"x10."
Sew these rectangles into tubes the long way, sewing along the 10" side.
Shape them by trimming off a triangle at the top. Measure down 2" on the side without the seam to find the angle.
Cut two pieces of elastic 5 1/2" long. Measure 2" up along the seamed side and pin one end there. Then pin the other end of the elastic to the top of the seam. It won't be long enough!
Sew the elastic along the seam with a zigzag stitch, stretching the elastic so it fits.
It might help to have a friend stretch the elastic while you put in some pins along the way first.
Lay out the gloves, with the elastics to the outside. Next, cut the pinky slits about 1/2" from the top right next to the elastic.
Trim off the pointy tops above the elastic.
Turn inside out and put them on! Your pinky goes through the slit on the bottom of the mitt.
You can fold up the cuffs if they are too long, or tuck them into your sweater or shirt.
Hey, don't forget to tidy up your workspace!
Friday, December 25, 2009
Last night, Bruce and I ushered at the Christmas Eve service. Robbie and Eli helped for a while, then retired to the couch outside the sanctuary, where they usually hang out.
The sermon was Pastor Paul, dressed as a 1st century shepherd who was looking for a lost goat, all the while telling us about the Good Shepherd calling to his sheep by name. "He knows your name and he's calling you!" he said.
At the end, he "found" the goat--and brought a real goat into the sanctuary on a leash! She was very well-behaved, but someone needed to take care of her while Pastor Paul changed back into his civvies . . . I saw him hand off the goat-on-a-leash to Robbie! The boys took charge of the goat, walking her around outside while we finished the service, keeping her from eating the poinsettias inside, and holding her while the children petted her on their way out of church. They enjoyed her company much better than sitting in church.
We'll always remember this Christmas Eve as the goat Christmas eve!
A merry and memorable Christmas to all!
Thursday, December 24, 2009
We made some unusual cookies yesterday: candy cane cookies.
The dough was pretty much butter and sugar with some flour and vanilla, too. We rolled the dough out into snakes, like play-doh. Then we twisted them into candy canes and sprinkled with some crushed REAL candy canes.
We ran into a problem when the dough kept getting sticky. Robbie had a solution to this problem: we put the bowl of dough into a pan with snow in it, and put an ice pack on top of the dough. This kept the dough cool so it didn't get melty and sticky. We also put ice packs on the granite countertops to keep them cool, too.
The cookies are great!
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
When I was a girl, I remember working for a year on a crocheted scarf for my grandmother (who taught me to crochet). I felt so proud when I gave her that gift! And I remember other hand-made gifts, too--embroidered pictures for grandmothers, Christmas doodads for mom and dad, etc.
Money was tight when the boys were babies, too. I remember using nap time (ah nap time! How I miss it!) to create a flock of fleece vests for my family! I found it relaxing to go downstairs and sew in peace and quiet while the boys slept.
I guess I still enjoy the creative process of making gifts . . . I still do it every year, even though money is no longer tight!
Here are a couple of gifts I've created recently. I'll share more later . . . :-)
Jigglypuff was for my niece Maggie, who loves video games.
These handwarmers were for my sister-in-law--my brother keeps the house rather cold :-)
I'll share more photos later!
Monday, December 21, 2009
For all of you other N00Bs out there, #00FF00 is the hexadecimal color coding for green and green mushrooms in Super Mario Bros. give you a "1up" (extra life) so there are 7 so that means that you get 7*1up or 7UP (the soda bottle was added so that my N00bish mom could figure it out.
anyway... until something better comes by (acekard 2i) Bobbert out.
Odd gift, maybe. I got it from Glenda and Keith at Forest Hill Farm when I went to pick up my order of 5 pounds of ground beef made from their grass-fed herd of cattle on their farm in Northeast Iowa--they make a stop in downtown Cedar Rapids every other week with orders for people here.
I found out about their farm when I stopped at their table at the farmer's market where I spotted a copy of Omnivore's Dilemma.
"I taught that book," I said to Glenda, and we were off into a conversation about free-range hens, grass-fed beef, and responsible farming methods. I bought their eggs, about a dozen every other week, all summer. Apparently their two sons, about the ages of Robbie and Eli, run the egg business!
I tried the beef a bit hesitantly--Bruce has a bit of trouble digesting beef. But Glenda suggested that he might have a different experience with grass-fed beef, which has higher levels of Omega-3s and Linoleic acid (whatever that is). It was true--the beef was easier for him to digest, and we loved the flavor! So we're back to eating the occasional burger again.
It might be a bit more expensive than ground beef in the stores: I think my 5# were $22. But it's better for us, better for the environment, and better for the cattle--who live a decent life out in the pastures instead of in horrid feed lots. And the farm isn't far away, which reduces transportation costs.
I think my Forest Hill Farm experience would be complete if I got a chance to visit there--I'd love to see their happy pigs, the mobile pasture pens for the chickens, and the happy grazing cattle!
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
But I think he got used to it. Here he is with two buddies from Concert Band. They also had tuxes, though didn't have to deal with the wing-tip collars!
(Yeah, I know the hair on all those boys wants cutting.)
The band holiday concert last night--very enjoyable! The Concert band played Sleigh Ride (the horse seemed to be going very slowly . . . ) and Wind Symphony (the top band--Robbie is in it) did 5 really nice pieces, including one that evoked a joyful Jewish wedding. Robbie had to work hard on music this term.
Thursday, December 10, 2009
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
The sound of the phone ringing rocketed me out of bed yesterday morning at 5:30. It was a robo-call from the school system saying school was canceled because of weather.
We had about 1 inch of snow.
This is kind of a Cedar Rapids tradition. During snowy weather, the schools just shut down. The rest of the town keeps going, but schools are closed.
Part of the reason for the closing was the hyperbolic discussions of a snow storm that was making its way through the area. I heard one meteorologist say it was "an epic snow event." Bruce is sure that this kind of talk is partially marketing. If it's just some heavy snow, big deal. But if it's an "epic snow event," then you need to watch the news, he thought.
So the boys were home from school yesterday, in anticipation of an "epic snow event" which didn't really start until about 5 that evening. Still, I'm glad they got to enjoy the weather. They both got together with friends and went sledding. 4 of them (Robbie and friends) ended up here afterwards, so I had to feed them and put up with the noise while attempting to write some stories and get ready for class that afternoon (Coe never closes because of weather).
The epic snow event dumped about 8" of snow on us between 5 p.m. yesterday and 6 a.m. today. Of course there's no school. Robbie is out helping Bruce get rid of the snow with shovels and a wheelbarrow, and Eli is playing around.
I'm not sure if I'll be able to get in to Coe for conferences with students. I also have a doctor's appointment this afternoon. The tricky part is the alley. Our driveway is about clear, but we're on an alley, which is snowy. I've gotten stuck there before.
Bruce is going to walk, but that does not appeal to me. Besides deep snow on the sidewalk, the winds are picking up and are expected to be gusting up to 50 mph later today!
Sunday, December 6, 2009
But I must be getting better at this time of the year. This past weekend, for example, I had a wonderful Advent-y time.
Saturday morning I got up early so I could go with my friend Anne to Nature's Noel, an annual fund-raiser sale at the local nature center. Anne goes every year--she even works at the nature center making centerpieces out of freshly-cut greens. She also prides herself on being the first in line at the sale--which begins at 9. So there we were--first in line!--at about 8:20!
I've never been to the sale, so Anne filled me in on what to get. I bought a special decoration--a "kissing ball" which I hung outside from the magnolia tree. Isn't it pretty?
I also got a little Yule log table decoration. I couldn't resist the little bird on it!
The last thing I got was a HUGE bundle of freshly cut greens--branches of fir, yew, and cedar, all of which had been treated with a preservative. I only wanted a few branches to decorate the mantel with, but when I got the big bag, I decided to make some centerpieces myself.
Here they are:
Items like this were $20-30 at the sale. I got the bag o' greens for $4 and the baskets and doodads for about $12. I'll save the baskets and doodads for next year. Making those arrangements was surprisingly fun.
After the sale, I went off to a rehearsal. I played flute at our church's Christmas cantata. The music was very fun--kind of folk-y. The instruments were 2 flutes, acoustic guitar, and percussion. Some of the pieces were slow. "This one reminds me of the Paul Winter consort" said our director about one piece. A couple were fun and upbeat.
I even got to play percussion with one piece, a bossa-nova beat version of O Come O Come Emmanuel. The director gave me claves
and I got a very brief lesson on how to play them from Dennis McPartland, our percussionist, who's a local professional musician! Cool. I think I now want to become a clave player . . .
What a weekend to get me in the Advent frame of mind. It was all good.
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Sunday, November 29, 2009
We've mostly been going to the Marion Public Library ever since June 2008 when the Cedar Rapids Public Library was flooded. The drive isn't bad--out Cottage Grove Drive and up East Post Road to Marion.
And when you drive out East Post Road, you have to be sure to look out your left window when you get to the corner of East Post and Collins Road. Out there in that cornfield, strolling along in groups of 20 or more are wild turkeys! I saw them today, looking a lot like the birds in this picture.
I don't know why it makes me so happy to see them. They are just the funniest looking birds you can imagine. This is how David Sibley describes them in his Guide to Birds:
Very large and dark, with heavy, dark body incongruously joined to thin neck, small head and long legs.That word "incongruous" really describes just about everything about a turkey. They're just funny looking, I'd say like footballs with long tails and necks, and really, from a distance, no perceptible head at all.
Every once in a while, I've gotten close enough to one to see it better. With their scaly heads and huge three-toed feet, they look about as much like dinosaurs as anything I've every seen!
Monday, November 23, 2009
Thursday, November 19, 2009
I just stood there and gaped for a while--probably quite a while. He hacked at the tree and was clearly eating something. Some other woodpeckers and nuthatches were also out--the little downy that hangs out here, a red-bellied, and a few "hanking" nuthatches.
Wow! A pileated woodpecker!
I am so excited because in all my years of being interested in birds, I've never seen one. Bruce has, and my boys have spotted them in the alley behind the house. But I haven't. It's kind of crazy, really. In fact, when I got back from the grocery store, Eli came home from school and said "hey Mom, there's a pileated woodpecker out in the alley again. I can show you where it is." :-)
I'm hoping to see that bird again soon!
Friday, November 13, 2009
Remember last year when I was working on a cardigan with cream-colored yarn? Well, I got disgusted with the project--didn't like the stitch, didn't like how the pattern was working out--and put it away.
Well, now it's out again . . . but I'm ripping out what I did last year and starting from scratch.
I got a hold of a really great book of patterns, Aran Sweaters to Crochet, which is out of print, but I found on Amazon. The reviews of this book were glowing, and I found several patterns I liked, including a cardigan! What I really like about this pattern is that each piece is crocheted top to bottom rather than across. This looks really elegant--almost like knitting--and helps avoid that blocky, bunchy look that many crocheted sweaters have.
Here's the first part of the project, the back.
As you can see, there are some nice herringbone-like strips going "down" the back--they actually go across the work as you're crocheting. They're done as expected, with front post work--front post treble, to be exact. Easy, and it goes fast.
The pattern calls for dropped shoulders, which I'm not crazy about, but wow, it sure is a lot easier than set-in, fitted sleeves. So, OK, I'll try it.
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
We went walking through Brucemore on Sunday--it was a beautiful warm day in the 70s--and decided to walk through the orchard. There on the ground were apples--red, yellow--all scattered about!
"I guess the deer aren't eating them," I commented. Eli golfed them with a stick.
I just didn't like seeing those beautiful apples go to waste, so I picked a few up and stuck them in my pocket. Some were from a tree labeled "Descendant of Johnny Appleseed Tree"--those were golden and very hard--"keeping" apples, clearly.
When we got home, I chopped them up and made a pot of applesauce--boy was that good!
This year I also scavanged black walnuts from our street. There are a couple of big trees, and the nuts just got scattered all over the street and sidewalk. One day I discreetly picked a few up from the sidewalk and took them home. I shucked them and let them cure for 2 weeks in the basement, which I found was what you're supposed to do with black walnuts.
This weekend, I cracked them on the patio with a hammer. Reminded me of cracking black walnuts with my Grandma Claspy--wonder if hers were scavanged from someplace. I bet so. I can't imagine her letting perfectly good walnuts go to waste. I think I'll make some refrigerator cookies with them.
I've been doing a bit of research on urban foraging (that's what some people call it--not scavanging), and apparently it's quite the "in" thing, especially in California where there are lots of fruit trees. Many of the organizations provide maps of fruit trees in public places--parks, etc. In England, this is called "scrumping"!
A BlogHer article about it compiled a list of organizations that support urban foraging, including organization that scavanges for food banks! There's a branch in Iowa City, so I may call them. I'm considering writing an article on it to submit to Radish Magazine . . . maybe I'll also call some friends that do urban and rural foraging for mushrooms, berries, wild asparagas, etc. I'm not
Friday, November 6, 2009
BUT . . . it's beautiful outside! We had such an awful October with rain and cold temps. And now we're having our Indian Summer with sunny skies and highs into the 60s and 70s this weekend! I rode my bike to work this morning:-) I even have a smudge of grease on my pant leg to prove it :-(
Sunday, November 1, 2009
I lit a candle for my mom and dad at church today--it's a tradition we've always had at our church on All Saint's Sunday, to remember those who've died. Pastor Gayle said in her sermon "They are gone from our lives, and the grief may fade, but the pain never completely goes away; we still yearn for them." And it's true. I could light the candle without tears this year, but I still feel an ache in my heart when I think of Mom and Dad.
But today also had a delightful surprise--my dad was part of our Sunday School class! Bruce has been leading the classes on immigration policy and the Christian response, and one of the documents he brought in today was a piece my father wrote in 2006, arguing for fair pay for immigrant labor.
My dad was a big follower of immigration policy, which was going through some upheaval during Dad's last few years (by the way, Dad didn't think of them as his "last" few years . . . he didn't seem to have any sense of mortality). He was concerned about the way our country had one "official" policy (closed door to immigrants who didn't have official sanction) and another "actual" policy (sure, we'll hire them because they charge less). He didn't like the lie in this system, and he didn't like the way people were treated because of that lie.
This piece included Dad's research into the price of oranges in his local Tops grocery store, and what they would cost if the workers were paid fairly. He concluded that oranges would cost a bit more, but not as much as some naysayers argued. I can just picture my dad poking around the grocery store with his cane, looking at prices, and then going home to figure out the algorithms, which are written up in the piece, for the article.
I didn't know Bruce was going to bring Dad's writing to Sunday school, so it was a moment of surprise and delight when he handed it out. I was delighted not just to see something by my Dad and be reminded of him. It was also because someone else--Bruce, in this case--was remembering my Dad and something essential about him: Dad's determination to use his problem-solving abilities and writing skills to figure out and share with others what is just and true.
So for a little bit, in Sunday School, my Dad came suddenly to life--for my classmates, who got to read something he wrote, and for me because this little article brought back memories of my Dad in a full-scale rush. It made me grateful that I could to go into church later and light a candle.
It reminded me of this summer when I was at my Aunt Lois's memorial service. I loved seeing all the photos around of Aunt Lois at different stages in her life--as a girl, a teen, a young mom, a grandma. And it was cool too see all the people, many of whom I didn't know, who loved her and missed her.
But here's the strange part. When my Aunt Dee was speaking about her sister, she told a little story about Aunt Lois going and staying "with my sister-in-law's parents, the Hoffmans." That was my mom's parents, Grandma and Grandpa Hoffman. I don't remember exactly what she said about Grandma and Grandpa--it was just a kind remembrance in passing as Aunt Dee told about Aunt Lois's life. But she said something about how Grandma and Grandpa made everyone feel cherished.
Hearing Grandma and Grandpa mentioned was a total surprise to me--I think I may have even gasped. I was at a memorial for my Aunt, and I hear a word about my Grandparents, who have been dead 12 years (Grandma) and more than 30 years (Grandpa). But there it was--and it was completely true--it was exactly what made my Grandma and Grandpa so wonderful--they way they cherished those they loved.
That small remembrance brought them back to me with that same sudden rush I had today--they lived for a bit in that moment, at Aunt Lois's memorial service. And it was Aunt Dee who remembered them for me.
I don't know what "life everlasting" actually is. But I do know that moments like these can be a comfort to those of us who are still in "life here and now" and remind us of something beyond the life of the body.
Thursday, October 29, 2009
Actually it wasn't a road trip, but an air trip! I flew down on Thursday and spent Friday with my niece at her school--it was "Grandparents and Special Friends" day, and I got to be the "special aunt"! Gabi showed me her school, her classrooms, her locker, and I got to meet her writing teacher, too. (Gabi has gotten awards for English the past two years, a niece after my own heart!)
Gabi had a youth group trip that weekend, so my sister and I saw her off at the church on Friday afternoon. The rest of the weekend was grown ups only--we had dinner out Friday, and then on Saturday went on a real road trip through rural Georgia.
First stop was Warm Springs where FDR had a cottage called the "little white house." There was also a very nice museum there, but the house intrigued us--it was so small and ordinary!
After that we went to Callaway Gardens, yes, the home of Victory Garden South, back in the day. What they used to show on Victory Garden is only a very tiny part of Callaway Gardens. It's actually a huge park--acres and acres--with lakes, woods, a golf course, and some houses at the edge. Apparently Mr. Callaway bought the land, which had been ruined by too much agriculture, and planted native trees and plants. It's beautiful now.
My brother-in-law took lots of pictures. You can see some of them here.
I got back on Sunday to a houseful of sick guys. Bruce just had a minor cold, but Eli's sinus infection was back, and Robbie had influenza! Yikes. Robbie's back at school today, but Eli's still home (but on some antibiotics). We are hoping for a return to health very soon.
Thursday, October 22, 2009
Iowa isn't a beautiful fall color state. Mostly our trees turn tans and yellows.
Thursday, October 15, 2009
Vanished Smile: The Mysterious Theft of the Mona Lisa by R. A. Scotti. Story of the 1911 theft of the Mona Lisa,which was, of course, recovered but many questions remain. Told like a detective novel--fun to read.
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley. Precocious chemistry-loving girl from an eccentric English family tries to find the perpetrator of a mysterious murder for which her father is being considered a suspect.
Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. Why do some people succeed and others do not? Gladwell examines the cultural forces behind success in a breezy book.
The Invisible Wall by Harry Bernstein. Memoir that chronicles lives on a street in early 1900s Lancashire where Jews were on one side, Christians on another, and a cross-side love affair brings tension.
Population 485 by Michael Perry. Reflections of a writer and volunteer firefighter on life in small-town Wisconsin, especially on the lives of those disrupted by traumatic events. Humorous and thoughtful.
Sunday, October 11, 2009
The lawn was all torn up right near the front porch.
When we looked closely, we noticed that the turf had been peeled back, as if something was looking under it. . .
Eli and I rolled the turf back over the dug up spots, but it's still a mystery to us! Any ideas, anyone?