Sunday, November 29, 2009

Jane: Prehistoric Birds

Half the fun of going to the library these days is what I see on the drive there.

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

Robbie: Pocky Commercial

Here is a Pocky commercial that I made with Krebs for Japanese class. For those who don't know, pocky is a biscuit stick covered in chocolate.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Jane: Pileated Sighting!

So I came home from a meeting to pick up the bags for grocery shopping, and as I got out of the car, something flew over my head. I looked up, expecting a hawk. But there, perched on the trunk of my neighbor's tree, was a pileated woodpecker!

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

Jane: Latest Crochet Project

I've been making some crocheted gifts and doodads, but I also decided to start a big project--for myself :-)

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.

More later!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Jane: The sweetness of stolen apples

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

Jane: Busy, beautiful

We're having a busy week here in Iowa. I'm especially busy--I've done 2 interviews this week (including one at Prairie Lights, the awesome Iowa City bookstore), and I'm doing one this afternoon (with the director of the Cedar Rapids Symphony). I volunteered at a Washington High School Performing Arts benefit yesterday morning and evening (set up and food serving), and the boys have the day off of school today, so I'll have to work from home this afternoon. Bruce has a concert this evening. Wow!

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

Jane: All Saints Day

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.