Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Hero rats

Just watched a cool Ted talks video about rats!

These rats are "hero rats." Some are trained to sniff out land mines, others to sniff out tuberculosis.

The director of the program is a guy who quit his job as an engineer to solve some of the developing world's most pressing problems. I admire him.

I'd like to donate to the cause. Have to figure out my reluctant PayPal account first.

Those rats are both clever and cute!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Merry Boxing Day!

We had a lovely Christmas day. There were lots of presents! Here are a few favorites:
Robe, fedora and large balloon for Eli.
Nanodots for Robbie. These tiny spherical magnets have proved addictive . . .
A pelican cap for me. What a great mascot for the Myrtle Beach team who played the Delaware Blue Rocks when we were out east this summer! I guess I'm more into actual pelicans than I am into the team . . .
A slightly scary cat toy and some lick-able mint gum.
Bruce has already used the ice scraper the boys and I picked out at True Value! (He did get some other presents, too.)

Later in the day, we went sledding at the park, played our new Rock Band disc, played Flinch--our new card game--and ate some Chicago Deep Dish Pizza sent to us by the Dudeks.

All in all, a relaxing and enjoyable day. I kept thinking of a line from the prayer from Lessons and Carols--"You make us glad by the yearly festival of the birth of your only Son Jesus Christ . . . " It certainly is worth celebrating, the opportunity to be "made glad!"

Friday, December 24, 2010

Silent Night, Holy Night

We're having a white Christmas Eve here in Iowa.

But everything's cozy in the house.

I missed the Lessons and Carols from King's College, so I dug out an old tape of the Wooster Chorus doing Lessons and Carols--a wonderful substitute.

We're off to church soon--I'm singing in the choir, Robbie's playing trumpet with hymns, and Eli and Bruce are ushering. I love this evening service--the candle light, the quiet mystery, the joyous singing . . .

A blessed Christmas eve to all!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas memories

Putting up Christmas decorations is always nostalgic--remembering when we got each ornament, each decoration. Many of my Christmas decorations are special because they remind me of loved ones.

I love getting out Mom's Hummel creche.
Grandma's bell ornaments (they really ring!) hang on garlands in my dining room.
I love this candle globe that was a gift from my mother-in-law.
We also have some decorations from places we've visited:


Living History Farms

Frank Lloyd Wright museum. (yes, that's a bubble light next to it--like the ones on Grandma's tree)
Unfortunately, the star at the top of our tree broke last year in a tree-tipping incident. Eli told us he'd make a new topper for us. I think it'll become one of my future favorite decorations.
Can you tell he's reading Tolkein right now? We laughed and laughed at this--Christmas in Mordor!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Pub

Just had dinner at our favorite pub, the Tic Toc.

When we lived on Longwood Drive, we could walk there. We drove tonight, but it's still close--in the Coe neighborhood.

We especially like dinner time there--it's filled with lots of people--older folks, families, single people at the bar. On the weekends, they have their "smokehouse" menu, with ribs, pulled pork, etc. It's relatively small and a bit tackily decorated, in a welcoming way. Lots of clocks on the walls and various other odd stuff. Our usual waiter didn't appear until after we'd ordered, but he greeted us when we left.

I had one of my "usual" meals: cheeseburger and fries. Had a Guinness instead of Blue Moon ("girl" beer with a orange slice) because the cold weather seemed to demand dark beer.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

New Christmas Traditions

Maybe "new traditions" is an oxymoron. But I'm thinking these may eventually become "old traditions."

The first is the annual trip to Wal-Mart to buy poinsettias. Early in December, our Wal-Mart store has them for $10, in many different colors. And they're HUGE!
I would say this one is at least 2 feet across.

I'm sure they're a loss leader, but I just go in early in the morning, buy my poinsettias, and leave. One I take to church--that's the Grandma and Grandpa poinsettia. We used to sign up to purchase one in honor or memory of someone--now they ask everyone to pick out a poinsettia and drop it by the church, so there are all sizes and not just red ones. It's not quite as impressive as a uniform bank of red ones, but probably easier for the church. And I think of my parents and Bruce's parents when we see it during advent.

The other poinsettia goes by the hearth in our living room, where it looks great through the whole Christmas season, then survives until mid-January when I get sick of it and toss it on the compost.

The other tradition is going to the Indian Creek Nature Center Christmas sale, Nature's Noel, with my friend Anne. She invited me last year with the caveat that she likes to get there early--to be the first in line!

So we get there at 8:15 and stand in line until they say we can go make our purchases. Then we RUN over to where they have the kissing balls hanging and pick out the one we like. You have to get there early to get one--they're sold out within minutes. Here's the one I got this year.
Nature's Noel also has wreaths, roping, decorated yule logs, arrangements, and, inside, food items.

It's a very festive time--it snowed last night!--and it's fun to do just about anything with Anne, so I think I want Nature's Noel to be a tradition!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Old-fashioned Thanksgiving

. . . and I'm talking really old fashioned. Like late 19th-and early 20th-century old-fashioned.

This weekend, Bruce and I went to the Candlelight Tour at the little historic village near here, Usher's Ferry.

There were candles in glass jars all along the walkways. And that was pretty much it in terms of light, except for a few strings of electric lights. You can forget how DARK it is when there are no streetlights!

The little buildings were lit with candles or lanterns. We walked from building to building, learning how to play the early-20th-century game "Flinch," dancing the Virginia Reel in the City Hall with some other visitors, having tea and cake at the hotel,
and listening to some Celtic music in the old church.

They put this tour on every year at Thanksgiving--except for 2008 and 2009. The village is within about 200 feet of the Cedar River, and was completely submerged in the flood of 2008. The hotel where we had our tea took in water up to the ceiling.

Back then, I figured the little village was a goner. But volunteers and a resident carpenter have been working on it for the past 2 years . . . and it's back in working order.

We're glad we were able to be at their reopening.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving Photos

Table, before, with centerpiece from Ellen and Ken.
Close-up of Grandma's crochet work.
Eli might try some new dishes . . .

He did make this delicious Chocolate Dream Pie for dessert!
Robbie made pecan tarts.
It was really cold outside. We did go on a couple of short walks, but it wasn't pleasant.

After supper, we watched IPTV's broadcast of the State Music Concert. Kids are chosen from various high schools around the state to play--result is ENORMOUS ensembles, but lots of fun looking for friends on TV.
Later, the boys got out their Domino Rally.

In general, a cozy day!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thanksgiving Plans

This year, for the first time EVER, I am doing Thanksgiving dinner at my house. Although we'll all really miss seeing family during the holiday, I'm taking this opportunity as a challenge to put on a meal that we'll all love.

So here's my menu for the day:

Roast Turkey (I want to try the Camp Family's "upside-down" turkey, but don't have silicone gloves to turn it over for the browning stage)

Roast squash, apples, and onions

Brussels Sprouts with bacon and maple syrup (I can do most of this recipe ahead of time)

Mashed potatoes

Dressing (I wonder if Ellen or Bill has Mom's giblet dressing recipe . . . )


Chocolate Dream Pie (Eli is in charge of making that dessert tomorrow)

Pecan Tarts (Robbie's project, ditto)

Other Thanksgiving Day ideas:
  • watch parade on TV
  • watch about 5 minutes of football, just to get the T-giving feeling
  • walk (it'll be about 25 outside, so we'll have to bundle up)
  • Wii bowling
  • King Kong (the original) or Iron Man II
  • Skyping family

I'll let you know what happens!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Good Books

I haven't been blogging much because I've been doing so much writing! Six articles in October, six in November. Most of them really interesting, too.

But I have had some time to read, and luckily I've just read two wonderful books. Maybe you've read them?

The first was Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson.

I read a review of this book that compared it to a Jane Austen novel. That can mean anything--romance novels often make this comparison! But this book lived up to the comparison. It's a story about society, class, and love in a small English village--a 21st century English village this time.

The characters are intelligent and appealing, and the writing is a delight to read. Major Pettigrew is a widowed man who, at the beginning of the novel, has just heard about the death of his brother. His neighbor, Mrs. Ali, the village shopkeeper just happens to come by and spends some time just being with Major Pettigrew in his grief. The Major tries to understand the role of the past--and how Mrs. Ali fits into his future.

The next book I started to read was My Name Is Mary Sutter. It's a novel about a young midwife during the Civil War who wants to become a doctor. She gets a job as a nurse, and begins to learn medicine--19th century version--as she treats wounded soldiers.

Can I make a confession? I did not finish this novel. I like "difficult" novels that put their main characters through stress. But this one was unrelentingly grim--all the scenes of Civil War-era operating rooms, and death, and disease . . . not to mention I admired but did not like the main character.

So, when I got The Vanishing of Katherina Linden, I was delighted. The main character, 10-year-old Pia, reminded me of the curious and articulate Flavia in The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie--and so did the mystery-type plot. In the book, 3 of Pia's classmates disappear suddenly from their small German town, one after the other. Pia and her friend Stephen hear their parents' admonishment to watch for something seltsam (strange), but they think the girls disappeared by magic! Fairy tales, an odd family, and German culture figure into the story, which is set in 1998. There's a cliff-hanger--and somewhat gruesome--ending.

Right now, I'm reading Tom Lutz's book Crying: The Natural and Cultural History of Tears, which he published soon after I graduated from UIowa (he taught in the English department there). I'll let you know what I think after I finish!

So what are you reading?

Monday, November 8, 2010

Germany, 30 years ago

I love this picture--it's probably one of my favorite photos from my family's sabbatical in Germany. On my recent trip to Cleveland, my brother reminded us that this fall is the 30th anniversary of that trip.

I find it hard to believe!

But here it is in print: (Our hometown paper did a story about us, which my friend Daniel sent to me in Germany.)

My siblings and reminisced a bit during the weekend, and when I got home, I got out my old scrapbook and looked at the pictures. There were a few images that brought back great memories, and some that Bill didn't have in his retrospective.

That first photo, above, was of me and my sister with two of my housemates--Ewa and Denise--from the Goethe Institute in Murnau. In this photo, we're at the top of the Zugspitze, the highest mountain in Germany. By the way, I still correspond with Ewa, and we are Facebook friends.

I was 18 when we went on the sabbatical, so I spent my first trimester of college in Germany. Luckily, my college had an exchange-type program with the Goethe Institute, a language institute. I took German there for 8 weeks.
Here's my language class (I'm not in the picture because I took it!). In that 8 weeks, I got about the equivalent of 1 year of college German, and loved learning the language so much that I got a German minor in college!

This is where I lived for that 8 weeks, in a little boarding house in Murnau, at the foothills of the Alps. The landlady spoke no English, but I could see the mountains from my window.

My housemates and I got along very well. The only language we ALL spoke was . . . German! So we had to learn quickly.

My sister came down to visit a few times. Here's a page from my scrapbook with pictures from our trip to Salzburg. She came down the weekend of her birthday, and we took a Goethe Institute tour bus to Mozart's town. We visited the Mozart-Museum and went up to the Schloss on the hill.

When I finished at Goethe Institute, I went back and lived with my family in Ottobrun, a suburb of Munich. I was a bit bored since I wasn't in school, but we did some fun things.

My mom and I went to East Germany, a country that no longer exists. My kids love to hear me tell stories about taking the train and seeing barbed-wire fences and guards with guard dogs at the border. "Did the guards really have guns? Did they really wake you up to ask for your passports?" "Yes!"

The whole family also went on a trip to Italy, and the days in Florence were a dream come true for me. I'd just completed AP European history and had learned all about renaissance art. There it all was--the Uffizi, the David, the Baptistry doors, the Fra Angelico!
Ellen and Bill got tired of being dragged from museum to museum.

In general, though, it was a pivotal time for our family. Living abroad and having to rely so much on each other (and co-exist in a tiny apartment) ended up bringing us closer together. Another reason to celebrate the anniversary!

Monday, November 1, 2010

All Saints: aunts

I've been thinking about two of my aunts on this All Saints Day--Aunt Lois and Aunt Nancy.

I think about Aunt Lois during October because I always get out this pumpkin that she made for me years ago.

Aunt Lois was an avid crafter. She even made money at it--going to craft shows around the Cleveland area to sell hand-sewn teddy bears and other things. I think she probably did it as much for the joy of crafting as for the money!

Though she worked full-time at a bank for most of her life, I always think of her as the consummate domestic goddess. She was a stay-at-home mom with her three daughters, and she always seemed to love that. My mom was always amazed at her memory of each child's developing personality and odd little stories.

Later, she took care of others, too--her aging mother and then my parents once they got sick. She loved driving, so enjoyed driving my parents around in a van--they liked it, too. She enjoyed visiting with me and my family when we came to Cleveland--she had a special way with kids, and my sons enjoyed her company. But I think her favorite care-giving was the time she spent with her grandsons. She was visiting them when she died on Christmas Eve night almost 2 years ago.

I've also been thinking of my Aunt Nancy, who passed away last fall. I dreamed of her the other night. In the dream, I was at some sort of family gathering--all I really remember was going up to Aunt Nancy and hugging her. I love having dreams like that.

Ever since I visited Aunt Nancy and Uncle Vern back when I was a grad student (I had a conference in Southern California--how fortunate!), I've felt particularly close to her. I had such a nice visit there. When Aunt Nancy took me to church, one church lady said I "looked like I could be her daughter." She shared stories about my great-grandmother and her growing-up days.

She always remembered to send me birthday cards, and I tried to remember her, too. I always looked forward to taking my family to California someday, and especially to a long visit with her and Uncle Vern. I hope we'll still visit California, but I'll feel the loss of Aunt Nancy when I visit.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween!

Teenagers started arriving at our house around dinner time. I guess Robbie had planned a party . . . I didn't need to feed them all, luckily. They went out wandering in the neighborhood.

Eli and his buddy Chris were out, too, after Eli set out his pumpkin. Sorry if the black humor offends . . . it IS Halloween!
Robbie and his buds came back and had a fire. Bruce and I kept handing out candy, sitting right by the door so we could keep up with the crowds!
Over 150 trick-or-treaters came to the house (it's a popular neighborhood).

At that point, we turned off the lights and came inside. Don't want to miss "Sherlock" on PBS!