Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The "Good Neighbors" Trend

I read this fun article this morning: "Why Urban, Educated Parents Are Turning to Do-It-Yourself Education." It's basically about city couples who are embracing the whole backyard-garden-bee-keeping-chicken-raising-knit-sweaters-make-soap lifestyle. And with all that, it makes sense to teach your own kids. Because you're already doing all this fun, educational stuff at home, right? Why not share it with your kids?

Anybody out there remember Tom and Barbara Good?
 Good Neighbors was a hilarious BBC T.V. show, back in the '70s. It's about a suburban couple in London who decide to quit jobs, dig up the backyard, and become self-sufficient.
Guess what some Americans are doing? Backyard chicken coops are becoming the new craze. Some urbanites even give up a room in their house, for chickens, if they don't have space in the yard. Or don't even have a yard.
 Some coops are visually interesting.
 Adam knows a beekeeper who gave up bees and decided to do full-time what he was already doing: helping city folks set up backyard gardens in small spaces, in California. It's a big new business.
Many cities (like Philadelphia) have legalized beekeeping again. Roof-top beekeeping is trendy, and cities are a great place to keep bees, since our rural areas (i.e. agricultural lands) have become mono-cultures, and bees have a hard time thriving there. They love cities, where such a variety of flowers, trees and shrubs are blooming, and are often well-tended.
 The urban garden? It's thriving too. Vertical gardening, and attaching gardens to walls, are popular.
In other words, people want to get their hands in the dirt again. They want to know where their food is coming from. They are weary of driving around all day to school/work/sports, eating junk food in the car daily, barely being in their homes, and never, ever being in their own chunk of nature: their yards. They have no time for animals. The American Dream they've been chasing has left them weary and dry.

And part of the lifestyle they want to reclaim involves having their children at home. I think all these trends are happy things. What do you think?

Monday, January 30, 2012

A Better Resurrection

by Christina Rossetti

I have no wit, no words, no tears;
My heart within me like a stone
Is numbed too  much for hopes or fears.
Look right, look left, I dwell alone;
I lift mine eyes, but dimmed with grief
No everlasting hills I see.
My life is in the falling leaf;
O Jesus, quicken me.

My life is like a faded leaf,
My harvest dwindled to a husk;
Truly my life is void and brief
And tedious in the barren dusk;
My life is like a frozen thing,
No bud nor greenness can I see;
Yet rise it shall -- the sap of Spring;
O Jesus, rise in me.

My life is like a broken bowl,
A broken bowl that cannot hold
One drop of water for my soul
Or cordial in the searching cold;
Cast in the fire the perished thing;
Melt and remold it, till it be
A royal cup for Him, my King;
O Jesus, drink of me.

For Those Missing the Flowers

Some of you dear readers are encased in ice in the Far North. We in the South feel for you. I cannot offer you the deep, bone-comforting warmth of photos from, say, South Alabama. But even here in the N.C. mountains, we have things blooming (or threatening to), this lovely January. It's warmer than usual.

In town, hellebores bloom on a residential corner.
The daffodils are definitely up! Some of these have yellowing tips.
I found a few limpid hyacinths too. The early bulbs are screaming, "It's time!"
This is cheating, since it's inside. But my mother's geranium is happy in its sunny window.
This is what started all these blooming thoughts. The camellia out front is in full bloom. My mother snipped all the wide blooms for the Sunday arrangement, but here are some fine buds that are on the verge.

Speaking of flowering things, here's an update on the recuperating African violets. As I said, I cut it in two. Violet #1 seems to be on the mend. You can tell because of the center leaves. The outer leaves, which are limp with shriveled stems, will never get any better than they are. They are useful right now to assist the sick plant in its photosynthesis, as it strengthens. (That sounds very knowing, doesn't it? I have no idea if it's true.) The center leaves are looking perky and strong. It will probably survive.
The other one, however, is looking like death. No new, green central leaves are emerging.
Adam and I went on a walk to enjoy the relative warmth and the delicious sunshine. We went on the path up the hill.
And we returned with the late afternoon sun.  I don't know how long this nice weather will last, but I want to enjoy every minute!

Itty Bitty Blogasbord

With very little ado:

Getting Rid of Guilt-Ridden

Wherein one man forces his beliefs on others (As in, "you will do this, even if you think it's a sin, because I say to!")

Another economic assessment: we're afraid to move

Using deception to save lives

HILARIOUS video on the six stages of daddy-hood. But watch out for other videos on this site.

Help and comfort for good Christian parents who find it's not working

Knitting with Beads

Remember how I said I really liked this piece, from the book my cousin gave me for Christmas? This neckwarmer uses a chunky thick-and-thin yarn, and very large beads. It's knitted in the round on circular needles.
So I visited our local bead store, A Better Bead. The lady there was helpful, a wee bit grumpy, and strangely suspicious when I asked to take some photos in the store, so I could do a blog post with a live link to her website. You'd think she'd be thrilled, right? (Seriously: when I wanted to take pics of some items, she told me, "No, you can't photograph those things.") I'm wondering if she knows what a blog post it. I told her, hey -- it's free P.R. for your store and your crafters. She didn't want me to take photos of the handmade stuff in the store; I guess she thought I was going to try to steal the craft ideas/patterns? Huh? Whatever. It's a cute store. I took pictures of strings of beads.

Anywho. This past weekend, I made the neckwarmer! I had lots of time to knit. Here's how it turned out.
The pattern had some little issues with it, as patterns do.  Plus, I didn't have exactly the same yarn, and I had to use significantly smaller beads (so I used more of them). The pattern said to use 3 different sizes of circular needles, thus making the garment smaller as you go from the bottom, up to the neck turn. I only had one size, so I decided to decrease the number of stitches instead. I did this on the back of the neck, so it doesn't show.
This is a terrible shirt to pair it with, but when I wear it in public, I'll put it with a darker shirt -- red or black.
This was a little tricky, with the 2K 2P pattern, the beads pre-strung on the yarn, and the turning of the color, and the little split at the end. Lots of fun! I'd highly recommend it.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Karen Palmer, the Queen of St. Philip's!

We've been going to St. Philip's "Upscale Resale" Store for decades. We've seen it change and grow. After my post last week on the thrift stores, a friend said, "You really need to do a post on Karen Palmer." So, I am.

Here's Karen. She's a lovely nut. A true, glorious eccentric. I mean, I have to love a woman who's willing to get her picture taken with a neck brace on, by a stranger, posing in a boa. She dresses in this fun way daily. As a matter of fact, this is a wee bit tame for her.
Karen now manages St. Philip's. And she writes up almost all the price/description tags on their merchandise. She researches the stuff and knows its value. Here are a few fun examples of her price tag humor:
"For swishing."  Bwahaha!!
Some tags make me giggle:
Some are just loaded with information that's very interesting. This one notes the work of the shop's "framing fairy."
This tag was on a hat ("chapeau," although I thought the French had two p's, but I may be wrong. My French is about 30 years old.) A whisper of a veil? A prissy bow? *grin*

I took a picture of this gravy boat simply because it's so beautiful.

Look! It's a thingy!
Her humor keeps me hunting out tags and giggling to myself in the store. Folks like Karen are bright spots in our days. Thank you, Karen, for doing a great job at St. P's!!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

What the Busy Hands Have Been Up To

Yesterday was knitting group, and I think it's time you see what the ladies are working on now. H. is finishing the last touches on her afghan. The colors! Aren't they wonderful? Such variety, and yet it all works together.
Julia finished her fourth granny square, and she put them together. This is the cover on her new backpack. Now she needs to knit the back of it. This will be good practice for her newly acquired knitting skills.
J. has been making scarves with this cool new yarn. I wish I knew its name. Isn't it fun and ruffly? Here's the brown one:
And here's the bright fuschia. She wore this one yesterday to lunch, and it was so cute against her black sweater.
M. is working on this rich, warm shawl. I LOVE the cabling, because I've never done cables yet, and they look so hard! Keep going, M.! It's gonna be beautiful!
M.#2 makes prayer shawls, and she is blazing fast at them. It seems each week she has a new one in hand. Here's this week's:
Don't you love her cool needles?
G. finished this adorable doggy coat for her lovely best four-footed friend. Note the flower, and the very nice edging -- a garment fit for a queenly pooch! G. has already started on another one :)
Look who overseas our knitting each week. This area is known for its white squirrels. They are not albino squirrels, but another color altogether. Their number has quite increased, and they are all over town. This isn't a real one, of course. He's made of rabbit hair! I'm sure the local white squirrels would be scandalized to think of such a thing! Haha!
Go knit or crochet! It's a great stress-reliever, and when you're done and feel better, you have something beautiful to show for it.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A Little Art, A Little Music

Today was our church ladies' "Lunch Bunch." At the restaurant, we were surrounded by large, impressive art work. Someone said the painter is the owner's wife. This is the warm Latin scene that I gazed at, all through my Lemon Chicken Pizza:
Lovely, isn't it? Mexico? Italy? Provence? Crete? I don't care -- it's warm!
Afterward, I went to a local music store that sells lots of stringed instruments. Julia is interested in playing a harp, but we decided to start with something small, very small. She saw a lap harp here, and fell in love with it. First though, I want you to see the crazy, fascinating and beautiful instrument they had lying about. It's a Ukranian Bandura:
I would love to play such a thing. Isn't it exquisite? It's chromatic, which means it has all the half-steps of a piano keyboard. I just love it. The owner said someone traded it in for a guitar. She doesn't have a price on it; it's a conversation piece.
So, here's Julia, with her lap harp. She has been so happy all afternoon/evening, playing it constantly.
It came with the sheets of music that are inserted under the strings. There are twelve songs, and the sheets guide her in plucking the strings in the right order, to play that song. This harp has two octaves, in the key of G, so there are some songs that she just can't play, if they have accidentals or notes outside of the key. Eventually I want to teach her her to read music (again -- I taught her once before, on the piano) so she can do more with the harp.

The Absentee Editor

I'm reading The Hills of Tuscany by Ferenc Mate. Mate has published thirteen books, I believe. Most are about either living in Tuscany on a wine estate, or building and sailing boats. Doesn't he just look like a sailor?
I like Mate's books. I read his A Vineyard in Tuscany several years ago, and enjoyed it very much. He has a relaxed, easy style. He sounds like a man you'd like to meet and have lunch with.

But. (You know me.) I have a gripe. I'm finding little editing flaws in this book, things that either the author or his editor should have caught. I know writers, even non-fiction writers, can get by with a lot, but still there are limits. I don't remember these kinds of flaws in A Vineyard in Tuscany, but it was published later, and perhaps was given a more careful grooming before it went out on stage; I don't know.
So, if you're interested in this kind of thing, here are the little irritations that have rubbed me the wrong way, thus far. I'm only on p. 93.

1. Repetition of words. A good writer should go back over his text and notice if he uses the same word twice in close proximity -- too close. If he's too in love with his own prose to discover them, his editor should. Here are two examples:
a)  "Behind us stood the fortress, and across the bay, a small hotel and its hanging gardens clung to the cliff, above the handful of hostile rocks it called its beach. On a small stone platform were a handful of blue beach umbrellas ...."
Did you notice it? The word handful? It's a noticeable word; it evokes interesting imagery here, and thus one is jerked awake when it is used a second time in the next sentence. Somebody should have fixed that. If you think that's way too nit-picky, that's because you're not a writer or an editor. Fixing these things is our bread and butter.
b) Mate uses the word "mercilessly" on p. 85, and then uses it again about 12 lines later. This is not so egregious, but it's still noticeable, and it caught my reader's ear immediately. It's safer to get rid of it, so it catches no reader's ear.

2. Consistency. On p. 91 Mate describes some seafood and says, "My god, I'm like Pavlov's dog just thinking about them all." I don't know why it stuck in my head. The lower-case "g"? The taking of the Lord's name in vain? Eh, that happens a lot in these books. Anyway, two pages later, he says this: "My God life is grand." Hmm. This time he uses upper-case, but he leaves out the comma - argh! What does he mean? Isn't he talking to God this time? Perhaps he's describing his existence as a "God life"? No, I'm sure it was just one of the glaring inconsistencies that his sleeping editor should have caught.

3. Grammar. Don't hit me, I didn't invent grammar. And I know Mate is not afraid of the Grammar Police. Still, there are certain loose rules which we should all attempt to obey. Here's the sentence in question: "We asked some polite questions, paid polite compliments then went out and looked at the nonexistent view." Yes, you read that correctly. The world's ugliest run-on sentence. No comma, and no conjunction of any kind. And no, the word "then" never, ever counts as a conjunction. I don't care a toot if this is the way people talk. I'm not listening to Mate talk. (I'm sure I'd have to pay money for that privilege.) I'm reading. He's writing. Do a little grammar work, Mr. Editor!

4. Style. I'm aware that I'm now on shaky ground. Each writer's style is his own, and above question, right? So Mate uses one-word paragraphs? I overlook that. So his Tuscan descriptions are often sappy, melodramatic and downright feminine? I smile and read on. But this? "The moon poked through morose, wind-whipped clouds, but a strange red haze hung before it, like a harvest moon. But duller. The air was warm. Like August."
I kid you not. He wrote that. I went "bleh," gagged slightly, and turned the page. A flaccid attempt at a Hemingway imitation? I guess. He failed.

Would I recommend Mate's book? Sure! It's a fun read. I prefer it to several others in the same genre of sunny Italian lore. But I'd like to give his editor a piece of my mind! Or ... maybe I can have her job?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Praying Ladies

I wish I had a picture. Maybe next week. Every Tuesday afternoon the praying ladies gather at our neighbor's house. Sometimes there are only a handful; sometimes more. This group of ladies has been praying for this community, for many years. Their prayers are effectual, sincere, and most important, they are steady and consistent.

We moved here almost 9 years ago. We had four young children, and Adam was very ill. He'd lost his job, we'd lost our house, and indeed our lives seemed lost. At our wits' end, we moved to the mountains to heal. If I'd had a blog back then, boy would you have gotten an earful!

So, each Tuesday back then, I tromped down the hill a little ways to be with the praying ladies. I was in my late 30's; most of them were over 70, and some were over 80. It didn't seem like a big thing -- a repeated list of needs from the families of those present. We live in a precious Christian community, made up mostly of retired Presbyterian pastors and elders and other church members. The prayers of God's people seem deeply concentrated here. On a weekly basis, they are more concentrated still. I think of Austin, Anna, Shirley, and others who are no longer here.

They prayed Adam all the way to healing from his illness, and then on to a job, but of course, we weren't the only ones. But how I missed them when we moved away! God had other work for us to do, elsewhere, but I went knowing that the praying ladies were behind me, with me, underneath me. They were lifting us up to God each week.

Today is Tuesday, and I want to say thank you to my friends there who bore with me this afternoon. Life can be hard and unpredictable. As I said before, God's road for His children is full of trials. It's the nature of the road. An easy road would not fit the need we have of being challenged and changed. We are always safe, with Him. Sitting with my praying ladies (of the six of them today, 3 are pastors' wives), I felt secure. They can look at my life, and assure me that God knows what He's doing, that our family is a blessing to them, that they are holding us up in prayer. I look at their wisdom, at their calm through their families' own storms, and feel some peace.

When life is dark, it's very hard to pick yourself up out of your chair, brush your hair, go meet with a group of friends, and open up even a little crack of yourself. But it is worth it, if the friends will pray.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Stormy Bathtub

Sunday evening, as we ladies were sitting in front of Downton Abbey (or perhaps the "Life in the Manor House" special that preceded it ...) I heard an enormous crash of thunder overhead. Goodness! I thought. I didn't realize the weather was that bad!

Well, as it turned out, it wasn't thunder. It was the bathtub upstairs. With Adam in it. Two of its legs gave way. (I'd noticed it had a menacing wobble for the past few weeks.) Evidently the water in the tub "whoooshed!!!" all over the floor, so there were both thunder and flooding in this weather event in the bathroom. I'm so glad Adam wasn't standing up! It's such a great, deep, long, good-soaking tub. This is what it looked like:
Notice how the PVC pipe is sheered off on the bottom. It came completely off the tub, and came out of the floor opening.
Adam is very handy. Plumbing, electrical, roofing, car repair ... he's done it all. He particularly hates plumbing, but at least this fix did not require squeezing himself under a house with the spiders and snakes, as it did years ago.

He did some measuring, and then I helped him lift the tub off the floor. Well, he lifted, and I shoved these two bee boxes underneath. Then he could reattach the legs. They'd been attached before with bolts that were too short, and hadn't been tightened with a wrench. That's why they eventually gave way.
(For some reason, that tub looks to me like a cow, hoisted up off the barn floor with a tummy girdle and a pulley.)
Anyway, then the plumbing repair commenced. At first, Adam tried to do his $3 fix, which  meant buying only the bare parts needed, and cutting them himself. But he found that there was one part that you can no longer buy, all by itself. I think it was the flexible hose, not the PVC.
The general chaos in the bathroom gave Julia a prime opportunity to sweet the corners, and behind the tub.
When Adam is playing handy-man, he spends a lot of time on the floor.
That's a sad sight, a tub with a wide open drain :(
So, Adam had to go back to town and do the $37 fix -- a kit with the various pieces for the entire fit-out, whether he needed them all or not. It even came with a new REAL plug, so we don't have to use the rubber stopper anymore.