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October 2011

Trick-or-Treat

Somebody is hoping to get a few extra treats today!

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No.  It's not Jenny**.   Although I'm pretty sure she'd happily don a costume if she thought it might mean . . . TREATS! 

But let's just pretend this IS Jenny. . . wishing you all a HAPPY HALLOWEEN.

BOO!

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** This dog's name is Maggie, and she is appearing on a Hallmark Halloween card I received from my sister.  So adorable!


Socks With a Purpose

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Yes.  Another sock post featuring socks from long ago . . . to divert your attention from the fact that I'm not saying anything about the "footwear" I'm currently knitting for SocktoberFest!

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You see, I used to knit socks all the time.   Always plain-vanilla socks.  I have many pairs still in my own personal sock-rotation, but I've also knit several pairs of socks to give as gifts.  (I even knit a pair for Brian once -- which is a huge undertaking, given his size 13 feet!)

They were Socks With a Purpose!

When Erin was in high school, she was active in forensics (competitive public speaking; not the NCIS kind of forensics).  Her high school is Very Good in forensics and debate.  Very Good.  They just won their tenth consecutive state championship in forensics last year.  Erin was a member of four of those state championship teams, and, in fact, was the individual storytelling state champion as a senior.

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(Sorry.  Just had to stick that in there.  I didn't blog back then, and this was a Very Big Deal.)

Anyway.  Forensics is a very intense, very nerve-wracking "sport."  The season is long.  The tournaments are long.  The pressure is unbelievable (especially when you're a contender for top honors, which Erin was -- each year of high school).  And Erin liked me to "be there" with her/for her. 

So I was.

Forensics tournaments begin with three preliminary rounds, where all competitors participate and compete against each other (in fourteen separate public speaking events).  After those rounds, they cut to 12 semi-finalists.  After those rounds, they cut to 6 finalists.  And then you wait a long time while all the results are tabulated and winners are announced.  It takes all day.  It is very intense.  (Regional and state tournaments last even longer, with more rounds.)

Erin was always right in there - as a finalist - intense to the bitter end. 

What was a mom to do?  Why. . . knit through it, of course!  Knitting got me through forensics.  (Really, I think it was the only thing that kept me sane through all those tournaments and all that stress.) 

Socks were the perfect forensic-knitting (in fact, I called them my "foren-socks") because they were portable, somewhat mindless, and small.  I used to crank out a couple of pairs each forensics season.  But, then, when Erin finished with high school -- and forensics, I put away the sock knitting (mid-sock, truth be told), and I haven't picked it up again!

I'm not sure that I ever will pick it up again, actually.  I think there is just too much intensity wrapped up in knitting socks for me now.  Four years of "foren-socks" probably just did me in as far as sock-knitting goes.

Socks got me through. . . they served their purpose.  But now?  I think I'll stick with sweaters.

 


Dressed to the Nines

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The best part of Halloween (well. . . apart from the miniature-sized candy bars) is dressing up! 

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It's so fun to decide what you're going to be; to assemble the various pieces; to put it all on and . . . become . . . someone (or something) else!

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My dressing-up days are long gone, but this week we're going to talk about the Best Costumes We've Ever Seen

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Here goes.  The Ten Best Costumes I've Ever Seen.

1.   Christmas Tree Man.  When I was in college, I went to a Halloween party sponsored by a local bar.  The winner was Christmas Tree Man.  He had turned himself into an elaborate Christmas tree, complete with lights, ornaments, and a star on top.  His feet were in gift-wrapped boxes - like presents.  It was fabulous.  (It's been over 30 years and I still remember it vividly!)

2.  Wednesday and Pugsley.  These two showed up at my door one Halloween.  They were perfect.  And perfectly creepy!

3.  Thing One and Thing Two.  What a great costume for two friends (or siblings).  Simple and fun!

4.  Bubble Gum Machine.  Several years ago, a little girl showed up at our house in a red sweatsuit -- with a huge clear plastic bag filled with small, brightly colored balloons from hips to neck.  She was a gum ball machine!  It was so clever.

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5.  The Grapes of Wrath.  Here is Erin -- at her college English department Halloween party.  They had to dress as a literary title.  She won their costume contest.  (I'm pretty sure it was the wrath. . .)

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6.  Braveheart.  This was one of my kids' friends.  I think he did a great job with his costume; definitely the best I saw that year!

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7.  The Spy.  This is Brian in 5th grade.  Probably the easiest costume ever.  (That's my trench coat.)  He was adorable, and he had a great time!

8.  Mr. Rogers.  Another really easy costume -- but oh-so-cute!

9.  Grim Reaper.  Nothing beats a good Grim Reaper!

10.  Red Riding Hood.  Another cute (and practical -- especially if it's a cold night) costume.  (Extra points if you have a friend willing to be The Wolf.)

I enjoyed helping my kids put together their costumes as they were growing up. . .

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but I can't really say that I miss it!

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I'll just enjoy seeing what marches past my door this year instead!

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Join in the fun!  Sign up for Ten on Tuesday here.

 


Handy Skill

When Brian was a little guy, he had no "hand dominance."  He didn't prefer using his right or his left hand.  At all.

He was equally skilled at using his right or left hand to eat, for example.

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And when it came to writing or drawing, he was as likely to use his right hand or his left hand.

Brian drawing

In fact, he actually often used his left hand to write or draw on the left side of the page and switch over to his right hand to continue on the right side of the page.  (This drove his first grade teacher bonkers.)

Eventually, he settled in to using his right hand for writing.  He made adjustments - likely based on adapting to living in a world with a right-handed preference. 

But his ambidextrous tendencies remain strong.

In sports, he tended to prefer the left side.  He batted left in baseball.

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(Although he could also bat right.)

He was a lefty in hockey.

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(Where you actually use a right or left handed stick.)

And in lacrosse, he could shoot well

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left or right.

He's very good at skateboarding and snowboarding -- because he can "switch skate," or put either foot forward in the dominant position.

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He's a drummer.

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And that came very easily, too.  (Although he didn't care much for piano. . .)

I still see Brian eat left-handed quite often.  He uses tools left-handed from time to time.  I would say that Brian is fairly ambidextrous . . . living in a right-handed world.

Which he will now be putting to the ultimate test.

You see. . . he broke his right hand over the weekend.  (We see an orthopedic surgeon today.)  Let's hope he can make the necessary left-handed adjustments . . . and put his HANDy ambidextrous skill to work!

 


Friday Round Up: A Blast of Color

The last few days have been A Sign Of What's To Come:  grey skies, blustery winds, rain.  The leaves are past their prime.  The gardens have stopped their blooming.  The bleak months are on their way.

Time to add some color!

A couple of weeks ago, Margene showed us her new Keens.  Bright, colorful, happy feet! 

I have the same shoes. . . only mine are in a different color scheme.

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It's such fun to look down at your feet and smile at the riot of pattern!

Personally, I'm a fool for navy and white ticking stripe.  That's what sold me on these shoes!

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Even on a gloomy, dark day . . . you can get a blast of color from your feet.

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In mid-September, Target launched its Missoni for Target line.  Cool Missoni stuff . . . at Target prices.  I didn't get there in time.  By the time I arrived (the day after The Launch), nothing was left.  So.  Imagine my surprise when I stopped by Target last week for some essentials. . .

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and found this. . .

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A full month after The Launch, there was a lonely rack of Missoni merchandise.  Not on clearance.  But there all the same!

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I bought a blouse (that is surprisingly well-made, although the buttons are really cheap-looking and need to be replaced) and this cute little knit bag.

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There is nothing like Missoni to bring in a blast of color!

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And then, there is this. . .

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a cute little baby set I finished up as a gift for a former co-worker who is having her first baby (a girl) next month.

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Colorful.

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Happy.

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Bright.

A perfect blast of color for a gloomy day.  (Ravelry details here.)

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Enjoy the weekend!  Add some color ... whatever you're doing.

 

 


There's Always a First Time

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Seems kind of silly. . . to be doing a SocktoberFest post. . . when I can't do any kind of meaningful update on my SocktoberFest projects!  (Other than to say . . .  it's going well and I'm making good progress.)

So I decided to share this with you.

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My first socks.  Circa 2003.

I don't remember the yarn.  I don't remember the pattern.  I do remember, though, feeling very excited about being able to manage four double-point needles.  I was completely charmed by how all the "parts" came together to form a real, live sock: the cuff, the heel, the gusset, the foot, the toe.  I thought "turning the heel" was magical. 

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This particular pair of socks was intended for Tom.  He's never worn them, though.  They're far too big.  But I saved them anyway.  (Perspective, you know.)

So, there.  I feel a little better.  Socks in October. 


Word Power

I have long been a fan of Kate Atkinson's novels, but I was a little bit leary of the new PBS Masterpiece Mystery series, Case Histories, which is based on the first three of her "Jackson Brodie" books.  I'm generally disappointed when books I love are made into movies.  Especially when I have a strong image in mind for the characters, or when the stories are more emotionally complicated than action-packed.

Like. . . Kate Atkinson's novels. 

Or . . . like the Jackson Brodie in my mind.

But then I saw this.

 

And decided to give the series a try.  Because the actor Jason Issacs (who was apparently Lucius Malfoy in the Harry Potter movies) matches up with the Jackson Brodie in my mind ... just fine.   (Just fine, indeed!)

Anyway, I watched Episode 1 last night on my iPad.  It was very good, actually.  I'll definitely watch the rest of the series. 

And, speaking of books, I just need to say that Nina Sankovitch's Tolstoy and the Purple Chair is fabulous.  Simply fabulous! 

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It is a reader's memoir, relaying the discoveries of Nina's own "year of magical reading" and demonstrating the sheer power of words to heal and comfort and ground us.  Very worth a read -- especially if you like books.  (And, trust me, you'll boost your own personal reading queue by. . . oh, about 365 book titles or so!)

And one more thing.

Can any of you explain what I'm missing with Joyce Carol Oates?

I've just read another book by Joyce Carol Oates.  (My fourth.)  I know that she is considered a "must-read" author.   She's prolific (having written over 50 novels!).  She's won many literary awards -- and been nominated for even more.  She's always mentioned as a "favorite" to win the Nobel Prize for Literature.  And she's "discovered" and encouraged many young and up-and-coming authors (like Jonathan Safran Foer).

But.  I don't get it.  I just . . . don't like her books.

There's just something about her style that doesn't resonate with me.  And her characters?  Well. . . I never seem to connect with any of them.   In the book I finished last night (American Appetites), I actually did a little celebratory dance when one of the characters died mid-way through the book. . . because then I wouldn't have to listen to her whine anymore!

It's that bad.

So.  What am I missing here?  (Help me.)

But no worries.  There are plenty of other books to read! 

Word power!

 

 


Pumpkin Stuffed With Everything Good

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Last night, I was at a meeting and someone stood up to give an announcement.  She was promoting a local fundraising event - The Great Pumpkin Soiree - which will feature pumpkin treats from a variety of local restaurants and bakeries.  With voting.  All for a good cause.

My first thought?  Yummmmmmm!  (Although I won't be able to attend.)  Because I can think of nothing better than an event full of pumpkin treats!  In fact, I have never found a pumpkin-flavored ANYthing I didn't like.

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This week's Ten on Tuesday topic - Ten Ways to Eat Pumpkin - suits me just fine!

  1. Pumpkin Spice Latte - I am a total fool for a pumpkin spice latte!  I always order it "skinny" -- but WITH whipped cream. 
  2. Pumpkin Pie - Oh, I love the custard-y goodness!  It wouldn't be Thanksgiving without my Mom's pie.
  3. Pumpkin Bread - With pecans sprinkled on the top, please.
  4. Toasted Pumpkin Seeds - Simple, with a little butter and salt.  I used to make these every year while the kids were out trick-or-treating with Tom.
  5. Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars - I found this recipe in my local newspaper nearly 20 years ago, and I've been making them every year since.  They are a vital part of our family Thanksgiving tradition now.
  6. Pumpkin Cake - I found this recipe when Carole pinned it on Pinterest.  I've been drooling ever since.
  7. Pumpkin Cheesecake - Last Saturday, Tom and I went out for dinner at our favorite Kalamazoo restaurant and I had pumpkin cheesecake for dessert.  It was divine.  Perfect.  Pumpkin-y and cheese-y without too much sweetness.  I'm still thinking about it!
  8. Pumpkin Soup - Especially with a little . . . zing . . . of hot spice-y goodness.
  9. Pumpkin Doughnuts - Oh, yeah.  (But I try to resist. . .)
  10. Pumpkin Stuffed With Everything Good - Last year, around Thanksgiving, I caught an interview on NPR with French cooking expert Dorie Greenspan.  She was promoting her then-new cookbook, Around My French Table, and she went into great detail about a recipe called Pumpkin Stuffed With Everything Good.  I nearly drove off the road, it sounded so wonderful!  Her cookbook immediately went on my Christmas list!  I haven't made the recipe yet, but I'm going to try it soon.  Really soon!

Okay.  Now I'm craving pumpking ANYthing!

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Join in the fun!  Sign up for Ten on Tuesday here.

 


When A Good Tree. . . Goes Bad

"If you would know strength and patience, welcome the company of trees." ** -- Hal Borland

We have many trees on our small plot here in suburbia.  We inherited them all when we bought our house, save the one lovely tri-colored beech we planted last year. . . and one tiny little Japanese maple I rescued from Lowe's last summer.

There is this one.

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It is a Bradford pear tree.  Oddly placed near our driveway, kind of just randomly there. . .in the center of our side yard.

The tree has always been of questionable value.  It gets lovely, white blossoms in the spring -- but those blossoms smell really bad.  They reek, in fact.  Like. . . you get out of your car (being right there, next to the driveway) and say, "What's that SMELL????"  And then you remember.  It's the tree.

You'd think that, being a pear tree, that it would bear . . . fruit.  And it does.  But not the lovely pear you may be imagining.  It produces little, tiny pears that look like this:

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The squirrels love them.  (Chipmunks, too.)  About this time of year, the little pear-ish fruits get ripe and sort of soft.  They drop.  Onto the driveway.  Where people track them into the house on their shoes.  Or they drop down onto visiting cars.  Or a storm comes and hurls them against visiting cars, making a horrible mess that people have to work really hard to remove (right, Dad?).

In the fall, the leaves on this tree are lovely; kind of a deep burgundy red.  The problem is . . .the leaves don't change color and drop until very late in the season.  I mean very late.  Like . . . Thanksgiving.  Most years, we have snow on the ground before the leaves drop.  (Trust me, no one wants to deal with fall leaves AND snow.)  The charm of the lovely leaves is completely lost when the time for snow is upon us!

There is also the problem with placement.  I have written here more than once that our yard has extreme geographic limitations, being built on a cross-slope hill.  As you can see from the photo above, the pear tree was planted right in the center of the ONLY level area of our yard (being next to the driveway).  The tree distracts from our being able to USE that level space.  Can't play frisbee; throw a lacrosse ball; or pitch a tent for a party.  Because of the tree.

But, still.  We liked the tree.  We enjoyed the company of the tree.  We took a deep breath before getting out of the car when the tree was in bloom, and we threw the frisbee in the street.

Then, in July, there was a huge storm that came through our area, knocking down several trees in our neighborhood.  (Even sending several crashing through roofs.)  We breathed a sigh of relief when we got home that day -- because all of our trees were still standing.

About a week later, though, I came back from the gym to find a huge branch from the pear tree blocking the driveway.  No storm.  No apparent reason.  Must have been delayed storm damage.

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(Unforunate street view.)  Tom (excitedly) made quick work of the big branch with his trusty chainsaw, and all was well.  Although, as a Master Gardener, I knew this

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was gonna be trouble!  Trees don't suffer damage like this -- and recover.  I knew it was Only a Matter of Time for the Bradford Pear.

What we didn't realize right away, though, was that the tree was suffereing from another serious problem.  Yep, once a huge portion of the tree was gone, the balance shifted. . . and exacerbated a pre-existing split in the trunk.

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You're not supposed to be able to see . . . grass. . . through the trunk of your tree.  It was clear that our Bradford Pear. . . was going to have to go!

Fortunately, there wasn't any danger of the tree hitting our house.  Or anyone else's house, either.  But you probably wouldn't want to park your car in our driveway! 

We thought about waiting . . . to just see what would happen next.  But I know that one bad winter storm or one ice storm would do this tree in.  And, really, who wants to deal with a tree coming down in the winter!  (Somehow I'm sure that would be worse than dealing with the leaves.)

So we called in the cavalry.

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They made quick work of the the Bradford Pear.

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It made my heart ache a little, to see a big tree like that come down.  But you can see from the stump that it was not a healthy tree.

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So, goodbye Bradford pear!  No more messy fruit.  No more smelly blossoms.  But don't be thinking we'll have a place to play frisbee. . . because this gardener is already plotting and planning what to do with that new, level, EMPTY spot of lawn!

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** But NOT the Bradford pear!  There are some lovely trees that are not recommended for home landscapes.  The Bradford pear is one of those trees.  While they do have a lovely shape and are fast-growing, there are numerous problems (as we've experienced) with them.  Not all trees are created equal in the home landscape!