Friday, December 31, 2004

Holiday Knitting Success--Nephew Juddah looking adorable in his Wonderful Wallaby sweater. Ain't he adorable? His mom, Anna, is pretty cute, too! Posted by Hello
With the holiday festivities slipping past, we're running out of leftovers. After our Sunday family bash, the fridge was stocked to the gills with enough salad fixings, spiral-cut ham, candied yams, cheesy potatoes, and pumpkin pie to feed half the folks in Peoria. It looked like an eternity of ham sandwiches. Just a few days later, and it's time to stock up on groceries all over again. This weekend, the decorations need to get packed away for another year. The lights boxed up and the baubles packed away in tissue. After a week of good food and good conversation, I'm feeling rested and relaxed, and almost ready to get back to the real world.

In the meantime, here are a few thoughts for 2005.

~This year, I am NOT going to resolve to lose weight yet again. Enough!

~Instead, I resolve to take lots of long walks and to enjoy every step.

~I resolve to finish knitting Randy's Christmas sweater right away. Really. Even though it is getting kinda boring, and even thought the dastardly Victorian 2-Ply yarn makes me cranky every time I have to wind a new ball of the stuff, and even though I followed my own notes on the sleeves line-by-line but for some reason they don't match up at all, I am going to finish this sweater. Pout.

~The theme for this year's knitting is "Practical and Classic." Every winter, I say, "Gosh it would be great if I had a cute black sweater to wear with this dress." Yet for some reason I keep knitting sweaters out of varigated yarn that are fun to knit but never go with much of anything. This is the year to knit that classic black sweater that compliments everything.

~What's more, this is the year to start that vegetable garden. And it is not too early to start planning now. Better start rereading the Square Foot Garden by Mel Bartholomew and browsing through seed catalogs.

~Read, read, read. It just isn't a full day if I haven't spent some quality time with a good book. True, the librarians at my college tell me I'm their best customer, but this is because I've discovered how to use the "auto-reserve" feature in the computerized card catalog, and my fellow colleagues may be clueless about this time- and money-saving feature. Why stop by Barnes and Noble with the good folks in the library can ILL it for me? Best of all, as a staff member at the college, I get to keep books for loooooong periods without any overdue fines! Heh-heh-heh. Still, I feel that I really haven't been reading as much as I'd like lately. Especially fiction. It's been a while since I've been lost in a good book.

~More phone calls to the sisters. I've never been much for talking on the phone. It seems like a favorate hobby for most folks, but even when I was in high school I never spent a lot of time on the phone. Once I remember a girlfriend of my saying " Why didn't you all me to tell me you Matt What's-His-Name called you collect to ask you to prom!?!" All I could think was "Gee, I knew I was going to see you the next day, so why bother with the phone?" Anyhoo, telephone issues aside, it can feel a little far from the "place of my people" here in Peoria, and talking with the fam helps.

~Stop worrying about work when I'm off the clock. It's an 8-5 job, and I've got to keep it that way.

Saturday, December 25, 2004
Merry Christmas!!

Mystery Knitting Project Revealed. Posted by Hello

Monday, December 20, 2004

Holiday Knitting, The Post Office, and Miracles

The super-secret, hush-hush, suspense-building, holiday knitting project is finished, and only a couple of days after my self-imposed deadline. I finished the last few stitches Sunday morning, and luckily the post office was open on Sunday, so the gift of a lucky-someone is on it's way.

Sunday at the post office actually proved to be a holiday treat. The lines were minimal, the staff were unharried, and the irritation-level stayed low. All good things this time of year. What's, more, the helpful staff at the Post Office assured me that the surprise package should arrive at it's intended location in a day or two. Whew!

Now, however, I need to finish knitting Randy's Christmas Sweater. No pictures are needed of this project. Just imagine in your minds eye a run-of-the-mill navy blue, V-neck sweater, and you'll get pretty close to what I'm attempting here. The sweater is just over half finished, and knowing my rather slow rate of knitting, it will take a Christmas Miracle of grand proportions for me to finish this by Saturday morning. Given that the college where I work closes on Wednesday at noon, and I'll have 2.5 days around the house to devote to things knitting-related, I just may be able to squeak this one off near-or-about the deadline. That is, if I don't have any bungles along the way. Should I need to rip back both sleeve caps because they don't match up with the body of the sweater, or should the neckline give me fits, all bets are off. I better start lighting some candles for the Christmas MIracle. Or knitting. Knitting would be good.

Something to mull over while I get back at my knitting.
Monday, December 13, 2004

I Think I'm Catching Something

The holiday knitting marathon continues apace. Last night I made some good progress, and I think I'll be able to make my deadline of mailing everything off by this Friday. I know, I know, you want a clue about who's going to get the mystery hand-knit present. Well, sorry! I'm not giving away any more hints, tips, winks, or nudges. You'll just have to see what Santa lives in your stocking on Christmas morning.

A few days back while I was talking to my folks on the phone, I asked my 16-year-old sister what she'd like for Christmas. At first, she was kinda coy, "Oh, you don't have to give me anything!" Then, a few minutes later, she got back on the phone, and this time she was full of ideas about gifts she'd like. CDs, hair baubles, glitter fingernail polish--basic girl stuff.

One idea she had for a gift was the "Boys Don't Cry" CD from The Cure. This one threw me. I mean, The Cure were popular way back in the late 80's when I was a 16-year-old. For my readers who are unfamiliar with this band (that would be you Mom!), The Cure is famous for their "why me?" attitude and general poutiness. Here's some lyrics from their song "Watching Me Fall":

i've been watching me fall for it seems like years
watching me grow small, i watch me disappear
slipping out my ordinary world, out my ordinary eyes
yeah slipping out the ordinary me into someone else's life
into someone else's life...

Oh, the humanity! Come to find out, The Cure have gotten a new following among today's younger set. Maybe their sob-story songs carry the same resonance as they did back in the day, or maybe they echo the insecurities and fears of teenage life. Or maybe whining never goes out of style.

Feeling nostalgia for those halcyon days of the 80's? Check out all the lyrics to all The Cure songs ever written here.
Saturday, December 11, 2004

Have you been good this year? Posted by Hello
Life is Good

Handle's Messiah is playing in the background, my holiday decorations are up, and I've got a batch of cookies in the oven. The cookies are for the Cookie Exchange Party I'm attending tomorrow. I'm making oatmeal chocolate chip, and I've added lots of pecans. Making cookies today, I was reminded about the time when I used to bake bread every week. I did this for a couple of years. There for a while, I got pretty good at making break. I'd make focaccia, French bread, pumpernickel bread, rye bread. Making bread is amazingly easy. Just slight variations in the same ingredients--wheat, water, yeast, oil--makes for a wide variety of loaves. Back in my bread-making days, I had a food processor that would kneed the dough for me. The food processor is no longer a thing of this world, and I haven't adapted to kneading by hand. Maybe one of these days....

Yes, I have been knitting. Randy's sweater is coming along. Since it is dark navy blue, when I take pictures of my work-in-progress, it looks like little more than an ink smear, so you'll just have to use your imagination. The back and one sleeve is finished, and I've started the second sleeve, so I'm more than half-way there. At this pace, I imagine Christmas Eve I'll need to stay up late to sew the whole thing together and finish the collar. Christmas Eve, all night, last minute, gift completion and wrapping marathons are something of a family tradition.

Actual knitting on Randy's sweater has slowed to a crawl while I rush to finish a project that's got to be mailed in a week. Who is this gift for? My lips are sealed! The picture above is a teeny, tiny hint. Tick Tock! Tick Tock! I better get my needles clicking.

Thursday, December 09, 2004
A Wink and a Nod
There's a book tucked into my bookshelf where I jot down poems I like. It's a small book, so only short poems fit onto the pages. Flipping through the book today, I found that Emily Dickinson takes up her fair share of the book. The "Beat Eater" poem by Gwendolyn Brooks from yesterday's entry is there, too. I noticed for the first time today that several of the poems are by Jack Prelutsky, I poet who's name I never read in graduate school. Even though I added the poems to my notebook, I can't recall where I found them, whether I found them all at ounce, or if I tripped over them one at a time while searching the Internet or reading at the library. Prelutsky writes poems for kids, and the ones I've collected are short and fun. Just the right note to add between a couple of Emily Dickinson's. Here's a sampling:

My baby brother is so small
He hasn't even learned to crawl
He's only been around a week,
And all he does is bawl.
And wiggle.
And leak.

My sister ate an orange.
I'm astonished that she did.
She swallowed it completely.
She's a disconcerting kid.
My sister ate an orange.
First she chewed it for a while,
Then digested it entirely
With a silly sort of smile.
My sister ate an orange.
It's a novel thing to do.
Then she also ate a yellow
And a purple and a blue.

It was a sound,
An awful sound,
A sound both sharp and flat.
And high and low and screechy
Like the shrieking of a cat.
It was a scratchy,
Scrapey sound.
It sand into my skin.
That sound my sister made today,
She plays the violin.

[This is a poem all the Prairie Tide sisters can relate to.]

Wednesday, December 08, 2004
Mmmmm.... Good!
When my mother made bean soup, she'd begin by soaking dried pinto beans all night. The next morning, she'd start the pot of beans simmering on the stove with a leftover ham bone. The pot would cook through the day, and we kids would steal spoonfuls of half-cooked beans while Mom did chores in another part of the house. We'd sprinkle salt on our little spoonfuls and blow cool air on the beans so we could gobble them down before Mom caught us in the act. Even a little crunchy, the bean soup tasted like home.

Sunday I tried out a variation of Mom's receipt. This time, I fired up the crockpot, and I used canned pinto beans instead of dried. Mom's soup never included vegetables--just beans and ham. I threw in carrots, broccoli, beans, and a handful of diced onions. Plus I added some seasoning, (Mom's original receipt only includes salt and pepper). I actually made a meal without a receipt card or cookbook as a crutch. With terrific left-overs all week long, I've been reminiscing about helping Mom around the kitchen, setting the table for company, and coming home from church so glad to find dinner simmering on the stove.

This poem by Gwendolyn Brooks seems a nice tribute to a good pot of soup.

The Bean Eaters

They eat beans mostly, this old yellow pair,
Dinner is a casual affair.
Plain chipware on a plain and creaking wood,
Tin flatware.

Two who are Mostly Good.
Two who have lived their day,
But keep on putting on their clothes
And putting things away.

And remembering...
Remembering, with twinklings and twinges,
As they lean over the beans in their rented back room
that is full of beads and receipts and dolls and
cloths, tobacco crumbs, vases and fringes.

Sunday, December 05, 2004
Finally, I've finished reading a book! This fall my reading has gone way down. It seems reading has been relegated to a few short minutes in bed at the end of the evening before I tuck under the covers. I've also had a hard time settling on one book. There are about half a dozen books on my nightstand, none of which seem to grab me.

Then I found How the Irish Saved Civilization stashed under the spare bed. I've been collecting books all year for gifts, and the other day I pulled out the stash to see what treasures I'd collected. I might just have to hold onto this one. The book claims to be "The Untold Story of Ireland's Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe." The book did much more than this for me. The book distilled what life might have been like during the last years of the Roman Empire, how things fell apart slowly at first, and then crashed to the ground in the last chaotic years. Thomas Cahill also brings to light characters from the past I'd thought of only as comical figures at a St. Patrick's Day parade. He paints Patrick himself as a religious innovator that catches the imagination of an entire country, and he insists Bridget was a real woman, a hot-tempered woman with the moxie to run an entire city.

More than anything, Cahill is gifted at distilling dry historical tracks into a living story. Cahill is a historian that is able to capture his reader's imagination. He's able to write with wit and insight, and make long-gone people come alive again. History professors seem to be the best at translating their professional writing into works that the general reader can enjoy. While literature professors seem to want to make their writing more distant and more abstract than the works they analyze, some historians are gifted and taking their work in the other direction, sharing their insight into the workings of the past with more than just a few colleagues in the ivory tower. How refreshing to find a writer than appreciates his readers.

From the "Land Through the Lens" exhibit at Lakeview Museum Posted by Hello

It's been a lazy day. A day for reading books and taking walks. If only Sunday morning lasted the whole week through... To make the morning complete, I have the memories of the week's cultural explorations to ponder and share.

Friday night, Randy and I had a date. That's right, a real date that included dinner and tickets to a play. First we stopped at Alexander's Steakhouse, a Peoria institution we'd never experienced before. Judging by how packed the restaurant was on this Friday night, we're the only ones in Peoria who've never grilled our own slab of beef at the Do-It-Yourself Barbeque Pit. Grilling your own dinner seems a fabulous concept for a steakhouse.

Next, we joined the audience at the Corn Stock Theatre's premiere of A Christmas Story. This theatrical reinterpretation of the classic holiday TV movie included everything that made the original great. There was Ralphie and his Little Orphan Annie Decoder Ring, the Red Rider BB gun, the kid who licked the lamppost, the insufferable bully, and Ralphie's Old Man who brings cursing to artistic heights. Best of all was the depth and insight our local actors brought to the timeless story. The kid who played Ralphie had all the panache of his predecessor, and his kid brother was a scene stealer. Without a doubt, the best performances were by the two actors who played Ralphie's parents. Together, they gave their characters humor and warmth, that I think went beyond the movie. Most important, these two actors saved the play from all the missteps of the narrator, who tripped over most of his lines.

Corn Stock Theatre recently celebrated it's 50th anniversary. The community theater group is famous for it's outdoor productions. For the winter months, the plays moves indoors to a small lab theater. The best part of Friday's performance was at the end when we walked into the theater's foyer to see all the kids in the play greeting their parents. The kids were beaming with that "I did it!" pride, and so were their folks.

Ah, but our Peoria cultural pursuits did not stop after Ralphie's tour de force performance. Last night, Randy and I visited Lakeview Museum's "Land Through the Lens" exhibit. The display featured landscape photography dating from the early 1870 surveys of the American West to modern photographs of industrial sites. We were quite impressed with the wide variety. Most were black and white, and my favorite were a series of tree photographs along one wall of the exhibit. The tree photographs were all taken by different photographers over a 100 year period. Some were abstract, some were nostalgic. In one photo of a grove of aspen trees you could just make out the metallic glint and straight lines of the Alaskan Pipeline bisecting the distance.

With the holidays coming, Peoria is serving up many more cultural treats. Of course, I don't want to miss the Forest Park candle-lit walk this weekend. The wooded park will have about a mile of trail lit by candlelight this weekend. The ICC choir always puts on a good holiday performance. I'd like to go to a Sing-Along Messiah that will be held next Sunday, but it conflicts with a cookie exchange I positively must attend. Then there's the East Peoria Festival of Lights. Goodness knows I wouldn't mind missing this over-the-top extravaganza, but then what kind of MIdwesterner would I be?


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