Tuesday, July 27, 2010

helpful hints from Anne Louise

I made a rookie error while cooking the other day, and paid the price for it. I was heating some olive oil in a skillet while I chopped some onions and peppers that I was planning to sauté. The chopping took me a little longer than I thought it would, so the oil got a little too hot. When I dumped my veggies into the skillet, they were too wet, so hot oil popped onto my shirt, my shorts, and both my arms, the right one in particular.

It really hurt! I knew right away I had been burned pretty badly. Here's what I did about it. I got a bottle of soy sauce from the refrigerator, and poured it over the burns on my arms. I let it dry there. I'm telling you, it stopped hurting right away, and the burn on my left arm virtually disappeared. My right arm blistered, and did start to hurt a bit today when the blister deflated.

I know I read this tip some where at some point, but I sure don't remember where or when. All I know is that I have used it before and that it works, so I pass it on to you. I hope you don't ever have occasion to use this helpful hint, but I hope you remember it if you do. Alternately, you could remember to dry your vegetables before putting them in hot oil. Whichever.

Monday, July 26, 2010

something's happenin' here

It's not that I haven't thought about posting over the past few days, it's just that all I can think about is a big decision we're trying to make. I'll let you know when we know. It's big.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

looks at books

As promised, here are reviews of the books I brought home from the library last week.

Happens Every Day by Isabel Gillies

This is a memoir detailing the break-up of the marriage of a television actress and a pompous, womanizing, poetry professor. Here's why it was a must read for me: The actress has a recurring role on Law & Order: SVU as the wife of detective Elliott Stabler. A life-long New Yorker, she left New York and followed her husband to his teaching position at --- Oberlin College. Yes, that Oberlin College. I probably need to devote an entire post to how deeply entwined the little college town of Oberlin, Ohio is with memories of my childhood and my dad and our time spent there. Suffice it to say, I know that town.

Gillies is not a professional writer, and the book is written in a conversational tone - pretty much like the tone I try to use here. You know me, you're interested in me, and in what I have to say. And I was interested in what she had to say. I was fascinated by the town as she described it, and was amazed to find that she lived right down the street from a friend of mine who has lived in Oberlin for years. (She didn't know the author - I asked her.) I tried to picture Gillies in the bead shop or the Ben Franklin, but I couldn't quite manage that.

The author doesn't pull any punches, and the gut-wrenching passage where she kneels in the snow to beg the other woman not to destroy her children's happiness is overly-dramatic, sure, but as the song lyrics say, love has no pride, and that rang true to me. I love how she frames that scene from the perspective of an elderly professor watching from his window, and the knowledge of him there is what gets her up off her knees.

This memoir offers what no one can resist - a peek inside the lighted windows of the lovely old house we walk past on a crisp evening, and the reassurance that the people who live there are, after all, just like us.


The Invention of Everything Else by Samantha Hunt

I have been fascinated by Nikola Tesla since the first time we saw the huge statue of a seated Tesla on Goat Island near Niagara Falls. As I read the attached plaque, I wondered why I had never heard of this brilliant inventor who illuminated the entire world. I vowed to learn more about him, and in the years since have read everything I could find about this eccentric genius. There hasn't been much, so I was excited to read a review of this novel several months ago, and even more excited to find it on the library shelf.

I am very disappointed by this book. The author wrote in such a detached style that I could never get into the book. I felt like I kept waiting for the introduction to be over and the story to actually begin, but by the time I was fifty pages into the book, I realized the narrative wasn't going to change into a smooth readable style. The dual plots chugged along, but Hunt never lingered long enough to engage us. The passages where the author repeated what had been written elsewhere about Tesla were not well integrated and stood out like they had been written in neon ink.

Hunt had a good idea when she attempted to describe the New Yorker, the hotel where Tesla lived until his death in 1943, but her attempt fell short of the mark, and I will have to learn about it elsewhere. The author also failed to capture the magic of New York City at the turn of the century, something which I would think would be difficult to do. The secondary plot of the fictional chambermaid was depressing more than anything else, and really, Tesla's declining years were depressing enough on their own.

To learn about the greatest inventor of the 19th and 20th centuries - and, possibly, of all time - read Margaret Cheney's biography, Tesla: Man Out Of Time, or, really, just google Tesla. You'll be amazed by what you find. I guarantee it.

Monday, July 19, 2010

maybe it builds character, but I doubt it

Today I have to drive to my dad's vacant house and wait for a service man from the local gas company to replace the indoor gas meter with an outdoor one. This is something that I most devoutly do not want to do, and I almost never do things I don't want to do. I am dreading this, but perhaps not for the reasons you think. Yes, it is inconvenient, and yes, I hate waiting for workmen to arrive - although I was given a two-hour window, which I think is not bad if he actually shows up then. No, the real problem is the heat.

My dad's house has never had central air, but he does a have a large window air conditioner that my brother used to install in the living room window every summer. Unfortunately, it has been many years since the last time he did that. I had to pretty much quit visiting them in the summer, as I would get very overheated and uncomfortable there, and then wouldn't be able to cool off. My dad doesn't mind the heat. In fact, he seems to like it in some way that I can't understand at all.

The forecast for today has the temperature in the mid-80s with humidity to match. I mean, it's July. It's hot. With that in mind, I have been thinking about how I will cope with the heat ever since I made the appointment. Here's what I have come up with. Worst case scenario, I can just sit in my car with the AC running. I said worst case. I put a lawn chair in the trunk of my car. I could sit out on the back patio for a while and knit. I will bring my knitting, and, also, a book I have been wanting to read. If it rains (which is a possibility) I can take my lawn chair down to the basement, where I'm sure it will be cool, although not very dry. The last time I was at the house, there was an old TV and a leather couch in the living room, but I am pretty sure it will be way too hot to sit in there - although that would be ideal.

I am not above cutting and running, if it comes to that. If it gets to be 1:45 or so (my time slot is 12 to 2) I will call and let them know I am leaving. I mean, two hours is all I can realistically stand, and who knows how long it will take once the service man arrives. One has to know one's limitations.

Thanks for listening. I'll try not to be so whiny next time.


Update: Well, it was just no big deal, as it turned out. I drove to Elyria, stopped at McDonald's for a filet-o-fish sandwich, and headed for my dad's house. It wasn't too hot inside yet, and I wandered around the mostly empty house while I ate. As I have in the past, I tried to summon some happy memories about the place, but to no avail. I never liked that house. It never felt like a home to me, and now it feels alot like an albatross hanging around my neck. A really dusty albatross in need of a good cleaning.

After I ate, I got my lawn chair out of the trunk of my car, and set it in a shady spot on the back patio. I took out my knitting and set to work. I was only on my second row when I heard a truck pull into the driveway. Yes, it was the young man from the gas company arriving at about 12:20. I was delighted. Even more so when he told me he would be done in about five minutes (!) As I turned on the basement light, I told him I didn't have the slightest idea where the meter was. I was charmed by his reply. "That's okay," he said. "I'll do a little spelunking down there, and I'm sure I'll find it." Spelunking - that just about describes it perfectly.

I was loading my lawn chair into the car by 12:45, and I was home by 2:00 - and that includes a stop at a roadside stand for fresh corn and tomatoes. While it's true that I drove two hours for an errand that took fifteen minutes, I am not complaining. It could have been so much worse. Once again, by expecting the worst, I was pleasantly surprised when things turned out to be not totally awful. And, boy, do I feel fantastic to have that taken care of!

Friday, July 16, 2010

I may live to regret this...

Yesterday morning a little lady came into the shop. When I asked if I could help her, she replied, "I sure hope so because I'm in a pickle." She went on to explain that she would be attending a baby shower for her first great-grandchild next month - a little girl to be named after her. "Isn't that wonderful?" she asked me. I agreed that it was wonderful indeed, but wondered what the "pickle' could be. Vivian, for that is her name, went on to tell me that she saw a pattern online for a wonderful knitted baby blanket with owls on it. Did I think I could find the pattern? Well, probably, as I know of several owl-patterned items on Ravelry. I found the pattern easily enough, but we still weren't at the root of the problem, as it turned out. I should have anticipated her next question, really.

"Do you know of anyone who could knit it for me? I can't knit at all," she said. "And, in fact, I have a degenerative eye disease." Oh man, I thought, oh man. Vivian had picked out some yarn. The pattern wasn't difficult. But I didn't want to commit to knitting it for her. We talked around the issue for a bit, and finally I said, "Look, here's why I'm hesitating on this. It's going to be expensive. I design patterns. I sell my own work. I value my work. It doesn't come cheap." "Oh, I wouldn't expect it to," Vivian assured me. "If that's the only thing that's stopping you, don't let it."

I thought of the joy of living to see a great-grandchild. I thought of a granddaughter who loves her grandma enough to name her first child after her. And, honestly, I thought of a bit of extra money in my pocket. Yeah, you know I said yes. I'm not regretting it too much yet. It's good karma, right? That's what I'm telling myself, anyway.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

there'll be a change in me

It's no secret that I am pretty into knitting. Okay, yes, that I have been obsessed with knitting for more than two years, and pretty much spend every spare moment (and some that I can't spare) with a pair of knitting needles in my hands. Knitting has tapped a wellspring of creativity in me that I didn't even know I had, and I find it deeply satisfying. But lately, I am, well, not as satisfied. I still love to knit, you understand, but I am restless. I cast about for something more. When I received a couple of comments last week on some of my blog posts from a blogger whom I greatly admire, I felt embarrassed that more than a month had passed since the last time I posted. I realized I missed posting on my blog. Well, that is easily remedied, and here I am.

Still, something is missing, and I think I know what it is - my lifelong passion for reading. Up until I started knitting, I believe I would have defined myself first and foremost as a reader. From the time I learned to read - more than fifty years ago - I could generally be found with a book in my hand. We didn't own a lot of books when I was a kid, but I loved the public library, and it is one of the first places, other than school, that I remember walking to without my parents. My friend, Judy, and I used to read books together on our front porch swing. I am a quick reader, and used to wait impatiently for her to finish each page, especially when we were reading The Pink Dress or the racy Forever Amber.

After we were married, it took Ben some time to adjust to the fact that his new wife spent most of her spare time with her nose buried in a book. When we moved, our new apartment was next door to the public library. Talk about a great location! I read throughout both of my pregnancies, and, looking back, I believe reading helped me to maintain my equanimity during those early childraising years. Something even more important was happening then, as well. My kids were learning by my example about the pleasures of reading a book. When they needed Mom, I was almost certainly sitting in the flowered chair by the bookcase, with a book in my hands. Need I say they are both avid readers?

I worked at the library for eleven years, and belonged to two book discussion groups. When we moved again, I joined an online community of readers and book collectors, and began seriously collecting books. I read all the time. Then I started knitting, and all I wanted to do was knit. I bemoaned the fact that I couldn't knit and read at the same time, so Ben bought me an iPod player so that I could listen to books that way. He even put some short stories and books on my iPod. But, you know, it wasn't the same as reading, and I never really took to it. I like to hold a book in my hands. I like to turn the pages. I like to linger over passages and re-read them - or skip them altogether.

So the past couple of years have gone by without me even picking up a book - something I could never have anticipated. I still read the book reviews in the Plain Dealer every week, and frequently thought, now that sounds like a book I would have read. A couple of times, I even got the small wire-bound notebook out of my purse and wrote down a promising title and author. But that was where it ended.

Yesterday, however, I went to the library. I headed for the new book section, right in the center of the first floor, and - it wasn't there. The shelves weren't even there. It was a big empty space. I couldn't believe it. It was like one of those dreams where you think you know where you are, but things keep shifting and changing, and suddenly you're not sure. I looked to the familiar stacks on my left, then looked back to see if everything had returned to normal, but it hadn't. I couldn't find the new books. I was reduced to asking the reference librarian where they had gone. When she told me, I asked her when they had been moved there. "Like a year ago" was her reply. After that much time, I guessed it was pointless for me to tell her that I don't like change in general, and didn't like that change in particular.

After a great deal more browsing than I thought I would need, I did manage to find two books that I had read reviews of - one of which I even located through my little notebook. They are small books, and I should be able to read them pretty quickly. I feel the need to start small, and work my way back to the contemporary literature that had become my favorite reading material. I have decided to bring you along on this journey, and will be posting my book reviews here on my blog, at first. If this reading thing catches on, I may create a new blog just for reviews. Who knows? I'll keep you "posted".

Monday, July 12, 2010

Detroit Disassembled

Julie and I were casting about for an outing one day last month when she was in town. We are always talking about re-visiting the Akron Art Museum, so I checked their current exhibitions. You probably can't imagine my excitement when I found that the Detroit photographs of Andrew Moore are there right now in a fantastic exhibition entitled "Detroit Disassembled".

I was already aware of these photos, actually, because Ben had shown them to me some months earlier when he found them online. We marveled over the images of massive structures abandoned to the elements. I knew Julie would love the photographs, and I couldn't wait to see them displayed on such a grand scale, so off we went to the museum.

I was blown away by what I saw. The photographs in the exhibition are so beautiful and evocative that, well, really, words fail me. I offer you instead the catalog's description:

"Moore’s images, printed on the scale of epic history paintings, belong to an artistic tradition that began in the 17th century. Numerous artists have used ruins to remind their viewers of the fall of past great civilizations and to warn that contemporary empires risk the same fate. Moore’s soaring scenes of rusting factory halls and crumbling theaters share the monumentality of Giovanni Battista Piranesi’s 18th century engravings of the fallen civic monuments of ancient Rome and Greece. His photographs of skeletal houses and collapsed churches carry forward the Romantic tone and rich hues of Caspar David Friedrich’s 19th century paintings of fallen medieval cathedrals and castles."

If you live anywhere in Northeast Ohio, I encourage you to see this exhibition while it is here. See it to contemplate what has become of a once-great city in our contemporary throw-away society. See it as social commentary. See it as a warning. Or just see it for the haunting beauty and grandeur of an abandoned train station, or the hollow emptiness of a once-bustling automotive complex. Just go and see it. You'll thank me.

Here is a link to the museum website: http://www.akronartmuseum.org/

And you can read here about Detroit Disassembled specifically: http://akronartmuseum.org/exhibitions/details.php?unid=1499

Or view additional photos from Andrew Moore's Detroit series:

Sunday, July 11, 2010

the light at the end of the tunnel

Summer is not the best time to work at a yarn shop. This is not a surprise, you say? I didn't mean it to be - just a simple statement of fact. When I first started working in a yarn shop, it was in the summer - two years ago, actually. Then, I was thrilled it was the off-season, as I knew I had, well, everything, really, to learn.

Last year was a particularly bad summer at the yarn shop for me. My former co-workers and I were gradually realizing that the shop we loved was slowly being allowed to die. Killed off is too strong a term, perhaps, but that is more what it felt like. When the yarn reps called to make appointments to show the new fall yarns, they were put off and postponed and lied to, really, until they got the message, and began spreading the word that Miss Chickpea's was not long for this world. How embarrassing and sad that was.

So this summer is pretty awesome in comparison to that. It's a slow time of year, sure, but things are happening here at My Sister's Yarn Shop, let me assure you. Last month, Judi, our shop owner, took all of us to Columbus to attend TNNA (The National NeedleArts Association) Yarn Market, which is a big deal in the knitting world, in case you didn't know. We saw the booths of dozens and dozens of vendors, all displaying their newest yarns and needles and patterns and buttons for fall, which, as you can imagine, is a big season for yarn and knitting. We had a fantastic time, and were overwhelmed and excited by all that we saw there.

What's happening at the shop now, though, is the truly exciting part. The yarn reps have come and gone, we have ordered our yarn, and any day now, the new fall yarn will start arriving. It is time to make room for all that yarn, and I, for one, can't wait. Can't wait for the UPS man to start bringing us boxes and boxes full of yarn. Can't wait to start putting the skeins of beautiful wool and merino and alpaca yarn on the shelves.

And here's one thing I know for sure: when the new fall yarns start arriving, the customers won't be far behind. Can't wait to see them!