Monday, April 30, 2012

Book Nook - Love, Loss and What I Wore

Love, Loss, and What I Wore, by Ilene Beckerman:

 Ilene Beckerman has written an autobiography of a very unusual kind: it's not just about her life, but really about what her life was like when she was wearing a certain dress, or shoes, or hairstyle.  Each spread has a little story about her life, along with a drawing by the author of the clothing item that pertains to the story.

In chronological order, she shows us pictures of herself as a child, and talks about things like her Brownie uniform, or the pinafore dress her mother made for her (her mother was quite a seamstress, making dresses, hats and ballgowns for her two daughters).  Then, through adolescence & early adulthood (she shows us one slinky dress that she almost got in trouble in), the dress she wore at a New Year's Eve party during her first marriage, when she found her husband kissing the hostess at midnight.  And then dresses and outfits during her second marriage, the dress she wore during several of her pregnancies, to the black suede high-heel boots she bought herself for her 50th birthday.

It's such a neat little book because I think many women can relate to this association between life and what you were wearing when certain events were happening.  Sometimes, when you find a piece of clothing in your closet, it can bring back a sudden rush of memories.  Or, alternatively, you cannot think back on an event without thinking about what you wore.  So, in the spirit of this neat little book, I thought I'd bring you my own version of Love, Loss, and What I Wore.  (Please excuse the picture-of-a-picture quality....I'm low-tech.)

First, we have kindergarten graduation, 1980:

I remember this little outfit....not wearing it, but I remember it hanging up in my closet.  The buttons were ice cream cones, maybe that's why I liked the outfit so much (I've always been a sweet-tooth).  I've cropped out my long-ago friends because I don't know if they'd appreciate being on my blog unannounced!

Turnabout dance, sophomore year of high school (I think) - 1990:

I really loved this dress because of the deep teal color and open back.  I had shoes dyed to match.  This was my first dance I attended in high school, and was such a big deal.  I went with a boy named Jason, and we double dated with my best friend and her boyfriend (who happened to be Jason's best friend).  Here, I'm standing in front of our old house on Bosco Avenue, where my family and I lived from the time when I was 2 or 3 until I left home for good after college graduation.  The setting of many of my dreams takes place in this house, for some reason.

Wedding day, 1998:

Oh, it took me forever to choose a wedding dress!  The problem was, I really loved every one I tried on.  I picked this very traditional style because 1) peer pressure - I knew my husband-to-be and my mother preferred this style, 2) I thought my skinny arms looked best in it and 3) I found this dress at a local bridal store on their last day of business, so needless to say, I got a great deal.  I liked it, but if DH and I were getting married again today, I would choose something totally different (as well as a different wedding location - France probably).  I will add that those flowers weighed a ton - I would definitely get a smaller bouquet if I were to do it all again.  I'd choose the same guy, though!

You can't help but think about some of the pivotal outfits of your life when you read this book.  This teeny-tiny tome might only take you 15-20 minutes to read, but it will have you reflecting (and rummaging through your closet) for a long time afterwards.


Sunday, April 29, 2012

New Cascade yarn

The other day, I had new yarn waiting for me on my doorstep, so I thought I'd share some pics of the yarn goodness, and tell you about the projects I have coming up.

First up....sock yarn!  I've never knit socks before & it's about time I give them a try.  I realized recently that I've never knit anything for my poor DH.  The Bachsters all have knitted goodies, I have a few, but not him.  So, he will be getting a pair of wool socks, hopefully not too wonky, knit in Cascade Heritage Sock yarn, the color is called mossy rock:

When Cascade 220 went on a good sale recently at WEBS, I had to get a couple more skeins to go with a leftover in my stash.  With them, I intend to try Brambles, a slouchy hat with cables (another first for me...cables).  And of course, find a nice matching scarf pattern, or make one up.  My 3 skeins of 220 (color: jet) should be plenty for all that.

Another first for 2012: a sweater, for me!  I've only knit a couple of garments, both vests for Little Dude.  I'm going to knit myself the ever-popular Shalom cardigan (sorry - you've got to be a ravelry member to get that link) - I'll do mine with sleeves since I'm always freezing in Winter.  I really went back and forth on the color, but finally decided on two skeins of Cascade Eco + (also on a great sale at WEBS) - the color is called Summer Sky Heather.  At first it was a little more blue-green than I was expecting, but it's growing on me.

I have a sad story to share about that skein of Eco +.  I have learned the hard way that puppies and balls of yarn do not go well together.  The other morning, Ranger woke everyone up early - he must have been ready to play.  A few minutes after Little Dude went downstairs, he came back up & said, "Mommy, Ranger's getting into your yarn."  When I came downstairs, the skein that I had wound into a neat ball the day before was spread out all over the floor, in a great heap of knots.  All 478 yards of it!  Lesson learned: just because the dog ignores your yarn sitting on the ottoman during the day, doesn't mean he can resist the temptation in the wee hours of the morning, when everyone is asleep.

Needless to say, all my new yarn is now under lock and key!


Friday, April 27, 2012

Earth Day, our way

Birthdays around the Bach house never last only one day, so it is fitting that Earth Day is the same way around here.  I had envisioned getting out in the community for Earth Day, but on the weekend that all the activities were taking place, it was cold & rainy in Central Ohio.  So, we've been doing some other earthy-things to celebrate Earth Day, all in a laid back, Bach-style.

The other day, I noticed that there was a goose family in the neighborhood next to ours with little goslings, and was excited to take the Bachsters there so we could see their fuzzy cuteness.  How is goose-watching related to Earth Day, you might ask.  I think that nature-related activities can only help get your kids excited about the environment and want to help protect it.  So, off to watch the geese we went!

I always try to get the Bachsters some non-fiction books from the library, and was especially happy to find this book about what happens to our trash....and was even happier when I found DD reading it, and then asking if she can re-use by making some crafty things out of items in our recycling.  Yes!

Speaking of recycling, we always have a pile of it to go into our local recycling bins.  I don't mind doing the tiny bit of extra work to gather the recycling and drop it off.  It's so easy to do & I always feel so happy & "earth-loving" after we drop off recycling.

I hope you had a great Earth Day last weekend.  Have you been doing any Earth-friendly activities to celebrate?


Monday, April 23, 2012

Book Nook - The Wisdom of the Radish

The Wisdom of the Radish (and other lessons learned on a small farm), written by Lynda Hopkins:

I just finished reading this book earlier today & I really enjoyed it.  It's the story of a young couple, both in their mid-twenties, trying their hand at farming a couple of acres and making a living out of it.  Along the way there is a lot of learning (like, the proper way to secure a chicken coop and how much water is too much for seedlings), some setbacks and many rewards for all their hard labor.

This is actually the perfect book to talk about around Earth Day, because the author brings up a lot of interesting environmental-related issues.  Like pesticides - all about which pesticides are used on conventional crops, which are used on organic (Hopkins and her boyfriend, Emmett, grow organic, but aren't certified) and how it's all nasty stuff anyway.  After reading it, you'll appreciate lettuce with holes and corn with worms  (in fact, they dubbed their corn "worm friendly").  Other environmental issues that she touches upon are mono-crops, poor conditions for animals on industrial farms, the struggle for small farms to compete with larger supermarkets, and transportation of food from faraway places.  Probably one of the most profound issues was the disappearance of honeybees, which Hopkins noticed on a few separate occasions.  They had a huge field full of squash blossoms, but no bees around to pollinate them (according to the book, "the work performed by insect pollination is truly unparalleled, and estimated to be worth $57 billion per year in the United States").  So, they had to resort to hand pollination until the bees, thankfully, showed up.

I really liked the inside-view of life at the weekend farmer's market, and it really made me appreciate these hard working people.  Hopkins and Emmett would get up at the crack of dawn, harvest what they intended to take to market, set up the tables and baskets, stay at the market until close and then go home to tend to their fields.  Being a small farmer is definitely not a life of leisure.  The care that goes into the food that can be purchased at a farmer's market just cannot be found anywhere else (unless, you grow it yourself at home), not to mention the direct communication between consumer and farmer.   Hopkins ponders their asking price for radishes - and concludes that they are actually priceless.

After being vegetable farmers for some time, the author and her boyfriend expand their farm to include chickens, sheep and goats.  I really enjoyed some of the funny stories that the author shares about all the animals.  I was both cracking up and disgusted by the story of their killing one of their roosters for meat (they had both been vegans until they got the chickens for egg-laying).  As novice farmers, and vegans, they had no idea what they were doing ("picture two idiots with a blunt knife") and turned to the internet for guidance.  I loved how the point was made that they wasted no part of the rooster, and made sure his days were happy before his death.  Life and death on a farm (or homestead) are a fact of life, but good animal husbandry is the difference between them and a factory farm.

I was intending to visit some local farmer's markets last year, but never did (but we did visit a local farm for fresh corn, veggies & u-pick strawberries).  This year, especially after reading this book, I will make sure to hit the farmer's market, not just once, but maybe I'll just do all my summer shopping there.  Buying local, from the people who grew it and picked it that morning, is the best way to eat, for our health and for the environment.  As one of Hopkins' farmer's market customers tells her on a stormy morning, "if you you guys have to be here, we have to be here too."  If we all support our local farmers, they'll be here to stay.


Sunday, April 22, 2012

The assertive environmentalist

In celebration of Earth Day (which is today!) I'm planning on doing a few posts this week that touch on some Earth-friendly ideas.  I couldn't help but think about the post I did last year, called the sneaky environmentalist, and do something along the same lines, but a little more assertive.  Here are a few ideas I came up with:

1.  Find a positive role model (no one that you'd see on a tabloid cover, please).  Read a book by or about that person.  I've always admired Al Gore's crusade on climate change.  He's written a few books on the topic, and perhaps I might just check one out of the library.  This book also looked very inspiring - Heroes of the Environment - True Stories of People Who Are Helping to Protect Our Planet:

It really doesn't even need to be an environmentally-themed book.  I think reading a book about someone who you admire can only help inspire you to do something to make the world a better place.  That sounds like a very good thing indeed!
Be assertive......recommend your chosen book to a friend.

2.  Know your food (and its packaging).  Did you know that soft drinks and foods sweetened with aspartame create a byproduct of formaldehyde in the body, and could be responsible for a whole host of health problems?  We certainly can't help the environment be healthy if we aren't healthy.  And, the aluminum can that the soft drink comes in - it will take over 500 years to decompose in a landfill (here is a great website on recycling facts).  Ditch processed foods & you will be healthier and happier.........and so will our planet.
Be assertive.......eliminate processed foods (and fast food) from your diet and the diet of your family

3.  Recycle!  It's probably not realistic to think you can stop buying all processed foods.  So what you do buy, make sure to recycle the packaging.  Your can of diet soda becomes everyone's problem if it ends up in a landfill.  Many communities have curbside recycling and/or recycling drop off centers - take advantage of them.  

As for plastic bags, don't accept them when you buy something at the grocery store, or any other retailer.  Use re-usable bags.  Even though the plastic bags they give you are recyclable, many of the Earth's resources are used to make the bags.  Eliminate the need for them at all by reusing.  Here are a few interesting facts about plastic bags (& paper bags), courtesy of 1 Bag at a Time:

- 14 plastic bags contain enough petroleum to drive a car a mile
- 380 billion plastic bags or wraps are thrown away in America each year
- Making a paper bag emits 70% more global warming gases than making a plastic bag
- 0 paper bags biodegrade in landfills due to lack of oxygen
- Cities spend up to 17 cents per bag in disposal costs, wasting millions of tax dollars

Be assertive......recycling & reusing are so easy - just do it!

4.  Make your food homemade & grow a garden.  I didn't realize these were on last year's list as well.  To avoid being redundant, I'll share a few homemade-food-and-gardening pics.  Enjoy!
Making homemade blueberry muffins this morning:

These chives grow all on their own, I do nothing.  They grow among a bunch of weeds, in a patch that gets mowed.  Seriously ambitious little chives:

Be assertive.....ditto what I said last year, better for your health, better for the environment.  Make your neighbor some homemade goodies or share something from your garden to spread the goodness

5.  To get to the future, we have to go back to the past.  New technologies have made our lives fast paced and a great deal of what we encounter disposable.  Maybe we need to live a little more like our predecessors and slow down a bit.  Slow Food USA is an organization that encourages us to slow down and bring food production back to grassroots, local levels.  Homesteading is another way to accomplish the same goal - there's definitely no transportation costs if you can get the eggs from your own backyard hens.  In the past, if we needed something, industrious men and women would just make it themselves.  Think clothes.  Now, the first thought most people have is to head to a mall or big-box store to buy their clothes.  Why not try making something you need, or buy it secondhand?  You'll be saving the earth a lot of resources.  And of course, there's always clotheslines......we've never had one before, but DH is putting one up for me this Spring.

The Bach girls insisted I take a shot with undies.....they thought that was absolutely hysterical:

Be assertive....WWGD?  (What Would Granny Do?)

6.  Get your kids involved.  Let's talk about Christmas for a moment.  It pretty much takes over the nation during the month of December, no matter your religious preference.  If we focused just a tiny bit of that energy towards Earth Day in April, more and more families might get involved.  And more kids would see that it's important.  I think things are shifting this way a bit, but there's still a long way to go.  And of course, make every day Earth Day!
Be assertive..... show your kids that being environmentally friendly is cool, by your actions and by your attitude.  Get involved in an Earth Day activity in your town.

7.  Turn off the TV - have game night instead.  Sure, turning off the TV saves electricity.  But even more, it will stop the constant barrage of advertisements reaching your child's impressionable eyes.  The more ads kids see, the more they want, and before you know it, you've got little commercialism-zombies living in your house.  Play a board game with your kids instead, and they'll enjoy your company & some family time, while learning some new skills, like squashing the competition with hotels:

Be Park Place and Boardwalk if you land on them - trust me, it will pay off!

Happy Earth Day!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

The farm

Last week, the Bach family visited Slate Run Historical Farm, here in Central Ohio.  It was a gorgeous Spring day, and we all wanted to get outside - and see the baby animals at the farm!

We were lucky, they were having sheep shearing that day.  Done 1880s style, with hand-cranked shears, it was really interesting to see.  The farmer really flopped the sheep all around, and she didn't mind......until he accidentally nicked her ear.  Ouch!  But the Bachsters really enjoyed watching the shearing, and they all got to take home a little ball of the sheep's wool.  Ranger went crazy when he smelled it!

As we were watching the sheep shearing, another farmer brought over a piglet for the crowd to see and pet.  He explained that this little guy is the runt.  I think DD's face in this picture is so funny - what is she thinking, I wonder? {I asked her about it, and she said she was squinting because the sun was so bright.}

Moving on to other baby animals, we all got to pet a 2-week-old lamb, held by one of the farm volunteers.  He was so sweet, and bleated when he heard his mama calling.

The farm has games from the 1880s by the farmhouse, and the Bachsters always love trying the stilts.  DD is getting pretty good!

We'll have to go back soon - maybe we'll see goslings or ducklings next time.  There's always something new to see at the farm!


Thursday, April 19, 2012

A magical place

Happiness is a butterfly, which when pursued, is always just beyond your grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you. 
 ~Nathaniel Hawthorne

There is a magical corner in our backyard, a place where friendly painted lady butterflies flutter.  And if you approach slowly, and stand patiently, they will befriend you.  You can hear her wings beating as she flutters right past your ear; you can see her swirling and dancing in the air with her mate; you can feel her lightness as she rests on your hand, and then a gentle quiver as she prepares for flight.

Whether it's warm, sunny, cool or breezy, the painted ladies are there, and will approach, hesitantly at first, but with regularity and total trust after a while.

It almost feels as if a bond has been formed, one of trust and wonder.  A friendship, and understanding, between us and the most delicate of creatures.  Every time we visit, it's magical.


Monday, April 16, 2012

Book Nook - Extra Yarn

Extra Yarn, written by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen:

Good news, good news: our computer is back up!  I hope to put up lots of posts of all the fun stuff we've been doing over the last few weeks - we've been very busy.  It's good to be connected again - I was starting to go crazy!

When I was at our local library the other day, I happened to come across this book in the children's "new" section.  A book called Extra Yarn?  Yes, please!

It's a sweet story about a little girl named Annabelle who finds a "box filled with yarn of every color."  Being a true knitter at heart, she knits sweaters for everyone she knows (including jealous Nate and his dog, her parents, her doctor, and her entire class.  And a bear).  Magically, she always has extra yarn, so she does what any knitter would logically do: turn to "yarn bombing."  She knits sweaters for all the buildings in town.  Pretty soon, the little drab town begins to brighten up with all the yarn loveliness.  What will Annabelle do when an archduke sails to her little town to offer her lots and lots of money for her box of yarn?  We find out what makes Annabelle truly happy in the story's happy conclusion.

Sometimes, I like to look at a picture book and think about how it would be if a different illustrator did the pictures.  In the case of Extra Yarn, I simply cannot picture the book any other way than what it is.  I think that's a sign of a good pairing up between author and illustrator.  Jon Klassen's illustrations are just perfect throughout, and I love that the yarn provides the only color in the story (well, there's some subtlety in the black and grays and browns, but you know what I mean).  I'd be very interested to see their separate books - I think it would help me appreciate this collaboration even more.

After I read this book to the Bachsters, our 8-year-old took it back to her room so that she could read it again by herself.  You don't have to be a knitter to appreciate this book.  But if you are, it will motivate you to pick up your needles and knit something - just because it makes you happy.


Monday, April 9, 2012

Book Nook - The Road

The Road, written by Cormac McCarthy.

I was downright scared to read this book.

I knew about the storyline. I knew it would be intense. I knew about "the baby." But I was willing to take on the emotional challenge, hoping for an experience that would provide me, the reader, with a story to contemplate and perhaps even a story that might change my personal outlook on life. It's a lot to ask for in a novel, I know.

The story is set in a post-apocalyptic United States. A man and his young son struggle for survival amidst the destruction (it's never made clear exactly what happened - nuclear war, most likely). The land and sky are all grey and covered with ash. Trees are all dead and there are no animals (the man ponders that cows must now be extinct). The one and only goal of our characters is survival, and in this world it's a struggle. The man is leading the pair to the coast, although they have no way of knowing if things will get better once (or if) they get to their destination.

We never learn the name of the man, or his son, or their ages. Only a few descriptions are given about their physical appearance. I think the author did this to perhaps generalize them, and maybe even use them as symbolic figures. This comes in to play especially at the end (I won't give any spoilers, I promise).

The man and the boy are the "good guys" in this barren world. But there are a couple of situations in which the actions of the father make you question what exactly is a good guy in this post-apocalyptic world? Is it ensuring the survival of yourself and your son, or is it helping people in need when the situation presents itself? The man always chooses the former, while the son gravitates towards the latter. One thing that must be considered when thinking about such a topic is the extreme measures of the "bad guys." The man is being pretty wise by running away from the few encounters they have with the bad it heroic to run and survive, while leaving others in peril? Or is it cowardly? A plot-driven novel would have some very different outcomes than this one, but McCarthy holds fast to his character's one objective: to survive. Interestingly, the boy (a symbol of a new generation) makes different choices to get to the same objective, as seen at the end of the story. I liked the generational symbolism here (although I do feel the ending was a bit "convenient").

McCarthy's writing is poetic at times, minimal at others. The dialog between the father and son was a bit repetitive ("are you ok?" "Yeah, I'm ok). The father always asks the boy if he's talking to him, but there is never a situation in the story in which the boy is purposely silent. Also, I had trouble pinpointing the boy's age - sometimes he acted or spoke as if he were maybe age 8, but later in the story it's mentioned that he's at the age where he would normally be separating himself from his father - maybe 12 or 13? Considering the childhood (or lack thereof) that he's had, I can hardly blame the boy for being rather quiet - or for making some stupid mistakes such as forgetting to turn the valve off on the portable stove (thus rendering it useless). I'd be an absolute wreck in his world.

Or would I? The Road takes a hard look at two normal people, fighting for survival in a harsh world, relying on one another for everything. The man and the boy are symbols for what anyone would do in their situation: fight for survival. Let's just hope we don't find ourselves in their same tattered shoes.


(Edited to add link)

Monday, April 2, 2012

Book Nook - Castle in the Air

Computer related tragedy has struck the Bach household....a couple of weeks ago my drive with all my pics crashed, and then last week the rest of the computer followed suit. So, I find myself texting this week's Book Nook to you. Needless to say, I'm afraid I won't be my normal chatty self - I'm just not that patient with typing with one finger! Also, I should mention that I am not currently driving or operating any heavy machinery whilst texting you book details!

About which: Castle in the Air, written by Diana Wynne Jones is described as a companion book to Howl's Moving Castle:

This story features a young hero named Abdullah,a rug merchant with vivid daydreams that he is actually a lost prince. A mysterious stranger sells him a magic carpet, which flies him to the palace of the princess of his dreams, named Flower in the Night. But an evil djinn snatches Flower, leading Abdullah on a great adventure to faraway places in order to find her.

If you enjoyed Howl's Moving Castle, you'll like this story too. Jones uses a lot of the same style of humor and it's fast paced too. A few original characters make surprise appearances in clever, unexpected ways.

The book on CD, like Howl's, is read by Jenny Sterlin. If you listen to audio books, you're in for a treat.

OK, so how's that for brevity?


By the way, I hope to be back up & blogging again soon. I'll keep you posted.

(Edited to add link)