Thursday, November 29, 2012

Happy Birthday... the one who shared a room with me when we were young (and whose half of the closet was always much cleaner than mine). the one who taught me to sew, knit, crochet, and quilt (and whose stitches are always impeccably fine, inspiring me to take greater care with my own work). the one who learned to bead with me (and whose adventurous sense of colour and form I can never attain to). the one who cares passionately about how food is grown (and whose diet is so much healthier than mine). the one who works with me, and likes me anyway. the one who sat down and cried for joy at the news of my birth (and has never stopped loving me since).

Happy Birthday to my dearest and only Sister.

I'll always look up to you! :)

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Monday, November 26, 2012

We Now Return to our Scheduled Programming...

...or in other words, pleasant photos accompanied by what I fondly hope are equally pleasant words. :)

Yesterday being Sunday, and too cold for comfortable cycling, Mr. M and I set out to explore another segment of the Ice Age Trail on foot. The bit we particularly wanted to walk is closed due to the hunting season, so we sought out a stretch we knew would be open (and safe). It runs along a canal, on the outskirts of a nearby town, and is therefore too close to civilization for any hunting activity.

I sometimes wonder, upon setting out for a walk or a ride, if I'll find anything worth photographing this time. Though the beauty of the countryside never palls for me - I could stare at trees and grasses and sky for hours on end, and still find them endlessly fascinating - I do wonder if my photos ever take on a boring sameness for those who view them. (But I suppose, if you're taking the trouble to read this far, you probably like trees and sky and water as much as I do. So I'll stop asking myself silly questions and get on with the post.)

I hadn't realised quite how cold it is (mid-30s, with wind chills in the 20s). Good thing I'm wearing plenty of layers on this walk. A cold west wind blows without ceasing, and the water is covered by a thin film of ice. Near the start of the trail, a charming bridge spans the canal:

(A little-used road on the far side of the bridge leads to a historic site now closed for the winter.)

No one else is out walking today - the trail is ours alone.

Wild grasses fly like pennants in the stiff breeze:

Which way did the wind go?

That way

Nearby civilization notwithstanding, all it takes are some trees and a trail, and we feel a million miles away from everything. I love that.

Far down the trail, another, older bridge spans the canal:

Mr. M has turned back by this time, and will wait for me in the car. But he doesn't mind if I go a bit further, to where canal and river meet and head out to the open countryside.

Lacy red-twig dogwood, decorated here and there with a wandering leaf, lit up by the westering sun:

This reflection fascinates me:

The reflected tree looks covered with golden leaves, yet the real tree's branches are completely bare. (Dang, why didn't I think to take its photo?) Must be a trick of the ice - either that, or there's a reflected world under the water where spring still holds sway. Should I dive in to find out? I'm sorry to say that my adventuring spirit has shrunk with the cold and I much prefer to head back to the car, where warmth and Mr. M are waiting.

Next I spy some baby leaves sprouting from a fallen branch. Rosy and beautiful, they make a spark of colour in this landscape of brown and buff:

A handsome stand of pine:

And one last shot of the shivery river (technically a canal, but "shivery river" sounds so much nicer):

I'm getting cold just looking at this. What a treat to climb into the warm car, and head back to a warm house. A very good walk - not marked by spectacular beauty, but filled with a quiet loveliness.


December is just around the corner, and I do hope that soon I'll have some snowy pictures to post. Monday night we're forecast to have a low of 13º - brrr! Good thing we've got the flannel sheets on the bed. (Yep, it's almost winter.)

Thanks for dropping by!  :)

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Saturday, November 24, 2012

In Defense of Niceness

Annie over at Knitsofacto has generated a mini-storm of comments with her latest post, in one paragraph of which she quotes a professional blogger who describes what most of us do as "mere vanity blogging".

(Are your hackles rising? Hop over to Annie's blog to read the excellent post, its many responses, and, if you like, to join the discussion politely raging there.)

So what are we doing here in Blogtopia, we amateur bloggers and crafters and cyclists and cooks, we dilettante poets and photographers? Vainly strutting our stuff? Participating in a massive worldwide session of self-indulgent puff? Perhaps - but I much prefer Annie's kinder and wonderfully descriptive term: "artful blogging". (Some of her commenters went on to call it "friendship blogging" - equally appropriate, equally delightful.)

Blogging is an outlet for expression and creativity, for things we can't always say or do in our workaday "real" life. But connection, even more than creativity, seems to be what drives us most. We blog because we want to connect. We blog because we want to share some of the good and beautiful things that come our way. We blog because we're happy - and sometimes because we're sad, or in pain. We blog to find friends, and to be friends.

One of the ways we demonstrate friendship is by visiting the blogs of others and leaving comments - which leads me to one of the comments on Annie's post, in which an anonymous writer states, "The blogging world is artificially nice"*.

Yes, the blogging world can be artificially nice - in the same way that many real-world human interactions are. Let's face it - niceness, whether artificial or genuine, is the grease to the wheels of society. It makes things smoother, quieter, and more pleasant to be around. I don't say this to condone lying, online or off, but rather to show that the blogging world is EXACTLY like the "real" world - full of polite falsehoods (with some sincere compliments), and shallow enthusiasms (but also some that are deeply genuine).

In the blogging world, we have the inestimable advantage of being able to audit what we say - to smooth over the rough edges of our speech - to think not only before we speak, but during, and after. We can polish and tweak our comments, our blog posts - no one will see them until we hit the "publish" button. (Would that we could do that in our real-life conversations!)

Is this artificiality, or a form of self-control? Maybe a little of both - but surely self-control is no bad thing. I particularly appreciate this aspect of blogging because - dirty laundry moment! - in "real" life I have a dreadfully sharp and sarcastic sense of humour. It's so easy to let fly with a remark that I think is funny, only to find that I've unintentionally wounded someone. For this reason, I love being able to temper my virtual conversations, and mull over what I say before I really say it. Call it artificiality if you like - I think of it more as aspiring to be the person I ought to be.

The view from my driveway isn't always this good -
but I'd rather have you see it when it's beautiful
than when it's not.

As for the gooey form of "niceness" which consists of gushing insincerity, let us away with it! I do think comments ought to be generally positive - after all, if you don't like what someone makes (or writes or photographs), it really doesn't help to say so, unless they've asked for your considered opinion. But can't we be both honest AND kind? We can always find something to compliment -  a colour, a phrase, a button, a detail. Or we can simply not comment at all. (As our mothers used to tell us: if you can't find anything nice to say, then don't say anything. Not a bad rule, as it goes.**)

What do you think? Are we kidding ourselves and others with our bloggy niceness? (And would we be able to admit it if we were?)

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*Please don't think I am holding Anonymous up to ridicule here. Rather his/her words sparked a train of thought which I am indulging in this post. Here are Anonymous's words in context: "The blogging world is artificially nice where in reality the online world is vicious the people are still the same though. They are in some cases just projecting differently as they may have an online personna themselves." Very true.

** If we simply can't stomach what someone has said, and feel that we must speak out, of course we should do so - but we stand a much better chance of making our point if we speak politely. Which of course you know already. :)

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Friday, November 23, 2012

Seen from a Windy Hilltop on Thanksgiving Night

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Bright flaunting moon,
half-dressed and
shameless, whirling
her ragged skirt of cloud
in a wintry pagan dance

Blind to her charms, Orion
reclines in the eastern
sky, shooting arrows
at the night

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Monday, November 19, 2012

A Strangely Quiet Ride

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Double beauty of mirrored trees
River stained with rosy sunset
Cow against an evening sky

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Sunshine and 50º. I'm setting out rather late this afternoon, but hey, it's Sunday - not a day for rushing. (Crocheting and reading and relaxing are important too.) Today I have a hankering to see a river, and ride beside some open water, so I'm heading for the nearest spot I know of that will satisfy this urge.

A strange hush has fallen over the countryside. No song of bird, no rustle of small creatures in the undergrowth - just the chilly west wind whistling past my helmet. A few miles into the ride, I see two figures in blaze orange crossing a field, and then I remember - it's gun season for deer, which explains the pervading silence. The wild animals know when hunting season starts, and they lie low until the shooting stops.

The first shot I hear today, however, is made by my own camera:

Several miles later, a new (old) barn gets added to my list of favourites:

I've passed this barn before, but I don't remember it being so attractive - perhaps it was hidden by foliage the last time around.

Turning onto an unfamiliar road, I see a tiny graveyard behind a vine-wrapped fence. Iris is parked against the gate, and I walk in to explore.

The first thing I notice is a very large marker almost obscured by brush:

Though the marker is comparatively new, one of the people memorialised on it died in 1803. Who put up this large stone, and when? Why is the grave so unkempt? In spring and summer, when the bushes are leafy, it must be nearly invisible.

I'm rather fond of country graveyards - probably because we didn't have any in Southern California. Cemeteries there are all dreadfully tidy and manicured and unreal, carefully walled off from the rest of life. Out here in the rural areas, there's something homely and almost friendly about a little neighbourhood cemetery with its scattering of mismatched stones.

I like the detail on this one:

Some of the markers are so old as to be unreadable, with carvings worn almost smooth. I wonder if anyone still remembers who lies here, or if the occupants' names have been completely forgotten.

A rather melancholy train of thought - but appropriate to the time and place. Graveyards and autumn seem to go together - and the quiet here is somehow akin to the silence that lies over all the land today.

The sun is dropping rapidly into the west, and I'm still miles away from the water. Glorious swirls of cloud ahead make me wonder if we'll have a spectacular sunset. (I hope so.)

Finally, several miles later, I reach the river. It's placid today, flowing silently down between banks of buff-coloured grass.

Iris gets parked precariously, with her rear wheel hanging out over the water, just long enough for a photo - then I haul her to safety on the flat bank while I take the rest of my shots.

Trees lean over the river and admire their wavery reflections:

The sinking sun is beginning to stain the water with rosy pink:

Across the road, in a deer stand, a hunter sits patiently still. (He's the tiny dot of orange in the center of the photo.) It's damp here along the river, and I'm chilly in my tights and jacket, despite having spent the last hour cycling. How does he stay warm?

To my right, the moon is rising over lovely bare branches:

A few evenings ago, she was so frail as to be nearly invisible. Now she's gaining strength with her size and getting a little bolder and brighter each night.

More bare branches, with contrails between:

Dear me - it's later than I realized. Time to hop on the bike and make tracks for home. No more photo stops - whatever I shoot now will have to be taken on the fly.

Lovely bones of trees with evening sky behind:

And one last shot of a cow heading out to pasture, against the soft grey remains of what turned out to be a very quiet sunset after all:

Dark is falling rather more rapidly than I thought it would - I haven't left myself enough time to get home safely. I keep riding as long as I can, but about five miles from home I'm forced to call Mr. M and ask him to pick me up. How nice to have a personal sag wagon!

The deer are on the move again now that night has fallen. We drive home slowly, towards warmth and lamplight and drawn curtains and dinner. A good ride and a good evening.

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Saturday, November 17, 2012

A Little Bit of Heaven

(Yarn heaven, that is.)

Christmas is coming - what better excuse to buy yarn? Having several gifts in mind that simply cannot be completed with the current contents of my stash (ahem), I dutifully betook myself to Madison yesterday for replenishment of same.

About an hour's drive away, the Wisconsin Craft Market has a wonderful selection of yarn (as well as artists' paints, pens, paper, stamps, needlework supplies, and other crafty goodies).

A glorious wall of Cascade 220 -
I'd like one of each, please.

Oh, the socks you could knit!

I saw yarns made with nearly every fiber imaginable: wool, silk, cotton, linen, alpaca, angora, soy, bamboo, hemp, and corn, as well as humble acrylic - and probably a few more that I don't remember.

"Grass" - what a great name for hemp yarn

Corn fiber yarn

As I meandered down the rainbow aisles in a happy daze, squeezing and sniffing the goods (I love the smell of wool - but is it tacky to sniff yarn in public?) I heard a customer telling the manager how much she appreciated the amount and variety of yarns on display. "It makes a knitter happy," she said. (I very nearly called out "And crocheters too!")

It's just as well the annual income is somewhat limited, or I'd have spent WAY more money than I ought. With what I consider to be admirable self-restraint, I bought only three skeins of yarn - AND already have a specific project in mind for each:

The lilac yarn (superfine merino/acrylic blend) will be a hat for yours truly; the lovely olive wool roving is for a manly gift (which I can't describe, but will probably show up as a free pattern in the next few months), and the ocean-tinted aqua-grey will also be used for a gift.

How do you shop for yarn? Online, in stores, at fairs? Do you buy yarn with specific projects in mind, or just because you love it and can't resist?

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Friday, November 16, 2012

The Best Kind of Mail

Ever since I started blogging, I get the most exciting mail. Here's a package that arrived the other day from Regula in Switzerland:

"Swiss" + "Chocolate". Magical words. :)

Regula, whom I admire tremendously, blogs (in German AND English, every post!) about knitting, crocheting, sewing, teaching, and all kinds of crafty frugality. Last month she held a chocolate giveaway, and I was one of the lucky winners.

A Japonais bar - perfect with a cup of tea from my little Japanese pot.

Swiss chocolate is like silk on the tongue, and the Japonais, with crunchy bits of hazelnut biscuit, was sublime.

Thank you, Regula, for many sweet moments. :)

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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Blogroll vs. the Reading List ~ a Brief Blogger Rant (with Bonus Cabbage Photo)

I'm so glad I added a blogroll to my sidebar. Otherwise, I'd be missing posts right and left. Here's an example:

Annie and Regula have each posted something, but there's no sign of it on my Reading List. What's up with that? Is there some kind of transatlantic delay?

Does anyone else have this problem?

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Such a grouchy post - I can't publish it like this. How to redeem it? Off to the photo file for something pretty or fun or interesting....

(click tap-tap click tocka-tocka-tocka tap tap click-click ... click)

And here we are - a rather gorgeous cabbage shot:

I usually slice cabbages from pole to pole, so to speak, but for some reason sliced this one crossways. (Equator-wise?) I never knew a humble cabbage could look so amazing - if not a Golden Spiral, at least a very lovely purple-and-white one.

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There. That's better. :)

(But I'd still like to know if anyone else is missing posts on their Reading List.)

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Sunday, November 11, 2012

A Short, Warm Saturday Ride

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Frozen beauty of frost-burnt lotus
Tall pines singing with southern breezes
Ghosts of summer glimpsed in bare branches

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After a week of raw, grey November weather, the weekend is unseasonably warm. Thunderstorms are forecast for Sunday, so Saturday is cycling day. A necessarily short ride - squeezed in between a morning of housework and a late-afternoon movie and dinner date with friends - means that pictures will be few.

The temperature is an almost soupy 60º, and a stiff south wind is blowing when I hit the road. Our village boasts a good-sized lake, but my normal cycling routes rarely take me past it, so today I decide to ride around the lake for a change. Houses line the shore for the first several miles, but here and there are some open spots.

View from a bridge of the lake's northern arm:

Can you spot the cyclist? This was the only shadow shot I could get today:

From the other side of the bridge, looking southwards into the sun:

Several miles on, at the next open bit of shore, a host of water lotus have been burnt brown by frost. (The last time I passed this way, they were creamy-yellow and glowing in the sun.)

A late-autumn ride has always something of the valedictory about it. Everywhere I go, I'm reminded of earlier rides, when the year was younger than it is now. Past the lake, and heading out of town, I see bare wild plum trees and remember the glory and sweetness of their blossom in spring. A grassy verge, now faded and dry, was once covered in clouds of Bouncing Bet, all pale and pinky-white. The silent marshes, edged with drying cat-tails, once rang with froggy love-songs and sparkled with golden heliopsis, red clover, purple rocket. The grass withers, and the blossom fades, as the days die down with the year. (sigh)

I pass a small quarry. The road to it is blocked by a gate, the posts of which are made from solid tree trunks. Here's a detail of the gatepost and chain:

Further on, the road is lined with rank upon rank of pines. The warm southern wind is singing through their green branches, stirring up their spicy scent, making it hard to believe we're on the downhill slide to winter.

Around a few corners, and I'm on the northbound road, flying along with the wind behind me. One last stop on a bridge which looks out over sapphire water and pale-gold marsh grasses:

While taking the above photo, I notice something sticking up above the trees on the far side of the marsh. A very spiffy deer stand, by the looks of it, complete with siding and contrasting window trim:

Then it's back on the bike and headed for home. A combine is trundling towards me, so I snap it on the fly:

A few minutes later, I'm home - wishing the ride could have been longer, and feeling like I haven't taken nearly enough photos. So I stop under the ash tree in the driveway for a shot of bare branches against the blue autumn sky...

...then pause at the doorstep for a fond picture of my still-thriving tomato vine...

...and the luxuriant clump of parsley beneath it.

This short warm spell won't last - we're in for some very chilly temps over the next few days. It's time to give up my bit of garden, and put away the blankets and tarps that have been keeping the plants alive. On Sunday I will pick all the tomatoes that can be picked, and pack them away safely to ripen in the dark. The last of the fresh basil will adorn our Sunday breakfast eggs, and the parsley will go into a bag in the freezer. I'll say goodbye to the marigolds and thyme, hoping to see them again in the spring.

At this time of year, every ride is a bonus. Saturday's ride, though short, was a good one.

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