Sunday, July 20, 2008

In Which I Pass Up a War.....

....only to find another! We had word that the British had invaded and gotten as far as Prairie du Chien in the southern part of Ouis-con-sin Territory!

LESSON: (optional) "Prairie du Chien" is French for "Plains of the Dog". Has nothing to do with any barking little friends, however. It was named for a Meskwakie chief known as "Le Chien". The Meskwakie people are commonly referred to as the Fox tribe.

Anyway, the word was out, and Mr Dearling, hearing the call, borrowed back his fusil from the Fur Post (at the Museum) and prepared to go join the fight. I had planned to go too; had even packed up appropriate knitting and laid out appropriate apparel. But then........well, I decided perhaps I'd stay home, you know, so that when the winning British marched up this way I could offer 'em some lemonade.

LESSON: (optional) Actually, the 1812 battle held at Prairie du Chien WAS won by the Brits, and may I add, there was no loss of life . There are a couple of very fine yarn shops there; I'm sure that figured in. You may notice, however -- we ARE all speaking English. You know, in case you hadn't noticed.

So, I had a quiet day at home by myself instead. Any rumors you might have read about rowdy, bawdy or tawdry carryings-on at Late-Night Knit on Friday at the Sow's Ear are totally and absolutely true sure to be exaggerated. Nevermind that all the Hog-and-Bloggers came out with tattoos reading "KNIT OR DIE!"; that can be attributed only to the rich, delicious iced chocolate drinks we were enjoying, rendered calorie-less by the healthful addition of whipped cream. It's the Dairy State, whipped cream renders anything healthy. Or, if that's not appropriate, sour cream will do. (Don't you wish you lived here?)

NOTE: Thanks, Cathy-Cate , for the tattoos and delightful conversation! Did I ever mention I tend to digress? Nevermind. And while we're at it, thanks to Bethie for the Ravelry name buttons, and while we're at it, to everyone who was there. It's always fun, but this time it was warmer, funnier, more delicious and rich with the camaraderie we knitters share than usual. Also - to our dear Heather: KUDOS for the single funniest line I've heard anywhere in a long time, and no, I'm not giving it away here. You might be able to bribe...cajole...blackmail persuade some OTHER Hog-and-Blogger to reveal it, but I wouldn't try. So shut up. (Suffice it to say, "We've come a long way, baby" - all the stereotypes of knitters are down the tubes.

Except for the one that says some knitters are little old ladies in rocking chairs with cats on their laps, because I AM some of us are.

Here you see one of my many pictures of the wonderful hollyhocks which have all but enclosed the front of the house. I've been calling it "Hollyhock Cottage", which sounds so romantical and Kid-Book-Author's-House-ish. They have afforded me weeks and weeks of delight; some are pinky, like this one, some are a deeper sort of wine-y color. I haven't made little dancing girls out of any yet, but I may. There are clearly lots of buds still on them.

OH WAIT. Remember where I said, up top there, "only to find another"? Ladies and gennulmen, I thought that this year was going to be the Year of the Mosquitos (particularly in view of all the wet and rain and floodingness which went on, vestiges of which remain). But all that moisture was surely responsible for the lushness of my whole yard and the absolute explosion of my favorite hollyhocks. And so it was - until about four days ago. Four days ago, without what I would even call "close inspection", I came across the following: This. Is. The. ENEMY!! Lest you do not recognize his foul, sordid, tawdry, disgusting self....this is a Japanese Beetle. Notice the shiny metallic-looking shell? The delicate curve of the legs? If you listen quietly, you will hear a sound, and that sound (even if you're half the world away from Wisconsin) is ME SWEARING!! Yes, I know I'm a lady, but don't be fooled, I know Bad Words in a wide variety of languages, and upon seeing this dude, they ALL streamed out of me. I can only hope my neighbor children were at their swimming lessons, napping or locked into their videogames or teevee programs.

Furthermore, this is apparently the time of year the Japenese Beetles wait for all year. There is something about July in Wisconsin -- the warm, sunny days, the lush sweetness of (MY) hollyhock petals, the raging pheromones to which they apparently are susceptible, and although they look equally hideous, ugly, wretched and miserable to me, they apparently recognize ... not only the gender differences, but the especial allure of an antenna, the particularly fine crook of a leg. And they hook up. Connect. Get it on. MAKE IT! The result of which is, apparently, a time in which the girly bugs meander around my lawn and deposit therein the Future Generations of their kind. The larvae or pupae or poopie or whatever you call them dig down into the lawn and spend the bitter freezing nights of winter watching their tiny teevees, reading Beetle porn, or dreaming of MY HOLLYHOCKS!

Incidentally, their courtship isn't just a whambamthenkyewmaam sort of thing. No, they throw in dinner. The most succulent, delicious, fragrant, tasty buggy aphrodisiac on the planet, which is....can you guess? MY HOLLYHOCKS! (The sound you hear now, if you're very very quiet, is me sobbing, but block it out, overlook it. I'll get over it.)

The result of all this romance is this:

This is the hotel room after the party is over, the rock band has left the building, the date is finished. Compare it with the picture up top there, or any other pictures I've peppered the blog with of my lovely hollyhocks. The leaves seem to be more a buffet than a four-course elegant dinner, but they don't fare much better than the blossoms.

It's too late for a lot of my lovely blooms. As if this weren't enough, sometimes the little rotters are modest and conduct their soirees inside buds, which destroys them too. There are some exhibitionist beetles who throw all caution to the winds and carry on their lewd-and-lascivious on the leaves, right there in front of God and everybody: Now, you all know me for an old, cat-loving, knitting, reading, writer of children's stories and possessor of a huge .... overactive ....uhm... disturbed -- well, powerful imagination. You may likewise know me as an unapologetic tree-hugging hippie. But I do have another facet which doesn't come up often. Only once in a while. And guess what? THIS IS "THE WHILE"!

What does one do? This isn't like the Battle at Prairie du Chien. This is a genuine, full-blown out-and-out war to the Dismal Death of the Japanese Beetles. I consulted with the Bug Expert from the University of Wisconsin (well, I heard him on the teevee discussing this very problem); I read a LOT on the innerwebs. I took my ravaged hollyhocks to my favorite garden store and talked to those guys. And I came away with a couple of suggestions.

1) Learn to Live with Japanese Beetles (nawwww)

2) Buy an expensive Japanese Beetle Trap (which exudes the aforementioned pheromones, and draws in the bugs to their deaths - but draws in every single Japanese Beetle within noseshot, too, and may not kill 'em all) (nawwww)

3) Cut down all the hollyhocks and fugeddaboutit (nawwww)

One final suggestion: soapy water kills them. Yep - good old dishsoap does them in, and pretty quick, too, if you're inclined toward being humane, which I am not. Enter the Ultimate Weapon:

This is the Shimmering Emerald Cylinder of Doom. It is the end of the road for Japanese Beetles. The Final Chapter. The End of the Trail. The Death Chamber. C'est FINI!

Do I take joy in destroying their little buggy lives? No. Is there, however, a certain satisfaction in diminishing their numbers, and hopefully preserving the hollyhock population for next summer? Ooooh yeah. Might I add - (with a shudder) - there are occasionally earwigs on the hollyhocks too. They don't eat fact, I don't think they eat ANYthing, but let me tell you they are some UGLY bugs. LESSON (optional): they do not, nor did they ever, live in fancy wigs and crawl into the wearers' ears at night. You know, just sayn'. While the Shimmering Emerald Cylinder of Doom is not designed for them, it seems to dispatch them as quickly and humanely as the Japanese beetles.

And ThAT, friends and neighbors, is my warfare-and-battle story. There HAS been knitting happening, as well as kitty-loving and reading. We will now return to our regular programming.

Editor's note: while this post was completed some days ago (note the date) it has actually been posted today, 27 July; it seems like summer hours slip past all but unnoticed. I have, however, been keeping track and will update to the present forthwith. Mea culpa.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

*tink tink* Is this thing on?

Summerti-i-i-i-i-me....and the livin' is it's supposed to be Truly Hot, and I mean to spend the afternoon and evening in my "cool room"; in this, the 21st century, I can take my portable telephones, my laptop computer and my knitting, and nevermind the heat!

I did get through my presentation yesterday, though "Cousin Hattie" had a little problem with the Magic Lantern Show. (See, Daisy - my laptop - wasn't working right so we used the center's laptop; all was going along fine...until the screen went BLACK!) Seems we'd forgotten the power cord, and my mouth ran longer than the battery! What does a proper 19th century lady do? Why, keep talking! The Helpful Lady managed to get it functioning again, so I sort of switched back to the Illustrated Portion. Between that and my puffy eye, I was unimpressed - but I survived. Interestingly, when I finished there was a question about my clothing, and everyone perked right up! I'm thinking - perhaps a powerpoint show about the history of women's clothing might be of interest in the future?

True Confession: in spite of the fact that there was a gentleman present - I revealed my petticoat, my hoop - my chemise, and (dare I say it?) my knickers ! FYI: these were not the authentic "split" knickers. I mean REALLY! I'm not THAT kind of girl.

So what have I done these last few days? Going to synopsize here, for your viewing pleasure. We spent a lovely day at Old World Wisconsin, which is a series of ethnic farms from early Wisconsin, a wonderful open-air historical site with "costumed reenactors". Allow me to display some scenes:

Besides the fields of rye, which I thought were wheat but someone said nope rye, there was flax available. In one barn there was an area with flax... and a brake and hackle; I'm guessing that during school tours they demonstrate processing the flax. In the same barn there were sheaves of thatch drying in the eaves, and a number of the buildings had thatching on their roofs. Each farmstead, incidentally, was moved from their original sites around the state and repositioned.

As well as the beautiful buildings, all happily restored (they were moved from their original sites around the state) there are gardens around the houses; we did get a few interior shots but it was a beautiful day and there were very few interpreters on site at the time. On a regular day there are folks at each farm, working in the fields, cooking &c. This day we only saw a couple ladies, and because it was late in the day the fires were out, any cooking had been finished, and there was a big "end of workday" feel to it. Oh, we understand; no matter how much fun it is, one runs out of steam. In our case we develop "museum legs" - you don't realize it until the last kid is out the door, but THEN, sitting down becomes a major priority.

One of the funnest things we saw, though - were the ani-mules. I LURVE me some farm animals, what can I say. I've always said, some day I'd like to live on ten or twelve acres and have a fat little Welsh pony and small buggy, and use no other vehicle. And get the reputation of "that eccentric old lady who knits, has cats, and rides around in a horse-and-buggy."

There were sheepies - but only these three that we saw. I scritched, I whispered endearments - nothing could drag their attention away from the grain they were nibbling. Don't you love the cronsch cronsch sheepies make? They're my favorites, of course, being toques-on-the-hoofs and all.

There were horses, several actually, which are used to pull wagons and ploughs and also to draw shuttles for people who can't or prefer not to walk from farmstead to farmstead. The site is actually many acres, and the shuttles permit folks to see more in the time allowed. These guys did come over and let me rub their velvety noses. The animals on all the farms may be part of a working historical site, but believe you me, they are pampered babies, each and every one.

But the best conversation we had, the most outgoing and social soul we encountered, and the one who proved to be amazingly intelligent and the source of a lot of good information, was...... THE PIG!

OK, I know, these guys have a bad reputation - "eats like a pig" (well, it's true, his manners left a little to be desired), "filthy as a pig", (yup, he was muddy - they do that to keep cool, and it's actually very sensible because they don't have sweat glands.) And besides, this guy afforded Mr Dearling the opportunity to get what I think might be our prize-winning photograph of the summer. Are you ready?

Aww, c'mon, that is one cute picture. Biggify at your own risk. But I'm thinking about entering this in a competition somewhere. Or framing it. Thanks, Mr Dearling.

....and she wanders off, laughing....

Monday, July 14, 2008

The Eyes Have It!, actually the EYE has it. Specifically, the left eye. MY left eye. And "it" is a flare-up of a long-standing infection, blepharitis. I get it occasionally, but it's been quite a while and I didn't recognize the onset. Of course, could this happen when I have a respite from tours, or no plans to see anyone, or - you know, like that?

But it never works like that; this afternoon I am doing my "Manners, Mending and Morals" program at a senior center. This involves dressing in my hoopskirts, adopting the persona of Hattie Fairchild, the refined unmarried distant cousin of Governor Lucius Fairchild, and discussing -- well, all the stuff in the title, circa 19th century.

And guess what? Hattie has the same hideous ...uhm... grotesque ...err... unsightly anomaly I have. (In case you've never seen it, think red, swollen lids and squinty eye.) So I'll use my compresses and eyedrops and scrubs (of course, if I do it too much, it'll make it redder - OY) and hope for the best. I have a lot to talk about otherwise (a trip to Old World Wisconsin, the Concert on the Square, a Theatre Blitz and La Fete de Marquette...all venues for knitting, might I add, and documented thenkyewverymosch) - but right now I have to soak my eyeball and study my notes.

Monday, July 7, 2008

A Bear, Two Dears & Fireworks

More traditions - what can I say? As mentioned, we go to a local country club for the fireworks. We take cream-cheese-and-olive finger sandwiches (this year we had black olive AND green olive sandwiches); we had Trader Joe's potato chips, Mr Dearling's faves; we had two ... no, THREE kinds of cookies, because Donna brought some delicious little shortbread cookies; and we had the requisite lemonade. I forgot our usual picnic basket with, you know, PLATES. Napkins. But that was OK, we managed. Some people think I wear those long dresses, often with aprons, because it's "my look" -- truth is, you can use the inside of the hem of a long skirt really well as a napkin, but you didn't hear that from me.

This year Miss Iris didn't care to go along, so my family of bears was represented by my dear old friend, Travellin' Pete (seen above with his flag, resting in the knitting basket). He often travels (hence his moniker) and often in the knitting basket. He looks like an old bear and is made of lovely "distressed mohair", but he is in fact newish, (as well as Jewish), and was made by a highly-skilled needlewoman of our acquaintance. NOTE: "Distressed mohair" means that it's been rubbed up or some such, so that it looks old. Believe me when I say, Pete is NOT distressed. He may be the most laid-back teddy bear you've ever seen.

The advantage of going early is that you get prime real estate, and folks come out early to put down their blankets. (Folks do that for the Concert on the Square too, and it's FINE. There's always plenty of space, even for latecomers, but half the fun is getting there while there are still choices.) Because it was sunny, we put down our blankets, baskets, backpack &c and then retired to a shady spot under some trees for our nosh. We were in view of our stuff - but I still enjoy the fact that one needn't be TOO uptight about such things. (I once left my purse on the Union Terrace under my chair, realized it about five blocks away and trotted back - to find it exactly where it was!)

When we'd tidied up our nosh, we repaired back to our blanket and Donna and I pulled out our needles. She's making a Remarkable, Luxurious Afghan (using only one puny little hook, can you imagine??) and I was working on my Dr Who scarf.

As you can see, the crowd thickens early on, while there's still plenty of sunlight, and there's a powerful lot of socializing in general. Note that I was wearing my Fibertarian button, it being a Patriotic Event and all. Something that I noticed a little more this year than I had in the past: when it gets crowded like that, it's sometimes hard for parties to find their parties, if you know what I mean....and in this, our 21st century, there's a lot of standing-up people shouting into their cell phones OVER HERE OVER HERE I SEE YOU LOOK TOWARD THE TREES!! For MY part, we have a teddybear head-onna-stick (I'll have to show you that some time) which stands out in crowds when necessary. OK - the truth is, we bought it so Mr Dearling can find me at Barnes & Noble on account of I'm considerably shorter than the bookshelves; when I hold my bearhead-onna-stick way up in the air he can find me pretty easily. I think it sort of embarrasses him -- em-BEAR-asses him (couldn't resist, but no, I don't apologize) but it's highly effective.

Travellin' Pete had a question about Benjamin Franklin - he's been reading our "Farmers' Almanac" in the biffy, and Mr Dearling is very knowledgeable about Franklin, so they had a very earnest discussion. The truth is, Travellin' Pete is an unabashed flag-waving, tree-hugging, eco-liberal hippie; I've heard him shout "BITE HIM!" at the television set during Presidential Announcements. That's my bear!

Eventually, darkness fell and the fireworks began, to the impatient rhythmic clapping of the crowd. There was an announcement over the PA system at the beginning, stating that there would be a few new offerings -- because much of their order had been delayed and they were notified they would be "delivered promptly - on Monday!" We could only assume they'll be saved up for next year. The display WAS a bit thinner than in previous years, but the three traditional ones were in evidence: there's always a ground display of two firemen facing one another with their hoses spraying sparkling white stars (the display is put on my the Shorewood Hills Fire Department). There's always a ground display everyone calls "the waterfall" - it's sort of a clothesline, with white sparks thickly spewing from the whole length of it and appearing to splash on the ground, and at the end, an American flag. Each of these is met with wild applause and cheers (I'm not the only one into tradition). I experimented with my new camera, which has a "fireworks" setting, and I will leave you with these images, which - while hardly *professional* quality, I find quite artsy-fartsy. I won't be entering into any competition, but I'm just a little old knitter-lady enjoying the display with family (Mr Dearling and Travellin' Pete) and friends (Donna - and a few thousand fellow Madisonians)

Friday, July 4, 2008

Jolly Independence Day to y'all!

I cry. What can I say? I get mushy over stuff. I've wept at every patriotic July 4th parade I've ever seen, ESPECIALLY the hometown kind with little kids in wagons draped in bunting and waving flags, that sort of thing. A military color guard waters me up every time. For all of its shortcomings (few of which are lost on me, believe it when I say!) it's not lost on me that I can say so, out loud and loudly, entirely free from worry about being drug out of my bed in the middle of the night by uniformed troopers who will then pile up all my books in the middle of the room and light them on fire.

NOTE: reference Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. If you haven't read it, or haven't read it since required to in high school, get it at the library. And while you're there, see if they have the movie, which is decent. I am SO "Edgar Allen Poe" ....

Anyway, what I'm saying is, I really feel lucky, privileged and happy to live here in America. I know, it's not like I won it by athletic prowess or superior brains; I just sort of fell into it, and in Minot, North Dakota, no less. But I feel keenly aware of How Good I Got It, and mostly of all on the 4th of July.

Tonight, we're following our annual tradition: we go over to Blackhawk Country Club (they let the peasants in for the fireworks). We go real early and put our blanket down at the top of the hill. (It's a fairly steep hill, and they set off the fireworks at the bottom, on the green.) We take a picnic...well, no, at this point it's more of a pique-nique , of little cream-cheese-and-olive finger sandwiches, chips or veggies, ice-cold lemonade and something delicate for dessert. (The tradition was started by Miss Iris von Heliotrope, who - in spite of being a teddy bear - is a naturalized citizen and feels VERY strongly about the holiday.)

Tonight friend Donna is going to join us. After we nosh we'll lounge around, knit, read and gab until The Event. I usually take Miss Iris along, a couple small flags and a mylar pinwheel. (She's very sensitive about sparklers, as she know... furred .)

But there's another tradition that happens NEAR the 4th - and that's the annual patriotic Concert on the Square; this year it was last night (i.e., the 3rd of July). It offers several opportunities for Old-Lady-Blubbering - I love it!

The Concerts on the Square are Wednesday evenings in the summer, and it seems like the whole town turns out. They're held on the lawns around the Capitol, on the Square, and they're very popular. (Yes, I know yesterday was Thursday - the planners forgot to put in for good weather on Wednesday this week, so it was postponed.) Some of the foo-foo places offer box lunches for the occasion, but people usually just bring their own grub. Some folks always spread out a white cloth, use fancy china, crystal wine glasses, &c. It's huge fun. There are always a riot of little children who delight in dancing and enthusiastic flag-waving. So anyway, we went last night.

I of course took knitting; Mr Dearling went on a walking tour before the concert, but I was delightfully entertained by watching my fellow Madisonians disport themselves with merriment and pizza as I knitted. They also played snippets, by way of warming up, starting at around 6:00 pm; the concert starts officially at 7:00. The weather could not have been better (it was that perfect sort of warm-with-cool-breeze evening that inspires Mr Dearling to declare "If there was ever a nicer day than this, it was before I was born!"). By the way - there are strategic speakers placed around by WHA Television, so that you can get the full impact even if you're sitting on the side of the Capitol away from where the orchestra is.

Before Mr Dearling got back, the program began with everyone standing for the Pledge of Allegiance (I cried) and then the "Star-Spangled Banner" (I wept). Then everyone settled down and the music began. (About then, Mr Dearling returned. He said it was "ok", but not brilliant, his walking tour.)

One nice thing about the concert is, you don't have to see anything, so you can have this wonderful live music and still knit or read or doze or play cards or drink wine -- all of which everyone does. (Mr Dearling's reading an excellent non-fiction book about Le Grand Derangement , the expulsion of the Acadians from Nova Scotia and their "relocation" in Louisiana.)

The music for this particular concert always includes medleys of good old American songs and a few Sousa marches, that sort of thing. There's a nice intermission (during which one can avail ones'self of the porta-loos or tidy up the snacks or wossname) and there is always a piece played by the young winner of a music competition; this time it was a very complex piece by Rachmaninoff played by a 15-year-old girl! We couldn't see her, as we were "around the side", but she tickled her some ivories, let me declare! Then they always play a medley of the music for each branch of the Armed Forces (get out the hanky) and ask that those members or veterans in each branch "stand and be recognized". The themes include Army, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, Navy and Air Force. OK, by the end I'm openly blubbering, no sense saying otherwise. Really gets me.

At the end they ask all military personnel and veterans to stand at once, and there is a long, satisfying round of applause. We don't support the War here in Madison, much, but boy do we support our boys and girls in the Service. (I have a grandson in the Marine Corps; haven't talked to him for a spell, but he got an enthusiastic and blubbery round of applause for him, wherever he is.)

This concert always winds up with Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture". Talk about tear-jerker! (Have I mentioned my propensity for Overdramatic Blubbering?) First of all, I LOVE this piece of music. Believe it or not, it creates in me a Deep Yearning for Mother Russia, homeland that I love from a former life as a noblewoman in the elegant Court of Tsar Pyotr Yvanovich (I so made that up, ignore it). Second of all, part of the chorus becomes the song from my old Alma Mater, Macalester College, so it brings up a big burst of Old School Spirit. (OK, so I didn't graduate. That doesn't matter; once a Macite, always a Macite.) And third of all - they really shoot off cannons in the dramatic end part of the piece !! How dramatic is THAT? Most years they fire off the "cannons" from the top of the bank we call "the glass cash register". This year they were on the ground somewhere - and in fact, they used a faster, lighter version of the piece, not so much to my liking. I'm for the heavy, ponderous, dramatic interpretation that summons up the full richness. But it sufficed. I wept, I didn't sob. I like the one where I sob, but it was OK, I liked it well enough.

I am a fan. Of the Concerts. Of Madison. And of America - I'm unapologetic about that.