Crazy Birds, Mentors, and Friends

Dogs on Thursday      It’s Dogs on Thursday and unfortunately Roscoe and Mosby have no tales to tell although I do have doggie content farther down in this post.  But, I’ll start by telling you about the crazy bird that has been batting her brains out on my sunroom windows for the past several weeks.  It’s gotten so annoying that instead of barking at it, both dogs now prefer to just get up and leave the room whenever the bird starts her window attack.

      At first I thought the female cardinal suffered from some type of birdie psychological problem or feathered form of dementia.  For five days straight, from sunup to sundown, I’d hear a constant “thwack” or “thump” against the lower windows of my sunroom which are about 12 to 15 feet above the ground.  There’s a sofa in front of the windows so it was a little hard at first to tell what was going on behind it, but eventually I saw that the strange bird was jumping from the window ledge, smacking her head into the glass, falling back onto the ledge, and then starting the whole process over again.  And again.  And again.

      With only a few short breaks that I’m sure were due to sheer exhaustion, this feathered maniac kept it up from Monday through Friday the first week.  I was successful at repeatedly chasing her away one afternoon when I was using the room, but she responded by attacking one of the windows in the garage, below.  I finally thought she was gone when the thumping sounds seemed to stop, but then I pulled into the driveway one afternoon and saw her on top of Daddy Dawg’s Toyota Highlander jumping up and down in a full scale assault on the vehicle’s sunroof.

      I did a little Internet research and it seems that this is a behavior most often exhibited by male cardinals in an attempt to protect their territory.  Apparently they see their reflection in the window and think it’s another cardinal and they attack in an effort to scare it away.  Their daffy little bird brains can’t process the fact that it’s really their own reflection.  To get an idea of what our bird was doing, here’s a video I found of a cardinal launching a similar attack on a car mirror.

      The Duncraft bird supply catalog lists a few solutions and they sell window decals that are supposed to either scare the bird away or remove the reflection.  I ordered a set of cat decals and I’m also going to add curtains on the lower windows which I hope will cut down on the reflections.

Our New Bird Bath

Our New Bird Bath

      I was amused the other day when a more normal little bird decided to take a bath in Roscoe and Mosby’s outdoor water bowl.  I try to get Daddy Dawg to dump out the water when the dogs come in the house so that the bowl won’t become a mosquito breeding ground, but sometimes he forgets.  The birdie had a wonderful time splashing and preening, but since I didn’t want this to become a daily habit, we bought it a bath of its own.  So far we’ve seen several birds taking a dip despite the rainy conditions the past few days.

      We actually owe some thanks to the little bird for giving us the idea of adding a birdbath to the garden that struggles to take hold in our front yard.  We work on it a little each spring until the hot weather comes, and then we’re lucky to do more than pull an occasional weed the rest of the year.  About a third of the plants die, thanks I’m sure to the fact that our two boys race directly to them to give them their own version of a little “water” almost every day.

      Daddy Dawg spent part of this past weekend adding more plants for me and we still have about six or eight more to buy before I’m satisfied for this year.  We also hope that this will be the year we finally add a rock border.  If only the rainy, cool weather holds out we might get it done.  Here’s what it looks like so far.

Garden in Progress

Garden in Progress

      We also added a line of day lilies along the fence near the driveway.  We purchased the smallest, cheapest lilies at the local hardware store and a day after we planted them the rain gave them a hefty beating.  But, it’s surprising how much they perk up the appearance of the fence. 

Stella D'Oro Lilies

Stella D'Oro Lilies

      I just wish more stores would sell the traditional orange lily like the ones that grow so many places along the highway.  They’re my favorites, but I seldom see them for sale.  Instead, the yellow Stella D’Oro lilies will have to do. For the past several years we’ve added mulch along the fence row, but this year I think we’re going to try river stones. 

      A friend called last week to tell me that an old business friend of mine had died.  I have many fond memories of this gentleman who was one of two mentors when I first began my newspaper and freelance writing/photography career.  Many years ago he was the editor of a local sporting publication where I made my first attempt to sell photos for publication.  He rejected them, but he was kind enough to offer some helpful comments, and I went on to sell him many photos and a number of articles over the next few years. 

      My other mentor was my first newspaper editor.  Eventually he retired from the newspaper where we worked and then I moved to the next county.  We kept in touch for a while but I soon grew lax in my efforts to keep up the friendship.  Before I knew it, years had gone by, and he died before I ever thanked him for all he’d done for me.

      That weighed heavily on me so a short time later I took the time to write to my magazine editor friend to thank him for helping jump start one of my early careers.  I think he appreciated it because I received a very gracious letter from him in response.  Now that he’s passed away, I’m glad that I took the time to write him that letter.

      Do you have a mentor you’ve forgotten to thank?  Take a few minutes now to write him or her a letter before it’s too late.

      Friends come in all shapes and sizes and some of my best friends have been four-legged.  One of my blogging buddies wrote last week about the struggle she’d been having to keep one of her dogs off the furniture.  A few years ago I would have agreed with her.  We seldom let Riley on the furniture and he rarely ever got on a bed because all of the bedrooms were upstairs and he wasn’t allowed up there.  Then in the short span of one week we learned he had cancer and it deteriorated so quickly that he was gone.

Roscoe on the bed

Roscoe on the bed

      Suddenly dogs climbing on furniture or sleeping on our beds no longer seemed like such a big issue. (The bunny ears on the shelf behind Roscoe are one of Mosby’s seasonal therapy dog costumes. He’s not trying out to be doggie playmate of the year.)

Mosby and Roscoe on a sofa in Michigan

Mosby and Roscoe on a sofa in Michigan

     We only get to keep our four-legged friends for a short time.  They give us constant love and ask little in return.  Sheets and bedcovers can be washed and so can the dogs themselves.    If you don’t like pets directly on your furniture, just throw a microfleece cover on top.  They’ll love it and the covers can be washed easily.

Who's Sleeping in My Bed?

Who's Sleeping in My Bed?

      After all, who could resist such a sweet little scene as this?  I wasn’t crazy about Mosby using my pillow, but it made him happy. Unfortunately, sometimes it makes him so happy that it’s a little hard to evict him.

Roscoe Taking a Snooze

Roscoe Taking a Snooze

      We also get a lot of laughs out of some of their crazy positions.  Riley was the king of doggie sprawl, but Roscoe manages to contort himself into all sorts of positions in various chairs and sofas almost as well.

A Happy Little Dog Nap
A Happy Little Dog Nap

     So, next time you find a doggie curled up someplace where he or she probably doesn’t belong, think about all of the joy they’ve brought into your life before deciding whether or not the furniture is off limits.  A little Febreze and a couple of fluffs to a chair or sofa cushion or backrest is a small price to pay for a happy little doggie face like this. 

      Don’t forget to visit the other Dogs on Thursday folks.

Tea and Hunt Country Style

      On Saturday I headed to Richmond with a blogless friend to meet up with Chan so that we could all go to the River City Knitters meeting.  The program for the day was crocheting for knitters so I helped with the beginner group before we joined several other RCK ladies for lunch.

      We’d toyed with the idea of leaving the RCK meeting and heading to the Sedalia Fiber Festival, but we opted instead for a visit to the Ben Franklin craft store at Short Pump.  Robin has a report on the Sedalia festival here

Ben Frankllin Tote Bag

Ben Frankllin Tote Bag

      For weeks I’ve been bragging to Chan that I’ve conquered my knitting bag habit thanks to my love of the Lexie Barnes Lady B bag I bought back in January.  I stocked the bag with a set of Knit Picks interchangeable circular needles, a couple of projects, small reference books, patterns, and all the notions I’d need for travel.  This purchase put a halt to my quest for the perfect knitting bag even though it only meets about 90% of my requirements for “THE”  knitting bag.  I figured 90% was as close to perfect as I’d get.

     Well, I’m ashamed to admit that another bag followed me home when we left the Ben Franklin store.  Who could resist a tote bag that stands up on its own, has pockets on the end for needles and notions, and a padded area on the opposite end for pins and needles for sewing projects?  For less than 10 bucks I thought it was a steal! 

The original Tea & Etiquette book

The original Tea & Etiquette book

      This week I’d like to tell you about two wonderful books that have come to live at my house.  Are any of you familiar with Dorothea Johnson’s book  Tea & Etiquette?  I was fortunate to have attended several of Dorothea’s etiquette train-the-trainer classes when she owned The Protocol School of Washington and during one of them I also shared a table with James Norwood Pratt, the renowned tea author who wrote the introduction to Dorothea’s book.  For years this was a great tea etiquette reference, but it lacked the sparkle and pizazz of most of the current tea books that are on the market.

The new Tea & Etiquette

The new Tea & Etiquette

     Enter Bruce Richardson of Elmwood Inn fame.  After running the highly successful Kentucky tearoom for many years, Richardson has more recently turned his attention to selling fine teas, teaching about tea, and writing and photographing books about tea and tea rooms.  Under his guidance, Dorthea’s original book as been transformed with beautiful photos and new information, making it the hottest new tea related book on the market. 

      Bruce has kept most of what Dorothea wrote about afternoon tea and tea etiquette and he has expanded the book with lots of color photos and increased the sections on tea and tea types. If you haven’t seen the book yet, it’s well worth finding a copy.  Just take a peek inside:

A peek inside Tea and Etiquette

A peek inside Tea and Etiquette

Hunt Country Style

Hunt Country Style

      The other book is Hunt Country Style by Kathryn Masson.  This book has been in my “save for later” cart at Amazon for several months so I was delighted to receive it from Chan as part of a belated birthday package. For those of you who are not familiar with the term hunt country, the horsey foxhunting area of Northern Virginia bounded roughly by Fauquier, Rappahannock, Loudoun, and Clarke counties and their neighbors has been unofficially dubbed the “Hunt Country of America”.  Here’s a photo from the book of the great estate “Ovoka”  in Paris, Virginia that nestles at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Ovoka near Paris, VA

Ovoka near Paris, VA

      Although times they are a changin’, there are still a number of beautiful old estates in the area owned by wealthy, or once wealthy, families who have deep social and business ties to the world of thoroughbred racing, foxhunting, steeplechasing, polo, and a host of other equestrian sports.  These homes range from modest farmhouses to palatial manor houses, but the thing that ties them all together is that despite the beauty of the furnishings and the often accompanying high price tag of each, the homes exhibit a lived-in quality where one is equally at home in riding boots or haute couture.  Wouldn’t you just love to settle down into this room:

Pages from Hunt Country Style

Pages from Hunt Country Style

      Or perhaps spend some time in this one:

More from Hunt Country Style

More from Hunt Country Style

     I was fortunate to have been a small part of this world several decades ago when I was deeply involved in the hunt country through my business associations.  Although I have only been in one of the homes in the book, I’ve often driven by a number of them on my travels through the hunt country.  The photos bring back many memories of similar fine abodes where I spent pleasant hours among friends at social events after various hunts or steeplechase race meets. 

      I particularly recall many wonderful Sunday evenings when we would attend late afternoon parties that were a cross between afternoon tea and a cocktail party.  If our boots were particularly muddy we’d leave them by the door and head for the ham biscuits and assorted treats that were laid out for us in dining rooms such as this one:

A hunt country dining room

A hunt country dining room

      We drank tea served from sterling silver tea services that had been in the families for several generations, and our cocktails were mixed by familiar faces since the wait staff working those parties had been serving at these homes for years.

      Had I stayed involved with horses I’m sure I’d still be a part of that world.  But, I’m a firm believer that one is either “in” horses or “out” of horses.  When I got out I left that world behind me and never looked back . . . at least until I turn the pages of a beautiful book like this and the memories come flooding back.

      I’ll never have a home that will be in such a book, but after looking at the photos of those gorgeous rooms I’m reminded that my living room sofa and window treatments were only “temporary” as of about eight years ago.  I’m hoping the book will be an inspiration and help me finally make those two changes which have annoyed me about my living room for years.

      If anyone is interested in seeing some of the hunt country farms up close, this coming weekend is the 50th Annual Hunt Country Stable Tour.  This self-driven tour of stables in the Middleburg/Upperville area benefits Trinity Episcopal Church in Upperville where tickets may be purchased and lunch is also available.

      Mosby and Roscoe have little to report this week, but after several months of almost no fiber arts activity I’ve been turning out little finished objects almost every day during the past week.  I started with preemie caps from a pattern that Chan had posted a link for on her blog, then I improvised my own version of a chemo cap that looks like one of those ruffled caps the ladies wore back in the 18th century.  Then I crocheted a worsted weight doily from a pattern I found here.

      I turned in four preemie caps at the RCKmeeting, but I’m keeping  the chemo cap until I make another one and organize my rough notes into a pattern I can post.  I think the doily will become a hot pad and I’m going to make another one using a nicer yarn to place under a teapot.   Since most of what I work on are shawls that seem to take me forever, it’s nice to occasionally have a few simple FOs.

      What have the rest of you been working on?

What’s Been Up

Dogs on Thursday      If there’s anyone out there in blogland who still cares, we’re alive and well but have been extremely busy.  Time sure can fly whether one is having fun or not!

     To quickly recap the last couple of months, Daddy Dawg spent a total of 11 weekend days driving back and forth to Richmond (about 100 miles, one way) for a special course to prepare him to take his state licensing test to become a professional engineer (P.E.).  This was EXTREMELY stressful for him and even more so since his boss for the entire 15 years he’s worked for our local municipal government decided to resign recently. 

      This left that entire government without a P.E. for a short time and it put a lot of pressure on Daddy Dawg to pass the test so that he can be the P.E. for his department.  Luckily a new department head who works in a totally different town department has his P.E. license so if there are any special documents to be signed, he’s now available.  Daddy Dawg won’t learn the results from his licensing test until sometime in late summer.

      In addition to taking a couple of college classes, I’ve been busy working on a website and brushing up on my photo skills in preparation for launching a small photography business sometime this summer.  One of my careers was as a newspaper journalist and photographer, and I later did freelance magazine writing and photography.  From there we both became involved in nature photography, but my mother’s five year illness got me out of the habit of doing anything in photography other than happy snaps.

     The services we plan to offer are multi-faceted, but one area is pet photography.  Mosby used to be a great little model until we forgot to turn the sound off for one of our flash units when it was being used off-camera.  He’s now afraid of our photo equipment, but we’re gradually coaxing him back into it.  Here’s one of his latest pictures.

Mosby

Mosby

      Roscoe has been our champ for the practice photo sessions but this is sure something we never expected.  When we adopted him nine years ago he was deathly afraid of any type of camera equipment.  A couple of years ago I noticed that he could tolerate being around the little pocket cameras, and this spring he has finally allowed us to take “real” pictures of him.  He’s a little nervous at first, but then he settles down and gives us some great looks.   He even gets bored and tries to lie down and go to sleep.  Here’s one of our favorites of him.

Roscoe

Roscoe

     This coming weekend I have a dilemma.  There’s a meeting of the River City Knitters in Richmond where I’m supposed to be helping teach crocheting, but that’s also the same day as the Sedalia Fiber Festival in Bedford County.  I want to go to both of them!
Double Treadle Journey Wheel
Double Treadle Journey Wheel

     I’m thinking Road Trip.  I’ll first show up at the RCK meeting and then scurry off for the drive over to the fiber festival.  It’s going to be a LONG day.

      I did make it to the Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival last weekend despite all that rain.  I only bought a couple of small items, but we put a deposit on a simply gorgeous and unique Journey Wheel made by Johnathan Bosworth.  I had been intrigued by this spinning wheel ever since I first saw it advertised last year and I was very pleased that the Bosworths were there.  I also spent some time talking with a lady from New York who was spinning on a single treadle Journey Wheel at the show.  She loves her wheel, so even though I don’t spin very often, I’m excited that we ordered one.  It won’t be ready until the Fall of 2010 so it gives us plenty of time to save up for it.

     Most of the wood on the Journey Wheel is solid cherry, and when not in use everything folds up into the box to make it extremely portable.

My Second Ledbetter Spindle

My Second Ledbetter Spindle

     I also made several trips to the Golding booth, but I just didn’t bond with any of their lovely drop spindles.  I guess the disappointment was too much for me, though.  I came home and ordered another gorgeous spindle made by Ken Ledbetter.  I LOVE his spindles.  The whorl on this one is Koa wood from Hawaii and once again I chose one with the Russian lacquered broach inlay.  This one spins even more beautifully than my other one, but I buy them more for their art than for spinning.  So far, the Ledbetter spindles are the prettiest ones I’ve ever seen.

      I didn’t make it through the entire S&W Festival but we did tour all of the indoor exhibit buildings and Daddy Dawg went through a barn or two.  But, there was a large group of outdoor vendors in the upper part of the fairgrounds we didn’t visit because of the muddy conditions and intermittent rain.  We did stop by the main building to see Bob from Hunt Country Yarns, and we looked up Barbara from Stony Mountain Fibers in the building next door.

      This summer I’ve signed up for an EMT (Emergency Medical Technician) class since I lost all of my EMS certifications about 10 years ago.  I had been an EMT – Cardiac which at the time was the level just under Paramedic here in Virginia.  Back then, in order to retain your certification at any level above that of a basic EMT, one had to belong to a rescue squad.  I had done this both as a volunteer and as a professional, but when I got out of it all, I wasn’t able to retain my advanced certifications.  I finally let my basic EMT expire. 

      A couple of years later all the rules were changed and now, once someone obtains advanced certifications, they can retain them without belonging to an EMS agency as long as they go to continuing education classes.   Too bad this rule change came too late for me.

      Same thing happened to me as a firefighter.  I had progressed up the ranks and was certified as a Fire Instructor III and an adjunct instructor with the state department of fire programs.  I got out of the fire service at the same time I gave up rescue work, and like an idiot, I didn’t go to the update that was required once every few years to maintain certification.

      All of my credentials expired and lo and behold, a couple of years later the fire service rules were changed and firefighters could retain their certifications for life.  Unfortunately, they didn’t grandfather those of us who had already let them drop.

      I don’t think I’ll be joining a rescue squad, but I do look forward to at least having basic EMT certification again.  I’m no longer up to working professionally in either fire or rescue, and the volunteer organizations around here have enough petty, backstabbing people scattered among them that it’s not pleasant being a volunteer.

      When I worked in fire/rescue professionally I was treated, for the most part, professionally.  But, volunteers are subject to the whims of whomever is popular enough to be elected to various offices, and not all of these people possess leadership abilities.  It was very frustrating being a volunteer and I’ve said for many years that one of the reasons that the volunteer system is having to give way to a mostly paid system is that the volunteers are their own worst enemies.

      Enough about that ’cause I could be here all day writing about it.

      It’s not really Thursday but I started this post with the Dogs on Thursday logo since this will probably be my post for the week.  If you haven’t visited lately, stop by and see what’s been happening with the dog folks in the group.  I understand there are a lot of new members.

Knitting America

      We finally got some snow here in central Virginia but the “mega storm” we were promised fizzled out and only dropped about four inches of the white stuff on us yesterday.  Today, the roads are already bare and grass is showing through the top of what’s left of the snow.   I know our friends Up North are begging for spring after the lashing they’ve had by constant snow storms this winter, but I kind of miss having winters with real snow.  I grew up not far from here and back then we could be assured of at least several feet of snow every year and often more.

      What most people in our region have yet to realize is that not only have we not had much snow this winter, we’ve hardly had any type of precipitation at all.  Winters here in the past couple of decades have featured a bunch of the slushy stuff that freezes on roads and power lines to cause lots of problems for everyone.  This year we’ve had consistently cold temperatures with a few unseasonably warm days thrown into the mix.  Anything that fell from the sky in the last couple of months surely would have produced a measurable snowfall, but the skies have been clear, or depressingly gray and overcast.

Knitting America by Susan Strawn

Knitting America by Susan Strawn

      With a little guidance, Daddy Dawg recently gifted me with a book I’ve been eyeing for a number of months, and after perusing the various chapters I’m wondering why I waited so long to obtain this delightful book.  If you’re a knitter, run right out now to your favorite bookstore or pull Amazon up on your computer and order Knitting America by Susan M. Strawn.

       I majored in history with an emphasis on American history so I knew this book would interest me right from the start.  The subtitle is “A Glorious Heritage from Warm Socks to High Art” but that doesn’t begin to clue you in to the wealth of information assembled both in written word and through dozens and dozens of illustrations from old photographs, magazines, knitting ads and publications, museums, and archives. 

       I especially love the cover of the book and the contrasts it presents. First we have the old portrait of what appears to be a knitting grandmother sitting before her spinning wheel passing knowledge, skills, and traditions on to a young grandchild.  Then in the upper left, the bright yarns remind us how far we’ve grown in our ability to select both basic and designer fibers.  The history of socks through the ages is emphasized in the middle photo and again we have a contrast between the more natural colors of the right sock vs. the kaleidoscope of modern colors in the other one.  The final cover photo takes us beyond the basics to remind us of the many ways knitting has evolved as an art form.

      Inside the book each page is liberally illustrated with photos that do a great job of showing us where knitting has come from and how it has progressed through the years.

Early Knitting in America

Early Knitting in America

      The book begins with a discussion of how and when knitting first came to America and then the chapters follow the history of America by tracing knitting techniques, accessories, pattern styles, fibers, social heritage, family traditions, and national knitting efforts through the Civil War and Victorian periods and then decade by decade right up to the present day.  The author makes sure we learn how knitting fit into the events of each decade, either helping a war effort or providing a social or artistic outlet, or a combination of all. 

      The depth of Strawn’s research includes old diaries, letters, courthouse documents and farm records, historical photos, old knitting and home publications, yarn company resources, and much more.  While avoiding a scholarly tone, she provides a series of endnotes and a list of references that will help guide anyone interested in doing research of their own.

      Strawn has searched countless photo sources to select illustrations to show all facets of our knitting history including:

Social History . . .

The book is beautifully illustrated

The book is beautifully illustrated

Designs and Techniques . . .

Designs and patterns styles are illustrated

Designs and patterns styles are illustrated

Yarns and Needles . . .

Needles and Fiber Through the Decades

Needles and Fiber Through the Decades

      I was surprised at how much I learned just by scanning the various chapters reading here and there whatever caught my attention.  The circular needles shown in the advertisements in the upper right of the above pages appeared in publications back in 1918.  I had no idea that circs had been around that long. 

Early Sock Bag

Early Sock Bag

      And, since I seem to have an attraction for knitting bags, I constantly noticed the variety of baskets and bags shown in the old illustrations.  The one that totally surprised me was this ad for a beautiful satin bag suspended from a sterling silver bracelet that served as a combination purse and sock bag for eager knitters in the early days of the 20th century.  Obviously the colorful sock bags that I buy from Gypsy Knits are a modern rendition of an old favorite.

      The social and charitable traditions of knitting are constantly woven throughout the book and several chapters have a big emphasis on how knitting bound together the women who were left behind on the homefront when their men went off to the various wars.  Knitting socks and other warm items to send to the men gave them a sense of purpose and a means of companionship that helped pass many otherwise lonely hours.

      When one first learns to knit perhaps the tradtions behind this pastime don’t seem important.  When I began to knit last year I recognized that this was a craft passed down through the ages and I remembered my mother’s early attempts to teach me, unsuccessful that they were.  Back then I gravitated more to crocheting, but soon lost interest in it all.

      It wasn’t until I took a spinning class from Barbara at Stony Mountain Fibers that I began to think about where our knitting traditions and sources of fiber have come from through the ages and how much the past has influenced the present.  Barbara begins by teaching her students the basics and sends them home with a small bag of fleece and a set of hand cards so that they can wash and card the fleece before forming it into rolags and then spinning it into yarn.  [For more about the experience, scroll through here.]

      I immediately realized how much work our ancestors went through just to make the yarn they used for their garments.  Although I now do a little spinning and own a wheel, I’m thankful that I can just buy pre-dyed roving for my spinning efforts.  My knitting and crocheting projects, so far, have not used any of my own yarns.    But, ever since the class I’ve felt a strong pull from the fiber that ties all of us to the knitters and spinners of centuries past.  Knitting America gave me new knowledge and understanding of where our knitting traditions have come from and I learn something new each time I look at the book.

      If you have room for only one book on the history of knitting in America and how it has influenced us, I think this is one that you will really enjoy.  I know I did.

It Ain’t Roofin’ Shingles!

President Abraham Lincoln

President Abraham Lincoln

      February certainly is a big month for holidays.  I still remember when we celebrated Lincoln’s birthday (February 12) and George Washington’s birthday (February 22) separately.  Even back when they were first combined into one day it didn’t seem this close to Valentine’s Day.

President George Washington

President George Washington

      But, here we are the day after the big red hearts, flowers, and candy day getting ready to celebrate President’s Day tomorrow, February 16.   It’s probably more  fitting that the selected day comes midway between Washington and Lincoln anyhow.   After all, we’ve had a number of great Presidents so perhaps it isn’t fair to single out just the two as we’ve done so much in the past.

      And, to round out our weekend holiday triple-play, today is Flag Day in Canada, so greetings to all of my Canadian friends.

      I hope all of you had a great Valentine’s Day filled with flowers, candy, candlelight dinners, and whatever other loving ways your honey elected to share the day with you.  My day wasn’t as exciting, and I hesitate to tell you about it.  But, I decided to do so in the hope that my experience might provide helpful information in case you ever find yourself in my shoes.

      As I sit here typing, my left eye is partially shut and weeping.  The upper half of the left side of my face is red like a lobster and I have bumps on my forehead, all along the left hairline, under the hair on the left side of my head, on the bridge of my nose, and on my left upper lip.  Even worse, I have them all along my upper and lower left eyelid.  Sometimes the bumps itch and sometimes they just burn and feel like the skin wants to crack open.  Trust me, folks.  I ain’t pretty! 

      Earlier in the weekend I was taking an anti-viral medication and now we’ve added an antibiotic and an eye antibiotic.  So far, I haven’t seen much improvement.

      No, I haven’t contracted some strange disease from Outer Space.  It’s just a blast from the past come back to haunt me.  It seems I’m suffering from shingles.

      Did you know that you can get shingles on your face?  I didn’t.  Sure, I’ve heard about shingles for years.  It affects folks who had chicken pox when they were youngsters and then in middle-age or during the senior years something triggers the virus and it breaks out again, this time as shingles.  The red blotches usually occur along the trunk and/or waist where the itch and the burn annoy whatever poor sucker is unlucky enough to come down with them. 

      My ordeal began innocently enough.  At the beginning of the week I noticed a small, itchy bump at my hairline.  By the next day it had added a few friends and it kinda looked like poison ivy.  But, I knew neither I nor the dogs had been near the stuff.  Then I noticed a red rectangle on the side of my face, and soon my left eye began weeping and it felt like something was scratching it.  By Wednesday afternoon I was becoming concerned so I made a doctor’s appointment. 

      On Thursday, with my eye half shut,  I consulted one of my nursing books to see what strange maladies are associated with rashes.  The first one I looked up was shingles.  When I read that it can affect the facial nerve and it attacks unilaterally, I knew I’d found the culprit.  My doctor confirmed my self-diagnosis.  Since then, I’ve encountered a number of friends who have either had shingles on their face, or know someone who has.  So how come we only hear about folks having it on their midsections? 

Red as a Lobster

Red as a Lobster

      Are we so vain that we hide  our lobster faces behind closed doors until the bumps and redness and swelling  finally go away?  You betcha!

      Unless I feel the need to go back to the doctor again, you won’t be seeing my red face outside my front door any time soon except to let Mosby and Roscoe out for their pottie breaks.  And, I guarantee you they’ll be on a leash because I’m not taking a chance on them running off to someplace where someone might see me.

      One of the most important things that I’ve learned about shingles is that you need to seek treatment right away.  Shingles is the result of a virus similar to the chicken pox virus and the anti-viral medication most often prescribed works best if it is started within 48 hours of the outbreak.  My doctor tells me it may take 10 days to two weeks for this stuff to go away, and a friend’s mother-in-law still has trouble wearing make-up on one small section of her face where she had shingles months ago.

      You can find more information on shingles here and here and there’s an informative slide show that starts here.  A shingles vaccine recommended for persons 60 and older was approved in 2006.  There’s more information on the vaccine at the Center for Disease Control website.

      I’m a little younger than most folks who suffer from an attack of shingles so I don’t know why I received this present so early unless something from my body’s response to my recent knee surgery triggered the attack.  But, I sure can tell you I’ll be glad when this stuff goes away. 

      I hope the information I’ve shared with you will help you identify the problem if you ever have it.  According to the medical text I consulted, most shingles affects the thoractic region, but it can also erupt in connection with a cervical, facial, lumbar, or sacral nerve group.  So, if you find yourself breaking out in an unexplained red and itchy rash that may be accompanied by a burning sensation, seek medical treatment as quickly as possible.  Good luck getting rid of the stuff!

A Crafty Find and New Technology

      It seems that while I was having a great time at Knittin’ at the Lake I missed my own blog anniversary.  If I’d been tending to my blog a little more regularly in recent months the big event wouldn’t have slipped past me.  I’ll have to look for some special things to put together for a belated giveaway. Stay tuned for more information soon.

      While I was visiting Ginger at Deep Fried Kudzo I came across a great decorating idea.  As you can see by the long list of projects Ginger has shared in her blog, she’s quite a crafty lady.   The Yarn Wreath that she created for a Chanukah decoration is one of her more fun projects.  It would be great in red and green for Christmas, in pastels for spring colors, red and white for Valentine’s Day, or orange and brown for fall colors.  Add a little ribbon or other embellishments and the possibilities are endless.  Here’s what Ginger’s wreath looked like when she finished it.  Don’t you think this is a great idea?

Yarn Wreath by Ginger at Deep Fried Kudzu

Yarn Wreath by Ginger at Deep Fried Kudzu

      No, those aren’t real balls of yarn in the wreath.  Ginger used a limited amount of each yarn to cover Styrofoam balls to make them look like a ball of yarn.  If you’d like to learn how she made her wreath, she has complete directions here.

      I also have two new “toys” to share with you. 

      Back when I was recovering from my knee surgery I spent a lot of time reading in bed.  Now I knit in bed.  But, no matter what position I get in, I never seem to have enough light or the light is coming from the wrong direction.  After a while it got to be really annoying, at least until this past weekend.

      Last month at Knittin’ at the Lake one of the vendors brought a tabletop OttLite with them.  I didn’t buy it, but I kept thinking about it after I got home.  A few days ago I searched online to see what I could find.

Battery and Electric Task Light from OttLite

Battery/Electric Task Light from OttLite

      It turns out that Jo-Ann Fabric and Crafts had ALL of their OttLites on sale for 50% off PLUS free shipping.  That was too good to pass up, so after comparing the different models I decided on the battery operated task light.  The selling point for me was that the light could either be plugged into the wall or unplugged tocarry around to wherever I need it. 

      It arrived Saturday and it’s a great light.   I no longer have any excuse for catching an extra sliver of  yarn with my needle because now I can see the entire stitch quite clearly. There’s a plug near my nightstand so this is where the light stays most of the time, and then in the evenings I unplug it and carry it into our sunroom so I can knit while watching TV.  According to the directions, it will produce light for about three hours on the battery alone.  The light is bright, not harsh, and easy to work by.

      I took a quick look at the Jo-Ann website tonight and discovered that although the company is still offering free shipping (for a limited time, it says) the price is now 40% off rather than 50%.  If you’re interested in one of these great lights you’d better run over there and take a look.  The sale prices seem to be online only.

      Back in the fall when we were in Michigan, Daddy Dawg dropped his Motorola Razr phone and the impact directly on one corner severely damaged the phone.  He didn’t have phone insurance and to avoid paying full price for a new phone he had to wait until his account became eligible for an upgrade shortly after Christmas.  It’s a good thing he also has a cell phone from his workplace or he’d have been phoneless for quite some time.

Motorola Tundra

Motorola Tundra

      When we went to look at phones early in January the helpful salesman told him that Motorola would soon be coming out with a new phone called the Tundra that was being built to military standards.  Daddy Dawg decided that was the phone he wanted, so last week he acquired the first one to be sold in one of our local stores. 

      We went back Friday night and purchased another one for me.  I’d been debating for several months about how to replace the ailing cell phone I’d used when I was selling real estate and the best way to reduce my rather large cell phone bill that includes the phone and my computer air card.   Since I’ve racked up thousands of rollover minutes it’s obvious I no longer need the amount of usage I’ve been paying for.  And, the payments are no longer deductible as a business expense.

      I researched the available plans and asked the salesman many questions and it finally dawned on me that I should just give up my own cell phone and we’d add another line to Daddy Dawg’s Family Talk account for $10 a month.  And, we removed the unlimited Internet access from my backup phone and added it to my new phone.  Total increase to Daddy Dawg for my new account:  $10.  When I call tomorrow and cancel my phone I’ll end up saving $70 a month.  Any little reduction in today’s economy is a “good thing” as Martha Stewart would say.

      If you’re wondering why I have a backup phone it’s because I had the rather unpleasant experience of having a cell phone totally die on me in the middle of a thousand mile trip a few years ago.  Like the new phone, the backup phone is another one of those $10 add-ons to the Family Talk plan.

      The Tundra may not be one of the trendy smart phones with a keyboard and all the other bells and whistles you see on a Blackberry, iPhone, or Treo, but, don’t underestimate what comes in this rugged but old-fashioned package. 

AT&T Navigator on the Tundra

AT&T Navigator on the Tundra

      If I need to text message I can do it quickly with the bigger buttons on the keypad, it stores the same type and quantity of information that my old PDA did, it has a camera and an awesome speaker, it will dial on voice command, read me the names on my contact list,  and provide access to whatever I might need from the Internet.  It also has a GPS and Push to Talk capability and I can pay for XM radio, navigation assistance, special weather reports, or download music for it although I doubt that I’ll be using any of the fee-associated applications.  And, if I absolutely have to check an e-mail without a computer, it’s easy to do.  Earlier tonight I even caught Daddy Dawg watching a video on his phone until I reminded him that the unlimited data plan does NOT mean he has unlimited air time.

      I spent most of Saturday getting acquainted with the features of the new phone and making lots of changes and additions to my address book.  I think I’m going to enjoy this phone a lot more than the one it replaced.  Now I just have to remember to get the paperwork together to apply for the Tundra rebate.

      Mosby and Roscoe asked me to say hello to everyone for them.  Mosby was quite the little charmer at our therapy dog visit on Friday and although his arthritis is bothering him, Roscoe still wants to chase everything that moves in the yard outside his windows.  I should have photos of them in a few days.  Until then, have a great week.

Knittin’ at the Lake

      It’s February 1st and Daddy Dawg left today to deliver the last of the Christmas presents and the remainder of our decorations are now packed in boxes waiting to head up to our attic crawl space.  While we always have a few presents that don’t get delivered until January, this was by far our worst record yet, especially since the gifts being delivered today are for Daddy Dawg’s family.

      The delay was despite our best intentions.  We invited Daddy Dawg’s parents to lunch in December but they had company from out-of-town.  We scheduled a new date, but then I caught a nasty cold and had to cancel at the last minute.  From there we ran into my return to college and all the hoopla surrounding it.  Before I knew it, it was time for Knittin’ at the Lake.  What happened last weekend I can’t even recall.  I think Daddy Dawg wasn’t feeling well.  But now, finally, Christmas at our house is OVER!

Welcome to Clarksville

Welcome to Clarksville

      I’m sure I’m the last of the Knittin’ at the Lake attendees to post about the event.  I even missed the first night because I was worn out from all of the walking at the two colleges where I’m taking classes.  My new knee was great but the other one sure took a beating. But, early on a Saturday morning two weeks ago I left home with the thermometer hovering just above zero degrees F. and headed to Clarksville, VA where my friend Robin has been organizing this outing for the past few years.  Robin did a complete report on the event and you might like to read her version in addition to mine:  Day 1, Day 2, Day 3.

Best Western on the Lake

Best Western on the Lake

      KATL is held at the Best Western on the Lake in Clarksville.  Clarksville’s claim to fame comes from being the only town located on what I’ve always known as Buggs Island Lake but which now seems to go by the name of the John H. Kerr Reservoir.  No matter what you call it, the lake covers 50,000 +/-acres on the Virginia/North Carolina border and during the warmer months of the year I understand that the little town that borders it is bursting at the seams.

Where to Find Clarksville, VA

Where to Find Clarksville, VA -- look for the red star

Motel breakfast bar and kitchenette

Motel breakfast bar and kitchenette

      I had never been to Clarksville before and I was pleasantly surprised both by the quality of the Best Western and also by the number of restaurants and places to visit in the town.   My room was in the same building as the conference center where our event was being held so it was a convenient walk down the hall to reach all the activities.  All of the rooms in this building overlook the lake and they have either a balcony or a patio along with them.  And, there’s a breakfast bar and a little kitchenette on the other side with sink, microwave and refrigerator.  It was really quite nice.

      I’m getting a little ahead of myself, but we dined on Saturday night at Cooper’s Landing Inn and the food was quite good.  I ate with my friend Cathy from the River City Knitters who recommended it, and when we arrived we found more Richmond area knitters already there.   In fact, everyone in our room at the restaurant was from the KATL group.

Cooper's Landing Inn, Clarksville, VA

Cooper's Landing Inn, Clarksville, VA

      The Inn’s menu described one appetizer as “Our signature creamy crab dip with a blend of fresh herbs and roasted red peppers. Served with toasted French baguette and fresh fruit $9.95″”  At my favorite restaurant back home — which has generous portions — this would have resulted in a small bowl of dip, probably 6 pieces of bread, and a few pieces of  fruit.  My eyes popped when the Cooper’s Landing version arrived. The bowl of crab dip was about about five inches across and and deep.  It came with an entire baguette and a large assortment of fruit.  It could easily have fed both of us and the ladies at the next table.   We ate and ate and still had enough left to box up and take with us.  I think I’ll remember that appetizer for a long time to come.

      Other folks enjoyed lunch or dinner at the nearby Lake House Restaurant.  While in Clarksville I also picked up brochures for a number of interesting shops or locations that I’ll plan to visit next time.  They include Hall’s Lakeside Gallery, Virginia Avenue Mall, Clarksville Regional MuseumPrestwould Plantation, and Occoneechee State Park.  There’s also a brochure describing a walking tour of the historic part of the town and another on a driving tour of Highway 58 which runs through Clarksville along Virginia’s southern border.

      My overall impresion of Clarksville was of a tidy and fairly prosperous little town owing, I’m sure, to the influx of dollars from the tourist trade.  Other nearby towns have seen jobs lost as major employers shut down so Clarksville is fortunate for its position on the lake.

Morning view from my room

Morning view from my room

      And, the lake was a main feature of our knitting retreat since the conference room looks out over one section of it. 

River City Knitter Cathy and a view towards the lake

River City Knitter Cathy and a view towards the lake

I arrived about lunch time of Saturday, and after checking in to my spacious room and a quick trip to the McDonald’s next door, I headed for the conference room where the afternoon vendors had just finished setting up.  From yarn and knitting supplies to books and baskets and handmade jewelry, there was something for everyone.

Earrings by Mary Martin

Earrings by Mary Martin

      I couldn’t resist Mary Martin’s lovely earrings but I held out on yarn until the last minute when I finally bought a skein of lace weight silk dyed by Claudia Hand Painted Yarns that I found at the Knitting Sisters booth.  I also won two door prizes.  The first was a bottle of Citrus Soak for washing fine fibers and the second was a Knit Light from Nancy’s Knit Knacks.  Cathy actually won the Knit Light and I won a felting kit, but since she didn’t think she would use the light and I don’t felt, we traded. 

Never Not Knitting Calendar

Never Not Knitting Calendar

      During the Knitter’s Gift Exchange I received the Stephanie Pearl-McPhee Never Not Knitting Page-a-Day Calendar and a notions pouch donated by Cathy who was sitting to my left.  Ironically, she received the swap package donated by the knitter to her left.  During KATL I also became better acquainted with blogless Renny (Ravelry ID FrequentFrogger) from our RCK group who sat across from me, and Timmie from North Carolina who sat to my right.  She regularly participates in the Danville, VA knit night.  There were lots of other familiar faces from the RCK and I also got to see the cute little electric Butterfly spinner that Mary  purchased last summer.

We knit and knit and knit . . .

We knit and knit and knit . . .

      So what did we do at KATL?  We knit.  And talked. And knit and talked some more.  We snacked, we dined, and we drank wine.  There were goodies in the conference room kitchen and the recipes ended up in a booklet Robin put together for us after the event.  We knit.  Occasionally we frogged.  And then we knit some more.  By the time the weekend was over, a number of us had already made reservations for next year’s event. 

      I guess the best way to sum it all up is to say that a good time was had by all.  See you there next year!

Yarn was available from several vendors

Yarn was available from several vendors