mishmash

I had a break in my classwork for a few days and it seemed so strange not to be sneaking textbooks to work and scheduling tests and essays…but I got used to it!! I spent the time finishing my Christmas shopping (thank God for Amazon Prime), and doing a bit of knitting, and some reading for fun.

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I finished these simple house slippers (Raveled here) – originally for me, but I made them a bit too small, so they ended up going to my daughter. She was happy with the gift (“elf slippers” she called them) but she probably won’t get much use out of them – her socks are one of the first things she sheds when she gets home and even in the dead of winter she runs around inside the house barefoot. I can’t imagine this as I’m always freezing.

This pattern was quirky as it started flat but then finished in the round, and got stitched up the back. This seems to make the heel a little prone to slip down the back of the foot, at least on L’s pair. I think I’m going to try them again for myself so I can really get a feel for whether that’s a problem.

I’m doing a bit of Christmas knitting for a girlfriend, and am planning to cast on for a pair of socks soon. I really liked the Jaywalker pattern that I did an eon ago in Australia and still wear them quite a bit. And now that I know how to properly Kitchener stitch the toes, I don’t feel so inclined to search out a toe-up pattern.

As far as reading goes, I’m halfway through “The Bear and the Nightingale”, by Katherine Arden, which I didn’t expect to catch my interest as much as it has. It’s a medieval Russian fairytale and although the main character struck me as being a bit of a “plucky girl” stereotype (you know the kind – tomboyish, can’t be tamed, the despair of her family as they try to make her fit into the male-dominated world they live in) she’s also very likeable and endearing. This is the first book in what Arden is calling the “Winternight Trilogy” and the sequel is due in December.

I’m also plodding through “Wolf by Wolf” by Ryan Graudin. In reverse of “Bear”, I expected to love this one instantly and yet so far, it hasn’t caught my interest in much more than a dutiful manner. It’s an alternate historical fiction with the premise that the Axis powers won WWII, and used their experimentation on war prisoners to create people capable of shapeshifting, taking on the physical attributes of another human. There’s a brief interview with the author here. I love historical fiction and yet this one just isn’t doing it for me.

I listened to an audio book club review of “Manhattan Beach” by Jennifer Egan and put it on my library hold list. I understand that she is quite a brilliant writer and that some of her prior works have been innovative. This one was described as less revolutionary and more like a “comfortable Thanksgiving dinner” of a historical novel which is definitely more my speed.

And to round off this mishmash of nonsense, if you’re looking for a good recipe for leftovers, try this. I was scrolling through Instagram on the day after Thanksgiving when a picture of this pot pie came up and both B & I thought it looked good for our leftover turkey. It really was! I’m a big fan of the pot pie genre and I’m an even bigger fan of being able to use leftovers in a tasty and appealing way. I liked it so much, in fact, that it went into my rotation this week at home (using leftover chicken).
Hope you are all enjoying your week as much as I am. xo

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the one with thanksgiving and iowa city

To my great surprise, I fell in love with Iowa City over Thanksgiving weekend. I’m sure a lot of it had to do with the great company I was keeping, but B’s neighborhood charmed me to the core. He lives in the bottom floor of an old university residence in a neighborhood full of sprawling historic homes – golden planked wood floors, cracked plaster and tortoiseshell doorknobs. He pointed out the old Civil War recruiting house and the stone step, worn away from boots. Similar to the town where I grew up, there were random stone steps for climbing into carriages on the curbs, and rambling Georgians and Victorians under old oak trees. He lives close to church spires and the sound of their bells, and he can hear the whistle at the old power plant that still sets out the framework of the workday.

We ran our own Turkey Trot around campus on Thanksgiving morning. It was crisp and cold and the river was like glass.

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I’d expected that we would spend the day cooking and watching The Godfather marathon on AMC, but B had a surprise for me. One of the fellows he works with knew he was alone in the city, and invited him to his parent’s church for a Thanksgiving meal. The invitation was made so nicely that B didn’t want to refuse, and I was happy to go – who turns down two Thanksgiving meals? Not this girl.

We drove a few minutes to the nearby town and followed the directions. “There it is,” I said, and B turned quickly down a side street to park in a drift of fallen leaves. “I didn’t see it,” he said. “Well,” I said, “it doesn’t look like your typical church.”

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In fact, the church is a converted pizza restaurant, and I had a bad moment of shyness when we walked into the big single room – lots of faces turned to us. However, very quickly we found two empty seats next to the pastor and his wife, and the fellow who had invited B came over. We spent a very pleasurable two hours eating a great buffet-style meal and chatting with our tablemates in an amazing show of hospitality and friendship. We went home to our own cooking and relaxation, and Godfather and Edward Gorey 1,000 piece puzzle feeling happy that we’d had an adventure in holiday spirit. And later that evening, we decorated the little tree that I’d brought from Michigan to help brighten his holiday season.

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yes, that’s elvis in the tree.

On Black Friday it was almost 70 so we walked the prairie trail at the Herbert Hoover museum, had big turkey sandwiches for lunch, and spent hours browsing at the Haunted Bookshop, a labyrinthine used bookshop not far from B’s house.

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50,000 books, two cats, and ghost is the haunted bookshop’s tagline – but we only saw the books and 1 cat.

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On Saturday, we ran again, and I made a quick pilgrimage to a house I knew from the funny pages. My Michigan team fell to his Ohio State Buckeyes and he took me for beer and amazing cheeseburgers at an ancient dive bar to soothe my disappointment.

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bloom county forever

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All too soon, it was time to load up my car and drive home – listening to a really good Charlie Donlea audiobook mystery – and home to this face.

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Miss L comes home today and I can’t wait to see her and hear about her adventures, and tell her mine. I hope you & yours had as lovely a weekend as I did. xoxo

bonhomie

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A few more sleeps until Thanksgiving week, which should hopefully be less busy than the last few weeks have been. So what have I been up to? A lot of side hustle, honestly – who would have thought that an online certificate class could be so absorbing? I’ve been putting in a lot of hours with Statsky 8th edition and the Federal Civil Rules booklet. The upside to this is that it’s all very interesting and even the tests and homework are like little mind puzzles to break apart and peer into. So I don’t honestly mind the extra time even though it does mean less time for other things I enjoy, like knitting or reading for pleasure.

B & I spent a very rainy but lovely weekend in Chicago – it’s sort of a “meet in the middle” spot for us. I took the train so I would be able to study and finish my tests and homework for the week (and also avoid parking fees and Chicago traffic). We stayed in a haunted hotel (no sightings!), went to the art museum, ate some great meals, had drinks, and walked many miles.

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Next week I will be loading up my car with all manner of things and driving out to see him in Iowa City. Miss L will be with her dad and although I’ll miss her very much, I know she’ll have fun and I will, too. I’m taking B a little Christmas tree and packing a box of cooking supplies & provisions for Thanksgiving (he found the cutest little 9-lb turkey for us). He likes Iowa City a lot and I’m excited to see the campus and his neighborhood.

Before that, though, Miss L will be stepping out with her elementary school choir to warm up the crowds at the Fox Theater in Detroit this Sunday! Her choir will be singing Christmas tunes on the stairway of the Fox preceding a performance of How the Grinch Stole Christmas. My grandmother, a singer and retired church choir leader herself, was tickled pink that L has joined the choir and sent her some spending money for a new dress & shoes. We are all excited to start the holiday season in such a festive way!

Lastly, yesterday was the annual Widget Central potluck. I love this event…one of the engineers’ side hustles is as a wedding singer and he sets up his keyboard and croons live music for us.  The Engineering manager uses part of his budget to get two hams and a turkey (“it’s better to have more than not enough,” he shrugged yesterday) and we gorge on all manner of  delicacies, from rice balls brought by the Japanese associates to butter chicken and curries from the Indian engineers to seven-layer dip to homemade bread…the list goes on. I ran out of time this week and bought a pumpkin roll…I considered taking it out of the plastic box and wrapping it in plastic wrap and trying to pass it off as homemade but I didn’t even have a chance to do that. It was no matter. It was still a bountiful meal and the music was funny and touching and the room was full of bonhomie and, as always, reminded me of the common things that bring us all together.

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I’ll close with a gentle reminder about the proper way to approach your Thanksgiving dessert…xoxo.

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seasonal equipoise

Fall is my favorite season but this past week has been almost too busy to enjoy! (Almost.)

I’m in my second week of a paralegal certification class. My boss is amazingly supportive about education, and in fact, Widget Central has approached me twice about sending me back to law school…I considered it, but with L at the age that she’s at, it’s too much. However, when I asked if I could pursue my paralegal certification, she agreed readily..I have a bachelor’s, and my responsibilities at Widget Central are more middle-management than straight paralegal, but having the certificate can’t hurt in case I ever decide to head out and want to work somewhere else – a law firm, or another corporate legal department.
I opted for an abbreviated yet intensive certification program from a highly rated university. I quickly realized that it’s much more demanding than I’d been envisioning. I’ve been spending my free hours reading and doing homework, tests and essays, and while it’s interesting and absorbing, it’s definitely challenged my time management skills.

On top of the classwork side hustle, it’s always a busy week leading up to Trunk or Treat at L’s elementary school. If you remember from last year, L’s family takes Halloween seriously! We swept the awards last year, with L’s dad and stepmom winning the grand prize and me taking runner-up. This year, L’s dad was out of town for work, so stepmom K and I teamed up and did a joint Harry Potter theme. K is enormously talented and made a spectacularly lovely dragon – she buys material from special-effects shops and her work is boggling. He is a beauty. Unfortunately, when ToT arrived, it was pouring down rain and so the event was moved inside to the gym. We decided not to bring the handsome fellow because of the rain, but she still outdid herself with props and decorations and we won Best Design. L had a great time and that’s what matters most and I have to say, I really enjoy spending time with K – she’s a great artist and a down to earth person and a huge asset in L’s life! We are truly blessed.

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Usually I do not post pics of L on this site, but I have to share this one of her Halloween costume because I really think it’s something special. L designed and envisioned a Steampunk theme and K brought it to life.

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Before the side hustle started, I also had time for some knitting…Raveled here.

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And of course – a Halloween poem – with new word for me – used in the post title!

Haunted Houses

All houses wherein men have lived and died
Are haunted houses. Through the open doors
The harmless phantoms on their errands glide,
With feet that make no sound upon the floors.

We meet them at the door-way, on the stair,
Along the passages they come and go,
Impalpable impressions on the air,
A sense of something moving to and fro.

There are more guests at table than the hosts
Invited; the illuminated hall
Is thronged with quiet, inoffensive ghosts,
As silent as the pictures on the wall.

The stranger at my fireside cannot see
The forms I see, nor hear the sounds I hear;
He but perceives what is; while unto me
All that has been is visible and clear.

We have no title-deeds to house or lands;
Owners and occupants of earlier dates
From graves forgotten stretch their dusty hands,
And hold in mortmain still their old estates.

The spirit-world around this world of sense
Floats like an atmosphere, and everywhere
Wafts through these earthly mists and vapours dense
A vital breath of more ethereal air.

Our little lives are kept in equipoise
By opposite attractions and desires;
The struggle of the instinct that enjoys,
And the more noble instinct that aspires.

These perturbations, this perpetual jar
Of earthly wants and aspirations high,
Come from the influence of an unseen star
An undiscovered planet in our sky.

And as the moon from some dark gate of cloud
Throws o’er the sea a floating bridge of light,
Across whose trembling planks our fancies crowd
Into the realm of mystery and night,—

So from the world of spirits there descends
A bridge of light, connecting it with this,
O’er whose unsteady floor, that sways and bends,
Wander our thoughts above the dark abyss.

slumbering gods of coba

After several days of lounging in the sunshine, reading books and enjoying good food and good company, on our last day in Cancun we were ready for an adventure.

Coba is a Mayan village about a 2-hour road trip from our hotel. We boarded a van a little before lunch, and quickly got acquainted with the others in our tour – one other American couple, a Spanish couple, a pair of hilarious Mexican women who came prepared with a handbag full of Bud Light and Cheetos, and a polite young Brazilian traveling by himself with a bag full of camera equipment. Our tour guide, Jose, immediately spoke to us in Mayan, and then translated – he was originally from Coba – a small village still exists near the ruins of the Mayan city. He explained that Coba was a crossroads of sorts for ancient Mayans, and the stelae, or stone slabs that would be engraved with various bits of information, drawings, etc, had dates around 780 AD in some places.

The weather was very hot and humid, and the area of Coba is fairly sprawling. The tour companies keep a fleet of battered bicycles which we used to cycle to the different areas.

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The tallest pyramid is in a grouping called the Nohoch Mul, and is the last Mayan pyramid in the Yucatan that tourists are permitted to climb. This will change at the end of this year, when climbing is banned. I understand why and honestly can’t believe that climbing is still permitted – it seems odd to think that they would allow so many streams of tourists access to an archaeological site of such significance. Our guide explained that the decision was also safety related, and once we started climbing, I understood that aspect, too. The high stone steps were shiny and slick with wear, with a rope to help climbers get up and down. B & I set out with our tour group in the blazing sun, and although the height in many places bothered me, with B’s coaxing and help, I made it to the top.

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It was a very strange feeling to be standing on a structure of that age and spiritual significance. The limestone was cool and very smooth even in the sun, and seemed to absorb the light. Jose was adamant that the pyramids were never used for human sacrifice, that the Mayans were a peaceful and non-aggressive people. If there was sacrifice, he said, it was done in other places, places not associated with prayer. He also told us that the limestone was carved with tools made of volcanic rock, which had to be brought to the Yucatan peninsula from Central America by foot; he said the limestone reflects the moonlight beautifully, and the pyramids served to guide the travelers who came to Coba to trade. At the top were two inscriptions of the descending or diving god. Not much is known about it except that it may be associated with the Mayan bee god, bees being symbols of the connection to the spiritual world.

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diving or descending god at the top of the nohoch mul pyramid.

We also toured the Mayan ball court, where Jose explained the critical role that the death game played in Mayan culture. There were stelae at the ball court, as well as two round engravings set into the dirt between the walls of the ball court. One depicted a very recognizable human skull, and the other, Jose explained, was an image of a decapitated jaguar holding its own head.

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jose explaining the mayan ball game; the stone slab depicts the mayan calendar, and under the center pillar you can see the round stone through which players had to direct the ball.

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The trip was fascinating and profound. As B said, these pyramids were standing during so many historic events; for Americans, whose historical landmarks are relatively young, it is amazing to put your hands on a stone that was carved in 780 AD, or before, in many cases. Despite the tourists riding bikes or being pedaled around in “tricycles”, it was unearthly quiet, and I couldn’t help but feel the shivery stillness of slumbering old gods everywhere in the trees and stones.

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That night, we were given dinner in the top floor of an open-air restaurant as the sun set over a lagoon across the street. The cinder block houses of the Coba village were open to the stifling air and occupants watched us without much interest. Dogs wandered here and there, enervated by the heat. Up in that airless place, we ate huge plates of marinated chicken, rice and beans, and then a group of villagers put on an amazing show. They were painted and costumed as Mayan gods, the god of death depicted as an owl, and players on a Mayan ball court with jaguar masks, headdresses, and as skeletons with skull masks. A tiny girl, younger than L, was costumed elaborately and stood impassive among the whirling suppressed violence of the dance. They drummed and chanted and it was a deadly serious performance that left the dim night thrumming with intensity and a strange, tense, fascinating energy. At the end, one of the performers, glistening with sweat and streaked paint, told us in Mayan, then Spanish, then English that what we had seen was ritual, a legacy from the beginning of Mayan time that was passed from father to son and so on. It represented, he said, the pinnacle of the physical, the emotional, and the spiritual world of the Mayans.

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Our guide explained that the ball game at Coba was played with members of the upper class stationed at the top of the ball courts, and members of the lower class on the ground. They passed the ball without using hands or feet, and the team that was able to manipulate the ball through a stone ring at the top of  the court would win. The lower class members of the winning team would then be taken to a different site, and sacrificed. Jose said many times during our tour that the Mayans did not sacrifice at the pyramids, that they were only for prayer, and, he reiterated again that the ball game was entirely voluntary and the sacrifice was an honor. Mayans, he said, believed that a person had to progress through nine layers of the underworld, and then thirteen levels of heaven. I trust Jose’s knowledge of his own culture, and the culture of his ancestors, yet I would be interested to know more about the role of human sacrifice in Mayan religion. I fully intend to do more reading on the topic, and our guide also recommended the movie “Apocalypto” – he said that while Mel Gibson didn’t get everything right (mixing up aspects of the separate Toltec and Mayan cultures and even mixing up elements from different time periods) the movie is excellent and the language absolutely authentic. He said he could understand every bit of the Mayan dialogue.

I loved this part of the trip the most – I would highly recommend a trip to Coba, or Tulum or Chichen Itza (two other nearby Mayan archaeological sites) if you are ever in the Yucatan peninsula. Our tour guide was amazing, as was the site, the food, and especially the performers from Coba.

Nate; and I’m having fun.

B and I woke up early and ran in the rain; it soon stopped and we went poolside. The weather was clear and very hot and humid. The water is turquoise on the ocean side of the resort, big waves. At night you can watch jewel-lit glittering cruise ships pass on the black horizon.

B put up the beach umbrella and soon a rotund hotel employee in a hot pink shirt rolled down and started putting it back down. We asked him why, and, puffed up, he advised us that Tropical Storm Nate would move through around 8. B pointed out that it was only 10, and he spread his hands in the helpless “nothing I can do” gesture. He rolled off and was tongue lashed by an elderly woman whose umbrella was his next target; she received the same helpless gesture but she couldn’t let it go. After appealing to management, she was able to smugly reinstate her shade and soon they bloomed like mushrooms.

The only real signs that we had a storm last night were the facts that they brought our balcony furniture in and closed the pool early. This resulted in staggering numbers of people in the lobby swarming over the snack table and consuming free alcohol. (“They closed all the bars down the strip cuz they’re open-air – Senor Frog, Pancho Willie. People don’t have nowhere to go,” B’s sister’s boyfriend drawled in his Southern accent. “Wait, there’s really a place called Senor Frog?? And people GO THERE?” B asked incredulously.) 

The preponderance of free alcohol is gobsmacking. We have a series of bottles in our room, beer in the fridge, swim-up bars, all free free free. (“This,” B’s sister says, waving a hand at the slack-faced, sunburnt pool patrons clutching sweating plastic cups full of booze, “is what perpetrates this ‘tainted alcohol’ thing. All these people who come down here, lounge around in 90 degree blazing tropical sunshine, drink only alcohol, and then wonder why they feel like hell.”)

I’m not much of a beach vacation kind of gal, but I have to say, there is an interesting abandon with which the resort-goers attack this place. From our pale Midwestern position under the sun umbrella, with my straw hat and our library books (The Magician King for me, Garrison Keillor for him) surrounded as we are by shrieking, extremely drunk people glistening with sweat and suntan oil, revealing alarming amounts of sun-damaged, poorly-toned, leathery hide, I am having fun.