Sunday, September 30, 2007

Rest in Peace, Aunt Kathie

My mother's younger sister died alone in her home in Fremont, Nebraska, sometime within the last day or two***. She was 70 years old.

[***Edited on 10/4/07 to add: It broke my heart to find out from my cousin yesterday that Aunt Kathie apparently died sometime around September 14th, but wasn't found until September 29th, more than two weeks later. I am haunted by this.]

Here is Aunt Kathie as Maid of Honor at my parents' wedding in 1954:

And a more recent photo of her from last year:

Kathie was a heavy smoker and was having breathing difficulties and on oxygen during her last days. The police found her, I assume after being summoned by one of my cousins who couldn't reach her by phone. [***ETA: A neighbor found her, and called the police, who called my cousin who lives in a neighboring Nebraska town.] As of this writing, we don't yet know the official cause of death, but no doubt it was due to natural causes.

Kathie married once, at age 35, and divorced after about 15 years, never having children. Like her other siblings, she was born in Nebraska, but unlike her siblings, she lived there alone for most of her adult life, save for the companionship of one cat or another.

Aunt Kathie always held a special place in my heart, although I can probably count on one hand the number of times she visited us in Virginia. But we've kept in touch -- in "olden times", by snail mail; more recently by email. Other than a few forwarded jokes in recent months, my last newsy email from her was back in December, in response to happy birthday wishes I'd sent her. In it, she mentioned the bitter Nebraska winter, her new cat, and her plans to stay home and watch the Nebraska-Oklahoma football game on television.

Kathie's death has punctuated a week full of bittersweet reminders of the fragility of my parents' generation. On Thursday, my dad received his first treatment for prostate cancer, and because it involved some outpatient surgery, a few of my siblings and I spent a good amount of time with mom & dad on Thursday and Friday. During that time we observed first-hand how mom has advanced another notch in her mid-stage Alzheimer's. She still remembers who we are, thank God, but is starting to confuse the past and the present, and is fabricating some really creative stories. Pretty much every tale she tells now is a mish-mash of the past, the present, and outright fiction, and would be entertaining if it wasn't so painful.

I'm really hoping my parents can attend Kathie's funeral. I've always related to Aunt Kathie possibly more closely than my other siblings have, as I, too, am a single, childless gal who lives alone except for a couple of cats. I would hate to think that if-and-when I die alone, my siblings wouldn't attend my funeral. I do think it's important that my mom attend while she still understands what's going on. Perhaps the event might even make it into her long-term memory, and stay awhile. Or perhaps it's more merciful that she forget, and be spared the grieving.

It's been a tough week.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

But You Hit Her Muhhh-ther

Last week I re-watched a favorite movie of mine, Pleasantville, being aired on some cable channel. I love that movie, because I identify with Tobey Maguire's character, who escapes the harsh realities of daily life by watching reruns of a Father Knows Best -type 1950's sitcom called "Pleasantville".

I've found myself falling into that same type of escapism lately. Whenever I remember last year's Harvey & Tucker family murders just a mile or so up the road from me, or last month's shooting at the nearby Baskin Robbins, or even just last night's neighborhood screamers, (when did they move in, and when are they leaving??), I find myself craving a simpler, (if fictional), time. So, I've been recording episodes of my all-time favorite sitcom, The Andy Griffith Show, to snuggle into when there's nuthin' but crap on the boob tube, (which is most of the time).

TV Land is airing "Best of Andy" episodes every night this week, which I'm loving, of course. And last night they aired one of my very favorite episodes, "Ellie for Council".

This scene is why it's my all-time favorite episode:

(you may need to turn up your volume a bit)
(can you hear my cat clawing the carpet at the very beginning?)

Just to be clear, I don't find domestic disturbances amusing, but Andy's facial expression and delivery of that line, "But you hit her muhhh-ther!" just slays me! And then what Barney says to Otis next is the icing on the cake. Gentle, yet brilliant comedy, IMHO.

One other reason why I adore this series is that, for some reason, my cat Ali absolute LOVES the theme song. Whenever an episode comes on and we hear Andy whistlin' while he walks Opie to the fishin' hole, Ali will wake from a dead sleep, run over to me and start meowing excitedly. If I start whistling along, well, she's just beside herself with glee, and will utter a meow during each pause in the melody. I've got to figure out how I can record a movie of her doing this, because she's just so cute about it. I'm not sure where the fascination comes from, but it's become "our song". Sometimes, however, I have to fast-forward through the theme song so as not to wake her, or else she's crawling all over me, driving me nuts for the next ten minutes.

I do try to watch at least one episode of "Ange" a day, if only to give Ali a daily dose of her favorite song.

It makes her happy.


Sunday, September 23, 2007

Hoofin' it on up to see the Harlot

For the uninformed or unenlightened, you may not have known that Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, better known as the Yarn Harlot, a relative rock star in the world of knitting and knit-blogging, was touring the U.S. to publicize her fourth book, and made a stop in the mid-Atlantic region on Thursday.

I, of course, felt compelled to go see her, and managed to wangle myself a ride with my friend (blogless) Lou, who graciously did all the driving:
- Thanks, Lou!

We left Richmond around 2 pm, and with a little help from Nigel, my British-accented GPS, had a unbelievably trouble-free drive to Falls Church, (and if you know anything about D.C.-area traffic, you know this is nothing short of a miracle). After one quick stop in Quantico to pick up a late lunch, we arrived at the Bailey's Crossroads Borders bookstore around 4 pm, and one of the first things we saw in the parking lot was a car with this painted on their side window:

Not sure if you can read that, but it says:
"Yarn Harlot or Bust!"


We knew then that we were in the right place, which was confirmed when we saw this sign on the front door:


After walking in the door, we saw these two knitters patiently waiting and knitting near the table where they'd eventually hand us our numbers for the book signing:

At first we thought those two ladies were the only knitters there, so far. We were wrong. They were just the first in line. Here are more of the folks who got there before us:

Lou and I were numbers 22 & 23 in line, and made ourselves "comfortable" in this aisle:

Here are a few of our fellow aisle-mates: of whom was wearing these adorable shoes, which only fiber-folk can appreciate:

Lou brought the Rooster she knit for the Blue Moon Fiber Arts Sock Camp this past spring:

Roddy McFowl, as this rooster is called, has his very own pair of Socks That Rock:

Roddy & Lou got their 15-minutes-of-fame back in April when the Yarn Harlot blogged about Camp Cockamamie.

While we waited a little over an hour for the book signing number line to open, sitting on the floor in the Science Fiction aisle, I actually knit for the first time in about six weeks. Lately I've had some kind of mental block (fog?) about knitting, and haven't wanted to knit nary a stitch for that long. I have Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, knitting evangelist-extraordinare, to thank for busting that block and getting me knitting again while I waited to hear her speak. So, thanks, Stephanie! (We don't call her Yarn Harlot for nuthin!) I worked a few repeats on my Chevron Scarf, and it inches along towards completion, which I expect will happen sometime in 2010.

Lou worked on a hat, and I just had to get a picture of this cute stitch marker she's using:

While sitting in line, we saw Amy, better known as Crazy Lanea, whom Lou and I met at the Knitter's Review Retreat last year, showing her pretty mitered square blanket:

And after we got our numbers and our seats in the cafe, I looked up and saw Amber, a Northern Virginia knit-blogger whom I read but have never met.

Of course I had to go up and introduce myself and give her a hug. Amber is wearing a top-down sweater she knit a few months ago -- it looks adorable on her.

Here are a few crowd pictures of folks waiting in the cafe before Stephanie's 7:30 arrival:

It was a kick to be in that room with hundreds of knitters, all furiously working on one project or another. There was some good knitting mojo in that room, and it was a wonderful opportunity to see some really fabulous WIPs and FOs. I wish I'd taken more pictures of people's various projects, but there were just too many to adequately document. Everyone was polite and gracious to one another, as we all eagerly and happily awaited the guest of honor. Fun times.

We got to watch a beautiful sunset while we waited:

Also while we waited, I tired of working on my scarf, (I'm not 100% back to being a knitter, apparently), and so I discretely pulled this out of my bag and read a few more chapters:

Is that tacky to read one knit-blogger's book at another's book signing?
(If so, then, shhhhhhhh..... don't tell Stephanie)
Look who joined Lou & I while we waited:

That's Beth, our fellow Richmonder and KR Retreat buddy.
Hi Beth!


Finally, at long last, came the moment we were waiting for. Stephanie had arrived. But first, she was introduced by Daniel, the Borders bookstore manager, who was wonderful and gracious and fun and really got into the spirit of the event:

Daniel wears a hat knit for him 30 years ago by an old friend

After some major microphone readjustments, (Steph is way shorter than Daniel), she was well on her way to providing us a delightful evening:

But before she got into the meat of her talk, she took care of a little business:

The audience takes pictures of the sock and Stephanie,
taking pictures of the sock and audience.


She then proceeded to regale us for the better part of an hour with her theories about C.H.O.K.E. (Cultural Humiliation of Knitters Everywhere). I tell ya, if you think she's funny in writing, you should hear her in person. There's nothing like a writer getting to read their writing in exactly the inflection they've intended. She's got a dry, deadpan delivery and a precise Canadian accent that makes her material hilarious, and reminds me of an experienced comedienne like Rita Rudner. Mainstream muggles and members of C.H.O.K.E. don't know what they're missing.

While she talked, there were a few things vying for my attention, like this gorgeous sweater-in-progress:

Cables! Teal!

and this adorable fella who flirted with those of us in the row behind him all night:

...but I still gave my primary attention to Stephanie.

After Stephanie's talk, and a short Q&A period, we then moved upstairs for the book signing.

Here's Lou, holding Stephanie's sock, while Stephanie holds Roddy:

(sorry it's blurry, Lou!)

And despite my long-held belief that the fewer pictures of myself on the blog, the happier everyone is, I will share this one, as it was probably a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity:

rubbing elbows with greatness

All in all, a really fun day. We made it home in less than two hours, right around midnight, without running into traffic in either direction. Another miracle. Many thanks, again, to Lou for driving, and to Stephanie for visiting our fair state. (Read about Stephanie's perspective on the day, here.)

Thursday, September 20, 2007

I support knitter-blogger-authors

Case in point, #1:

I saw this at Barnes & Noble Tuesday night:

so grabbed it immediately. I've read up to chapter 11, so far, and am enjoying it. If you've never read Laurie's blog, then I'd highly recommend catching up on her archives -- she's a talented writer and highly entertaining.

Case in point, #2:

I'm going up to see the Yarn Harlot tonight, on the Falls Church leg of her book tour. Should be fun! I hope to report back here about it within a day or so.


Tuesday, September 11, 2007

That was fast!

I placed the order for my new desktop PC on Saturday evening. I got an email last night (Monday) telling me it had shipped. And I got the shipment this morning (Tuesday):

It took me longer to decide what to get than it did to get here! I chose ground shipping, since it was free, and I don't think it would have arrived any faster if I'd paid for overnight delivery. It helps that they don't manufacture them in China. When I ordered my laptop (Toshiba) a couple years ago, I had to wait a couple weeks since those are made in China. Here's to the many benefits of buying "made in America"....

I decided on a Dell XPS 410, and took a leap by opting for Windows Vista as the OS. I got as much processor (2.66 GHz) and RAM (4GB) as they'd give me -- I heard that's best when using Vista, and a "mid-sized" hard-drive (500GB). It boggles my mind that one can easily acquire a terabyte (1,000 GB) of storage these days. Even more mind-boggling that people can fill that up. I guess HD movies take up a lot of space.

My Ali-cat approves:

"Thank you so much for the new lounge chair, mama"

"It's soooooo luxurious!"

I probably won't get around to setting it up until this weekend. At least my last system's monitor, mouse and speakers will work with it -- that helped save a few bucks. I sprung for a new, slightly fancier keyboard, (has a volume dial and some extra USB ports -- can't have too many of those).

The other day I read PC Magazine's review, slideshow, and a few of their other articles about Windows Vista, and I'm looking forward to using some of the new features.

Here's hoping this machine lasts me another five years, at least.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Magical Concert Moments

James Taylor is coming to VCU's Siegal Center on October 20th, and I'm trying to rally some folks together to go. So far I've got a couple siblings and a couple of friends who are interested, but no one has committed a definite "yes", yet. I'll have to rattle some cages soon, before all the tickets are gone.

I love me some Sweet Baby James, and I've seen him in concert several times. My first JT concert was back in college in '86 or '87. (Ouch, I'm old.) He played at JMU's Wilson Hall auditorium, a fairly small venue, and because my friends & I had lined up early enough for tickets, we were seated very close to the stage. It was an incredibly intimate concert, as if he were playing at a local pub, for just a few fans -- the very best way to see JT.

Earlier that day of the concert, my friends and I were walking by Wilson Hall on our way to dinner when we heard music coming from inside. We managed to peek through an open window, and saw JT himself warming up and doing a sound check. Singing sweetly to an empty room, with nary a fan around, except the sound man and us interlopers at the window. An incredibly thrilling, magical moment that made that evening's concert all the more special.

During the fall of my sophomore year at college, some friends & I learned that Bruce Springsteen was coming to the Hampton Coliseum in January. So, the next logical step, of course, was for us to camp out all night in front of the local ticket seller's door, to ensure we got seats. Our bed that night was a cold, hard sidewalk at Southside Plaza in November, which we shared with at least 100 other Bruce fans. (I'm still amazed that my mother allowed me to do that. It's nothing I'd let a kid do nowadays. Not in that neighborhood.) That all-night ticket-stalking campout turned out to be an experience all its own. There was a true sense of camaraderie among the crowd, as people swapped concert stories and played bootleg concert tapes into the wee hours.

We were cranky with lack of sleep by the time the ticket seller's doors opened the next morning, but, by gosh, we got our tickets. And the concert in January was amazing. That man and his E-Street Band puts out a 3-hour, adrenaline-pumped experience that made every minute on that cold, hard sidewalk in November worthwhile.

Here are my friends and fellow Bruce fans, "celebrating" in the car before the concert:

Good times.
Our tickets were for nosebleed seats which we certainly enjoyed, but during the concert intermission we managed to find friends with floor seats, and so squeezed in with them, without security being any wiser. And during his performance of Dancing in the Dark, I stood up on a seat and took pictures of Bruce with a smuggled-in camera. The Boss then proceeded to create the next magical moment in my life by pointing at me while he sang the lyric, "Hey there, baby...":

"...I could use just a little help...."
To say that I was thrilled would be an understatement. It was 22 years ago, and remembering it still thrills me today. The fact that I was able to snap the shutter at the exact moment he pointed at me was a once-in-a-lifetime gift. So what if it's little over-exposed. I know he was pointing at me, even it's not crystal clear to anyone else.

(You'll have to forgive the low quality of the above photos -- they are actually pictures of pictures, as my scanner/printer is unavailable whilst I'm without a functional desktop PC. And no, I've not made a final PC decision yet, but I do know it will be a Dell XPS system, and I'm leaning towards Windows Vista. I'll more than likely place my order on Saturday.)

Anyway, I have one final magical concert moment to share, and it actually has nothing to do with the performing artist. At least not directly. Once again, it took place during the 1980's. (Ahhh, that sweet, sweet decade of my youth.) I was working at a central Virginia amusement park as an EMT for their First Aid station, and at times the job required the occasional medical standby at various concerts held at their amphitheater.

One particular concert was given by Amy Grant, a contemporary Christian singer-songwriter whom I'd never seen before. The opening act (whom I can't remember) performed their music and left the stage, and the crowd became expectant for Amy to appear. And waited. And waited. I watched from my position standing near the gate to backstage, and the crowd of about 10,000 was getting a little restless as the time between acts stretched longer and longer. I found out later from my colleagues that during the lengthy delay, Amy had been brought up to the First Aid building to be examined and treated by the nurse for a wicked-sore throat. And I heard the news with the rest of the concert crowd that the show was to be canceled -- Amy was too sick to perform.

Here we go, I thought. Bring out the SWAT team and the tear gas -- we've got a potential riot on our hands. I had seen the unruly crowds that performers like Luther Vandross, Jimmy Buffett and Patti LaBelle attracted to that venue. I was working the evening that a concert-goer was shot at one of those events. And I was there (attending, not working) when a drunk concert-goer hit Jimmy Buffett in the head with a beer can, after which he promptly stopped the show and walked off the stage. No good can come of this latest announcement, I thought. I've seen it first-hand -- concert-goers don't handle disappointment well.

But I misjudged this crowd. After the announcement was made and the ticket-reimbursement instructions were explained, the arena became very quiet. There were no angry shouts or even grumbles. Instead of immediately filing out in bitter disappointment, thousands of people remained where they were sitting, and in front me, all around the amphitheater, they formed circles, held hands, bowed their heads and prayed for the well-being of Amy Grant. I had never seen anything like it, and it was so spontaneous and unexpected, it moved me almost to tears. I still well up now, as I write about it. That experience permanently changed the very core of me.

Amy did make a full recovery and came back later that same season to perform her postponed show. Many of those original concert-goers held on to their tickets and came back again to see her. I worked that new show and it was a lovely experience -- the performer, the music, the crowd. Definitely a refreshing change from the beer-soaked crowds of other shows.

And so I look forward to another magical experience with James Taylor this October. Even if it's just enjoying another great rendition of Fire & Rain from the comfort of my nosebleed seat.

Do you have any magical concert moments?

Monday, September 03, 2007

Why, hello there....

...remember me?

I really didn't intend to take such a long absence from the blog, but with my desktop PC pronounced dead (official autopsy this evening by GeekSquad deemed it not worth repairing), I feel like I'm missing my right arm. I just don't want to make my laptop the primary vehicle for organizing photos, so I hesitate to do so to any great extent.

The good news is that the GeekDude was able to back up the data from my old hard drive for me, and now I'm shopping for a new desktop.

This then begs the question -- Windows XP or Vista? Anyone have experience with Vista? What are your thoughts?

For now, I'll leave you with a picture of the Ocracoke lighthouse, taken while on vacation:

I love Ocracoke.