Thursday, December 29, 2011

All Wound Up

I recently read All Wound Up: The Yarn Harlot Writes for a Spin, Stephanie Pearl-McPhee’s latest book. I was first introduced to Stephanie’s world back in 2005. She was on a book tour, promoting At Knit's End: Meditations for Women Who Knit Too Much. Although I did not then consider myself a knitter, my friend Jess was in the process of falling down that rabbit hole, so the two of us made an evening of it, enjoying dinner and then enjoying Stephanie’s talk. (She blogged about her Kalamazoo visit here; in the first picture of knitters, Jess & I are in the third row, on the right.)

Six and a half years later, here she is with what I think is her seventh book, All Wound Up. Stephanie has honed and tested her writing through her blog, The Yarn Harlot, and I am among her faithful readers. When I picked up the book, the first thing I did was scan the table of contents, hoping that a certain blog entry had made it into the book. And there it was, on page 50: A Little Demoralizing. The original blog entry was one of the funniest I’ve ever read, about her husband Joe's getting his truck stuck in the snow. You can find it here. Go ahead and read it. We’ll wait.

In this latest book of essays, Stephanie writes about knitting, but she also writes about life, from a viewpoint that most of us can appreciate. She writes about the quirks of washing machines, about looking into the windows of others' lives, about the wonder and delight that is autumn. She writes about the lack of closet space (a serious problem, if you hoard yarn), and the frustration that is Mother’s Day. Landmines is a delightful essay about the challenge of simply escaping family and getting out of the house.

She writes about knitting, of course – about knitting math, about Dear John letters to sweaters, about shawls fraught with mistakes. My favorite of these knitting essays is Once Upon a Time, the story of a Bad Knitting Experience.

All in all – a great read!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Knitter and The Young Man

Based on a true story...

Once upon a time, there was a knitter who knew a young man. The young man saw the things that the knitter knit, and admired them, and mentioned that he would like a hat.

So the knitter considered her knitting-in-progress, and her queue of projects, and concluded that it would be nice to knit a hat for this young man. It wouldn’t be too difficult or time-consuming, and she did have the right yarn in her stash. So, she knit him a hat.

(It happened that the hat had a rather tricky beginning, which resulted in several false starts, but this was not really a crisis of major proportions, and the hat was successfully completed, in a timely manner.)

The hat was gifted, the young man expressed his gratitude (thereby earning several Knitter Points), and life went on.

A few months later, the young man mentioned that he would like a scarf.

Again, the knitter considered her knitting-in-progress, and her queue of projects. She reflected that other friends and family were also hoping for knitted objects, and acknowledged that she was rather slow at her craft. She decided that the young man would simply have to wait for his scarf.

Christmas rolled around, and the knitter attended an Event, where she saw the young man. He was wearing the very hat she had knitted for him! Seeing it snug on his head gave her immense pleasure, and she awarded the young man a few more Knitter Points.

They chatted, and he revealed that there was a Local Yarn Shop very near his home, and he had visited it one day. He had been surprised to see so many cars in the parking lot on a Saturday morning, and to see that there was a potluck taking place in the shop. The knitter was not surprised at all to hear about the potluck (knitters do like a good get-together); she was a bit surprised to hear that the young man had actually visited the store. (She added a few more Knitter Points to his tally, for sheer bravery.)

Christmas gifts were exchanged. The knitter opened a gift from the young man, and laughed – the young man had wrapped a box that had once held a drill. She had enough experience to know the box no longer contained that drill, and wondered what she would find inside.

She opened the box, and discovered:


Further discussion revealed that the young man had not only gone to the yarn store, but he had also spoken to the owner and discussed the knitter’s typical projects. At the recommendation of the owner, he actually bought six skeins of a well-known workhorse yarn, which the knitter would enjoy putting to Good Use.

The knitter gave the young man a gazillion more Knitter Points, and mentally moved his scarf upward in her knitting queue (not quite to the top; she remembered that knits for babies outrank most other kinds of knitting).

Let the reader take note, and heed the example of the young man: there are ways to win the heart of a knitter!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Deck The Halls

Last year, I shared a video of a flash mob performing Handel's Messiah. That is still one of my favorite clips, but the other day, I came across this one. It is well-choreographed, well-filmed, captures the delight of onlookers and the enthusiasm of the performers, and simply makes me smile.

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 16, 2011

On The Street

Well. There is so much to do, this time of year, that blogging falls very low on the priority list. I've been madly knitting a blanket, for an urchin (see note) who arrived several weeks earlier than I was expecting. The blanket is 92% complete, and I have wild hopes of finishing it this weekend. I also have hopes of putting up and decorating our tree, baking cookies, and shopping for Christmas Eve dinner, along with my normal weekend volunteering and church-going. (I also have hopes that my work pager will be silent.)

We did get Christmas cards finished, and most of our shopping is done. Oh. I do have one more gift shopping errand for tomorrow. And oh. Jim and I should practice the piece he is singing on Sunday.

We have managed to stay more or less on top of laundry and dishes and such, and Bonnie has enjoyed regular walks (really, those walks are a self-defense measure; she becomes impossible to live with if she doesn't get out regularly).

Right now I am waiting for Jim to come home, and will try to quickly put down some thoughts about a book of poetry, On The Street, by Marianne Novak Houston (the book includes photography by Anthony B. Graves).

A few months ago, the Kalamazoo Gazette ran a letter to the editor. The letter’s author was concerned about the homeless population in Kalamazoo, and felt that their presence was a detriment to our community. He wanted the city to find a way to hide or to get rid of “those people.”

When we reduce people to a meaningless group, to “those people,” it is easy to judge and then dismiss them. Archie Bunker was famous for this; he was notorious for labeling people and putting them in boxes. He recognized groups, but not individuals.

I think that was the problem with our letter writer. He looked at the homeless, made some assumptions, and put them in a box. And even if we're not as bad as Archie, or as the Gazette's letter-writer, we can still fall into the trap of seeing labels, instead of individuals.

Houston's book takes people out of that box, and lets them again become individuals. For example, here’s one of her poems, that turns one of “those people,” Lucino, into an individual.
by Marianne Novak Houston

When I was little
down in Mississippi
we had so much fun.
We had the greatest house,
an old trailer house in the middle of a field
we were packed in like sardines in a can,
– that’s what Mama called us, her sardines! –
and we laughed a lot at night in our beds
and worked really hard during the day
on the man’s farm.
We ate corn morning, noon and night
and made clabber with buttermilk
when we had it
and Daddy said that’s why we all grew tall.
But that was later.

One day when I was ten
a big ol’ tornado blew up
and blew our house clean away
and left us layin’ in the ditch
where Mama and Daddy stuffed us
when the wicked wind rose up.

And then began our wandering years.

Trouble is, we seem to have wandered off
in all directions

or maybe I’m the only one
still wandering.
We meet these folks in the street, strangers to us, and we avert our eyes, fearful - but of what? That they will speak to us, ask something of us, invade our comfort zone? We would do well to remember the words of John, as recorded in 1 John 4:18-21:
There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.

We love him, because he first loved us.

If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?

And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.
Maybe in this Christmas season, we can give up judging each other, and instead be brave enough to make eye contact, and acknowledge that - whatever our differences - we have in common that we are children of God, who loves us all. Perhaps we can then take the next step, and try loving each other as He does.

As these lyrics propose,
So grant us all a change of heart
Rejoice for Mary's son;
Pray, Peace on earth to all mankind
God bless us everyone!

Note 1:
I don't normally refer to my grand-nephews as urchins; this was the label given him by his nearly two-year-old brother.

Note 2: In Kalamazoo, you can find Houston's book at Michigan News. All profits go to Ministry with Community, whose mission is “to provide food, daytime shelter and other basic services to central Kalamazoo's homeless, poor, mentally ill and hard-to-serve adults. Through community cooperation, we provide these services in an atmosphere of dignity, hope and unconditional acceptance.”

There’s also a Facebook page:

Note 3:  The lyrics are from the song God Bless us Everyone, by Nick and Tony Bicat. This song is featured in A Christmas Carol (the 1984 TV movie, starring George C. Scott).

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Random Photos

Is this not the sweetest picture you've ever seen? Last December, I bought myself the calendar Sleeping Beauties, with photos by Tracy Raver and Kelley Ryden. All year, I've been looking forward to this month's picture - that baby just looks happy.

The caption on the picture is a quote from James Barrie, "When the first baby laughed for the first time, the laugh broke into a thousand pieces and they all went skipping about, and that was the beginning of fairies." (Isn't that from Peter Pan?) This little guy certainly seems to be laughing at some private joke.

We recently had our Christmas party at church. One of the activities was decorating these tiny (12") trees, which have since been delivered to area nursing homes. My young friends and I spent an evening cutting ornaments out of old Christmas cards, which ornaments were then used to decorate the first tree in this photo. (Jim handled the task of painstakingly tying each ornament onto the tree.)

Last Saturday was the Hot Chocolate 5K, benefiting our Girls on Track program. My young friend was sick, and couldn't run, but I still went to cheer on the other runners. It was a miserable day - cold and rainy - but the girls seemed to enjoy their run even so. (Most of them. There were some runners that needed a good kick in the pants, to get them to at least walk fast!) (Yes, we still cheered for them.)

This evening, I was a volunteer bell-ringer for the Salvation Army. Happily, the weather wasn't too cold, so I stood outside (my preference) and rang that bell for two hours (that's my mittened hand in the photo). I'm happy to report that people were both friendly and generous.

Another cute little one - but this photo is from real life, not a calendar. I tried to get this fellow to go to sleep one night, and believe me - he was nowhere near as tranquil as in this photo!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Have Yourself a Farkleberry Christmas (!)

I was listening to Christmas music on the radio the other day, and heard this familiar carol.
Have yourself a merry little Christmas,
Let your heart be light
From now on,
our troubles will be out of sight
This song was originally sung by Judy Garland, in the movie Meet Me in St. Louis (which is a delightful little film, although it really has little to do with the Christmas holiday). The words have changed over time, with this being the version generally sung today, and my favorite.  They offer cheer and hope, the promise of togetherness and belonging, sentiments quite in keeping with the season.
Have yourself a merry little Christmas,
Make the Yuletide gay,
From now on,
our troubles will be miles away.
Having lived in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the 70's, this carol always reminds me of farkleberries.

I grew up listening to KDKA radio. Jack Bogut hosted the morning show for 15 years, and was much of the impetus behind the Children's Hospital Fundraiser. Each year, for three weeks before Christmas, his show was broadcast from a display window at Hornes Department Store. (The broadcast may actually have rotated between the three downtown department stores - Horne's, Kaufmann's, and Gimbels - but my memory is fuzzy on that detail.)

There is a great article here that talks about Jack Bogut and his connection to the hospital fundraiser. His personality and humor created a link with Pittsburghers. We would line up to chat with him on the air, receiving farkleberry tarts or farkleberry cookies in exchange for our contributions. And one year, there was even a song, "Have yourself a farkleberry Christmas." I can't remember more than that, and haven't found any additional lyrics on the internet...
Here we are as in olden days,
Happy golden days of yore.
Faithful friends who are dear to us
Gather near to us once more.
We remember Christmases past, and gather with friends and family to celebrate Christmas present. Jim and I really do look forward to Christmas cards and letters, with updates (and pictures!) of the folks we can''t be with.
Through the years
We all will be together,
If the Fates allow
I played this music for a young adult choir back in 1981 or 82. Young Emily and her family were visiting, and she listened while I practiced, and asked "what are the Fates?" I think she was about 6 years old, and I have no idea how I explained the Fates to her! ("The Goddesses in charge of our destiny" - would she have understood that?!?)
Hang a shining star upon the highest bough.
And have yourself A merry little Christmas now. 
What's your favorite carol?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Shedir Chemo Cap

Yesterday I finished my Shedir hat. I started this a few weeks ago, using a skein of Rowan Calmer that I've had for years. (I bought it at the Knitters' Mercantile, in Columbus Ohio, in 2006; I was just starting my second stint with National City Bank, and spent a week at the office there.)

With all those cables, I don't know why I thought this would be a quick knit! But, if not quick, it at least was not difficult. At the beginning of each round, I had to figure out that round's stitch sequence, but then it was pretty straightforward to repeat that sequence. I made a couple tweaks, where I thought maybe the pattern had typos, and a couple 'design elements,' where I inadvertently used the wrong stitch (nothing dire, of course).

The main part of the hat has eight rows that repeat 5 times. I was worried that I would run out of yarn, so I skipped one repeat. I think I would have had enough yarn after all, and I think the longer hat would have been better.

However, I think the hat is still wearable, and if the wearer has no hair, it may stretch down a tad further. This hat is a gift for a friend who's currently receiving chemotherapy, so the 'no hair' consideration may well apply.

Gretchen Rubin recently wrote a blog entry titled "Remember the Dog That Doesn't Bark." She refers to a Sherlock Holmes story, in which the great detective finds a clue in the fact that a dog didn't bark. Rubin's conclusion was that we should recognize, and find happiness in, the problems that aren't part of our lives: the job search we don't face; the car accident we haven't been in; the cancer we don't have.

Part of me winces at this idea; it doesn't seem right to link gratitude with such negative ideas. And yet, ubiquitous as cancer is, I am grateful that I am not facing it.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Happiness Project

While riding a bus one day, Gretchen Rubin started thinking about her life, and realized that she was taking it for granted. She decided to embark on a project to change her perspective.

She wrote:
"I've got to tackle this," I told myself. "As soon as I have some free time, I should start a happiness project." But I never had any free time. When life was taking its ordinary course, it was hard to remember what really mattered; if I wanted a happiness project, I'd have to make the time. I had a brief vision of myself living for a month on a picturesque, windswept island, where each day I would gather seashells, read Aristotle, and write in an elegant parchment journal. Nope, I admitted, that's not going to happen. I needed to find a way to do it here and now. I needed to change the lens through which I viewed everything familiar.

All these thoughts flooded through my mind, and as I sat on that crowded bus, I grasped two things: I wasn't as happy as I could be, and my life wasn't going to change unless I made it change. In that single moment, with that realization, I decided to dedicate a year to trying to be happier.
Inspired by Benjamin Franklin's chart to track his practice of thirteen designated virtues, Rubin came up with her own chart, on which she could record her resolutions and score her daily performance ('good' or 'bad').

She then had to come up with the resolutions. This took some pondering, but she came up with twelve focus areas (one per month), and, for each of these, "happiness-boosting resolutions that were concrete and measurable."

While developing her resolutions, Rubin gradually identified a set of general principles, which she distilled into her personal Twelve  Commandments:
Be Gretchen.
Let it go.
Act the way I want to feel.
Do it now.
Be polite and be fair.
Enjoy the process.
Spend out.
Identify the problem.
Lighten up.
Do what ought to be done.
No calculation.
There is only love.
She also came up with a more random list, "Secrets of Adulthood." My favorite is "What you do every day matters more than what you do once in a while."

 The rest of the book (by which I mean "most of the book" - the discussion of her goal areas and resolutions and chart and Twelve Commandments comprises the introduction, "Getting Started") consists of a chapter for each month. In these chapters, she describes that month's area of focus, the corresponding resolutions, and her efforts to keep those resolutions.

I found her book to be an interesting read. The structure of her program allowed her to choose goals and resolutions specific to her own situation, likes, dislikes, needs, and so forth. I wish she had gone into more detail describing the process of making these choices, but it seemed her real purpose was to document her experience in following those choices. I did enjoy reading her experiences, seeing how she changed over the year, and how, as a side effect, her family benefited from her project.

I felt her approach was more realistic than others, and something normal people (like me) could tackle. Here is her take on it, also from her introductory chapter.
I had fun coming up with my Twelve Commandments and my Secrets of Adulthood, but the heart of my happiness project remained my list of resolutions, which embodied the changes I wanted to make in my life. When I stepped back to reflect on the resolutions, however, I was struck by their small scale. Take January. "Go to sleep earlier" and "Tackle a nagging task" didn't sound dramatic or colorful or particularly ambitious.

Other people's radical happiness projects, such as Henry David Thoreau's move to Walden Pond or Elizabeth Gilbert's move to Italy, India, and Indonesia, exhilarated me. The fresh start, the total commitment, the leap into the unknown - I found their quests illuminating, plus I got a vicarious thrill from their abandonment of everyday worries.

But my project wasn't like that. I was a unadventurous soul, and I didn't want to undertake that kind of extraordinary change. Which was lucky, because I wouldn't have been able to do it even if I'd wanted to. I had a family and responsibilities that made it practically impossible for me to leave for one weekend, let alone for a year.

And more important, I didn't want to reject my life. I wanted to change my life without changing my life, by finding more happiness in my own kitchen. I knew I wouldn't discover happiness in a faraway place or in unusual circumstances; it was right here, right now - as in the haunting play The Blue Bird, where two children spend a year searching the world for the Blue Bird of Happiness, only to find the bird waiting for them when they finally return home.
The subsequent chapters describe, month by month, small step by small step, the changes she makes. By the end, I couldn't help but think, hey, I could do this, too - assuming I could get past that vague part about figuring out what resolutions will lead to my happiness.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

WMU Turkey Trot

This morning, I ran the WMU Turkey Trot - my first 5K! My goal was to finish, and I expected to do that in about an hour. I did indeed finish, and I ran it in just over 57 minutes (that's the unofficial result, based on looking at the clock as I ran in).

Here's a motley-looking crew, at the beginning of the race. I am not in this group; I was deliberately hanging out in the back.

I knew there would be hills, but my goodness. We immediately had a long uphill run, past the Bernhard Center. I ran it, at my typical pace, but it took a lot out of me! Somewhere in the intramural fields, I dropped back to a walk, and I stayed walking through the next hill, up Howard Street. But then I was able to switch back to five-minute runs, with short walk breaks, and I finished the course running.

I'm guessing that I ran for about half the time. That group of people behind me were walking, and they were in no hurry, so I passed them when I started running again. I confess, that gave me an inordinate sense of pleasure.

Jim snapped this while I was removing the chip from my shoe - I don't look too bad, do I?!?

Now I guess I'll go for a walk with Bonnie and Tonks.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A WIP Becomes an FO *

I finally finished my Cerus Scarf. I love the yarn, and the way the linen stitch scattered the colors about. This is yarn that I bought at the Fiber Festival in Allegan, the first year I went (2008?). It's been percolating in my stash since then, and I think this was the perfect project for it.

Knitting a lengthwise scarf is a bit daunting, but only slightly so. I swatched before starting, and so had a pretty good idea how many stitches to cast on, in order to get the length I wanted. But while it was on the needles, I really couldn't judge how long the scarf is, so I had to knit on, in somewhat blind faith, hoping for the best.

And, hurrah, the knitted swatch did not lie to me. The finished scarf is just over 5 feet long, which is a good length. I am happy!

Meanwhile, the Shedir chemo cap is progressing nicely. There is a lot of cabling, and I keep losing my cable needle, and that slows me down a bit (tonight it fell into a box, and I hunted a good while before thinking to look there). But I've finished 35 rows, out of 83, and soon the decreases begin, and then it should move along faster.

The chemo cap is not good 'meeting' knitting, but I've discovered that the owl blanket is. So, although my recent meetings have been the sort that aren't conducive to knitting, I'm still making some progress on that project.

WIP: Work in Progress
FO: Finished Object

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Fall in Kalamazoo, With a Side of Snow

Just sharing a few photos. These first two were taken the other day. I realized that, by taking photos from different perspectives, our home has quite a different look.

This first shot is from Piccadilly, showing the back of our home, and giving a good idea of the trees around our house:

I shot this photo from the park. That stretch of trees, along the west side of the park, is a nice addition to our home's landscaping.

This is just a view of some of my favorite trees - the red maple that we planted years ago; the pine tree that was once a Christmas Tree in the living room (that was before our time); the tree / bush by the west window in our living room:

These next two shots were taken when Bonnie and I left for our walk at lunchtime today:

Yes, that is snow

The snow didn't last, of course, and by the end of our walk, the weather had shifted from winter back to fall:

I love this weeping willow, or whatever it is...

It continued to snow off and on through the afternoon, and into the evening. Really, it's been quite lovely!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Sunday Lessons

I want to remember several things from our church meetings this week.

This Sunday, we held our monthly Fast and Testimony meeting. Before this meeting, most members have fasted for two meals, which serves two purposes. The money that would have been spent on those meals is donated to help others, and the abstinence from food helps us focus on spiritual, rather than temporal, aspects of our life.

This monthly worship service is then turned over to members, to share their testimony, i.e., their personal witness, as the spirit moves them. This week, many of the testimonies were sweet and tender.

One of my favorites was a young boy (between 3-4 years old) who walked up to the stand and said, with straightforward conviction, "I know that the church is true. It's really, really true!"

A young man (12 or 13 years old) hesitantly shared his testimony. I had the feeling he was giving us something precious and new, as he cautiously shared his witness.

Then, in Sunday School, we studied Paul's letters to Timothy and Titus. We read 1 Timothy 1:5.
Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned.
Referring to this scripture, Meghan (our teacher) described her experience in Testimony Meeting. She was already seated, waiting for the meeting to begin, when Rebecca and Vanita came in. Vanita is one of our more elderly members, and whenever she makes it to church, it is because Rebecca has helped her and given her a ride. On this occasion, Meghan watched as Rebecca placed a pillow on the pew, and helped Vanita get settled on it. She folded up Vanita's walker, and stored it carefully. She unfolded a lap blanket and spread it across Vanita's legs. During the meeting, she arranged for the microphone to be brought to Vanita, so she could share her testimony without having to walk to the podium.

In each action, Rebecca showed charity out of a pure heart. It was a perfect lesson for us all.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Four Knits: A WIP Update

I took photos yesterday of my WIPs (works-in-progress), so I can provide a bit of an update.

The color on this photo is deceiving. This scarf is really blue, not purple. This is the Cerus Scarf, designed by Hilary Smith Callis. It's basically a linen stitch, knit lengthwise. I'm shooting for a width of 5.5 or 5.75 inches, and I think I'll be there in a row or two.

This is the Sophie Rabbit, designed by Ysolda Teague. As you can see, Miss Rabbit is nearly complete; she just needs a couple ears. They are a bit tricky, but I've got one under way (there where the DPN's are making her look like a voodoo doll), and hope to finish her up soon.

Just yesterday I started this chemo cap. I'm using the Shedir pattern, by Jenna Wilson. I expect this will be a fairly quick knit (quick by my slow standards, anyway).

Finally, here is my owl blanket. Again, the color is less than perfect - this blanket is really a very rich, brilliant green. I'm using a slightly modified version of the Sleepy Owl Blanket pattern, designed by Lori Emmitt. I've nearly finished 4 rows, and have 5 to go after that, so this one is further from being complete! But it's a pretty straightforward knit, and moves quickly.

I have one more WIP, a pie wedge lace shawl, but it's moving so slowly I'm not even mentioning it...!

Friday, November 4, 2011

My Goal is To Finish

Well, I did it. I've registered for Western Michigan University's Turkey Trot, and will run my first 5k on November 19.

I think it was January 2010 when I wandered into Gazelle Sports to buy a pair of running shoes. Armed with shoes and a training plan, I started running.

I stuck with that plan for a month or so, and then tapered off. Later in the year, I tried again. I tended to run in the morning, and it was always a challenge, using a watch and flashlight to time my walking & running. Of course it was winter, so mittens made it even more interesting... In any case, both times, I fizzled out.

In March of this year, I started training again. This time, I used the Couch-to-5k running plan. Similar to the plan that Gazelle Sports used, it was a combination of jogging and walking. Geared to increase the jogging over time, the goal was to be able to run a 5k in nine weeks.

Best of all, I found a podcast that would handle the annoying issues of timing. Laura, with her lovely British accent, told me when to walk and when to jog. I loved her cheery "Off you go!" when it was time to run, and her encouraging "That was fantastic!"

But even with Laura's support, I petered out again. I did weeks 1 and 2 twice, then week 3, and then I did week 4 twice. I'm looking at my running log to see this, but I don't remember why I was moving so slowly through the plan. It was mid-May when I stopped altogether, and I'm sure that was related to the weather, and to walking Bonnie.

I try to walk Bonnie every day, and our favorite time is at lunch. (Well, that is my favorite time; Bonnie's favorite time would be "now," any time of the day!) When the weather gets warm, I shift her walks to morning, and I'm guessing that's what happened in May - my running yielded to walks with Bonnie.

So. In September, Bonnie's walks shifted back to mid-day, and I started the Couch-to-5k program, again. This time, I've moved steadily through the plan, and tonight I did the second run for week 6. That means I've been running 8, 10, 20 minutes at a stretch. It's amazing to me.

(I remember years ago, when my sister persuaded me to run with her. I think we were both home, on break, from college. We ran from our home to the nearby grade school; I think it was .5k. Lori did great; I lay down on the ground and pondered the benefits of just dying right then and there.)

Granted, this will not be an elegant 5k. I've told my friend, "My goal is not speed; my goal is to finish." I've been using to track my runs, and I see two issues. One is that, based on my averages, I am expecting it will take me an hour to run the 5k. I'm okay with that.

More challenging is that my runs won't be near 5k in length by Nov 19. I'm guessing I'll have to run twice as far as usual, and that could be tricky. My thought is that I'll run the equivalent of a training run (28 minutes by then), and then shift to a mix of walking & jogging to finish the 5k. I'm okay with that, too.

Finishing fast can be a goal for another day. For this 5k, my goal is simply to finish.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

A Year in the Life of a Blog

Bonnie and I have enjoyed our walks these past days - the trees were beautiful in the sunshine.

A blog that I follow shared a lovely quote from John Burroughs, so appropriate in this fall season:
"How beautifully leaves grow old. How full of light and color are their last days."
I encourage you to check out her blog, We Heart Yarn - the photography is stunning. (And I just now learned how to make that link open in a new window. Hurrah!)

Today is the first blogiversary of Robin Gets a Life: I published my first blog entry on November 2, 2010. I've just skimmed the year's posts; it seems that I've been consistent in publishing, but not entirely consistent in quality. Can I share my favorite posts? (I'm going to, but feel free to ignore.)
The Trees Play Dress Up. I like the photography in this one, and I am pleased with the mix of poems and photos.

Self-Restraint. This was better writing than I find in most of my entries, and still makes me smile.

A Memoir of Love and Loss and Life. This was a review of a well-written book, which should probably get some of the credit for the well-written blog entry.
My goal for the next year: more carefully crafted entries, which will require more care and tending of my blog.

Oh Mom - focus on the writing,
and skip the dog photos!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween

Saturday night we had "Trunk or Treat" at church. The Bishopric had the kids shooting rubber bands at a row of ghosts. Here's one very happy shooter:

The Waller's dog, Willis, was dressed for the occasion:

Such a sweet boy!
Some folks go all out decorating their trunks:

We take the simpler route, and limit our display to a couple pumpkins:

These are the pumpkins, but this is not our trunk!
Tonight will be the parade of little ones past our door (and not-so-little ones - but hopefully not too many of those...!).

Have fun!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother: Stories of Loss and Love

Back in the spring, I read Xinran’s book, Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother: Stories of Loss and Love. I hadn’t heard any reviews of this book, written or by word-of-mouth; it simply caught my eye at the library.

At the time, I made some notes for a review, but have never gotten around to writing it. The simple fact is that the stories in this book were heartbreaking, and some were downright appalling. When I finished, I thought to myself, “China is the most dysfunctional place I’ve ever heard of.” (This was also my impression, some years ago, when I read Jung Chang’s book Wild Swans : Three Daughters of China.)

Xinran points out the reasons that so many mothers give up their daughters: their society depends on hard manual labor for survival, meaning that males are favored; sexual ignorance leads to women giving birth to infants they cannot care for; the one-child-per-family policy leads mothers to give up their daughter so that they can try again for that elusive son.

She shares heartbreaking stories, of mothers who give up their daughters, and of mothers who “do” their daughters – a euphemism for killing their infants.

One woman was abandoned by her husband, because she couldn’t produce a baby boy. She found work in the city, at a restaurant. When she saw a family holding a birthday party for their daughter, she tried to kill herself. She said, "Why couldn't my daughters have lived? Why did I have to kill my own daughters? I wish they could have had just a mouthful of that delicious birthday cake, just one mouthful! If only they could have put on those pretty clothes, just for a day!"

A couple is trying to have a son, so that the husband can return home and become the head of his clan. In the meantime, they travel, to avoid being detected as having more than one child. They abandon each daughter in turn, as they try again for a son. Asked if he doesn't worry about his daughters, the husband replies, "What's the point in worrying? If they're very lucky, they'll survive. If not . . . Girls are born to suffer. It's too bad they're not boys." He comments, "I'm just longing for the day my wife gets it right."

The worst story was of Green Mary, who worked with orphanages. She and her husband had a comfortable life, and could care for their daughter. And yet, they convinced themselves to pass her off as an orphan, so she could be adopted. Writing about this woman, Xinran wrote "Just how 'civilized' were we becoming? What was education and work really for? And all this struggling to complete and to succeed, at what price? Why had our modern civilization discarded that ancient blind animal instinct to protect our young?"

Surely these stories are the exception to the rule; surely there are families in China who love and care for their daughters as well as their sons.  I need to find a book about those families, a book that presents a more optimistic and balanced viewpoint.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Bonnie is Feeling Better, Thank You

Having shared that our beagle girl was unwell, I am now happy to report that she is Much Improved. By Sunday night, she was clearly feeling better, and today she measured well on all points: she demanded her walk; she ate happily; she tried to eat all sorts of detritus on our walk (you try to stop her!); and she successfully took care of doggy business.

I called the vet's office on Monday, and we think her latest problem was due to our making an abrupt switch from the hamburger / rice diet back to her regular dog food. We did try to switch gradually, but apparently it wasn't gradual enough. So we will try again, but Much More Carefully. She was a miserable pup on Sunday, and I don't want her to go through that again.

Note to Bonnie: It would be helpful if you would refrain from eating everything that doesn't eat you first. I suppose that is too much to ask.

On another note... did you know there is A Method to folding fitted sheets? I have always just crossed my fingers, and when the folded sheet looked good, I wondered, "Huh. How did I do that? What are the odds I'll ever do it again? Should I display this marvel on the coffee table, instead of hiding it in the linen closet?"

Well. Wonder no more. The Internet has the answer!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Beagles, Ghosts, & Other Goings-on

It's been an interesting week. But first, did you know "Goings-on" is really a word? According to Merriam-Webster, it means "actions, events," and its first known use was in 1775.

Last Monday, I took our Bonnie to the vet. She'd been a bit 'off' over the weekend, wasn't interested in eating, and seemed to have belly pain. An x-ray indicated some foreign object, but it didn't appear to be obstructing anything, and was small enough that it should pass on its own. The vet felt that whatever she'd eaten was irritating her stomach, and recommended treating her for gastritis, with some medication and a diet of hamburger and rice. We did that (Bonnie particularly approved of the new diet), and over the next few days she improved greatly. By Friday, she seemed to be her old self, barking for her walk and eating everything in sight.

But today, she is unwell again. I don't know if this is the same or a different problem, but she isn't eating, is throwing up, and at one point just lay on the bed, shivering and whimpering. Poor girl! I'm keeping an eye on her, letting her out often, and hoping whatever this is will get through her system. She's been sleeping, which seems to be a good thing, and now she's laying on the couch with me; maybe she wants to watch a movie (that's what I like to do when I don't feel well).

Friday night, we had a social at church. Rand and Jeremy and others prepared a delicious Italian meal: salad, appetizer, various pasta dishes, and fruit for dessert. Yum! Afterwards, Kevin explained the rules of Scopa, an Italian card game, and we all gave it a try. Our table had a good time (it helped that Jim remembered most of the rules from when Kevin tried to teach us one night at their place).

Yesterday, we held the Stake Relief Society Women's Conference (I'm the stake RS secretary). It was a long day - I arrived around 7:30 am, got home at 3:30 pm, and was on my feet nearly the whole time in between. But it was a successful conference. Our theme was service ("Helping Hands - Happy Hearts"), with three sisters presenting workshops with different service perspectives.

Kim taught "A Full Reservoir," about taking care of our needs, so that we can then share with others. Heather taught "Reaching Beyond our Circle," about service in our communities. Rachel taught "Making Your Home a Service Station," about service within our families.

We also had a service project, managed very well by Sean, a Boy Scout working on his Eagle project. He had fleece marked and ready to cut and tie into baby blankets, for DeVos Children's Hospital in Grand Rapids.

For lunch, we had a salad bar, several different soups, and homemade rolls. (Alisha baked the rolls; they were delicious!) President Witt made some closing remarks, and everyone headed home (or started cleaning up!).

The sisters seemed to enjoy the classes; we heard positive feedback again and again. Tying the fleece blankets turned out to be a popular session (we finished 50), with lots of good conversation paired with the service. And the simple meal was a hit.

I'm glad it all went so well. And I'm glad it is over!

I went home and took a lovely nap, and then Jim and I went out again. We had dinner with friends, at the Oakwood Bistro, and then attended a performance of the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra, at Chenery Auditorium. It was a wonderful concert (as demonstrated by the fact that, exhaustion notwithstanding, I Stayed Awake!).

The highlight was Mozart's Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra in A Major, K. 622. Anthony McGill was the guest soloist, and played with skill and enthusiasm. I enjoyed watching his performance as much as listening to it; his face and body reflected his feelings during the entire piece (even when he himself wasn't playing).

I was surprised to recognize all three pieces in this concert. In addition to the Mozart, they performed Ravel's Le Tombeau de Couperin, and Schubert's Symphony No. 5 in B Flat, D. 485. It was all wonderful, and pleasing to both the ear the the spirit.


If you've made it this far, here's a Halloween photo for you. This is my favorite Halloween display so far this season, in a yard on Turwill Lane. Bonnie wasn't particularly impressed, but she did wait while I took a picture.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

A Few More Random Tidbits Regarding My Trip to West Virginia

Our beautiful Bonnie!

What a change in weather! Last weekend, when I was visiting Lori in WV, temps were in the 70's (I think they were similar back here in Kalamazoo). Today they've been in the 50's, and so windy - it looks and feels like fall.

Bonnie & I went for a walk on the Kalamazoo River Valley Trail this afternoon - we started at 10th street, and walked east, toward town, for a mile or so. The sun filtering through the trees was beautiful.

Lori & I walked a good bit last weekend as well, around her neighborhood and downtown Morgantown and at Cooper's Rock. Here's a house in her neighborhood that I got a kick out of:

The Cow House!


Actually, I should share a photo of Lori's house. She's had a lot of work done on it over the past few years - new windows, a new furnace, various repairs, a new front door. There used to be two large trees in front of the house; she removed those, and replaced them with two redbud trees. It really looks nice:

Lori's house

It's comfy inside, too, and we enjoyed some quality Scrabble time. Saturday night I lost, but I attributed that to my being really tired. Lori clobbered me again on Sunday night, so I guess I have to accept that she really does play much better than I do! (Both scores were 300+ to 190 or so...)

The Scrabble Wiz

Saturday morning (yes, I know, this is in totally random order), we drove to California State University, in Pennsylvania. Lori taught a poetry workshop that morning. The students were teachers (from Pennsylvania and West Virginia), and the goal was for them to learn poetry writing exercises that they could subsequently use in their classes.

Participants each received a copy of "The Working Poet," which contains such writing exercises, along with an anthology of poems (for discussion, and to serve as models). But we didn't even crack the text during class. Lori began with a quote by Dean Young, about writing poems.
Let us suppose that everyone in the world wakes up today and tries to write a poem. It is impossible to know what will happen next but certainly we may be assured that the world will not be made worse.
She then presented several exercises, and we all worked with them, putting ideas (if not poems) on paper. I was so impressed with her teaching - well paced, interesting, involving the students, encouraging them to share what they'd written. It also was a good bit of fun, trying to follow the exercises and create the beginnings of poems. Afterwards, I observed most of the students wanting to chat with Lori, thanking her for her ideas, and in one case proposing that Lori visit and teach at her school.

She was a hit!

We read a number of poems during the workshop; this was my favorite:
Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota
By James Wright

Over my head, I see the bronze butterfly,  
Asleep on the black trunk,
Blowing like a leaf in green shadow.  
Down the ravine behind the empty house,  
The cowbells follow one another  
Into the distances of the afternoon.  
To my right,
In a field of sunlight between two pines,  
The droppings of last year’s horses  
Blaze up into golden stones.
I lean back, as the evening darkens and comes on.  
A chicken hawk floats over, looking for home.
I have wasted my life. 
Afterwards, as we headed to our car, we noticed this interesting sculpture:

The Ascent of Humanity,
by Allan Cottril of Washington, PA
We detoured to take a closer look. Apparently this sculpture was originally installed on the side of a building. When that building was later demolished, they kept intact the walls with the sculpture.

The descriptive plaque explained
The sculpture consists of fifteen human figures in bonded bronze, each one eight to ten feet tall, ascending two adjoining walls of the Duda World Culture Building at California University of Pennsylvania. The sculpture begins with Cro-Magnon man at the bottom and ends with a female astronaut at the top; in between are figures representing various races and cultures of the world.
This sculpture is an inspiration to humanity's quest for excellence and the ascent to knowledge, wisdom, caring, responsibility, and humanity.
One night - I guess it was Saturday - we had dinner at Chaang Thai Restaurant in downtown Morgantown. The restaurant was very pleasant. We sat at a high table, against the wall, so we could chat easily, and still have a commanding view of two very cute babies, at nearby tables.

The food was delicious. Here is just one photo, of the Chaang Fresh Rolls we shared (it is possible that I could have enjoyed an entire meal of those rolls).

We followed that up with ice cream, across the street at Cold Stone Creamery. That was probably a mistake - it was delicious, but probably more food than we needed. And, come to think of it, probably the reason I struggled to stay awake during that first Scrabble game! But we made up for it the next day, with lots of walking at Cooper's Rock.

As always, a fun visit with Lori. Can't wait til next time!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

On the Road to West Virginia: A Side Trip

As I mentioned, I spent last weekend visiting my sister Lori, in Morgantown, West Virginia. I drove down there on Friday. It was a gorgeous day, there was little traffic, and I made good time. I was heading south on I-79 by 3:30 pm, and decided to take a detour through Coraopolis & Moon Township.

My family moved to Moon Township in 1959 or 60. I can't remember the year exactly, but I believe we moved on Halloween. We lived in this house until 1975, when we moved to a house on Christler Court.

143 Claridge Dr, Coraopolis PA
My parents planted that maple, and it was a sad looking thing all the time we lived there. It grew straight up, and seemed like it would never fill out. (One of my brothers, and his friend, used a hatchet on it once, carving quite a scar on the trunk; that probably didn't help it any!) But look at it here, towering over the house, with branches that spread nicely.

You can just make out some steps coming from the back, on the left side of the house. I didn't feel comfortable traipsing over the property, but it looks like someone built a deck off the dining room, and those steps would  be from that deck. My parents talked about building such a deck, but it was always just a dream for them.

The wall along the driveway has been replaced since we lived there; the original wall was built of flat, irregular stones. Judging from the landscaping, the wall was probably replaced fairly recently. But the driveway is the same. I can remember the skill required to get a car up and down that driveway, especially in winter. And the snow would drift up in that corner where the wall, the house, and the driveway came together; what a challenge to shovel those drifts!

Mom used to grow chrysanthemums along that wall. I can remember playing in the flower bed, with small cowboy and horse figures, imagining they were riding through a great forest.

On my way back through town, I stopped by the Coraopolis Library.

Coraopolis Memorial Library

During the summer, Mom would regularly drive us to the library, to stock up on books. But I don't remember this building. In my memory, the library was squarish, and yellow / beige, not this red brick building with wings. I went inside and talked to the woman at the desk. She said this was the original library, built in 1955 (or '53 or '54, depending on which source you believe). The inside seemed more familiar to me, and of that era. I wondered if perhaps there had been some sort of renovation, but she said not.

This is a view of the wall, in between those two wings. If you look closely, you can see what looks like a concrete step, under the window. I wonder if that used to be the front of the library, and if there used to be a door there, instead of the window. I googled a bit, but can't find anything to confirm my suspicions. Maybe my siblings will remember a red brick library, instead of my fond recollection of a quite different building!

My last stop was at the Mt Calvary Presbyterian Church (at least, that's what I think this used to be; apparently it is now simply the Presbyterian Church of Coraopolis). This is the church we attended until I was 12, when we were baptized in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

I sang in the youth choir, joined youth group activities, attended summer Bible school, participated in Christmas programs, went to summer camps; my memories of this church are good. I remember attending a mother-daughter luncheon with Mom & Lori; they served tea, which held no appeal for me, and Mom said I didn't have to drink it (why do I remember that?!?). I remember singing Tell Me the Stories of Jesus, which is my earliest memory of church music.

We would often go out to eat after church services, to the local Howard Johnson's restaurant (where Paul always ordered red jello cubes). I also remember several Sundays when, after church services, we walked to a nearby building and received the polio vaccine, via sugar cubes. It seems to me that we did this 2 or 3 times. It was painless & sweet! Apparently this was in 1964, according to this Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article.

This reminds me of the coffee that was served after church services. There were sugar cubes, and we would try to grab a couple, so we could give them to a horse that lived in our neighborhood. (Sugar cubes were quite a novelty!)

The color of the building surprised me; I remember it being much darker, as is this nearby church:

Sometimes in the summer, our pastor & the pastor of this other church (which was just a block away from our church) would take turns going on vacation, and the congregations would meet together.

I finally tore myself away from memory lane, and got back on the road to WV. That, however, will have to wait for another blog post.