Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Cellist of Sarajevo

The Cellist of Sarajevo, by Steven Galloway, begins with a true story, an incident that took place during the siege of Sarajevo. On May 27, 1992, a cellist watched from his apartment window as people queued in a line to buy bread. Several mortar shells fell, and 22 of those people were killed.

For the next 22 days, Vedran Smailovic sat each day in that spot of destruction, playing his cello in memory of those friends and neighbors.

Galloway begins at this starting point, and gradually introduces three fictional characters. Dragan, an older man, works in a bakery. Kenan is a young father. Arrow, once a member of the university's target-shooting team, is now a sniper. The author describes their routines and their thoughts, as they face daily life in a city at war. He describes their moral challenges as well: how should one behave in this situation? How should we act toward neighbors, strangers, enemies?

The book does not have a lot of plot or drama. It simply tells the stories of people putting one foot in front of the other, as they adapt to their struggle. The prose is spare, as their life is spare. Galloway provides enough detail to see that these are good people, in a bad situation, and it is easy to care about them, to sympathize with them, and to hope that the war does not destroy their humanity. We also mourn the loss of the Sarajevo that was, and hope for its recovery.

Galloway writes about Kenan,
He knows that if he wants to be one of the people who rebuild the city, one of the people who have the right even to speak about how Sarajevo should repair itself, then he has to go outside and face the men on the hills. His family needs water, and he will get it for them. The city is full of people doing the same as he is, and they all find a way to continue with life. They're not cowards, and they're not heroes.
I think Kenan is wrong. I think they are all Heroes.

Note: the copy I read was a Riverhead Trade paperback. When I looked for the book at, to get a link, I noticed that copies of that particular paperback sell for $300 and more. What would be the reason for such an inflated price?

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Cute Little Things

I just finished this small Lilly Blanket, which I will donate to our local hospital. My friend recommended the yarn, Dream in Color Classy. It is a merino superwash, and easy to care for. The deep, saturated colors (this skein is Shiny Moss) are stunning, and it knits up into a beautiful blanket. I washed this in the machine, and it came out with a soft, comfortable drape.

The pattern is Lori Emmitt's Sleepy Owl Blanket. After knitting most of one row of blocks, I decided that the owl cable pulled in too much, distorting the seed stitch squares and making the blanket too wonky for my taste. I frogged it and started over, this time increasing two stitches at the base of each cable, and then decreasing those stitches at the top. That did the trick, and the squares behave nicely now.

I don't know if I ever explained what "Lilly Blankets" are. A friend of a friend lost her baby shortly after his birth, and she now collects these small blankets (she calls them Angel Blankets), and donates them to the local hospital. Parents who experience this tender loss then have something they can take home with them, to comfort them and remind them of their missing family member.

Lilly was my grand-niece, who herself was in this world for only a short time. When I knit these little blankets, each stitch is in her memory.

And now for something totally different, but totally cute:

This young friend was having the best time. He stood on this chair, happily stamping one foot, looking back each time to make sure we were still watching. Such simple, innocent pleasure!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

East and West

Kalamazoo lies between two large cities: Detroit to the east, and Chicago to the west. We often visit one or the other, and this past week, we visited both.

Flowers at the Chicago Temple

On Saturday, I traveled to the Chicago Temple. This was to have been a pleasant trip with my husband, and we were both looking forward to getting away together, and enjoying time in the temple together.

But it was not to be. At the last minute, Jim was asked to assist in the memorial service for a fellow Boy Scout leader. We decided that he would attend the service, and I would go to the temple.

With the late notice, I ended up traveling alone. My trip was uneventful (no traffic jams, hurrah!), and I enjoyed my session in the temple. I appreciate the calm there, and the opportunity to put things in their proper (eternal) perspective.

Afterwards,  I made the briefest of stops at Trader Joe's, and headed home. I was back in Kalamazoo early enough that Jim & I went out to eat dinner at the Main Street Pub. They even had red velvet cake, so we shared a piece. (The blogger in me finally remembered to take a picture!)


On Tuesday, Jim and I traveled in the other direction, to attend a Tigers baseball game. We had a great time. It was hot, but we had terrace seats, in the shade, and high enough to catch a bit of a breeze. We enjoyed hot dogs & pizza & pop & water for dinner (yes, we took out a loan). We saw some good ball-playing and some lame ball-playing. The Tigers won, and I did some knitting. What more could you ask for?

Big cats guarding the stadium

Monday, July 18, 2011

Shawl Talk

One day last week, I had several long meetings at work - the kind that are perfect for knitting while listening. I finished one project, and started another.

This prayer shawl was an easy knit, based on a broken rib stitch. The yarn is Aslan Trends Ecolana, an alpaca merino blend. The shawl feels light, but - with that yummy blend - should be cozy and warm.

I washed & blocked it, to 21" x 71." Stretching and pinning it to that size, with nice even edges, was a bit of a pain, but the 'after' shawl looks much nicer than the 'before.' I have to believe it would be much easier with a set of blocking wires. Someday I'll buy a set, and then we'll see which really is the greater challenge: pinning and repinning the edges, or threading wires through wet yarn (there's always got to be some challenge!).

This is my first project with lace-weight yarn, so I chose what I hope will be a fairly simple pattern - the Free and Easy Pie Wedge Shawl, by Lorna Miser. With such a fine yarn, I figure it will take forever to knit, so this will be a good vacation project!

The other night, I watched an episode of Nature, a show about the Monterey Bay Aquarium. The exhibits look fascinating, and I admit that I am tempted to start a bucket list, just so I can put a visit to this aquarium on it!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Pretty Things

Bonnie and I enjoyed a walk this evening - for late July, it was remarkably pleasant and cool, with a bit of a breeze.

One of the homes in the neighborhood had this striking sculpture in their yard:

Isn't that pretty? It looks like stained glass (I didn't want to intrude too much on my neighbor, so I didn't examine it closely). I don't know what it is supposed to represent, but it reminded me of a map of Chicago and Lake Michigan.

Here are a few other recent walk photos:

At Friendship Village, I think

From a bed at the Springs,
where I play piano each week

Friendship Village again?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Memory Keeper's Daughter

I just finished a remarkable book by Kim Edwards, The Memory Keeper's Daughter.

Norah Henry goes into labor on a snowy Kentucky night, and, unable to reach the hospital, her husband David, an orthopedic surgeon, delivers her baby, with the help of his nurse, Caroline Gill. A boy is born, and then his twin sister appears. Paul is healthy; Phoebe has Down's syndrome.

David considers the baby girl. He thinks of his sister who died at age twelve; of his mother's subsequent grief; of the prognosis for this newborn daughter. Without discussion, he hands the baby to the nurse, gives her the address of an institution, and instructs her to take the baby there. He tells his wifeNorah that their daughter died during the birth, and that is that.

I knew this premise when I picked up the book, and yet I was so angry at this husband's arrogance, that I wasn't sure I wanted to finish. Twenty pages into the book, and I wondered how I could bear to continue reading.

From this heart-wrenching premise, Edwards spins a tale of two families. David struggles with guilt, Norah with loss, as they raise their son. And Caroline - who does not leave Phoebe at the institution - moves to Pittsburgh and raises Phoebe as her own daughter.

At one point, Edwards writes of Caroline
This was her life. Not the life she had once dreamed of, not a life her younger self would ever have imagined or desired, but the life she was living, with all its complexities. This was her life, built with care and attention, and it was good. (2005 hardback, pages 253-254)
Eventually, in their own time, the characters reconcile their guilt or sorrow, face their challenges, build their lives. The past cannot be changed. The process of letting it go and moving forward is not easy or straightforward. And yet, they manage. They manage to create new lives, and, while not perfect, those lives are satisfying and good.

I have to say, the book, while not perfect, was itself satisfying and good, and I'm glad to have read it.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Do you remember the best summer of your life?

This week, I finished a delightful book, Summer at Tiffany, by Marjorie Hart. When I saw this book at Barnes & Noble, I thought it was a work of fiction. I picked it up at the library, and was delighted to discover that it is actually a memoir, describing one magical summer in New York.

In 1945, Marjorie Jacobson and Marty Garrett, best friends attending the University of Iowa, travel to New York City for the summer, hoping to find work as shopgirls for one of the department stores. They discover that they aren't the only ones with this clever idea, and are turned away from store after store. On a whim, they apply for positions at Tiffany & Co, and miraculously are hired as pages, becoming the first women ever to work on the Tiffany sales floor.

Hart writes as if she is sitting with you, sharing the stories she remembers fondly from that summer, laughing at her own naivete and mishaps. Her experiences at Tiffany are mingled with dances and dates, meals at the Automat, struggles with their meager budget. She shares her letters home, relates the effects of the war on their lives, and describes the celebration on Times Square when the Japanese surrender.

Hart's book is a great summer read - enjoy it!

P.S. I hope that when I'm 82, my photo looks as good as Ms. Hart's does!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Books With Dogs

I recently finished two books, both, at least to some extent, about people and their dogs.

Gail Caldwell's book is Let's Take the Long Way Home: A Memoir of Friendship. Caldwell describes her friendship with Caroline Knapp. Both are writers; both are recovering alcoholics; both enjoy the water (swimming and rowing). They know of each other, through their careers, but it is through their dogs that they finally come together and become close friends.

The reviews I read were very positive, describing it as a moving book about death and loss and friendship, about how friends and dogs fulfill us.

Unfortunately, it just didn't click for me. I will admit that I enjoyed the writing, such as this passage, describing Caldwell's new puppy, Clementine:

"After the first sleep-deprived twenty-four hours of her invasion, I sat on the back porch with her sprawled asleep in my lap - She has white eyelashes! I thought - and tears started streaming down my face. I had had animals all my life, but never had my heart been seized with such unequivocal love" (page 37).

Writing such as this, along with the narrative Caldwell shared, held my interest, but I never really felt a connection - I felt more like an passerby, looking on as Caldwell analyzed her life, her friendship, death, animals - maybe that was my problem with it: too much analysis.

The second book is "Rescuing Sprite: A Dog Lover's Story of Joy and Anguish," by Mark R Levin. He relates the story of their two dogs - Pepsi, whom they acquired as a puppy, and Sprite, the rescue dog they adopted. Sprite was an older dog, and so his time with them was nowhere near as long as they would have liked. Levin describes how the dog readily joined their family; how the two dogs bonded; and how the family struggled as Sprite's health deteriorated.

It seemed promising - how can you lose with a dog story? - but the book grew wearying. I am sure it was therapeutic for the author to describe his experience and feelings (in great detail), but it was a bit tiresome for me. I think the book would have improved with a lot more editing and a lot less sentimentality.