Monday, September 26, 2011

Yikes! I Need to Blog!

Sharing random bits and pieces of life...

1. Two Saturdays ago, I went with Lori T & Angi E & Pam E up to East Lansing, to attend Relief Society leadership training with Barbara Thompson. The Lansing Stake provided dinner, and then we attended a fireside with Cheryl Esplin (Primary) and Barbara Thompson. Lots of good information and instruction.

I liked Sister Thompson's comment regarding Moses 6:18:
And the Lord called his people Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them.
She reminded us that we can be poor in many ways - not just temporally, but also spiritually. We need to strengthen each other spiritually, through our friendships and visiting teaching and our assignments at church. And, of course, we need to strengthen ourselves.

2. I started running again. I'm following the couch-to-5k program (again - I stick with it a little longer each time, it seems). Last week I did week 1, and apparently I've lived to tell the tale. Aside from the back pain that seems to accompany most upright activity, I'm feeling pretty good.

I'm working with a PT on that back pain, mostly strengthening exercises. I now have a contraption (a TENS device) to stimulate the muscles with electric pulses, which is supposed to alleviate the pain. I'm still a bit skeptical, but am giving it a try. Today I wore it while walking Bonnie, turning it on when it seemed the pain was starting. I got home without feeling overwhelmed with the ache, so maybe it did help. Tomorrow I'll wear it when I run; that should be a good test.

I'm also planning to sign up for a yoga class - more on that once I've actually registered and started a class...

3. Marian Hawkins is the volunteer coordinator for the Seita Program at Western Michigan University. She attended our knitting guild meeting last Monday, and talked to us about the program. From the literature she shared:
The goal of the John Seita Scholarship program at Western Michigan University is to increase opportunities for foster youth to access a college education and to provide supports that promote success and well-being throughout the undergraduate experience. Western welcomes students who grew up in foster care to campus and through the Seita Scholars program aims to promote a sense of belonging in our campus community. Financial obstacles that often prevent foster youth from continuing their education are lessened through a full tuition scholarship. Year-round campus living eliminates any worry of homelessness during periods when residence halls are closed for school breaks. Other benefits such as 24 hour support from clinically trained campus coaches, mentoring, academic tutoring, student networking, counseling, and advocacy are all a part of this program to help the students succeed at Western and to make a smooth transition into adulthood.
At the beginning of the year, one thing they do is to provide laundry baskets full of supplies for the students - sheets, towels, laundry supplies, etc. I've seen students arriving at college, armed with carloads of supplies. Foster students aren't quite as prepared; Marian told of one foster youth who arrived at college with a drawstring backpack, and that was everything he brought.

Along those lines, I finally finished my scarf for the Seita Scholars.

This is the Shale Pleated Scarf, from Webs. I don't know why it seemed to take so long to finish. It was an easy knit, but not particularly quick or interesting, so I kept setting it aside. But in the end, it turned out pretty well. This scarf, along with the matching hat and mittens, will be gifts at the students' Christmas party in December.

4. I'm making progress on my scarf and rabbit projects; the lace shawl is growing much more slowly. And for variety (!), I bought yarn Friday night, to start a fourth project, an owl baby blanket.

Isn't this yummy?!? It's Dream in Color Classy, in the color "Happy Forest." On Saturday I cast on and started knitting the blanket; I'll post a picture when there's something to see...!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party

Let's start with a photo I took just last night - fall is nearly upon us:

Fall foliage in Kalamazoo - already!

And now, another recent read.

The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party is another delightful entry in the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency Series, by Alexander McCall Smith.

Mma Ramotswe puzzles over three challenges: Who killed Rra Moeti's cattle? Is the ghost of her white van driving around Gabarone? And what should they do about Charley? Besides all this, there are preparations for Grace Makutsi and Phuti Radiphuti's wedding - finally!

While I enjoy the storyline in McCall Smith's books, I also enjoy the insights into life and human nature. Here are a few examples from this book.
"One or two people had witnessed the tragedy, or at least had seen part of it... But they had only seen a woman racing after a white van and then stumbling; they had seen her bend down and change her footwear before walking off towards the main road. So might we fail to see the real sadness that lies behind the acts of others; so might we look at one of our fellow men going about his business and not know of the sorrow that he is feeling, the effort that he is making, the things that he has lost."

"...those who have a great deal to complain about are so often silent in their suffering, while those who have little to be dissatisfied with are frequently highly vocal about it."

"She looked at [Mr J.L.B. Matekoni] fondly; that he had been sent to her, when there were so many other, lesser men who might have been sent, was a source of constant gratitude. That we have the people we have in this life, rather than others, is miraculous, she thought; a miraculous gift."

"He had clasped his hands together, his fingers interlaced. It was a gesture, she thought, of unequivocal pleasure - pleasure at hearing what all of us wanted to hear at least occasionally: that there was somebody who liked us, whatever our faults, and liked us sufficiently to say so."
In these books, there are friendships and family; there are problems and puzzles. But mostly, there is simple kindness and thoughtfulness, and I enjoy that.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

War Horse

When Jim and I saw the trailer for War Horse, my curiosity was piqued. Before the moview, there was the play War Horse, and before that, the children's book by Michael Morpurgo.

When his father buys six-month old Joey, it is 13-year-old Albert who cares for him and trains him. But then World War I begins, and the horse is sold to the British Cavalry. He travels to France and joins the battle. Joey relates his experiences, and the people that he meets. Whether British, French, or German, they are generally kind to him, and longing for life without war. Of course, the question, throughout the book, is: Will Joey and Albert be reunited?

This book is written in simple and straightforward language, suited for children (grades 6-8). It is the story of a horse. It is also the story of "the pity and the futility and the huge senselessness, and the hope" of war (quoting Morpurgo, from an article in the London Evening Standard).

I enjoyed the book, and now I'm curious to see what they'll put in and take out for the movie...

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Double Comfort Safari Club

The Double Comfort Safari Club, by Alexander McCall Smith is the 11th book in the "No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency" novels.

(I want to point out that these books are filed at our library under "McCall" and not "Smith." Until I figured this out, I struggled to find these books!)

I read in an online discussion somewhere that "these books are great settlers of the soul and the spirit." I agree with that assessment - I love the leisurely pace of these books, the goodness of Mma Ramotswe and her friends, and the kindness that infuses her Botswana.

In this novel, Mma Ramotswe investigates a potentially unfaithful husband; tries to help a client who has lost, through deceit, the title to his house; and searches for a safari guide whose kindness has earned him a bequest from a former client. At the same time, Mma Makutsi's fiance, Phuti Radiphuti, has an accident, and his aunt uses his hospitalization as an opportunity to separate her nephew from his fiance.

Of course, Mma Ramotswe sorts through all this with her usual diligence and cleverness and common sense, and all loose ends are tied up by the book's end.

Mma Ramotswe reflects on all that she learned from her late father - lessons that would benefit us all:
He had taught her almost everything she knew about how to lead a good life, and the lessons she had learned from him were as fresh today as they ever had been. Do not complain about your life. Do not blame others for things that you have brought upon yourself. Be content with who you are and where you are, and do whatever you can do to bring to others such contentment, and joy, and understanding that you have managed to find yourself.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Everything That Can be Fixed

I am sitting on the couch in our front room (truly our 'living room' - this is the heart of our home, where we spend nearly all our free time). The window behind me looks out on our front yard, where there is a red maple that we planted in June, twenty-plus years ago. If I focus on the reflection on my laptop, all I can see are the branches of that tree, waving in the wind. The leaves fill my laptop screen, and make me smile.

Anyway... I was reading some Mary Oliver poems, and this one matches my mood today.
By Mary Oliver

Our neighbor, tall and blonde and vigorous, the mother
of many children, is sick. We did not know she was sick,
but she has come to the fence, walking like a woman
who is balancing a sword inside of her body, and besides
that her long hair is gone, it is short and, suddenly, gray.
I don’t recognize her. It even occurs to me that it might
be her mother. But it’s her own laughter-edged voice,
we have heard it for years over the hedges.

All summer the children, grown now and some of them
with children of their own, come to visit. They swim,
they go for long walks along the harbor, they make
dinners for twelve, for fifteen, for twenty. In the early
morning two daughters come to the garden and slowly
go through the precise and silent gestures of T’ai Chi.

They all smile. Their father smiles too, and builds
castles on the shore with the children, and drives back to
the city, and drives back to the country. A carpenter is
hired – a roof repaired, a porch rebuilt. Everything that
can be fixed.

June, July, August. Every day, we hear their laughter. I
think of the painting by van Gogh, the man in the chair.
Everything wrong, and nowhere to go. His hands over
his eyes.

To go with Oliver's poem, here is Van Gogh's Old Man in Sorrow (On the Threshold of Eternity):

Van Gogh, Vincent. Old Man in Sorrow (On the Threshold of Eternity). 1890.
Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo, The Netherlands