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.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Fall in West Virginia

West Virginia is a beautiful place. Lori says they've gotten more than their fair share of rain lately (when I arrived on Friday, she was happily mowing the jungle of grass that had been thriving with all that rain). But this weekend there has been no rain, just blue sky and sunshine.

I took this photo from my car, driving south on I-79 (Please don't tell my mother; I promise I didn't actually look through the camera while driving.  I have many blurry photos to confirm this). This is typical of highways in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, built after blasting through rock:

These beauties were somewhere in Morgantown, along one of our walks with Misty:


And these mums are in the flower bed, alongside Lori's house:

This is the view down the hill, from Lori's porch, looking east as the sun is setting:

Today we drove to Cooper's Rock State Park, and visited the overlook, and did some hiking.

Near the overlook, looking out over the Cheat River Gorge

Looking back from the overlook

Cheat River

Hiking through the forest

I am always amazed at the size of the rocks
that we see just lying around in this forest

Lori and I tried to take a picture of ourselves, first with my camera, then with hers. We took shot after shot, most of them looking like the old snaps we'd take at the photo booth at the mall. We laughed and laughed, arguing over who looked dorkier in each picture.

At one point, I said, "that picture makes you look taller than me." Lori was quick to point out, "I am taller than you!" This is true; she is taller...

The best of our self-photography
Taken by a kind stranger who took pity on us!
Misty thoroughly enjoyed her walk, sniffing diligently, and barking furiously at a variety of dogs. She became particularly vocal when Lori left us for a few minutes:

Where did she go?!?
When we got home, Misty collapsed for a nap. (So did Lori, but I didn't take her picture.)

More West Virginia updates to come...

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Watching General Conference with the Owls

It's hard to believe that General Conference was just last week; it seems like it's been ages. Before it really becomes ages, I want to share just a few of my thoughts.

Heather, on the blog Women in the Scriptures, recapped her conference experience by responding to a series of questions. I'll do the same, abridging her list a bit.

1. Who were your three favorite speakers? Richard G. Scott; Barbara Thompson; José Alonson; President Eyring; Dallin Oaks; President Monson. You don't need to point out that this list contains more than three favorites. (And thanks to my sister for helping me give José an accent.)

2. Which talk spoke to you the most? I think Elder Scott’s talk, The Power of Scripture, simply because I’ve recently been trying to improve my scripture study. 

3. What was your favorite Hymn and why did it move you? Consider the Lilies – it is a beautiful piece of music, with a comforting message of love.

4. Which speaker was the best dressed?
  This question made me laugh! I have no idea, although Jim did remark favorably on President Uchtdorf’s tie.

5. Were there any topics that you felt like were repeated often?  Any conference "themes"? It is interesting to me that each person hears their own theme. For me, it was "Study the Book of Mormon."

6. Share a few of your favorite quotes from any of the talks (paraphrasing is fine).

President Monson read Isaiah 32:17, "The work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance for ever." Personally, I would like some peace and quietness and assurance...

I also liked Elder Oaks’ question, “I ask . . . what you really believe about Jesus Christ and what you are doing because of that belief.”

7. What are some of your post-conference goals? I think the most important goal is simply to read and study the talks for the next six months.

And what about those owls?

During conference, I worked on the blanket I'm knitting for a grand-nephew who's due in December. It uses this motif, with 8 squares across, and 9 rows. (I finished 2 rows last weekend.)

This is not a good picture at all, but at least it shows the color: