Monday, June 17, 2013

a4A Sweater: Finished at Last!

I finished my sweater for afghans for Afghans!

This is really a teal heather, although
the photo didn't capture the color

Except for the interminable seaming, it was a fun knit. I suspect that, in the future, I'll try to stick to top-down, knitting in the round, to avoid those seams.

The sweater is small - probably a size 8 or 10. I understand that a4A gets more small sweaters, fewer large sweaters, so for my next sweater (whenever that may happen), I'll aim for a larger size.

And, now that I've finished this sweater, I can really dive into my Bermuda shawl, with no guilt!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

The World's Strongest Librarian

I don't remember where I heard about Josh Hanagarne's book, The World's Strongest Librarian, but it piqued my interest: a Mormon librarian, who lifts weights and has Tourette Syndrome.

My quick assessment? Hanagarne's memoir gets a solid thumbs up. It was well-written and interesting, and made me care about Hanagarne and his family. In the process, I learned a little about about life with Tourette's.

Hanagarne's memoir mixes stories from his job as a librarian with stories of his life: his loving parents; his efforts to control his Tourette's; his experiences as a Mormon missionary; his strength training; his repeatedly interrupted university studies; his search for his place in this world.

I was a bit worried about the Mormon aspects of Josh's life. I remembered from the review I'd heard that he is no longer active in the LDS church, and I worried that the book would have an anti-Mormon slant. But this wasn't the case at all. As he wrote about his life, his church participation was a part of that life, and he wrote positively about those experiences. Ultimately, he simply didn't have the same belief and knowledge as his family, and so stepped back. He wrote
When people tell me. . . that the church is a controlling, greedy, sinister monster that's only interested in brainwashing people and subjugating women, I say, "I don't know that church, but I can understand why you'd have a problem with the church's history." I know happy, generous people. I know my compassionate bishop. I don't see rubes and sheep. I'm way too ignorant and fallible and unsure to sneer at other people who are just trying to live the best way they know how. I see people who want the world to be better than it is and who are willing to work for it.

I just can't work at it in the same way they do anymore. I can't trust my emotions as confidently as they trust theirs. . . If there's a personal God, I have to believe that he knows my heart, and why I have to do what I'm doing right now. Why I have to live according to what makes sense to me, and not according to what is sacred to others.
Hanagarne eventually becomes a librarian, and writes eloquently about the need for and benefits from libraries (he works at the Salt Lake City Public Library). Talking about patrons of different classes and races and such, and how they struggle to get along, he writes
 . . . while we may never find specific, actionable solutions, a good library's existence is a potential step forward for a community. If hate and fear have ignorance at their core, maybe the library can curb their effects, if only by offering ideas and neutrality. It's a safe place to explore, to meet with other minds, to touch other centuries, religions, races, and learn what you truly think about the world.
He sees libraries, and the items that circulate from libraries, as leading
to members of the community gathering in the same place. People who might never lay eyes on one another elsewhere. In this digital era when human contact sometimes feels quaint to me, this is significant. If libraries themselves become quaint because they house physical objects and require personal interaction at times, so be it. For that reason, I believe physical libraries always need to exist in some form.
What I liked most about this memoir, I think, is that it seems so honest. Hanagarne is simply a nice guy, with a terrible affliction. He never really overcomes his Tourette's, but he finds peace in his life just the same. At one point, he talks about what he'll tell his son about his attitude toward the church. It comes across a recap of what really matters to him - and Tourette's is not a part of that recap:
What I'll tell Max is that I love his mom, his grandparents, and his aunts and uncles and cousins more than anything. I'll tell him that they are my life, and they are a life worth living. When he asks what I believe, I'll tell him that I do believe in many of the tenets of the church:

Be kind and compassionate.

Serve others.

You are responsible for your actions and should be accountable for them, if only to yourself. . . .

Don't lie, kill, steal, or cheat.

Family is the greatest joy on earth.

Study the best books.

Be accountable to yourself. . . .

I'll tell him that I was the luckiest, happiest kid in the world. I will tell him that there are no words I can use to describe how much I love my parents, and how grateful I will always be for them.
Go find yourself a copy of his book, and enjoy!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Music in Public Spaces

Nephew N, who lives in Plymouth, Michigan, posted on his Facebook page today:
So there are these construction workers outside my house singing opera. I'm honestly not sure whether to be more surprised at how cultured they are or how incredibly stupendous their singing is
My immediate response? I was jealous, that he got to enjoy such a magical, spontaneous, unexpected pleasure. At least he shared it with us, and I'm grateful for that.

His experience reminded me of a story Mom shared with us. She & Dad were in Italy - he was traveling on business, and Mom, finally, was traveling with him. She was sitting in a plaza one day, and watched as various workers came out to enjoy their lunches. An opera was playing (on big screens? small TVs? I'm vague on this detail), and the lunch crowd was watching.

What astonished and touched Mom was this: the workers were crying. "Those constructions workers were crying as they watched," she exclaimed. "They were moved by the music. Who would have thought...?"


We need more music that surprises us. Like Joshua Bell, playing in the subway.

Or flash mobs:

I remember once - years ago - attending a craft show with my mom. (I think it was in Sewickley, Pennsylvania, but who knows for sure.) Anyway, there was a trio of trumpeters, playing wonderfully clear notes; I imagined them cresting over the top of a hill. We listened for a bit; it was magic.

The Washington Post article about Joshua Bell quotes William Henry Davies (from his poem, Leisure), and I share their quote:
What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
When there is music to be heard, it's time to stand and stare and listen, time to be amazed and delighted.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Another Talk and Another Blanket

I'll start with the fun stuff, another knitted blanket:

I knit this for my niece & nephew, Sarah & Adam - well, really for their soon-to-be-born second boy. It's an easy knit, but I was worried - it seemed rather rough around the edges, and refused to lie flat or behave at all. But once I washed it, gently shaping and smoothing it, it turned into this loveliness. It's superwash wool, but only a sport weight, so I think it will be a nice blanket for warmer weather. (At least, that's what I'm hoping.)

On Sunday, I got to speak again at church. (Having spoken twice in five weeks - in stake conference and now in our sacrament meeting - I figure I am safe from being asked again for Quite Some Time.)

My topic was "How service & love help us be steadfast and immovable." I won't drive away my readers by posting the whole talk, but here are just a few quotes that I think are worth reading.

Elder David A. Bednar wrote
[A] person who is steadfast and immovable is solid, firm, resolute, firmly secured, and incapable of being diverted from a primary purpose or mission.

. . . If you and I desire to become steadfast and immovable disciples of the Master, we must build appropriately and effectively upon [Christ] as our foundation.
(“Steadfast and Immovable, Always Abounding in Good Works,” New Era, January 2008)
Building upon Christ as our foundation suggests that we learn of him and rely on him and follow his example. I think of his answering the question, "Master, which is the great commandment in the law?" (Matthew 22:36-39)
Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.

This is the first and great commandment.

And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
First we are to love God, and then we are to love those around us. If Christ is our foundation, then the foundation commandment is love itself.

President Uchtdorf suggested that we learn how to love by “evaluating what motivates your thoughts and actions.”
When your primary thoughts are focused on how things will benefit you, your motivations may be selfish and shallow. That is not the language [of love] you want to learn.

But when your primary thoughts and behaviors are focused on serving God and others—when you truly desire to bless and lift up those around you—then the power of the pure love of Christ can work in your heart and life. That is the language you want to learn.
(“Your Wonderful Journey Home,” General Young Women Meeting, March 2013)
Finally, here is a promise from President Henry B. Eyring:
We are under covenant both to lift up those in need and to be witnesses of the Savior as long as we live.

We will be able to do it without fail only as we feel love for the Savior and His love for us. As we are faithful to the promises we have made, we will feel our love for Him. It will increase because we will feel His power and His drawing near to us in His service.
(April 2013 general conference, “Come Unto Me”)

. . . As you bind up the wounds of those in need and offer the cleansing of His Atonement to those who sorrow in sin, the Lord’s power will sustain you.
(my emphasis; "Come Unto Me," General Conference April 2013)
My conclusion: As we work to become steadfast and immovable, we seek out His sustaining power, by serving and loving in His kingdom.

If only it were as easy as it sounds!

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Sky Scarf and Flower Update

My Sky Scarf has grown to four months now:

I had hoped to also share a picture of my finished afghans for Afghans sweater. Alas, it appears that it will take just shy of forever to sew the seams. I'm using the mattress stitch, and it looks very nice, but I am so slow at this. I've finished the four raglan seams, and am working on one of the side seams - but I barely made a dent before I had to take a break, to stave off a headache. Slowly but surely, I will make it through this seaming. Then all I'll need to do is knit the neck edge, and it will be Finished!

On another note, we finally have some flowers, which I bought from Metro Bedding Plants, on Drake Rd (very near our home, which I appreciate). I cleaned up the pots in the corner by our breezeway, and planted some annuals. It turned out to be considerably more work than I had anticipated. One of the pots had seriously deep standing water, so I had to remove all the dirt mud, drain the water, drill new drainage holes, add vermiculite and peat to the dirt, and put it all back together again. (I should have borrowed a small boy, to help me appreciate that mud.) During the several days it took to do all that, some of the flowers died, and I had to replace them. But finally, here they are:

Dwarf Snapdragon

Salvia Lady in Red

Portulaca Sundial Mix

Geraniums (we have two hanging pots)
With any luck (and at least some attention), they'll continue to thrive through the summer.

Oh! I forgot - I also planted some variety of black-eyed susan, around the mailbox. I'll have to get pictures of those at some point. Right now, they are healthy and happy.

Party in the Park

Every year, at the end of May, Kalamazoo Public Library hosts a Party in the Park. As described on KPL's website:
Since 1998, Ready to Read has celebrated national Stand for Children Day with a special story hour to focus community attention on the importance of sharing books with young children.

Kalamazoo County preschoolers, their parents, teachers, and child care providers are invited to Bronson Park to hear stories read by community leaders and costumed story book characters. Each child receives healthy snacks and juice and a gift book courtesy of Kalamazoo Public Library.
Jim participated in this event, reading the book Homer, by Elisha Cooper.

This is a delightful book, about a family dog. All day long Homer lays on the porch, watching his people come and go. They invite him to join in their activities, and he politely declines. In the evening, his family asks, "is there anything you need?" Homer replies with a sweet "no, I have everything I need. I have you."

Here's a photo (from KPL's photos of that day) of Jim with his book. Our friend Steve read Caps for Sale, by Esphyr Slobodkina, and came dressed for the occasion:

Sunday Thoughts: Back to Basics

Last week, I had the idea of sharing some ideas, from church meetings, that impressed me. Yeah, don't go looking for that post; it never happened.

Happily, what was true last week is still true today. And what I needed to remember and ponder from last week, I still need to remember and ponder today. So...

Last Sunday, in Relief Society, Shandy reminded us that gospel basics are important, in this case prayer and scripture study. She referred to a talk by Elder L. Tom Perry, Back to Gospel Basics, given in April 1993. He talked about efforts to fortify church members in Peru, and the decision to emphasize just two basic principles of the gospel: family prayer and family scripture study. He recapped the results:
The blessings that have come to the Peruvian Saints from practicing these two basic gospel principles, daily prayer and scripture study, have been most remarkable. It soon became evident that faith and testimony were increasing among members of the Church there. There has been a significant increase in sacrament meeting attendance, which has resulted in a greater sense of community and increased interest among the Saints in loving and caring for each other. Though travel to the temple has become increasingly difficult and dangerous, surprisingly, temple attendance is up significantly.

A renewed emphasis on two basic gospel practices—daily prayer and scripture study—created a dramatic change and offered increased spirituality and works among the Saints there.

The success of the Peruvian Saints should teach all of us the importance of adhering to the basics of a gospel-centered life.
The emphasis in that quote is mine. It seems I need to be reminded, again and again, to focus on these basic principles. I need to become truly committed to making these a priority in my life, every day.

Conveniently, Shandy also referred to a first presidency message about commitment, by President Dieter F. Uchtdorf ("Brother, I'm Committed," Ensign, July 2011).
Commitment is a little like diving into the water. Either you are committed or you are not. Either you are moving forward or you are standing still. There’s no halfway. We all face moments of decision that change the rest of our lives. As members of the Church, we must ask ourselves, “Will I dive in or just stand at the edge? Will I step forward or merely test the temperature of the water with my toes?”

. . . Those who are only sort of committed may expect to only sort of receive the blessings of testimony, joy, and peace. The windows of heaven might only be sort of open to them. Wouldn’t it be foolish to think, “I’ll commit myself 50 percent now, but when Christ appears at the Second Coming, I’ll commit myself 100 percent”?
I don't want to "only sort of receive the blessings," so... I am recommitting, diving in, moving forward, to make these basic principles - prayer and scripture study - a priority in my life.

Happily, I can choose to commit again and again, til I finally get it right.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Bonnie Update, Plus the Dilemma of a Photographer

Our beagle girl seems to be improving. We've been going on short walks this past week (sticking to the park). Yesterday we took our first regular-length walk, and Bonnie's second walk with her new harness. We had taken one short walk with the harness a week ago, which was definitely not a success - either Bonnie's back was still hurting, or she absolutely hated the harness, or she didn't like the very short route I was offering. In any case, she pretty much dragged her paws and refused to go anywhere.

But yesterday, she was fine - you would have thought she'd been using a harness forever:

Her nose was in excellent form

Sometimes I think I get carried away with picture-taking - on walks, or during family get-togethers. There is a fine line between taking so many pictures you become a spectator rather than a participant, and taking so few pictures that you have nothing to enjoy later.

This poem reminded me of this dilemma:
The Vacation
by Wendell Berry

Once there was a man who filmed his vacation.
He went flying down the river in his boat
with his video camera to his eye, making
a moving picture of the moving river
upon which his sleek boat moved swiftly
toward the end of his vacation. He showed
his vacation to his camera, which pictured it,
preserving it forever: the river, the trees,
the sky, the light, the bow of his rushing boat
behind which he stood with his camera
preserving his vacation even as he was having it
so that after he had had it he would still
have it. It would be there. With a flick
of a switch, there it would be. But he
would not be in it. He would never be in it.
(It also reminded me of a story from my mission. Missionaries, of course, are taught to record their experiences in a journal. But when I arrived in Ecuador, the elders talked with amazement of a sister missionary who - to hear the elders tell it - constantly wrote in her journal. They tried to imagine what she was writing. "Here I am sitting, writing in my journal. Nothing is happening right now, but I am still writing. Still writing... still writing... still writing..." I wonder if this non-stop-journaling sister really existed!)