Wednesday, July 31, 2013


A while ago, I read Kristof and WuDunn's book, Half the Sky, detailing the oppression of women.

I've seen the movie Water, which tells of Hindu women living in an ashram for widows, including the child Chuyia, and of their mistreatment.

Just the other day, I read of an FBI sweep that rescued more than 100 children from a sex trafficking ring, including 10 here in Michigan.

I am aware of the plight of many women in our world, both here in the U.S. and abroad. But nothing I've read or seen touched me as much as Patricia McCormick's book, Sold. Although it is written for teen-age readers, I found it compelling and moving.

The narrator is Lakshmi, a thirteen-year-old girl living in the mountains of Nepal with her mother, stepfather, and baby brother. She describes the hardship and poverty of their life, the small joys and the sadness. She tells of her goat Tali, and of the cucumbers she is growing (and which she has named). She tells of the four babies born between her and her brother. She describes drought and hunger, and then the falling of too much rain.
When the night rain soaks the ground past the soaking point, when the earthen walls around the paddy melt away, when the rice plants are sucked out of the earth one by one and washed down the slope, there should be a sound, a noise announcing that something is terribly wrong.

Instead there is a ghostly hush that tells us we have lost everything.
Lakshmi's stepfather arranges for her to go to the city, where she will work as a maid. She looks forward to being able to send money home to her family, just as her friend Gita has done. She describes her journey, and the amazing sights and sounds and smells.

But of course, as I read, I knew where she was really heading, and I dreaded the fate that awaited her. She fights and resists that fate, but eventually succumbs to the inevitable.
I cannot tell which of the things they do to me are real,
and which are nightmares.

I decide to think that it is all a nightmare.
Because if what is happening is real,
it is unbearable.
Lakshmi's mother had taught her, "Simply to endure is to triumph."  The other girls teach her how to get along in this new life, she learns some Hindu words from a young boy, and she continues to dream of paying off her debt so she can return home. One day, the boy gives her a pencil.
It is shiny yellow and it smells of
lead and rubber. And possibility.

I have been beaten here,
locked away,
violated a hundred times
and a hundred times more.
I have been starved
and cheated,
and disgraced.

How odd it is that I am undone by the simple kindness
of a small boy with a yellow pencil.
As I read, I believed this would end well, that Lakshmi would be one of those to escape the brothel and its horrors. It heartened me to read that she herself still had the drive to get away:
I know something else as well. I know that I would endure a
hundred punishments to be free of this place.
On her web page, McCormick wrote, "It was important to remember that, in even the grimmest of situations, there is kindness as well as cruelty, terror as well as boredom, and even, surprising as it may seem, humor." Her excellent book conveyed all this.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

A Nose with Four Paws

I've been trying to take some new pictures of Bonnie, while out walking. I've noticed a definite theme:

Hmm, what is that?

Now *that* smells interesting!

Any mail?

Clearly, for Bonnie, the purpose of a walk is to sniff, smell, and investigate everything. When children see her, they ask to pet her (who can blame them; what's more appealing than a beagle?), and I can usually persuade her to sit politely for a couple minutes - but she really wants to be up and about, checking out All.The.Smells. If her hearing has deteriorated somewhat (which may indeed be the case - or perhaps she just ignores us more), her sniffer seems just fine.

Peter Tyson, in Dogs' Dazzling Sense of Smell, wrote
Dogs' sense of smell overpowers our own by orders of magnitude—it's 10,000 to 100,000 times as acute, scientists say. "Let's suppose they're just 10,000 times better," says James Walker, former director of the Sensory Research Institute at Florida State University, who, with several colleagues, came up with that jaw-dropping estimate during a rigorously designed, oft-cited study. "If you make the analogy to vision, what you and I can see at a third of a mile, a dog could see more than 3,000 miles away and still see as well."
Wow. That is approximately the distance across the United States (east coast to west coast). If Bonnie is picking up all those smells, I wonder why her head doesn't explode. . . !

I heard a poem the other day, on the Writer's Almanac. The narrator was a dog, so of course I thought of our Bonnie - but really, I think this poem isn't about a dog at all, but about people and commitment. I like the image in the last stanza, "each time I put the stick at her feet / I would say this is my heart / and she would say I will make it fly / but you must bring it back to me."

We must guard those hearts, whether canine or human...
If I Were a Dog
by Richard Shelton

I would trot down this road sniffing
on one side and then the other
peeing a little here and there
wherever I felt the urge
having a good time what the hell
saving some because it's a long road

but since I'm not a dog
I walk straight down the road
trying to get home before dark

if I were a dog and I had a master
who beat me I would run away
and go hungry and sniff around
until I found a master who loved me
I could tell by his smell and I
would lick his face so he knew

or maybe it would be a woman
I would protect her we could go
everywhere together even down this
dark road and I wouldn't run from side
to side sniffing I would always
be protecting her and I would stop
to pee only once in awhile

sometimes in the afternoon we could
go to the park and she would throw
a stick I would bring it back to her

each time I put the stick at her feet
I would say this is my heart
and she would say I will make it fly
but you must bring it back to me
I would always bring it back to her
and to no other if I were a dog

Summer Days: June 29 and July 4

Jim had a recent birthday (he turned 39 for the 19th time...). We made a day trip up to Rockford, MI.

By the Rouge River

We spent a nice day, walking around town, doing some window-shopping (and some actual shopping). We stopped into the local yarn store, JT Stitchery and Frame Shop, and managed to come out almost unscathed (I bought two buttons, to enhance a hat I knitted.)

We also discovered The War Chest Boutique, associated with Women at Risk, International. This was a unique store - lots of jewelry, scarves, clothing, etc, all made by or to support women at risk. (We pulled out our credit card and did our part...)

We had lunch at The Corner Bar, where Jim has enjoyed hot dogs in years past. We enjoyed ours as well (though it is hard to imagine eating the 12 dogs required to join their Hot Dog Hall of Fame). And, on the way home, we stopped by a Grand Rapids coin store, for Jim (after perusing the yarn goods, it was only fair to give coins equal time).

Later, I made a strawberry cake (Alisha's recipe) to celebrate Jim's birthday with friends; Jim deemed it a success:

Love those Michigan strawberries!

On the Fourth, we enjoyed a pleasant breakfast, at Oshtemo Park, with our church. Pancakes and sausage and fruit - just right. We held a flag ceremony, sang a few patriotic numbers, listened to some brief remarks, and headed home for a relaxing day.

Paul's family (including Rachelle's mom, Mary), stopped by in the afternoon. They were en route to different destinations (some were meeting family at a nearby reunion; Paul & N were traveling on to a college campus visit), so we didn't have a long visit - just enough time for Mary to clobber us all at a game of Ticket to Ride!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Sky Scarf and Other Knitting

I've finished month 5 of my sky scarf:

That's June & July over on the right end - those dark grey rows are for two days of rain and thunderstorms (poor Bonnie!), and then there were some days of just plain rain (Bonnie does better with those). I'll be knitting up some straight blue for our recent skies.

Here is the latest for my Bermuda shawl:

I'm 3/4 of the way done. Now my challenge is to pay attention to how much yarn I'm using for each section. I don't have to do all the sections, which means I can pretty much knit until my yarn runs out - as long as I leave enough for the final edge. Wish me luck as I try to guess judge which sections to omit, so I can finish the shawl with just the one skein of yarn I have.

My Seita Scholar scarf is also coming along nicely. Happily, it is not as uneven as this picture would suggest. The random stripe generator came through again, and hopefully the colors will appeal to Western Students.

This scarf will be part of the knitted items offered at December's Christmas party for the students. Right now, there is a drive to gather items for student welcome packs (which are described here). The goal is to provide full welcome packs for the new students, and modified packs for returning students.

This is a great program, and I'm glad we can make our small contribution.

Here are a few pictures of the spectacular summer skies that have been inspiring my scarf rows:

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Trying to Get it Right This Time Around

In a recent On Being podcast, Krista Tippett interviewed Sarah Kay. Sarah is a spoken word poet, and the founder of Project V.O.I.C.E. I'd never given much thought to spoken word poetry - heck, I'd not given it any thought. As a rule, my preference is for reading, followed by listening (to the radio or to podcasts), with TV and videos coming up last (although knitting has made me more amenable to watching Netflix movies). If I'm looking for a news article, and my google search takes me to a video story, I quickly scroll down to see if there is a transcription; if there is none, I'm most likely going to close that window and try again; I can skim faster than those newsies can talk...

That said, I found Sarah quite likable. She encouraged listeners to "rediscover wonder," and she was a storyteller. She shared her early introduction to poetry:
My favorite story to tell is that when I was a kid from kindergarten all the way through fourth grade, I brought my lunch to school with me every day. And either my mother or my father would write a poem on a little piece of paper and fold it up and put it in my lunchbox so that when I got to school, when it was lunchtime, I would open it up and have a new poem waiting for me. I have most of them all in various notebooks that I pasted together when I was a kid. They were very short and often silly sort of Dr. Suessy or Shel Silversteiny, and they made it so that my association with poetry from a very early age was a surprise to look forward to, a gift, you know, something I could unwrap. And that really affected the way that I feel about poetry to this day.
Isn't that delightful? (Can you imagine parents' doing that?)

Sarah also spoke of the need for balance between listening and talking, and the need to tell our own stories:
I think there are people in the world who are too interested in hearing themselves talk. And we're all guilty of it in various moments, myself included. But when you're too eager to hear yourself talk, you don't listen to anybody else and that's a problem. Then there are people who are scared of talking and are scared of telling the world their story and speaking up. The problem with that is, when they don't speak, they allow other people to speak for them. Oftentimes, those people can't do it justice. You know, no one can tell your story like you can, and I really love hearing someone tell their story. There's nothing like it. So I think striking that balance is really important.
I am more of a listener than a talker, but this blog is an effort - at least to a small degree - to share my own story (albeit in very small bites).

Because I so enjoyed listening to Sarah, and because I wanted to see her perform her poetry, I followed On Being's link to her TED talk, and actually watched it (see? sometimes even I do video...).

During the first 3:45 minutes of this talk, Sarah performs her poem B. I encourage you to at least watch this much of her talk. Her performance is touching and witty and self-deprecating and sweet.

I appreciated her advice to her daughter, that "[she] doesn't have to wear the cape all by herself." (Let's be honest; most of us should adopt that as our mantra: I don't have to wear the cape all by myself...) And I smiled at her observation that "the very people you want to save are the ones standing on your cape."

In the next part of her talk, Sarah entertains and educates and inspires. At 15:10, she ends with another poem, Hiroshima, which concludes with this:
...if you tell me I can do the impossible, I'll probably laugh at you. I don't know if I can change the world yet because I don't know that much about it and I don't know that much about reincarnation either, but if you make me laugh hard enough, sometimes I forget what century I'm in. This isn't my first time here. This isn't my last time here. These aren't the last words I'll share, but just in case, I am trying my hardest to get it right this time around.