Sunday, September 29, 2013

Photo Gallery: Walks, Beagles, Knitting

Today's blog post will mostly be photos; I seem to have a lot that I've earmarked for a post, but never shared.

This Chinese Lantern grows just outside of Frays Park, off Croyden Road, almost hidden in an assortment of weeds and wildness. I guess that once planted, they spread easily - this must have come from a nearby yard.

There are lots of bluebird boxes in the fields around Friendship Village (alas, I've never seen a resident bluebird).

Bonnie doing what she does best

Friendship Village

If I remember correctly, these were part of a butterfly garden at Friendship Village:

More Friendship Village...

Jessica and Bonnie and I visited Asylum Lake Preserve on a beautiful Saturday in mid-September. As we were leaving, we encountered a group of young men and women setting out with their very large dogs - 6 or 7 dogs - labs and pit bulls and a bull dog and a Saint Bernard - all off leash and all very interested in little Bonnie. She was nervous, but maintained her composure as we worked our way through the canine chaos. Other than that, she was one happy pup (we did meet other dogs on our walk - on leashes - and she was pleased to exchange proper greetings).

We discovered this young snapping turtle in the parking lot, as we were heading out. Another walker carried him to safer ground.

Asylum Lake

Love these open spaces

Our girl is not particularly affectionate or snuggly, but she loves our walks, and at home, she likes to hang out with us. During the work day, she is usually curled up on her bed in my office; simply watching her can lower my stress level.

Our sleeping girl

On the knitting scene, I finished my Woodland Shawl. I like how it shows off the different stitch patterns, and I love how soft and cozy the fabric turned out (kudos to Jim for the photography). Of course, I still have plenty of projects on the needles (hat, scarf, scarf, cowl).

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Great Gatsby

The other night, I finished F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, just in time for our book group discussion.

Somehow, I managed to reach adulthood without reading this classic of American literature. I remember watching the Robert Redford movie, back in 1974 (memorable because it is the only time I can remember our going out to a movie together, just me and Mom, and memorable because: Robert Redford!!). Friends assured me that I must have read it in high school, but as soon as I started reading, I knew this wasn't the case.

In our book group, we discussed likeable female characters (none), and likeable male characters (Nick? Gatsby?). We discussed symbols of hope and the lifestyles of the bored rich and the nouveau rich. We discussed societal classes, and wandered into our struggles with religious faith (how did we make that leap?!?).

Here, I will simply say that that this book held me spellbound. Thanks to Mr. Redford, I knew how things were going to end, but the writing and the detail, and the portrayal of Gatsby's hope, growing and then fading to nothing, were splendid.

How could I not love lines like this?
The wind had blown off, leaving a loud, bright night, with wings beating in the trees and a persistent organ sound as the full bellows of the earth blew the frogs full of life.
Referring to the green light at the end of Daisy's dock - the light that Gatsby had watched, as he nourished his hope for a life with Daisy - Fitzgerald evoked a sense of loss.
Possibly it had occurred to him that the colossal significance of that light had now vanished forever. Compared to the great distance that had separated him from Daisy it had seemed very near to her, almost touching her. It had seemed as close as a star to the moon. Now it was again a green light on a dock. His count of enchanted objects had diminished by one.
Nick reported the difference between Gatsby and the Buchanans, and people like them. He saw how Gatsby had forged and clung to his dream, and how easily Daisy entered and then abandoned that same dream.
They were careless people, Tom and Daisy - they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made...
Tragic and sad and haunting, and still with a glimmer of hope, however futile:
Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that's no matter – to-morrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther... And one fine morning –

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Books (Part 3)

This post will finally satisfy my obsessive need to record every book I've read of late, and allow me to finally claim that I am Caught Up (as long as we don't consider the book I just finished last night...). I think it's been a year since I read some of these books; I don't regret reading them, but they weren't particularly compelling or spectacular. Of course, your mileage may vary!

The Submission by Amy Waldman

This was Kalamazoo's Reading Together book for 2013, and one of my book group's choices as well. The book opens with a committee's choosing the design for a memorial to those killed on 9/11. After making their selection, they learn that the designer is Mohammed Khan, an American Muslim.

The rest of the book addresses the chaos and conflict that arise: can we remember the dead with a memorial designed by a Muslim? The book had great potential, and indeed, generated excellent discussion in our group. Still, I found the writing to be sub-standard, and the storyline contrived, so, for me at least, it was not a memorable read.

Paris, My Sweet: A Year in the City of Light (and Dark Chocolate), by Amy Thomas

This was a fun read - especially if you plan to visit Paris, and want to know the best places to buy sweets. Thomas travels to Paris to work writing copy for Louis Vuitton, and shares with us her sweet culinary adventures, as she savors the chocolates and pastries throughout the city.

Imperfect: An Improbable Life,by Jim Abbott

By no means a literary masterpiece, this was an enjoyable memoir. When Abbott was born, one of his arms was a mere stump. His young parents managed to hold things together, and raised him to figure things out for himself - so he figured out how to be a major league baseball pitcher.

I liked his willingness, whatever else was going on, to talk to his young fans, with similar physical challenges, and assure them that they, too, could choose their own future. (And, what's not to like about a one-handed pitcher describing his own no-hitter?)

An Invisible Thread: The True Story of an 11-Year-Old Panhandler, a Busy Sales Executive, and an Unlikely Meeting with Destiny, by Laura Schroff.

This was an easy read, about the remarkable relationship between Laura (a sales exec) and Maurice (an eleven-year-old panhandler). They met nearly every week, for years, and built a friendship that spanned decades. It was a remarkable commitment on Laura's part, and made me wonder if I would do the same.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, by Alan Bradley

This mystery featured a precocious eleven-year old scientist / detective, in a small English town. It was a quick, enjoyable read (the first in a series, although I haven't read any of the others).

The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay (The Hunger Games, books 1-3), by Suzanne Collins

The first of these books was excellent, if a bit disturbing. In Katniss's world, the Capitol controls the outlying districts by holding the annual Hunger Games competition, in which one boy and one girl from each district are sent to compete - to kill or be killed. Katniss is chosen as a competitor, and we see everything from her perspective.

Collins created an astonishing, amazing world, and that first game was gripping. Alas, books 2 and 3 were nowhere near as satisfying. They seemed rushed, and especially the third had pieces that just made no sense to me. I'd recommend the first, and then you can ask someone to recap the remaining books for you, and save you the effort of reading them.

Defending Jacob, by William Landay

A high school student is killed, and the town's prosecuting attorney begins to suspect that his own son, Jacob, might be the murderer. I thought this would be an interesting book, but it was only so-so. Jacob's behavior was creepy and disturbing, and his father seemed to make one bad choice after another. I don't think I'd recommend this one.

(It occurs to me that perhaps the psychological thriller genre is one that I should avoid.)

The City of Ember, by Jeanne DuPrau

This is the story of a city inside a cave. The residents have no memory of any other life, and the infrastructure of their society is crumbling. Two twelve-year-olds take on the challenge of solving a decades-old puzzle, and finding a way out of their city, and to a new life. I recommend this one for the middle-school audience it was written for.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Knitting Followed by Beagle

Having finished my Waves of Color Bermuda Shawl, I've been putting time into some neglected projects - in particular, my Woodland Shawl, which has grown significantly:

Will improve with blocking!

At first I thought I wouldn't enjoy working with this yarn. Woodland, by Classic Elite, is 65% wool, 35% plant fiber - and the plant is nettles! But it is surprisingly soft (not cashmere soft, mind you), is a pleasant heathered color, and is knitting into a nice fabric. I enjoy the variety of patterns in the shawl, although it does require attention to keep the stitch count straight - so this is not a project that leaves home.

I just finished the seventh month of my sky scarf:

That orange-ish background is an experiment in Better Picture Taking - what do you think? Jim thought the orange brought out the blues in the scarf. I think he's right, but I also think a paler color would be less shocking.

I started a tweed scarf for Ministry with Community. It is still pretty short:

It matches the tweed hat that I finished way back in February. I think it will be good travel knitting. The pattern is super easy to remember (although I confess that I discovered an error and tinked a row before taking this photo), and it's not much to carry around, so I can easily work on it when I'm out and about.

Meanwhile, there is light at the end of my Seita Scholar / WMU scarf tunnel. The photo from this blog post still does it justice, since the only change, really, is its increased length. I think a bit of diligent focus will see it finished. I'm knitting with friends tomorrow evening, and hope to make tremendous some progress.

Since you waded through the knitting recap, your reward is a beagle photo:

It's rather out of focus, but I like the way the shadows frame our girl.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Books (Part 2)

Here I go, with round two in my effort to catch up on my book reports. Just typing that phrase - "book report" - reminded me of writing book reports in fifth grade. We drew book covers, and tacked them, along with our reports, to the bulletin board. I remember writing a report about Huckleberry Finn (or maybe Tom Sawyer), trying to write a witticism, failing completely. Actually, it seems that a lot of my witticisms failed that year. Maybe Mrs. Scott just had no sense of whimsy...

I just googled what should be in a book report. The site I stumbled on (for kids) suggests including setting; characters; story; and your thoughts. Hm. I think I often fall short of that goal; I know that these fast and furious reviews are falling short - and I'm pretty sure I can live with that.

The Faith Club: A Muslim, A Christian, A Jew--Three Women Search for Understanding, by Ranya Idliby, Suzanne Oliver, and Priscilla Warner

Actually, this book deserves a serious review, but, it's been sitting on my table for months, and I think this is going to be as good as it gets. If you read no further, know that this book is worth reading.

After September 11, three women came together to write a children's book that would highlight connections between their faiths - Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. They quickly realized that they had much to learn about each other, each other's faiths, and even their own faiths. This memoir followed their shared discussions, their crises of faith, their spiritual growth, and their deepening friendship. It was not a quick read, but it was interesting and informative (I was happy to stumble across a copy at the library's used book store, so I could stop renewing my borrowed copy).

Not only do the women learn about each other's faith, but they find their own understanding deepening. For instance, Priscilla struggled with anxiety, and the events of 9/11 only made it worse. She told of a family trip during which she visited an exhibit of paintings by the Canadian artist Emily Carr.
On the wall of one room, a plaque described the era in which her work was completed, amid the chaos of two World Wars and the Great Depression."The papers are full of horrible horrors," wrote Emily Carr. "And the earth is so lovely."

The earth is indeed lovely, I realized. Including New York city.

And so I decided to take a leap of faith. Life is, after all, a series of leaps of faith. Falling in love and believing that I will grow old with my husband is a leap. Losing a parent and believing I will recover is a leap. Giving birth to children and letting go as they grow, hoping they will lead safe, happy lives is a leap. Living in a world of chaos, believing good will prevail over evil, is a leap.
Ranya not only shared her Islam faith with Priscilla and Suzanne, but worked to find herself a place of comfort in her faith. She observed, "... read in its true spirit, freed from political agendas and liberated from its service to the flawed human heart, Islam, I had come to learn, could be a beacon for true enlightenment, progress, development, and security. Moreover, if Islam regained that voice, it would help to disarm those radical groups who abuse the Quran and interpret it in a way that fits their own political agenda and violent designs."

As I read this book, I remembered an experience I had, a month or so after 9/11. A friend from church knew a Muslim woman, through shared events at their daughters' school. The two of them arranged for  women from both our faiths to meet for lunch one day. We spent some time learning basic principles from each faith - finding much in common - and then mingled together for a potluck lunch. I was so grateful for that chance to reinforce my understanding that there is good in all of us - that it is better to include than to exclude - that we are more alike than we are different.

This book, to a great extent, conveyed the same message.

The End of Your Life Book Club, by Will Schwalbe

Schwalbe's mother is dying of cancer, and as he waits with her in doctors' waiting rooms, or visits her at home, they talk about books. He writes about those conversations, and about the books they shared (many of which were subsequently added to my Goodreads list). He mixes in memories of his mother and his family - both their experiences during that period, and while growing up. I came away wishing I had known her - she seemed to be a friendly, caring, involved woman.

I like this anecdote illustrating the significance of books in his family:
There was one sure way to avoid being assigned an impromptu chore in our house – be it taking out the trash or cleaning your room – and that was to have your face buried in a book. Like churches during the Middle Ages, books conferred instant sanctuary. Once you entered one, you couldn’t be disturbed. They didn’t give you immunity from prosecution if you’d done something wrong – just a temporary reprieve. But we quickly learned you had to both look and be completely engrossed – just flipping pages didn’t count.
No life lessons here - just an enjoyable peek into Schwalbe's family, and their bookshelves.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Books (Part 1)

When I started this blog, I planned to include brief reviews of books, as I read them. This has turned out to be more challenging than I imagined. I recently looked in old posts for some of these reviews, and - gasp - they were not there. In fact, I came up with a rather longish list of books that had gone unmentioned.

I'm trying to remedy that with several brief blog posts, containing even briefer reviews. This first batch contains several favorites.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, by Rachel Joyce

I just finished Joyce's book the other day; it was delicious.

One day, Harold Fry receives a letter from an old acquaintance, Queenie Hennessy, telling him that she is dying. Harold writes a quick response and walks to town to mail it, but instead keeps walking (both to his and his wife Maureen's surprise). He simply puts one foot in front of the other, walking without any sort of plan, other than his goal to reach Queenie (some 600-miles north) before she dies. He figures things out as he goes, and spends the miles thinking about Maureen, and his son David, and his friend Queenie (and about blisters). He ponders moments from his past and considers the world around him. He talks with strangers, who willingly help him toward his goal (granted, some of them are a bit off-kilter). Ultimately, he opens his eyes to the truth in his own life, and to what really matters, and exchanges his pride for happiness.

My sister recommended this to me, and I recommend it to you - it left me feeling quite happy and content.

The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak

This is a beautiful book, about how we live, and also a bit about death. The Hubermann family face the challenge of living in a small German town during World War II, and it is a joy to see how they rise to the occasion. At the same time, Death talks about his job, carrying souls away from their dead bodies. A brief excerpt from Death's diary:
On June 23, 1942, there was a group of French Jews in a German prison, on Polish soil. The first person I took was close to the door, his mind racing, then reduced to pacing, then slowing down, slowing down. . . .
Please believe me when I tell you that I picked up each soul that day as if it were newly born. I even kissed a few weary, poisoned cheeks. I listened to their last, gasping cries. Their vanishing words. I watched their love visions and freed them from their fear.

I took them all away, and if ever there was a time I needed distraction, this was it. In complete desolation, I looked at the world above. I watched the sky as it turned from silver to gray to the color of rain. Even the clouds were trying to get away.

Sometimes I imagined how everything looked above those clouds, knowing without question that the sun was blond, and the endless atmosphere was a giant blue eye. They were French, they were Jews, and they were you.
The writing is lyrical and moving. This is one of my very favorite books, I think. I just read that the movie version comes out in November. It is hard to believe they can do the book justice; my little review certainly hasn't done it justice. We will see...

The Beginner's Goodbye, and The Accidental Tourist, by Anne Tyler

I love Anne Tyler's books, and these two did not disappoint. Of the two, The Accidental Tourist is my current favorite (and so I'm going to ignore The Beginner's Goodbye, for now; you can read a review at the link above). Macon Leary, a travel writer, hates to travel. Frankly, he hates anything that disrupts his routine. But when his wife leaves him, a year after their son is killed, his routine is destroyed. Tyler guides us, with humor and kindness, through Leary's life as he moves back in with his unusual siblings, hires the quirky Muriel to train his dog, and wonders if he could ever make a decision for himself. This book just makes me smile.

The Accidental Tourist was made into a movie in 1988 - this is not a recent book! - and they did a nice job with it.

*  *  *

There. Three down, and some more to go. It's a start.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Mackinac Bridge Walk 2013

This past weekend, Lori and I headed north, to join the Mackinaw Bridge walk, and to visit Mackinac Island. We had a great time! (And I've written a rather long blog entry; sorry about that.)

Of course, best of all was the company; sister time is always treasured. We enjoyed the drive, and talked so much that the time (five-ish hours) just flew. We got settled into our motel (the Rainbow Motel), and then walked along the Mackinaw City / Lake Huron shoreline. It was a beautiful evening!

Trying for a selfie, with the bridge
in the background.
Right. We need practice.

A better photo of the bridge

We had dinner at the Pizza Palace. We gave it high marks: the dining area was pleasant; we got seated immediately; and our dinner was delicious! We had side salads, and the Mediterranean pizza: olive oil garlic herb sauce, spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, black olives, roasted red & yellow peppers and topped with minced garlic. It was absolutely yummy. (And I reheated and ate the last piece, here at home - still yummy!)

Back in our room, we watched Somewhere In Time, to help whet Lori's appetite for a visit to Mackinac Island.

Stopping to pose with a friend

The next day, we took the Shepfler ferry to the island. We were lucky enough to be on one of their Might Mac departures - a slightly longer trip, that took us under the Mackinac Bridge.

The bridge divides the lakes - here we're on Lake Michigan

Part of the bridge has grating for the road bed. This allows snow and rain to drain, and also prevents the wind from taking too much control. I think it also made the overall structure lighter.

Lori and I both found the grate rather intimidating. We decided we would stick to the solid pavement, and leave the grate to more daring folks.

Looking up at the grate

The ferry ride was windy!

On Mackinac Island, we rented bikes, and rode the 8-mile highway along the shoreline. The weather threatened rain, but it never materialized.

Proof that we had bikes

There are several bike shops along Main Street. Jim and I rented bikes from Mackinac Island Bike Shop when we were on the island back in 2011. Lori and I figured one place was as good as another, and rented from Mackinac Cycle Bicycle Rental. When all was said and done, we weren't happy with the service - the staff was not at all helpful - but the bikes were fine and we had a great time. Jim pointed out that it's the end of the season, and probably none of the places were offering peak service, which is likely true. Also, I noticed something interesting, that suggests to me that they really are all the same. I've linked to websites for both rental places - and the sites are identical, with only the names changed. Go figure!

(Oh, and the rental folks commented that Lori needed a taller person's bike and gave her a 21-speed bike, compared to my simpler 7-speed. When we were returning the bikes, I mentioned this to Lori, and she said (as she has said before), "Well, I am taller than you." The woman waiting in line with us concurred. Ouch.)

After our bike ride, we walked to the Wings of Mackinac Butterfly Conservatory. Our route took us past the Grand Hotel, and other typical island scenes.

Horses and bikes, everywhere.

The Grand Hotel

Flower bed, in front of the Grand Hotel

The butterfly conservatory is delightful. It is such fun, watching all the butterflies, watching the little kids' (and adults') enthusiasm, and trying to photograph them with our basic point-and-shoot cameras (we are so optimistic). The blue morpho was the biggest challenge - at rest, we could see just the brown side of his wings; it wasn't until he was moving that we could see the beautiful iridescent blue.

Not sure what this fellow was

Blue morpho butterfly

We finally dragged ourselves away from the butterflies, and headed back to town. We were pretty tired by now, and delighted to find seats at the Yankee Rebel Tavern. We had another great meal, salads with salmon, and hot soup and hot tea (the weather had turned a bit). We lingered over our meal, and were happy to realize that we missed a downpour while in the restaurant.

We did just a bit of shopping, on the island and in Mackinaw City (the real shopper in our family is Jim; I was lost without him). Lori & I each found bridge walk t-shirts as souvenirs (and laughed at the shirt that said Hell no, I didn't walk the bridge!). Of course we bought fudge (Jim had specifically requested Joann's fudge). He also requested owls, but we decided against this chipper (and touristy) pair:

I remembered that Alford's, on the island, carried everything - including yarn. So we stopped in there, and I had Lori pick a skein of yarn, which I will knit into a souvenir hat of some sort for her:

Shepherd's Wool (made in Michigan)

Our evening activity consisted of several Scrabble games (which Lori won), eating fudge, and getting some sleep, preparatory to the bridge walk.

Star Line ferry offered a trip from Mackinaw City to Saint Ignace, for the walk, and we decided to give that a try. It was still dark as we headed out, and the water was choppy (and the ferry boat rocked accordingly). We landed at St Ignace, walked a couple blocks to the parking area at the Little Bear East Arena, and waited our turn for a shuttle ride to the starting area. All in all, it worked out well enough, but next time, we'd probably just take the bus from Mackinaw City.

The sun was rising as we arrived

7:45, and we're about to begin our bridge walk

Heading toward the first tower

Lori was cold!

In spite of her cold fingers,
Lori managed to take a
quick photo of me

Between the two towers, half the pavement was this grate. Lori and I mostly avoided it, but we each gave it a try. Our conclusion: it felt weird, and we preferred the familiar solid comfort of the pavement.

Looking back at the second tower, there is finally some blue sky, at least briefly:

The shifting clouds made for interesting light on Lake Huron:

We reached the finish line around 9:15:

I know, not an exciting photo...

We joined the crowds making their way back through town, stopping at Starbucks to relax and warm up (hot chocolate - yes!). Back to our hotel, and then (after a bit more rest) we headed home to Kalamazoo. A great weekend!

(Look here for a few more photos.)