Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Almost Amish

Almost Amish: One Woman’s Quest for a Slower, Simpler, More Sustainable Life, by Nancy Sleeth.

I read this book last October, for our book group*. I wrote this review at the same time, but for some reason, never posted it. Oops.

Overall, I thought Sleeth had good ideas, although I thought she had to stretch her analogy pretty far, to link them to an Amish lifestyle.

She introduced ten general principles that lead to her "slower, simpler, more sustainable life:"

1.    Homes are simple, uncluttered, and clean: the outside reflects the inside.
2.    Technology serves as a tool and does not rule as a master.
3.    Saving more and spending less bring financial peace.
4.    Time spent in God’s creation reveals the face of God.
5.    Small and local leads to saner lives.
6.    Service to others reduces loneliness and isolation.
7.    The only true security comes from God.
8.    Knowing neighbors and supporting local businesses build community.
9.    Family ties are lifelong; they change but never cease.
10.    Faith life and way of life are inseparable.

In the chapter on homes, she emphasized that “No big house or yard care means more time for family, friends, and God.” She also talked about the importance of hospitality - which is easier if you aren't stressed about all the aspects of keeping a home running. She pointed out that soup makes a great meal, and is easy to prepare and serve - that idea has stuck in this non-cook's head!

She made an interesting statement about technology:
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American spends just nine minutes per day in religious and spiritual activities. This disparity between how much time with technology and how much time we spend with God says much about our priorities. I think it indicates that technology is supplanting God in our hearts and affections.  We are pursuing technology with an abandon and intensity that should be reserved for God alone.
If true (she didn't cite references for her stats), this is very telling. (I know that I spend a disproportionate amount of time on social media.)

In her chapter on simplicity, she stated, “Simplicity involves cutting back on two major kinds of stuff – the kind that fills our houses and the kind that fills our calendars.” We all struggle with this, and our book group spent a good bit of time discussing the challenges inherent in this effort.

Regarding service (chapter 6), she wrote
[God] wants us to serve him with a glad heart, not because he is lacking anything, but because the very act of getting outside our selfish, small concerns enriches us. Service is the agent through which we act out our love for God and for one another. Serve God: serve your neighbor. In doing one, we are doing the other.
This made me think of Mosiah 2:17: "when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God."

I think that's the most important side effect of simplifying our lives - we have more time and energy to serve others. Certainly the principles that Sleeth shares can help us in this endeavor.

* We chuckled when one member of our book group confessed that she had read the wrong book. She had grabbed it quickly from the library, without looking closely, and read a book with the same title, but by a different author (Kathryn Cushman). It was a novel about two sisters participating in a reality TV show, and not at all what our reader was expecting. Oops!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Does Bonnie Need Pajamas?

Around here, our radios are generally tuned to our local NPR station, WMUK. There are lots of good things about public radio (for instance, on the morning of Christmas Eve, we can listen to A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols).

NPR used to be touted as commercial free. This is no longer the case. There still are no commercials, per se, but there are periodic recognitions of the 'underwriters.' I suppose that at least these recognitions are less jarring than your standard commercial radio commercial.

And yet.

We regularly hear about Pajamagram, where you can order pajamas, and have them delivered right to your door.

Really? There is a need for home-delivered pajamas? As a girl who sleeps in whatever t-shirt is handy, I would say, "No thank you. No need for PJ deliveries here. Chocolate deliveries? Absolutely. Pajamas??? uh, no...?"

Do people maybe have pajama crises? unexpected guests who arrive sans pajamas? they realize their old pajamas clash with their new sheets, hence the need for an urgent delivery? the weather changes, and they realize their summer garb isn't getting them through the night???

The other day, their non-commercial revealed that you can also order pajamas for your pet.

Really??? Since when does Bonnie need pajamas???

Some things just beg to be mocked.

(Bonnie just begs to be fed.)

Saturday, December 14, 2013

And Are There Angels Hovering Overhead? Hark!

Bonnie and I enjoyed our walk today. Snow fell, and winds blew. She was pretty beat by the time we got home:

She looks pretty satisfied, don't you think?

We put up our tree today. As we do every year, we smiled at the cheerful declaration on the box: "Assembles in minutes!" This year, it assembled in about three hours worth of minutes:

We still need to add the ornaments, but the lights brighten the room, and make it feel like Christmas - that, and the snow. We should have a Christmas poem, too:
by Gary Johnson

A little girl is singing for the faithful to come ye
Joyful and triumphant, a song she loves,
And also the partridge in a pear tree
And the golden rings and the turtle doves.
In the dark streets, red lights and green and blue
Where the faithful live, some joyful, some troubled,
Enduring the cold and also the flu,
Taking the garbage out and keeping the sidewalk shoveled.
Not much triumph going on here—and yet
There is much we do not understand.
And my hopes and fears are met
In this small singer holding onto my hand.
           Onward we go, faithfully, into the dark
           And are there angels hovering overhead? Hark.

Friday, December 13, 2013


Here is a fine flash mob, a beautiful tribute to Nelson Mandela

I read about this performance in a Yahoo article. The Soweto Gospel Choir posed as shoppers and store workers, and performed Johnny Clegg's Asimbonanga. According to the Yahoo article, the song was written during Mandela's incarceration as a call for his freedom. The article provided these words:
Asimbonanga [we have not seen him]
Asimbonang' uMandela thina [we have not seen Mandela]
Laph'ekhona [in the place where he is]
Laph'ehleli khona [in the place where he is kept]

Asimbonang 'umfowethu thina [we have not seen our brother]
Laph'ekhona [in the place where he is]
Laph'wafela khona [in the place where he died]
Sithi: Hey, wena [We say: hey, you]
Hey, wena nawe [Hey, you and you]
Siyofika nini la' siyakhona [when will we arrive at our destination]
This choir, this music is stunningly beautiful. I have no words to add...

Beagle Walks, and Beagle Selfies

According to my favorite snowfall-tracking site, we had 3.7 inches of snow on Wednesday. Here are pictures taken during our walk that day. It wasn't too cold, but it was definitely snowing:

Frays Park

Jess, heroically navigating
the stroller (and J) through the snow

Why are we stopping???

Yesterday when we set out, the sun was shining, but it was cold - around 9 degrees, which, with the wind chill, worked out to around -9 degrees. Brrr. Bonnie and I walked to the end of the park, and then I dissuaded her from continuing into the woods. Instead, we headed for home, walking down Piccadilly Rd. I noticed that, once we were homeward bound, Bonnie was happy to move along, with no pauses to dig in the snow. I let her into the house, and went back out long enough to snap a couple photos:

Frays Park

Frays Park, by our home;
I love the shadows

Today, it was sunny and balmy: 28 degrees!

Friendship Village

 These birds (in the upper right corner) caught my eye ear with their singing:

Today we met a woman with some sort of fox hound - she described her dog as a "tall beagle," which was pretty accurate. The two dogs sniffed hello, and then we headed off in opposite directions. Bonnie immediately started behaving like a crazy dog, racing and dancing back and forth on the path. Do you suppose she was flirting?!?

I've decided that most of the pictures I take of Bonnie are, essentially, selfies. I hold the camera at her level, aim in her direction, and hope for the best. It results in an awful lot of pictures like this one:

Actually, a lot of these beagle selfies include no beagle at all, and one today seemed to be of the sky (the sky...? really...?).

But I do have a few decent photos from today:

Beagle on the move!

I even got a decent selfie of myself (the headphones not only allow me to enjoy my podcasts, but I've found they keep my ears warm):

More snow coming tonight and tomorrow!

Oh, I almost forgot - here's the Dec 9 update of my Sky Scarf - ten months down, just two to go:

That grey and white at the bottom is SNOW!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Some Notes - Both Musical and Non-

Last Monday, Jim and I attended a recital by Kirill Gerstein. He was recognized as the Gilmore Artist in 2010, and presented this free concert as a thank you to the community. Jessica and her son K - a budding pianist - joined us.

Gerstein performed Haydn's Andante with Variations in F Minor; Schumann's Carnaval,; Timo Andres' newly commissioned work, Old Friend, and Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition. All in all, it was a great evening. Gerstein's playing was spectacular. Of course, everyone loved the Mussorgsky piece (including young K). The Andres piece featured an interesting bit of technology - Gerstein played from an iPad, rather than from sheet music, and used some sort of device with his foot to change pages - how the world moves along!

I played piano at the Springs tonight - Christmas music, of course! - and here is where I found sweet old Tippy, keeping watch over the tree and presents in the lounge. He didn't even stir when I took his picture.

Yesterday I started a new adventure. I'll be working at Stitching Memories a couple Saturdays a month, and yesterday was my first day. What a day it was! Mary held a Make It - Take It workshop, with thirteen choices. The store was packed, and everyone seemed to have a great time. And I survived my first day.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Lonely harvest

I love fall, but there is something of loneliness there, too. I took this photo in October, when Bonnie and I were walking at Asylum Lake. It was a beautiful day, and this scene shares that beauty, but it struck me as lonely, too - a foreshadowing of the desolate, late fall, days to come.

It called to mind this poem, which also speaks of desolation and loss, this time in a garden setting. The poem, in turn, calls to mind my father, and I wish we could chat for a bit.

Just as the poem hints of spring gardens to come, I look forward to more father-daughter talks someday.
Lonely Harvest
by Margaret S. Mullins

As a child, my father helped me dig
a square of dense red clay, mark off rows
where zinnias would grow,
and radishes and tender spinach leaves.
He'd stand with me each night
as daylight drained away
to talk about our crops leaning on his hoe
as I would practice leaning so on mine.

Years later now in my big garden plot,
the soggy remnant stems of plants
flopped over several months ago,
the ground is cold, the berries gone,
the stakes like hungry sentries
stand guarding empty graves. And still
I hear his voice asking what I think
would best be planted once the weather warms.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Useless Knitting Math

I’ve been knitting Martina Behm’s pattern, Hitchhiker.  When Martina designed this pattern, she knit it with 150g of Wollmeise yarn, which allowed for 42 teeth. According to Douglas Adams’s book, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, 42 is the answer “to the Great Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything.” With 42 teeth, this scarf begged to be named Hitchhiker.

It is a pretty, slightly asymmetrically shaped triangular scarf. It is mostly garter stitch, so your hands can knit while your mind wanders hither and yon. (The only tricky part is keeping track of increases for the teeth. I read a helpful tip on Comanchewmn’s project in Ravelry – see her project page here.)

So, while knitting, my mind wanders a bit. I think about new movies (Can The Book Thief possibly be as good as the book?), and about the Lamb of God oratorio (Kalamazoo folk: you should plan to either sing, or attend). I think about what Christmas presents to buy, what to serve for Christmas Eve dinner. I wonder, what does the fox say?

And I wonder what percentage of my Hitchhiker is done.

It's not as easy as counting teeth. For example, here is an early version of my Hitchhiker, with ten teeth completed. You can see that half of those teeth (five) does not represent half the knitting.

Each row is longer than the previous rows, so... How many of my 42 points do I have to knit, in order to knit half the scarf (half the stitches)?
This is, of course, a Useless Knitting Math question.

There is Useful Knitting Math. Gauge involves useful knitting math. If you need a 20” hat, and the pattern says the proper gauge should be 5 stitches per inch, and you cast on 100 stitches, all is going to be fine, and you will be stylish in your new hat. 100 stitches * 1 inch / 5 stitches = 20 inches.

But if your gauge is 4 stitches per inch, and you blithely cast on those 100 stitches, surprise! Your hat is going to be 25” and will fall over your eyes. You will not be stylish (and you might trip over your beagle). 100 stitches * 1 inch / 4 stitches = 25 inches.

That is Useful Knitting Math.

Still. Some of us are okay with useless math, so I continue to ponder this. And here is the answer I come up with – the equation that will tell you what percentage of your Hitchhiker scarf is complete:
( ( ( ( (t-1) * t ) + t ) * 16 ) + 33t ) / 29610 * 100%
( 16t2 + 33t) / 29610 * 100%
     where t = number of completed teeth1.
So, if a scarf has 21 teeth (half the total teeth), it is 26.17% complete (definitely not 50%).

Here is a recap of some teeth counts and the corresponding percentage complete. My Hitchhiker currently has 30 teeth, which turns out to be approximately the 50% point:
Teeth% Complete
Created with the HTML Table Generator
The rest of this post is my effort to explain how I came up with this (so that when I am senile, I can look back in amazement at how my thoughts carried on). You, of course, are free to cover your eyes and run away (screaming, if you like).

* * * * *

To start, I looked for an identifiable pattern. Basically, each tooth consists of 8 rows, with increases and decreases to create the teeth. So each row has two parts – the plain part, which is 8 rows of however many stitches we’re up to. This stitch count starts at 2, then increases by 4 for each tooth. The second part is the set of increases and decreases that creates the tooth itself, and this appears to be 33 stitches (that’s the total for the tooth – not per row). So:
Tooth 1: 8 rows of 2, plus 33
Tooth 2: 8 rows of 2, 8 rows of 4, plus 33
Tooth 3: 8 rows of 2, 8 rows of 4, 8 rows of 4, plus 33
What I really need to know is, with each new tooth, how many total stitches are there? For the tooth part, it’s pretty easy. Since each tooth contains 33 stitches, just multiply t times 33, where t is the number of teeth.

The plain part was the tricky piece. I needed to multiply 8 by some number, and that number wasn’t exactly a multiple of the number of teeth. Mostly it was multiples of 4, plus that first set of 2.

Eventually I came up with this pattern:
2 teeth: (4*1) + 2 + 2 (see the blue outline)
3 teeth: (4*1) + (4*2) + 2 + 2 + 2 (see the green outline)
4 teeth: (4*1) + (4*2) + (4*3) + 2 + 2 + 2 + 2 (see the orange outline)
5 teeth: (4*1) + (4*2) + (4*3) + (4*4) + 2 + 2 + 2 + 2 + 2 (and so forth)
6 teeth: (4*1) + (4*2) + (4*3) + (4*4) + (4*5) + 2+ 2 + 2 + 2 + 2 + 2
(Eventually I realized that for 1 tooth, it was (4*0) + 2.)

Using the associative property (I remembered something from school!), I reduced those calculations to:
1 teeth: 4*0 + 2*1
2 teeth: 4*1 + 2*2
3 teeth: 4*3 + 2*3
4 teeth: 4*6 + 2*4
5 teeth: 4*10 + 2*5
6 teeth: 4*15 + 2*6
Hmmm.  I knew there are different types of functions or sequences in mathematics. (For instance, I’ve used the Fibonacci sequence to define stripes in knitting.) I wondered if 1, 3, 6, 10… was a recognized sequence. So I did what everyone does in this day and age.

I Googled it.

That fourth entry turned out to have just what I needed. It gave the sequence a name (Triangular Number Sequence, and okay, I didn’t really need that); it explained how the sequence was generated (interesting! go read it!); and (most importantly) it provided a rule for calculating any triangular number:
where n specifies which number you’re trying to figure out – in my case, which tooth we’re on.

So now, to figure out how many stitches I have in that plain part, I could use a formula. In my calculations above, I could replace the sequence 1, 3, 6, etc with this formula for the triangular number.  The sequence begins with tooth 2 (not 1), so I had to use t-1, or tooth-1, as my n:
2: 4*1 + 2*2 became (4*(t-1)(t-1+1)/2) + 2*(t), or (4*(1)(2/2) + 2(2) = 8
3: 4*3 + 2*3 became (4*( t-1)(t-1+1)/2) + 2*(t), or (4*(2)(3/2) + 2(3) = 18
4: 4*6 + 2*4 became (4*( t-1)(t-1+1)/2) + 2*(t), or (4*(3)(4/2) + 2(4) = 32
5: 4*10 + 2*5 became (4*( t-1)(t-1+1)/2) + 2*(t), or (4*(4)(5/2) + 2(5) = 50
6: 4*15 + 2*6 became (4*( t-1)(t-1+1)/2) + 2*(t), or (4*(5)(6/2) + 2(6) =72
For tooth 1, this formula works as well:
1: (4*(t-1)(t-1+1)/2) + 2*(t), or (4*(0)(1/2) + 2(1) = 2
I did some reducing, to simplify the equation1:
4*(t-1)*(t-1+1) / 2 + 2t
4*(t-1)* (t/2)          + 2t
2*(t-1)*t                 + 2t
2*    (((t-1)*t)  + t)
2*     ((t * t) - (1 * t)  + t)
2*    (t2)
Now, I had to multiply this by 8 (8 rows per plain part), and add 33t (33 stitches per tooth)
(16 * (t2)) + 33t
Calculating for 42 teeth, there are 29610 stitches. So, to calculate the percentage complete at any tooth:
(16 t2 + 33t) / 29610 * 100%

Disclaimer: I got really tired of reading and checking this. So I am going to hit Publish and hope it is correct...

1: I was working late last night, and as I finished up, I glanced at these notes, and realized it could be further simplified. So I made that change to this post, as noted. So much simpler...!