Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Amazing Thing, and Other Books

The Amazing Thing About the Way It Goes, by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee

Last week, I read that Stephanie's new book was being released on March 5. In that same blog entry, she posted her book tour. It seemed there are events scheduled on both the east and west coasts, but nothing here in the Midwest. So, I got online and ordered her book from our local bookstore.

Two days later, I got an email saying the book was in, and I could pick it up at my earliest convenience.

I read that email, and looked at the calendar (which said February 21), and double checked Amazon (where it still claimed the release date was March 5). I wondered if I should point out this little discrepancy to the book store. Then I thought some more, and decided that if they were willing to release the book early, I was willing to read it early.

Having done that, I now encourage you to find and read it at your earliest convenience. This is Stephanie at her best - witty and wise, poking fun at herself, describing her life in essays that had me laughing out loud.

Stephanie's description of learning to use clipless bicycle pedals was hysterical. Her assessment of the writer's group was spot on (and made me feel pleased, and somewhat smug, that I do write for my blog, at least occasionally).

I love how kindly she describes Joe (to my knowledge, Stephanie has never referred to her husband as 'Fang'). She explains the benefits of her powerful imagination (as well as the spectacularly entertaining disasters that her imagination conjures up). Snap is a sweet essay that explains why we should just give in, and smile for the camera.

I read the story about the family skunk just before going to bed, and dreamed that our basement housed families of dogs and cats and raccoons, all living together happily. There was also a cobra in my dream basement; he made me nervous, and I wondered what Stephanie would make of him?!?

Beg, borrow, or buy The Amazing Thing, and enjoy a good read!

Two other books that I've recently finished are The Best American Essays 2013, edited by Cheryl Strayed and Robert Atwan; and The American Way of Eating, by Tracie McMillan.

From the back cover of Essays 2013:
"Each volume's series editor [Robert Atwan] selects notable works from hundreds of magazines, journals, and websites. A special guest editor, a leading writer in the field [Cheryl Strayed], then chooses the best twenty or so pieces to publish."
The essays were essentially short memoirs, stories from the author's perspective. I read them all, enjoyed most of them, and found some incomprehensible. My favorites were those that offered insight into a life not my own: Doyle's His Last Game; Stielstra's Channel B; Schmitt's Sometimes a Romantic Notion; Yoshikawa's My Father's Women; Kerstetter's Triage; Sampsell's I'm Jumping Off the Bridge; and Harvey's The Book of Knowledge.

The American Way of Eating is one of the selections for this year's Reading Together event, sponsored by the Kalamazoo Public Library. McMillan sets out to study our way of growing and distributing food. She works in California farm fields; in Walmart's produce section; and in the kitchen of an Applebee's restaurant. She reports her experiences faithfully, with anecdotes about co-workers and families she meets, with stories from her jobs, and with abundantly researched facts and figures. I did not find it "compulsively readable" or "compelling" (as touted on the back cover). Still, I would recommend it, for the good info and insights it offers.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Who Left the Faucet Running???

Here's a poem that surely applies to fathers everywhere:
The Immutable Laws
by Maxine Kumin

Never buy land on a slope, my father declared
the week before his heart gave out.
We bit down hard on a derelict dairy farm
of tilting fields, hills, humps and granite outcrops.

Never bet what you can't afford to lose,
he lectured. I bet my soul on a tortured horse
who never learned to love, but came to trust me.

Spend your money close to where you earn it,
he dictated. Nothing made him crosser
than wives who drove to New York to go shopping
when Philly stores had everything they needed.

This, the grab bag of immutable laws
circa 1940 when I was the last
child left at home to be admonished:

Only borrow what you know you can repay.
Your mother used to run up dress-shop bills
the size of the fifth Liberty Loan,
his private hyperbole. It took me years

to understand there'd been five loans
launched to finance the First World War,
the one he fought in, the war to end all wars.

What would this man who owed no man, who kept
his dollars folded in a rubber band,
have thought of credit cards, banking online?
Wars later, clear as water, I hear him say

reconcile your checkbook monthly, and oh!
always carry a clean handkerchief.
I've always looked for my father's approval. Growing up, I felt satisfied that my skills at least somewhat mirrored his - my interests in school were more aligned with math and science than with the arts (like my engineer father, I always believed). We shared the books we read. I remember planting trees with him, and spent at least some time helping him around the house. When I checked for my car keys before slamming the car trunk shut, he nodded in approval.

Years later, when Dad was in rehab after his stroke, I helped Mom install a hand-held shower head in their bathroom. Plumbing had never been my forte, so I was pleased that we managed this before Dad returned home, and anticipated his congratulatory comments. Alas, no praise was forthcoming - a change in his personality or demeanor that I attributed to his stroke; I mourned the loss of that approval.

I ponder all this today, as we do something that would most likely horrify Dad: We are running the tap in our small bathroom continuously, at a pencil-sized stream. We are doing this all the time. Around the clock. Non-stop.

Why are we doing this? A recent Gazette article asserts that this is the worst winter for frozen water pipes in 35 years. Because of this, the Kalamazoo Public Services Department has issued a "strong warning," asking that residents run a tap constantly, to prevent frozen water lines.
Normal frost depths in the Kalamazoo area are 1 to 3 feet, but this year the frost line has reached 3 to 5 feet deep, according to Ritsema. He said city officials are anticipating frost to yet reach deeper into the ground, since temperatures warmed some this week and are expected to dip below freezing again next week.

"A lot of the thawing occurs from the top down," Ritsema explained. "We project this potentially going into April or May before we're out of the woods with respect to services not freezing."

The city is asking that all residential customers, including those outside the city limits, with a water service line of 1 inch in diameter or smaller run their water to one faucet in a stream the width of pencil.

Notwithstanding this information, and this excellent pictorial explanation, it is all I can do to keep myself from running into our bathroom to turn off that faucet. Letting it flow continuously just seems WRONG. (I can picture my father shaking his head.)

And we might have to do this until MAY? Surely not. Surely it will warm up before then.

Friday, February 21, 2014

A Short Story with a Happy Ending

Back in December, I had a day off work, and was enjoying the chance to go downtown and do some Christmas shopping. I parked at the library, where you make note of the number of your parking space, and then put your payment in the correspondingly numbered box. I put my money in, and set off to tackle my list.

I finished my Christmas shopping and, feeling quite satisfied, returned to my car. I was stunned to discover this on my windshield:

How could this be? I remembered carefully folding my bills so I could fit them into the payment box. As I pulled out of the lot, I glared at the yellow payment box, and then noticed something.

I saw the slot under number 9, where I had put my money.

I also saw the slot above number 9, where, I realized, I should have put my payment.


I later called the parking folks, and talked to a very nice lady, who assured me I was not completely hopeless. She later called to say they had reconciled their books and confirmed that I had paid for my parking, and I could disregard that parking ticket.

Sometimes, even when we do dumb things, it works out in the end.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Wrapping up a Few FOs

Now that I've bored you with our weather, I can bore you with my knitting. I've been moderately obsessed with knitting of late, and so have actually finished some projects.

I finished this headband right after Christmas. It's a bit wide - I would take out some of the center panel seed stitch if I knit it again - but it looks nice, and should be warm and cozy.

My Hitchhiker turned out great. I'd bought the yarn back in 2012, on our trip to Door County. I thought it would become socks, but obviously that was not to be. It knit up into a beautiful scarf:

That's not much of a picture, really - I struggled to get a decent photo of this scarf. Here's my niece modeling it - much nicer, don't you think?


This scarf is for Ministry with Community. I finished the matching hat in January 2013 - not sure why it took so long to get the scarf knitted up. Jim dropped them both off for me, so hopefully they've been keeping someone warm.

You may have noticed my sky scarf in the previous post. I finally finished it! It ended up having lots of blue skies, and lots of snow skies. :)

I knit this hat for Halos of Hope, as part of the Podcaster Throwdown - a competition between different podcasts, to see who could collect the most hats. The goal was 2000 hats by Stitches West (which begins this Thursday); they've passed that goal.

I'll give this hat to the Seita Scholars. It is a pattern that I promised to knit for my sister, and I decided it needed a test knit first. Once I realized I had completely overlooked a line of instructions, it was a straightforward knit. :)

I am left with two projects on the needles. One is a baby blanket, which I'm knitting in some wonderful Three Irish Girls yarn.

The other project is a pair of socks, which, frankly, is languishing. I've been working on a swatch, and haven't gotten any further than that. I'll pick it up again. Soon. Honest.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Michigan is Beautiful

Hm. I started this post on December 26. Since then, we've had lots of snow, lots of cold, lots of snow days, lots of wind chill, but not many blog posts. I won't try to justify or explain that, but will simply move forward.

It has been quite the winter, wonderful for those of us who love snow. There has been, to put it mildly, lots of snow. Just look at how this season's snowfall has compared to average snowfall amounts:

This seasonAverage
February19.4" so far16.8
Created with the HTML Table Generator

We've had 96.1 inches of snow, so far this season. And, maybe even more exciting, it has stayed with us - day after day of crystalline splendor. On Christmas, the snow depth was 5 inches. It had increased to 23" by January 26, and the lowest it's been since then was 21". Yesterday the depth was 27."

The Sunday before Christmas, we had an ice storm. Church was delayed one hour, and we just held Sacrament meeting.  We had two Sundays in January when church was canceled completely (Jan 5, when we got 10 inches, and January 26, when the whole area was under a storm warning).

Of course, to keep that snow around requires cold, and we've had that as well. It's been cold - bitterly cold. Schools were closed multiple times, because of dangerously low wind chills.

Just yesterday we got another 5" of snow, and the windchill hovered around 0 degrees. But today, there's a change in the air - the temperature made it to 42 degrees! I shoveled a new path for Bonnie, and with the warmer temps, anything left on that pavement quickly dried up.

I'm sure we'll continue to see a mix of cold and warm, snowy and dry weather. But I think the end of winter is in sight. So let me bore you with some photos of the marvelous snow - but not too many (I hope), since I'm packing this into one blog post!

This is a typical scene - gray with snow:

December 17, North on Piccadilly

Bonnie has always been game to just plow through the snow. There was a long stretch when we had to give up on the park, when the snow was just too deep, but here we were still managing:

December 18

This photo was taken the day of the ice storm, which caused our delay in starting church. The main roads were so-so, and the rest of the roads were an absolute mess. But the trees were beautiful!

December 22, the field at Drake and Croyden

Frays Park, December 22

There were lots of days like this, as well, with brilliant blue sky:

Beautiful sky on Christmas Eve

We had friends over for dinner on Christmas Eve, and managed to take No Pictures. But I did get a picture of Jim:

 Jim and I drove to Indiana on Christmas Day, to John and Angela's home. We enjoyed the day with Karen & Vic and the rest of the growing VanderRoest clan (even though we managed, again, to take No Pictures). Driving home, we followed several horse-drawn carriages for quite a while. The roads were a bit dicey, so we just relaxed and took our time and enjoyed the scenery.

Christmas Day

This is one of my favorite scenes, when walking Bonnie. There's usually not much traffic on Highgate, and the trees lining the road give it such a pleasant atmosphere. (And they hold the snow so well!)

January 5, Highgate

Another sunny day, but still plenty of snow.  We'd had thirteen inches of snow over a couple days. Our dead-end street is not very high on the priority list for plowing, but the street looks pretty tidy here!

January 8

Our street dead ends at the park, and lots of snow gets pushed and piled there. If you look closely, you can just barely seen the yellow "Road Ends" sign peeking out from the snow:

January 10

With the park fairly impassable, Bonnie and I took to walking down Canterbury, Donnington, Dunhill, and Greenway - the streets on our side of the park. Bonnie didn't really like this plan, but realized she had to play along. In this picture, we'd gotten a fresh 10 inches of snow over a couple days.

January 26, Donnington

Here's a view from behind the breezeway, showing the path we shoveled for Bonnie, as well as the snow hanging down from our roof. Happily, we haven't seen any icicles this season (we must have finally added enough insulation to the attic).

January 28

For a while, Bonnie's outdoor adventures were limited to this path. When the wind chill was at its worst, we had to forgo her walks, and we'd only let her out for a minute or two.

January 28

Another of my favorite scenes: this is 7th Street, just north of West Main, by the vet's office. I always feel like I'm on a country lane here.

February 3

Finally, enough people traversed the park that there was a path packed into the snow (albeit a rather winding path). It was narrow, and while Bonnie did fine, I struggled. It was narrow, so a misstep would land me in 24" of snow that was not packed at all - quite a workout!

February 8

All this snow certainly put us in the mood for watching the Olympic games - although Bonnie really seemed unimpressed:

February 9 - watching the Olympics

We realized we had no photos of people in this snow - so here is a token person (me). We pay Dutch to plow out our driveway, but we shovel the bit of pavement in front of the breezeway, as well as a path out back for Bonnie. Behind me is the pile of accumulated snow from shoveling that "bit" - it almost fills the area enclosed by that fence, and is about as tall as that fence.

February 10

More snow and blue sky. I drove out to PNC's campus facility one day, and took this picture in the parking lot by building C.

February 12
It was a beautiful day, of course: all Michigan days are beautiful!