Monday, March 31, 2014

Reading and Knitting and a Promise of Spring

I recently read Kate Atkinson's Life After Life. The plot is a simple one: Ursula Todd is born, and dies. She is born again, and dies again. And again, and again. The novel takes us through her many lives, and her feelings of déjà vu. The novel's characters remain essentially the same, and yet their circumstances are altered. It was fascinating.

The flaw in the narrative is this: how can her life have any meaning, when it is erased each time she dies and is reborn? That aspect was frustrating (once I caught on), but the stories of her lives offered some compensation.

(NPR had a good review here.)

This is a scarf that I recently finished. I sent it to the Old South Church in Boston. On the day of the Boston Marathon, they are known as the "Church of the Finish Line," because of their location near the marathon's finish. Each year, on the Sunday before the race, they welcome runners for their annual Blessing of the Athletes. This year - one year after bombs ended the marathon early - Old South Church plans to "wrap each runner in love," giving them handmade blue and yellow scarves at that service. Mine will be just one of those scarves; I hope it gives a runner comfort and encouragement.

I am eagerly watching for spring. The cold and snow have hung on much longer than necessary. Last week, it seemed that every morning we awakened to more snow falling:

Not that it amounted to much - it was lovely, and made me think of living in a snow globe, but it didn't stick around. It just reminded us that we are not in charge, and that winter will not give up its grasp until it is good and ready.

But maybe, just maybe, it's getting ready. Bonnie and I saw this yesterday, when we finally ventured into the Friendship Village woods again:

And look what we saw on our walk today:

East of the park, on Croyden

The ice across our street finally melted yesterday and today; the snow pile by the park is slowly shrinking; and there are snowdrops in our yard!

I'm sure there will yet be a tug of war between winter and spring - but eventually, spring will win!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Unexpected Goodbyes

On February 20, we got a call from Jim's sister-in-law Karen. Jim's brother Vic - Karen's husband - had died early that morning.1 His death was sudden and unexpected;2 we were all rather stunned.

Jim's relationship with Vic was never easy, but Vic mellowed over time, and our last few holiday visits were pleasant (if still not quite modeling the Walton family). Vic enjoyed his growing family, as suggested by this photo of him and little A, watching for airplanes. I thought this was one of the sweetest of all the memories that were being shared after his death.

We were delighted that Karen and Vic had been able to travel to Pasadena, to watch Vic's favorite team, MSU, defeat Stanford in the Rose Bowl Game.

We knew he was looking forward to getting his new Springer Spaniel puppy. These last memories of Vic were good ones, and so his death brought more sadness than regret.

In my family, the legendary sudden death was that of my maternal grandmother, our Nanny, Opal Lee Picklesimer Childress.3 In 1955, my parents were living in Taconite Harbor, Minnesota, and Mom's parents were in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I was born that April, and Papa and Nanny came to visit.

Then, in June, my dad suggested that Mom should take David (3 1/2 years old) and me to see her folks. Mom thought that was silly - her parents had just been there in April, after all - but Dad persuaded her. So she loaded David and me into the car, and made the trip. While she was visiting, on June 19, Nanny had a massive stroke, and died instantly.

She was only 52 years old. My mother was just 30, and her own family was just barely started. It was a hard loss for her. I remember, one Mother's day, finding Mom in her bedroom, crying. Like all of us, she wanted her mother (I hope I at least gave her a hug).

Mom shared with me, later, what a comfort it was to her, that she and Nanny were on good terms, and that they had a close relationship, when her mother died. She harbored no regrets. And, of course, she was grateful to Dad for his enabling what turned out to be their last time together.

I was thinking of all this when I came across a poem by Aimee Nezhukumatathil, in her book Lucky Fish.
by Aimee Nezhukumatathil

When my father wanted to point out galaxies
or Andromeda or the Seven Sisters, I'd complain
of the huzz of mosquitoes, or of the yawning
moon-quiet in that slow, summer air. All I wanted

was to go inside into our cooled house and watch TV
or paint my nails. What does a fifteen-year-old girl
know of patience? What did I know of the steady turn
of whole moon valleys cresting into focus?

Standing there in our driveway with him,
I smacked my legs, my arms, and my face
while I waited for him to find whatever pinhole
of light he wanted me to see. At night, when I washed

my face, I'd find bursts of blood and dried bodies
slapped into my skin. Complaints at breakfast about
how I'd never do it again, how I have more homework
now, Dad. How I can't go to school with bites all over

my face anymore, Dad.        Now—I hardly
ever say no. He has plans to go star-gazing
with his grandson and for once, I don't protest.
He has plans. I know one day he won't ask me,

won't be there to show me the rings of Saturn
glowing gold through the eyepiece. He won't be there
to show me how the moons of Jupiter jump
if you catch them on a clear night. I know

one day I will look up into the night sky
searching, searching—I know the mosquitoes
will still have their way with me—
and my father won't hear me complain.
Let's say "yes" to family and friends, whenever we can, for as long as we can.

1. Victor John VanderRoest. Nov 28, 1950 - Feb 20, 2014

2. Vic died of an aortic dissection. Apparently the tendency for this is hereditary, detectable, and treatable. I'm hoping to persuade Jim to pursue testing.

3. Opal Lee Picklesimer Childress. May 12, 1903 - June 19, 1955

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

More Snow...

Kalamazoo schools were closed again today (I think that brings their total to ten), owing to the seven inches of snow that fell overnight. It was heavy and wet, and roads were a mess.

I had an appointment this morning, and this was my view coming home, around 9 am:

North on Canterbury

I spent a few minutes shoveling a path for Bonnie, and clearing the breezeway. These shots show (to some extent) how deep the snow was, and how much it stuck to everything.

I came in the house, and watched as the kitchen light dimmed and brightened several times, and then our power went out completely. Given the weight of that snow on power lines, I wasn't surprised. Happily, it was only out for about three hours.

And in the afternoon, the clouds departed, leaving us with blue skies!

Looking north (toward Lowry's)

Looking west (toward Boer's)

Looking northeast (toward the park)

It's hard to imagine that spring is just one week away. The snow depth is back up to nineteen inches, so I don't think Bonnie and I will venture into the park any time soon. Meanwhile, the ten day forecast is predicting warmer temps and no snow, so maybe we'll get there yet.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

New Camera, Old Dog, and Other Photos

Some years ago, Jim and I received this camera as a Christmas gift:

Fujifilm Finepix A400

It wasn't the first digital camera we had, but it was our first small camera. At some point, appreciating its small size, I started carrying it with me. By the time I started blogging, I really had laid claim to it, and I don't think poor Jim got to use it much (he finally gave in and bought himself another camera).

This past winter, on some of the particularly cold days, the Finepix refused to operate - it would take one picture, and then just stop. Sometimes, if I tucked it in my pocket for a bit, I could coax another photo out of it; usually it needed some time alone at home before it was up to taking pictures again.

Then, a week or so ago, even in the comfort of home, it grew recalcitrant. One picture was fine, and then it refused to focus. A bit of a rest, and I could manage another photo.

Was it old age? The unrelentingly cold winter? Whatever the cause, it was time for a new camera, so on Saturday, I headed to Norman Camera. The salesman and I chatted about my old camera, what I used the camera for, the convenience of a small camera, my preference for a view finder, and so forth.

I came home with this:

Panasonic Lumix DMC-LF1

So far, I've worked my way through the quick-start guide, and know enough to take some basic photos. I can already appreciate the better quality of the pictures, and the more powerful zoom. I haven't yet figured out how to comfortably hold it (especially one-handed, with a leash in the other hand). It does have a handy feature that refocuses as the subject moves (read: Beagle).

Meanwhile, here are some newly minted photos, starting with the first robin I've seen this season:

The first robin of spring - seen last Saturday

A not-too-bad photo of Jim:
The first Jim of spring

And, of course, photos of Bonnie. The snow has been a challenge lately. It is still deep in places, but now it is soft. Here Bonnie is managing to stay on the surface, but it's a precarious business. Both she and I frequently find ourselves climbing out of the depths:

This is the entrance to the Friendship Village woods, and Bonnie really really wanted to go there. But I couldn't face wading through so much snow, so she will have to wait a while yet:

Bonnie climbed up a pile of snow that had accumulated at the end of someone's driveway, so she is at eye level (much easier for taking pictures):

Today, Bonnie slept soundly all morning, and I had to wake her for our walk:

Love her little tongue!

Once she figured out what was afoot, she was delighted. And then she was annoyed, because I refused to tackle the park again. Instead, we walked along Canterbury and Croyden. Once she accepted that she had no option, she happily walked along with me.

I was startled, and a bit saddened, to realize that her pace was much slower than normal, and not just because she wanted to smell everything. She is simply slowing down.

This photo shows the snow piled along Canterbury, and the trees and sun (a weak sun, today) reflected in the puddles alongside.

These recent warm days have been nice (we hit 51° today). But temperatures will fall tonight and tomorrow, and we will probably see more snow as well:

We're in that 3-5" band, I think
Hope that poor robin has somewhere to hide!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Here is Hope: the Lamb of God

Until recently, I hadn't heard of the Easter Oratorio, Lamb of God. Then, Jen Randall decided that Kalamazoo needed this. So Jim and I have been rehearsing with the choir, and have fallen for the music, just as Jen did. I've been wanting to share some thoughts regarding this, but it is hard to know where to start.

By way of an overview, here is what the composer, Rob Gardner, wrote:
My thought was to tell the story of the last days of the life of Jesus Christ through the experiences of those who witnessed them--those He knew and loved. It was most interesting to me to see what their decisions, their actions and their interactions with Him teach us about the Savior Himself. And it was important to me that Hope shine through even the darkest moments. I decided early on that I didn't want any actor or singer to portray or represent the Savior in this piece, mostly because I think it's extremely difficult to do so in an effective way. I chose instead to represent His voice with the solo cello. I also felt that, where the choir sang in moments of underscore, I wanted them to sing in Aramaic--the language the Savior and his contemporaries would have spoken. I have to confess that the reason for that was mostly that English just didn't seem to evoke the power and emotion I was looking for, whereas the guttural and consonant-laden sounds of Aramaic did so beautifully. There are many more decisions I made that I'll leave you to discover for yourself.
You can read the lyrics here. As envisioned by Gardner, they present the final days of the life of Jesus Christ, His Atonement and Resurrection. But the lyrics alone are not enough - the miracle is in the entire production - chorus, soloists, orchestra, narration. It grabs my heart and makes me weep, makes me want to change, to be a better person, a better disciple.

Here is a promotional video that features the cello (representing Christ's voice) during the piece Gethsemane:

A second video includes the piece Hosanna, celebrating Christ's triumphal entry into Jerusalem - a piece that we in the chorus love to sing!

So far, the chorus and orchestra have rehearsed separately. Our rehearsals have been joyful, wonderful occasions. And next week, finally, we have a combined rehearsal with the orchestra. I simply cannot wait to hear it all come together.

Then there will be the dress rehearsal, and, finally, our performances. Do you live near Kalamazoo? If so, our 65-member orchestra, 15 soloists, 140-voice choir and narrators will offer you an experience you don't want to miss. This oratorio will touch your heart, and magnify your Easter celebration.

The two performances (Friday, March 21 and Saturday, March 22) are at Chenery Auditorium. Tickets are only $5 each and can be purchased at, or through Miller Auditorium.

Come - be part of a miracle!