Thursday, October 25, 2007

Friends with friends

Triny and Mike generously offered to host us and our friends from Germany for an afternoon and evening together. Maik, Barbel, and two of their children, Konrad and Marlene, drove up from Cape Coral to be with us.

Barbel and I started our friendship as penpals 32 years ago when we were both 14 - I in my German class in my high school in Alabama and she in her English class in her school in Wolfsburg. She always wrote better English than I did German. Over the years we continued to correspond, occasionally sending each other packages. Then 15 years ago Barbel and Maik and their two sons, Robert and Konrad, came to spend two weeks with us. We lived in upstate New York at the time. Robert was 5 and Konrad had just had his 3rd birthday. In our family Tom was 5, Jacy had just turned 4, Sarah was 2, and Joan was an infant. It was a great visit.

Now the children are much older, and Barbel and Maik have a daughter, Marlene, who is now 13. And we have David, Marley, and Sam, who weren't born when we had our last visit.

Steve said we'll finally go to Germany to visit four years from now. And we hope Maik and Barbel will come to us in Alabama before then. In the meantime, our friendship will continue and we'll enjoy letters, packages, e-mails, and phone calls from each other.


Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Space shuttle launch

Last night Triny asked if we wanted to go to Cocoa Beach and watch the space shuttle launch. I told the kids yesterday that we'd try to go to the beach one day while we were here. It seemed like a perfect opportunity to go to the beach, shop at Ron Jon's, and see the shuttle take off.

So we shopped, then walked to the beach and enjoyed it for a few hours. I knitted on Mom's sock and talked with Triny, the girls walked up the beach, David took Sam and William to the water for a wade, after a while we settled down to get ready to watch lift-off.

Triny and the boys ate some freeze-dried ice cream.

Triny didn't like it much, but David did.

And when the shuttle was launched, we could see it perfectly.

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We're here

Arrived yesterday afternoon. Made good time - traffic wasn't bad - and the kids swam in the pool until suppertime.

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Friday, October 19, 2007

Sock knitting

Mom asked for some socks with orange, brown, and blue in them to wear in the autumn and winter. (She asked me how much sock yarn costs because she was going to go buy some for me to use for her socks! I told her not to bother. I have waaaaaaaaay too much sock yarn and am always happy to knit socks for knit-worthy individuals. Mom has proven herself knit-worthy by wearing the socks and sweaters I've knit her. Besides, if I use up some of the sock yarn I have, then I'll have room for new sock yarn!)

Before she asked I had already started socks for her with orange, brown and blue in them using OnLine yarn. Looking through my bin of sock yarn, I found three more yarns she liked: Done Roving yarn in the "Quoddy Bay" colorway (it's single-ply, and needs to be wound into a pull-skein); Austermann Step yarn; and Cherry Tree Hill yarn in the "Fall Foliage" colorway.


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Ribby Cardi

I think the Peruvian Highland Wool from was specifically spun for Bonne Marie Burn's Ribby Cardi. It is a perfect match - so perfect that I hope to knit 5 of these cardigans between now and February.

Here's the back of the one I'm knitting for Jacy:

And I'm just about done with the fronts, also:


Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Dead Heat

On Friday I ran into the library to return a book and saw a new book by Dick Francis and Felix Francis, his son. Dead Heat is definitely a Dick Francis mystery. He follows his familiar pattern - which is why I enjoyed it enough to spend last Saturday reading it instead of doing other things. Yes, it's formula fiction, but sometimes formula fiction is as good as an aspirin, or a favorite meal. It's soothing and familiar and it's nice to experience familiarity - even in reading.

Reading this so soon after Michael Ruhlman's book, The Making of a Chef, was nice, because the hero is a chef. Francis weaves in bits about chefs and restaurants and cooking that his readers may not know. And horses and racing are involved - peripherally. But there's also a side trip to Delafield, Wisconsin, and polo games, and orchestra musicians, and the viola, and it all comes together well to make a decent mystery for a Saturday.

This isn't my favorite Dick Francis mystery, but it was good enough to order in the audio version so that Steve can enjoy it when he's on the road.


Reading Rooms

Susan Allen Toth and John Coughlan have edited a great collection of poems, essays, short stories, and excerpts featuring public libraries in their book, Reading Rooms.

The selections are grouped into nine chapters and depict:
"Small-Town Libraries"
"City Libraries"
"The Librarian"
"Children in the Library"
"Love in the Library"
"Mystery and Murder in the Library"
"Laughter in the Library"
"Reading-Room Reveries"
"Democracy in the Library"

Some of the selections were familiar: excerpts from Eudora Welty's memoir, One Writer's Beginnings; from Main Street; from Betsy and Tacy Go Down Town; from Thimble Summer; from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn; from Beezus and Ramona; and from Rufus M.

But there were many more that were new to me that I enjoyed, and some I did not find as compelling to read. One I liked a lot, and that had me requesting from PaperBackSwap the book in which it appeared, was "Bookworm" from Susan Allen Toth's book, A Small-Town Girlhood. Ms. Toth writes beautifully of her love for the Ames Public Library, and how her love for books and reading began and grew there. She tells the reader:

"When I moved to the Junior Room, probably at the age of ten or eleven, I decided, like many omnivorous readers, to begin with the A's and read through to the Z's. I thought this was obviously the best way of making sure I didn't miss anything. Though three walls of this large room were lined with books, I didn't think it would be impossible to cover it all. The Ames Public Library did have a human scale to it. I might have done so, too, except I found somewhat to my surprise that I was developing tastes. I didn't really like books about horses. I wasn't very interested in boy detectives. I didn't want to read anything if the author was trying too hard to be educational. I was happy through the B's, where I found Sue Barton, Rural Nurse; Sue Barton, Public Nurse; and Sue Barton, Superintendent of Nurses; but after that I bogged down quickly. I skipped ahead to the L's, where I had discovered Maud Hart Lovelace's sequential adventures of Betsy, Tacy, and Tib, and promised myself I would someday return to the C's. But I never did."

My experience was so similar, although I'm sure the Hollifield Memorial Library was much smaller than the Ames Public Library. Still, at about the age of 10 I decided to work through the children's fiction alphabetically by author. Louisa May Alcott, L. Frank Baum, L.M. Boston, Elizabeth Enright, and Marguerite Henry were favorites that I'd return to again and again, especially when I read a dud. (For instance, I dutifully worked my way through all of Mary Stolz'z books, but found some of them pretty grim.)

And further on, in the "Murder and Mystery in the Library" chapter, there is a short story by Anthony Boucher that I loved: "QL696.C9"

Sadly, I do not see this book listed at PaperBackSwap , but Amazon has several copies for under $1.


Friday, October 12, 2007

Stargazing: three books

Last night Dad came over and took David, Marley, Sam and me to a Night Sky Program put on by the National Park Service. We joined a few other people (22 in all - including children) and watched a powerpoint/slide presentation in the park's small movie theater inside the museum. Afterwards our park ranger took us outside to help us find various important stars and constellations.

When we came out, the skies were dark and the stars were breathtaking. Sam exclaimed, "Oh, Mom! Look at the STARS!" There wasn't a cloud in the sky. No moon. The Milky Way was clear and gorgeous. The constellations of Cepheus and Cassiopeia were bright and easy to spot, as were the Summer Triangle, Cygnus, Draco, and Pegasus.

Because there are no outside lights at Horseshoe Bend Military Park, it was the perfect place for stargazing. And the weather was perfect, as were the incredibly clear skies.

When we got home, I got out three books on stars I have enjoyed before and began rereading them.

The first was H.A. Rey's book, The Stars: A New Way to See Them. I bought this book a decade ago, and it's one of the best homeschool purchases I ever made. Rey describes each constellation and where to find them, and he draws sensible graphic dot-to-dot (rather, star-to-star) images to help one see them. Add to that his easy-to-understand explanations of such things as sidereal days, the equinoxes, the pole star (and how it has changed) and many other facts related to astronomy, and his calendar charts of the night sky, and you have a great book for children and adults.

I also got out Astronomy and the Bible: Questions and Answers by Donald B. DeYoung, which is just what the title says. It's a quick and easy read, and perfect to find short answers to questions about astronomy as it relates to Scripture, and some general science questions, too. I also like it because Mr. DeYoung gives a list of resources for astronomy and creation, a Scripture index, and a good subject index if you don't happen to see your particular question listed in the table of contents.

The last book I actually read this morning while waiting for Joan to get her driver's permit. My copy of The Gospel in the Stars by Joseph A. Seiss is an old one from the 1880's, but it has been reprinted. Mr. Seiss was a Lutheran minister and he explained in his book the significance of the different constellations, the amazing similarity of the names ancient civilizations gave each constellation, and how the story of the gospel is contained in the constellations. Referring to Scripture and ancient pagan myths, Mr. Seiss gives a fascinating look at how "the heavens declare the glory of God."


She has her permit

When we arrived at the courthouse at 7:15 this morning there were already four people waiting on the steps outside - all headed for the driver's license office. We were 5th in line, and the examiner will only see "up to" eight people each day that she's open. But 5th in line meant that we made it to be seen. And Joan passed the test with flying colors and drove us home! And to the library. And to the post office. And to Piggly Wiggly. And to the pharmacy. Every errand that I would normally have walked, Joan drove us today.

Because you only experience that euphoric first day with your learner's permit once.


Thursday, October 11, 2007

Repair job

Last October I bought some lovely wool-mohair blend boucle in gorgeous autumn colors. I decided to knit a wrap-around shawl out of it to remind me of the fall foliage Penny, Meg, and I enjoyed as we traveled to and from the New York Sheep and Wool Festival in Rhinebeck, New York.

Because I was lazy I ended up with a mess. When Penny came to visit me last spring, she helped me figure out how to rescue this shawl. I cut it in half, sewed the two long sides together with my sewing machine, then sewed a line at each end as a precautionary measure, although by then I knew from bitter experience that a wool/mohair boucle will NOT unravel. Ever.

After Penny left, I stuffed the shawl in a bag, along with some wool that I thought would work as a fringe, and promptly forgot about it. Until last night.
Last night I dragged the shawl and wool out of the closet, got a crochet hook and scissors, and made fringe. Ten minutes later I had a much better knitted garment than I had thought possible.

And Laura wore her shawl happily ever after... .


Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Three things my parents did right

Et tu? is hosting a group writing project on the topic "What are three things your parents did right?" Although I'm not interested in winning the prize, I was glad to be stimulated to thinking about what exactly I'm thankful my parents did, and narrowing it down to just three.

1. They faithfully taught me and my brother the gospel of Christ. Day in and day out, conversations in our home and actions were laced with Scripture, with reminders of what God requires, and why. We had daily family devotions and prayer from the time we were tiny toddlers, through college, as long as we lived at home. We had a firm foundation of "how" and "why" Christianity long before we became believers.

2. They lived their faith in every moment of every day, with every action, even when only their children could see and hear them. Every thought was "What can we do for someone else?" They took us along when one of them took a cake or a meal to a widow, or single mother. They took us to visit those in hospitals, those in nursing homes, those ill at home. They showed us what compassion and caring for others can look like lived out in practical ways. And at home, they were courteous and loving to one another and to us, and when they sinned against us, they apologized, and admitted they were wrong. And when we sinned, they forgave quickly, and immediately - and didn't bring it up again.

3. They never gossiped about anyone. They still don't. If they didn't have a kind word to say, then they said nothing. And they didn't ever speculate about motives or other unknowns, even when they were slandered or were the subject of the gossip of others. They gave us a great model for "seeking the other's well-being" (I Corinthians 10:24), and how to "be kindly affectionate to one another in brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another" (Romans 12:10)

And honestly, I think that both of them had the same things modeled for them by their parents, from what I know and remember of my grandparents... .

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Monday, October 08, 2007

Had I but known...

I would not have gotten up at 6:45 a.m. I would not have quickly dressed, slurped down a HUGE mug of coffee, and driven Joan to the courthouse, arriving there before 7:00 a.m. so that we could have a good chance of being near the front of the line to get her driver's permit.

The square around the courthouse was deserted, but I smugly thought we were the early birds - first in line. Then Joan asked, "So, do you think they'll be open even though it's a holiday?"

Holiday? What holiday? Oh, that holiday. Glumly I restarted the car, drove home, and resigned myself to the fact that I wasted an opportunity to sleep in - all because I didn't check the calendar yesterday.

So, Happy Columbus Day, anyway!


Friday, October 05, 2007

Second Person Rural: More Essays of a Sometime Farmer

For the past few months I've enjoyed reading several books of essays by Noel Perrin. Two were books on books, and they were very nice, but even better (I think) are his essays about his farming life in Vermont.

I'm reading First Person Rural now, but I started with Second Person Rural because it was the first of the two I could find. Mr. Perrin clearly enjoys life as an agrarian wannabe, and he makes distinctions between himself and "real" farmers. I saw so many similarities between his rural Vermont community and my semi-rural Alabama community that made me smile. Each chapter deals with one topic, whether it be covered bridges, using a peavey, heating the house with wood-burning stoves, and so on. Each topic is interesting, and is great for a last minute read just before you turn out the light and go to sleep.

I got a kick out of this bit from the chapter titled "The Rural Immigration Law:"
"In short, if enough upper-middle-class people move to a rural town, they are naturally going to turn it into a suburb of the nearest city. For one generation it will be a very nice and very rustic suburb, with real farms dotted around it, and real natives speaking their minds at town meeting. Then as the local people are taxed out of existence (or at least out of town), one more piece of rural America has died.
"This is happening to large parts of New England at the moment. The solution, as I see it, is a good, tough immigration law. It wouldn't actually keep Don and Sue out, it would just require them to learn rural values before they were allowed to stay. When they moved to the country, they would be issued visas good for one year. At the end of that year, they would have to appear before a local board composed entirely of native farmers, loggers, and road-crew men. They would then present evidence of having acclimated. For example, they could show proof of having taken complete care of two farm animals of at least pig size, or of one cow, for at least nine months. Complete care would be rigorously interpreted. Even one weekend of paying someone to feed the pigs or milk the cow would disqualify them. (An occasional trade, on the other hand, would be acceptable. Don and Sue could take care of a neighbor's stock one weekend, and thus earn the right to be away the next, while he looked after theirs.)"

It's obvious that Mr. Perrin loved his rural community and did not want to see it radically changed. This book was published in 1980. I'm wondering what his part of Vermont looks like now?
(Noel Perrin died in 2004, and a friend of his put together a collection of the best of his Vermont essays called Best Person Rural. There are two other "rural" collections by Mr. Perrin: Third Person Rural and Last Person Rural.)


Thursday, October 04, 2007

The Giver; Gathering Blue; Messenger

Several weeks ago Sarah, Joan, and I read The Giver as a part of their literature survey for this year.

I was pleased with the ending, but hoped Lois Lowry had written more - finished the story in another book, maybe. So I got Gathering Blue which I heard was a "kind of" sequel. Read it the afternoon it arrived, then wished desperately that I had the next book she wrote, which I heard tied the first two together.

Messenger arrived yesterday and I read it last night.

I haven't read much YA fiction lately, so to say that these are the best YA books I've read recently wouldn't be saying much. Instead, I have to say these are some of the best books of any type I've enjoyed this year.

I've seen them all described as dystopian literature, but I think that The Giver seemed more anti-Utopia than dystopia. The society in that story seemed almost perfect, if somewhat bland. In fact, the desire for sameness and an emotionless, flat-line life by the people of that society seemed to parallel our modern obsession for everyone to excel, to be the best at something - anything. And the therapeutic activities and events seemed to scream "group hug!"

On the other hand, the society pictured in Gathering Blue was more of what I'd consider a dystopia. Sickness and those with defects were eradicated by drastic and primitive means. The people were superstitious and suspicious, and every man looked out for himself.

Finally, Messenger seemed like a classic fantasy novel, with nature taking on a life of its own, purposely harming the people on their way to or from Village. Also in this book was a clear redemptive story - Matty gives his life to save the people of Village, and at the same time he redeeems Forest from the malevolent force it had become.

All three of these books are great - perhaps only The Giver on its own. The other two might not have been as riveting if I'd not read the first one.
(Interesting tidbit: Lois Lowry enjoys photography as a hobby and she did the photos for the cover art of all three books.)

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Happy news!

Amy, Hayley, Abbey, and Madyson are coming to live with us while Glenn's in Korea! They'll move in by mid-January, and stay until close to Glenn's return date next year. We can hardly wait!