Monday, September 15, 2014

Did I Miss Anything?

In early September, I came across a poem and a TED talk that both illustrate the importance of thinking and learning and participating.

The poem is delightful - two responses to the question that must drive teachers crazy: Did I miss anything?
Did I Miss Anything?
by Tom Wayman

Nothing. When we realized you weren’t here
we sat with our hands folded on our desks
in silence, for the full two hours

     Everything. I gave an exam worth
     40 percent of the grade for this term
     and assigned some reading due today
     on which I’m about to hand out a quiz
     worth 50 percent

Nothing. None of the content of this course
has value or meaning
Take as many days off as you like:
any activities we undertake as a class
I assure you will not matter either to you or me
and are without purpose

     Everything. A few minutes after we began last time
     a shaft of light suddenly descended and an angel
     or other heavenly being appeared
     and revealed to us what each woman or man must do
     to attain divine wisdom in this life and
     the hereafter
     This is the last time the class will meet
     before we disperse to bring the good news to all people
          on earth.

Nothing. When you are not present
how could something significant occur?

     Everything. Contained in this classroom
     is a microcosm of human experience
     assembled for you to query and examine and ponder
     This is not the only place such an opportunity has been

     but it was one place

     And you weren’t here
Jim and I watched a TED talk by Ken Jennings, of Jeopardy fame. He talked about his experience playing Jeopardy against a supercomputer, and how he felt that his skill - being a know-it-all - was being phased out. But then he talked about the advantages of just knowing things, and shared a remarkable story.
I always think of the story of a little girl named Tilly Smith. She was a 10-year-old girl from Surrey, England on vacation with her parents a few years ago in Phuket, Thailand. She runs up to them on the beach one morning and says, "Mom, Dad, we've got to get off the beach." And they say, "What do you mean? We just got here." And she said, "In Mr. Kearney's geography class last month, he told us that when the tide goes out abruptly out to sea and you see the waves churning way out there, that's the sign of a tsunami, and you need to clear the beach." What would you do if your 10-year-old daughter came up to you with this? Her parents thought about it, and they finally, to their credit, decided to believe her. They told the lifeguard, they went back to the hotel, and the lifeguard cleared over 100 people off the beach, luckily, because that was the day of the Boxing Day tsunami, the day after Christmas, 2004, that killed thousands of people in Southeast Asia and around the Indian Ocean. But not on that beach, not on Mai Khao Beach, because this little girl had remembered one fact from her geography teacher a month before.
Isn't that a great story? Who knows when some bit of knowledge is going to be handy. He talks about choosing to keep on learning, and offers this:
We make that choice by being curious, inquisitive people who like to learn, who don't just say, "Well, as soon as the bell has rung and the class is over, I don't have to learn anymore," or "Thank goodness I have my diploma. I'm done learning for a lifetime. I don't have to learn new things anymore." No, every day we should be striving to learn something new. We should have this unquenchable curiosity for the world around us. That's where the people you see on "Jeopardy" come from. These know-it-alls, they're not Rainman-style savants sitting at home memorizing the phone book. I've met a lot of them. For the most part, they are just normal folks who are universally interested in the world around them, curious about everything, thirsty for this knowledge about whatever subject.
It's a interesting and entertaining talk - go watch it!

Of course, if Bonnie asks did I miss anything? she is talking about either food, or Good Smells:

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Kali! Rain! Driving on Sidewalks!

Our niece Kali had an interview in Chicago, and offered to come early, so that we could drive over for a visit. So back on the 23rd (that would be August; still trying to catch up here), Jim & I hopped in the car and drove over to Dave & Joyce's home in Chicago. (We did make a brief stop at the Albanese candy factory. But you can't prove it - because we ate all the evidence - with help, of course).

After some discussion, we decided that we could fit all of us in Jim's car, and so Dave drove to Midway, where Kali's plane arrived a smidge early (that really happens?). 

We had pizza at Giordano's, but they messed up our order, and offered to charge us only half the price of the problem pizza (Jim would just have to pick out the peppers). But when the bill came, they had reduced the $20.75 charge to $12.00. Apparently math is not their strong suit...!

As we left the restaurant, it started to rain, and then to pour. I was glad we had squished into one car, so that I didn't have to drive in that storm.

Here the water was standing very deep, so Dave followed the drivers ahead of him, who avoided the water by driving far to the right, on the sidewalk:

Dave thought this was not a good spot to get back on the road:

So he kept driving on the sidewalk a bit further. Jim was nonplussed. A man watching us was surprised. Kali and I were delighted. Joyce, I think, was horrified.

Safely back at their place, out of the storm, we chatted and played games (Farkle - Jim won; SkipBo - Jim won)
Dave and Joyce



Dave and Robin

On the way home, Jim & I stopped in Chesterton, to switch drivers and get a snack. Jim noted that this is where we had our first meal as a married couple, way back when. So we took a picture:

Fun times!

School Starts and Life Gets Hectic

With the start of school this fall, I've started teaching early morning seminary for our church. Students in 9th thru 12th grade meet each school day, before school starts, for religious instruction. My class of five students includes students at three high schools (Portage Central, Kalamazoo Central, and Loy Norrix), as well as home schooled. To accommodate schedules, we meet at 5:55 am each morning. Yikes.

I am impressed with my students - they are there every morning, they are remarkably alert (given the hour), they seem happy to attend, they participate willingly. In spite of having to really scramble to stay on top of things, I am enjoying teaching these kids. I learned a lot about the gospel back in the day, when I attended seminary, and hope these youth will get a similar benefit.

Unfortunately, blogging has fallen to a very low spot on the totem pole, to the point of being pretty much neglected. I'm trying to catch up a bit today. This is a post that I started back in August, after our trip to Bronner's. 

Bronner's, of course, put us in a Christmas mood. To help it along, I started knitting some ornaments. I have a number in pieces, still unassembled, but here is a finished ornament. This is knit using a pattern by Emily Kintigh:

I've been working on my linen stitch scarf, and another hat, but neither shows much progress, so I have no new photos.

I do, however, have new yarn:

This is the September installment of the Dream in Color club yarn. It is fingering weight, dyed in all the colors of fall foliage. Frankly, this was a complete impulse purchase. I'm not sure what I'll knit with this, but it is lovely to look at.

As we slide into fall, and think about Christmas, here are some summer photos, from August:

Bonnie thinks there are much more interesting things to look at when we're out and about:

Monday, August 25, 2014

Tony and Antonia and Friends

A couple weekends ago, our friends John and Dominique drove over from Illinois and joined us for a quick trip to Sterling Heights, to see one of Jim's favorite performers.

Tony Bennett!

Lately, it seemed that every time we traveled, we'd see a billboard promoting a Tony Bennett concert, but it was always sold out. Jim started keeping an eye on Tony's website (yes, we're on a first name basis), and was finally able to purchase tickets to this show.

The show, with Tony Bennett and his daughter Antonia, was at the Freedom Hill Amphitheatre. It was a beautiful evening, and we got there early enough to get food at the concession stand, and relax. (This is because our tickets listed the time as 6 pm. We thought we were late, but it turned out this is when the gates open, so we had time to spare.)

The sun was starting to set as everyone got settled in. 

Jim, Dominique, and John

It was a delightful performance. Antonia sang first, and was a real showman, chatting with the audience, highlighting the band members, and singing great songs. Tony performed a few numbers with her, as well as on his own. He is really amazing. He turned 88 on August 3, but still has a great voice, and charms and delights the crowd. At one point he asked, "would you mind if I sing some old standards?" Would we mind?!? What a silly question...

We spent the night at the Warren Courtyard Marriott, on Van Dyke (once we finally got out of the Freedom Hill parking lot, the hotel was just a few minutes away). (Nice hotel, decent breakfast in the morning.) We enjoyed a late dinner at Buddy's Pizza, nearby (Yum! Great pizza, and a charming waitress).

The next day, we drove up to Frankenmuth, since John and Dom' had never been to Bronner's Christmas store. We wandered around for a good while - they have every imaginable ornament, I swear. Showing great restraint, we bought just a couple ornaments (really, our tree has no room for more ornaments...!).

Bonnie was glad when we got home:

She got a walk, and we humans got some dinner, and then we talked and played Settlers of Catan (Dom' won on Saturday; Jim won Sunday's game).

With all the driving we did (and a late-night push), I finished knitting my hat:

It's reversible; this is the "inside"

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Shawl and Hat (Short and Sweet)

I have two projects to share today. First is my Mushishi Shawl, which I just finished this past weekend. The yarn, Mushishi, by Plymouth Yarns, was spun very loosely, which I think means that it will hold more air and make for a cozily warm shawl. It was also very pleasant to knit with.

This hat is one of several works-in-progress. I'm knitting it with a wonderful yarn, Winnifred's Washable, by Farmhouse Yarns. It is a hand-dyed merino / acrylic blend. The color is not as bright as this photo would lead you to think, but is instead very rich. This will be a luscious and comfy hat, I think.


Mother Nature Does Her Thing

Recently, we noticed that a branch from our neighbor's tree was drooping into our yard. Jim contacted a tree guy, but he hadn't yet scheduled a time to look at it, when this happened:

August 2, 2014

Apparently, the branch had broken in the past, and was only being supported by our AT&T line. This, of course, made the line hang lower than normal. A truck driving by our house caught the line, and it snapped, letting the branch fall to the ground. This left us with no landline, no internet, and no cable.

We finally found a phone bill with a customer service number listed on it (hint: if you eliminate the paper copies of your bills, you should write down the contact number somewhere; looking it up online was not an option). Jim called, and spoke with a sympathetic operator who scheduled the repair, and said it would probably be fixed on Tuesday (this was Friday night). Happily, an AT&T truck showed up Saturday afternoon, and after a couple hours, we were good to go again.

Handley's Tree Service came by on Monday (after Jim reached out to them again), to scope things out, and on Tuesday made quick work of the downed branch, as well as trimming and thinning our maple. (They'll be back after Thanksgiving to thin the oak as well.)

Here are "before" and "after" photos of the maple. The trees hadn't completely filled out in that May photo, so it doesn't show how much those lower branches were drooping. At least you can see that the lower trunk is more open now. It should be much easier to mow under there!

Before - late May


Sometimes Mother Nature offers less drama and more beauty. Here are photos of the latter, from some of my recent beagle walks:

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Mr. Darling and Mrs. Wiggs

I've recently finished two books, both very satisfactory reads.

I read Julia Glass's Three Junes some time ago, and it was a splendid read. I hoped that The Widower's Tale would be equally enjoyable, and it was. The tale concerns Percy Darling (the widower), his two daughters, his grandson, and an assortment of other characters.

Percy has been widowed for thirty years, and is sliding into a contented retirement. As events unfold, we learn about his deceased wife, and watch the shifting dynamics of his family. We see Percy inexorably pulled back into the community he has managed to avoid. I liked the character development - and the characters themselves - and the feeling of being a fly on the wall of this family.

The book wasn't quite as good as Three Junes, but I recommend it nevertheless as a good read.

I've been wanting to reread this book, and finally found an electronic version on the library's ebook database. Mrs Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch, by Alice Hegan Rice, was originally published in 1901. The version I first read was the one pictured here, which was published in 1962.

From my original reading, all I remembered was that Mrs Wiggs had Sunday School in her home, on wooden planks laid on chairs, and that she sang "Count Your Many Blessings." (I first heard that hymn years later, when my family started attending the Mormon church, and was immediately reminded of Mrs Wiggs.)

There is more to the story than that, of course. Mrs Wiggs is quite the character. and, notwithstanding her family's severe poverty, always looks for the best:
Well, I guess I ain't the best by a long sight, but I may be the happiest. An' I got cause to be: four of the smartest childern that ever lived, a nice house, fair to middlin' health when I ain't got the rheumatiz, and folks always goin' clean out of the way to be good to one! Ain't that 'nough to make a person happy? I'll be fifty years old on the Fourth of July, but I hold there ain't no use in dyin'  'fore yer time. Lots of folks is walkin' 'round jes' as dead as they'll ever be. I believe in gittin' as much good outen life as you kin -- not that I ever set out to look fer happiness; seems like the folks that does that never finds it. I jes' do the best I kin where the good Lord put me at, an' it looks like I got a happy feelin' in me 'most all the time.
When I was a child, we didn't have any bookstores in our area (at least none that I recall). Horne's, the department store in downtown Pittsburgh, had a book department, but we didn't get there often. I found Mrs Wiggs and the Cabbage Patch at Kresge's, at the West Hills Shopping Center. This was a "five and dime" store, the precursor to K-Mart. They had a rack or two of books, with a limited selection of children's books, along with coloring books and the like. I took a look at the selection each time we went there.

Kresge's also had a small snack bar, where you could buy ice cream. My mother and her friend Mrs Huesken would often share a sundae. There were balloons hanging at the counter, and you picked one and popped it, to see what your sundae would cost. Mom said that they always ended up paying the full price for their treat.

In addition to Kresge's, there was a Thorofare grocery store, and maybe an A&P Market, and also a barber shop and other shops. One time my sister and I lost the money Mom had given us to buy groceries, and didn't want to admit it. We dug into our savings to cover the loss, and (as far as I know) never 'fessed up.

I was trying to find a picture of the shopping center. Alas, what I found was that it has been razed, and a Walmart is going to be built in its stead. Walmart will never have the character of that old shopping center!