Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Read With Us: The Shipping News Wrap-Up


It's my turn to do the Read With Us wrap-up and I've been considering what I wanted to say about The Shipping News. I did take some notes during our discussion last Tuesday night (although I completely forgot about taking a picture), and I patted myself on the back for remembering to take my notes out of the book before I returned it to the library. 


We're very appreciative that so many of you chose to read the book, join us, answer the questions we posed, and discuss the book. Read With Us was conceived as a book group, and while there are three of us, book discussions would quickly reach a dead end if just Kym, Carole, and I were the only ones discussing the books. All of you offer new viewpoints, original thoughts, and opinions and we are grateful for that!

Kym opened up the discussion by asking how many people liked the book, and while the majority of people did, there were a few who did not, and they raised some valid points. Anne Proulx's fragmented writing bothered some people, and Kat mentioned that the first time she read the book, she had a hard time getting past the abuse in the story. Quoyle's life is a sad and sometimes dark story, but Kat got a different take on the book while reading it the second time. 

We all seemed to agree that the Newfoundland setting was of utmost importance, and almost anything that happens is due to the setting. We mentioned food along with the setting - seal flipper pie, squid burger, and fried bologna were all things that Quoyle came to accept. 

The ending was deemed both happy and sad, and maybe even a bit hopeful, with the characters moving on, broadening their worlds, looking for and finding their community and acceptance. And because the knots in the book have fascinated me each time I've read it, I want to mention how clever and creative I thought the author was to build a story around and include knots after finding a copy of The Ashley Book of Knots at a yard sale for a quarter. (I'm still looking!) 

If you took part in the Zoom and you’d like to share some of our discussion highlights in the comments, please feel free to do so. (That might make for a better wrap-up than trying to decipher my fragmented and scribbled notes!) Thanks so much for coming along and for choosing to Read With Us. Stay tuned as we’ll be announcing our spring selection next Tuesday!


Monday, March 27, 2023

Why : A March Update


“Curiosity is not a sin ... But we should exercise caution with our curiosity ... yes, indeed.”

-- Dumbledore, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

This month I've been questioning why I do things and behave the way I do, but I've also noticed that it's very easy for me to get bogged down in thinking and not move forward with action. How easy it is to wonder why I feel compelled to wash a few dirty dishes in the sink instead of waiting until there are more and doing the job efficiently, and why I often consider others' needs before my own (usually to my own detriment). The thing that aggravated me on Saturday was my own procrastination and wasting several hours when I needed to grocery shop, and then I was further irritated with myself because I ended up shopping when it was crowded, I had to carry the groceries inside in the pouring rain and then ended up having to mop the kitchen floor afterward because I tracked mud in while carrying groceries to the kitchen. It sounds silly now, but this put me in a poor mood for much of the rest of the day.

It's much harder to stop wondering why, even if I haven't arrived at an answer to the question, and simply take some definitive action. If I just do something different, I can evaluate my actions and sometimes it will even become a better habit (like not wasting water doing just a few dishes and instead doing them in two or three batches). I know why I procrastinate grocery shopping (it's a chore I really, really dislike) so my goal for the next month is to figure out ways to conquer my procrastination. This one is a bit tougher; wish me luck!

Friday, March 24, 2023

Right Now: March 2023

Just for the record, these are not my grape hyacinths blooming. I wanted a pretty spring picture and all I have is some grape hyacinth foliage barely beginning to show and minuscule buds on a few trees. But even though I'm impatiently waiting for spring, I haven't done a Right Now post for a while, so it's time for one today. 

Looking Forward To - Getting some of my retirement money! In the 1980's I worked at Upstate Medical Center in Syracuse. They were affiliated with the State University of New York system, so our retirement plan was a 403b with TIAA/CREF. I contributed money, it got matched by the hospital, and then I forgot about it for 30 years. It's grown quite a bit, and I've finished the somewhat lengthy withdrawal process. I should start to see money in my bank account soon, and that's always a good thing. Because of the way the 403b was set up I have to make my withdrawals over 10 years, so I figured I better get started. 

Considering - Signing up for Social Security. I've been delaying it because my full retirement age is 66 years and 6 months and I won't reach that until December of this year. It makes a difference of < $100/month, but maybe I should just be a little bit patient and continue to wait. I could buy a couple of nice skeins of yarn with the difference! 

Helping - John decide what he wants so he can sign up for Medicare. I signed up last June, but he is a year younger than I am and won't turn 65 until August. He's easily overwhelmed by all the choices but I think his choice should be based on more than "just sign me up for whatever you have". Enough old person stuff!

Enjoying - Using the many, many boxes and packages of tea that have filled up an entire drawer in my pantry. I love tea and often buy from Celestial Seasonings six boxes at a time. But I've reached the point of Way Too Much Tea, so it's time to use up what I've got. This will take a while but since I've stated it here publicly, I have a better chance of actually doing it. 

Resisting - Jelly beans. I really like them and while I've resisted buying any so far, grocery stores aren't helping me at all by stocking more Easter candy than pasta or produce. 

Wondering About - empty shelves at the grocery store. I've been doing most of my grocery shopping at Walmart and Aldi. Aldi doesn't carry everything that I use, but the prices and quality are generally good. I dislike Walmart a lot, but the prices there are ~20% less than at Stop and Shop. But Walmart is always out of something different every week. Sometimes it's spaghetti, other times it's cucumbers or tuna fish. It's not nearly as bad as the shortages at the beginning of the pandemic, but it's still aggravating and makes it difficult to plan meals. 

Planning - A trip to Ricketts Glen State Park. It's a PA state park north of Allentown and a little less than three hours from home here in NJ. We're going with friends that have a cabin nearby and they seem anxious to go (like next week). The park is known for its 20+ waterfalls accessed by hiking trails. Right now the trails are closed because of ice, so I'm in favor of waiting until it warms a little and I don't have to face the prospect of hiking on ice. 

Reading - Two pre-publication novels from NetGalley. I have to make myself finish one and review it before it gets published early in May. It's not that the book is bad, but I just received Abraham Verghese's new novel, The Covenant of Water, from NetGalley. I really want to start it but I'm making myself finish the other book first. 

Sorry/Not Sorry - That I had to sit and read yesterday. John asked what I had planned and I told him about the loads of laundry I would be doing, making dinner, and the books I needed to read. He said, "So you have to sit and read all day on this rainy day? Poor you!" It was not all day, just all afternoon (and maybe much of the evening). 

Possibly Overthinking - Easter dinner. Ryan and Justin are rarely both here for dinner at the same time, but I thought I might make something for Easter dinner. Easter is not a big holiday in our house, but it is just as good a reason to get together as any other weekend. Jess (Justin's girlfriend) and I don't like ham, and since I'm cooking, it won't be ham. I have a prime rib in the freezer, but Jess is also not a fan of that. Maybe lasagna? Hamburgers on the grill? How about egg salad sandwiches? We'll see what I feel like making as it gets a little closer. 

Watching - The Detectorists Movie! I loved The Detectorists, a funny British comedy about metal detecting, but they only made three seasons and then stopped. The idea sounds a bit ridiculous but it's one of my favorite shows ever. When I heard they made a movie, I quickly signed up for Acorn TV just so I could watch it. 

What's going on in your world right now? 

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Unraveled Wednesday: 3/22/23

I'm happy to join Kat and fellow Unravelers for Unraveled Wednesday, with a second completed Sophie shawl. 

I took this photo on the gate to the park across from my house, and it turned into a small event. I heard quite a bit of yelling from middle schoolers walking home, and two of them had to stop dribbling their basketballs and ask, "Whatcha doin' lady?" When I explained that I was taking a picture of my knitting they must have decided I was a crazy old lady and kept on going. The crossing guard even had to walk over and wonder what I was doing. Who knew taking a picture of knitting would create such excitement? But I think I'm done knitting Sophies and glad to get back to neglected Hitchhikers.

I want to work more on my current Hitchhiker so I can possibly photograph it in the park when the flowering cherry trees are blooming in a few weeks. This is what it looks like now:


I finished a couple of average books this week, but one stood out. The three-star books were Vera Wong's Unsolicited Advice for Murderers and The Golden Spoon. They were easy entertainment but they weren't much more than that. The stand out was The Queen of Dirt Island which had lovely prose, a delightful setting, and wonderful character development. I wish it had been longer!

What are you making and reading this week?

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Read With Us: Join the Discussion

Today is the day I've been looking forward to for almost 30 years - discussing The Shipping News. I can remember reading it with a newborn Justin in one arm and the book propped on my lap while two-year-old Ryan played nearby and wanted to know what I was reading. I remember reading a bit of it to him, but the only part he liked was that there was a girl called Bunny. I've read it twice more over the years under more relaxed circumstances and now I'm looking forward to hearing what all of you think about the book. Hopefully, you found a few things besides Bunny to enjoy.


KymCarole, and I are each posting discussion questions on our blogs today, and you are welcome to respond in the comments. I would also encourage you to reply to others' comments if you choose. This is a book discussion, after all, so there are no correct answers or right opinions. 

First, a synopsis of the book (from Book Browse, via Kym)

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, The Shipping News is a celebration of Annie Proulx’s genius for storytelling and her vigorous contribution to the art of the novel.

Quoyle, a third-rate newspaper hack, with a “head shaped like a crenshaw, no neck, reddish hair…features as bunched as kissed fingertips,” is wrenched violently out of his workaday life when his two-timing wife meets her just deserts. An aunt convinces Quoyle and his two emotionally disturbed daughters to return with her to the starkly beautiful coastal landscape of their ancestral home in Newfoundland. Here, on desolate Quoyle’s Point, in a house empty except for a few mementos of the family’s unsavory past, the battered members of three generations try to cobble up new lives.

Newfoundland is a country of coast and cove where the mercury rarely rises above 70 degrees, the local culinary delicacy is cod cheeks, and it’s easier to travel by boat and snowmobile than on anything with wheels. In this harsh place of cruel storms, a collapsing fishery, and chronic unemployment, the aunt sets up as a yacht upholsterer in nearby Killick-Claw, and Quoyle finds a job reporting the shipping news for the local weekly, the Gammy Bird (a paper that specializes in sexual-abuse stories and grisly photos of car accidents).

As the long winter closes its jaws of ice, each of the Quoyles confronts private demons, reels from catastrophe to minor triumph – in the company of the obsequious Mavis Bangs; Diddy Shovel the strongman; drowned Herald Prowse; cane-twirling Beety; Nutbeem, who steals foreign news from the radio; a demented cousin the aunt refuses to recognize; the much-zippered Alvin Yark; silent Wavey; and old Billy Pretty, with his bag of secrets. By the time of the spring storms, Quoyle has learned how to gut cod, to escape from a pickle jar, and to tie a true lover’s knot.

So the questions I'd like to pose are these:

  • Do you think the chapter headings from The Ashley Book of Knots, The Mariner's Dictionary, and Quipus and Witches' Knots add to the atmosphere of the book? Did their humor illustrate some of Proulx's points, or did they simplify some of her issues?
  • Does this novel have a happy ending? Is it too hopeful? What is the difference between happiness and the absence of pain?

What do you think? I can't wait to hear your thoughts!

And don't forget we will have an in-person Zoom discussion at 7:00 pm Eastern this evening. You can send me an email (the email address is in the upper right) to RSVP and I will make sure you get an invitation with the Zoom link if you haven't already. I've been looking forward to discussing this book for quite a while, and I don't know of a better bunch of people for a book discussion than all of you.

Monday, March 20, 2023

Sometimes Monday ...

 ... is a day to plant seeds. 

I actually planted a few types (green peppers, hot peppers, and Napa cabbage) 7-10 days ago and put in three types of tomatoes and swiss chard today. They don't look like much so far, but the cabbage seeds have germinated. Since John can hardly bear to thin seeds after he plants them in the garden, I'm planting fewer seeds and I'll thin them in the pots. This will just give John the actual plants we have room for in the garden and we'll hopefully avoid a tomato jungle this year. 



Thursday, March 16, 2023

A Gathering of Poetry: March 2023

It's the third Thursday of the month so I'd like to welcome you to A Gathering of Poetry. I had some trouble finding a poem this month, but as soon as I came upon this one, I knew this was what I wanted to share. It made me laugh and conjured up some lovely imagery at the same time.

Cheerios
by Billy Collins

One bright morning in a restaurant in Chicago
as I waited for my eggs and toast,
I opened the Tribune only to discover
that I was the same age as Cheerios.

Indeed, I was a few months older than Cheerios
for today, the newspaper announced,
was the seventieth birthday of Cheerios
whereas mine had occurred earlier in the year.

Already I could hear them whispering
behind my stooped and threadbare back,
Why that dude’s older than Cheerios
the way they used to say

Why that’s as old as the hills,
only the hills are much older than Cheerios
or any American breakfast cereal,
and more noble and enduring are the hills,

I surmised as a bar of sunlight illuminated my orange juice.

====

Collins, Billy, "Cheerios", Poetry Magazine, September 2012. 
You can read more about the poet here
Just fyi, Cheerios debuted as Cheeri-Oats in 1941 (the year Billy Collins was born), making them both 82 years old. 

====

Thanks for reading and joining us for our monthly Gathering of Poetry. Be sure to visit Kym and Kat so you can gather more poetry and you can add your link below if you would like to share one of your favorite poems. The more the merrier!

You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!

Click here to enter

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Unraveled Wednesday: 3/15/23

I'm happy to join Kat and fellow Unravelers for Unraveled Wednesday. Winter has made a reappearance and my yarn scale finally told me it was time to start decreasing, so I've been working on the Sophie shawl.

It snowed yesterday and the winds were gusting to 40 mph so I took a picture indoors. I'm wearing my blue alpaca Sophie shawl around my neck and this off-white one is on my lap while I knit, so I'm warm and happy. 

Reading has slowed down a bit but I better get going because my pile is growing. I finished The Shipping News in preparation for our Read With Us discussion next week. I'm not a big re-reader, but this book has stood up to three readings for me, and I discover new things each time. I've started The Queen of Dirt Island by Donal Ryan (delightful so far), and have Vera Wong's Unsolicited Advice for Murderers ready to start and a pre-publication copy of The Secret Book of Flora Lea to finish. An embarrassment of riches in the book department!

What are you making and reading this week?

Monday, March 13, 2023

Give and Take

John likes company much of the time, even when he's just going to Home Depot, while I value my alone time. This can create a little bit of friction, especially because I see it as an opportunity to have some of that precious time to myself while he's out doing errands. 

This is Skip's Outdoors. The "Live Bait & Tackle" machine out front
and bow advertisements in the window are a giveaway.

Last week John asked if I wanted to go along with him to Stockton (a nearby town) because he wanted to look at fishing stuff at Skip's Outdoors. I've been to Skip's with him before, and it is not a place for me. It's a small outdoors store with guns, ammo, and fishing stuff, and lots of old guys tend to gather there to pass the time and talk about hunting and fishing. 

I contentedly knit on Sophie in the car while John was in Skip's.

So while I didn't want to go to Skip's, I did propose a little give and take. I would drive and go along with John to Skip's but would stay in the car and knit. Then we could take a short walk down the street to Gabarelly's and have cheesesteaks for lunch. This way John would have the company he likes, I wouldn't have to be bored out of my mind with a bunch of old guys, and both John and I would have a good lunch.

Our reward! I even saved the second half of mine for dinner. 

It was a win-win! (I do wonder how partners who don't knit manage retirement?)

Friday, March 10, 2023

Museum of Me: March 2023


Hello and welcome to the Museum of Me. It's the second Friday in March and time for a new installment. This month we ask the important question: What is the most memorable concept you learned in science class?

I think I selfishly suggested this topic to Kym, mainly because I can answer this question easily and remember that day in class like it was yesterday. Picture me as a bright-eyed, eager young fourth-grader in Mrs. Csongeto's class at Springfield Elementary School. I looked something like this:


except imagine me in a classroom with about 15 other kids. I'm the one paying attention, with my hand on the desk, ready to raise it to answer questions. 

Except that day Mrs. Csongeto didn't ask questions. She said, "I'm going to tell you about one of the most important concepts in science. Almost all of scientific knowledge and many other things have come from using this and it's both easy enough for fourth graders and powerful enough for really smart scientists in lab coats." I was hooked and couldn't wait to learn this easy, yet powerful science secret. 


It was the scientific method. This might sound complex, but it's really a simple five-step framework that is used to acquire knowledge that has been used since the 17th century. It involves 1). making careful observations, 2). formulating a hypothesis based on those observations, 3). designing an experiment meant to test the hypothesis, 4). collecting and analyzing results to determine if the hypothesis is supported or refuted, and 5). communicating results. If the evidence has refuted the hypothesis, the hypothesis is revised and tested again. If the evidence has supported the hypothesis, it needs to be repeated and/or reproduced by others. 

I'm sure that we had worksheets and we probably even did an experiment or two, but I don't remember those details. What struck me then and has stayed with me is that this was the scientific method but I could apply it to any problems I might have or questions I was trying to answer. If I wondered why our cat Bitsy did not like to be held (see photo above), I might make observations to see if this was true most of the time, only with certain people, or when she was hungry. My hypothesis might be that she would like to be held after I fed her, and I would conduct an experiment where I tried to hold her every day after feeding her for a week. My data showed that she did not like being held after being fed, and subsequent experiments showed that Bitsy was a cranky cat who was only willing to be held when she wanted to and for about 20 seconds. 

This is a very simplistic example but I do remember conducting the experiments because I desperately wanted to be able to hold Bitsy and have her sit on my lap and purr. That's another important part of the scientific method; sometimes you don't get the results you hypothesized but you have hopefully gained a small part of the answer and can move forward. 

I can't say that I conduct actual experiments now, but the scientific method does help me in cooking, baking, fixing my sewing machine, deciding if my car needs a new battery, trying to resolve my hip and back pain, and lots of other situations where I want to apply critical thinking in daily life. So thank you, Mrs. Csongeto, for teaching me the scientific method. I've used it for 55 years and hope to continue. 

So how about you? I'd love to hear about what you remember from science class. Was it something interesting and slightly icky like dissecting frogs or did you have incredibly dull science teachers like Mr. Stuempfle, my seventh-grade teacher? If so, you have my sympathies because science should never be boring. We'll be back on the second Friday of April with a brand-new installation. Thank you for visiting The Museum of Me!

Thursday, March 9, 2023

Small Wins: March 2023

I've been lucky enough to have some small wins over the last month and here are a few of them. 

  • I knit two pairs of socks in the past five months but I've been afraid to wear them because my heels are so rough and I don't want to wear the socks out prematurely. I don't remember where I came across this but I can highly recommend Dr. Scholl's Severe Cracked Heel Balm. I've been using it a couple of times every day and it works really well and smells great. 

  • I got my yarn scale and have been having fun weighing my Sophie shawl every twelve rows or so in hopes that I will be at the halfway point and can start decreasing. I'm not there yet, but hopefully soon!

  • I was hungry for some cinnamon swirl bread and decided to try making some with no gaps around the filling. I read the King Arthur recipe and they recommended using an egg wash on the dough before sprinkling the cinnamon-sugar filling and rolling it up tightly. I've always used butter in the past, but I tried the egg wash, and voilĂ  - no gaps! Next time I might walk on the wild side and add raisins. 

  • This last one is a big win. We got our taxes done and we are getting refunds from the federal government, DE, and NJ! We owe capital gains to MD from selling the house there but our gains were offset by some rather large losses to our 401k. The losses were painful but they made what we owe to MD less painful. I'm especially glad that DE has to pay us back for a change. 

Here's hoping that you've had some small (and large) wins of your own recently. Please feel free to tell me about them in the comments!


Wednesday, March 8, 2023

Unraveled Wednesday: 3/8/23

I'm happy to join Kat and fellow Unravelers for Unraveled Wednesday, with something new and springy. I'm still knitting on the Sophie shawl, but to be honest, it's becoming a bit of a slog. There was my initial excitement when I got my yarn scale, but so far it has not yet told me that I've reached the halfway/decrease portion. I'll spare you another photo of an off-white shawl that looks fairly similar to what I showed you last week. 

But my fingers have been almost itching to work on a Hitchhiker, so I looked through my stash, found a couple of skeins that I liked, and cast on.


I meant to do a row of yarn overs every couple of teeth but kept forgetting until I had done six teeth. Now I'm doing them every six rows and calling it a design element. Many of you may be too young to remember when they used to sell pastel-dyed chicks at Easter, but that's what these colors remind me of. Hedgehog Fibers calls this colorway Foam, but I'm calling it Spring Chickens. My sister and I used to hope that the Easter Bunny would bring us cute little chicks, but thankfully he never did. This is close enough for me. 

I finished three books this week. The first was an advance reader copy of a lovely WWI story, Beyond That, the Sea by Laura Spence-Ash. In 1940, 11-year-old Beatrix Thompson's parents send her from London to the United States in hopes that she'll be safe from Hitler's bombings. Bea is lucky enough to end up in Boston with the Gregory family. She misses her family terribly and they miss her, but she quickly fits in with 13-year-old William and nine-year-old Gerald. Bea learns how to swim at the Gregory's island summer home, excels academically, and grows into a teenager. When the war ends, she is unsure about where she belongs and fearful about returning home to a different London and a much different family than the one she left. It was a wonderful four-star read told from a unique and different perspective. The book will be published on March 21. 

I loved Wintering by Katherine May but I'm afraid I didn't quite get the point of the author's newest, Enchantment. She begins this short book with a good description of how I feel post-covid, and how I think many others feel - exhausted, disconnected, and isolated. The author then goes on to try and define and search for enchantment: “small wonder magnified through meaning, fascination caught in the web of fable and memory.” This book didn't speak to me, so it was 2.5 stars, rounded up.

But I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed Maame by Jessica George. Maddie Wright is a 20-something young woman who lives in London, the daughter of Ghanaian immigrants, has a father with Parkinson's Disease, a mother who spends most of her time in Ghana, and a brother who is no help at all. Maddie is struggling, emotionally and financially, but she is dutiful and intelligent, doing the best she can working and caring for her father, all while receiving criticism from her mother. Maddie has been forced to be a responsible woman throughout much of her life, but when her mother returns from Ghana, Maddie moves out of her father's home and begins to live her own life. She experiences plenty of pitfalls but Jessica George has written an engaging character that the reader is always rooting for. The book also deals with racism, family duty, grief, and depression, with both humor and pain. I was struck by how a seemingly simple nickname can sometimes be a cruel thing.

Now I'm re-reading The Shipping News to get ready for our Read With Us blog and Zoom book discussion on Tuesday, March 21st. I do hope you'll join us!

What are you making and reading this week?

Monday, March 6, 2023

That Takes Balls

Wool dryer balls, that is. 



I was reading The Wool Wire from Clara Parkes and she had a review of wool dryer balls:

"Wool dryer balls have been around for at least a decade, and that's not counting all the years people have used tennis balls instead—which historically were covered in wool felt. But I'm always interested to see someone discover wool dryer balls for the first time and write about the experience. This author tested some wool dryer balls made in Nepal from New Zealand wool and came away a big fan. She noted:

These dryer balls have eradicated chemicals from my life painlessly. No sacrifice, no discomfort and a huge financial savings — because at $15 for six, these balls do cost more than a large box of my (now former) favorite dryer sheets. But where that box gets me through 244 loads, my wool dryer balls promise more than 1,000 loads each — that’s more than five years’ worth of laundry! And because they cut drying time by two-thirds, I’m saving a bundle on my energy bill. And they don’t add garbage to the planet — because if and when they lose their magic powers, my cat will make great use of them forever and ever."

That started me wondering if wool dryer balls might work for me. I don't use fabric softener, often hang clothes on the line indoors by the furnace, and when it's nice outside I almost always hang things to dry outdoors, so obviously, they wouldn't help in any of these situations. But I do use my dryer a couple of times each week in the winter, mostly for towels and bedding. The dryer balls might be useful if they helped to keep my sheets from just getting tangled up in one big mass in the dryer, and I'm all for saving electricity. I've seen claims that they can cut drying time from 25 - 66%, and while I'm inclined to believe that it's somewhere near the lower number, that is still a savings in drying time and electricity.

So, wool people, do any of you use wool dryer balls? Do they work to keep clothing from getting tangled in a mass in the dryer? Do you think they cut drying time at all? I would appreciate any pros or cons you can offer. Otherwise, I might have to get a cat to play with them if I order them and they don't work. :-) Thanks in advance!


Thursday, March 2, 2023

Good Repair Juju

I was the recipient of some good repair juju earlier this week, and it feels like I need to express my thanks to the universe for how easy and cheap this turned out to be. 

John was in the basement doing something manly and came up to ask me how to reset the water softener. It's a bit finicky, losing all of its programmed settings every time the electricity even flickers. It's always been my job to reset things (not difficult, especially because I have all the settings written down in the manual on the appropriate page), so I sighed, put down my knitting, and trudged down to the basement.


Except the water softener didn't have any power so simply resetting it wasn't an option. We do have hard water and mainly need the water softener because of our oil burner furnace. It provides both heat and hot water and there is some sort of magical, expensive heating element inside. If the heating element is exposed to hard water for any length of time, it gets coated in mineral scale, doesn't work, and needs to be replaced. I've never seen this mysterious part but we did have to replace it when we first moved in because the older woman that was living here hadn't been able to lift the 40-pound bags of salt to refill the water softener for a long time.

John went to get his multi-meter and I got to see how to test the electrical output from the end that plugged into the water softener. There was no output, so John figured that we could order a new power supply from Amazon for $21.98, have it in two days, and be back in business softening water. 

So that's what we did, and it worked perfectly! I was even able to look it up on Amazon with the old part number and find just what we needed. I'm very grateful that this repair was only $21.98 and easy enough for me to do. 

Here's wishing that you all experience good repair juju in whatever needs to be repaired in your lives!


Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Unraveled Wednesday: 3/1/23

I'm happy to join Kat and fellow Unravelers for Unraveled Wednesday, with some actual unraveling. 


I set the Sophie shawl down quickly and some of the i-cord stitches on the edge slipped off the needle. For some reason, I couldn't get them back on the needle without an ugly interruption in the i-cord. After much frustration, I did what I should have done all along - I ripped it out, wound the yarn into a loose bundle, soaked it to get rid of the ramen from all the previous knitting, and hung it by the furnace to dry.


While it was drying, I wound one of the other skeins and started the shawl again. 


I'm going to keep increasing for a while, but Amazon is delivering a kitchen yarn scale tomorrow so I can accurately determine when I've used half of my yarn and can start decreasing. 

I finished two books this week, and they were both surprises. I eagerly started I Have Some Questions for You by Rebecca Makkai shortly after I got the hold notice. I hoped for good things because I loved The Great Believers by the same author.  About 50 pages in, it became clear that these are very different books. Questions was a combination of literary fiction, mystery, thriller, coming of age, dark academia, a story about podcasts, feminism, #metoo, a courtroom novel, a critique of true crime, or some combination of genres. I don't expect authors to keep writing the same book as they have previously, but by writing this odd combination, I think Rebecca Makkai has diluted all of them and written a novel that is far less than the sum of its parts. 

One thing I liked about the book was how the author addressed memories. Too often in murder mysteries and crime shows, people seem to have total recall of what happened years ago, with little or no confusion and exquisite detail. The memories that Makkai has written in this book are much more nebulous and recalled with some confusion and gray areas. It seems that we might all be unreliable narrators when it comes to relying on memory, but I don't know that that works well in a novel. By the end, the reader has a fairly good idea of who murdered Thalia, but there are no Columbo or Hercule Poirot moments.

I wish this was a better book for me, mainly because I know Makkai can write a better book. Two and a half stars rounded up. 

While that was a slightly surprising disappointment, I was pleasantly surprised that I enjoyed The Revenant. Justin told me a couple of weeks ago that The Revenant was probably the best movie he's ever seen, and encouraged me to watch it. I was skeptical and thought that it might be too gory for me but decided to try it. While I waited for Amazon to deliver my DVD, I got the audiobook from the library. I was impressed by Michael Punke's writing, on the edge of my seat with anticipation to find out what happened next in this epic tale, and grateful for heat, food, modern medicine, and all the comforts of our modern-day life. Punke tells the fictionalized story of real-life trapper Hugh Glass, his mauling by a grizzly bear, and how he survived and traveled hundreds of miles after being abandoned by the men that had agreed to stay and give him a decent burial after he died. It's a novel about revenge, the American frontier, hardship, brutality, and perseverance, but it's much more of a study of human nature.

I enjoyed reading about a time that I knew little about, Anstadt rifles, trapping, Native Americans, and exploration in this adventure novel. The author's notes at the end provide a more complete historical perspective. I did end up watching the movie, and while it differed from the book (they always do), it was very good in its own right, and not gory as I feared. The settings and musical score make it a beautiful movie in many ways.

What are you making and reading this week?

Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Ride Into the Danger Zone

Last Saturday I took a ride into the danger zone. Ha, not really. If you've read even a few of my previous posts you probably know that I'm danger-avoidant, not an adrenaline junkie at all. 


I went to the library. This is not the branch I usually frequent, but rather the North County branch, a whole 25 minutes away from home. I was on the library website placing a few holds and when I signed out, I saw a big notice: "Matinee screening of Top Gun: Maverick has been added. "That sounded like a fun movie, and since it hasn't yet made its way to streaming, I checked it out. It was starting in an hour, so I reserved a seat and asked John if he wanted to go. He didn't have any interest, so I headed into the danger zone by myself.

And it was a fun movie! There were only four of us in attendance, so I didn't have to feel too concerned about being in a large group in public. They even had closed captioning on. I don't know if this is the norm, but all four of us were senior citizens so it didn't hurt. One of the other women seemed to be enjoying herself so much that she added to my enjoyment. As soon as the lights went off she popped the tab on a can of soda and broke out a bag of popcorn. She laughed, cheered, clapped, and generally had a good time. I may take some refreshments of my own the next time I watch a movie at the library.


I checked the library calendar when I got back home and there are loads of groups that meet, along with movies and concerts every week. I don't think I'd fit in with the Beginner Ukulele Lessons (it's meant for students 6-12), but I did sign up for a Celtic Harp concert this upcoming Saturday. It might not be a ride into the danger zone, but it will be something new and fun for me. 


I've always relied on the library for books, but now I'll also look forward to movies and concerts (but maybe not ukulele lessons or Pokemon card trading). 

What kind of programs does your library have? 

Monday, February 27, 2023

Why: A February Update

I spent much of February "getting comfortable with my word", asking why about why. I ask myself why many times each day, sometimes about small things like why Fels-Naptha soap is called that (because it originally contained naptha which is another word for the carcinogen benzene, no longer in the soap) and sometimes about bigger things. These bigger things include what I want my remaining years to look like and what I have to do to make that happen, and wondering why other people significant in my life might be acting in certain ways and the best way for me to respond in turn.

The thing that has guided me most this month has been a quote from Albert Einstein: "The important thing is not to stop questioning; curiosity has its own reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when contemplating the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of the mystery every day. The important thing is not to stop questioning; never lose a holy curiosity."

--from statement to William Miller, as quoted in LIFE magazine (2 May 1955).

So I'm going to keep trying to comprehend a little of the mystery each day, and I hope you are, too. 


Thursday, February 23, 2023

Who Wrote This?

I can hardly read the news lately without hearing ChatGPT mentioned. I've been curious about it for a while, so I decided to give it a try. Except ChatGPT is always at capacity and after being told to check back later for at least a week, I decided to look for some alternatives. I chose sites that let me try it for free without inputting my phone number or credit card information.

I came to Perplexity first and gave it a try. I was trying to compare ai results with something written by an actual human being so I instructed it to "write a blog post about the significance of knots in the book The Shipping New by E. Annie Proulx."

Here are the results from Perplexity:

In E. Annie Proulx's novel The Shipping News, knots are used to represent relationships and the complexities of lifeQuoyle, the protagonist, is born in Brooklyn and raised in a series of dreary upstate towns. Throughout the story, knots are used to illustrate how relationships can be tied and untied, formed, unformed and reformed. Tangible knots also come into play in the habits of Quoyle's cousin Nolan and the aunt's upholstery business. Knots also serve as a reminder that the book is grounded in realityJeff Dean is an engineer at Google who has become legendary amongst employees for his intelligence and prowess at Connect 4. Jokes about him are commonplace amongst employees, such as one suggesting he can win Connect 4 in three moves.

It seems readable and on par with the writing of an average middle school student, until you get to the part about Jeff Dean. Perplexity provides citations that let you know where they got the information, but I couldn't find Jeff in the provided citation.

Next, I tried Writesonic with the same prompt:

The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx is a novel about a man’s journey of self-discovery and healing after a series of life-altering tragedies. Throughout the novel, knots serve as a metaphor for the protagonist’s struggles to come to terms with the past and to reach a new kind of equilibrium in his life.

Knots are first mentioned in the novel when the protagonist, Quoyle, begins taking a class in knot tying. This is a metaphor for Quoyle’s attempts to untangle the knots of his life he has built up through decades of self-loathing and pain. The knot tying class serves as a way for him to unwind, if only temporarily, as he begins to take steps towards self-improvement.

Knots also appear throughout the novel in reference to Quoyle’s relationships, specifically those with his daughter and his newfound love interest, Wavey. In his relationship with his daughter, knots represent the struggle to form a bond, as the two are distant and estranged throughout the novel. Similarly, in his relationship with Wavey, knots serve as a reminder of the challenges of forming a new connection and of the difficult emotions that come with it.

Knots appear in the novel in a variety of other contexts, from Quoyle’s attempts to connect with the locals in his newfound home of Newfoundland to his struggles to come to terms with his past and the trauma he has experienced. The novel is ultimately a story of healing and redemption, and knots serve as a powerful symbol of the challenges and struggles that Quoyle must overcome to find peace.

The Shipping News is a powerful tale of resilience and hope, and the use of knots as a metaphor throughout the novel serves to emphasize this by showing the reader the challenges that Quoyle must face and the strength he has to confront them. It is a reminder of the healing power of overcoming one’s own struggles, and that even in the darkest moments, there is still light to be found.

This felt a little more complete, without any mention of Jeff Dean. I don't recall that Quoyle took a class in knot tying, but I haven't finished my re-reading for Read With Us, so Writesonic may be right (but I have my doubts).

Just for comparison, here is a link to the blog post I wrote on Tuesday about how the author used knots in The Shipping News. The subject isn't quite the same but not surprisingly, I'm still partial to the human writing.

I noticed that Writesonic can also generate images with Photosonic. This sounded promising so I decided to give it a slightly tricky test with "freshly baked loaf of English muffin bread on cutting board".



I was pleasantly surprised that these images were not terrible - sort of loaf-shaped, with nice slices, and even some crumbs. I hadn't even managed to confuse the ai by asking for a loaf of English muffin bread. For comparison, here's the loaf of freshly baked English muffin bread baked and photographed by a human:


A little more loaf-shaped but I am slightly more tempted by the ai bread. I bet the human-baked bread will taste better. 

The next time I am struggling with writing a blog post or a book review for goodreads, I don't think I'll resort to using ai. But it is interesting and does give me pause. For now, keep writing, humans!