Social Distancing? Here’s some Books to Read!

When I heard a library in a nearby town was closing due to Covid-19, I rushed to mine to stock up for the self- quarantine ahead. Here’s some titles I’ve read in the past few weeks.

American Dirt. I don’t understand the criticism. If we start demanding cultural appropriation for everything we read and watch, we’ll be left with little. In the midst of virus obsessing, maybe it’s easy to forget that there are children in cages in the US. This book reminds us and should keep us good and angry on Election Day.

Apeirogon is a mathematical term that defines “a shape with a countable infinite number of sides.” That itself is a paradox and Colum McCann’s use of the term to describe the political, historical, and geographic situation in Israel and the relationship between Israelis and Palestinians is one of the cleverest accounts I’ve ever read. He tells the story of two fathers, one Israeli, one Palestinian, who each lost daughters to violence. They become friends, speaking out about peace. Read it.

A 12-year-old is the sole survivor of a plane crash that takes his family in Dear Edward. How he survives after is the story. Quick read.

I listened to Isabel Allende’s Long Petal of the Sea. History and romance spanning decades. I also listened to The Lager Queen of Minnesota; finally a book that made me laugh out loud. A welcome respite!

We started watching The Hunters, a compelling Al Pacino as a Nazi hunter in NYC in the 1970’s, based on true events. We also started Bonfire of Destiny, also based on true events, and await the Philip Roth’s Plot Against America. In between, we watch debates. Thanks to social distancing, I may actually complete an interminable needlepoint project and cut into my yarn stash.

And about social distancing. Having a dog makes us get out for walks. We’ve got plenty of food, though I question the wisdom at the grocery store that allowed for long lines as everyone stocked up. For me, the hardest part is not being able to see the grandkids. Heartbreaking.

Stay healthy everyone. Send me your reading and watching suggestions!

 

 

 

 

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Alexander Weinstein’s Universal Love

I recently took a long plane ride to visit grandchildren living in Israel and then had a few days in London on the way home. I had a chance to read Alexander Weinstein’s new collection of short stories, Universal Love. The eleven stories are futuristic tales about our relationships to our partners, our children, our friends and colleagues, and our planet. They utilize imaginative technology in ways to demonstrate how we communicate with each other.

I thought about these stories when I entered England from Israel. I was “fast-tracked” so could slide through the immigration security line without waiting. I scanned my passport and the gate opened, I went through. There was no human interaction, no questions about the purpose or length of my stay. Likewise, when I returned home, I easily used my Global Services and TSA-Pre status to repeat the procedure, completely avoiding any human contact. There was no stamping of my passport, no “welcome home,” comment from US TSA officials.

While Alexander’s stories expose the permeation of technology in every facet of life, in many ways we’re already there. People are in front of screens all the time. I still read real books and newspapers, though I have an e-reader. What I miss with the e-reader is that I can’t see what people are reading, there’s no entry into a conversation about the book, the author, tastes in reading when you can’t see the titles. People walk around plugged in, stuffing Q-tip like appendages in their ears. They’re on the phone, they’re listening to podcasts, but whatever they’re doing, it precludes interruption for conversation. Biometric technology is already common place, as are all the hazards: hacking of personal data, hacking of community computer systems and coffers, and hacking of elections.

Here’s comments on a few:

In “The Year of Nostalgia”, a grieving family is able to connect with their deceased wife and mother through an app called Nostalgia. She’s able to reappear as a hologram.

The parents in “We Only Wanted Their Happiness” have chips removed from their children to reduce their addiction to screens.

In “Childhood,” two robots, Joey and Lacey are adopted as children. Lacey starts to remove her emotion card and later runs away, leaving Joey to question his existence: is he a son or merely a consumer item?

Alexander addresses world issues with three stories addressing climate change and one immigration. They’re edgy and provocative. They’re just enough above the norm to be speculative fiction, yet they’re eerily too close for comfort.

At a reading and book signing this week at the cozy Community Bookshop in Brooklyn,  I had the chance to hear Alexander (who happens to be my cousin), speak about this book and his writing process. His first collection, Children of the New World, published in 2016, took him 10 years to write. Following that publication, he was immediately signed to create another, which he did in two years, writing 14 stories at the same time. Several stories from the first book are in the process of being made into movies.

These are both great books for teens to adults and great for book club discussions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Books, commentary, environment, Reading, reviews, Technology, teenagers | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Holiday Movies: Dark Waters, Little Women, & Judy

Our holidays were filled with fun family gatherings, lots of eating, and lots of movie watching.

Dark Waters, the true story about the lawyer that exposed DuPont’s dumping of toxic chemicals in West Virginia waters, made me paranoid about my cookware. I know I’m not alone in thinking I have to replace a few old non-stick frying pans. Scary and sobering and a reminder how important science  is and how government regulations and oversight must continue to protect consumers.

Renee Zellweger convincingly plays (and sings) Judy Garland in Judy, a biopic about the star’s last concerts in London. While it’s well known about how she was mistreated as a child star with starvation diets and pills to keep her young looking, what’s extremely sad is seeing how this affected her entire life. Despite being beloved in London, Garland is separated from her children, adding to her depression and substance dependency.

See Knives Out, a fun who-done-it caper packed with stars.

Then there’s Little Women. At first I resisted this one, as I’m still unsure about having classics rewritten and reinterpreted. I also loved the 1994 movie starring Winona Ryder and Christian Bale. But the film has received so much publicity; it seemed every time I turned on the radio or television I heard an interview with Greta Gerwig, the director. It was a rainy afternoon and the movie was showing nearby, so we went. My husband was one of three men in the theater.

The film starts nearly at the end of the story and jumps around chronologically. It took a little getting used to. The setting is pure New England and the pond ice-skating made us both miss our own childhoods before climate change made that activity practically obsolete. My only complaint is the casting of Timothee Chalamet as Laurie. He’s young and very skinny and doesn’t seem too into the part. My husband didn’t understand my grumbling and I explained that every girl of any age that sees Little Women wants to fall in love with Laurie and this actor didn’t do it for me.

This adaptation makes the others seem a bit saccharine and sentimental. Life in the 1860’s   wasn’t so terrific, especially for women. Jo perseveres and becomes the writer we all dream about and it remains a lovely family story. I wrote about the longevity of Little Women here: https://cyclingrandma.wordpress.com/2018/10/11/happy-birthday-frankenstein-little-women/

Also worth seeing: Marriage Story, Maiden, and The Nightingale.

Any suggestions for others? I’m also looking for some good book ideas as nothing has grabbed hold for a while.

Happy New Year!

 

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Finished Projects: Cowls, Crowns & a Cardigan

 

When I travel, I like small knitting projects that squish easily into my carry-on bag and are handy for car transfers. I had some grey alpaca yarn and a pattern for a cabled cowl that I brought on a trip to California last spring. However when I started the pattern, I realized it wasn’t working well for the yarn. I probably needed thicker yarn and needles. What to do? I can’t read in a car, and hate being idle.

So I invented a pattern, that I’m calling the Sonoma Cowl. After finishing my own, I made four more for presents. It’s an easy, knit-in –the –round pattern that uses under 200 yards of worsted weight yarn (perfect for tackling the stash), and has four stitch patterns that make the project go quickly and keep it interesting.

Here are the cowls:

Here’s the pattern:

Cast on 100 stitches. Work one or two rows of garter stitch and then carefully join in the round being careful not to twist the stitches.

Begin rib stitch: Knit 3, Purl 2 for about 3 inches. (You can do 2 knit, 2 purl too if you prefer a tighter rib.)

Knit a row and decrease every 10 stitches (knit two together) to 90 stitches.

Begin zig zag pattern. I don’t know if there’s a proper name for this stitch but this is what I did:

Round one: Knit 8, purl 1
Round two: Knit 7, purl 1
Round three: Knit 6, purl 1

Continue this way- your line of purl stitches will move right for a few more rows or as much as you like, then do the reverse to create the zig zag: Purl one, knit 6, Purl one, knit seven. You can also do this the other way around.

After about three inches of this, knit a row and decrease again every 9 stitches. (to 80 stitches)

Begin Mock Cable:

R1: sl 1 , k2, psso, p 2
R2: k1, yo, k1, p2
R3 & R4: K3, p2

Do this for another three inches. Then do a few rounds of garter stitch—knit every round. This will give the cowl a nice roll neck. Bind off loosely using a larger sized needle.

There’s no real guage. You can vary the stitches, the length. If you have questions, please email me

I made seven (yes, 7!) crowns for the grandkids I’ll be visiting in a couple months in Israel.

And finally, I made my grand-daughter another fair isle cardigan to replace a previous one she outgrew and is now being enjoyed by her younger cousin.

I hope your holidays are filled with wonderful knitting projects!

 

 

 

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I am a doctor and thank God I have Health Insurance!!

via I am a doctor and thank God I have Health Insurance!!

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Thank a Veteran; Vote!

I took two of the grands to their town’s Veteran’s Day parade this morning. Opening ceremonies before a statue of a World War I doughboy included patriotic music by the high school pep band and speeches by the district’s congressman, a state assemblywoman, and the town’s mayor.

While each expressed their thanks to veterans—the standard, “thank you for your service,” and the assemblywoman cited programs offered for vets in the county, the mayor called for everyone to thank vets by hiring them, renting to them, by helping in their communities, and by voting in every election. Veterans, she said, served to protect our rights; we need to vote to preserve what they fought for.

As a member of my local League of Women Voters, I’ve been involved in a few voter registration and education events prior to Election Day last week.

I moderated a debate for Board of Education candidates. Held in a large high school auditorium, there were maybe 20 people in attendance. Given  the magnitude of money and responsibilities associated with Boards of Education, and given that there were five candidates, and assuming some of those present were family members, that’s a disturbing turnout.

I registered voters at a local community college. I walked around the student center, interrupting their conversations and their studying; taking the few minutes I had their attention to remove their headphones or ear buds to invite them to the League’s table to register to vote. Many said they were registered; some said they would do it later. Many had no idea there was an election this year.

A friend of mine who lives in New York state, shared how because two candidates split the votes in one party, people in the other party assumed their candidate, an incumbent state legislator, would win and didn’t turn out. The opposition won.

Apathy is scourge of democracy. In my own town, four candidates ran for city council seats, all ran unopposed. Without debate, democracy weakens.

Every election counts. Vote to thank the veterans who served so we can vote.

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Scary Books & Scarecrows!

Looking for a few good horror stories to tingle your spine and keep you awake at night? I’ve read these three in quick succession.

The Testament. Margaret Atwood’s long-awaited sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale. While I read the original book and saw the movie, I’ve been somewhat addicted to the Hulu television series. With news reports continuing to deliver stories of limits on abortions, curtailment of health care, and democracy spiraling out of control, reading more about Gilead doesn’t always feel like fiction.

Pursuit. Joyce Carol Oates delivers a tight, tense tale in fewer than 230 pages. Abby leaves the morning after her unconsummated wedding night and walks in front of a bus. Is it an accident or a deliberate move? Her husband stays by her side during her recovery – physically and emotionally as he helps her unravel the trauma of her childhood.

The Institute. Stephen King’s latest moves fast. Twelve-year-old Luke Ellis has special powers- he has the ability to use telekinesis. He’s kidnapped from his family’s home (his parents are murdered), and taken to a remote area in Maine, to the Institute. He meets other children who are either telekinetic or telepathic. They are subjected to many physical and mental tests—not too unlike those employed by Nazis- with the goal of removing the special powers and using them for national security purposes. Chilling.

 

All three deal with children being subjected to evil by adults and separated from their parents. Perhaps not the stuff of happy fiction, but a reminder of the reality too many kids face.

 

On a more cheerful note, I walked through downtown Madison, Ct. recently with my mother and admired the scarecrows created by local businesses, schools and civic groups.

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New York City: Art & Theater

 

Just my luck the day  we had theater tickets in New York City the temperatures climbed to the mid- 90’s—a record for October. I’d planned to stop in to a couple exhibits before dinner and wasn’t going to let the heat deter me.

First, I visited the Hauser & Wirth gallery in Chelsea to see the Amy Sherald: The Heart of the Matter exhibit.  Her portrait of Michelle Obama made her famous; and her star continues to rise. This eight -portrait exhibit is her first New York show. The space is enormous and her portraits are huge—and powerful. I love her titles. This one is “If you surrendered to the air, you could ride it.”

  

This one is “Sometimes the king is a woman.”

I walked back uptown on the High Line—a lovely respite from the traffic- clogged streets. There artist Ryan Sullivan’s four abstract paintings adorn and complement the scenery.

 

I took the subway to 49th street to pop into Lucy Sparrow’s Delicatessen on 6th. This was a very low-calorie experience as everything is made from felt. Whimsical, fun and everything’s for sale.

By then I was really hot so I splurged on a taxi to Lincoln Center. I had time before dinner so cooled off in the NY Public Library branch based on the plaza and enjoyed the exhibit celebrating the late director Hal Prince.  Much of the show including letters – that lost art—and revealed so much about how he came to be and the history of musical theater.

We saw Robert Schenkkan’s The Great Society. It’s the sequel to his first play, All the Way. Both chronicle President Lyndon Johnson’s presidency. The first ends with the passage of the Voting Rights Act and the second begins with the creation of the Great Society programs. We’d seen the first one in New York years ago. Cast with 22 actors, some playing multiple roles, the play spans 1965-1968. Johnson had dreams for so many initiatives to help people—and many were foiled as funds were diverted to the Vietnam War. It’s history; it’s worth seeing.

 

 

 

Posted in art, Civil Rights History, commentary, Museums, galleries, New York City, Theater, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Bonjour, Provence!

 

When our friends Kevin and Allan invited us to join them in Provence, we couldn’t resist the chance to explore another part of France by bike. I found a trip offered by Discover France that met our needs perfectly. Instead of traveling place-to-place each day, this trip was based in the village of Gordes – where our friends were staying. The company supplied us with maps and a variety of routes for us to select from each day.

Gordes dates to the Roman times, and served as a refuge throughout history, including as a center for the Resistance during World War II. Its narrow, cobblestone streets wind around the mountain to the valley. Fortunately there are well-paved roads that allow for car and bike travel.

September is less crowded and less hot than summer in the south of France and once again the French roads and reverence for cyclists didn’t disappoint. Local foods and wine, lavender fields, olive groves, and historic sights made for the perfect getaway and chance also to visit with friends.

There were a total of 10 of us. While we biked each day, the others visited vineyards, museums and villages, catching the colorful market days. We joined them for drinks and dinner and shared our experiences.

The area is also known for mountains – and we climbed a few- and stone quarries. One quarry in Les Baux-de-Provence, has been an unusual museum since 2012 when it partnered with Carrieres de Lumieres,  to create immersive art exhibits. Each year a different artist is featured, this year was Van Gogh. For about 45 minutes, we ambled through the quarry as the paintings came to life, accompanied by music. Truly spectacular! We had already toured enough of the countryside to see how the area inspired Van Gogh’s painting.

Kevin and Allan are scouring the countryside for property for a vacation home—so we’re sure we’ll be back.

 

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Chatfield Hollow State Park, Killingworth, CT

I unloaded my mother’s walker from the back of my car and set it up by the  passenger side door. Gingerly, my mother grabbed hold of its sides and climbed out of my car. We ambled carefully on the gravel to reach the boardwalk– an 825-foot path through a red maple swamp in Chatfield Hollow State Park.

As long as can I remember, I  have been coming to this park, just over a mile from my childhood home in Killingworth, CT. I rode my bike through the park on a “date” in fourth grade; I’ve taken swimming lessons in the lake; I’ve hiked the many trails that crisscross glacial ridges, stony cliffs, a covered bridge, a waterwheel and caves where Native American artifacts have been found.

My family is lake lovers—we’re fair-skinned and shun the sun at the beach—and when I traveled with my parents and siblings, and later with my three children, we always searched for fresh water swimming.

Originally a grist mill operated by three brothers, named Chatfield, who emigrated from England around 1639, the area became a park in 1933 when the Civilian Conservation Corps built an earth and stone dam across the brook and created a seven -acre swimming beach, planted pine trees, cleared hiking trails and picnic areas.  It was designated a state park in 1949 and remains under state management.
The wetland boardwalk was built and has been upgraded with informational signs, describing the flora and fauna of the swamp.

I’ve often taken my mother for walks here and we enjoy experiencing the seasons from the boardwalk. Since her stroke and her recovery, we’ve mostly walked on the paved road. It’s been the perfect place for her to get some exercise and fresh air.   This time I suggested we try the boardwalk and appreciated how it made nature accessible to her.

 

 

 

Posted in aging, environment, Family, Nature, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments