Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Tale of the Three Repairmen

Once upon a time there were three repairmen.  The first repairman was smart,  the second repairman was of average intelligence, and the third repairman was stupid.  There lived at that time a Beautiful Queen who had many children.  One day, the Queen's washing machine broke and she appealed across the land for someone to help her, for she had much laundry to do.

The repairmen's master sent the repairman of average intelligence to help the Queen.  The repairman of average intelligence said to the Queen, "I know what is wrong with your washer, but I can not fix it today.  I will return in one week."

A week passed, and during that time, many packages of washing machine parts were delivered to the Queen's palace.  This time, the repairmen's master sent the stupid repairman.  That day, the Queen was away from home, but she left a note for the repairman.  The stupid repairman said, "I can not read these slanty, joined-together letters." The Queen's son, a handsome prince, read the note out loud to him.  The stupid repairman said, "I still do not understand what is wrong with this washer, but I see all these boxes of parts.  I will put the new parts into the washer and all will be well."  The stupid repairman went away, well satisfied with his day's work, though he left a dent in the Queen's washer.

The Queen came home and discovered that her washing machine was still broken.  She was very angry and wailed most piteously to the repairmen's master. The repairmen's master now sent the smart repairman for he feared the Queen's great wrath. The smart repairman said, "I know what is wrong with this washer and it has nothing to do with all these new parts." He showed the Queen a silver coin that had been jammed into the machine's motor.  The silver coin must have fallen out of the handsome prince's pants one day when the Queen was washing them.  The Queen realized that the coin was the very same type of coin she had been feeding into the machines at the laundromat these many weeks, but the irony did not hit her until much later.

And so, the Queen's washing machine was fixed, and they all lived happily ever after, except for the repairmen's master who was out $650 for (unnecessary) parts and labor, but that was his own fault for designing a machine with a motor that is vulnerable to stray coins, and for hiring stupid repairmen.

Becoming a bike commuter

My bike is tuned up and I successfully completed a test ride to my new office and back.  It took twenty-one minutes, cycling at a leisurely pace and coasting on the downhills.  That's a few minutes less than it takes me to walk to work now. The hills were more manageable than I was expecting.  The worst one is the first one I encounter after leaving my house (Elliott Ave, westbound, approaching Ridge St, for locals who are following along).  It's not the steepest hill, but it's the longest.  I used to ride up that hill on my way to the hospital when I was in patient care and I would recite the alphabet to myself over and over to distract myself from the difficulty.  This time, I summoned the admonitions of my cycling instructor when we are doing hills in class.

My ride to work

It's a relief to know I can handle the hills, but I identified some more dangerous traffic spots.  Our department is being moved to a "research park" on the edge of town, near a junction with the interstate.  I'll need to make a left turn into the park, and fighting my way into the left turn lane, among the hundreds of drivers who either also work at the research park or those who are going straight to get to the interstate will be difficult.  The entrance to the park is a steep uphill, at the top of which I'll have to turn left again, so I'll be desperately trying to stay ahead of drivers who might be pissed that there's a bike in their way.  Honestly, this intersection will be potentially so awful, I might have to cross to the other side of the street at a safer spot and then just walk my bike the last bit or ride very, very slowly on the sidewalk.

I'll also need to cross the north/south railroad tracks.  Yesterday, on my test ride, there was a Norfolk Southern freight train stopped just short of the crossing, like a beast waiting for its prey.  I guess this is where they wait if there's a train on the intersecting CSX/Buckingham Branch line.  It was still lurking there when I crossed the tracks again on my return trip.

I haven't ridden my bike in three years and my helmet was God-knows-where during all that time.  Then, the other day, I noticed it sitting neatly on the brick wall of the patio.  It was as if my guardian angel placed it right where I would find it.  It was caked with mud and and housing a few spiders, and assorted bits of straw and weeds, which I evicted.  I wore it, mud and all for my test ride.  Now I've hosed it off and it's as good as new.  I've decided not to buy a pannier, but to just use bungee cords to lash my work bag to the back. (I used to ride with a backpack, but I hate the resulting back sweat.)

All this fuss about a six-mile round trip!  I spoke to my father yesterday.  He's in his seventies and casually mentioned the thirty-mile bike trip he took yesterday.  If it weren't for the cars, I would love commuting by bicycle. Many drivers are courteous, but the few hostile or ignorant ones ruin the experience.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Pajama Pants Weekend

I finished sewing a pair of pajama pants. This was such a fun, low-stress project.  Pajama pants are probably the easiest garment of all.  I used KwikSew 2811, which is as basic as basic can be, but I added piped cuffs to make them more interesting.  I got the fabric at Les Fabriques, and the green gingham for the ties and piping is from my scrap stash.

KwikSew 2811

Yes, they are too big, but they're pajama pants, so who cares?  I seem to have a real phobia about sewing clothes that might be too small.  I cut the pants in a size larger than I really am, but then I noticed that Kwiksew allows only 1/4" seam allowance, so I sewed 1/2" seams, thinking that would somehow make everything right, but they are still a scosche bigger than I would like.  The buttonholes are a disgrace.  I really need to get reacquainted with my buttonholer.  It was behaving so eccentrically, I gave up and made the buttonholes (for the ties) by hand.

The self-fabric ties are kind of ghetto.  Next time I'll
use cloth tapes or a ribbon.

I shortened the pant legs, sewed piping to the bottoms,
and then added the cuffs.

I cropped out my feet.  You're welcome.

What else did I do this weekend?  I went to TRX & Core class on Saturday morning and stopped at the farmer's market on the way home.  It was as douchey and overcrowded as ever, but I bought a bag of baby mustard greens for Jon, who is doing a mung-bean-and-mustard-green cleanse.

I dragged my bike out of the basement and rode it over to Blue Wheel Bicycles for a tune up.  They're moving my office in a few weeks and it will be a little too far to walk to every day.  (Just over three miles.  I'll probably walk once in a while, but not every day.)  I'm a little out of practice with cycling and literally crashed into our bayberry bush, trying to power up the hill in our driveway.  My route to work will have ALL THE HILLS, so I need to get used to that.

I used to commute by bike when I worked as a nurse.  I appreciated the ten-minute commute, but cycling in the city of Charlottesville is like being a hunted animal.  The constant fear of being killed by a car eventually led me to abandon my bike and walk instead.  I'm not thrilled about experiencing that stress again, but the alternative is allowing my employer to dock my pay for the privilege of parking my car while I work.

Anyway, my bike will be ready on Friday, so next weekend, I'm going to do a practice ride to make sure it's really feasible to do this.  There really are some big hills to deal with.  The big traffic danger point will be at the corner of Cherry and Roosevelt Brown Blvd, where I will be going straight, but the majority of drivers are turning right to get to UVA.

Friday, April 10, 2015

The Wilder Life

I departed from my book list--something I rarely do--to read The Wilder Life by Wendy McClure.  Since I want to take a tour of all the Laura Ingalls Wilder homesites, I wanted to read about the someone who had done the same thing.  I didn't want a guidebook to motels and restaurants, I wanted to read about the experience, and The Wilder Life provides exactly that.

McClure starts out describing her own Little House obsession.  It seems we are about the same age and grew up reading the same yellow, 1970's Harper Trophy Little House set--before they got all fancy and started putting a gingham border on the covers.

This picture came from ebay

McClure also discusses her love/hate relationship with the TV show, which is similar to mine.  Let's face it; the Little House on the Prairie TV show is awful, and yet it's impossible to resist.  McClure specifically references one episode that traumatized me--the one in which Ma thinks it's a good idea to try and hack off her own leg with a kitchen knife.  Technically, I didn't grow up watching the TV show because it aired from 8:00-9:00 and my mom enforced a strict 8:30 bedtime.  I think it also aired at the same time as Mork and Mindy, which the rest of the family wanted to watch.  (My mother loved the Little House books as much as I did but she thought the TV show was stupid, particularly Michael Landon's tendency to cry at some point during each show. The flaps of hair over Michael Landon's ears also irritated her to no end.) So my Little House watching was the occasional half hour, with the humiliation of hearing the other girls at school the next day talk about the ending of the show. I remember thinking wearily, "Will I ever be able to see the whole show?" (I saw the leg-hacking episode years after it originally aired, when theoretically, I should have been old enough to handle it. But I wasn't because, OMG MA THINKS THE BIBLE WANTS HER TO AMPUTATE HER OWN LEG.)

Anyway, at first, McClure's quest to find "Laura World" involves doing Laura activities like churning butter and cooking foods from the Laura Ingalls Wilder Cookbook.  I've read that cookbook too, and thanks to The Wilder Life, now remember why I never made the vanity cakes.  The recipe calls for two pounds of lard. Eventually McClure visits the LIW homesites, and at each one catches brief glimpses of the elusive "Laura World" she's searching for.  In addition to visiting the sites, McClure and her husband spend an amusing weekend at a homesteading workshop and find themselves bunked down with a sect of extreme, end times, preparing-for-the-rapture Christians.

She also meets other Little House devotees and points out that among those of us who grew up reading the books, it was common to have some kind of Laura fantasy.  (Thank goodness! )  McClure's was showing Laura around the modern world.  What was mine?  I guess I have to tell.  My Laura fantasy was to have the entire Ingalls family over for dinner during the height of the Long Winter.  It would have been fun to feed them things like vegetables, spaghetti and meatballs, fresh bread and chocolate cake after their months of living on brown bread and potatoes.

I was utterly charmed by The Wilder Life.  It's the sort of book I couldn't wait to get home to read, especially to find out what she discovered at each Laura Ingalls Wilder homesite.  McClure is often funny and irreverent, but there are some serious moments too, such as when she experiences overwhelming emotion at the DeSmet site.  It was really fun to relive my own Laura obsession through someone else's eyes. Incidentally, McClure is the person behind the Laura Ingalls Wilder persona on twitter (@halfpintingalls) who was one of the very first people I followed after creating my own twitter account.

I had started planning my own Laura pilgrimage, and reading The Wilder Life helped me to realize that it might be a lot more fun to see just a few Laura sites at a time, rather than try to see them all in one, massive road trip.  My planning had gotten to the point where I'd written the following insane itinerary:

Day 1: Drive to Malone, NY (11 hours)
Day 2: See Almanzo Wilder farmhouse, drive to Buffalo. ( 5.5 hours)
Day 3: Drive to Chicago (8 hours)
Day 4: Drive to Walnut Grove, MN (8 hours)
Day 5: See Laura Ingalls Wilder sites in Walnut Grove, drive to DeSmet, SD (2 hours)
Day 6: See DeSmet
Day 7: Drive to Burr Oak, Iowa (5.5 hours) see Burr Oak sites
Day 8: Drive to Mansfield, MO (8 hours)
Day 9: See Mansfield museum
Day 10: Drive to Nashville (6 hours)
Day 11: Return to Charlottesville (8 hours)

Obviously, I would drop dead after such a punishing trip and I don't think I'd enjoy the museums very much.  I love road trips and in addition to the LIW sites, I'd like to have the opportunity to stop and visit any cheesy Americana I might encounter on the road.  I'm thinking now about three separate trips.  One to see Almanzo's house.  (My family drove through Malone, NY every summer on our way to Vermont and I always longed to stop, but we never did, beyond an occasional picnic lunch in Malone's town park.)  The second trip would include Mansfield, MO and the site in Independence, KS.  The last, big trip would encompass Pepin, Walnut Grove, DeSmet, and Burr Oak.  I probably wouldn't be able to make the first trip until Fall, 2016.  That's my goal, anyway.

Monday, April 06, 2015

Two chance encounters

I had two chance encounters with strangers, recently--one pleasant and one traumatic.

Around 10:00 pm one evening, I was walking to my car downtown, alone.  I heard footsteps behind me--a woman's footsteps--and she seemed to be purposely matching her pace to mine. I wondered if she felt safer, walking close to me and then I wondered if she was trying to protect me. Perhaps both.  She got to her car first and she called to me, asking if I was OK and did I need a ride to my car.  My car was only a little further on, so I thanked her and said I was fine.  I got to my car safely, but I appreciated her kind offer.

I was walking home from work last week and was in the crosswalk at an intersection.  At this particular intersection, cars approaching the crosswalk have a stop sign, but in order to be able to see well enough to proceed, they need to pull way forward of the crosswalk.  Anyway, I was in the crosswalk and a car was approaching, at a fairly high speed.  I was directly in the path of this car and he didn't slacken his speed at all, but did come to an abrupt stop, at the exact margin of the crosswalk--or about eight inches from me.  So I made a gesture.  Not the gesture you're thinking, but a frustrated, both arms extended, palms out, half shrugging sort of gesture as if to say, "What the hell, dude?"

I have to interject here and say that as a pedestrian, this is one of my pet peeves -- drivers who approach pedestrians in crosswalks at a high rate of speed without slowing down or acknowledging in any way the presence of a human being in their path.  Considerate drivers will slow down a bit.  It's a way of letting you know that they're paying attention, of acknowledging your existence, a reassurance that they're not going to flatten you three seconds hence.  Because drivers, here's the thing:  I CAN'T READ YOUR MIND.  I don't know if you see me in the crosswalk or if you're texting or daydreaming or homicidal.  I really can't fucking tell.  Therefore, it's not okay to speed at a crosswalk when there's a pedestrian in it, even if you fully intend to stop.  Also, I refuse to scurry out of the way of approaching cars, like a god-dammed rat.  I have absolutely as much of a right to cross the street as a motorist does to drive on it.

Back to my situation.  I had made my frustrated gesture, reached the sidewalk and the guy in the car rolled down his window and yelled something at me.  So I yelled back, calling him a fucking asshole. I had turned down the street he'd approached me on, and I didn't look to see which way he went.  I was shaken up.  I don't usually yell at strangers on the street, although maybe I can say in my defense that it had been an even shittier day than usual at work.

I walked a couple more blocks and turned down a different street, when all of a sudden the same car pulled up and honked at me.  This driver had actually looped around and had come looking for me.  I had considered this possibility, so I was ready for a fight.  I've said before that I have a lot of pent-up rage from my cumulative experience as a pedestrian on the streets of Charlottesville, and this was the moment when it exploded.  We had a big, loud, shouting match in the middle of Blenheim Avenue. He thought the fact that he stopped just short of hitting me meant that I had no right to be upset.  He simply could not understand why a person might have a problem with his car speeding at them with no indication that it was going to stop.  "BUT I STOPPED!" he kept shouting.  DO YOU WANT A MEDAL?

There I was, in my best go-to-meeting outfit, brawling in a public street with some guy.  He finally gave up and drove away and I walked the rest of the way home, too traumatized to even tell Jon or the kids what had happened.

I'm not sure if the point of writing about this incident is to illustrate my hyper-reactive state of mind lately, or to point out how much it sucks to be a pedestrian in Charlottesville.  I've heard it said that Charlottesville is a pedestrian-friendly town, and I guess it is if all you're doing is walking for leisure or strolling the downtown mall.  There is, however, a HUGE difference between walking for leisure and walking with a purpose.  I walk to get to and from work, which means I must cross  Avon St., Cherry Ave, Ridge St. and West Main St.  There is no way to avoid them and I frequently have difficulty crossing these streets.

I've been splashed head to toe with icy water by drivers who speed on without a glance.  I've stood in the pouring rain while driver after driver ignores me as I stand at the crosswalk.  I've been nearly killed by turning drivers more times than I can count.  I've had drivers pull into the shoulder to go around cars that have stopped for the crosswalk, and try to kill me that way.  Last year, I was in the crosswalk at the intersection of Ridge and Cherry and a car ran the red light--I estimate his speed was over 60 mph-- and came so close to hitting me, my life flashed before my eyes.  He lost control of his car, jumped the curb, finally stopping on the sidewalk by the tennis courts.  These are the things I've had to tolerate as a pedestrian in Charlottesville and I'm sick of it.  I know it's insane to gesture or call strangers fucking assholes, but it's time for pedestrians to start fighting back.

Friday, April 03, 2015

Reading Project: Iris Murdoch

Several years ago, I set out to read all of Iris Murdoch's novels, and this week, I am finishing Jackson's Dilemma, her last novel.  It's bittersweet, coming to the end of such an absorbing project.  I was dreading Jackson's Dilemma, because it is believed she was beginning to succumb to Alzheimer's disease while writing it.  Indeed, researchers have studied her books from the first to the last in order to gain more understanding of how this disease progresses.  They found that her vocabulary was the richest at the midpoint of her writing career, with a marked decline in her last novel, which was published a year before she was officially diagnosed with Alzheimer's.

Iris Murdoch around the time of the peak of career

To an uneducated person such as myself, Jackson's Dilemma seems simpler than her other novels, but still, perfectly good fiction.  I am enjoying Jackson's Dilemma and find myself engrossed in the story, but apparently, at the time of its publication, Murdoch's regular readers were disappointed.  The New York Times review says that the story is good, but the writing is "a mess" and lists all the places where Murdoch used redundant or trite phrases.  My perception isn't as nuanced as that of a professional book reviewer, but there were some passages in which I thought, "Oh dear..."

Anyway, this post isn't about Jackson's Dilemma, but about the project to read all of Murdoch's novels. I never found reading Murdoch to be a chore, but her novels will stretch your intellectual ability.  You are rewarded with her humor, her engrossing, sometimes suspenseful plots, and the glorious descriptions of her characters and their surroundings, particularly their houses.  And the dogs!  The best dogs in literature live in Iris Murdoch novels.  If you are a dog person, you must read Iris Murdoch.

Of Iris Murdoch's novels, my favorites were:

  • The Bell 
  • Under the Net
  • A Severed Head
  • The Unicorn
  • The Red and the Green
  • The Nice and the Good
  • An Accidental Man
  • The Black Prince
  • A Word Child
  • The Book and the Brotherhood
  • The Green Knight
I read some of these so long ago, I can't quite remember why I loved them the most, but my life has been immeasurably enriched by this project.

I have a couple of other "projects" going on.  I'm reading all of Elizabeth Jane Howard's novels, all of Angela Thirkell's, and there's the fifty classics project.  (I'm supposed to read fifty classic novels within five years.  I'm now just over three years into it, and I've completed only twenty-four, but that includes some heavy hitters like The Brothers KaramazovCrime & Punishment, War & Peace, and a whole lot of Faulkner.  There are lighter things further down the list, so I may make my goal.)  What about you?  Do you ever create reading projects for yourself?