Wednesday, December 21, 2011

"Appraising badminton rackets with an expert eye"

One night I was sitting in my apartment in Japan wondering what the NHK offerings would be when someone knocked on my door. It was Hara-san, the tea lady from work, and a young man about my age wearing a bandana around his forehead. Through an impromptu game of charades (due to my dismal grasp of the language), I finally figured out they wanted me to come play "soft-volley" or volleyball. It turned out the community gym was open Monday nights for volleyball and badminton. Not the garden variety that I played in my grandmother's backyard, but very competitive mixed double's badminton.

This came to mind as I was reading A Question of Attraction by David Nicholls. The main character, Brian Jackson, includes badminton on his college application in an effort to look more well-rounded. It's one example of his many attempts at humor that nobody gets. Entering his first year of university, he tries to reinvent himself by wearing a vintage donkey jacket, writing poetry, and competing on a television quiz show called University Challenge.

Although I haven't finished the book, I'm looking forward to getting back to the experience it evokes. That Monday-night-soft-volley feeling of laughing with oneself instead of at oneself.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Mr. Edwards Meets Santa Claus

We arrived at this chapter of Little House on the Prairie the other night.

As the chapter opens, Laura and Mary have been peering anxiously out the window for days. It's December and there has been no snow in Indian Territory. No snow of course, means no Santa. On top of that, all the rain has caused the creek to rise, and so their one Christmas guest, Mr. Edwards, won't be able to make it either. Pa brings in the Christmas turkey, but even the thought of such a fat turkey for Christmas dinner isn't enough to cheer up the little girls. Ma does let them hang up stockings, and Laura thinks her mother mentions something about white sugar as she drifts off to sleep.

The next morning, Laura is startled awake as Mr. Edwards comes in with a big bundle. He tells the girls he met Santa Claus in Independence, and Santa has asked him to fetch the gifts for the girls. After he tells the tale, the girls are allowed to look in their stockings. They both receive a tin cup, peppermint candy, cakes made with white sugar (and white flour), and a new penny.

"There never had been such a Christmas," Wilder writes.

After the girls thank Mr. Edwards ("and they meant it with all their hearts"), Pa silently shakes Mr. Edwards' hand . And shakes it again. And Laura observes how all of the adults seem to be on the verge of tears.

Yes, they are.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Security Blanket

I'm hopeless when it comes to knitting, embroidery, or even sewing on a button. My daughter recently enlisted my help on a father/daughter project gone teary, and we made a teddy bear...a very long necked teddy bear. After that project, I could have used another kind of longneck.

So I find it sort of curious that when I'm feeling blue, I gravitate toward knitting novels. Having exhausted the Kate Jacobs' series and the Knit Lit books by Beth Pattillo, I picked up a copy of The Knitting Circle by Ann Hood this week.

Hood's novel follows Mary Baxter from scarf to sock to sweater. With each new project, Mary befriends another knitter who frequents the Sit and Knit. With each new stitch learned, she collects another story of lost love. Finally, Mary shares her own story about the death of her daughter Stella.

This novel is similar to other knitting yarns in that it follows a group of women who gather in the community yarn shop. The shop is warm, safe, and cozy with the bright colors of the wares and the tempting aromas of that week's shared dessert. Although the characters could almost be fashioned from the same patterns other books rely one (the aloof expert, the frazzled mother, the lovelorn artist), they too offer a kind of no surprises comfort.

Immersed in the knitters' gossip, I don't have to worry that my down jacket makes me look like an extra from an 80s John Cusack movie instead of the Land's End model mom I envisioned. I don't have to worry about brakes that don't work on ice so that swerving into the Bear Claw drive-thru is the only way I avoid plowing into a line of cars that ridiculously have Michigan license plates. All I have to worry about is getting to the library before it closes. I have The Shop on Blossom Street on reserve. With Christmas fast approaching, I'm going to need it.