Lessons My Mother Taught Me

My mom was amazing. She had a life that could serve as the foundation for a novel, but to me she was just mom. The lessons that she taught me were a reflection of her time, but they have turned out to be good life lessons for any generation. Here they are:

  1. We are all citizens of the world. My mom was born in Japan to American citizens of Swedish descent; her first spoken language was Japanese. The family lived overseas due to my grandfather’s job, and she was raised in Illinois and Argentina. Along with the English that she learned in America, she was also fluent in Spanish and had some French on the side. After marriage she lived in Hawaii and Southern California. She had a cosmopolitan view of the world and would not tolerate any prejudice of any kind. If she didn’t like someone, it was absolutely personal. Lesson learned.
  2. People are more important than money. My parents valued service to others and the nation above making money. My mom was a nurse and my father was in the civil service. They gave as much money as they could to charity; one year they were in the newspaper because they had donated so much to The United Way. My mom was a pediatric care nurse when I was young, and she fostered some of her patients who needed homes after leaving the hospital. She always gave 10% of her income to her church. We weren’t rolling in money but we always had enough. I learned from mom that you don’t need money to be rich.
  3. The most valuable thing you acquire in life is your education. My mother was admitted to a university after finished high school, but her father wouldn’t let her attend. When I wanted to go to college myself she moved mountains to make it possible for me, and then entered college herself. We raced to graduation with mom finishing a few months before me. She told me we were making the best investments of our lives, and she was right. Cancer cheated her of her Master’s Degree, but I thought of her the entire time I worked on mine. The diploma on my wall is hung next to her picture. Thank you, mom.
  4. Get your vaccinations! My mom was a Red Cross nurse during the polio outbreaks of 1945. It was a dreadful time. She was a nurse at an outbreak in Illinois where hundreds of people became ill, and many died or were left with lasting damage. When the polio vaccine became available we were some of the first to receive our shots. She worked on the pediatric ward of a county hospital and saw many children die or suffer permanent injury from “childhood” diseases such as measles and diphtheria. Throughout her life she insisted that we get every vaccine available as soon as we could. To this day I regard vaccines as one of the greatest achievements of science.
  5. Take germs seriously when it is appropriate, but don’t worry about them the rest of the time. Wow, we learned draconian germ control methods when there was an outbreak of illness in the house. Safe food handling was a way of life for us. Otherwise, things were pretty casual. She kind of felt that your immune system needed to see germs to develop normally, and mom would have laughed at all the anti-bacterial products on the market. I have to say, I very rarely become ill. Mom knew what she was doing.
  6. Repurpose, recycle, reuse, and eat your leftovers! My mom was a child of the Great Depression. She did her homework writing in the margins of the newspaper. She invented Life Hacks before anyone else knew about them. She knitted, sewed, cooked, and made all of our presents. She empowered me to learn how to sew baby clothes, can peaches, tape drywall, lay tile and make plumbing repairs. This is also why I can’t seem to throw away all my biology teaching stuff in the garage. I just KNOW I can use some of it again for SOMETHING.
  7. It never looks how long it took you to do something, only how well you did it. Usually this was said as I ripped out a zipper to sew in for the third time. I think she meant it to comfort me, but it was really good advice. Don’t ever settle for less than your best.
  8. Feed your roses every month, prune them every three months, and if they don’t produce the way you want them to after a year, rip them out and go get some new ones. Mom took her roses seriously and her roses were amazing! People came off the street, knocked on her door, and asked her about them. I remember them as 6 feet tall and always blooming (OK, this was San Diego and such things were possible). When you think about this, her advice for roses is also good for life. Sometimes, no matter how much love, care and time you spend on someone or something, there comes a point where you should cut your losses and move on. You leave that job, your marriage ends, best friends get downgraded. That’s life, mom would say. Move on.
My mom in 1986. She died of cancer a few months later.
My mom in 1986. She died of cancer a few months later.

My mom died 28 years ago this week, but her lessons live on. It is not possible to minimize the effect that she had on my life. Her lessons grounded me, and I’m still trying to live the example that she set for me. She surrounded herself with books and read every day. She established a scholarship to allow a woman to enter the ministry, created nursing courses to meet the needs of her community, and wrote her congressman when she wanted action. She was a woman of faith who demanded evidence before she made a decision. She has been and continues to be the role model for my life. I love you, Mom!

Happy Mother’s Day!

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Swedish Family Bootie Pattern

Wow. This week I was definitely stuck in the baby bootie knitting rut. I went ahead and made two more pairs for friends of my original customer; kind of a ripple out effect. While I was making them I realized that while the pattern is pretty simple and straight forward, it is hard to visualize what is happening. So here is the pattern, exactly the way that it was taught to me, with picture support. The booties in the picture are being made on 2.25mm double pointed needles with Broncos Football colored fingering yarn that I bought at my local yarn store. In case you haven’t guessed, this is Broncos Country since I live in Colorado.

Cast on 10 stitches. Knit each row (this is garter stitch) until you have 18 ridges on each side.

This little rectangle of garter stitch will become the sole of the bootie. Like those Bronco colors?
This little rectangle of garter stitch will become the sole of the bootie. Like those Bronco colors?

You have knitted a cute little rectangle that is going to be the bottom of the baby bootie. Now things get a little tricky as you need to bust out more double pointed needles. You already have 10 stitches on one needle. Without cutting the yarn, turn the rectangle and pick up 18 stitches on the closest long side of what you just knitted with a new needle.  Use a 3rd needle to pick up 10 stitches along the bottom of the rectangle, and a 4th needle to pick up 18 stitches on the final long side. This is what you now have.

Stitches are now picked up so that you can start knitting the sides of the bootie.
Stitches are now picked up so that you can start knitting the sides of the bootie.

Needle management is an issue as you knit these booties. I use square metal needles, which hold the yarn fairly well, but you may want to use wood or bamboo needles as they grip the yarn nicely and won’t fall out. I am using 6″ needles in these pictures, but if you have smaller needles you may want to use those.

Mark the start of the round, and knit four rounds of purl stitches, then four rounds of knit stitches, then four rounds of purl stitches, then four rounds of knit stitches, and then finally four rounds of purl stitches. Got that?  You just knitted up the side of the bootie, and it should look like this.

This is the view looking into the bootie from the top.
This is the view looking into the bootie from the top.
Side view of the bootie after the sides are knitted. The knit stitches don't show as they fold themselves in, but they are there.
Side view of the bootie after the sides are knitted. The knit stitches don’t show as they fold themselves in, but they are there.

Now we are to the part where I always got lost and gave up. My mom would just say, “Now you knit back and forth from one end catching a stitch from each side as you go.” Say what? What she should have told me it that starting with the 10-stitch end I just knit across, turn the bootie and knit back across the stitches with the toe of the bootie towards you. Knit the 10th stitch on the needle together with the stitch on the side needle closest to the corner. Turn the bootie with the heel towards you and purl back across the 10 stitches, and purl the last stitch on your needle with the stitch on the side needle closest to the corner. You are creating the toe box for the little baby foot, and you are knitting stockinette stitch.

Creating the toe box: I'm knitting across the 10 stitches and the stitch from the side is already on my needle (the blue stitch to the far left) waiting to get knit together with the 10th stitch.
Creating the toe box: I’m knitting across the 10 stitches and the stitch from the side is already on my needle (the blue stitch to the far left) waiting to get knit together with the 10th stitch.

Continue doing this until there are only 10 stitches left on each side needle. Turn the bootie and knit one round across all 4 needles. To make things clear let’s call the toe needle #1, and the other needles are #2, #3 (the heel), and #4 as you knit around. You will be starting the round with the toe stitches on needle #1.

Closing the gap after completing the first round of the ankle by knitting the stitch BELOW the the last stitch on needle #4 together with the first stitch on needle #1. stitch on
Closing the gap after completing the first round of the ankle by knitting the stitch BELOW the the last stitch on needle #4 together with the first stitch on needle #1.

As you arrive at the needle #1 again after the first round you need to do some trickiness to close the gap so you won’t have a hole. You can pick up a stitch in the gap and knit it with the first stitch on the toe needle (#1), but I pull up the stitch below the last stitch on needle #4, place it on the tip of needle #1, and then knit the two stitches together. Sweet! If that seems confusing just pretend we didn’t have this discussion, pick up a stitch, or close the hole with a little yarn on a needle when you have finished the bootie. No one will know the difference.

Knitting the rounds of the ankle of the bootie.
Knitting the rounds of the ankle of the bootie.

Knit two more rounds, and then create the holes for the bootie’s tie during the 4th round this way: (K2, YO, K2together), repeat until you have finished the round. Knit 20-25 more rounds (until you think it looks pretty good), and bind off. The top will roll. I think that this top looks pretty good if your yarn is really busy.

Finished bootie with the cookies I baked while knitting the ankle.
Finished bootie with the cookies I baked while knitting the ankle.

If the yarn is a little more sedate I often finish the top by knitting 15 rounds, then 5 rounds of garter stitch (three purl rows), and then casting off with a picot bind-off.

Pink Baby Botties
Superwash wool booties made from Malabrigo Arroyo on 3.0 mm needles for a 3 month old baby.

You can use knotted i-cord for the ties like I did here, or crochet laces like my mom did, or even use a ribbon. Happy knitting!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Swedish Knitting Genes

I grew up in the world of knitting. The neighbor was having a baby? Baby booties were produced like magic. I needed a red sweater to match a new outfit for school? Ta-da! It arrived in the mail from my grandma. I didn’t know there was any other type of dishrag than the knitted kind. When mohair sweaters became popular, a fluffy pink one arrived under the Christmas tree. All the women of my family knitted, and suddenly, around the age of 8, I was a knitter too. I made slippers for everyone, made clothes for my dolls, and began to collect my own knitting needles and yarn. There were some off years, but by the time I was a mom myself there was hardly a day when I didn’t find some time to knit.

Hey, it’s not like I had a choice in any of this. This is the fault of my mom, her mother and all those ancestors living in the Swedish countryside who passed down these knitting genes. I think that  knitting was probably a survival skill back in Sweden, but once the family was in America and located in the desert Southwest the knitting continued. It’s hot in New Mexico and Southern California, so a lot of that knitting  was done for the house (placemats, bedspreads, pillows, and even a tablecloth) and gifts. In general, if there was spare time and you couldn’t read, some knitting got done: obviously a genetic trait!

Knitting Heritage
My knitting heritage: a placemat made by my mom, a knitting pattern from grandma, and antique wooden needle case and wrapper.

I received a lot of  knitting artifacts from my mother, aunt, and grandmother as the years went by and their knitting stopped. I have antique patterns, old needles and hooks, and even an ancient darning egg. I still have some of the things that they knitted, and a little collection of patterns that my grandmother knit up and sent to my mom over the years. Of all the girls in the family, I am the only one who is a compulsive knitter, and so I got the stash. The knitting gene must be a recessive one I guess.

Pink Baby Botties
Superwash wool booties made from Malabrigo Arroyo on 3.0 mm needles for a 3 month old baby.

One of the patterns that I remember the best from my childhood is for a baby bootie that my grandmother used to make. The big deal about the bootie was that it was kick-proof and it stretched as the baby grew so that it could be worn for a few months. My mom and her sister also made these booties, and the pattern (oral tradition only – I never saw this thing in writing!) was explained over and over to me. I’m not an auditory learner, and I never caught on until the booties for my own boys arrived. Then suddenly I understood the pattern as I tied the little booties onto their tiny feet. Clever, clever, clever. The whole bootie is constructed in one piece and definitely performs as advertised. I loved these booties and used them until the boys were walking. Now I make them for other people.

White Baby Booties
Bootie made from KnitPicks Stroll on 2.25 mm needles for a newborn.

This weekend I made two pairs of the booties for the office manager at my car repair shop, who needs to give them to new mothers as baby gifts. They are just little booties, but they are so much more than that. They are the past, the present and the future all at once. They are my connection to the women of my family who gave me the pattern and the Swedish knitting genes. With each stitch that goes into them the gift lives on.

The baby bootie pattern was written up by Christine Bourquin, a woman about the same age as my grandmother, and was published as a letter to the editor of a magazine in 1989. The pattern and more information can be found online at Fuzzy Galore. There is also a great online tutorial posted by Major Knitter. I wonder if Christine was Swedish?

Duct Tape Story

I really like duct tape. I always had a roll in the classroom, and used it for emergency repairs, to anchor equipment in labs (like the bases of Bunsen burners) and to cover electric cords on the floor and tables. I used it to build hanging shelves for plants in my greenhouse. I repaired textbooks and lab notebooks with it. I would caution students (in jest, of course!) that I had duct tape, and I wasn’t afraid to use it! With a small tool box and duct tape, there isn’t much that an enterprising biology teacher can’t handle.

Smart Bed
Me working with a student on a temperature and pressure sensing “smart” bed. See all the pink duct tape?

I came out one day at work and discovered that my car had been hit on the bumper. I put duct tape on it and that was that.

A few years later, pushing my cart to the collection area in the parking lot, a woman stopped me. “That man just hit your car!” she said. Yep, he had. The crack on the bumper was now much bigger. The man who hit me was still there so I confronted him. He was an African, spoke with a British accent, and was pretending that he hadn’t hit my car. “Don’t lie to me”, I said in my best teacher voice. “If I walk to the front of your car I’m going to see the paint from mine, so just admit that you did it and apologize!” He did. Looking at his earnest, apologetic face, I suddenly saw my refugee students from Mali, Congo, Burma, and Sudan reflected in his manner and voice. One of my best friends, an immigrant from Nigeria, would kick my butt if I caused this man trouble. I thanked him for the apology, and when I got home I put on more duct tape. That crack was now much larger, but duct tape was on the job!

Backing out of a parking spot at Best Buy a few weeks ago I suddenly hit something. You guessed it, there was another car backing out at the same time and we were in each other’s blind spots. The bumper was now completely crushed in. No amount of duct tape would fix this! It had to be repaired. The other party, a visibly shaken up elderly woman who had been parked in the handicap spot, could hardly communicate with me. I found myself comforting her and telling her it was OK; since her car was undamaged, I would just take care of mine and we would call it a day. I decided to pay for my car repair out of pocket since it was kind of a no-fault deal, and I needed to get it repaired anyway. The repair was an economic blow at a bad time, but how could I make an insurance claim when the bumper was encased in old duct tape?

So I asked the auto repair shop where I should take my car to get it fixed, and took the car to the local shop they recommended. The girl in the office seemed strangely familiar: she was a former student! Yeah! The business was owned by her father, and she worked there in the office. She was the only person there who spoke English well.

Students Collecting Data
Students collecting data in hands-on lab about respiration.

Aside: I taught Sheltered Biology one year, and she was a member of that class. All of those students were non-English speakers and many were refugees trying to cope with a crash landing into our culture, struggling to learn a new language, and finding biology, a subject area that uses a new vocabulary every 6 weeks, a definite challenge. Students huddled together, shared visual materials, copied from each other, utilized lots of body language and built shared support books. We did lots of hands-on activities, labs, and watched video after video. It was the best of times and the worst of times.

There was lots of discussion in Spanish, parts were ordered, and the crumpled bumper part was removed. We agreed that I should come back the next week to have the new part installed.

Today I arrived at the collision repair shop, nervous about the cost, and discovered that there was a problem. The broken bumper part had disappeared somehow and the red reflector and the mud flap were missing. While the shop workers searched for the missing part, there was a phone call from the paint store. When the part had been taken there to get matching paint another shop’s employee had mistakenly taken it with them to Boulder (a city 45 miles away!). It had just been returned. Amazingly, this stranger had taken the time to return the bumper before we even realized it had gone missing.

Half an hour later the wandering bumper piece was back. The beautiful new bumper with perfectly matched paint was on my car flashing its reflector and mud flap like a pro. Stumpy (my car) looked great again! I turned to my former student and asked her how much I owed.

“Oh, we’re not charging you for this”, she said. “You’re my biology teacher!”

Teaching: the gift that keeps on giving! As I drove away with tears in my eyes I reflected on duct tape, kindness, and how I am connected to so many people over distance and time through this little car bumper. Car injuries often bring out the worst in people, but with a little caring and duct tape you can find that people are essentially honest and kind. What a lucky, lucky person I am.

 

 

Abaddon’s Gate

Abaddon: destruction, the place of death

After I had raced through Leviathan Wakes and Caliban’s War I took a little breather, knitted some socks, and then took up the third book in The Expanse series by James S. A. Corey,  Abaddon’s Gate. I really liked the first two books in this series, and had high, high expectations for this book. I could hardly wait to start it. Not too long after digging in I began to realize that something was wrong.

Bobbie! Where was Bobbie (AKA Gunnery Sargent Roberta Draper of the Martian Marines)?

That’s right. The story has moved along and the characters who joined the crew of the Rocinante in Caliban’s War have moved on with their lives. The Protomolecule on Venus has built and launched a huge Ring that is now located out beyond the settled Belt region of the solar system. It appears to be a gateway to another place. It is not clear what this means, or how it will impact humans, but Mars, Earth, and the Outer Planet Alliance (OPA) all scramble to send ships to observe and study the Ring. It is a power struggle. Each fleet is anxious to protect the interests of their home populations while preventing any other group from achieving an advantage. Additional ships carry advisory boards, film crews, political and religious leaders, and other important/interested parties. Everyone senses that this is a pivotal moment in human history, and there is intense maneuvering to gain importance, insure legacies, secure elections, or become the interpreter of events. Oh yeah, there are also some scientists who plan to study the Ring.

Once again the story is told by characters experiencing events in different locations and circumstances. Holden is back on the Rocinante, and he is getting regular visits from “Miller” (from Leviathan Wakes), who appears to actually be an interface with the technology that controls the Ring. Clarissa Mao, connected to events in the previous books, hates Holden beyond reason and has created an intricate plan designed to disgrace and destroy him. Anna, a religious leader, gentle, resourceful, protective, and reflective, wonders what the Ring means. She struggles with the implications of impending contact with “something else”, and wants to support humanity during the time of adjustment. Bull, a no-nonsense head of security on the OPA ship, heads a mutiny to prevent an attack on the Ring.

This is an action-packed book. The fight to control the OPA ship is so intense that even the crew of the Rocinante wished they could have Bobbie back. And yet, the tone of this book is somehow different from the other two in the series. There is less snappy dialogue on the Rocinante; there is more tragedy and a sense of desperation in this plot. People come unglued. This book is also about revenge, faith, sacrifice and redemption. I liked the book, and found it to be remarkable on several levels. I am really looking forward to the next book in the series, Cibola Burn.

Gosh, maybe Bobbie will be back in that one…

 

 

 

Just Desserts: Serenity Socks

What can I do? I went to my favorite yarn store over the weekend, and they had this absolutely fabulous sock yarn in colors to dye for made by Zen Yarn Garden . I have a lot of sock yarn already, but sometimes a skein is so unique and perfect that I just can’t pass it by; I just know that I will never see it again. This yarn was called Serenity 20 and it was 20% cashmere, 70% superwash merino wool and 10% nylon. In other words, a yarn that is wonderful to touch, can be machine washed and will wear well. I found a skein that was extremely interesting, put it back on the shelf, and then took it down to look over at least twice more before I decided that it needed to go home with me. It was part of what they call their Art Walk Series, which I think means that the yarn is dyed in colorways that invoke specific works of art. This skein is inspired by Ice Cream Dessert by Andy Warhol.

This is the label that came with the skein of yarn.
This is the label that came with the skein of yarn.

Not a great shot, but you can sort of see the colors in the picture; the yarn is dyed in these same colors, and these colors go with almost everything in my wardrobe. I love mauve and plum colors, am constantly in denim jeans and darker blues, so the colors are perfect matches. The socks made from this yarn will blend in with most of the things that I wear. To be honest, now that I am retired, everything that I wear goes with jeans!

So, here is the yarn.

Ice Cream Yarn Closeup

The socks that I decided to knit are my old favorite, Chouwa from the book Knitted Socks East and West. I love this book, and have made several of the different patterns, but Chouwa is my go-to pattern. The socks always fit and wear well, no matter what yarn I am using. I know it so well that I can knit away while watching TV or reading. The word “chouwa” means harmony, and what could be a better match for a yarn called Serenity?

Here's the finished sock!
Here’s the finished sock!

I knit the socks while watching Firefly. (I’ve been watching all the old Firefly episodes because I just read some books that reminded me of the show). As it turns out, this was the perfect show to be watching while making these socks. I mean, what else can you watch while knitting socks made with Serenity yarn? Can’t help but think that the crew would have enjoyed some ice cream dessert and that while the socks invoke the harmony of the tea ceremonies that Inara conducts, they would have been a favorite worn by Kaylee while working in the engine room.

Caliban’s War

Caliban: from Shakespeare’s The Tempest. A subhuman offspring who seeks to repopulate his region with others like himself.

This book is the second in the The Expanse series written by James S. A. Covey. I’ve been re-reading some of my favorite books during the current publishing lull, and I read through the first book in the series, Leviathan Wakes, in about three days. I knew that I should take a couple of days off to catch up on other things but I dived right into the second book of the series, Caliban’s War. I just loved the characters so much I couldn’t wait to spend more time with them.

Well, that was a bad decision in terms of completing important tasks such as getting my income tax filed, house cleaned, and garden started, etc. Time stopped for me as I raced through the book in this, my third reading. Now to write about why this book was so good. I decided to call my sister, the English major, to get some help. “Oh, she says, “I never think about why I like the book. I really like how the book is written.” Oh, dear. I’m not qualified to talk about literary craftsmanship (I once asked a fellow teacher, in all seriousness, what a “thesis statement” was…), so I guess I’ll focus on the elements that compelled me to stay in bed all day reading the book.

This book picks up the story about a year after the events in Leviathan Wakes. It continues the tale of the Rocinante, the ship crewed by the survivors of a horrific attack on an ice mining ship. In the first book the crew saved the Earth from an alien technology (the Protomolecule) that would consume and remake all living matter according to its own design by crashing the asteroid carrying it onto Venus. There, that’s the end of that!

Nope. The game is still afoot: political entities and/or unknown corporations are secretly developing new technology using the Protomolecule with little regard for the welfare of others. Once again, seemingly random events occurring in different regions of the solar system need to be connected to figure out what is happening.

The old crew of the Rocinante remains intact, and during the book new characters join them. The characters grow in the telling of the tale, and I really like all of them. The story is told in Caliban’s War from the perspectives of Holden, Rocinante’s captain, and the new characters;  their understandings and viewpoints create a richness to the story that is really compelling.

One of the themes of Caliban’s War is that of system cascades. In biological and other systems, damage to a portion of the interconnected system can be repaired or compensated for by other units in the system. As the cascade gains momentum, however, everything begins to fall apart. This happens on Ganymede, the site of greenhouses that grow the majority of the food for the outer belt region of the solar system, but it also occurs with the clandestine Protomolecule research, the political status quo of the solar system, and even to some extent to the characters we meet in this book. All three of the new characters become damaged in some way, but each recovers, redirects, overcomes fears, and regains competence. They are not taken down by their individual system cascades. They ask the big questions, collect information, make correlations, and shrug off misdirection.

Here they are:

  • Bobbie:  Martian marine, and the sole survivor of the Protomolecule technology monster attack that triggers a shooting war between Mars and Earth. She ends up on Earth as part of the investigation into the events on Ganymede where the attack happened, and joins the staff of an Earth government official. Suffering from PTSD, in a place and job that is not her own, we don’t understand at first how very, very competent she is. Oh, did I mention that she has mechanized armor with kick-ass weapons attached?
  • Prax: Ganymede botanist and single father of Mei, a child with an immune system disorder who is abducted just prior to Bobbie’s monster’s attack on Ganymede. Starving, distraught, and desperate, he seeks Holden’s assistance to get his daughter back. His focus, drive, and insights, due to his personality and scientific training, are essential components in  the story  as seemingly unconnected events come together.
  • Avasarala: Earth government official and diplomat, she is shockingly foul-mouthed and direct. She adds Bobbie to her staff when she realizes Bobbie is the only witness to a Protomolecule weapon attack. Anchored by a remarkable and loving marriage, she relentlessly pursues the answer to Bobbie’s question: “Why isn’t anyone talking about the monster?” In a solar system whose planetary power politics and economic concerns drive actions and policy, she maneuvers to discover the truth behind Protomolecule weapons development while keeping a nervous eye on Venus where the Protomolecule from Leviathan Wakes is actively growing and building something.

See, great characters. As the events in the story proceed they all arrive on the Rocinante to join Holden and the crew. As the Rocinante’s crew interacts with the newcomers they grow and we learn more about them. What’s even better about this is that these rich characters and interactions occur within the context of SPACE OPERA! There are space battles, monster attacks, zombies, guns, explosions, you name it. The science is believable (even the zombies), the story well-constructed, and never a dull moment for the reader. There were a couple of points where I would have been biting my nails if I wasn’t flipping pages so quickly.

And that’s why I just read the book for the third time.