Wednesday, April 30, 2008

April: Beauty

For this month's BAM Challenge I read Dinaw Mengestu's The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears, a novel about an Ethiopian immigrant who owns a convenience store in Washington DC. Sepha Stephanos is caught between two worlds. He cannot go back to the life he left 17 years ago, but neither can he move forward in his new life in America. He tries when he meets his new neighbor Judith and her daughter Naomi; he comes to look forward to Naomi's daily visits and hopes for a relationship with Judith. When he discovers that Naomi's father was also African, he feels as though Judith just wants to fill the space he left and that he cannot possibly do it. He is still very taken with her but they are unable to ever really come together. Meanwhile, tensions in the neighborhood are mounting with increased rents and the resulting evictions. Judith is threatened, and when her house is burned down she moves away.

Sepha's two close friends are also African immigrants. Joseph is from Zaire and Kenneth is from Kenya. Like Sepha, Joseph's father was successful, but they both have very modest lives in America. By contrast, Kenneth's father was illiterate but Kenneth is now a successful businessman who dresses in suits every day and in many way embodies the American dream. Sepha and Joseph both talk about Africa continuously but Kenneth tires of their nostalgia for home.

Many issues are addressed in this book and I see now why some cities have chosen it for their One City One Book programs. It is especially pertinent to certain areas, like Somerville, that are also struggling with issues surrounding immigration and gentrification. But it's not just a book about issues, it's a beautifully told story about a man who just wants to be happy and have a better life, which is something we can all relate to.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Shedir, finished

This was a fun project. I used less than skein of the Lion Brand Microspun I had in my stash. My head is pretty small so I omitted a pattern repeat (or possibly two, I can't remember). It fits well and it's perfect for spring!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Eating locally

Author Barbara Kingsolver and her family moved to a Virginia farm and embarked upon a year-long experiment to eat only local foods, most of which they grew or raised themselves. They managed to get through the year in great shape with plenty of food, including what they canned, dried, and froze for the winter. I just finished reading her book about the experience, Animal Vegetable Miracle, and have been inspired to move to a farm and grow all my own food. Since this is a bit impractical right now, I'll settle for shopping at farmers markets and maybe growing just a few things at home.

Kingsolver's book has completely shamed me for not only buying produce out of season, but not even knowing when certain foods are in season at all. I have had vague notions, like lettuce=spring, corn=summer, winter squash=winter but I didn't know that, for example, the asparagus season is only a couple of weeks long. I think my upcoming foray into gardening will help me out in this department considerably.

In fact, we spent a good part of Monday in the back yard, raking up leaves and debris and clearing out rocks, used to outline some long ago garden beds. Also we took a trip to home depot for some plants and seeds. We have little pots of lettuce, basil, rosemary, and peppers on the window sill waiting to be planted, as well as packets of carrot, pumpkin, and string bean seeds. We're going to put a raised garden bed in one corner of the back yard and hopefully will grow something edible.

The farmers markets don't start up until late May, but now that the weather is better it is more practical to go farther afield for a better grocery store. After a long and lovely walk to Central Sq this weekend, we went to Harvest Co-op, my favorite natural foods store. There we found not only better produce than Stop n Shop (which isn't too hard) But! Also! LOCAL tofu and tempeh! Srsly. There's a company in Jamaica Plain called 21st Century Foods that makes tofu, tempeh, and a number of other exciting products. My newfound locavorianism also conveniently coincides with the news that my favorite coffee shop, the Sherman Cafe in Union Square, will be opening a market selling only local foods. How fantastic! It's still in the planning stages, but still - this is great news!

It's not exactly what Kingsolver and her family have done, but for someone living in an urban area I think it's a pretty good start. I'll probably never grow enough produce to can it for the winter (and kill us both from botulism, probably) but I do feel committed to taking these small steps towards a more local diet. I still want chickens, though. Maybe next year.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Smooshy Sock Yarn!

Remember my mention of fabulous prizes for the February sockdown? Guess what? I won a fabulous prize!

Two skeins of Dream in Color Smooshy Sock yarn:

They were donated by Sonny and Shear (tagline: "I Got Ewe, Babe") and were packaged up very nicely with a lovely card and a couple of packets of yummy herbal tea. The pink colorway is called Petal Shower and the green is Spring Tickle. They also include a small sample of a colorway called Chewy Spaghetti. They are quite lovely - take a closer look:

This is perfect because I have so many sock patterns in my queue, and for some strange reason the local yarn stores just don't have the variety of sock yarns that I require. This is a real treat!

Monday, April 14, 2008

It's the end of the world as we know it: a booklist

Adams, John Joseph, ed. Wastelands: stories of the Apocalypse
A collection of 22 short stories about human survival at the end of the world by authors including Orson Scott Card, Elizabeth Bear, Octavia Butler, Jonathan Lethem, and Stephen King.

Brin, David. The Postman
A survivor traveling across the post-apocalypse United States assumes the role of a "Restored United States" postal inspector, restoring hope and uniting other desperate survivors.

Butler, Octavia. Parable of the Sower
In a dystopian future in which the world is ravaged by global warming, disease and racial tensions, a young woman suffers from hyperempathy syndrome, a condition that causes her to feel the pain of others as though it is her own. When she is forced to leave her home she spends her journey recruiting others to her new faith, becoming a prophet who holds hope for a new world.

Hoban, Russell. Riddley Walker
Written in a strange yet familiar pidgin English, a story about life in Britain after nuclear holocaust which has reduced humanity to a semi-literate iron age.

King, Stephen. The Stand
A mutating super flu wipes out over 99% of the world's population, leaving the survivors in a battle between good and evil that will determine the future of the planet. This lengthy, complex, and detailed novel contains a cast of richly-drawn characters and metaphysical and philosophical themes.

King, Stephen. Cell
A fast-paced novel in which cell phones turn people into zombies, and those few untouched by this technological warfare band together to protect themselves while helping one man search for his young son.

McCammon, Robert. Swan Song
Frequently compared to The Stand for it's post-apocalyptic themes of good vs. evil and it's strong characters, this novel takes place in a world ravaged by nuclear holocaust.

McCarthy, Cormac. The Road
It doesn't get any more desolate or bleak than this. A man, his son, and their shopping cart travel south after an unnamed catastrophe has destroyed the US, and possibly the world, headed towards an uncertain future.

Miller, Walter M. A Canticle for Leibowitz
This scifi classic takes place after the Simplification, a nuclear holocaust that plunges the world back into the dark ages. Following a group of monks in a Utah abbey, the novel spans hundreds of years to illustrate the cycles of humanity, and emphasize that those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it.

Pfeffer, Susan Beth. Life As We Knew It
When an asteroid knocks the moon out of its orbit and closer to Earth, severe weather wreaks havoc on the world's population. One teenage girl chronicles her life with her family as they struggle to survive in the aftermath. (Pfeffer's forthcoming companion novel is called The Dead and the Gone.)

Rosoff, Meg. How I Live Now
15-year-old Daisy leaves Manhattan to stay with her cousins at a remote farm in England, during which a world war breaks out. Her aunt, traveling in Norway, is unable to return as terrorists take over the country, including the farmhouse, and begin a years-long occupation.

Shute, Nevil. On the Beach
A classic novel of nuclear annihilation. A group of friends in Australia bide their time until the fallout reaches their shores to kill them all.

Stewart George R. Earth Abides
A plague has wiped out almost all humans, and Ish Williams becomes the leader of a small band of survivors in California. Although they escaped death, Ish realizes that the world they knew is gone forever.

Zelazny, Roger. Damnation Alley
The last surviving Hells Angel faces a choice of life in prison, or a job driving a case of antiserum across country to the plague-ridden people of Boston. He chooses the road trip across a war-destroyed America in which the population has moved to the coasts, leaving the interior of the country a dangerous wasteland.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The proper way to begin a project

With the heartbreak of this sweater freshly in mind, this would be a good time to describe the proper way to begin a project.

Eric has requested a "fisherman's sweater" so we spent a great deal of time looking through patterns, which were narrowed down to three choices from Alice Starmore's Aran Knitting. After choosing a pattern we went to A Good Yarn in Brookline. Much yarn was fondled and a choice was made: Jamieson's Shetland Heather in the color Ivory, which of course the store didn't have nearly enough of.

I found one online retailer in the US that could supply me with the needed quantity of yarn, Kirtland's Yarn Barn, a one-woman show in Dellwyn, VA. Here is the exciting lovely yarn:

mmm, so pretty.

Before casting on in wild abandon, as I have been known to do in the past, I took the time to swatch. For the pattern we chose, Irish Moss, I made two swatches and neither came out with the correct gauge even after blocking. I didn't want to go with smaller needles because the yarn is too thick and I don't want this sweater to be able to stand up by itself.

The options were as follows:
1. Alter the pattern so the yarn could be used. I did some math and came up with ways this could be done.
2. Choose a more appropriate pattern.

Normally, I would not recommend choosing a pattern based on the yarn because that has not gone well for me in the past. However, in this case there were two other fine patterns in the running and I realized that the gauge in both patterns was appropriate for the yarn. St. Enda was chosen and I swatched again. Again - and I cannot stress this enough - I washed and blocked the swatch.

The gauge is ever so slightly too tight (a half stitch) but a more aggressive block could easily fix that. Also, the sizing on this sweater is even larger than the other, and the small is a little too big, so it should all work out. (What is up the 10 inches of ease that Starmore designs in her garments? You may as well wear a couch cover.)

I have cast on and will post a photo when I have knit enough that it's worth looking at.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Certain Girls: a review

When last we left Cannie Shapiro, she had a new baby, a new man in her life, and had just completed a novel. Twelve years later we rejoin her, her husband Peter, and her twelve-year-old daughter Joy. Unhappy with the publicity from her best-selling novel written in anger so many years ago, Cannie has spent the last decade secretly writing science fiction novels under a pseudonym. She has shielded much of her past from Joy, which only adds to the difficulties in their relationship in the months leading up to Joy's bat mitzvah as Joy becomes suspicious and begins investigating her family's past. IMeanwhile, Peter has decided that he wants to have a baby, sending Cannie on a search for a surrogate mother.

The perspective shifts between Cannie and Joy, allowing the reader the full story. We know what Cannie has been through, what has made her the way she is, but Joy sees only an unfashionable, overprotective mother with an embarrassingly large bosom. What she knows of Cannie's past she has gleaned from the pages of Big Girls Don't Cry, Cannie's novel full of embellished truths. Because of the addition of Joy's perspective, I was slightly less sympathetic to Cannie in this novel than when I read Good in Bed. But similarly, I was probably less sympathetic to Joy than I would have been without Cannie's perspective, so perhaps it evens out.

All in all a great book, which didn't surprise me as Jennifer Weiner's books are consistantly well-written. If you get a chance to hear her read, don't miss it! She's just as hilarious in person as she is on paper. And don't forget to check out her blog, A Moment of Jen.
I'm still confused about why the LJ review found necessary to mention the prevalence of the word "fuck" in this novel. It does pop up now and then (and I'm sure I noticed it more having read that review) but it's not on every page, or even in every chapter. I'm baffled.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Many little cables

I've begun the Shedir hat from Knitty with some Lion Brand Microspun I've had hanging around for a while. This was a great opportunity to try a new technique - cabling without a cable needle. I have long put off trying this because it involves slipping live stitches off the needles, which seems like a ridiculous thing to do on purpose. It's every bit as annoying and fiddly and awkward as I expected, plus the yarn is slippery and splitty which makes it especially challenging. Still, it's not terrible and I think it's worth it for this project because of the sheer number of cables involved.

I wasn't sure if this hat was going to be for me or my mom (it IS a chemo cap, after all) but it felt a little tight when I tried it on so I think it will be for me. I'm kind of glad - I think it will be cute on me!