Friday, December 25, 2009


Our home-cooked meal for the day was this lovely strata. Eric put it together on Christmas Eve using a recipe from Smitten Kitchen. It was delish!

But on to the handmade presents.

It has bothered me for a few years now that because I brought so many Christmas ornaments to this relationship, a vast percentage of them have my name on them. It was high time Eric had a personalized ornament or two. After considering different appropriate themes I decided to make a Stargate ornament out of polymer clay. It was not easy. But I finally came up with something decent. Notice the lack of any kind of personalization or anything festive. I was so proud it was recognizable I completely forgot my original intention.

It looks like a 6-year-old made it, but Eric seemed to like it so that's all I care about. (Also, I bought him a little snowman ornament with his name on it, so he still got a personalized ornament after all.)

I wanted to have his new and improved Dr. Who hat done for Christmas, and it IS done, but still has a pointier-than-desired top and rides up leaving his ears exposed. It is really rather confounding. But the new Knitty was published last week and included a lovely men's hat pattern so I decided to whip one up immediately.

It was difficult to photograph, but trust me - it's quite nice. And it fits properly! I just used Cascade 220, one of my go-to yarns, but somehow this skein felt extra wonderfully soft. I love the dark charcoal color, too.

I got an awesome hand crafted present as well.

Eric made me stitch markers out of plastic and an old board he found in the basement. Amazing. Ages ago I sent him a link to some clever stitch markers on Etsy that were made especially for sock knitting. They had SSK and K2TOG on them to help the knitter remember where you are supposed to do which type of decrease. I can never remember, so they looked super useful to me. These homemade ones look really fantastic. And the wooden ones are lovely too - just little smooth round discs, appropriate for any kind of project.

I also got yarn. My favorite sock yarn right now - Madelinetosh. Two skeins!

Aren't the colorways lovely? The top one is called Bearded Iris, which sounds vaguely obscene to me for some reason, and the bottom one is called Pheasant and I especially love that one. The colorways are a bit more wildly variegated than I usually buy, so I may consult the book Knitting Socks with Handpainted Yarn to get ideas about good patterns for them. I borrowed the book from the library once and it was extremely helpful and has some nice patterns, so I may actually purchase it.

Between the yarn and the stitch markers I felt inclined to start knitting socks immediately, but luckily Santa brought me Guitar Hero 5 so that distraction saved me from disastrously rushing into an ill-planned project.

Christmas may be over in a couple of hours, but this isn't the end of the Christmas crafts, no sirree! I'll be exchanging gifts with The Cable Girl on New Year's Eve and I've been working on some projects for her that I can't wait to show off. It's so nice when things turn out the way you plan.

Hope your Christmas (or just your Friday) was happy and fun and relaxing!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Her Fearful Symmetry : a review

Audrey Niffenegger’s second novel is a big departure from The Time Traveler’s Wife. It begins with the dealth of Elspeth, who leaves her flat to her American twin nieces. They are required to stay there for a year before selling it, so they travel to London and take up residence in the building with its delightfully quirky residents. Elspeth, however, is still in the flat – or at least, her ghost is. The premise is a bit dubious for someone like me who isn’t a fan of life-after-death scenarios. But it works reasonably well, for a while anyway. The actual plot of the book, however, doesn’t fare so well.

I had heard that the last part of the book wasn’t very good so I went into it with low expectations. I don’t really know what to make of it, but I will discuss that more below the spoiler warning. But I will say that there are a few too many twists in a row, as though that part of the story was just sort of cobbled together in a brainstorming session. All in all, I’m still glad that I read the book. The characters were great, though I have to agree with the Cable Girl that they deserved to be in a better book. (Especially Martin – oh, Martin, a whole book could be written about just you!)

Mostly, this book made me want to read Edward Gorey. It had that feel to it somehow.

I absolutely don’t understand the ending. Robert has a brilliant idea about how to fix his situation and then he is suddenly gone. I assume we are supposed to know what he was thinking and where he went but honestly, it is hard to know at this point what the characters would do, as much of their actions near the end of the book seem rather out of character. Did he simply leave Elspeth? Did he kill himself to be with Valentina? I have no idea. Please leave me a comment if you have any insight into this confusing ending.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Review: The Career-Savvy Information Professional

During the month of November I took an online class through Simmons GSLIS called The Career-Savvy Information Professional. It seemed relevant to my job hunt and also the price was right. Their online classes are usually around $200 for alumni, but this one was $85. The last time I took an online class through Simmons, it was just a bunch of powerpoint slides (obviously leftover from an on-site class, judging by some of the verbiage) posted to a site. I felt completely ripped off, even though the company I worked for paid for the class. But it’s a few years later and I thought I’d give the Simmons CE classes another try. I was not disappointed – in fact, I was pleasantly surprised!

Topics covered included: job outlook, alternative career paths, job banks, self-assessment, resumes, cover letters, networking, interviewing, and professional development. For each topic area, there was a whole slew of articles and other online resources – more than most people would have time to read that week – with some starred as core resources. In some cases, for example resumes, there was a short PowerPoint presentation with various useful tips. A few action items were also included, like doing a gap analysis of your skills or creating an elevator speech. The only (optional) assignment to be submitted was the resume review. I do wish that had been done early enough in the course that there was time for discussion after we received our feedback. Lastly, there were discussion forums for every topic covered in the course. These were very helpful, and I was happy to see that the instructors were reading the forums and regularly commenting on posts.

The timing of this class couldn’t have been better. I was in the midst of a job search, hadn’t redone my resume in far too long, and really needed pretty much everything included in the course. And the week we covered interviewing and informational interviewing? I had two interviews! One regular job interview and one informational interview (which actually resulted in my current temp job.) Super helpful!

It was a lot of work, even for someone who was unemployed. I still haven’t read every single thing included, nor have I done all of the assignments. But I still have the information and all the advice to use when I need it, and have a ton of sites bookmarked which I hadn’t seen before. One of the most valuable things this class provided, I think, was a great collection of resources on pertinent topics – eventually I could have found them all on my own, but not without endless hours of searching and sifting through everything to find the good stuff. I’m so glad someone else did it for me.

My faith in Simmons classes has been redeemed. Of course this one was much cheaper than the others, probably because it was geared towards those who are un- or underemployed. (And if it sounds useful to you, it's being offered again in March 2010.) I like the idea of online classes, especially since the campus is so inconvenient to get to, so I’m glad they have improved so much since the last time I took one. Hopefully I’ll get to try another one sometime!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Amy & Isabelle : a review

The premise of Amy and Isabelle is a bit creepy. Sixteen-year-old Amy and her mother Isabelle live alone, Amy’s father having died when she was just a baby. Isabelle is rather reserved and has no social life, but she and Amy have a good relationship. Then Amy begins an affair with her math teacher, and they are caught together by Isabelle’s boss, causing a rift between mother and daughter. The teacher leaves town, but Amy remains convinced he will return for her.

Meanwhile, Isabelle is going through personal issues of her own. The pregnancy of Amy’s friend Stacy dredges up bad feelings for Isabelle, and it becomes obvious that the reason she isn’t close to anyone is because she is unwilling to open up about her past.

I really liked watching how Amy and Isabelle’s relationship changes throughout the book. There was also an interesting shift of focus - the first part of the story was all about Amy and her illicit relationship and everything she was going through, but then it turns to Isabelle, her romantic history, and her self-imposed isolation. This sort of insight into characters’ personalities is exactly what I loved about Olive Kitteridge, so I really enjoyed going back and reading this older novel.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Gainful employment

Oh, hello there! I wasn't slacking off last week - in fact I was working. At a job! In a library! Where they pay me! After five months of unemployment, this is a very exciting development, despite the odd-job aspects of this position.

There is a lesson here about networking, making contacts, and using them to your advantage. I've been sending off resumes all over the place and getting interviews, but no offers. So recently, in addition to sending out resumes I've been keeping professionally active with conferences, taking a continuing education class, and volunteering to join a committee. Then, at the NELA Conference this fall I attended a resume review session. I would have done so anyway, but when I saw that one of the resume reviewers was from the Cambridge Public Library - where I have applied for many jobs over the year, to no avail - it seemed a perfect opportunity.

Having someone review your resume is a great way to force them to read through the entire thing. Not only did I get helpful advice about how to better organize it, but the reviewer commented on the great experience that I have, and which was apparently not well highlighted on my resume. She also suggested doing informational interviews at libraries where I was interested in working, so I promised I would call her soon to talk about her library.

This is the important part: following up! I called the next week and set up an appointment. It was a few weeks off because they were in the midst of opening a brand new library building, so that gave me plenty of time to prepare. Helpfully, I was taking an online class from Simmons at the time which is all about resumes, interviewing, networking, and other job-search skills (I'll talk about the class more in another post.) I used advice from the resume review session and the class to overhaul my resume, and also got some great advice on informational interviews. Interview day came and I was prepared. I had my new, impressive resume and a list of questions as well as talking points about myself and my experience.

Before I continue, let me just say that from everything I have heard, this is NOT typically how informational interviews go. In fact, you aren't even supposed to bring up the subject of hiring or to give the interviewer your resume unless they ask.

At my interview, the HR person (who had reviewed my resume) gave me an opportunity to talk about my experience and what I'm looking for, the challenges faced in my job search, and the type of library in which I'd like to work. She then told me a bit about what she liked in my resume, and let me know about what was currently available, a non-professional temporary position. She and the director said that they would like me on staff, and the temporary position is what they have available now but it was mine if I wanted it.

Earlier in my job search this may not have been quite so appealing. The position is low-paying, it's not an MLS position, and the schedule is, shall we say, chaotic. But after a 5-month vacation I was ready to be in a library again. Here was the opportunity to work at a spanky brand new shiny library, and at a number of branches, doing different things all the time, and getting out of my house during the most bleak months of the year. Most importantly, it's a great way to get my foot in the door and when a professional position opens up, I'll have a distinct advantage over other applicants.

In the meantime, I get to spend time in this lovely new library, do the kind of work that I enjoy, and meet lots of fun and interesting people. I'll post updates if anything exciting develops, and I'm crossing my fingers that it will. The moral of the story? If you're looking for a job, follow every professional lead you have and network at every opportunity - it can't hurt, but it sure can help!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Fat Cat : a review

You can tell from the cover that this is another angsty weight loss/body image book, but it is so much more than that. The story opens at the beginning of the academic year as Cat sits in the most terrifying science class yet. Each student pulls a picture out of a stack - without looking - and then must design a research project based on the picture they chose. After devoting the entire academic year to these projects, they are then entered into a regional science fair. Cat has spent the summer studying fig wasps (no, I don't know what they are either) and hopes to get a picture of something biology-related, but instead ends up with a picture of early humans fighting over an animal carcass. From this, Cat embarks on a daring project that challenges her intellectually and physically.

Although the personal changes she is going through as a result of her project are significant, Cat is also preoccupied with her ex-friend Matt who is also in the class and who has won every science fair except one, the year that their friendship ended. In addition, she's trying to help her best friend Amanda save the local vegetarian cafe where she competes in poetry slams. (Honestly, the characters in this book were so multi-talented and involved in so many projects it made me envious, and also exhausted.)

I'm a sucker for any book that touches on food issues, and this one took a different approach than other works of YA fiction. The issues were still personal, but being part of an academic project showed them in a broader and more multifaceted context. It was right up my alley. But it wasn't all serious - there was a whole subplot in which Amanda tried to coax Cat into dating, which she had long avoided, and made for some pretty amusing scenes. In fact the writing was humorous throughout the fast-paced novel (which I read in about two days, quick for me!) and Cat came across as quick-witted and self-deprecating but also very thoughtful, strong, and well-grounded. Though the ending was predictable, I was very glad of the outcome. All in all, I thought it was great - highly recommended!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Christmas FAIL

I have screwed these socks up so badly that even the pictures came out crappy.

That is a solid month of work right there, and it is only half a sock. I wouldn't have even come close to finishing the pair by Christmas. Yesterday I had Eric try the sock on (with his eyes closed) and he couldn't get it past his ankle.

So that is reason #37 why knitting argyle socks is a bad idea. You cannot try them on as you go! Oh sure, you can try to wrap the unseamed piece around your calf but it is not accurate and will only result in heartache when you actually sew the damn thing together.

Oh, and look how wonky the seam came out:

Seaming can be difficult enough, but for this project it must be done in such a way that the seam only eats a half a stitch on each side rather than a whole stitch. This is very difficult to do, especially if your edge stitches are as distorted as mine are.

I'm fighting the urge to launch into a diatribe about how I should start planning Christmas crafts in July, which I say every year and never actually do. Inevitably I always spend the first two weeks of December in a panic when I should instead be lounging around watching Christmas specials, listening to carols, and drinking minty hot chocolate. I swear, next year it will be different...

Anyhow, I can't save Christmas, but still need to do something about this sock. My options appear to be:

a) Find new pattern and start over (though I looked for AGES to find a men's argyle sock pattern with seams in a more sensible location than the bottom of the foot)

b) Use same pattern but redo chart for larger number of stitches (I am not sure how to do such a thing)

c) Finish it for me because it is probably my size, though I don't actually want a pair of argyle socks in these colors

d) Burn it and never speak of it again

What do you think?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

I'm a little sad...

..that the Luxe series has come to an end, but it was a very satisfying one! On the author's blog, she hints that perhaps there will be more to come after all, and I do hope that is true. I think I could go on reading this series forever. Even if it's truly over, I will definitely look forward to whatever she writes next.

Splendor brings some of the story lines of the series to a close, but also reveals even more shocking twists and developments in the lives of the Holland sisters and others in their social set. I want you all to read this series so I won't spoil it by revealing anything of the plot. Parts of the story resolved in just the way I'd hoped they would, while other parts went a direction that surprised me. The series retained the glamorous, decadent feel all the way to the end of the last book.

My fascination with constricting society isn't limited to this series, though. I've also been enjoying the audiobooks of Anne Perry's mysteries set in Victorian England, and of course I never tire of the BBC's Pride & Prejudice. There is something delicious about murder and scandal among people with such strict etiquette in times when women were treated a bit like caged exotic birds. If you know of other books with these qualities that I might have missed, please let me know what they are!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Christmas Knitting

Pardon my neglectfulness this past week! I was busy with two (2!!) job interviews, turkey giveaway day at the food pantry, and more social plans than usual. (FYI, do not waste 90 minutes of your life watching Mega Shark versus Giant Octopus, even though you may be tempted by the starring roles of of both Debbie Gibson and Lorenzo Lamas.)

Moving on. I have finished a Christmas gift! It is for my mom, so if you happen to know her...sshhhh. But here it is.

I stole this idea - and borrowed the pattern - from my friend who made one first. I think I like her color choices better, but it's not for me it's for my mom and she has different taste in color.

That's the extent of my Christmas preparation so far, but also this weekend I seamed together the pieces of my Heather Hoodie Vest and knit the short sleeves. Here's a little preview of that project:

Sorry for the pet-indulgence, but Clarence is very attracted to the yarn and the camera battery died before I could get more photos. Next is the hood, which will be an interesting challenge. The hood is designed very large, but I'd like to be small enough that I can actually wear it as a hood without flopping down over my face. It seems like it should be simple, but I've only ever knit one other hood and it was constructed in a completely different way. I'll keep you informed about how it goes!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

That Old Cape Magic: a review

Richard Russo's latest is about a marriage falling apart, with a great deal of influence from the in-laws. Jack Griffin's was born of two college professors who immediately disapproved of his wife, Joy, because she didn't do graduate work. Their own marriage was rather a mess itself and Griffin spent much of his life trying not to repeat their mistakes.

The narrative thread was hard for me to follow, as the story was told mostly in flashbacks; indeed, there were flashbacks within flashbacks. At the beginning of the story Griffin and Joy are heading to a wedding and within that present Griffin shares a great deal about his earlier life and his parents' marriage. Then it skips ahead to the day after the wedding and flashes back to the wedding itself. Continuing along this way for the duration of the book, I became disoriented a number of times because I didn't know where I was.

Though the story was rather dismal and the characters flawed to a point that I couldn't sympathize much, there were some things that I liked. Minor characters Sunny Kim and Marguerite were more interesting and colorful than the main characters, and certainly more likable. The short story that Griffin struggles with throughout the novel also illustrated some interesting perspectives about our memories of long-ago events, which was great food for thought.

In general, I would say it wasn't Russo's best work. The only other book of his that I've read is Bridge of Sighs, but it greatly outshone this one. If you are reading your way through all his books it is worth reading, but I wouldn't start with it if his work is new to you.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Major pieces completed

I have now finished the back and both front pieces of my Heather Hoodie Vest. As much as I wanted to forge ahead and start sewing the pieces together, I followed the instructions and blocked the pieces separately first. Here are the two front pieces on the blocking boards:

Now, before you start panicking about the shallowness of the armholes like I did, I should point out that there was no armhole shaping on these pieces. The shaping is for the neckline, and I just happened to lay out the pieces in a deceiving way. I am a little embarrassed to admit how many times I frantically remeasured my "armholes" and mentally compared them to the size of my arms before reading through the entire pattern again and seeing the words "neckline shaping." What a relief!

I think this sweater may actually be long enough. Almost every sweater I have knit has ended up being just a wee bit short. In most cases I didn't notice it when it was first completed, but it became apparent when I actually started wearing it. Recently I went to a brunch with a whole gaggle of knitters and a few of us starting talking about this phenomenon. Wise knitter Grumperina recommended knitting until you think the sweater is long enough and then knitting at least two more inches, because it is so easy to make a sweater too short, but almost impossible to make it too long. They always seem to stretch in width but, alas, never in length. I knit a couple of extra inches in length on this sweater and my hope is that when I sit down while wearing it, I will not feel a breeze on my back.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Behind on book reviews again

I don't know why this always happens - I don't read especially quickly, but I've just realized I haven't posted reviews on the last few books I've read. Yikes!

Moloka'i by Alan Brennert
Moloka'i is a Hawaiian epic which takes place at a leper colony beginning in the late 1800’s. The novel begins when 7-year-old Rachel Kalama begins showing signs of leprosy, and she is sent first to a local hospital and then to a leper colony. The book spans her whole life, which is much longer than we might expect. It took me a long time to read, but was very enjoyable. Though it was fiction, it is a real place and it’s a fascinating little bit of history. I highly recommend it.

Map: a memoir by Audrey Beth Stein
As a disclaimer, you should know that I know the author and read a couple early drafts of the book. But if you’ve been reading my blog for a while you also know that I’m not crazy about memoirs, so perhaps those two biases balance each other out.

Map is a rather short coming-of-age memoir covering about an 8-month period of time in which Stein, a college student, began an online relationship with a woman she met on an Indigo Girls mailing list. It’s also a coming out story, and a story about many kinds of relationships – not just romantic ones, but relationships with friends, acquaintances, and parents. There is all the angst you would expect, and a level of melodrama that will remind you, painfully, of your first relationship. But it's also surprisingly humorous, and a couple of times I actually laughed out loud.

Info about how to get the book is here, and if you want to check out some of her other writing, look at the Show and Tell section on her website.

Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Have I mentioned that I want to be Laura Ingalls Wilder? I read this set of books numerous times as a child and was just reinspired to start them again. My mother still has my old set and I’m going to get them from her when I visit for Thanksgiving because frankly, the library copies just aren’t the same.

I always loved the descriptions of how the Ingalls family lived. The toys that Pa made for the kids, the descriptions of how Ma made cheese, and the fun things they did – like making candy out of maple syrup and snow, or playing ball with a pig’s bladder. They were so resourceful and industrious, and as an adult I appreciate the simplicity and self-sufficiency of how they lived. I loved reading this book as an adult just as much as I did when I was a kid.

I’m going to go churn some butter now.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Two pieces done!

It has been close to two months since I've shown you my Heather Hoodie Vest, and I've come a long way since then. I apologize for being so remiss with the updates! I thought I had posted a picture of the finished back, but apparently I only did that in my head.

The large piece is the back, and the small piece is one of the fronts. It looks distressingly skinny, but the stockinette edges are curled under a little, and the front of the sweater will have a pretty wide button band. Also, this is making a very stretchy fabric. It will be so comfy and cozy someday when it is eventually done.

Now that the birthday socks are done I have tons of time to work on this sweater, right? I wish it were so! We are now solidly in Christmas knitting season, and although I am only knitting two Christmas gifts this year (unless I get suddenly overconfident) I need to get off to a running start a couple of weeks ago. Who knows when I may suddenly land my dream job and have to spend all my daytime hours working?

To make it more of a challenge, one of the Christmas projects is a pair of argyle socks. Oh yes, you read that right - argyle socks! I guess the simply ribbed birthday socks weren't quite fancy enough so now I will be forced to learn new techniques. It is crazy, the things we do for love. If you know of a good pattern for man-sized argyle socks that don't involve a seam running down the bottom of the foot, please clue me in. The yarn is on its way from Knitpicks and I need to get prepared.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Wanida Socks

Started waaaayy back in the beginning of June, the Wanida socks are finally complete.

It's actually a darker purple than either of these pictures, and the variegation isn't nearly as jarring and distracting as it looks here.

The pattern is Wanida from Sock Innovation by Cookie A. This is the first pattern I've tried from this book, and I'm looking forward to trying more of them. There is no good reason why these took so long to make. The pattern isn't difficult, though it does involve charts so it's not the best portable project ever. I used Addi Turbo needles in size 0, and the yarn is Farmhouse Yarns Fannie's Fingering Weight in Boysenberry. I bought it at CT Yarn & Wool Company in Haddam, CT last year on a trip to see Emmett Otter's Jug-Band Christmas performed live at the Goodspeed Opera House. (Which you should totally go see - they are performing it again this year!)

It is Halloween today, and when I went outside with my camera and freshly-finished socks I saw a woman get out of her car wearing hot pink tights, flowing lacy black skirt, an 80's-style side ponytail and lots of makeup. It was all I could do not to take a picture of her as well.

Monday, October 26, 2009

NELA Conference

I’ve posted very little library content lately, mostly because I don’t have a job and there is so much bad news for libraries recently that everything I can think of is either sad or uninteresting. But I have actual interesting and positive things to report this week. Hooray!

Last week I attended New England Library Association Conference – I’ve gone a number of times, and it has always been inspiring, motivating, interesting, and fun. Though there were considerably fewer people in attendence this year, there were still some great programs to choose from.

It’s always difficult to decide which sessions to attend, and more so right now when I’m unemployed. Everything seems equally relevant and irrelevant. But here are some of the highlights:

- Two good customer service sessions. The first one was about the FISH! Philosophy, as employed by Seattle’s Pike Place Fish Market. The second was Reinventing the Customer-Centered Library. Both were very inspiring and served as reminders of things I have learned about in past workshops; but customer service always bears repeating.

- Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Children’s Book, presented by Anita Silvey, from whom I took a class in library school. She talked about a book she wrote about women in the Civil War, which sounds fascinating, and also about her latest book in which various leaders in politics, business, in other areas wrote about the children’s book that changed their lives. I’m inspired to re-read the Little House books now, as soon as I can get to the library.

- Creating a Local History. I almost didn’t go to this one because the combination of 8:30am and the words “local history” do tend to make my eyes glaze over. But then I realized that it was about some librarians who wrote and published a local history of Nashua, NH. Writing and publishing are very interesting, and I really enjoyed this session.

- Author Elinor Lipman talked about her writing process and how her novels take shape. I always enjoy hearing authors talk about their work and I’m rather fascinated by how books get from ideas to actual printed matter with pretty covers. I haven’t read any of her books, but I want to after hearing her talk about them!

Of course there was lots more packed into those 3 days. Among other things, I got to meet a fellow Raveler (I love when worlds collide!), reconnected with some former co-workers, and ate at a fantastic Mexican restaurant in Hartford called Agave (not to be confused with the fantastic Mexican restaurant in Newburyport, MA also called Agave.) And by the way, the conference food was MUCH better this year than last year!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Goodbye, Turtle

Turtle was one of the nicest rats I have known. He lived a long time for a rat, but I will still miss him.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Birthday Socks!

If you saw me at knitting group or on the bus or T, or pretty much anywhere in the last month, I was probably working on these.

Not only are they done, but they fit! I was a little worried about that. This is the first pair of socks I have knit for Eric and he is pretty happy with them. Or so he says, anyhow.

You can kind of see the gusset in this picture.

I used the Garter Rib pattern from Sensational Knitted Socks. The yarn is Zitron Trekking, which I had never used before but have admired for a while. I liked it, though for a while there I wasn't sure there would be enough in the skein. The socks I usually make are much smaller!

I went with a simple pattern because a)it was for a boy and they don't tend to like fancy things, and b)I had a deadline and wanted to be able to work on these anywhere at any time. The downside is that they were a bit boring. But for his next pair he has requested argyle, so that should be more of an adventure.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Catching Fire : a review

(There will be knitting content later this week, I promise!)

In this sequel to Hunger Games, Katniss is back in District 12, where she now lives in the Victor's Village. But nothing in Panem is the same, thanks to a gesture she made during the games that inadvertently sparked a rebellion. With uprisings in several districts, the Capitol makes an unprecedented decision to try and stop this movement. I don't want to say anything more about the plot because it is full of surprises that you should discover for yourself.

One review I read of this book said that it didn't pack the emotional punch of the first book. That is something I would expect of a sequel because of its very nature, but in this case I would have to disagree. What happens in this book, well...some of it is similar to the plot of Hunger Games, but some of it is new and unexpected. Again, I don't want to give anything away, but I found it every bit as compelling and exciting as the first book.

Although the plot is different, I can't help but compare the themes of this series with Scott Westerfeld's Uglies series. They are both dystopias wherein the government exerts control by making teenagers go through a rather extreme rite of passage, and in both series there is a rebellion in which the female protagonist plays a large and important part. If you like Hunger Games but haven't read the Westerfeld series yet, I strongly recommend that you do so. As for me, I can't wait for the final installment in this trilogy, which I've heard should be released next year.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Hate List : a review

Last May, Valerie Leftman’s boyfriend opened fire in their school cafeteria, killing several students and a teacher before turning the gun on himself. Val was shot in the leg when she attempted to stop the shooting, inadvertently saving the life of a classmate. Considered a hero by some, she is still implicated in the murders. Nick Levil was aiming for people on a list that Valerie created – the Hate List, a lengthy record of all the people who bullied them or wronged them in some way. A few months after the shooting, Val is returing to school and facing some of the very same people she helped to endanger. Though cleared of any charges, many still blame her for the tragedy.

Many complicated issues are tackled in this novel, including some interesting themes of guilty and responsibility, and how groups of people deal with the aftermath of a shared trauma. Val’s parents are in many ways similar to parents in many other YA novels, but the author has gone to some taboo areas and allowed Val’s parents to admit that their feelings towards her have changed. (I honestly am not convinced that Val’s father loves her at all anymore.) The range and complexity of the other characters’ feelings towards Val is fascinating and, I think, realistic. These are not easy topics and they are not dealt with in a neat and tidy way. Excellent book!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle : a review

Born mute, speaking only in sign language, Edgar grows up in a dog-breeding family in Wisconsin. His uncle Claude arrives after a long absence - presumably prison, but that is never explained. After Edgar's father, dies suddenly, Claude begins hanging around the farm more and involving himself in their business and personal lives. Edgar doesn’t trust him and begins to suspect that Claude is responsible for his own brother's death, but his plan to prove this goes awry, forcing Edgar to flee.

I liked the book, but didn't love it. Integral to the story is a vial of poison that Claude purchased long ago in South Korea, but it is unclear why he purchased it (is this related to his prison sentence?) and I also didn't understand his motivations for using it the way he did later. Perhaps I should have inferred all of this from the story, but Claude and his actions, and his background, are a mystery to me. I also had a difficult time determining how old Edgar was. I thought for a long time that he was around ten until about halfway through the book he was referred to as being 14. This isn't a big deal, but did change my view of him a bit.

Edgar was a great character and he alone made the book completely worth reading. I also really liked the idea of breeding dogs that were special in some way, though never having had a dog I don't have a good understanding of how they differ from regular dogs. I still enjoyed reading all about the Sawtelle dogs, and about their training and their relationship with Edgar. Though I didn't love the book as much as others I've talked to about it, I still found it a very good read. Now that the cool weather is upon us and we'll all be spending more time curled up indoors, I recommend this somewhat lengthy novel for your fall reading. A great choice!

Friday, September 25, 2009

What lies ahead in reading

Since I last posted I haven't finished a book or made any knitting progress to speak of, so I thought I'd share my To Read list with you. I'm keeping track on Good Reads now (rather than my old-timey Word document of the past) so this list is cobbled together from that and my library hold list.

1. Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby. I love him and I'm looking forward to seeing him read next week!

2. Serena by Ron Rash. Recommend by Jennifer Weiner on her blog. I've tried to foist this on my book group, and will probably try again.

3. Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger. But will it be as good as The Time Traveler's Wife?

4. Chang and Eng by Darin Strauss. A fictionalized account of the famous conjoined twins, who I have always found fascinating.

5. Fat Cat by Robin Brande. A YA novel that got a great review on Reading Rants.

6. The Braindead Megaphone by George Saunders. This is a book of essays, which is an odd thing to appear on my list, but this guy wrote the introduction to something I read (I think one of Nick Hornby's books, maybe The Polysyllabic Spree?) and it was fantastic!

7. The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe. I read a number of positive reviews on this book which takes place in Salem, MA and moves between present day and the time of the witch trials. I'm a sucker for anything about the Salem witch trials.

8. Recipe for America: Why Our Food System is Broken and What We Can Do To Fix It by Jill Richardson. The author writes one of my new favorite blogs, La Vida Locavore. Also, I am obsessed with food.

9. The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova. By the writer of the Historian, which I loved.

10. The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje. I don't know why I still haven't read this.

11. Secrets of Eden by Chris Bohjalian. Forthcoming novel from one of my favorite authors.

12. Hate List by Jennifer Brown. A YA novel in transit to my local library as we speak. Expect a review in the next couple of weeks!

13. The Food of a Younger Land: The WPA's Portrait of Food in Pre-World War II America by Mark Kurlansky. Did you read his book about salt? It was great! (Again, I am obsessed with food.)

14. Shelf Discovery: The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading by Lizzie Skurnick. Need I say more?

15. Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer by Novella Carpenter. I kind of want to be an urban farmer. Or more specifically, I want chickens.

16. Almost Perfect by Brian Katcher. Forthcoming YA novel with a transgendered character. I read a really great review on Reading Rants.

17. The Raw Milk Revolution: Behind America's Emerging Battle Over Food Rights by David E. Gumpert. I think I heard about this on La Vida Locavore. I don't know if I'll manage to read the whole book (it's non-fiction, after all) but I'm really interested in the issues.

18. Empire Falls by Richard Russo. I've only read one of his books so far - shame on me!

19. Isn't It Romantic? by Ron Hansen. Kevin is always talking about how great this book is, and it's pretty short so there's no reason not to read it.

20. Overqualified by Joey Comeau. Hilarious sounding book about a guy who starts telling the truth in his cover letters. The author also writes a web comic.

21. The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway. It's an apocalyptic novel, which is all I need to know.

22. The Help by Kathryn Stockett. Well reviewed novel about the relationship between three women of different social classes in 1960's Mississippi.

23. The Song is You by Arthur Phillips. A novel of romance between a musician and a music lover, which kind of doesn't sound like my sort of book, but the reviews sold me on it.

24. That Old Cape Magic by Richard Russo. I loved Bridge of Sighs, and when I heard him read from this new book I knew it had to go on my list.

25. True Compass by Edward Kennedy. I have great intentions, but I still haven't read either of Barack Obama's books. Someday I will accept that I don't read non-fiction, but in the meantime I feel that as a Massachusetts resident, this is required reading.

26. Splendor: a Luxe Novel by Anna Godbersen. I love this series!

27. Moloka'i by Alan Brennert. My book group is reading this. Although I'll miss the next meeting, I still want to read it in solidarity. Plus, it looks good.

28. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins. The long-awaited sequel to the Hunger Games. I was mysteriously deleted from the hold list, but now I'm back on track. Hopefully all the people ahead of me read really fast.

My list tends to be a little too ambitious, but I'm trying not to add many books that I won't actually read. A few non-fiction books made it on here, and I'll be happy if I read just two or three of them.

There are also some authors who I really want to read more of, though I don't have specific books to add to my list. These include (but are not limited to) Stewart O'Nan, Douglas Coupland, and my new friend, Charles Dickens.

Have you read any of the books on my list? What did you think of them?

Saturday, September 19, 2009

My next project?

Just kidding. But this was just too good not to share. It's from "Woman's Day Knitting Book" (actually a magazine) dated Spring 1973. My mom totally could have knit this while pregnant with me. I wonder why she didn't?

It calls for Red Heart yarn, so this would be easy to knit even today without the pesky substitutions required for most vintage patterns. The description reads: "Glorious colors of the rainbow reflect the way you feel in fun to knit, great to wear bib-top shorts." Yes, when I think fun, I think knitted bib-top shorts.

Edited to add: Thanks to Trinity for alerting me to the Overalls of Shame on Ravelry. The project is here, but if you aren't on Ravelry you can see photos at the blog post here. Do check it out!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Olive Kitteridge: a review

A novel in stories set in the small town of Crosby, Maine, Olive Kitteridge is a peek inside the lives and minds of various residents. Olive appears somewhere in every story, but not always as a main character. We also meet her steadfast husband, a former student of Olive’s who is considering suicide, a local piano player trying to get over a futureless romance, a jilted young bride-to-be, and many other intriguing characters.

Olive is a creature of habit, with very particular expectations of other people, which they don’t usually live up to. She has very strong opinions and no qualms about sharing them. (Her views on George W. Bush are especially hilarious.) I very much enjoyed reading about her and found her sympathetic, but she is not someone I would want to actually spend time with. Still, she is fascinatingly real and complicated and you can see how easy it would be to become such a person.

My mother is around the same age as Olive, also a retired teacher (who also had no love for George W. Bush) but with a very different outlook, and I can’t help thinking about how things could have been different for Olive. She is unapologetic and stubborn, which has cost her a lot – she is emotionally distant and pushes people away - and she seems, through most of the book, not to recognize how she has made her life into what it is. It’s not a terrible life, but not especially fulfilling.

I couldn’t get enough of this town and its inhabitants. Strout has such a talent for creating compelling characters that each one could have been the center of his or her own novel, and I would have been happy to read all of those novels. Such a perfect little book!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

New fall project!

I have just begun the Heather Hoodie Vest from the fall issue of Knitscene.

I'm using the recommended yarn, Lamb's Pride Bulky, in the colorway Blue Flannel. I ordered it from Webs to get a good discount since I have a bit of yarn-buying guilt about this. Shouldn't I be working on Christmas presents instead? Selfish, selfish woman!

So far I'm enjoying this project, and it seems to be going pretty quickly, as bulky things tend to. The only concern is that I didn't swatch properly which I fear may come back and bite me in the ass. I kind of swatched, and then moved up a needle size and kind of swatched again. They were only partial swatches and I didn't wash or block them as I know I should (or even do a full swatch, for that matter.) I don't think this yarn really grows with washing though, so it should be fine. Famous last words, I know.

I'm really starting to like Knitscene more than Interweave Knits.

Also, the fall Knitty should be up tomorrow. It is technically up today but Amy is nicely asking people on Ravelry not to go to it yet because it's not done. (Which of course begs the question, then why is it live?) No matter, just be sure to check it tomorrow because there are some nice sweaters and socks. Oh, if I could only afford an entire sweater's worth of Madelinetosh sock yarn!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Finished: Lucy in the Sky Cardigan

Pattern: Lucy in the Sky by Laura Chau - from cosmicpluto knits
Size: 35, but blocked a little larger
Yarn: Brown Sheep Lamb's Pride Worsted. I bought 6 skeins, but only used 5.
Needles: Size 7 (size 8 for the sleeves)
Yarn and buttons are from Windsor Button in Boston. Thanks, Annmarie, for helping me pick out buttons!

This took me 4 and a half months to knit, which is actually not terrible considering that I knit some other things during that time as well. It fits perfectly. (I deliberately made the arms a little long.) While I was working on it, the bottom band kept flipping up and I was worried about that, but it blocked out very well. I like the stitch pattern a lot, and tried to get buttons that didn't stand out too much because I want this to be a versatile garment that I can wear with anything.

What I would do differently if I were making it again:

- Paid more attention to the relationship between the stitch pattern and the raglan decreases. I think pattern designers give us all a little too much credit for being able to figure this kind of thing out on our own. By the time I figure out what I should have done, I'm way too far through the thing to change. My raglan seams look fine, just not perfect.

- On the collar I would have done the decreases at the 2nd and 3 markers as indicated (which I didn't understand from the instructions). I think it would have only been one more decrease, but that may have helped. As it is, the collar doesn't sit quite right, though it may only be noticeable to me.

- I would not have used whip stitch to attach the collar. It doesn't look good, but I don't know what else to do. I can't figure out what the designer actually did. The only other way I know to attach pieces is mattress stitch, which creates a seam. That doesn't work here - it eats up the edge stitches so the collar isn't the same width the whole way around. I don't know what I would have done, I guess, other than pressed the designer for more details or maybe posted something on Ravelry.

- Again with the collar - I would have knit from both sides of the neck to meet in the middle because the kitchener is visible and I would prefer it on the back of my neck, not the front of my shoulder. Perhaps there is a way to kitchener the seed stitch to make it invisible but I don't know how, so I should have done this differently. I wish I had thought of it earlier. (I still could have ripped back and done it, but I am lazy/impatient.) I don't think it's visible to the lay person, but I can see it.

Overall, I am quite happy with the pattern and the project. New sweater, just in time for fall!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Admission: a review

I never thought I'd get so sucked into a book about a college admissions officer, but Jean Hanff Korelitz has come up with a very engaging novel about just that. Surprisingly, a lot of it does actually have to do with the minutiae of the job (though how realistic it actually is I won't know until my admissions officer friend reads it). But it's not just about getting into Princeton, it's also about another sort of admission. Portia Nathan, while in the busiest time of her work year, is also struggling to come to terms with her past, a past that begins to catch up with her on a visit to a new, experimental school in New Hampshire where she meets a classmate from Dartmouth. I won't give too much away about the plot, but I do recommend the book.

There were a couple of odd editing mistakes. For example, in one scene there is a meeting of admissions officers, and one person named Jordan is absent (it described why he wasn't there, which I don't remember now) but later in the seen someone addresses Jordan and she answers. So, this person wasn't there, but now is present and of a different gender. I keep noticing errors in books these days and I don't know whether editing is getting sloppy or if I'm becoming more observant. My only other criticism is that one of the sub-plots remained unresolved. I guess it wasn't especially important, but I still have questions.

Overall, I found this book very enjoyable and engrossing. It was around 450 pages and I read it in 4 days, which is very quick for me. It also made me want to be a college admissions officer, but I'm sure I'll get over it.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Troublesome Collar

My Lucy In the Sky cardigan is SO close to completion, but I've run into some confusion near the end.

I worked the raglan and neckline decreases as indicated until there were 9 stitches left before the first marker. There were a total of 4 markers. The next part of the pattern reads: "Discontinue raglan decreases at first and last marker, and work neck decreases ONLY four times or until raglan is the appropriate length." This would just not compute. Work neck decreases only? That would mean I should also discontinue decreases at the 2nd and 3rd markers. Perhaps it means neck decreases should be worked four times ONLY, but then why say "or until raglan is the appropriate length"? I checked Ravelry and Craftster and I googled and in the end I stopped all raglan decreases, but only knit a few more rows anyhow, so I don't think it make much difference. (As it turns out, the intention is to continue neckline decreases and continue decreases on 2nd and 3rd marker, which makes sense. I'm still not sure what the "ONLY" is for.)

Then I got to the collar. There is a seed stitch border along the button bands, which extends up around the neckline. As I'm knitting, this means that the first and last 6 stitches on the needles are the seed stitch. The instructions say to knit the first 6 stitches (seed stitch) and put them on a stitch holder, bind off stitches all across, and then place the last 6 stitches (seed stitch) on a holder. Ok, got it. Then you are supposed to rejoin yarn to one of those sections (the right, but I'm never sure which right is intended) and then continue the seed stitch band, to be attached to the bound-off neckline later. Instead, when I got to the end of the row rather than putting those stitches on a holder, I started knitting the neckband from there. I don't know why I was supposed to put them on a holder and then just rejoin yarn, but perhaps it will become obvious in some way, like I will suddenly have an extra sleeve or something...

Now I am here:

I am instructed to sew the band to the back neck "using slipstitch" and then graft the live stitches to the one on the stitch holder. None of my knitting books provide instructions for seaming in slipstitch. A Google search revealed this, but that doesn't seem right since it results in a bulky seam. I also couldn't find instructions for grafting seed stitch. So I posted a query on Ravelry for help. I really thought the instructions should have been more clear on these matters. But to her credit the designer responded to my query within two hours, which is pretty awesome because I am nothing if not impatient.

She says that when she attached the neckband she used "more of a flat sewing stitch where you go into the neckband and then the edge of the sweater, keeping both flat and edge-to-edge." That sounds kind of like whip stitch to me, so that is probably what I'll use. As for the grafting, she grafted in the normal way and then duplicate stitched the appropriate purl bumps on. Clever.

I really hope I finish this sweater sometime today. It is so close I can almost taste it!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Slew of reviews

Best Friends Forever by Jennifer Weiner
This review is long overdue, as I read and enjoyed this book a while ago now. It’s really a wonderful story of a friendship I can’t say much that isn’t in all the rave reviews out there, but if you haven’t heard the funny story about Weiner’s potty-mouth on her book tour, here is an article about that. I attended her reading at the Framingham Barnes & Noble of the “sternly-worded email” and I’m pretty sure it had to originate with the lady in the orange sweater who repeatedly reminded us of the rules for the book reading and signing and who can’t possibly be a Jennifer Weiner fan. Despite the fact that I don’t usually buy books (and an unemployed) I bought a copy to be signed and told her she could swear in my inscription. She didn’t, but punctuated it with a verbal “Enjoy, bitch!” which is good enough for me. As you may suspect from her writing, Jennifer Weiner is hilarious – if you ever have a chance to attend one of her readings, be sure to do so!

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Katniss lived in a future US where each of the 12 isolated districts must give up one boy and one girl every year to the Capitol to take part in a televised fight-to-the-death event known as the Hunger Games. As someone who intensely dislikes reality tv, I appreciate this dystopian view in which it is taken to a bloody extreme and used to keep the population complacent. I don’t want to give anything away – you should read it for yourself – but will just say that I haven’t been this sucked into a book for a while. A great story well told. (The second book in this trilogy is out this fall!)

House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubus III
This has been on my list for a while and now that I’ve finally gotten around to reading it, I’ve found that 100 pages in it’s time to give up. The basic premise is that Kathy has just been evicted from the house she inherited, which Behrani then bought at auction and has moved in with his family unaware of the legal battle that is now brewing. Behrani is a familiar, and sympathetic, character; an immigrant who has been forced to take the kind of jobs he never would have had to resort to in his native country, purchasing the house represents a long-awaited step towards the American dream. But I quickly grew tired of Kathy’s story and, honestly, wouldn’t care if she ended up living in her car for the rest of her pathetic life. Had she actually opened her mail and taken a little bit of responsibility, her eviction wouldn’t have been a surprise, nor would it necessarily have happened at all. But she just lets everything in her life happen to her, her actions too little too late. I couldn’t get much of a handle on her character or why she was this way, and her budding relationship with the policeman who helped evict her was painful to read about. Perhaps if I read to the end of the book I would understand the critical acclaim and rave reviews, but frankly I have more interesting things on hold at the library.

Friday, August 21, 2009

One sock, one mitt

I have accomplished remarkably little knitting during my unemployment for reasons which completely escape me. This week I put my nose to the proverbial grindstone and finished some things.

First, the Wanida sock which I started waaay back in early June. Shameful!

The flash really washes out the color. It's actually a rather vibrant purple.

Next is the first of my Endpaper Mitts.

I have to say that I'm not especially excited about starting the second portion of either of these projects, but especially the Endpaper Mitts. I will do it because I like completion, but I'm not super happy with this project. The pattern includes 3 different sizes, but they are completely based on needle size, which of course means a change in gauge. I originally started this on a smaller size needle and it was too small - it is still a little tight, but much better. The problem is that now that I'm knitting at a looser gauge, the colorwork isn't as crisp and clear as it was. From a distance it looks good, but up close it looks sloppy. I'm hoping that blocking will improve it.

I've also been working on the second sleeve of my Lucy In the Sky Cardigan, and I'm happy to say that I am most of the way through it. I believe I have something like 26 rows left. I'm especially excited about this project, because there is nothing like the satisfaction of seeing a beautiful sweater really come together!

Monday, August 17, 2009

A Cause for Great Excitement!

A sleeve has been completed and joined to the body. Behold!

I realize it doesn't look like much right now, all squished up and misshapen like a fourth-grader's art project. I've only made a couple of sweaters with this sort of bottom-up yoked construction, and each time I have a moment upon joining the sleeves where I become convinced that I've made a horrible mistake and the sleeves will be jutting out from somewhere along the bottom part of my ribcage. But it is not so. It is simply an awkward stage, much like adolescence, in which everything is just a bit twisted and out of proportion and you must just endure it until it is outgrown. As I progress up the yoke, it will all come together neatly, and the result will be a lovely sweater with sleeves where my arms are and a hole where my head is. Magic!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Library Leadership

I had the good fortune of attending Library Leadership Massachusetts in July at Wheaton College. The four-day institute was sponsored by the MBLC and the MA Regional Library Systems, and led by Becky Schreiber and John Shannon of Schreiber Shannon Associates.

In addition to meeting some truly inspiring librarians and making great new contacts, the content of the program provided a whole lot to think about. There is way too much for one blog post, but I thought I’d just note a few of my “aha!” moments.

The microdot of control. This concept was in the book Leadership Simple by Steve and Jill Morris, which I read before attending, and then also discussed in one of our sessions. The graphic representation of this idea is a tiny little dot representing the little bit of the world we that we can each control. Outside of that is a larger circle, that which we can influence. Beyond this circle is a whole lot that we can’t control at all whatsoever. I'm sure this is a no-brainer to others, but really put things in perspective for me.

Jump right in.
One mentor said that men will reach for high-level positions without worrying about whether or not they already know how to do the job, while women think we need to learn how to do a job before applying for it. I don’t know if the gender-based generalization is accurate, but this is completely true for me. I have changed the focus of my job search based on this. No, I don’t know exactly how to do these jobs, but the only way I will learn is to try, right? That probably seems obvious to a lot of people, but it wasn’t obvious to me.

Library culture can learn from corporate culture. There are certain things about library culture that have bothered me for a long time, but that I wasn’t able to articulate. One mentor spoke about her experiences working in a corporation, and how she struggles in a public library setting because the culture is so different. At a company decisions are made because they are the right decision for the company, because it will bring them closer to their goals. In a library, all too often decisions are made based on personalities and feelings, and don’t make organizational sense. And for similar reasons, work expectations are often low. She pointed out that work is supposed to be WORK. Yes, absolutely! This really hit the nail on the head.

It’s ok to like change. I’ve always felt a little guilty because I love change. Even bad change is energizing in a way because it spurs me to action. Most people apparently hate change, and I have always wondered why I feel so differently. One day at the Institute we compared Enneagram results and broke into groups based on personality types. I found myself in a room full of lots of people who felt the same way I do about change – I am not alone! I felt so validated! (We were 7’s, in case you are wondering.)

Accept feedback without defending yourself. I am terrible at receiving critical feedback, and once something negative is said, I spend the rest of the time formulating my response rather than listening and thinking about what the person is saying. During one session of the Institute, we had to receive feedback and could not respond. It was extremely frustrating, but incredibly helpful. I really want to remember this.

There is so much more I could say about this experience, and I may revisit some of the topics, but for now I just have a quick piece of advice: make the time to attend one of these Institutes. If you are in Massachusetts, NELLS is next year and the same Institute I attended is happening again in 2011. Other states have similar programs as well. Do it for yourself or for your career or for your library, but by all means do it!