Thursday, January 29, 2009

Love In the Asylum by Lisa Carey : a review

This is a month of "seconds" for me. I read my second Sherman Alexie book, my second Elizabeth McCracken (and third!), and my second Lisa Carey. I don't know if it means anything, but it is a strange coincidence. Now I want to read everything Lisa Carey has written, because both of her books that I've read so far have been excellent.

Love In the Asylum is kind of what it sounds like. Two patients in a mental hospital, one mentally ill and one a drug addict, fall in love. Of course it is much more than that, as you'd expect from two people who have such serious life issues. I especially liked the drug addict, Oscar, and I thought Carey did a great job of capturing the awkwardness and miscommunication of his and Alba's budding relationship.

The hospital itself has a history too, which we learn about from the book within the book, a series of letters our heroine, Alba, finds written in the spare pages at the backs of books in the hospital library. A former patient wrote the letters to her son decades ago, explaining to him that the sickness for which she was committed was actually a special healing power well-known in the Native American tribe she was originally from. The story-within-a-story format is always a little risky, and I had problems enjoying certain aspects of the inner one, but ultimately the two stories came together very nicely.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Decadence Neckwarmer

Here's a nice little thing.

This almost ended up as a cowl, but I couldn't bear to leave out the buttons I had already bought. I love the buttons a whole lot. Take a closer look:

Don't you love them too?

I have another skein of this yarn, and I'm trying to decide what to do with it. I was going to make mittens, but now I'm thinking maybe a hat. Hopefully I'll have a matching something-or-other before the winter is over.

In case you're interested in making something similar, here are my instructions. Enjoy!

Decadence Neckwarmer

Materials: Knitpicks Decadence, 1 skein; size 9 needles
Gauge: 7sts/inch in Basket Cable stitch pattern (note: this is a very dense stitch pattern; the recommended gauge for this yarn is more like 3-4sts/inch)
Finished dimensions: 5" wide, 22.5" long, after blocking
Stitch pattern: Basket Cable pattern is from Barbara Walker's Treasury of Knitting patterns and is done over a multiple of 8 sts plus 4.

Cast on 36 stitches
Knit 2 rows

Start Basket Cable pattern:

Rows 1,3, and 5 (Wrong side) - K2, purl to last 2 sts, K2
Rows 2 and 4 - Knit
Row 6 - K2, * sl next 4 sts to cable needle and hold in back, K4, then K4 from cable needle; rep from *, end K2
Rows 7, 9, and 11 - K2, purl to last 2 sts, K2
Rows 8 and 10 - Knit
Row 12 - K6, *sl next 4 sts to cable needle and hold in front, k4, then k4 from cable needle; rep from *, end K6.

Repeat rows 1-12.

I kept going until the neckwarmer fit around my neck and overlapped by a few inches - it all depends how much you want to hang down, but keep going until you get almost to where you want the buttonholes. I ended on a row 12 of the stitch pattern.

Next row: k2, purl to end, k2
Next row: Knit
Next row: k2, purl to end, k2

Buttonhole row: Knit 10 stitches.
Create buttonhole: Bring yarn to front and slip a stitch purlwise. Bring yarn to back of work. *Slip next stitch from left needle. Pass first slipped stitch over it; repeat from * twice more. Slip last bound-off stitch to the left needle and turn work. Using the cable cast-on with yarn at back, cast on 4 stitches as follows: *Insert right needle between first and second stitches on left needles, draw up a loop, place loop on left needle; repeat from * 3 times more. Turn work. Slip first stitch with yarn in back from left needle to right and pass the extra cast-on stitch over it.

Knit to where next buttonhole should be (I had 10 stitches between them) and repeat buttonhole instructions. Knit last 10 stitches to finish the row.

Knit 5 rows of stockinette, starting and ending each purl row with k2.

BO as follows: *K2tog, pass first stitch over, repeat from * to end. This will reduce the amount of flare at that end.

Add buttons: I did this by standing in front of a mirror, wrapping the neckwarmer around my neck and marking the button placement by slipping a stitch marker through the buttonhole into the fabric below to mark each spot. Sew on buttons.

Stay warm!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Indian Killer by Sherman Alexie: a review

In Seattle, an American Indian man raised by white parents sinks more and more deeply into mental illness. Meanwhile, a mysterious killer is murdering white men, leaving two owl feathers with each body. A hate-filled talk show host stirs the pot of racial tension and more and more violence erupts throughout the city. Several threads are woven into a story that is part mystery and very readable.

This was a book group pick, and it was a great one, as there are so many potential discussion points. The mentally ill and homeless, frequently serving as a backdrop in real life, make up many of the main characters in this story. Very prominent are questions about what it means to be a real Indian, and who has the right to tell their stories. Revenge and retribution, white guilt, co-opting other cultures, and cross-cultural adoption are also very discussion-worthy themes that run throughout the book. But don't be deterred - considering all the ideas jammed-packed in this story, it still very compelling. Once you start it, you won't want to put it down!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Late knitting update

All my recent projects are knit in dark colors, so the picture quality isn't great. It's just too cold to go outside for pictures right now.

First is my Marseilles Pullover from the Summer 2006 Interweave Knits (timely AND seasonal!) It's actually not a summer sweater though, it's a long-sleeved pullover in Cascade 220 wool. I began in December, but had a minor setback when, several inches into it, I noticed a mistake a couple of inches back. I considered just leaving it, but ultimately knew it would bother me so I ripped back and fixed it. I'm glad I did! I'm happy with it so far, but it's slow going.

Next is the Pomatomus sock from, which I'm knitting as part of the January Sockdown on Ravelry. I cast on back on New Year's Day and to qualify I must finish the pair by the end of February. I'm certainly on track to do so, and if I fall behind, well, I'm on vacation the last week of February and have no other plans. I've actually made a decent amount of progress since this photo was taken - I just finished the gusset decreases.

Last but not least is the neckwarmer I'm making from Knitpicks Decadence. Here is the last progress shot I took:

Soon thereafter, I decided that the stitch pattern was inappropriate for such a lovely drapy yarn and resolved to frog it. When I sat down yesterday to rip it out, I instead found myself finishing it. It's blocking right now, which I think will relax it a bit and I'll feel better about the yarn/pattern combination. I didn't use a real pattern for this, just a stitch pattern from a Barbara Walker treasury. When I post the finished project sometime in the next week or so, I'll include my instructions in case anyone else wants to make it.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Niagara Falls All Over Again : a review

One of my very favorite books is The Giant's House by Elizabeth McCracken. It was the first book of hers that I had read, and I was almost afraid to try another. But Niagara Falls All Over Again lived up to my expectations. I think the Giant's House is still my favorite, but I really loved this one too.

The novel chronicles the vaudeville duo Carter and Sharp through their successful career - from stage to screen - and their rocky relationships with family, lovers, and each other. The feel is similar to The Giant's House, humor and snappy dialogue overlying a rather tragic, story. Speaking of tragic, I'm really looking forward to reading McCracken's memoir - I'm curious to see if she writes the same way about her personal life.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The rest of the Christmas gifts

Now that Russian Christmas - the pinnacle of my holiday season - is over, I can show you the rest of the seasonal crafts.

Starting with the cutest thing in the world.

Isn't it? A doughnut pin cushion - what could be better than that? This was a gift from my good friend Annmarie who has been crocheting up all sorts of cuteness. Like another gift that she gave me:

An entire container of crocheted dishcloths in colors that match my house! You can even see the matching of dishcloth to wall in that photo.

The stitch pattern gives them a great scrubby texture.

I also made gifts for Annmarie that I haven't been able to share with you before now. A dishcloth which seemed quite lovely until she made me a whole array of dishcloths. But I think it is pretty anyhow. This is from the ubiquitous ball-band dishcloth pattern published in Mason-Dixon Knitting.

Also, a little more amazingly, I managed to sew an oven mitt and matching potholder.

For the mitt, I used the pattern from Skip To My Lou. I just winged the potholder, and though it is only a potholder it is impressive for me.

I made another set for my mom, but her dishcloth was made in shades of pink and white. I was going to make one of each of these items for myself as well, but I'm a little done with looking at that fabric for a while. I could easily whip up a dishcloth, but I think I'll be all set with those for a while.

That's the end of my 2008 crafting, but later this week I'll show you what I've been doing so far in 2009!

Friday, January 9, 2009

Goals 2009

I'm going to go rogue for a moment and post something completely off-topic and personal. I'm sure I'll regret it immediately, but it's so refreshing to actually have some goals again that I can't help but share them with all 6 of you who read my blog.

These goals are especially exciting because they are all things I've been thinking about for a while and really feel committed to doing, so they are more real than most goals I've had in my life. Plus they are measurable, realistic, and aren't dependent on anyone but me.

Eat real food
I've been trying to eat better for a while now, and I'm more committed than ever to greatly reduce the amount of processed foods in my diet. It's not good for my health or for the environment and it's ridiculous to eat something if I don't even know what's in it. In the past year two members of my immediate family have been diagnosed with breast cancer, and if that's not enough to scare someone into taking charge of their health, I don't know what is. I've gotten into a great exercise routine in the past six months, and now it's time to compliment that by eating better. Michael Pollan and Barbara Kingsolver both have the right ideas and their books have been incredibly inspiring and motivating.

I have a lot of thoughts about how vegetarianism does and doesn't fit in with this goal and my distaste for labor-intensive and time-consuming cooking, but that could be another whole post. Suffice it to say I've started eating some seafood (like the sustainably harvested and mercury tested Dave's Tuna) and I like having the additional variety. I've also started spending more time with my friend the lentil, who I haven't seen in a while. As much as I don't enjoy cooking, I do love food and I have simple tastes. Adding just a few recipes to my tiny repertoire could make a big difference in making cooking more pleasant for me.

Compost and garden
I've been wanting to start a compost since buying my house almost three years ago, and I think it's about time I took some action. I just ordered my copy of The Urban Homestead which has some easy instructions on cheaply building a worm bin. I plan to make this my winter project and hopefully I'll have some compost in a few months when I start thinking about gardening. I have somewhat of a black thumb, but I am committed to growing something this year, even if it's just a few of my favorite vegetables. It's silly to have an entire yard and not use it to grow some food. This should also help aid in my goal of eating better. See? It all fits together!

Get away from chemical cleaners

I was recently choking on fumes while cleaning the shower when I thought, how can such toxicity possibly equal cleanliness? It simply can't. I've already stopped using commercial floor cleaners, and as I use up the last of the other household cleaning products, they won't be replaced. I'll be making my own out of simple ingredients like soap, vinegar, baking soda and lemon juice. It will be cheaper, take up less space, and not damage anyone's health.

It looks like health and sustainability are my themes for 2009. Any advice or words of wisdom?

Monday, January 5, 2009

A Year of Reading: 2008

In the spirit of tradition, here's a list of every book I read in 2008.

1. The Eight by Katherine Neville
2. A Sudden Fearful Death by Anne Perry (audio)
3. Time Capsule: Short Stories about Teenagers Throughout the Century
4. The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
5. They Call Me Naughty Lola: Personal Ads from the London Review of Books
6. About a Boy by Nick Hornby
7. The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver
8. Mindless Eating: Why we eat more than we think by Brian Wansink
9. The Three Incestuous Sisters by Audrey Niffenegger (graphic novel)
10. The Rabbi's Cat by Joann Sfar (graphic novel)
11. Choke by Chuck Palahniuk
12. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
13. House of Clay by Naomi Nowak (graphic novel)
14. Saving Fish From Drowning by Amy Tan
15. The Senator's Wife by Sue Miller
16. Alice in Sunderland by Bryan Talbot (graphic novel)
17. Adverbs by Daniel Handler
18. No Idle Hands: The Social History of American Knitting by Anne MacDonald
19. The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
20. Joe College by Tom Perrotta
21. Sammy's Hill by Kristin Gore
22. Good in Bed by Jennifer Weiner
23. Certain Girls by Jennifer Weiner
24. Animal Vegetable Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver
25. The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears by Dinaw Mengestu
26. While I Was Gone by Sue Miller
27. Skeletons at the Feast by Chris Bohjalian
28. The Year of Fog by Michelle Richmond
29. Free For All: Oddballs, Geeks, and Gangstas in the Public Library by Don Borchert
30. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
31. The Dead and the Gone by Susan Beth Pfeffer
32. Digging to America by Anne Tyler
33. Sheer Abandon by Penny Vincenzi
34. The Gum Thief by Douglas Coupland
35. Such a Pretty Fat by Jen Lancaster
36. In Defense of Food by Michael Pollen
37. Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler
38. Lord of the Flies by William Golding
39. Little Stalker by Jennifer Belle
40. My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk
41. Freddie & Me: A Coming-of-age (Bohemian) Rhapsody by Mike Dawson
42. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
43. Straight Talk about Breast Cancer by Suzanne Braddock
44. 20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill
45. Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
46. The Good Wife by Stewart O'Nan
47. Become Who You Were Born To Be by Brian Souza
48. American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld
49. Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
50. Pretties by Scott Westerfeld
51. Specials by Scott Westerfeld
52. Absurdistan by Gary Shteyngart
53. Last Night at the Lobster by Stewart O'Nan
54. Extras by Scott Westerfeld
55. The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien
56. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
57. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
58. Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson
59. A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson
60. American Widow by Alissa Torres (graphic novel)
61. The Borden Tragedy by Rick Geary (graphic novel)
62. Girl, 15, Charming but Insane by Sue Limb
63. Hoot by Carl Hiaasen
64. Japan Ai by Aimee Major Steinberger (graphic novel)
65. Notes From the Midnight Driver by Jordan Sonnenblick
66. The Insufficiency of Maps by Nora Pierce
67. The Secret Life of the Lonely Doll: the search for Dare Wright by Jean Nathan
68. A Winter Marriage by Kerry Hardie
69. The Urban Homestead: Your Guide to Self-Sufficient Living in the Heart of the City
70. Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris
71. Coraline by Neil Gaiman
72. Geek Love by Katherine Dunn

I read one less book in 2008 than I did in 2007. That is kind of weird.