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?