Monday, May 31, 2010

Home is where the wine is : a review

Crazy Aunt Purl's Home Is Where the Wine Is: Making the Most of What You've Got One Stitch (and Cocktail!) At a Time by Laurie Perry (2010)

The author of the amazingly funny and also rather helpful blog Crazy Aunt Purl is back with her second book. I read the first one, Drunk, Divorced and Covered in Cat Hair, which chronicles her post-divorce life, back in 2007. Her new book begins with a set of New Year’s resolutions, and the following chapters follow the progress of each. They are varied enough to keep things interesting: explore new paths to enlightenment, deal with my issues, knit something that isn’t square, go on a real live date, grow a garden, etc. Although some of the stories she tells have been at least alluded to on her blog (travelling alone, her gardener Francisco) she has saved a great deal to disclose here. I was happy to see how much of the book she devoted to her dating life – since she is a young divorced woman I assumed she had been dating, but she never discusses it on her blog.

The book also contains a dozen or so knitting patterns, some of which are Perry’s designs, and others contributed by other knitters. There are color photos of a number (but not all) of them. They are pretty decent patterns including handwarmers, hats, scarves, bags, various cozies, a swiffer cover and a braided i-cold rug. (The rug is by far my favorite of the projects, but there is no way in hell I’m ever knitting that much i-cord just so my cat can puke on it later.)

I had to buy this book as no libraries in my system own it (boo!) But I’ve been enjoying the Crazy Aunt Purl blog for so long now, I had no problem forking over a little cash for the many hours of amusement this author has provided me. Minus the patterns, the book was only 150 pages, which I didn’t expect so the end snuck up on me. Although I think I liked her first book better, I still found it humorous and enjoyed reading it.

If you haven’t read her blog, you really should. Crazy Aunt Purl is ostensibly a knitting blog, but she writes about everything from her cats to the LA weather reports to organizing her apartment. I don’t usually go for the daily-life kind of blogs, but I find her advice helpful, her perspective refreshing, and her writing hilarious. I want to be her friend, but since she lives on the opposite coast I am happy just coming home at night, sitting at my computer, and reading her latest post. Over a glass of wine, of course.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Long Winter : a review

The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder (1940)

The winter of 1880-1881 in South Dakota was harsh, beginning with a blizzard in October. By December, railroads were blocked, preventing trains from bringing supplies until spring. The Ingalls family had to make do with what they had, and their supplies quickly dwindled. When they ran out of flour, they started grinding wheat in a coffee mill in order to make bread; when the coal was gone, they began twisting hay into tightly-formed sticks to burn. They went to bed early because they had so little kerosene left, and all their waking hours were spent taking turns grinding wheat and twisting hay.

The only reason the Ingalls family and the other inhabitants of De Smet managed to make it through the winter was that Almanzo Wilder (Laura’s future husband!) and his friend Cap Garland braved the weather to search for someone they heard may have grown wheat the previous summer. They found him, negotiated with him, and managed to bring back enough wheat to keep everyone from starving before spring.

If you ever feel a need to read something that puts things in perspective for you, this is a pretty good one. The family was close to starving and managed to still sing and laugh and appreciate what little they had – granted, it was more difficult than usual but they kept it up, knowing they just had to hold on until spring when everything would be better. It sounds bleak, but it was still a pleasure to read. The family’s resilience and hope for the future was inspiring.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


While waiting for my buttons to magically attach themselves to my cardigan, let’s look at one of my favorite design features of this garment.

These bands were created through a simple pattern of knit rows and purl rows. There’s a set of bands running around the whole cardigan, separating the peplum from the body, as well as at the edges of the sleeves.

If you’ve looked through the patterns in Fitted Knits, you may have noticed that these are a theme. They make lovely borders and edgings, and I have no idea why Stefanie Japel has apparently cornered the market on this very simple but lovely technique. I never see other designers use this, but it’s one of the things I really like about Japel’s designs.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Art of Eating In : a review

The Art of Eating In: How I learned to stop spending and love the stove by Cathy Erway (2010)

The author of the popular blog Not Eating Out in New York chronicles her 2-year experiment to eat only home-cooked food. In addition to cooking at home, she explores other eating alternatives like supper clubs, trash diving, and urban foraging. As you might expect, recipes are included. Because it’s about changes she made in her lifestyle, it also chronicles parts of her personal life – primarily romantic relationships and family – but those are minor sub-plots in the otherwise food-focused narrative.

As someone who has been consciously trying to cut down on eating out, I was intrigued by the subject and pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed reading it. Erway’s writing isn’t the best, with some awkward phrases and stilted dialogue, but her culinary adventures are inspiring. (I’m not kidding - the day I finished the book I spent close to 4 hours in my kitchen making samosas.)

At a little over 300 pages there is a lot packed into her book, but I still wanted more. First of all, I’m always curious about how people who cook a lot handle the day to day aspects of planning, shopping and fitting this all into their schedules (though Erway was pretty forward about cooking being her main hobby). Secondly, I wanted to know what sorts of things she cooked on evenings when she was in a rush and made something simple and quick before or after her evening plans. This is part of what I find so difficult about not eating out – coming up with something quickly when I’m hungry and standing in my pantry staring at a hodgepodge of random ingredients. But this isn’t a how-to manual, nor was it written with my particular culinary questions in mind so I’ll forgive her for not including much on these subjects.

I clearly don’t have the innate creativity and love of cooking that made Erway’s experiment so successful. But her point was taken – eating home cooked food is cheaper, healthier, in many cases tastier, and less trash-producing than a diet of fast-food, take-out and restaurant food. Though it would be extremely difficult for most people to even come close to what Cathy Erway did, most of us could certainly benefit from cooking more at home, and her book is an entertaining and inspiring starting point.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Giant's House : a review

The Giant's House by Elizabeth McCracken (1996)

This is one of my very favorite books and I just read it for the second time after buying a used copy. This means I can dog-ear the pages to mark my favorite passages. There are approximately 20 dog-ears in it already which I suppose renders the practice moot, but nonetheless I find it immensely satisfying.

I wrote almost nothing about it last time and while I still can’t do it justice, I will at least tell you a little about the plot. The narrator is a librarian on Cape Cod who meets and falls in love with a remarkable young man. He is a giant, growing quickly and unstoppably, doomed to die before his time from the condition. Peggy befriends him at the library and eventually becomes a more personal friend, finally becoming romantically involved, but rather too late.

The story is beautiful and sad and I love both Peggy and James. The first time I read this book, I think it was all about James for me but this time I thought much more about Peggy and her life. She was socially rather inept, romantically challenged, and didn’t really like people. But, despite the vast difference in their ages, for some reason she loved James. Of course their relationship was doomed and Peggy seemed to accept this, as she accepted the many unhappy circumstances of her life.

If you haven’t read this book yet, I urge you to do so now. In closing, I’ll leave you with this brief love poem that James wrote for Peggy:

Love Poem for a Librarian

Although her love for me is infinitesimal,
Her eyes are as Dewey as any old decimal.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Scrunchable Scarf

This was a super simple pattern, found free here. I used Malabrigo Worsted in Bobby Blue and size 8 needles.

The scarf isn’t super long, but it’s thick enough that I wouldn’t have to wrap it multiple times anyway. Originally I planned to use a bulky yarn but the day I went shopping there wasn’t a color I liked in the bulky Malabrigo. I think it turned out quite lovely anyhow and seems to be warm enough. (Of course it’s almost June so it’s difficult to judge that accurately.)

I will need a matching hat because this color doesn’t go with any of my hats. I don’t want it too matchy-matchy, which is why I only bought enough yarn for a scarf, so I will look for a complimentary color. Maybe gray? If I have a little of the blue leftover perhaps I can use it for an edging on the hat.

Tomorrow I’m going to Windsor Button to find buttons for my Puff-Sleeved Cardigan, so I’ll look at potential hat yarns while I’m there. And of course this means I should have finished photos of my cardigan soon! Be patient though, because I have to block it and make sure it’s perfect before I reveal it to the world.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Emotional Intelligence : a review

This has been on my list to read for a long, long time! It was very interesting, but not quite what I expected. Goleman teaches us a bit about how the brain works, defines emotional intelligence, talks about its effects and why it is important, and shares stories about some schools using it in their curriculums.

What I was hoping for, and what it didn't deliver, was more of a how-to. In the section where he defines emotional intelligence, he talks a bit about things like managing one's feelings, feeling empathy, and that sort of thing, but he never actually provides any advice on developing one's emotional intelligence. The most useful part of the book was Emotional Intelligence Applied - real-world scenarios of his principles in action in marriage, business management, and health. He provides interesting information about how emotional intelligence is good for you, your relationships, and your work with examples and statistics. I got a little bored with all the child-related chapters near the end, but it's probably useful for parents.

Goleman has written several other books and hopefully I will eventually read some of those. A few of them are a bit to spiritually-focused for me, but I'm particularly interested in one called Social Intelligence, and also Working with Emotional Intelligence. I don't generally read self-help books and in fact get pretty bored with most non-fiction regardless of how much the subject matter interests me. Rather than reading the books, I'd love to just attend a workshop or lecture on these topics, but I suppose I will have to settle for reading.

4/23/2011 Updated to correct a book title

Monday, May 3, 2010

This World We Live In : a review

In the third and final installment in the trilogy by Susan Beth Pfeffer that began with Life As We Knew It, the characters from the first two books finally meet each other. Narrated again by Miranda from the first book, through the pages of her diary, we hear more about the family’s struggle to survive. Miranda’s older brothers leave for several days on a fishing trip and return with not only lots of fish, but a new “wife” for her older brother. The concern about the extra mouth to feed is soon overshadowed when their father also returns with his wife and their new baby, as well as a new friend Charlie, and Alex and Julie from book two. The family has now grown to 10 people and with the house so crowded, they eventually spread out into the neighbor’s house as well.

This book has little forward momentum, and almost none of what I was hoping for. The first two books got us used to the catastrophe and the new set of circumstances in which everyone is living; I hoped that this book would give us a feeling for what was to come – will humans be doomed, or will they begin rebuilding society? But unfortunately, I have no idea. Those questions weren’t answered, and the book doesn’t feel final at all, though the author says it’s the end of the series. It ended rather abruptly as well, with a weather-related catastrophe, and then it all wrapped up very quickly. It left me unsatisfied and disappointed.