Monday, January 31, 2011

Sock of love

Or of hearts anyway. Valentine's Day is coming up, you know!

This pattern was published in the Holiday Gifts 2007 issue of IK. I bought yarn a few months later and then procrastinated for a couple of years. I thought I was putting it off because the socks are knit toe up, but as it turns out they aren't. I don't know what I was thinking.

So far these are fun to knit, but they involve charts so I may or may not take them on my upcoming jaunt to NY. I've taken them to knitting groups a couple of times though and have managed not to make any mistakes, so I'm happy about that.

I'll try to get some better shots of the cable details to share soon.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Lake of Dreams : a review

Lake of Dreams by Kim Edwards (2011)

Returning to her hometown of Lake of Dreams, Lucy finds that her mother is considering selling the house to developers. Having been away for so long in Indonesia and Japan, Lucy is startled to find how nostalgic she feels towards her childhood home, and is overcome with memories of her father’s death years before. When she stumbles across some letters hidden in the cupola, she sets off to solve a mystery in her family’s history, which also involves a stained-glass artist and the women’s suffrage movement. Meanwhile, Lucy meets up with her old flame, Keegan, and wonders if there is still a connection. But her current boyfriend Yoshi will be joining her in the Lake of Dreams when his business trip is over. Their relationship has been a bit strained recently, which adds to her confusion.

There is a lot going on in this book, between Lucy and her family, the proposed (and contested) development in the town, Lucy’s uncertain future with Yoshi, and her mother’s new budding romance. Added to that is the whole story of Rose Jarrett, a relative that nobody knew even existed until Lucy’s discovery.

Despite all of the plotlines, the pace is steady and the story is told beautifully. Since I just finished a novel by Stewart O’Nan, who also writes wonderful descriptions, I can’t help but compare their styles. O’Nan’s writing reflects the world in all it’s smelly messy reality. There is beauty, to be sure, but there are also fast-food wrappers littering the floor of the car, and you may want to smell the milk before pouring it in your coffee. Edwards, on the other hand, creates atmosphere by including certain things and leaving others out. The air is fragrant with roses and there are always fresh strawberries. Lucy and her mother ate leftover party food for a few days and Edwards even made that sound classy (unlike when I do it myself and it is all stale and sad.) It is not a world that I have ever experienced, but it is beautiful to visit.

Lucy’s main flaw was that she was so incredibly self-centered. For instance, she finds a long-lost relative who is 95 years old and decides to pay her a visit. She worries only about what she might discover, and never stops to consider that long-buried family secrets could be upsetting to a frail old woman. Similarly, at one point she calls her brother Blake in the middle of the night, waking him up with a piece of news that he thinks could have waited until morning. After he hangs up on her in anger, she doesn’t feel one bit guilty. No, she just moons about, thinking of the bats that have inhabited their yard since she was a child.

But this book IS all about Lucy and what her trip back to Lake of Dreams dredges up – discoveries, childhood memories, conflicting desires, guilt. Edwards found a good balance between action and thought, propelling the reader forward while adding moments of internal reflection, and wove it all together in a satisfying story that is a pleasure to read.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Bramble Stitch Shawl

After eight months of on-again off-again knitting, I have finally finished my very first shawl.

Pattern: Bramble Stitch Lacy Shawl from The Knitter's Bible: Knitted Accessories, a gift from my friend the Cable Girl
Yarn: Farmhouse Yarn's Bo Peep's Sock Yarn
Needles: Size 11
Started way back in March of 2010 and just finished on January 17th. Yikes.

I'm not really a shawl person but thought it might be nice to have one for when I need a little something extra around my shoulders. It's better than dragging an afghan around the house. In the book they used larger needles and thinner yarn for a more wispy effect which looks quite lovely.

I bought this yarn ages ago for socks, but despite the name it's really more of a sport weight yarn. I do like Farmhouse Yarns though - my Wanida Socks are made from their Fannie's Fingering Weight and have had nary a hole after lots of wear.

This is actually a very easy pattern, which is one of the reasons why I chose it. It's easy to memorize and can be worked on while watching tv or socializing. You start at the point and increase each row so that the rows get longer and longer as you go, creating a triangle shape. My triangle has kind of swoopy-shaped sides.

Laying knitted items on the snow always looks so artful on other knitting blogs.

Perhaps better blocking could have helped the shape, but my blocking area wasn't big enough. Someday maybe I'll try again because I'd like it to be slightly larger if possible. At any rate, I'm satisfied with how it turned out and really glad that it's done!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Wish You Were Here : a review

Wish You Were Here by Stewart O'Nan (2003)

After her husband’s death, Emily Maxwell gathers the family at their summer cottage one last time before it is sold. Her daughter Meg and son Kenneth bring their families as they do every summer, and try to fit in all their favorite activities while divvying up the contents of the house and waxing nostalgic about summers past.

The black sheep of the family, Meg has had a rough year of rehab and divorce and has driven from Detroit with her kids Sarah and Justin to join their family with whom her relationship has been rocky. Ken is a struggling photographer who just wants to find the perfect shot, and leaves his wife Lise to deal with the kids – Ella, in love with her cousin Sarah, and her younger brother Sam who compulsively steals.

The perspective shifts between characters throughout the book and while it was subtle enough to confuse me at times, I thought it helped to round out the story well. The relationships in this family are complex and having multiple perspectives created a richer, more nuanced story.

In typical O’Nan style, the details are meticulous. This was what I loved about his novel Last Night at the Lobster – the reader can feel, see, smell everything that is happening. It is less effective however, when describing a game of golf with unfamiliar terminology or, more unpleasantly, someone’s bowel movements. There is a little too much information and it got tedious at times (did it really need to be 517 pages?), but mostly I enjoyed reading O’Nan’s beautiful language.

When all was said and done, not a lot happened in this book. It’s not an action story, of course, it’s a relationship story but even so, I was surprised when I finished and realized that very little changed in the characters’ lives from the beginning to the end. Luckily, O’Nan’s beautiful writing and finely-tuned character development makes up for a lot.

I got to know the characters very well – I did just spend a week’s vacation with them, after all – and now I’m ready for the sequel. Yes, Stewart O’Nan has written a follow-up called Emily, Alone, a (much shorter) novel which will be released in March. Since so many years have passed since writing Wish You Were Here I expect the writing to be tighter and more sophisticated. I’m looking forward to rejoining the Maxwells for part two.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Glynis Socks

My socks are finished and they are beautiful!

Unfortunately, I still suck at taking photos of my own feet.

Pattern: Glynis from Sock Innovation by Cookie A.
Yarn: Lorna's Laces Shepherd Sock Multi
Needles: Addi Turbos size 1 (2.5mm)

After years of reading knit blogs that rave about Lorna’s Laces sock yarn, this is the first time I have used it so I feel like I’m a little late to the party. To be fair, I could have started this right after I bought the yarn at Webs way back in aught eight, but that's beside the point. Anyhow, I will reserve final judgment on the yarn until I see how well it holds up, but it was nice to work with and the colors are very pretty. I suspect I’ll wear these socks a lot and I’m hoping that the 20% nylon content will mean that they wear well.

Like many of the patterns in Cookie’s book, this one is charted. But it’s a pretty simple chart and I was able to work on these while watching movies or chatting with a group. This is important because I am a multi-tasker. Luckily, I checked the errata ahead of time so I knew about the one tiny error in the chart. So far I've really enjoyed all of the Cookie A. sock patterns I've tried and I plan to make many, many more.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Crafty gifts!

For Christmas I received a skein of lovely sock yarn from my friend at The Cable Girl. It is Dream in Color Smooshy in a shade of purple called Pansy Golightly. How cute is that? I love the Smooshy yarn – it is touchable and squeezable and comes in an array of beautiful colors.

As wonderful as it feels on my feet, my other socks made from this yarn have had to be darned a few times. While it may be worth it for such luxurious feeling socks, it's important to remember that one is not limited to making socks out of one’s sock yarn.

Which brings me to the other part of my gift: a copy of Sock Yarn One-Skein Wonders. This book contains many, many patterns for a variety of items all made with one skein of sock yarn. Hats, scarves, fingerless gloves, mittens, baby sweaters, bags, shawls, ornaments, a lampshade (!), and yes, even socks. It’s gorgeous and I’ve already found a number of projects I want to start right this minute. I can’t wait to pick out a project to make with my new purple yarn!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

U.S. History for Dummies : a review

U.S. History for Dummies by Steve Wiegand (2001)

This readable and humorous volume is a great introduction and jumping-off point for learning about important events and themes in our nation’s history. At 370 pages it isn’t comprehensive, but for someone with a short attention span it’s perfect. Like other books in the “For Dummies” series the chapters are short, the tone is conversational and witty, and the text is interspersed with sidebars that break up the information into smaller, more manageable chunks. Some of the more interesting sidebars were “American Faces” which provide brief biographical overviews of important people, “Sidetrips” describing interesting information that is tangential to the main ideas of the chapter, and “In their words” which contain quotes from historic speeches, letters, or other documents.

One of the highlights for me were the early chapters on colonial America. My knowledge of early history starts with the pilgrims arriving at Plymouth Rock (which isn’t even accurate) and then skips directly to the Revolutionary War. Lots of stuff actually happened in between and it was fun to learn about. I also enjoyed many of the sidebars, such as the publication of a hoax story in the Sun that life existed on the moon, and the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby. Reading only about policymaking and military gains is not only dull, but leaves out a lot that actually influenced how people lived. The sidebars about popular culture add more depth and remind us how much was actually going on at the time being described.

I do wish the book had included suggestions for further reading, but that is a minor quibble. As with any book that tries to cover so much ground, it’s important to keep in mind that it’s telling only part of the story. I felt that the author tried to be even-handed and unbiased, making a point to include different perspectives. Of course, many of the topics are so complex that this is impossible so I’m only using this as an introduction, and I think it was indeed a good place to start.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Knitting Plan

It’s not much of a plan really, more of a progress report through which I’m hoping to shame myself into action. With the Tweed Pullover finished, I return to my three languishing projects.

First up, the sadly neglected Whisper Cardigan.

I have knit nary a stitch since this post, though I did move the project to new needles with a smoother join. (So much for my assertion that once I did so, the project would practically knit itself.) My fear now is that it’s been so long I will have to rip out and restart the project because of gauge changes and the fact that I don't know where I left off in the pattern.

Next is the Bramble Stitch Shawl, which I actually have done some work on in recent months, but it is still embarrassingly slow going.

This is also the least photogenic of the projects and I look forward to the day when it is not only completed, but blocked into wintery glory.

Most successful of my works in progress are the Glynis Socks. I’ve been burning through these and have a sock and a half! I think I can finish this sock within the week if I really try.

The plan: finish the Glynis Socks, and make substantial progress on the other two projects before rushing out and starting anything new. Beyond that, I have little planned for knitting this year. My only real knitting goal is to make one sweater that is practical and fits me well and that I will actually wear. An upcoming post will discuss this in depth, so stay tuned!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Reading Plan

As I've mentioned, one of my goals for this year is to learn more about U.S. History. Last year when I was learning about art I watched a lecture series from Great Courses which I got at the library and it was so good, I may try their series on U.S. history. It is daunting though – 84 lectures! They are only a half hour each, but even the 48-lecture series on European Art seemed like it took a long time to get through. But traditionally, I learn better through classes than unstructured reading, so a DVD series is probably the way to go. I am also supplementing with documentaries from PBS and National Georgraphic through the magic of Netflix.

Of course I will also be reading some books on U.S. history. About a month ago, I started Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States which I’ve had for years, but by chapter 3 I realized that it assumes a lot of basic knowledge that I don’t possess. So I put it aside for now in favor of a couple of basic, general books. Right now I’m about halfway through U.S. History for Dummies – don’t laugh! This is actually a good, readable series which in the past has helped me learn about various computer topics and I’m enjoying this one as well, stained though it is by the beverages of countless library patrons. (I will keep telling myself those stains are from beverages.) I’m also reading A History of the United States by Philip Jenkins which is also good, but requires more concentration.

Once I finish these two books, I plan to tackle some that are more in depth. A few that I’ve added to my “to read” list recently include: 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, and A Voyage Long and Strange: Rediscovering the New World, both of which my friend Kevin mention on his blog recently; American Uprising: The Untold Story of America’s Largest Slave Revolt; and The Civil War: A Concise History, a forthcoming book that I am excited about because it's only 160 pages.

My plan for this year is to try and read at least one non-fiction book a month. If you know me, you are probably laughing right now but I am, in fact, reading two non-fiction books at the moment. I’m not going to push myself to finish books that aren’t interesting to me but I will commit to at least try some of the books on my list above. I have non-fiction books on other topics I want to read as well, but hopefully I will read at least six books about American history this year. Have you read any of the books above? Or do you have other must-read suggestions?

Saturday, January 1, 2011

A Year of Reading : 2010

In the spirit of tradition, here is a list of all the books I read in 2010:

1. Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
2. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
3. Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin
4. The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe
5. The Plain Janes by Cecil Castellucci and Jim Rugg (graphic novel)
6. Isn't It Romantic? by Ron Hanson
7. Blame by Michelle Huneven
8. Almost Perfect by Brian Katcher*
9. Silverfish by David Lapham (graphic novel)
10. Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
11. Secrets of Eden by Chris Bohjalian
12. The Wife's Tale by Lori Lansens
13. Food Rules by Michael Pollan
14. The Soul Thief by Charles Baxter
15. The Boy Who Couldn't Sleep and Never Had To by D.C. Pierson
16. The Braindead Megaphone by George Saunders
17. Normal People Don't Live Like This by Dylan Landis
18. Bound by Sally Gunning
19. On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder
20. Serena by Ron Rash
21. By the Shores of Silver Lake by Laura Ingalls Wilder
22. Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman
23. Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane
24. Something Borrowed by Emily Giffen (audio)
25. The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters*
26. This World We Live In by Susan Beth Pfeffer
27. French Milk by Lucy Knisley (graphic)
28. The Art of Eating In by Cathy Erway
29. The Giant's House by Elizabeth McCracken
30. The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder
31. Home is Where the Wine Is by Laurie Perry
32. Little Town on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
33. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
34. Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese*
35. These Happy Golden Years by Laura Ingalls Wilder
36. How to Say Goodbye in Robot by Natalie Standiford
37. The First Four Years by Laura Ingalls Wilder
38. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
39. The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson
40. The Twin by Gerbrand Bakker
41. Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl
42. Fly Away Home by Jennifer Weiner*
43. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson
44. Tinkers by Paul Harding
45. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
46. Still Alice by Lisa Genova
47. The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han
48. It's Not Summer Without You by Jenny Han
49. The Truth About Forever by Sarah Desson
50. This Is Just Exactly Like You by Drew Perry
51. I'd Know You Anywhere by Laura Lippman*
52. Strategies for Successful Career Change by Martha E. Mangelsdorf
53. Main Street by Sinclair Lewis
54. Hopeless Savages Greatest Hits 2000-2010 by Jen Van Meter
55. Finding Your Own North Star: claiming the life you were meant to live by Martha Beck
56. The Tower the Zoo and the Tortoise by Julia Stuart*
57. Dreams From My Father by Barack Obama (audio)
58. A Christmas Journey by Anne Perry
59. One Day by David Nicholls*
60. World Made By Hand by James Howard Kunstler
61. Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King
62. Room by Emma Donoghue*
63. Strangers at the Feast by Jennifer Vanderbes
64. Eleanor Rigby by Douglas Coupland
65. A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami
66. Sorta Like a Rock Star by Matthew Quick
67. A Christmas Promise by Anne Perry
68. Sweethearts by Sara Zarr*
69. The Night Bookmobile by Audrey Niffenegger (graphic)*
70. An Object of Beauty by Steve Martin
71. Lowboy by John Wray
72. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Although my intention was to review every book I read, it seems that I missed a couple. Also, the list is in the order that I read the books, not necessarily the order in which I reviewed them. Although I post the reviews here and keep track on goodreads, I still write down all the titles in a little notebook and that's what I used to create my list.

I started and ended the year with Dickens, which is kind of lovely. My count is 72, but since I read A Christmas Carol twice, I guess it is only 71 books. I'm not sure how to count that. As an interesting note, I read a beautifully illustrated version I found at the library the first time, and the second time I read it on my new nook. Reading it on an ereader and without photos was definitely a different experience!

My favorites are starred above. I find it very difficult to choose favorites, but I forced myself to select a top ten. I didn't star books that I've read before - the Laura Ingalls Wilder books and A Giant's House are some of my favorite books of all time, but I wanted to highlight books I read this year for the first time.

So what's ahead for me in 2011? You can expect more non-fiction because one of my goals is to learn more about U.S. history. I'm also hoping to finally read some things that have been on my list for a while - either read them or delete them from the list. And there are a few that are priorities this year, such as Little Women and Tipping the Velvet, both of which I've wanted to read for so long I have no idea why I haven't yet. I'm wondering if having an ereader will change the way I read. I certainly hope not, but it will be interesting to see how many books I read that way versus in print.

Happy new year and happy reading!