Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Jayne Hat - Shiny!!


I don't know how many of you are familiar with Firefly. It was a short-lived TV show that only had 15 episodes.  I missed it when it was on TV, but discovered a couple of months ago.  It starred Nathan Fillion of current Castle fame and is best described as a cowboys in space 500 years in the future.  It's developed quite a cult following over the years, and spawned a movie called Serenity.  You can find more info here or here.

At any rate, Elder Son is a big fan, as am I, and he expressed a wish for a Jayne hat.  It's named for one of the characters, Jayne Cobb, who is the resident "enforcer" on the Firefly crew.  He's played by Adam Baldwin and he's a super-tough guy.  He has a soft spot for his mother however, and in one episode she sends him a roughly knit earflap hat which he immediately dons.  Fans of the show have created a demand for such a hat, and a number of patterns are available.  I purchased my pattern on Ravelry here, and I used partial skeins of Valley Yarn Berkshire Bulky.  It was a quick and easy knit, and now I just have to mail my son his hat!

Saturday, January 30, 2010

A Busy Week: Of Books and Knitting

First, the knitting project:




This is a pattern I picked up at a fairly local knitting shop in a nearby  "Small" city (more like a large town!)  It was a store pattern that I was able to get for free providing I bought the store-made kit.   There is no author listed on the pattern.  It's made from 3 skeins of Plymouth Suri Merino which is an alpaca merino blend.  It's super soft, with a nice fuzzy halo.  There are almost 1000 beads on the scarf too.  Stringing the beads took me almost as long as the actual knitting, especially because I didn't have the recommended beading needle.  I strung the beads for the first half of the scarf with a needle threader.  That broke just as I was finishing the first half of the beads. For the second half of the project, I used a 00 crochet hook and a tapestry needle.  It took longer than it should have!!  The knitting is just a K2P2 rib, so it went fast.  You knit the 2 halves of the scarf and join them with a 3 needle bindoff.    I haven't decided whether I will keep this scarf or gift it to someone next Christmas!

And now for books:

Book #10 for this year is

All Shall Be Well (Kincaid/James #2) All Shall Be Well by Deborah Crombie

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
In this second Duncan Kincaid/Gemma Jones novel, Duncan is investigating the death of his neighbor Jasmine Dent. Jasmine's death is suspicious. In the last stages of lung cancer, Jasmine had been exploring the possibility of assisted suicide. When she is found dead by a caregiver, it's not clear whether Jasmine committed suicide or was whether she was in fact, murdered. We learn about Jasmine's life as Duncan reads her diaries. We also are invited into Gemma's personal life: her relationship with her parents, her struggles as a single mother; and we learn more about Duncan's interior life. At the same time, Duncan and Gemma begin to develop an "outside of work" relationship when he asks her to help him with his investigation on her free time. The plotting is tight, and the characters are finely drawn. This was altogether a satisfying read.

Book #11

U is for Undertow (Kinsey Millhone Mystery) U is for Undertow by Sue Grafton

My rating: 2 of 5 stars
It's been a while since I've read a Kinsey Milhone, and I was looking forward to this one.  I have to say I was disappointed.  I thought the storyline was dull, and I knew who-dun-it very early in the book.  I found the flashbacks and point of view changes annoying too.  It was pleasant to re-visit Kinsey but wished there had been more interaction between her and Henry.  It didn't seem that Sue Grafton's  heart was in this installment.

Book #12

La's Orchestra Saves the World La's Orchestra Saves the World by Alexander McCall Smith

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
La (short for Lavender)Stone retreats from pre-WWII London to the country after her husband abandons her for another woman.  She finds it quiet, too quiet, in fact, at first and she struggles to find a purpose in life.  As WWII breaks out, La discovers a purpose by working a "Land girl", assisting a local farmer with his hens, and by assembling a village orchestra.  This orchestra becomes a symbol for the village of their determination to "keep on, keeping on" during the long war years.

I haven't decided whether or not I really liked this book.  I had a hard time getting to know La - I didn't connect with her in the way I am able to connect with Mma Ramotswe, for example.  La is reserved and cool, keeping her distance from everyone and I think, even from herself.  There is great description, and definitely some similar moral philosophy, but I missed the warmness, openness and joy that infuses the Ladies' Detective Agency series.  It might be worth a re-read sometime in the future.

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Sunday, January 24, 2010

A New (to me) Book Series

A Share in Death (Kincaid/James #1) A Share in Death by Deborah Crombie

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I've discovered a new author and I'm glad I did. A Share in Death by Deborah Crombie is the first in a series of mysteries featuring Scotland Yard's Superintendent Duncan Kincaid and his sergeant Gemma Jones. Kincaid is taking some much-needed vacation time at a Yorkshire time-share. His vacation is quickly interrupted by the discovery of a body in the swimming pool, and further complicated by a second murder. Crombie portrays Kincaid as an astute, intelligent observer, but also as very cool and reserved. His more-outgoing assistant seems to understand Kincaid's need for distance, and provides an effectivie counterbalance. The author does a great job evoking the Yorkshire countryside and the setting comes alive with apt descriptive details. The plotting is tight, and it wasn't until the very last few pages, that I figured out "who dun it." I look forward to reading more of the books in the series.

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Friday, January 22, 2010

Friday Five: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

This installment comes from Rev. Songbird as posted at RevGalBlogPals.

1) What was the mode of transit for your last trip?

My last two trips were completed in a typical transportation mode for me -- my Honda CR-V. The very last trip was a short day trip - we traveled 186 miles one way to southern CT to visit a beloved aunt. The trip before that was a 7 hour jaunt (each way) to visit my youngest sister out in western NY state at Thanksgiving. The trip before that was a major one. We went to Greece. We used a car, a shuttle bus, an airplane, a taxi, a coach bus, several ferries, and a city bus. We passed on the mules.

2) Have you ever traveled by train?

Yes. As a child I lived in southern CT, along the coast, and the train went right through my town. We took the train into NY occasionally. My father and I used to walk to the paper (and tobacco) store and then go over to the train station to watch the trains while he smoked a cigar or pipe, and I enjoyed a Charms lollipop. When I was in college I once took the train from New Haven, CT to Cincinnati, OH. It was a 24 hour trip via Washington, DC, Stoughton, VA, Charleston, WV, and finally Cincinnati. The last time I took the train was about 2 years ago. We went to Cornwall for a week's vacation. We took the train from Heathrow to St. Ives, and used the train several times to travel to other places in the area.

3) Do you live in a place with public transit, and if so, do you use it?

Nope. You need a car in this rural area of New Hampshire.

4) What's the most unusual vehicle in which you've ever traveled?

I can't really come up with one that I remember. However, I have pictures of me at 13 months, riding in a goat-drawn cart in Cuba. (This gives you a hint of my age -- this was pre-Castro) I've also ridden an camel and an elephant, albeit at the Bronx Zoo, so unless you count riding in a circle around a track as travel, it probably doesn't count!

5) What's the next trip you're planning to take?

I don't have a specific trip scheduled, but we are seriously considering a road trip to the West Coast this summer. We will travel by car if we do accomplish this.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

A Duo by Dana Stabenow

I'm not sure how I'm finding all this time for reading. It might be that the new TV schedule has left me with some evenings empty of visual entertainment, or that I'm going to bed a little earlier at night to have some reading time. Or maybe it's just that I'm not spending quite as much time on the computer! But here are a pair of books by Dana Stabenow, an author I've really come to enjoy! I think that one reason I like her books is that she allows her characters to have shades of gray. They are able to do what needs to be done, the "right" thing, even it's it's not the legally right thing to do.

Breakup (Kate Shugak, Book 7) Breakup by Dana Stabenow

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I'm not sure if this was meant to be a light-hearted book because murder isn't ever light-hearted, but this book made me laugh out loud in a number of places. It's spring time in Alaska. The bears are waking up and after surviving the long arctic winter, it's not just the bears who are cranky. Kate's day starts with a bear charging her continues with a jet engine falling on her homestead. She becomes a tour guide for a friend's Boston Brahmin parents, and this tour becomes something to be remembered for quite a long time! Kate dodges bears, bullets, and brawls on nearly every page in this installment. As usual the Alaskan setting is a central character as is the conflict between native Alaskan culture and Outside. It was an enjoyable change from the darkness of some of the previous novels!

Killing Grounds (Kate Shugak, Book 8) Killing Grounds by Dana Stabenow

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Killing Grounds is another good entry into the Kate Shugak series. Kate is deck boss for Old Sam for the annual salmon run. The cannery drops the price for the catch, and the commercial fishermen decide to strike - all but an Outsider by the name of Cal Meany. Meany has been buying up set claims using shady means, and he has a reputation for abusing his family. On the morning after a raucous July 4th celebration, Kate finds Cal floating dead in the water next to her boat. Who has killed him? His abused son or wife? A betrayed husband? Kate's Auntie Joyce? Once again the question of who owns Alaska's resources and whose way of life will prevail becomes central stage.

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Sunday, January 17, 2010

I Forgot One

I forgot to post this one yesterday == a childhood favorite!

A Girl of the Limberlost A Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton-Porter

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I first read this book when I was around 11. I felt so sorry for Elnora, and couldn't understand how her mother could be so mean. I loved the descriptions of the swamp, feared for Elnora's safety, and rooted for her all the way. It was a book I reread a number of times, and in fact, still have an early copy of the book that I discovered in the treasure store that was my grandmother's attic. As I read the novel again, probably 40 years since I last read it, I was amazed at how well it held up. It's melodramatic for sure, florid. and preachy, but it's still captivating. And this time, I really noticed the ecological themes. Throughout the book, Elnora and her mother refer constantly to the draining and logging of the Limberlost, and the impact of the changing landscape on the wildlife communities -- birds, moths, butterflies, grasses, ferns, etc. At the same time, although Elnora laments the scarcity of the moths she's looking for, the changes are not considered wrong or destructive in the same way we see it today. I enjoyed this re-read of a childhood favorite but I don't think it would appeal to most of the middle school students I teach. I think the writing style and social changes would make this a tough book for most of them to get into.

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Saturday, January 16, 2010

Again with the Books!

Civil War Hospital Sketches Civil War Hospital Sketches by Louisa May Alcott

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
After seeing the PBS American Masters presentation on Louisa May Alcott, I downloaded Hospital Sketches on my Kindle. I'd read all the usual LMA books - Little Women, Little Men, Jo's Boys, Eight Cousins, Rose in Bloom, etc. but hadn't ever read this one. It's a thinly-disguised fictional account of LMA's nursing experiences in a Washington, DC Civil War hospital. Alcott's writing style is all Jo - earnest, engaging, enthusiastic, a bit preachy, and very detailed. I enjoyed it!

I also read

Blood Will Tell (Kate Shugak, Book 6) Blood Will Tell by Dana Stabenow

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Blood will Tell is Dana Stabenow's best yet. I couldn't put this one down. Kate's grandmother Ekaterina, head of their tribal nation, asks her to investigate the unexpected death of one of the tribal board members. Kate uncovers a tangled web of deceit that involves too many people close to her, and she suffers a devastating loss. Along the way, she also helps Jack gain custody of his son. Stabenow delineates the conflict between tradition and progress, between the Outside and native Alaskans, and inside Kate as she struggles to reconcile her feelings about her grandmother and the choices she herself has made. A really compelling installment!

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I just finished these socks for myself. It's been a while since I did socks, and I forgot how much I enjoy making them.

From Knitting Gallery

They are from my stash, a Regia 4ply self-striping yarn. They are 75%merino and 25% polyamid so they wear like iron, but are quite comfy. I used the Twin Rib pattern from Charlene Schurch's Sensational Socks book.

Monday, January 11, 2010

A Time of Rapid Change -----

And no, it's not today. It's the 1800's and it's depicted in this novel I just finished.

My Lady Ludlow My Lady Ludlow by Elizabeth Gaskell

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
My Lady Ludlow is one of the books that the PBS series Cranford is based on. I downloaded this novel for my Kindle. I enjoyed the story despite the mid 19th century writing style. It's not Jane Austen, but it's readable and provides an interesting insight into a long-vanished world. Lady Ludlow is a dying breed, who is struggling as the world changes around her. She is an aristocrat born in the 18th century as the 19th century brings innovation and social change at a dizzying pace. It was easy to draw parallels between then and now as the world order changes! Despite the fact that she doesn't want things to change, she is eventually able to bend and adjust to changing times.
The story is told from the perspective of a young relative who goes to live as a companion to her distant relative.

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Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Chores are Waiting

It's already Sunday, and I haven't done any of my chores yet. But it's been a good weekend so far. We went out to a local inn for dinner with good friends on Friday night. We'd planned on a drink, and a meal from the pub menu. We had the drink (and a very rare 2nd one!) and ended up ordering off the restaurant menu (read "bigger bucks"), but we had a wonderfully relaxing evening.

Yesterday was a beautiful, sunny, January day with no bad weather in the offing. It's cold (yesterday about 18°F) but seasonally so. We decided to head to southern CT to visit my nearly 91 year old aunt. We usually go visit over the holidays, but weather and my husband's work schedule prevented our usual trip. We had a wonderful visit, and got home about 9 pm. It's a 3 hour trip for us, but it's a fairly straight shot down an interstate, so it's not a difficult trip unless we hit traffic.

This morning it's about zero, again, not unusual for a January in NH. I'm off to church in a bit, and then it's chores and schoolwork for the afternoon. Too bad the chores can't wait forever!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

It's Been One of Those Days

I woke up this morning with what I've always called a "sick headache." It's not a migraine headache, (which I have been known to suffer) though it does make me feel a bit wonky in the stomach department. It's like a tight band is around my forehead and my eyeballs hurt. It's also a headache that sometimes goes away really quickly. There are times that I get into the shower, and as soon as my head gets wet, I can feel all the blood vessels constrict, and the headache goes away almost instantly. That didn't happen today, unfortunately. Neither did the next remedy - a good shot of caffeine. I went to school hoping that as the day wore on things would get better.

I got to school, got out of the car, closed the front door, and opened the back door. Or I tried to open the back door. It was locked. So was the front door. My keys were inside the car on the seat. So was my water, my lunch, my school bag, my school id. You get the picture. I did have my Vera Bradley wristlet around my wrist with my cell phone in the pocket so I called my husband. Or tried to. My cell phone was dead. I eventually got to my room, and called him from my school phone, and he very gallantly arrived about 40 minutes later with the spare key. He rescued my lunch, and school things, and brought them up to my room. (The kids always get a kick out of his quick visits.)

Fast forward to my first science class of the day. I have taken the kids to our new computer lab to work on an internet assignment. I have also found a cool interactive website that I want them to take a look at before they get started on the main assignment. In walks the principal, just as 20 kids and I discover that two of the sites aren't working, 3 kids can't seem to log on to their accounts, and a video won't download. I hate that about technology! Especially since last night, I doublechecked everything. I feel myself get a little flustered (headache isn't helping) and the principal actually sticks around and helps me get them all up and connected. But I still feel a little bit "under the microscope." Our principal is brand new this year and he's ONLY 31! He's new to the school and this is his first principal job, and he's just a tad older than my son. He's also technologically brilliant, and while he hasn't ever said anything to anyone in particular about technology skills or lack thereof, he has made comments like "staff people have to be able to use technology and integrate it seamlessly in the classroom," in just that way as to make some of us older folks feel a tad intimidated. (I used to be the tech pioneer but for a variety of reasons, not all of which have been in my control, am not anymore!) Anyhow, we finally got everything and everyone working.

As the day wears on, my headache doesn't go away and by lunch recess, I eagerly volunteer to go out, because sometimes fresh air and cold help. And it did for a bit, but my afternoon class was really difficult.

I left school as soon as I was contractually allowed to (which happens very rarely) and I headed home. I took another dose of of extra strength Exedrin, drank some more water, and headed for the sofa. Two hours later, I woke up when my husband came home. I feel like a new person. My headache is gone. I actually felt like blogging about it. I hope it stays away!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Kindle : A Different China Bayles Mystery

Wormwood (China Bayles Mysteries, #17) Wormwood by Susan Wittig Albert

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This entry into the China Bayles series was a bit different. China accompanies her Mississippi friend Martha to a Shaker village in Kentucky where she finds the answers to two different mysteries. One puzzle is current: Are funds being embezzled from the nonprofit foundation that runs the museum village? Was the accountant murdered or did she drown accidentally? The other mystery goes back to 1912: Why did Sister Charity suddenly leave the Shakers? What hastened the demise of the Mt. Zion community?
This book was different from the usual China Bayles mystery because it was set entirely in Kentucky. All of the usual supporting characters are back home in Pecan Springs so China is on her own. The major difference however is that the story is told in 2 parts. One narrator of course is China herself, but the other story is told through the journals and letters of the 1912 Shaker inhabitants.

I really liked the peek into history, and the use of the journals and letters provided insight into a different culture. I didn't mind that the book was a departure from the usual format, although I can see why some readers might not appreciate the break.

This was another book I read on my new Kindle. I really do like the ease of reading in bed that the Kindle affords.

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Friday, January 1, 2010

Book # 1/2??

I started reading this one on Dec. 30th and finished it this morning. I think most of it was actually read in 2009, but I guess 2010 will get the credit for it! I actually read this on my Kindle, so the book pictured isn't the exact edition I had. I got it for free!

Cranford Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I thoroughly enjoyed this! I've seen the PBS series Cranford which uses this and two other novels as its base, and so I ordered this book on my new Kindle. The author's gentle series of vignettes about Miss Matty and her neighbors in a mid-19th century British village are charming. Her characters are well-developed and likeable; I would dearly love to meet them. I am looking forward to reading the other two stories that create the Cranford world.

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The First Post for 2010

We've spent a quiet first day of 2010 which is nice.  New Year's Eve was spent with friends.  We are a group of 4 couples - all of us married to the same people for 30+ years, all of us with adult children, some of whom are in Los Angeles,  some of us with grandchildren, all of us affliated with education, either as teachers, librarians, principals, or bus drivers - and we gather just about every New Year's Eve for dinner and conversation.  We turn on the Times Square coverage about 11:30, pour some champagne or other sparkling wine, toast the New Year, and then all  head for our respective homes.  Every year we group-call our West Coast children at midnight to wish them Happy New Year from their future and we pretend that we've had much more to drink than a sip of champagne!  It's fun!  Last night was no different.

Today was leisurely -just husband and me.  I cooked a beef roast and made some garlicky mashed potatoes, and we each had a glass of merlot.  Now it's time for TV, reading, knitting, or even napping!

I haven't made any resolutions and I haven't gone back to reflect on the ones I made last year.  Here's my hope though for this year:  Many more leisurely, relaxing times with my family, my husband, and my friends.  

Happy 2010!