Sunday, June 29, 2014

From the Bookshelf: Woodsburner

I finished reading Woodsburner last week by John Pipkin.

The book's premise centers around the moment in time when Henry David Thoreau (of Walden writing fame) and a friend accidentally burned down a huge tract of wooded land outside of Concord during an abnormally dry bit of weather.  The fire spread rapidly and almost reached Concord, where it would have destroyed the town.  The fire was fought by locals - townspeople and farmers, as well as Thoreau himself.

In theory, this is the kind of historial fiction I'd like.  The sort of thing where there's a moment in time expanded on and brought to life.  Sadly, I didn't feel this book did that.  First off, this author used what I call my "word of the day calendar" approach to writing.  Does an author feel like the book is more educated-sounding if you use a bunch of big words?  I dunno, but if big words are your thing, there are plenty of them in this book.  I don't have a problem using big words necessarily - in fact, I think the use of "like" is overdone in our society - but be that as it may, I don't feel you, the author, need to toss in some of those every paragraph or so to let me know how educated you are.  If you're smart enough to write a good book, that's enough for me.  I don't need to know you have an extensive vocabulary to throw out randomly.  Use it wisely, grasshopper.

Secondly, the plot revolves around 4 characters:  Thoreau, a local merchant who has come up from Boston to look at a storefront to expand into in Concord with his book-selling business, a mad man of the cloth (who is also in the grips of a opium addiction), and a immigrant hired man working for a local farmer.  Now I haven't lived through any of the 19th century (although the author hasn't either), but these 4 men have OODLES of time to stand around and think deep thoughts.  I can't imagine anyone having the time in amongst just living one's life in this era to mull over things as much as these 4 guys do.  A plethora of verbiage inside their heads and not a whole lot happening.

Meh.  I finished this because I have issues about not finishing books I start, and I kept hoping for redemption in the last chapter, but neither Thoreau or I got it here. Not one I'd recommend.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Weekending: 06/22/2014

I had a lovely weekend here - hope you did as well.  We didn't particularly do anything special, but it was nice and relaxed.

I finished up a sweater for The Book I had been working on.  I need to get the pattern graded, but the sample is done and ready to be photographed.  I did a couple of hours of work in the dye studio to get the final few skeins done for the next Heroines club kits which will ship out this week.  I'm still working on another sweater for The Book, and have been focusing on the back (one sleeve is done), figuring that's the biggest piece to tackle and once that's done, the fronts and remaining sleeve will see like fairly quick knits.  I also worked on shawl pattern that will be an indie release for next year.

While I didn't have oodles of time to devote to my sewing, I did get the center vines and leaves appliqued onto the first of the two Block 3s I'm working on for the quilt.

I was pleased with how these came out.  I have the second Block 3 pieces cut out and ready to sew together, but it will probably be a couple of weeks before I can work on this again, as I've got family coming to town for a visit next weekend, which I'm looking forward to!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

10 on Tuesday: Top 10 movies to watch again and again.

1.  Pride and Prejudice.  The Keira Knightley/Matthew MacFadyen version.  That scene of Mr. Darcy walking across the field with the sun coming up behind him - oof.
2.  Always.  John Goodman, Holly Hunter, Richard Dreyfuss.  I cry at the end every time.
3.  The Black Stallion.  A kid and his horse who win against the odds - how could I not love that one?
4.  It Happened One Night.  Claudette Colbert and Clark Gable.  Witty, clever, funny.  I adore this film.
5. The Three Musketeers.  With Michael York, Oliver Reed, Faye Dunaway, Richard Chamberlain.  A fun and funny entertainment.  Kind of hard to not enjoy this with the amazing cast!
6. Gone With the Wind.  A classic.
7. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.  Redford and Newman together - perfect.
8. LOTR - I'm most partial to parts 1 and 3, but I'm happy to watch the entire trilogy.
9. Cold Comfort Farm.  Kind of a sleeper film, but I grew up in this movie plot during my summers as a kid.  It's funny but also a sort of nostalgia film for me.
10. Raiders of the Lost Ark.  "It's not the years, it's the mileage."

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Weekending: 06/15/2014

D and I had a really nice relaxing weekend.  We tried out a few new grill recipes.  He took a long bike ride and got his new GPS system for the bike installed and made sure it was all in good shape for another big ride this week.

I did (not surprisingly) a lot of knitting.  I finished up a small shawl which will debut first of the new year, once it goes thru the tech editing and test knitter process.  I also got most of a sleeve knit for the next sweater I'm tackling for The Book.  My plan is to start the body of the sweater tonight after work.  In conjunction with the knitting, a lot of which was stockinette and/or ribbing, I finished up Woodsburner, and I'll have a post on that later this week.  I'm trying to decide what to start as my next read.  I have Wolf Hall in print that my folks sent along (as well as Bring up the Bodies), but I also have a Jane Austen mystery to read, which sounds a little lighter on the brain cells.

Finally, I took a bit of time yesterday to work on another quilt square in the small quilt I've been picking up in my spare time.  This is block 3A (there are two block 3s) for that quilt.

I finished the machine piecing portion of it - it still needs stems and leaves appliqued on, so that's next on the to-do list for this project.  I also cut the pieces for the matching block and I'll get those sewn together when I've got another bit of spare time, hopefully in the next week or so!

Friday, June 13, 2014

From the Bookshelf: House of Evidence

I finished reading House of Evidence this week, by Viktor Ingolfsson.

If you are a fan of BBC's Wallander with Kenneth Brannagh, you'll probably enjoy this book.  A sort of "locked room" mystery, it actually follows two parallel murders that happened in the same house, but decades apart and which appear to have no motive and no likely suspects.

Tons of red herrings and a gloomy bleak mood are trademarks of this tale, which begins with a man being found dead in his house, shot in the head.  As the police investigate, they found that this man's father was found shot to death in the same room in the house almost 30 years earlier.  That mystery was never solved.

As the story unfolds, we are given glimpses of the father's life as a young man, at school to become an engineer, through the years of World War I, his marriage, and his quest to bring a railroad to Iceland.  We are also introduced to the uncle of the younger victim, a talented violinist who has a story to tell as well.  Tiny hints about the back story unfold through excerpts from the older man's diaries.

This book doesn't have any "mission impossible" kind of action.  It actually unfolds in a very quiet, slow way - although when the final clues are unwrapped and the entire story is told, I have to admit that A) I was surprised (always a good thing with a mystery if you haven't figured it all out in the end) by the plot twists and B) given the sort of mundane details in the first three-quarters of the book, the revelation that reveals how all these stories fit together is kind of a punch to the gut.  Surprising, a little horrifying, and definitely turned a quiet evening read into a page turner for the last 50 or so pages.

Next up, I've got Woodsburner queued up.  (I actually have started this but I'm not sure I will get much of the way through it.  We'll see.)

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Ten on Tuesday: Top 10 Summer Drinks

Today's 10 on Tuesday is my Top 10 Summer Drinks

1.  Iced tea:  I'm totally groovin' on a watermelon/mint iced tea blend from the Republic of Tea.
2.  Smoothies:  I wind up having one for breakfast even in the colder days of winter, but frozen fruit blended up in the morning sure tastes good in the hot weather.
3.  White wine:  Lighter wines are my choice for the summer.  I like slightly fruitier ones to go with summertime grilling.
4.  Spritzers:  Half and half sparkling water and fruit juice over ice = very refreshing!
5.  Nice cold water with lots of ice.

I'm stopping at 5 today.  Almost everything I love for summer drinks has either sugar or some kind of thing I can't drink in it (like Coca-Cola, Beergaritas, and Mai Tais, for instance).  Boring, I know!

Friday, June 6, 2014

From the Bookshelf: The Last Queen

I finished up The Last Queen by C.W. Gortner.  This is the kind of historical fiction I love - Lots of facts and details that breathe life into a person.

The book is centered on Juana of Castile, who was the daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella (yeah, THAT Ferdinand and Isabella - of Columbus fame).  There were a lot of "OH!" moments in this book for me.  I mean... everyone knows the story of Ferdinand and Isabella funding the voyage to the new world.  But did you know that Isabella was Queen of Castile in her own right, and if the description of her in this book is anything like the truth, the woman was a force.   She wielded more power than her husband (who was ruler of Aragon) and rode into battle 8 days after giving birth to one of Juana's younger sisters.

Juana, as a middle daughter, had been groomed to be the wife of some important political alliance.  Her older brother was to inherit the joint thrones of Castile and Aragon.  By all accounts, Juana was a lovely young woman, strikingly beautiful, and had been extremely well educated, spoke several languages fluently.  At 16, she was married to Phillip of Flanders, who also happened to be the heir to the Hapsburg empire.  (Side note:  One of the marked OH! moments in this is when I realized Juana's baby sister, Catarina, is better known as Catherine to us English history buffs.  As in Catherine of Aragon, who marries Henry VIII and is mother of Mary Tudor.  OH!)

History, which is most often recorded by men, wasn't particularly kind to Juana.  By historical accounts, after the death of Phillip (when she was pregnant with child #5 by him and still in her 20s), and following the deaths of both her older brother and sister, and then her mother, which placed her on throne of Castile, she became increasingly mentally unstable.  The author of this book paints a very interesting picture of her as a woman thrust into impossible situations - being forced to sit on the throne, but not given any real power.  Having had virtually no power at all to make decisions for herself or her children while married, and even after Phillip's death, also appears to have been a major stressor in her life.

Whether or not she truly was mad or whether she was just a woman caught in a lot of political upheaval in which she had no control, she lived into her late 70s, but is made a prisoner and her father takes control of the Castillian throne as regent.

A really interesting book.  I felt like it was a balanced perspective, drawing on historical references, but also the author's imagination to create a very well-rounded picture of a woman caught on the edge of being invested with the power of a queen, and being completely powerless to control her own destiny.  Definitely recommended for Renaissance history buffs, but a good story of an interesting woman, no matter what your era of interest is!

PS:  For those of you keeping notes, Juana of Castile will be one of the Heroines I'm featuring in a lace design in next year's (2015) shawl club.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Ten on Tuesday: 10 Bands (or individuals) You've Seen In Concert

OK - I'll come clean and say that my list is really long.... BUT... I used to work in various venues where we hosted concerts, so I'm not entirely sure it counts if you are working the concert in tech, but I'll hit some highlights.

1.  James Taylor - I actually paid for tickets for this one!  Great show, gorgeous voice, entertaining performer.  One of my favorites.
2.  Pat Benatar - THAT gal has some pipes.  A nice tightly run show.  She and her band had been together a while at that point, and it definitely showed in their performance.
3.  The Kinks - These guys were fun.  They gave a great show and were friendly and approachable backstage.
4.  Huey Lewis and the News - Some of my favorites to work with.  These guys were SO polite and helpful, even to us working minions.  The show was PACKED and they managed to make everyone feel like they were having the best time ever, but also were aware of crowd control and managing the pace of things.  A good group of professionals.
5.  The Everly Brothers - I'm just going to say that singing well is only part of the whole show.  If you are asshole jerks to your fans, that doesn't speak well about you, IMHO.  People PAID MONEY to see you perform - the least you can do is smile and wave when the fans are clamoring for your autograph, even if all you want to do is get on your tour bus.
6.  Jerry Lee Lewis - This guy... wow.. he's wild.  I mean... WILD.  Onstage and offstage.  I was not even 21 when I worked his concert - my older (male) boss wound up running most of the interpersonal interaction in the dressing room.  Which I was totally and completely okay with.  Made my life a lot easier.
7.  Jay Leno - I guess this counts as a concert.  It was a live performance anyway.  He is super down-to-earth and friendly.  His standup is spot-on and funny (I don't think it necessarily carried into TV, but live?  He's hilarous.)   He waived all of his contract things (like food, drinks, limo) and his mom picked him up at the Boston airport in her car, drove him to the venue, and they picked up pizza and soda for him for dinner on the way. How cute is that?
8. Barbara Cook - if you aren't familiar with the name, she's the person who brought many of the roles Shirley Jones did in the movies to live on Broadway first.  Things like The Music Man, Show Boat, and Carousel.  She is an extremely classy lady.  Absolutely gorgeous voice, completely comfortable on stage, lovely, gracious, talented.  She's worked for many years with her arranger and pianist (although they play with a small group on tour) and that close relationship really shows in the performance of their music.
9. Liz Story.  Probably another name you aren't familiar with unless you've been a fan of the Wyndham Hill music label.  Amazing pianist.  Listening to her play is a truly transporting, emotional experience.
10.  Jimmy Page and Robert Plant - BEST.CONCERT.EVER.  That is all.

Sunday, June 1, 2014


Since I'm working on Sundays now, Thursday thru Saturday are my weekends, so you get early blogging about my weekend this week.

D was away with some friends for a guys' weekend.  I have to admit that I did do a fair amount of chore-type things (like steam-cleaning the downstairs carpets.  ugh!), but I then got to enjoy sitting in the nice cool downstairs to knit after I finished that up.  (Sidebar:  Our HVAC system is dead.  And of course, it was the first really HOT weather we've had so far this year, and I avoid the heat like vampires avoid the sunlight, so until it gets replaced - hopefully this week - the upstairs in the mid-80s is too hot for my tastes!).

As you'd expect, I knit quite a bit.  I'm about a third finished the border of a shawl I'd like to get done by mid-June.  It's not a hard knit, but it's beaded, so it takes some focus and concentration and it's not really TV knitting for me.  I had put a new sweater on the needles on Wednesday, so I worked on that and I've got about 5" of the body finished, still working on the waist shaping bits right now.

I also wrote up the pattern for that sweater, plus a second pattern draft for a small shawl to go off to a sample knitter so I can start to the process, albeit slowly, on the final volume of Legendary Knits.

All that aside, while I do still find knitting relaxing and fun (which is a shocker, considering that 100% of what I've knit in the last 18 months has been deadline knitting), I occasionally need a break from that repetitive motion, so Saturday, after I had worked in the dye studio while it was still coolish in the a.m., I blocked out a couple of hours to work on the winter-themed quilt I'm hoping possibly to have done for my parents' anniversary in December.

I had already finished up one applique block eons ago - the mistletoe (which, for some reason, is orienting itself upside down).

Last weekend, I finished up the snowflake block, which was a challenging one for me, being really rusty on my needle applique skills with all the tiny pieces and circles involved.

And this weekend, I worked on a pair of pieced blocks with Flying Geese patterning - two different colorways. 

It was a nice break from my knitting and I felt like I actually made some progress on this project!

Hope your weekend was great too!

Tour de Fleece - Week 2

I'm pretty happy with my progress for the Tour so far this year!  I've been trying to have a goal of 15 minutes of spinning a day, o...