31 July 2009

July Book Report

Not a bad month, book-wise. I found a lot of things I wanted to read during a couple of library visits, which I like when I have not actually decided whether or not I want to "commit" to actually buying the book! I actually had one book (The Historian) that took a long time to get through, because it was involved in time period, plot, history - well, just about everything!

But here, if you are interested are my thoughts on the books I read in July.

Anne of the Island, by L.M. Montgomery. Last year, I joined an online group reading the Anne of Green Gables series. I read Anne of Green Gables and Anne of Avonlea, and loved them both, but didn't get to the third volume until now.

In this volume, Anne Shirley (the heroine) is a college student at Redmond College in Nova Scotia. Some of her friends from home are also attending school there, so she is not totally on her own. The book covers the years of her schooling there, and as in the other books, has her thinking her always dramatic thoughts, feeling everything very deeply, and making some new friends. The tales of her returning home to visit Marilla and the others are bittersweet, since you know that her childhood days and experiences there are not truly over, but new adventures await her. She and her childhood pal Gilbert Blythe (also at Redmond) have some misunderstandings, which are fortunately resolved by the end of the book.

One of my favorite things in this book is the part when, during a visit to a schoolmate, Anne returns to her birthplace, and finds the house where she was born. The woman living there currently remembers her parents, and gives Anne some letters of theirs that she found when she moved into the house. She also tells Anne where her parents are buried, so Anne has the opportunity to visit their graves. She remarks to her friends after these events that she is no longer an orphan, since she has found her parents, and now has some of them with her. The story is told in such a touching but happy way, that you feel very happy for Anne.

My favorite of this series of three books is the first, when we first meet Anne, and find out about her personality and mishaps when she first arrives at Green Gables. But the second book and this one keep the character true, and provides the chance for the reader to feel like Anne is a real person, not some fictional character who will forever be a child.

The Lace Reader, by Brunonia Barry. I had been wanting to read this book for a while, and snapped it up during my last visit to the library.

The story deals with the family of Towner (Sophya) Whitney, who can all read the future by study patterns in lace. Towner returns to her home town of Salem, Massachusetts, to grieve when her great aunt Eva is found dead. The story is complex, and is told from differing perspectives, so that you are not sure who to believe. Especially since the first lines in Chapter 3 are: "My name is Towner Whitney. No, that's not exactly true. My real first name is Sophya. Never believe me. I lie all the time."

There is a lot going on in this story, with each character that is introduced actually playing a real part. There are flashbacks and dream sequences, all written in a fairly straightforward, but still mysterious fashion.

I liked this book, even if sometimes I wanted things to move a little faster. But the author takes her time, and in the end I thought it was worth it.

More Home Cooking: A Writer Returns to the Kitchen, by Laurie Colwin. I truly love Laurie Colwin, and was personally devastated when she died in 1992. I've read all of her books, and though this one is not a work of fiction, it is every bit as wonderful as the others.

The book is a series of essays Colwin wrote for different publications about food and cooking. It's a combination of stories, recipes, and life lessons, all told in her incomparable style. She writes like someone who is your best friend, and maybe doesn't live nearby anymore. It's like she is telling you what's been happening with her and her family since you last talked.

The recipes that I have tried are all really good, and for the most part, very simple.

I so wish she was still around to write more. But what she left is definitely better than nothing!

Murder Melts in Your Mouth, by Nancy Martin. This was a great book to read for pure entertainment! I was not familiar with this mystery series, but I saw this book at the library, saw that it took place in and around Philadelphia, and decided to try it.

The main character, Nora Blackbird, and her sisters Libby and Emma, come from a well-to-do family. Their parents, however, have bilked friends out of a lot of money, and are on the run from the Feds.

In this installment, a major philanthropist is found dead in front of his office building after jumping or having been pushed. The office is one that belongs to Nora's lifelong friend, Lexie, and Nora begins to investigate to see if she can clear Lexie's name.

I won't go further into the plot, but this book was really pretty amusing, with lots of over the top characters, and a few plot twists that kept it going. I will definitely look for others in this series.

No Place Like Home: A Novel, by Mary Higgins Clark. Another Mary Higgins Clark book, and another enjoyable read! This is the story of Celia Nolan, born Liza Barton. As a child, Liza accidentally killed her mother when her stepfather was threatening them both. However, even though Liza was found not guilty, everyone in the community felt she had done it on purpose, and they have nicknamed the family home "Little Lizzie's Place," referencing Lizzie Borden.

Years later, as an adult who was adopted by relatives and going by the name Celia Nolan, she finds that her [relatively:] new husband has bought her a new house for her BD - but it turns out to be the old family home! From the first day they move in, strange and unpleasant things begin to happen, and Liza begins to suspect that someone knows her true identity.

The story moves along pretty well, and once again there are plenty of characters that you suspect right from the beginning. Towards the end, I thought I had an idea of the "villain" but couldn't figure out how it would have worked. So even though my guess was partially correct, I would never have gotten to the details in my theorizing!

The Private Papers of Eastern Jewel, by Maureen Lindley. I have a feeling that this is going to be one of those books that everyone else will rave about, and I simply thought was OK ...

Which is not to say it wasn't interesting. This is the story of Princess Eastern Jewel, whose father was of the Qing Dynasty in China, and whose mother was one of the father's concubines. The book begins in Peking, in 1914, when 8-year-old Eastern Jewel is caught spying on her father and a servant girl having what is politely referred to as a "liaison." She is banished from the family, and from China, and sent to live in Japan with a powerful family. They change her name to Yoshiko Kawashima, and though she is not really treated as part of the family, she is included in most of their lives.

As she becomes older, she completely falls in love with her adopted country, and begins to consider herself Japanese. Her adoptive father arranges for her to marry a Mongol prince, against her will. After a brief marriage, she escapes and the rest of the book recounts her adventures for the next 40 years or so.

There is a lot of talk about sex and sexual activities in this book. Eastern Jewel/Yoshiko is obsessed with sex from a young age, and sees every male she comes into contact with as a potential sexual conquest. She makes very few true friends, and of all of her sexual partners, feels anything serious for only two of them. She uses sex as her tool to gain power, and for the most part, she gets what she wants.

She serves as a spy in China for Japan in 1931. Her first assignment is to spy on her cousin, the deposed emperor Pu Yi (of "The Last Emperor" fame). From there, she becomes more and more enmeshed in the Japanese spy system. Then in 1945, when the U.S. bombs Hiroshima and Nagasaki, her world starts to unravel. She is arrested by the soldiers of Chiang Kai-Shek and sent to prison in Peking. In 1947 she is found guilty of spying on China for Japan, and is sentenced to death, which occurs in March 1948, when she is beheaded.

The entire time I was reading this book, I couldn't decide how I felt about Eastern Jewel/Yoshiko. She didn't appeal to me at all, and seemed completely amoral most of the time. She had expectations that people should treat her well, yet did not feel the need to reciprocate. I found her exploits to be pretty amazing, and the descriptions of life in China and Japan were very engrossing.

This book is based on an actual person, Princess Eastern Jewel, but is a fictionalized account of her life. It's a page turner for the most part, but I doubt much of it will stay with me.

Under This Unbroken Sky, by Shandi Mitchell. I had an Advance Readers' Copy of this title, so thought I'd give it a try. The basic story happens in the 1930s. A family who has emigrated from the Ukraine and are homesteading in Alberta, on the Canadian prairie, see their father who has been imprisoned return home. During his absence, his wife has done a good job of holding the family together, but they are terribly poor, as are his sister and her family who live nearby. The sister's husband is a drunk, abusive, troublemaker who has periodically disappeared for months at a time.

This was a hard book for me to read. Not because it wasn't well-written, but because of the extreme hardship that daily life was for the characters. Every time they seemed to make some progress, something got in the way. I have no way of knowing this of course, but I am guessing that it is a fairly accurate description of life for non-English homesteading immigrants.

I thought the book was very well done, as most of the characters seemed real, and the descriptions of place and events made you feel like you were actually observing everything from a place where you couldn't be seen.

I think this book was a good one, but if you are not a fan of stories where struggles are not tied up neatly at the end, I would suggest that you don't read this. The ending is as messy, vague, and frustrating as real life can be.

Yarn Harlot: The Secret Life of a Knitter, by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee. I know I'm probably in the minority here, but this book just didn't do it for me, like it has [apparently:] for a lot of other knitters. I didn't even finish it, to be perfectly honest.

It wasn't awful, and some things did make me laugh or smile, so I'm not saying it is a total waste of time. It's just that I find a lot of other knitters' blogs to be more interesting, and a lot funnier than this book. Stephanie Pearl-McPhee's blog itself is often better than this book. I know it's the first one she did, so maybe if I had read it when it first was published, I would have appreciated it more.

I will likely take a look at least one of her other books, just for the sake of comparison. But honestly, I have no desire to finish this.

The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova. Well, before I even started reading this book, I got unsolicited opinions from everyone who knew I had it on my "to read" list! Then once I started reading it, I realized that no one I spoke to included it in any "gray" area of reading - they either really liked it, or really hated it.

I spent the last two weeks of this month working my way through it, and I am one of those who liked it. Yes, it was long, and there were times when I did keep reading, but I had no real idea of what was actually happening. But it kept me engaged enough to finish it, and I'm glad. If nothing else, because it re-convinced me that someday I would love to visit Istanbul and Budapest. But also because I don't have a lot of knowledge or background about vampires and their legends. For instance, I had no idea that Dracula was a real person! This book provided me with a lot of information about that, while also filling me in on a lot of history that was more or less skipped over in my schooling.

The story is about a group of people interested in the legends and actions of Dracula. It is quite convoluted, and I would not be able to give you any kind of coherent summary of the plot, so I suggest reading that elsewhere, such as on Amazon.

The book interweaves time periods and characters, and the primary characters all have interesting relationships not just to each other, but to history itself. For the most part, I was able to keep up, but a few times, I got lost in an awful lot of minute detail that didn't seem necessary.

One thing that struck me was that I kept hearing about the book, and how "creepy" it was, or how it gave some people nightmares, because of the vampire stories, etc. I was slightly worried about that aspect, since I am a chicken at heart, and scary things scare me most at night. For whatever reason, though it was terribly creepy and frightening when I was reading it, none of that stuck with me once I would put the book down. (Maybe because I spent most of my time reading it in an abandoned prison?)

I can't really say whether or not I would recommend it to friends or family. It does seem to be a book that causes strong feelings, though, so be aware if you decide to read it - you'll hear everyone's opinions about it, sooner or later!

Two Sweaters for My Father, by Perri Klass. I received a signed copy of this book from a friend a couple of years ago, and only started to really read it now. I was familiar with Perri Klass, having read some of her essays in the New York Times Sunday Magazine, as well as pieces published in some of the more consumer-oriented medical journals. But until I saw this book, I had no idea she was a knitter!

The essays are all enjoyable reads, and short enough that you can read several at one sitting. She talks about knitting as a way to stay awake during med school classes, or while waiting for patients to come back from tests, etc. There are also stories of things she knitted for family and friends, and the feelings that she experienced (not always noble) as a result.

The thing I liked most was that the pieces are written as if she is talking to you - there does not seem to be any special agenda behind them, or any look-how-great-I-am feeling. They are just stories about knitting, and one person's experience.

One of my favorite things was in a story about how knitting has suddenly become "hip" and how Hollywood actresses have made it a desirable way to spend time. In one of her "Letters from America," which were published in Rowan magazine in 2003 and 2004, she writes:

"And maybe more than anything else, I love the idea that someone might see me knitting - in a crowded airport lounge, on a bus, in a doctor's waiting room - and wonder whether I am in fact a famous movie star (or perhaps the whole point of being a famous movie star is taht you are never in a crowded airport lounge, on a bus, or in a doctor's waiting room)."

Isn't that the truth!

Anyway, if you enjoy knitting, I think you would enjoy this collection. The writing is intelligent but friendly, knowledgeable but never preachy, and I think it is worth sitting down for a while with a cup of tea and reading at least one or two of the essays.

Since a lot of these were books borrowed from the library, one or two may be ones that The Tim is interested in reading, and there were some others that I have already given away, I have only one of these books to pass along at the moment, The Yarn Harlot. Leave a comment by the end of the day on Wednesday, August 5 if you are interested.

29 July 2009

Not a Knitting FO ...

Remember this post, where I talked about taking a sewing class? I promised to show you the finished product in a future post ... and then forgot, until today. (I hope you weren't holding your [collective] breath, but if so, RIP.)

(Sorry, I couldn't resist that last sentence. I'm in a weird mood today, and amusing myself is easier than usual.)

Ahem. Moving on.

If you recall, we were making a Reversible Grocery Tote. The class was nice and small, only six people, so Laura, the instructor, spent a lot of time helping each of us, walking us through each step. It was a great experience, and fun to see everyone's bags take shape. Most people chose two prints for their fabrics, but I chose a solid and a print. Mostly because when I chose the print fabric (which I did first), I didn't think any other prints looked that good with it.

Here is the solid side of my bag:

And then the print side:

Yeah, I loved the bird cages and birds, so I knew that was the fabric I really wanted. And then I thought that since I don't have a lot of purple things, that it was time to add some!

I am so happy with how this turned out, and have considered making a few for gifts. Even using any of the very nice fabrics at Spool, the total cost would be roughly $10.00 per bag. Not to mention that no one would have the exact same design, even if they had the same bag, which would be a plus in my opinion - I always like having something that isn't *exactly* the same as everyone else ...

At the moment, I'm not sure what my next sewing project will be. Since funds are currently rather low, I'll have to revisit the fabric that I have, and go from there. Once again, stash to the rescue! (The fabric stash is small, but there are at least a couple of possibilities there, it's just a matter of some decision-making.)

Oh, and I'm glad you all enjoyed/commented on Jetsam's "assistance" with blocking my knitting project. As usual, he's quite pleased with himself, and I'm sure he will be ready at a moment's notice to help out again in the future - I probably won't even have to ask!

28 July 2009


This week's topic for Ten on Tuesday:

10 Favorite Sounds
1. A cat's purr.
2. The "thump" of a dog's tail on the floor when you walk in the room.
3. The ocean.
4. Birdsong.
5. Baby laughter that sounds like a dirty old man.
6. Wind in the trees.
7. Rain on the roof.
8. Teakettle whistle.
9. "We'd like to offer you the job."
10. "[Name of manager on duty] to staff: It is 5:05." (This means the workday has ended.)

25 July 2009

Nope, You Can't Put a Price on This Kind of Help ...

You may remember that back in May, I posted about a completed knitting project, the Silk Kerchief. I had hoped to get a picture of myself wearing it, but between massive amounts of cloudy, rainy days, and few times when The Tim was home at the same time that I was, it never happened. Then once it actually turned summer-y, the idea of even putting it around my neck for five minutes seemed equivalent to torture.

So maybe in the fall, if I think of it, I'll give you an "action" shot.

But I did want to share the information below with you. Of course, once I finished the knitting, I pinned it for blocking on the bed in the guest room. I closed the door, so that it would be left alone. One day, when The Tim went in to find something in the closet, he turned around to leave the room and found that one member of the family felt that the whole process needed something else.

And so without further ado, I give you Jetsam's Tips for Blocking Your Knitting Projects:

Step 1: Jump onto project and stand, kneading with your paws for a while. This will make the yarn "blossom" even more.

Step 2: Find a good position where you are basically covering the entire project while resting on it. Take the time to really get comfortable.

Step 3: Settle in, and relax. This way, you get some much-needed rest, the maximum amount of cat hair is deposited on/in the knitting, and it's just a matter of time until the entire blocking process is complete.

When you break it down, the whole thing is really quite simple, you know? I was lucky, I didn't have to try and find an outside expert to help me with blocking. No, I saved lots of $$, being fortunate enough to have in-house assistance.

It seemed only fair to share this information with you - I mean, why should I be the only one who benefits??

You can thank me later.

23 July 2009

A Couple of New Beginnings

Remember a couple of weeks ago, when I had figured out a cast-on for toe-up socks, using Wendy's book? Well, I pulled some yarn out of my stash, and gave it a try with some actual sock yarn. I decided to try the Basic Toe-Up Sock with Gusset Heel pattern in the book, and so far, so good:

By now I've made a little more progress, but I'm pleased with how well they are going. This is Socka Color yarn, in a colorway called "Daisy Dot." I bought it when I first learned to knit socks, so it has been mellowing in the stash now for probably about ten years ...

Proving that eventually, I do get around to using yarn I have bought.

I can't remember if I mentioned that as a birthday gift last year, The Tim bought me a new sewing machine. Well, he did, and it's perfect for me - not a real basic model, but not full of bells and whistles that I'll likely never use. Long ago in a distant galaxy, my sister Nancy taught me some basic sewing skills, but I decided that it would be worth taking some actual lessons, particularly since it had been so long since I'd sewn anything using a machine. The [relatively] new fabric store near my house, Spool, was offering Beginner Sewing classes, so I signed up.

The project for the class was a Reversible Grocery Tote. Everyone chose their fabrics and we got started. Here is an in-progress shot of the fabrics I chose, in the beginning stages of becoming handles:

I'll unveil the completed bag in a future post. But the class was well worthwhile, I learned a lot of things that I didn't know before. And to be honest, I would have never, ever attempted anything reversible on my own, so now I feel like I've learned something extra. Laura (the owner), is a wonderful teacher, and explained things really well, then let us take our time. If you live in the area and would like to learn to sew (or want to see some pretty fabrics!), I'd encourage you to visit Spool.

Unrelated to knitting or sewing, I walked up to our neighborhood CVS this afternoon for something, and was on my way home. I got near Rittenhouse Square, and saw a couple with a very cute, small, fuzzy white dog. So of course, I had to ask them what kind of dog it was, could I pet it, etc. They were telling me about funny things the dog does, and other such details that people usually tell you about their pets. When I stood up to go, and say thanks to them for letting me pet the dog, I realized that it was Cole Hamels and his wife!! How cool is that? I've always thought he was nice enough looking, but I have to say that in person, he is really great-looking! And a whole lot taller than I thought he would be. I didn't say anything, 'cause they had been so friendly, I didn't want to suddenly become A Fan.

But it sure was fun!

20 July 2009

Penitentiary Life, Week 16

In which I talk about Bastille Day ...

As you may know, Bastille Day is July 14, and it commemorates the day in 1789 when the Bastille Prison in Paris was stormed by revolutionaries, and the French Revolution started.

The neighborhood where Eastern State is located is the Fairmount neighborhood in Philadelphia. It is not far from the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Rodin Museum, and various other places in the city worth seeing. From what I can tell, the neighborhood association is very active, and the businesses in the area contribute to the life there in a very positive way. Every year, on a weekend near the actual date of Bastille Day, they have the Fairmount Bastille Day Festival. This year was the first time I was actually in the area during that time, and it's truly an event - there were hundreds of people there, even at 10:00 a.m. when the penitentiary opened!

Eastern State plays a big part in the Festival, and those of us who work there participate in the grand finale event, the storming of the Bastille and the beheading of Marie Antoinette. There is a "roof crew" and a "street crew." After closing time, we changed into white shirts (plain white shirts for the roof crew, costume-y white shirts for the street crew, so we would look like French peasants), and the street crew had red caps (les chapeaux!) to wear as well.

The French flag is flown outside the prison all day. The re-enactments begin, "La Marseillaise" is sung, and the crowd storms the Bastille (Eastern State). Marie Antoinette is captured, and the crowd turns against her. When she is told that the people have no bread to eat, and she responds, "Let them eat cake," the roof crew catapults Twinkies from snow shovels onto the crowd! Then those of us who are on the street crew (i.e., peasants) bring out the "prisoner" on a pallet for the crowd. Usually, the prisoner is then freed, but this year, it was "Bernie Madoff," so he was pelted with Twinkies, and we took him back inside the prison. Marie Antoinette, of course, meets her fate at the guillotine. (This year, in an homage to Michael Jackson, she dangled a baby from the platform ...)

It was so much fun! People really get into it, and they seem to have so much fun. The re-enactors of course are all dressed in period appropriate costumes, with muskets and swords. Poor "Bernie Madoff" had Twinkie filling all over him! (And trust me, you haven't lived until you are holding another human being, on a pallet, on your shoulder, as Twinkies whiz past your face, missing by only the smallest of margins ...)

Once the celebrations were officially ended, we opened up again for "quick" tours, and in the first half-hour, 170 people came through the gates! For the most part, people were in a good mood, and sober, and many of them had never visited before, so they were excited to see what was behind the walls.

So in conclusion, I can say that it was a more elaborate celebration of Bastille Day than I've ever been part of before. (Our celebration usually includes pastry, wine, and a toast to "Liberte, egalite, fraternite," and that's about it.) It was fun, even though it was a long day, and I was really tired by the time I was heading home. If you are in the Philadelphia area, or visiting next year, I would encourage you to come to the Festival, and do your part to overthrow the royalist government of France!

(Pictures from last year's event are here, if you want to get an idea what the day is like.)
(OK some of this may be out of order, but I was inside the prison and only heard the outside events. So sue me.)

16 July 2009


Honestly, some days I think that it's not worth it to try and take care of yourself. I had called my doctor's office the other day, and because he always responds quickly, he called in a prescription for me, in an attempt to forestall things getting worse. Fortunately, the reason I called him is pretty well taken care of, thank you very much. Unfortunately, the medicine has made me feel pretty awful. I'm glad that I'm nearly done taking it!

But it just doesn't seem fair. Such is life.

OK, on to other things. First of all, I got a haircut the other day. I tried a new place, and was really very pleased. I got a haircut that I like, and it was cheaper than the place I had been going (which was cheaper than my original place, which got deep-sixed when I was unemployed). When I was finished, the stylist told me that I looked "Chic and European" (what? I didn't before???), and the salon owner said, "You look like Jean Seberg."

(Oh my God - is it me, or is it Jean Seberg???)

I don't have a picture of me with my new haircut, but truly, I look pretty much just like this. (To quote Gilbert & Sullivan, "In the dusk with the light behind her.")

Well, except I don't, really. I do have a very short haircut, that looked like that when I left the salon. (I don't do well in the heat, and in my current job, there is no air-conditioning, so the shorter the better, as far as I'm concerned.) I'm still getting used to it though, so the past few days, I've looked more like this:

(Please note: this really isn't me.)

But I'll figure it out, I'm sure ... and in the meantime, I am more comfortable. And in the summer, that's what it all boils down to for me.

In other news, I've just started a new knitting project (for me!), the Eyelet Cardigan from Blue Sky Alpacas yarn. This is Blue Sky Cotton, in the colorway Pickle:

(Smooshed together on a needle - it really does have an eyelet pattern when spread out ...)

It's a cropped (short) cardigan, but I plan to add a little bit of length to mine. I do like it, and have looked around on Ravelry to see what other people have done, what they had to say about the pattern, etc. I took inspiration from some others who have said they always knit a sleeve as a swatch - what a good idea! I even thought ahead enough to print out the errata.

I know, go figure ...

13 July 2009

Penitentiary Life, Week 15

Last week at work was particularly interesting, for two very different reasons.

For one thing, I was kissed by Ewan McGregor. He asked first, like a real gentleman.

He was waiting in the Gatehouse (i.e., the entrance) of Eastern State with his mother, since his older brother and his father were taking the tour and were scheduled to be finished within a few minutes after his arrival. His mother was very nice, and was telling me about their visit to the States from Scotland, how much they were enjoying it, and how nice people were treating them. (Always nice to hear that a visitor from abroad is forming a good impression.) She said Ewan was a family name, and that for a while, they'd considered calling him something else, but decided it was silly to worry that people would tease him. Man, was he cute! Then when his father and brother came out, and they were all ready to leave, he asked if he could give me a kiss.

Are you jealous yet? I thought so.

Oh ... did I mention that he was two years old and in a stroller?**

That was fun!


The other thing is more serious, but something that has really had me thinking. Last week, a family with grown sons was touring through the penitentiary, and one of them asked me where the electric chair was, because he wanted to sit in it. I told him that although there was a Death Row, there was no electric chair, since there were no executions at Eastern State. He was really disappointed. Then he said to me, "This is my last day to do anything fun, since tomorrow I leave for Iraq for 18 months. I was really hoping to sit in the electric chair."

OK, the electric chair part is not what made me think. The part about it being his last day home before going to Iraq was what stuck with me. Because he is the third person since I've started working there who has been visiting right before they leave for Iraq. And each time that's made me wonder if something like that was going on in my life - or the life of a family member - if I would want to spend my last day touring the penitentiary.

On the one hand, I would guess that it's good to have a specific activity to occupy your mind, so you don't drive yourself crazy thinking of what could/might happen once you are there. But on the other hand, I'm not sure I would be completely focused on visiting a historic site. This could be largely because I am, at heart, a true chicken. (Plus, I would likely be the worse person on earth to be in any branch of the military, being sent anywhere, in any capacity.) So I am not the best judge of this.

But I will admit that it fascinates me, and though I would never come out and ask someone why they were choosing to spend their last day at home that way - it is after all, none of my business - I would love to know the answer.

**(Children under seven are not permitted - a city of Philadelphia code - so people with young children either have to come back another time, or figure out who visits when.)

10 July 2009


You may recall that a couple of weeks ago and last weekend, we spent part of a day at the shore. We usually go to Avalon, New Jersey, which is not that far away, and is relatively quiet as beach towns go. Both days we were fortunate, because the weather was perfect and the other beachgoers were enjoying themselves while managing not to bug everyone else.

As much as I love going to the beach, I spent most of the time under the beach umbrella:

Besides the book I took along, I also got started on Jaywalker Sock #2:

(The Tim is holding it here - I don't have "man hands" like on that "Seinfeld" episode!)

You may remember that I started Sock #1 in 2007, when we were on vacation at Virginia Beach, and just finished it last month. Anyway, I had lots of beach knitting time as well as some time knitting at home, and now I have a pair:

They aren't perfect, but I'm happy with how they turned out, and I will probably try this pattern again, since once you get the hang of it, it's not as complicated as it seems. The best part?

They fit perfectly! I have christened these "Beachy Jaywalkers." (BTW, this picture shows more of the true colors in the yarn.) For those who are interested, here are the details:

Pattern: Jaywalker by Grumperina (Ravelry link)

Yarn: Black Bunny Fibers Handpainted Superwash Merino Classic; colorway Blue Agate

Needles: US 2

Started: September 2007. Completed: July 7, 2009.

Changes: None. I'm lucky I managed to finish the pattern as written - I wasn't about to try to do anything additional/different! Melanie asked me if the fit was a problem, as she has read it is for other people. I haven't worn them for a whole day yet, but when I tried them on, I didn't see any problem with the fit. That's just my experience so far, though. I'll let you know if I decide otherwise once I test them.

In other sock knitting news, I think I have figured out Judy's Magic Cast-on for toe-up socks! By following the illustrations and instructions in Wendy's book, I got it to work after practicing on big needles with big yarn, so I'm hoping I can "translate" it to actual sock yarn.

Now I can decide what to knit next without feeling like I'm letting too many things languish - hooray!

07 July 2009

Wow ... only 10??

This week, the topic for 10 on Tuesday is:

10 Things That Turn You Off About People

If there were only ten (or even fewer things) ... oh well, here you go.

1. People who use their cell phones all of the time. Nothing is more annoying than being in the middle of a conversation with someone, when they stop to take a call. Or when you are around someone who never ever stops talking on their cell phone. It would be difficult to convince me that those calls are all absolutely necessary.

2. People with no sense of humor. I don't even care if it's a lame sense of humor, it's better than none at all.

3. Self-righteous people. It seems to me that if you have to tell me how good/moral/generous/whatever you are, you are all of those for the wrong reasons.

4. Liars. Do you really need a reason for this one?

5. People who don't like animals. I understand people who don't want to own an animal, or are ambivalent, but I steer clear of anyone who doesn't like animals at all.

6. Inconsiderate/unkind people. Everyone has feelings, and no one likes to have them hurt or dismissed.

7. Snobs. See second part of #4 ...

8. Know-it-alls. Brings my mockery mode into overdrive.

9. Preachy people. Doesn't matter if it's preaching about religion, lifestyle, food choices, etc. If you start preaching at me, I stop listening. I'll generally ask if I'm curious about something.

10. People who refuse to believe that you would really and truly like to be left alone. Just because they don't want to spend time alone, they shouldn't assume that it's a problem for everyone.

Now I must sign off, as I have a phone call from one of my really famous friends so they can tell me about all of the wonderful things they have done for mankind today ...

06 July 2009

June Book Report

OK, here is my latest attempt at giving you my thoughts on books I have read in the past month. This time kids, I'm going to direct you to a link on Goodreads, and see how that goes.

Let me know what you think. Do you like: a) two-part reports (like the ones for April 2009), b) one long post with all books listed (a la May 2009), c) links to Goodreads, d) none of the above, or e) who cares please just leave me alone? I would appreciate your thoughts.

Now, on to those books!

Where Are You Now, by Mary Higgins Clark.

Sister Age, by M.F.K. Fisher.**

A Passionate Man, by Joanna Trollope.**

The Piano Tuner, by Daniel Mason.

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, by Katherine Howe.** (ARE)

Paula, by Isabel Allende.

Miss Brill, by Katherine Mansfield.

The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold.

Lesley Castle, by Jane Austen.

The Last Days of Dogtown, by Anita Diamant.

Knitting: A Novel, by Anne Bartlett.

In the Kitchen, by Monica Ali.** (ARE)

Grace [Eventually]: Thoughts on Faith, by Anne Lamott.

Cranford, by Elizabeth Gaskell.

Casting Off, by Nicole R. Dickson.** (ARE)

The Case of the Missing Servant: Vish Puri, Most Private Investigator, by Tarquin Hall. ** [ARE]

Any titles marked with double asterisks (**) are ones that I would be happy to pass along to anyone who is interested, just leave a comment and let me know which title(s) you would like. As usual, if there are several people interested in a book, I'll do a random drawing. (Please note that some of them are Advanced Reader's Editions [marked ARE], if that makes a difference to you.)

I'll choose names/let people know on Friday, July 10.

And that's it for tonight!

04 July 2009

Independence Day

Happy July 4th!

The United States is the only country with a known birthday.
~ James G. Blaine

America is an enormous frosted cupcake in the middle of millions of starving people.
~ Gloria Steinem

What the people want is very simple. They want an America as good as its promise.
~ Barbara Jordan

This country will not be a good place for us to live in unless we make it a good place for all of us to live in.
~ Theodore Roosevelt

We Americans have no commission from God to police the world.
~ Benjamin Harris, address to Congress, 1888

Americans always try to do the right thing after they've tried everything else.
~ Winston Churchill

America is a large friendly dog in a small room. Every time it wags its tail, it knocks over a chair.
~ Arnold Toynbee

Illegal aliens have always been a problem in the United States. Ask any Indian.
~ Robert Orben

When asked by an anthropologist what the Indians called America before the white man came, an Indian said simply, "Ours."
~ Vine Deloria, Jr.

If you can speak three languages you're trilingual. If you can speak two languages, you're bilingual. If you can only speak one language, you're an American.
~ Author unknown

If you surveyed a hundred typical middle-aged Americans, I bet you'd find that only two of then could tell you their blood types, but every last one of them would know the theme song to The Beverly Hillbillies.
~ Dave Barry

America makes prodigious mistakes, America has colossal faults, but one thing cannot be denied: America is always on the move. She may be going to Hell, of course, but at least she isn't standing still.
~ e.e. cummings

02 July 2009

Penitentiary Life, Weeks 13 and 14

A two-in-one post, for no reason other than the past few weeks have been busy and hot. Between those two things, my energy level once I get home is just slightly more than that of a dead person ...

There have been more and more kids showing up at Eastern State, now that school is out for the summer, and there are a lot of children's camp groups visiting. Taking young kids on a tour poses its own challenges and revelations, as well as just being plain amusing most of the time.

My last two tour groups of kids left me - quite happily - with the impression that there are some parents/teachers/camp counselors/caregivers who value manners and good overall behavior. I am really glad that I've had these experiences, because it can be frustrating to think that "kids today" are ill-mannered and not interested in the world around them. (Plus, I start to feel like Grandpa Simpson, 'cause at least in my mind, I'm saying, "Well, back in my day," "When I was a kid ..." )

The first group of kids were pretty young, about 7 and 8 years old. They were part of a day camp for underprivileged children, and were very excited about visiting the penitentiary. There were at least 10 questions every time I asked if anyone had questions, and many comments at random times. Though they really did not have the attention span or interest in the detailed general history tour, they were really intrigued by the place, and the rules the prisoners had to follow.

The counselors kept them on a pretty tight leash, and it was clear that every single one of them, regardless of how "underprivileged" they might be, had learned very good manners. No one spoke without first raising their hands, and their questions were related to topics being covered. One of my favorite things was when one of the boys asked me why Al Capone was "dressed up" in his mugshot. I explained that a lot of gangsters at the time dressed like they might be going to an office job so they wouldn't call attention to themselves. He responded with, "Well he's not like gangstas today. They got lotsa bling!" (No argument from me there ...)

But what was really the best thing was just how sweet they were. Yes, I'm sure they were on their good behavior, and I only spent about an hour and a half with them, but never before have I received so many hugs from the people on my tour. (Trust me, usually I really don't want hugs from people on my tour ...) And there were a couple of little girls who told me before they left that they "really wanted to learn more," and were going to try to go to the library for some books.

I really don't care if they immediately forgot the whole experience once they got back on the bus, I had a blast with them, and felt good for the rest of the day!

The second group were a bunch of middle-school aged children who were on a bus trip from Quebec. They arrived very early on a Saturday morning, but they were ready to go! The chaperones told them to pay close attention, because there would be no more French spoken until they go back on the bus at the end of their tour.

They were also well-behaved, and paid very close attention (either due to interest or needing to listen carefully to English). Shortly after we got started, it turned dark and started pouring. A couple of the girls complained, but really only to each other, and we carried on, getting wetter with each step. At one point, one of the girls said, "Could we just stay inside, please?" Before I had a chance to say anything, the girls she was with said, "No, we want to do the tour!" and that was pretty much the end of that.

A bit later, as we were inside, and they were all looking at something before we moved on, one of the boys in the class came up to me and said, "I don't know why they were so upset that it was raining. It's only water." (I might add that all of us were soaked through to the skin by this time.) I had to give him credit for his practical view of the whole thing ...

Then, completely unexpectedly, another girl came up to me and handed me the silk scarf she had around her neck (the French-Canadian students who visit seem to always be well- and fashionably dressed), and said "I would like you to have this, to dry your face and clean your glasses, since you have been taking us around in this terrible rain." It was such an unexpected thing, I didn't know what to do for a moment, but then I assured her that I had a handkerchief* in my pocket that would work, without ruining her scarf.

So yes, Virginia, good children do exist, maybe even in your own neighborhood. Here's hoping that the world around them won't dampen their outlook as they grow older.

*Pilfered from the husband's dresser drawer - I haven't seen a woman's handkerchief in years ...