30 December 2010

On the Fifth Day of Christmas ...

Sorry gang, no golden rings - but instead an end of the year book report for 2010.  The last months of the year did not find me reading as much as I would have liked.  Mostly due to laziness, lack of inspiration, and a certain degree of depression that made me uninterested in just about everything.  Fortunately, I did enjoy the things I managed to actually get around to reading, and thought you might be interested to know what they were, and what I thought about them.

If not, you'll just have to wait for the next scintillating post.  It's up to you ...

Perfect, by Marne Davis Kellogg.  Another fun outing with Kick Keswick, former world-class jewelry burglar, trying her best to live a quiet life with her husband and dog in a small village in Provence. 

When Kick's husband, Thomas Curtis, retired from Scotland Yard, gets a call to temporarily return to work, Kick is annoyed. Well, at least until Thomas asks for her help, and she finds out that she will be trying to recover some of the most valuable jewels in the world, those belonging to Elizabeth II of England. It is strongly suspected that her personal valet has taken them, and disappeared under a new identity, in the extremely exclusive location of Mont Sant-Anges, in Switzerland - a location so exclusive that most of the world doesn't even know it exists, or how to get there. 

This was a good read, not just because I find Kick amusing and enterprising, but also because I liked reading about snowstorms and warm drinks at the end of this too-hot summer! It's also fun to hear her describe not just her actual skills for jewelry making and detecting, but go on shopping sprees with the character while she is buying clothes for her new identities, or food to prepare. 

(I do have to warn you though - she makes a devil's food cake in this book that made me almost willing to eat the pages, to see if by any chance they tasted like the cake!)

If you are fond of food, jewelry, interesting vacations, and some good storytelling that doesn't require your utmost concentration to keep up, I can guarantee you'll like this book.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbery.  I didn't actually read this one, but rather listened to the unabridged audiobook version. 

The primary narrator is Renee Michel, the concierge at a Paris apartment building. She is a widow, and has been there as concierge on her own since the death of her husband, Lucien, years before. Her observations are both intriguing and humorous, particularly since she is a self-described "autodidact," surrounded by people who have no idea that she knows literature, philosophy, film, etc. She has one close friend, Manuela, a Portuguese woman who is working as a maid for one of the families in the building. 

The second narrator is Paloma, a 12-year-old girl who lives in the building with her parents and her older sister, who is the bane of her existence. Paloma is a 12-year-old who is incredibly sophisticated for her age. She has decided at the outset of the book that she will commit suicide on her 13th birthday, since life seems pointless to her. She keeps a journal of her "Profound Thoughts" and other observations. Paloma is a perfect character with Renee. 

I loved this book. It kept me reading to find out what would become of everyone, or what wry or philosophical observations any of the characters would make. The characters were all well-drawn, even some of the ancillary ones. 

I don't want to give anything away, so I will not be saying more about the story. But I can tell you that the final part is full of amazing, beautiful language, and that it is incredibly sad. And worth every tear that I shed.

An Impartial Witness, by Charles Todd.  This book was quite enjoyable, and is the second in a series featuring Bess Crawford, a WWI nurse whose home is England. 

In this installment, Bess is accompanying a group of wounded soldiers home from France to England. One of the soldiers that she cares for, who is severely wounded, has a photo of his wife pinned to his garment. After taking the soldiers to the appropriate hospital, Bess is at a train station when she notices a tearful goodbye between a woman and a man who looks like an officer in one of the British regiments. After trying to remember why the woman looks familiar, she realizes that it is the wife of the soldier mentioned previously in the story! 

Once back in France, Bess sees a newspaper story with the drawing of the photograph, stating that the woman was murdered later the same day that Bess saw her at the train station. Scotland Yard is asking anyone with leads to contact them; Bess does, and from that point, becomes involved in the murder investigation. 

This was a good story, with evocative descriptions of time and place. I have not read a lot of books set during World War I, and I find it a fascinating time period. Modern life and modern warfare that were not as modern as they seemed to be. People were adjusting to new kinds of lifestyles, not necessarily tied to farming, but social roles (especially in England) were still very set into place. 

I think that anyone interested in the time period, and/or in the history of medicine and police work would like this book.

The Mistress of Nothing, by Kate Pullinger.  I received an Advance Reader's Edition of this book, and thought it looked like it was worth trying. I'm glad I did, because it was a really good story, and provided an interesting glimpse into life in Egypt in the 1860s. 

The story is told from the standpoint of Sally, lady's maid to Lady Duff Gordon, a society woman in London, who is extremely well thought of in social circles there. Lady Gordon suffers from what we know to be tuberculosis, but what is not really understood at the time, and it is recommended that she leave England for Egypt, where the warmth and drier air will help her maintain a healthier life. Sally never thinks twice about accompanying Lady Gordon, so they set off for what will be a life-changing experience for everyone involved. 

Though they are curiosities in Egypt, both women learn to adapt to life there, and find it quite acceptable. Some of the class barriers between them break down, and Sally begins to feel that she is as much Lady Gordon's friend and companion as anything else. 

The book is divided into different sections, and though Sally is the narrator through all of them, she and the circumstances are quite changed throughout. I don't want to give away anything, but the end result is not something that Sally could have ever imagined for herself. 

Between the customs and social behaviors in each society during the time period, and the events that change each of the characters' lives, this story has a lot happening and gives you a lot of information. I found it to be nicely written, and not nearly as melodramatic as I was expecting after getting to a certain part in the plot.

This is based on a true story, which made it that much more fascinating to me.
An Irish Country Courtship, by Patrick Taylor.  Another peek into the lives of the citizens of Ballybucklebo, a village in Ulster, and once again I am not disappointed. This installment finds the Christmas holidays over, and life returning to normal again for Barry Laverty, Dr. Fingal Flahertie O'Reilly, and their housekeeper, Kinky Kincaid. Barry is busy thinking ahead, planning to ask his girlfriend, Patricia Spence, to marry him, and hoping to be offered a partnership in the medical practice. O'Reilly has reconnected with Kitty O'Halloran, a nurse he dated years ago, before meeting and marrying his late wife.

Barry faces quite a few surprises, setbacks, and frustrations here. His girlfriend Patricia informs him of her plans, which do not include him. This sends him into the depths of despair, and he tries to use his work to help him get over her. But then he is frustrated by his work, as this is a time (early 1960s) when medicine is starting to advance in the large cities and hospitals, but is still a lot of guesswork in small towns and villages.

O'Reilly and Kitty, meanwhile, are rekindling their romance, while trying to make Mrs.[Kinky] Kincaid comfortable with Kitty's presence, assuring her that she will not be replaced. At the same time, everyone is trying to help one of the villagers prove that he and some of his friends are being cheated out of winnings from a horse they all bought together.

I enjoy these books so much, and am always sort of sad when I reach the end of one! I love reading about Ireland on the cusp of complete modernization, as well as medical practices that now seem dangerous and/or quaint, but were quite amazing for their time. I have yet to be sorry that I took some time to visit with the people in Ballybucklebo.

A Catered Thanksgiving, by Isis Crawford.  As anyone who knows me can tell you, I love to read books with holiday themes at the time of the respective holiday. So when I was at the library the week before Thanksgiving, and saw this book, I decided it was meant to be.

I had not read any of the previous books in this series, so this was my initial acquaintance with Libby and Bernie Simmons, sisters who own a catering business. As the book opens they are preparing to go to the Field Mansion to prepare a Thanksgiving feast for the Field family, a wealthy group who are blood relatives but otherwise have little affection for one another. The patriarch is getting up in years, and clearly people are trying to stay on his good side in order to be kept in his will. The family's fortune was made in the fireworks business, and though they have a ton of money, the non-public areas of the mansion are furnished with shabby,thrift-store items, since Montgomery Field (the aforementioned patriarch) is famously cheap.

In addition to all of this, there is a blizzard starting up on the afternoon the sisters head to the mansion to start their cooking for the Thanksgiving meal.

It is during this meal prep that Montgomery Field comes into the kitchen to check on the turkey, and it explodes, killing him! (I will admit this part made me laugh.) So Libby and Bernie are faced with a murder, a ruined meal, a group of unpleasant family members who are accusing them of murder, and weather that forces them to spend the night.

The sisters decide that since they have to be there anyway, they might as well try to figure out who is the actual killer. This is where the story develops, as we learn more about each family member and what motives they might have for wishing the patriarch dead.

I enjoyed this book and found Libby and Bernie to be fun characters. Not great literature, but a fun, quick read with writing that kept the story moving.

Every Last One, by Anna Quindlen.  I had an Advanced Reader copy of this book for months, but only read it during our trip to Mexico in November for my niece's wedding. I will warn you that this is a powerful, sad book that gives you a sense of foreboding from the first page. It is also well-written, and to me at least, believable. 

The story covers a year or so in the life of the Latham family, and is narrated by Mary Beth Latham, the mother. She is married, with three teenage children - a daughter and twin sons - and a Golden Retriever. Mary Beth's life revolves around her family, though she also works as a landscape gardener. At one point in the story, she realizes that Max, one of the twins, is suffering from depression. Her focus on helping him overcome this means that she is unaware of other things going on in the family around her. Finally, on New Year's Eve the title of the book becomes horribly true, and the rest of the story is Mary Beth's track back from violence, loss, and her raison d'etre. By the end of the book, I felt emotionally drained, but convinced that things would be as OK as they could be for her and her family.

I don't want to say much more, because I think this is a book worth reading. I had to put it down at one point (after the whole New Year's Eve thing), but I was definitely going to finish it! I gave it to one of my nieces to read on the plane trip home, and she (like me) was sucked in right from the start.

Anna Quindlen and I have a love-hate relationship. A lot of times I don't want to agree with her when I read an op-ed piece in the newspaper, though often it is so well-written I read it anyway. But I think she is one of the most convincing chroniclers of modern family life working today.

Though incredibly sad, and upsetting at points, well worth reading.

And that's it for 2010 books here at chez Ravell'd Sleave.

29 December 2010

The Fourth Day of Christmas ...

and I have the last two Seafarer's Scarves to show you, now that they have been finished and gifted.  I am very pleased with how all of them turned out, and especially pleased that I finished them well before Christmas.  (Well, admittedly, I wove in the ends on The Tim's scarf on Christmas Eve, but just because I'd been too lazy up to that point.)

The green colorway went to my niece Julie's husband, Keith.  I had finished knitting the scarf before Thanksgiving, but only realized after I mailed it that I'd failed to take a picture!  Fortunately, Julie was kind enough to send me some pictures.  The Tim chose the one he wanted, and posed for the photos below just this afternoon. 

Scarf #3
Scarf #4

Pattern: Seafarer's Scarf
Yarn: Misti Alpaca Handpaint Suri & Silk. (No colorway, ball band missing, etc. - see previous entries)
Needles: US 5
Comments: Love this pattern, and I think each colorway turned out particularly well. I also got a picture of Keith modeling the greenish scarf, but didn't want to post it here without his permission. (You can see it here on Ravelry, though.)

I really cannot explain this one, but it does show the colorway well.

As anyone who has ever knit something for another person knows, there is nothing better than having the recipient like it!  My niece said Keith has worn his scarf every day since opening it, and the same is true for The Tim, who also requested a hat from the same yarn.  (God knows what the modeling shot will be ...)

I know I've said this before, but I really recommend this pattern to anyone who wants to knit a warm, cozy, basic scarf.  I've knitted this in both solid yarns and variegated yarns, and each is lovely in its own way.  There are several variations on the pattern (the garter stitch is replaced with something else), but I just really like this one the best, to be honest.

Now that the Christmas knitting is finished this year, I'm actually spending this week working on something for me - shocking, I know!  I'm making this, using different colors, and so far I love the way it's turning out!  I tried taking a picture of it in WIP form, but couldn't get it right.  I'll try again, but you may just have to wait until it's finished.  Right now, I'm on row #19 of 48 rows, so it could happen sooner than you think ...

26 December 2010

On the Second Day of Christmas ...

It snowed.  Yep, we are having a winter storm, and it's snowing like crazy, and guess what??? NO PLOWS have come down our street!!!  Ignore the fact that our street is approximately 4 inches wide, it's still coming down hard, and city plows don't fit down our street.  In Philadelphia (especially when the Eagles came has been postponed), it is apparently a requirement to complain a) loudly, b) indignantly, and c) seemingly eternally if your street isn't plowed and 100% back to normal immediately.  Therefore it is my duty as a citizen to let others know, so that a) they can join in, or b) they can say "Well our street is fine," and then we will say well sure, you live in the part of the city/the same street as/the area where they *always* plow and ignore the rest of us. 

Actually, when you live on an unplow-able street, you learn to move on.  As far as I know, all of our neighbors have survived in the past, and likely will this time.


It is in fact the second day of Christmas, and we are still enjoying ourselves. There was much fun, merriment, and enjoyment of presents and stockings yesterday.  Today we've been able to just be happy that we are so lucky, and to get a new appreciation for things we received.  I have spent the day feeling especially cozy, in my new fleece top that The Tim picked out for me.  Jetsam has been busy with his new catnip toy.  The Tim carried his new messenger bag to work, and declared it a successful gift, which pleased me greatly.

I'm not sure I've ever shown this picture before.  This is one of the very first Christmas decorations we had when we got married.  At the time, The Tim was in graduate school at Notre Dame, and we had a nice (albeit very small) apartment in Married Student Housing,  One of his fellow students mentioned how she made a wreath for her apartment door.  We were inspired to do the same, so we went to a local craft store (G.L. Perry? I don't remember), and bought the wreath, a roll of ribbon, and the little ornament.  A couple of hours later, Voila!, we had a Christmas wreath!

This has been put away and pulled out for use again for the last 32 years.  I sincerely doubt that we paid even $10.00 for the supplies, but it's traveled the country with us, always going on the front door of our apartments and now our house.  Every year when we pull it out, I am first of all amazed that it is still in such good shape, and secondly glad to know that the wreath - and us - are still around to make Christmastime merry.

Street plow? Homemade Christmas wreath? 

For me at least, it's a no-brainer.

24 December 2010

Merry Christmas!



Oh lay aside each earthly thing,
And with thy heart as offering
Come worship now the Infant King -
'Tis love that's born tonight.

23 December 2010

All Wrapped Up!

So today I went to the dentist to have the permanent crown put on my tooth.  (It HURT!  However, I lived, and so let's move on ...)  When I was there earlier in the month, he had proudly proclaimed that over the Thanksgiving weekend, he'd fnished 99 percent of his Christmas shopping.  Being a person who generally shopped on the 24th, he was pretty excited, and said that by the time I came back for the final crown, he was sure he'd be finished.

Today he informed me (quite proudly) that he had only one gift left to buy - something "princess-y" for his 4-year-old niece.  He said the plan was to go out tomorrow after breakfast and "pick something up" so he'd have the rest of the day for "wrapping everything and relaxing."

Now, I am not a parent, nor do I play one on TV, but even I know that going out tomorrow morning to find something princess-y for a 4-year-old will not be quick or relaxing.  However, in the true spirit of the holidays, I wished him good luck and kept my mouth shut on the topic ...

Of course, it's easy to feel superior when you spent the previous evening wrapping the last of the gifts ... I knew that The Tim would be home tonight, and since they were for him, it seemed sensible to do it while he had no chance of getting a peek at any packages.  Jetsam and I worked very hard to get it done and looking nice.  One advantage of having your family live out of town is that you tend to do everything you can to get packages out to them sooner rather than later, meaning you have most stuff taken care of already by the time Christmas Eve comes.  (After Jetsam's Million-Dollar-Curling-Ribbon-Eating-Episode, all curling ribbon has been banned from our house.  Which is somewhat disappointing, but worth it in the end!)

Tonight, we are planning to bake some spritz cookies - you know, the little butter cookies that you press out into shapes?  We always make a plain batch, a red, and a green batch, and decorate them.  Both The Tim and I enjoy making them, so we always wait until a time when both of us are here.  Some of the other cookies we make are either his specialties (pizzelles), or mine (this year, marbled icebox cookies), so working on baking those on our own is not an issue with the other one.

And speaking of my marbled icebox cookies (and I was, just above) this is the first year I've tried them, and I must say that they are a huge success!   I'm not usually successful with recipes where you make the dough, refrigerate it, and then roll it out or cut certain-sized slices to bake.  But this year, the planets must have been aligned, because it all went smoothly, they look nice, and they are delicious!  I'm so proud of myself ...


A nice cup of tea, some Christmas carols playing, looking at the decorations and the tree, and I am once more convinced that in spite of so many things that might have been, or currently are, awful, that there is nothing better than Christmastime.

Especially when you don't have to spend any single second of your Christmas Eve looking for something princess-y ... 

18 December 2010

... And So This Is Christmas

And where have I been? (to paraphrase John Lennon)

Oh, I've been here.  "Stuff" has been keeping me from posting as frequently as I'd like.  Which is annoying, since usually this time of year is when I have the most to say - for better or for worse!  To catch you up, I present the good, the bad, and the ugly (though not in that order) of the past few weeks.

The Bad:  I had to get a crown on a tooth, and boy did that hurt.
The Ugly:  I have to get the permanent crown this Thursday (yep, December 23)
The Good:  It will all be taken care of before Christmas Day.

The Bad:  Jetsam ate some curling ribbon.
The Ugly:  The veterinarian bill was quite a lot of money!
The Good:  He is fine.

The Bad:  I went for my yearly mammogram, and ended up getting two (count 'em, TWO) cone biopsies that same day!
The Ugly:  The scars and the bruises didn't just hurt, they were mighty ugly.
The Good:  The results came back negative for anything worrisome.

(Note: the items listed above happened on three consecutive days.  Oy.)

The Bad:  One of my co-workers complained because I had Christmas decorations in my office.
The Ugly:  I got called on the carpet for it by the new boss.
The Good:  I pointed out that my office is waaay in the back, and the complaining co-worker does not *have* to come in.  And said that I was keeping the decorations.

The Bad:  The Three Days of Disgustingness (see above) put me behind on everything.
The Ugly:  It was December, and I was behind!
The Good:  I have finished what needed to be finished, and will do everything else when I have a chance, and not worry about it.

The Bad:  The Tim and I got our signals mixed for meeting at my work Christmas party, so I missed an hour of it.
The Ugly:  We were tres annoyed at one another.
The Good (and The Ironic):  I won a $25 Barnes & Noble gift card in the raffle!

The Bad:  The Tim felt like he was catching a cold, and it's a really busy time of year for him to be sick.
The Ugly:  Said cold left him alone, and decided to visit me instead.
The Good:  My coughing and hacking provides my own Christmas horn section.

The Bad:  I felt so awful at the beginning of the month, I didn't get a chance to do much shopping for The Tim.
The Ugly:  I was afraid that I wouldn't have anything to give him.
The Good:  A combination of online shopping and going out in Center City Philadelphia shopping today has resolved the issue.

The Bad:  Tess and GK are not here to help decorate and wrap presents this year.
The Ugly:  I knew that Tess might not be here, but it never occurred to me that GK would be gone.  Getting out the decorations was hard.
The Good:  Jetsam is here!

The Bad:  Lots of stuff happened that put me off track.
The Ugly:  I was pretty depressed and feeling hopeless.
The Good:  It's Christmas!  I'm here, The Tim is here, Jetsam is here, and we're all fine!

Which means it's all good.

07 December 2010

Holiday Viewing Pleasure

OK, this one was made for me, as the topic this week is:

10 Favorite Holiday Shows - hooray!

1.  "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" (Rankin-Bass).  Anyone who has ever spent 2 seconds in my company at Christmastime, or visited our house then, knows that I am obsessed with in love with this show and the Rudolph character!  And when the doll on the Island of Misfit Toys says ,"I don't have any dreams left" while wiping away a tear because she things Santa has forgotton them, I cry.  Every.Single.Time.

2.  "It's a Wonderful Life."  Oh George Bailey and family, I can practically recite your movie.  And the part where he sees what would have happened to Mary had they not met, and he sees that - GASP! - she would have been a Librarian just kills me every time. Anyway, this one is a family favorite, which has also spawned a gin-spilling family tradition.  Hee haw, indeed!

3.  "The Story of Christmas."  This is shown on our local PBS every year, and was originally made in (I think) the early 1960s by the Bell Telephone Company.  The introduction showing the phone company employees at work in and of itself makes this worth watching.  Starring the Mabel Beaton Marionettes (!?), there are two stories here: "The Night Before Christmas," and "The Nativity."  We only watch the first one, as the second does not have the killer* aspect of the first.

4. "A Charlie Brown Christmas."  When Charlie Brown's tree falls over, making him think he's ruined things, and when Linus quotes the nativity story, my heart fills with Christmas happiness.

5.  "How the Grinch Stole Christmas."  Not being brought up on Dr. Seuss (my parents gave me adult books even as a child), I didn't really appreciate this as a kid.  But as an adult, I love it!  And always feel sorry for his poor dog, forced to wear those reindeer antlers.

6.  "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation."  Oh my God.  Clark Griswold and family do not live an existence that different from a family Christmas in my family.  *Love* Uncle Eddie and Aunt Katherine.  And Snot the dog.  And all of it.  "That's the gift that keeps on givin', Clark."  Priceless.

7.  "Creature Comforts Christmas."  I just came across this one a couple of years ago, from the people who brought us Wallace and Gromit.  It is different animals commenting on Christmas things, using voices of people who had been interviewed on street.  Hilarious.

8.  "The Christmas Story."  Also like my family, and really evocative of childhood Christmas for me.

9.  "White Christmas."  'Nuff said.  (Though I cannot stand Danny Kaye in anything. My love for this movie outweighs my incredible dislike of him.)

10.  "Miracle on 34th Street."  Because Santa does exist.  (Plus, it makes me feel perfectly OK when people can't find something at Rosie's, and I know they have it at Loop, to send people there.)

and even though there are only supposed to be ten, I have to include:

11. "Beyond Tomorrow."  Best horrible Christmas movie EVER!  This one is an oldie (1936 or so), and centers around three gentlemen friends who decide to have a contest to see if anyone will return their wallets, thrown out onto the street on Christmas Eve.  Well, someone does.  But the story goes on from there, and gives a new meaning to the term killer movie.  A real classic in our house.

There.  Needless to say, I have many faves, but these are the ten - er, eleven - that immediately came to mind, and made me happy to list here. 

*Killer movie = a movie that is so bad/corny/old-fashioned, etc. that it kills you every time you watch it!

02 December 2010

The Importance of Being Happy

Hooray - it's December!  And today would be my mother's 92nd birthday, and she would have likely spent the day asking The Tim to help her find her cane.  Which, nine times out of ten, was right in front of her ... fortunately, she would find the whole thing as funny as we did ...

It's also the second night of Hanukkah, and I am sending along wishes for a happy celebration to any friends who celebrate.  I saw a gorgeous menorah in the window of an otherwise regular-looking row house on my way home tonight, and it looked so pretty and so welcoming, the house was no longer regular-looking.

Jetsam bought me a Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer Advent calendar as an anniversary present.  Yesterday, the little door opened to show Rudolph; today, it was the Spotted Elephant.  (Yes, it is a totally secular Advent calendar, I am completely aware of the incongruity there.  But please keep any preachy opinions on said topic to yourself.  Thank you.)

In spite of the fact that it means I must also hear ones that annoy me greatly (i.e. "Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer"), they are playing Christmas music on the radio. 

It is cold here, and feels like holiday time, weather-wise.  I have warm clothes, food, drink, and a home. 

Jetsam was not the least bit interested in watching Rudolph with me the other night, like Garden Kitty *always* was.  But tonight he helped me find the box that has my Christmas socks in it, and we had quite a hi-larious time, ending with him getting some treats to distract him long enough for me to put away said box.

My boss won't let me play Christmas music in my office, because she doesn't want it to offend anyone.  When I play any music at work, I keep the volume so low that I can barely hear it.  However, it's good to have a job.

Three different people have made it a point to tell me that they are not getting me a gift this year, and DO NOT want one from me.  I didn't realize that one was automatically related to the other; I only ever have a gift for someone 'cause I actually want to, never because I have to do it.

Tomorrow is Friday.

Sometimes you have to look for the happy, but it's always there somewhere.