29 December 2012

Christmastime Pictures

This is a set of ceramic ornaments that our great-nieces and nephew in Tucson sent made and sent to us last year.   They are too heavy for the tree, or to hang on the windows as suncatchers, so this year it occurred to me to make a garland to hang on the wall - I love the way it turned out!  (Every once ins a while, I actually have a good idea ....)

Does anyone remember the Advent Calendar I was knitting?  I finished it last December, but we didn't hang it until this year.  This is the best picture I could get of it.  I'm pretty pleased with how it turned out.  Technically, each hat and mitten should have a number, 1-24, but I like it this way.

Christmas preparations wore out Pip ...

but he did want to be sure that you saw our tree.

Milo was annoyed that Rudolph was allowed to sit on the table 24/7, 
and he was not!


Christmas Day itself was quite exciting.

Jetsam was ready from the get-go!

Dug was pleased with his gifts ...

maybe a little too much?

Milo and Pip had fun opening their gifts ... 

and Pip made sure that nothing was missed!


We are still enjoying our Christmastime, and I hope that you are too!

24 December 2012

Christmas Eve

Christmas is love with all the trimmings
 -- Anonymous

From our house to yours

Merry Christmas!

21 December 2012

Pip Speaks! Holiday Tip #3 - Wrapping Presents

Hello, everyone - it's me - Pip - again.  I wanted to talk about wrapping presents today.  I don't know about you, but I LOVE to get presents!  Even before they are ever opened, I like to attack the paper, chew on the paper, or try to eat the bow!  My ma says this is not a good thing, and also not good for me, but I really don't understand how that could be the case.  It's just so FUN!

Anyway, I think that it's important to remember that a wrapped present is just something that adds to the mystery of what might be inside.  I don't understand why everyone thinks that presents need to be wrapped like they are more important than what is inside.  My ma likes to wrap presents, but she makes them look nice, and (as far as I know) doesn't try to impress anyone with making them "artistic."   But she said that she knows some people who cause themselves a lot of stress by trying to make every single package an amazing work of art.  I think that is silly.

At our house, we love to help with wrapping presents!  Lots of the time, we help by trying out the gift boxes, and trimming the wrapping paper.  It's also fun to attack the wrapping paper and/or the ribbons.  Lots of people say that if they had pets they would not let them in the same room while they were wrapping presents. I think that is just silly.  For instance, here are some pictures that my ma took last year when we were helping.

 Jetsam takes a look to see what help is needed

I hold down some wrapping paper so it doesn't wrinkle

 Jetsam makes sure everything is wrapped

Dug was helping, but then he got tired (he was just a visitor last Christmas!)

This year, Dug is our brother, and of course we have Milo and he likes to help too!  My ma gets mad at us, but then she'll say, "You know what?  You guys are all good - why get mad when you are just excited about Christmas too?"

I like it when she says that.  :-)

So if you still need to wrap any presents, remember that it's supposed to be fun too.  But it doesn't have to be so perfect that it belongs in an art museum.  Because, after all, it's for Christmas - which should only be fun.

That's all for now - have a fun weekend!

18 December 2012

The Santa Question

Like most little kids, I was a firm believer in Santa Claus as a child.  Though I had my own take on it - for instance, I never for a minute thought those guys in department stores or Christmas parties were Santa, because a) they didn't look like him, and b) he didn't travel around until Christmas Eve.  Duh!  I also never wanted my picture with Santa, because, well - see above.

Once I started school, some kids believed in Santa and some didn't.  But after first grade, believing in Santa became something you kept to yourself if you didn't want to be teased.  In third grade, I was in what was called a "split class" - third and fourth graders in one classroom.  And I remember that some boy stated one day that Santa did not exist and anyone who thought so was a baby and stupid.  At which time Joanne Manfredi (a fourth grader) stood up and said that she believed in Santa, because he was "the spirit of Christmas."  Well, that stupid boy (because in third grade, all boys were of course, stupid) wasn't sure what to say, and besides Sister said something to the effect that we weren't going to discuss something like that, and that was the last word on that topic.

I guess at some point I realized that my parents bought most of the gifts I'd get for Christmas.  My parents certainly never said Santa didn't exist.  Ever.  I'm sure my sisters, who were older, told me plenty of times, if for no other reason to torture me!  However, this news did not in any way traumatize me, upset me, anger me, or any of the other things that others say happened when they found out that Santa wasn't real.  And even as a little kid, I was still very cynical (especially for someone my age).  As far as I was concerned, even if he didn't bring all of the presents, that did not mean he didn't really exist.  Having said that, because I was already considered a weirdo by other kids, I generally kept my mouth shut on the whole Santa issue.

Fast forward fifty-odd years, and I'm at a party with other people who begin to discuss the topic of Santa Claus.  The usual stories of heartbreak and/or anger when it was discovered that Santa was real, people had been lied to by their parents, etc. - I'm sure you've all been there.  Then everyone starts to talk about how wrong it is to tell children lies like that, blah, blah, blah.

I mentioned that I still believed in Santa Claus, but was pretty much blown off and ignored.  Which is fine (and not a new experience to me).  But the whole thing really bothered me, and I've finally figured out why.

Because I really *do* still believe in Santa Claus.  He does come to our house on Christmas Eve, and on occasion leaves a present.  But Santa is there.  He is around even if you can't see him or prove his existence.  He makes Christmas fun, and he is awesome.  If he doesn't bring you what was on your Christmas wish list, that doesn't mean he isn't real, either; at least in our house, you never got a lot of the specific things you requested (probably due to price), but there were always surprises, and you always got something.

I love Christmastime.  The songs, the gifts, Santa, reindeer, elves, ribbons, cookies, decorations - all of it.  It reminds me every year that no matter what else has happened, it's here and it's a special time.  And every year, my belief in Santa Claus gets stronger and stronger.

I am fully aware that Christmastime celebrates the birth of Jesus.  I do not believe it should be about nothing but RECEIVING, or comparing how much was spent on your gifts, or even having the best Christmas party.

But even during the saddest or hardest years of my life, Santa has been there at Christmas, reminding me that it's not all about me, or things, or money.  Reminding me that it's a time to reflect, but also enjoy.  And that whether or not I've remembered to be nice to people in the course of the year, that I have another fresh start given to me.

And that is why I still believe in Santa Claus.

12 December 2012

A Gift, a Date, and a Rant

A Gift

Once upon a time, there was a knitter whose niece had a little baby boy, born on Cinco de Mayo.  The knitter wanted to knit something for her new great-nephew, but a couple of things held her back: 1) the baby lived in San Francisco, so really heavy duty items like sweaters were not totally necessary, and 2) this niece did not say "thank you," "drop dead," or even "UGLY" when she was sent a pair of hand knit socks for Christmas a few years ago.  However, the knitter had always made something for any new babies in the family, ever since she had learned to knit.  So she thought about making one thing, then something else, another thing, a failed project.  Finally she just gave up.

But as Christmastime arrived, and she wasn't knitting any other gifts, she started to rethink the whole thing.  She found a pattern that she liked, and could use some yarn that she already had, and figured, what the heck, one more try couldn't hurt, right?

A week later, she had finished the knitting, and it was actually pretty CUTE!  Sure, she had to fiddle a little bit with the pattern, which was challenging for her, but her  calculations worked (a Christmas miracle in and of itself), and that was encouraging as well.  Hopefully, the gift will fit the recipient.  And maybe she'll never know, and maybe the parents will hate it.  But the knitter decided that she wouldn't care what happened once the gift was given, because then it was all out of her hands.

And so, I give you the finished item:

Parker's Owl Vest

and a closeup of the owls that go across the front:

Parker's Owl Vest closeup

Project: Owls for Parker
Pattern:  Owl Baby Vest by Jodi Haraldson (a freebie on Ravelry!)
Yarn:  Berrocco Vintage Colors, colorway 5220 (1 skein and a teeny bit of another)
Needles:  US4, US5, US6
Modifications:  When I was starting the rows above the owls that turn into the sleeves, I noticed that the owl on the left (as you are looking at it) would be under the left arm, when following the pattern as written.  It looked weird, so I ripped it out and redid it, after fooling with some numbers.  (These details will appear soon on my Ravelry project page for this item.)  I was pleased and surprised when it worked, and the finished piece looked so cute!
Other comments:  I can recommend this pattern.  It's easy, quick, and the result is just adorable!

A Date

Today is 12-12-12!  How cool is that?  Did you know it is the last symmetrical date we will see in our lifetimes?  I hope you will do/did something special or treated yourself to mark the day.  Being "numerically aware" (as my niece referred to me), I couldn't let the day pass without noting it!


A Rant

If you have read this blog for more than three seconds at any given time, you know that I love holidays in general, and Christmastime in particular.  And this year, more than others, I'm really tired of the Scrooges who are everywhere: in person, in print, on Facebook and Twitter.  

The latest is the discussion of Christmas carols.  Granted, I have ones that drive me nuts, or that I think are wrong (i.e., "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer," "Dominic the Donkey), but I ignore them when I can, and sigh loudly when I can't.  And a lot of people don't like any Christmas song that isn't a hymn, which I can understand, but find to be personally limiting.

However, I MUST take exception with two discussions that I have come across recently that in my opinion are completely ridiculous.  Apparently, for years, we've all been listening to the song "Baby, It's Cold Outside," and not realizing that it is all about date rape.  And, the song, "Santa Baby"?  Well, that's about prostitution.  

REALLY?  Give me a break, people!  Why can't they just be amusing or silly holiday songs?  Every single thing in the world does not lead to some morally questionable result.  At least not in my world.  I just feel like these people need a sense of humor, you know?

In the meantime, there are now only THIRTEEN DAYS left until Christmas Day, and I sincerely hope that you will do everything within your power to enjoy them, and the rest of Christmastime that follows.  

And now?  I'm finally signing off ... :-)

07 December 2012

Pip Speaks! Holiday Tip #2 - Christmas Cards

Hello everyone, it's me, Pip, again!  My Ma told me that you liked my earlier post, and read me your comments, and it made me so happy.  Because unlike a lot of other kitties, I'm a talker, and love to have people (or anyone else!) listen to me.

So now I want to talk to you about these:

Christmas cards!  Or, if you don't celebrate Christmas, Holiday cards!  We love getting them at our house, and after we've gotten quite a few, my Ma likes to hang them on our garden door as part of our decorations.

(Us kitties like to bat at them, which is not really something our Ma and Da like, but that's another story.)

Anyway, my Ma was annoyed the other day, because someone told her that she should not be sending out Christmas cards, because it was a waste of paper, and not good for the environment.  She was telling us that a lot of cards nowadays are made of recycled paper, and they can also be recycled, so there is that.  But mostly, she was reminding us that Christmas cards can have a life beyond the one they have on one Christmas when you get them.  Here is how it works at our house.

We always send out Christmas cards to our relatives and friends, and it's marked as being from all of us.  Which I think is nice, because sometimes we get cards from people we know have animals in their families, but the don't sign their names.  I think that is mean.   But that too, is another story.

Anyway, when we take down our decorations after Chrismastime and put them away, my Ma takes the cards and puts them together with a rubber band with the other things.  Then the next year, she pulls them out when she is getting ready to send cards again, to see who sent cards and who will still get cards.***  Then she takes any that are not pictures of people we know, and she separates the front of the card from the inside where people have signed their names.  Any that have writing on the inside of the front of the card just get recycled, but otherwise, she collects the fronts, and sends them to a place called the Seamen's Church Institute of New York and New Jersey for their Christmas at Sea program.  The people who are in charge of that program use the fronts of the Christmas cards as gift tags for the presents they give out.  I think it must be nice to not only get a present like a scarf or something when you weren't expecting it, and then have a pretty gift card on it as well.  My Ma says that it probably makes some people feel extra special on Christmas (and that makes me feel good too, since we usually help her get things apart and ready to send).

So my tip for today is to think before your say to someone else that they shouldn't send out Christmas cards, or that they are doing something bad for the environment.  Because you can see from what I wrote that you can enjoy sending and getting cards and still be recycling them in a way that gives others a smile on Christmas Day.

Everyone at our house smiles a lot on Christmas Day, and all through Christmastime.  But if we couldn't be together, I would like to think that we would have a reason to smile because we knew that somewhere, someone was thinking of us.

My Ma just told me that this post was long enough, but I have two more things to tell you.  One is that there are only EIGHTEEN DAYS left until Christmas Day!!!! and, the second thing is that some people who get cards from us will see my picture on their stamp!

Me dressed up like Santa!

OK, bye until next time.  Love, Pip

***Like so many things our Ma does, she has a "system" for Christmas cards.  She is also the only one who understands it.

04 December 2012

Do You Hear What I Hear?

Exactly three weeks from today, it will be CHRISTMAS DAY!!  If you are a regular reader of this blog, you'll know that Christmastime is my favorite time of year.  Along with that goes my love of Christmas music,  So when Favorite Christmas Albums was the topic for this week's Ten on Tuesday, I thought it only appropriate that I shared my favorites.

Needless to say, these are not my only favorites, but these are some that I thought of, and have been listening to already, so here you go in no particular order.

Top Ten  Favorite Christmas Albums

1.  A Christmas Heritage - this truly is a favorite, with some beautiful renditions of some classics, and some new ones I hadn't heard before.  Plus, one of the musicians is someone I went to elementary school with, and whose father was my brother-in-law's first law partner!

2.  The Sound of Christmas - Julie Andrews.  This is one that we got years ago, when Hallmark used to produce CDs or tapes for the Christmas season.  

3.  Christmas with the Cambridge Singers - I'd never heard of the Cambridge Singers when I bought this CD, but I liked the cover, I enjoy choral music, and there were songs I liked on it.  This almost immediately became a favorite, and there are two songs on it that always nearly bring me to tears.

4.  Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer "soundtrack" - This is a cheapo, cheesy CD with the songs from the Rankin-Bass version of the story of Rudolph (with which I am obsessed).  There are really only one or two that are actually recordings from the TV soundtrack - most are covers - but since I like the show and the songs so much, I enjoy this one.

5.  Just in Time for Christmas - Nancy LaMott.  We saw Nancy LaMott in concert a couple of years before her untimely death, and it was great, so when I saw this, buying it was a no-brainer!  It's definitely a good one.

6.  A Christmas Album - James Taylor.  What can I say?  I'd listen to him sing a grocery list.  His version of "In the Bleak Midwinter" is one of my favorites of all time.

7.  The Christmas Album - Libera.  We have several CDs by this choral group of young boys, and the sound is so clear and beautiful, I was excited to see they had a Christmas album.  It's all good, but their addition and cover of Billy Joel's "Lullabye (Goodnight My Angel)" is truly stunning.

8.  Christmas Classics - I think we have several versions of these CDs, with mixes of old standards performed by Frank Sinatra, Rosemary Clooney, Dean Martin - you get the drift.  It's not Christmastime to me without them.

9.  Christmas  - Michael Buble.   I like this because it is evocative to me of the old-time Christmas albums that my parents had.

10.  Christmas Songs - Diana Krall.  I love listening to her, and love Christmas music - you do the math! 

Happy listening and singing along!

01 December 2012

Here We Go!

Today whether you like it or not (and I LOVE IT!), is the first of December, meaning that Christmastime has officially started, at least in our house.  Thanksgiving got some extra time this year to kick things off, but now it's getting serious.

This year, I am completely scattered for whatever reason, and have not knit a single gift, though there is one thing I'm hoping can become just that.  However, since I started late, I'm not going to worry about it.  And who knows, there may be a hat or mittens or something else small in someone's future.  I'm just going to see if the spirit moves me, so to speak.

The Tim did pull the boxes o' stuff out of the basement the other day, and today we opened up the holiday mugs, glasses, and that kind of thing, as well as the Christmas linens (you know, tablecloths and such).  Those are always first in our house.  I don't know if it's because they are easiest, or if for both of us it just makes sense.  I know growing up, we got started on Christmastime once the calendar showed December, but since my mom's birthday was December 2, the heavy duty decorating started after that.  It's probably just something that has stuck with me.

Jetsam, Pip, and Dug all thinks it's very interesting, of course.  Milo isn't quite sure what to think of it.  I'm sure that will change once boxes open and there are shiny, small, hanging things to investigate.  This may be a minimal decor holiday, unless he can be convinced that Santa really does care about his behavior!

Tomorrow, I'm teaching a Basic Sock Class at Rosie's, and I have four students signed up, so I'm kind of excited about that.  I just hope that I can convince them that it's not going to seem easy or maybe even worthwhile at first.  I know when I first learned, I sort of wondered what I'd gotten myself into, but now socks are one of my constant things on the needles.  Will I be able to create new sock knitters?  I sure hope so!

That's it for now.  Enjoy the rest of your weekend, and for those who celebrate, I hope your Christmas spirit is starting!

28 November 2012

So Let's See ...

Well, last week was a really busy one, but in a good way.  I love Thanksgiving, so getting ready for it was just fine with me, even if there was a lot of running around involved.  We ate too much, relaxed, and then ate more.  It was nice and chilly, but also sunny, so it felt like it was actually November.  As of today, all of the leftovers are gone, and I took down our Thanksgiving decorations today and put them away for next year.  Another successful holiday, which leads into Christmastime, so it's win-win as far as I'm concerned.

I have still not been able to get a decent picture of The Tim's Turn a Square hat that I knit him for his birthday, but he has been getting a lot of wear out of it.  Hopefully I can get a picture this weekend, outside.  By the time I get home from work in the evenings, it's already dark, and my indoor pictures of it have been crappy to say the least.  Of course, he then gave me his original Turn a Square and asked if I could fix it - it's about 30% unraveled, mostly because he pulls it on with a ginormous tug when he wears it.  I asked him why he didn't give it to me sooner, and he said, "Well, I figured it wasn't that bad."  I'll see if I have some yarn that will work with it - I know I don't have any more of the original yarn.  I guess it just proves that he really likes the hat!

The only real surprise last week was the day before Thanksgiving, when I went to brush my teeth before leaving for work, and found out that our bathroom sink was clogged.  Of course it would happen the day before a holiday, right?

Fortunately, the clog was easily removed and I wasn't late for work ...

I also realized that I had a picture I'd meant to share with you at Halloween time, and kept forgetting.  My niece in San Francisco sent me this picture of Parker in his Halloween costume:

This picture just cracks me up!  I especially like his fake tattoo on his arm.  I showed it to a couple of people I work with, and my boss actually printed out her own copy and framed it, because she said she wanted something to make her happy every time she saw it.  Apparently, Parker loves to get his picture taken, and when he sees a camera, starts to smile.  But this particular picture just really gets me every time I see it ...

Until next time, I hope any clogged sinks you may have are as easy to fix as mine was, and that you have something to make you smile and laugh every day.  Happy last week of November!

22 November 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

Some people complain because God put thorns on roses, 
While others praise him for putting roses among thorns. 
-- Anonymous

19 November 2012

And Now It's Nearly Turkey Time!

Gak!  I didn't mean to be gone for an entire week.  But last week kinda took on a life of its own to be honest.  Work was crazy - a two day workshop, and then catching up on what was missed those two days, and preparation for The Tim's birthday, which was yesterday.  Then it turned out that a friend was in town for a conference, so on Saturday, a group of us met for brunch.  When it rains, it pours, no?

Pip is quite pleased with the response to his post, and is ready to do another one very soon, so if you enjoyed it, stay tuned.  ;-)

The Tim's birthday was really a nice day, both weather-wise and otherwise.  He asked if we could go to see the movie "Lincoln," and then go out to lunch.  So that is exactly what we did, and it was lots of fun.  (If you are interested in Abraham Lincoln and/or history at all, you MUST see this movie!  It was flawless - story, casting, costumes, everything.  I'm kind of a Lincoln groupie, and I thought it was completely riveting.)  Then we came home, and had cake and presents.  A good day all the way around.

I knit a Turn a Square hat for The Tim, but have not been able to get a good picture of it yet.  He was very pleased with it, which is always such a nice feeling for me.  I'm hoping this weekend I can get some photos outside, and you can rest assured that I'll be posting them here if I am successful.

So Thursday is Turkey Day already - how did that happen?  Though in our house, it is the day we appreciate the turkey, as opposed to consuming it.  As I type this, The Tim is downstairs baking pies, and we have everything we need for our holiday dinner.  Wednesday night, I'll make stuffing and then it's just a matter of time before we do our own gobbling ...

I still don't have all of our pictures from Ireland sorted out, but I promise to get to that sooner rather than later.  One nice thing for me is that Thanksgiving gives me a four-day weekend.  I have no idea if I will make any progress on the 10,000 things I hope to accomplish, but I'm not gonna worry about it.  What gets done will be fine.

OK, that's it for now.  I hope all of you are well, and looking forward to a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday - and NOT shopping on Thanksgiving!  For my Canadian friends who have already celebrated their Thanksgiving holiday, and any other non-U.S. friends, have a good week.  Hopefully in my next post I can show you some pictures.

13 November 2012

Pip Speaks! Holiday Tip #1 - Take Some Time

A note from the blog owner:

Pip has decided that he would like to write some posts during the upcoming holiday season.  It seemed like a good idea to me, so here is his first effort.  Enjoy!

Hello everyone, it's Pip!  I convinced my Ma to let me post about some things, because I saw the calendar, and - counting today - it's only a little more than a week until Thanksgiving, and then six weeks until Christmas!  I see things on our TV or hear people talking, and I think I have some important helpful tips for everyone.  So my Ma said that I can post them sometimes because maybe people would like knowing them.

So my first tip is:


(Me relaxing)

True, everyone wants to have a nice Thanksgiving and holiday time, and so you want to feel prepared.  But be realistic.  Don't get yourself all worked up because you feel like you have to do the perfect thing.  Thanksgiving is supposed to be a cozy holiday, when you are with your family and friends and relaxing and just enjoying their company.  Is it nice to have a good meal?  Yes.  Should it be the end-all of your holiday existence?  No.  And if you feel overwhelmed, ask other people to bring something, or even go out and buy the "perfect mashed potatoes" or whatever you feel you must have.

Also, Don't. Go. Shopping.  Because first of all, Thanksgiving is a holiday, and you should not be using it as the day to start your Hanukkah/Christmas/Kwanzaa/Mugwump Day shopping.  And people who work in stores have plenty of work coming their way starting the next day, so they deserve a day for their holiday.  My Da has a job in retail, and Thanksgiving is the last chance for him to have a nice, leisurely day before the crazy, busy time that lasts nearly until the end of January.  Also, shopping on Thanksgiving Day is not a relaxing thing to do, besides just being wrong.

I know that my Da and Ma say that their friends feel sorry for them because they have to spend Thanksgiving "alone."  That's crazy!  They're not alone at all - the two of them, plus, me Jetsam, Milo, and Dug have our day together, just like lots of other families.  And it's the best because we just all take time to enjoy being together.  We all get something special to eat, which is wonderful, but the best part is just being all together the whole day.

So remember - you want to relax and enjoy your time off from work, on one of the best holidays of all.  If you don't try to do this, and let everyone else tell you what you should do, what you should cook, etc., you'll end up fighting instead of relaxing.

(Jetsam and I pretend-fighting)

11 November 2012

Happy Veterans Day!

In war, there are no unwounded soldiers 
-- Jose Narofsky

08 November 2012

July, August, and September Book Report

Yeah, I know - it occurred to me the other night when I was updating my reading list on Goodreads, that I have failed to give you a post detailing the things I've been reading since June!  So, you'll get this report, and then another in January, covering October, November, and December.  Aren't you glad now that there will be something to look forward to after the holidays???   That's really why I'm doing it this way.  Yep.  And I will stick to this story no matter what ...

Anyway, here are the things I was busy with at the end of the summer.

So Much Pretty, by Cara Hoffman.  This book was an [old] Advance Readers' Edition that I received last year, and never got around to reading.  So I decided the time had come to see what it was all about.

The story's main focus is a young girl, Alice Piper, who moved from Manhattan with her parents Gene and Claire as a baby to upstate New York, where the parents hoped to lead a simpler life, and grow organic vegetables.  From the beginning, you know that something is going to happen that is not pleasant, but it's hard to know what it is.  Another storyline has the people in the town looking for Wendy White, a young girl who disappeared mysteriously.  Alice and Wendy barely know one another, but their stories are incredibly intertwined by the end of the book.

Each chapter of the book is "told" by, or written about, each main character.  At first, it seems jarring, but as the story continues, it is an interesting way of reading about different people's viewpoints about the town, the people in the town, and various events.  It is Alice's story for the most part, but so many other people are involved, and for me at least, it gave me a clearer sense of the place.

I don't want to give anything away, so that's all I'll say about the story.  I can tell you that I was not prepared for the entire story to be as it was.  Other people may say that they had it figured out, but I have to tell you that I was surprised.

This book is disturbing, but well-written.  I would not recommend it for anyone who does not want to be reminded of what can happen in the real world, because though it is a work of fiction, the characters and events are - for better or for worse - familiar types to most everyone.

Canada, by Richard Ford.  I've never read any books by Richard Ford, though I know he has had a lot of well-reviewed books.  My husband brought me an Advanced Readers' Edition a few months ago, but I just got around to this now.

The story is told by Dell Parsons, in flashback form.  Dell and his twin sister Berner move from place to place with their parents.  Their father is in the air force, and once he retires, tries one kind of work project or scheme after another.  Their mother is a woman who is thoughtful and intelligent and appears to have settled - she and the father had to marry each other after making love once and then learning she was pregnant.  The family ends up in Great Falls, Montana, and just as the kids feel they are finally settling in someplace, trouble starts.  One of the father's business plans falls through, and against all odds, their parents end up robbing a bank.

The bulk of the book happens after that, when Berner runs away, and Dell travels with an acquaintance of his mother's to Saskatchewan, where the friend's brother has agreed to take him in.  The brother owns a hotel in a town that is hardly there anymore, but where Americans come up during the season to hunt geese.

Dell's plight is strange, but fortunately, he is not abused or forced to do anything really horrible.  He just lives a life that is lonely and extremely unusual from the time he is fifteen, until he has the chance to go to college.  By the end of the book, he is a university teacher, and happily married.  He never sees either of his parents again, and only meets up with Berner as she is dying.  It's clear that Dell actually ended up having the better life.

I found the book really interesting, not only because of all that happened, but because the family was unlike most others I've encountered in books I've read.  Dell tells the story in a factual, personal, and yet removed manner, but in the end he has survived to adulthood, and made a happy life for himself.

The Stolen Crown, by Susan Higginbotham.  Nope.  No stars.  This may be an amazing book but there's no way I'm going to go any further.  The first eight pages are a list of characters, nearly all of them with the same first names.  Nope.

Borderlands, by Brian McGilloway.  This is a new series to me, I heard about it from a co-worker.  It takes place in Ireland, in an area where the Republic of Ireland is on one side, and Northern Ireland on the other.  The main character, Benedict Devlin, is a police inspector in the Republic, who is working on solving the murder of a young girl in the area known as the Borderlands, literally one side of the street being in a different country.

Devlin is quite an interesting character, in and of himself.  He is married with two young children, and is far from perfect.  His personal flaws make him more realistic than many characters in other series.  In this book, the more he becomes involved in the murder investigation, the more complicated things become, turning out to be related to another murder, as well as the long-ago disappearance of a woman who - as it turns out - had an affair with Devlin's boss.  The story ends up having IRA involvement, even though it takes place in contemporary Ireland, where The Troubles are no longer the everyday violent activities that they once were.

I liked this book.  It's definitely something I had to be in the mood to read, since it is in no way a sugar-coated story, and the characters are not always likable.  But that was part of what also made it readable.  I will definitely read the next one of this series, as I am curious to see if Benedict Devlin's life, both personal and professional, becomes any more complicated.

Women from the Ankle Down : The Story of Shoes and How They Define Us, by Rachelle Bergstein.  I had read a review of this book, and was intrigued, so I borrowed a copy from the library.  I should qualify this by saying that a) I am fascinated with the history of clothing, and b) one of the ways in which I am a stereotypical woman is that I love shoes.

This is a very readable social history of women's shoes, and I found it to be really interesting.  For instance, I didn't know that until the mid-nineteenth century, only well-to-do people had shoes that we made for one foot or the other.  I also didn't know that for a while in France, only members of the royal family were allowed to wear shoes with red heels.  And numerous other factoids such as those.

But the book is more than a listing of interesting items that are fact.  It's actually a history of shoes, divided by time period, comparing the types 0f shoes that were popular to the events going on in the world at the time.  Granted, it is small in scope, concentrating on the U. S., with a few forays to England, particularly during the 1960s, but since it does not claim to be a definitive work, that's fine with me.

Bergstein is a good writer, and though I don't agree with some of her ideas and opinions, I really enjoyed reading this book.  It gave me a real appreciation for what goes into a shoe, and how in today's world, there are an overabundance of disposable, cheap shoes, but also ridiculously priced shoes like those made by Charles Laboutin.  I think if you enjoy social histories, written for the average reader, you will like this book.  It could have been incredibly dull and academic, but instead is simply engaging.

Old Filth, by Jane Gardam.  I have had this book on my Amazon wishlist for years, but only got around to reading it now, on my Nook.

Sir Edward Feathers (known to the members of the London Bar as "Old Filth" - "FILTH = Failed In London Try Hong Kong"), has had what seems like a successful life, having become famous in his field, living in luxury, with a wonderful wife.  But in this book Filth's life is outlined, starting with his reminiscences once he is retired and back in England, where he really never lived much as an adult.  His mother having died in childbirth, his father sent him from their colonial post, back to England to be raised by aunts.  "Raj Orphans" these children were called.  We learn that Filth's aunts had very little to do with him.  That his father pretty much abandoned him altogether.   That he had few true friends, and that once his wife dies, he realizes things about her that he never knew.  Still, after her death, his loneliness leads him to retrace some of the steps of his earlier life in England, and when things are not what he expects, he decides to return to the place he thinks of as his real home, having lived there longer than anywhere else.

The book is sad, poignant, funny, and well-written.  Filth is a complex man, not terribly likable, but once we learn his deepest secret, he becomes more understandable.  The main characters are memorable, and the descriptions of life in England before World War II - when Edward is a young man - are a sharp contrast to life in England when he returns upon retirement.

If you enjoy character studies, I would recommend Old Filth.

Spindle's End, by Robin McKinley.  I decided to give this book a try after reading a blog friend's review of it, and I enjoyed it quite a bit.  The story is a retelling of the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale, but with a twist - the young princess is taken as a baby to a small village by a fairy who has attended her naming ceremony, and seen the evil witch put the spell on her.

The young fairy, Katriona, and her Aunt raise the princess (whose one of many names is Briar Rose) as just simply Rosie, a girl who grows up like any other child in the area.  Rosie's life goes along without incident until right before her 21st birthday - which is when the witch has vowed to return and have her final battle for the kingdom.  The problem is, when the time comes, Rosie has no desire to be a princess.  But she ends up doing battle anyway, to save the kingdom, the people she loves, and the chance to have a happy life.

This book was an interesting and enjoyable read for me.  Rosie is an engaging character, because she is not perfect or too "princess-y" as one might expect, being that it is a fairy tale.  The story is familiar but different, and the author manages to make it all seem so very probable.

One characteristic that Rosie has that I would love to have is the ability to speak to, and understand, the animals.  But she speaks to them and understands them as they are, not as humans might want to make them seem, which adds another level of interest, at least to me.

I recommend this book.  Sometimes it's a bit wordy, but overall, it's a good read!

A Discovery of Witches, by Deborah Harkness.  This book had amazing potential.  But good Lord, it was just toooooo long.  The main character, Diana Bishop, is a young woman who is taking a sabbatical from her teaching job at Yale to study in the Bodleian Library.  She is also descended from a long line of well-known witches, and has made a conscious decision to try and do most things in a non-magic way.  While studying ancient alchemical texts, she does use magic to pull an old book from the shelf in the Library.  She notices someone is watching her, and her witch-ly sense (?) tells her the viewer is a vampire.

Sadly, her encounter turns into a love affair with the vampire, named Matthew.  That is one thing, but oh my God there are HUNDREDS of pages where it is nothing except descriptions of their love for each other, their longing, the problem of a witch and a vampire being in love, etc., etc., etc.  Ad nauseum.

This book could have been so much better, had an editor really trimmed it.  The premise is interesting, there are some really interesting passages, and it could have been so much more.  Unfortunately, the middle of the book turns into barely average chick-lit.

I finished it because I wanted to see if it ever returned to the interesting aspects of the beginning.  It nearly did, but I'm not sure if I'll read the next one or not.  Maybe I'll let some time pass and give it a try.  But nope, not right now.

The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald.  I have to admit that I was predisposed to like this book.  When I was a teenager, and my mother and I were visiting her cousin in Boston, we went to see the movie version with Robert Redford.  I actually didn't pay much attention to the story, but I found it to be an aesthetically pleasing movie - the costumes, the locations, the houses.  I love that kind of stuff.

But one impression that it made on me that I do remember is the ending was not happy.  I think it was the first time I ever saw a movie and the ending didn't somehow end on a good note.  I was impressed to be honest.  But I never got around to reading the book until now.

The story of Jay Gatsby, Nick Carraway, Daisy and Tom Buchanan, and Jordan Blake fascinates me.  I think it's because they are so real.  Imperfect, not necessarily likable - or at least not all of the time - they are, I think, pretty unique in American literature.

In the event that you haven't read this book, and thought you might, I don't want to give away the specifics of the ending.  But I have to say that reading the last part made me sad to think that there are people every day who leave for their final journey with few, and often none, there to tell them goodbye.

I'm so glad I finally sat down and read this book.

Crusoe's Daughter, by Jane Gardam.  This is the story of Polly Flint, a young girl whose mother is dead, and whose father - a sea captain - leaves her in "The Yellow House" with two aunts, older sisters of her mother.  They live in a marshy area of England, and the house is somewhat remote from the nearby town.  Polly ends up spending the entire book except for a small amount of time in this house, and lives an extremely sheltered and lonely life.  Her one "friend" - Daniel Defoe's "Robinson Crusoe - a book she read as a young girl, and which gets her through her life.

This book is an interesting slice of life in England starting shortly before the first World War, and ending after the second.  Though many changes take place, Polly's life remains somewhat the same, and things that others would take for granted often surprise or puzzle her.

I liked this book, though it was somewhat sad.  Well, sad for the reader - Polly seems to accept her lot in life, and though she is not an overly active character in the sense of traveling the world, and having new experiences, she leads an  active life of the mind.  She clings to Robinson Crusoe as if he is flesh and blood, the one constant in her life.  From what I read in the preface, this book is the author's favorite, and is loosely inspired by the years growing up that her own mother told her about.  It is a very well-written book, and in some ways fascinating.  In other ways, though, it makes you realize how many womens' lives probably were in this time and place, when women were perhaps schoolteachers, but certainly wives and mothers.

I wasn't sure what to expect, but I liked this book quite a bit.  I did spend a lot of time wishing Polly would *react* to her situation, but then again, that is likely because I was looking at it from the outside, whereas she was experiencing it.

Something Rotten, by Jasper Fforde.  Well, this one was not my favorite Thursday Next book so far, but it had its moments, and I've been reassured from those who have read beyond this that they pick up again.

In this installment, Thursday has taken leave from her post in Jurisfiction, and returns with her son Friday in tow to her mother's house in Swindon.  She has two things that she ends up doing:  1)trying to locate and catch Yorrick Kaine, a character from fiction who has escaped and is close to taking over the government of England, and 2) trying to get Hamlet - who has accompanied her to her mother's house - back into Shakespeare, after changes in the story have caused problems.  Of course, she also ends up coaching the town's croquet team in a championship they must win, because otherwise there will be dire consequences for the whole world, and she is continuing to try and bring back her husband, who was previously eradicated.

Oh, also - an assassin is after her.

So, the story takes its twists and turns and there are plenty of amusing events, and by the end, things are much improved.

Like I said, this wasn't my favorite, but it was enjoyable enough.

Unfortunately, I don't have any of these to offer to my blog readers, since some were Nook books, and some I have already given away to interested parties.  The rest I took to the public library for their book sale, in a fit of decluttering!

In any event, there are some here that are new-ish, and shouldn't be hard to find, and others that are likely at your public library.  Let me know if you read, or have read any of these, and just what you thought about them.

05 November 2012

Home Again, Home Again ...

and late with this post!   Sorry about that, I know I said I'd announce the winner of my contest on Sunday, November 4.  Due to a bad cold, the time change, and jet lag, it was a trifecta of tired.  I seriously did not have the energy to post yesterday, which was frustrating, since I wanted to announce the winner.

So, before we go any further, I'll tell you where we visited this time.  As I mentioned, we were flying in and out of Dublin, and we traveled around seeing lots of places.  But besides Dublin, the places where we actually spent a night or two were:

1.  Kilkenny

Kilkenny Castle

2. Blarney

Rock of Cashel (near Blarney - pictures from Blarney are in my camera, 
which needs a new battery)

3.  Limerick

View from our hotel room in Limerick

A couple of you guessed, "Cork," and though Blarney in is County Cork, that's not the same as Cork City.

Only Susan aka paintermom guessed one of the places correctly, saying "Galway, Limerick, and Cork."  So she wins the prize!  Susan, send me your name and snail mail address at thekittyknitterATverizonDOTnet, and I can get it ready to send to you.

Thanks to everyone who played along - most of you got close, and you all guessed places we visited on our last trip, so it was not out of the realm of possibility ...


I'll bore regale you with more tales of our trip once I am better organized.  But I would also like to remind you to 


Whether you are a Democrat


or Independent

Voting is a privilege that is one of the most important ways that we can participate in our governmental process.  Don't take it for granted.  And if you don't vote, then don't complain about the results!

25 October 2012

Go dté tú slán!**

To us, that is!  This afternoon, The Tim and I will be heading to JFK airport in New York to board a plane for


We have been planning this trip since late summer, and it's finally here.  We're flying in and out of Dublin (pictured above), and renting a car, and then the adventure begins - YAY!***

This is our second trip, the first one was eight years ago, pre-blog and pre- a lot of other stuff.  That time, we flew in and out of Shannon, and also rented a car and stayed in guest houses, with our last night in a castle.  It was simply amazing and wonderful and fun and we have always wanted to go back.

This time, our trip package has us staying in what appear to be really nice hotels (you know, the kind we could never afford otherwise), so it will be interesting to have that part be different.  We have a bazillion plans and ideas, and hope to do at least five of them ... one thing we're know we'll be doing for sure is next Wednesday (Halloween!), we have booked ourselves for a tour of the Abbey Theatre, and then that evening, we'll be back there, seeing a performance of "The Picture of Dorian Gray," by Oscar Wilde.  How cool is that?  On our last trip, we had hoped to do something like this, but while we were in Dublin, they were in-between plays, so the theatre was dark.

You may be thinking, "Well, just be sure that you remember that they drive on the other side of the road."  We are well aware, especially after our last trip, when I often spent the time in the car dodging hedgerows on my side of the road, when The Tim would be trying to stay out of the way vehicles coming the other way ... (Also, The Tim kept referring to Euros as "dollars" or worse yet, "pounds," so I've already given him reminders to try to just start thinking in terrms of Euros ...)

Anyway, other than Dublin, we will be staying overnight in three other cities in Ireland.  I thought that I might have a contest here on the blog, and the prize could be a souvenir of our trip!  I think it would be fun, so here we go.

Here are the "rules," such as they are.

  • Between today, October 25, and Friday, November 2, you must leave a comment ON THIS POST ONLY, with your guess of where else we will be staying overnight (besides Dublin, since I've already told you that!). 
  • If someone guesses all three correctly, they will win the prize.  If no one gets three, but guesses two, they'll win.  If no two-guess comments work, anyone with one of their guesses will be the winner.
  • In the event that there is a tie, or that no one guesses the other places, I'll choose a winner via random number drawing.
  • The winner will be announced on Sunday, November 4.
OK, now it's up to you.  Have at it, and have fun!  That's it for now.

**The title of this post the Irish Gaelic equivalent of "Bon Voyage," which of course is the French equivalent of "Have a good trip."  This phrase translated, means "May you go safely."

***Lowlifes and no-gooders - just because we won't be in our house, it doesn't mean no one else will be.  So don't bother, it won't end well for you.