31 December 2009

Auld Lang Syne

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind ?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and auld lang syne ?

For auld lang syne, my jo,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.
- Robert Burns


So here we are, at the end of another year.  For better or for worse, it was what it was, and it's up to all of us to move forward, since the world will anyway ...

Remember that for every joy you experience, someone else experiences sorrow; for every day that is the best one of your life, it is the worst day for another.  The universe shifts every day, and most of the time, none of us are able to control it.  But if we are going to live our lives with any amount of satisfaction or happiness, we have to take responsibility for our own feelings and dreams.

Goodbye, 2009!
Thank you for the happy times and good riddance to any of the sadness.  Tomorrow is a fresh new day in a fresh new year.
  May all of you be able to welcome it with fresh new hopes.

26 December 2009

And a Good Time Was Had by All ...

It's true, our Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were wonderful!  I think I mentioned that Seb and Karen were coming for dinner on Christmas Eve, and we had a fun evening with them.  I added something new to our traditional Christmas Eve dinner, and it was a success.  We always have what we call Christmas Eve Risotto, which has broccoli rabe and red peppers in it (green and red for Christmas), which is so yummy.  I got it in my brain this year that I wanted to find a recipe for a vegetarian version of Italian Wedding Soup to have on Christmas Eve as well. 

Before The Tim started working in retail, we used to head home for Christmas with our families.  On Christmas Eve, my brother-in-law's sister used to have everyone to her house for dinner, and she served homemade wedding soup, and it was always a highlight.  After years of thinking about it, this year, I finally poked around and found a recipe that I thought looked promising.  Guess what?  It was!  So it will likely become a permanent addition to our "traditional" Christmas Eve meal.

After dinner, we exchanged gifts, and the socks I'd knit for Seb were a big hit. 

He immediately put them on, and wore them the rest of the evening, telling me that they were really nice and warm and that he loved them.  That is one of the best things about knitting things for Seb - he is sincerely appreciative (or is otherwise worthy of an Academy Award for his performance as a Person Who Likes His Gift).  

Yesterday, we spent the day at home, relaxing with the kitties, opening gifts, and talking to family and friends on the phone, or "visiting" via Skype.  I had knit a Turn a Square Hat for The Tim, and he was thrilled with it - as a matter of fact, he wore it to work today.  When we saw/talked to my sister and her family on Skype, my nieces were all thrilled with the lacy things I'd knit for them for their respective birthdays.  So even though I didn't do a whole lot of knitting this year, what I did seemed to be genuinely liked.  And who could ask for more than that? 

The kitties were particularly thrilled with the catnip pillows I made for them - talk about a big hit!  (As stated before, I promise pictures of these various projects when Photoshop is once again on our computer.) 

We ate, we drank, and we were very merry.  Fortunately, there's a lot of Christmastime still left to enjoy - and we plan on doing just that!

24 December 2009

Christmas Eve

Before I go any further, a couple of people wondered where the "Yes, Virginia" letter in my last post first appeared.  Here is the story of that now famous letter to the editor and the response.  Every year, this makes me happy that I still believe in Santa Claus.

Eight-year-old Virginia O'Hanlon wrote a letter to the editor of New York's Sun, and the quick response was printed as an unsigned editorial Sept. 21, 1897. Francis Pharcellus Church was a war correspondent during the American Civil War, a time which saw great suffering and a corresponding lack of hope and faith in much of society. Although the paper ran the editorial in the seventh place on the editorial page, below even an editorial on the newly invented "chainless bicycle," its message was very moving to many people who read it. More than a century later it remains the most reprinted editorial ever to run in any newspaper in the English language. (see it on the original page here)


So here we are, on Christmas Eve.  I would like to ask you all to say a special prayer today for my friend Carol and her family, as Carol's father passed away yesterday.  Any of us who has lost someone knows that no matter the circumstances, when it actually happens, it doesn't seem like it can be true.  And as some of us know, losing someone in your family during the holiday season is extra hard.  I'm sending my love out to Carol and her family, and I hope that you will keep a good thought for them as well as you enjoy your own families on this holiday.


We are ready for some company for Christmas Eve dinner (Karen and Sebastian are coming -YAY!), and of course for Santa's visit later tonight.  The Tim is working today, but for a change has the earlier shift, so he will be able to come home late this afternoon and sneak in a nap before the festivities begin.  (The kitties are napping as I type this, since they firmly believe that there is no such thing as too much rest.)  Tomorrow will be a day at home, enjoying Christmas Day, and talking to our families over the phone and/or Skype.


From our house to yours, Happy, Merry, Joyful Christmas Eve and Christmas Day!  May Santa treat you well, and may blessings from whoever/whatever you believe in come to you and those you hold dear.


And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

22 December 2009

White Christmas

The Garden Kitty says thank you to everyone who left such nice comments on his suggestions for a relaxing way to spend Christmas Eve.  As you may guess, he is quite the expert on finding ways to avoid stress.  (For instance - never leave the house!) 

When we left things here at Chez Ravell'd Sleave, we were preparing for some snow, and wondering if it would be a big snow as predicted, or just a dusting, as often happens no matter what the predictions.  Well, the answer is:

23.1 inches!!

Yes, it messed up a lot of people's travel plans, and for that I am sorry, because I know when I have been traveling and something like that happens, it's not just disappointing but can be extremely frustrating and stressful.  I truly hope that by now those people who were trying to get from point A to point B have arrived safely, or are at least on their way.

For us though, it was a great day.  The Tim is generally off on Saturdays, so we had a nice day together, baking, finishing up on some decorations, watching movies, and just generally enjoying Christmastime and watching the snow. 

Tess and GK occasionally would look out the window at the snow falling, but otherwise they were pretty much of the been-there-done-that school of thought.  Not Jetsam, however - he was AMAZED at what was happening outside!  He is also of the belief that anytime anyone even walks past any of the doors to the outside, that he needs to go out and investigate.  Since he has never experienced snow like we were getting, we opened up the door out into the garden, and he was all set to bound outside BUT - wait, what was that white stuff that was already up to the door sill??  He was slightly dismayed, as it was cold and somewhat wet, but being the optimist that he is, he just decided to jump over the stuff in front of the door to get to the garden.

Except ... there was cold and wet everywhere - and it was even falling from the sky on top of him!  He was truly puzzled, and for the first time ever, something was actually bothering him.  He decided to go under the car in the car port.  But guess what?  It was wet and cold there, too.  Hmmm.  So he tried to round the corner to come back inside.  Except that cold, wet, white stuff was blocking the way.  He jumped onto the wall of the car port, which at the time at least, was less snowy than everywhere else.  Trouble is, there was still A LOT of snow between there and the door, and it was up to his chest, just like the snow he'd tried to get away from ... So he had no other choice than to leap into it, and then leap back into the house.  It's one of the few times he has willingly come in from the outside!* 

Oddly enough, he has not been to interested in going back outside the past few days ...

In other news, we now have Almond Butter Toffee added to our homemade goodies, and last night I mixed the ingredients for Holiday Cheeseball, which I will put together this evening (the flavors need to blend together for a bit).  We will be heading to the grocery store today or tomorrow for the ingredients for our Christmas Eve and Christmas Day dinners.  I have a few stocking stuffer type things to get, but otherwise we are as ready as we're going to be! 

*I'll have pictures someday when Photoshop is restored to our computer ... sigh.


(You can click on the item to enlarge it.)

20 December 2009

Christmas Eve Redux

I posted this last year, but it was later in the day on Christmas Eve, and the Garden Kitty was dismayed, since that might mean that some of you didn't see it in time to plan your day.  So I told him I would re-post it this year, ahead of time.  We both hope this will make your December 24th a little bit less stressful.


The Garden Kitty's Tips for a Perfect Christmas Eve

1.  Eat a good breakfast.

2. Dress warm.

3. Check your e-mail/read your blogs.

4. Don't wait until the last minute to be sure you are in good standing with Santa.

5. Take some time to enjoy your decorations.

7. Purr.

8. Don't let anyone pick a fight with you.

9. Remember loved ones who are no longer here.

10. Check the sky conditions.

11. Get a good rest, and let Santa do his work!

18 December 2009

Where's the Panic Button??!!!

" I don't see anything yet ... but I hope you have plenty of cat food in the house!"

Well, last night on the news, the weather forecast said that there was a good chance that we would be getting maybe up to six inches of snow overnight on Saturday.  It was a news story, but it appeared that even the news people thought there were other important stories to report.  However, by this evening, they have changed the predictions to 10-20 inches, that will start falling tomorrow morning, and continue heavily throughout the day.  This, as you may be able to imagine, has sent the radio and TV stations into a tizzy, and they are already providing "Special Coverage - Blizzard 2009."  I had no reason to attempt to go to the grocery store, but needless to say, there were reports of people mobbing them to buy food and other supplies.  

So, what did I do?  I made a batch of Chocolate Crinkles, which turned out well, and made the house smell wonderful!  And yes, I had used some flour and some eggs, even though I knew snow was coming.  Do I live dangerously or what? 

In addition, the city has already declared a Snow Emergency, and the TV and radio are encouraging people to pay attention to whether or not they live on a primary plow route, as well as asking them to check online to see where their street falls in the schedule for plowing.  I don't have to check.  This is because our street is too narrow for a snow plow!  Our street gets "cleared" once everything has melted ...

Granted, I wasn't planning to do any traveling tomorrow, nor do I have to go to work, and I feel bad for anyone who might have problems with things they would like/need to do; I'll keep a good thought for you.  Having been in that situation, I know it makes life miserable and stressful. 

I just wish that people wouldn't act like it's the arrival of the Apocalypse.  It only serves to make a lot of others more nervous and upset, and face it, there's only a certain am0unt that anyone can do about it - much as we might wish it, we can't control the weather. 

On top of which, Monday is the first day of Winter, so I'm guessing there's a good chance it will be a while before we have 75-degree weather again.  Unless Blizzard 2009 is freakishly followed by Winter Heat Wave 2009 ...

The trouble with weather forecasting is that it's right too often for us to ignore it and wrong too often for us to rely on it. ~Patrick Young

16 December 2009

Nine Days to Go!

Look - a picture of the Garden Kitty without glowing eyes!  Every year, GK has to spend some time sitting next to Rudolph under the tree.  I think he likes this Rudolph because he is totally non-threatening, in that he doesn't move or make noise.  And we all know that GK is nothing if not careful about such things ...
Our Christmas preparations are coming along nicely.  The tree is up and decorated, we've done some of our baking, and all of the packages that had to be mailed are on their way.  I still have a small bit of Christmas knitting to do, but I feel certain that it will be finished in plenty of time.
However, there is one project that I really expected to finish, that is only slightly more than halfway complete right now.  Remember this?

It's the beginning of the Adventskalender, started early in January.  My plan was to knit one or two mittens/hats a month, so I would have it to use this year.  Which was totally doable, I just didn't do it.  After making one hat and one mitten, I decided that since the mittens were slightly more involved, I'd make them first.  I got stuck during the summer, when I had a few weeks where I was too hot and/or depressed to knit at all, period.  I kept working on them, but not as regularly.  So as of today, I have 12 mittens and one hat.  Not bad, and since Christmas comes every year, I figure it's not a big problem that I won't have them for this year.  They are fun to knit, and now that I'll be doing the hats, there's a good chance I may even finish by the time Christmastime is over this year.  Then I'll have a whole year to put the numbers on them ... which I'll probably do, oh around next November 30!

On to a lazy evening.  Hope you have a chance to relax as well.

The earth has grown old with its burden of care,
But at Christmas it always is young.
~Phillips Brooks

14 December 2009

Hither and Yon

OK, this picture is not a Christmas ornament, but it is related to Christmas!  This is my niece La Liz's foot modeling the socks I knit for her last Christmas (you know, the infamous Year of Socks).  She wore them the very next day, and kept saying how comfy they were, how they really fit, etc. 

Proving to me that it is worth making an effort for some people at Christmastime.

Having said that, the nieces from one family and their respective partners were all extremely enthusiastic about receiving handknit socks.  If they were just acting to be polite, a) I don't care, and b) they should receive Oscars, 'cause it seemed very genuine.  My niece, nephew, and nephew's wife from another family did not even mention having received the socks.  On the one hand, it doesn't matter, since once you give a gift, it's not yours to think about any more. But on the other hand, whenever I write a thank-you note/e-mail, or make a phone call on a day I have received a gift, I make every effort to mention it specifically.  So as you can guess, no more knitted items for them.  Which is fine, as it cuts out three people more to worry about!

The reason I'm even thinking about any of this today is because I have wrapped a group of gifts that we will be mailing tomorrow.  I love to buy/make/discover gifts for people, and since we don't get home to spend Christmas Day with friends and family, we send out a lot of boxes o' gifts.  I have so much fun wrapping the stuff, and putting it into a box to send - I always hope that opening the box and seeing gifts make the recipients happy too.  This year, there are very few handmade gifts.  A lot of things I bought on sale after Christmas last year, and forgot I had - so it was a nice surprise for me to find so much already taken care of!

People always tell me that it is ridiculous to send gifts to so many people.  I always say that if they ever have to be the ones paying for them, I'll stop.  But as long as it's my decision and my money/time, I don't really see that it's anyone else's business.  I used to work with a person who I swear would keep a running tab on what she thought I had spent on gifts and mailing charges.  And then she would usually say something like, "Well, most of them are probably doing better financially than you, so they should be sending you the packages."  This irritated me beyond belief!  I am not perfect, but I seldom think of giving someone a gift based on what they might give me.  Growing up, receiving a gift was a BIG deal (it still is), but giving a gift was always so much more fun.  As an adult, I realize that having that feeling is one of the very best gifts my parents could have given to me. 

And trust me - no one in my family is a nicey-nice person who only ever does/says/thinks nice things.  But to our credit, I think all of us "get" the idea behind giving a gift.  And some of us are more organized than others.  None of us are wealthy.  And not everyone regularly gives me/us a gift.  But you know what?  I really and truly don't care.  Because tomorrow when I head to the post office with my numerous boxes, and spend way too much mailing packages, it will make me happy and put me in the Christmas spirit like few other things will during the whole season. 

Now ... I'd better get something GOOD this year ... ;-)


Open your presents at Christmastime but be thankful year round for the gifts you receive.
~Lorinda Ruth Lowen

10 December 2009

Roses in December

God gave us memories that we might have roses in December.
~J.M. Barrie, Courage, 1922
It happens to me every year in December, but it's not something I can predict, or make happen when I want to.  It just happens when it's ready to happen, and to be honest, it's a bittersweet experience.
You may have noticed that I am quite the fan of holidays, and Christmastime in particular.  I get this honestly, in particular from my father.  He grew up during the Great Depression, in a family who lost their father as youngsters (my father, the oldest, was only 13), and where the kids (4 of them) were split up among relatives afterwards.  In spite of hardship - or perhaps because of hardship - holidays were extremely important to him. 
Of course, this was just fine with my sisters and I.  My father loved to cook and bake, but was not home a lot due to his work, so the "big" holidays - Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter - meant he would not just be around, but be the one cooking.  In spite of the fact that this entailed him using every single pot and pan, and every single dish for his preparations (which we then had to wash  and dry later), this was something we looked forward to and counted on.  Though my mother loved to eat, she was not too crazy about cooking.  And needless to say, we never starved, but we couldn't wait for Dad to be home and be the cook!
I will admit to being a Daddy's girl.  I was the youngest (by quite a few years), and so was nearly always home when my Dad was still around.  Thinking back, I realize that I probably drove him nuts hanging around with comments, questions, etc., but to his credit, he never treated me like he wished I was out of the way, even for a while (or, if he did, it was never obvious to me).  I loved to "help" him cook, watch baseball and/or football, clean - whatever he was up to, I liked to be right there.
My father died of liver cancer when I was 13 years old, at a time when a diagnosis of liver cancer literally meant no hope of any amount of survival time.  This past November 24 was the 40th anniversary of his death, which occurred on the Monday of Thanksgiving week that year.  I could write volumes about this, but this post is not meant to make you (or me) sad, but rather to share something with you that happens every year at Christmastime.
As I said earlier, I cannot wish this experience, or predict it.  But it happens, and even though I more or less expect it, I am always thrown by it. 
I can be reading, doing dishes, decorating the Christmas tree, or at work, and all of a sudden it happens.  I am walking in the door from school in the second grade, and my father, who is home recuperating from one of his many cancer surgeries, is there - in the middle of the afternoon.  He is putting up Christmas decorations, more specifically, hanging our Christmas stockings for Santa to fill.  The most amazing thing?  They are new stockings that he went out and bought that day.  And mine is green with Santa coming down the chimney!  Do you realize what that means??  GREEN.  Not red, like my sisters' and everyone elses' stockings.  And not just with Santa on it, but Santa coming down the chimney!  As far as I know, nobody else in the world has such a stocking, but my father found one, and knew it was the right one for me!  I remember the feeling of special-ness, of knowing that Santa cared about who I was that that particular stocking represented. 
Of course, now I realize that my father probably bought a green stocking with Santa on it because he wanted us to each have a different stocking and the remaining red ones were the ones he had already chosen for my sisters.  But at that moment in time, it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life.  And every year, out of the blue, I am unexpectedly transported to that very moment, surprised, pleased, and thinking my dad is the best because he knew I needed that stocking.
When the moment is gone, I'll admit to being sad, at least for a minute or two.  But it's always the point when I know that Christmas has officially arrived, and that my dad is never that far away.
Roses in December, indeed.

08 December 2009

Christmas House

Today's ornament is a little townhouse that fits over one of the lights on our tree, making it look as if the house is lit for the holidays!  I bought this ornament when we first bought our house, since we have a townhouse which looks not terribly unlike this one.  I realized as I was trying to decide what picture to post today that, come December 18, we will have lived in our house for 18 years!  That is the longest I have ever lived in any one house in my entire life!  Growing up, we moved a lot, and The Tim and I have moved several times as well.  The funny thing is that if someone asks me if I am from Philadelphia, I always say, "Well, we've lived here a while."  This is because once a Philadelphia native asked me that question, and when I answered as above, the person said, "That doesn't count!  You're not from here!"  Which amused me greatly.  I guess unlike other places, you have to be born and raised here to be "real" ...

In any event, it's a good thing I have my pictures from previous years on the computer, because ever since the most recent virus was cleaned out of our system, we have no Photoshop to work with new ones until The Tim reinstalls it! 

So yesterday afternoon, as I was making kitty toys for Christmas, using my [relatively] new sewing machine, I carefully took pictures to document the steps.  I figured there might actually be someone interested in how I did it, so I would post them here.  I will sometime, but I can't promise it will be soon.  Therefore, if you are counting on me to give you pictorial instructions on making kitty toys for Christmas, I have to say that there's a chance you will be sorely disappointed.   I would suggest visiting Petsmart this year ...

Today, I am going to pull out our cards and decide which ones will be sent.  We always have at least two choices, bought at half price the year before, and as you can imagine, I take choosing which get sent in any given year very seriously!  One thing I can assure you with 100% truth is that you will NEVER receive a card from us picturing Santa at the Nativity scene.  That is wrong and I do not support such cards - better not to send any than to send me one like that.  My friend April is always threatening to send one, but so far she has thought better of such a holiday evil ...


Each day comes bearing its own gifts. Untie the ribbons.
~Ruth Ann Schabacker

06 December 2009

Happy Yule!

Isn't this little guy cute?  He is the Yule Woodsman, and this picture is from a couple of years ago, when I knit one for a holiday swap I had joined.  Every year when I pull the one I made for us out of the decorations box, I tell myself that I am going to make more of them (I have everything I need) for gifts, and so far ... zero.   Just another reason why it's good that Christmas comes every year ... 

Today I realized something that I have decided is a result of the recession, but is actually a positive thing.  It's already December 6, and so far I haven't heard a single person complain about Christmastime, or the commercialization of the holiday, and whatever else people get worked up about during this time of year.  Granted, I haven't been much out of the house in the last week to interact with others, but I haven't even read many complaining blogs.  Which makes me think/hope that people are treating Christmas positively.  I'm sure that there are still plenty of Scrooges, and materialistic people who will complain that they don't have enough money to buy "nice" (read: expensive) gifts, but overall, it seems to me that a certain degree of reason has entered the equation.  Not meaning to sound like a Pollyanna, but apparently there is one good thing coming out of the fact that people are more strapped for money than they may have ever been before.

If you are looking for something that will make you smile and also help you get into the Christmas spirit, I can highly recommend Creature Comforts - Merry Christmas Everybody.  We watched it last night, and it was hilarious!  If you aren't already feeling happy about Christmas, this will only improve your mood.  It's from Aardman Animation, the same folks who created all of the Wallace and Gromit movies.  I'm not a big fan of claymation, but Aardman's work is an exception, as far as I'm concerned.

On the knitting front, I have added two of the projects that I've completed recently to my Ravelry projects page.  However, the computer is denying the existence of Photoshop, so I have not been able to add the pictures yet.  Frustrating, but no big deal in the scheme of things.  They'll get there eventually.  I have about a quarter of one project left, and then two other projects to do, both of which should be fairly quick knits and not all that complicated. 

As I predicted, I have not done as much reading as before, but I am enjoying The Plum Pudding Murder, which I started the other day.  Though I must admit that it is making me hungry ... But it's light reading, which is just right for me at the moment.  And of course it takes place at this time of year, which is of course why I had put it aside until now. 

This week will find us getting our tree and decorating it, baking, wrapping gifts, and I will of course try to make more progress on my knitting.  The up side of not working is the time to do these things.  The down side is of course worrying about finances, and not having any sense at all of any kind of security even for the immediate future.  However, I'm trying to make a conscious effort to not worry any more than I usually do, and just enjoy Christmastime while it's here.  Sadly, I know there are plenty of people in much more dire straits, who don't have the luxury of not worrying at all, so I'm actually pretty lucky.  It's good to be reminded of that, especially now.


Perhaps the best Yuletide decoration is being wreathed in smiles.
 ~Author Unknown

04 December 2009

Twenty-One and Counting ...

Today's post is brought to you by the Doughboy ornament that goes onto our tree each year.  This year's tree should be chosen in the next few days, and it will be time to revisit our ornaments and decorations, which is so much fun!

Yesterday it was freaky warm here, but in the end it was a good thing.  I have been meaning to clean up leaves, branches, etc. outside of our house for months, and always found a reason why I couldn't (didn't have time, needed to read something, too cold - you get it).  Well, in anticipation of decorating, I didn't want the outside to look like some kind of white-trash-hillbilly-house where they tried to class it up with a wreath, so inspired by the weather, I headed out to get to work.  Five bags o' crap later, I was finished!  (Five bags - and we don't even have a yard, just the street in front!)  Now our house looks worthy of the holidays, and like someone actually lives here. 

Just another reason to love Christmas, as far as I'm concerned.  :-)

Today, however, is another story.  I am, shall we say, paralyzed with soreness somewhat stiff from using muscles I either don't use or haven't used recently.   So I plan to work on things around the inside of the house that will still keep me moving, but won't make moving tomorrow even more difficult.

But enough about me. 

Or not.  Remember my post from months ago where I said I wasn't going to try and knit everyone something for Christmas this year?  Well, I'm still not doing that, but have decided to knit a few Christmas and birthday gifts, because I do enjoy it, but also because being totally unemployed does tend to cut into your budget.  And the mortgage company would not likely be understanding if I said I couldn't make January's payment because I needed the money for gifts.  (What's that about anyway?)  So I have done some stash-diving, and have slightly more than half of the items I wanted to make, knit.  I did break down and buy yarn for a gift for The Tim, but he is an exception as far as gifts go anyway.

At the moment, I cannot show you any of my creations, since the recipients or members of their families read the blog on occasion.  I am hoping to have them listed on Ravelry by the end of the weekend, so if you absolutely must know what I am knitting, you can check my projects page there.  Elstwise, you just have to wait until they have been given.

Patience is a virtue, after all.  And one I don't generally have.

OK, on to today's activities.  Hope your December is going well!

It is Christmas in the heart that puts Christmas in the air.
~W.T. Ellis


02 December 2009

November Book Report

I'm sure if you are reading this, you have noticed that I have Christmas-fied the blog! But before I get too much into December, I think it's only fair to wrap up anything to do with November, so here are my thoughts about the books I read last month.  There's a good chance that this will be my last "mega-reading" month, since I will be busy getting ready for Christmas, and not reading a minimum of 8 hours a day as was usually the case at my job.

Also, I am not going to offer any of the books to readers now.  I'm going to be busy mailing out packages to friends and family as it is, and don't want to have even more things to track. So probably at the end of this month or beginning of next, I'll list the books I have for giveaways, and send them during January.

Now - on to the November reads!

The Yellow House: A Novel, by Patricia Falvey.  This is another family story, which takes place during the Revolutionary Period in Ireland. The story begins in 1905 and ends in 1924, and centers around Eileen O'Neill and her family.

The story opens with Eileen remembering a particular summer when she was 8 years old, and her father returns at the end of the day with yellow paint for their house. As the story progresses, and the family home is lost and the family is torn apart, Eileen holds the idea of the yellow house close to her heart, believing that someday she will be able to reunite her family there.

In the meantime, she takes work at a local textile mill, becomes involved in the early work of the group that would later become the IRA, and faces several personal decisions that change things personally for her while national events are changing the world around her.

 This was an interesting book, taking a historical period and making it personal through the telling of one woman's story. At times it is somewhat predictable, but that is as much the work of history as anything else. Eileen is a flawed heroine, which makes the predictable parts just that. But she is also someone who pays a lot of attention to the world around her, and manages to grow into a strong woman as she is forced to face the truth about members of her family and her own prejudices. I liked the fact that she starts out believing that her destiny is decided by what her family's history is, and at the end of the book has realized that her family's history helps define her place in the world while not holding her in the past.

Saying a lot more about this book would make this review either incredibly long, or lead to spoiler-type revelations, so I'll just say that I enjoyed this book. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, particularly those interested in Irish history.

Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, by Gregory Maguire.  I think I may be one of the last people on earth to read this book. No matter, I enjoyed it more than I expected.

 This is the story of the Wicked Witch of the West, aka Elphaba, born of parents who were considered "respectable" types in the land of Oz - her father a missionary, and her mother from a family of rulers. Elphaba is doomed from the start though - she is born with green skin, and a not very pleasant baby personality. Her parents don't quite know what to make of her, and she grows up more or less as an outsider in her own family. She has a younger sister, Nessarose (The Wicked Witch of the East, she of the Ruby Slippers), who is the favorite of her parents, and who grows up to be a religious zealot.

There is also Galinda, who Elphaba meets when she goes away to boarding school. Galinda eventually becomes Glinda (you remember, the good witch?), and she and Elphaba are roommates, much to Galinda's dismay, at least at the beginning.

These are three characters that I knew from my 1000+ watchings of "The Wizard of Oz," but this book makes them seem like actual people. Maguire manages to make you feel empathy for Elphaba, a certain degree of disdain for Glinda, and even a little bit of annoyance at Dorothy from Kansas. I am not familiar with the Oz books by L. Frank Baum (though I may now have to read them), so I am not sure how much of this story is actually already known, but I found it to be pretty interesting.

One of the things I was most fascinated by was the idea of Animals and animals - those with the uppercase being creatures who could live the lives of humans, with educational opportunities and jobs other than serving as food or pets. Part of the story deals with the disappearance of this group, and tries to determine if it is due to actions on the part of the Wizard, or other forces in Oz.

 There are various types of political intrigue among the many groups who reside in Oz - such as the Munchkinlanders, the Gillikins, etc., and at any given time there are individuals from those groups populating the story. I found it much easier to keep track of them than to keep track of their origins, since reading fantasy is not one of my fortes.

The story of Elphaba, Nessarose, and Glinda is worth a look. I found myself making comparisons to current events, and also wondering the reasons behind some of my personal beliefs and opinions. I may never look at "The Wizard of Oz" the same way again ...

Oh, and also - the Flying Monkeys are explained! God those scare me, even today ...

The Wettest County in the World: A Novel Based on a True Story, by Matt Bondurant.  I had an Advance Readers' Edition of this title, and I was looking forward to reading it. The story is that of the Bondurant brothers, who were involved in moonshine making and distribution during the Prohibition in Franklin County. I find this time in American history to be quite interesting, both from the temperance viewpoint and the viewpoint of those making/selling/smuggling liquor.

 Maybe this is a good book, but if it is, I didn't read far enough into it to find out. The Prologue was a bit much for me, before I ever even got into the story, and once I started the story, it just seemed to clumsily written to hold my interest. The characters had no redeeming qualities, nor were they at least entertaining (sometimes characters that have no redeeeming qualities are saved (for me) by being interesting or entertaining). And the story seemed terribly disjointed, always making me feel that I had forgotten to remember something from a chapter or a few pages prior. But then I would go back to check, and I hadn't missed anything.

I would not recommend this book. It had promise as far as the story line goes, but did not deliver.

The Swan Thieves, by Elizabeth Kostova.  This book was a real change of pace for me, and an enjoyable one at that. It begins with a present-day well-known artist, Robert Oliver, being arrested for slashing a painting at the National Gallery of Art. He is sent to Goldengrove, a mental hospital where Dr. Andrew Marlow becomes his psychiatrist. Marlow is first and foremost a doctor, but has studied art, and still makes time to paint whenever he can.

 As he spends time with Oliver, who refuses to speak, he notices that his patient paints the same woman all of the time. Marlow then begins a quest to try and learn who the woman is, and why Oliver is so obsessed with her. This leads to a trip to North Carolina to speak with Oliver's ex-wife, and a meeting with Oliver's later girlfriend who lives in DC. Marlow essentially begins to spend all of his time trying to solve the case of Robert Oliver - to understand him, his relationship to the woman in the painting, and to try and help him in any way he can.

There are several levels of story here - a psychiatrist obsessed with a single patient, who skirts medical ethics to learn whatever he can; an artist who has success in his work, but has basicallly lost his family and his reputation; and, a story of the French Impressionists, where we learn about a wrong that as it turns out, Robert Oliver is trying to set right.

This was a great story, and for anyone who read, or tried to read, Kostova's other book, The Historian, it is a completely different experience. I found it much more accessible, though perhaps that is my basic knowledge of psychiatric practice and art history. It just did not seem as labor-intensive to get through! I would recommend it to any art lover, regardless of how much background you may or may not have in the subject.

A Duty to the Dead, by Charles Todd.  Bess Crawford, the heroine of this book, is a woman who volunteered for the nursing service in World War I in England. As the book begins, she is serving on a hospital ship Britannic, when it is hit by an underwater mine and sinks. Bess is sent home to recover from a resulting broken arm, and to await her next assignment. I really enjoyed this book. The writing was good, the descriptions evocative, and the information about the way that shell shocked soldiers were thought of and treated at the time was really fascinating to me. I would recommend it, particularly if you like period suspense stories.

While home, she is determined to deliver a message from a soldier that she nursed who died. He made her swear to deliver it to his brother, and she ventures to Owlhurst, the family home of the soldier. This leads to a series of new characters and interesting developments, based on the message itself, which is cryptic and vague all at the same time. As the entire family of the soldier becomes involved in knowing about the message, Bess becomes more and more suspicious of its meaning. When she is called upon to help nurse two characters in the village - the "insane" brother of the family she is visiting, and a soldier sent home with shell shock - things become more and more curious to her, and she starts talking to others in the village.

 Without giving away anything, I can tell you that as she receives an unexpected visit from someone she met at Owlhurst once she returns to London, the story becomes more and more involved, and she decides that it is up to her to see that justice is served. 

The Red Door, by Charles Todd.  Though I have not read the earlier books in this series, I did recently read the first of another series by Charles Todd, and wanted to see what the Ian Rutledge mysteries were like.

In this installment, Inspector Ian Rutledge is called on to investigate the death of a woman in the Lancashire countryside of England who may or may not have a relationship to a family that Rutledge has recently helped in London. The initial investigation, into the disappearance of Walter Teller from a hospital where he had recently been admitted. Rutledge feels from the beginning that there is something going on in the family, but cannot place his finger on it. It seems that each person is harboring a secret, but it's not until a woman with the same last name in the Lancashire countryside is found dead inside her home that he feels that he may be on to something.

 Rutledge's investigation comes at a time when he is still being haunted by a comrade who did not return with him from the battlefields of World War I, and when those nearest and dearest to him are trying to help as he pushes them away.

I enjoyed this book, though there were certain times when I thought "Oh come on and move it along!" I found the "solution" part of the story to be somewhat confusing at first, though by the end, I think I understood everything.

I think I'll give an earlier book in the series a try to see what I think.

Overall I felt it was an enjoyable read.

Good Wives: Image and Reality in the Lives of Women in Northern New England, 1650-1750, by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich.  Another book I've had for a while and just got around to reading. I had seen a documentary-type program on PBS a couple of years ago on The Midwife's Tale, another book by Ulrich, and when I saw this one, picked it up because I find the topic and the time period to be interesting overall.

 Though this is a work of non-fiction, and I guess could be classified as "academic," the writing is very straightforward and approachable. The author takes different aspects of women's lives during the time period covered, and shows how the realities were different, depending on time, community status, and geographical location.

 I really found this book to be interesting. There are really so few sources that provide details of women's every day lives for this time period, that any tidbit is something I want to know. I am fascinated by their lives and surroundings, as well as the societal and family expectations that were often different than what I assumed.

 Ulrich breaks the book into three sections: Bathsheba, Eve, and Jael, using the biblical stories of these three women to illustrate different aspects of women's lives and personalities. It's clear that she has done an enormous amount of research, but the reader never gets the sense of being lectured. Yes, there are footnotes and bibligraphical notes, but it's not necessary to keep going back and forth while reading the book to understand what is being said.

 If you are interested in women's history on a more personal level, I would recommend this book. It has made me want to read more, and the bibliography provides some great additional sources.  

Martha Washington: An American Life, by Patricia Brady.  I am glad I read this book right after the one by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, because it dealt with a particular woman's life during part of the same time frame, but in another geographic area as well as in a different economic class. Plus, it was just a good book!

 I really didn't know much about Martha Washington before I read this. I've visited Mount Vernon a few times, and so I knew some basics, but nothing really substantive. As Brady mentions, after George Washington's death, Martha burned their letters to one another, so there are very few primary sources for learning about their lives together. Brady manages to locate those that are available, and paints an interesting portrait of our very first First Lady.

Martha Washington was already a fairly well-to-do widow with children when she married George, and it was her land holdings and money that really provided the basis for their shared existence. She comes across as someone who was very smart and very capable, but also quite loving to her family and close friends. The stories of her willingness to share her husband with a fledgling republic, while facing personal challenges and several long-term separations, made her seem much more like a real person. I found it interesting that she and Abigail Adams thought highly of each other, while she and Thomas Jefferson definitely did not!

Patricia Brady does a fine job of making the life of Martha Washington come alive. Her descriptions of time and place are believable and very approachable. And comparing Martha's life and experiences with those of the less financially fortunate women in Ulrich's book made me feel that I had a true sense of women's existences during the colonial period.

Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, by David Sedaris.  I am one of those people who finds David Sedaris very funny, and this collection of essays was no disappointment. From the childhood memory of the family who comes trick-or-treating to the Sedaris home on November 1 because they were out of town, to his grown-up "Six to Eight Black Men," there wasn't a story in this collection that didn't make me laugh out loud at least once while reading it.

 I think part of the reason I enjoyed this so much, was because it included a lot of stories about his parents and his siblings and their adventures growing up. He comes from a really unusual family, but to me they seem completely believable. (This may be due to the fact that my family is also "unusual" - at least by other families' standards ...) With all of the weirdness and conflict, it's still very clear that he loves his family for reasons other than just fodder for his writings.

 If you are a Sedaris fan, you should like this. If you are not familiar with him, this would be a good start.

Collected Fictions, by Jorge Luis Borges.  OK, I actually listened to the audio version of this title over the summer, but forgot about it until the other day. So I'm adding it to my November books.

 This was my introduction to Borges, and I found this collection of stories to be interesting and enjoyable. They were varied enough that I felt I had a good idea of his writing style.

 My favorite was the first story - "Borges and I" - as it was a good way for me to be introduced to the man himself. I also particularly enjoyed "Shakespeare's Memory."

This has made me curious to read more of his work.

Among Women: Short Stories by Women Writers, by Susan Cahill.  OK, I've had this book for years, but never go around to reading it. But one day, I realized just before I left for work that I needed something to read, so I grabbed it as I was leaving the house. I'm so glad I did! First of all, it's the perfect thing to read in an environment where you are constantly being interrupted, since it's a collection of short stories. Secondly, I was introduced to some new writers, got to read things by writers I've heard of but not read before, and got to spend time with some "old friends."

 As is the case with most collections, there were some stories I really enjoyed and others that did not seem all that memorable. The theme of the book is the relationships of sisters, and how they are lifelong. The ones that tended to appeal to me were those that dealt with sisters who are close as far as their relationships go, but far apart distance-wise, and who may or may not have become friends if they were not related. But there were also some very touching and sweet stories about the lengths sisters would go to for each other, as well as one or two about sisters who did just not get along.

 I think this may be one of those books you can pick up every once in a while to read one or two of the stories again, and they will seem just a little different each time.

Oh - and check out my new countdown banner at the bottom of the page ...

30 November 2009


Well, did you miss me?  (Yeah, you're thinking - what ... she was gone?)  Our DSL modem died, and we were offline until today when the replacement one arrived and The Tim hooked it up successfully.  I think he missed the computer more than I did, though I did miss writing blog posts, and sending snarky e-mails to friends mocking others. 

In the past ten days or so, I have thought of so many things I would write about when I could post again.  I'm sure there were hundreds of ideas, and of course they were all brilliant.  But just like Scarlett, they are gone with the wind.

Some things do however come to mind.

First of all, today was my last day at the penitentiary.  I'll write a post about that soon, but the last eight months have certainly been interesting and very often entertaining (even if for the wrong reasons).  Plus it's been nice to have a paycheck every two weeks.  I sure hope something else shows up soon, or at least seems promising so that I have something to consider.

Secondly, a happy belated Thanksgiving to all of you.  I hope yours was a good one.  Ours was low-key but really enjoyable, and to be honest I probably could have skipped meals since last Thursday and still have eaten enough to keep me alive.  But if you can't eat all of the Thanksgiving goodies, it seems to me that you aren't having a very good time of it.

Thanks to everyone for your kind words about my essay in Interweave Knits.  I really do love to write, so it was fun to have something published that I wrote because I wanted to, not because it was some kind of assignment.  Hannah, if you are reading, yes that was your Bon-Bon Socklettes pattern, and I had a blast knitting that pair!  A couple of people e-mailed me and/or commented asking if I was planning to write more.  I'm always writing, at least in my head.  I am also always winning awards and writing my acceptance speeches in my head, so it's really a lot of fun in there ... however, though I have no text for them, I do have titles for two books:  All This and Cancer Too!, followed up by the soon-to-be-holiday classic, Vegetarians - the Freaks of Thanksgiving.  Unfortunately, I am unlikely to make any inroads in becoming a famous published author with only titles to the books, so don't hold your breath.

During my time sans computer, I also realized that I never showed you a picture of a house guest we had during October.  This is Monty.

Monty spent a weekend with us, and as you can imagine, the cats were not amused.  Surprisingly (at least to them), they all lived and did not require medical attention.  I mean, you can probably tell from this picture that Monty is a killer, right?  He belongs to my friend Erika, and he is such a sweetheart.  He loves to cuddle, and though The Tim and I thought that was great, others were highly displeased.  But you know how it is, all of us have a cross to bear, and visiting dogs represent that to The Fur Patrol ...

So here it is the last day of November.  A good month overall.   Even the leftovers are gone though, so it's time to see what's next ... and time to start thinking about lots of baking!

20 November 2009

News Notes

Thanks to everyone for their kind wishes for The Tim on his birthday this week.  We had a nice day together, and then in the evening we sang "Happy Birthday" (during which the Garden Kitty *always* moans, er, sings along ...) and had birthday cake.  Earlier in the day, The Tim had to go and renew his driver's license, so he immortalized the Dotty vest by wearing it for his picture!  Before we left the house, he agreed to a modeling session, so you could see how nicely it fits him.  I chose this picture, because it turned out better than the others, plus he is actually smiling in it, so I liked it the best.  (He has a tendency to look very serious in pictures.  For instance, the new drivers license photo?  Similar to a mugshot ...)

In other news, I fear that I must engage in some shameless self-promotion.  The Winter issue of Interweave Knits is out, and if you look at the "Ravelings" piece at the end of the issue, you may notice that it is written by someone you know ... as in ME!  I was so excited that they said they were going to publish my essay, since it's a combination of two of my very favorite things - knitting and writing!  Those of you who spent last year reading about my holiday knitting may have heard way too much about it to want to actually read the piece, but don't say I didn't let you know about it ... :-)

And sports fans, guess what?  This is my 450th post!  You know what that means - I had to go through your guesses for when it would happen, and choose a winner.  No one hit the date exactly, but Chris guessed November 17 (three days before today), while Carrie K guessed November 24 (four days after today).   So - Chris you are the winner!  Congratulations!  I'm pretty sure that I have your mailing address, but just in case I can't find it, please send it along to me at: thekittyknitterATverizonDOTnet. 

And thanks to all of you for playing along - no one was really too far off the date, which was surprising to me, since I was thinking it might not be until sometime in December.

That's it for tonight - have a good Saturday.  I'll be working, but since it's towards the end of my gainful employment, it's worth showing up, don't you think???

18 November 2009

The Very Best One. Ever.

Men are like wine. Some turn to vinegar, but the best improve with age.
-- Pope John XXIII

Anyone who knows me, knows that I am not generally one to quote a pope - but in this case, I'm making an exception, because a) Pope John XXIII was a good one, and b) the subject of today's post proves this saying true Every. Single. Day.

And so, without further ado, let me say:

Happy Birthday to my very own Sweetie!

Whoops - not THAT picture!!**

This one:

(... as you can see, he's popular with the entire family!)

I hope you have a great birthday, and many more that we can celebrate together.  Love you!

** This is the first thing that came up in a Google image  search for  "Happy Birthday, Tim" ... what - you thought I wouldn't use it???