27 May 2009

Penitentiary Life, Week 9

I have to tell you, last week I gave a tour to a group of students that blew me away. They were visiting Eastern State as part of a civics class. It was a group of 7th graders from a Catholic school in New Jersey. Besides the fact that they were very polite and well-behaved, they actually seemed interested in what I was telling them! (Maybe it doesn't happen that often, so that when it does, you can really appreciate it ...)

Anyway, we got to Death Row, and after they had a chance to see it, they were asking about prisoners who had been there. I mentioned that one person was considered to be the mastermind for the 1961 uprising where the inmates took over the prison. One girl asked if he was then put to death, and I said that no, he was still in prison somewhere else in Pennsylvania, but he had been beaten so badly after the 1961 event, that they had given him last rites. Then she asked what "last rites" were, when one of the teachers cut in and said, "Sacrament of the Sick," (which is what last rites are called in the Catholic Church). She wondered if he "deserved" last rites, since it "didn't sound like he was truly sorry." At this point, the other students, as well as the teachers and chaperones, started discussing who "deserves" forgiveness, whether or not it is only up to God, and if there should be a death penalty at all. After a few minutes, one of the teachers said, "See - this is good, and one of the reasons we wanted to bring you guys here. When we get back to school tomorrow, we should do some serious research on these topics, and have a discussion about them."

I have been thinking about those kids ever since, they (and their teachers and chaperones) really impressed me. The kids seemed to have a true idea that there are issues larger than the ones like where did they leave their cell phones, or who is going to what party, etc. And the teachers and chaperones seemed willing to discuss these things with them, rather than shy away or change the subject. Granted, the students were 7th graders, so a lot could change by the time they become adults. But I would like to think that if they are that articulate and thoughtful at this stage, they will become adults who are actually willing to address issues and problems that they will be very likely to inherit.

26 May 2009

Enough Already!

This week's Ten on Tuesday topic:

10 Celebrities You're Tired Of:*
(*Some of these are couples, but I am tired of them together and/or singly.)

1. Oprah (actually I'm so tired of her, she could be numbers 1-10 ...)
2. Brangelina
3. TomKat
4. Octomom
5. Jon and Kate (with or without the 8)
6. Gwyneth Paltrow
7. Farrah Fawcett (I'm sorry she is so ill, but so are lots of people)
8. Ashton Kutcher and Dummi Moore
9. Madonna
10. Julia Roberts (always and forever)

I shall refrain from commenting further on any of the above, as well as some who didn't make my list, because a) it's not actually important, b) there's not enough time in the universe, and c) they are unlikely to fade quietly into oblivion anyway ...

23 May 2009

Such Excitement!

OK, so maybe that subject line is a bit over-the-top for what you will read and see here, but it is what passes for true excitement at Chez Ravell'd Sleave.

Local Blogger Wins Prize!

That would be me, and I did indeed win a very cool prize recently:

This little glass fishy! Shan was holding a contest, and happily, I was the winner! I am especially taken with him, since he is mainly green and blue, and those are two of my favorite colors. Also, my zodiac sign is Pisces, so I think it was kismet.

Amazingly, Shan made this little guy - that to me is more than amazing.

He's ready for his close-up, Mr. DeMille:

I don't know about you, but he makes me very happy with his cheerful colors and fishy self. Thank you so much, Shan!

Local Knitter Finishes Project!

Once again, that would be me, and the finished project is the Silk Kerchief. I finished it yesterday, and wove in the ends. I'm hoping a nice soak will make it softer, and that blocking it will even things out, shape-wise.

I am more than pleased with how it turned out, though my feelings have not changed one iota about the Noro Silk Garden Sock yarn - as a matter of fact, if anyone wants the leftovers, let me know, I would be happy to send them so that I do not ever come across them again in my stash. I would guess I have approximately 1/2 of each skein left.

Local Man to Appear on TV!

That would be The Tim, who will be appearing tomorrow on the show called "Speak Up Philly" on Channel 57 (one of the local CW stations), at 8:00 a.m. He and a representative from the Free Library of Philadelphia will be talking about an upcoming event at the library.

Do I smell a local Emmy????

Test Knitters Needed!

Remember the Zach Attack Hat I knit for my great-nephew Zach for his 3rd birthday? (Blogged here and modeled here.) I received a couple of e-mails asking me if I was going to write up a pattern for it. At first I thought I wouldn't, since it was not really something that seemed all that original. But after giving it some thought, and recalling how frustrating it was trying to find a pattern that matched what I had in my head, I decided it might not be such a bad idea to write up the pattern. I spent a lot of time checking through various knitting reference books to get the basic idea and sizing, and though many of you design complicated things on a regular basis, this was a real leap of faith for me.

Before I present it as a free pattern, I would like a couple of other people to try knitting it to see if my directions make sense. There is the solid version, which I knit for Zach, and a striped version that I wrote up, but have not knit. If you are a beginning knitter, or someone who might be interested for whatever reason to try either one, please let me know, and I'll send the pattern to you via e-mail. Unfortunately, I can't offer to send yarn and needles as well, due to current financial restraints. (Maybe once The Tim has a paying TV gig ...)

Local Cat Relaxes!

OK, that's not really news, or even all that exciting, but I hope everyone has as relaxing a weekend as Jetsam, who started his holiday weekend yesterday:

21 May 2009

Penitentiary Life, Week 8

When last I regaled you with any tales of my life as a tour guide at Eastern State Penitentiary, you met "Donald," aka Boy o' Questions. Well, last week there were no Donalds (at least not on any of my tours), which I will admit was a relief.

However, this past Sunday was Alumni Reunion Day, when former guards and inmates return with friends and family for a barbecue followed by a Q&A session open to the public. I was really curious to see how this worked. I guess I have watched too many old prison movies, where guards and inmates are at each others' throats just because they are. It's not that I really thought anything awful would happen, I just wanted to see what the interactions would be like. They were quite what you would expect from any group of people who used to be together all of the time, and then went their separate ways. It was a sense of overall friendliness, and what sounded like good-natured ribbing.

Of course, I realized later that a) many inmates could not attend even if they wanted to, since they are still in prison someplace else, and b) that if you were a person with a true grudge, you would be unlikely to attend the reunion. (I know - duh!)

However, it did mean that I had conversations with visitors that I never really expected to have with anyone during my lifetime, once I'd stopped to think about it.

For instance, one of the attendees stopped me to ask a question. He had what appeared to be his family with him, including some very young children. He wanted to know where the exhibit case that had the confiscated shivs was located, because he couldn't find it where it was the last time he was there for Alumni Reunion. I told him that a visitor had broken into it a couple of years ago, and stole a couple, so now those were kept in the prison archives. He wanted to know if he could see them, and I said he should ask the archivist, who was on site for the day. To which he responded, "Well, I sure hope we can see them, I wanted to show my family. Especially my grandchildren here - because I made a lot of those!"

Another guy stopped me to tell me which guard tower used to be his station. I mentioned that my supervisor, who has been everyplace else on site, had never been able to get into that guard tower, because no one can get the door to open. At which point, he gave me detailed instructions on using a blowtorch and a crowbar to open "any rusted door" I might come across. He even made me repeat them back to him to be sure I understood!

I figure it's always good to learn new things. And now if the need arises, I know who to call when I need a shiv that is well-made, and how to handle myself if I ever get trapped in a room with a rusted door - provided of course, I'm carrying my blowtorch and crowbar ...

19 May 2009

Ten on Tuesday

I've seen this on Carole's blog, and being that I love lists, thought I would sign up for the reminders each week. So welcome to my very first Ten on Tuesday!

Today's topic: Ten Favorite Cities

(In no particular order, just places I've actually visited/lived, as they entered my brain ...)

1. Philadelphia - well, duh, I live here. But I've lived here now longer than I have most places in my life, and it really is a great place. Very approachable, extremely walkable, and has something for everyone. Plus, the people are *always* interesting, for better or for worse. :-)

2. District of Columbia - DC is a great place, if you don't let the people who are way too impressed with themselves to get to you. Though it is expensive to live there, there's plenty of great stuff to do that doesn't cost a penny, so you never get bored.

3. Chicago - Oh, Chicago, how I love thee! A place with actual winters, lots to do and see, and so much good food. I miss the Art Institute lions, who I used to say hello to every single day. The only down side of Chicago is that it is very flat. Not a mountain in sight. Good thing Lake Michigan is there!

4. Pittsburgh - a lot of people give Pittsburgh a bad rap, but it is a great place. Hard to get around if you are not paying attention (especially if you end up on the wrong bridge!), but once you figure it out, it's not really any more difficult than anyplace else. If you go, be sure to ride the Incline. It will be an experience you won't forget, I guarantee ...

5. New York - sorry, those of you who are Big Apple haters, but I really do *heart* New York. It's the first city I remember from childhood, as for a while when I was little we lived in Teaneck, New Jersey, and my dad worked in NYC. We spent a lot of time in the city, and I count it as the beginning of my love affair with the Rockettes.

6. Boston - I will always love Boston. We used to visit my mother's rich [well, at least to us] cousin who lived there almost every summer, and it was so much fun. All of the historical stuff, and so close to so many other great places to go and see.

7. San Francisco - the only place in California I would consider living. They have actual seasons, and it's so much fun to walk around there. I have never visited without having an absolutely wonderful time.

8. Dublin - first of all, it's in Ireland, which is one of my favorite places on the earth. There are also such great things to see there, and the bridges over the River Liffey are so pretty at twilight. Also, one of the few places where, when someone would ask my name, they wouldn't immediately say, "I'm sorry - what was that?"

9. Montreal - Zut alors! I love Montreal, it is so pretty and probably as close to visiting France as I'm likely to get anytime soon. I have only ever visited in spring, but the flowers would make it an amazing place all on their own.

10. Toronto - it's in Canada, there are so many great neighborhoods to walk around in, and it has the same energetic vibe to me as NYC, but is not nearly as exhausting. (Plus - Tim Horton's!!!!)

15 May 2009

A Little Bit of Catching Up ...

I just realized the other day that I mentioned that I was ready to start knitting the Silk Kerchief once I found the right sized needles, and then didn't mention it again. Because I am sure you have been wondering what happened, I thought I'd show you what I have finished so far:

I did find my size 3 circular needles, and though I didn't quite understand the casting on, I worked out something that seems to be OK (or at least if it isn't I'll never really know). The pattern is fairly straightforward, once you get past the cast on, and I'm pleased with how it is turning out.

However, I have decided that I will never again use this yarn - Noro Silk Garden Sock - for anything! I really do not like this yarn - it feels uncomfortable (maybe it will feel better once the thing is washed and blocked?), and it twists like crazy, not to mention knotting all of the time. If I make another one, I'll definitely choose another yarn.

I mentioned in my previous post that Doughboy was visiting last weekend. He slept over on Saturday night, and he was such a good house guest, as usual! I think he enjoyed himself, and in this picture, it looks like maybe he is smiling - what do you think?

When it was time for him to go home on Sunday evening, the whole family stopped for a visit, which meant that we got to see this sweet little face:

Look how big James is! He'll be a year old towards the end of June, and he is such a cutie. We had a good time visiting with Halden and Ben, and watching James and Doughboy interact. James is currently fond of giving everyone the raspberry, which was pretty funny. And then when someone would laugh, he'd do a really fake-sounding "hahaha" which would of course make everyone laugh harder.

He has also started talking. What was his first word? "Dog."

So he is apparently pretty smart as well ...

13 May 2009

Time Well Spent

Yesterday and today have been my days off work for the week, and I've really been enjoying myself. The weather has been nice, and I have accomplished quite a few things that I had on my list. (I had to be sure to leave something for next week, you know ...)

Anyway, I meant to post yesterday, but I spent a good portion of the day working on this:

I had an appointment in the morning for bloodwork, and decided that the afternoon deserved to be something more enjoyable! On Sunday afternoon, after we had finished our walk with Seb, Karen, and Doughboy (!) in the Mother's Day race here in Philadelphia, The Tim and I headed to Home Despot (Home Depot, for most of you). He had some "fixing-up" stuff to get, and I wanted to get some flowers and some herbs. Every time I thought I'd get some things in the last few weeks, it's either been too cold or raining to make me feel inspired enough to even pick something out ...

We have a planter on one side of our house that gets a lot of sun, and then our garden has spots of sun and partial sun. I also like to grow herbs, so I wanted to find some to at least feel like I had a chance to get started.

The top three pictures are the planter, (the rosebushes were already there), and the bottom three are the garden, including my herb garden on the wall (the azaleas were already there). I hope to find some more flowers and some more herbs, but I am happy with what I have so far.

But do not fear - even though I didn't post yesterday, I did manage to have Jetsam pick names for the two books I was giving away.

"YIKES! It's trying to escape into the chair cushion!"

"I'll show this one who's boss!"

And he chose:

For Educating Alice: Sprite
For Ex Libris: Bookfool

Congratulations to both of you, and thanks to everyone who entered. Sprite and Bookfool, please send your mailing info to me (thekittyknitterATverizonDOTnet). Just so you know, I probably won't get the books in the mail until early next week, since I am working tomorrow through next Monday, which means I won't be able to get to the P.O.

Be sure to watch this space, since I already know I'll have a couple of books to pass along at the end of this month.

"The pressure of choosing names has exhausted me. I must rest now to regain my strength."

11 May 2009

Penitentiary Life, Week 7

As anyone who has ever lived near a tourist spot knows, the beginning of May brings the hordes of school groups on their school trips - all sizes, ages, and personalities. I remember when we lived in DC, most people were used to school groups, but there were many mornings on the escalators leading down into the Metro when witnessing a murder seemed to be a real possibility (because who can understand a sign that says something vague like "Please stand to the right" ...)

Anyway, Eastern State is no different, and last week seemed especially crowded with school kids. I had several different groups that I took around on a tour, and they ran the gamut - from 5th graders were well-behaved and paid attention (from the Philadelphia public school system, no less!), to the bored high school kids ("Is there a gift shop? Can we just go there and skip the tour?"), to the junior high group with the chaperone who was annoyed that: a) we had split the entire group into smaller, more manageable sizes for different tour guides to take around, and b) that in doing so, we added GIRLS to his group! (The boys didn't seem to care one way or another, they were too busy waiting to find out how many prisoners were executed on Death Row ...). It was quite the experience to watch him act like an immature little boy while the kids just followed what I was saying and asked reasonable questions.

I do have to say that the one group was quite memorable, mostly because of one kid in the group. This was a group of 7th graders from a private school, and I'll just call the kid Donald (to protect the innocent). From the first word out of my mouth, to the last stop on the tour, Donald always had at least one question, and usually two. Most of the time they were questions that I was more than happy to answer, since he was clearly paying attention. But I knew before I had even finished the next part of the tour, that Donald would raise his hand as soon as I asked if there were any questions from the group. So much so, that at some points, I felt like it was a game - how much could I actually tell them, before he had an urgent question ...

My personal favorite was while we were on the baseball field, and I was talking about how the prisoners had several teams that played a regular season, and that one of the prisoner-created publications, The Umpire, reported game details and statistics in such a thorough manner that they could put The Sporting News to shame.

Donald: I have two questions.

Me (in my brain): Of course you do.
Me: OK, go ahead.

Donald: Well ... if they were outside and playing baseball, that meant that they had bats, right?

Me: Yes.

Donald: What would happen if a prisoner took the bat and started beating the guards to death?

Me: Well, I'm guessing that other guards would try to stop the prisoner, and that he would be punished. However, as far as I know, that never happened here.

Donald: Oh. Well, my other question is, did Al Capone ever play baseball?

Me: Not here at Eastern State. Though he did buy the sports teams new uniforms while he was here.

Donald: He probably dressed up in one of the new uniforms and played as someone else. Because he probably wouldn't spend all of his money on new uniforms if he couldn't even wear one once.

Me (in my brain): Wow. I didn't see that one coming ...

At the end of the tour, after all of the students had filed past to get back on their buses, one of the teachers pulled me aside to say thank you, and to thank me especially for answering all of Donald's questions, as he is apparently sometimes "a real challenge" (wow, I hadn't noticed). Then she said, "I hope you can at least get a really strong cup of coffee now." (I was thinking of a strong drink, but it wasn't coffee ...)

My other favorite moment was when a young couple who were visiting asked me to take a picture of them together. As I handed back the camera, the guy said, "It's really cool how you have those recorded sounds playing for atmosphere." When I asked what sounds, he paused for a minute, and then said, "That one - did you hear it?" I listened for another minute, and realized the source of those recorded sounds:

Real, live mourning doves.

You know, seriously - I don't think I could make this stuff up if I tried ...

**By the way - for anyone who is interested, and in the Philadelphia area, this coming Sunday (May 17), is Alumni Reunion weekend, where former guards and inmates will be around to talk to the public about life when they were at Eastern State. (Boy, I'll bet Donald could keep them busy.)**

06 May 2009

April Book Report, Part 2

And here it is, the final installment of April's Book Report. Some new authors and a couple of old standbys. Check at the end to see if any of the books available are ones that you are interesting in reading!

The Locusts Have No King, by Dawn Powell. I had read a magazine article about Dawn Powell’s writing a couple of years ago, and was curious to read some of her work. I’d never heard of her, and what I had read in the article said that she wrote wonderful satire, much of the time about the publishing world in New York during the 1940s. That combination seemed like a winner to me.

This book is the story of Frederick Olliver, a writer who, at the beginning of the book is somewhat of a recluse, who has had a few things published (but not things most people would have actually read), and whose biggest “adventure” in life is a somewhat limited but intense affair with Lyle Gaynor, the wife and writing partner of one of Broadway’s most well-known playwrights.

At the beginning of the book, Frederick is a somewhat boring character, and his life is not all that exciting or interesting. Then a chance meeting with a young woman named Dodo Brennan changes everything. Though originally he is not interested in her – finding her frivolous, silly, and shallow – Lyle sees her with him and becomes jealous. Through a series of events, Frederick’s life suddenly becomes that of a social person, infatuated with Dodo, and intent of hurting Lyle, though he still loves her. As a result of his involvement with more people, he becomes a bon vivant of sorts, and his life changes. The job he has as an editor of a “lowbrow” magazine brings him no end of frustration and shame, but at some point, the publisher decides to publish one of Frederick’s “serious” works to counter the negative attention of a rather racy book the company has recently published. Suddenly, Frederick is looked upon as a real writer, and is in demand in publishing circles. I don’t want to reveal the ending, but I will say it was not as strong as it could have been.

I found this book an enjoyable read, and though some of the characters were stereotypical, I’m not sure they would have been as much at the time the book was published. In any event, they are interesting and amusing. The thoughts and lines that Powell gives them are for the most part believable.

My biggest problem with the book was the beginning. It was confusing and not that interesting, and I only kept reading because I wanted to see if the satire would really develop. I’m glad I stuck with it, but I wish it hadn’t taken so long.

The Gathering, by Anne Enright. This book was the 2007 winner of the Man Booker Prize, and tells the story of an Irish Catholic family as they gather for the funeral of a wayward son. The narrator, Veronica, is the younger sister (by 11 months) of Liam, who has committed suicide. Veronica and Liam were extremely close as children, and shared many experiences and secrets that their other siblings (10 of the still living) do not know anything about.

As the story develops, Veronica tries to piece together what could have made her brother the person he grew up to be. She goes back to her grandparents and their courtship, and memories of times that she and Liam (and occasionally their next youngest sister, Kitty) were sent to live with the grandparents for periods of time, usually following the birth of another younger sibling. Through her grandparents’ stories, and her memories, she is able to discover a secret that served to define Liam’s existence, causing him to pull away from the rest of the family, and live a somewhat troubled and turbulent life. While all of this is happening, Veronica begins to question her love for her husband and daughters, pulling away from them as a result.

I found the book very readable, and slightly thought-provoking. I had a feeling before I started it what may have happened to Liam as a child, so I wasn’t really that surprised, other than not knowing exactly when or who was involved. But the book is pretty well-written, and also sad. Did I like it overall? Yes. But it’s not a book that is likely to stick with me for very long.

The Murder Room, by P.D. James.* The Murder Room of the title is located in the Dupayne Museum in London, and commemorates some of the most fantastic and lurid murders in history. Through a chance meeting, Adam Dalgliesh visits with an acquaintance, but is called back soon after to investigate a series of murders. The first murder is one of the members of the Dupayne family, who were named as trustees in their late father’s will, with the caveat that any decisions regarding the museum have to be unanimous among the three surviving children. Dr. Neville Dupayne is the first victim, and is burned to death in his car in the museum garage shortly after a meeting where he voted to close the museum, to the dismay of his sister and brother.

Shortly after the first murder, another body is discovered in a trunk in the Murder Room. Now Dalgliesh has to figure out what, if anything, these two events have in common, and/or what the motive(s) was. By the time he and his team have started to figure it out, one of the main witnesses, the cleaning lady at the Dupayne, who lives in a cottage on the grounds, is nearly killed by the murderer.

As usual, James makes the story suspenseful, colorful, and creepy. The characters are occasionally stereotypical, but nearly always have a slight twist to make them memorable. My only problem with the story – and it’s likely that I’m the only one who cares – was that towards the end, the housekeeper’s cat, who was tortured by the murderer, disappears and we never learn whether or not he returns to her safe and sound. These are the kinds of things that bother me – if something horrible is going to happen to an animal as part of the story, I want closure on that aspect as well as the other threads.

I mostly read this book while I was at work, and found it amusing when someone passed by, saw the title and told me it was a “terrible thing to be reading here.”

*By the way, I *heart* P.D. James. I went to one of her booksignings a few years ago, and she spent a few minutes telling me all about her cat!

The Lace Makers of Glenmara, by Heather Barbieri. I received an Advance Reader’s Edition of this title, which will be published in July 2009. It tells the story of Kate, a young woman from Seattle who has recently lost her mother to cancer, and her live-in boyfriend of five years to a young model. To add insult to injury, she is a clothing designer whose latest collection went nowhere.

She decides to visit Ireland, for a change of scenery, and because it was a trip she and her mother had originally planned to make together. After spending time in Dublin, she ventures out into the countryside, and eventually finds herself in the west. She ends up walking along the country roads in the rain, with her backpack and no immediate plan, when she is given a ride by a traveler (gypsy) and dropped off in the town of Glenmara, during the beginning of the St. Brendan’s Festival.

Glenmara is a town that is shrinking in population, due to the demise of factory work and the fishing industry. The festival is not much of a success at first, and Kate meets two women – Bernie and Aileen – who are packing up a display of handmade lace that no one bought. Bernie (who is recently widowed) in particular takes to Kate, and invites her to stay with her until she decides where to go or what else to do.

As the days pass, Kate gets to know Bernie better, and causes Aileen to become jealous, as Bernie had been her best friend. She also becomes involved in the Lace Maker’s Club, and learns the basics of creating lace from the members. Each of the women in the club has a backstory, and to some degree, none of them are surprising stories. There are times when the conversations and the story itself become predictable. Kate shows the women ways in which their lace can be added to lingerie pieces, not just table runners and curtains, and they decide that there may be a market for lingerie in the modern world more so than household items. As the uses for their lace changes, so do the lives of the women, including Kate, who meets a young man in the village. It is a case of mutual attraction, though he has a loss of his own that he is trying to overcome.

This book was enjoyable, if sometimes predictable. There was really not a lot of melodrama, like there tends to be in stories like this that I’ve read previously. It was interesting reading about the different types of lace, and how the threads are manipulated for differing effects. I liked the descriptions of the town and the surrounding countryside, as it sounded very familiar and true of the places in the west of Ireland that I have visited. It was also interesting how Barbieri used the example of the village priest and his strict, old-fashioned ways as an example of a stationary Ireland, and the stories of the women, their lace, and the support of their families and neighbors to show that embracing new ideas and modernizing in some ways does not have to ruin the character of a place or its people.

Dyer Consequences, by Maggie Sefton. This is another one of the knitting mysteries that are in no way literary masterpieces, but can be entertaining. I know that it’s not kosher to say that, but I do enjoy them, not necessarily because of the story or the plot twists, but because they are straightforward and easy to read for a change of pace.

In this installment, Kelly Flynn is dealing with what she first thinks are random acts of vandalism on her property, but when the vandalism spreads to the yarn shop across the way, and someone is killed in one of the dye sinks downstairs, everyone becomes more concerned. When the vandal(s) also tries to poison Kelly’s dog, she becomes even more determined to get to the bottom of things.

Is this the best book I’ve ever read? No, but it was a quick, enjoyable read, and I enjoyed the yarn references.

The Big Dirt Nap, by Rosemary Harris. This is an author and series that are new to me, but when I visited the library recently, this book caught my eye. The main character, Paula Holliday, has given up her stressful life as a media executive in New York City, and opened her own gardening business – Dirty Business – in Springfield, Connecticut.

This story (second in the series) begins with Paula heading to a hotel that is past its glory days in suburban Connecticut, with plans to meet a friend, and write an article for her local paper about the upcoming blooming of a corpse flower. Problems begin when Paula’s friend Lucy never shows, and the man that Paula was talking to in the hotel bar lobby turns up dead with Paula’s business card in his pocket.

The story goes back and forth over the next few days, and covers the Ukrainian mob, Native American casinos, and Lucy’s involvement with a member of one of the local Native American families that have been causing trouble. Paula in the meantime, is pretty sure that she is being followed as she goes back and forth from her home to the hotel.

This was OK, as far as the story went. Paula was a likable character, and it was interesting how confident the author made her – she really didn’t fall into the usual line of finding a male character to “save” her or to help her solve the crime. I think I would like to read the first book in this series, Pushing Up Daisies, to see if it seems worth continuing with any future books. One of the quotes on the back cover from a review, called it “a cozy mystery that is intelligent and modern.” Whether or not that is how I’ll feel about it remains to be seen, but I’m willing to give it a try.


I have copies of Educating Alice and Ex Libris to pass along, if anyone is interested. (They were discussed in Part 1 of the April Book Report.) As usual, if more than one person speaks up, I'll use an independent party (Jetsam) to choose a name on Tuesday, May 12.

03 May 2009

April Book Report, Part 1

Well, I figured out how to get the text to cut and paste from Microsoft Word into Blogger, though I've never had to do it this way in the past. However, since it worked - and I don't have to re-type things - all is well.

One of the best things about my current job, is that when if it's not busy during the weekdays, and you are not stationed at two of the initial contact spots for visitors, you are allowed to read! (Yes, it would be nice if we could knit too, but I'll take what I can get ...) There were a couple of weeks at the beginning of April that were pretty chilly, and unendingly rainy, so it was a good month for reading! I finished twelve books, and rather than have an extremely long post, I decided to do Part 1 and Part 2.

So without further ado, I give you my April Book Report, Part 1:

Knitting Bones, by Monica Ferris. This is one of the series of needlecraft mysteries featuring Betsy Devonshire, the owner of Crewel World, in Excelsior, Minnesota. I received this particular title a few years ago for Christmas, and forgot I even had it.

In this installment, Betsy is asked to investigate the disappearance of a local businessman who was last seen at a national needleworkers’ convention, accepting a large check resulting from a fundraising idea by the Embroiderers’ Guild of America. However, Betsy has suffered a broken leg, so her store manager must follow her instructions/directions to try and track down the solution.

These books are not necessarily all that involved or even necessarily realistic. I will admit to liking them for their descriptions of the town of Excelsior, and for some of the “extra” characters introduced in each story. In this particular book, Betsy is also allowing her apartment to be used temporarily to house a wild crow who is being rehabilitated, and moved to another location. This amused me, for whatever reason.

In any event, it’s a nice way to spend a few hours of reading, when you are in the mood for something that is neither too involved nor too serious.

Educating Alice : the Adventures of a Curious Woman, by Alice Steinbach. I received this book from a friend who read it and thought I would enjoy it. I really did! Alice Steinbach worked for approximately twenty years as a reporter for a Baltimore newspaper, and as part of that job, traveled all over the world. Though she enjoyed the work, she found herself at a point in her life where she longed to be more on her own, not tied to a specific job, but still able to write. So she resigned/retired from her reporter’s job, and set out “to travel around the world as an informal student, taking lessons in such things as French cooking in Paris, Border Collie training in Scotland, traditional Japanese Arts in Kyoto, and the architecture and art of Havana.” She freely admits to venturing into these fields not to become a professional, but to “add little bits of knowledge here and there to what I was born not knowing.”

The best part of this book is the author’s voice, and her willingness to admit that she struggles – and sometime just completely does not comprehend – some of the things she has chosen to do. The writing is conversational, with the typical asides and segues that occur when friends are talking. I enjoyed her descriptions of places and people that she met along the way, as well as finding out about the topics she chose to study. If you enjoy reading about other people’s travels, I think you would enjoy this book quite a bit.

Ex Libris : Confessions of a Common Reader, by Anne Fadiman. There are few things I enjoy as much as coming across someone who not only loves reading as much as I do, but also words and language. This is a collection essays by Fadiman, detailing her childhood in a family of readers and language fanatics, her obsession with proofreading anything she comes across (it’s apparently a family trait), the “marriage” of hers and her husband’s libraries, and passing on her love of books, reading, and words to her children. Though only 162 pages, everyone one was enjoyable.

Jane and Prudence, by Barbara Pym. This is the second Pym book I have read (the first was Excellent Women), and I liked this one much more than the other. Jane is a country minister’s wife, who met Prudence, who is younger and single, when she was her tutor at Oxford. Prudence is adjusting to life in a new village where her husband has taken the pulpit. She is completely flummoxed as to how one makes her way among the people she finds are her neighbors. She also worries about Prudence, who works as a “research assistant” (Pym’s quotes) for a doctor in London, who, at the beginning of the book, is Prudence’s latest lover (according to Prudence).

What I enjoyed most about this book was the internal observations and thoughts of the characters. Jane’s struggles to fit in with the church members is comical and sad at the same time. She also appears to be scattered sometimes, and on those occasions the reader can feel both her sensibilities as well as the reactions of those around her. Prudence and her many love affairs, as well as her feelings about the people around her, give you a glimpse into the life of a young single woman who seems as interested in having fun as settling down.

In one chapter, we are meeting a man whose wife recently died, who is now playing the role of abandoned widower, when in fact, he had one affair after the other while his wife was alive. This passage amused me in particular, talking about how Constance (the wife) would often invite the mistresses to visit:

“She had even invited his loves to the house for week-ends, and two women sitting together under the walnut tree, having long talks about him, or so he had always imagined, had been a familiar sight when he happened to be looking out of an upper window. In reality, they may have been talking of other things – life in general, cooking, or knitting, for the loves always brought knitting or tapestry work with them as if to show Constance how nice they really were.”

If you enjoy social commentary as part of a fictional character, I think you would really enjoy this book.

Different Seasons, by Stephen King. First of all, a disclaimer: I am not a fan of Stephen King. I watched a dramatization of one of his stories as a TV miniseries, and was truly irritated by the end that I had lost those hours out of my life for no good reason! True, I enjoyed the movie “The Shining,” but in general, I’m not a big horror story fan, and Stephen King himself annoys me for reasons that make sense only to me …

I made the mistake of mentioning this one day at my new job, and one of my co-workers brought in Different Seasons for me to read the next day. She insisted that I read it, saying it was not the “typical” King fare, and would give me an idea of just what a great writer he was. I decided to give it a try, so that a) I could say I gave him another chance, and b) to see if maybe I would find another author whose work I enjoy most of the time.

This book consists of four novellas: Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption; Apt Pupil; Fall from Innocence; and, The Breathing Method. Out of the four, I have to say my favorite was the first one. I have not seen the movie “The Shawshank Redemption,” (though it is now in my Netflix queue), so I really didn’t know the story. But I found it to be well-written and interesting, and the fact that it took place in a prison made it even more interesting to me, given my current job as a tour guide in an historic prison.

Apt Pupil is also well-written, but it is truly one of the most disturbing things I have ever read, period. Though I wanted to read it through, it made me uncomfortable the whole time, and once I finished it, I couldn’t stop thinking about it for almost a week. It’s the story of a relationship that develops between a smart, curious young boy from a well-to-do family, and the neighbor that the young boy has discovered used to be an officer in the Nazi prison camps. I won’t say much more, except to say that it is very dark and very troubling.

Fall from Innocence is the story that forms the basis of the movie, “Stand by Me,” and though the movie was fine, I felt lukewarm overall about the movie and the story. Maybe just because the coming-of-age stories of young boys don’t appeal to me all that much.

The Breathing Method just plain irritated me. The story of a mysterious “gentleman’s club” where stories are told by the members seemed like it was just trying too hard. And the particular story that is the subject of the title was so over-the-top, I wanted to personally call Stephen King and tell him how I felt.

In conclusion, did I give him another chance? Yes. Did I find another author whose work I enjoy most of the time? Nope. I will grant you that some of the writing was impressive and the stories could be absorbing, but King will have to rely those other than myself for his livelihood.

Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper, by Harriet Scott Chessman. I remember reading a review of this book when it was first published a few years ago, and thinking that I really wanted to read it. Then I promptly forgot all about it. So when I was at the local branch of the public library trolling for titles and saw it, I happily grabbed it from the shelf.

A work of historical fiction, Chessman has created a small, intimate look at a three-year period in the life of artist Mary Cassatt (called “May” by her family) and her parents and older sister, Lydia. During the time, they are living in France, and Lydia has been diagnosed with Bright’s Disease. The relationship between May and Lydia is a close, sisterly one, as well as one between an artist and her favorite model.

The book is divided into five parts, each one relating to one of Cassatt’s paintings featuring Lydia as the primary subject/model. The story is from Lydia’s perspective and is at times happy, sad, passionate, and frustrated. She knows that her disease has no cure and will likely kill her, but her family – at least in the beginning of the book – goes out of their way to ignore this fact. By the end, Lydia shows us how she has discovered that May realizes the end is near, and what she is doing to make sure the world never really loses her.

I found this book really enjoyable, which is I’m sure partly because I am a fan of Mary Cassatt. But more than that, Lydia’s story made Mary seem like a real person, and likewise, the relationship between the two of them reminded me that people in paintings are/were not static figures from the imagination of the artist. They were real people who walked, talked, ate, drank, etc., and are captured at a moment in time, or in the created surroundings of the artist.

It was also interesting to hear the characters talk casually about artists such as Edgar Degas, Berthe Morisot, and Edouard Manet. Like the people in their paintings, I often forget that the painters were real flesh and blood as well.

02 May 2009

A few words about Mr. Ed and Jetsam ...

This post started out as part 1 of my April Book Report, but Blogger won't let me paste text from Microsoft Word, though this has never been a problem before. So I'll wait and try again on another day ...

In the meantime, a few more Mr. Ed-related things. First of all, in the comments, Guinifer linked to a Snopes page which claims that Mr. Ed was a zebra!!! If you follow the link (www.snopes.com/lost/mistered.asp), and then go to the bottom of the screen and click on "More Information About This Page," you'll see what it's all really about. (Having read The Famous Mr. Ed: The Unbridled Truth about America's Favorite Talking Horse several times, I'm familiar with a lot of the Mr. Ed rumors.)

A couple of people mentioned having the theme song stuck in their heads after reading the post, and I thought it may interest/amuse/disgust you to know that I have won more than one Mr. Ed sing-off, where the theme song is sung and the person who does Mr. Ed's voice at the end the best, wins. One of my few claims to fame. (Hey, everyone needs something they do really well, right?)

On that note, Wilburrrrr, I will declare the subject closed. I do however reserve the right to post the picture from time to time.

Why is there a picture of Jetsam below? Because today is the anniversary of his joining the family. If you would like to read about it, the original post is here.

"Would you leave this face in the trash?????"