30 June 2009

Guilty Pleasures

This week: 10 Guilty Pleasures on TV

OK, most of the shows I go out of my way to watch are not ones I would consider to be guilty pleasures. And on occasion, if I am flipping the channel and something catches my eye, I'll sit there and watch it, at least for a little while to see how good or bad (OK, usually bad) it is ...

1. America's Next Top Model - I have actually watched a few complete episodes of this, and find it to be hilarious (I know it's not supposed to be). My favorite was the time they were doing a Q&A with the contestants, and a judge (Twiggy, I think) told the girl that she reminded her of Audrey Hepburn. The girl responded (excitedly), "Oh thank you! I loved her in 'Lunch at Tiffany's!'" Then she realized she had made a mistake and said, "Oh! I mean 'Dinner at Tiffany's!'"

2. Beauty and the Geek - as with the show above, I've seen a few complete episodes of this, and have nearly fallen off the couch laughing. My favorite was the time one of the "beauties" was responding to answers in a History Quiz Challenge. Questioner: Who was the President who wrote the Emancipation Proclamation? Beauty (after much thought): Herbert Hoover? Questioner: No, it was Abraham Lincoln. Beauty (stomping foot): Oh that's right - Herbert Hoover is D-Day!

3. The Biggest Loser - actually not a guilty pleasure per se, but it fascinates me. And it's one of the few reality shows that actually seem to be looking out for the contestants.

4. South Park - rude and stupid. But "Helen Keller the Musical" is classic!

5. Family Guy - rude and stupid. But they get in some good digs and get away with it.

6. It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia - ridiculous and wrong. But so worth it.

7. Dexter - should I really like a show about a serial killer? Especially one who you worry will actually be caught?

8. Dr Phil/Jerry Springer/Montel Williams/ - I can't usually stomach an entire episode of any of these types of shows, but a few minutes of Which Man is My Baby's Daddy?, or My Daughter is a Slut Because I Dress Sexy, etc. makes you feel a lot better about yourself.

9. Charlie's Angels (first season with Farrah - RIP) - occasionally I'll come across a rerun of this. Oh my God - such hair! Such dialogue! Such plots!

10. Hawaii Five-O - once again, an occasional rerun. Jack Lord had such range - he could act every emotion from A to B. "Book 'em, Danno!" (Why didn't Danno ever just let him have it??) And it was just so lame in every other way ...

That was fun! Any winners you'd like to mention?

26 June 2009

Three Day Weekend!

I have really been looking forward to this weekend, since I have today, tomorrow, and Sunday off - that hasn't happened in months, plus since the middle of May, I've been working both days of every weekend. So what luxury to be able to be leisurely for so long ... Plus, The Tim has been on vacation this week, so we have some whole days together to drive each other nuts!

Today was an excellent mix of accomplishing things and taking time to relax. I have a list in my head of what I would like to do, but have decided that it will only happen if I am inclined to do it. Tomorrow we are getting up early to head to the shore for most of the day. It will be my first visit this summer, so I can't wait!

A couple of other things I'm still hoping to do this weekend are finish the knitting on Dotty, so that I can make an appointment with Lisa or someone else at Rosie's to help me cut the steeks, etc. Just a few more rounds are left ...

I also want to cast-on and get going on the second Jaywalker sock. Hopefully this one will not take me more than a year to complete!

And oh, remember this?

An ill-fated project from the start. I say "ill-fated" because I started it over at least five times before I got this far. Then I put it aside for about a year, since I was working on socks for holiday gifts. Then I picked it up about a month ago, determined to get moving on it again.

But you know what? The pattern was still annoying to me, and I just hated working on it. So on one of my last days off work, I frogged it.

Yes, I know I'm the one who started a Clapotis KAL. It's a beloved/popular pattern, and some of the ones I've seen have been gorgeous. Others in the KAL finished - some even made more than one - but now I'm giving up. It would have been nice to get it knitted IF I had been enjoying it. But I wasn't, and so now it's history. Maybe someday I'll want to give it a try again, but for now - RIP, Clapotis.

I do, however, have an idea of what I want to do with the yarn. I saw this pattern, and fell in love. I think the yarn would work well with it, so I ordered the pattern, and am hoping to do some swatching soon.

Maybe even this weekend ...

23 June 2009

Go Team!

Once again, it's Ten on Tuesday time. This week's topic:

10 Favorite Sports Moments Ever

I will admit that I am a sports fan, even though I often rail against organized sports and the money, violence, etc. Then a team I like is playing and all of a sudden I'm yelling at the top of my lungs, "Kill him and get the ball!" When I was in eighth grade, my dream was to be a sportswriter. That was pre-Title IX, so it was doomed to remain a dream.

Anyway, here they are, in no particular order:

1. The Pittsburgh Penguins beat the Detroit Red Wings for this year's Stanley Cup championship! (My first hockey game that I attended in person was long ago, but it was the Pittsburgh Penguins, and it was incredibly exciting. Up until then, I didn't think hockey was interesting at all - but seeing it live made all the difference!)

2. The Phillies win the 2008 World Series!!!!! (Worth every nail-bite and late night involved.)

3. The Pittsburgh Steelers win the 2009 Super Bowl, making them six-time winners, an NFL record. (Another nail-biter, and once again, worth it.)

4. Franco Harris' Immaculate Reception in 1972, in a game between the Steelers and the Oakland Raiders. (Go Number 32!)

5. The Pittsburgh Pirates win the 1971 and 1979 World Series. (The days of Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell ...)

6. The New York Mets win the 1969 World Series. (This is when the Mets were plain awful, even on their best days. This is also the last sporting event that I watched with my father before he died (a month later) and for about three days afterwards, he kept saying excitedly, "I just can't believe they did it!")

7. Secretariat winning the 1973 Triple Crown. (He was the first horse to win the Triple Crown in my lifetime, so it was particularly exciting!)

8. Brandi Chastain scoring the winning goal in the 1999 Soccer World Cup with a penalty kick.

9. The 1980 Men's Olympic Hockey Team wins the Gold Medal at the Olympics.

10. Anytime/every time that someone beats the Dallas Cowboys!

So, you may have noticed a lot of my favorite moments are related to Pittsburgh sports teams, and I live in Philadelphia ... well, I am originally from Wheeling, West Virginia, and though we moved a lot, the Pittsburgh teams were always our "local" team. We may have also liked whatever teams played wherever else we were living, but Pittsburgh still had our primary allegiance.

21 June 2009

Happy Father's Day!

I found this image while poking around online for a picture representing Father's Day - this was listed as a "Free Vintage Father's Day Card," and well, I think it just speaks for itself ...

(I don't necessarily think it's saying anything about Father's Day, but honestly, would you keep looking after you found it???)

I hope those of you who celebrated with someone special to you had at least this much fun.

17 June 2009

Penitentiary Life, Week 12

"Don't you get scared, working here?"

I get this question from visitors to Eastern State at least four or five times a week. And the short answer is no, I don't get scared. Which is saying quite a lot, as I am at heart a true chicken.

Last week, I got this question from an elderly woman, who was with her daughter and her grandson (I know this for certain because she told me ... in great detail). When I gave her my usual answer, she asked me why, and I said it was because I felt like I knew my way around well enough that I wouldn't be likely to get lost. And that's true, a lot of the time when something scares me, it's because I am not familiar with it at all, and if it's a place, I don't like the idea of not knowing exactly where I am. Anyway, she mentioned that she thought it was a scary place, and though she was enjoying touring with her family, she would never, ever want to come back.

When she told me that, it made me think about some of the people who have come to visit, and seemed to be really hesitant upon arrival. They often turn out to be the most enthusiastic about the place when they are leaving, saying that they will have to come back, bring their friends, etc.

I then remembered a trip about 20 years ago, to San Francisco. As one of our day excursions, we visited Alcatraz. I really enjoyed it, and found the whole place to be eerily fascinating, but I do recall being relieved when we got on the boat to head back to the city. The idea of an abandoned prison was interesting to me as far as the historical aspects of the place, and from having read about it and seen movies like "The Birdman of Alcatraz." But I was creeped out, thinking of the people who had probably lived in those cells, and what they had done to end up there. I was shocked to learn that there was a school there, for the children of people who worked there as guards, cooks, etc.

So now, here I am, a tour guide at an abandoned, historic prison. I have met some of the individuals, and/or members of their families, who either worked at Eastern State, or were incarcerated there while it was an active prison. For those people, it was where they worked, or where they lived with their families (for a while, the warden and his family lived on site), or where they spent a lot of years serving their sentences. They tell their stories just like the rest of us do, when we talk about family vacations, moving and going to a new school, or getting a new job.

Did I ever imagine myself in this type of place, talking about prison life and inmate activities as part of my job? Nope. But as a result, I have learned that the world can be even more interesting when you aren't scared.*

*(Now, if only I weren't still scared of the other 10,000 things that worry me ...)

16 June 2009

Thoughts on a Bloomsday

Today is Bloomsday, which is a day we always mark in some way or another in our house. As you may remember, the first cat that The Tim and I had after we were married was named Molly Bloom, as we had determined that her actual birthday was close to, or actually on, June 16. She was truly a cat among cats, and at a minimum, every year on this day we drink a toast to her memory.

An hour or so ago, I received an e-mail from my sister Nancy, who lives in California, to let me know that this morning, she had to have her cat, Skitzy, put to sleep. I never got to meet Skitzy, but in pictures she was a very pretty Maine Coon, and stories about her made her sound like she had quite a personality. The Tim got to meet her once, and said she was quite sweet and affectionate. Anyway, Nancy mentioned in her e-mail that she knew that Skitzy was failing, but it was still a hard day. Which is completely understandable to me.

And it got me to thinking about pets, people, and loss. For The Tim and I, Molly Bloom was our first cat together, and his first cat ever. She moved around with us, traveled with us, played with us, attacked us, and was always available to comfort us. We still miss her, even though now it's been about 10 years since she died. Because she was part of our family, as all of our pets have been, and as any pets I had growing up were. Nancy and her family have also had other cats, but that doesn't mean that Skitzy's death is any less sad for them.

I know, for instance, that Skitzy kept Nancy company when her husband was working late, or out of town, especially now that her kids are grown and live elsewhere. We are enough alike that I know that she probably spent a lot of her time at home talking to Skitzy, about anything and everything.

Like people, pets are each one unique. Often times they are luckier than people in death, as I believe Skitzy was. Doesn't each of us wish that in our last conscious moments, we could have the ones who mean the most to us right there with us? To be surrounded by the ones who you love, and who love you and have given you the best life they could? As far as I'm concerned, this must be the meaning of the term I have heard, a "happy death." We should all be so lucky when our turn comes around.

And so I ask you to raise a glass today on Bloomsday, in honor and memory of not only Skitzy, but all of the sweethearts in our lives that have made them funnier, sweeter, more worth living, and always more interesting.

14 June 2009

Things I've Just Realized in the Last Hour Or So

  • Today is Sunday, not Saturday.

  • Today is June 14, which is Flag Day in the U.S. As I was walking to work this morning, I kept wondering why there were so many flags out, since it was Saturday, June 13, instead of Sunday, June 14, which is Flag Day. (see #1)

  • Regardless of which day of the weekend it is, I have forgotten to send a birthday card to The Tim's sister Kathy, whose birthday was yesterday, and who always remembers to send us cards.

  • Yesterday (which actually was Saturday, June 13) was Worldwide Knit in Public Day. I forgot. But since I was at work anyhow, I couldn't have done much about it. Still, it would have been nice to have remembered ...

  • There's a load of towels in the dryer. Fortunately, they are dry, but they've been there since last Thursday night.

  • We need cat food. If I don't remember to stop tomorrow on my way home from work, it will not be pretty!

  • I am this*close to finishing Dotty. But I won't be able to head up to Rosie's to have Lisa help me slice and dice the steeks for at least two more weeks, since she is only there on Tuesdays, and I can't make it the next two Tuesdays.

  • James (Halden and Ben's little boy, and Doughboy's brother) turns a year old this coming Saturday, and we can't go to his party, because I will be at work and Tim will be taking Seb to summer camp.

  • I need to finish James' birthday present, so I can mail it to him. (So far, I have the concept. And some of the materials. )

  • Seb is going to summer camp next week, so we won't see him for 6 weeks!

  • Tomorrow will mark halfway through the month of June.

I really need to start paying more attention ...

10 June 2009

Penitentiary Life, Week 11

Last week was a real winner, as I had interactions with visitors to Eastern State who just did not fall into the "typical" category. Each one was memorable in their own way, and in my heart of hearts I hope that if they visit again, it happens on my day off ...

First up, The Sleeping Visitor. One of the things we do as tour guides besides the general history tours is what is called a Topic Tour. It's a 30-minute talk/tour with a specific aspect of prison life or history, and they are open to anyone visiting the site. As I was preparing to get started on one of my topic tours last week, I noticed a man in the back row, who was not just asleep, but snoring. I guess his wife saw the surprised expression on my face, because she said I should just ignore him, since he was "very tired and doesn't like to have to get up." That was fine, except that there is a point in the tour where the group moves to a spot outside. The wife wanted to just leave her husband, but I told her that wouldn't be possible, as everyone had to leave the cellblock when the group moved outside. So she was forced to wake him up, and she was right - he wasn't happy to have his beauty sleep interrupted. He complained the whole route to the outside, and then at the end of the tour, when I asked if anyone had questions, he said, "This is the stupidest waste of time ever, and is not worth $12.00." (Admission fee is $12.00.)

(Whereas, falling asleep and snoring when you are supposed to be taking a tour is not stupid at all ...)

Next was a guy I like to call The Visionary Visitor. I was stationed at one of the cellblocks, and as he passed by, he mentioned that he thought the penitentiary was an interesting place. Then he told me that it was valuable property in a good location in the city, and that it was just "time to move on," because the place was a dump. It seemed silly to him that the entire place was in ruins, and used for tours, when it was "obvious" that with "just a little bit of fixing up," it would be an excellent place to house the homeless! The added benefit being that since the wall surrounding the penitentiary was so high, no one on the outside would have to see them all of the time. It could, he claimed, only help the city's image as a tourist destination!

(Wow. I can see the headline now: "Philly moves homeless behind walls to former penitentiary site - sees tourist visits skyrocket!" I sure hope he is on the Planning Commission.)

Moving on, we have the Wildlife Expert Visitor. A woman wearing a "Shoot 'Em and Let God Sort 'Em Out" t-shirt stopped me to ask why there are a lot of cat statues around the penitentiary, but no real cats. She said that if we kept cats, we wouldn't have pigeons, mice, or rats around. I mentioned that there wasn't really enough staff to make sure the cats were cared for properly, and that they wouldn't be in danger of contacting rabies from other animals that were around. She said that if they seemed to have rabies, we could just kill them. Then I mentioned that a hawk did live on site, and did a lot of hunting. To which she responded, "Hawks are filthy animals, and carry more diseases than rats. You should bring your gun to work and shoot it."

(I didn't want to tell her that my gun had been taken away from me months ago, when I had tried to shoot an annoying visitor.)

Finally, The Artist. A guy who looked to be in his 30s, carrying a lot of photography equipment asked me when we were going to get rid of the cat statues, because every single time he had tried to take a photograph during his visit, "there was a cat statue in the way." (Apparently he was not able to take photographs at any other locations at the prison.) I mentioned that they were part of one of our art installations, and he said, "That is not art. I'm an artist, and I don't want fake art messing up my work."

(Isn't fake art infuriating? As far as I'm concerned, if it isn't on velvet, I'm not even bothering to look.)

One thing I have to say about people, they never disappoint. If I spent all of my waking hours really trying, I couldn't come up with stuff like this ...

09 June 2009

It's All About Me!

I skipped last week's Ten on Tuesday because I had no clue ... but this week the topic is "10 Favorite Things to Do During 'Me' Time," and since I do participate in "Me" time whenever I can, I thought it would be fun to list ten things. Please note, however, that in spite of the fact that people assume that all of my time is devoted to myself because I don't have children, that is not the case. (Sorry if I seem touchy about that, but I really get sick of people saying things like that to me.)

Anyway, here you go:

10 Favorite Things to Do During "Me" Time

1. Knit.

2. Read.

3. Bake/cook.

4. Take a bicycle ride.

5. Take a walk.

6. Play with the cats (and with Doughboy if he is visiting).

7. Watch a movie. (My very favorite version of this activity is when it's a cold, wintry day, and I can sit on the couch with a pillow, a cup of tea, an apple, and at least one cat while watching a Killer Movie. A Killer Movie is an old movie that is either very dramatic, or so incredibly bad/stupid that it's a classic in my mind.)

8. Write notes or letters.

9. Go window-shopping (at my LYS or anywhere else, really).

10. Listen to music.

Some of these, of course, can be combined, but they are also things I enjoy in and of themselves. What about you?

06 June 2009

May Book Report

OK, here is my book report for May. Instead of dividing it into two parts like I did for April, it's here as one long post. I don't know which works better, feel free to let me know in the comments section. Another option would be to direct you to my comments on Goodreads, via a link for each title. (Who knows, maybe I'll try that next month ...)

I have marked any of the books that I have to give away with an asterisk (*) at the title. Let me know if you are interested, either by leaving a comment, or sending me an e-mail at thekittyknitterATverizonDOTcom, by the end of the day on Monday, June 8, 2009.

The Lost Dog, by Michelle de Kretser. This was a book that sounded interesting from the info on the dust jacket, and I enjoyed reading it. The story is written mainly from the viewpoint of Tom Loxley, a grown man who currently lives in Australia, but spent many of his growing up years in India. At the beginning of the book, his dog runs away, having broken the knot in the rope that tied him up. Loxley is afraid of what might happen to his dog, lost in the Australian bush, and sets out to try and find him.

He ends up being helped by Nelly Zhang, an artist he knows and with whom he is smitten. We get to know Nelly and her artistic friends, as well as learning the story of Nelly's husband, who mysteriously disappeared years ago. Tom Loxley becomes obsessed with her story, and wants to determine whether or not she may have killed her husband.

Also playing a large role in the book is Tom's mother, Iris, who is living in the guest house of a relative as she declines from age, and what sounds to be Alzheimer’s.

I enjoyed this book, as it was different from a lot of others I have read. The descriptions of Tom Loxley's childhood in India, and the Australia which is still so strange to him, were well written and interesting. His swings of mood regarding whether or not he will find the dog (who is never actually given a name in the book) seem real, especially if you have ever had a pet suddenly disappear. The story goes back and forth between the present day and the past, weaving the lives of the characters into the plot fairly seamlessly.

I found these two passages from the book to be particularly striking:

(When Tom is remembering how Nelly told him about different homes in the Artists' Preserve, where she had her home and studio)

"To possess a city fully, it is necessary to have known it as a child, for children bring their private cartography to the mapping of public spaces. The chart of Tom's secret emblems was differently plotted. Oceans separated from the sites featured on it."

(And this one especially, when someone talks to him about the possibility of never finding the dog)

"'There's a limit to how much you can do ... It's not like losing a kiddie, is it? Count your blessings he's only a dog.'

Love without limits was reserved for only his species. To display great affection for an animal invariably invoked censure. Tom felt ashamed to admit to it. It was judged excessive: overflowing a limit that was couched in philosophical distinction, as the line that divided the rational, human creature from all others. Animals, deemed incapable of reason, did not deserve the same degree of love."

This story intrigued me enough that I am likely to try and read some of de Krester's other work to see if she is someone I want to follow.

American Bloomsbury: Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry David Thoreau: Their Lives, their Loves, Their Work, by Susan Cheever. Oh how I enjoyed this book! I knew bits and pieces about Alcott, Emerson, Hawthorne, and Thoreau, but it was so interesting to read about them on a more "personal" level. I was not at all familiar with Margaret Fuller, so I was fascinated to learn what an important woman she was, particularly for the literary types of the nineteenth century.

The book is divided into sections, and each character has a chapter related to them within the section. Sometimes you are seeing a situation from the point of view of several of the individuals, which is interesting since they are all there at the same time, so you don't need to remember to follow-up later. (Because I am lazy about following-up ...)

I had no idea how Emerson was so much a part of creating the intellectual group that lived in Concord, Massachusetts, and he must have been truly committed to the whole idea, when you read in this book what things he experienced as a result of loans to his literary friends.

When I was in college, I had the opportunity to visit Concord during a visit to my cousin's in Boston. We toured the Alcott House, but now I really want to return and have a "closer" look at the whole town!

One of my favorite passages is from the beginning, where they describe the Alcott family's arrival to Concord. It quotes Louisa May's journal as listing the vices she wants to overcome: "idleness, willfulness, impudence, pride, and love of cats" !!! (Italics mine.)

*Farewell My Queen: A Novel, by Chantal Thomas. This book was given to me by a friend. The story is told from the perspective of a woman who is the Reader to the Queen, Marie Antoinette. The story is remembered from the perspective of 1810, in Vienna, and covers the story of the last days of the court at Versailles in 1789, when the French Revolution started.

This was an interesting read, as it was told from the perspective of someone who is part of the court, but not one of the higher ranking indviduals. Marie Antoinette is presented as a woman who is one person to the public, and another - more caring - person to those who are directly in her orbit.

I found this to be an interesting book, since others I have read about this time were written from the perspective of history, automatically condemning Marie Antoinette. This time, we are given a queen who is more approachable, even if she, and the other royals, have no real understanding of the average person's existence. They are presented as people who were raised with the strong belief that they were not ordinary, and knew what was right for the population at large.

The book covers the dates of July 14 through July 16, when the last members of the court leave Versailles. It is a fascinating story of the hierarchy of those serving the king and queen, and the sort of amazement that the characters feel when they realize they are dealing with those "below" them. For instance, this passage:

"Close the gates: very well, but who would go out and give orders to that effect? It was for the King to give such comnands. Before daybreak. BAut how could he be reached? It would be best if one of us went instead. The mole catcher volunteered. It was unanimously agreed that, however great might be the chaos confronting us, a mole catched could not the bearer of a royal order."

This is what the main character is thinking. Meanwhile, I'm thinking, "There was a MOLE CATCHER as part of the court?????"

The book is not necessarily high and mighty literature, but it is very readable and very interesting.

Olive Kitteridge: A Novel in Stories, by Elizabeth Strout. This was a really interesting book, not just because of the main character, Olive Kitteridge, but because of the way it progressed. Instead of what I was expecting - a narrative novel - the book is a series of short stories, where Olive and her husband, Henry, as well as their son, Christopher, are sometimes the main characters, and other times just mentioned as part of the story.

It takes place in a town called Crosby, Maine, and Olive is a retired schoolteacher, and Henry is a retired pharmacist. Except for one of the stories, they all take place in the small Maine town where they live. Olive is a pretty complex character, not necessarily likable, but extremely well-drawn. You're never really sure that you would like her if you knew her, but you come to understand her a lot more as the stories progress.

I liked this book for the development of the relationship the reader has with the various characters, and for its portrayal of a woman who is not always a sympathetic character, but never seems false.

*The Best of Friends, by Joanna Trollope. Here is another book I read this month that I ended up liking more at the end than I did when I started reading it. It covers the period of one summer into the fall, when two families lives changed drastically, throwing their individual and mutual universes into total chaos. In the beginning, I felt it was going to be a little too soap-opera-ish for my taste, but things improved.

The story deals with two families, who are friends primarily because the husband (Laurence) in one and the wife (Gina) in another have been best friends since they were in high school. The character driving the story is Gina and Fergus' daughter, Sophy, who is devastated and angry when her father suddenly announces that he and her mother are separating. They always seemed to be at one another's throats, but Sophy cannot believe that they are breaking up. As the story develops, the relationships of all the characters to each other change quite a bit, sometimes unexpectedly, and usually with very sad consequences.

As I said earlier, it started out like a soap opera plot, and though it still contained some of that type of story, the narrative was effective enough to make you wonder what would happen next. The characters are pretty well-drawn, and fairly complex, and the story creates as many questions as are resolved by the end.

Not great, not awful, and slightly thought-provoking.

*The Little Stranger, by Sarah Waters. This book surprised me, by turning out to be one that really made me think. At the beginning, I wasn't even sure that I wanted to read it!

The story takes place in rural Warwickshire, England, in the time just after World War II. Dr. Faraday (the narrator), finds himself called to look after a patient at Hundreds Hall, the family estate of the Ayres family. As a child, his mother worked in the nursery, and he recalls fondly the time he was there to receive a medal from Mrs. Ayres, and his mother took him inside the house.

The intervening years have not been kind to the house or the family. Colonel Ayres is long dead, and Susan, the oldest daughter, had died as a child from diphtheria. Her mother never really recovered, though she had two more children, Caroline and Roderick. Dr. Faraday is called to look in on Roderick, who was injured - both physically and mentally as we learn - in the war. Caroline has been called home to help care for him, as their mother is elderly by this time.

The estate is physically in ruins, and barely being kept afloat. Dr. Faraday begins a friendly relationship with the Ayres family, and by turns they all begin to confide in him. However, strange things begin to happen, first to Roderick, and then eventually to everyone. Though Dr. Faraday scoffs at the idea, the family firmly believes that there is some kind of presence in the house that taunts them, and eventually, though he finds no scientific evidence to indiate they are right, the turn of events makes him wonder if such things really are possible.

The book at first seemed like it might be a little too cliche - the lower-class doctor becomes friends with the estate family, but eventually he is put in his place by them. Instead, the story takes a few twists and turns, and ultimately ends up being a suspenseful story that makes you think about what you do and don't believe, and about the relationships you have with other people, particularly your family.

It's not the best-written book I've ever read, but the author does a nice job of evoking time and place. The characters are more believable than I expected, and when I finished the book, I sat for a while and gave some thought to what I think/believe about "ghosts" and the spirit world, and how family relationships can sometimes be the one thing you always go back to, regardless of what else you have done in your life.

Overall, I think it was a good story, and I really enjoyed reading it.

*The Exploits & Adventures of Miss Alethea Darcy: A Novel, by Elizabeth Aston. A friend gave me this book, and I figured it would be an OK read. It was, but just *barely* OK, in my opinion. The main character is Alethea Darcy Napier, one of the daughters of Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. She has made an unfortunate marriage, as a result of being on the rebound from a relationship where her intended married another woman. Her husband, who is much older, and named Norris Napier, won her with his admiration of her musical talents. But it turns out that he is a terrible person, wanting to control every aspect of her life, and treating her very poorly.

As the book opens, Alethea and her maid Figgins are sneaking out of the estate house dressed as men to flee to Venice, where Alethea hopes to stay with her husband Camilla and her husband, who she feels will understand her predicament and help her. During the course of the book, they end up traveling with a group of other English people, one of whom immediately recognizes Alethea and is curious about why she is traveling dressed as a man.

I will admit that even though I wasn't crazy about this book, I read it to see what would happen. Overall, it was pretty predictable and the characters did/said/acted the way you would expect. I found it hard to believe that a girl/woman like Alethea would be the daughter of Lizzie and Mr. Darcy, because it just didn't seem to fit, as far as I am concerned. True, it brings into the limelight the position of women in the society of the time, and the limitations to their behavior and personal power, but that didn't work for me to move the story along.

The character of Norris Napier seemed to be simply a way to get to a story. (Besides, who the **** would marry someone with that name???) We never really get an idea of him, other than as an ogre. And the character that becomes involved with Alethea, Mr. Titus Manningtree, is so transparent, it isn't hard to guess what might happen.

I've read worse books, but this one just wasn't worth the effort in the end.

The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver. This is a book I had tried to start reading when it was first published, but for whatever reason, it just didn't hold my interest. At the time I remember thinking I was the only person not sucked in to its popularity, and really couldn't figure out why other people thought it was so great. At the library a few weeks ago, I saw it, and thought I'd give it another try. I am so glad that I did! This time the story completely engaged me, and I could barely put the book down to do things like eat a and sleep.

The story of the Price family, and their missionary venture to what was then the Belgian Congo in 1959, is told from the viewpoints of the wife and daughters of Nathan Price, a Baptist missionary who is a megalomaniac. The chapters are each narrated by one of the family members - Orleanna, his wife; or, Rachel, Leah, Adah, and Ruth May, the daughters who he is so disappointed in, mainly because they are not sons.

I have always thought that anyone choosing the life of a missionary must be different from the rest of us. Especially in the late nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries, when some of the places they were sent were literally terra icongita. I will also admit to being more understanding of those who were medical or educational missionaries, and somewhat suspicious of those who were religious missionaries. This is largely because I have a personal suspicion of people whose main goal in life seems to be forcing me (or anyone else) to listen to what they have to say about their God, with the implication that anyone's current belief system is wrong or misguided. So the character of Nathan, who is one of those people who is ALWAYS right, and expects everyone else to defer to him, is the type of character whose downfall I usually relish. At the end of the book, I felt that since he did not likely think he had been defeated, nothing had been learned on his part.

His wife and daughters, however, were a different story. For the most part they were products of their time and Southern upbringings, so it was not surprising that they felt that the native Congolians were lesser beings. But it was interesting to read the changes in how they felt, what they thought they could learn, and how they had changed by the end of the book.

The story put me in mind of another book, The Mosquito Coast, by Paul Theroux. The characters of the fathers, who take their families into alien territories, and have the need to control everyone and everything, were very similar, though the father in the Theroux book was moving his family to South America to return to a simpler way of life, rather than to preach on behalf of any organized religion.

I found this book to be really interesting, but also disturbing. It always astounds me when I read a book where one person totally rules the lives of the rest of the family. When the story is set in an earlier place and time, I do at least recognize that the characters are products of society at the time. But I cannot for the life of me understand how any woman could be so under the control of her husband that she had no say in what their life was to be.

In the end, I'm glad I gave it another try. And my respect for Barbara Kingsolver's talent has only increased after reading this.

Gilead: A Novel, by Marilynne Robinson. I read this book right after I finished The Poisonwood Bible, and what a contrast in religious characters! Where the father in the Kingsolver book is a religious control freak, the main character in this book is an older man who has been a minister his entire life, writing a letter to his young son, since the elder is dying from heart disease.

From a story of a family that traveled across the world, I came next to this story, which takes place for the most part in Gilead, Iowa. John Ames, an older man whose first wife and daughter died years ago, has married a younger woman, and they have a son. Ames fears that his son will be too young to remember him at all, and begins to write to him, not only to tell his life story, but to let him know how important his family, friends, and life in general were to him. He is hoping that his son will read it and understand things that only his father would have been able to tell him.

Most of the characters in this book seemed very real to me. The pace of the story seemed true to the way a person thinks, and how one thought can trail off into another whole topic or experience. I thought the language was beautiful, and I also felt like I could picture John, his son, his wife, their cat, and the other people who moved the story along.

The book was spiritual, since Ames is a minister from a family of ministers, but it is not preachy. Rather, as you read it, you are reminded of universal truths, and you start to pay more attention to the world around you.

One of the statements that the character of John Ames makes really stuck out. He is talking about the part of a person's life when they have grown up, and he encourages his son to live his life in an attentive way, because "adulthood is so fleeting." I have never heard anyone say this. People say things like life is too short, and that childhood passes before you know it, but adulthood is never spoken of in this manner, at least that I have heard. Upon reading it, I was a little bit surprised to realize that it is completely true.

I am very glad that I read this book, and I know that parts of it will keep me thinking about it for quite a while.

04 June 2009


I haven't done one of these for a while, mostly because some of the topics didn't really "grab" me. But this week's Booking Through Thursday sounded like it would be fun, so here goes:

I saw this over at Shelley's, and thought it would be a great question for all of you:
"This can be a quick one. Don't take too long to think about it. Fifteen books you've read that will always stick with you. First fifteen you can recall in no more than fifteen minutes."

OK, synchronize your watches!

1. Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott.
2. Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe.
3. Black Beauty, by Anna Sewell.
4. The Incredible Journey, by Sheila Burnford.
5. The Cloister Walk, by Kathleen Norris.
6. Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen.
7. The Three Musketeers, by Alexandre Dumas (ok, I'm still reading this but I LOVE it!).
8. David Copperfield, by Charles Dickens (the first Dickens book I ever read).
9. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee.
10. Colored People, by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
11. The Five of Hearts, by Patricia O'Toole.
12. The Country Girls, by Edna O'Brien.
13. Dubliners, by James Joyce.
14. Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley.
15. Ellen Foster, by Kaye Gibbons.

This was fun! It's interesting for me to see the first fifteen things that popped into my head. I wonder what my responses would be on another day ...

Try it yourself, and see what your brain gives you!

03 June 2009

Penitentiary Life, Week 10

Being that it is week number 10, it seemed only appropriate to list what *I* think are the Top Ten Questions People Ask When Visiting Eastern State Penitentiary:

10. Are there any bathrooms other than the Porta-Potty?
(Answer: No. [Why would we direct them there otherwise??])

9. Why don't they fix this place up?
(Answer: The cost would be astronomical. They plan to maintain it as a stablized ruin.)

8. Why are there cat statues everywhere?
(Answer: They are one of the art installations on site, "Ghost Cats.")

7. Was a dog really in prison here?
(Answer: Yes, Pep the Dog. [N.B.: Personally, I believe that Pep was framed!])

6. Were there any famous people who were prisoners here?
(Answer: Yes, the two that most people would know are Willie Sutton and Al Capone.)

5. Did Al Capone die here?
(Answer: No, he died after he was released from Alcatraz, at his home in Miami, from syphilis.)

4. Has a visitor ever mistakenly been left here overnight after you close?
(Answer: No, the tour guides all have different "sweep" routes that have to be completed before we close.)

3. How many people were executed here?
(Answer: None. Cellblock 15 is Death Row, where prisoners awaiting execution would be kept. There is only one prison in the state where there were executions, Rockview.)

2. Has anyone ever tried to escape from here?
(Answer: Yes, there have been numerous escape attempts, but only one person, Leo Callahan, was never caught.)

1. Is it really haunted here/have you ever seen a ghost?
(Answer: I can't truthfully say, I'm not an authority on ghosts exist/no.)

There are, of course, plenty of other questions we get asked by visitors. Some are funny (for example, there is a story that a tour guide was once asked the location of Al Pacino's cell!), and some are kind of strange (like the woman who asked me if they ever invited people to stand in the cellblocks and read poetry for the prisoners during the solitary confinement era). A lot of times people tell me about visiting Alcatraz, and whether they think Eastern State is better or worse (seems to be split about evenly).

Trust me though, nearly every visitor seems to have something to tell or a question to ask. So every day has the potential to be memorable ...

01 June 2009

Deja Vu*

Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while may remember this project:

That's the beginning of a Jaywalker sock, and I started it when we were on vacation in Virginia Beach in - wait for it - 2007! We went on vacation in September, and this was what I had completed when we returned home. Then I had wrist surgery in October 2007, and it got left in WIP-land. For longer than I had planned. But in early 2008, I started on my project to knit socks for Christmas gifts, and it got pushed aside. A few times I recall coming across it, and thinking, "Oh yeah, I really want to finish those, especially since they will be for me."


I picked them up again this summer, and thought there was some kind of mistake, so I ripped back for a bit. As I finished ripping, I realized that there hadn't been a mistake, I had been working on the heel flap the last time I had worked on them!


I was so annoyed with myself, that I put them down again. A couple of weeks ago, I decided that it was ridiculous to keep avoiding the project, so I picked it up again and got moving. By the end of this past weekend, I had this:

One year and 8 months later, I have a completed sock. Not a pair, mind you, just one ... le sigh.

I am, however, back into the swing of the pattern and the project, so I will be getting the second one underway this week. Though it turned out OK, sock #1 will be my "learning curve" sock, so to speak. It's a little bit wonky in places, where I had to rip out to fix something, or where I just wasn't certain what I was suppposed to be doing. I had started these socks before I'd ever tried any pattern besides my basic sock pattern, so almost everything about them was new to me. Between that and the long time between starting and finishing, I'm just pleased that sock #1 looks anything at all like it should!

I hope to have pictures soon of the blocked Silk Kerchief, I'm waiting until I can get The Tim to lend his photographic skills. (Jetsam offered his assistance in blocking it, the dear boy.) But in the meantime, I'm going to be busy with sock #2, which I am determined will be completed soon ...

*I cannot figure out how to make diacritical marks in Blogger. So sue me.