30 December 2010

On the Fifth Day of Christmas ...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

29 December 2010

The Fourth Day of Christmas ...

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

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

Scarf #3
Scarf #4

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

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

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

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

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

26 December 2010

On the Second Day of Christmas ...

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

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


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

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

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

Street plow? Homemade Christmas wreath? 

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

24 December 2010

Merry Christmas!



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

23 December 2010

All Wrapped Up!

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

18 December 2010

... And So This Is Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which means it's all good.

07 December 2010

Holiday Viewing Pleasure

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

10 Favorite Holiday Shows - hooray!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

02 December 2010

The Importance of Being Happy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tomorrow is Friday.

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

26 November 2010

And Then There Were Two ...

... Seafarer's Scarves, that is!  I actually finished knitting this a couple of weeks ago, but due to camera/computer difficulties, didn't manage to upload the picture until the last couple of days.  I'm already well into the third one, so I feel like I'm playing catch-up with this post.  In any event, the FO itself:

PatternSeafarer's Scarf
Yarn: Misti Alpaca Handpaint Suri & Silk. (Again, I don't know the specific colorway, because the ball band was missing ...)
Needles: US 5
Comments: This pattern is great for knitting in front of the TV, or when you feel like your mind is fried otherwise.  It's also a good project if you have interruptions from time to time, 'cause you can always figure out where you left off!  I'm really pleased with how this one turned out, and how the lighter colorway looks different from the previous one I made in a charcoal-gray-ish colorway.


In other news, we had a very enjoyable Thanksgiving.  There was even some snow (for about 5 minutes, but it still counts as far as we are concerned)!  This morning I also created a new (to me) breakfast taste sensation when I took some leftover cranberry sauce and put it into some plain homemade yogurt - YUM! 

The Tim is at work today, and Jetsam and I are doing some laundry, and as soon as I sign off here, will attempt to clean up the computer/craft/stuff room while watching and listening to the second half of the WVU/Pitt football game.  Then tonight, leftovers for dinner, and a cozy evening.

Holidays rock.

25 November 2010


Happy Thanksgiving!

23 November 2010

Gobble Gobble!

Well, it's been a while since I participated, but this week, the topic was one I just could not pass up ...

10 Things You Love About Thanksgiving
1.  It's THANKSGIVING!!!!!
2.  Stuffing!
3.  A day off from work.
4.  It's a cozy day when no one thinks you are weird if you just stay home and enjoy yourself.
5.  The house smells wonderful from all the cooking.
6.  The parade on TV.
7.  The dog show on TV.
8.   Laziness is totally acceptable.
9.  A day with The Tim and Jetsam and no interruptions.
10.  The holiday season starts in earnest at our house!

18 November 2010

It's a Birthday!!!!

Yep, today is The Tim's birthday!  Since we were away and took time off work for that, we are not taking the day off as usual.  But we shall celebrate nonetheless.

Birthday cake? Yep, though he requested a bundt cake with no frosting*, and a little bit of the cake top stuck to the pan.  However, chocolate cake with chocolate chips in is still festive and yummy.

Birthday presents? Also a yes, and hopefully a certain member of the family whose initials are ... Jetsam! will not be able to get to them, thereby chewing any bows, and tearing through the paper.

Birthday dinner? This will happen one way or the other, but it is up to the Birthday Boy to decide if he wants to go out this evening, or have something at home.

It's been busy around here, with our trip, the birthday, and then Thanksgiving next week.  But it's all fun stuff, which means it's a good kind of busy.

So Happy Birthday to my sweetie!

*Ahem.  Birthday cake is *supposed* to be a layer cake with frosting, as far as I"m concerned.  But the rule is that the person who is having the birthday gets to decide what kind of cake/dessert they would like to have ...

08 November 2010

Adios Amigos!

Well, The Tim and I - jet-setters that we are - are on our way this coming Wednesday to our latest adventure!  This coming Saturday, my niece Lauren will be getting married in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, and we'll be there for the big day!

However, even before the big day arrives, there will be festivities and hi-larity as only my family can do it.  The Tim and I are both working half a day on Wednesday, and then we will head to Baltimore to my niece Amanda's and her husband Pat's house.  At the same time, in another area of Baltimore, my sister and brother-in-law, and my niece Annie will be descending on another niece's house.  Then, at 2:30 AM on Thursday morning, a bus will be picking us all up for the trip to Dulles Airport to begin our trek South of the Border. 

So there will be 10 of us altogether - 9 adults, and my great-nephew Zach who is 4 years old.  God help other people who are unfortunate enough to be on the same plane as all of us ... There have already been approximately 1,000 e-mails back and forth regarding wardrobe, food, timing, etc., and that's even before we get there and meet up with my other sister (mother of the bride) and the rest of the family on the West Coast.  Yes, it will be crazy, fun, LOUD, and the first time in years that every single member of the family has been in one place at one time.  Kinda makes me feel sorry for the groom's family ...

The Tim bought me a laptop as an anniversary/Christmas/birthday gift, and it will be making the trip with us, so hopefully I can provide some updates on the craziness ...

I am doing my best to get things organized ahead of time.  But it's really hard to not just pack the stuff you'll need clothing-wise, but the books and knitting that will need to come along.  How does one decide?  Over the past weekend, I changed my mind at least 5 times regarding knitting and reading materials.  But if nothing else, I'm putting a deadline on myself of 8:00 p.m. tomorrow night.  Whatever is put aside then, is what is going ...

Oh - and if you are thinking you will break into all of our houses and steal our valuables while we are gone, well, HA! you're gonna be sadly disappointed.  We are taking any "valuables" with us, and everyone has a cat and/or house sitter lined up.  Therefore, if you have a propensity towards crime, I would strongly suggest that you look elsewhere for satisfaction!

So, adios for now, and hopefully I'll be posting from sunny Mexico the next time you hear from me.

31 October 2010

Happy Halloween!

In honor of Halloween, here's a question for you:

What is a ghost's favorite food? 


Which is what we will be having for dinner, because we are nothing if not festive ... plus, the tomato sauce looks like blooood ...

Also - something FO this way comes:

This was one of the projects I mentioned in a previous post, that was a secret, so I couldn't provide more details.  But the secret, which I call Pink Pirates, has been delivered to its recipient, who seems to be more than happy with it, so now I can show it to you.  Here are the details:

Pattern:   We Call Them Pirates, by Adrian Bizilla (a free pattern, btw)

Yarns:  Black yarn is Dale Baby Ull; pink yarn is Classic Elite Fresco

Needles:  US size 1 and US size 3 (and for me, US size 7 for binding off!)

Modifications:  First of all, the recipient is my friend Lisa, who loves pink - therefore, the white skulls were replaced by pink ones.  At the top decreases, the chart and my stitch count were not meshing, so I improvised and as far as I'm concerned, it turned out just fine.  Also, I made it longer on the bottom.  After taking out the provisional cast-on to make the inside flap, I just added about 8 more rows of the alternating pink and black to make the hat longer, as I wanted to be sure it would completely cover a person's ears.  And, I have no clue how to do a provisional cast-on, so I just knit a few rows in a contrasting yarn, and then took them out when I was ready to do the inside flap. 

Verdict:  I really like this hat and the pattern!  It was fun, not terribly hard to follow, and something good for a person who is relatively new to fairisle.  I could have even had it finished in time for her birthday, if not for a serious bout of laziness and depression.  But, as I said when I sent it to her, at least it's still October ...

Anyway, I would recommend this pattern, and can see myself giving it another go.  And who knows what color those skulls could be the next time???

28 October 2010

Ever Since October 28, 1978 ...

Who knows how long I've loved you?
You know I love you still.
Will I wait a lonely lifetime?
If you want me to, I will.

For if I ever saw you,
I didn't catch your name.
But it never really mattered,
I will always feel the same.

Love you forever, and forever, 
Love you with all my heart.
Love you whenever we're together,
Love you when we're apart.

And when at last I find you,
Your song will fill the air.
Sing it loud so Ican hear you -
Make it easy to be near you - 
For the things you do, endear you to me,
Ah, you know I will.

I will. 

-  I Will , by John Lennon and Paul McCartney

25 October 2010

Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?

Or for that matter, me???  I just realized it's been longer than usual for me between posts.  Nothing drastic, just a couple of weeks that were particularly busy, occasionally uninspiring, and often tiring.  I thought about posts I could write, but couldn't get the thinking to match up with the doing.  Add my regular bouts of extremely excessive laziness, and not much happens ...

But, I was reading Lorraine's blog post a little bit ago, and decided that I wanted to respond to a meme she posted, because I was amused by her answers.  Like her, I'm not going to specifically tag anyone, but if you are so inclined, feel free to write your own post.  However, I do not have as many self-portraits to post as she did - HA!  (BTW, did you know that she is the same Lorraine who designed this?  Love it!  If only she had mentioned that I had given her the idea ... if only I had ... oh well.)

Enough hi-larity - time to tell you 10 Things That I Am Afraid Of:

1.  Being buried alive.  I can't hardly watch anything where part of the plot includes someone being buried alive. 

2.  Clowns. 

3.  Snakes.  Even when someone says, "Oh it's only a harmless garter snake."  Don't get me wrong - snakes have every right to exist and enjoy their snake-y lives.  As long as we are not anywhere near one another.

4.  Millipedes.  Or Centipedes.  Or anything with too many pedes.

5.  Slugs.  I just creeped myself out typing that.

6.  Haunted houses, even if they are incredibly cheesy and beyond fake.  Not a big fan of unexpected things jumping in front of me, onto me, etc. 

7.  Opening the closet when I come home by myself at night.  All because I once watched a movie, where a woman came home, and a friend came in with her to be sure the house was empty, etc.  The friend left, the woman went upstairs to get ready for bed, and as she left the closet door open while going into the bathroom to brush her teeth, the killer came out from behind her clothes. 

8.  Not being able to breathe.  Occasionally, I will wake up having an ashtma attack.  The fact that I can't breathe causes an anxiety attack, and then I get another anxiety attack thinking I won't be able to breathe ever again, and on and on. 

9.  The Tea Party movement.  'Nuff said.

10.  Great White Sharks.  Long stupid story about this one, but I am not going into it here and now because I'm kinda creeped out just thinking about everything I've written ...

And what about you, my pretties???? [insert maniacal laughter ...]

10 October 2010


You're not really surprised now, are you?  Like I would miss posting on such an auspicious date!

I don't have any knitting-related pictures to show you, but can assure you that I am moving right along on a few of my previously mentioned or alluded to projects.  I am also currently thinking that I should try knitting this for myself, as I think it is attractive, and something I would wear pretty regularly.  Having said that, I also think that I need to finish something else before even thinking about what yarn I would/could use.  But I'm enjoying having it in my brain in the meantime.

Three birthdays today!  My niece Lauren, who is getting married next month (family road trip!); Tim's brother Bob, who is LOTS older than both of us (but strangely has no grey hair ... that shows through the hair dye); and, one of my very best friends in the universe, Lisa!  Plus, yesterday, I met a very sweet Pembroke Corgi who was celebrating his 10th birthday today, which I think must make him an extremely special pup!

Even better, I have a day off tomorrow, so this is only the middle day of my weekend. 

At the moment, life is good.  I hope you can say the same.  :-)

"Puh-leeze!  Let's see that "special" Corgi do this!"

03 October 2010


We are now in the third day of October, which is one of my very favorite months for several reasons:  it is a month that makes me feel that fall has really arrived;  it is the start of the so-called Birthday Marathon in my family (22 birthdays between October 1 and December 20!); for the past few years - and this one as well - the Phillies have been in the playoffs and/or the World Series (!!!!); it is the month of my anniversary; and of course, October ends with Halloween, which means that the fall/winter season of holidays has begun, and I can put out my various [cheesy] decorations pretty much non-stop through the end of the year.

This year in particular, I am happy to see October, because it places me that much further from the Summer of 2010, or as it is known to me, The Summer of  Enormous Sucktitude That I Hope Will Never Be Repeated

Of course, October is also Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which means that PINK is everywhere!  The color pink and I have always had a rather difficult relationship.  I do love certain shades of pink, but during this month, the pink that is generally used is the Pepto-Bismol shade of pink which makes me nauseous (ironic, no?).  Also, pink makes me a little bit uneasy, since when I was growing up, pink always meant girls and blue always meant boys.  This made me want to scream even as a child, since I was apparently a feminist from the get-go, and the whole gender-color thing was more than just annoying.  There are also not many shades of pink that I can wear on my person, since it tends to make me look like a big pink blob o' flesh, as there is a lot of pink in my complexion (oh who am I kidding, I have rosacea, so it's really more red.  But you get my point).   During October, though, pink is also used for marketing purposes on nearly every type of product you can imagine.  (Seriously.  Purina Cat Chow.  Really?)

I have a very close friend whose birthday is in October, and she rails against Breast Cancer Awareness Month ruining her birthday and Halloween.  I have tried to tell her to just ignore it and move on the way she usually does, but I know that something that you really can't stand can often be hard to ignore no matter how hard you try.  (I'm looking at you, Michael Vick.)

So yeah.  Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  Pink is everywhere.  Get a mammogram.  Join the sisterhood of survivors and women (and men) who care and want to stamp out this terrible disease.  Wear pink, buy pink, empower yourself with pink.  I have to admit, it kinda makes me want to throw up.

Except that I really can't be against all of the things in the above paragraph.  As you may or may not know, all of the pink-ness of October and the surrounding clamor about curing breast cancer has only been beneficial to me personally.  Many years ago, before anyone would even mention cancer out loud - particularly breast cancer - my mother was diagnosed, and eventually ended up dying from bone cancer after her initial cancer metastized there.  She was part of a clinical trial for a new drug called Nolvadex, which was hopefully going to revolutionize the treatment of breast cancer.  It didn't help her, as her cancer was too advanced by the time she entered the trial, but that drug eventually became Tamoxifen, which is one of the regular tools these days in the treatment of breast cancer. 

This past August, I officially ended my five-year relationship with tamoxifen.  To the world, I am one of the thousands of lucky ones, a breast cancer survivor.  And I do consider myself to be done with breast cancer, though I hesitate to call myself a survivor out loud, since that just seems like tempting fate to me.  Cancer of any type is insidious, and often just when you have started to feel comfortable that you will never make its acquaintance again, it returns with a vengeance.  And, as many of my friends and relatives know, I have a personal theory that there are certain things you just don't say out loud, or they will get out into the universe and get you.  (Work with me here, it's just one of my own weird beliefs, based on enough personal experience to make it true a lot of the time ...)

So, here we are again, ready to enjoy October, and all of the good things about it, while also being bombarded with PINK and Breast Cancer Awareness.  Yeah, it kinda bugs me, as I do not identify myself solely based on any diseases I may have or may have had; and I'm not much for "sisterhood" stuff in any aspect of my life.  (It makes me feel like bugs are crawling on me to be honest.)

But that is just too damn bad.  Because I am grateful for Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  I am grateful for Pink, and the symbolism that reminds people that all is not well in our universe, be it because breast cancer is still around, or because any disease or situation still exists that takes people away from their families and friends.  I am a direct recipient of the power of Pink, and what incredible progress has been made since my mother was a breast cancer patient.  I am grateful in ways that words cannot express, even if I'm also cynical about it all.  (This is consistent behavior as I am cynical about everything else as well.) 

And as a result, I am still here to tell you why October is a good month.  So to anyone reading this who has ever. done. anything. to contribute to the study of how best to treat breast cancer, I would like to say a huge and heartfelt Thank You!  I am more than aware that I am here both as a result of the grace of God and the generosity of strangers. 

I am lucky and I know it.  Now you do too.

22 September 2010

A Flurry of FOs and a Slew of Startitis!

You know how sometimes, even if you have been working on projects for a while, they seem to suddenly be finished all at once?  It doesn't happen to me a lot, since I tend to stick with one project for a while, but there are exceptions and here are two of them.

First up:  a pair of socks, this time for ME!

I started these back in June, and for a long time they lived in my locker at work, so progress was rather slow.  But once I finished sock #1, I decided that I would work on them at home also, which needless to say, made it possible to finish them sooner rather than later. 

I call them Dublin Parrots.  Here is the relevant info for those who may be interested.

Pattern:  Dublin Bay Socks
Yarn:  Black Bunny Fibers Superwash Merino Classic, colorway Parrot.
Needles:  US 1 1/2
Comments:  I have had this pattern in mind for this yarn for a long time.  I finally decided that I wanted to knit myself a pair of socks, and thought it was time to put these together.  I thought the pattern would be much more difficult than it was, but once I got started, it wasn't hard to memorize the lacy part.  They are comfy and I love the little lace inset along the side of the legs.  I do have quite a bit of the yarn left, so I may make a hat or mittens for a kiddo from the remainder.

Next, something I am calling Variations on a Theme 1:

So named because I am planning to make 4 of these for gifts - one will be for The Tim, who has informed me that he gets first dibs once all of them are knitted.

Pattern:  Seafarers' Scarf
Yarn:  Misti Alpaca Handpaint Suri & Silk.  (I don't know the specific colorway, because the ball band was missing ...)
Needles:  US 5
Comments:  This is such a nice pattern, particularly for variegated or handpainted yarn.  It knits up quickly, and is very practical, since the ribbed portion stays cozily around the wearers' neck.  The yarn was soft, squishy, and very pretty.  I will not mind knitting 3 more of these in other colorways!

Moving right along, now I'm ready to start two new projects - even though I have some other things in progress - but these have a specific time frame, and the other waiting projects are for me, so there's no rush.  I can't really tell you much about them at the moment, but I can show you the yarns I will be using.

Above we have some lovely pale pink Classic Elite Fresco yarn, paired with some Dale Baby UIl yarn in black.  Hmm, what will they be???

And what about this ball of Manos Rittenhouse yarn?  What's up with that?

I'm afraid you'll just have to wait.  All will be revealed.  In time.

18 September 2010

A Learning Experience

I am one of those people who, for the most part, doesn't mind shopping.  I even enjoy window shopping as a past-time, since I can walk a few blocks from my house, and see all kinds of interesting things and do some people-watching to boot.  Granted, I have to be in the mood to really enjoy it, but I'm not a person who absolutely refuses to set foot in a store. 

I do, however, get frustrated when I cannot find *exactly* what I want, at a price I want.  And I really really really hate trying things on, even though I have not ever been a person who can go into a store, pull a certain size off the rack and just buy it, knowing it will fit and look nice.  As a result, clothes shopping is often an epic fail for me, and yes, I know it's my own fault, but that's not the point (at least to me).

Well, over the past few months, I have lost a considerable amount of weight.  Enough so that the clothes I have are truly baggy on me, and make me resemble someone who couldn't even find the right size at the thrift store.  So I decided I would go shopping, and try to find:  1 pair of pants, 1-2 shirts, and I would not just try them on, but even consider things not on sale (a shocking development for my brain to actually consider).  The Tim (who is quite a shopper himself, I must say) offered to go along with me to one of the larger malls around here, so he could look for a few things as well.  I then narrowed down the stores I would go to where I have had luck in the past, and I was ready to go.

The stars must have been aligned or something, because I was actually successful!  Nothing elaborate, but a pair of nice black corduroy pants, a sorta dressy shirt and a casual shirt, AND get this - a dress that was on sale!  I had a plan, I stuck to it, and I tried things on.  And I had enough money saved for this little expedition, even enough to have some left.

This may not be a big deal to many of you, but I am so proud of myself, I just wanted to share.  I don't know that I'll ever have this much success all at once again, but today my plan for what I wanted to do seemed to make all the difference.

I'll come clean on one thing though.  I still hate to try things on ...

14 September 2010

Give Peace a Chance

Now, I don't know about you, but last week I was absolutely appalled by the news coverage of the minister in Florida who was planning to burn copies of The Koran on September 11.  Actually, I'm not sure which was worse - his plan, or the amount of news coverage he received.  It didn't help that he reminded me of my late mother-in-law's friend.  His name was Dick, and I always referred to him as "The World's Most Appropriately Named Man."

But I digress.  What I am trying to say is that last week's events made me wish I could walk up to people in other countries, whether or not they were Muslim, and explain that although I had my own personal faults, I was not like that guy just because I was an American.  And that I didn't think that they were terrorists just because they were Muslim, or from countries known for large groups of terrorist cells. 

I remember once seeing a bumper sticker that said, "If you want world peace, fight for justice."  Another thing that is not always easy to do on any kind of large or grand scale, with any amount of success.  But optimist that I am, I do think that individual actions can make a difference, even if only to a few people at any given time.  And I do like to find opportunities to step outside of myself to help others, or make some kind of difference.  The biggest problem that I have is that apparently deep down, I am quite a lazy person.  Which greatly interferes with my mission to help others and change the world.

Through a listing on a Ravelry forum, written by our own beloved Carol, I came across something that is both worthwhile, and easily accomplished by lazy ones such as myself.  I'm sharing it with all of you, in the hopes that there may be one or two of you reading who find it worth a try as well.

Take a look at Iraqi Bundles of Love (IBOL), now in its second year.  This is the sort of thing I like - allowing me to make use of things I may already have by passing some of them along to others who may need/like/enjoy them.  The idea that a person in Iraq may find the box I send exciting/useful/fun/whatever, and therefore hopefully realize that Americans can be friendly and kind as well as crazy-crackers-on-a-supposed-godly-mission, appeals to the worldpeacenik in me as well as the knitter/person who sews/well-meaning bleeding heart liberal.  On top of which, it's a lazy person's dream, as far as the execution of the thing!

I have been collecting sewing supplies as well as knitting supplies, and am so happy to pass them along to someone who will be happy to have them, and will be able to make use of them.  I may only be able to send one box, but if everyone sends even one box, that will be a huge success. 

Now I can hear some of you saying that there are plenty of causes right here at home that need exposure and support, and I agree with you 100%.  However, I also believe that you don't have to choose one over another, or feel bad if you do or don't participate.  Each person knows their own feelings and their own situation, and makes their decision based on that.  So yes, if you are so inclined, please participate in Iraqi Bundles of Love. 

Just remember to not stop there.  Every day is an opportunity to help someone in some way, and if any one of us can do that somehow on any given day, then it's been worth the time spent writing this post.

Have a peaceful evening, my friends.

09 September 2010

Well That Didn't End Well

Dear Pickle Cardigan ~

Remember when we first met, back in 2008?  A beige version of you was displayed in the window of Loop, right down the street from my house.  I kept looking at it every time I walked by, and finally decided that I needed to make one for myself.  So I bought the yarn, in a beautiful green color called Pickle, and even though it took another year, I got started at last. 

And I really enjoyed your company.  Loved the yarn, the pattern was easy to remember once I got started, and I could make a fair amount of progress in any given evening.  Sure there were fits and starts along the way, but we stuck with each other, and as time went by, I was sure we were meant to be together.

You may recall that I have not made many sweaters, and do not have the world's most accomplished finishing skills.  But I was determined to make you a masterpiece.  I even bought special buttons for you this past May at the Maryland Sheep & Wool festival. 

It's true, I did ignore you for long stretches of time.  But when I would come back, I always had the impression from you that it was OK.  Real friends don't need to be in touch constantly, do they?

So I would like to know now, oh Pickle Cardigan, where did I go wrong?  So much knitting, measuring, and blood, sweat, and tears, and you do this to me?  I haven't gained any weight, and certainly not enough to make you suddenly so terribly small on me.  I cannot bear to spend the time to finish you, adding on the neckline and button bands, because you have crushed my spirit.  And I don't know why.  Or how.

You. Are. Way. Too. Small.  And I am really at a loss, because all along, you were acting as if you really were made for me.  When did you change?   Is it my fault?  It must be, but I have racked my brain for days, and I cannot figure out how things went so poorly at the end.

Now we must part.  I am no longer interested in you, and have no desire to take you apart and try to fix you.  Perhaps another knitter somewhere will be interested in you and your extra skeins left over of yarn, either for another project, or to fit them.  They are more than welcome to you.  But we are done.  Period.

Just so you know, though, you are not going to convince me that I cannot successfully knit a sweater for myself.  Because I do not want you and the terrorists to have the satisfaction of winning forever.

I may be down, but I'm not out.   I do, however, hope that you will be, and soon.

Yours sincerely,

Failed Pickle Cardigan

06 September 2010

July and August Book Report

I did more reading than anything else - i.e., knitting - during July and August.  I think the combination of hot weather and sad feelings about losing two of my sweetheart kitties made me feel more inclined to read.  That way, I could get involved in the story and not think about what else was going on.  Knitting is good therapy, but I guess when push really comes to shove - at least this time - reading was my salvation!  These books kept me busy during the past couple of months:

Remarkable Creatures, by Tracy Chevalier.  When I saw this book at the library, I thought it was worth a try. I have enjoyed Chevalier's Girl with a Pearl Earring, and Falling Angels, and the premise of this intrigued me.

There are two main characters, first, Elizabeth Philpot, one of three spinster sisters who leave their London life after the death of their father and the marriage (and also inheritance of the family home) of their brother. They find a cottage in Lyme Regis, which is near the sea. The other main character is Mary Anning, a working-class girl who collects "curies" to sell as a supplement to the family income. Mary's "curies" are Elizabeth's fossils, and they form a friendship based on their love of the search. When Mary discovers an unusual fossil, which is first thought to be an early version of a crocodile, their lives start changing quickly and drastically.

It turns out that what Mary has found is an ichthyosaurus, one of the earliest types of sea life. Almost immediately, her story spreads, and scientists descend on Lyme Regis to see what she has found, and to have her show them where she found it, and also to look for more incredible evidence of early life. As the book continues, we see Mary and her family gaining enough business sense to make some decent money on these expeditions and their results, but of course lacking the power and status to control the fate of the fossils or the dissemination of information about them. Mary and Elizabeth become estranged after Elizabeth tries to warn her that the intentions of one of the scientists are less than honorable.

This story moves along quite quickly, and some chapters are narrated by Mary, others by Elizabeth. As I am currently working in a natural history museum, I found the information about the early history of such places to be fascinating. It was also interesting to read about all of the work Mary Anning did throughout her life that contributed to the knowledge of fossils without proper accreditation for so long, based on her gender.

I am embarrassed to admit that only when reading the Postscript, did I learn that Mary and Elizabeth, as well as many other characters and events, were real! In my case at least, it made the whole book seem that much more interesting.

I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys reading about women's lives in the 19th century. I'm really glad that I saw it on the shelf in the library.

The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell.  This is truly one of the most amazing books I have ever read. I remember when it was published, reading a review and thinking, "Hm, it takes place in the future. Never mind." But then recently a blog friend wrote about it, and then my husband said he thought it was really good, and that I would like it. So I decided to give it a try.

Now I have to say from the get-go that I have a soft spot in my heart overall for the Jesuits. I attended a Jesuit college, and an entire world was opened up for me, where Roman Catholicism was not just a cut-and-dried thing, where we were encouraged to think about what we believed, and question it. So the fact that there are Jesuits in the book made me favorably inclined.

Having said that, I have to say that I am not a big fan of science fiction/futuristic stuff. In general, it either bores me or annoys me.

OK, I have my disclaimers out of the way. At a basic level, this story is about a mission to another planet and its results. The main character is a Puerto Rican Jesuit priest, but even though things revolve around him, the other characters are just as well-drawn and integral to the story. The story goes back and forth between two different times in the future, and I found it incredibly readable.

I finished this book approximately three weeks ago, and I am still thinking of it. For me at least, it challenged my beliefs - personal, religious, social - and made me think about why I believed what I do. It has made me think about the way we judge others, and how you really cannot know what makes people act or react the way they do in any given situation. It was in parts incredibly sad, wryly funny, and at the end, it left me with a sense of hope.

I have heard there is a "sequel," and would like to read it sometime. But right now, I'm still thinking about this book and exactly what I think. About everything.

It is not preachy, nor do things get tied up in a nice bow at the end. But it is really powerful.

Brilliant, by Marne Davis Kellogg.  What fun this book is! My niece Amanda kept telling me that I had to read these books, and I finally found the first of the series at the library.

This book introduces Kick Keswick, born in Oklahoma, currently living a good life in London, working for one of the most respected auction houses. When the story begins, the house has just been bought by an American firm that owns several different kinds of businesses, and the auction house is one of the jewels of their collection.

Kick Keswick finds the new boss to be really uncouth, and makes it her job to try and bring him into the kind of behavior that will not cause current or future clients to head for Christie's or Sotheby's. At the same time, she finds herself infatuated with him, and we learn not too far into the book that he is "in love" with her as well.

As the story unfolds, we learn that the new boss has several suspicious associates, and is planning some unsavory things for the auction house. Reading Kick's thoughts and plans about him related to this are pretty funny. At one point in the story, there is a bombing at the auction house, and Kick makes the acquaitance of detective Thomas Curtis. She immediately likes him, but at the time is too infatuated with Owen Brace (the new boss) to go out of her way to pursue any real relationship, in spite of Curtis' attempts to arrange for a date.

Kick Keswick is really an appealing heroine. She is a gourmet cook, she has a very intriguing back story, and oh, did I mention that she is also a jewel thief, known popularly as The Shamrock Burglar? This adds a whole other aspect to the story.

I don't want to give anything away, but I can tell you that the ending has a wonderful twist to it, and that I was completely (and pleasantly) surprised. I can't wait to read the next installment!

Thanks for the recommendation, Amanda - you were right!

Nocturnes : Five Stories of Music and Nightfall, by Kazuo Ishiguro.  The only other book I have read by Kazuo Ishiguro is "Remains of the Day," which I really enjoyed. I chose this title as the "Music" title for my What's in a Name 3? challenge.

As the title suggests, each one of the stories in this book deal with music and musicians. They are written in the first person, and though they have similarities, I did not have the impression that it was supposed to be the same narrator.

Overall, I found this book underwhelming. Maybe it was because none of the characters in any of the stories seemed that interesting to me, but as I finished each one, I'd think to myself, "eh."

And I wanted to like the book, as well as the stories. They had interesting settings, and somewhat complex themes. But they left me not really caring if I ever read more by this author.

**A Masculine Ending, by Joan Smith.  I have never heard of this book, and have never heard of this author. But I saw the book offered on a forum as a freebie, and thought it sounded interesting, so I asked to receive it. It was published in 1989, and I thought there might be things terribly dated about the story, but now that I have finished it, there is only one thing I realized wasn't really there, which I'll talk about at the end of this review.

Loretta Lawson, a professor of Women's Studies at London University, is in Paris for a conference, and has planned to stay at a flat owned by an acquaintance who will be out of town. The first night she arrives (very late at night), she is somewhat surprised to see that another person is sleeping in the other bedroom, as she was not aware that anyone else would be there. She oversleeps the next morning, and rushes out of the apartment and does not return again until later that evening. The other guest is gone, but there are bloody bed sheets on the floor of the extra room!

The story deals with Loretta's personal dilemma of whether or not to call the police, and then later, her attempts to find out who the victim was and who murdered the person. As it turns out, the victim was a prominent literary critic who taught at Oxford, and had a lot of enemies. Loretta gets to know several people that she thinks may have been involved, and tries to figure out who is her prime suspect.

This was an enjoyable read, and a good story. Loretta's friends are described in a manner that makes them seem like fairly average people, and the academic side of things is both amusing and not very surprising. Only after finishing the book did I realize that none of the characters had a cell phone! Therefore, the story tended to be more leisurely, though not slow and dull. It was nice to read about someone who absolutely had to wait to call someone or hear from someone when she had the opportunity to be near a phone.

I may look to see if there are any other Loretta Lawson mysteries by this author, as this one was nicely done. I'd like to see if I enjoyed another one as much, or if it was just the novelty of a new "detective" or setting.

Priceless, by Marne Davis Kellogg.  The next book in the Kick Keswick series, this one finds Kick living her dream life, now retired as the famous Shamrock Burglar, a jewel thief. She is living in her farmhouse in Provence, married to Thomas Curtis, formerly a detective in Scotland Yard, and retired as well from that position and as the art thief known as the Good Samaritan.

They have settled into life in their little house, where they enjoy good food, a relaxed happy existence, and friendships with many of their neighbors.

One day though, Kick discovers a note from Thomas, saying that he is gone, does not have any idea when he might return, and that she should not try to find him. It's like a kick in the gut to Kick, who is puzzled, heartbroken, and angry that she let him into her heart and her life.

Shortly afterwards, she hears a news story about a precious gem stolen from a museum in Paris - by the Shamrock Burglar! She is convinced that Thomas is working on that case, and has two concerns: a) that he will think she has returned to her former life, and b) that the person claiming to be the Shamrock Burglar is doing a sloppy job, thereby besmirching her name!

So she collects her dog, her luggage, and her fake identities, and heads to Paris. Her visit to Paris then leads her to Porofino, where preparations are underway for a huge fund-raiser that will be attended by the wealthiest of the wealthy. Kick manages to work her way into the high society group, so that she can find out who the impersonator is. At the same time, she also sees Thomas being interviewed on the news reports, as he is now on that case, and seems quite chummy with the young female reporter.

Once again, I had a great time hanging out with Kick Keswick, and joining her on her adventures. Kellogg does an amazing job of describing places, people, jewels, and food. Kick is an interesting enough character that you want things to work out her way. But she is not perfect, and therefore the stories are not slick in their execution.

If you want something fun to read, I recommend this book. Especially if you do not have the opportunity to just pick up and go to some expensive glamorous destination - reading this makes you feel like Kick has come to visit and is telling you about her trip!

Marie Blythe, by Howard Frank Mosher.  This is not a book I was even aware existed. I was at the library, browsing around, and saw it. The cover intrigued me, as well as the blurb on the back cover, so I gave it a try. I'm glad I did!

This is the story of one woman's life and experiences during the late 1800s through the 1920s. Marie Blythe comes with her parents from French Quebec to Vermont as a child, when her father moves them so that he can find work as a logger. They move to a town called Hell's Gate, founded by Abraham Benedict, a man who arrived there when it was mostly just land and nothing else. He has since built it into a thriving community. Though he is somewhat of a benevolent despot, most of the people in town live very nice lives.

When, through a series of events, Marie ends up as an orphan, arrangements are made for her to move the the "Big House," where the Benedicts live, to help in the kitchen and with the housekeeping. She has an odd position eventually, as one who is not quite completely servant, not quite completely family. I won't give away any spoilers, but even at this point in the book, Marie's life has already been pretty interesting - including a stint before she moves in with the Benedicts being part of a clan of traveling gypsies!

At a certain point, she leaves and is forced to be on her own. She travels outside of Vermont for a while, but through another series of events, ends up right back in Hell's Gate. She then decides that she wants to stay there, and starts building a life for herself. At the point that she returns, Abraham Benedict has died, and his irresponsible son has taken over. Marie and "Abie" have their share of history and conflicts, but for a while it seems that life will go along just fine.

When, towards the end of the book, the people in the town learn that Abie has incurred huge debts, things start to go downhill quickly. Once again, I don't want to go into detail, because this is a complex story, but also I don't want to spill the beans for anyone who might want to read this.

By the end of the book, Marie has once again reinvented herself, and is leading a somewhat different life. However, this time, it's under her terms, and she is making plans for her future.

This is a well-written book, and though somewhat sweeping in scope, provides a good look into the lives of people at this time period, and the tensions often felt between the Vermonters and the Quebecois. It's not the best book I have ever read, but it kept my interest even though I was not necessarily invested in any one character.

Brendan, by Morgan Llywelyn.  remember reading a review of this book a while ago, and then immediately forgot that it ever existed. But a couple of weeks ago, on one of those every-book-is-one-you-want-to-read visits to the library, I saw it on the shelf, and decided to see what I thought about it.

In a nutshell: very good! It's written somewhat like Brendan's diary, towards the end of his life, where he is trying to put his reminiscences in order. The story of early Christian Ireland, where Christianity and paganism lived together, and not always happily, was one of the best parts of this book. I liked the way Llywelyn juxtaposed the religious aspects of Brendan's life with his normal, every day, human feelings and failings. I found it fascinating to read about successful attempts to bring Christianity to the people while letting them keep their pagan traditions. And I was amused at Brendan's/Llewelyn's comments about the Irish people as a group overall.

I would recommend this book to anyone interested in historical biographies, but also to those who think that Christianity - and the Catholic Church in particular - have always been the way they are today. Much like "The Sparrow," this book made me think about the hows and whys of my personal beliefs.

**31 Bond Street, by Ellen Horan.  A couple of months ago, my husband brought me an Advance Reader's Edition of this book, and it has been in the pile of books I wanted to read since then. I picked it up about a week ago, and finished it in about 4 evenings!

This is a fictionalized account of an infamous murder that took place in New York City, at 31 Bond Street, in 1857. Dr. Harvey Burdell, a prominent dentist, was found murdered - his throat cut - in his home. The doors were locked, the windows as well, so there weren't signs of a break-in. The only other people in the house were the servants (who heard nothing) and Mrs. Emma Cunningham, and her two daughters. Emma Cunningham had moved into Dr. Burdell's house to take over the running of the household, and depending on whose story you believe, they had either planned to marry, or were married at the time.

This was a time in NYC when political corruption was rampant at every level of government. The Coroner and the District Attorney decide that Emma Cunningham is the murderer, and thus the plot is set into motion.

I found this book and the story it told to be both interesting and fascinating. I love reading stories about New York in the nineteenth century, and the fact that this was based on something that actually happened, with the actual characters involved in the story, also fed my interest in history, particualarly social history. We hear Emma's side of things, and share the frustrations of her lawyer, Henry Clinton, who works tirelessly to prove her innocence. And as it turns out, Dr. Harvey Burdell was not the person he appeared to be, and once that is introduced to the story, the list of suspects other than Emma Cunningham grows considerably.

According to the back cover blurb, this is the first novel written by the author. In my opinion, she did an excellent job.

So that's it.  There are two books here that have red asterisks next to the titles, and those are ones that I'm happy to pass along to interested parties.  Leave me a comment by the end of the day on Friday, September 10, and let me know if you are interested in one or the other (or both).   As usual, if more than one person is interested in a a title, I'll draw names from a hat or use some other imaginative way to choose who will get to read it next. 

I hope all of you had a good Labor Day weekend.  We had company, which was enjoyable, but it was also nice to have the rest of the actual third day of the weekend to ourselves once they headed home!