30 March 2010

Flies Time!

Yes flies does time - it's nearly the end of March, just another day to go!  I hope those of you who celebrate are having a blessed Passover.  I saw a Facebook posting the other day where someone was wishing they would be invited to a seder.  It made me think of a story about my niece Lauren, whose father is Jewish.  Lauren used to spend part of her summers as a little girl in West Virginia with my other nieces, and as a result would go to Sunday Mass with them while there.  Apparently, one year at her Jewish grandmother's Passover seder dinner, they went around the table and everyone had the chance to say something.  Lauren piped up with, "And I love Jesus!"  Both my sister and brother-in-law said the looks on everyone else's face were priceless.

Anyway, we are getting ready for Easter here, which of course means the annual Inappropriate Easter Egg dyeing is coming up.  This year I have two ideas (a real bounty for me), and of course, the challenge is trying to draw something that will look even at all remotely like my idea.  But I'm glad to have some ideas, usually I don't and then I end up drawing a tulip which is fine but not inappropriate.

I'll keep you posted.  HA!  "Posted" on my blog, get it??  Oh never mind.

I do have a post planned on the making of the Sleepy Elephant pillow, but right now I can show you a little bit of knitting:

This is sock #1 of my Locker Socks.  They are named that because they live in a project bag in my locker at work.  I knit during lunchtime some days, and they are the perfect project - small, straightforward, and even finish-able when you are not knitting for a long time every day.  They are also something I can do if someone else is in the room talking to/at me.  Of course, I do not recall details about the yarn, but I can tell you it was in my stash, and I originally bought it at Rosie's a few years ago.  The color is actually more of a deeper blue, but it does have the random flecks of color or single striping going on.  I am making the Men's size, and if The Tim wants them when they are finished, they're his.  Elstwise, I'll give it some thought and see what I decide to do with them. 

No other earth-shattering (or not) news to share at the moment, so that's it for now. 

22 March 2010

It's My Opinion.

Topic of the Day

If you do not feel like reading this, I will not be offended, but I've been thinking about it all day.  I am glad that the health care reform bill was passed yesterday.  True, in a Bridget-centric world, it would be much more all-encompassing, but at least it's a start.  Anyway, I have a theory about why a lot of people think that the healthcare system we have now is fine.  And that's because I do think that most people are lucky enough that they never have to face a serious and/or life-threatening situation.  They use their insurance for doctor visits - with a co-pay - and the occasional x-ray or test, and it's all just fine.  It's only until something really unfortunate happens to you that you realize how crappy your health insurance can be.  I am enough of a socialist to want to live in a society where everyone has something, even just a minimum amount of coverage. 

Once again, just my opinion.  You do not have to a) agree, b) care what I think, c) even finish reading my thoughts, or, d) all of the above.  I just wanted to say it.

A Much Better Weekend!

You may recall that last weekend, it seemed to my self-pitying self that the universe had conspired against me, and I was highly dismayed with the whole thing.  You will be glad to know that this past weekend made up for it and then some.

First of all, beautiful weather.  Secondly, my sister Mary Ellen and my brother-in-law Patrick came to visit.  We had a blast, and had plenty of opportunities to be outside enjoying the nice weather.  It was fun to catch up, and since we don't get to see them just on their own that often, it was nice to just hang out and eat, drink, and laugh.  Yesterday morning, we went to brunch at a new-ish place called Max Brenner's Chocolate Bar, and it was the perfect way to end their visit. 

I did take a couple of pictures, which I have not downloaded yet, but needless to say, when we were taking a small hike along the Wissahickon Trail on Saturday seeing all kinds of beautiful scenery, my camera was in my purse in the trunk of the car ...

Jetsam and Tess also enjoyed the visit, as they got some extra attention, and, in Jetsam's case, more people to rub his belly.  I think that he wishes we had more company.  Garden Kitty, on the other hand, thinks that the 2-4 people who may visit us in any given year is far too many ...

Knitting and Reading Progress

Nothing major, but I am back to working on some projects, instead of just thinking about working on them.  I've also been back in a frame of mind to concentrate on actually reading a book or two, which feels so much better than not even being able to stay focused enough to open a book much less read more than a page a day! 

I tell ya, those Where's Waldo books will do it every time ...

18 March 2010

Pity party

Thank you so much for the BD wishes, and the nice words about the sleepy elephant from a couple of posts ago.  I promise more info about him this coming weekend.

So it's been quite the week for me.  Last Friday, I spent the day at a Disaster Preparedness Workshop, which was interesting, and good stuff for me to learn (since the day before, I found out - SURPRISE! - I'm in charge of that stuff for the library).  The down side was the beginning of the weekend deluge, which meant that I was pretty wet when I got home.  Though at least getting soaked going home means you can immediately change into some dry cozy clothes. 

Saturday morning, I had an appointment to get my hair cut.  Woke up feeling like crapola, but was determined not to miss my appointment.  Came home from that completely soaked - even my down jacket was soaked through.  Stayed put, until that evening when we were going to Karen and Sebastian's house for dinner.  That was a lot of fun, with yummy food, and good conversation.  Plus, we haven't seen Seb since Christmas (well, Tim saw him once or twice, but I hadn't), so I was especially glad to see him, as I'm sure he was thrilled to see me ...

Sunday was my actual birthday.  Deluge of rain continues.  Feeling sick continues.  Time change has caused everyone to bitch and moan about how much they hate the time change.  Deluge cancels plans for birthday afternoon hike, so we'll just watch some movies.  Fine, but first I go to CVS (during a brief rain respite) for some medication I need for a test the next day.

Waiting in line at CVS, a woman approaches me.

Woman:  Excuse me, I know this is none of my business, but are you a cancer patient?
Me:  No.
Woman:  Oh, because I was going to tell you that they make wonderful wigs now, you wouldn't *have* to wear your hair that way.

I was so stunned, I had nothing as a response.  I looked around me, and no one seemed to have noticed.

Fortunately, the rest of the day included a yummy dinner, cake, and presents.  Pulled it out of the depths and prevented it being an all around sucky weekend.

Monday, then I headed off to my medical test, having taken my medication before I left the house.  Sadly, I didn't take enough and the test had to be rescheduled for this afternoon.  It went fine today, but due to the fact that I had to have an IV each time, now both of my arms look like I've been tripping the light fantastic with heroin ...

Never fear, though.  Tomorrow is Friday.  The weather has turned really nice.  My sister and brother-in-law are coming to visit for the weekend.  And tomorrow is March 19, making it St. Joseph's Day, which can mean only one thing:


Get thee to an authentic Italian bakery, and enjoy!

17 March 2010

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

May your home always be too small to hold all of your friends.

13 March 2010

Sometimes ...

Elephants just get sleepy.

06 March 2010

January and February Book Reports

Well, now that I am back to a Monday through Friday job where, if I read on my own, it's only for an hour at lunchtime, I'm not reading so many books a month like I was when I was a tour guide. Add to that the fact that I'm only now getting myself refocused on things - including reading - and I have only five books to talk about for a two-month period. This is fine with me, since I read for my own self, not as a contest, but it did make me decide at the end of January to just combine my reads for that month with whatever I finished in February. So here you go.

The Legend of Chicago May, by Nuala O'Faolain.  I have been wanting to read this book for a long time, as I am a fan of O'Faolain's writing, and I also find the lives of infamous people fascinating - where did they come from, how did they end up doing whatever it is that made them famous, etc. This book was a nice combination of the two. In addition to that, it was my first choice for the "What's in a Name" reading challenge, serving as a book with a place name in the title.

The story begins as May Duignan, 19 years old, is running away from her family home in Edenmore, County Longford, Ireland. Edenmore was a small town and many of its inhabitants, including May's family, were barely eaking out an existence. She has sixty sovereigns in her pocket, and a desire to "get out of town." The year is 1890.

By the time May arrives in America, she has already had to make do and be quick-witted; when she is asked who will be responsible for her here, she names an uncle that she doesn't really remember, but that she knows emigrated to America years ago, and is living in Nebraska. O'Faolain's research showed no one with May's family name living in Nebraska at the time - however, throughout her life, she gave different names at different times, depending on the situation, so there is the chance that she didn't use her real name upon entry to the country.

May makes her way to Nebraska, and there her life as part of the criminal element begins. She falls in love with a man named Dal Churchill, who is a known thief, highway robber, etc., in the rough and tumble area which was then thought of as the American West. From here to the end of the book, we follow May to several cities in several countries as she does what it takes to survive. O'Faolain theorizes that, because she has no formal education or skills, her choices are limited. She looks around, and realizes that being a con artist, or a prostitute, or simply a petty thief is more financially lucrative than many of the jobs open to the Irish during that time period. She does have a brief period of marriage and respectable domesticity, but the lure of her other life wins out in the end.

This book was a fascinating read. O'Faolain manages to make May a real person, though not necessarily a likable one. You feel for her, but at a certain point you also realize that she is making decisions for herself, and realizes what the consequences are of being caught. The people who surround her are interesting in and of themselves, and their place in her story and her orbit add to the sense of dangerous adventure that is May's story.

In addition, I enjoyed the aspect of the book which talked about the law enforcement practices of the time, as well as society's changing attitudes towards criminals. There is plenty of corruption to go around, as well as attempts to reform the criminal justice system. There are stories of various members of a family who work for the Pinkerton Detective Agency. There is a description of the "job" in Paris at the American Express Building, which was one of the biggest heists of its time. Basically, there's a little something for everyone here, if social history interests you.

O'Faolain's journey up to the time she writes the book, and once it is written, is also of interest. Her fascination with May Duignan sends her on not just a physical journey from place to place, but a personal one as she comes to grips with some of her own demons related to her late younger brother.

There are ways I think that this book could have been better. There are parts that drag, at least as far as I am concerned. But I found it to be a good read, and a fascinating look at a life that was not necessarily atypical for its time and place.
Shadow Tag, by Louise Erdrich.  This is my first Louise Erdrich book. I am aware that she is a prolific writer, and well-respected, but I just never got around to reading any of her other books.
Shadow Tag is the story of Gil and Irene America and their family, who are of Native American heritage and living in Minnesota. Gil is an established artist of the Indian experience, and his most famous paintings feature Irene as the model.
The story is told largely through diary entries, one being Irene's "real" diary, and the other being the one that she "hides," knowing that when she is out of the house, Gil reads it. He is certain that she is having an affair, and wants to find confirmation in the diary entries.
Gil and Irene have been married for years when we first meet them, and when the book opens, are engaged in a psychological tug-of-war. Gil is convinced that Irene is unfaithful, and wants to catch her so that his suspicions can be proven true. In the meantime, his paintings of her become more and more dangerous and violent in their themes.
Irene is tired of being married to Gil, and wants a divorce, which he will neither consider or even discuss with her. She spends most of the book trying to deal with her conflicted feelings about her husband, the father of her children.
The three children are also confused, conflicted, and afraid by the behavior of their parents towards each other.
In addition, there is the undercurrent of life as an Indian in modern American society, and what that means to individuals as well as to the various tribes. The topic of just how "Indian" someone is if they came from a mixed marriage comes into the story in the person of Gil, who is famous for paintings that depict that very life.
I really liked this book at the beginning. The way of telling the story was interesting, and made you want to keep reading. The characters were well-developed, even if neither of them was particularly appealing (at least to me). But I found that about three-quarters of the way through the book, I just wanted it to get moving and find out the eventual resolution. Instead, it dragged on to an ending that seemed melodramatic, and also left me feeling annoyed because it just seemed to be tacked on without reason. If you have read any of my other reviews, you know that I have an issue with the endings of a lot of books I read, so as is the case with everything else in life, you may find the ending to be just right. For me, it made the whole book seem like a waste of time.
Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace ... One School at a Time, by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin.  I've been wanting to read this book for a while. When I first saw reviews of it, I thought it sounded interesting, and about a year ago I saw Greg Mortenson on TV, and was further intrigued.
In a very small nutshell, the book is about Mortenson's life-changing experience that started when he had to give up on a climb of one of the highest moutains in the world. Making his way back down the mountain, he got lost, and was fortunately discovered by one of the local people who assisted with mountaineering expeditions. Over the course of his time spent there before heading home, he learns of the extreme poverty of the Pakistani villages, and the lack of education, particularly for girls.
What starts as a one-man with hope operation grows to become a legitimate organization, the Central Asia Institute. The book details Mortenson's life and his attempts to get started raising money to build one school in Pakistan, and by the end of the book, his experiences moving into Afghanistan to build schools for girls, who lost so many educational opportunities during the reign of the Taliban.
The story is really interesting, though very involved, and it is interesting to see how Mortenson changes over time. I wanted to like the book more than I did, though, and I think the writing just frustrated me. The person who co-wrote it, David Oliver Relin, is an award-winning journalist according to the blurb in the book. But the style was too clunky, and sometimes seemed bogged down in details that, though important overall, made no real impact on Mortenson's story. Details are fine, but I think part of the problem was trying to straddle the fence between memoir and non-fiction-factual, take-it-seriously style.
I do think it's worth a read, though, as it is a story of a life refashioned, and proves that one person with diligence and single-minded dedication can make a world of difference.
The Last Queen, by C.W. Gortner.  Last summer, I tried to start reading this book. But for whatever reason, it didn't hold my interest. I put it back on the shelf to try again, because I *wanted* to like it ...
Then I signed up for the "What's in a Name" reading challenge, and put this book on my list, to read as in the category of a book with a "title" (i.e., Mr., Dr.) in the title.
On the second try, I kept reading. This is the story of Juana of Castile, the last queen of Spain. We first meet Juana when her parents, Queen Isabel and King Ferdinand of Spain have just successfully seen the fall of Granada, allowing their kingdom to be united. They are also in the position of ruling a country with additional riches as a result of the discoveries of Christopher Columbus in the New World. Juana is the third child, curious, headstrong, and loyal to her family. At the age of sixteen, she is sent to marry the archduke of Flanders, Philip. This is of course an arranged marriage, to strengthen Spain's position in the world.
Juana and Philip seem well matched at the beginning, and enjoy a true love and passion. They have their differences, but are able to work things out and become partners and helpmates to one another. When a series of tragedies occur, and Juana inherits the crown in Spain, things begin to change. Philip and his advisers become obsessed with him becoming the king of Spain, usurping Juana's power and her role altogether. What follows is a long list of intrigues, power plays, and heartless decisions. Juana's world is suddenly one where no one can be trusted, and her every move is watched. The hope is that she can be made to appear to be mad, and Philip can take control until their son is of age.
The story is a fascinating one. Though much of it has been fictionalized to read more easily, the events described are true enough, and the roles of the principals' families and friends change as their fortunes (personal and political) shift.
I learned a lot about Spain and its history by reading this book. I also learned (thoug to a lesser degree) quite a bit about Flanders during the time period. Many of the characters are ones that I know from my history classes in school, but it's always interesting when they are presented as real people. I also had a "duh" moment further along in the book, when I realized that Juana's younger sister Catalina, who was sent to England to marry the king, was the person I knew as Catherine of Aragon.
I liked this book, though as I said, I had a hard time getting into it at first. I would suggest that if you decide to read it, you choose a time when you are concentrating mainly on this particular book - there are so many different characters, and fortunes change so quickly, that I can imagine it would be hard to catch up again if you put it down for a week or so and then picked it up again to read.
Overall, a good read, and an illuminating look at a time period that I knew little about.
The Postmistress, by Sarah Blake.  This book was a complete surprise to me. I had never heard of it, or even had any idea it was ready to be published, when my husband brought home an Advance Readers' Edition. But the blurbs made it sound interesting, so I figured I'd give it a try.
An excellent read. It is set in during World War II, right before the US has decided to send troops to Europe. It is the story of three people, and how their lives intersect when it seems unlikely that they would. There is Frankie Bard, a radio correspondent, who is working with Edward R. Murrow, trying to make a place for women radio journalists, and covering the London Blitz. Two women in Franklin, Massachusetts (at the end of Cape Cod) are truly effected by her reports: Iris James, the postmistress, and Emma Fitch, the young new wife of the town doctor.
The story weaves in and out of the characters' lives in a way that I found very effective. The author does an excellent job of evoking London during the Blitz, as well as the US at the point when people truly believed that we would never be involved. For the most part, the writing is intelligent and interesting. Occasionally, I'll admit that I was annoyed with some of the characters, but in a way I would be annoyed with anyone.
Some of the twists and turns leading to the end were not what I expected, but reading the book, I became very involved in the lives of these people, their time in history, and those around them.
An excellent read, especially if you enjoy fiction about America around the time of the Great War.
Right now, I have The Legend of Chicago May and Three Cups of Tea ... to give away (the others may be available later - The Tim wants to try them).  If you are interested, let me know in the comments by midnight on Friday, March 12.  If more than one person is interested, I'll do a "drawing" - but otherwise if you are the only one interested, the book is yours!
Enjoy the rest of your weekend!

03 March 2010

Admit It, You're Fascinated

OK, so it's gonna be hard to top Jetsam's stream-of-consciousness post, complete with pictures ... so I'm not even attempting to try it.  I read him most of the comments, leaving out Mary's, who compared him to Faulkner.  It's a nice compliment, but I'm not sure he needs to know that he's been compared to one of the greats of the literary canon! 

Besides the fact that I am only slowly getting back to being more focused and coherent.  Then along came Lisa, who gave me and my blog an award:

It comes complete with a set of questions that I must answer, which is just perfect for my current attention span.

1.  Where is your cell phone? Um, I don't have one ...
2,  Your hair? Short!
3.  Your mother? Dead.
4.  Your father? Deader.  (Well, it's true, he died about 20 years before my mom died ...)
5.  Your favourite food? I can only choose one of my favorite foods?  OK, I'll say potatoes.
6.  Your dream last night? Was extremely convoluted, and not even possible.
7.  Your favourite drink? Tea.
8.  Your dream/goal? To be a writer who does dog-walking for a hobby.
9.  What room are you in? Computer/craft/junk room.  (It multitasks better than I do.)
10. Your hobby? Reading and knitting are probably in a tie for first place here.
11. Your fear? Becoming homeless.
12.  Where do you want to be in six years? Still above ground.
13.  Where were you last night? Home.
14.  Something that you aren’t? Patient.
15.  Muffins? Sure! I'd like two, please.
16.  Wish list item? Shoes.
17.  Where did you grow up? Washington, PA; Teaneck, NJ; Chicago, IL; Wheeling, WV.
18.  Last thing you did? Put a load of towels in the dryer.
19.  What are you wearing? Sweatpants and a red fleece top.
20.  Your TV? Confusing - all 52 absolutely necessary remotes ...
21.  Your pets? Currently, 3 cats: Tess (calico), Garden Kitty (black fuzzball), Jetsam (gray and white).
22.  Friends? Very few.
23.  Your life? A good one.
24.  Your mood? Amused (as usual, for the wrong reasons).
25.  Missing someone? Always.
26,  Vehicle? An electric blue Mazda 3.
27.  Something you’re not wearing? Shoes.
28.  Your favourite store? That depends on the day and my mood.
29.  Your favourite colour? Green, closely followed by blue.
30. When was the last time you laughed? About 15 minutes ago, reading someone's Facebook update.
31.  Last time you cried? This past weekend, thinking about a friend who recently died.
32.  Your best friend? My husband.
33. One place that I go to over and over? DiBruno's.
34. One person who emails me regularly? Some Nigerian Prince.
35. Favourite place to eat? The garden or the deck in the nice weather.

See kids, you too can be an interesting person!  I'm supposed to pass this along to six other worthy bloggers, who may or may not want to play along.  It's up to them, but here are my choices.  Before I go any further, I started to make this list, and the first thing I would write about each person was that they had a good sense of humor - so I'll just say it here, and stop repeating it six more times!

dmaxi - she is unafraid to speak her mind, knits, and she lives in Ireland.  Need I say more?
Carrie K - she is a great book and TV fan, and I wish she lived closer.
Brigitte - she has 4 cats, knits, loves Tim Horton's, and lives in Canadia!
Chris - she is mom to Chaos and Mayhem, and loves to read and knit.
Chan - she is mom to Missy Sissy and Gretchen Greer, two of the sweetest pup girls, knits, and loves tea.
Kathleen - she is mom/stepmom to three sweet kiddos, is a budding designer, and is also mom to Riley, Jetsam's doppelganger!

As you were.  'Night.