31 March 2017

Random Things on a Rainy Friday

Well, Spring is not sprung-ing today in Philadelphia, that's for sure.  Right now, it's about 38 degrees and POURING!  Gah.  It's that kind of damp that makes you cold even once you are inside.

Anyway, this is your occasional post of random things from my brain.  Feel free to look away.

You may have read about our Vice-President saying at one point that he never eats alone with a woman other than his wife.  Which I find terribly weird, but I also think it's creepy that he calls his wife "Mother."  In any event, this picture of Mike Pence and the expression on his face, along with the headline from the Onion made me laugh out loud.  He does look rather concerned ...

I'm doing something new (to me) with the pair of socks I'm knitting - I'm going to attempt an Afterthought Heel.  I don't know how well it will turn out, nor do I know if I'll want to do it after this pair of socks - it feels like it's making the knitting of even just one a long slog, since there's no "progression."  I think I like the feeling of cuff, leg, heel flap, heel, gusset, foot, toe - they are all progress markers for me, and it starts to look like a sock.  But who knows, I may feel differently once I actually install the heels on the socks.

Have you watched "The Detour"?  They are on season two, and it is the most ridiculous show (gross sometimes, too), and we laugh ourselves silly watching it.

Apologies to the blogger who mentioned this, since I cannot remember where I read it, but they recommended the Harry Potter and the Sacred Text podcast.  I've listened to the first two chapters' episodes and the teaser, and so far am really enjoying it.  It's not preachy, it just looks at the books from a whole different perspective.

Since it was raining so hard, I put on my rain boots to go to work.  It was the first time I've worn something other than the cast or my walking shoes on my right foot since January 11th, when I broke my ankle.  It was extremely uncomfortable, to say the least.  At least once I make my way home today, I won't have to go out again.

OK, this falls into the category of Blowing My Own Horn, but ... last Sunday, I went out to take a little walk around the block, and I saw a couple walking their little doggie.  I asked if I could pet the dog, and they said that it was the last walk for her, and they were on their way to the vet for the last time.  The young woman was sobbing, so I gave her a hug, because I know only too well how she was feeling.  Then  on Monday, I got a notification of a post on the Nextdoor site for our neighborhood, and when I opened it, this is what I saw:

"To the stranger who saw me crying in the street this morning as I walked my dog one last time before I had to let her go- who hugged me and told me everything was going to be okay- thank you."

My Monday was a little better because of it. :-)

I saw this picture on Facebook this week, and ... well, let's just say that I think we can all guess how this would go over ...

OK, that's it for now.  I'm glad the weekend is just a matter of hours now.  I'll probably watch the Final Four games of March Madness, and do the usual weekend things, but so far I have no specific plans.  Which is fine, since some busy weekends are coming up.  I hope yours is a good one!

I saw this the other day.  I think it's worth keeping in mind, for the weekend and every day.  :-)

30 March 2017

Hello April

To what purpose, April, do you return again?
Beauty is not enough.
You can no longer quiet me with the redness
Of little leaves opening stickily.
I know what I know.
The sun is hot on my neck as I observe
The spikes of the crocus.
The smell of the earth is good.
It is apparent there is no death.
But what does that signify?
Not only under ground are the brains of men
Eaten by maggots.
Life in itself
Is nothing,
An empty cup, a flight of uncarpeted stairs.
It is not enough that yearly, down this hill,
Comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers.

--"Spring" by Edna St. Vincent Millay

26 March 2017

The Big Reveal

Earlier in the week, I mentioned waiting for Saturday to take some good photos of a finished project, since it was supposed to be a sunny, bright day.  It was a bright sunny day.  And I did remember that I'd wanted to take a picture ... at about 8:00 p.m.

Oh well.

So rather than wait any longer, you're getting the photo I took on the bed in the guest bedroom earlier today - since the bedspread is white, I knew it would at least show up well!

At long last, the Park Slope Blackbird is finished, blocked, repaired, and ready to be worn!

Hopefully, some day I will be able to get a better picture, so you can see the colors that run through the yarn - green, lighter green, black, and then every once in a while, a speck of turquoise.

When I finished knitting it, I laid it out to see how it looked - nor perfect, but not bad.  And the little bit of yarn above is what I had left in in the skein.

Then when I blocked it, I noticed a large hole, where a stitch had dropped - ugh!  (In the photo, it's in the right side, in the border.)  I decided that once it was dry and blocked, I'd see what I could do.  I couldn't quite figure out what to do, so I improvised and just mended it.  I feel it's not really noticeable in the end, and as long as I don't care, I'm happy with it.

Project:  Park Slope Blackbird (so named because I started it when we were visiting my niece, her husband, and their little girl, who live in the Park Slope neighborhood in Brooklyn ... of course they do, right?) (Rav link)
Pattern:  Multnomah, by Kate Ray (a free pattern)
Needles:  Size US3
Yarn:  Fiber Optic Yarns Foot Notes, in the Blackbird Batik colorway
Modifications:  None
Notes:  Well, you have heard the saga of how this was WIP for years, because I'd messed up the border.  Once I decided I was determined to finish it, I still couldn't get the border to work.  After several attempts to figure things out, I finally went to the designer's website and read through the pattern line by line for the border, and figured it out - it was punctuation that was the problem!  I'd printed the pattern a while back, and a change had been made, but not noted as errata.  So the copy I had read for the beginning of the 3rd row:  K2T three times, yo, k1 six times, etc.  What it *now* says is:  K2T three times, (yo, k1) six times, etc.  Well, that makes a HUGE difference!  I sent a note to the designer, and she said since it was a matter of punctuation, she didn't mark it as errata.  So if you had this pattern from a while back, print out the one currently on Ravelry, or you'll be as confused/frustrated as I was!

Having said all of that, I just love this shawl, and can even see making this pattern again down the road.  Now that it's straight to me, it's really an easy, pretty knit, especially if you don't usually knit lace.

Of course, my assistant felt the need to "style" the photoshoot ...

Sigh.  It took about 20 minutes until Jack decided to just hang with Jetsam, instead of "helping" me.

I feel like in this photo, Jetsam is the one sighing ... :-)

Right now, I'm working on the first sleeve of the previously mentioned Custom Fit sweater, and I've started another pair of socks.

The yarn is Ty Dy, which I've never heard of or tried before.  The color changes seem kinda weird so far.  And the part that looks tan in this photo is actually more of a medium brown.  I have no idea what these might even start to look like as I keep knitting - I'll keep you posted!

Enjoy the rest of your weekend - I plan to do the same, trust me. :-)

21 March 2017

The One Where I Ask Myself: WHO AM I?????

I think in my last post, I mentioned something about how I was getting so much knitting done, that I almost didn't recognize myself.  Well, over the past couple of days, I've realized that the question is completely legitimate, because ... well, you'll see.

First of all, my promised FO #2 will not be in this post.  I would like to see if I could get a really nice photo of it, and according to the weather report, this coming Saturday is supposed to be warm (maybe even 70 degrees F) and sunny.  So I decided to wait a few more days to see if I can use that to photographic advantage.

On to the Tales of the Strange.

Since I learned to knit, my eyes have always been bigger -  and more ambitious - than my stomach, to use a common expression not at all related to knitting.  I've always had numerous things I've been knitting, have wanted to knit, or have started to knit, but have languished for various reasons.  And since I am somewhat slow, even things I finished took a while.

Apparently when we took our New England vacation in September 2016, and I zipped through sock #1 of a pair, something in me clicked.  I still had approximately 2000 things I wanted to knit, and however many were in progress, but I started working seriously on two things at a time - usually a fairly simple one, and then something requiring a bit more attention.  Which is how I managed to knit as many hats and shawlettes for Christmas gifts as I did.

With the success of that, I've tried to keep two things actively going, one always being socks (so I can work towards my goal of 12 pairs for the year).  Recently, I was working on socks, and decided that I would pull out my long-neglected Park Slope Blackbird (aka Multnomah Shawl).  I would rip out two rows of the messed up border at a time, and then try to "get" the instructions for the border, or if that wasn't working, just finish it without the border.  And that is how FO #2 was accomplished (now you know what it is)!

Then I decided, well, what else was sitting around?  If I was in the mood to even check, I wanted to keep that momentum, so I pulled out another project that had been abandoned after I made a major mistake.  I had taken a class at Loop  (a long time ago) to make a Custom Fit sweater, when Amy Herzog's method was first introduced.  I was zipping along, and had finished the back piece pretty quickly:

 (This is more of the true color of the sweater-in-progress than the picture below.)
Then I started on the front, and was moving along (the picture below is the front piece laid on top of the back to get an idea of measurement):

So I was pretty pleased with myself.  Until I realized that I had way too many stitches for where I was in the pattern!  And 27 rows beyond where I should have decreased.  Sigh.  So I slowly pulled out to the point where I should have decreased, and then put it away.

This past Sunday afternoon, I decided to pull it out and see if I could remember where I was, based on notes I'd taken.  Of course, the notes made no sense.  I managed to figure out where I *think* I'd been, having done some but not all decreases.  So I figured that I would finish the decreases as well as I could, knit to the measure indicated before decreasing for the neckline, and see how it looked.  If it looked correct, I'd continue; if not, I'd rip out the whole thing and start again.  I worked on that last night and in a surprising turn of events, the first option seems/seemed to have worked.  WHAAAAATT???  So I put it away while I was still feeling good about it, and will work on it while also working on my next pair of socks.

The fact that I had so much of it already knit made me just really want to try and "fix" it and get going again.  So far, so good, but this is a whole 'nother thing for me.  I have often stopped working on something for even the simplest of reasons, and eventually gone back to it and just trashed it.  My Custom Fit sweater is the second project in a row that I have been determined to really try and figure out and finish.  I don't exactly why this is a new thing with me - maybe because of my new two-project practice, maybe because I'm really really trying to only knit from my stash, or maybe just because I want to commit to clearing things out one way or another.

It's a good feeling, but I have to wonder - WHO AM I?????

18 March 2017

An FO and Trying to Be OK

Today I have one of two recent FOs to show you (I know - TWO!  It's like I've become this person who actually finishes knitting projects, go figure!).  This is my third pair of socks for 2017, so I'm right on schedule to have 12 pairs finished by the end of the year.  As I think I mentioned before though, if I had "officially" signed up to do this in the Ravelry group, I'd probably be in the middle of the first pair of the year ...

Project:  Texture Blue Socks
Pattern:  Hermione's Everyday Socks (a free pattern on Ravelry)
Yarn:  Black Bunny Fibers Canadian Luxury Sock, in the Unity colorway
Needles:  Size 1US
Modifications:  None
Notes:  I know this is a popular pattern on Ravelry, and I've seen so many pairs that friends have made that are amazing.  But for whatever reason, I didn't enjoy knitting this pattern.  It's not difficult, and once you get started, it's easy enough to memorize, but it just didn't "click" for me.  Then there is the yarn - I've had this yarn in my stash since 2007, when Carol (Ms. Black Bunny herself) dyed this colorway to sell, using the proceeds to support the initial run of Barack Obama for President.  It's a lovely shade of blue, a little heavier than the usual sock/fingering yarn, and they will be warm, since they are 50% alpaca, 30% mohair, 10% silk, and 10% merino.  It's really lovely and soft.

I wonder though if it was the combo of pattern and yarn that didn't thrill me.  Though I love the color, I think I've knit so many variegated/striped socks recently, that a solid color seemed less than exciting; I don't know.  I may try the pattern again down the road with another yarn, and see if I enjoy it more.  Overall, I'm happy with these - they just didn't get me as thrilled as I was expecting to be.  

Here's a better photo that shows the texture of the finished knit:

In any event, they are now tucked away with my others in my 2017 Box o' Socks.

Other than that, I'm having one of those days when I am feeling like any second I'll burst into tears, even though I have no idea why.  Granted, some things I've done today have not worked out, but none were big things that should put me over the edge.  And I've been making an extra special effort to do things I enjoy, but they don't seem to make much of a difference.  I hate when this happens, and I know it will pass - maybe even by this evening, who knows.  

On the plus side, I have a barley-feta casserole cooking in the crockpot, so The Tim will get a break from fixing dinners, like he has been doing while my ankle has been non-functioning.   And I just a little while ago took some Irish Soda Bread out of the oven to cool.  (I was all set to make it yesterday, but was missing an essential ingredient that the market around the corner didn't  have, and the other places that would have it were not nearby.  So I had to wait to get it today.)  Never fear though, we marked the day yesterday with Guinness and Irish cheese. :-)

So truly all is well, and I'm hoping to feel more together soon.  I can deal much more easily with a bad day when I've been having a hard time than when it just shows up, like today.  And the kitties are all fine, sitting here with me and occasionally sitting *right* in front of the TV so they can follow the ball in the NCAA games - they have sudden bursts of fandom, apparently ... ;-)

Anyway, that's all for now.  Hope all of you are having a good and cozy day.  I'll be back with FO #2 sooner rather than later, so stay tuned!

17 March 2017

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Today I share with you one of my favorite Irish blessings.  Have a wonderful day, and raise a glass to those you love!

May those who love us, love us;
And for those that don't love us,
May God turn their hearts;
And if He doesn't turn their hearts,
May He turn their ankles,
So we will know them by their limping!

Kilkenny Castle

14 March 2017

Birthday and Brackets!

Today is this little girl's 61st birthday:

And Cream Puff the stuffed dog, shown here, is still with her and as loved as ever.

Yep, it's my birthday - YAYYYYYYY!!!!!  I am having a lovely day at home with The Tim and the kitties, just relaxing and being cozy.  We had planned an outing for today, but the snowstorm took care of that.  Which is fine, because I like snow.  However, it has turned to ice rain now, which I do NOT like in any shape or form.  Even when I am getting around fine otherwise, I don't do well on ice, so getting to and from work tomorrow should be challenging - even if it is just getting off the street to get a cab!

But like Miss Scarlett O'Hara, I'll think about that tomorrow and enjoy the day as I have been doing already.  I love birthdays.  For one thing, having a birthday is always preferable to the alternative, if you ask me!  And I love cake - on my own birthday, I don't even have to be the one to bake it.  As a matter of fact, as I am typing this, The Tim is downstairs putting the finishing touches on my cake.

So no matter what is or is not going on with you, tonight drink a toast (alcoholic or not) to the fact that we are all still here!


Are you a fan of March Madness, the college basketball frenzy?  I'll admit that I don't pay really close attention, or watch every game, but I do like to see who is playing and decide who I'd like to win.  So I always print the bracket and keep track what way.  This year, Villanova University is the top seed, and they are of course local.  From all reports, the kids and the coach are nice, decent people so I hope they do well.  Plus it's always fun to have a horse in the race so to speak.

However, there are other versions of March Madness floating around that I also enjoy, most notably Fug Madness.  I love the ridiculousness of it, and the commentary by the Fug Girls.  Play along if you like, it is stupidly fun.

And then, a friend directed me to the brackets set up for March Mayhem by the ladies at Mason-Dixon Knitting - I love it!  Not just the fun aspect of the brackets, but the chance to check out some patterns I may not have otherwise ever seen.  (Not that I need any more things in my Ravelry queue, but what are you gonna do?)

A friend who lives in Pittsburgh even posted a picture of the brackets set up by a local classical music station for listeners to compare and vote on.  What a fun idea!

I love that different groups are making brackets for their own interests.  Though March Madness is a true, intensive competition, the others are just for fun.  And I think the world can use as much fun as it can find these days, don't you!


12 March 2017

The One About the Weekend

Brrrr!  It's cold here in Philadelphia, after a couple of days in the 60s last week.  And if the prognosticators are to be believed, a major snowstorm is arriving tomorrow night into Tuesday.  The last two times they predicted such things, the city ended up getting ~1 inch of slush which was gone by the next day, so I don't know if that will happen again, or if this will be the time the law of averages proves them correct.  Either way, it's not like I can do anything about it, so I'm not gonna worry about it.

However, it is cold enough for me to once again post this:

One of my all-time faves. :-)

My weekend started on Friday, with a visit to the orthopedic dr.  Good news, my ankle is completely healed!  She wants me to wear the boot when I'm out of the house for a bit until I've had a few PT sessions, for support.  Which was only slightly disappointing, but I don't need the crutches or my cane anymore, so that's good.  And not using it around the house is helping me feel more confident.  I'm gonna call tomorrow to set up my PT, so I'm on my way!

On my way home, I stopped to pick up my new eyeglass frames, with  my new Rx, and it's so nice to be able to see better!  It's funny, because this time, I didn't really notice anything, but apparently the distance part of my Rx changed quite a bit - since I wear trifocals, I'm guessing the computer and reading parts might be more noticeable when they get blurry.  But with my new glasses, I realize that my distance sight was not that great ...

Yesterday morning, I had an appt for a haircut, so I got up bright and early to get that done.  The Tim had yesterday off, which was nice because we just hung out, watched some shows we'd recorded, and celebrated the 5th birthday of this boy:

Yep, Milo the Koodle turned 5 yesterday!  He is the only kitty whose actual birthday we know, since he was born in a friend's back yard.  He's had kind of a tough year, losing his very bestest buddy, Dug the Doodle Dog, and then being forced to accept an annoying kitten as a new member of the family.  But considering all of that, he is doing well, continuing to think of way to destroy things and cause problems, and we wouldn't have it any other way.  

While watching our shows, I also finished another knitting project!  But I'm gonna save that for another post.  It's funny, because most of the time, any given project takes me a while to complete.  Then this year, I managed to finish three projects by the middle of February, and was zooming along on another couple of things.  Last week, I was thinking "wow, I haven't finished anything for a while, I'd better get going!" Which just shows how quickly your perspective can change, right?

Today's activities are more benign - sorting through some stuff from the basement as part of one of Philly Tim's projects, getting some clothes ready to take the donation center, paying some bills, and getting organized for this week.  The Tim won't be home from work until ~ 9 p.m., and then we'll have some tea and some of the Koodle's birthday cake to close out the weekend.

And that's the news from here.  How was your weekend?

09 March 2017

A Little Story I Like to Call "My Finest Hour"

Many years ago, in a different life, The Tim and I lived in Washington, DC, and we both worked jobs that had 8-5 hours, Monday through Fridays.  So we often did our grocery shopping early on Sunday mornings, because most of the grocery stores were not crowded at that time, and then we also had the rest of the day to do other things. 

The two primary grocery stores at the time were Giant and Safeway.  There were no Giant stores that near to us, so we would most often go to Safeway.*  A friend let us in on the secret that the Safeway in Georgetown was especially nice, and had really great produce, since "it's where the maids shop."  So we tried it out, and she was right - all of the produce looked nice, it was a clean store, and just overall much much nicer than our "regular" Safeway.  

One Sunday morning at the Georgetown Safeway, we had gotten the stuff we wanted, and headed for the checkout lines.  There was only one lane open (it was that quiet in the store), and a guy got there a millisecond before me with his cart.  And then, even though I had made no comment or gesture indicating that I should have been before him, he said - in the most prissy way possible - "I was here first.  And if you don't believe me, you can ask the manager," pointing towards the room where the manager was sitting, which had windows out onto the store.

Me (in my brain); What is your problem? Also, I'm sure the manager spends all of his time keeping track of who should be first in what lane ...

Anyway, no big deal.  But then, when the cashier starting ringing up his order, he said to her, "I was in line first, no matter what SHE says" (pointing to me, again being REALLY prissy).  As you might well imagine, the cashier was uninterested.

I noticed that everything he was buying was super organic, healthy food.  And I was annoyed that he was making a big deal out of something that didn't even happen.  So, I scanned the shelves at the checkout, and chose a king size bag of M&M peanut candies, and a small carton of Ex-Lax and added it to his order.  When he saw them and said, "Wait, I didn't buy those!" and pointed at me, I was going to say, "Well, *I* didn't put them there.  If you don't believe me, you can ask the manager."

The glee that was building in me was immense.  No one was ever happier at a grocery store checkout lane, Georgetown Safeway or not.  I kept giving The Tim meaningfully amused looks.  He had a poker face.

So, you are possibly wondering - what ended up happening?

Well, he didn't notice the extra items, and therefore paid for them, and was likely infuriated to find them in his bag when he unpacked his groceries at home.  I'm hoping took them back for a refund and talked to the MANAGER!

I was amused and pleased for the whole day, that I had gotten my revenge on someone who was such a twit.

The Tim had missed the entire series of events, and had no idea why I looked so pleased with myself.  When I regaled him with the entire tale, he just shook his head.  Apparently he does not find whimsical revenge amusing. 

Oh well, that is his loss.

*Note: Often, people would ask us where we went to church, and we would respond, "Our Lady of the Safe Way." Because that's usually where we were on Sunday mornings ...

**Note: All these years later, this story still pleases and amuses me.

07 March 2017

January and February Book Report

Before we get much more into March, I thought I should post about books I've read during the first two months of the year.

Is it only me, or does January seem like  really really long time ago?  When I was getting the titles together, I kept thinking "I read that in January?  I thought it was longer ago than that!"  
Anyway, here you go.

Iron Lake, by William Kent Krueger.  I forget now where I found out about this book, but I put it on my to-read shelf, and decided to give it a try.

One thing as an aside - I like to read holiday-themed books at different holiday times.  I had no idea the story in this book took place in the week leading up to Christmas Day, so it was actually a nice way to end my Christmastime reading.

Corcoran "Cork" O'Connor is a Chicago police officer, currently living in northern Minnesota, in the lake country.  He is the former sheriff of the small town of Aurora.  Being part Irish, and part Anishinaabe Indian, he has a unique outlook on local life and politics, and is usually able to see issues from both sides of the topic.

He learns that a local young man, an Eagle Scout of Indian background, has disappeared in a blizzard while delivering his newspapers.  This leads to a discovery of the death of a prominent local judge, who Cork believes was murdered and not a suicide as the locals believe.

As he tries to find the young man, and starts learning more about the judge, he uncovers lies, corruption, and conspiracy that he would never have expected to find in his new home town.  Each clue needs to more  troublesome findings, and puts his life and that of his family in danger.

I gave this book four stars because I thought it did a good job of illustrating life in an area where the locals and the Native Americans live in an uneasy co-existence.  Each group feels that the other one is treated "special" and is taking away some of their lands, rights, etc.  The tension is palpable in the story.  It also gives the reader an idea of how some of the groups work that feel the government in DC has no right to tell them how to live.

This book was really interesting, and in some ways illuminating.  The mystery was well-done, as it allowed the author to include the background of the characters and the area as a natural progression.  I will definitely take a look at others in this series.

Doc, by Mary Doria Russell.  An interesting, often poignant look at the last couple of years in the life of John Henry "Doc" Holliday.  Born to a wealthy Georgia family, he was a young boy when the Civil War began, and saw much of the family, life, and world he had experienced disappear during those years.  He traveled north to Philadelphia where he attended dental school, and then returned home, to set up practice and marry his sweetheart.

But, like his mother, Doc suffered from tuberculosis, at a time when there was no treatment, and it was suggested that he head west where the air was drier for his lungs.  He started out in Texas, but most of the story takes place where he headed after that, and where his legend began - Dodge City, Kansas.  The book is populated with others there at the time he was - Wyatt Earp, Eddie Foy, Bat Masterson, etc.  

Holliday was a gentleman who was not really prepared for the rough and tumble life of the Wild West.  His struggles with his health and his dental practice led him to become a faro dealer at one of the local establishments in order to make ends meet.  The quiet, literary dentist was quick to anger, and had a definite desire for justice, which he felt the North never had to deal with at the end of the Civil War.

Russell really fleshes out a lot of the characters, and gives us a detailed insight into Holliday's last years.  We see the vulnerability of someone so very ill, who tries so very hard to still live a full and useful life, who is dying by inches at such a young age, when most others are just getting started.

It took me a little while to get into this book, but at a certain point, I was really sucked in and thought it was a valuable look into time and place and gave the reader an appreciation for the characters and their lives.

Hijacking the Runway, by Teri Agins.  An interesting book, discussing how celebrity has been taking over fashion.   The author also suggests that social media is making it easier for many new, trained designers to go out on their own, rather than the usual method of serving an "apprenticeship" at a known design house.

I have long suspected that most celebrity brands are banking on the name of the celebrity only, without actual knowledge, expertise, or even involvement on their part, and Agins points out that this is largely the case.  Though some celebrities were actively involved in creating fragrances, few are involved once things launch, and even fewer understand or have background in the garment business.  

Using actual examples, from Jessica Simpson, all the way to Donald Trump, we learn how these "designer" lines come into existence, and why.  I found it to be incredibly interesting, and in some ways sad (the Kardashian/Sears example) how so many people become personally attached to these brands, some of which are affordable to the everyday person, others that like to remain at a higher tier of pricing.  I never thought that I would be impressed by Ashley and Mary Kate Olsen, but I have to say that their efforts with their designs showed them to be actually  interested, very involved, and eager to learn the "language" of haute couture and design.

It was also interesting to read Agin's points about fast fashion from places like Zara and H&M.  

Though I will never be able to afford haute couture, and don't even like a lot of it anyway, I do prefer the world where people designing clothes are doing it because it is what they love, and what they have been trained to do.  

This book was a good read.

Somewhere in France, by Jennifer Robson.  I chose this book to read because it took place during World War I, a time period that fascinates me.  And it starts at a time when the possibility of war overshadows everything.  Lady Elizabeth - "Lilly" - Ashton becomes reacquainted with a friend of her older brother's from university, who is from humble beginnings and now is a surgeon at the London Hospital.  There is a spark ignited, which Lilly's mother immediately dampens, since she wants Lilly to marry well.

Once the war begins and both Lilly's brother and Robbie (the brother's friend) go to fight and to work in the field hospital, respectively, Lilly becomes determined to somehow make a contribution to the war effort.  She had had a lady's education, so is not really prepared to do any specific type of job, and her parents are opposed to her doing anything beneath her station.

She and Robbie begin a correspondence, and he encourages her to do some volunteer work as part of the war effort.  She finally decides that she must lead her own life, and leaves her parents' house, moving in with her former governess and becoming a "clippie" - one who punches tickets on a streetcar.

Eventually, she is able to sign up to be an ambulance driver at the front in France.  And frankly, this is where the book turned boring to me.  Up to this point, it was clear that Lilly and Robbie were falling in love, etc., so I expected there to be that part of the story, but I was really hoping and expecting the war experience to be the primary focus of the book.  Instead, it became a love story, and not even an interesting one at that.  

So although it started well for me, I really can't recommend this as a good book about life during World War I.  Apparently there are following books in the series, but I'm not interested in them, based on reading this one.

A Siege of Bitterns, by Steve Burrows.  I don't remember where I heard about this book, but I'm glad I did!

Inspector Domenic Jejeune, originally from Canada, but now in the UK, is the new guy in the police force in the Norfolk town of Saltmarsh.  He is somewhat of a celebrity, though in this book we don't really know why.  Anyway, he has been recruited to join the Saltmarsh force, and soon after his arrival, a local conservationist/birder is found murdered, hung from a tree near his home.  Everyone expects that Jejeune will be able to immediately solve the case, and expectations are high from the community.  His colleagues though, find him to be an unusual detective and are not at all sure he lives up to the hype that precedes him.

Jejeune begins his investigation, and uses his birding knowledge to try and determine what happened.  While he is doing this, another murder occurs, and everyone is getting testy because Jejeune seems to be getting nowhere.

As things continue, we learn how there were various things going on in the community, related to conservation efforts, wind power, and land use.  In addition, the close-knit community is reluctant to open up to Jejeune, though of course everyone seems to have secrets.  

I enjoyed this book so much.  It was interesting on several levels, not just as a murder mystery.  I liked that the author worked in actual information related to the environment and work to save it as part of the story, not just as information in the background.  And Domenic Jejeune is an interesting character, in that even at the end of the book, you are not quite sure what to make of him.  But you want to see where he is going with his way of doing things.

I also liked that - at least to me - this remained a mystery until nearly the end, and the resolution of the story was interesting while also being in some ways surprising.

The Precious Present, by Spencer Johnson.  This is a short, quick little read, about learning how to appreciate living and being in the present.  It is presented as a parable.

I think this would be a good book to have and to pick up every once in a while, as a reminder to be in the here and now.

Valentine Murder, by Leslie Meier.  An easy, enjoyable read.  Maybe I particularly liked it because the main action was related to death of the town's new librarian, and how the library board was dealing with it.

Lucy Stone is the newest member of the town's library board, and on the day of her first meeting, she discovers the new librarian has been murdered.  At first everyone feels it must have been someone from the woman's personal life, but when a few days later, one of the other board members commits suicide, they determine he must have killed her and then couldn't live with the guilt.

Lucy is not convinced, and does some asking around, thinking that the murderer was another board member, and that suicide was not the cause of the second death.  Things start to get dangerous the more she looks into things, to the point where her husband's life is threatened.

As I said, this was a quick enjoyable read, and the parts about the library board and what they thought/expected should happen was interesting to me.

Big Little Lies, by Liane Moriarity.  I gave this book 4 stars not because it was amazing literature, but because of the way it tells a story.  

On the surface, it's the story of well-to-do uber-mothers in a well-to-do coastal Australia town, and their individual obsessions with their children and their appearances to others.  There are cliques, backstabbing gossip and accusations, affairs, and other suspicions.  

The three main characters - Madeline, Celeste, and Jane - are part of this community, each with their own stories and secrets.  We get to know them better than most of the other characters, and though in another book they might have come across as human cliches, they are treated as real humans in this one.  

The story is told in vignettes, all a result of a terrible thing that occurred at a parents' school fundraising events.  As the story moves along, you find out *what* happened, but you don't learn who it happened to, or any other details until the very end.

A very readable, fast-paced book that in the end makes you realize that you don't necessarily know things about your friends or yourself that you think you do.

Lincoln in the Bardo, by George Saunders.  I am a sucker for books about Lincoln, and even more of a sucker for book about Lincoln and his son Willie.  In elementary school I read a book about them, and it just affected me so much, it's something that has stayed with me.

In this book, Willie has been buried in a borrowed crypt.  The other souls in the cemetery are curious because Willie claims that his father came to visit him, and promised to come again.  In fact, Lincoln did return on the evening of Willie's interment, and took his body out of the "sick box" (the souls' names for coffins) and held him for a while.  The others are skeptical, because nearly all of them have heard their loved ones say they would return, never to actually do so.

The book is really more about the characters of the other souls and their stories, and interpretations of the world.  Willie and Lincoln are kind of the center of the story, but most of the narration and activity happens around them, rather than *to* them.  

I liked this book, though I am sure that I missed a lot, since it is not really written in a "regular" way.  I do enjoy reading books where the dead have their own communities, and where there thoughts and commentary mirror the living world.  

Willie and Lincoln are portrayed as humans like we would all hope to be.  The story - as well as the whole truth of their lives and relationship - is beautiful, sad, and touching.  Overall, this was a good book that reminds you of the value of being among the living.

The Guest Cat, by Takashi Hiraide.  This is a lovely little book.  A couple rents a guest house in Tokyo, where they both hope to be able to work quietly as writers.  It is in a compound where an older woman and her husband live in the main house and maintain the gardens.  One day, a cat shows up and the couple determine that it belongs to the neighbors.  Not thinking they are interested in a pet of their own, they pay some attention to it, but not a lot.

Over time, Chibi - as they have now named the cat - becomes not only a regular visitor, but a huge part of their lives and they individual psyches.  

The book is the story of not just a 'guest cat,' but one of changing thoughts, attitudes, and how loss and change can have an effect not just on your life, but on your memories.  


Reading has been even more of a life-saver these past few weeks than ever.  Things have been especially terrible at work, to the point where even if I don't have the energy left to write a post here, at least I can read for a bit.  I always wonder what people to who don't like to read do in cases like that, but I imagine they have some other way of shaking things off so they can live their lives.  

Anyway, feel free to share any good books you've read recently in the comments (or even share ones that should be avoided, that's equally as important, right?).