30 April 2021

On the Last Day of April, Let's Discuss Humor

The other day, I posted a few cartoons, because I for one needed a little pick-me-up, and suspected that others might enjoy them as well.  It would seem that a lot of you did, based on the comments you left.

But one person left a comment which I deleted (because it's my blog and I can do that), and it said, "Why are you always posting comics, and trying to be funny?  Don't you know that the world is awful, and people are dying?  Do you think THAT'S funny?"

When I first read this comment, I thought that maybe the person had been having a bad time for one reason or another, and felt bad for them.  But then I re-read it, and realized that there was no real questioning or kindness there, just someone being outright mean.  Which is why I deleted the comment.

Which leads me to the topic of humor.  I am someone who is drawn to humorous things, and when I meet someone with a sense of humor, they rise in my estimation quite a bit.  Don't get me wrong, I don't appreciate humor that belittles or berates people (admittedly, with the exception of the former occupant of the White House and/or his ilk), or that is done simply to hurt someone's feelings.  I am not drawn to the kind of humor that used to be so popular, aka "My wife is so dumb that ___" or "My mother-in-law _____," though I am not saying that there were not some funny jokes there.  Whenever something is fun for both parties, I'm usually OK with it.

I will also admit to liking a lot of dark humor, and have always had a tendency to find some inappropriate things *very* funny.  

However, I do know people who very truly have no sense of humor.  And they make me suspicious.  In my experience, these people fall into two categories: 1) they are not very interested in the world around them, and/or 2) they take every single thing so seriously that there is just no room to be amused.  In the case of the commenter mentioned above, I suspect they fall into the second category.

And so to them, I will say this:  Trust me, I am well aware of the world around me.  I have experienced immense personal tragedy in my life, and even now, every day is not sunshine, flowers, and unicorn glitter.  I try very hard to do what I can to improve not just my own life, but the world around me.  I don't spend a lot of time talking about either the good or the bad, because for the most part, I consider it very personal.

But I was raised to find the humor in life.  And I think it's what has kept me going, and sometimes I know for a fact it has saved me from sinking into the depths of feelings.  Life is fragile, nothing is guaranteed.  Yes, we need to pay attention, and to help others, and be good citizens of the world.  But we also need to keep going the best way we can.  And if I can do that by getting a laugh myself, or making others have the chance to take a minute and laugh, then I'm doing it.  Frankly, if you don't like it, don't read my blog.  It's as easy as that.

So that is my missive for the final day of April, a day that is so windy here in Philadelphia, that I told the cats it's a good thing they are indoor kitties, because otherwise they would be "blown to Bulgaria."  (I have no idea why I say that, other than I like the alliteration.)  But it's lovely and sunny otherwise, and it's Friday, so it's all good.  

And just because:

I hope you have a lovely day, and that this first weekend of May gives you a reason to smile.  May it treat you well and may you have no egrets ... 😉 

28 April 2021

Do You Need a Chuckle? Because I Sure Do!

Therefore, I hope you enjoy these.

For once, a *very* specific knitting cartoon (you can click on it to see a larger, more readable version):

I truly love this one:


This is another one that I just love, and I'll tell you why below:

When I was a kid, probably about 4th grade, I read a joke and thought it was SO incredibly hilarious, it was my go-to joke for a long time (too long, probably).  This is it:

Two morons were walking down the street, when they saw a sign that said, "Wet Paint."  
So they did.

(I still think of this and laugh when I see a "Wet Paint" sign ...)

26 April 2021

Reader, I Did Finish the Sleeves

I hope you had a good weekend, whatever you did or did not do.  Ours was quiet, but with some smallish things done around the house, so it was not all laziness!

As I mentioned in a post last week, I was hoping that by the end of the week, I could get the sleeves knit on the sweater I've been making.  BTW, I was amused by some comments about my "purple" sweater - I know it looked purple in the photos, but that is my lack of photographic ability.  It's actually a dark navy blue, which is incredibly difficult to capture when you are a point and shoot impatient person like me.  

Anyway, I had worked on the second sleeve and got to the point where I was so close to finishing, that I told myself I couldn't work on any other project until the sleeve was an entire sleeve, including being bound off.   So Saturday morning I got started, and by Saturday afternoon (there were several interruptions and breaks), I had accomplished my goal.

(and see - here it looks like it's a black sweater!)

I am so pleased with this project!  It's taken me a lot longer that I would have liked, with interruptions for holiday knitting, and just plain ignoring it off and on, but I have tried it on several times along the way, and it fits just the way I was hoping it would.  

I'm going to try to get the collar added so that I can weave in the ends, block it, and have a finished sweater happily waiting for me when it gets cold again next fall and winter.  In theory, I would do it right away, and it would be completed, but I've set so many goals for this project that I've either missed or ignored, I'm just going to say it will be finished whenever I show you that it's finished ... 😊

I also worked on a pair of socks that I've started, but otherwise did some reading, and managed to put some things away (finally) that have been sitting around "to get to next weekend" for about 4 months (!)  

The Tim has been working hard on replacing some rotted wood planks on our deck, so I tried to work indoors, to make sure I was out of the way.  It's getting to the time when I want to start cleaning out the garden, so I want to plan that out.  I had this grand plan that we could get ourselves a small, portable fire pit for the garden.  I thought it would be nice, since we could then enjoy the garden longer in the year, and it would also help to destroy my nemeses, mosquitoes.  The Tim was on board, but then he did a check to see if fire pits were permitted in the city.  And they are, but they have to be at LEAST 16 feet away from any structure.  When you live in a rowhouse in the city, and the garden is only the size of a rowhouse, it's not 16 feet away from anything!  So that plan fell through.  

OK, I'll admit that a lot of the appeal was getting rid of mosquitoes, so back to the drawing board there.

To be honest, I'm still wrapping my head around it being the last week of April - I'm not dreading May or anything, but I just feel like April has a ways to go.  I do have to say that I completely approve of April's weather - it's been truly spring-like, with cool days, warm days, rainy days, and just plain nice days and nights - you know, like spring used to be.  I hope it will last for a while before the ick of summertime arrives, but I'm not in control of any of that, so I'll just enjoy it while I can.

Nothing else to report.  Here's hoping this end of April week will treat us well.

23 April 2021

What Is the Best About You?

The world, as they say, has been too much with us lately.  And everyone has an opinion on Every. Single. Thing.  I have LOTS of opinions, and I try really hard unless I am specifically asked to keep them to myself, and for the most part, I can accomplish this.  

But I have decided to share on occasion - maybe once a month on a Friday? - something that I think is the best about me.  I'm doing this to remind myself, and all of us, that no matter what other people think or say, there are always things about ourselves to celebrate.  I am hoping that you will join me in doing this, because too often we talk about our shortcomings or failures, and though it's important to acknowledge those, the good things deserve equal or better time, don't you think?

This exercise can be about anything.  Small, huge, wonderful, or incidental, important only to me/us.  I'm not doing this to receive anyone else's affirmations or compliments - I'm doing it to share, to get YOU to think about what you would say.

So to start off today, I'm going to share the first installment of:

What Is the Best About You?
(and sorry I don't have a graphic, I'm not good at that kind of thing!)

I think the best about me is that I love picky little details, all of the time.  Though I may drive myself insane when I am doing something, wanting to be sure that I have everything the way I think it should be, I also have to admit that I truly love doing it.  In the particular work I do, details are incredibly important, and that is why I chose that branch of librarianship (cataloging and serials work) instead of the jobs that everyone knows that librarians do.  

But even in my personal life, details make me happy.  I love to not just provide detail where necessary, but learning details - the more arcane the better - make my heart sing!  Particularly when it comes to words or language, sign me up!  I remember that a few years ago, I learned that a group of flamingos is called a Flamboyance, and I spent days passing along that detail to everyone I knew - just short of stopping strangers on the street to tell them!  On Twitter, one of my favorite accounts that I follow is called Haggard Hawks - I drive The Tim crazy with information they provide.  One of the editors of the account has put a book together, and I can't wait to get my hands on that!

I will admit that if you are like me, you also need to check yourself now and then.  Details of any kind can become your overlords if you let them.  I need to regularly remind myself that I don't need to know everything about everything and that there are other things in the world to enjoy besides getting details right, knowing all the words that have ever existed, etc.  I get better at doing that all of the time (one would hope, since I've been like this my whole life!)

But ask me for a detail, or provide me with a detail and we are sympatico. 😊

AND NOW - what about you?  What can you tell us is the best about you?  Feel free to share in the comments, or write your own blog post.  Let's start sharing the things we really like about ourselves!

21 April 2021

Getting Close At Last!

I know it's Wednesday, but for whatever reason, I wasn't expecting it to be Wednesday.  You know, like I have any control over time ...

I thought I'd join Kat and everyone else for Unraveled Wednesday today, since I have a book underway and have been working on a project that is getting closer to being finished.

First up, this book, which I am really enjoying.  It's interesting, and a little bit creepy.

Right now, I'm about halfway through - it's very readable and the characters are intriguing.

As for knitting, I've been spending some time on the sweater that should have been finished by now, but is not - but look, it almost has two completed sleeves!

I think I'll finish up the second sleeve by the end of this week, and then there is just the collar to go.  I would say I can't wait to wear it, but instead I'll say that I'll be thrilled to have it next year when late fall and winter arrive.  😊

I have a dr appt to have my right elbow looked at for the pain I've been having, since I am not convinced that it's tendonitis.  It doesn't bother me where tendonitis usually does, based on what I have read.  If there is any way to help it feel better, I want to find out!

And that's about it for now.  Time to get moving ...

19 April 2021

Reunion Weekend

This past weekend was a big one in our house.  First of all, The Tim was able to get his first vaccine shot on Saturday morning, which was a big deal for all of us!  Vaccine eligibility opens up today to everyone in the city 18 years older and above, but he got a notice at the end of last week from the Dept. of Public Health site that his turn had come up.  So he made an appt for early on Saturday, and now in two weeks he'll get his second, and by the end of May we will both be safe for public consumption! (Well, vaccine-wise at least.)

Also, on Saturday, Hamlet and I walked over to Washington Square here in the city so that the woman who raised Hammy as a puppy could see him.  Her name is Robin, and we have been friends on Facebook for a while, but had never met in person.  She was going to be in the city for a tour of Independence Hall with a group of other puppy raisers (and puppies!), and wondered if we could meet during the lunch break, since it has been years since she has seen our boy.

As it turns out, Hammy's dad, Spike, was her dog.  He sired A LOT of puppies for the Seeing Eye Foundation, and Robin has been a puppy raiser for a long time, and she happened to get Hamlet as her 7th puppy to raise for them.  The way it works is that the puppies are given to preapproved raisers, who bring them up until they are about 18 months old; then they go the Seeing Eye headquarters in Morristown, NJ, to see if they can make the cut as service dogs before being matched with someone.  Those who don't make the cut are returned and or adopted out as pets, so everyone has a happy ending.

Well, as we entered the park, I heard someone say "Hi Hammy," and he went NUTS with excitement!  I really think he remembered her voice.  He was so thrilled and so excited.  We sat and talked and visited for almost the entire hour, Hamlet got treats (I'm sure the highlight for him!), and I got to hear lots of puppy stories and stories about Spike.

This is a photo that Robin took when we first sat down and Hamlet was with her.

I have to say, that face gets me every time.

And here is one I took of them having a conversation.

Robin is really wonderful, and a whole lot of fun, as I had suspected from many of her Facebook posts, and I'm so happy that she and her puppy - or as she called him her "granddog" - had a chance to reunite.  

Once she had to rejoin the group to go home, we headed back to our house as well.  I took a few more photos since it was such a lovely day.

Here is Hamlet right before we left the Square:

Then we headed down to Pine Street, so we could walk past Pennsylvania Hospital and I could get a photo of him there.

That is the original building of the hospital, the first one in America, founded by - say it with me - Benjamin Franklin.  The building is beautiful, and of course behind the main building are the add-ons making it a huge, modern, city hospital.  Sometime I'll have to tell you about the inside, and the original parts of things.

Then we headed around the corner, to one of my favorite things in the city.  This is a water trough next to the original hospital, where people used to be able to water their horses; it's now a planter, but otherwise looks the same as when it was first constructed.  I couldn't get Hamlet to face me, but nonetheless:

The landscapers were actually nice enough to wait until we finished before getting started with their planting (I'm sure they are used to variations on this theme).  I also took a closeup so you could see the quote engraved on the trough, which is one of the most wonderful things of all, in my opinion.

Sunday was spent by Hamlet resting (he was zonked out!), and The Tim just taking it easy (his arm was sore, but nothing else).  So the kitties and I decided to follow their example.  I finished a book I was reading, and did some knitting, and Hamlet and I had a lovely walk in the neighborhood, along a street where all of the flowering trees were starting to bud, and the flowers had started to bloom everywhere.  

Probably one of the best weekends we've had - I know it was for Hamlet, at least!

Here's hoping this week will be kind to all of us.  Have a good one!

16 April 2021

Friday Poem

This has been a tough week in the U.S.  A tiring week.  A frustrating week.  I was reading an article in a magazine last weekend, and this poem was included.  I thought I'd share it today, and maybe it would give us all a little bit of something to lift our souls.

-- by Suzannah Evans

We are on the phone when I see them
the first of the year, little miracles
above the stained bricks and scratchy trees
of my neighbourhood. Not screeching yet
but wheeling, the light priming the edges
of their knifeblade wings. We might look
fragile to them, so reliant as we are
on our houses and our things, so tied
by gravity to one hemisphere. You saw yours
today too and you are not so far away
but a distance I'm not allowed to travel.
A blessing for those of us who notice things.
I'll see you soon you say. I'll see you soon.

Take care, everyone.  Be kind when you can, and have a good weekend.

15 April 2021

Amusing Art

I had another post in my head to share today, but I'm going to put that off until another time.  Because today on my way to work, I saw something that not only amused me, but also made me think of a good thing for Three on Thursday.

As you may have guessed by the post's title, I am thinking of three particular pieces of art that have amused me greatly.  I'm not making any commentary as to what is or is not actual "art," because I have no real ability to speak to that.  But I do know the kinds of things that amuse me.

1. What started it all: On my way to work I pass a store that sells framed art and that will also do framing.  They always have a variety of things in the window.  Today there was a large black and white photograph that got my whole brain going on this topic. It showed Nelson Mandela sitting in chair, smiling, with his hands held out as if he was speaking to a crowd of people.  To his right on a small couch, there was Martin Luther King, Jr., Muhammad Ali (back when he was known as Cassius Clay), Malcolm X, and Barack Obama - all leaning forward with serious expressions, as if they are listening to every word.  Now, let me say that I get this - these are all men who all made a huge difference in the world, particularly in their respective areas, and they are all icons.  But I am amused these days by photos that you know are Photoshopped, but look completely convincing.  

And that reminded me of two other art pieces that have always made me laugh when I remember them.

2.  A friend of mine in high school brought in a picture drawn by her younger sister who was in first grade.  It was depicting the Holy Family's Flight to Egypt.  It showed Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus in a plane!  Apparently the friend's mother asked why they were in a plane, and the little girl said it was supposed to be a flight.  OK.  Then they asked who was flying the plane, and she said, 'Pontius Pilot' (of course meaning "Pilate"), and every year around Easter I think to myself what would have happened if in fact they had all left Egypt on a plane in the beginning of the whole story ...

3.  And now one of my all-time favorites.  When we lived in DC, one of the places I worked was in the library at George Washington University.  Our department had one wall that was all windows, and looked out on a plaza where people came up from the Metro.  There were all kinds of street vendors located there, but my favorite was the guy who sold paintings on velvet.  Of course, he had the usual suspects: Elvis, Jesus, and The Beatles, as well as some scenic views.  But for me the best one will always be a triptych he had in place of honor and clearly felt was his masterpiece.  It depicted JFK on one end, Martin Luther King, Jr. on the other end - and then in the middle:

For real, honest!

Every time I remember this, I laugh really hard, remembering not just how all of us used to talk about it, but how much fun it was to watch people come up out of the Metro, walk over to take a look and then do a double-take!  To quote The Tim when I told him about it, "I don't know why you think it's so hilarious. I know I always think of those three together."


14 April 2021

Another Stripey FO

So far this year, I have only had 3 FOs, including this one.  This is a combination of working on two big projects - a sweater and a blanket - and only one small one, and less knitting time, both due to inspiration and my elbow issues.  Not that I am complaining, I mean I'm not doing this for a living nor am I on a deadline, but there's just less progress at this point in the year.

But I do have a finish to show you.  You may remember that about a month ago I showed you the first sock of a pair:

This sock is lonely no more!

Project:  Stripey Socks of Hope
Pattern:  Plain vanilla sock pattern that I usually use, based on this one (warning: Ravelry link)
Yarn:  West Yorkshire Spinners 4-Ply Self Striping or Patterning, in the colorway Hope
Needles:  US size 0
Notes:  I received this yarn as a gift, and finally got around to using it.  I liked the colors, and have used West Yorkshire Spinners sock yarn before and really liked it.  This was a little bit disappointing, though, since it was really splitty.  Not so that it was unbearable, just enough to be annoying.  I used size 0 needles after hearing the Crazy Sock Lady say on her podcast that when she uses 9-inch circular needles, her gauge is slightly looser on size 1 needles so she goes to a size 0.  The previous socks I've knit on the 9-inch size 1s are fine, but they are a bit looser, and I like my socks to fit right against my leg and foot, so figured I would take her advice.  I'll see once I actually wear them around if there is much of a difference to me.

As for the contrasting heels and toes, the first sock I knit had the white used for contrast, which I really liked but of course being that I am who I am, I had very little of the white left once I was done with that sock.  So for the second, I pulled out some leftover Black Bunny Fibers Stella in green that I had used for another pair of socks last year.  I am very pleased with how they look, and actually like that neither the stripes nor the contrasting parts match up completely.  

The really weird thing is that even though I made the usual size of socks that I knit, I have almost 1/2 of the ball of yarn left!  Definitely enough to make a pair of shortie socks, or for something scrappy.  Which is fine with me, because of course I'll have plenty for a square in my blanket, with plenty left to use some other way.  I was just surprised to have so much yarn left.

In any event, it's nice to have another thing off the needles, and have the feeling of accomplishment.  Now to decide what socks and for whom are next ... 

09 April 2021

Book Report - January, February, and March 2021

As I mentioned in a previous post, I have been reading lately, but not all that much (at least compared to my usual amounts of reading).  Not a problem, just more of an observation.  My mind has been scattered a lot over the first three months of the year, and a lot of the time it was difficult to concentrate.  But in any case, I thought I'd share the titles I did decide to try, and my thoughts about them, so here they are, in no particular order.

Behold the Dreamers, by Imbolo Mbue.  A very good, very readable book.

This is the story of two families - the Jonga family, immigrants from Cameroon; and the Edwards family, who are wealthy and living a life of luxury in Manhattan - during the 2008 financial crisis and fall of the big Wall Street firms.

Jende Jonga, who has finally managed to bring his wife and young child to America from Cameroon after being separated from them, is fortunate to be hired as the chauffeur for Clark Edwards, an executive at Lehman Brothers.  Finally making enough money to be able to save some, Jende and his wife Neni, who dreams of being a pharmacist, feel that the promise of America is finally showing up for them.  Even though they both work hard and they live in a small apartment in Harlem, the future looks bright.

Then of course, the collapse of 2008 happens.  Jende and Neni have since had a daughter, and Jende decides that he wants her to stay home with the baby.  When he loses his chauffeur job, their income takes a serious nosedive, even though he finds 2 jobs working in the kitchens of restaurants to keep things going.  In addition, his application for asylum is looking like it will be denied.

Jende makes the decision for himself and his whole family that they will return to Cameroon. He withdraws his asylum request and makes plans for their move.  Neni is not happy about it, since she was really hoping to return to school and have a career.  Their young son has become so acclimated to New York, she also worries the transition to a small African village will be difficult for him.

Meanwhile, things have changed drastically for the Edwards family as well.  They have lost nearly everything, and the pressure is responsible for a tragedy in their lives.  

The book leaves you feeling that everyone will find a way to survive, but for me at least, I felt unsettled about the future the Jonga family.  Neni's character had seen what life could be like for a woman in America, and seemed ready to embrace it, so returning to a society where women still lead lives restricted by culture and society didn't seem like something that would work for her.  Also, she seemed to realize that having Jende make decisions without consulting her was not just upsetting but unfair.  

This story was really about life as an immigrant in America, and the tenuous existence they face.  You felt their dismay and disappointment, and also understood their desire to cling to America as a chance to improve.  The Edwards family, though not typical, were a good mirror to those who live here and take so much for granted, as well as an example of how having it all is neither perfect nor guaranteed.

Becoming, by Michelle Obama.  Before going any further, in the interest of full disclosure, I must tell you that I am a big fan of Michelle and Barack Obama.  In my very active world inside of my head, we are all good friends.  So I was inclined to like this book before even reading it.

And I did like this book.  I liked it because it was readable and accessible, and not full of "look how amazing and wonderful I am," but rather the story of her early life, and how so many decisions and opportunties came her way because of the way she started, and the wonderful actions of her parents and family overall.  

Also, having lived in Chicago for many years, I knew the places she mentioned, which is always fun for me when I actually can picture the buildings, neighborhoods, etc.

Scones and Scoundrels, by Molly MacRae.  This second book in the series begins with preparations for a renowned environmentalist and writer who grew up in Inversgail returning for an in-residence semester at the local school. Daphne Wood grew up in the small Scottish town, but moved to the wilds of Canada when she was young and has not returned since. Plans for several types of events while she is in town has everyone buzzing.

First, Daphne arrives earlier than expected with her Pekingese, Rachel Carson. Secondly, she is not the easiest person to be around, and seems to always feel that she should be the center of everything. The one person who still lives in town who was a school friend of hers in younger days is even surprised at how different she is.  

When a young American visitor is murdered and found behind a local bar, not only is the town shocked, but Daphne decides that she will work with Janet Marsh and the group from the local bookstore to solve the murder.  Janet, Christine, Tallie, and Summer are first of all , trying to keep a low profile, and secondly, do not really want to work with Daphne.

As the story continues, we learn about what happened in Daphne's life that may have had such a profound effect on her that she changed so much. When she and a young teacher in the town are also murdered, Janet and the gang start doubling down to see what is going on.

By the time the book has ended, we have a lot of information not just about Daphne, but about others in the town; and we learn why the young American may have stopped in Inversgail, and why it was his last big mistake.

I am enjoying this series so far.

The Dressmaker, by Rosalie Ham.  This is a somewhat odd, though still compelling story.

Tilly Dunnage returns home to her small Australian town to check on her mother, "Mad Molly" Dunnage, who she hasn't seen in twenty years.  An outcast even when she was a child, Tilly decides to stay a while and take care of her mother, and fix up their house.  She makes money by using her couture dressmaking skills for the women in the town - who, even though they are suspicious of her, and gossip about her, find her designs irresistable.  

Eventually, Tilly becomes fond of one of the young men in the town who is from another family scorned by the locals.  That young man, and the local police sergeant - with his own secret - become her social group.  

After tragedy occurs, we learn not only why Tilly was gone from the town for so long, but the reasons why her mother was an outcast as well, and why the people in the town now hold her especially responsible for bad things, saying she is cursed, and cursing the town.

By the end of the book Tilly has left town, but not before exacting revenge in a major way.

I did not expect the book to end as it did, though it fit into both the story and the strangeness of it all.

As Bright As Heaven, by Susan Meissner.  When Thomas Bright moves his wife Pauline and their three young daughters - Evelyn, Maggie, and Willa - from Quakertown to Philadelphia in 1918, the future is bright.  Thomas' uncle owns a mortuary and having never married and had children, would like to train Thomas in the business and eventually leave it to him.  The opportunities for the whole family are there for the taking.  Things look so promising, and then ... the 1918 flu epidemic begins.  

Soon, people are dying all over the place - not just due to World War I, but because the flu spreads like wildfire through the city as a result of the Liberty Parade, attended by thousands (today it would be a superspreader event).  Pauline Bright volunteers to aid the sick through an organization at their church, and this leads to series of life-changing events for the entire family.  As the flu spreads and kills hundreds of thousands of people in Philadelphia alone, the lives the Bright family members expected to live are turned upside down.

The second half of the book takes place in 1925, bringing the reader up to date on how the family is doing once the epidemic is long past.  It's not as satisfying as the first part, but it is still interesting to find out not just who survived, but how each one of them has moved forward. 

This book was both interesting and heartbreaking.  There were so many similarities to life during the Covid-19 pandemic that it added another layer to the story.  I found it hard to put down.

The Gone Dead, by Chanelle Benz.  Billie James leaves her home in Philadelphia and returns to the Mississippi Delta after the death of her grandmother, who has left her a bit of money and the run-down house where Billie was with her father when he died unexpectedly when she was four years old.  Her father was a famous black poet, just beginning to be appreciated for his writing and sensibilities.

While cleaning out some things, she comes across an interesting piece of writing by her father, called "Chapter 2," dealing with his years as a civil rights activist and meeting her mother, now also deceased.  When people in the town say something about how Billie disappeared for a short while the night her father died, she is intrigued since she remembers nothing about it.  As she starts to ask around about it, and talks to various people, she - along with a few others - begins to think that maybe his death was not the accident that it had always been reported to be.  But it also becomes very clear that the more she looks into it, the more she puts herself in harm's way.

I really liked this book.  It was evocative, poignant, and full of characters that kept you reading.  The story of Billie's family, not that long ago released from slavery, intertwines with the lives of her neighbors and the community where she eventually decides to settle.

An Incomplete Revenge, by Jacqueline Winspear.  Once again, I listened to the audiobook version of this.  I have found that they are truly enjoyable to listen to, and I enjoy the reader's voice characterizations.  

When the son of Maisie's patron asks for her help, she is glad to be of assistance.  Things are tough in post-war England, and she is happy to have work for herself and her assistant, Billy Beale.  The case involves a potential land sale in Kent, and Maisie is tasked with finding out more about the land in question and the community.

She travels there herself, during the summertime when Londoners head there for their vacations, to help with hop-picking.  It's also the time of year when gypsies are visiting, which causes some friction since others are suspicious of them.  When Maisie learns of a series of regular fires that have occurred, as well as small crimes, all during this time of year, she becomes even more intrigued and starts to delve deeper into things.

At the same time, Simon, the doctor that Maisie fell in love with during her time as a nurse in the war, dies.  He has been in a hospital for several years, having shell-shock and not being responsive to anyone or anything, in spite of Maisie's continued love, attention, and regular visits.  His death throws Maisie for a loop, even though she realizes that he has not really been "there" for a while.  Still, they loved each other, and might have married, but for interference from his mother.

This was interesting on several levels to me - first of all, I was intrigued by the city dwellers spending their vacations picking hops.  I found the death of Simon and Winspear's treatment of it quite poignant.  And, I was intrigued to learn that Maisie's mother was a member of one of the gypsy tribes.

Another good installment in this series.

Mr. Churchill's Secretary, by Susan Elia MacNeal.  Maggie Hope grew up in Massachusetts, where her Aunt Edith was a professor at Wellesley College.  Though born in England, she lost her parents in a car accident when she was very young, and so went to live with her aunt.  As she is preparing to start her Ph.D. program at MIT, she learns that her grandmother in England has died and left it to Maggie to sell the family home there.  So Maggie delays her MIT entrance, and goes to England - right as Winston Churchill becomes Prime Minister, and World War II starts creeping into the everyday lives of the English more than ever.

Through a friend, Maggie takes a job as a typist in the PM's office, and when the lead typist is sick, Maggie takes over for her.  Frustrated that she can't work in the research section of things, she learns how to interpret Churchill's "language."  However, one day she notices something about the patterns in a newspaper ad for a dress, and takes it to one of the others in the office, saying that she is sure there is a hidden code there.  

At this point, the story gets more complicated, and some of the additional characters become a bigger part of the action.  Throughout the book there are hints about who Maggie's father is, and does she really know, etc., and the reader is left in the dark as well.  But as things move forward, we learn more about Maggie's father, her co-workers, and even some of her friends.

This was a very readable book, with a lot happening towards the end of the story.  My only issue with it was that at least to me, things worked out a little too perfectly in the end for Maggie.  Her ending seemed incongruous to me, based on the problems she had throughout the book with sexism, etc. not just in her work but in British society.  

But it is an interesting, good escape kind of read.

Custard Tarts and Broken Hearts, by Mary Gibson.  Nellie Clark lives in Bermondsey, England, where she works in a custard powder factory right before the beginning of World War I.  Her wages help her family avoid homelessness and starvation, and when she and other workers go on strike for better pay and win, she thinks things might be looking up.

But it's a place and time when major changes in people's stations in life just don't happen quickly or easily.  Nellie makes a promise to a friend's dying mother that causes her to worry and fret that she might have gone too far.  She starts to see a young man who is an activist, and who it seems does not have the same regard for her as hers for him.  On top of all of this, there is talk of war, and of England joining the fight.  

When the friend's mother dies, and the friend joins the Royal Artillery Force, Nellie takes in the younger children in the family to live with her and her siblings. The bulk of the book is the story of how they manage to survive on the little money they have, while Nellie learns that maybe she has loved someone who has been there all along.

This was a good book, in that it did a good job of describing the hardness of everyone's life, and the work they had to do to simply keep going.  It gave you a good feeling for the way that days were long, and joy was fleeting.  I enjoyed it overall.

Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston.  Janie Crawford is a young black woman in the American South during the 1930s.  When her grandmother more or less arranges a marriage for her to a man she is not interested in marrying, Janie begins to try and figure out a way to live a more independent life, based on what she wants to do.  This is the story of her life she is telling to her friend Phoeby upon return to her original hometown.  She details the joys and sorrows of her life, the places she has lived, and how all of it led her back home.

This was a fascinating book, and I am glad I finally was able to read it.  Though it was sometimes hard to do, since the dialogue is written in dialect, so each time I would sit down to start, I'd have to get into a rhythm again to really appreciate the story.  Janie's experiences and the people she meets along the way are a window to a world that is unlike any I have ever known, and reading this gave me a true appreciation for Hurston and her ability to make characters seem like living and breathing people.

The Winter People, by Jennifer McMahon.  This was a good book, albeit creepy and  somewhat fantastical.  It takes place in a small, rural town in Vermont.  At first we meet Sara Harrison Shea, writing a diary in 1908, who has recently lost her young daughter.  Sara had an interesting upbringing, with a mysterious "auntie" who helped her father raise the children after the death of her mother.  

Zoom into current day, and we meet Alice, mother to teenage Ruthie and her little sister, Fawn.  They have lived in the same farmhouse where Sara lived, and are completely off the grid, as Alice and her late husband were firm believers in making sure no one would interfere with their lives.  One winter morning, Ruthie wakes up to realize that her mother has disappeared - no indication of foul play, but no indication of where she might have gone or why.

This is where the two stories - past and present - begin to intersect.  As Ruthie and Fawn try to figure out what happened to their mother, they also come across some pages of Sara's diary, tucked away in hiding places.  But there are also some puzzling finds of a more recent nature.

This book intertwines past and present, and challenges the reader to follow along, no matter how weird the story becomes.  I'll admit that I found some of it to be a bit more than I was willing to suspend my disbelief for, but overall it's very readable, and keeps you wanting to find out what has happened, both to the Shea family in 1908, and people involved in the story in the current day.  Not my favorite book ever, but a creepy and atmospheric read for a wintry day.

Cat Me If You Can, by Miranda James.  In this latest book of the series, Charlie Harris, his fiancee Helen Louise Brady, and Charlie's cat Diesel are in Asheville, North Carolina, having traveled to a mystery readers' getaway planned by the Ducote sisters for their mystery loving group at the Athena (Mississippi) Public Library.  Everyone is excited about the getaway, with the chance to talk mysteries non-stop, as well as enjoy the sights and sounds of Asheville, and a tour of the Biltmore Estate.

Things go sideways on the first night though, as an uninvited guest interrupts the first gathering of the group and causes a scene.  Later that night, he is found dead in his room.  Charlie and Helen Louise realize that most likely, someone in their group is the killer, and soon everyone is on a "forced" getaway until the killer can be found.

As time goes on, a hotel maid is found murdered as well, and it looks to everyone that the two must be somehow related.  Charlie is determined to stay out of it, but at the same time, these are people he is not just spending time with now, but that are part of his community at home.

As usual, there are twists and turns until things are resolved.  I enjoy this series because it's always interesting enough to keep me reading, some of the dialogue and local expressions are really amusing, but mostly because the author clearly understands the work of rare book catalogers.  Oh, also, there's Diesel the cat!

The Paying Guests, by Sarah Waters.  This book is - like the others by this author - a combination of fascinating characters, remarkable stories of otherwise unremarkable people, and just a touch of information here and there about social mores of the time when the story takes place.

In 1922, the war (WWI) has ended, and many of the soldiers who have survived are out of work, and on the street.  Life has changed for everyone in England, most especially for Frances Wray and her mother.  Not only did they lose their sons/brothers in the war, but upon the death of the family patriarch, they learn that they are not as comfortably set financially as they had assumed.  As a matter of fact, they will have to rent out part of their house to lodgers - aka "paying guests" - in order to stay in the house. 

When their tenants, a young couple named Leonard and Lilian Barber move in, there are things that Frances and her mother must learn to adjust to, as they are no longer the only ones living there.  Leonard and Lilian are part of the "clerk class" and not like other people the Wrays are used to knowing.  Leonard works at an insurance company, and Lilian works to transform their living quarters from the formal, somewhat Victorian decor of the Wrays, to something more modern and lively.

The arrival of the paying guests will end up changing the lives of everyone in the house.  By the end of the book, everything is turned on its head, and though Waters leaves things in some ways for the reader to decide, the story in no way seems finished.

Sundown Towns : A Hidden Dimension of American Racism, by James W. Loewen.  Just read this book.  It's a lot, it's long, but it is incredibly well-written, and you will learn so much.  Just read it.

The Smallest Lights in the Universe : A Memoir, by Sara Seager.  I wanted to like this book more than I did.  It was interesting, sad, and I did learn about exoplanets and a bit about astronomy, but the author was not someone who I ever felt connected with, and though the story took some very sad turns, it was hard for me to finish the book.  There was a lot of technical and scientific content that I got bored reading, mainly because I wasn't that interested in the details, which I realize is on me.  But the combination of that and my ambivalence towards the writer just made it an OK book for me.

On All Fronts : The Education of a Journalist, by Clarissa Ward.  I recently saw an interview with this author on television, so thought I'd try this book.  It is her own story of how she decided to become a journalist, and of her experiences over the years working as a correspondent from the Middle East.

One of the things that I thought was interesting was that she did not originally set out to be a journalist at all - it was only after 9/11 when she was moved to find out how we got to a place where this could happen.  From humble beginnings working for Fox News, she eventually worked her way to being a major reporter for CNN on all things Middle East.

Ward points out that she feels one of the most important things she can do is make her stories about real people and what is happening in their lives.  In order to accomplish this, she has sometimes had to take serious risks, and develop complicated plans to get the story and avoid detection by authorities.  Some of the examples she uses to illustrate this point are harrowing and serve as a reminder that working in the media can be seriously risky.  

She is a good writer, and her descriptions of the different places where she lived, including during her childhood are quite vivid, as are the individual portraits she paints of those she has worked with and/or interviewed.  You know how hard it was for her when someone she learned to trust and who helped her with contacts, transportation, etc., ends up dead.  

Mostly, I think she does a good job of making the people involved in these conflicts human, rather than just "other."  She tries to explain where the problems, animosities, and misundertandings have not just started, but where they might go in the future.

Clean : The New Science of Skin, by James Hamblin.  This book was so interesting, and in many ways fascinating.  The author is a doctor, who decided to look into what being "Clean" really meant to people and why.  He starts by talking about the fact that he has not taken a shower in three years, and explains why.  Then he delves into the history or hygiene, and how that has become entangled with beauty, which has then been determined to equal goodness in one way or another.  

Using separate sections to discuss different aspects of the complicated universe of soap, bathing, deodorants, etc., he talks with both experts in public health and medicine, as well as entrepreneurs who have developed "clean," "natural," and other such products.  He discusses what the really means and why people are so drawn to those products.

He also devotes time to discussing his own situation and how his thinking has or has not developed during the past years when he has taken what most people consider to be such a drastic step.

I found it fascinating, especially since I started changing my face-washing routine to one that is super basic and simple last summer, and have found that my skin is looking better than ever.  Having said that, I'm not sure I could - or would be ready - to take the leap into never showering at all, even though I have cut down on how often I do shower, since I had problems with severely dry skin beginning about four years ago.

This is a good read, and provides a lot of food for thought.  The author is neither preachy nor dismissive, so you read it and are left to your own devices to decide just what you do or do not think about the information presented.

Lady of Ashes, by Christine Trent.  When Violet Morgan married her husband Graham, she expressed an interest in learning his business - that of undertaking.  In Victorian London, she is building a reputation for their business with her excellent work and instinctual people skills.  While she is busy making things work so they can have continued success, her husband becomes involved in a mysterious undertaking with his brother, having to do with transporting goods in support of the southern states during the American Civil War.

As things progress, Violet is called upon to assist with the preparations and funeral for Prince Albert.  This brings her some new business, but the suspicion surrounding her husband's work is causing problems.

Taking some historical facts and events and weaving them into this story, the author creates some really amazing characters that interact with actual persons and events and seems believable.   A lot happens in this book, and though there are parts that drag a bit, I found it very interesting and extremely readable.

Cat About Town, by Cate Conte.  Maddie James has traveled from San Francisco, where she lives and is part owner in a successful green juice bar, home to Daybreak Island off the coast of Massachusetts for the funeral of her grandmother.  While there, she learns that her grandfather's house - the long-time family home - is being considered because of its prime location, as a possible transportation hub for people visiting during the summer.  The head of the local chamber of commerce sees it as a  great spot for a bicycle rental place run by his problematic son.  The biggest issue is that Maddie's grandfather does not want to sell the house.

During a local food event that is extremely popular, Maddie and her newly adopted cat come across the body of the chamber of commerce head, with an icepick in his back.  Right away, suspicions rise about Maddie and maybe even possibly her grandfather.  When things don't seem to be progressing in the investigation, another person is murdered, again with ties to her grandfather's house.  What is going on, and why have there now been two murders in a place where that seldom happens at all?

This was an enjoyable read, and you don't even really get a good hint of the killer until nearly the end of the book.  The author does an excellent job of making you feel you are visiting a shore town, with the sights and smells to go along with it.  This was especially fun to read after having read some more serious non-fictin books.  I may try the second one in the series at some point.

And now the weekend is upon us.  I have no specific plans, other than to continue on a household project I started a little while back, which is neither immediately necessary or even all that important, but will feel good to have finished once it's over.  I'm also hoping to start doing my usual semi-annual "review" of my stash to see if anything will move into the "donate" pile; since I've been doing this pretty regularly, I've managed to winnow quite a bit out of it, but there are still some things that will fall into the "If I still haven't done anything by now with this, it's gone" category.  And it always feels good to send the things I have decided I no longer want to keep to the knitting group at a local women's rehab shelter.  

I hope your weekend goes well, and that you have some time for some crafting, reading, or whatever activity is all yours and brings you some joy.  See you next week!

07 April 2021

A Whole Lot of Not Much and I Am Easily Amused

Seems like it's been a long time since I've participated in Unraveled Wednesday with Kat and everyone.  The main reason is that although I've been reading, it's been slightly less than usual, and though I have been knitting, it's been way less than usual.  I've been having a flare up of arthritis in my right elbow, which was always annoying but now happens more frequently every since I broke my wrist a couple of years ago.  It gets to the point where it even keeps me awake if I move too much when I sleep.  It doesn't necessarily hurt more when I do knit, but it hurts more *to* knit when it's doing its thing.  So all of my projects are the same, with only very small progress on each one.

In any case, I decided to post anyway, because I am close to finishing a book that I have found to be really interesting, and I saw a freebie pattern yesterday that I thought was really amusing and worth sharing.

First up, I'm nearly finished with this book:

This has been a good read, both in the premise (the narrator is the wife of Jesus), and in the depictions of life and society at the time it is supposed to be happening.  Admittedly, I'm also imagining some people starting to read it and then getting to a certain point and thinking "WHAAAATTT???" and being shocked, dismayed, or whatever, and frankly that amuses me.  

As for the freebie pattern, someone shared this on Twitter yesterday, and not only is it free, but it's very timely:

This is a free pattern from Mochimochi Land, and it just cracks me up.  Not only because it's stupid cute, but because when else but in the current climate would it be considered appropriate to knit a friendly syringe??  Think about it - say, two years ago, people would have been saying it promoted opioid abuse or something, right?  

I can hear the sanctimonious outrage in my head: "Disgusting! She's reading a book about Jesus having a wife, AND sharing a pattern to promote drug use!" 

As you can see from everything here, I do a good job of finding things funny for all the wrong reasons.  Good times.

We had a lovely Easter, if another quiet one since our partners in crime couldn't visit to undertake the decoration of Inappropriate Easter Eggs.  Hopefully next year we can get the band back together.

The weather here in Philadelphia was beautiful, and we had a leisurely day just relaxing and hanging out with Pip, Milo, and Hamlet.  The Tim fixed a really yummy Easter dinner, and we did what we could as far as consuming chocolate in honor of the day.  If only life could be as pleasant all of the time, right?

04 April 2021

Easter Sunday 2021

 Happy Easter if you celebrate this holiday!

And if you do not celebrate Easter, I wish you a lovely Sunday
to spend as you like.

01 April 2021

April Fool's Day

Today is of course, the first day of April (where did March go?  Why does it always go so fast for me?), and as you all know, April Fool's Day.  I think it's fun to do silly things to fool someone, but will admit that I do not enjoy mean-spirited things or pranks, so I guess I fall somewhere in the middle.  When I worked at the University of Pennsylvania, the student paper there used to do an April Fool's issue - but not on April Fool's Day.  It was always brilliant, because the stories were *just* real enough that you would be going along, somewhat surprised or shocked by what was being reported, and then there would be some teeny tiny little fact or quote that would make you realize it was that edition.  Never on the same day, but always within a week of April Fool's Day.  I loved it.

Anyhoo, I was thinking about the various things that have amused me over the years, and decided to share three of my favorite April Fool's things for Three on Thursday.

1.  When I was growing up, one year on this day, one of my sisters said she was going to make herself a glass of iced tea, and would I like one.  Without thinking about the fact that it was kinda weird she was offering to get me one, I said sure.  So she handed me a glass, and I took a drink (fortunately not a big gulp) and she had filled the glass with mostly iced tea, but added vinegar - YUK!

2.  Before I worked at the natural history museum where I am now, I worked at a religious archives.  One of our co-workers was this uber-serious guy, who never thought anything was funny - unless my co-worker Lisa did/said it.  Lisa could do no wrong as far as he was concerned.  So one year on April Fool's Day, she left him one of those "While You Were Out" phone messages and said he received a call from Mr. T.R. Echs, with the number of the natural history museum.  He came back from lunch, called the number, and asked to speak to the person.  They of course said no one by that name worked there, and he kept saying "But I have a message to return the call of Mr. T.R. Echs," until about the third time when he said, "Oh you know what, I realize I had one of the numbers wrong, I apologize." Then he hung up the phone and called, "LISA!!!"  He thought it was funny, we thought it was of course hilarious, and now that I know who he was talking to at the museum, I realize that the woman is so clueless, she didn't know people who did work there anyway, even though she had worked there for years and was always losing calls because of it.  So it was just another day at work for her.  (For anyone who may not have figured out why "T.R. Echs" is funny, it's a play on "T-Rex.")

3.  This one is from a long time ago, but I still remember it and how even once I learned it was a joke, I was not completely convinced for a while.  I was probably 5 or 6 years old, and the whole family had been watching some TV show in the living room, when my mother got up to go to the kitchen.  Except, when she stood up, there was a small, colored egg on her chair!  She turned around and said, "Oh no, I must have laid another egg!"  My head just exploded with disbelief, and of course my dad and my sisters went along with it.  I kept saying, "But how did you do that??" and she kept saying "Well, it happens every once in a while," and I was JUST FLOORED.  Finally, she picked it up and showed it to me to prove it was just a small plastic egg, and though that proved it, I thought about that for weeks, trying to figure out if it really could have been possible.  I remember that my mother said that they all thought I'd "get it" pretty quickly, but I'm pretty sure that it was just so out of left field, I thought it *had* to be true.  When I think back on it now, it makes me laugh really hard, because I just can't believe I fell for it!

So IF someone plays an April Fool's joke on you, I hope it's one you can laugh about and enjoy.  

Also remember this fact - people do NOT lay eggs, especially colored ones!😂