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Archive for November, 2011

I hope that you all had very happy Thanksgivings (at least all of you Americans — if you live in Canada, I hope your October Thanksgiving was equally as merry), and that you’re all avoiding the holiday stress!  David and I are banging out our shopping, a little each night (I love Amazon.com and Shutterfly, just have to say).  And the Christmas knitting, of course, continues…I really need to get a better grip on it.  Each day I look at the stash and think “I could totally pull that off in the remaining few days…”
My friend Jess holds an annual Yule party (since we are all of different religions, and not all of our friends necessarily celebrate the traditional “Christmas”), and this year, it’s on December 10th, which means that I have much less time than usual for knitting.  I’m working on each gift a little at a time, to avoid burnout.  Although I can hardly feel burned out when I’m working with such gorgeous yarns as these!
On the left is the first of a pair of fingerless mitts (my own “pattern”, if you can call it that — I work it over 40 stitches, 1×1 ribbing for the wrists and then simple stockinette, with an afterthought thumb and probably 1×1 ribbing for the top — thrilling, I know).  The yarn is gorgeous Manos del Uruguay Silk Blend in “dove” — I used it for a hat earlier this year, if it looks familiar.  The needles (for those who care) are US 4 dpns.
On the right is my favorite yarn probably of all time — Trabajos del Peru in “9” (thrilling name).  I’m making it into a winter hat for a very dear male friend of mine and David’s who helped me through a tough spot this past year and deserves a soft winter hat.  I hope he likes it (and that he isn’t peeking at this page).  Again, simple pattern — US 8 circular, 2×2 rib, stockinette to the decreases.  
This will be part of Ginny’s Yarn Along, and it wouldn’t be without reference to the book I’m reading (sadly, not included in the picture).  I’m in the middle of Janet Fitch’s White Oleander (reread) and enjoying it as much now as I did the first time I read it.
Happy knitting!
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I’m telling you, I’m super sick of these book reviews (this is mainly because I’ve been knitting more and I could really not care less about the reviews now).  I remember all the way back in January, when I got so excited and really put thought into my reviews…and now it’s December, I’ve read 89 books (11 from my goal!) and I just Do Not Care anymore.  I am so far behind in my book reviews now that I’m going to be doing THREE in one entry today…and that’s okay.  Because I make the rules on this blog.
Review: Henry’s Blog by Elizabeth Newbery (#87)
 My little sister just came back from a week-long, whirlwind tour of London, England, and brought me back this gem — Henry’s Blog: My Life in My Own Words, OBVS! by Elizabeth Newbery, found in the Tower of London gift shop.  It was meant as a gag gift, and I read it in one night.  Henry’s Blog is an extremely short book, written in cyber-speak and blog form, through the eyes of King Henry VIII.  I still can’t decide how I feel about it.  The humorist side of me thinks that it’s hilarious (and so does everyone else who has read this, including my father) — the idea of Henry giving his wives cyber-like nicknames (KatyA for Katharine of Aragon, AnnieB for Anne Boleyn and so forth) and talking himself up constantly.  The history major side of me weeps with the idea that kids will read this (it is obviously written for a young adult or teenager).  I went back and forth wondering if I should even count this is one of my books for the year.  But then something HUGE happened.  David read it.  Read a book.  All the way through.  And ENJOYED IT.  Clearly, that cemented it.  I have to give Henry’s Blog a good solid three-star rating, simply for the hilarity factor, and readability (did I mention that my husband read it?  A real book?  Go figure!)
Rating: ***
Review: Knitting Rules! by Stephanie Pearl McPhee (#88)
This is my second Stephanie Pearl McPhee (otherwise known as the Yarn Harlot) book of the year — I read The Secret Life of a Knitter back in Januaryand I have to say, I enjoyed Knitting Rules! much more than Secret Life.  The Yarn Harlot is known as a “knitting humorist”, but Knitting Rules! is equal parts funny and useful.  I’ve read it before, and I look at the big as one big pep talk for the anxious knitter, the one who is afraid to try new things, to pick up a skein of yarn and some needles and just go for it.  The Yarn Harlot’s handy rudimentary sock pattern is also included with step-by-step (no pun intended) instructions — a great tool for those knitters who are learning to knit socks for the first time.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone back over the pages when I’ve needed a little encouragement.  I recommend it to anyone who is interested in learning how to knit, or who could use a little boost every now and then, a reminder that “in the end, it’s just knitting.”
Rating: ****
Review: The House of Special Purpose by Colin Falconer
Every so often (usually when I’m broke) I find myself perusing the “free Kindle books” link on Amazon.com.  The other day, this book caught my eye, because as a child I was obsessed with anything and everything to do with the Russian Revolution and the fate of the Romanov family.  “The House of Special Purpose” was the name given to the Ipatiev house in Ekatrinburg where the Romanovs spent their final days before they were executed.  Falconer wrote The House of Special Purpose as a prequel of sorts to his book Anastacia, a sort of “what if” about the fictional destiny of the most famous of the Romanov children, Anastasia Nicholievna.  It’s tagline is “How was it possible for any of the children to have survived?  You won’t believe the answer; except it’s all true.”
I don’t know what I was hoping for, but this book was not it.  It was a chronicle of the last days of the Romanov family as seen through the eyes of Anastasia and some of the guards employed to imprison the family.  Falconer takes every negative story about Anastasia and makes her about the least sympathetic character in literature — even her fiestiness seems petulant, cruel, and childish.  There are some vaguely pornographic descriptions and a scene of female rape (without historical accuracy’ the author conjured it up himself, which just lead me to be disgusted and disturbed). The novella also suffers from supreme historical inaccuracy.  The cook, Kharitonov, is described as female, yet his real name was Ivan Kharitonov, and he was decidedly male.  Also, *SPOILER ALERT* the elephant in the room was the fact that in 2007 it was proved that none of the Romanov children survived the execution — the remains of the missing two were discovered at last.  I wouldn’t have been surprised with a novella such as this before 2007, but it was published in September of 2011.  
My final “beef” (if you could call it that) with this book was the tired theme, the implausible escape of Anastasia (or another Romanov child).  It’s been done before.  It was done by the mysterious Anna Anderson and countless others in the 20th century.  There was a movie made with Ingrid Bergman and the Don Bluth animated film (which I must confess is one of my favorites, even though it’s nonsense).  With great writing, it might have been pulled off, but the story has been done.  Time to move on to something else. 
Rating: *

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I’ve unfortunately left my book in the car, so I won’t be participating in Yarn Along today.  I also can’t show any of the other knitting I’m doing (trust me, there’s a lot) because it’s all for Christmas or Yule, whichever the intended recipient celebrates.  So you get a Giant Sock Yarn Blanket update.  Aren’t you excited?

Even if you aren’t, I am!  Because I can no longer sit down at my desk to take a picture of this thing.  It’s getting too big.  Sorry about the crappy cell phone quality and the messy desk.  It’s Thanksgiving week, what more do you want of me?
(Incidentally, in case anyone cares, the book I’m reading is Time and Chance by Sharon Kay Penman, which is good thus far (about 20 pages in) but which I completely reserve the right to abandon., at least for the foreseeable future. I’ve 13 books left to read to reach 100 (I still have to blog one) and time is running short.  It’s already November 23rd.  Eek.
There will be very little time for either reading or knitting today.  I’m going to my parents’ house after work, for our traditional pie baking while listening to Christmas music (David is coming, but intends to nap, since he had to get up at an ungodly hour this morning for work).  Baking will be followed by a dinner of my mom’s fried dough, and then we’ll be off to Massachusetts to spend Thanksgiving with my in-laws tomorrow.
Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours 🙂

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Going back to college!

Gather round, kiddos, it’s story time!  (Sort of)
I was in a major car accident in August of 2005 (believe it or not, this is relevant).  I broke my pelvis in three places, fractured some ribs, and busted up the right side of my face pretty badly.  Six months later, after recovery and plastic surgery, I started graduate school.
Well, chickies, it wasn’t a good time for me to be starting anything, other than putting my life in order.  Unbeknownst to me at the time, I was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and generalized anxiety disorder.  I was having trouble concentrating, I stayed up for days on end with insomnia, I had five or six anxiety attacks a day, and some days, I had trouble leaving my own apartment due to fear.  Finally, in 2008, I started taking medication and seeing a therapist.  By that time, unfortunately, my grades were sliding fast and I was in rough shape.  After Spring semester 2009, I took a medical withdrawal from college until I could fix my life.
A lot has happened in the two and a half years since then.  I got engaged, got married, increased my job to a full-time position, moved into a better apartment, switched medications about six times until I found one that worked, got a new therapist who is just plain awesome in so many ways, and got myself back on track.  In May of this year, I applied for re-admission to the M.A. program at my university.  Due to misunderstandings, missing records, and a ton of other crap, this took six months to sort out.
BUT.  There’s a happy ending (I think), because as of yesterday, I am once again a student of the M.A. program.  I’ll start coursework in January of 2012 as a part-time student (because I’m working full-time, and the last time I tried to juggle both full time work and full time school I mucked it up pretty badly), and we’ll see how it goes.
I’m scared to death, but I’m excited too.  I never planned to drop out of college and never go back.  I’m finally going to finish.

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The second play I read recently, and book 86 for the year, was The Lion In Winter by John Goldman.  I have seen the movie starring Katherine Hepburn and Peter O’Toole about 100 times, it is one of my favorites, and I finally knuckled down and read the play last week.
The Lion In Winter takes place at the twilight of the reign of King Henry II, the first Plantagenet king of England, at a fictitious Christmas court held in Chinon, English-occupied France, in 1183.  Henry has recently buried his eldest son and heir, Henry the Young King, and at age 50, with death encroaching upon him, he must make the decision of who among his remaining three sons should succeed him as king.  There is Richard the Lionheart, the eldest, cold, ruthless, and distant — a splendid fighter who hates his father Henry as much as he favors his mother.  Second in line is Geoffrey, Duke of Brittany, a capricious schemer who resents his middle-child status.  Finally, there is John, who at sixteen is Henry’s favorite, a stupid, spoiled, rapacious youth.  Thrown into the mix is the boys’ mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, dungeoned up for the last ten years after daring to lead a revolution against Henry II, set free for the Christmas court to once again scheme and plot against Henry for the crime of loving others more than her, and Philip, King of France, who has come to settle accounts with Henry for taking his younger sister, Princess Alys, as a mistress instead of marrying her off to Richard as previous agreed.  The play takes the term “family dysfunction” to new heights as Henry battles in vain to keep his empire intact.
This is a play of little action, and all talk, same as the film.  Nothing happens in the film, except for one two-minute battle scene in the first 10 minutes.  After that, it’s all talking, back-biting, scheming, and sarcasm.  But it is great.  Henry’s interactions with his wife Eleanor are the best as they fight and tussle, hating and loving each other indiscriminately.  The boys are equally as entertaining, as sympathetic as they are vile.  The only character that I think is judged unfairly is Princess Alys, relegated to a sniveling complainer for the entirety of the play.  A fantastic piece of literature, which leaves me hankering to watch the movie.
Rating: ****

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Exercising patience

Looking back now, I have been a knitter for eight years.  I learned how to knit when I was 20 years old, in my on-campus apartment junior year of undergrad.  One of my roommates taught me how to knit a garter stitch scarf.  That was all I knitted until 2008, when I finally learned how to purl and knit in the round and all sorts of other fancy tricks.  
I was definitely not the best student of knitting.  I decided (rather firmly, and like a lot of first-time knitters) that I was very much a scarf knitter, that I was happy doing that and nothing else (who the hell needs to learn how to purl anyway?) and I could live the rest of my life doing nothing but garter stitch. 
I was also ridiculously impatient.  It’s a pattern that has been prevalent my entire life.  If I’m going to do something, I want to do it right, and I want to do it right the first time.  My first scarf was an agony of mistakes, simply because I tore it out about six or seven times in frustration before finally figuring out how to make the little loops stay on the needles and come out in some sort of pattern.  There were many projects that I abandoned, simply because I made a mistake somewhere, didn’t realize it until about five or six rows later, and then gave up on it, because I didn’t have the patience to “tink” (knit back) the rows to fix the mistake, and I knew I couldn’t finish a project that had a huge glaring error in it.  If I did stick with the project, chances are I would rip the whole thing back to the beginning, preferring to start fresh rather than to tediously tink back until I got to the mistake, and fix it again.
In my rush to finish my Christmas knitting, I have been working on three projects at once, trying to get them all done in time for the holidays.  Last night, while knitting one (in the car on the way home from visiting my ILs), I realized that I had put a yarn-over (and thus, a lace hole) in the wrong place in the object I was knitting.  I stuffed it back into my bag and fumed the rest of the way home.  I was over halfway done with the object, but I had made the mistake five rows back.  I could take the object off the needles and rip back, but this often leads to dropped or twisted stitches.  The only smart thing to do was to sit there and slowly, tediously, tink the whole thing back.
It took me awhile, but I managed it.  I tinked back to the mistake, re-knit the stitches, and kept going.  It lost me an hour or two, but in the end, it will be worth it, and the gift will look so much better for having gone through the trouble of fixing the mistakes.  Apparently, I’m finally starting to learn some patience, to learn that it’s better to correct than to give up and tear everything out.  It’s worth far more to fix something than to give up.
Make of that what you will.

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My sister Christina returned home from England in the wee hours of this morning, and during her vacation, I helped myself to two of the books in her ever-increasing stack of plays (my sister was a theatre student).  They were both on my “to-read” list, and now I have finished them both; they are #85 and #86 for 2011, both about English monarchs in very different times, and both very well-written IMO.  The first is A Man For All Seasons by Richard Bolt.
A Man For All Seasons is a play about the last few years in the life of Sir Thomas More, a lawyer, statesman, Chancellor of England, and after his death, a Roman Catholic saint and martyr.  An unlikely politician, More was promoted to the position of Chancellor of England at the insistence of King Henry VIII, towards the middle of his reign, around the time when he was angling for an annulment from his wife, Katherine of Aragon, in order to marry Anne Boleyn.  When More withheld his support for the annulment, on the grounds that the King had no right to break from the will of the Church of Rome, he provoked the King’s displeasure, thus sealing his fate. 
More is a sympathetic character, a man who knows that he is doomed, yet is unable to sacrifice his conscience in order to save his life.  He is a celebrated character in many movies, books, and on television, yet he is generally a side character.  I thought that, in Seasons (having scene the 1966 film starring Paul Scofield as More), he was finally given a chance to shine in a starring role.  But in the play, this isn’t the case.  More is once again relegated to a supporting character.  The “main character” in Seasons is the so-called “Common Man”, who acts as narrator, manservant, rower, lawyer, judge, and executioner, all in one.  He has by far the most lines, and is the one who speeds the story along, so to speak.  He is noticeably absent in the film version.
The play is a bit dry in parts — someone who isn’t familiar with that period in history would be confused (I was the first time I saw the movie) — and most of the supporting characters (the King, More’s wife Alice) aren’t portrayed in the best of lights.  Alice is relegated once again to a shrewish, sniveling woman, rather than the plain-speaking, yet loving wife she was known as.  More’s relationship with his daughter Margaret is touched on, but only briefly — his many other children are nonexistent.  I was also disappointed that his famous last words — dying “the King’s good servant, but God’s first” — are omitted from the play.
Yet, it is a well-written piece, and you can’t help but admire Thomas More, whether Catholic, Protestant, or atheist, for his conscience and moral character.
Rating: ***

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