Finished Stocking!!


Behold and rejoice: I have finished a stocking! I thought that once I turned the heel, the rest would go pretty quickly, but it actually took me longer to connect the heel stitches back to the instep stitches, and I forgot that there’s still quite a bit of foot after a heel to be knit. I have not blocked it yet (washed it and let it dry to get it in just the right shape), and while I don’t think you have to with an item that’s not going to be worn, it might make it look a little nicer. Plus, it will give me practice for whenever I finish the shawl I started in class.  Nevertheless, even if I never get around to blocking it, if we hang it by the chimney on Christmas Eve, Santa will fill it with treats!

Hopefully in another 2 Christmases, the other two children’s stockings will also be complete. Don’t worry, we have stockings to hang for them–just not hand knit, personalized ones yet. I am quite happy, though, just to have gotten one finished for now.


New Reading Project

I was a French major in college, and my French teacher mother-in-law suggested that the best way to keep up with French was to read a French novel once a year. I’ve been abysmal with this. But I got one in last year, and now I have 3 new French novels that my parents-in-law brought me back from their latest trip and so I’m going to try to read one in the next month or two:
Les yeux jaunes des crocodiles (Joséphine, #1)Les yeux jaunes des crocodiles by Katherine Pancol

This one is just about to be published in English and when I showed the ARC of the English version (from my own mom’s trip to BEA–I am very well-connected in the book-getting world!) to my mother-in-law, she got the French version for me. (In case it is not already evident, I have the best in-laws on the planet.) Since I am trying to not rely on the dictionary for every word I don’t understand, here’s my process so far:

  • Read a section (or a few pages) in French, underline words that I don’t understand which I think are very important for the story.
  • Read the English version of bits that I completely didn’t get in France (so far, it’s mostly been a paragraph here or there)–and I usually skim the English for the parts I did understand to see how well I understood.
  • Look up the words I underlined when I have a little extra time to go through my French-English dictionary.

So far, I am very happy with how much I’ve been able to understand just in French–and I’ve also been reminded what a tricky business translation can be. While many sections are translated exactly (by which I don’t mean word for word–too many idioms for that, but idea for idea), there are some sections that are basically paraphrased. Now, I know this is an ARC, so that may not be the final translation, but it definitely increases my motivation to read in French: there are some details–maybe not essential to the plot, but part of the story being created–that are just left out of the English and I’m glad to have the chance to get them, even if I don’t get them all right.

I definitely read a lot slower in French than in English (and I’m not super fast in English), so this one will take awhile, but I think blogging about it will help keep me going.

Briefly, the plot so far: Josephine has just kicked out her unemployed husband,  Antoine, who’s having an affair. Her older sister, Iris, calls to remind her about a family dinner and hears about it but promises not to tell their mother. (Iris seems to be something of a jerk: the cool, movie-making older sister vs. Josephine’s more academic, less spectacular interests). Josephine’s daughters come home from school for lunch. And that’s as far as I’ve gotten!

Library Books Enjoyed, 9/5/13

This week’s crop is a return to books we all definitely enjoyed:

Annabelle Swift KindergartnerAnnabelle Swift Kindergartner by Amy Schwartz

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I checked this out because I remembered enjoying it when I was in elementary school, and it seemed apt, with our oldest starting kindergarten. Both he and the three year old really liked it and asked for it to be reread a couple times.

While some details have definitely changed (most noticeably, the price of milk–although I’m impressed by how cheap milk still is!), the story has held up well over time. Annabelle’s nervousness about starting kindergarten, her frustration when her sister Lucy’s advice turns out to be unhelpful, and her eventual chance to shine still resonate.

Monkey See, Monkey DrawMonkey See, Monkey Draw by Alex Beard*

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a selection from books read aloud at storytime, and while it’s not a personal favorite, I appreciate its quality. The illustration style is unique, and I think the monkeys’ faces are a little creepy looking, but they didn’t bother my kids, and the pictures do incorporate hand, foot, and thumbprints in a way that’s fun. Also, I think the border drawings enhance the story.

Also, I think the story has a nice message, that not all games have to be competitions, but it doesn’t hit you over the head with the message. A fun choice all around.

Cinderella's RatCinderella’s Rat by Susan Meddaugh

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is one that we just happened upon when I was searching the catalog for more Cinderella stories for my three year old. It’s by Susan Meddaugh, who is more famous for her Martha books, but I like this one better than Martha. The rat is charming and sympathetic as he tells the story, and the way it turns out is completely unexpected. Also, it’s a fairly short fractured fairy tale. We just got it yesterday, and it’s already been reread several times.

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Knitting Class and the Yarn Harlot

One thing I didn’t put on my Durham list last week was “take a knitting class at the Hillsborough Yarn Shop.” That’s because I COMPLETED this item over the summer. I’ve been wanting to do this since I discovered the shop in early 2011, and I’m so happy I got it in. It was everything I’d hoped it would be: an outing by myself, a chance to learn a little more about knitting, and an excuse to do some shopping at the store. As a bonus, the project is something I’ve been wanting to make for myself but didn’t know how (a shawl–at church, it always seems to be cold, whether because the AC is up too high or because the heat isn’t on!) and is something I can make with alpaca yarn that my husband brought home from a trip to Peru this spring. Here’s the work in progress:

Beginning of shawl.

Beginning of shawl.

It obviously has a long way to go, but I feel like I learned enough to confidently continue the pattern and do the blocking and finishing when it’s done. (And if now, well, then I’ll have to make another trip over to the shop…)

In a somewhat related category, I finally discovered the Yarn Harlot this summer. That would be Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, a knitter and writer from Toronto who writes about knitting, mostly humor and stories rather than patterns (although she has those, too, I understand). I read her first book during some unexpected traveling in July, and I was laughing out loud and making my mom listen while I read her sections. In my defense, my mom laughed, too! Although I realize (and so does Ms. Pearl-McPhee, for that matter), that knitting humor is a very specific genre, I wholeheartedly recommend her books to anyone who does any kind of crafting, or if there’s a crafter in your life who you are trying to figure out. If you suspect someone is hiding yarn around your house, Yarn Harlot will tell you where to look!

Yarn Harlot: The Secret Life of a KnitterYarn Harlot: The Secret Life of a Knitter by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Here’s the original. I didn’t think you needed my whole review since I basically told you everything already.

And here’s some text to make the pictures

line up correctly.

All Wound Up: The Yarn Harlot Writes for a SpinAll Wound Up: The Yarn Harlot Writes for a Spin by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Zucchini and Summer Squash

I like zucchini and summer squash, but I can’t say I love either one (at least not in their purest forms), and we have gotten a LOT of them this year. My basic plan for using them is:

  1. Make zucchini bread. Possibly a double batch, and you can use shredded summer squash just the same as shredded zucchini. (I use these two vegetables basically interchangeably no matter what.)
  2. Have at least one meat and potatoes dinner where zucchini or summer squash is the vegetable. The default way I cook it is sauteing with onions and butter–I really like it best when it has cooked so long (at a low temperature) that there is probably no nutritional value left, but nobody else in my family seems to especially like it at all, so I cook it my way. I tried grilling it this summer, but it just didn’t seem quite done enough for me.
  3. Hide extras in such dishes as ratatouille, chili (they make a good substitute for meat if you want to make a vegetarian chili, at least in terms of bulk), soups, stews.

This plan generally makes use of all the squash I have laying around, but this year it wasn’t enough. I don’t know if I didn’t make enough stews or what, but we had a LOT of extra summer squash lying around, and I wasn’t ready to make more zucchini bread yet.

This led to my most recent food discovery, which is zucchini or summer squash parmesan. It’s exactly like eggplant parmesan, only substitute squash. Now, I used my one “real Italian” cookbook to make this (that’s where I found the recipe), so it was a somewhat involved process including homemade sauce (hey, we had a lot of tomatoes, too) and sliced vs. shredded cheese, but I think this was a recipe that can easily adapt. So if you have a good eggplant parmesan (or chicken parmesan, for that matter) recipe that you like feel free to sub in zucchini or summer squash as the main event. The one point I wouldn’t have thought of is to slice the squash long-ways, instead of in rounds–this will also make the overall process faster, since you can fry the bigger pieces.

This extra option for squash-usage has successfully rid me of all the squash that were hiding in my crisper drawer.

Now if I can just figure out how to use up all the cucumbers.


Library Books Enjoyed, 8/7/13

A short one this week:

The Three Little Pigs and the Somewhat Bad WolfThe Three Little Pigs and the Somewhat Bad Wolf by Mark Teague

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Fractured fairy tales either work for me or they don’t. This one does–I’m not sure if it will work for you, but it does for me.

We heard this one at storytime last week, and I was happy when it was the one my son chose to request (he asks to check out one of the books ready every week; we are lucky that our branch only has the one preschool storytime per week). The twist in this three little pigs story is that the wolf is only somewhat bad (like most of us when it comes down to it), and just really hungry. Also, the pigs’ lifestyle choices are pretty funny, especially if, like me, you enjoy potato chips and soda. All ends well, and the first two pigs learn a little work in the process.

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad DayAlexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I got this one from the library this week because I loved it as a kid, and I loved it just as much this time. My kids seemed to like it, but haven’t requested repeats yet, so either they need to grow into it a little, or it just doesn’t click for them like it did for me.

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Certain Women by Madeleine L’Engle

Certain Women 
I read this book for this first time when I was in library school, probably in the spring or summer of 2007–I remember that I found it in a used bookstore that’s sadly no longer open in Durham. I enjoyed it when I read it, but I had forgotten a lot about it, so I decided to reread it a few weeks ago. I think it’s one of Madeleine L’Engle’s more complicated books–it’s certainly one of her later books, and I think one of the few “adult” books she wrote after she became a well-known children’s author.

Before I go too far, I don’t think I’ve mentioned on this blog that I consider Madeleine L’Engle my favorite author. I have lots of favorites, but she’s one who’s books continue to appeal to me both because I like her stories and because I appreciate her outlook on life. Like my mother (who introduced me to L’Engle), I’ve found more to criticize in her books as I’ve gotten older, but overall, I still think her books are fabulous and capture the way I feel about many things. So while I do have a few critical comments, more of this book works for me than it might for other readers.

A quick overview of this one is difficult, but it basically follows actress Emma Wheaton as she spends time with her very famous actor father, David Wheaton, while he is dying. They are in the Pacific Northwest, on a boat, with David’s current wife, Alice, and Alice’s brother Ben, who runs the boat. David spends much of the time reviewing his life and regrets, particularly those regrets related to his marriages (8 in all), his children, and never having gotten to play King David in a play that Emma’s playwright husband, Nik, was trying to write. There is a great deal of flashback, and Emma has to come to terms with her own past traumas and mistakes while she’s trying to help her father in his dying and let go of him, too.

Those familiar with L’Engle’s work may be surprised the she focuses so much on a character with so many marriages–her Austin books are sometimes criticized for presenting a family that’s too perfect–but as in her other books, she treats almost all of her characters with compassion. David Wheaton acknowledges that he’s messed up many times, and many people have gotten hurt because of his choices, but he maintains friendships with some of his past wives, contact with almost all of his children, and overall is a sympathetic character. Most of his children get along with each other, and several of the wives are friends as well, which is where I can see L’Engle looking at the world with rose-colored glasses. While many former spouses can remain or eventually become friends, and step-parents and step-siblings often do become friends, the “one big happy family” ideal seems to come a little too easily.

My other criticism is actually the use of the Biblical story of David. I generally like when L’Engle uses Biblical themes–Many Waters, a retelling of Noah and the ark, is my all-time favorite–but it gets a little tiresome here. Part of it is a natural part of David Wheaton obsessing with the story and Nik’s play in his reminiscing, and also of Emma and Nik forming their relationship largely around work on the play, but sometimes it just gets to be a little too much.

With that said, I like the book. I like the theme of less than perfect families still loving each other, even if it seems a little too easy here. I like the focus on dying well and using the time of dying to reflect on life and say good-bye, along with the rejection of medicalizing death. Emma is a likeable, but not perfect protagonist–her own problems come out in pieces as the book unfolds–but I like the choice she makes at the end of the story. Additionally, the world of the New York theater scene in the 1940’s is wonderfully vivid, and I’m sure drawn largely from L’Engle’s own time as an actor (to support her writing!) in that period.

I looked up some reviews from when the book came out (in 1992), and the main criticisms were L’Engle’s rosy outlook and that she had sprinkled trite philosophical truisms throughout the book. I’ve already mentioned the former, and I think if you can get past that, then you can get past the truisms, too. To me, a more hopeful and optimistic outlook is sometimes what we need, and I think the smatterings of philosophy rang true in the world of the characters.

If you can get a hold of the book (Durham Library does have 2 copies, which surprised me a bit), and if you like L’Engle’s other books, I would recommend this one. Just remember that this is definitely not a kid’s book–it’s written for adults.