I ordered more yarn for the popular colors in my temperature blanket, and while on the Knitpick website I saw two books that looked interesting. First, let’s see how the blanket is coming along.
You can definitely see that the third part of January cooled off. The dark blue where it’s 30-35 degrees showed up and there’s even an all-blue day at the end (by the way, the dark blue is way prettier in person than in the photos where dark blue and green look black).
The first twenty days were pretty warm, into the 70s (bright yellow and the lightest yellow). It’s going to look interesting as time goes on. Next row will go into February. I decided to make the square between months solid black at first. But now I think I’ll make it’s center the most popular temperature range of the previous month. That’s Alfalfa, the light green that represents 55-60°.
So the books I got were mostly motif based. The first one is Colour Crochet Unlocked, by Jane Howorth and Dawn Curran (2023). As the title implies, it’s British. Luckily, I can translate their stitch names into American.
The cover shows projects, which are quite nice, but the part I liked best were all the interesting and not-too-hard motifs the authors share.
I kept coming up with things to make with each new pattern. This book is worth owning, plus it was on sale at KnitPicks. The only part I didn’t like was the long discussion of color theory. That’s because I’ve read so many of those in various books. It’s fine for a beginner though, and quite clear.
If you need inspiration for blankets, pillows, and such, this will be a fantastic reference book. They do have garments in the pattern collection, but I like the home decor options.
The second book is from KnitPicks, Block Party: Modular Blankets (2020). You can probably guess why I got this one. I do love modular projects. Yum. The cover drew me right in.
There are only ten projects in this one (all knitted), but it was inexpensive. I think there was only one pattern I wasn’t interested in making, but I think I might even like it done in other colors (it was solid gray). The book is thicker than you’d think, though, because there are many, many photos of each one, including extreme closeups. I enjoyed looking at them, but if you just want patterns, it’s sort of overkill.
I will certainly find my next project in one of these books!
By the way, I’ve had a really good blog week. Yesterday was by far my most popular single day on this blog. Thank you all for the stories you shared about your family’s naming traditions both here and on Facebook. It was nice to write something cheerful that was popular, for once. So, here are flowers to thank you all.
This is the book everyone seems to be reading. I wish I’d loved it more than I do, but I don’t. Lessons in Chemistry, by Bonnie Garmus (2022) is full of varied characters and has great intentions. Garmus obviously put in a lot of work learning facts that make the novel seem realistic to fans of chemistry, cooking, live television, and rowing (yes, there’s a rowing subplot). I just wish she’d taken a little more time to not have every single character by a caricature of themselves and their role in society.
I have to salute any book that makes a big deal about the lack of opportunities for advancement for women in the last 1950s and early 1960s. So, hooray for that. This book makes no bones about it, smart women got a raw deal back then. But did every patriarchal and misogynist character HAVE to spew forth such predictable things? And why does every book-smart person have to be socially inept?
It got to be every time a new man showed up, I just waited for him to put the main character down, lie to get their own way, or try to assault some woman or another. And the female characters are no better. They are portrayed as gossips, nags, women in unhappy relationships, and whatever other sixties stereotype you can come up with. I’m giving myself the impression that I don’t really like anyone in the book, and that actually may be true. They just aren’t very nuanced. I was fond of the minister who was the protagonist’s genius husband’s old pen pal, though. He was thoughtful and kind AND didn’t end up marrying the heroine. There, one cliche avoided.
Sadly, I also guessed all the plot twists before they happened, as well. You can’t love them all.
But if you are a major fan of speeches about the inequality of women, like to talk about food in terms of its chemistry (I liked that part), socially inept geniuses of all ages, or rowing, you might enjoy this more than I did. I was pleased to not see any typos, too.
It’s a good thing I have a book report for you today, because I wasn’t in a good mood and was pretty down. But forget about that! Let’s talk about my most recent book, The LEGO Story: How a Little Toy Sparked the World’s Imagination, by Jens Andersen (2022). The translator was great, too (it was originally in Danish, as are all things LEGO).
This book is both a book about how a business was born and nurtured and a story of a family and their relationships with each other. The same family has run the company that makes LEGO for five generations, which is pretty impressive.
The Christiansen or Kristiansen family (they spelled it different ways) seem to all have had a creative genius to them. I enjoyed reading about Ole Kirk Christiansen, who founded the company that made innovative wooden toys, to Gotfred Kirk Christiansen, his son who grew the plastic bricks we’ve come to know and love, to Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen, and on to Thomas Kirk Kristiansen, who is apparently still in charge.
One of the themes of the book is the strong Christian faith of the family (ironic, given their name). They were members of a group of Danish Christians who stuck together and from what I can tell were darned cheerful and practical. Ole Kirk got through THREE fires that burned down his factory and many other challenges by just declaring he’d be fine, because the Lord would provide. I’m sure hard work and perseverance had a little to do with it, too.
That Ole Kirk was both talented and resilient. He had a vision of what LEGO could be and nothing was going to stop him! He, and his son and grandson, are examples we can all follow, in that they were willing to try new things and if they failed, regroup and use what they learned to try again. As well as LEGO has done in the long run, they had some big failures and challenges. Interestingly, they kept their headquarters in Billung, Denmark and are still there today. That’s consistent.
It is a lot of fun to see how the LEGO brick concept grew and changed. The key was putting those circular tubes on the bottom that hold them together. Before that, you could stack them, but they couldn’t be picked up. Genius. Another genius idea was the LEGO figures of people. They were so carefully designed to be able to move and to be very versatile.
The final things I got out of the LEGO story were a lot of ideas about business management practices and philosophy. They tried many different techniques from very lax to top-down management, to a blend. No matter what they did, though, they respected their workers and encouraged their creativity.
The company philosophy has also been laser focused on the needs of children to play and learn. Even when they made all those commercial connections to Star Wars, Harry Potter and all that, LEGO philosophy never wavered and still hasn’t. That makes me feel good about the hours and hours my brother and I spent building towns from our bricks, and all the things my own kids built.
Just as much as I enjoyed the positive aspects of the company and the family who runs it, I enjoyed learning about their disagreements and squabbles, because they also learned a lot from that and ended up creating a company and subsidiaries that respected their individual needs and talents. As a member of a family-run company, I got a lot out of how they divided responsibilities and shares. They were kind, fair, and good to each other, even when they disagreed.
This isn’t the usual kind of book I read, but I sure learned a lot and I must have liked it, because I keep telling poor Lee about it. Now, go introduce your children and grandchildren to LEGO blocks!
Whew, did it rain a lot for the past few days. There’s not much a person with no car can do in a downpour, so I did the thing I’d say I’d do and found myself a plan B. I had Wi-Fi, and the condo place had a DVD rental station, so I’ve taken a few days to be introspective and do something I rarely do: watch a lot of movies.
Why, you ask, don’t I watch a lot of movies very often? Well, this goes back a long way, maybe 50 years or so, when I fell hard for my high-school crush (also my college and most of grad school crush). He was laser-focused on cinema studies, even in high school. He was going to follow in the footsteps of his older brother, who majored in filmmaking at USC. But he wanted to write.
I, too, wanted to write, though I really didn’t care about what. Combine that with friends like Anita, who was also a writer type, and you can imagine how creative and eloquent the notes we passed around in school were. They were also very funny, since we also had cartooning skills in the mix.
Anyway, I figured the way into that guy’s heart was to love what he loved, so I watched lots and lots of movies. When we started dating, pretty much all we did was go to movies. No, not to do a lot of smooching, but to watch and analyze those films. We were fans of ci-ne-ma. You didn’t just go to a movie and enjoy it. Au contraire, you had to analyze the themes, dissect the camera angles, and make sure to note any editing flaws or continuity issues. This was serious business.
It didn’t get any less serious throughout college. He majored in English, with a concentration in cinema studies, and I majored in linguistics with concentrations in cinema and Japanese. Japanese cinema, that was my ticket to academic glory, apparently.
Well, by the time I got partway through my dissertation, which happened to use Japanese movies as its data source, and that relationship ended when I realized I was trying way too hard to mold my life after whatever that other person wanted, leading to regrettable rebellions…let’s just say I was done with the ci-ne-ma. I was over the dolly shots and the search for Marxist themes in every film (to this day, I could not tell you one thing about Marxism, even though I had a child who followed the same philosophical path).
Sadly, I also could not watch a movie without analyzing it. I’d see one thing that triggered my urge to analyze and I could no longer just be moved by immersing myself into the world of the film. That was not fun. So, I really don’t enjoy movies much anymore, especially old ones where I feel compelled to compare each film to its director’s “ouvre.” Poor Anita. She just wanted to watch Turner Classic Movies and I couldn’t look. High School Boyfriend had not ruined her ability to do ci-ne-ma.
Back to today, I guess all that introspection and shedding of old traumas has gotten me past some of my issues. I do better now, and try to watch movies with Lee. I’m just not good with horror and overly realistic violence, which cuts out a lot of the current movies out there.
Here, alone in my little space, I went out and rented every single rom-com, comedy, and wimpy family movie I could, and I watched them. I let myself get immersed in the story, the music, and the visuals and just had fun. What a gift to myself! I do have a couple of comments on some of the films I watched, though, in case you’re considering any of my wimpy choices:
Jerry and Marge Go Large: I’m not sure if I mentioned this one before, but it’s a lot of fun and based on a true story about people who figured out a lottery loophole. Any story featuring real-life mathematical geniuses and genuinely likable secondary characters is okay with me. ****
Addams Family 2: The animation was great, and the attention to detail in the scenery was wonderful. But that was one predictable plot. **
Jungle Cruise: I had low hopes for a movie based on a theme park ride, but I ended up enjoying all the references to the ride and the cheerfully campy plot. The stunts were fun, too, and it was nice to see the female lead portrayed as competent at jungle skills. The gay brother character was fun, too, as he reminded me of many people I know AND was a badass. This one’s worth watching if you want to just relax and watch something. ***
Elvis: GEEZ the guy who played Elvis nailed it. I love how this movie was made and edited (sorry, getting ci-ne-ma on you), and the soundtrack that mixed music from all eras was inspired. You literally see and hear the history of music since the 1950s in this one. Tom Hanks was creepy, though, as Col. Parker. But the rest of the cast, including the portrayals of influential black musicians, was inspired. The Little Richard guy was riveting. ****
The Lost City: This was way better than I thought it would be from the previews. It’s pretty similar to Jungle Cruise, so don’t watch them together. But this one’s one-liners were way more clever, and I found myself chuckling aloud at some of the asides. Sandra Bullock sure can do comedy. I had a blast watching this. *****
Marry Me: I watched this one with Lee, but I just wanted to say this was charming, sweet, and a perfect rom-com. *****
The Good House: Here’s when I ran out of big hits to watch. This one has nice actors and beautiful scenery, but the plot is a heavy-handed tale of a woman who’s an alcoholic and keeps reciting all the typical thing alcoholics tell themselves. It came out well-intentioned but a bit preachy. Kudos for showing realistic sex between older people. ** 1/2
Walking with Herb: This was literally the last film I could get that wasn’t a cartoon or part of a series I wasn’t interested in. Highlights of this one are the great scenery of Las Cruces and Palm Springs and the golf humor. I like golf humor, which is good, because it balances out the Christianity theme (as a non-Christian, I had to suspend my beliefs). Well, it was a sweetly Christian theme, and it was nice to see the Latino lead characters in a mainstream film. I did tear up at some points, so hey, it was okay. ***
I talked about King Richard, the film about Serena and Venus Williams’s dad in an earlier blog. But, I liked it a lot. ****
My solo time is coming to an end, though, because I’ve got my owl necklace (it’s a Superb Owl) on and plan to go watch the Superbowl with other folks at the little cabana bar downstairs. Then, if I can find transportation, I will head home tomorrow. All cabs are booked. Great. Uber is NOT cheap in advance, so I’m hoping tomorrow morning it will be better.
One of the main things I’ve been doing while in Hilton Head is read. My crochet project really isn’t working out. I think I’ll try it with different yarn and do something else with the yarn I started on. Anyway, I just read The Dictionary of Lost Words(2022), by Pip Williams, an Australian novelist.
I was probably doomed to love this book, because it’s about words and touches on topics I’m fond of, like women’s rights. Of course, it would need to be written well, and for sure, this book had some beautiful writing. My friend who had already read this book got a look on her face like bliss when she described how much she enjoyed Pip Williams’s writing.
One of my favorite aspects of the book is that, while it’s fiction, its plot is woven around real people and real events. The novel follows the progress of the Oxford English Dictionary‘s first edition and the dedicated lexicographers who put it together. What a monumental undertaking THAT was. I was fascinated to learn how Dr. Murray and his team compiled words and definitions. Ooh, so much intrigue went into all that editing and defining.
The most important thing that Williams does by sharing her writing with us, though, is highlight the contributions that women made to the dictionary, which (naturally) was overlooked at the time. She winds information about the state of women in the late 1800s and early 1900s, including how different the lives of women are from different social strata. I was impressed at how respectfully Williams treated women of all classes and brought them to life. I loved how the elderly former prostitute with a salty vocabulary is also depicted as a skilled woodcarver who is wise in ways that are helpful to the protagonist, Esme.
Esme isn’t real, but her story resonates with anyone who’s led a life as a woman today. I could easily see myself dealing with the problems and dilemmas Esme faces, as well as how she learns about life, love, and death. Williams doesn’t sugarcoat the hardships women endured in the days before women had the right to vote, to contribute to work, even to be a “scholar.”
Sadly, I see some of the issues the women in The Dictionary of Lost words face are still facing so many women today. As we lose our reproductive rights, we need women like the former prostitute, for example. The societal information about how life was during my grandmother’s youth was sobering, but the ways that women worked to contribute to society and make things better ring true today.
And as for the words, oh, it was my idea of a good time to see how Esme collected women’s and common people’s words, the ones that were deemed too coarse for the OED. She was a linguist after my own heart (I did research on the language of Japanese women when I was an academic).
This book makes you wish it would never end, because you end up very fond of the people you meet there, like Lizzie the servant who Esme relies on her whole life, or Ditte, the aristocratic academic who contributes hundreds of definitions to the dictionary (she was a real person). And yes, the men in the book were also well rounded and enjoyable to read about.
I read this in the Kindle app and finished on my new Kindle Scribe e-reader, which I’ll review after I’ve used it more. It takes a while to get used to this way of reading, that’s for sure. And setting up the new device at the hotel was challenging. But, I enjoy the size, quietness (I hate phone noise and computer fans), and lack of reflections in the Kindle. It’s much easier to carry around than books. Don’t get me wrong. I like books. No, I love books. But at my age, I’ve pretty much filled up my house with books. I’m hoping to be able to upload my knitting PDFs to the Kindle and mark where I am on them. That would be oh so great.
Oh look, a book report! Since it’s been foggy for two days, I’ve been reading books on my beach trip. The first one is Byrne Your Bridges, by my friend, Liza Cameron Wasser, who lives in Germany. That explains the .de extension on her website, which is where you can buy this book if you would also like to read it.
Liza’s been writing ever since I’ve known her (which is since my children, who are well into adulthood, were small; we met on an email list for feminist mothers who were at home with their children, which is still going strong through all our lives’ ups and downs). I’m very happy Liza took the plunge and sent her first novel in the Byrne Sisters Mysteries series out into the world!
There’s lots to love in this book. Liza is really good with character development and dialogue. There are some funny lines you’ll enjoy, which sure sound like Liza’s clever sense of humor. You’ll get to be fond of the two sisters who are the “detectives” in the series. You will also get hungry while reading it, because nearly every scene includes cooking or eating something prepared by vegetarian chef Maggie.
There’s also an incredible amount of coffee preparation and drinking. One of my minor issues with Byrne Your Bridges is that people drink so much coffee late in the day that I wonder how they EVER get any sleep. Of course, though, Liza slips in ways to flavor your coffee with spices. Tricky. I do think they could have switched to herbal tea or something in the evenings!
The mystery part of the book was enjoyable, and if you’re a fan of mysteries, I predict you’ll want to read this and grab the future installments as well. All the characters are fun, too.
Bonus! At the end of the book, you will be happy to find the recipes for all the things Maggie Byrne cooks during the process of solving the mystery. And I assure you, Liza is a great cook and a fine recipe writer (that’s as much of an art as writing novels).
You know, I’m an editor. That’s one reason I don’t usually read things written by my friends and family. Little things irritate me. I’m happy to say that, other than all the coffee, there wasn’t much to complain about in this novel, even for me! Here are a few notes, more to show how I think than to criticize the book.
There is a distinct lack of typos. Liza had lots of pre-readers and it shows. There were no distracting issues with this one. Kudos!
I found one distinctive phrase that repeated. All writers have pet phrases that they like to use (me included, as any reader will agree). In this book, people shrug off their coats twice. Shrugging off is a cool phrase, but it’s so distinctive that I noticed it appearing twice. Maybe the second time, the person can shake it off, slide out of it, hang it on a chair…I don’t know, I’m NOT a novelist.
I noticed that the characters seem to all have magical ways of obtaining money that lets them live lives of leisure. Maggie got a ton of money in her divorce, the lady across the street can afford someone to care for her household so all the has to do is play with her kids (wish I’d had that), etc. The ones who do work have inherited money or businesses or something. The book needs more poor people (OK, the dead person was deep in debt, though). Maybe that’s just how it is on the east coast.
The writing is exactly what I like. There are occasional clever turns of phrase, but there isn’t so much descriptive exposition that I get bored, and there aren’t zillions of distracting details. I do like writing that just tells you enough to keep you interested.
I encourage you to get this book, which is reasonably priced and lots of fun. It’s digital only, but since most people seem to read on their computers, e-readers, or tablets, this should not be a problem. I’m staring at screens so much during the day that I enjoy reading physical books and magazines, but I think I’m a minority.
What? A book report? I know, I haven’t been writing many of these lately (for all two of you who read them). But, between all the crafting and horsing, there hasn’t been much reading other than the huge number of magazines (mostly about horses and houses) that I devour every month or week. For some reason, I subscribed to People when it replaced a magazine I liked that went out of print and finding out what is happening to the same small group of “famous” people each week takes a LOT of my time. People seems compelled to tell me who this Pete Davidson person is dating every week, which, I must admit, is a new person most weeks. Why anyone should be so interested in a not-that-funny comedian is beyond me, but hey, at least he isn’t tweeting swastikas.
And now let’s talk about the book I did read, which is Lucy by the Sea, by my current favorite author, Elizabeth Strout. You may recall that I have read a lot of other books by her, since the old book club read one of her novels a year or two ago, before I became an outcast (which may explain why I haven’t been reading many novels–there’s no one to encourage me, and novels remind me of being rejected so resoundingly by “friends” from my old neighborhood).
I need to be more like Lucy Barton, the protagonist in this book, who was raised outside of society, so misses social cues a lot. In some ways, that can be a relief. Anyway, this book covers recent years in the life of Lucy, during the pandemic and the previous US President’s time in office. Her ex-husband takes her to Maine to escape New York City just before the really bad COVID outbreak hit there.
Strout shares Lucy’s impressions of the ensuing events in her gloriously spare style, where you sometimes have to sit there and think about a sentence for a few minutes, because there’s so much implied but not stated. And because of Lucy’s unconventional upbringing, she is able to see some of the events of the past few years differently than folks like me would see them, which led me to think hard about some of my prejudices against people of different backgrounds from mine. This pleased me. I think many of my friends ought to read this book just for the chance to get a glimpse into how another person thinks.
Lucy is not someone who’d probably be my friend in real life, but she’s someone who can teach me a lot, and that’s better, I think. The way she sees the world clarifies my own world view (I’m not being too specific so you can read the book yourself and have your own “aha” moments.) But, here’s something I enjoyed, when Lucy is talking about God to a friend:
It’s our duty to bear the burden of the mystery with as much grace as we can.
That sums up God for me.
One more thing Lucy thought of that rang true was when she talked about people you meet being like ping pong balls bouncing into each other, and how inevitably, you will bounce back a little. But you never know who the ball will next bounce into, even briefly, and have an effect. (She says it better than that.) (pp. 186-7)
If you are my friend or are experiencing life these days as confusing, I think you should get this one and read it slowly, savoring it, as a lot of people I know have been doing. It will stick with you! (And PS, Olive Kittredge, from the first book, shows up in the periphery, so this book nicely ties in the whole Olive and Lucy series.)
I was looking for a book about horse breeds but didn’t find anything helpful. Most were for children. But I saw Horse Color Explored: Over 150 Breeds, Types, and Variations, by Vera Kurskaya (2017) and that piqued my interest. I was interested in knowing more about the genetics of horse colors than I’d read about in the ever-informative Equus magazine.
I was not disappointed. The book was originally in Russian, but the translator, Dr. Michal Prochazka, did a great job making the book read well. I enjoyed reading about the research Kurskaya has done. She must be a neat person to know, judging from her writing style.
The book is beautiful, with hundreds of great photos of horses from all around the world. I learned much about Russian breeds, but she also shared many interesting tidbits about horses from here, Europe, and Asia.
Here are a few random things I learned from this book:
Bay is the most common color (Apache is a bay Paint, and Mabel is a dark bay)
Like dogs, there is no true albino horse, just horses with giant white spots.
Gray horses change color (dark to light) at different rates. Homozygous ones change faster than heterozygous ones. (Droodles was originally bay, judging from his mane, tail, and body hair.)
Palominos are diluted buckskins. (Dusty is a buckskin.)
There’s no conclusive research to show temperament and color correlate. So, relax, red mares.
Appaloosas often have sparse manes and tails. Their genes are complicated. They also have striped feet.
Bay dun horses are closest to the “wild” type of horse. It blends in well with savannas.
All the dilute color genes (Cream, Pearl, Champagne) were discovered recently. They may be recent mutations or hid before.
Anyway, this is of limited interest to most folks, but if you like genetics or horses, check it out!
My friend Louise, who is a frequent commenter here, sent me this book after I’d commented that a short film based on it looked sweet. Sweet. The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse (2019), by Charlie Mackesy, is way more than sweet.
Everyone with a tender heart, even one hidden deep under layers of armor, should read this book. You deserve to spend time in the world these characters reside in. You need to hear the reminders that love and kindness are what truly matter and that we all are worthy of these things.
The book is gorgeous, too. It’s printed on beautiful, thick paper. The text and images are all hand drawn in the minimalist pen and ink of the author/artist. Your eye just wants to linger on the images, many of which say volumes with no words.
Louise knew I’d treasure the book, and I’m so grateful she sent it. Lee read it, too, and he also laughed at the mole’s love of cake. I cried at one of the few things the fox said. He treasures friendship as much as I do.
I’m passing the book around the family, then I’ll leave it in the tack room for guests to find and enjoy. I encourage you to buy it and share it. Give it as a gift to a friend you treasure. I know I’m gonna drag my local friends into the tack room to sit with a few of these poetic pages and remember the world we want to create.
I’m too tired to write my planned post so hey, here’s a book that I just received and am already loving. Block by Block Crochet: Quilt-Inspired Patchwork Blocks to Mix and Match, by Leonie Morgan, came out in 2021. It’s a great reference book for anyone like me who likes to get creative with color and blocks.
Every single pattern Morgan shares, from a simple solid square to more complex motifs, has given me ideas for using up my stash or making something special and new.
Morgan did a great job of not over-complicating things with the patterns. She tells what techniques you’ll use, gives a sample of what multiple blocks will look like together, and gives the patterns both in words and charts. You’ll be glad for the charts if you’re American, because the instructions are in UK English. With crochet, that matters more than in knitting, because we call the stitches different things. (Our single crochet is double crochet in UK terms. It’s not hard to translate; you just have to remember.)
Since I’m having to rest my hand a bit each day, dreaming of what I can do with these crocheted “quilt” squares is a great break. I’m such a sloppy quilter that I hesitate to see things. But now I can play with yarn like I would fabric.
Yep, this book was $18 well spent, plus it got me free shipping on the black yarn I want to use in the next project. Hmm. Maybe I’ll use it with one of these motifs!