Saturday, December 19, 2009

'Tis the Season!

It's Christmas time! I love Christmas, and lately I'm beginning to like it more than in the previous few years. Christmas used to be about how many presents I got, but lately I've begun to look past the Christmas sales towards what the season really means: being with family. I've rethought who I buy presents for, and most of my Christmas purchases are for my nephew. I know that, being ten-months old, he'll like the boxes and paper more than the actual presents themselves, but this Christmas is going to be good.

I usually make most of my presents every year. Last year I made scarves, and the year before that, checkbook covers. This year I haven't had as much time to make things because I purchased and moved into a new house, so the entire fall was busy with packing, visits to the bank, and looking at property. I ended up with a new house that I love, and the best part is that the mortgage is less than rent!

But I am still crafting. I have five different cross-stitch projects--obsessive, I know. I am still working on The Rose of Sharon, but I had to take a break from it after having to tear out 500 stitches (amazing what being 1 stitch off will do to it!). I'm also knitting scarves, crocheting a blanket, and sewing stuff for the house. I'm experiencing craft ADD right now, because I can't stick to one project!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Sex With Kings by Eleanor Herman

One type of book that I'm always on the look-out for is a history book that is full of interesting stories that I can tell my students. History can be so boring in high school, with all its dates and boring political stuff (yawn), so if I can hook my students with a good story about scandal, gore, or sex, I consider that a plus.

I picked up Sex With Kings: Five Hundred Years of Adultery, Power, Rivalry and Revenge by Eleanor Herman. I knew from picking it up that the book would be more anecdotal than of scholarly merit. As far as meeting the aims of interesting stories, the book met the goal. But, will I buy the companion novel, Sex With the Queen? I am unsure at this point. As useful it would be in the classroom, the price point and the knowledge that I can get the information from other sources deters me.

As a person trained not only in history but to teach it, the first thing I do when I start to read a work of historical non-fiction is to read through the bibliography. I'm looking for two different types of sources: secondary sources and primary sources. The more primary sources used, the more work the author put into not only the research and the writing, but the composition of the thesis of the book. Looking up information in the index of a book and replicating it is easy; reading stained and torn letters from a century ago is a different thing altogether. In Herman's case, the bibliography is a laundry list of secondary sources, biographies of kings, queens, and mistresses. Most of the publication dates ranged in the latter half of the 20th century, though the earliest came from the early 19th century.

My other issue was the flowery and informal language of the book. At times, Herman's narration resembles a tabloid magazine. In reference to the partitioning of Poland on p. 84,
Poland was no longer a sovereign nation, having lost its territory starting in 1786 to Russia, Prussia, and Austria, in a kind of international gang rape.
Just one example of exaggerated prose, and here is an example of unsubstantiated claims.
It was generally accepted that bastards were more intelligent and better looking than legitimate children.
Poor bastards. The legitimate children, I mean. Herman gives no evidence for this claim--who exactly during the time period (those 500 years) accepted this claim? Was it written in letters, diaries, newspapers? While her book is filled with footnotes, most of them are only for quotes that she borrowed from other books.

Her prose also glorifies the role of the mistress over that of the queen, making most of the royals out to be peevish, ugly malcontents who wished they could be as glamorous and loved as the mistress. Her bias regarding individuals is obvious--she nearly canonizes Madame de Pompadour while vilifying Wallis Simpson as "a woman whose face resembled the metal part of a garden shovel." Herman also prefers Camilla Parker-Bowles over that of Princess Diana, referring to her tantrums and "unruly behavior".

So, the book has served its purpose. I will definitely use some of the anecdotes in class to spark interest in history. C

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Tempt Me At Twilight by Lisa Kleypas

Okay, so this is the British cover, but I absolutely love it. Why do they get such classy covers while the States is stuck with pictures of half-naked women?

Tempt Me at Twilight is the third book of the Hathaways series. Both Amelia and Win ended up marrying their Romany lovers, so this story focuses on the story of Poppy.

Poppy is in her third season in London and is expecting a proposal from long-time suitor Michael Bayning. Gentle and conventional, Michael is everything Poppy wanted in a husband. What she didn't count on was that her unconventional family was a mark against her and the appeal she held for Harry Rutledge, the owner of the most successful hotel in London.

Rutledge, whose common past has pushed him to strive for excellence, would do anything to have Poppy, including ruining her chances with Bayning. But is marriage enough for Poppy?

As in all of Lisa Kleypas's books, I really enjoy her characterization. She rarely falls back on relying on the peerage to fill her books, instead mostly choosing more common characters. Her favorite time period is the Victorian period, where the middle class was rising due to the opportunities the Industrial Revolution afforded those willing to take advantage of it. I love her characters.

Where the book falls flat is with the plot. Kleypas's stories are very character-driven, but she also throws in a bit of mystery into each book. Sadly, this one fell flat. The villain was weak and not apparent until 3/4s of the way through the book. I didn't buy it at all.

B. Characters were great, but the plot holes were distracting.

What Happens in London by Julia Quinn

"It was so irritating I couldn't stop."

So says our heroine, Lady Olivia Bevelstoke, about the gothic novel Miss Butterworth and the Mad Baron.

I feel your pain, Lady Olivia, I really do. If Miss Butterworth's mother hadn't been pecked to death by pigeons, I'd wonder if her daughter was the heiress to a maple syrup fortune.

Lady Olivia is the beautiful and intelligent daughter of the Earl of Rudland, and the beginning of her story starts on a rather gothic note--rumors surround her new neighbor, Sir Harry Valentine. Did he kill his fiancee? In an effort to find out (for the good of all unmarried young ladies), she begins to spy on him as his office is visible from her bedroom window. Alas, she is far from stealthy as he is well aware of her spying and attempts to create mysteries for her to wonder about. Neither like each other from the beginning, but orders from the War Office throw him into her presence, and that of a Russian prince who wants Olivia for his own.

The usual Regency-era ingredients are there: intelligent young woman, man employed by the War Office, a mysterious foreigner, and plenty of balls and musicales. Oh, and quirky habits of the heroine. Olivia likes to make lists. Lots of them. Some of hers include Unmarried Lady Sorts of Things, Reasons Why I Might Be Crawling About on the Floor, and How I Would Like to Kill My Brother, Version 16. Like most of Quinn's books, her characters are more reminiscent of anachronistic reenactors who attempt to live like Jane Austen and fail miserably.

The use of a gothic novel within the book and the heroine's derision for the genre is ironic. "It was so irritating I could stop," reminded me so much of my own feelings for THIS book that I had to mark it. Then the use of Sir Harry saying "When a man writes a romance, the woman dies. When a woman writes one, it ends all tidy and sweet" had me thinking that I must have heard it before and reminded me of Quinn's use of the word truthiness in her previous book. I would love to be able to find that quote somewhere.

Lastly there was Harry calling Vladimir "Vlad the Impaler." This was too much for me. I saw none of the conventions that would have existed at that time, and I probably should just stick with Jane Austen.

C- for this fluffy, frothy confection. Too sweet, like Marzipan.

ETA 10/19/09: I found this on Julia Quinn's website.
Miss Butterworth and the Mad Baron first appeared in It's in His Kiss as one of the books Hyacinth was reading to Lady Danbury. I had no plans ever to use it again, but when I needed Harry to give Olivia an unusual gift, it just popped into my mind. I LOVED writing the passages in this book. It is seriously fun to write bad literature.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Update: Rose of Sharon

Just a quick update on the Rose of Sharon cross-stitch I've been working on. This is where I was before for a quick comparison. 

My Retro Apron

After I made my sister's really cool zebra apron, I decided to make myself one using another pattern in the same pack. The entire apron was made using scraps that I had at home. 

The main part is a blue toile that is the theme of my dining room. My curtains are that main color. It goes really well with the blue transferware I have as my china pattern. I also have placemats from another pattern set that I will have to post. 

The checked accent on the top, pocket, and ruffle match the accent on the placemats. 

The ties are made from a navy blue broadcloth. 

The lining is the only part that can't be seen. I used a blue and white pattern that matches in color. It was the only scrap that I had large enough for the back piece. I had no plans for it, so I'm glad I had a use for it! 

And yes, I also had the pocket monogrammed! 

The button accents are square, and I turned them on the corners in order to add more visual interest. The pattern of the toile is already horizontal, as is the gingham, so I felt that the slight angle to the buttons would give it a pop since I only used two colors. 

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Eric by Terry Pratchett

When I was in college, I had to read Christopher Marlowe's The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus. I eventually used the book to hold up the broken leg on my bed. It was just the right height. The book ended up having a rather large whole in it at the end of the semester, but it served its purpose. When I had to read it, I removed it from the top of the pile, and when I was done, I'd return it back to its place. 

Apart from that, I had very little use for it. So, I was quite pleasantly surprised when I found out that Eric was a retelling of Faust, going so far in the book as to cross out the word Faust at the top of each page and writing Eric  in its place. 

The story is based on that of Dr. Faust (or Faustus), who makes a pact with the devil for three wishes. Only the Doctor in this story is none other than preteen Eric, complete with pimples, who calls for a demon only to be sorely disappointed in  Rincewind the wizard. What are Eric's three wishes that he expects Rincewind to fulfill? Simple. 
1. to be king of all the world 
2. to have a smoking hot babe 
3. to live forever

The problem? Rincewind. None of the wishes turn out the way Eric wishes them to due to their being followed by the King of Demons, who is upset that his filing and organizing was disrputed by a summoning gone bad. In another literary nod, this time to Dante's Inferno, the King of Demons has disrupted the various layers of hell by instituting new policies, replacing torture with boredom. 

The historical allusions are also hilarious. The reader meets the Tezumen, who think Eric is their god come to life, Quetzovercoatl, the Feathered Boa, an homage to the Aztecan Quetzalcoatl the Winged Serpent. There is also the Tsortan War, in which Eleanor of Tsort was kidnapped. 

Quite certainly the most enjoyable version of Faust I've come across. The joy of reading Pratchett is finding the allusions and parodies he places in his books. It's never a dull ride! 

Lisa's Baby Blanket

Finally, I finished Lisa's baby blanket! Good thing, too, because I was able to give it to her at the shower two weekends ago. I loved it. She loved it. I believe I can safely say that everyone loved it. 

It even has a pocket! 

It was a very straightforward blanket to make, with the border being done in seed stitch and the interior in knit-stitch. I used Knit Picks Shine Worsted in Cream, Bachelor Button, and Green Apple. The pattern is their own "Sheldon's Blanket", which I got off their website. 

It's so incredibly soft and perfect for a little boy! 

Sunday, July 12, 2009

WIP: Rose of Sharon

Lately I've been in a cross-stitching craze. The summer makes it too hot to work on my big knitting projects, and cross-stitching is perfect for when I'm watching television or movies. I'm working on a few projects at the moment, but the one I've been concentrating on is Mirabilia's "Rose of Sharon". 

This is how much I've completed as of yesterday evening. The bottom picture was taken a few days before, and I included it because it contains a picture of the finished project. I am stitching it 2 over 2 on 32 ct. Cobblestone linen. I have made a change to the hair as well, since the original is a blonde. I felt that it blended in too well with the dress, so I changed the hair to brown. I love how it came out, and I am partial to brunettes. :) This is the second time I've changed the hair color on a project, and I'm very pleased with the results. 

Little House on the Prairie

One of the things I have been doing over my summer break (apart from obviously not blogging!) has been watching the show Little House on the Prairie, one of the strongest memories of my childhood. This was one television show that my parents had no problem letting me watch on my own, as it was filled with wholesome family lessons. I don't know which came first, though: watching the show, or reading the books. Both have been such an indelible part of my childhood that I cannot separate which came first. It's my version of the "chicken or the egg?" question that comes up in philosophy and religion classes.  (BTW, I believe it's the chicken, according to Genesis.) 

Of course, having been a fan of both book and show, I noticed some of the differences that existed between the books and the show at an early age. Where was this Walnut Grove that the television show was based in? How did it compare to the little town on the prairie, DeSmet? Did Laura have a baby brother who died? And who the heck is Albert Ingalls? 

I also remembered some of the characters in the show. Among my favorites were Mr. Edwards, who popped up from time to time in the early books, but never in the later. I also liked the character of Nellie Oleson, because she served as such a foil to Laura. Laura was a tomboy, a true pioneer girl without airs. Nellie was the spoiled, snooty girl who had everything material Laura didn't have, but none of the grace and openness of Laura. 

Having read the books and in the process of rediscovering the show, I felt it only proper to read Donald Zochert's biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder, Laura: The LIfe of Laura Ingalls Wilder, Author of The Little House on the Prairie. I've had the book for a few years, like many of my books, and managed to finish it just this morning. Reading it was a nostalgic trip for me, not because I've ever been to any of the places described, but because of what I read and saw on the show. In my next post, I will write my thoughts on this book and give a review. 

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Retro Apron

My sister recently had a baby, got a new house, and has a host of other things going on making her life very busy. I wanted to make something for HER, not for the baby (though he's very cute), and I found these very cute patterns for retro-style aprons. I had a vision in my head of how I wanted it to look: hot pink and zebra stripes, because she loves both. I finally found the zebra stripes at my local  Hancock Fabric and the hot pink came from my fabric stash. 

Originally I was going to make fabric-covered buttons for the strap, but I found these really cute zebra-shaped buttons instead. How could I pass those up? 

So, here's the final product. Hopefully I can get a picture of her wearing it eventually! 

Very cute, and very easy to make. Love it! 

What's Going On, Carolina?

Finally, after a two year drought, my beloved Carolina Hurricanes made it to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. In Round One, the Canes defeated the Devils in a 7 game series. Ditto in Round Two, in which they defeated the Eastern Conference Champs, the Boston Bruins. Both were very entertaining series. 

So what happened? Right now the Canes are playing the Pittsburgh Penguins, and they've dropped the first three games by multiple goals. None of them were even close. We're down to one game left before being swept by the Pens. Can we not show a little pride and win at least one game so that we can  prevent being swept before going to the golf course? 

Granted, I'm impressed that the Canes made it this far. I'm less than impressed at the past three games. It's looking like Detroit and Pittsburgh will face off again in the Stanley Cup Finals. So, the big conundrum is this--who do I pull for? Detroit, a team made up of Scandinavian beasts who can put the hurt on someone by looking at them? A team that has an impressive showing of Playoff Beard? Or do I pull for Pittsburgh, the team that looks like it will beat mine, and filled with young superstars? A team which has Sidney Crosby, whose playoff beard looks like a chocolate milk mustache, and Evgeni Malkin, a resurrected Neanderthal with a really awesome first name? 

This is going to be a big decision, with a lot of soul-searching in the coming days. 

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Star Trek: Canon Shmanon

I've embraced my various layers of geek-dom: I'm a knitting geek, love Dark Shadows, and adore Transformers, but my geek-dom started in one place: Outer Space. 

Star Trek. The Original Trek, with Mister Spock and Captain Kirk has always ALWAys been my favorite, above and beyond The Next Generation and the decline that started with Deep Space Nine. Sure, TOS is cheesy in a way that only the 1960s can be, but that was part of its charm. It was sexist (did you see those short skirts?) and bound by the social mores of the time (not to mention the special effects), but it had a message that wasn't overly preachy, something that later Treks could not maintain. 

Let's not forget that it pushed boundaries. It did show the first interracial kiss on television, the one between Kirk and Uhura in "Plato's Stepchildren". 

So, I was quite excited over the new Star Trek movie. The title harks back to the very beginning of Trek lore, with Captain Kirk and most of the entire crew of the starship Enterprise. (Dare I hope that Lt. Kevin Reilly shows up eventually?) Of course, with going back to the beginning, this is bound to get some Trekkers upset. (FYI: Trekkers are hard-core serious. I can't even attempt to make it that hard-core serious, so I have no problems in being called a Trekkie.) There's all this cry of canon, such as Chekov showing up in the movie even though he was obviously a second season addition. 

But let's move past this. I believe that the Star Trek canon, if we include all the series, is bloated. In order to revive the franchise and bring new Trekkies and Trekkers in, changes need to be made. To merely go back and tell the same story again is akin to adding new special effects to Star Wars (lay it on me, fan-geeks, I can take the hate), or the revival of Dark Shadows.  Granted, with the later, enough changes were made in the 1991 revival series to make it up-to-date and not a mere retelling. But it borrowed a lot from the series and House of Dark Shadows movie. 

That's not to say this movie didn't borrow a lot from TOS. It did borrow a lot from canon. To be clear, Trek canon usually refers to what happened in the series and movies, and NOT in the many novels that were written as a result. But with ten previous movies and five live-action series (there was an animated series as well), the canon was very bloated. And in great Trek fashion, they did what Trek does best: transcend time. 

Time-travel is not new to Trek. Kirk sling-shot around the sun numerous times, most notably in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, which took Kirk and Co back to 1986 to save the future Earth from a mysterious probe that could speak only to humpback whales. (My family loves this movie probably best of all.) There were also various series episodes that borrowed a page from the movie, and some of my favorite episodes were time-travel ones. I love the entire concept, and was a fan of the first season of Sliders as well because of the alternate realities. 

If I were a bigger sci-fi fan, which I'm not, I could probably say who was famous for the theory of alternate realities. I'm thinking either Carl Sagan or Isaac Asimov. 

This movie is a true "alternate reality" of the Trek universe. Without giving plot away, a beloved character has to make some harsh decisions in the future. In the process of going through with it, he unwittingly creates a type of time warp that propels him back in time. As a result, the lives of the main characters have a slightly different trajectory than we're used to seeing without making them unrecognizable. They are all there, their personalities are still there, and there's enough action to keep even non-Trekkies happy for plonking down ten dollars for a ticket.  Many of the lines are homages to TOS and the TOS movies. The movie moves as an action movie and is faster than previous movies in the series. 

Devoted fans may see the Romulan Curse rearing its ugly head (as it's an odd-numbered movie), but I don't see it that way. I hesitate to call it number 11, instead calling it Version 2.1. 

In fact, my geek-dom has crossed over to the point where I want to knit Scotty's hat. 

Friday, May 08, 2009

The Problem With Our Health Care System

This is going to be a rant, but it's not going to be a rant about the insurance companies or about socializing medicine. None of that political junk that gets everyone so heated up. 

No, this is about decency. 

Today I called the doctor's office to get an appointment to renew a prescription. It's one of those healthcare groups with five different doctors and two nurse practitioners. I've been going there for a few years when I had to go for urgent care. I've been seeing the same doctor there for the past year. Well, now she's gone, and I have to choose a new doctor. But there's nothing available until next week. 

I ask for a female doctor, and the receptionist gives me an appointment for May 20th. "That's not next week," I said. She tried to tell me it was, but then I said, no, this week isn't over until tomorrow, try again. Nothing. I can call Monday to see if there was a cancellation, but I can't wait that long. I have to get a sub for work. 

Eventually I end up going for a male doctor just so I can get my prescription next week. I admit--my fault for letting it go so long. The only thing available is morning--I prefer afternoon, because if I have to wait for THREE HOURS again, I won't worry about missing a class. So I go for a morning appointment and ask how long the wait is. 

"I can't tell you." 

WTH? She can't tell me because it's classified? What does the doctor do that early in the morning that I have to wait for over an hour? 

This is ridiculous. There's no reason why people who make an appointment for 8 have to wait hours to see the doctor for fifteen minutes. In any other profession, if a person fails to make an appointment, it's over. But because we have to see doctors, we're at their mercy. 

Don't tell me I have to be there at eight only to have to wait a few hours. Why not give me a 10 o'clock appointment when you'll see me? 

No wonder we put off going to see the doctor. Oh, and a letter to all of my doctor's patients when she moved would have been nice. Jerks. 

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

True Love and Other Disasters by Rachel Gibson

Rachel Gibson has been an auto buy for me. I loved Simply Irresistible  and adore See Jane Score. (That last one is one of my favorite books.) I couldn't wait for her next book about the Seattle Chinooks hockey team, and I went through four books and her entire backlist waiting for it. 

And I got it. There are not a lot of women's fiction based around the sport of hockey, and Deirdre Martin is the only other author I've been able to find. I'm not as big a fan of Martin's work, because I have a huge issue with a fictional New York City team that claims to be part of the Original Six teams in the NHL.  (Make it more believable, please.) So far, Rachel Gibson had managed to avoid a lot of the mistakes by not having the hockey rink the center of her plots. 

She deviated from this with True Love and Other Disasters. Faith Duffy inherits the Seattle Chinooks from her late husband, Virgil Duffy. Their marriage reminds me of Anna Nicole Smith with her billionaire. Faith had once been a stripper and then a Playmate before a marriage of convenience with Virgil. Faith wanted security, and Virgil wanted a trophy wife. His son, Landon, hates that Faith received the hockey team and will do what it takes to get it from her. 

In her dealings with the team she runs into Tyson Savage, the captain of the Chinooks, fondly known as "The Saint." His sole goal is to win the Stanley Cup and doesn't want uncertainty about the team's ownership to get in his way. He fights his attraction to Faith, but before he knows it he has to fight with her to acknowledge their relationship. 

I was going great with this book until the last few chapters, which focus on the NHL playoffs. Knowing about hockey as I do, there are a few glaring errors that grated on my nerves. For example: 
Game One of the Stanley Cup Finals between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Seattle Chinooks was played on Seattle's ice...

Game Two was played in Mellon Arena on Pittsburgh Ice.

Excuse me? This is such an easy thing to look up! In the best of 7 series, the first two games are played at the arena of the highest seeded team of the two, then the next two games are played at the other team's arena. Game Five and Seven are played at the first team's arena. I know better, Ms. Gibson! 

The second thing I read was this: 
All four players were given three-minute penalties and sat out the last few minutes of the second period in the sin bin.
I can't recall of a single instance of a three-minute penalty. There are two-minute minors and even a four-minute if blood is involved from the penalty, but not a three minute penalty. Then she mentions that the teams went 3 on 3, which I have not heard of ever. I have witnessed many 5  on 4s, 5 on 3s, and 4 on 4s, but I can't think of a single time when both teams were depleted to that extent. 

I really wanted to give this book a higher score, but I can't go above a C. These are mistakes that are easy to look up. If Ms. Gibson is using an old edition of Hockey for Dummies, she needs to upgrade to a version written after the lockout. 

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Light Fantastic by Terry Pratchett

As I mentioned previously, I discovered Terry Pratchett while in England, and have read a few of his books since. There's no need to read them in the order in which they are written or which they occur, so I used to just pick up a book I like and that was that. Now I have decided to read the story lines in the order in which I found them here. The L-Space Web is a great resource for Pratchett, with annotations and links to other great web places at which a great amount of time can be wasted. 

The book directly follows the events of The Colo(u)r of Magic, in which the reader left the wizard Rincewind hanging off the edge of Discworld, which is carried on the back of four elephants, which in turn are carried on the back of the giant tortoise Great A'Tuin. Rincewind's great skill is not at wizardry but at staying alive. He meets back up with Twoflower the Tourist and The Luggage, which is still eating some people and staring down others. 

This time, Rincewind's goal (instead of just merely staying alive) is to save the Discworld from the end of time. Unless all eight spells (one of which resides in Rincewind's  head) are read from the great book the Octavo, the Discworld will be no more. The problem? The spell in Rincewind's head. The spell does not wish to be read, yet one wizard back at Unseen University wishes to get his hands on Rincewind. 

Rincewind encounters even more interesting characters in this book, notably Cohen the Barbarian and Bethan, the virginal sacrifice. The reader also gets a glimpse into the Realm of Death, which is surprisingly full of flowers and a quaint cottage. There is also a bit of time spent in a magical store, which can never be found in the same storefront twice. 

Another whimsical book that I couldn't put down. Pratchett's book is smart and humorous, and finding the rest of his books will be great fun! 

Saturday, April 11, 2009

New Dollar Bill Coins, Yo

Okay, I've been receiving this e-mail from a bunch of upset people:
This new coin came out this month

The U.S. Mint hopes the redesigned $1 coin will win acceptance with consumers.

It does not have In God We Trust on it. Another way of leaving God out.

Send this on and let consumers decide if it will win acceptance or not.

This reminds me of the e-mail I received when I was working at the Disney Store. Apparently Walt Disney, Jr. and Microsoft were giving out free trips to Disney World. Free trips! Do you know how expensive a trip to the World is? It's crazy expensive, so who isn't going to send this on?

Me. Issue #1: There's no way to track who sent the e-mail on or who were the first 1,000 to do so. Issue #2: There's no Walt Disney, Jr.! Walt Disney had two daughters, but no sons.

See the little bits of wisdom I learned?

So, when I received the above e-mail about the new coins, I knew it had to be wrong. Mostly because I had the Martin Van Buren coin (yay! Van Buren, the successor to Andrew Jackson and that may be about it) and looked at the coin when my eyes lit on this:

Cool! It's on the side! And heck, yeah, I'm going to accept it, it's legal tender. It's backed by the government (and not much else). And they're really cool.

So, I did some research, trying to figure out the change. And I came up with this:

(10) In order to revitalize the design of United States coinage and return circulating coinage to its position as not only a necessary means of exchange in commerce, but also as an object of aesthetic beauty in its own right, it is appropriate to move many of the mottos and emblems, the inscription of the year, and the so-called "mint marks" that currently appear on the 2 faces of each circulating coin to the edge of the coin, which would allow larger and more dramatic artwork on the coins reminiscent of the so-called "Golden Age of Coinage" in the United States...
So there we go. Problem solved. Though I do carry around my John Quincy Adams (who shined better after his presidency, like the Jimmy Carter of the 19th century) coin to show my students. It's still there.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Yarn Geek Love

I realized that I haven't updated my projects here recently, something that I'm going to have to fix! I have finished things, including two aprons, another beret, and the back of a crocheted baby sweater. I've also frogged a few knitting projects, like a scarf I was going to make out of fun fur. I've had the fur in my stash for years, and in my effort to get rid of some of this yarn before buying more, I was going to knit a scarf with it. I ended up tearing it apart because I did not like it or the fun fur! 

I'm sure I can find someone who is willing to take it off my hands. :) 

I've also been trying more non-acrylic yarns, like Knit Picks Shine Worsted to make Sheldon's Baby Blanket. (I'd link it, but it's not on Knit Picks free patterns for some reason.) I love this yarn! It's nice and smooth, soft, and knits up well. The price point isn't bad, either. I'd post pics, but it's a gift, so it'll wait until after it has been gifted. 

I also bought some Alpaca that I found languishing on the bottom shelf of my local Tuesday Morning. Most of their yarn is sadly in a state of yarn barf, but I was able to find three hanks of a lovely hand-dyed alpaca. Don't know what I'll do with it (probably a hat and scarf combo), bu the right pattern will come to me in time! 

I also invested recently in a ball winder because I'm tired of my skeins collapsing in on themselves. I love the ball winder from Knit Picks! Next is to find an affordable swift so I won't get twisted hanks..... :) 

ETA: I'm also working on my t-shirt quilt and my taxes. 

Friday, March 27, 2009

The Color of Magic by Terry Pratchett

I first found out about Pratchett and his Discworld novels during my exchange trip to England in college. I was out of reading material and a friend of mine gave me one of his books to read. Eight years later and I'm still reading his books! 

The first book in the Discworld series, The Color of Magic introduces us to the very colorful creation of Pratchett's mind. Discworld is carried on the backs of four giant elephants, which in turn are carried by Great A'Tuin the turtle. The gender of Great A'Tuin is in question, and the main objective of Krull through the years was to discover if Great A'Tuin was male or female. 

Then there is Ankh-Morpork, in which we find the wizard Rincewind, though to call him a wizard is a great exaggeration. He finds himself pressed into service by acting as a tour guide for Twoflower, the tourist. Through the book, the hapless wizard is led on more adventure than he had ever wished to encounter. 

The book is great set-up for the series, as Twoflower and Rincewind find themselves traveling across the Discworld in search of adventure (or in Rincewind's case, avoiding it). The book is not a quick read, but needs to be savored, as Pratchett uses humor and satire to paint his world. He throws a lot of fairy tale and fantasy plot devices into the book, though by no means does he limit himself. The city of Ankh-Morpork, for example, is based off the city of Budapest in that it was once two cities separated by a river. The Patrician of the city is very Machiavellian in his methods.  There is also Hrun the Barbarian, who is the epitome of every hero in any story--from his long, flowing locks to his single-mindedness in finding damsels and treasure. 

The cover of the book is my biggest issue, as it is very boring. Pratchett's books are full, and the American covers fail to fulfill that. The British covers, on the other hand, are very busy. 
With the British covers, I frequently find myself trying to figure out who are what characters and what is going on! They're not known for their attractive qualities, and they don't look contemporary, but rather something I would pick up at a yard sale or flea market. With the smell of decaying paper. 

Regardless, there must still be some kind of happy medium between the two covers. The American cover fails to deliver for the goods inside, while the British cover delivers the goods too well. 

Lastly, I found out today that there is a movie for The Color of Magic. Granted, it was a television movie and only seen in the United Kingdom, but I am still curious enough to wish to see it. At first I thought it might be an animated movie, but no, it is quite live action. It stars Sean Astin as Twoflower and Jeremy Irons as the Patrician. (That last bit is enough for me to want to see it. 
Granted, they are going to take some liberties with the story. The movie includes the character "Cohen the Barbarian" (see his play on things?) while the book had "Hrun the Barbarian." It also includes characters that will show up in later books in the Discworld series. Some research shows that the movie is based on The Color of Magic as well as the next book, The Light Fantastic.

In a perfect world, the Discworld series would continue. Alas, Pratchett was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's, which means the end of Discworld will come sooner than we all could wish for. 

Friday, March 13, 2009

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

It's not very often that I find myself crying because of a book. Usually if I do, it's because I either get a paper cut or the book is so horrible that it makes me miserable. 

Not so with this book. 

The story starts with a stampede and a murder at the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. Jacob Jankowski, Cornell-educated veterinarian, is witness. In the book, he tells the story of how he ran away from his life and joined the circus. What starts as a cliche turns into a touching story of a man who comes of age during the Great Depression and navigates the treacherous waters of a traveling circus. Gruen's characters are vividly painted, from the blustery ring top leader (who is not a Benzini Brother), to the star of the equestrian act, and to the "great gray hope" of the show, elephant Rosie. 

Gruen's inspiration to write about a Depression-era circus came from an article she read in the Chicago Tribune about circus photographer Edward Kelty. She writes about the circus in times before political correctness spelled the end of the "freak show" (the Lovely Lucinda was Uncle Al's underweight fat lady--she was no 850 lbs) and the pressures from PETA. Gruen also highlighted the behind-the-scenes back-stabbing as well as the competition among the various circus outfits. A bonus were the added circus photographs from the great depression, which added realism to a wonderful story. 

I would definitely recommend this novel. It's a modern historical fiction with elements of mystery and a twist on a murder.

Devil's Cub by Georgette Heyer

I just finished reading Devil's Cub, the sequel of These Old Shades. It is the story of Justin and Leonie's son, Dominic, the Marquis Vidal. The story opens when Vidal shoots a highwayman on the way to a party. This sets the character of Vidal very well, as he is very debonair, sophisticated, and can do no wrong. Every man wishes to be him, and every woman wants him.

He, however, does not want any woman. His eyes are on the lovely Sophia Challoner, but not as his wife. Instead he wishes to whisk her off to France and give her carte-blanche. In an effort to stop her sister from ruining her reputation--for Sophia thinks the Marquis means marriage--Mary Challoner takes her place. Alas, by the time Dominic finds out the switch, he is so angered that he takes Mary in her sister's place.

On their journey through Paris, Dominic discovers that Mary is nothing at all like Sophia and he has made a huge mistake. He immediately offers marriage, but Mary declines, preferring the life of a governess to that as his wife. After a sojourn in Paris, an escape attempt, and the arrival of the Duke of Avon on the scene (which Vidal was hoping to avoid at all costs), the story is in full swing.

It's a great story and I would definitely recommend her books. Right now I am tired of more recently published romance novels, especially the ones that descend quickly into the sex scenes and the love between the characters is not quite believable. I enjoy picking up a Heyer because it's a deeper read and so enjoyable. She is one author that a glom will not ruin!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Lenten Eve

Or, as others call it, Fat Tuesday. Mardi Gras. We always had pancakes at church, which was fine by me because pancakes are always good. One of the very few perks of going to CCD on Tuesday night was the Pancake dinner we always had on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. (It was always the worst homework night, though, because all of the Protestant kids went to church on Wednesday. My teachers didn't care.) 

So, I had to think about what I was going to give up for Lent this year. One year I gave up chocolate, which was impossible. I cheated. Two years I gave up Cherry Coke, which is my favorite soft drink of all time. I forgot a bunch of years.  

This year, I want to eat healthy. That means giving up things like McDonald's and other fast food items. Ice cream. I plan on keeping a food log of my healthy food. If I can do this for forty days, I think I can get back on the healthy train.  

I see good times ahead! 

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Rest in Peace, Socks

News today that the Clinton's pet cat from Bill Clinton's presidency has passed away at the advanced age of 18 due to cancer. Lest we think that the Obama search for a mythical hypo-allergenic dog (they don't really exist!) is the first instance of a presidential pet, Socks reminds us that the president has a family side as well. Pets show us a facet of the highest public official in the land that is not usually seen at press conferences or in controlled interviews. 

And who couldn't love that sweet face? He reminds me of my own cat, Gemma. 

This picture is absolutely adorable. A Presidential Cat--can't do worse than their human counterparts, I'm thinking. It's a tough job. 

So, Rest In Peace, Socks. 

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Yarn Galore!

Okay, I found out that Hobby Lobby was discontinuing more yarn. So I went and bought some. 

Truth: I bought a lot. 

The hardest part of the yarn I bought is that it is novelty yarn, which makes it more difficult to find projects to make out of it. It's a lot of that "tape" yarn which looks really good on the skein, but not so much in a finished project. 

Sigh. But it's so pretty. 

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Dogs and Goddesses by Crusie, Stuart, and Rich

I have very few authors that I auto-buy for anymore. When I first started reading romance, there would be almost two releases a month that I would have to buy. Not so much any more. Along with Susan Elizabeth Phillips I auto-buy Jennifer Crusie's books, even her collaborations with other authors. This one includes Anne Stuart and Lani Diane Rich. 

The collaboration is a tricky thing. With three authors on the cover, the tendency to think the book is an analogy is pretty high. This book is a novel, with all three parts nearly seamlessly working together. The authors have been very open about the process on their blog, Dogs and Goddesses.  The other type of collaboration, which this is not, is the one where a well-known author puts his/her name on a book with a less well-known author to help that author get a following. This is similar to the process used by the anthology, which one or two well-known authors are tied with one or two other authors that are less well-known. 

If a collaboration must be done, I prefer the novel over the anthology. Anthologies usually have stories that would be more interesting if fleshed out into a full book, or the stories are so dull that they're not worth reading. 

Dogs and Goddesses follows three women in a small Ohio town who are drawn to a dog training class. While there, they meet the enigmatic trainer, Kammani, who hands them a tonic to drink. In a short period of time, the three women not only meet the men of their dreams, but they hear voices and swear their dogs are talking to them. Before long, they're all trying to defeat an ancient Mesopotamian goddess that's trying to regain her rightful place in the world.  

I'm no expert on anything Mesopotamian, so that helped me to suspend my disbelief well enough, and the authors' note at the beginning about how it is all made up made me feel even better. I did find the myth a little confusing and kept having to go back to parts that I re-read already in order to solidify it. Of course, after having read it, I found the entire myth on the webpage. 

This is one of my pet-peeves: if there's a mythology created for the book, the reader shouldn't have to rely on outside sources to discover it. This isn't a series, and that's a completely different kettle of fish. I shouldn't have to do research to enjoy a novel. I didn't read the blog as it was being created, and I don't feel that should be necessary in order to join a book. It feels much too clique-ish. 

Based on that, I give the book a solid B. I liked the story, and it's good for a collaboration. 

Sunday, February 01, 2009

What I Did for Love by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

I rarely buy hardcovers. If they're on the bargain table and cheaper than the paperback, I buy it. If it's a book on history and I can't wait to get it, I buy it. If it's by Susan Elizabeth Phillips, I buy it. I tried to wait for Match Me If You Can a few years back and almost couldn't do it. So, I've bought the last two of her books in hardcover, and almost wish I had waited. 

Former child star Georgie York has been dumped by her actor husband for a humanitarian actress. She and her detestable former co-star, Bram Shepard, end up running into each other in Vegas, and the inevitable happens--they run to an all-night chapel and end up married. Each of them have different reasons for wanting to stay in the marriage of appearances, but what will it turn into? 

Like all of Phillips books, the two main characters go through a transformation. They are not the same people they were at the beginning of the story. Georgie is fragile after her break-up, and the constant attention by the paps doesn't help matters. She's trying to figure out the next stage in her career and up against her stage-father who insists on running her career. Bram probably goes through the least transformation, as he gives the appearance of being dissolute at the beginning of the book, though the reader is quick to realize that Bram has grown a lot since his partying days on the set of their sitcom.  

There is also a secondary romance with Georgie's father, Paul. His story to me was more interesting, as he put his dreams on the back burner for the sake of his daughter. The relationship with his daughter also undergoes a radical transformation. 

The weakest part of the story was the setting. I'm not a Hollywood person--I find the E! network horrible, and I feel icky every time I find myself watching it. The inspiration for the story was also very obvious--the parallels between the Jennifer Aniston  and Jolie-Pitt affair slap the reader in the face. Are there differences? Sure, but Phillips makes the Jolie-Pitt characters in the book very flat. There's nothing at all to like about them, even though they're not really villains. 

The traditional Phillips hallmarks are present, but it's not my favorite venture by her. I'll return to her backlist. 


Saturday, January 31, 2009

All Together Dead by Charlaine Harris

I've lost count as to how many Sookie Stackhouse books I've read. I'm thinking that this may be book number 7! 

All Together Dead picks up in the aftermath of the trip Sookie took to New Orleans, where she met the vampire Queen of Louisiana and witnessed the death of the vampire King of Arkansas. She is now fully embroiled in the world of the supernatural: vampires, werewolves, fairies, and demons, to name a few. Now she has returned to Bon Temps. Hurricane Katrina has forced the vampires of New Orleans to relocate, including the Queen. Sookie is also still estranged from her ex-boyfriend Bill. 

The main action of the novel takes place in the city of Rhodes, where Sookie is going to a vampire convention. While there she meets up with Barry Bellboy, another telepath that she met in Dallas. He works for the King of Texas in the same capacity Sookie works for the Queen of Louisiana: they ferret out information from the other humans who work for the other kings and queens. The main event of the convention is the  trial of the Queen of Louisiana for the death of her husband. While the vampire convention seems to be going smooth at a vampire hotel, the Fellowship of the Sun has been protesting the entire event. 

The usual cast of characters shows up in this book, including Eric and Quinn the were-tiger. Harris is really ratcheting up the tension in this book and hinting at future problems between vampires and humans. Harris created a believable world, using reality as her backdrop for the supernatural.  Her voice is consistent throughout the series, yet she manages to show a growth in the character of Sookie, who has grown more world-weary and sarcastic. I'm not sure how much I like this new Sookie, but it's understandable. 


Friday, January 23, 2009

More Knitting!

I know, it's been a while since I've posted! It's been a crazy January, but in a good way. First was getting back to work after the Winter Break, then I went to Savannah to go dress shopping with a friend getting married in May. Then this past week I was off on a "business" trip for the State Department. 

I've finally learned how to knit with DPNs, which means I can avoid sewing a seam up the back of hats. Berets seem to be really popular this year, so I started with this orange and pink confection, with the pattern (Baroness Beret) off of Ravelry. I was going to give it as a gift, but I love the colors and I love the hat. So I kept it! Now I just have to make a scarf to match it! 

Then I had to find a gift for a friend, because that beret was going to be it! So, I went with a vintage pattern in my grandmother's correction. Here I am modeling it! I used Hobby Lobby's I Love This Yarn! and Featherwhisp. It looks gorgeous! 

This is the picture of the pattern from my grandmother's collection. Very straight-forward pattern from "Diamond Angora". I haven't been able to find a copyright date, though judging by this pattern and the other three in the pamphlet, I'm gauging it at the 1960s. 

Now, the hat that I'm wearing doesn't wear the same way as the model, but I think I know why. 
1. I don't really have thick enough hair to pull into the hat. 
2. I didn't use Angora, but a thicker acrylic yarn and the Featherwhisp. 
3. I modified the pattern to have a tubular cast-on instead of sewing a hem. 

Regardless, I like the way it looks, and the recipient has gorgeous, thick hair! 

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Never Romance a Rake by Liz Carlyle

Never Romance a Rake is the third book in a trilogy about the siblings of Neville shipping. The first book was about Miss Xanthia Neville, the second was about their family friend Gareth Lloyd, and this book is about Kieren, Baron Rothewell. 

Rothewell is a dissolute drunkard whose past, like many romance heros, haunts him. He attempts to escape it by playing cards and drinking himself into an oblivion, but this plan backfires on him by ruining his health. One night he is playing cards when the pot is sweetened with Comte Valigny's daughter, Camille. He wishes to get his ungrateful daughter off his hands, and she wishes to be away from her father. Her pickings are slim, and in a rare burst of compassion, Kieren cheats because her other option that night is even worse than him. 

Camille's background is equally sordid to that of Kieren. Her mother had been married to an English lord, but she ran off with the comte early into her marriage. The husband divorced her mother, which was scandalous, and Valigny never married her mother thanks to some Church rule about divorced people marrying.  After her mother's death, Camille found that her maternal grandfather left her a large bequest, and she pushed Valigny to find her a husband. 

Neither Kieren nor Camille want anything more than a business-like marriage. As time passes, though, this becomes impossible. This is one of Carlyle's books that doesn't have a mystery behind it--it is more character-driven than plot-driven. The questions brought up in this book are about Camille's parentage and Kieren's health. 

Carlyle is very good at writing tortured, yet realistic, characters. They have good reasons for being the way they are from their pasts, and this goes beyond a mere "I was a spy for the English government during the Napoleonic Wars" spiel that so many books have. That or the "My mother died when I was young" or "My daddy didn't love me" chestnuts that are thrown about. No, Carlyle's characters have been through a lot. And I respect her in that not all of her nobles are earls or dukes. She uses those titles, but lesser noblemen are acceptable as well.