Thursday, October 30, 2008

Baby blankets

Two ladies at church are expecting new babies. Last month I crocheted two baby blankets so I would have them ready to give as shower gifts. The first baby shower is now coming up and Karin and I are invited to attend. Karin will choose a blanket from the two, and I'll also knit a few bibs. I love baby showers!


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Uncommon Reader

Alan Bennett's novella, The Uncommon Reader is an interesting look at what might happen if a person who did not read suddenly became a reader. In this story, the reader happens to be Queen Elizabeth and she begins reading one day when her corgis wander onto a bookmobile parked behind the castle kitchen. Out of politeness she borrows a book by Ivy Compton-Burnett. Then she reads it. Slowly she becomes a reader. Her desire to read begins to worry those around her as she becomes more interested in reading than in her duties as queen. She also notices the change reading makes in her life:

"Still, though reading absorbed her, what the Queen had not expected was the degree to which it drained her of enthusiasm for anything else. It's true that at the prospect of opening yet another swimming-baths her heart didn't exactly leap up, but even so, she had never actually resented having to do it. However tedious her obligations had been - visiting this, conferring that - boredom had never come into it. This was her duty and when she opened her engagement book every morning it had never been without interest or expectation.

No more. Now she surveyed the unrelenting progression of tours, travels and undertakings stretching years into the future only with dread. There was scarcely a day she could call her own and never two. Suddenly it had all become a drag. "Ma'am is tired,' said her maid, hearing her groan at her desk. 'It's time ma'am put her feet up occasionally.'

But it wasn't that. It was reading, and love it though she did, there were times when she wished she had never opened a book and entered into other lives. It had spoiled her. Or spoiled her for this, anyway."

As I read this I was reminded of Peter Thorpe's book, Why Literature Is Bad for You. Mr. Bennett has charmingly displayed the extremes to which a reader of books might possibly go.

There's a neat little surprise ending, too.


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Garden Spells

Sarah Addison Allen's first novel, Garden Spells, is Southern fiction in a nice way - nicer and gentler than any Southern fiction I've ever read. To be sure, there are odd and quirky characters, but they're odd and quirky in charming ways. The only really awful character is from Seattle.

This is the story of the Waverley sisters, Claire and Sydney. Claire lives in the old family home and has a magical garden which she uses in her catering business. Claire is single, craves constancy and order, and fears being left by those she loves. Sydney has a young daughter from an abusive relationship and is running from trouble. The two sisters were never close, but when Sydney's trouble brings her back to North Carolina and the family place, Claire and Sydney begin anew and find they have more in common than they thought when they were younger. They begin to love each other as sisters.

This really is a sweet book and I'm looking forward to reading Ms. Allen's second book, The Sugar Queen, and hoping it is as good as the first.


Moderne Log Cabin Blanket

Jacy came home with us after church on Sunday. She said she left one of her roommates sitting on their sofa swathed in the Lizard Ridge Afghan I made for Jacy last year. Her roommate said, "I see now why you always drag this thing around with you."

The temperature is dropping and a cold wind is blowing - perfect weather for knitting a wool blanket - so yesterday I started Sarah's Moderne Log Cabin Blanket (pattern is in Mason-Dixon Knitting). I'm using Knit Picks Wool of the Andes and US size 7 Addi Turbo circular needles. I figure I have until August to finish it. I just hope we bought enough yarn for it... .

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Monday, October 27, 2008

Ripple Stitch swatch - finished

I used up all the scrap yarn I'd gathered to crochet my ripple stitch swatch, then I went to two different stores looking for more of that yarn. Neither place had any, so I decided to call it a day and weave in all the ends and be done with it. I learned how to crochet the ripple stitch and how to change colors, so the swatch-making exercise was successful.

All I have left of the yarn are 4 little hen's-egg-size orbs. Sam declared the blanket the perfect size for him to use while lying on the sofa, so it belongs to him now.


Friday, October 24, 2008

Midwife of the Blue Ridge

I read about Midwife of the Blue Ridge at Sarah's blog, Reading the Past, after seeing a brief review of the book in the newspaper. Sarah's interview with Christine Blevins, the author of the book, made me even more interested.

Then I won a copy of the book through Sarah's drawing and Mrs. Blevins sent me a signed copy of her book, along with several extra treats.

This historical fiction is set in America on the Virginian frontier in the 1700's. While there was not as much midwifery as I was anticipating, there was a good bit of herbal medicine practiced by Maggie the midwife. The French and Indian wars provide the conflict, as does the expansion of settled areas into the frontier. In this novel, several families accidentally settle and farm a nobleman's land, not realizing the land is already owned by another. There is a bit of romance and I must admit I enjoyed the first half of the book (before the romantic interest came in) more than the second half of the book.

All in all it was a fun read and it had a happy ending. I hope Mrs. Blevins writes more books!


Thursday, October 23, 2008

Amber's visit

Amber came to stay with us for a week. It was her first time to come to Alabama and I asked her what she would like to do. She answered that she'd like to rest.

So we had a very low-key week. Amber and Sam played some "Zelda" and Amber cross-stitched, read, caught up her blog, watched some old movies and HGTV with me, and rested.

I'm afraid we did not show her much of Alabama, but we did serve her coffee and biscuits (made by the ladies that work at the Piggly Wiggly) and sausage every morning, along with scuppernong jelly my dad made, and apple butter Dennis and Sue made.

Today Amber flies back to Virginia. I hope she enjoyed her visit as much as we did.


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Autumn cupcakes

Joan had a sudden urge to make cupcakes. Chocolate ones with orange frosting. Within 15 minutes she had the cakes made and the frosting done. As soon as the cakes cooled she decorated them and we sampled a couple.

Tom, Karin, and David better hurry home, or they'll miss a treat.

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Feather & Fan socks

My October sock is now done and can join the September sock (which was not completed until October, but still...). The Feather & Fan pattern was fun to knit and I think I might have to knit this pattern again.

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

More ripple stitch

My swatch is getting bigger and I'm not making mistakes anymore - actually, when I make mistakes now I can see them and I rip back and re-do. I'm facing somewhat of a dilemma though. I'm almost out of my leftover yarn skeins I started with. Do I stop when the yarn runs out? Do I just add in more yarn scraps, knowing they're different fiber content and weight? Or do I buy 2 or 3 more skeins of the yarn I was using and finish it up as a small lap-size afghan?


Monday, October 20, 2008

Knitting America: A Glorious Heritage from Warm Socks to High Art

Knitting America: A Glorious Heritage from Warm Socks to High Art by Susan M. Strawn is a beautiful book with pictures and sidebars on every page. Also included are 20 knitting patterns from different decades of American knitting. For someone looking to briefly acquaint herself with the history of knitting in America, it's a very good book because it's fun to read and to just browse through the sidebar information and enjoy the pictures.

However, it is not terribly long (although the book looks rather thick, the pages themselves are a thick paper) and one looking for lots of history might be disappointed. There's also some social commentary and a small amount of political editorializing in it, but not enough to be horribly distracting.

It makes a good coffee table book, but it will sit on a bookshelf in my home, because my coffee table is not fit for lovely coffee table books.

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Saturday, October 18, 2008

Ripple stitch swatch

My ripple stitch swatch is coming along. I've now memorized the pattern (yeah, I'm slow) and can get a row done fairly quickly - when I have time to sit and do it. I think this will be a really fun pattern to use for Marley's afghan someday, and I'm looking forward to combining colors and working with wool yarn instead of acrylic.

(By the way, the other night I told a friend from church about this and she agreed with me: a swatch that isn't a full-sized project, done with left-over acrylic yarn from the odds and ends bin at home does not count as anything but a swatch. Very gratifying!)


Friday, October 17, 2008

Swatches don't count as new projects...

...right? Because if I can just make a ripple stitch afghan swatch, then I'm not goofing off from finishing the two other knitting projects I have going that desperately need to be finished if I am to continue to enjoy the good opinion of certain family members.

And if it's not a full-size afghan, and is definitely wonky in places where I've made a mistake or two, then it's all part of learning and not a case of crocheting something exciting and new. Right? And I'm using yarn leftover from other projects, and not high-quality yarn at that.

I mean, swatches can sometimes end up as useful pieces in addition to being swatches. At least, that's what I'm telling myself.


Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Longest Silence: A Life in Fishing

Years ago I read Izaak Walton's book The Compleat Angler. I was amazed to find that I actually enjoyed a book about fishing. I am not, nor have I ever been, a fisher, but Walton's book opened up a whole new realm for me: fishing as an interesting subject for readers.

Last December while looking at books on my shelves to put on my reading list, I saw this copy of Thomas Mcguane's book, The Longest Silence: A Life in Fishing that I picked up a few years ago at a library book sale. I decided to make it my book for October.

It's really a collection of essays on fishing, somewhat nostalgic in nature, as he remembers places he fished, along with fishing companions, and types of fish he enjoyed pursuing. (He does write about Walton's book in one chapter.) Although I won't fish, and even though some of the terminology was beyond my comprehension, I liked this book. His descriptions drew me in and kept me wanting to read the book to the end.

Here's one example from his chapter on fishing in the southwestern corner of Montana:

"We traversed a high slope above a river too small and fragile to be named, and descended to begin fishing. The water looked plain and shoally, inconsequential and dimensionless from above, but like so many things in the West that seem flattened by distance and separation, this little river was a detailed paradise at close range. Rufous and calliope hummingbirds were feeding in the Indian paintbrush along the bank, and the thin-water stretches were separated by nice pools. One pool in particular lay at the bottom of a low cliff and held enough water to imply good-size trout. I approached it cautiously and found fish feeding on a hatch of midges. Beneath them several good ones were nymphing and flashing silver messages up through the clear water as they turned on their sides to feed. But the trout were difficult, feeding with extreme selectivity on the midges. I caught a couple of small ones before deciding that the pool was spooked, then moved on vaguely acknowledging that I hadn't quite met the challenge of the midges. When flies get much smaller than size 20 and the leader lies on the water's surface like the footprints of water spiders, my confidence begins to dwindle."

Almost made me wanting to go fishing.

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No Bake Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies

Someone made these No Bake Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies and brought them to church Sunday night. My children loved them and came home vowing to find the recipe and make some for us. Joan searched, one of her favorite websites, and found the recipe she liked.

This is a recipe that goes from ingredients to yummy treat in less than 10 minutes and is perfect as a chocolate fix when there are no chocolate chips in the pantry. The cocoa powder does it all.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Ripple stitch

Ever since I finished reading The Gentle Art of Domesticity I have been obsessed with the Ripple Stitch afghan. For three days I read my crochet books and learned how to make the few stitches in the pattern. I played with yarn scraps and leftover skeins and made swatches of the ripple stitch. I searched the internet for patterns and printed out pages and pages and started a three-ring binder of ripple stitch afghan patterns.

Unfortunately I have other projects I must do before I make one of these afghans, but I think someday I'll crochet one for Marley.


Tuesday, October 14, 2008


Yesterday was Columbus Day. We did not take the day off from school work, but the break from mail was nice.

Our kitten (growing bigger and older into a cat, but he's only 5 1/2 months old) was named after Christopher Columbus because when he was tiny and still blind he would stagger away from his mother and brother and warm bed and wander everywhere. We assumed he would be an explorer-cat (and possibly a good hunter) and named him accordingly.

Columbus turned out to be a homebody-cat, preferably one inside on a sofa or bed. Along with his mother and brother he is made to stay outside most of the time, but he is amazingly quick and can almost invisibly dart inside whenever a back door or front door is opened. Later he'll be found curled up on a pillow or in a soft, comfy chair.

Occasionally he'll stir himself enough to fight with Jack, his brother, or attack my clean towels and sheets as they dry on the clothesline, but usually, he's just a mooch.

Even so, he's worth caring for and feeding for the comic relief he provides and because he really is an affectionate cat. We just should have given him a different name.


Monday, October 13, 2008

Personal economics

Since July one of my favorite websites has been Wise Bread . As its banner proclaims, it is a site devoted to frugal living and personal finance. Almost every day I read an article or two and learn something or just renew my conviction to be a good steward of what God has given us, in order to live on less and give more.

On a different note:
Every Christmas my extended family through my mother's side gets together for dinner Christmas night - about 30 to 36 people. Since my mother was a child, that has included swapping gifts - and every one gets a gift for and from each person there. The gifts are not usually lavish, but it is a lot.

Last month I contacted all the family members and asked how they'd feel about doing something different this year. We have a large and loving family. We genuinely enjoy getting together and spending the evening together. The food everyone brings is always delicious (and everyone knows what the favorite family dishes are, so the menu doesn't vary much, but is happily anticipated), the conversation never lags as we are all deeply interested in hearing what the others have been doing, what their plans for the future may be, and because almost every single adult is either a graduate of Auburn or the University of Alabama, and most of the children have decided which of those two schools they will attend, there is always plenty of football talk. The presents are really an afterthought.

So we have decided to not give gifts to one another this year, but instead to increase our giving elsewhere: to our churches, to missions, to shelters and soup kitchens, or even anonymously to some local families who are having trouble financially. And we're thinking this may be something we do from now on every year.

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Friday, October 10, 2008

Stealing from Each Other

Stealing from Each Other by Edgar K. Browning is an excellent economics book. In the first chapter Mr. Browning quotes Aaron Wildavsky,

"I believe that rising egalitarianism will lower our standard of living, decrease our health, debase public discourse, lower the quality of public officials, weaken democracy, make people more suspicious of one another, and (if it is possible) worse. Worse is the constant denigration of American life - our polity,economy, and society - with no viable alternative to take its place."

The rest of the book proves Mr. Wildavsky's words. Along the way, Mr. Browning explains many terms and how things work, such as how the poverty level is calculated, how incomes work in a free market, what redistributive (transfer) policies do and the cost of them, and the reduction of GDP by about 25% because of Social Security, federal income tax, and various subsidies.

Mr. Browning is firm in his belief that egalitarianism is not a good thing, and that government transfer policies are just a fancy way of stealing. And stealing is wrong. However, he is not a heartless man either and states that he "would not wish to live in a society that did nothing to provide for our neediest fellow citizens... . "

His proposed solution is to get the federal government out of the business of redistributing income and restrict it to its traditional (and constitutional) functions. Instead, state and local governments, and charitable groups can do a better job of helping those in need.

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The Gentle Art of Domesticity

While Penny and I were in Birmingham I bought Jane Brocket's book, The Gentle Art of Domesticity. I glanced through it briefly before buying it, noticed the photos of Birkenstocks, quilts, knitting, and baked goods, and figured it had to be a winner.

It is. I read it the other day and since then have made my children look at most of the pictures and elicited a promise from Joan to make some of the scones and fairy buns. This book is not a "how-to" book. It is simply a beautiful tribute to domesticity, comfort, hearth and home, and an encouragement to find one's own way of enjoying the "gentle arts."

My favorite part of the book: Ms. Brocket's list of books and movies that celebrate domesticity. Here are a few to pique your interest and coax you into buying a copy of the book to enjoy!

Mrs. Miniver by Jan Struther
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell
The Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield

(I list these particular books because I have read them and enjoyed their particular views of domesticity, but she mentions many more I have not read or even heard of.)

I Capture the Castle (2003)
Houseboat (1958)
Little Women (1949)
The Sound of Music (1965)

(This list of movies is not exhaustive either - she recommends many more, some new and some old classics.)

And I did not even mention the art and paintings she includes and explains... .

It really is a book worth owning. Even Penny, who never does any "impulse buying," read a few pages in our hotel room and immediately ordered a copy for herself from Amazon. So get one and enjoy it!

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Curtains for Joan

Actual curtains - not a euphemism for death. New bedsheets make inexpensive curtains (and tablecloths). Mother gave me a carload - literally - of sheets my grandmother bought over the years and stored away to eventually use or give as gifts. They were all still in their original plastic packaging, and most were 100% cotton. Some were very old - maybe older than me. Their packages had instructions not to use "bluing" on them, and to hang them on the clothesline out of direct sunlight when drying them.

Today I took these tie-backs Joan and I made a month ago and sewed plastic rings on them:

Then I put them in Joan's room and pulled back her curtains (white sheets) with them.

Cheap, easy, and quick!


Thursday, October 09, 2008

Blue skies

October is typically a very dry month in Alabama, but yesterday it rained all day. My herbs and ferns got a good free soaking, and I got a day off from doing laundry. But today is sunny and breezy - perfect for drying clothes.

All the laundry is done. The children are finished with their schoolwork. The house is clean. Jack-kitten caught another rodent outside. A package arrived from Germany filled with fun things. Steve is making a fancy Italian lasagna for our supper tonight. I feel rich - my cup runneth over!


Monday, October 06, 2008

Baked Lasagna with Eggplant (Lasagna al forno)

The Piggly Wiggly had beautiful eggplants (Steve insists there is no such thing) in the produce section on Saturday so I bought one thinking I'd decide later what to make with it. I found a recipe for eggplant lasagna in the cookbook, Italian Vegetarian Cooking, by Paola Gavin. (I modified the lasagna recipe slightly - used dried lasagna noodles instead of making them fresh, and skipped the bechamel sauce.)

Baked Lasagna with Eggplant
1 large eggplant, 1 to 1 1/2 pounds
1/2 cup olive oil
2 cups tomato sauce (recipe follows)
1/2 pound mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced
7 or 8 lasagna noodles

Tomato Sauce
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 tablespoon fresh basil, or 1/2 teaspoon dried.
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
3 cups canned plum tomatoes, seeded and chopped
freshly ground black pepper

Heat olive oil in a large frying pan and cook the garlic, basil, and parsley for one minute. Add the chopped tomatoes and salt and pepper to taste. Cook, uncovered, over high heat for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the sauce starts to thicken, mashing tomatoes gently with a fork as they cook. Makes enough sauce for one pound of pasta.

I made almost a double recipe of the sauce.

For the lasagna:
Peel the eggplant and slice into thin lengthwise slices. Sprinkle with salt. Set in a colander and leave to release the bitter juices for 1 hour. Wash off salt and pat slices dry with paper towels.
Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan and fry the eggplant, a few slices at a time, until golden on both sides. Drain on paper towels. Oil a large shallow baking dish and arrange a layer of lasagna noodles over the bottom. Cover well with tomato sauce so the dried pasta will absorb the liquid as it bakes. Add a layer of fried eggplant, some more sauce, and a layer of mozzarella cheese. Repeat until all ingredients are used, ending with a layer of sauce on top of the mozzarella cheese. Bake in preheated 350-degree oven for 30 to 40 minutes. Serves 6.

This was so good that I'm making it again tonight, but with spaghetti squash instead of pasta.

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Friday, October 03, 2008


A few months ago Donna mentioned Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner's book, Freakonomics. I'd seen the book at the library - I even checked it out, but returned it without reading it because I had no time and other books seemed more interesting.

But Donna encouraged me to give it a try, and when I saw the audio book for sale at the library for fifty cents, I decided to listen to it.

This revised and expanded version is 8 hours long, and is read by one of the authors, Stephen J. Dubner. I listened to it in the car during the month of September. Several times, I had passengers with me who, although they thought they'd be bored to sleep listening to a book on economics, listened with fascination and without complaint.

Steven D. Levitt's studies in economics are not typical. He is mainly interested in lying, cheating, and crime. In this book I learned about cheating teachers, how real-estate agents take care of their best interests, the structure of drug gangs, how child-rearing experts work, what effect the legalization of abortion had on violent crime, how one's name can affect his success in life, and more.

This is not like the other economics books we have, but I think it's a "keeper."

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Thursday, October 02, 2008


Last weekend I finished Silks, the most recent book by Dick Francis and his son, Felix Francis.

I did enjoy it, and I wanted to read it and finish it, but it was not quite as compelling a book as Under Orders, or even Dead Heat, which I think was the first book with Felix's name on the cover.

This story was much more horsey than the other Francis mysteries I've read, although in addition to horses and racing there was a lot of lawyering, too. ( I did learn there is a difference between solicitors and barristers; solicitors do lots of paperwork and barristers argue more.)

The basic story is this: Geoffrey Mason, lawyer and amateur jockey (his mom died and left him lots of money) is asked by Steve, a colleague from the horse-racing side of his life, to defend him against charges of a murder he swears he did not commit. The evidence, however, seems to leave no doubt of Steve's guilt. His pitchfork, with his betting receipts impaled on the tines, was firmly embedded in the chest of his victim. Mason initially believes Steve is guilty, but after he receives threats and other forms of intimidation, he changes his mind and fights to prove Steve's innocence. Of course, he also manages to discover the identity of the actual murderer and brings him to justice.

The story was a bit convoluted (duh, I'm so dumb, I like my mysteries easy!), but good enough for a Dick Francis fan.


Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Modern Quilt Wrap

On Monday I finished the Modern Quilt Wrap for Barbel. Sarah tried it out for me and I think it will be fine for autumn and winter use in Germany.