Saturday, January 31, 2009

Block 7 is finished

Of course, Sarah would wear black today, so the enormousness of block 7 is unnoticeable. But it's finished. It ate up almost 6 full skeins of yarn. Now I'll start block 8 - which actually is the largest (I think). I only bought 8 skeins of yarn for that block so I'm back to praying the yarn holds out to finish it. And I have to switch needles. My Addi Turbo circular needle will be too short for block 8, so I'm going to use Denise needles with a 52" cable. Fun, fun, fun.

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Friday, January 30, 2009

The Castle in the Attic

The Castle in the Attic by Elizabeth Winthrop is about a boy, William, whose nanny is about to leave him and return to England after spending the first ten years of his life taking care of him. William is an only child, small for his age, but talented as a gymnast, and he loves his nanny, Mrs. Phillips. He can't imagine what his life will be without her in his home. His parents love him, too, but their work keeps them busy.

Mrs. Phillips gives William a farewell gift before she leaves. It is a toy castle with a toy knight (the Silver Knight) she played with as a child. William asked her if there were other soldiers and Mrs. Phillips answered,

"I think there might have been other soldiers originally because my great-grandfather mentioned some in a letter about the castle, but I've never seen them. When I was a child, there was only the Silver Knight. There was some legend that was passed down about him. I remember bits and pieces of it. He was thrown out of his kingdom long ago by an enemy of some sort, and it's said that one day he'll come back to life and return to reclaim his land. But the whole time I played with the castle, he was as stiff and cold as lead."

The Silver Knight does not stay stiff as lead with William, however, but comes back to life. William then plots to keep Mrs. Phillips and though he comes to regret it later, he arranges with the Silver Knight to shrink Mrs. Phillips and keep her in the castle.

William becomes ashamed of his selfishness and redeems himself and saves Mrs. Phillips by going on a difficult quest to find and outwit the evil magician who made the Silver Knight small and stole his kingdom.

I liked this book and wondered how I'd managed to miss it when I was a child. Then I looked at the copyright date - 1985. I was 24 and married when this was first published. My older sons would have liked this book. They loved The Indian in the Cupboard and other books by Lynne Reid Banks. I still have one daughter and one son young enough to enjoy this so I'm glad to have found it.

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Andy Catlett: Early Travels

Wendell Berry's book, Andy Catlett: Early Travels reminded me of Nathan Coulter because of its brevity and because it covered such a short period - approximately one week in the life of nine-year-old Andy.

But this book is a bit lighter in tone than Nathan Coulter. Andy is allowed - for the first time - to ride alone on the bus to his Catlett grandparents' home the week after Christmas in 1943. After a few days there, his other grandfather, Mat Feltner, drives over to pick Andy up and take him to spend a few days at the Feltner home in Port William. The difference in the two households is noted and described, and like Laura Ingalls Wilder, Berry can describe meals and food well enough to make one hungry.

Mostly, though, Berry, through the voice of Andy's reminiscences, dwells on the details of domestic life in a slower time and easier place. He writes:

"Though the Feltner house was far more modern in its appliances than that of my Catlett grandparents, the same household economy of home production and diligent thrift prevailed there also. Everything that the place could provide, it did provide, and in abundance. Like Grandma Catlett, Granny Feltner still made her own lye soap for the washing of dishes and clothes.
"I often think now of that old economy, which was essentially the same from a farm household that was fairly well-to-do, like that of Granny and Granddaddy Feltner, to the household of Dick Watson and Aunt Sarah Jane, which would be classified as poor. For many years now that way of living has been scorned, and over the last forty or fifty years it has nearly disappeared. Even so, there was nothing wrong with it. It was an economy directly founded on the land, on the power of the sun, on thrift and skill, and on the people's competence to take care of themselves. They had become dependent, to some extent, on manufactured goods, but as long as they stayed on their farms and made use of the great knowledge that they possessed, they could have survived foreseeable calamities that their less resourceful descendants could not survive."

The great appeal for me is the glimpse into farm home and family life Andy shares as he spends an enjoyable week with his grandparents. And it makes me think about the kind of memories I want to give my grandchildren as they grow up.


Death by Cashmere

Last week when I read this I also wound up two skeins of cashmere that I'd bought several years ago in New York at the sheep and wool festival in Rheinbeck. As I wound the skeins of expensive cashmere into balls I discovered that each skein had been sliced with a sharp instrument, severing several yards of the yarn. Muttering dark threats of what I'd like to say to the booth owner who had sold me the mutilated cashmere, I grimly tied square knots every few yards and thought what my idea of "death by cashmere" would look like. I think a disgruntled customer (like me) would take the knotted pitiful ball of cashmere to the vendor and order her to knit a sock with it while I watched. And carefully cut out all those square knots and weave in all the hundreds of ends of yarn that would be there and make that sock look perfect and worth the $$$$ spent on the yarn. It probably wouldn't kill her, but it might make her think twice before wielding her box cutter with gay abandon while opening a box of yarn!

I sent Penny Death by Cashmere. It reminded me of her because she knits and loves the beach. Then I saw it at the library a few weeks ago and read the endorsement by Alexander McCall Smith on the cover, so I checked it out.

Set in the seaside village of Sea Harbor, Massachusetts, this murder mystery introduces the Seaside Knitting Studio, its owner, Izzy Chambers, and Izzy's aunt, Nell Endicott. Izzy's shop has an apartment above it rented by Izzy's old friend, Angie. When Angie is found dead, Izzy, Nell and the regulars of the knitting group at the shop try to find out what happened.

This looks as though it's the first in a series, and it looks as though Nell, rather than Izzy, might be the one to solve the mysteries. I guess I'll see if I'm right when the next book comes out.

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Shadow kitten

What is it with cats and yarn? All three of the cats have an uncanny ability to find my yarn and knitting and they appear to be magnetically drawn to it. Shadow is the worst, though, because she loves knitting needles and yarn, and she's a very energetic kitten. She has grown, but she's still small, especially when compared to Columbus and Jack.


Thursday, January 29, 2009

A little bit of sock knitting on the side

Here is the third pair of socks I've knit for Janet. She never received the first two pairs - they went to other people. But this time I am determined to finish these and get them in the mail in time for Janet to enjoy them (while it's still cold in Virginia).

And the Moderne Log Cabin blanket is coming along. Miles and miles of garter stitch and I should be done with block 7 tonight. Then I pick up stitches for block 8, which looks like it's the biggest block of all... .

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Friday, January 23, 2009

Moderne Log Cabin... still

Sarah's blanket is coming along - very slowly. I put it aside to do knitting for other people during December and most of January, and just picked it up again last night.

The nice thing about it is that it's large enough to cover me comfortably as I knit on it. Last night Joan and I had it draped over the two of us while we sat on the sofa watching a movie and I added rows to block 7. We were toasty warm!

The bad thing is that knitting loooooooong rows of garter stitch is a teensy bit boring, so I'm easily distracted by small projects such as socks, baby hats, dishcloths, baby afghans, etc.

I'm setting a goal of finishing up block 7 by the end of next week. Pray that I get it done, please!

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Fidelity by Wendell Berry is a collection of five short stories about Port William characters. While I enjoyed all of the stories, two really stood out as my favorites.

"A Jonquil for Mary Penn" introduces Elton and Mary Penn, married at the ages of 17 and 18 and living in "...a world of poverty and community." The entire story is just a few hours in one morning of Mary's life, but so much is described about the young couple's life together and paragraphs like this one stick with me:

"Now she thought of herself as belonging there, not just because of her marriage to Elton but also because of the economy that the two of them had made around themselves and with their neighbors. She had learned to think of herself as living and working at the center of a wonderful provisioning: the kitchen and garden, hog pen and smokehouse, henhouse and cellar of her own household; the little commerce of giving and taking that spoked out along the paths connecting her household to the others; Port William on its ridgetop in one direction, Goforth in its valley in the other, and all this at the heart of the weather and the world."

"Fidelity" was my other favorite. It tells the end of Burley Coulter's life. In his death, as in his life, Burley manages to bring humor and be a part of the countryside that he loves.


Thursday, January 22, 2009

Nathan Coulter

Nathan Coulter is the first Port William novel Wendell Berry wrote. It has a different voice from the last three Port William novels I read. I think when Mr. Berry wrote this book back in the late 60's he had no idea he would eventually people an entire town and countryside with characters.

This story is told by the boy Nathan, and it covers only a few years in his youth. As with other of Berry's novels, in places the narrative is more like viewing scenery (imagine "reading" a painting by John Constable or William Turner). Then once again, the prose returns and it's like Mark Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer or Robert Murphy's book, The Pond.

This book is short, and the prose more spare than his later Port William novels. It might be interesting to read all the Port William novels and short stories in the order in which they were originally published. I wish I'd thought to do that before I became hooked.


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

What's So Great about Christianity?

What's So Great about Christianity? by Dinesh D'Souza was the first book on my reading list for this year.

Mr. D'Souza states his purpose clearly in the preface:

"Taking as my foil the anti-religious arguments of prominent atheists like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and the others, in this book I will demonstrate the following:

1. Christianity is the main foundation of Western civilization, the root of our most cherished values.
2. The latest discoveries of modern science support the Christian claim that there is a divine being who created the universe.
3. Darwin's theory of evolution, far from undermining the evidence for supernatural design, actually strengthens it.
4. There is nothing in science that makes miracles impossible.
5. It is reasonable to have faith.
6. Atheism, not religion, is responsible for the mass murders of history.
7. Atheism is motivated not by reason but by a kind of cowardly moral escapism.

I end this book by showing what is unique about Christianity and how our lives change if we become Christians."

And here are a couple of paragraphs that stood out for me:

"The aversion to religion and the embrace of atheism becomes especially baffling when you consider that, on the face of it, atheism is a dismal ideology. Many atheists like to portray themselves as noble figures venturing into the cold night, raging against the dying of the light, and facing the pointlessness of it all. This strikes me as a bit of a pose, and an inauthentic and slightly comic one at that. As Michael Novak observes, if there is no God, what is there to rage at? Is it brave to spit in the face of a volcano or a tidal wave? Natural forces are neither good not evil; they just are. So where does heroism come in if atheists are merely taking the world as it is?"

"My conclusion is that contrary to popular belief, atheism is not primarily an intellectual revolt, it is a moral revolt. Atheists don't find God invisible so much as objectionable. They aren't adjusting their desires to the truth, but rather the truth to fit their desires. This is something we can all identify with. It is a temptation even for believers. We want to be saved as long as we are not saved from our sins. We are quite willing to be saved from a whole host of social evils, from poverty to disease to war. But we want to leave untouched the personal evils, such as selfishness and lechery and pride. We need spiritual healing, but we do not want it. Like a supervisory parent, God gets in our way. This is the perennial appeal of atheism: it gets rid of the stern fellow with the long beard and liberates us for the pleasures of sin and depravity. The atheist seeks to get rid of moral judgement by getting rid of the judge."

This is an excellent book for any Christian wanting to marshal his arguments before conversing with skeptics. I think this is also good reading for high school students, especially those preparing for college.

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A Cure for Dreams

Kaye Gibbons' book, A Cure for Dreams, was chosen by the local book club as our January selection.

This book was a pleasant surprise. It's the story of four generations of women told in the voice of Betty, the woman of the third generation. Betty mentions briefly her grandmother, Bridget, and her life in Kentucky, but she devotes most of her narrative to her own mother, Lottie, and the life Betty and Lottie lived in North Carolina. In the end Betty details the birth of her own daughter, Marjorie. Men exist only as peripheral characters in this novel. This is really about a family of strong women and their activities and how they relate to one another. Not deep literature, but a nice easy book to sandwich in when one wants light reading.


Thursday, January 15, 2009

Murder in Miniature

Camille Minichino, who also writes as "Margaret Grace," very kindly sent me a copy of her book, Murder in Miniature.

It's a good cozy mystery, the first in a series featuring Gerry Porter, a 58-year-old widow and resident of Lincoln Point, California. Gerry's hobby is miniatures - both making and selling them. With the help of her sister-in-law Beverly, her nephew Chris (a police officer), and her granddaughter Maddie, Gerry solves two murders.

As I read I learned a lot about dollhouse miniatures that was interesting. Gerry doesn't usually work from kits to make her miniature furniture and accessories. Instead, she takes small items commonly used and makes candles, plates, drawer pulls, lampshades, picture frames, shower curtains, etc.

Even more fascinating was that I learned about Eichler homes. Gerry lives in an Eichler home and parts of it (especially the central atrium) are described fondly and in great detail. I had to put the book down and go research Eichler!

The mystery was good and complex enough to keep me guessing, and I loved learning about miniatures and Eichler.

I bought the second book in the series and the third will be out in February. I'm looking forward to reading both!


Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Caps and scarves

For the last few weeks I've been knitting scarves and caps for a few friends who requested them. I haven't made caps or scarves for quite some time and it was fun to knit them again.

Two scarves and one cap have already been given to their new owners, but I was able to get David and Marley to model the remaining three caps and one scarf before I ship them off.

Here is one of the "Beginner Scarves" by Alison Hansel. This is the Simple Ribbed Scarf made with Encore worsted weight yarn and size 7 needles over 38 stitches.

The cap is also Encore worsted weight yarn and it is the "Ribbed Cap" from One Skein Wonders by Judith Durant.

For this cap I used Lion Brand Wool-Ease Chunky and size 10.5 needles. I cast on 76 or 78 stitches and worked in rib stitch for about 2 1/2 inches, then switched to stockinette stitch until the cap measured 7 inches in length. At that point I decreased 8 stitches every other row for three rows, then decreased every row until I had 8 stitches, ran the yarn through the remaining stitches and wove in the end.

I used the Lion Brand Chemo Cap pattern to make this cap for a friend in North Carolina. I followed the pattern exactly, using Lion Brand Fun Fur and Lion Brand Microspun held together on size 13 needles.

I have one more cap in progress, and one more scarf in mind, then I think it will be time to get back to Sarah's blanket and cardigan... .

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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Dewey:The Small -Town Library Cat Who Touched the World

I checked out Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World because it looked like it would be a fast and somewhat mindless read.

On a bitterly cold January morning in 1988, librarian Vicki Myron found a tiny cold and starving kitten in the Spencer Public Library's book drop box. With the permission of the library board, she and the other librarians adopted the kitten, naming him Dewey Readmore Books, and kept him at the library. The library patrons quickly got to know Dewey and enjoyed his presence. As time went on, word got out about this library cat with the friendly personality and people started coming from other states and countries to visit the library and see and pet Dewey. Dewey was a feline ambassador for the Spencer Public Library for 18 years.

Woven throughout Dewey's story is a memoir of Vicki Myron's life growing up in rural Iowa in a large family, then her years as a young wife and later as a single mother. I enjoyed learning about Ms. Myron as much as I did Dewey and I believe without Vicki Myron as his champion and defender, Dewey's life would have been pathetic and brief.

I'm glad I happened to see this book at our library. I should ask the other members of the library board to read it - I wish our library had a cat!


Friday, January 09, 2009

The Talisman

The last book on my reading list for 2008 was Sir Walter Scott's novel, The Talisman.

It's been a long time since I've read any books by Scott. In fact, I think the only books I've read by him are Ivanhoe and Kenilworth. That was over thirty years ago.

This book was different. It did involve knights, fights, fair ladies, maidens and honor, but it was set in the 12th century and featured King Richard of England and Sir Kenneth of Scotland (among others) on a Crusade in Palestine. To tell too much would spoil the story, as there is a lot of disguise and people and things revealed (several times over) to be something or someone other than what they seem to be.

The main thing I found interesting was the sympathetic way in which Walter Scott portrayed many of the Muslim characters, especially in a novel featuring Crusaders.

It was a good book, but I didn't love it the way I did Ivanhoe.

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Thursday, January 08, 2009

Computer woes

Last Friday I spilt about 1/4 of a cup of pinot noir on my laptop. It did not enjoy it. Now I'm having to share computer time with the kids on their computer. The upside is that I've been more productive around the house cleaning and getting rid of stuff. The downside is that I don't have time to blog or read other blogs. But I have time to read and knit!

Next week I hope to organize my closet (again) and go through the bookshelves and thin the biblio-herd. In the meantime, I hope to blog occasionally using the kids computer or Steve's computer.


Thursday, January 01, 2009

Happy New Year