this spring

This spring has been nearly perfect up here in our little mountain town. I have loved every last daffodil that has bloomed, cutting weekly bunches to enjoy on my desk at work.

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I usually had some company while I cut my bouquets. Hi Pixel!

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I don’t have any ranunculus growing in the yard, but a $5 bouquet from Trader Joe’s in shades of peach and coral made me happy for over a week.

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The lilacs were amazing this year, and I  use that word sparingly. Last year, just as they were about to bloom we had an icy snow storm that killed them all. I guess they decided to make up for it this year.

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I’ve been documenting all the ways I’ve been enjoying my flowers on Instagram, if you need to see more.

I’m momentarily without flowers for cutting, so I’m planning on some summer dahlias (see here for some of my inspiration), and ordered a few varieties from Swan Island Dahlias. We have lavender and roses growing now, so I’m hoping to have a few little bunches to clip and arrange soon. In the meantime, I’m also thumbing through The Flower Recipe Book, and dreaming of filling the house with bunches of flowers.

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new year

Happy New Year! 2013 is starting much like 2012 did, and I find myself once again job hunting. I am beginning to feel like this life is a bit too much like Groundhog Day, so I hope I get it right this time, and don’t have to keep repeating everything.

I don’t have any grand resolutions to reveal, just a few areas I want to focus on this year. Besides finding the perfect job, I mean.

Books on the Nightstand usually has a yearly reading challenge, and this year Ann has initiated Project Short Story. I don’t think I’ve read many short stories since high school, with the exception of maybe O. Henry and some of the shorter Sherlock Holmes stories, so I love this idea. I am going to try and read a few short stories each week (as well as participating in the monthly reads they’ll be discussing), and I’ll note them here, just to keep track for myself. There are lots of online resources, so I’ll add links whenever possible. I don’t have any plans for specific genres or an exact number goal, but I do hope that it will help me read more this year than I did in 2012.

Today I think I’ll pick a story from this book, which I found years ago in a used book shop:

Winter's Tales

I love the bookplate and the note about “conserving essential materials” during the war. I also love this photo of Karen Blixen:

karen blixen

I think I need a pet owl and a head scarf, it’s a very elegant look, don’t you think?

Now that I once again have some free time, I’ve also decided to focus on one big project each week. I have so many things I want to do, that I often find myself paralyzed with indecision and end up getting nothing done. This week’s project is a slipcover for the wing chair in my living room. Giving myself the week means that I can break it down into manageable chunks each day, and will still have time for other things too, like reading short stories, knitting, and cooking and cleaning and errands, and job hunting too, of course.

My other area of focus is going to be training little Pixel to be a good dog. He’s getting better at walking on a leash, and can sit and shake when there are snacks involved. He is very enthusiastic about giving high-fives, and will kind of, sort of stay for brief moments, but he doesn’t come when called when he’s outside, and I want to change that quickly. He’s slipped out our gate a couple times, and has a grand time running away, while giving me a heart attack. Our street is sometimes busy and the speed limit is 45mph, so it’s not a safe place for a little dog to be. I’ve since made it as secure as possible with a little chicken wire and zip ties. I still get nervous when he’s out there, though, so some obedience training will be a priority starting this week. Also, he is just so super cute:

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What about you? Do you make grand resolutions or goals? Or maybe a list of things you want to accomplish? Have you ever made a resolution and really stuck with it for a whole year?

Short stories for this week:

Tall Tales from the Mekong Delta by Kate Braverman

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what I like in a book

First of all, thank you so much to all the Ravelry users for the warm response to my pattern! There are 40+ likes and lots of queuing as of this morning. I really didn't expect so much! Now that it's there, I'm feeling a little more confident, I think it looks quite nice. I have to give Mr. HeyLucy some credit for helping with the photography, too. 

And now, I think it's about time for a book report. I didn't read nearly as much in 2011 as I did in 2010, but I did read a few very good books. I've also gotten a couple advance reader's copies from publishers, so I wanted to be sure and let you know about those. There were two, in particular, that I recently read, and they got me thinking about just what makes a good book. The Night Swimmer was just released, and is the story of an American couple that win an Irish pub on the southern tip of Ireland. They have high hopes, but things don't quite work out as expected. Matt Bondurant is an eloquent, gifted writer, but there was a subtlety to his storytelling that I never really understood. I'm still not sure just why certain things happened as they did. I found it interesting to read a story told in a female voice, written by a male author (as I would if roles were reversed). He was convincing, and yet I never really cared all that much for Elly, and I didn't understand her attractions to swimming in the ocean and to her husband Fred. I need to feel like I know and understand the characters in a book to really like it. So my review, in this case, is a totally subjective two-and-a-half out of five stars. I think some readers will love it, in all its subtlety, but even the intriguing location of the story wasn't enough to win me over. 

And now, a brief intermission, so we can enjoy this entertaining video: 

Okay, next up on my ARC list, History of a Pleasure Seeker, which comes out February 7. It's just after the turn of the century in Amsterdam (+1, I particularly like this time period and location), and handsome, talented Piet is attempting to rise above his station and secures a job as tutor to a troubled boy in a very wealthy family (+1, I can get behind that, it's an interesting challenge). Told in vivid detail, the author successfully brings a glamorous world to life (+1 for descriptive writing). Ultimately, however, the negatives are glaring. Piet is quite devious and while he admires his employer, he takes advantage of his trust (-1, first and foremost, he is a selfish bastard). He does succeed in helping some of the other characters, but often inadvertently, while single-mindedly pursuing his own interests (-1 more for more unlikeability). There's also an awful lot of excruciatingly detailed sex, both hetero- and homosexual (-1 for unexpected erotica). I prefer a more subtle approach, and there was just more than I thought was necessary to move the plot forward. I don't want characters in a book to be perfect, but when they succeed time and time again, despite their flaws, I find that they grow tiresome. So the pluses and minuses end up cancelling each other out. I'll be generous, however, and give it three out of five stars. 

My very favorite book of 2011 was Ready Player One. I actually listened to the audio version of this one, read by Wil Wheaton, who was pitch perfect as the voice of Wade Watts, treasure seeker/hacker/80s pop culture expert. Set in a bleak and hopeless 2044, most of humanity spends it's time plugged in to the virtual OASIS, where they attend school, work, and socialize. The developer of this virtual world has died and his will stipulates that the person who can unlock the three hidden gates and solve the subsequent puzzles will inherit the entire thing. It's been years, and so far no one has made any progress until one day when Wade finds the first gate, and the competition heats up fast. As a child of the 80s, the nostagia factor was high for me. I really grew to care about the characters, and the action and suspense kept me listening. It was just so, so much fun.

Currently, I'm in the middle of Caleb's Crossing, by Geraldine Brooks, and I'm loving it so much. She has a way of giving her characters a voice that really expresses who they are. I recently finished Year of Wonders, and had the same feeling. I enjoyed the whole book, until the ending, which felt rushed and was so unlikely, I found it hard to believe. Fingers-crossed that it doesn't happen again, it was so perfect up to that point. 

What was your favorite book of 2011? What do you like in a book.   

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some things

I think someone could make a business out of coming up with pithy blog post titles. I am obviously not that person.

Some things I've been knitting include my Seraphim shawl, which is now finished.

image from www.flickr.com

I knew I would love it, and I was right. It weighs nearly nothing, but is so warm and soft. I'm cursing this ridiculous January heatwave, because it means I can't wear it right now. Not that I have anything that really matches in color or style even if it was cold. I don't care, though, as soon as the temperature goes back down to reasonable winter levels, I'll have it jauntily tied around my shoulders with my every day black hoodie sweater and jeans. 

image from www.flickr.com
Sadly, I'm still not any kind of lace knitting expert. At one point, well into the lace border, I had to rip back a few rows due to a glaring error, and let me tell you, it was.not.fun. Then, not learning my lesson, I neglected to put in a new lifeline, and found a couple extra yarn-overs. As I continued knitting, they were so obvious that I wasn't sure I could live with them, but I also couldn't face ripping back again, so I decided to let it go. And you know, as I was blocking the finished shawl, I really had to look to find them. I'm pretty sure that no one will ever see them while I have it nonchalantly draped around my neck, either. 

image from www.flickr.com
I think my next lace project is going to be a Juneberry shawl from Brooklyn Tweed. I hope to get some Shelter yarn (I'm very tempted by the Button Jar color, but Almanac is also nice), I think lace in a heavier yarn could be a lot of fun. 

Of course, once I bound off and blocked my shawl, I thought I ought to start something else. I am not at all tired of the purple Malabrigo I used for my Abrazo, so I used the leftover to start a pair of socks.

image from www.flickr.com

The pattern is Pyroclastic from Knitty Winter 2009, and they are easy-peasy. Well, that's not entirely true. There is a knitted-in arch support, which I think sounds like a fantastic idea, but the truth is, I started working on it and I just wasn't feeling it. You have to fiddle with about six stitch markers on size 1 needles, and keeping track of increases and decreases on this dark, dark yarn during these dark, dark evenings just isn't any fun, so I decided not to do it. I'll let you know if that's a big mistake, but I think it will work out just fine. I love the mock cables, they couldn't be easier, and the socks are just flying off the needles. 

Some things I've been reading include the entire Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. They're YA books, so they were really quick reads. I thought they were a lot of fun. The action was non-stop, and I really enjoyed all the funny lines the author came up with, like

"I nodded, looking at Rachel with respect. "You hit the Lord of the Titans in the eye with a blue plastic hairbrush."",

or ""It's him," I said. "Typhon." 
I was seriously hoping Chiron would say something good, like 'No, that's our huge friend Leroy! He's going to help us!'"

Or "I’ve met plenty of embarrassing parents, but Kronos, the evil Titan Lord who wanted to destroy Western Civilization? Not the kind of dad you invited to school for Career Day."

I was seriously on the edge of my seat for most of the five books, so I read them back-to-back, pretty much non-stop. I would have probably loved these when I was in sixth grade, so if you have any young readers looking for something entertaining, and even a little educational (I even learned a few things about the Greek gods), give them a try. 

Way at the other end of the spectrum, I spent a good part of my day off yesterday reading Room: A Novel by Emma Donoghue. Wow. I don't want to say too much about this one, but I couldn't put it down, and I will be thinking about it for a good, long time. Room is the story of Jack and his Ma and the 11 x 11 room where they live as prisoners of Old Nick. Five-year-old Jack is the narrator of the story, and it takes a little while to get into the rhythm of his voice, but ultimately, I think Donoghue has done an excellent job of creating that voice. Jack is at the same time smart yet somewhat developmentally or maybe emotionally disabled. His Ma does that best she can to educate and entertain him within their very confined, limited existence. 

Room

Often, when I read a book, particularly a very popular book, I have a bad habit of reading the Amazon reviews, mostly the bad ones. I can sometimes empathize with the one-star reviewers, and often find new insights that I may not have thought about before. In this case, however, I found myself disagreeing with most of them. Many of them didn't like the voice of Jack, saying they didn't think a five-year-old would talk like he did, using simple words and improper grammar one sentence and then spouting multi-syllabic words the next, but I thought that was very authentic, particularly because his world was so limited, yet his mother would play games with him to teach him new words and their meanings. The other complaint that was repeated multiple times was that the reviewers thought that the many references to breastfeeding were "gross." Really? I get that in society today it's not really acceptable to breastfeed a five-year-old boy, but they didn't live in regular society. I think it was quite understandable in their circumstances, and that it was a great comfort to both Jack and to Ma. I understood the discomfort of people outside of Room when Jack wanted to breastfeed at that point, but I would hardly call it gross. Okay, I'll stop there, but if you've read it, what did you think? Please comment! I still need a book group!

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resolve

 I was going to talk about some things I wanted to do this year, but then I watched this, and now I don't think I will! 

Okay, well, I'll talk about one little goal I have this year, mostly because I'm pretty sure this one won't be a problem to fulfill. I've been keeping a little bit better track of what I've been reading, thanks to GoodReads, and it turns out I read fifty-some books last year. That's not too shabby, but I can do better, both in number of books read, and keeping track. I've often been guilty of devouring a book and then, once I set it aside, completely forgetting half of what I read. So, part one of my goal is to enter all books in GoodReads and then rate it when I'm done and add at least a brief review. I'll also share longer reviews here of the titles thought were particularly good.

I've also decided to up the number of books I read this year to 65, which is really a suggestion from Michael of the Books on the Nightstand podcast (which, by the way, is excellent for all you book lovers out there. If you haven't listened, I suggest subscribing right away!) to read +11 in '11. I just rounded to 65 since I know I missed listing some last year. I decided that since my sister thinks I don't read enough non-fiction that I would make those 11 additional books non-fiction titles. GoodReads also added a nifty feature this year to help you set and track reading goals.

Another thing helping me read more is a new toy from Mr. HeyLucy (who sacrificed his own Christmas money, combined it with mine and insisted I get it), it's a nifty little Nook Color, and I've really been enjoying using it to read anywhere and everywhere. I don't buy many books, because our bookshelves are full, but I've always got a library book or three laying around, as well as constant requests waiting to be checked out, and I'm excited that I'll now be able to check out ebooks as well. I've read lots of books on my phone, so this bigger screen is really luxurious. And there are plenty of free and bargain books to download as well.

And now, how about a book recommendation? The last book I read in 2010 was The Bells , by Richard Harvell. It was a perfect way to end the year-with one that I think will be a favorite for a long time to come. 

Thebells

The Bells begins in a small Swiss village, where the bells in the church tower are so loud they can only be rung by a deaf woman, who comes down from the hills and dwells in the belfry. She has a child, and the villagers and parish priest assume that the boy, too, is deaf. When the priest discovers that is is not the case, he is so angry  he takes the child and throws him into the river, certain that he will die. The boy is rescued by two passing monks, who aptly name him Moses and take him back to their abbey. There he becomes a prodigy of the strange choirmaster, Ulrich, who decides he must preserve Moses' beautiful voice. What follows is the story of his life as a castrati, abhorred in his native Switzerland, and exalted in the music capitals of Italy and Austria. I don't want to give any more of the story away, I will leave it to you to discover. 

I loved the way Harvell captured the physical feelings of pure, beautiful sound. His language is sensuous and beautiful. Even the most painful scenes reverberated with the feelings of hearing, not just with the ears, but the whole body. There are so many good passages, like this one from the beginning of the story:

"As my mother rang her bells, she tuned the fibers of her body as a violinist tunes his strings. There in her neck, she rings faintly with a part tone of the middle bell. There in her thighs, with another. In the bottom of her feet, I heard the strike tone of the smallest bell. Each tone, ringing in her flesh, was itself the faintest echo of the vast concert. I cannot remember my mother's face, but I remember this landscape of her sounds. And though I have no likeness with which I might recall her, when I close my eyes and hear her body ringing with those bells, it is as though I have a portrait in my hands."

I love the sound as memory imagery. The Bells is highly re-readable, which is high praise indeed. 

Please share any good book recommendations in the comments, I have 65 books to read this year!

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