Book review: A Colony in a Nation by Chris Hayes

A Colony in a NationA Colony in a Nation by Chris Hayes

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Clear-eyed analysis of the current state of racial tension in the United States. Chris Hayes is aware of his privilege as an educated, relatively affluent, white male, and uses that privilege to elucidate his premise that, for all its lip service to equality and justice for all, the US is a divided society — the Nation, generally composed of white people excessively concerned with public safety and “law and order;” and the Colony, constituted in the main by people of color who are increasingly the targets and victims of the “law and order” mindset of the Nation.

Hayes’ premise is easily confirmed by recent events in which people of color just going about their own business have had the cops called on them for what amounts to breathing while black. Not that the Philadelphia Starbucks incident or the Oakland barbecue incident are anything out of the ordinary for black folks in this country: we just hear about them now because of the ubiquity of smart phones and use of social media.

While Hayes doesn’t offer any solutions, that’s not the point of his book. The whole point here is to raise awareness. Look around. Take notice of the many ways the Nation oppresses the Colony. And, if you’re white, do your best to recognize your part in the oppression — because we all do it, despite our best intentions. Recognition leads to self-awareness leads to a change in behavior.

Because black lives matter.

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Book review: The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

The Essex SerpentThe Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Not your usual love story. Not your usual happy ending.

Cora, recently widowed — and frankly, quite pleased to be free of her marriage — decamps to the Essex countryside with her companion Martha and her son Frances for a change of scenery after her abusive husband is laid to rest. There she meets Will Ransome, the local vicar, and his angelic wife, Stella. Cora and Will immediately take to each other in an intellectual sense, debating matters of biology, naturalism, and faith with vigor and passion; Stella looks on in bemusement and a secret delight that Will has met someone his intellectual equal. Stella is ill, although she hasn’t told anyone; as the novel wears on, one suspects she doesn’t object to Will’s friendship with Cora because she expects Will to turn to Cora after Stella passes on.

In the meantime, Aldwinter (the village) is roiled by the rumor that the Essex Serpent of the title has resurfaced after an absence of some 200 years. Cora is thrilled at the story and believes the Serpent may be a prehistoric creature. Will believes the story is stuff and nonsense but is pleased church attendance is up. Still, he is unsettled by the reason: many in town believe the End Times may be at hand, or at the very least, God is unhappy with the town and is punishing them with this beast. The townsfolk are skittish and superstitious; they keep their children in and their livestock tied, and hold vigil at the edge of the river, watching for any sign of the creature so Aldwinter can be warned and ready.

As the year rolls by, passions rise and fall; quarrels come and go; people leave and return; letters are written and exchanged; the Serpent lurks; death stalks; love awaits; and peace, while elusive, is eventually found.

Lovely writing, lovely story.

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Book review: Sleeping Beauties by Stephen King and Owen King

Sleeping BeautiesSleeping Beauties by Stephen King

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The sleeping women became enshrouded in cocoons and, without them, men tore the world apart.

This novel hinges on the premise that, without women’s civilizing influence, the human male is a brute savage, bent on destruction and domination. And while that might be true to a certain degree and for certain men, I simply can’t believe men in general would lose all sense of decorum and restraint within a three-day absence of their mothers, wives, and daughters, even given they don’t know if said absence is temporary.

I mean, give it at least a week, right? Maybe even two.

Two stars and “It was ok” is all the praise you’re getting from me, King père et fils. It was readable, at least.

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Book review: A Column of Fire by Ken Follett

A Column of Fire (Kingsbridge)A Column of Fire by Ken Follett

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This third installment of Ken Follett’s Kingsbridge series covers the Elizabethan era of England’s history, with its attendant political intrigues, religious persecutions, and assassination plots. While our chief protagonist, Ned Willard, and his family are fictional, famous historical personages inhabit the plot: William Cecil; Mary, Queen of Scots; Francis Walsingham; Francis Drake; and of course Elizabeth Tudor.

Ned Willard goes to court as a young man, after having been disappointed in love, and is promptly taken under the wing of William Cecil, Elizabeth Tudor’s chief advisor. Together they oversee a network of informants and spies, rooting out planned rebellions and foiling attempts on the Queen’s life. The majority of the political story concerns the tension between staunch Catholics and Protestants, each believing they follow the One True Faith; and the accompanying efforts to sway England, France, and Spain toward one religious tradition or the other.

I liked this book. It’s well-written and steeped in historical detail. But I didn’t enjoy it as much as I enjoyed the first of the line (The Pillars of the Earth, set in the 12th century), or even the second (World Without End, set in the 14th century). That may be because I am utterly fascinated by the Middle Ages — far more than with any other period in history — and thus novels set in other historical eras don’t engage me as much. Still, Elizabethan England is a dramatic setting, and the dramatic plotline delivers one punch of excitement after another.

Given that the three books in this series each take place approximately 200 years apart, I venture to guess that the next installment, should there be one, will cover the American Revolution, and will take place in both England and the New World. We’ll see.

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A blanket for a friend

I finally finished that damn blanket that I’ve been making for, um, over four years…

Orange Sampler Afghan 1It started out as a way to use up skeins of yarn that had sat in my stash forever because there was no way I was using them to make anything I would wear. I mean, I like orange, but I don’t wear orange, generally speaking. So I decided a patchwork crocheted sampler afghan was the perfect way to get rid of… I mean, put to good use all this bulky orange yarn that had been sitting here unused and unloved for close to ten years.

So I made 11 squares.  And they sat around my craft room, waiting for the last square to be completed.  They sat around my craft room for four years.  A good portion of that time, they sat on the floor, just like this.  Waiting.

100_4674 (2)But when one of the dogs started thinking they were her personal cozy space, I picked them up off the floor and stacked them on a table. Where they waited again.

And waited.

And waited.

In January, I was in California for my annual girls’ weekend.  The husband of one of my dearest friends is suffering from cancer and undergoing chemotherapy and all the rest of the unpleasantness that goes along with cancer treatment.  And that’s when it struck me: this blanket belongs to him.  So I came home and finished the last square.

And then that blanket sat around again while I finished up rehearsals and performances for Old Love.  And started and finished a cardigan for me, because I’m a selfish bitch.  But I finally sewed the squares together last week, took a few photos, and now I’m ready to send it off.  I’m holding this blog entry until I receive word from my friend that they’ve received the package.

Peter Blanket 1

Peter Blanket 4

Peter Blanket 7

Pattern: Sampler Afghan by Darla Sims, 12 selected squares
Yarn: Rowan Plaid, colorway 154 Spicy, 7 skeins; Patons North American Shetland Chunky, colorway 03520 Russet, 7 skeins; a total of 1610 yards
Hook: Boye, size K
Size: Roughly 36 inches by 48 inches, just big enough to cover one’s lap and legs
Satisfaction with end product: I like it. It’s cozy and warm and machine washable. I hope they like it. (And yes, I washed it to get rid of any dog hair.)  Click here for the Ravelry project page.

New FO: V-Neck Cardigan

Ravelry sometimes chooses my next project for me.  Such was the case when the Vogue Knitters group decided that, for 2018, we should knit pattern #18 from any Vogue Knitting magazine.  As it happened, I had a couple of #18s in my queue, so I picked one and cast on.

18 V-Neck Cardigan 1

Pattern: #18 V-Neck Cardigan by Anniken Allis, from Vogue Knitting Holiday 2016
Yarn: Naturally Caron Country, colorway 0017 Claret, roughly 750 yards (4 skeins and maybe 20 or 30 yards from a fifth skein to finish the button band)
Yarn notes: Super splitty, and definitely not an Aran weight. More like a DK or sport weight. Discontinued. I wouldn’t buy more even if it weren’t because the splitty nature was a real pain. But it knit up with nice stitch definition that made the lace pop.
Needles: Addi circulars, US 6
Buttons: Resin buttons from stash, purchased at a Stitches South booth so long ago I can’t remember the vendor
Mods: No waist shaping; shortened sleeves by 1 inch; shortened body by 7 inches. My gauge was slightly larger than what the pattern calls for, so a little bit of math resulted in casting on for the 38” and expecting to get the 39.5”. My bust is 37”, and the pattern calls for 2-3″ of ease, so we’re good there.
Satisfaction with end product: I love it. I’ve already worn it to work. It’s perfect for this cool spring weather, even if it is sort of an autumn color. It will be useful when autumn rolls around again, of course.  By the way, here’s the link to the Ravelry project page.

18 V-Neck Cardigan 2

The knitting of this little cardigan was a bit of a chore. The body to the yoke is all one piece; the sleeves are knitted separately and joined to the body at the yoke; then the whole thing is knitted as one piece.  I got to the sleeve/yoke join and was merrily knitting and decreasing along.  Nearing the end of the decreases for the shoulder, I suddenly noticed the front edges between the lace charts weren’t matching up: one was considerably wider than the other.  Vogue errata, grah! On the VK site, I found the error.  Unfortunately, to fix it, I had to rip back nearly a week’s worth of knitting, all the way back to the joining of the sleeves, and start that whole section again.  Frustrating.  But I may have finally learned to check EVERY SINGLE VOGUE PATTERN for errata before casting on.

18 V-Neck Cardigan 4

Another issue with the pattern is it doesn’t really explain how to manage the continued decreases across the lace once the lace charts meet up at the top of the shoulder.  So I muddled through by studying the magazine photos thoroughly, and then decreasing across the front edge charts and maintaining the stitch count by doing plain stockinette when I didn’t have enough stitches to make the yarn over and its accompanying decrease.  It worked out, so I was happy about that.

18 V-Neck Cardigan 6

The last real struggle was with picking up the stitches for the button band and neck edge.  Because I shortened the cardigan by 7 inches, the pattern instructions for how many stitches to pick up went right out the window.  So what I did was fall back on the standard method when you don’t know how many stitches you need.  I picked up 3 stitches for every four rows as follows: 89 from cast on edge along right front edge to marker, knit according to pattern to next marker, from marker pick up 89 down left front edge to cast on edge.  Perfect!

And now, one last photo.

18 V-Neck Cardigan 3

The cheesecake shot

Stash confessions

Let’s see….last August was the most recent stash update.  And until yesterday, there really hadn’t been that many stash acquisitions.  Rehearsals got in the way of yarn shopping as well as yarn creating.  But yesterday made up for it.  Hoo boy.

Let’s start with some yarn I actually acquired a couple of years ago but didn’t put into Ravelry until a few months ago.

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Alpacas By The Falls Pure Alpaca, an undyed 100% alpaca light worsted/DK, purchased at a small town LYS in Alabama.  Each skein weighs about 115 grams, and my best guess on yardage is probably 200-220.  I really don’t know because the label doesn’t say.  This was a one-off production run by an Alabama alpaca farm, who has since decided that their alpacas are pets rather than products.  I found this out because, when I finally got around to putting it in the Ravelry stash a few months ago, I emailed the alpaca farm to ask them how much yardage was in each skein, and she emailed back with the information that she didn’t remember and they only made the one batch as an experiment. I adore the tweedy gray, but it’s kind of hairy and scratchy, so I imagine I’ll turn it into a sleeveless vest of some sort.

In February I had a photo shoot in downtown Lawrenceville, Georgia.  After the shoot, I couldn’t leave town without visiting The Yarn Garden, where I found this fabulous color combo that almost literally jumped off the shelf into my hands.

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Manos del Uruguay Alegría in colorways Nickel (the gray tonal) and Turmeric (that gorgeous golden yellow).  This yarn is going to become the Make Space cardigan by Veera Välimäki.

I renewed my Rowan subscription recently and received the appreciation gift in the mail a couple of weeks ago.

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Rowan Pure Wool Superwash Worsted in Peacock.  There’s just enough of this to make a scarf and hat combo if I stay with a solid color.  I have leftover partial skeins of other 100% wool worsteds, though, so I could throw a bunch of colorways together to make a colorwork pullover or something.  We’ll see.  It’s a sturdy workhorse yarn, so I’m sure I’ll figure something out.

And then there was yesterday’s splurge.  My cohort in yarn crime Alice and I drove up to Gainesville for a coffee and yarn buy excursion.  Our target was a yarn store that had announced it was closing at the end of April.  Currently everything is 35% off.  The discount will be greater as the month wears on, but we wanted to get there before the stock was too picked over.  And we found some perfectly gorgeous stuff.

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Frabjous Fibers Cheshire Cat Fingering (Uncommon Nonsense collection) in colorway Flower Bed.  This one made me think of Monet’s Water Lilies.  Really generous yardage in this put-up — over 500 yards — so there may be enough to get a pullover or cardigan with short sleeves out of these two skeins.  April Come She Will is a possibility.  Or perhaps La Grasse Matinée.

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Malabrigo Silky Merino in colorways Ravelry Red and Vigo.  This will become a short-sleeved tee or cropped cardigan of some sort.  The Short-Sleeved Raglan Tee or The Girly Tee are both possibilities.

After a stop for a bottle of water, we drove back to Atlanta to visit a new yarn store, The Craftivist.  Here’s where I went a little mad in the MadelineTosh department.

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Tosh Merino Light in Winter’s Rest

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Tosh Merino Light in Purple Rain

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And Tosh Merino Light in Gracenotes.

I haven’t the faintest idea what I’m going to do with these, but the speckled colorways just screamed at me to take them home.  What’s a girl to do?

Go to the bookstore down the street, that’s what.  I’ve been intending to visit A Cappella Books ever since I moved to Atlanta over five years ago.  Since we drove right past it after leaving The Craftivist, we had to stop.  I picked up a novel that had been on my wish list, American War by Omar El Akkad, plus another novel I hadn’t heard of but had enjoyed a previous book by the same author, The Changeling by Victor LaValle.

So, it was an expensive day, but a happy day.  Four, count ’em, four small businesses supported (our coffee and mid-morning snack came from an excellent non-chain coffeehouse, Midland Station), so feeling a little virtuous about that.

But I’m hiding next month’s Amex bill from the spouse.

Book review: Fire and Fury by Michael Wolff

Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White HouseFire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House by Michael Wolff

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So I had to read this book. Had. To. Because I had to know what the view looked like from inside the mess being reported in the mainstream media.

And now that I know, I feel even more ill that this completely self-absorbed, functionally illiterate, childish excuse for a human being is seated in the Oval Office, and that he’s surrounded by similarly incompetent toadies and sycophants who believe it’s their job to tell him what he wants to hear instead of the truth.

Because he can’t deal with the truth. Truth and facts are dull. And they’re not about him. So, hey, don’t bother briefing me on this boring national security matter; let’s talk about my golf game instead!

OMFG. Unless Trump is removed from office as soon as possible, the American experiment just might be over.

Prior to reading this, I had no guilt about flipping this man’s official photograph the bird every day when I walk into the building where I work. And after reading it, I take a certain amount of pride in the gesture.

(Three stars because it’s choppy and uneven, and some of the transitions lack continuity. But yay for gossipy juicy insider tidbits.)

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New blog entry, with actual yarn content!

With all the rehearsals going on over the last six months, you would be forgiven for thinking that I’d forgotten how to turn yarn into usable items, much less actually complete anything.

Ha!  I haven’t!

Okay, I didn’t get much accomplished in that time, but there were a couple of things.  First, this baby blanket for a colleague who was expecting his first child was started in November and finished in January.

Mike Blanket 3

Pattern: Taylor Baby Blanket (my original design)
Yarn: Bernat Pipsqueak, in four different colorways (see Ravelry project page for details), approx 275 yards total
Needles: Addi circs, size US 15
Size: Approx 36″ x 24″
Satisfaction with end product: It’s soft and squishy and perfect for a newborn. My colleague and his wife loved it, and that’s the most important thing.

Late last summer I made this tank top.

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Pattern: S7365 Damentop mit Ajourmuster by Schachenmayr Design Team (Thankfully, it was available in English)
Yarn: Cascade Yarns Sunseeker Multi in Candy Cane, approx 628 yards
Needles: Addi circulars, US 5 and US 3
Size: Medium (34″/36″)
Mods: Gauge with this yarn was a little wide and tall, so I cast on for the small to get a medium, and began the armholes at row 120 instead of row 148. Did 4 rows garter stitch at bottom edge before beginning lace pattern. Also 4 rows garter stitch at neck edge and armhole edge instead of stockinette. Did not turn over arm and neck edges for a hem. 2 inch shoulder seams instead of 2 cm as called for in the pattern.
Satisfaction with end product: Made for me, and I love it. It’s cool and comfortable and looks pretty good under a jacket, so I can even wear it to work.

You can see a few more pictures on the project page.

And finally, I made this hat in February:

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Pattern: #24 Cabled Pompom Hat by Annabelle Speer (from Vogue Knitting Holiday 2012)
Yarn: Schaefer Chris in Pomegranate, approx 215 yards (a now defunct yarn company; this was my last skein)
Needles: Addi circs, US 7
Mods: Smaller pompom due to lack of the appropriate size pompom maker, a situation that has now been remedied
Satisfaction with end product: This was a gift for a friend who helped out the production of Old Love by sending us authentic Tim Horton’s to-go cups from Canada to use in our coffee shop scene. A small detail that the audience probably never noticed, but we did. I think the hat turned out lovely, but more importantly, my friend did too. You can see a few more pics on the Ravelry project page.

Book review: Year One by Nora Roberts

Year One (Chronicles of the One, #1)Year One by Nora Roberts

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Every now and then I read a Nora Roberts book, and then remember why I don’t read Nora Roberts books. I picked this one up because, oooh, post-apocalypse! And I’m a sucker for post-apocalyptic fiction.

Sucker is the applicable word here.

The premise: a mysterious flu-like plague has wiped out the majority of the global population. One either caught it and died (100% mortality rate) or one was immune. Many of those who were immune are also…I guess “gifted” would be the correct word…with magickal (yes, that’s the spelling used) abilities that intensified after the plague swept through the populace. Witches, wizards, faeries, and elves now make up a good portion of the survivors.

Our story follows two groups of survivors who eventually join and create a quiet town built on mutual support and community effort. Various romantic couples emerge from each group (thankfully, love scenes are mercifully brief and non-graphic), but one couple stands apart: Lana and Max, both practitioners of The Craft, and both becoming more and more powerful. Lana is pregnant with an apparently magickal fetus, who others begin calling “The One” or “The Savior.” Naturally, malcontents and bigots are the bane of their post-apocalyptic Eden, with violence and mayhem ensuing.

I can’t tell you how many times I rolled my eyes at the sheer inanity of this novel. Ms. Roberts couldn’t make up her mind what kind of story she was telling: Is this her version of King’s “The Stand” or McCammon’s “Swan Song”? Is it a urban fantasy filled with magick and faerie dust? Is it a new Arthurian legend or Messiah story? Or is it a romance about hard times on the new frontier? It’s a mishmash of all of them and none of them with weirdly placed bits of religiosity.

I finished it because I kept thinking “Surely this is going to get better,” but it didn’t, and frankly, I wish I could take back the several hours I spent reading this trash.

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