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Friday, January 19, 2018

Holiday Round-Up

Simply Crochet no. 63 came with a kit to make a festive llama.  I was skeptical of the color combination at first, but by the end I found it adorable:
There was a small problem with the kit, though -- not enough yarn, even though I used the smallest recommended hook.  I had to improvise on the ears, hair, and tail, using the scraps left over from the other body parts.

The llama wasn't the only crocheting I did. Back in November, I made the Granny Ripple tree skirt from Annie's Trim the Tree 2017 issue.
It's not quite big enough to go around our tree stand, so I may add another motif or two next year.

There was a lot of yarn left over. In addition to adding to the skirt, I am knitting a scarf for Beadboy2 (slow going) and I crocheted a couple of simple ornaments:

For the Three Kings Day party I threw, I made some simple beaded stars to give to the guests:

Finally, some stitching. Once everything else was made, I had the time to stitch a couple of ornaments for myself. Mmmcrafts's Partridge and Pear (LOVE the series):

And from the 2017 Just Cross Stitch Christmas Ornaments issue, the 2017 Christmas Bauble by Patricia Ann Designs:

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Who's Who in Hell by Robert Chalmers

If you read the blurbs on the cover, you'd think Chalmers's debut novel was a biting satire of publishing and modern life.  It is that, in part, but that's really not the point of the story. Daniel makes a living as an obituary writer, writing not only anticipatory obituaries to have on hand (an actual practice by newspapers) but satirical obituaries too truthful and cutting to see the light of day. That, in turn, inspires him to begin the titular book, a collection of obituaries of horrible criminals and human monsters.

But while Chalmers pokes plenty of fun at the newspaper industry, the obituaries are just one piece in the larger theme of mortality and how we cope with it. The central story is really Daniel's and Laura's relationship.  This could have so easily gone wrong -- Daniel's your standard ordinary guy trying to get by, and Laura at first threatens to be the Manic Pixie Dream Girl that pulls Daniel out of his slump. But Chalmers smartly develops Laura's character, giving her a personality, relationships independent of Daniel, and her own struggle reconciling life and death.  This makes the heartbreaking ending all the more poignant; the last few chapters gutted me.

I'm not sure I would have read this book had I known what it was really about. But I'm glad I did, because Chalmers depiction of a relationship both conventional and unconventional was honest and moving.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Hakawati by Rabih Alameddine

Alameddine's novel is a gorgeous feat of storytelling, weaving together Bible stories, folklore, fairy tales, mythology, and history, with a framing story set in Lebanon in 2003. Osama al-Kharrat is a middle-aged American returning to his home country to keep vigil at his father's bedside, along with all his siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, and family friends. Osama's grandfather was a hakawati -- a professional storyteller -- and Osama has inherited his love of tales. As he waits for the inevitable he tells us stories, not just of his own family but of his country and culture.  Alameddine's writing shines here. Stories are nested within stories, beginnings begin in unexpected areas, and the endings never really come. The language is by turns flowery, poetic, earthy, factual, ironic, and just plain funny. Easter eggs abound, such as the evil wizard King Kade, master of light. The result is a vibrant, lush, colorful patchwork that belies the stereotypes Americans have about the Middle East.

Alameddine depicts a pre-war Beirut that was once considered the Paris of the East. Europeans and Arabs, Christians, Muslims, Jews, and Druze were neighbors, friends, and lovers.  The characters we meet value food, poetry, music, and above all family. Alameddine only glancingly depicts the civil war and the havoc it wreaked on the country, but I found it heartbreaking.  And infuriating -- the fact that a handful of politicians and extremists can can so affect a populace that just wants to live its life is a depressing, all too common occurrence.

Fortunately, the realities of life are just a small element of the book. What matters is the story.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

1 Year of Stitches: Week 52

Unfortunately, I can't say that I managed to stitch every single day, and the project petered out at the end because of Christmas preparations, festivities, and so on (and a terrible cold that just won't. go. away). Nevertheless, it was a fun project and it serves as a diary of the year.

Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 24, 2017

1 Year of Stitches: Week 51

This project got neglected again as I hurried to finish the quilt, but I did get a few stitches and motifs in.
Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 23, 2017

On the First Day of Christmas ...

Well, it's not the first day of Christmas yet, and not the first day of Jo's Online Advent Calendar, but it still seems appropriate because my two most recent cross stitch finishes are partridge-in-a-pear-themed, to go with my growing collection:
Prairie Schooler
Just Nan
We don't celebrate Boxing Day in the States, although I am familiar with it because my father-in-law is English. Nonetheless, we have developed traditions for the day -- my brother is a Benedictine priest, and while he is required to stay at the Abbey Christmas Eve and Day, he is given a short vacation after. So every year, my mom and brother come on the 26th to stay with us a few days.  Since Christmas Day usually has an English vibe (turkey or goose if we can afford it, Christmas pudding, crackers), the day after I crank up the Puerto Rican Christmas music and prepare a pernil (roast pork shoulder). If I'm especially ambitious, I'll also make tostones (twice-fried plantains), queso frito (pan-fried white cheese), or coquito (like eggnog, but coconuty). It's nice to keep the celebrations going for more than a day.

Merry Christmas, and I hope everyone has a wonderful Boxing Day!

Thursday, December 21, 2017

A Star, a Star, Shining in the Night

It's finally done:
And it only took *mumble mumble* years.
Made of an assortment of star blocks from a bunch of different sources, in lots of different sizes (see, this is my problem -- I get ideas, and I don't realize how complicated they will be to sew up until it's too late).  It was quite a jigsaw puzzle to put all together.
It's bigger than I anticipated, too, but then it will fit a full-size bed if he ever gets one.

The lovely quilting was done by Susan Wood of Valentine Quiltworks, and I couldn't be happier with it:

The backing fabric:

I can't wait to give it to Beadboy1 Christmas morning.