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Sunday, October 8, 2017

1 Year of Stitches: Week 40

A pumpkin in bullion knots. Surely if I stitch enough leaves and pumpkins, the weather will cool down.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

The Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman

Hoffman's novel is a fictional account of the life of Pissarro's mother, particularly her controversial marriage to her deceased husband's nephew.  I was skeptical of the book and only picked it up because it's September's pick in the Inspired by Literature club, but I'm so glad I did.  Hoffman's storytelling is beautiful and evocative, and rich in cultural detail. It even incorporates a little of the magic realism that she is known for.

Although the perspective changes occasionally, most of the book is told from Rachel Pissarro's point of view. Rachel is a force of nature, enough to rival the storms that hit the island and nearly ruin the family business. She is smart, willful, and passionate, alternately willing to make sacrifices for her family and willing to defy laws, conventions, and neighbors to get what she wants. She is also a bundle of contradictions; some of those contradictions deepen her already complex character, but others are inexplicable. It's as if in some scenes -- just a few -- Hoffman wasn't quite sure who Rachel was. Nonetheless, she is a memorable character, and her sections of the book overwhelm those portions told by her first husband and her son.

Most of the story takes place on the Caribbean island of St. Thomas, and Hoffman's description of life there reminded me strongly of Puerto Rico, where I was born.  In particular I was taken with the repeated motif of the flamboyant trees (flamboyán, as we called them) with their brilliant red flowers.  My grandmother (a Spanish and French woman herself, although Catholic, not Jewish) was a painter, and one of my treasured possessions is the painting she did of a Flamboyán tree on a street in San Juan:

So that was my inspiration. I embroidered my own flamboyán, and placed it in a brass frame.  I added some glass pearls for luck (like the heirloom necklace in the novel, that can bring or take away luck).

My enchanted island is suffering terribly as a result of hurricane Maria.  If you are able and inclined to do so, please consider giving to help the people.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

1 Year of Stitches: Week 39

I stitched some autumn leaves, in the hope that they would bring cooler weather.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Memento Mori by Muriel Spark

In Spark's classic novel, a mysterious voice calls several elderly people to tell them "Remember, you must die."  The source of the calls -- mundane or supernatural -- is never explained, but that's not the point.  Instead, the novel is a meditation on aging, death, and the way the various characters come to terms with their lives.

The results aren't exactly admirable, but they are funny, satirical, pathetic, and moving.  Human frailty is on display here as the characters mull over their lives, make excuses for themselves, and criticize their peers while coping with the physical and mental costs of aging. Above all, the concern is to have a "good death," whatever that means to the individual -- in the comfort of one's home, in a hospital with round-the-clock care, with a lot of money, surrounded by loved ones, mourned by the public at large. 

But the concerns often become petty. One character is constantly revising her will to reward or punish people; another schemes and blackmails to get inheritances.  One character catalogs the infirmities of everyone around him for the sake of "research" that's really busywork; another does it to reassure himself that he is "winning" at aging.  Towards the end of the book one woman, astuter than the others, makes the observation that "[a] good death ... doesn't reside in the dignity of bearing but in the disposition of the soul."  This is a point that is often ignored when we discuss end-of-life issues because we are so focused on getting rid of suffering and in "dying with dignity." But some suffering cannot be avoided no matter how hard we try.  And dignity doesn't lie in how able-bodied or sound-of-mind we are, but in our character.

For the most part, the characters in Spark's novel don't quite grasp that. That doesn't make them contemptible, though, just human.  Just like the rest of us.

Friday, September 22, 2017

It's that Time of Year

... when I get the urge to stitch, bead, and sew all things pumpkin and foliage.  First up is a scrappy pumpkin pillow, which allowed me to use a Halloween-themed charm pack from my stash:
Instead of 2.75 squares, I made mine 3.5 finished to better accommodate the 20 inch pillow form I had.  I also quilted it with perle cotton and big stitches:
To finish it I used the envelope technique, which I learned all the way back in 6th grade in my first quilting class:
No zippers!

I'm in the process of recovering the old, ugly cushions on the rocking chair. Doesn't this look better?
Speedy Beadboy3 lunges for the pillow

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Book Round-Up

Darned if You Do by Monica Ferris: the latest but one of the Crewel World series, this novel had some sloppy editing, but it was made up by a genuinely interesting mystery.  Ferris's character development continues to shine.

Rose Cottage by Mary Stewart: A quiet, gentle story set in post-war England, this novel is part mystery, part family drama, and part romance, but is mostly a pleasant diversion.

The Strawberry Hearts Diner by Carolyn Brown: This was ... kind of awful.  I'm all for cozy novels set in cute small towns, but this was too unrealistic.  The small-town superiority was too ridiculous, the characters' relationships developed far too quickly, the alleged conflicts were too minor (or just petered out instead of being resolved). I ended up skimming through to the anti-climactic ending, and it wasn't worth it.

The Mystery of the Yellow Room by Gaston Leroux: Published in 1907, it's one of the first locked room mysteries, and well constructed; I was able to accurately guess the perpetrator of the crime and his motive, but the way he did it confounded me. It's also a product of its time; the success of the crime hinged in part on two people deliberately impeding the investigation to protect someone's honor -- not an internal sense of honor that comes from integrity, but an external one based on reputation.  I have little patience for that sort of thing, and it kept me from appreciating the novel as much as I should have.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Even More Blockheads

I got inspired over the Labor Day weekend.

Floral heart:

The Wicked Witch of the West:

I am vengeance! I am the night (flight)! I am ... BATMAN!

Monday, September 4, 2017

1 Year of Stitches: Week 35

Two new motifs: a gridiron for St. Lawrence and St. Jerome's cross; both are the patron saints of librarians.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Another Blockhead

This week's block is called Cat's Cradle, and like a couple of other members I used some cat fabric:
Ignore that erroneous-sewn seam at the bottom.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

1 Year of Stitches: Week 34

We spent the past week visiting my mom, and I forgot to pack my 1 Year embroidery.  That doesn't mean no stitching got done, however.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Welcome to Night Vale: a Novel by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor

Welcome to Night Vale is an on-going podcast about a mysterious desert town teeming with secret police, men in black, illegal angels, deadly librarians, and a glow cloud, all discussed by Cecil Baldwin in his daily radio show. In 2015 the creators came out with a stand-alone novel set in the same town.  The story fits into the narrative of the podcast, but knowledge of one isn't necessary to enjoy the other.

Fink and Cranor have a distinctive narrative style that highlights the absurdity and horror of life in Night Vale, but while that style works well in a half-hour podcast, it's too much here, becoming somewhat of a distraction from the story itself.  Which is a shame, because it's a very good story.  Jackie and Diane, along with many other Night Vale residents, begin receiving a mysterious message that may or may not be intended for them about a city that no one can actually get to.  And it's nice to see an expansion of some elements of Night Vale; a novel gives the opportunity for more in-depth storytelling.

As in other magical realism books, the oddities and supernatural occurrences are manifestations the struggles ordinary people have trying to figure out the big questions of life -- its meaning and purpose -- and what they want their own lives to be.  Diane's teenage son is a literal shape-shifter, because teenagers have to figure out who they are.  Jackie has been 19 years old for decades, because like a lot of young adults today she isn't quite ready to grow up. A charming but feckless character multiplies himself endlessly because he doesn't have an actual personality, and in the process almost destroys reality. In the end, the horrors of Night Vale remind us of just how little we understand the world and ourselves.  What keeps me coming back to that desert town is the humanity that thrives despite those horrors.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Jewelry Round-Up

Another beaded bangle, like the Christmas one, but with pale pink pearls and black seed beads:

Steampunk earrings, made from clockwork gears from Blueberry Cove's Steampunk Box (with faceted glass beads from the Renaissance Box):

A red and turquoise necklace:
The beads were two inexpensive strands from Michaels, but even together it wasn't long enough. I attached each end to a large jump ring, and then added chain with a strip of red sari silk woven through the links.

I don't remember what I was going to make with these Indian glass beads, so I made a necklace instead.  Super fast and super pretty -- it's like a strand of hard candy around my neck:

Pretty, sparkly cup chain wired to two "gold" bangles.  I got the idea from the March 2013 issue of Bead Style (Becky Nunn being the designer).  It will look lovely with these bangles.

Monday, August 14, 2017

1 Year of Stitches: Week 32

A bad cold knocked me out for a whole week. When I was finally up to stitching again, a medical hazard sign seemed appropriate:

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore is a pure delight. Clay Jannon, who is that rare mix of competence, dorkiness, and enthusiasm that few writers get right, begins working in a musty, mysterious bookshop only to find himself entangled in an adventure involving secret societies, cutting-edge technology, and a lost book. 

The reader would be forgiven for assuming that Sloan is setting up your standard battle between old and new, paper and computers; instead he does something much more interesting by showing how these two disparate worlds can work together, enhancing each other.  This works in part because the two groups in the novel, the Society of the Unbroken Spine and Google,* want the same thing -- transcendence from the frailties and humiliations of the flesh. They're just other forms of Gnosticism, privileging the mind over the body and hoping for eternal life in one form or another.

This is what the two factions want, but Jannon himself has no such ambitions.  Skeptical of the claims each side makes, he just wants to solve a really cool puzzle.  Which he does, through his knack of putting together people, concepts, and methods from all aspects of life.  That's what the novel is ultimately about -- collaboration.  It makes for a lovely, engaging read.

*Yup, that Google, and it is horrifyingly sterile and perky.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Cellini Spiral

A few months ago I was looking for a nice, solid beading project, and I settled on a bangle made with the Cellini spiral stitch -- a good excuse to use some lovely size 6 green beads.  The bangle at the end of this post gave me the idea of using a mix of size 11 beads, inspired by all the blooming flowers I saw this spring.  The result:

While I was poking around the internet, looking at different Cellini projects,  I ran across one woman who claimed to whip up a bangle in an evening.  I'm calling shenanigans on that -- this project was easy, but took a loooooong time.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Overheard on the Street

"I'm not sure whether to be pleased or concerned that my pee smells like champagne and strawberries."

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

The Chemickal Marriage by Gordon Dahlquist

Getting the third volume of Dahlquist's series was a bit of an ordeal; thank you, Public Library of St. Louis, Missouri!

And it was an ordeal to read.  There's just too much -- too many arch-villains, each one stepping in to take over the dastardly plan when the previous one dies.  Too many allies who help the heroes for a moment, only to disappear or be left to their fate. Too many interchangeable underlings. Too many separations and reunions of the protagonist trio. Too many action scenes that don't change the outcome, chases that don't go anywhere, and conversations that don't reveal anything significant. Above all, there is a sense of ugliness that pervades the narrative.

And it's a shame -- there are some wonderful characters in this trilogy and a lot of neat, original concepts, starting with the mysterious blue glass that can take or infuse memories, wipe out a personality or replace it with another, brutally kill the body or give it strength.  Pruning this story down would have done wonders.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Book Round-up

Fairy Tale Comics: Classic Tales Told by Extraordinary Cartoonists, edited by Chris Duffy:  I bought this for Beadboy2 ages ago, but couldn't resist reading it myself.  It's a collection of tales from around the world (although most are from the Grimm Brothers) delightfully illustrated by a variety of artists, including the wonderful Hernandez brothers.  The tales have been bowdlerized for children's sensibilities, something I feel was unnecessary, but it well suits the happy, whimsical art.  My favorite was "The Boy Who Drew Cats" by Luke Pearson, especially because the boy in question reminds me so much of Beadboy2.

The Knitting Diaries: since I already read novels centered around embroidery, cross stitch, quilting, and baking, why leave out knitting?  I heard about the collection from Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, and the first two (by Debbie Macomber and Susan Mallery) were meh.  The third, by Christina Skye, was both more compelling and more touching (and yet had the fewest references to knitting, interestingly enough).  I might check out more of her work.

The Dark Volume by Gordon Dahlquist: I've resorted to skimming these books, because they are far too long and tedious.  There are too many action scenes that last quite a while, place our protagonists in certain danger before abruptly freeing them, and don't actually further the plot at all.  Not until the end, with the final confrontation, did the story engage me.  Still, I want to read how it all turns out.

Heart of Steel by Meljean Brook: The second full novel in the Iron Seas series was a bit of a let-down; there weren't any major flaws (except for the female protagonist constantly telling us how badass she is and the fact that the resolution to the central problem was anti-climactic), but it didn't hold my attention as much as The Iron Duke.  I did, however, enjoy the continuing world building. We got to see other countries and cultures, and as I predicted there were scenes that showed the Golden Horde are not a monolithic, faceless enemy.  

Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

Having adored Uprooted, I was eager to read The Bear and the Nightingale, described by many reviewers as having a similar vibe.  Unfortunately, it wasn't as engaging, and it left me wanting to reread Novik's book.

Which isn't to say there isn't a lot to like about it -- Arden paints a vivid picture of life in the Rus, describing brutal winters so well I could almost feel my blood freezing (my overly air-conditioned workplace might have helped).  Her characters are for the most part fleshed out from their fairy tale counterparts, humanizing them and giving them believable motives. But after establishing a fascinating world, in the second half of the book she relies on fairy tale tropes too often.  The stepmother is evil because she is supposed to be; much of the antagonism between her and Vasilisa makes sense given their world views and the price (for both of them) of living in such a patriarchal society, but other instances of Anna’s cruelty seem out of place in the narrative.  The impossible task Vasilisa is given is another example -- a common trope that might might make sense in a brief, allegorical tale shows up jarringly and late in the narrative here, serving as an unnecessary excuse to get the heroine into the woods.

Also, Arden sets up an unfortunate and tired dichotomy between Christianity and the old beliefs.  Both human antagonists (who are, to be fair, complex and interesting) are Christian; Vasilisa is not. Worse yet, Christianity is portrayed as useless, even false. But given a world where magic is real and there are loads of non-human spirits, it does not make sense that the Church would ignore that for hundreds of years, would not have investigated and debated and gotten theologians to wrestle with the implications, would not have adjusted to better fight the evil present in the world.  Especially since that evil is ultimately defeated by a willing sacrifice; gee, I wonder where I’ve heard of that concept before?

There is a sequel in the works that will focus more on Vasilisa's sister and brother; her brother in particular is a devout Christian and so far, at least, a good guy, so perhaps the friction between the two belief systems will be better addressed.  Regardless, I look forward to reading more from Arden.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The Iron Duke by Meljean Brook

The Iron Duke is billed as a steampunk romance, but it is quite a bit more bonkers than that -- yes, there are airships and clockworks and a Victorianish atmosphere, but there are also secret societies, pirates, radio-controlled nanoagents, zombies, cyborgs, and giant half-metal sharks.  Brook is such a talented writer, however, that you just take all that craziness in stride and enjoy the story.

This is primarily a romance, so there was an awful lot of relationship angst and thinking about feelings; I would have preferred more adventure-having and mystery-solving.  And there is the potential for some ugly racial issues.  According to this alternate history, the Golden Horde successfully took over most of Europe for hundreds of years, and England only recently regained its freedom.  Even in our world, where there was no Mongol empire ruling everyone through the use of mind-controlling nanoagents, white people nonetheless managed to have (still have, in some cases) some ugly opinions about Asians; you can imagine what the fictional English in the novel think of them.  Brook smartly mitigates some of this by making the female protagonist half-Asian, but this can only go so far (especially given that she is the product of a rape) and there is the danger of tokenism.  There are also brief references to a resistance within the Horde, so perhaps later books will widen the scope.

Still, this book was loads of fun.  I also read two novellas set in the same world -- The Blushing Bounder and Wrecked.  As is often the case in romance novellas, the couples go from hate to true love far too quickly, but the novellas are worth reading for the added world-building.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Moda Blockheads

So Moda is running a quilt-along this year -- a series of (48, I think) 6-inch blocks created by six different quilt designers.  Even though I am determined to finish Beadboy1's quilt this year, and start Beadboy2's (and maybe even do Beadboy3's, if I can get the missing block), I can't resist these blocks.

I don't think I'll do all of them, but inspired by a friend I am going to make a bunch using novelty prints I've accumulated over the years.  And where better to start than the Red Sox?
(My friend did hers with the Mets, but that's ok -- we can get along as long as it's not 1986.)

Next up: Milagros fabric (what a coinkydink!)
It was a cloudy day
I'm aiming for a nice little collection of these, enough to make a wall hanging.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Cruz de Milagros

I've been meaning to make a cross covered with milagros for a number of years.
I started with a plain wooden cross from the craft store and painted it a deep yellow in the recess and purple elsewhere.  I then glued milagros all over, and for good measure added little pink plastic flowers (really teeny hair barrettes broken in half) to the corners.
I hung it with the painted cross and portrait of La Virgen de Guadalupe my mom gave to me.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Gabriel Finley and the Raven's Riddle by George Hagen

I bought this for Beadboy2, and he loved it so much I got intrigued.  Gabriel is a seventh grader with missing parents and a mysterious legacy, who soon learns of the significance of ravens both to his family and the world at large. The obvious comparison is to Harry Potter, but that's fairly superficial; this novel is its own story, based in part on Nordic myths and more grounded in the real world (specifically, Brooklyn).  Hagen develops a rather fascinating avian culture -- ravens use riddles to evaluate the world, owls love puns, and so on -- and ties it to a dangerous magical object that must be kept from those who would use it (shades of LOTR, here).  The literate plot is engaging and moves quickly, so much so that I was disappointed when the book ended.  Good thing there's a sequel coming later this year!

The characters, too, are a step above the ones usually found in these sorts of novels.  We are introduced to certain stock characters like the bully, the clueless adult, and the untrustworthy companion, but they don't remain two-dimensional for long.  Hagen gives his young readers credit for understanding that the world isn't always black and white, and the story is better for it.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Friday, May 12, 2017

I Don't Like Walking Around this Old and Empty House

"Little Talks" by of Monsters and Men:

It's been a while since I made an ATC about song lyrics.  Although this looks similar to the house I made for Where'd You Go, Bernadette, the idea has been floating around in my brain for a few years.

The first step was laying a piece of background fabric onto super thick, stiff interfacing, and sketching out a house shape with the sewing machine:

I then appliqued little scraps of fabric to make the wallpaper for the different rooms:
which I then trimmed close to the stitching:
Next up was the embroidery -- pieces of furniture, decor items, stick-figure ghosts, and, of course, the famale narrator of the song.  I trimmed the result to 2.5 by 3.5 inches, backed it with felt, and zig-zagged twice around the perimeter.

I'd forgotten how much fun these are, and I should start doing more.