Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Seasonal Changes

Last weekend we celebrated the end of the Farmers’ Market.  The idea that the Farmers’ Market has an end date sort of startled me when I first moved here.  In California, the Farmers’ Markets meet year round, for the most part.  And ironically, Autumn is the season of the most abundance and variety at the Market, but we know that won’t last.  There is already a crispness and a chill in the air and a few sightings of snow!  We took this opportunity to stock up on a few items to see us through the dark winter months that are fast approaching.  John also took some beautiful photos so that you can see the abundance and variety for yourself.

This winter will, I hope, be a time of rest and renewal at the French Lowe household.  As the year ends, we’ll be looking back at what was accomplished and what we hope the New Year will bring.  The New Year is often a good time to take up a new hobby or a fresh approach to an old one.

With this in mind, I recently took a look at a new book from Storey Publishing, Backyard Foraging, by Ellen Zachos.  Ms. Zachos is clearly knowledgeable and passionate about foraging for wild foods.  For those not familiar, foraging usually refers to the harvesting of plants (sometimes referred to as weeds) from their natural habitat.  Ms. Zachos is clearly knowledgeable and passionate about foraging for wild foods. 

The book is organized by parts of the plant that you can harvest (i.e. leaves, flowers, seeds, roots, etc.), with one chapter devoted to plants with many edible parts.  For each plant, Ms. Zachos tells you the sort of habitat in which the plant will be found, how to identify the plant, and some things you can make with that plant.  It is a really cool book.  Foraging is a pretty daunting idea to me, but if I decide to take it up, I will be sure to use Ms. Zachos’ book as a guide.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Babies! What a wonderful way to start people!

The blog has been fairly silent of late.  The main reason is that, somehow, despite our best efforts to the contrary, our autumn has been almost as busy as our summer.  I really hope things slow down in the winter.
The other reason I have been quiet is that most of the craft projects that I have made are gifts and I don't want to share them until the recipient has the gift.  So I am very pleased to be able to share this baby quilt with you all.  Pleased not just because they have received the quilt, but because the intended recipient arrived earlier this week and is darn cute!
This is my attempt at artistically draping the quilt.  I tried to anchor it to our mantelpiece with the decorative gourds we have for the fall.  They were not quite heavy enough.  Also, the cat was super interested in the photography process, as always, and really wanted to be involved.  This probably would have worked better if I had not been home alone.
So, back to my usual method of photographing the quilt on the floor.  I'm not sure what I did to take this cat-free shot. 

For the back, I used a flannel from Jo-ann's.  The owls are super cute and will keep baby nice and cozy.

Overall, I am pleased with how this quilt turned out.  It's not perfect, but I always try to take an Amish view on perfection.  Let's also keep in mind what the baby is likely to do to the quilt before too long.  Perspective is good.

Have a pleasant weekend!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Queens of Crime

The Inter-War Years (the years between the two world wars) are often referred to as "The Golden Age of Detective Fiction". Mystery novels as we know them flourished during this period. In fact, prior to the First World War, the mystery novel as we know it didn't really exist. Sure, you had a few detective stories from Edgar Allen Poe, but those were short stories, not full length novels. And there were a few novels here and there, most notable The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins and The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle, but really mystery novels were not a trend in publishing until approximately the 1920's. And during the Golden Age of Detective Fiction, the masters of the genre were the Queens of Crime: Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Ngaio Marsh, and Margery Allingham.

It is interesting to note that this is not really a fixed list. Sometimes the list is shortened to just three, with either Ngaio or Margery being bumped off, according to the preference of the list maker. But it is generally agreed on that these four were at the top when mysteries were at their peak.

I recently re-read books by three of the Queens: Christie, Sayers, and Marsh, who also happen to be my three favorite.  (I really just can’t shake the feeling that Allingham was mocking the whole mystery genre with her books.)  The titles were Appointment with Death by Agatha Christie, Clouds of Witness by Dorothy L. Sayers, and Enter a Murderer by Ngaio Marsh.  The books were published in 1938, 1926, and 1935 respectively.  I’ll take them each in turn.

Appointment with Death shot instantly into my list of favorites by Christie when I read it.  The book, which features Hercule Poirot, Christie’s most famous creation, as the detective, takes place in a Middle East that is still under British rule, but in many ways is not much different from what exists today.  The Boyntons, a wealthy family from America, is on their first world tour.  In addition to the four adult children in the family, there is Nadine Boynton, wife of the eldest son, Raymond.  Following after Nadine comes Jefferson Cope, an ardent admirer of hers.  Among the other travelers are Sara, a young doctor who finds herself curious about this strange family; Dr. Gerard, a psychologist with a professional interest; Lady Westholme, a most illustrious Member of Parliament, and Hercule Poirot, the famous Belgian detective. 

But it is Mrs. Boynton, the matriarch of the Boynton family, about whom we are most concerned.  A more awful human being I cannot imagine encountering.  She mentally and emotionally manipulates and tortures her family in a way that is as impressive as it is horrifying.  When she dies, I can’t imagine any reader doing anything other than cheering. 

As I would prefer that you read the book for yourself, I won’t go into the plot in any more detail.  The mystery is an excellent one and the reader will be kept guessing until the end.  I will also note that the version that was aired on PBS within the last few years, starring Tim Curry, while completely enjoyable, took so many liberties with the plot as to be almost completely unrecognizable from the book.  If you saw that, I encourage you to read the book anyway. 

Clouds of Witness by Dorothy L. Sayers is the second entry on the Lord Peter Wimsey series and a good example of what the series has to offer.  All three authors were also playwrights, but I feel that comes across most strongly in the novels of Ms. Sayers.  Her books feature a great deal of dialogue, much of which is witty, complex, and full of (to me) obscure literary references.  Reading Sayers has helped lessen the holes in my classical education, which, admittedly, was paltry to begin with.  A warning about the dialog: sometimes it is hard to know who is speaking, as Sayers gives no indication in the text.  I just let it roll over me, rather than spending time trying to figure out who is saying what. 

In Clouds of Witness, Lord Peter’s brother, Sir Gerald, Duke of Denver, is accused of murdering the fiancé of their sister, Mary.  Gerald not only has a motive but he refuses to say where he was at the time of the murder.  Confusing the matter further is the odd behavior of their sister Mary, who has uncharacteristically taken to having fits of hysteria, despite not having been very fond of her fiancé.  She certainly seems to know more than she’s saying.  The mystery moves along very nicely, with revelations and plot twists coming at just the right pace.  The ending, which is highly satisfying, is very dramatic with Lord Peter flying across the Atlantic to retrieve what he believes to be the key piece of evidence to free his brother and uphold his honor.

I am very excited that Open Road Media has recently published four of Dorothy L. Sayers Lord Peter Wimsey novels as eBooks.  The other three titles are Gaudy Night, Busman’s Honeymoon, and The Five Red Herrings. They are available on Amazon or possibly through your local library.

Enter a Murderer is also the second in its series, this one starring Inspector Alleyn, the famous detective created by Ngaio Marsh.  I have to be honest, this is not my favorite in the series. Inspector Alleyn, invited to a night at the theatre by his friend Nigel Bathgate, is practically in the front row for a murder which happens on stage during a performance.  (The play, by the way, is titled The Rat and the Beaver, and apparently the reader is meant to take this title completely seriously.  To me it sounds like some awful program for children not a drama about gangsters.)  Actors, good ones anyway, are especially tricky to interrogate, as you can’t be quite sure when they are lying and when they are not.  I don’t really want to spend that much time on Enter a Murderer because I don’t really recommend reading it.  The character of Alleyn has not yet fully gelled and he is exhibiting some seriously annoying qualities that, fortunately, are dropped from the character later in the series.  I found him too glib.  I also thought he was very mean to Nigel Bathgate.  Really what I kept thinking was that he was in love with Nigel, knew that Nigel had a fiancée, and was taking out his frustration on Nigel by mocking him almost ceaselessly.  His relationship with Nigel certainly had more sexual tension than his interactions with the actress to whom we are supposed to believe he was attracted.  Assuming that Ngaio Marsh, in 1935, was not actually setting her detective up to be a frustrated homosexual (although I suppose one never knows), then I assume that those bits of dialog are intended to be witty banter.  It just fell flat for me.  Please do read a mystery written by Ms. Marsh, albeit one written a bit later in the series, when the character of Alleyn has had time to fully develop and feel less like a caricature and more like an actual person.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday - Reading Goals

Just about two months ago, I wrote a post about trying to finally take care of all those things that have been languishing around my house and on my lists waiting to be done, waiting to be crossed off.  (Is there anything more satisfying than crossing items off the to do list?  The answer is no.)
I have been doing exceptionally well with my craft projects and okay with using up food items, although I could be doing a better job at that, but my to read list has not been gettnig smaller at all.  To the contrary.  It's just been growing. For every book that I cross off the list, two take its place.
So I decided that I just need to get really real about all of this.  I need to be focused and get organized.  One thing that really helped me with my projects was making a list.  (Surprise!)  I made a list of all of the projects that I had already started.  Not ideas for projects that I'd like to do someday, but projects I had already begun and made some progress, however small, on.  I'd need to do the same thing for books.  So I sat down and made a list.  I looked at my "to read" list on Goodreads, at what is on my kindle, at what I've gotten ARCs of from NetGalley, and what is physically on my "to be read" shelf at home.  Wow.  I haven't quite finished making my list yet, but it is almost three full pages.  Granted, this is a handwritten list and my handwriting has been described as "big, bubbly girl writing", but still.  And that's just the fiction books.  The cookbooks and craft books are on a seperate list.  So, I think, all told, when my list in complete there will be between 70 and 80 items on it. 

To be honest, that is a really overwhelming number.  (Before starting the list, I ruthlessly culled the to be read shelf at home, so it could have been more!)   But the only way to make it smaller - other than just deciding not to read any of these things, which would be silly, since the reason that they are on any of these lists is because they sound like things I would be interested in reading - is to get reading.  So as not to overwhelm myself more, I chose a few books that I will read by the end of 2013.  I lined them up on the mantle this morning and took a picture.  The final four books on the list are not in the picture because they haven't been published yet!

1. How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny
2. Leaving Everything Most Loved by Jacqueline Winspear
3. The Interpretation of Murder by Jed Rubenfeld
4. The Strange Fate of Kitty Easton by Elizabeth Speller
5. A Medal for Murder by Frances Brody
6. More Baths Less Talking by Nick Hornby
7. Whispers Underground by Ben Aaronson
8. Fables - a graphic novel
9. The New Deadwardians - a graphic novel series
10. Ten Lords-a-Leaping by CC Benison
11. Pagan Spring by GM Malliett
12. Summer 1927 by Bill Bryson
13. A Christmas Hope by Anne Perry

13 books for 2013!  These are all books I am really looking forward to reading.  At the end of 2013, I guess we'll regroup and see where we are at with the books.  I think I might know what my reading goal will be for next year - getting that "to be read" list down to zero!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Donna's bag

Check out my fancy new purse that I made!!  It is the cover bag from Carry Me by Yuka Koshizen and is officially titled "The Granny bag".  I suppose that they are suggesting it is like one your granny might carry?  I have no idea. 
I think of it as the Donna bag, because my friend, Donna, who I know from quilt guild, put together a little kit of this bag for me.  I like to have "to do" lists all the time. I have several different lists going to help me keep track of all kinds of different things.  (For instance, did you know that it is 94 days until Christmas as of the writing of this.  Scary!  But I made a list of people I plan to give gifts to and the Christmas card list today and I am feeling a lot less overwhelmed by the Christmas sitch.  If you would like to feel more in charge of the holidays, rather than the other way around - which, I guess, would mean that the holidays are in charge of you? does that make sense? - you should check out 100 Days to Christmas from Jennifer Tankersly of Listplanit.  She does a wonderful organization countdown to Christmas.  You can buy an ebook or sign up for a free newsletter version.)  In any case, to make a to do list you have to write something down on it.  So your projects have to have names.  And in this case I went with Donna's bag.  Because the bag makes me think of Donna!
The bag was a bit of a challenge for me, but in a really good way.  This was my first time making something without a pattern but with picture instructions instead.  Imagine if Ikea wrote craft instructions.  It was a little like that.  So I really had to focus and figure it out.  But it was such a good feeling at the end when it came out looking so nice and fancy!  Now that I've made one, I would definitely make one again.  It was a great project!  I am so thankful that Donna passed it along to me.  :)

Sunday, September 22, 2013

On a sock kick

Since I knit my first sock about 5 years ago or so, I have been hooked.  I love it!  But I've had a really hard time finding a regular sock pattern.  I really love self-striping yarn, but the stripes with a lacy pattern do not mix.  It is too busy or you just see one element and not the other. 
Susan B. Anderson to the rescue!  She had a blog post that I discovered fairly recently about her basic recipe to make a regular pair of socks.  I gave it a try last month on our vacation and I have been hooked ever since.  Her feet are very close to the same size as mine, which made following her pattern much easier for me.
 This is the first pair that I knit using the pattern. The yarn is Patons, which I bought at Michaels.  I think the name of the colorway was "rusty stripes".  It definitely had the word rusty in it.  They came out just a bit big on me (more on that in a bit) so I gave them to John.  He is modeling them above.
 So when the first pair came out too big, my first inclination was to adjust the pattern for the next pair, which I started almost immediately having enjoyed knitting the first pair so much.  But Susan Anderson's feet really are almost the same size as mine, even a bit smaller, so I really couldn't imagine that the pattern needed to be smaller.  I would give it one more try as written.
I am so glad that I did!  This pair fits like a glove!  This time I used Stroll Handpainted Sock Yarn from Knitpicks in the Frosting colorway.  So I don't know if the difference was in the yarn or my tension or what.  I am going to catch up on a few other projects, but I hope to be back to knitting socks soon and I guess we'll find out then what the problem is.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Inky memories

Last Autumn, I decided to become more involved in my community and so I joined the Famer’s Market Commission.  Somehow, this August, despite being the newest member of the team, I found myself taking over the chair of the commission.  It’s a lot of work, and I keep making mistakes.  I know that I will get the hang of it eventually, but right now it is totally an exercise in humility.

This week, I officially chaired my first meeting.  At the start of the meeting, I grabbed a pen out of my bag to take notes.  The pen promptly exploded in my hands, covering them with thick black ink.  I was too embarrassed to get up and wash my hands, so I tried to clean it off under the table surreptitiously using water from my water bottle.  I was convinced, though, that I had managed to get ink ALL over my face and everyone was way too polite to say anything.
All of this reminded me of an incident that occurred when I was in fifth grade.  The summer before 5th grade, we moved from California to Long Island.  For whatever reason, I decided, upon entering my new school (Hampton Street Elementary School in Mineola, in case anyone is interested), that I should run for treasurer.  Of the whole school.  (I have never, ever, been a math whiz and I have always been shy, so why I decided this was a good idea completely mystifies me now.) 

The first hurdle was that one had to have a campaign manager to run for office at Hampton St.  (They take politics seriously there, apparently.)  Initially, my friend, who was at this point basically my only friend and whom we shall call Susan, mostly because that was her name, agreed to do it.  But then she decided it was too embarrassing and backed out.  I had to tell my teacher, Mr. Wood, who bore a striking resemblance to Fred Gwynne, the actor who played Herman Munster and the judge in My Cousin Vinnie, that I was unable to run.  Mr. Wood, in that well-meaning and completely horrifying habit of teachers, asked both fifth grade classes if anyone would be my campaign manager.  Oh, the humiliation!  But, lo!  What’s this?  A volunteer.

Enter one Victoria Cappello, a girl in the other fifth grade class who, until that day, so far as I know, didn’t even know I was enrolled at Hampton Street Elementary.  She had the most beautiful long, blonde hair and looked way cooler than me.  But she volunteered to be my campaign manager and became one of my first real friends at Hampton Street and the only one of any lasting duration.  We made posters and did whatever else one is supposed to do for an elementary school political campaign.

In addition to having a campaign manager, nominees were required to make a speech.  In front of the whole school.  (Or possibly in front of the third, fourth, and fifth grades, which is really the same thing.)  In fifth grade, through my association with the aforementioned Susan, I was on the ditto squad.  That means I had to be at school early every day to run off dittos on the mimeograph machine.  The morning of speech day, it got stuck.  So, to unstick it, I had to make the drum start rolling again, which resulted in two hands completely covered in blue mimeograph ink on the palm side.    From the other side, if I kept my fingers tight together, you could just see the blue ink seeping out between them.  So while I was in the front of the auditorium/gymnasium making my speech, I was convinced that the entire student body was staring at the blue ink seeping out from between my fingers and not listening to a word that I said.

So while I was sitting at village hall bumbling my ink-stained way through the meeting, I kept telling myself that if I could get through speech day in fifth grade that I could probably make it through this meeting.  And I did.
Vicky and I at the fifth grade dance, later that year.