15 December 2014

Ten Things with Ten Days Left

I know I haven't been around much lately, even though I wanted to be.  Work has been ridiculous, annoying, and depressing.  I've been busy attempting to get a little bit of organizing done before the holiday season got it all out of hand.  But a big chunk has been accomplished, and so I am here today to share ten random things that have happened/are happening/will happen with 10 days left until Christmas.

1.  Packages  and cards sent.  All of our family members live elsewhere, and since we can't go to visit anyone for Christmas, we have to send packages.  We try to get them out as early as possible, but most of the time we are waiting until Employee Appreciation Days at The Tim's work, so we get even a little bit more of a discount on things we want to buy.  The last couple of years, it hasn't been all that early, so we've had to get things, wrap them, and send them out in a short amount of turnaround time.  The Tim mailed the last of the packages today, so we have accomplished a big chunk of what we wanted to get finished.  And most of the cards are on their way (he wants to write notes in a few).

2.  Christmas tree is up, with lights.  Tomorrow night, we will finish decorating it.

3.  Other decorations are up.  Once the tree is finished, I can finish cleaning, and we can just sit and enjoy it all!

4.  Mini-tree has been purchased and lights have been purchased for it.  I kept seeing people who had pictures of little trees they had in their house and when we were at Target a couple of weeks ago, they had a 2-ft. tree on sale.  So we bought it, I got a small strand of lights at CVS ($1.99 with a coupon!), and we have a lovely little festive tree on our third floor.

5.  When I picked up the box to buy the aforementioned tree, The Tim said, "It's OK with me, but you know it's not a real tree."  So nice to be married to a genius - eat your hearts out everyone else!

6.  One sock knit.  Hopefully another sock will be knit before Christmas Day, but if not, one completed sock and one sock-in-progress will be gifted.  (More on that in another post.)

7.  This Friday evening, we are going to a production of "The Nutcracker."  It's been a few years since we have seen it, so it will be good to go again.

8.  Cookies!  Now that packages are on their way, baking can begin!

9.  Christmas carols and Christmas shows.  Listening, singing, watching.  YAY!

10.  THESE!!!!!

I may have screamed with delight when I went to buy stamps at the post office.   It was one of the best days EVER.  I bought as many as I could, and since they are Forever stamps, I can use them for many Christmases to come.  I sent out Kim's card before I got them, but then she told me that the card came with a RUDOLPH POSTMARK and sent me a picture!  Win-win-win-win-win!  I know it's all to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Rankin-Bass show, but that makes it even better.


09 December 2014

On to the Next Important Thing

You may or may not recall that I had signed up for a swap that Kim was hosting.  I love swaps, but have learned that most of them are kinda difficult for me, in that a lot of time you are supposed to knit something for your recipient, and being a slow knitter, that can become stressful.   However, this particular swap was low-key, and though it included something you made, it did not have to be something major.

Anyway, to review, it was called the TIS swap:

T = a tablet of some kind (hopefully not generic) for writing lists, notes, etc.

I =  initial - something related to the person's initials

S = seasonal, meaning fall, winter, Christmastime, Thanksgiving - you get it, right?

I received an amazing package from my secret swap partner, Alyssa.

Upper left corner: an owl notebook!  Yay owls, I love them!  Thumbs up on the T portion ...

Middle:  CHOCOLATE!  Good chocolate, many kinds, some of which is already long gone.  :-)  Thumbs up on the I portion (using the initial of my last name for this one).

Bottom:  A painting that she did just for me!  Of a CHRISTMAS tree, no less!!!  Super thumbs up on S for Seasonal.

Oh this is just a collection of wonderful things, wouldn't you agree?  And to receive it when the holiday season was just getting underway was even better, as it was just another little happy push in that direction.  Alyssa said she is a reader of my blog, which makes me happy, since I have been a reader of hers as well.  What a wonderful swap - Kim, it was a great idea, thank you!


(now in a frame and on display ... also, straight, not as it appears in the photo that makes it look crooked ...)

Aly, thank you so very much, I loved everything in my package, and appreciate the time you put into making this for me.

I truly do love Christmastime, but I know you are not surprised to learn that if you have read this blog for more than five minutes.


05 December 2014

September, October, November Book Report

Nearly everything I usually do - reading, knitting, sewing, breathing - has been out of sync lately.  So before we move on to CHRISTMASTIME!!!, I wanted to let you know what I've been reading over the past three months.

A Walk in the Woods : Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail, by Bill Bryson.  A few years ago, my husband read this book and really enjoyed it.  He kept telling me I should read it, and I meant to, but never got to it.  Then a book club got started at the yarn store near me, and it was the first pick, so I finally read it.

I'm so glad I did!  I really enjoyed this book.  The basic premise is that Bryson decides he will challenge himself by hiking the entire Appalachian Trail (approximately 2,000 miles).  He has a childhood friend that he hasn't seen for years who responds to his call out for companions.  They set off, full of hope, determination, and a sense of purpose.  Along the way, they run into all kinds of people, learn a lot about each other and themselves, and see America in a completely different light than most of us ever will.

The thing I particularly enjoyed was the conversational style of the book. Whether Bryson was giving you background on the U.S. Park Service, describing a vista at the top of a mountain, or bemoaning his companion's lack of training and perseverance, it's like having someone in the room with you, telling you the story in person.  Whenever Bryson starts to feel smug about what he is doing, something happens to bring him back to reality.  

The book is just a lot of fun in my opinion.  Glimpses of small towns along the way are funny and sometimes depressing, and it's frustrating to think that the Appalachian Trail and the land around it are not handled in the best manner they could be.  But I enjoyed reading about all of it, and found the various types who undertook the adventure to be an interesting group.  When Bryson and his companion's plans get adjusted, you feel for them, but can't wait to find out the next part.

I love to walk, and I love to hike. But I have no desire to undertake something like this, as I am too fond of my creature comforts.  I guess I have no sense of adventure!  But I do enjoy things vicariously, and this book is interesting, informative, and funny. Bryson is quickly becoming one of my favorite writers.

The Silkworm, by Robert  Galbraith.  This is the second book in the Cormoran Strike series. Strike is a former military intelligence officer in the British army who is now a private investigator.  He gets a visit from a woman whose writer husband has disappeared. He has done it before for a few days, but it's been longer than usual and she is worried.  Strike takes on the case, and what he thinks will be fairly open and shut turns out to be much more than he could have expected.

The missing writer, Owen Quine, is a minor author with a huge ego, and some strange personal quirks.  He loves attention and publicity.  When he was last seen, he was arguing with his agent about his latest book, parts of which have been leaked within the various publishing houses in London, and people are out to get him.  It seems that his latest book has thinly veiled, extremely unpleasant characters that others are sure to recognize.  Then, during his investigation, Strike comes across Quine's body.  Now everyone knows where the author has been, but they need to find out who killed him!

While all of this is going on, his assistant Robin is feeling unappreciated, and his former girlfriend of sixteen years, Charlotte, is getting married.  Add in his client being arrested for the murder of her husband, and Strike has his hands full.  

This was enjoyable.  I will admit to being surprised at the end when the killer was exposed, since I had written them off earlier in the book.  (Which is just one of the many reasons why I am not a detective!)  I liked the descriptions of the various different areas in London, and there was enough going on to keep me reading.

Dracula, by Bram Stoker.  OK, so I may be the only person to have never read this in school as part of a class, but I have read it now.  This is truly one of the creepiest books I have ever read, and of course I wanted to read it during the month of October, when vampires and creepy decorations are around for Halloween.

I liked the fact that it was told in letters and diaries.  Partly because you didn't get a lot of backstory about the characters, so you were spending a lot of time worrying about people even though you didn't know them well, and that was as interesting as the main story - you found out about them a little at a time.  Also, I love reading epistolary novels because I love to write, receive, and read letters.  

The only thing I found disappointing about the book was that, when it finally got to the end, it all seemed very quickly wrapped up.  Which I realize is pretty common in Victorian novels, but I wish it had all been as leisurely as the rest of the book.

Creepy, interesting, and well worth the time to read.

A Rule Against Murder, by Louise Penny.  When Armand Gamache and his wife go to their favorite secluded spot for their anniversary, they never expect that the only other guests there will be a wealthy family of unpleasant people having a family reunion.  They are surprised to find that their friends Peter and Clara Morrow, of the small village of Three Pines, have arrived to attend the reunion.  But perhaps the biggest surprise comes when one of the members of the family is murdered, and Gamache and his team begin trying to find out what happened and who the murderer might be.

Because the only people for miles around are the Gamaches, the rich family, and the people who own and work at the lodge, the suspects are few.  Everyone has their own reasons for not sharing a lot of information, and the members of the Morrow family are as busy jockeying for position in the family as they are pointing fingers at each other and even at Gamache.

The staff at the lodge are also a varied and possibly mysterious lot.  Particularly the head chef, who both Gamache and his assistant, Beauvoir, feel they know - even though they are sure they have never met her before.

On top of this, we learn the story of Armand Gamache's father, which is complicated and controversial.  When Daniel (Gamache's son) and his wife want to consider the name Honore for their unborn child should it be a boy, the issue causes a temporary rift between father and son.

I enjoyed this book, as I have all of those in the series I have read so far.  Admittedly, I like the ones that take place in Three Pines better, as I love that little village!  But Louise Penny manages to make the characters and the place work for whatever story she is telling us, so I was not disappointed.

Knitting Yarns : Writers on Knitting, edited by Ann Hood.  I received this book for Christmas last year, but just now got around to reading it when it was the book choice for a book club.  I enjoy Ann Hood's work, and liked that this was a collection of stories by well-known writers, writing about knitting.

I enjoyed this book overall.  The reason I didn't give it more stars was because it was just a little bit too much what I expected.  Not a bad thing, but nothing incredibly different or amazing either.  As with any collection of stories by different people, there were some I liked better than others.  I guess I was just expecting the stories to be more of a variety than they were - instead, they were mostly what I would have expected.  

I did enjoy the fact that even "famous" people have some of the same issues with learning to knit/their knitting than the rest of us do. 

I could see myself going back to parts of this now and then - and who knows, at different times, it may have a different effect on me.

Ship Fever : Stories, by Andrea Barrett.  I have been curious about this book and when I found it in the stacks of the library where I work, I decided to make it a book I would read at work. I started last July, but then with surgery and recovery, didn't finish until today.  (We are not allowed to take books out of the library, so it had to stay there.)

This is a series of stories, rather than a novel.  As is the case with these types of things, I really liked two of them, liked most others well enough, and only really wasn't interested in one.  I do like Barrett's writing style, and her characterizations are generally spot on.  
The first two stories "The Behavior of the Hawkweeds" and "The English Pupil" were my very favorites.  The second particularly intrigued me since I had just finished working on a presentation about Linnaeus for a tour of some students studying the history of science. But overall I enjoyed all of the stories, and I think if you are interested in good writing, and the history of science and/or natural history, you would enjoy reading this one. 

Turkey Day Murder, by Leslie Meier.  I have not read any of the previous entries in this series, and this is #7, so I'm sure that a lot of background has been missed.  But anyway, Lucy Stone lives in a small town in Maine, where she is a reporter on a local weekly newspaper, a wife, a mother of one son and three daughters, and apparently an amateur detective.  She regularly covers the town council meetings, and though they are usually boring, she inadvertently learns that part of the reason a local tribe of Native Americans are hoping to receive recognition from the federal government is so a casino can be built.  Needless to say, everyone in the town is worked up over that.

It's also Thanksgiving, and she is really excited that her son is coming home from his first semester of college.  However, when he arrives, instead of bringing just one friend along as was planned, he brings four!  Besides the wrench in things that extra people cause, Lucy feels like she is with a completely different person, which really upsets her.

When one of the tribal leaders is found murdered, a friend asks Lucy to please look into it, since she feels the police won't solve it at all, or not anytime soon.  Somewhat reluctantly - but also to answer some of her own questions - Lucy agrees.

So between all of the preparations for, and the celebration of, Thanksgiving, and her investigation, Lucy starts to feel that neither is going well.  

As with most books of this type, it ends with things neatly tied up.  I didn't *not* like this book, but will likely not go out of my way to read others in the series.  Having said that, it was nice to find a book focused on the Thanksgiving holiday.


What about you - have you read anything good or interesting lately?

30 November 2014

And So November Ends

I am always surprised when it's the last day of November.  I'm not sure why, since Thanksgiving - even if not as close as this year - is often at the end of the month, and one of my sisters' birthdays is the 29th, so I know the next day is the only day left in the month.

Maybe it's because I like November.  It's usually the month when the cool and crisp of autumn starts working its way to the cold of December.  When people actually start to think of others, reminded that Thanksgiving is on the way, and that all of us have *something* to be thankful for.  In our house, there's also The Tim's birthday, so there is birthday cake to be followed by pumpkin pie a week or so later!

And then, Thanksgiving itself - a holiday that I feel is the coziest of them all.  When the whole idea is to stay put and enjoy the day (even though some feel the need to go shopping), and it's OK to eat  more than you might on any other day.  I am fortunate, since for me it's almost always a four-day weekend, so I am able to enjoy relaxing but also accomplish some things, without feeling rushed.

This year, as happens often, the last Sunday of November is also the first Sunday of Advent.  I am not the most devoutly religious person on earth, though I do have strong beliefs, and consider myself to be very spiritual.  I love Advent; the word itself is defined as "the arrival of a notable person, thing, or event,"  and I think anticipation is one of the most exciting things that anyone can experience. Advent is just that for so many.  Waiting for the arrival of the Savior for some; for a bicycle for others; for a family gathering that is way overdue for many - whether they are about the "real" meaning of Christmas or not, I think they all are.  Advent and Christmastime can be what you want them to be, regardless of their origins in any given culture.

Just as some people scoff at thankfulness at Thanksgiving, because they "don't need a day to be thankful" they are thankful all year, etc., people discount this time of year as being too commercial, too consumer-oriented, etc.

I believe that yes, we should be thankful all year, but sometimes that  is harder than others, so if there is a day to make us stop and reflect, that can't be a bad thing.  And for those who decry commercialism, consumerism, and the "secularization" of this time of year, I would like to point out that everyone has a choice of the way they choose to observe it.  Though we may be surrounded by things we do not agree with, that is the case all of the time.

Holidays - all of them - are what you make it, or what you want to make it.  I choose to ignore the grumblers and do what I want to do.

And so today, I am extremely excited that Advent has arrived.  So much hope, so much expectation, so much chance for light at a dark time of the year.  May your Advent season be a happy one, regardless of what "notable person, thing, or event" is the one you await.

O Come O Come Emmanuel*

(*click to listen)

27 November 2014

A Special Day of Thanks

Happy Thanksgiving from our house to yours!

I hope that whether you are having a quiet day at home, or a busy day with friends and family, that you will enjoy this holiday and the blessings that we all have.

"Feeling gratitude and not expressing it 
is like wrapping a present and not giving it"
-- William Arthur Ward