Sunday, July 22, 2012

A Little Summer Reading

The cursed nook has made it easier than ever for me to find fantastic books to read -- that "you also might like" tab gets me every time.   Here are some "you also might like" books I did also like.

The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka.  This is the story of Japanese "Picture Brides" who travelled to America only to find that their grooms (and America) weren't all they had advertised themselves to be.  It is an interesting book, if you can get past one major hurdle:  there is no main character.  Every single episode in the book, from the young women meeting each other on the boat on their way to California to the tragic march to the interment camps during World War II, are all told in lists.  Lots and lots of lists:  One girl did this.  One girl did that. Another girl did the third thing.

Over.  And over.  And over.

If there is one common woman running through each chapter, I didn't find her.  (Which, I guess is telling of the sheer number of Japanese women who did come here as brides in the 20's.)  But whereas that literary device is fine for an opening paragraph (or maybe even chapter) where it lends suspense and tension, it was a bit much for an entire book -- I kept waiting for the story to start.

I did, however, finish the book. I'm still not sure how I feel about the writing style, but I do appreciate detail and precision of this novel.  Try it, and see what you think.

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh.  I had had this one in my nook  line-up for months when my friend, Jeannine, told me she was reading it and thought it would be a great book to discuss on vacation.  It's a difficult story of a girl who "ages out" of the foster care system; part of her childhood journey is spent on a vineyard with a foster mother who taught her the beautiful meanings behind gifts of flowers -- what am I saying when I send you a bouquet of daisies?

It's a compelling story and a horticulture lesson all in one.  I loved it.
(We did, however, forget to discuss it on vacation!  I guess we were having too much fun!)

Wife 22 by Melanie Gideon.  I think I loved this book because the main character, Alice, is a middle-aged wacko like me -- over analyzing too many things in her busy life.  It's a very modern novel full of tweets, Facebook posts and chats; the story centers on an online marriage survey/study Alice joins and her relationship with her anonymous researcher.  I was constantly surprised by this story -- things I thought might happen didn't and things happened that I didn't see coming.  Enough said.

(Just an FYI if you do read this one -- many chapters are simply the answers Alice sends to the researcher.  If you want to know what the questions were, they are all included in the last pages of the book.  If I had read a hard copy, I probably would have flipped there, but since I read this on the nook, I didn't realize this until I was finished.  Clay is reading it now, and asked me the other evening, "Hey, do we ever find out what the questions are?"  and was scrolling to them immediately.  I think I liked it the way I read it, though -- reading the questions at the end was a nice review of the book/marriage.)

The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown.  I really liked this book about three daughters of a renown Shakespeare professor who have grown up and return to their small college hometown in Ohio.  Their names, of course, are Rosalind, Bianca and Cordelia.  (Now I need to go back and read As You Like It, Othello and Lear to see just how well those names fit!)  There are tons of Shakespeare references in this book, but you don't have to be a Bard scholar to enjoy it; the book reads so easily and is full of beautiful, unique detail.  The sisters are very different, but the same, a point made over and over by the narrator's voice -- the common voice of the three sisters, which was a pretty amazing literary device.  They each have their own dramas to deal with, plus their mother's breast cancer -- it's very rich and very interesting.  (Another FYI -- I had a semester of Shakespeare as an undergrad, and a semester in grad school.  I still have to look up Shakespeare references, and miss a lot of questions about his work on Jeopardy!)

Sworn to Silence by Linda Castillo.  So far, there are 4 books in this series about Kate Burkholder, a formerly Amish police chief of a small town in Northeast Ohio.  I have really surprised myself by plowing through all 4 this summer, because graphic murder mysteries are not really my thing.  If they are your thing, you'll probably love these.  Did I love them?  No.  They are sad and dark and involve trauma to sweet children.  But once I started the first book I HAD to finish, and after the first book, I HAD to know what happens to Kate.  And although I don't like to allow dark, evil things into my head and spirit, I can't wait for book 5.  How weird am I?

The Linda Castillo books were not "you also might like" books -- they were recommended by our friend, who is now a published author herself!  If you have a nook or a kindle, download Someone to Watch Over Me  -- I know you will enjoy it!  It's the first in a series of 3 (so far) books about Jennie O'Quinn and her dad, a small town police chief.  Exciting, romantic, fun.  Read it!

I was listening to a novel on the way home from North Carolina (Down Home by John Hart), and still have several chapters before I find out whodoneit, but don't have much desire to finish listening. Just an "Eh" kind of book for me.

In the land of non-fiction, I have started Imagine by Johan Lehrer.  This is a terrific book on the science of creativity (which I always had thought of as an "art"), but it's slow-going for me.  As a reviewer in Publisher's Weekly stated, these  "stories of groundbreaking artists, ideas and inventions are interwoven with discoveries from the forefront of modern neuroscience."  Yep, it's that neuroscience thing that slows me down.  But it's fascinating stuff, especially if you like reading about the development of such diverse things as Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone", the Swiffer mop and Nike's "Just Do It." 

Up next?  I started the Bronze Horseman by Paulina Simons because Clay really wants me to. I told him I've already read several massive Russian novels and have no need to read another, but better this than Atlas Shrugged, right?  And I know that once I can get past the first 50 pages, I'll probably be hooked, as happened with Outlander (which took me nearly 10 years to finally start reading!)  Also in the line up are Little Bee, Unorthodox, The Innocents and Virgins of Paradise.  

I've said it before -- too many books, too little time.  But in the time I'm given, I'm going to read as many as possible!


Saturday, July 21, 2012


The more I read, the more I write, the more I age, I have slowly learned the following truths about myself:

     1) Just because I have what I think to be well-educated opinions, I don't need to express them at every opportunity.  I got in trouble for this in kindergarten (the note on my report card read "She has lots of good ideas, but needs to keep them to herself more"), in high school, in college and on.  Now, I'm a bit wiser and a bit more cautious about spouting off because I learned this lesson:

     2)  Most folks don't give two hoots (or a rat's ass- take your pick) about my opinion.  
     3)  I don't need to straighten everyone out, even though I am pretty sure I could.
     4)  I am good at listening patiently to people's complaints.  (Then in the car, I rant to myself all the way home.)   

     5)  I can be helpful without being sappily sentimental or bossy.  
     6)  I am quite adept at seeing the good/talent/beauty in others.  (I am not so good at seeing this in myself, however.)
     7)  I am truly a gentle and peaceful person.

    8)  I am kind.  And kindness matters.
    9)  But, I still have moments of complete anger, frustration and bitchiness. I have learned to keep these moments to a minimum, but still, you might want to watch out.
Why do I tell you all this?  Because last week I composed what I thought was an important blog post, spurred by some things I have been seeing on facebook and pinterest.  Things that aren't so kind.

My post was deep.
It was pithy.
It was filled with political and socio-economic references and data.

But it was also a little pompous, empathetic and self-righteous.  Which, as you know, could easily be construed as bossy, sappily sentimental and not at all peaceful.

So, I'm not going to post it, as I'm striving for gentle, thoughtful and meaningful here.

Oh, I have it saved, though.  You know.  Just in case I need to womp on some wacked-out, uneducated,  un-researched, "I'm-jumping-on-the-bandwagon" ideas.

Like I said, watch out.

Peace.  I keep telling myself that . . . 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

I'm a Bag Lady

One little trip to Crimson Tate, and I was in love -- in love with the fabrics, in love with the shop, and in love with Heather, the completely cool and awesome owner.  If you love fabric/ love to sew/love to be around terrific people, get yourself to this shop ASAP.   

But first up, I'll show you my self-designed car bag:
There's just not a lot of room in the Mini Cooper.  In fact, the one criticism Clay had of the car before we bought it was that I wouldn't have "much room for all the crap I carry around."  He wasn't being mean, just honest -- I do tend to carry around a lot of crap.  Plus, the way the drink holders are designed in the Mini  isn't the greatest -- the front holders don't have enough clearance for anything much bigger than a Dixie cup, and to reach the holder behind the parking brake, I have to do a spine-twisting yoga pose.  Not good when you're driving.  So, I made up this little bag to sit on the passenger seat, primarily to hold my water cup, but also for some other necessary crap, like a little knitting for when I get stopped for a train.
The outside is a Wilendur red rose tablecloth I got for $2.00 because it has a nasty stain in one corner.  But there was plenty of good material for this bag and I think I have enough left  for a pillow or two.  The inside is some blue upholstery fabric left over from another project.  I used sheets of plastic canvas between the layers to make the bag a little sturdier, but I should have used something a little more substantial -- it was a little too flimsy and there are a lot of catch stitches all around this bag to hold it upright!  Then, I ironed some scraps of the tablecloth onto cardboard for the dividers, and made them stay in place with a poorly-engineered design involving hot glue, paper fasteners and crochet cotton.  Not perfect or what I had envisioned, but it works!  Ta-da!:
 Now, on to the good stuff.

Sometimes, things just fall right into place, don't they?  I had pinned a great messenger bag pattern by OCD: obsessive crafting disorder to my Sewing board almost a year ago.  The designer had used some felted sweaters/jackets in her designs, and at the time, I was felting things like crazy.  And, I had pinned some great Japanese fabric I had seen made into sachets at Sew4Home, but every other crafter out there must have loved the fabric, too, because everywhere I looked online was sold out.

But there it was at Crimson Tate.  A big beautiful stack of Ruby Star Shining by Michelle Miller.  So, I brought it home and made the messenger bag first:

Front (I added a little pocket cut from the pink typewriter fabric, just because):
Under the flap, where I added a little pocket for my cell phone:

Inside (I added a zippered pocket here): 
 I couldn't find the correct hardware for the strap as called for in the pattern, so I improvised a bit with these overall clasps: 
 This bag is perfect for all the crap I carry with me, but I think I need a little version for my wallet and keys for the grocery.  I still have plenty of fabric, even after making this bag:
This is another sweet pattern that's been hanging around on my pinterest sewing board, designed by Ayumi at Pink Penguin.  She used cotton duck for the outside and vinyl for the inside, as she designed this as a lunch bag.  When I saw it, however, I thought it would make a perfect sock-knitting bag for my writer pal, Christie.  You can't see it here, but I added a little fabric loop and a dog-leash type hook so she could clip this to her purse or belt loop while she sits knitting on the baseball bleachers!

I am itching to make some more bags, but must first finish the 3 baby quilts I have in the works.  Pictures soon!