Tuesday, December 28, 2010

"A Visit from the Goon Squad"

This book (actually a collection of inter-related short stories and one PowerPoint presentation) covers the time span from the 1980's to the near future.  The characters are involved in music and some of them go from being uninhibited amateur performers totally in love with music to selling their souls once they actually become employed in the industry.  The goon squad is, of course, time.   The author has managed to incorporate post-modern elements (the PowerPoint chapter and footnotes) without being annoying or precious.

My rating:  ***** (out of 5)

Saturday, December 25, 2010

"Foreign Bodies" by Cynthia Ozick

Author Cynthia Ozick says that this book is a photographic negative of The Ambassadors by Henry James.  I've never read that book, but this one is about Bea Nightingale, who re-connects with her overbearing brother Marvin who wants her to travel to Paris and convince his son Julian to return to the United States.  She travels to Paris to find Julian married to a displaced person who Bea at first believes to be taking advantage of Julian but comes to believe is a good match for him.  Bea also re-connects with her ex-husband, a composer, who has left a grand piano in her apartment for the 20-some years they've been divorced.  She takes control of her life by getting rid of all signs of that piano.

My rating:  **** (out of 5)

X-mas Gloves

Pattern:  http://www.freevintageknitting.com/mittens/617-gloves-pattern.html

Yarn:  Dale of Norway/Dalegarn Heilo

I made these gloves for my male Korean ESL student.  I completed the first glove and thought it looked too large, so I did the second glove only up through the palm.  Then I gave it to him on the needles last week so I could see what adjustments I needed.  Fortunately, I only had to shorten two fingers by about 1/2 inch.  I'll give the completed gloves to him on Monday when we meet for our tutoring session.

I'm also making a pair for myself from the same pattern, so am a little tired of this pattern.

Monday, December 20, 2010


Nicole Krauss' book "Great House" is about remembering.  It takes the form of 8 short stories about four people who have owned a large, multi-drawered desk at one time or another.  The desk was originally owned by a Jewish family in Hungary prior to World War II and eventually makes its way back to that same family.  I didn't like the book as much as I'd expected to.  Wish I'd had time to re-read it, but I have another book that is due back at the library in a week.

My rating:  *** (out of 5)

Sunday, December 5, 2010

My First Shawl

Pattern:  Show Your Colors Shawl

Yarn:  Andean Lace

Needles:  U.S. 4

This is my first lace pattern and I'm quite pleased with it.  I'm not exactly a shawl person, so don't know how much use the garment will actually get.  This was a very simple pattern.  I did much of it at knit night and on an airplane, so distractions were not a big problem with this knitting.  I'm happy with it, but if I were making another shawl, I'd find a pattern with neck shaping so that the shawl doesn't scrunch up around the back of the neck.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Several Finished Objects

Finally my camera has been repaired and I can report on several finished objects.  First up is Truck Mittens for Niepa.  I used some leftover Baby Cashmerino yarn.  The pattern is Vroom-vroom mittens available on Ravelry.

Next are mittens for Ella, the daughter of one of my yoga teachers.  They are Baby Cashmerino also, and I used my basic mitten pattern, available here.

The Bohus Stickening Cuffs are from a class I took at Stitches Midwest.  The technique involves a very fine yarn with colorwork.  Unlike fair isle, there is purling.  Also, the floats can be considerably longer than with fair isle work.  The result is pretty, but I don't have the patience to do this on a larger project.  I received the yarn and pattern in a kit during the class.

My last project is Petrie, done in a linen yarn.  I'm very pleased with how this turned out.  Unfortunately it will be too cold to wear a sleeveless linen top in Michigan until about next June.

Friday, November 12, 2010

"Just Kids" by Patti Smith

This memoir of Patti Smith's relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe recalls the 1960's and 70's in New York City.  She pursues a career in poetry, art, and finally music, while Mapplethorpe, a student at Pratt when she met him, works on his art, eventually focusing on photography.  Their lives intersected with some of the most interesting people of the 1970's, including  Jimi Hendrix, Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, and Janis Joplin.  There's even a Bob Dylan slighting.

My rating:  **** (out of 5)

Saturday, October 9, 2010

"Everything" by Kevin Canty

Everything, by Kevin Canty, reminded me of Jim Harrison, one of my favorite authors.  The setting is rural Montana and the characters are physically tough but emotionally vulnerable.  June has been grieving for her dead husband, Taylor, for 11 years, and has decided that she is done with being "the widow."  R. L., Taylor's best friend, is regretting his failed marriage and offers hospitality to a former girlfriend who is dying of cancer with little support from her own husband.  Meanwhile, Layla, R. L.'s daughter, becomes involved with Edgar, a married employee of R. L., with predictable results.  All of these characters struggle to come to terms with grief and loneliness.

Others have compared Canty's writing to Hemingway's, and Richard Ford's, and I see where they're coming from.  It's very direct.

My rating:  **** (out of 5)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Braised Pork with Pappardelle

I was inspired to make this after having a similar dish at Anteprima in Chicago.  The braising liquid is red wine, tomatoes, vegetables, and herbs.  I substituted cut up lasagna noodles since I couldn't find pappardelle.  I got the recipe here.  I'll definitely be making this again.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Another American Family Saga by Jonathan Franzen

Freedom follows the Berglund family from St. Paul to Washington, D.C. and New York City.  Walter is frenquently described as "perfect."  He works for conservation organizations and is devoted to his wife Patty, despite her sometimes crippling depression.  Patty abandoned her wealthy but neglectful family years ago to go to college in Minnesota where she met Walter and his musician friend, Richard Katz.  Walter and Patty's son, Joey, is alienated from Patty when she cannot accept his relationship with a lower class girl.  Joey becomes attracted to conservative politics and is seduced into working for a sleazy military contractor.  However, Walter also succumbs to similar temptations while Patty succumbs to romantic temptations.

This book is on the same tier as The Corrections, which I loved.  I have only minor quibbles with it.

My rating:  ***** (out of 5)

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

"Summertime," a Post-Modern Biography

This book purports to be a biography of John Coetzee written after his death and composed of interviews with 5 people who knew him.

My rating:  **** (out of 5)

Waves Socks

Pattern:  Pyroclastic

Yarn:  ONline Linie 5 Corafino

Needles:  Size 1

These lace socks give the impression of cables.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010


Ian McEwan's Solar is a satire about academia, business, and self centeredness.  Michael Beard, a scientist who made a brilliant discovery early in his career, for which he won a Nobel, is incapable of faithfulness to either of his five wives and numerous mistresses.  He can't control his eating and drinking.  He steals another scientist's work, and he arranges to have his wife's lover convicted for a murder which was actually an accidental death.  He's a thoroughly unlikeable character, but in the end, of course, his crimes catch up with him.

My rating:  *** (out of 5)

Saturday, July 31, 2010

"The Kids Are Alright" - The Parents? Not So Much

Marriage is difficult.  That's the message of this movie.  Both the movie and the performances are outstanding.  Annette Bening, in particular, gives a great performance as a lesbian mom disturbed by the changes in her household after the sperm donor for their 2 children meets the family and her wife (played by Julianne Moore) finds herself inexplicably attracted to him.

My rating:  **** (out of 5)

Monday, July 19, 2010

My Sophisticated Hoodie

Pattern:  Sophisticated Hoodie from Sally Melville's Mother Daughter Knits

Yarn:  Rowan Calmer

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

In Sickness and in Health

In The Unnamed, Tim Farnsworth is a wealthy, happily married, successful New York City attorney who occasionally is compelled, by an illness doctors cannot diagnose, to walk until the point of exhaustion, whereupon he falls asleep wherever he is.  At the end of these episodes, he calls his wife Jane and she always comes to get him, wherever he is.  Until the day she doesn't, when instead of saying, "Where are you?  I'll come to get you," she says merely, "Come home."  The book is about dichotomies, faith vs. nonbelief, committment vs. personal freedom, body vs. mind.  It's a peculiar but satisfying book.

My rating:  **** (out of 5)

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Liberal Guilt Movie

Please Give features Catherine Keener as a New Yorker who makes her living buying mid-19th century furniture from heirs who are unaware of its value, and re-selling it at a large profit.  She feels guilty about her work and much more.  She lavishes money on the homeless while being frugal with her troubled teen-aged daughter.  She explores volunteer work, but doesn't actually commit to doing any because she becomes too emotionally involved with the clients.  She and her husband have bought the apartment of their elderly and unpleasant neighbor and are trying to restrain themselves from wishing for her demise so they can expand their apartment.  The movie gives an amusing look at the upper middle class and their desire for compassion - as long as it doesn't interfere with their living standard.

My rating:  **** (out of 5)

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Evildoers in Scotland

Usually I save detective novels for when I'm sick and need some light reading, but I made an exception for When Will There Be Good News?  The four main characters have all been damaged by the premature loss of mothers and other family members.  When one of them is kidnapped along with her baby, all of them respond immediately with a ferocity that shows their determination to prevent an earlier tragedy from being repeated.

My rating:  **** (out of 5)

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Artists in Love

World War I changed everything for the citizens of England, including the artists.  Life Class explores the effects of the war on several art students at the Slade School of Fine Art.  Two of the men enlist as ambulance drivers while Elinor Brooke resists pressure to volunteer as a nurse and continues to work at her art.

My rating:  **** (out of 5)

Monday, June 14, 2010

"War Dances"

Sherman Alexie's War Dances is a collection of short stories and poems.  The stories tend to be about middle-aged men, some of them Indians, living in the northwest and coping with everyday crises.  I liked the short stories a lot.  The poems - not so much.

My rating:  *** (out of 5)

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Jane Austen in Connecticut

In The Three Weissmanns of Westport, Joseph, Betty Weissmann's husband of 48 years, has just left her for a younger co-worker.  The younger co-worker covets the Weissmann's upper west side apartment, so Joseph manipulates it so that Betty moves temporarily to a cottage in Westport.  She is joined there by her daughter Miranda, whose business as a literary agent has recently imploded due to her "Awful Authors" who have been found out writing fictitious memoirs.  Also joining them is daughter Annie, who fights an uphill battle to keep the extravagant Betty and Miranda in check.  Unlikely romantic entanglements ensue.

My rating:  *** (out of 5)

Monday, May 31, 2010

Rom-Com in Italy

Letters to Juliet is entirely predictable, but also entirely beguiling.  Sophie, a New Yorker fact checker, goes with her restaurateur fiance Vincent to Verona for a pre-wedding vacation.   Vincent becomes so involved meeting with suppliers and learning new recipes that he neglects Sophie.  She discovers a 50-year-old letter to the fictional Juliet (of Romeo and Juliet) confessing that Claire, the sender had returned home to England rather than meeting her Italian lover, Lorenzo.  When Claire (Vanessa Redgrave) receives Sophie's response to her letter, she immediately goes to Verona to find Lorenzo, accompanied by her grandson, Charlie.  Charlie, Claire, and Sophie set out on a trek to find Lorenzo with predictable results.  Yes, it's sappy and frequently unbelievable, but the Italian countryside is beautiful, and who doesn't want to believe in happy endings?

My rating:  **** (out of 5)

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Jab Chae

My Korean student (I tutor her in English as a second language) gave me the recipe for Jab Chae and I made it today.  The glass noodles are made from sweet potato starch rather than flour.  There are plenty of vegetables and a small amount of beef.  I found lots of versions of this on the Internet, some of them vegetarian.  The glass noodles are very slippery.  Fortunately I was alone when eating it, so I could slurp with abandon.

Like many stir fries, there's a significant amount of preparation time, cutting the vegetables, cooking the noodles, etc.  However, the cooking goes very quickly.  This was delicious, and I expect to make it again.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Book: "The Lonely Polygamist"

Why is Golden Richards lonely with four wives and 28 children?  He has allowed himself to fall into a life dictated by his father, his church, and his wives.  The crisis in this book comes about when he falls for the common law wife of a very dangerous brothel operator and begins to recognize his dissatisfaction with his current life.   After a tragic incident, Golden does start to become  a better father and husband.  However, the book recognizes the difficulty of actually changing one's life, and the ending is by no means a happy one.

My rating:  **** (out of 5)

Friday, May 7, 2010

"Exit Through the Gift Shop"

Exit Through the Gift Shop may or may not have been directed by the British street artist Banksy.  It explores the questions of what art is and who it belongs to, as well as taking a critical look at the commercialization of art.  It purports to be about Thierry Guetta, a Frenchman transplanted to Los Angeles who becomes interested in and begins filming street artists all over the world, claiming to be making a documentary.  He befriends the elusive Banksy who convinces him that he himself should be making art, so he does, incorporating the techniques of the artists he has been filming.  He has a wildly successful show in Los Angeles.  Since the film Guetta creates is hopelessly bad, Banksy takes the footage and makes his own film about Guetta and Guetta's questionable art.

My rating:  **** (out of 5)

And thanks for the image, Banksy

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The God of Love

Amy Bloom's Where the God of Love Hangs Out is a very satisfying short story collection about - what else? - love.  There are 2 sets of connected stories following characters through the years and lots of surprises.

My rating:  **** (out of 5)

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

"Juliet" Critiqued

What I liked about Juliet Naked:

The main character, a woman, was plausible.
Like life, the conclusion did not tie up all the loose ends in an emotionally satisfying way.

What I didn't like:

The factual errors.  If you're trying to go to North Berkeley via BART and you get on the Pittsburg Bay Point train in error, when you get to Rockridge, you only have to return to MacArthur, not to 19th Street to get on the Richmond train.  Also, although BART maps are color coded, I've never heard the Richmond train called the Red Line.  On the other hand, why am I being so picky about these details?  It is fiction after all.

The book should have been about 200 pages rather than 400 pages.

My rating:  *** (out of 5)

Oddly enough, I'm tempted to give more stars in case the author reads this review.  I guess that shows how much I believed the book while reading it.

Thursday, April 29, 2010


Had a delicious dinner tonight at a Spanish restaurant, El Meson.  We enjoyed grilled anchovies, shrimp, sauteed oyster mushrooms, and lamb brochette, accompanied by sangria.

Santa Fe

Budget Rental Cars gave us the ugliest rental car in North America.  It's a dirty mustard color.  What was Ford thinking when they added that color to their repertoire?

We saw an iguana on the wall of our condo this morning.

Monday, April 26, 2010

The End of a Marriage

Louise Erdrich is one of my favorite authors, and Shadow Tag, although different from many of her other books, is a satisfying, although disturbing, read.  It tells the story of Irene America and her acrimonious relationship with her artist husband Gil.  Irene discovers Gil has been reading her diary and begins to use that diary to deceive and manipulate him, while keeping an authentic diary in a safe deposit box.  Irene's drinking and Gil's abusiveness leave disturbing wounds on their three children.  In spite of Irene's fierce determination to protect her children, she is inextricably wound up in the relationship with Gil and unable to just end it in spite of the damage it causes her family.

My rating:  **** (out of 5)

Friday, April 23, 2010

Home on the Range

Half Broke Horses, by Jeanette Walls, is a fictionalized account of her grandmother's life in New Mexico and Arizona during the first half of the 20th century.  Lily Casey Smith learned to break horses as a child.  She learned many other skills living with her family on remote ranches and teaching (at the age of 15) in areas where no one else was willing to teach.  Although she struck me as an overly harsh mother, she certainly understood the necessity of instilling toughness in her children.

My rating:  **** (out of 5)

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Next Winter's Gloves

This past winter, I wore a hole in the gloves I'd knitted for myself back in 2007.  Since I liked those gloves a lot, I made a new pair using the same pattern and yarn.  I knitted these on a trip to California to visit my son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren.  Good portable knitting.

Yarn:  Cherry Tree Hill Supersock

Pattern:  a booklet that I probably bought in the 70's for 50 cents.  It features Boye brand yarn and has about 10 patterns

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Movie: "How to Tame Your Dragon"

My granddaughter and I saw the IMAX 3D version of this movie.  Great 3D effects, especially the sparks and ash floating in the air.   And what a bargain!  Only $26.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Finished Object: Plain Vanilla Socks

Yarn is Shepherds Sock Yarn by Lorna's Laces

K2 P2 rib with a reverse Dutch heel and a sewn bind off

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Book: "Chronic City"

The Manhattan in Chronic City is slightly off kilter.  For example, there's a dense gray fog hovering over lower Manhattan, the New York Times offers a War Free edition, and a tiger (or is it a tunneling earth mover?) is loose in the city causing occasional building collapses.  The book is about friendship, parallel universes, reality, consumerism, and struggling to be authentic when the odds are stacked against you.

My rating:  *** (out of 5)

Pannu Kakku, or Finnish Pancakes

I got the idea for making this from my friend Kristy, who mentioned it on Facebook about a week ago.  Although it's not particularly attractive (note the small puddle of melted butter in the center), it tastes fantastic.  I topped mine with raspberry jam.  The recipe is here.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Movie: "Greenberg"

Ben Stiller plays against type as an unpleasant misanthrope.  He's been recently released from a mental hospital, is totally self absorbed, and has come to spend six weeks at his brother's house in LA while the brother is on vacation in Vietnam.  He meets the brother's family assistant and begins a tentative relationship with her while reconnecting with old friends who have (justifiably) become estranged from him.

My rating:  **** (out of 5)

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Book: "A Short History of Women"

Well, I guess it's a history of women if that history began in the late 19th century with the British suffragist movement.  What it really is is a history of five generations of women in one family who are reacting to or bear the legacy of the 1914 hunger strike death of the suffragist.   A daughter tries to escape that legacy by pursuing a science career in the United States, while a granddaughter finds herself dissatisfied with her long-standing marriage and her fruitless war protests.   Two great-granddaughters deal with modern anxieties in ways that are not completely effective.

My rating:  **** (out of 5)

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Woodpecker War - Round 2

Last fall a woodpecker decided to turn the wooden siding outside our bedroom window into his private lunch counter, and proceeded to make two large holes in the siding.  I retaliated by improvising a bird deterrent from heavy duty aluminum foil, string, and a nail.  Unfortunately, the bird deterrent banged against our bedroom window at night, preventing us from sleeping.  In addition, after about a week, the woodpecker realized that the foil wasn't actually a threat, and he went back to work enlarging the holes.  I conceded and removed the deterrent so we could get some sleep.

He's returned this year and brought a friend (mate?).  In this round of the Woodpecker War I have taped a picture of the scariest clip art owl I could find to the bedroom window.  There was no woodpecker yesterday, the first day, but how long will it last?

Monday, March 8, 2010

Book: "Say You're One of Them"

A better person would have liked this book more than I did.  Written by a Nigerian Jesuit priest, the five stories describe African life from the viewpoint of African children.  It was an Oprah's Book Club selection and the stories are well-written and engaging.  However, I'm afraid the subject matter is a little too grim for me, so I feel shallow for not enjoying the book more.

My rating:  ** (out of 5)

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Finished Object: Kidsilk Haze Scarf

I improvised this pattern:  Cast on 32 stitches.  Knit 2 X 2 rib on Size 7 needles until there is just enough yarn left for the bindoff.  The yarn is wonderful, but slippery to work with.  I started off on Addi Turbos,  but it kept slipping off the needles, so I switched to bamboo needles using a point protector on the end.  The yarn costs about $16 and it made a scarf about 4.5 inches wide and 60 inches long.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Book: "Family Album"

"Aren't all families screwed up somewhere, when it comes down to it?"  That's what Paul Harper, the oldest in a family of 6 children asks in Family Album.  And that's what the book shows.  What appears to be a traditional, if large, family turns out to be troubled by a distant father, a mother unusually devoted to motherhood, an au pair who remains long after the children have grown up and left home, and a secret that everyone knows but is reluctant to acknowledge.

My rating:  **** out of 5

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Book: "Lit"

Another memoir by Mary Karr, this one follows her battle with alcoholism, her divorce, and her conversion from agnosticism to Catholicism.  Although I read one review that accuses her of being unfair to her ex-husband, I thought she presented him fairly, making it very clear what he had put up with in terms of her own behavior prior to stopping drinking.  She was raised in Texas by alcoholic parents and a mentally ill mother, but went on to become an accomplished poet.  It's one of those American stories about moving out of the social class you were born into, and those stories are always fascinating.

My rating:  **** (out of 5)

Finished Objects: Hats for Diane

Pattern:  Simple Fair Isle Hat Pattern
Yarns:  Cascade 220 and Berocco Jasper

My cross-country skiing friend Diane  bought the yarn and asked me to make 2 hats to match her new ski jacket.  I like this pattern because the hat doesn't fit as tightly as many handknit hats.  I may make a third hat for myself with leftover yarn from these projects.