Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The thing with feathers

I had lofty, Dickinsonian intentions back when I took this photo — the name on the grave marker behind this bird is Hope. You'll just have to take my word for it though since I couldn't get the focus to work out.

I love the inherent hopefulness of the turning of the new year, the fact of a built-in fresh start every twelve months and the communal celebration thereof. I'm still putting together my thoughts on what I want to accomplish and try and read and make and cook and address and play with in 2009, but will likely post it tomorrow as part of my annual set-the-tone-of-the-year-through-what-you-do-on-January-1 endeavor. (Or "start as you mean to go," which is a much more graceful phrasing of the same idea.)

Have a happy, hopeful New Year's — I'll see you in '09!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Books, forward and back

The last couple of years, I've resolved to read 52 books over the course of the year, figuring one a week isn't a whole lot to ask of myself. I just did my count for 2008 since I'm pretty sure I won't be finishing anything up in the next day and a half, and ended the year having read 71 books. So, go me! And there were a lot of really good ones in there too, the kind of book you call your friends when you finish and urge them to read immediately. My favorites of the year, in no particular order, would have to be:
  • Agent Zigzag, Ben McIntyre. Completely engrossing non-fic about a double agent in WWII.
  • The Genius, Jesse Kellerman. I like books that are set in the seamier corners of New York City (or anywhere, really), especially when they're beautifully written mysteries.
  • Uglies, Pretties, Specials and Extras, Scott Westerfeld. What can I say? I'm a sucker for well-written dystopian fantasies. Also really liked Peeps.
  • The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins. Seriously, I love dystopian fantasies. I reviewed it here.
  • Garnethill, Denise Mina. Very dark, very Scottish, very good.
  • The Wild Trees, Richard Preston. About the exploration of canopies of super-tall trees and the previously unknown biosystems that exist up there. Kind of mind-blowing, really.
  • The Whiskey Rebels, David Liss. You can read my officially official review here.
  • A Place of Execution, Val McDermid. I read two of her others this year too, The Distant Echo and A Darker Domain, and really tore through both of those as well, though PoE is in a class by itself. She's going to be in New York Feb. 10 — anyone want to go to the reading with me?
  • When Will There Be Good News? Kate Atkinson. Just as good as Case Histories, which is really saying something.
  • In the Woods and The Likeness, Tana French. Just so good.
I'm still going for the 52 books a year number for 2009, but with an additional angle. After reading about the 9 for 09 challenge on Kim's blog the other night, I went to my shelves immediately to pull my own books. These are all books that I own, and have owned, in some cases, for a very long time. It's not that I don't want to read them — I do! otherwise, I'd get rid of them! — it's just that for whatever reason, I don't. This looks like a good exercise to get me reading the stuff I already have.

Long: Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, Susannah Clarke. I've tried to listen to this as an audiobook a couple of times, but the story is just too complicated for me to follow without actually seeing all of the words and names in front of me. I think I'll have better luck on paper. Amazon says it's 1024 pages, but I'm pretty sure the edition I have is more like 800, so either bigger pages or smaller print....

Free: Tin Horns and Calico, Henry Christman. This is set in the part of the Hudson Valley where I grew up and is the true story of a bunch of farmers revolting in the 1840s and overthrowing what was basically a feudal system. This copy was in my house growing up and I've been meaning to read it for at least 15 years. In fact, now that I'm thinking about it, I believe that I may have written a book report on it when I was in high school without actually having read it. Bad Stephanie! Apparently, you can read the whole thing here.

Dusty: Winter's Tale, Mark Helprin. I have had this book for a long. freaking. time.

Used: A Conspiracy of Paper, David Liss. Yep, bought it used. As I mentioned above, I really loved The Whiskey Rebels and have high hopes for this one too, which I think may have either won or been nominated for an Edgar.

Letter: Oh, I didn't pull this to get into the photo, but I have a copy. Good People, Marcus Sakey. There were a bunch of Ss in the running, but this one had a K too.

Strange: Why the Devil Chose New England for His Work, Jason Brown. I don't typically read short stories. Plus, I borrowed this from someone a truly inexcusable length of time ago and it's way past time I get it back to her.

Distance: The Wordy Shipmates, Sarah Vowell. I'm choosing to interpret this category as allowing for a distance through time as well as physical distance.

AN: Arthur & George, Julian Barnes. Short-listed for the Booker. I bought this is a book-buying binge a few days before I got laid off in Feb. 2006.

Cover: Originally, I was going to read The Devil's Gentleman by Harold Schecter for this category, but have since decided that the cover of The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly more effectively blows my skirt up so am subbing that one in instead.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Merry merry from Greenpoint

I'm heading upstate to spend Christmas with my family and will be blissfully disconnected until after the holiday. In the meantime, have a wonderful whatever you celebrate!

For to keep my head warm

I made this somewhat odd hat yesterday:
I'd never done corrugated ribbing before and it's kind of neato. I don't think I did a particularly good job of it, but it's still good for the ol' neural pathways to try something new. And I like the vertical stripe effect. Then a simple stranded checkerboard-y pattern (so I'll have two layers over my ears) and stripes for the crown. I used up two random not-whole balls of yarn, both dk-weight wool. Very satisfying. And necessary, since I can't find any of my rather nice collection of handknit (and in some cases, handspun and hand-dyed) hats. That bucket hat I crocheted a few months ago is fine for walking to the subway but I needed something warmer for all of the snowshoeing and cross-country skiing and sledding! (man, I hope there's sledding!) I plan to do when I'm upstate for Christmas.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Random Friday

1. My little bit of Christmas knitting: two cashmere/silk cowls for my mom. Yes, one of them was going to be for my sister-in-law, but I said screw it, Mom will like it better. I was aiming for 20" around and 13" long for each of them, but apparently blocked the burgandy one pretty hard to open up the lace and it's bigger than that. So it's even better than I was planning — she'll have one close-fitting cowl and one that'll be looser and more drapey.

2. The knitting I've been doing for myself is not really photo-worthy at the moment (the beginnings of a long black cardigan in 1x1 rib and the nascent Amelia), but I took this lousy picture of where I am on Amelia this morning purely for documentation. This is the same cashmere/silk yarn I used for the cowls in a different color. I really stocked up at School Products about five or six years ago.
Note to self: paint your nails.

3. For this week's Spectacle Spectacular (Bill Clinton), Liz and I had planned to make shrimp and grits with greens on the side. However, she had a pretty bad reaction to some shrimp a few days earlier (tongue swelled up) and was leery of trying again so soon. So we ordered some awesome pizza instead.
One margherita + one pugliese (broccoli raab and sausage) + one bottle of chianti = two happy couch potatoes.

4. I have been assimilated; please feel free to follow me on Twitter if you are so inclined.

5. I've had this song stuck in my head for most of the last few days.

6. I've been reading a lot more than I've been making stuff. I keep meaning to do real write-ups on a couple of books I've read lately, but haven't made that happen. So in lieu of real write-ups:
A Darker Domain, Val McDermid: Loved! Awesomeness with awesome sauce on top.
The Likeness, Tana French: Awesomeness with even MORE awesome sauce on top. Loved it so much that it ruined other books for me for about a week. After I finished this one, I started several books I'd really been looking forward to reading and they all turned to ashes in my hands because they weren't nearly as gripping and beautiful. More! Tana! French!
Dark Places, Gillian Flynn: Bleak, disappointing. I loved her first book enough to pitch a profile of her to my boss, but this one made my skin crawl in a bad way without compensatory goodness. Honestly, I was so disappointed that I may rescind my request to interview her. Just in-house, I mean. I hadn't approached her yet.
Free-Range Chickens, Simon Rich: Cute. Adorable, in fact. If this book were a person, I would totally want to pinch its widdle cheeks. Which I desperately needed after the truly unlikable characters and terrible behavior (like Satanic sacrifices) exhibited in the Flynn book. And I *like* dark mysteries.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Help me understand

Dear internet,

I do not understand this poster.

p.s. I can't see a photo of polar bears anymore without thinking of this post.
p.p.s. yikes.
p.p.p.s. oh. of all the prosaic explanations...

Monday, December 15, 2008

Some walking-around shots

This weekend, I was out and about a fair bit and managed to remember my camera every time I left the house, which is sort of amazing for me. And lucky, since something caught my eye practically every time I turned around.
I was in midtown Saturday afternoon, in the middle of a successful foraging expedition to my favorite jewelry supply places (vintage Czech and Japanese glass! pieces from old chandeliers! non-sterling metal charms that pass my rigorous anti-shlock test!) and weaving in and out of packs of slow-moving pre-Christmas tourists. At one point, I was contemplating yelling, "Hey! You in the Ugg boots! MOVE!," at which point the crowd would have parted and I could have done cartwheels for ten blocks. Then I glanced up and this reflection just stopped me in my tracks. Also kept me from cutting a bitch, so: double win.

Then yesterday morning, when I was walking to the subway to meet friends for brunch, I heard some loud Latin music coming from the northern end of Manhattan Ave.
As the procession got closer, I could see some people dancing in costumes, followed by the truck with giant speakers and a bunch of people wearing black. I'm assuming that the event was in conjunction with the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which was Friday. Please note that if you go to the page and gleefully click on 'email this saint,' you're just going to be given the option to send that website about the saint via email, not actually, you know... I was so intent on watching them that I didn't notice a rival procession coming up from the south until they were right next to me.
They seemed pretty intense and I thought there might be some kind of Guadalupe-off about to happen, but they just walked right up to the first group and then went around and joined them.
I loved these costumes. These guys were dancing like crazy the whole time.

After brunch, I hung out with friends and knit for a while, then went to an afternoon holiday party (mulled cider + rum = yes), then met up with Erin for dinner, then the two of us met up another friend and two of her friends for some wine and girl talk, the kind of really lovely, whirlwind day that is going to destroy my carefully cultivated reputation as a hermit of great shyness.

Several of those social engagements were in places that are on the rather-far-from-the-subway end of the spectrum, like Red Hook and the far edges of Greenpoint and deep into the West Village. The good thing about this, other than the exercise and reasonably fresh air, is getting to look at stuff, especially when I'm in neighborhoods I don't find myself in very often, especially especially when I get to walk through old industrial areas. I so have a crush on post-industrial landscapes and buildings; there's something about the lines and angles and colors that blows my skirt up in a way that more traditionally pretty stuff doesn't.
I love this color combination, that bright wheaty yellow against the clear, flat teal and heathery oatmeal-y concrete.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Spectacle Spectacular the second

This week's Spectacle was one of the ones I was most excited about: Lou Reed and Julian Schnabel. I've been a Lou Reed/Velvet Underground fan since I was a teenager and this very blog owes him a debt; the name comes from a line in Pale Blue Eyes: "If I could make the world as pure and strange as what I see/ I'd put you in the mirror I put in front of me."

I was really hoping he and Elvis Costello would sing it together, at which point I would melt into a quivering puddle of ecstatic fan-girl pudding, but they didn't. Here's a video of Lou Reed and Pete Townsend performing it together though, which is awfully good:

Originally, the theme was going to be classic New York food (pastrami? a slice from the corner pizzeria?), plus something luridly pink (like a blended beet and buttermilk soup, maybe) to pay homage to Schnabel's Palazzo Chupi and, of course, something with poppy seeds for dessert to play with all of the heroin references. But we were just coming off two weeks of closing an issue and feeling fairly braindead and uncreative. Plus, Liz was getting ready to go out of town for a week, so we made a Use-Up-the-Stuff-in-Liz's-Fridge Risotto instead, which was quite tasty and not at all photogenic, and had some sea salt brownies from Trader Joe's to follow.

Lou was pretty interesting, talking about his doo-wop influences and writing processes, but Schnabel was kind of a schnasshole, showing up drunk and just generally being a self-aggrandizing blowhard, all but screaming LOOKATME LOOKATME LOOKATME, I AM WEARING PAJAMAS IN PUBLIC AND MADE LOU REED HOLD MY DEAD FATHER'S HAND. NOW I WILL RECITE THE LYRICS TO AN ENTIRE SONG AND YOU WILL BE IN THRALL TO ME.

Impressing people: UR doin it wrong

Anyway, last night, I cast on for Amelia, Laura's latest design. I haven't seen anything in knitty that I've been excited about for a while and chalked it up to the fact that there are so many other outlets for independent designers now than when it first started. That's why I was so pleasantly surprised to see this one; I've been keeping an eye out for a basic cardigan pattern written for worsted-weight yarn that had some interesting details without being too fussy or busy to wear with prints. The only change I'm going to make is to put buttonholes along the whole front edge. Even if I don't usually button a whole cardigan, I want the option. And I'll slip the first stitch of every row for a nice clean line along the front edge.

I swatched two different yarns for it, a charcoal cashmere/silk from School Products and some really lovely darkish denim blue handspun that I've had for a while and would like to use. That would have been the winner except that it has a fairly high mohair content and I thought the fuzziness would distract from the pintucks.

A word of caution: don't try to out-clever the designer and decide to extend the pintucks all the way to the cast-on edge. The difference in row gauge between garter stitch and twisted rib means that the rib sections will be longer and pull the garter sections out of shape where they meet. That's why even though I spent a while working on it last night, I'm currently one row into the body, which I couldn't be bothered to photograph. I should have some time to work on it this weekend though, so: soon!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Essential blanket-making material: scrap paper

My ripple blanket is coming along nicely, currently looking like this:
There's been some behind-the-scenes organizational work on its behalf too, though. Last weekend, in a fit of I-don't-even-know-what, I did this:
In case you can't tell just by looking at it, it's the color progression plan for the entire blanket. Since I'm making it at least partly to use up yarn that isn't allotted for other projects, I don't want to have to buy anything for it, and I was a little worried about using up all of the pretty colors early on and having two thirds of the blanket just be beige and light grey, which are the two I have the most of.

I had already figured out that one two-row stripe of Cascade 220 takes just a smidge under one ounce of yarn. Each stripe is about an inch in height and I'd like the blanket to be 72" long. So I cut out 72 small pieces of scrap paper, weighed each of the yarns I had set aside for the project and assigned that yarn a number of paper pieces up to but not more than its weight in ounces. So, if I had 2 5/8 oz. of aqua, it got two pieces.

Then I took two little snips of the yarn, taped them to those pieces and set them aside, numbering them to correspond to a key I made to indicate which yarns are which. I have three different dark purples in the mix, for instance, and it's not always easy to tell what's what from a 1" snip. When I had weighed and snipped all of the yarn, I arranged the paper pieces so that colors and neutrals and lights and darks were all distributed in a balanced way and then taped them to other pieces of scrap paper that I had numbered to correspond to the rows.

I'm sure it's not going to be perfect — I might find that non-Cascade yarns take more than an ounce to complete a stripe, leaving me with not enough yarn to meet the demands of the little paper pieces assigned to it, or the opposite, that I have extra of some colors to use up or, quite likely, both — but having this framework to check myself against will be very helpful. And with the brain work done, I can just sit back and crochet now.

Friday, December 5, 2008

In which I declare that I have an etsy shop

I do. It's here.

I had been holding off announcing it until I polished every nook and cranny (still haven't written a bio or figured out how to make the banner thing have both words and a photo), but if I wait until the site is absolutely right before I tell anyone about it, it'll never happen. I wholeheartedly believe that the perfect is the enemy of the good (which, seriously, if I were ever going to embroider a saying onto a pillow, that would be the one), and letting people know about it is a good way of keeping my momentum going so that I make a point of finishing the remaining site stuff I want to do.

I've had a lot of fun with the whole endeavor so far, thinking about what I want the pieces to look like, sourcing the chains and all of the vintage bits and bobs that go into them, actually making the stuff, taking photos, writing the copy and coming up with names, thinking about packaging... My overarching theme is What I Like. So, there's nothing in there that I wouldn't wear myself (in case no one ever buys anything ;)), and everything is priced to be impulse-purchase friendly. I know that I don't like to spend more than $25 on jewelry I haven't seen in person, and I'm not interested in shlock. So, nothing is more than $25 at this point and it's good-quality stuff, both the components and the finished goods.

I feel like a colossal dork announcing a commercial enterprise like this, but realize that I have to get over that if I want to make a go of this as a wee business. So, please check it out if you're so inclined and thank you for your attention. [curtsy]

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Spectacle Spectacular the first

Liz and I put on our best spectacles last night for the first episode of Elvis Costello's new show, Spectacle. The plan is to make a dinner each week that is inspired by his guest(s). I have to confess that those aren't my official spectacles — they were my dad's when he was in high school, but they were such a good match that I had to bust them out.
Liz's groovy cat-eyes:The show is great, a fun combination of music and conversation. Elton John was on, talking primarily about his songwriting and some of his early influences, especially musicians like Laura Nyro and Leon Russell who may not be as well known. I've never really cared about Elton John one way or the other and actually thought he was kind of cheesy, truth be told, but I came away impressed. I like hearing creative people talking about their creative processes and he was thoughtful and appealingly self-deprecating. Check out what we made for dinner here.

Next week is going to be awesome: Lou Reed and Julian Schnabel.