Thursday, July 21, 2011

My daughter and I have been into nursery rhymes lately. Her fledgling reading skills are blossoming (excuse the mixed metaphor) with texts that rhyme and have predictable patterns and rhythms.

So as we were reading Mother Goose the other night, I stumbled over this rhyme, one I'd heard as a child but never really thought about before.

Draw the latch,
Sit by the fire and spin,
Take a cup,
And drink it up,
And call the neighbors in.

This isn't a fun rhyme to teach counting or a silly rhyme to make children laugh--this is emotional instruction! Coping skills passed down as a poem!

If you are feeling grouchy or overwhelmed,
Take some time for yourself,
Be comfortable and do something with your hands,
Have a cup of tea (or something stronger?!)
Then, open the door to company.

Mother Goose's version is, of course, more catchy.

Most knitters will agree that knitting can get them into a flow state, the same one experienced by athletes, or anyone engaged in something absorbing and enjoyable. And repetitive activities are proven to lower blood pressure and reduce stress. (Dr Oz says to choose doing the dishes over watching TV to wind down!)

I love the idea of women generations ago recognizing that solitude + spinning + tea = Serenity Now!

OK, fellow Crosspatches, do you find that your knitting or other handwork helps you to recharge?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

iPad lust

I have a serious case of iPad lust...

And this post Is. Not. Helping.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Live Oak Reminiscence

There wasn't very much that was lovely about that apartment complex. It was old-ish and musty, surrounded by newer, jazzier gated complexes, with bad parking and scary laundry rooms and a pool continually closed by maintenance issues.

We chose it because it was the least expensive option while we lived on one income in this hot, hot, place so far from home. This place of cockroaches and strange poky grass and hibiscus and great food and bad pollution and oil and music and sprawl.

But the one thing I loved there were the live oaks.

I don't know what makes a live oak different from just a regular oak, but they are beautiful. Soaring, knobbly branches; tiny, lovely acorns; scratchy, weathered bark. They decorated our neighborhood and our courtyard, and during the three months I both lived and worked in that dingy little apartment because my boring unfulfilling office job ended abruptly, I would open the windows and listen to the breeze (when there was a breeze) blow through their lovely, gnarled branches, and dream of the Northwest.

No tree here--maybe because we have so many, an embarrassment of riches--makes me quite as happy.

So, when I saw Rosemary Hill's pattern for the "Live Oak Shawlette" in the latest issue of Knitscene, it just spoke to me.

This half-circle shawl flew on and then off my needles in a crazy-fast way--just a couple of days (and couple of long Tour de France stages) from cast-on to bind off.

It's pictured here about two-thirds bound off, as I caught the waning gray July-in-the-PNW light. Tonight it's going to take a bath and then get blocked to its more lovely, leafy, tweedy glory. I'm not even sure what its fate will the adventure that took us so far from home and taught us so much in the land of live oaks, I'll let the universe guide me.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Do you like bright colors? Many many bright colors, in different patterns, the more the merrier? If so, you and Miss E would get along. She is a fan of all things bright, and at age nearly-five she can pull it off with aplomb.

I'm not one of those moms that dictates clothing choices for the kids. We have had to add limits on, say, shorts in winter (it has to be at least 50...remember, that's warm in the Pacific Northwest), and for some occasions (weddings, parties, picture day) we have put our parental feet down and, shall we say, steered the fashion ship a bit.

But mostly, for Miss E, it's bright colors and patterns and lots of layers. (That is when she's not running around with her big brother with bare feet and no shirt.)

This summer, I was searching for a project that would use up the skein of KnitPicks Chroma Fingering that I bought with her in mind. (The colorway is called Pegasus--how perfect is that for a four-year-old girl?) I had just bought Sock Yarn One-Skein Wonders and had been poring over it for a while. I saw this sweater pattern, and though it was only sized for a 6- or 12-month baby, I thought I could adapt it. I really thought it would look great in the Chroma because of the combination of the striped yoke and chevron-lace body.

I cast on more stitches than the pattern called for, and used a bigger needle, too. (Details are on my Ravelry project page if you are so inclined.) It knit up quickly and easily, and aside from a knot in the yarn and then a reversal of the color pattern (thank goodness I noticed that!) I really enjoyed working with the Chroma.

And we found the perfect buttons!


Saturday, July 09, 2011

Book Review: The Lost Gate by Orson Scott Card

I do a lot of reading--so I've decided, inspired by my friend Laura, again, to begin posting, on occasion, reviews of what I read. I'll do fiction, knitting books, other publications--whatever's on my bedside table. Let me know what you think!

Review: The Lost Gate by Orson Scott Card (2010)
384 pages. (This review is of the hardback book club edition.)

Nutshell: 45% American Gods + 45% Percy Jackson series + 10% Twilight
AKA: Ancient gods are the new vampires.

Orson Scott Card is the author of arguably the most popular YA novel for boys of all time: Ender's Game. This is not to say that Ender's Game isn't a great book for both genders, but its male protagonist, futuristic-videogame-combat setting and slight seasoning of ethical dilemma seems to especially resonate with males of a certain age.

In The Lost Gate, Card reaches, stretches, and fails to capture the EG magic, creating a novel with an interesting, if unoriginal, premise--that the "Old Gods" of mythology still exist in our world (paging Mr. Card: have you heard of Neil Gaiman or Rick Riordan?)--and a protagonist, Danny North, who swings wildly from believable teen to laughably this-is-how-adults-think-teenagers-talk-think-and-feel. There's a secondary/companion story that hews closer to European-influenced fantasy: medieval-ish setting, castles, intrigue, secret identities.

I have my own personal beefs with (and love of) Card's books, having read the Ender series and (almost all of) the Alvin Maker series.

Let's start with the admiration: Card unabashedly loves America: American folk beliefs, accents, dialects, and geography. He's able to describe magical abilities on a near-molecular level, helping the reader understand and almost almost believe that the abilities could be real. He knows how to pace an action scene. He writes dialogue, particularly dialogue in dialect, without sounding clunky or too stereotypical, and has a naturalistic way of sliding in the vocabulary of the world of the book, making it seem acquired rather than alien.

That said, Card's style also often leaves me cold. He forces his personal belief system into his novels, and as soon as he does, they lose their magic and become clunky allegory. (That's why I stopped reading the Alvin Maker series.) He doesn't write female characters well; they come in three flavors: subservient/flavorless, scheming, and Auntie Mame.

So, then: The Lost Gate.

Synopsis: Danny North, pre-teen and seemingly-powerless member of a powerful family living on a hidden compound in western Virginia, discovers he's powerful, after all, and explores the dangers and joys of his newfound abilities. Meanwhile, on another world, a nameless, memory-less, ALSO seemingly-powerless character known as Wad is involved in his own mysterious journey of self-knowledge.

He tried to understand what it meant to “serve” stone or water, wind or the electricity of lightning in the air. But the stones bruised his fingers and moved for him only if he threw them; the wind only blew his hair into a tangled mop, and storms and ponds left him wet, cold, and powerless. Far from being precocious, with magic he was slow. Worse than slow. He was inert, making no visible progress at all.
Yet, except for the loneliness, he didn’t hate his life. His long rovings in the woods were a pleasure to him. Since neither tree nor animal was drawn to him, he simply ran, becoming swift and tireless, mile after mile. (15)

Nice descriptions of magical abilities, and creation of a believable system of magic. Card is able to construct the system without the “and now you’re getting the anthropological background of how magic works in this reality” section so prevalent in fantasy novels, usually bringing the narrative to a screeching halt. The tone shifted believably between Wad’s and Danny’s worlds.

Some meaningless episodic stuff happened in the middle that then got dropped in favor of the overall arc. Danny discovers a murdered family! (What?) Danny wants to go to public high school! (In a cafeteria scene that reminded me so much of Twilight that I wanted to scream, he inexplicably heals a bunch of people and, basically, no one bats an eye.)
Additionally, the whole “gods still walk among us” trope seems a mite played out, especially when (as I mentioned above) Gaiman did it so well for adult readers, and Riordan continues to for middle readers. Perhaps Card intends this series (it’s clearly not done yet) to fit in the middle ground for high school readers? The scatological humor and sexual situations point this direction... (Which brings me to:)

One boo to stereotypical adult characters. Who here has ACTUALLY had a sadistic gym teacher? A “climb that rope, kid, because I don’t like you” gym teacher? I didn’t think so.
Two boos to gratuitous and creepy sexual content. One adult female character could have just as easily been portrayed as the crazy she was without having her make inappropriate overtures to Danny.
Three big boos to semi-sadistic violence without plot or character purpose. (Which is, I guess, what gods do. But still!)

Those who liked but have grown out of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. (I’d recommend The Lost Hero, also by Rick Riordan, over this one, though.)

There were enough good things in The Lost Gate to make me open to reading a sequel, although the female characters make me feel all squirmy inside. But I’ll check any subsequent books out from the library; not buy-worthy.