27 January, 2008

Book Review: The Orphan's Tale: In the Night Garden by Catherynne M. Valente

Since this is my first official review, blog-wise, I should probably disclose that I rarely hate books. I've been reading voraciously since I was 3 years old, and in the last 26 years I've developed a pretty good sense for whether I'll like a book or not by reading the cover/flap and maybe the first page or two. I don't read the last page first or skip ahead or even read other people's opinions of books if I can help it. It is my opinion that a book should stand up on its own covers without help from passersby or that guy from Maxim who got fired to shill the story. I also have a bit of OCD when it comes to reading things In Order. Terry Pratchett's Discworld series makes me itch not because the stories are bad (they are in fact wonderful and hilarious) but because they don't come In Order. It's something I'm trying to overcome. It may not work.
Lastly, I'm sort of a fiction kind of girl. I rarely read non-fiction unless it is the autobiography of someone like Charlie Chaplin or Katherine Hepburn. I read to escape reality, which may have colored my view of the real world just a little. And it will not surprise you, having read this far, that my book collection contains mainly Classics, Fantasy and Chick-Lit.

Catherynne M. Valente's work is haunting and lovely. Also, her name is hard to spell. She does an excellent job of weaving her stories together; if In the Night Garden were a textile, it would be an intricately braided piece of silk - nearly impossible and utterly fascinating. The story begins with a girl who was born with raccoon-like stains around her eyes. Her people call her a demon and throw her out into the garden of the palace to die or survive as she may. A young boy - one of the sultan's sons - sneaks out to meet this strange girl and is told that the stains around her eyes are actually stories, written in impossibly tiny script. He begs her to tell him her tales, and from there it's a masterfully crafted web of fantastic stories one nested inside the other.

"Grown-up fairy tale" is a phrase that gets tossed around a lot lately; the media seems to be as enchanted by child-like fantasy with more adult themes as the public is. Studios attempt to lure in adults with no children using these words, trying to appeal to a sense of whimsy that has gone out of the world we know and been replaced by a slight sense of panic underlying everything we see on the news and read in the papers. This book is also a grown-up fairy tale, but not in the way that Pan's Labyrinth was with its adult themes, or Enchanted was with jokes that appeal to both children and adults. In the Night Garden is grown-up because of the multiple layers of complexity involved. It is whimsical without being ridiculous,which is a difficult line to maintain.

I like Valente's story-telling style. She has also written books of poetry, and her poet's background adds fluidity to her writing. I keep coming up with imagery that involves silk and water and other such smooth surfaces when trying to describe this work; suffice it to say that I found it utterly delightful and will be reading more of Valente's work, including her poetry.

25 January, 2008

Icicle Toes

I have finally figured out why I'm so cold all the time. Or at least since winter came and I moved my desk. The cat door that leads onto the porch is about 2 feet from my toes, and baby, it's been very not-warm here in sunny CA.

Now, I'm from Alaska. I know cold, and I'd like to make one thing quite clear. This weather? Not cold. But also, not warm. It's brisk and breezy and rainy, which makes my 1970's apartment complete with single-paned windows (and lots of 'em, thanks to being an end unit for which I am eternally grateful but also) not especially cozy. Ahh, I love a mystery solved. I knew it wasn't the over-indulgence in caffeine. Whew! And can I just point out that for an area that gets rain for a good 2-3 months out of the year (cry me a river), these South Bay-ers are NOT PREPARED for a little dew? The freeways are flooded and no one seems to know how to drive when they have to use the wipers, their lights and steer at the same time. Bah!

Several things have happened in the last week or so. I started another baby sweater and ripped the Seed Stitch Shoes, which will appear again in another incarnation, probably smaller. The baby sweater, affectionately dubbed the Egyptian Jungle Cardigan, has 4/5 of the pieces knitted and will be sewn, blocked and buttoned by the end of the weekend. Next up? Some sort of matching hat and booties. Perhaps the Cat Bordhi socks?

School started. Hooo, boy. This semester will be a test to see how well organized I am. Six classes, five of which are upper division? I'm a little nervous. Tomorrow I'm going out to buy what books I can from the SJSU bookstore, and ordering the rest from Powells. I'd order them all from Powells just on principle, but apparently textbooks ship from the "you pay shipping no matter what" warehouse. So there's that.

I also plied the Flor de Loto singles from a yarn cake, a la Miss Violet's suggestion. It worked like a charm!

Flor de Loto, 3.5 oz, 233 yards

I even remembered to set up the ball winder 6 feet away from the bobbin like Father Amos says to even out the twist in the singles. The plying did a great job hiding the inconsistencies in my yarn.

I got my grant money check from the school and promptly fell down in my 12-Mile Quest. A skein of honey-colored Trenna and some SeaSilk leapt into my cart before I could blink at Little Knits - that's 1686 yards of yarn on their way, so I need to get done with 3372 yards (2325 more than I have currently...) before I order anything else. That's gonna be a challenge, but isn't that the point? I DID have a metric crapton of fiber in my cart at Paradise Fibers, but walked away with only new bobbins and a tensioned Lazy Kate, which go under the heading of supplies - a heroic effort, I might add. I also got a 2-year Flickr membership, so now I'm "pro." Essentially that means the Disneyland photos are up and that I organized many of my photos into understandable groups.

Lastly, an interesting thing has happened on Fridays at Bella's ballet class. The first day I was there, no one said anything to me so I simply sat and knitted. The next week, one of the moms started talking to me about knitting and went to the car to grab hers. This week, there were two other women knitting with me and chatting, and one elderly Dutch lady who is utterly delightful offered me all her old patterns from "during the war" because she can't knit anymore due to arthritis. It's been fun and entertaining. Bella even got re-interested in her knitting this evening, and did two whole rows before her mother arrived to take her somewhere.

And now? I'm off to sit in a heated room and finish the cardigan. Ahhh, stockinette, where would we be without you?

17 January, 2008

Baby Boom

Last night I finished seaming the BabyBean's Boatneck Sweater! It's my first actual fitted garment project; socks and shawls and scarves (oh my!) don't really count as "fitted" in my estimation. I was thrilled and stunned that it worked out so well. I changed a couple of things in the pattern, but nothing major. I left both the front and back with looong tails on a Knit Picks Options cable so the last stitches would be live, then grafted the shoulders together and used a sewn bind-off across the neck. It worked quite well and helped cut down on the number of seams.

Happy Chinese Apple Sweater with Quarter and Kitty Foot

That's a quarter for scale - it's pretty tiny, so I'll have to get it to ButterBean quickly so that A) it still fits and B) it's still cool enough to wear in San Diego. The whole thing took about 170 yards total, which left me plenty of Classy for another couple of baby items. A cute matching hat, perhaps?

Then I picked up the leftover blue I dyed for my Egyptian Sock last spring and began a pair of the Seed Stitch shoes. See how well I'm keeping to the list? Enjoy it while it lasts, folks.

Amorphous Blob of Baby Shoe with Kitty Tocks

I know, they don't look like shoes, do they? But soon they will, or I'm hoping so; they at least look like the model in the book so far. I was totally enchanted with this pattern last night because apparently I like seed stitch. There are a few fun little tricks to this, like casting on 5 stitches cable-style at the end of a row to make a little flap. I've never knitted like this before, so it's kinda fun. Incidentally, the book for both of these patterns is Baby Knits for Beginners by the amazing Debbie Bliss. I would recommend it to anyone who wants to try some garment shaping without committing to a whole grown-up sized sweater. There are drop-shoulder and raglan sweaters, short row collars and even plackets in there, and all small enough that the project doesn't take 500 years. I may just work my way through it sweater-by-sweater.

And lastly, the What Socks To Cast On question has been answered! I know you all were on tenterhooks waiting to find out which sock I'd pick. I chose the Azure socks from Knitty, at which point I remembered that I'd never done toe-up socks before, and oh that cast on is new too. I think I ripped the toe of the sock about 4 times before it worked out. So after roughly 3 hours of knitting, I've got this much sock:

Mostly-correct Valencia Azure Sock

That's about 8 pattern rows in. It's slow going to say the least; the pattern isnt' very forgiving in terms of showing you where you messed up. But I'll get there, and in the mean time I'm enjoying knitting with a bright, happy yarn that still smells faintly of Orange Kool-Aid. And now I must take the new car to get an oil change and find out if there's a leak in the engine coolant tank or if it's just empty. Good thing there's a Starbucks nearby.

I finished Vallente's The Orphan's Tale: In the Night Garden last night. It's a stunning book, and there will be a review shortly. I'm working on it.

14 January, 2008

Twelve Mile Quest

On Friday night my Little Brother called and announced that he was coming to visit for the weekend, which turned out to be wicked good fun. We played World of Warcraft (Little Brother brought his new computer) pretty much the whole time, but I managed to finish his Charade socks and send them home with him. Of course I also forgot to take a picture because I am a Bad Blogger.

I also did this:
Singles with Wine (ahh hah hah...)
Wine brings things together
That's the Copperpot Woolies Dye4U that I won in her Birthday Bash awhile ago. In the spirit of Finishalongapalooza '08, I completed the first sleeve of the Boatneck Sweater from Debbie Bliss as well. Only one sleeve and the blocking/seaming to go!

And last night I jumped in to the Frog Pond with both feet. I ripped Charade Sock #1 (The One That Didn't Fit Right), my Cookie A German Stocking and my dad's My So-Called Scarf. I also re-skeined the Blue Fir lace weight left over from the Victorian Shawl and the lovely sage Cherry Tree Hill I got from my awesome Hogwart's Swap 2 partner.

The skeins are all patiently awaiting a soak and their turn on the drying rack to return them to a useable state. When I'll get to use them is another matter entirely.

It's strange to have no socks on my needles. They've been my take-along project for awhile now, and suddenly I don't really have any. The shawls aren't so great for taking along with me to work since I tend to make it about 45 seconds before Bella needs a glass of water/help with a homework problem/me to shoo her dad out of the room so she can concentrate on homework. Perhaps I'll start my mother's Clessidra stockings. Or maybe the mini socks from Cat Bordhi's New Pathways book. Hmmm, decisions, decisions!

Lastly, I've decided to embark upon a quest to reduce the proportion of yarn/fiber I buy to how much I use. In the last few months, I've amassed an actual stash of fiber that, considering how long I've been spinning (2 weeks), rivals my yarn stash (1 year). In the last week I've picked up five pounds of roving. Yes, you read that right. Five POUNDS. OMG. There is a picture-heavy post in my future.

The Quest:
12 miles of yarn knitted or roving spun in the next 9 months. That's 21,120 yards of yarn or the equivalent of 48 pairs of socks (eep!).
My Start Date: Jan 6, 2008 (backdated from 1/14/08, see below)
My Finish Date: Sept 6, 2008

1. Buying yarn/roving comes at a 2:1 ratio. Wanna buy 4oz of roving? Spin 8 first.
2. Mileage must be actual. If a pair of socks takes only 400 yards in a 460 yard skein, only the 400 yards count. Leftover yardage will be calculated by weight.
3. Items On The Needles/Bobbin count as of My Start Date
4. Only finished handspun counts (not singles)
5. Supplies such as extra bobbins/needles do not count, but pattern books do. Use the library.

I'm going to work backwards from Jan 6 so that I can count starting with the Grape Jelly roving and include the Charade socks - it's always nice to have a bit of a boost at the beginning. As Mario said, Here we go!

06 January, 2008

L&V's Finishalongapalooza '08

I've got the name wrong, I'm sure, but here is the thing I want to finish before I start anything else:

1. Gabe's Charade socks. Done 1/13/08, yay!

There's only one thing on the list because my dear friend LaurieBean's son Avery arrived on the 27th and it's time to start some baby things for him. I know that if I don't do it soon, he'll be big and the knitting will take longer, so I'm finishing up the Charades (about 55% done at this point) and then switching to the Debbie Bliss Baby Knits for Beginners book that I checked out from the Los Altos Library. Yesterday I went to Purlescence and picked up the Spinning Bible, a bunch of Dream in Color Classy and Smooshy:
Left to right: Classy Chinatown Apple, November Muse, Happy Forest. Smooshy Good Luck Jade

And somehow this jumped into my bag as well, oops!

Louet Arctic Wool/Silk, 8oz for eventual Mystic Waters Shawl

When I came home, I picked out a bunch of patterns in Ravelry for fingering or worsted weight yarns. They need to be finished before I do anything else, so add to the Finishalong '08 list:

2. Cargo pants Done 2/6/08
3. Boat Neck Sweater Done 1/16/08
4. Jacket with Seed Stitch Bands
5. Three pairs of mini-socks from Cat Bordhi's new book
6. Curly-Toed Elf Slippers from Weekend Knitting (also a library find)
7. Flower Power from Knitty Fall 07. (Isn't that baby in the picture ridiculously adorable? I want to snorggle his chubby little cheeks.)

I know those 6 things look like a lot, but they're small things on big needles. I think I can hack it. I'm pretty sure. Maybe I should start today.

After the BabyBean-a-thon, it's back to finishing already-started things:

8. Faina (still AWOL) Found 1/22
9. My So-Called Scarf for my dad

The scarf may end up a felted something-or-other. I really don't like the itch factor of the Manos Del Uruguay, and it's not going to make a good scarf. Maybe I'll get some Malabrigo instead and make a French Market Bag out of the Manos. So change it to:

9. Frog unwanted projects (German Stockings, MSC Scarf, etc.) Done 1/13/08
10. Swallowtail Shawl Frogged 2/7, will re-start at some later date

And that's 10.

I finished and sent off the Super Secret S---x Project. If you're not S---x, here's the finished product. I hope she likes it!

On the spinning front, I've managed to spin every day in January so far in honor of NaSpiMoMo. I know, it's only the 6th, but it's a start! I spun up and plied 4oz of Louet's Grape Jelly pencil roving:

Gratuitous pre-plying shot

and I'm 1/2-way through some Copperpot roving. This particular roving is a little slubby, so in my newbishness I'm having trouble drafting it well.

But I divided it in two and will put each half on a bobbin, then ply them together. Hopefully it'll be nice and barber-poley and not look like a jumbled mess!

03 January, 2008

It's Here!!

I came home last night to a big box from Paradise Fibers, and instead of taking a picture I opened it and immediately set about putting my new wheel together. The whole affair took about 20 minutes, but it would have gone faster if I'd done what the very first direction said and read through them all first. I was convinced that there would be a part missing or something would be cracked or damaged (the box with 500 "FRAGILE!" labels was not in pristine condition... UPS I'm looking at you!), but everything was present and accounted for. It is beautiful and needs a name, but that will come in time.
The photo is a bit dark, but it's the best i could do under the rushed "I wanna play!" circumstances. To start, I grabbed what was left of the Daphne roving I bought from Zero back in July and just... started. No books, no real instructions, just started. And shockingly, it went just fine, but there was a nagging fear in the back of my head. Spinning is great, the wheel is gorgeous, but what if I get bored? What if I hate it and it's just one of those things that the moment you get one, you don't want it anymore? I went to bed terrified that all of my longing was for nothing, and (worse) that ManCandy's and my family's good wishes and money were for nothing. It's a sinking feeling, that.

When I woke up this morning, I realized something. I'm not a spinner yet. I haven't read a book or taken a class, I haven't played with the Wheel for more than an hour, and I'm not good at it yet. I hate not being good at things. If I'm not good at something immediately, rushing to the head of the class without studying or working at all let alone hard, I give up and find something I am good at. Knitting was the exception; I plowed away at it until I felt like I could call myself a knitter because if it could be considered child labor in the 17th century, I could certainly do it. Spinning is a natural offshoot of knitting - or perhaps the other way 'round - and it's something I will have to get good at. I hopped out of bed and threw on a sweatshirt, then came face to face with the Wheel. It looked intimidating.

So I put on a pot of coffee and read my internets. Then I listened to CastOn and played some WoW (don't get me started...). But after about a half an hour, the thing sitting next to me started to whisper quietly of the roving in my closet, the fleeces my mother gave me, and the possibility of plying what was on my drop spindle with whatever ended up on the bobbin, which ended up being this:

Not super pretty, but not a complete disaster either. I put that bobbin on the built-in Lazy Kate, put on a fresh one and snugged up the Scotch tension (brilliant system!), and wound the singles from my drop spindle onto a second bobbin. Then I plied them together all by myself, and when the wheel singles ran out and I still had half of a bobbin of drop spindle singles left, I Navajo plied the rest. And here it is, my first bobbin of yarn from my first roving ever. Unfortunately it's superwash, otherwise it would make a great felted project. As it is, I'm not sure what to do with it; it won't be very soft or easy to work with or even very nice to wear, but I'm proud of my little bobbin anyway.

Oh, yes. That feeling of worry is gone, all right. Although as I sit here, my feet have the stranges feeling of treadling up and down despite being flat on the floor.