Friday, December 30, 2016

The Best Books I Read This Year

This has really been a banner year for good books. Am I getting better at choosing? Are my tastes expanding? Probably yes.

To choose these books, I went through all my 2016 GoodReads reviews asking myself if I would re-read that book. I don’t re-read very often, but, in the unlikely event that authors stopped writing new books and I got caught up on all the books ever published and had literally nothing else to read, these are the books I would happily read again. These are also the books I try to push on friends and library patrons whenever possible. (Seriously. I sent a woman home with Ghost Summer just last week. I’ll consider it a personal affront if she doesn’t enjoy it.) They’re listed in alphabetical order by author; no ranking is implied. I read the books this year, but most of them were not published in 2016.

Aiken, Joan. 2016. The People in the Castle.
Aiken died in 2004 before I had ever even heard of her. Luckily for me, her daughter repackaged and republished some of her short stories as The People in the Castle, which got written up on some blog or website or other, and I had a chance to discover her unique, beautiful fairy tales. I’m looking forward to working through her immense bibliography.

Due, Tananarive. 2015. Ghost Summer.
Ghosts stories, people! GOOD ghost stories! And monster stories and human stories and human-monster stories. If you like your literature with a side of creepy, dive in.

Jackson, Shirley. 1962. We Have Always Lived in the Castle.
Shirley Jackson. That is all I have to say. Oh, except for: Thanks, Milton, for reminding me I had been meaning to read this.

Kingsolver, Barbara. 2009. The Lacuna.
Reading about Stalinist Russia and the American anti-Communist hysteria of the 1950s at this particular political moment was grounding. Recalling these eras in history has reminded me that nothing we are going through now is new; there have always been people who tried to enforce one particular way of being American. Pluralism is a luxury we are frequently not allowed to enjoy. And Kingsolver is always good.

Mandel, Emily St. John. 2014. Station Eleven.
I dig stories about how people cope with the end of “civilization.” This one is particularly good.

Yapa, Sunil. 2016. Your Heart Is a Muscle the Size of a Fist.
Tells the story of the 1999 WTO protests in Seattle from the perspective of the protestors, the officers, and a diplomat.

Honorable Mention
I particularly enjoyed these, but they’re not “re-readable.”

Bradbury, Ray. 1953. Fahrenheit 451.
Butler, Octavia. 1979. Kindred.
Hernandez, Carlos. 2016. The Assimilated Cuban’s Guide to Quantum Santeria.
Hugo, Victor. 1862. Les Miserables.
Nguyen, Viet Thanh. 2015. The Sympathizer.
West, Lindy. 2016. Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

What It's Like to "Own" a Dog


You’re supposed to get up at the same time every day, and that’s where dogs come in, because if you get up at 6:15 five days a week, she’s pretty much going to insist that you get up at that time on days off, too. And then refuse to go out because the neighbors’ sprinklers are running and the noise is too scary. So you have to put on pants and put her in her harness and take her out front. You think you’ll just take her in the front yard and she’ll do her business and you can come back in, but nowhere in the front yard meets her demanding pee spot specifications, so you end up walking up the street and finally, three houses up, she squats. Okay. You can turn around and go home now. Except now she thinks you’re on a walk and doesn’t want to go home. There are things to smell in the next block, dammit! So when you try to turn back, she plants her little feet and, in an astounding abrogation of the laws of physics, turns her stocky little fifteen-pound body into a hundred-pound boulder. When you pull on the leash, she tries to bite it. You could pick her up. But.
            So. You decide screw it, claw the sleep crust out of your eyes, and start walking, wondering if the neighbors saw you lose a war of wills to an adorable floof ball. “I didn’t bring a poop bag,” you tell her. “We weren’t supposed to leave the yard. So don’t poop.” And you walk, thinking about how good it is that you have a dog who forces you to exercise and isn’t this what you wanted in the first place when you decided to adopt dogs? A reason to force you out of the house? So this is good, right? Right?
            And then she poops.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Wichita, Take a Look

I saw something today that everyone in Wichita needs to take a look at. I volunteered for the river cleanup this morning and somehow ended up under the Seneca Street bridge next to the Indian Center, where people have lived.


 I and a friend, along with other volunteers, spent 2 hours filling five garbage bags. It took so long  because we had to spend time deciding whether everything we touched was garbage or someone's belonging. Empty cigarette packs: trash. Plastic dishes: leave them. Clothes: wearable or shredded? I folded four or five tee shirts and left them on a rock next to a stack of waterlogged but still readable paperbacks (a Nora Roberts, a James Patterson, Angels and Demons by Dan Brown, and a book about the Titanic). We dug a heavy winter coat out of the bank that looked like it was in good condition, but was so waterlogged and muddy that it would've needed professional drycleaning to be wearable again. We decided to throw it away. I've spent the rest of the day thinking up scenarios that could explain the presence of a plastic dollhouse, none of them good.

All the while, we had to negotiate the boulders and rubble that cover the bank. No one is meant to walk down there, and it isn't safe. Boulders shift as you step on them. Falling on the sharp rock would mean bruises at a minimum, if not broken bones. G's foot slipped between two rocks, and there was a scary moment when I thought she had turned her ankle and we were going to have to figure out how to get us both out of there without hurting ourselves worse. There is no place where someone could stretch out comfortably to truly rest.

The rubble does serve a purpose, though. It's been stacked into small walls so each person has a semi-private area. There were four or five little "apartments" with a communal bonfire area close to the river. Clothes, particularly denim, and styrofoam along with driftwood seem to have been the main sources of fuel. There were empty Ramen packages; I hope it wasn't cooked in river water.

This is the bridge north of the Indian Center where Seneca turns into Greenway. Beautiful Riverside homes are right across the river. The Art Museum is just up the street. We have all driven along here and walked the bike paths to the Keeper of the Plains about a half-mile or so away. Of course I had heard that people lived under Wichita's bridges, but I hadn't seen it. I didn't really know what that meant.

I'm not asking you to volunteer or give money or even change your ideological or political opinions. I'm not trying to guilt you, I swear. I just want you to look, to know that this is Wichita, too.


Monday, June 1, 2015

Sockghan Square 4

Vacation is looming, and I wanted to do a square based on Knitty's Inlay before I leave because this is not a road trip square.


The twisted stitch technique isn't difficult (it's similar to cabling, except instead of reversing the order of the stitches and then knitting them, you knit the stitches out of order), but it's not a "Hey, look at that!" kind of project. Car passenger knitting has to allow for lots of knitting without looking. I don't want to come home and find that my clearest memories are of yarn! So this is a no-go for actual trip knitting, but I was dying to see how it would come out as a square.

The sock pattern has a plain knit round that works as a purl row in the flat version, so it works just fine, but I'm not in love with how I spaced the pattern itself into the square. I'd like to do another one with a little more attention to fitting the pattern into the square less awkwardly. This will probably involve working it out at sometime that is not after 10pm. This is no more suited for bedtime planning than it is road trip knitting.

We leave in a few days. In the next post I hope to have a whole stack of squares to show off! 


Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Sockghan Square 3

The easiest square yet is based on Hermione's Everyday Socks by Erica Lueder.


Other than purling the plain knit rounds, no modifications were necessary for this extra-simple pattern, which only requires the ability to count to four. Cast on 38 (32-stitch pattern plus 3-stitch border), knit three rows of garter, knit pattern until it seemed like the right size, knit three more rows of garter, boom.

This Sockghan thing is going so well that I don't really have anything to worry about here. So I've moved on to obsessing about something else.


Which books should I take?!


Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Sockghan Square 2

So far, this project is going swimmingly. The next entry is Cookie A's Monkey.

The original, well-loved Monkey sock.

Details: Berroco Vintage worsted, size 8 needles, CO 38 (32-stitch pattern plus 3-stitch garter border on each side).

This one was slightly more challenging to knit flat because, in the original pattern knit in the round, there's no plain knit round between the pattern rounds, so when knitting flat you can't purl back to the start and thus keep the pattern entirely on the right side. That meant keeping close track of when purling really meant purling and when it actually meant knitting, and vice versa—not a major headache, but something to pay attention to. I was also never able to find a satisfactory way to knit through the back loop in reverse (you'd think it would be knitting through the front loop, but nope), so the bottom of each V has a tiny unintentional purl bump that no one but me will ever notice. Well, and now you. Please keep it to yourself. Given that I'm going to need 54 squares and have chosen only 12 patterns, I'll get to practice this a few more times and hope to find a solution.

And boy are these fast! Like the Wanida square, this one also cranked out in about 3 hours over 2 days. Getting all the squares knit shouldn't be a problem. Seaming them together, on the other hand, will probably be my downfall.

I haven't decided which square to do next, but I'll try to pick something other than a Cookie A. Because it's not like I'm obsessed with her designs or anything. At all.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Great Sockghan Experiment of 2015: Square 1

Hi Blog! I missed you!

But yeesh, have I been busy with the earning a living thing.

I'm fine. The dogs are fine. The cat is fine. Perpetually angry, but fine.

Nothing much has struck me as worth a blog post for a while, but I thought it would be fun to tell you about my knitting dilemma and how I'm planning to solve it. Later this summer I'll be on a road trip that involves a couple thousand miles of road and several dozen hours in the car. How to fill the time when I'm not driving? Knitting, of course, but what? The criteria for a road trip knitting project are pretty simple: (1) It has to be small enough to fit comfortably in your lap. (2) You don't want to get bored with it. (3) There has to be enough of it.

So shawls and scarves and sweaters are pretty much out. Certainly socks are an option, but--and I hesitate to even mention it--I might be getting a wee bit bored with socks. I could get back to that mitered square sock yarn afghan everybody was working on a couple of years ago, but . . . no, I get bored thinking about hundreds of mitered squares, let alone actually knitting them, although the results of those who actually manage to finish them is always stunning. Crochet afghan squares? No, crochet for too long makes my wrist hurt, but afghan squares, now there's an idea. . . .

And it hit me: My favorite sock patterns, knit flat, as afghan squares. Knit square by square, the project is small enough for comfortable car knitting. Every square will be different, so boredom won't be a problem. And it's an entire afghan. There's no way I'll run out of knitting in 10 days, no matter how much time I spend riding in the car.

To my Ravelry Project Page!

Skimming through my Ravelry project page and simultaneous brainstorming reveals these possibilities, not all of which are actual sock patterns:
2x4s (a 2x4 rib)
Rock-a-Byes (a traveling rib from The Joy of Sox)
Monkeys (Cookie A)
a self-striping in stockinette
Hedera (Cookie A)
Sunday Swing (Knitty)
Diamond Gansey (Socks from the Toe Up)
Almondine (Sock Knitting Master Class)
Inlay (Knitty)
Hermione's Everyday Socks (Erica Lueder)
Wanida (Sock Innovation, Cookie A)
an Eye of Partridge pattern

Linking to each of these would take an age, and if you've read this far, you're a knitter who can find these patterns on your own anyway. I will link to Wanida, the first experimental square. Here she is:



I cast on 37 (the 33-stitch pattern for the top of the foot, plus a 2-stitch garter stitch border) in worsted Berocco Vintage on size-8 straight needles. I knit two rows of garter stitch, and then started the pattern (purling the plain knit rows, of course), knit it until it looked about square, knit two more rows of garter, and cast off. I blocked it to 8 inches square.

So it looks like the general principle of an afghan made of sock patterns is sound. Whether all of the potential patterns will lend themselves to afghan squares so easily I can't say.  At 8 inches square, I'll need 54 squares to make a generous 48" x 72" afghan. I may decide not to be so generous. We'll see. :)