Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Dec. 31: The Last Day

I didn't even get used to writing "2014" on my checks yet, and here it is the last day of this year. Wow.

We had a nice, low-key Christmas, with more emphasis on the good food and company than on Presents Per Se, and it was very warm but also finally cleared and got sunny--what a relief after a month of nearly unrelieved gloom. It's now cold--6 last night, 12 now, with no snow in the forecast, but perhaps some skating. We had a similarly good but mellow time at Mom's/Auburn; John and Beth had to leave early, but we had a nice visit overall, with J/B at the start and then T/E and Ann at the end. I especially liked seeing Alex, who has settled and grown a great deal. We played a lot of backgammon, and he told Ellyn that I'm his favorite aunt. :)

I am partway through Unbroken and I'm not loving it--he's an interesting character, for sure, but Hillenbrand's writing doesn't capture me and I am not looking forward to the upcoming half of the book that's all torture and suffering. Nate has also gotten me into "Sherlock," so we've watched three epis in the last two days, which is great for my knitting but not so great for my reading! I'm nearly up to the armpits on Nate's front, and I finished Susan's hat version #2 last night, so I'll sew in the ends and block it today, hoping to mail it (and get some money from her!) on Friday.

Nice long walk with Julie K yesterday, and I plan to swim around 10 today. Andy and I both put in two hours on school yesterday, and I hope to do that today and tomorrow as well.

In the meantime. . . . books!

The Handsome Man's Deluxe Café (No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, #15)The Handsome Man's Deluxe Café by Alexander McCall Smith
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Fun, fast, fluffy. Interesting to see the characters of Charlie and Mma Ramotswe's assistant develop. Again, a pleasure!

Murder on the Orient Express (Hercule Poirot, #10)Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a great edition: it just asks to be picked up and read at night, before bed--I gave into its lures, and took it home from school (no idea why we have a class set there, but we do!). I think I've seen the movie version, but I don't think I've ever read the actual novel. Despite my predilection for mysteries, I never did the whole Agatha C. oeuvre, perhaps because my various libraries never had her whole collection. . . but anyway, I had the feeling that this was a classic twist story, so I pretty much knew the solution from the start, but it was interesting to see the plot unfold.

All in all, this was a pleasure to read: entertaining, detailed, bad guy as dead man, just enough complexity to keep me interested without demanding too much--a perfect novel for the busy days before Christmas!

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Saturday, December 20, 2014

Dec. 20: REALLY?

How the heck did most of November and most of December get by me with no posting? Probably part of it has been my resolution to read more and knit more and waste less time on the "interwebs," but it's also been pretty busy. I plan to head upstairs to put away laundry, change the bed, write and print a Christmas letter for our card, and then come back down to update the blog. We'll see if that all happens. .  . but in the meantime, here's my latest audiobook victory/pleasure: I listened to all of Bleak House. The review is below; I have to admit that I also thought that the resolution of the Lady Deadlock plot was disappointing: I felt like one of my students, gaping, saying, "Is THAT all there is? What the heck?!" However. It's a ONE THOUSAND PAGE PLUS paperback, and if that is the only objection, then I think it's pretty darn good.

Bleak House Bleak House by Charles Dickens
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've wanted to read Bleak House for a long time, but the fact that it's about a legal case put me off. I should've trusted Dickens's story telling talents: what a remarkable story! What memorable characters! Once again, Dickens's support for every day people and their struggles as well as his social conscience add energy and vision to an incredible tapestry of characters and plot. Sean Barrett and Teresa Gallagher are perfect narrators. I was enthralled for the 35 hours--and that's saying something!

The only quibbles are my usual issue with the saintly female persona that Dickens sometimes creates (Dora in David Copperfield, for example): Esther gets perilously close to that by the end, but her long-suffering is balanced out by the profusion of wonderful other women, including independent businesswoman Caddy Jellaby and "poor Miss Flyte". (Guessing at the spelling, of course, since I've only heard and not read it!)

Also, I had to re-download this to get it to play on my ipod, as it didn't automatically come in three sections, which was an unexpected hitch resolved by Audible's support.

Anyway: I can see, again, why Dickens was a Victorian literary rock star. Wow.

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This is really an "ETA" section: It's Monday, Dec. 22: we have school today and tomorrow to make up for our unexpected three day break due to power outages in early November. While it will make sense in June, it pretty much sucks right now, but people--kids and teachers alike--have been putting a good front on it. I left school right at 2:30 today, and the house is empty and quiet, the dark is gathering, the tree and little lights are on, and I'm relaxing with a cup of tea before I go up to tidy the guest room for Mom and then go to yoga at 5:30. Pretty close to heaven!

I have been knitting a lot lately: first a hat for Susan for cash that turned out to be too snug, so I am redoing it with bigger needles and more "poof" for after C'mas (when I will still need cash!); I also am reworking N's sweater in Sheplova mushroom Peace Fleece using the Yankee Knitter roll neck pullover pattern. I think it's been knitted three times (this is the third) so I hope it fits/appeals. I have the back done, and am trying to get some of the front done so he'll feel like it's really a likely present. On Saturday I saw a woman wearing an oatmeal version of the JCrew sweater I have in greeny brown (and adore), and N said that she said a friend knitted it for her, so he's on a mission to ask her about it when she comes into the Moo again. *I* think it's the J. Crew sweater, but if it's a pattern, my life just got easier. Quince and Co, here we come!

Wow. It is peaceful and lovely in the house right now! Nate should be home from work momentarily, and Andy, too, and I'm not sure where Lyle is (he fired up his blast furnace in the back yard today for the first time! He got home last night. . . . priorities. . . .), but right now it's Miranda, Swipe, Zeus, me, and the trees, with steadily gathering darkness outside. I think this has been the darkest stretch of time I can remember, weatherwise, but since I've been leaving after 4 so often, even sunny days (of which there have been few) have felt dark. Still, peace is a nice replacement for sunshine if one has to choose.

I still have various stocking stuffers to buy, and Christmas danish to make, but I am not really fussing: I feel like last year, esp. when we went to Freeport, I was trying to make too many people happy, so I am done with that. I want to be clear about what I want/need, enjoy what I get, and be okay about the whole experience. Over vacation, I'd like to
--read Unbroken and maybe the Sue Monk Kidd book with birds in the title.
--finish at least one skirt/sewing project.
--see at least two movies on the big screen.
--do at least one outdoor winter activity. Tubing? Skating?
--get my toes done OR do my toenails. Long time, no polish!

That's it. Doable? Seems like it!

So. In closing, before I go organize my project room into The Guest Room, I want to share a lovely poem in honor of the solstice. Great memories of Christmas Revels and Susan Cooper's Dark is Rising books:

The Shortest Day by Susan Cooper

So the shortest day came, and the year died,
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away.
They lighted candles in the winter trees;
They hung their homes with evergreen;
They burned beseeching fires all night long
To keep the year alive,
And when the new year's sunshine blazed awake
They shouted, reveling.
Through all the frosty ages you can hear them
Echoing behind us - Listen!
All the long echoes sing the same delight,
This shortest day,
As promise wakens in the sleeping land:
They carol, feast, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends,
And hope for peace.
And so do we, here, now,
This year and every year.
Welcome Yule!