Thursday, February 28, 2008

In Like a Lion

Ha! No, not that lion. I grew up in southern California, with slightly more weather than LA, but not exactly real seasons. We learned all these weather- and season-related things as children anyway. Like March, which is either "in like a lion, out like a lamb" or "in like a lamb, out like a lion." And the groundhog, who had no impact on our weather at all, because no way was winter going to last until mid-March. In Wisconsin, the groundhog was irrelevant, too, since no way would winter be over before mid-March. Anyway, apparently, if March starts out blustery, it will end with nice weather, and vice versa. I have no idea what the scientific basis for this might be. But we had some good storms a couple of days ago, so I'm looking forward to a pleasant end of the month. Spring is in full swing here, with clogged sinuses, rainy, unpredictable weather, and certain neighbors who leave their dog outside to bark ALL DAY because the temperature has risen. Anyway. The spring cleaning bug has bitten me a bit (I told you about all the bugs in the South, right?) and I found myself spontaneously cleaning out the fridge a couple of nights ago when I went to fill up my water glass before going to bed. This is funny, because I barely have time to do "regular" cleaning, much less intense cleaning. So I just clean a bit when the mood strikes me.

Edited to add a couple of blog spring cleaning things: First, I removed word verification since I moderate comments before they're published anyway. If I get annoying spam, I'll add them back in, but for now it's gone. Second, I'm going back and adding tags to older posts, just a couple at a time, when I have a minute. I think this will be a nice feature to have. For now, I'm tagging book reviews, recipes, and Mission Possible.

Knitting: I'm plugging along on SKB, and I'm nearly at the purl ridges at the bottom of the body. Whoa. After that, it's sleeves, then neckline. I'm on ball #3 of Malabrigo, and based on yarn estimates in the pattern, I should be using a bit less than 6. I think I'm going to have a fair bit left over. I'm not even sure I'll need to crack open the fourth ball for the body, and I can't imagine the sleeves and neckline taking half the total amount of yarn. I hope this sweater fits. I'm making a medium, which fits my measurements, and I'm getting gauge, so I'm not sure why the sweater seems...small. Possibly my body image hasn't caught up with my weight loss, which wouldn't be surprising. I hope more sinister forces aren't at work here. If so, I may be giving away an SKB to a more petite person :) I was looking at the sleeves on the model in the pattern, and thinking I want them shorter than that. They nearly cover the model's hands, and I actually have to use my hands on a regular basis, so that would be annoying. If my job were, say, standing around looking pretty, they would be awesome. I still haven't cast on again for Matt's tiger socks, because I've been a bit obsessed with my SKB, and also my SKB is easy to knit while watching Lilah play or while watching tv (I have to confess to you guys that I've been watching Scooby Doo sometimes at 9:00 on the Boomerang channel, whatever that is, commercial-free--real, classic Scooby Doo from my childhood. I find it tremendously therapeutic for some reason.), while the short-row toe needs more of my attention.

Reading: I read the first three Jane Jeffry mysteries by Jill Churchill--Grime and Punishment, A Farewell to Yarns, and A Quiche Before Dying. I read these ages ago, so I'd forgotten who the killers were. Anyway, I enjoyed reading them again. Jane is a widowed housewife with three kids who ends up involved in mysteries in her Chicago suburb. She and her friend Shelley poke around, digging up gossip and domestic facts that elude the police. Lilah loves these books, too, incidentally, because they all have kitty cats on the covers. She'll carry one around, happily saying "Kitty cat, kitty cat, meow." So cute. She will also climb into her chair and "read" them.

I'm now reading Death at Daisy's Folly by Robin Paige, the third Victorian Mystery. I love it. It takes place at a house party, which is so Gosford Park (one of my favorite films ever).

Writing: Having just finished torturing us by taking a month to get in her four molars, Lilah has decided to work on her eye teeth (are they eye teeth? the ones between the four front teeth and the molars, anyway). So sleep has been pretty scarce around here. I have been working on chapter 1, but I did not meet my goal of a revised chapter 1 for February. For March, I'm shooting for chapters 1 & 2 revised, and hoping I get enough sleep so I can think straight.

Cooking: The Malaysian noodle recipe from Cooking Light that I made a mess of last time turned out beautifully when I actually followed the directions. I also made my Pina Colada Muffins (recipe at left), Cuban Black Bean Soup from Cooking Light, and my first recipe from Super Natural Foods, Barley Risotto. This was a fantastic dish, with arugula and citrus and creme fraiche. Yum, yum, yum. Next up is a quinoa dish with mushrooms and cheese. I've cooked with quinoa before, but mostly boring stuff, so I'm looking forward to this.

My husband and I have been on a bit of an ice cream kick lately, and I thought I'd post what I've been up to in that department. Deciding to forgo my usual pint of Ben and Jerry's New York Super Fudge Chunk in reserve in the freezer, I wanted to switch to a lower-calorie, lower-fat treat. And Matt really likes my cookies and cream ice cream, so I had to make a batch.

Note: I have a Rival 1.5 quart ice cream maker that says to use a maximum of 1 quart of liquid. If your machine is bigger or smaller, adjust proportionally. My machine also says to use 1/2 to 3/4 cup of mix-ins, but the Super Fudge Chunk is so packed with "stuff" that it was about 2 1/2 cups' worth. Yowza. So I made the ice cream as usual, then mixed in the chunks (chilled in the fridge) by hand in a bowl that I'd chilled in the fridge and put it into my ice cream containers of choice, those Ziploc plastic containers. Worked just fine. I suppose I could have just made less ice cream, but that's no fun. I chose ice milk since I wanted to save the fat grams for the chunks rather than the ice cream.

My Super Fudge Chunk Ice Cream

Easy chocolate ice milk base*:
2/3 cup cocoa (I used Scharffen Berger non-alkalized)
1/2 cup sugar
dash salt
4 cups whole milk (or use low-fat milk, or half-and-half, or a milk/half-and-half/cream combo, but NEVER skim milk)
1 tsp vanilla extract

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat. Heat, stirring with a whisk, just until cocoa and sugar have dissolved. Chill well. Place in bowl of ice cream maker and process until nearly firm.

About 4 oz. white chocolate, roughly chopped (I used Ghirardelli, but Lindt is fantastic, too. Look for cocoa butter, not tropical oils, in the ingredient list.)
About 4 oz. dark chocolate, roughly chopped (I used a 3.5 oz. bar of Ghirardelli Twilight 72% cocoa, but use your favorite.)
1/3 cup walnut pieces
1/3 cup pecan pieces
1/3 cup chocolate covered almonds

*Use your favorite chocolate ice cream recipe as the base. I was sorely tempted to try this one by David Lebovitz because it uses agave syrup (and I'm obsessed by my Super Natural Foods cookbook right now, which talks about agave syrup) and because Lebovitz wrote The Perfect Scoop, a book of ice cream recipes that is on my "must get" list, but I decided to do a quick and simple base, since the chunks are the real feature here. The ice cream is really just there to hold together the nuts and chocolate. I'll try the agave one some other time, though the five egg yolks put me off a bit. I'm not much for custardy ice cream.

Hahaha! It's a good thing I had fun coming up with how to make this, because when searching for chocolate ice cream recipes on the internet, I found a New York Super Fudge Chunk recipe everywhere. Here it is. Mine is more weighted toward chocolate than nuts because I was using up two bars I had hanging around, but I got it more or less right as far as chunks/dairy products ratio goes.

Cookies and Cream Ice Cream

3/4 cup heavy cream
1 1/4 cup half and half
2 cups whole milk
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
15 Oreo cookies, crushed (I chuck them in a big baggie and break apart with my fingers)

Mix together all ingredients except Oreos. Pour into canister of ice cream maker and run until it's almost solid. Add Oreos and keep going until they're mixed in. Easy peasy.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Another Mission Accomplished!

A big thank you to all of you for your encouragement and suggestions for quick February knits I could knock off! The suggestion of The Last-Minute Purled Beret really grabbed me. Thank you, Emily of MLE Knits for the great suggestion. I hope you enjoy your treats! When Lilah goes down for a nap, I'll raid the stash and we'll head to the post office this afternoon.

Here it is, modeled by one of Lilah's penguins:

Pattern: The Last-Minute Purled Beret by Knit and Tonic
Yarn: Noro Silk Garden in Color #205 (less than one skein)
Needles: Size 7 dpns
Notes: This is sized for an adult, and for heavy worsted yarn. Instead of bogging myself down in math and actually thinking through re-sizing, I just winged it, which worked surprisingly well in the end. I used size 7 needles instead of 9 after swatching with several sizes. I cast of 64 stitches instead of 72, and only knit the brim to 3 1/2 inches instead of 4 1/2. I skipped the first decrease row and went straight to the k2, k2tog decrease row. I cast on too tightly, so when I put the hat on Lilah's head, it took a lot of tugging to get it on. I unpicked the cast-on edge (with mohair! fun!) and bound off loosely, and it was even tighter. I think with the smaller needles, I needed to cast on 72 stitches. I would say this is sized 6-12 months, too small for Lilah's big melon. But! I think it works out great, because Lilah actually hates hats, and I was a little delusional to think she would wear one. She has a little cousin who would love this, and we have friends expecting a girl in June, so I think I'll gift it. Either that, or I'll frog and knit a little bag for Lilah out of it, as she loves purses. But I'm calling it Mission: Accomplished for now. This is such a fun, easy, cute, cute pattern. But I forgot to make it "purled" and automatically wove in my ends on the purl side. Whatever. It doesn't even matter. It's cute regardless. Thank you, Emily!

You know what we haven't had in ages? Pictures just for fun! So here are a couple of Lilah and kitty pictures. Lilah absolutely loves the cats. Mirando isn't that thrilled with her, but Geronimo is such a sweet, tolerant guy. He lets her pet him (and due to constant "Pet the kitty nicely", Lilah isn't too grabby or smacky with the guys), and even put up with a hug and kiss (on his back). So cute. The cats make her so happy. Speaking of which, she's added the word "duck" to her repertoire. And if I ask her what the sheep says, she points to the nearest sheep and says "Baaa!" However, I have yet to persuade her that cows say "Moo" rather than "Baa." "Where's the sheep?" I ask when she's in the bath (she has a bunch of animal bath toys). She grabs the sheep and says "Baaa!" "Where's the cow?" I ask. She grabs the cow and says "Baaa!" "Cows say Mooooooo," I say. She glares at me and yells "Baaaaa!" Um, okay.

Other knitting: I've been working on the SKB a bit. I really need to cast on again for Matt's birthday socks, but I'm hoping to have SKB as my March FO.

Reading: I read Bubbles All The Way by Sarah Strohmeyer, then immediately went to the author's website to see if she has another Bubbles book coming out. Her answer is "We'll see." Hmmmm. She ended Bubbles All The Way with a doozy of a plot twist, and I really think another book is in order, just because I want to see the fallout from the revelation at the very end. Many amazon reviewers gave the book one star because of the last few pages. Here's the thing. It's not like there was no foreshadowing at all about this book. I had the feeling the entire book that something big was going on, and waiting for the other shoe to drop. So I thought Strohmeyer earned the ending. However, it was really abrupt. I still enjoyed this book, but a more drawn-out denouement would have been nice. I suspect she just wanted to drop the bomb at the end for maximum impact, and in that sense, it worked! I enjoy Bubbles books, as I've said before. Bubbles is immensely likeable, and her adventures are lots of fun to read about.

I also read The Purrfect Murder by Rita Mae Brown. I don't usually buy these in hardback, but I had a good coupon at Borders. The first in this series (co-written by Brown's cat, Sneaky Pie Brown, too cute!) is Wish You Were Here. This is something like #16 in this cozy series about Crozet, Virginia animals and their humans. To be honest, the earlier books are better mysteries, but I always enjoy visiting Crozet and seeing what everyone's up to. Later mysteries see less and less editing, and Brown does tend to put whatever she's researching or has a bee in her bonnet about in her books. Sometimes this leads to interesting information about say, growing grapes, and sometimes it leads to mind-numbing two-page discussions about what kind of truck is best to have on a farm. This one, dealing with the murder of a Planned Parenthood doctor, brings in a few political rants about abortion, but I just skimmed those. I just skip the boring passages and focus on the good stuff. I like the characters, both human and non-human, and these are really fun cozies. I wouldn't start with a recent one, though. Pick up a used copy of Wish You Were Here and see how you like it. I really got sucked into this series years ago, and I still re-read them occasionally.

I also blasted through Nip, Tuck, Dead and Dead on Arrival by Lori Avocato, the two most recent (I think) Pauline Sokol books. Both were cute and fun, as expected. We learn a bit about the mysterious Jagger in Nip, Tuck, Dead, and Pauline mentions it in the next book, but the implications are really being drawn out. This is a problem similar to Janet Evanovich's problem with Ranger. If you have a character whose big thing is being mysterious, character development is hard, but you can't just have a character stay exactly the same over half a dozen books. This is, as I've said before, a fun series.

Right now I'm reading Grime and Punishment by Jill Churchill, the first in the Jane Jeffries mysteries. I read this years ago, and I'm enjoying it again. I honestly couldn't remember who the killer was.

Writing: Futzing around with Chapter One rewrites. I thought I knew how I wanted to start this book, but I went to a creative writing workshop at Emory a few months ago with an emphasis on framing, and I realized my kicky and interesting start puts the entire novel in flashback, which is rarely good. And certainly not in a genre novel, in my opinion. So I have to find a good, grabby point in the story to start and figure out what backstory to reveal and when. I've collected quite a bit of backstory on my main characters that I've jotted down, and I need to let it trickle through. Anyway, my first three attempts at Chapter One have really been placeholders. Not the kind of first chapters that make you desperate to keep reading. You don't have to be a writer to know that's not a good thing!

Cooking: Let's see. I made hummus (recipe at left), baba ghanosh (I think I have a recipe at left, too lazy to check), and ful medammes with pita chips. I made two recipes from this month's Cooking Light. The vegetarian section this month was Malaysian cuisine, and I made Rice Noodles With Egg and Green Onions. Those of you who are always impressed by my cooking will really enjoy this story. The recipe uses fresh rice stick noodles, which I was able to find. The directions call for boiling the noodles for 2 seconds before stir frying them. I assumed 2 seconds was a misprint and boiled them for two minutes, drained, then stir-fried them. You can see where this is going if you have more common sense than I do (which should be EVERYONE out there). The boiling broke down the starches in the very-starchy noodles, and they turned into clumps of rice noodle starchy bits. Really, it looked appalling. I will try this again without any noodle boiling. I can't imagine they really need to be boiled before stir-frying. Anyway, the flavor of this dish was divine and it was very simple to prepare. I am looking forward to trying it with actual NOODLES next time :) Even Matt liked this one, and he's not much of a stir-fry fan. I also made Fettucine With Creamy Mushroom Sauce. Yum! I added fresh mushrooms sauteed in a bit of butter to the recipe, which used dried porcini mushrooms with their soaking liquid, and used fresh tagliatelle from the market.

Armed with a Borders Rewards coupon, I headed out with Lilah and picked up Super Natural Cooking by Heidi Swanson. I've cut way back on my blog reading, given my Lilah duties. I've pared down my knitting blogs on my regular reading list, and I've reduced my previously huge food blog reading down to just one, Heidi's fabulous site. I've been wanting her cookbook for ages, and finally caved because I've managed pretty consistently to cook at least a couple of recipes from each new month of Cooking Light. I felt I could justify a cookbook purchase since I've actually been cooking. This book is awesome. If you're interested in trying more cooking with fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and natural sweeteners, this book will help you through the process. I admit, while I'm not afraid to try cooking with "weird" ingredients like unusual flours, exotic seasonings, and unfamiliar produce, I have been lazy recently, falling back on regular (though at least Barilla Plus) pasta, white or brown rice, and unbleached all-purpose flour. This book is just what I need to kick-start my healthier (and fun and experimental) cooking. Take a look at the many, many recipes she has on her site. If any appeal to you, you'll probably enjoy her cookbook. If you've ever looked at interesting things at the grocery store and wished you knew how to cook with that, this is the book for you. Honestly, it's fun just to read and look at the gorgeous pictures, but I have a list of a dozen or so recipes I want to go shopping for right now. Heidi has a conversational, approachable style that is really appealing, and each recipe includes a sidebar that includes further information on ingredients, substitutions (including ways to speed up prep time), and variations. One soup recipe includes two variations that are so different it's really three recipes in one. She's so good at explaining the use of uncommon ingredients that you'll feel confident to experiment and substitute them in your own repertoire (for example, the sidebar for Acai Power Popsicles notes that you can make them with any frozen berry, which makes me think, hmmmm, I could try acai in a recipe I have that uses frozen blueberries...). She's also not preachy (rare in the health food/vegetarian cooking venue), mentioning that she hopes when you run out of your current cooking oil or flour or whatever, you'll consider replacing it with a healthier alternative. This is in high contrast to health food cookbooks written with a snotty attitude that basically say you're killing yourself and your family with the junk you're cooking with now and you'd better throw it all out and start over. Hands down, my favorite vegetarian cookbook I've seen in a long time.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Oh, the humanity!

So, what's the best strategy for a person low on knitting time who really, really wants to finish a project before the end of the month? Choose a pair of socks. Check Ravelry to see if others have knit the same sock yarn on size 2 needles at a gauge of 8. Convince self that this will make perfectly fine socks that knit up faster than on your usual size 1 needles, despite voice in back of head that is sure it won't work. Knit the toe. Realize the fabric is unacceptably floppy (technical term). Rip out and knit a toe on a smaller set of needles. Realize the short row has somehow gone off-center (huh???). Rip out toe. Lather, rinse, repeat. Ugh.

Well, I was gone almost two weeks. Lilah and I went to California to visit my parents. We had a delightful time at Disneyland, then went to my parents' house, where Lilah promptly got the stomach flu and then gave it to me. I didn't feel well enough to knit for much of the trip. When I did knit, I just knit and ripped out short-row toes for no reason. No, not really. I only did that twice, once because I realized I needed to knit the Opal on size 1s, and the second time because I somehow screwed up and did the short-rowing off-center, not realizing until I had reversed shaping on almost every wrap. Oops. So, I have nothing to show for my vacation knitting. I'm trying the short-row heel one more time, then I'm doing these top-down since they're for my husband's birthday, which was Sunday.

This does not bode well for me finishing a project this month, though at least I think I said I wanted an *average* of one FO a month, not *at least* one FO a month. Sounds like cheating to me, though. I know there's no way I can do a whole pair of socks in a week. I don't think I can finish my SKB in a week, but I can give it a try. I might cast on for something with Lilah's Noro Silk Garden, since I'm sure I can knit one skein in that time. I just don't know what to knit. Hat or scarf for next winter? Shrug? Any ideas, anyone? I have a Borders coupon, so I could maybe take Lilah to get a one-skein type book. What are your favorite one skein patterns for a baby? Hey, let's have a contest! If you send me a great idea that uses one skein of Noro Silk Garden and works for a one-year old, I'll send you a treat from my stash. And not Fun Fur, either.

Reading: While we were sick, I read A LOT. Prepare for tons of reviews, mainly of fluffy books.
Death at Gallows Green by Robin Paige: This is #2 in the Kate Ardleigh series by Robin Paige, the nom de plume for Susan Wittig Albert and her husband. Beatrix Potter is a character, and I wonder if the research for this inspired Albert's Beatrix Potter mystery series that I love so much. I enjoyed the first, Death at Bishop's Keep, but liked this one even better. I'm told that this series eventually gets a bit tiresome, but not yet. A constable is murdered, and Kate and her new friend Beatrix Potter pursue an investigation, as does Sir Charles. The authors do a good job of invoking Victorian England, and the historical setting is not distracting in the least. Kate is very likeable, and the subplot about Kate's various admirers is sort of fun, given all the misunderstandings. Kate's friendship with Beatrix is fun, as are the references to Beatrix Potter's stories. The mystery is well-constructed, not obvious, but not out of the blue either. You could certainly read this one without reading the first, but you wouldn't have the background on how Kate comes to live at Bishop's Keep in the first place.

The Stiff and the Dead, One Dead Under the Cuckoo's Nest, and Deep Sea Dead by Lori Avocato: Since these are #2-4 in the Pauline Sokol series (beginning with A Dose of Murder), I'll review them together. I read A Dose of Murder quite a while ago, and was fairly entertained. This is the thing. This series was probably pitched as "Stephanie Plum but with a nurse-turned-insurance-investigator instead of a lingerie-buyer-turned-bounty-hunter." It is really derivative. You could write a list of characters in the Stephanie Plum books and find a corresponding character in the Pauline Sokol books. Instead of Grandma Mazur, there's Uncle Walt as the token elderly sometimes-sidekick. Instead of Lula, the plus-size retired 'ho, there's Goldie, the Creole transvestite. Instead of Joe Morelli, the "normal" love interest, there's Nick Caruso. Instead of Ranger, the mysterious, dressed-in-black master bounty hunter who serves as mentor/love interest, there's Jagger, the mysterious, dressed-in-black master investigator who serves as mentor/love interest. Instead of a Hungarian mother who has dinner on the table right at six, there's a Polish mother who has dinner on the table right at six. And these are just the similarities off the top of my head. Avocato doesn't do wacky/madcap as well as Evanovich, but the books are entertaining anyway, if you can get past the Plum parallels. In The Stiff and the Dead, Pauline goes undercover to investigate insurance fraud at a hospital. In One Dead Under the Cuckoo's Nest, she goes undercover to investigate insurance fraud at a mental institution. And in Deep Sea Dead, she goes undercover to investigate insurance fraud on a cruise ship. So you can see that the insurance fraud investigator job is more limiting than a bounty hunter one. And these are written as traditional mysteries, unlike the Stephanie Plum books, and you KNOW the murder has something to do with insurance fraud. Either participants in the fraud are killing each other, or someone found out and is killed, etc. All this might make it seem as though I didn't like the books, but they're actually enjoyable. Avocato writes snappy dialogue and engaging characters, and the books are a nice diversion if you're waiting for Fearless Fourteen to come out. Good fun!

Bubbles A Broad and Bubbles Betrothed by Sarah Strohmeyer: The first in this series is Bubbles Unbound, which introduces Bubbles Yablonsky, a single mom who is trying to parlay her eight years of education at Two Guys Community College into a reporting career. Bubbles was born in bred in her steel-town home of Lehigh, Pennsylvania, and her fashion sense runs to big hair and spandex. Strohmeyer has a gift for wacky humor, and Bubbles is a lot of fun. She's brash, street-smart rather than book-smart, and so darn motivated and earnest you just want to hug her. These two entries in the series (#4 and #5) are entertaining reads. Bubbles's skill as a reporter is improving, her relationships with other characters in the series progress, and there are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments. This is a fun series.

A Watery Grave by Joan Druett: Joan Druett is the author of many non-fiction books related to nautical history, and she decided to parlay this knowledge and research into a mystery series. Half-Maori Wiki Coffin is the sleuth, though he's briefly suspected of the murder. Once he's cleared, the sheriff deputizes him to do some detective work as he joins the fleet of the American expedition to explore the South Seas. The expedition is actually real, though Druett explains in an author's note that she invented several characters and one ship for the purposes of the novel. Her research is clearly thorough, which makes for occasionally dry reading, but lends authenticity to the proceedings. Wiki is a well-written character, and he has to deal with racism from several quarters, including the sheriff who makes him a deputy! The plot is well-wrought, with lots of red herrings and plot twists, and the solution is not in the least obvious, though there are lots of "a ha!" moments as you realize that various occurrences and details are connected. I enjoyed this, the first mystery in the Wiki Coffin series, and I'll be looking for #2, Shark Island.

Rhett Butler's People by Donald McCaig: This is the "authorized" sequel to Gone With The Wind (to distinguish it from that non-authorized gem of modern literature, Scarlett). I should have put a sarcasm alert before the Scarlett reference. Anyway, I imagine the Margaret Mitchell heirs are hard-up for cash and authorized this book to drum up sales for GWTW. One review I read said something like, "Was it strictly necessary to re-write GWTW from Rhett's point of view? No. Is it fun anyway? Yes." and I agree. I thought McCaig did a nice job. I probably wouldn't have picked this up myself, but my mom had it lying around and I was running through books like crazy during the stomach flu thing. We learn a lot about Rhett's background that isn't in GWTW, and no doubt many liberties are taken. I do have the urge to read or rent GWTW again, as it's been years and things were hazy for me. I thought the book moved well and I was sucked into the plot and historical setting quite well. Great literature? Eh, not so much. But a diverting read. I read one amazon review that was basically an impassioned defense of Melanie. The reader gave the book one star because of one scene in which Melanie does something the reader insists she never would have done. Hoo boy. So, if you liked GWTW too much, you might not like this book, but if you didn't like it at all, you won't be interested. If you're in that narrow category of "Yeah, I read GWTW and it was good," I recommend this book. Otherwise, you're in for 500 pages of either boredom or anger. And I'd wait till it's in paperback, too.

Bell, Book, and Scandal by Jill Churchill: This is a late entry (#14?) in a well-established cozy mystery series, possibly one of the first in the genre. I used to read these Jane Jeffries mysteries and came across this one in Borders. I picked it up because I had vaguely fond memories for Jane Jeffries books, liked the title, and liked the setting (a mystery writers conference). I wasn't disappointed. The first few chapters are a bewildering account of Jane buying a new car and preparing for the conference. They meander and don't really seem to belong. I think they're pages that in earlier books, back when her editor still actually edited her books, Churchill would have written for herself as background but not published. Eh, that can happen in long series, and I was willing to overlook it. The story really gets going a few chapters in when Jane and best friend Shelly arrive at the conference, and this part is so much fun, you won't care about the clunky opening. Jane and Shelly are likeable sleuths and the conference is a fantastically fun venue for a mystery. Lots of crazy suspects, and Jane's attempt to get her mystery novel published is character-advancing and interesting. The first in the series is Grime and Punishment, and if you're looking for a light cozy mystery series, you can't go wrong with Jane Jeffries. I have to pick up some of the others I've missed.

Skinny Dipping by Connie Brockway: This is a contemporary romance novel putting on airs by calling itself "women's fiction," whatever that is. I think that's the PC way of saying chick lit. Mimi, a tele-medium who reports to callers what their dead friends and relatives tell her, is in her forties and well into a life of "letting it slide," with no real relationship, few possessions, and her life's only constant, a summer home on a Minnesota lake where her crazy extended family spends a few months every year. To say it's obvious that Mimi will find a guy and some kind of ambition is an understatement, but that's okay. Mimi herself is hard to relate to, since most of us want things, which she doesn't seem to do. The imminent sale of the family home, Chez Ducky, pushes her into close quarters with a workaholic, germaphobic businessman and his son. There's not a ton of suspense here, but this is a surprisingly enjoyable read because the extended family on the lake sections are so engaging. The ending drags a bit with a clunky denouement, but if you're looking for contemporary romance with humor and a fun wacky family setting, this one is worth picking up.

Daddy's Girl by Lisa Scottoline: Scottoline does legal thrillers, which I read from time to time, and she's very good at suspense. This one has all the plot twists you could possibly want, and more, and was hard to put down, despite a sometimes-annoying subplot about her interfering family and frankly annoying boyfriend bogging things down. Nat Greco is a law professor waiting for tenure. Her colleague Angus asks her to guest-lecture at his class for prison inmates. While Nat and Angus are there, a riot breaks out and Nat finds a dying prison guard whose last words are "Tell my wife it's under the floor." Nat gives the wife the message, and the wife is later shot, her house ransacked. Evidence points to Nat, who with Angus's help, bolts from the police and the killer at large. The premise is intriguing, and the plot moves fast. I enjoyed this one, though I tended to skim the parts with Nat's interfering family and was relieved when she finally kicked the boyfriend to the curb (among his many endearing qualities is a scene in which Nat calls him from jail, only to have him answer with a "We're in the middle of a game. Call you later!" and hang up without asking what she wanted. Seriously, ESPN rules this guy's life (and the lives of her brothers and father), and it's pretty obvious she's going to dump him eventually). Anyway, it was a good diversion from the stomach flu.

Writing: Not a thing. That's another thing I have a week to do, revise chapter 1. I hope I can work on it over the weekend.

Cooking: Nah. I made a lot of toast, though.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Pithy Title Goes Here

I wanted to do a quick-ish post today, with actual knitting content below! I'll hit comments first. A note: new Blogger doesn't let me reply to comments through email the same way I used to be able to. I've never been an "email reply to every comment" person, due to time constraints, but there are times I'd like to hit "reply" and give a quick answer to a question or something. For now, I'll stick with answering comments in my next post until I get email addresses saved. Kate, "sproingy" is one of my very favorite technical terms! Without it, how could I describe how much I like Lorna's Laces? Stefaneener, I've always loved to read. In fact, I was the only kid I knew who would actually get grounded from reading. It was the only punishment that actually had any impact. My little brother wasn't as into reading, but my mom got him into books about sports, even Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic books, and he is now a huge reader (in fact, his reading list is way more impressive than mine since he's really into history and military non-fiction, and to my knowledge never reads romance novels). My mom is now a principal, but she was an elementary teacher for years first, and she always got kids hooked on reading by finding something, anything that interested them. That's the beauty of the Harry Potter phenomenon: it's gotten millions of kids reading, and they love the Potter books so much they look for more like them and just keep going.

Thank you to everyone for the sock compliments! I'm very happy to have gotten them finished, and I like them a lot. I'll have to see if I can finish something, anything, for February as well, with the added goal of getting some writing done. I'd like to have a complete draft of my murder mystery by the end of the year. I have no idea how I will accomplish this, but I need to set some mini-goals. To finish this year is over a chapter a month, but I have several chapters in draft form, just needing some re-writing to incorporate my new ideas. So, for February, all I want is to re-write Chapter 1. It's a modest goal that I think I can achieve. I'll see how that goes, then re-evaluate and set goals for the rest of the year. My writing nook helps!

Knitting: Since I've nearly finished with ball #2 of Malabrigo (out of an expected maximum of 6 balls), I thought I'd post a progress photo of my Simple Knitted Bodice. I finally made it through the lace panel. I did a few repeats of the 4-row pattern, then measured: 2 1/2". That was great, since I was supposed to knit 3". I did another repeat, then measured again: 2 1/2". Huh. That was weird. Must have measured wrong before. Did another repeat, then measured: 2 1/2". Okay, now I was getting concerned. Would I ever finish the lace panel? Was I somehow making the lace panel go on and on because I didn't really want to do another set of purl ridges? But watching a repeat of Scrubs, I just knit and knit the lace, and at the end of the episode, I had 3". I guess I had to stop thinking I was almost done and just be in the knitting or something Zen like that. Anyway, I really wanted to have the purl ridges done before posting my photo, but I've got a busy couple of weeks going and wanted to get a photo up now in case I go a bit without posting. It's overcast today, which means the lighting in my house is horrid. I tried several spots and the kitchen counter ended up looking the best. Whatever.

I can't believe how far I've gotten. While I was working on the Waving Lace socks, I would sometimes do a row or two on the SKB if I happened to finish a section and not want to go on to the next quite yet. And suddenly, I was joining for working in the round. I like it quite a bit so far, but I doubt it'll be done in time for me to actually wear it, as it's warming up here already. I'm going to do a toe-up, short row toe and heel pattern from Sensational Knitted Socks, and I think I've settled on a pair for Matt first, out of Opal's TIger colorway (also a Mission Possible goal!), since his birthday is coming up. My only concern is the possibility of running out of yarn with a single skein for a men's pair. Going toe-up will help, but I have to re-wind the skein into two equal balls to make sure. Ugh.

Reading: Nearly done with Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore. I have thoroughly enjoyed this book. I think you can tell from the title if you'd be automatically offended by it or not (Moore's "opening prayer" at the beginning starts something like this (can't be bothered to look up exact wording): "If you came here to laugh, may you find humor; if you came here to be offended, may your ire rise and your blood boil." I like Moore (though he can be a bit juvenile in his scatalogical and sexual humor), and this book is just fun. It focuses on Jesus's human life from childhood until the crucifixion, about which little is known. Moore clearly did quite a lot of historical and theological research, though he's careful to point out that this is FICTION, but the historical details give it authenticity. It's very, very funny, but the story is surprisingly engaging. I found myself getting caught up in the journeys of Biff and Jesus (called here by the Hebrew version of his name, Yeshua or Joshua, instead of the Greek Jesus). I'll post a full review when I'm done.

Writing: None, but see above for goals. Think writing-ish thoughts for me.

Cooking: Hmmm. Nothing interesting, really. I made chocolate chip cookies today, though. I don't want to brag, but I do make the best chocolate chip cookies. Sometime I'll post my recipe and tips for superior cookies, but not today.