Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Lately.


It's been quite a while since I did one of these random posts, but it seems like a good time for one since I've been feeling scattered lately. The past several weeks have been a little strange. I've been off from my babysitting job because of health issues in the kids' family, so I've had a lot of free time. I've been trying to use the time wisely, to get ready for craft fairs this fall: knitting, spinning, dyeing yarn, and making lots of soap. (If I end up not selling much, my family will probably have enough soap to last us for the next year, ha.) But there have definitely been days when I feel like I'm just going in circles...making lots of lists but not actually accomplishing anything.

Knitting: Hats. Lots of hats. That stack shows the eight hats (varying from baby sizes to adult) that I've knitted over the past two weeks. It feels like reasonable progress until I look at my list and see how many I still need to make (and realize that the first festival is less than six weeks away!). I'm running out of larger quantities of yarn now (yarn that I'm willing to part with, that is), so I'm having to get creative with stripes. I weigh little bits of yarn and calculate how much I can squeeze out of leftovers. My favorite hat so far is one that uses leftovers: yarn from my first sweater and handspun from this hat...it made rainbow-ish stripes and worked out much nicer than I anticipated.

Reading: Right now I'm reading Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None. (So good! Probably my favorite of her novels so far.) I'm still doing my summer reading list...I'm giving myself through the first day of autumn to finish it. I only have four books left so I'm determined to follow through. :) But I'm so ready to be able to spontaneously pick my next book instead of having to choose it from my list! Especially because I recently got some new (used) books and I'm so excited about reading them. The Ginger Rogers book wasn't a recent purchase, but I can't separate it from Fred Astaire's autobiography because they look so darn cute together. I love that their books were rereleased in matching covers!

Listening: I've mentioned Look Homeward's debut before, but I still love it (and it's still free on Noisetrade). And then there's Holly Arrowsmith's new album For The Weary Traveller. When I first listened to a few of the songs, I thought it was a little too traditionally "folk" for my taste, but no. This music is gorgeous! I tend to get obsessive over new music that I love, so I've been listening to this album every day for most of August. Her lyrics are really beautiful. My favorite songs are Lady of the Valley, Flinted, and Voices of Youth (but let's be honest: I love them all).

Watching: I'm rewatching two of my favorites through again: Sherlock and Gilmore Girls. Sherlock still amazes me each time. And even though Gilmore Girls has some little things that bug me (the constant bickering between Lorelai and Emily gets on my nerves), I still enjoy it. I've also been watching Foyle's War through Netflix and really liking it so far!

I saw Paddington last weekend and thought it was adorable. I didn't like the trailer at all...I haven't read the book yet, but I remember thinking that they'd probably dumbed it down and made it too modern. But the casting looked really good, so I decided to check it out and wow, it was ridiculously charming! It had a quirky, timeless feel, and the humor was great. It would be the simplest things, but something about how they framed certain shots and set up situations just cracked me up. The escalator bit was my favorite (I can't remember the last time a kids' movie made me laugh that hard).

On a slightly random note, have any of you seen The Man From U.N.C.L.E.? I'd always heard of the show but never watched it. But I really want to see the new movie. I'm partial to 60s spy films, anyway (though generally on the kookier side, like The Glass Bottom Boat), and it looks like they did that well in this film...the sets and clothing look amazing. I probably won't see it until it releases on DVD, but I'm curious as to what people have thought of it.

{Linking up with Ginny's Yarn Along}

Monday, August 24, 2015

Wildwood Chronicles {Series Review}


Several years ago, I stumbled across a book called Wildwood. Most of the reviews for it were written by fans of the band The Decemberists, because the author, Colin Meloy, happens to be their lead singer and songwriter. (Incidentally, I don't know much about The Decemberists. I've tried to get into their music several times, since I like the basic style of it and the album covers and most of the lyrics...but I'm just not a huge fan of Meloy's voice most of the time. I do really like some of their songs, though.) I was drawn to the book for different reasons: mostly the gorgeous cover and how it was sometimes referred to as an "American Narnia."

I read the first book in 2012, and I was a little disappointed with it. I found the writing style so awkward and annoying, and I had to drag myself through the first half of it (though it picked up after that). Then nearly a year later, I read the second book. I had forgotten some details, and the beginning of the book felt so slow that I almost just put it aside. But I kept reading and ended up loving it and thinking it was so much better than the first book. The third and final book came out last year, and I bought it then but held off on reading it because I wanted to reread the other two books first.

So...I just spent the last three and a half weeks reading (and rereading) my way through this series and I'm finally ready to review it. :)

This children's fantasy series is set in present day Portland, Oregon, though in a slightly alternative-universe way. A lot of the locations in the books are inspired by real-life places in that area, and apparently there are lots of stereotypical "Portland hipster" references in the books. I wouldn't know, honestly, because I've never been there. :) But I will say that Prue, the main character, is a 12 year old who is a vegetarian, rides her bicycle all over town, drinks coffee, and browses through vinyl records. Anyway, in the series, outside of Portland is an area known as the "Impassable Wilderness." The Portlandians don't realize that there's an entire society living inside the wood, because the two worlds are separated by a magical boundary.

The first book starts off with Prue's baby brother being kidnapped by a murder of crows (yes, that's the actual name for a group of crows). Prue follows them into the Impassable Wilderness to rescue her brother, along with a schoolmate named Curtis. They're surprised to find themselves in a world of coyote soldiers, owl princes, bandit kings, and an exiled ruler who is planning on using Prue's brother as a sacrifice to take over the whole wood.

I actually enjoyed the first book a lot more the second time through! The things that bugged me at first (more on that later) didn't bother me much this time. I just really love the atmosphere and setting of the story. I like that there are four different "countries" in the wood, and they all have their own personalities. (I would totally live in North Wood.) The whole idea of this place that's a mixture of modern with weirdly old-fashioned aspects...bearded bandits running around in old uniforms, animals wearing overalls and smoking pipes and living alongside humans, a giant owl prince...it's basically a jumble of quirkiness that's really appealing to me for some reason. :)

With the way the first book ends, the story seems neatly wrapped up. But as the second book, Under Wildwood, begins, we realize that things aren't going as smoothly as they seemed. There are new threats, so Prue is called back into Wildwood for her own protection.

Oddly enough, I think that after rereading the second book, I liked it a bit less. It was still enjoyable, but it does suffer from second-book-syndrome. New characters and issues are introduced, and things are happening, but the plot doesn't move forward in a huge way. You get the feeling that the author is mostly just setting up for the third book. There are three intertwining stories being told in this book, and that's done really well.

One of my favorite parts is the Unthank Home. That whole aspect of the story definitely has a Lemony Snicket-ish feel to it, which I appreciate. Also, there's a character named Joffrey Unthank who is determined to get inside the Impassable Wilderness, and he's not afraid to use the orphans in his "home" (basically a factory) as experiments to do so. He reminds me so much of Uncle Andrew in The Magician's Nephew! I can't believe I didn't see that before. (That's about the only aspect of this series that reminds me of Narnia, by the way. Except that the Dowager Governess is definitely reminiscent of the White Witch, though with a slightly more sympathetic backstory.)

So now we're into the final book, Wildwood Imperium. There is a lot going on in this book. I don't mean that it's action-packed, because it's not (not until the end, anyway). The main characters are separated a lot and there are new characters being introduced, so the author is juggling too many perspectives and it gets overwhelming at times. It worked well with three perspectives in Under Wildwood, but here it feels a little out of control.

I love Esben. We met him briefly in the second book, but he's more present in this one, and he's one of my favorite characters of the series. His friendship with Prue is so endearing. As for another new character, I didn't like Zita at all. I know she changes by the end, but she makes stupid decisions and causes a lot of bad things to happen.

The third book is random and all over the place, but that's keeping in line with the rest of the series. Overall, it was a very satisfying conclusion. I did think that one particular part (with Alexandra) wrapped up a bit too neatly and quickly after all of the chaos. And I thought I was going to be disappointed with something that happened to a main character until the very last page...I appreciated that little twist. :)

I have to mention the illustrations in this series because they are so gorgeous and I can't imagine the books without them. The illustrator is Carson Ellis, who is married to the author. Her illustration style is incredible and it suits the books perfectly. I can't explain why, but her style is so appealing to me (it's similar to Jon Klassen, another of my favorites). These books are some of the most beautiful ones I own. The covers are lovely, the end papers are maps of the wood, and Ellis' illustrations are scattered throughout the pages. There are lots of black and white illustrations, but there are also a handful of full-color plates in each book. It was always a nice surprise to unexpectedly come upon an illustration while reading.

Though I really do love this series, the books aren't perfect. The writing style definitely takes some getting used to. It's overly descriptive and wordy...sometimes it feels like he kept a thesaurus nearby to find weird words to use. The first time I read Wildwood, I found the writing style so distracting. Honestly, I'm not sure if it improves throughout the series or if I just got used to it. Also, the books are longer than they needed to be. They're all over 500 pages, and while they are relatively quick reads (the font is big and there are illustrations, so you can really fly through them if you want to), they're meandering and could use a bit of editing to pare things down a bit. Which is how I'm starting to feel about this review, ha. :)

I would recommend checking out the Wildwood trilogy if a quirky, folksy children's fantasy sounds interesting to you. It does have flaws and the story drags at times. But the atmosphere is so charming and there are lots of memorable characters and aspects. I feel like this is a series that I'll enjoy more each time I reread it.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Three knitting skills that scare me.


When I first learned to knit, there were a lot of things about it that I found intimidating. But I didn't want to be limited to knitting scarves for the rest of my life, so each year I focused on learning something new.

First, it was socks. I heard knitters saying things like, "I've been knitting for 10 years and I've never attempted socks!" I heard horror stories about turning the heel. But I found a really good tutorial and guess what? Turning the heel of a sock isn't scary at all...it's actually sort of magical, no matter how many pairs of socks you knit. (I don't really understand knitting. So I'm always blown away when you follow instructions blindly and amazing things happen. After all, knitting in itself is pretty unbelievable. How on earth did someone discover that you could take two sticks and some string and make a sweater?)

Next I tried a sweater. It wasn't the easiest experience, but I've learned a lot and my sweaters since then have been more successful than that first one. :)

Since I recently learned how to read a chart properly and did some simple lace knitting, I started thinking about knitting skills that still scare me...

1. Steeking. If you're not a knitter, you might not know what steeking is. Let me explain: you cut your knitting. You take a pair of scissors and, for example, slice up the front of a pullover that is destined to become a cardigan. You take the piece of knitting that represents hours and hours of your life, and you cut it. With scissors. I think even a non-knitter should be able to appreciate how shocking and terrifying this is. I know that with steeking, you take all sorts of precautions to stop your knitting from unraveling, but wow...I don't know how knitters do this without having a heart attack. Because if you mess up, guess what? It's not like you can frog it and reuse the yarn, which is usually an option if a knitting project goes wrong.

At some point I'll learn how to do this, but I don't plan on it anytime soon. And when I do, I'm going to practice on a swatch about ten times before I cut into my real project.

2. Seaming. Okay, so I've done a small amount of seaming before, on a pair of wristwarmers. But the thought of seaming a whole project like a sweater is overwhelming. Doing the finishing work on a knitting project is my least favorite part (I hate weaving in ends), and seaming adds a whole lot of finishing work. Plus, I'm afraid I would never get my seams to look neat. So for now, if I see that a sweater is seamed, I skip it.

3. Colorwork. I really intend on learning colorwork this year. There are so many adorable patterns that I love that involve stranded colorwork. A lot of people tell me that it's no big deal, but something about it still makes me nervous. I think it's the tension aspect. I feel like my knitting tension is weird, anyway. For the first couple of years, my tension was so tight that I automatically had to go up one or two needle sizes for every project. But now, I often have to go down a needle size, especially with sweaters. Even tension seems pretty important for colorwork, which worries me.

What intimidates you about knitting? Am I worrying unnecessarily about any of these things?

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Yarn Along


Reading: Wildwood Imperium, by Colin Meloy. Yes, I'm still working my way through this trilogy! I've just been taking it slow and enjoying the story. The first two books were rereads for me, so it's nice to be on the final book and to not know what's going to happen. :)

Knitting: A baby hat using some leftover yarn. I saw these two colors together, and my first thought was to knit a baby hat that resembles a pumpkin. Dark green ribbing, orange body, a bit of green on top and maybe a little I-cord for a stem? It sounds cute in theory...we'll see how it actually turns out. :) There won't be much selfish knitting for me over the next few months, maybe even until the beginning of the year. I have a few craft fairs coming up in the fall, plus my niece's birthday in October (I want to continue my tradition of knitting her a sweater), and then I'll have to start Christmas gift knitting in November. Hopefully I can squeeze in some sock knitting at some point! :)

{Yarn Along is a weekly link up hosted by Ginny where you can share what you've been knitting and reading.}

Monday, August 17, 2015

Mini Reviews: Stalag 17 and Mrs. Miniver.

About a month ago, I watched two classic movies about WWII that I had never seen before. Since they both took place during the same era, I decided to write about them together (like I did with Into the Woods and Cinderella previously).

As someone who loves classic movies, I'd always heard about Stalag 17, but honestly the only thing I knew about it was that starred William Holden. Oh, and that it was some sort of war movie. I didn't even realize that it was about prisoners-of-war because I didn't know that "stalag" was the German term for a POW camp.


A brief plot summary: Stalag 17 is about a group of American airmen (or mostly Americans, I think?) in a POW camp. After some failed escapes, they all start to suspect that one of them is letting the Germans know of their plans. There's one person in particular who is the biggest suspect. (The film was shot in chronological order, so even the actors didn't know who the informant actually was until the last few days of filming.)

I loved Stalag 17! It was different from what I was expecting, but better. I've seen plenty of classic films (and BBC mini series) set during World War II, but I don't watch many "war films": ones where the war is a major plot point instead of just the setting. And this was the first film I'd ever seen that was about prisoners-of-war. At first, I thought that the movie probably wasn't very realistic...I guess I expected that the Germans would have treated Allied soldiers much worse than was portrayed in the film. But the film was adapted from a Broadway play that was written by real POWs, based on their experiences. So maybe it was more realistic than I realized?


William Holden's character was not at all what I expected! He generally plays a nice guy, but he's kind of a jerk in this film. He's not a bad guy, exactly, but he's not very likable, either. He had grown on me by the end, though. Holden actually won the Oscar for this role, though it's generally accepted that the award was more for his part in Sunset Boulevard (one of my favorites) several years earlier than for Stalag 17.

The guy who did impressions was hilarious...his Clark Gable one was my favorite, though I also loved the Hitler scene. I liked the guy with the wife who "found" a baby on their doorstep who just happens to look a lot like her, ha. ("I believe it. I believe it!") I love that he was knitting baby booties or socks later on in the film. (He was one of the writers of the original play, by the way, and a real life POW.)


I liked the mix of drama, suspense, and humor in this movie, though sometimes the humor was a little too over-the-top for me. (Like in another Billy Wilder film, Some Like It Hot...I don't like that movie.) But overall it was just really good. Also, while it might paint a lighter picture of the conditions that POWs had to endure, at least it brings attention to them. There was a special feature where they interviewed men who were prisoners-of-war during WWII, and it was fascinating and heartbreaking. I can't remember the estimated number of POWs, but I couldn't believe how high it was! It seems like an aspect of WWII that is often overlooked.

(If all of this sounds similar to Hogan's Heroes, that's because apparently that show is a rip-off of this film. I haven't even seen that many episodes, but I couldn't believe all of the similarities.)


Okay, now on to Mrs. Miniver. This was another classic movie that I'd always heard about but didn't know much about. I knew it was a WWII film, but I didn't realize it was set in England. (I know that the war was difficult for everyone, but goodness...the English really had it hard, dealing with air raids and everything!) It's about a lady (obviously the title character) and her family, and how their everyday lives are affected by the war.

I always assumed that Mrs. Miniver was made in the 50s or sometime after the war was over, but it was made in 1942. Even though the film is depressing, it still manages to be hopeful. That amazes me, because at the time, nobody knew how things were going to end. For all they knew, Germany was going to invade England.

Even though I appreciated the film, I didn't love it like I expected to. It won six Oscars, but honestly it didn't feel that memorable to me (though there were some suspenseful moments). Also, I was distracted during most of the movie, waiting for one particular thing to happen, because there was a big spoiler printed on the envelope (thanks a lot, Netflix). But the spoiler wasn't accurate, so I spent most of the movie anticipating the death of one character when it was actually another who ended up dying.

(I later found out that Greer Garson was married to the guy who played her older son in this movie, which creeps me out. Also, you cannot tell me that Downton Abbey didn't lift the flower show scene with the Dowager Countess directly from this film!)

So...two good, but very different, classic movies about World War II. Stalag 17 was definitely my favorite of the two. :)
 
Have you seen Stalag 17 or Mrs. Miniver? What did you think?