Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Books: Book Stack

So, I always intend to blog about my reading. Book reviews and stuff. And as a sort of reading diary. But I never do.

Today I was looking at that stack of books on Desk Two, and I took a picture.

So what's in the stack?

That one on the bottom is the main rule book for Sandy Petersen's Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game. It was very exciting when it was available in hardback, oh boy! It's the third edition.  When they were still doing percentile rolls instead of whatever weird thing they switched to. Yes, I do remember the game mechanics of a game that I haven't played in over a decade; is there a problem with that?

Two decades.

Two and a half decades?


I loved Call of Cthulhu. I loved roleplaying. Himself introduced me to it in college, and we kept it up for a while, and then it just petered out, but I still remember it ever so fondly. I doubt that it's on my desk because I was actually using it; I was probably using it as a hard surface to write on or something. But that means it's still on the active shelves, because seeing it there makes me happy.

The Whole Seed Catalog is great seed porn. I paid money for it even though it was expired when I came upon it. Just for the pictures.

I love Laurie King's books. The Beekeeper's Apprentice, with Holmes and Russell, should be one of my comfort bathtub paperbacks like the battered books that you see on the top of the stack. Now that I think of that I think I'm going to go get a paperback copy. And I loved the next one in that series and the next one, and the next one....and I love her other books. But...

Did I ever tell the story about the amusement park? Someone, a relative, a friend, I can't remember (And that's actually odd, because I didn't have enough friends to forget one. Hmm.) once took me with their family to an amusement park. And there was the usual "what do we do?" discussion, and the consensus was to go to, let's say, the ferris wheel. And we started toward the ferris wheel, "but first" we did something else, and "but first" we did something else, "but first" we ate something, "but first" we watched a show, and the whole day I couldn't enjoy anything, because my mind was fixed on the ferris wheel as the starting point, and everything else was a let's-get-this-over-with thing.

I mention this to explain why I couldn't enjoy Dreaming Spies. It starts at a particular point in time in the fictional world, and then moves back to a time previous to that fictional time, and I spent the Whole Bleeping Book in let's-get-this-over-with mode. I had the same problem with the sequel to Stephen Baxter's Flood. Ark, that was it. You'd think that this problem would recede in re-reading the book (because I re-read books, including mysteries) but I suspect not.

I don't have that problem with movies. I don't know why.

Confessions of a Counterfeit Farm Girl (Susan McCorkindale) is about a Thin Lady who moved to a farm. It's amusing, it's well-written, I can't identify with Thin Ladies one bit. It didn't work for me. I bought this in a period where I was buying all sorts of back-to-the-country memoirs and urban homesteading books. I may go back to that when spring comes and the seed catalogs arrive and my simple farm resolutions fall apart, but I'm not in that phase right now.

The first several chapters of Doing Good Better (William MacAskill) were very enjoyable--I enjoy a well-written argument, and I really enjoy the elegant destruction of irrational beliefs, or elegant "why didn't I think of that?" discoveries. Who knew (spoiler?) that the best way to improve schooling in a specific community isn't books or school supplies, but deworming pills distributed by the teachers so that the kids have fewer sick days? It makes sense when I think it through, but who saw it coming? I love stuff like that.

Then it gets practical. It wouldn't be serving its purpose if it weren't practical, but apparently I wasn't ready to switch from enjoyment to useful information. I'll read it again when I am. Meanwhile, I'm just taking away the lesson that, yes, the best way to help the world, for me, is to make more money and donate some of it.

The Other Typist (Suzanne Rindell) started out very interesting, and then I got busy. I suspect I'll be reading it over Christmas, though I may pack it for Thanksgiving weekend. I did realize, however, that there's a comfort factor in the structure of a murder mystery--I have a fair idea of how a mystery is going to go. By contrast, I have no idea how The Other Typist is going to go. I don't know if the bad people will get their comeuppance. I don't know if the good people will survive. I don't know anything. We'll see how it goes.

How to Fly a Horse (Kevin Ashton) is part of a recent focus on creativity, along with Culture Crash above it, and Big Magic over on Desk One and therefore not in the photograph, and Being Wrong by Kathryn Schulz. (Why do I include that one in the group? I don't know. Yes, I do--I think that it shares some facts and stories with other members of the group, possibly How to Fly a Horse, and because I loved the author's Ted Talk, as I loved Elizabeth Gilbert's Ted Talk. See? Don't worry, no, it doesn't make sense.) There are, no doubt, more that I'm forgetting, probably on Desk One. It was a lot of fun--one of those books that has me annoying other people by throwing little passages and facts at them. Himself isn't crazy about that habit of mine.

I've barely started Culture Crash. It was making me feel sad and cynical, and I ran away to the happier Big Magic. In my brain, the two are in opposition, because Culture Crash laments the fact that no one is getting paid to create any more, and Big Magic advises the creator not to count on getting paid to create. But I don't think that those arguments are really in opposition, because one is societal and the other is individual. I'll dig into Culture Crash again soon.

Speaking of Big Magic, Stern Men is my "stop fangirling and read one of her books, dangit!" Elizabeth Gilbert novel. I've only read a single page of the prologue, which had the effect of reassuring me that it's OK to write narrative and not just scene. That's all. Another likely Thanksgiving or Christmas book.

Hmm. I'm listening to yet another Podcast with Elizabeth Gilbert (this one for the New York Public Library, with Ann Patchett) and she mentions that she wrote for magazines. Which reminds me that my favorite authors tend to have also been journalists. So I hope I'll like Stern Men.

Then there are two bathtub comfort books near the top. The Moving Finger is one of my favorite Agatha Christies--I think that the only one I like better is The Pale Horse. I'm not that interested in the mystery--it's all about the characters, and the nice little un-angsty romance that Agatha Christie is so good at.

The Skeleton in the Grass (Robert Barnard) is, again, a cast of engaging amusing characters, but it doesn't just let you bask in sweet nostalgia; it questions.

Miss Melville's Revenge (Evelyn E. Smith) isn't my favorite Miss Melville novel; that's the first one. But I found it when sorting books, said, "Ooh! This one!" and it's been in the bathtub-book place of honor since. Waiting for the bubble bath. (The bubble bath came just the other day. Himself keeps me in bubble bath. There's a giant, giant jug of my favorite bubble scent, Cranky Baby (aka California Baby Overtired & Cranky) in the bathroom.)

That's the stack.

Image: Mine.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Gardening: Brr. And simplicity. Or something.

It's winter. Abruptly. I've been wearing a coat for weeks, but today I added a hat and gloves and long underwear and two shirts underneath a fat sweater. Winter.

I lived in California for quite some time, and back then winter was, well, absent. Most years, the tomatoes didn't finally freeze to death until sometime in January. Some years they never actually froze, they just got really depressed. All the same, this seems like an unusually abrupt change of seasons. Random chance? Global climate change? Squirrels? Nobody knows. 

This means that The Farm is mostly done for the year. The leaf lettuce, scallions, and the younger kale all look fine, and the chard isn't actually dead, but everything else has faded away. Even so, it looks much, much better than it usually does in early winter--it still strongly resembles a (sleeping) garden, rather than a weed patch. I'm trying to form a disciplined plan of clearing and soil amendment and re-planting, just an hour or two at a time, so that by spring there's a nice orderliness about it. We'll see how that ends up working out.

I notice that as it gets colder, my uncritical enthusiasm for growing everything fades, and I embrace the unprecedented idea of just growing the things that actually pay back. So what would that mean next year?
  • Blue Lake beans--mostly bush, but I want to try pole as well, because they're supposed to be much more dryfarmable.
  • Dryfarmed Early Girl tomatoes.
  • Experiment with dryfarming a couple more tomato varieties.
  • More zinnias.
  • More sunflowers.
  • More pumpkins.
  • More lettuce in winter and spring. In summer, either very small and lavishly irrigated lettuce beds, or no lettuce.
  • Keep growing the strawberries.
  • Keep the perennial herbs.
  • Add roses
It's a short list. I'm trying to see it as elegant simplicity rather than boring. Is it possible to hold to it when the seed catalogs arrive? We'll see.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Rambling: Creativity, Pink, and Betrayal

So, I'm listening to Elizabeth Gilbert's podcast ("Magic Lessons") and she's being all sweet and supportive and enthusiastic and spiritual and...pink. I don't know what to do about this. As I keep saying, I loved her TED talk. And I apparently love the podcast, because I've listened to all of it today, and now I'm mining the podcast world for her guest appearances on other people's podcasts.


In one of the podcasts, she talked about getting stuck creatively and trying to break out by doing the opposite of what you've been doing. And I don't know if I'm stuck, but I'm wondering if I should consider the possibility of embracing pinkness. Just, you know, to see what happens.

So what's pinkness? I think that I see it as enthusiasm without cynicism. And, see, saying that feels like I'm betraying my lifetime loyal companion: Cynicism. Cynicism, meet my readers. Readers, meet Cynicism. Of course, you've met before, in plenty of my posts, but I don't think you've been formally introduced, by name, before.

I feel a really strong resistance to resisting cynicism. It feels like betrayal. Cynicism and I are pals.

Now, Ms. Gilbert keeps talking about fear, in a way that is not unlike the way that I'm talking about cynicism. And cynicism is a big galumphing costume that's animated by all sorts of things, and one of those things is, without a doubt, fear. But there are other things in there. I don't want to pat cynicism on the head and encourage it to go away and have a nap. I don't want to tell it, as she tells fear, that it's never going to get to drive the car. Well, the creative car. The car of creativity.

(Patrick, from Coupling: "Well, obviously the puppy represents love. You’ve got to rescue the puppy of love from the car… of… conversation.")

There are things inside that cynicism costume that I need. In fact, I suspect that my creativity is split between cynicism and pink, rather like Good Kirk and Bad Kirk. I've managed to mostly avoid the pinkness, but I think that that luxury is coming to an end. Two of my current project ideas require me to at least occasionally turn away from cynicism so that he can't clearly see what I'm writing until it's down in words. One of them is about a man that (oh, dear God) likes his mother, and another one requires that I understand, and ideally even embrace, a certain brand of uncritical enthusiasm.


Image: By Russavia. Wikimedia Commons.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Rambling: Rambling

So, the slip like object and the silk skirt are done. I have yet to try them on. I mean, try them on properly, with hosiery and shoes. Rather than bedroom slippers. Finishing them was all hand sewing. To finish the next things, I'll have to clear off a table and get out a machine.

I have two lengths of polka dot silk. I want to sew something out of them. Skirt? Shirt? Robe?

That's ignoring the rest of the stash. I have too much stash. Almost everyone who sews has too much stash, right? I want to force myself to use some up on unglamorous sewing. I need pajamas, tap pants, cooking coats, kitchen and harvest aprons, and so on. Even shoe bags and laundry bags for the luggage, and pillow covers, and for that matter, covers for the sewing machines.

I'm reading The Martian. We got me my very own paperback; Himself doesn't like me dropping his books in the tub.  I'm enjoying it, though I like the first person voice of the main character much better than the third person sections.

There's no fried chicken in the house. What's with that?



See, I've been posting almost every day, but I seem to have run down today. Sewing? Chicken? Chocolate? I know I didn't mention chocolate, but it's on my mind. Of course.


Apparently that is all.

Image: Mine.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Sewing: UFO Roundup

You know the term "UFO" in a crafting context, right? UnFinishedObjects?

I have several. Today, I feel motivated to finishing and/or tossing them. Or finish, evaluate, then toss. We'll see how I feel tomorrow. I suspect it's because I've been reading about Kanban and Personal Kanban--I want to get some items off my Doing list. Column. Whatever.

So I finished a skirt in dark-grayish-blue silk crepe, that I started months ago. Finished except for the final press, and then I'll have to wear it and see if it works at all. That's usually why something becomes a UFO--I baste it, try it on, and lose enthusiasm.

And I bound the waistband of that blue wool crepe skirt that I mentioned.

And I started hemming and binding the waist of a black cotton...er...see, it's got a zipper, so it seems like a skirt, but it's really lightweight, almost a voile, so it seems like a slip. I can no longer remember why I started it.  Whatever the reason, it'll be done soon.

After all of those are done and either on hangers or in the donate pile or in the trash, I'll start sewing the cooking coat that I cut out perhaps a year ago.

Except that I know that there's a half-finished skirt in lightweight black wool crepe around here somewhere, really cheap wool crepe that bought to test patterns, but I can't find it. And somewhere there's a drop-sleeved thing in light pink linen that's too big and long to be a shirt, too short to be a bathrobe, too unstructured to be a jacket, and too pretty to be a cooking coat. I suppose it could be a swimming cover-up if I ever ever swam.

Look! Sewing themed cat picture!

That is all.

Image: By Ron Galili. Wikimedia Commons.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Rambling: Pancakes and Fur Collars


I fried two kinds of chicken last night.

I just made Swedish pancakes.

I did eat some broccoli with the chicken. That makes it all OK, right?

It's raining out there.

I was going to finish making a skirt this weekend.

That's looking increasingly unlikely.

Oops. I was also going to plant the French grey shallots.

But the rain is an excuse for not doing that, right?

I've been thinking of learning how to make pot roast. But that wold be unhealthy.


I bought more rhinestones. And a cool pin that looks sort of like a metallic Tribble.

That's a Maine Coon. The cat, that is. The one with the sort of Bugs-Bunny expression. If we get a cat again, I want it to be a Maine Coon.

I dug out the pieces of that skirt so far, and was startled to realize that it's made of wool crepe instead of denim. A person should really remember these things. It's wool crepe that I've had for years and years. It seemed like time to do something with it. I remember my thinking now that I have the (partial) skirt in hand.

I bought a couple of hundred yards of bias binding in assorted colors, and thirty yards of black twill tape, when we were in Portland. Because it's harder to find that stuff in Ashland. I'm hoping that the result will be that I knock off some skirts. I prefer bound hems.

While I was at it, I bought two more patterns for the Casual Shirt Grail. The Casual Shirt Grail is the goal of a simple shirt that I can get from cutting table to wearing in roughly three hours--and that I'm subsequently willing to wear.

I already have the Gored Skirt Grail that I can make that fast--assuming that I didn't spoil the pattern last time I re-traced it. It was a patchwork of cut pieces and masking tape from all the alterations. I'm pretty sure I traced exactly precisely the pattern from the last successful one that I made, but with the tape giving way and pieces of pieces falling on the floor, and with Version I and Version II and Version III floating around, it's hard to tell for sure.

The Casual Shirt Grail requires (1) no collar, because I can't finish a shirt with a collar, even a simple collar without a stand, in three hours. And (2) not-set-in sleeves, because I have yet to solve my tilted shoulder problem, plus set-in sleeves are precise enough that I suspect I'd be doing a little tweaking with each different fabric. And (3) no required buttons. When this pattern is right, I want to be able to cut and sew it without even needing to try it on.

The goal (Huh. This post is starting to narrow down to a topic here) is to have a reasonably flattering shirt pattern that's so easy that I have spare attention for embellishments. Piping, binding, contrasting stitched-down facing, beading, embroidery, decorative buttons--not, I promise, all on the same garment.

I'm looking at a vintage 1950's swing coat with a gorgeous fur collar and wondering if making something with really high-quality fake fur would end with people spitting on me and throwing red paint at me. I guess the more obviously fake the fur is, the less likely that would be to happen, but I want things that look more convincingly first-half-of-the-twentieth-century.

Meanwhile, I do have a really nice-looking swing coat pattern.

That is all.

Image: By Takashi Hososhima. Wikimedia Commons

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Books: Elizabeth Gilbert's Big Magic

So, I finished reading Elizabeth Gilbert's(*) Big Magic. I bought it because I loved her TED talk on genius as an entity separate from a creator. I loved Big Magic just as much, though I can feel that there's a battle in my head, between my natural cynicism and the positive messages of the book. Cranky and Inspirational are dancing around the ring, taking shots at each other.

(* Elizabeth Gilbert? Eat Pray Love lady. You know, her.)

Inspirational made it into the ring partly because the positive messages in the book aren't determinedly oblivious, shovel-in-another-spoon-of-sugar, unicorn-breath messages. Gilbert doesn't assure you that if you take risks, quit your job, follow your passion, blah de blah, you'll be just fine. In fact, she recommends keeping your day job. She doesn't tell you that your creativity will fight your battles and keep you fed; she urges you to protect and feed and support your creativity, even though it may never feed you, may never do anything but keep you company and give you a shot at more joy in your life. She doesn't assure you that you'll create anything world-shaking, or beautiful, or even good. But still, that joy thing.

No unicorns. I like that. Even though I dislike "inspirational." I dislike the word. I dislike the concept. It makes me twitch. But it's still in the fight, holding its own against my cynicism. Not that she used the word, at least not that I particularly noticed. But there's a vibe that needs a word, and that word keeps popping up in my head.

It's my mother that inserted the word in my head. She loved that word. If you read my blog, you know some of how I feel about my mother. Elizabeth Gilbert, on the other hand, likes her mother.  Maybe that's part of the difference. Maybe a supportive mother is a natural brake on cynicism. Maybe it allows positive ideas that don't smell like unicorn and don't feel like denial.

Is it wrong that I'm relieved that Elizabeth Gilbert doesn't want to be a mother? Some distance from the idea of the mother as the font of all good things is...good.

I love the TED talk. I love the book. I bought Stern Men, one of Gilbert's novels. (My cynicism just wouldn't allow me to buy anything as popular as Eat Pray Love. Maybe later.) I subscribed to Magic Lessons, Gilbert's podcast. I'm Googling for videos of Gilbert's various talks. I'm sensing fangirl tendencies in myself. This must be controlled.

But all the same, I love Gilbert's concept of an idea as something that has its own separate existence, that seeks a person to carry it out--and that eventually, if it's neglected, moves on to find another person, leaving a dead husk behind. (OK, I don't know if "dead husk" is hers or if it's a product of my crankier view.) She has me thinking of my five (count 'em, five) ideas for books--three novels and two nonfiction--and wondering which one I want to tend and feed and keep alive. Because I can't manage a litter.

Maybe she's (twitch) "inspiring" me to commit to writing one of my dark, cynical ideas. That would be cool.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

SOTD: Byredo Pulp, or Engulfed in Fruit

Kitty! No, he has nothing at all to do with the post.

After twenty-four hours, and more than one washing, the Salome on my arm was still distinct and gorgeous. I probably could have just left it there and considered myself perfumed for the day.

But I wanted to put on something else, while this uncharacteristic rebirth of perfume interest is going on. I considered Byredo Blanche, as a sort of amusing contrast, but it occurs to me that I don't see Blanche as merely shy, but distinctly opinionated about her quiet soapy cleanliness. I think that there would be squabbling, or perhaps silent treatment, if they had to share the same person.

So I dug out my decant of Byredo Pulp instead. A big squashy heap of slightly overripe fruit seems like an affable companion to Salome. And it was.

But it was big. Big. BIG. One spray on the back of my neck (for wafts) and one on my other arm (for direct-sniff updates) and I was drowning in that heap of fruit. I ended up doing the cooking-oil-wash on my arm, and washing the back of my neck, to get it down to only a little too much. I'm going to decant this to a roller, for maximum control. Or maybe mix one drop into a gallon of unscented body cream. Or something.

I don't think that I used to have this problem with Pulp. Is it a summer versus winter thing? Or the long interval of little perfume wearing?


Also, that kitty is staring at me.

That is all.

Image: By Heikki Siltala-catza. Wikimedia Commons.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Rambling: Rambling

This post was going to be about Papillon Salome. Salome is glorious. It's also hard to put words to. Well, it's hard to put PG-rated words to. Y'know? And this is a pretty PG blog.

So apparently no Salome review today. But I enjoyed it, from the shocking top notes to the final sweet, powdery, but still distinctly animalic drydown.

(Hmm. Would the Neighborhood Sample Pass enjoy Salome? Is that idea madness? I just finally broke down and ordered a bottle of Shalimar extrait. Salome, Shalimar, and... Muscs Koublaï Khän? I'm not doing that Etat Libre d'Orange thing, nope nope nope. Nope.)

(It's madness, isn't it? Yes?)

(I could make up for it next round with a 'soapy' theme.)

And there is no NaNoWriMo update to speak of. I suspect that my NaNoWriMo experience this year is going to collapse to no more than, "Try to write more than usual in November."

I Dressed again. I've been wearing the skirt in the first photo, a black-and-white denim-weight cotton houndstooth with a hem bound in black bias binding, a lot. Over and over and over. And over. So I bought the fabric to make another one, this one a tan-and-white denim-weight cotton herringbone, with a hem bound in tan bias binding.

From a distance, they're just going to look gray and beige, but I know that they have pretty woven patterns, see? I have another one in a tiny-black-and-white-pattern in wool, and more pieces of assorted tiny-patterns in the fabric stash. I'll have a whole collection of tiny-pattern skirts.

I haven't had a Coke in...er...four days? Five? So it's not surprising that I'm being stalked by a migraine. I'm trying to drown it in iced tea.

I've been trying to Tweet more, because I'm trying to understand Twitter. Just because. I couldn't really tell you why.

But I'm still pretending that Facebook doesn't exist.

I think that's all.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Fashion: What I Wore Monday

I'm Dressing again.

For the past few months, my clothing criteria have been that my clothes be (1) clean and (2) mine, as opposed to stealing Himself's. Actually, I didn't always adhere to (2).

But cold weather seems to suddenly activate all the girly parts of my brain. Today, I wore that scarf, that coat and skirt (the skirt is the barely visible bit of black-and-white), and those boots. I wore a gray collared shirt, too, but I'm still wearing it, so I didn't include it in the photo op.

I also dug out a pile of assorted rhinestones and am looking for an opportunity to wear them. And you've seen the re-interest in perfume in recent posts.  And I dug out the tentative batch of makeup that I bought a year or so ago and seriously debated well, wearing some. You know, outside the house. Maybe. It could happen.