Sunday, September 28, 2014

Adventures in Yarn Farming

Obviously, one of my main hobbies is reading and then writing about what I read.  However, I am fascinated by a variety of subjects, one if which is the world of knitting, spinning, and sheep raising.  I currently have about 14 sheep who provide entertainment, meat, and piles and piles of gorgeous wool.

Adventures in Yarn Farming is written by Barbara Parry, a shepherd and self-professed "yarn farmer" in New England.  Each year, she delivers hundreds of lambs and produces more wool than I think I can imagine.  In this book, we follow her adventures in raising sheep throughout a year.

The year starts with wool shearing and then the highlight- lamb delivery, which I know from experience is quite a stressful situation.  I can't imagine doing it on the level that she and her family and farm hands do.  However, Parry writes so warmly and lovingly of this part of her job- the delivering of countless lambs and then the care of all of the mother sheep and their new lambs.  I well know that happy, cozy feeling of leaving a lit barn that is full of mama sheep talking to their new babies.

Next, we follow this farm into summer, when the pastures are lush and green and there is hay to be made and lambs to be weaned (not a pleasant process, she assures us), and a big garden to be tended.

With fall comes fleeces to be skirted, spun, and dyed, the ram put in with the ewes, and the now-grown lambs sent to butcher.

Finally, winter appears and all of the sheep return to the barn to huddle together while inside, there is spinning and knitting to be done!

This is such a pretty book.  It is chock full of gorgeous photographs documenting a beautiful journey from a newborn lamb to a skein of yarn.  Along the way are recipes for meals from the garden, instructions for various dying methods, and, of course plenty of knitting patterns.  There is a spring cardigan that I am eyeing.

The book is arranged in essay form with such topics as the hijinks that Parry's goats got up to to weaning lambs to sending wool to the mill.  Parry is not just a gifted fiber artist; she is a very skilled writer.  There is nothing flat or dry about this book.

I would highly recommend reading this if, of course, you are interested in the world of fiber.  But if you're not, this would still be a pretty coffee-table style read-something to page through to take a look at another world.  I really, really liked this book.   In fact, I like it so much that I'm putting it on my Christmas list.


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

About the Rude Gentleman at the Table Next to Me

This evening, we went to a rather nice restaurant.  The food is always perfect-everything local, most organic, everything perfectly done and presented by somebody who should be a food photographer.  We sat down, ordered, and, of course, because I am the queen of people watching, I started to people watch.  The people at the table next to us were a middle-aged couple and their teenage son (pay attention to them, they're the point of this long-winded story).  I joined in the conversation at my table and promptly forgot to people watch.
A picture that has absolutely nothing to do with anything

Halfway through our meal, my people watching-self surfaced and casually listened in to the conversation that was happening at the table next to me between the husband of the family and the waitress.  
Waitress: And how is your food?
Man: (Imagine that his nose is in the air, oh, and he's talking quite loudly) Well, those vegetables were completely lacking in any kind of nuanced flavor.  Your chef needs to rethink this whole meat dish-I mean, really, the meat was far too overdone and this herb sprig is wilted.  
Waitress: (Looking terrified) Well, how was the salad?
Man: (Nose sticking up higher in the air) Well…fine, I suppose.
Waitress: Would you like me to get the chef?
Man: (Says hastily) No! No!  It's fine, it's really fine.  You don't need to worry about it.  
Waitress: Well, I could just call him over-
Man: No, no. 
Waitress: (Walks away looking weary)

I didn't make this up or embellish, by the way.  This is pretty much how this conversation went down.  

Readers, I trust I don't have to explain the extreme rudeness of the man at the table.  The point isn't whether the food did or did not need to be "rethought" (there's something grammatically iffy about this sentence, please tell me what it is).  The point is that somebody was completely lacking in any kind of social grace and, of course, wasn't brave enough to actually talk to the chef, just pretentiously whine to the waitress. 

And then the fuming started at my table (did I mention that I have a family of people watchers?  I like to think I trained them all very well in the art of people watching, er, listening).  We all agreed to loudly praise the food when the harried waitress came to our table.  But after that, I was still musing on properly biting remarks to the man at the next table.  And, believe me, I thought of some pretty good ones.  

Imagine this:
(After waitress leaves table and man is looking pleased with himself)
Me: Excuse me, I happened to hear your discussion of the food.  For what food column do you write?
Man: (I haven't quite worked out what he's supposed to say…probably just look properly abashed and murmur something apologetic)

OR

(Same setting and time as before)
Me: Excuse me, I was walking past and heard you criticizing the food.  At what restaurant did you train?
Man: (Same response as before, except probably a little more stunned)

OR
I could have just whacked him upside the head with my seltzer bottle and properly shocked the whole restaurant.  

But I did none of those things.  But I told you about it, so I feel completely vindicated.  Thank you, dear readers.  And maybe, just maybe, this man will be surfing through the book blogs that he loves and come across this post and be thoroughly mortified and repent.  Maybe he'll even ask me to absolve him of his horrible error.  Can't you imagine it?  What a lovely image.  And thus ends my post that had absolutely nothing to do about books (seriously, I can't think of one way to tie this into books except that I was disgusted because I had to drive instead of read Val McDermid's Northanger Abbey on the way to the restaurant.)  

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Miss Read

I have been knocked out by the most awful head cold.  I'm left with watery eyes, a dripping nose, a sore throat, and a dull headache.  Gah.  And it add insult to injury, today was Music Sunday at church.  Every 5th Sunday, we have a gorgeous, completely music-centric church-service and today's was particularly gorgeous.  And, people, I couldn't sing.  I was disgusted.  I came home and brewed myself a cup of tea and pulled out a Miss Read novel while the rain gently drizzled down.  It was lovely to curl up with a gently gossipy novel and forget about my streaming head cold for a few hours.
Miss Read, otherwise known as Dora Saint.

Miss Read wrote these two cozy, gentle series about two English villages.  The stories are just daily life accounts, rather like having a long gossip session with a good friend.  The two series (Thrush Green and Fairacre) are both about small country villages full of eccentric characters who, in spite of their quirks and foibles, are lovable people.

The stories are told by Miss Read herself as though she is just filling you in on the town news.  Here's the excerpt from the back of the book, as the book itself isn't really summarizable (no, that's not a word, but I'm sick and my brain isn't functioning, so I'm allowed to make up words):

"This sleepy, pristine setting conceals a flurry of activity among the villagers.  Rumor has it that Mr. Venables is considering retirement just as the village's teacher is about to make an important decision. Molly Curdle prepares for a new baby.  The kindly vicar, Charles Henstock, works on his sermon-quite unaware of the disaster that will overtake him.  However, there is never any doubt that all will end well in this very English village."

There is nothing thought-provoking or challenging about these books.  They are simply stories about everyday people living everyday lives.  The goings-on are mild and rather uninteresting, if one is used to thrilling, action-packed, drama-filled novels, but that's really the charm of these books.  Their gentleness is what is so drawing about them.  

I think the last time I read one of these books was when I was sick.  These books are akin to a cup of hot tea or a very thick wool blanket (you know, the kind that is so heavy you can barely move your shoulders).  If you are suffering from any sort of ailment, pull yourself off of your sickbed and stagger to the library and pull one of the shelf.  If you aren't suffering from any ailment, just keep these books in the back of your mind for next time your nose runs.  They make being sick positively enjoyable.  


Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Language of God by Francis S. Collins

I read a really interesting nonfiction book recently.  I'm discovering something interesting about myself. My whole life, I've never really felt the need to read nonfiction.  Nonfiction just never spoke to my reading self.  However, recently, my reading tastes have broadened.  I am enjoying pretty much any nonfiction book.  In fact, my nonfiction reading tastes are much broader than my fiction reading tastes.  I credit my inner sociologist.  I have always been fascinated by people and why people do what they do and what they think and how they behave.  Nonfiction accounts of people's thoughts and inner workings perfectly feed that inner sociologist.

So anyway, my latest nonfiction book was The Language of God by Francis S. Collins.  It was recommended to me some time ago and I picked it up at the library the other week.  This book is written by the head of the Human Genome Project.  He also happens to be a devout Christian who was deeply inspired by C.S. Lewis's writings.  In fact, Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis was what brought him to Christianity.

In this book, Collins argues that Christianity and science are actually compatible, that the two do not need to have the discordant relationship that they have historically had, particularly in regards to evolution.  He starts the book by giving his personal journey of faith.  He grew up with two hippie, back-to-the-land, adamantly atheist parents who homeschooled him and his brothers.  He went to college and studied physics, before eventually meandering over to the field of medicine.  After talking to a dying patient who asked him about what he believed, he began to rethink everything he'd ever been taught, culminating in his reading of Mere Christianity.

Collins goes on to talk about the arguments that scientists/atheists pose against Christianity, from the argument that so much wrong has been done in the name of Christianity, to the argument that Christianity is not "smart" or "logical".  All of the common arguments were addressed very well.

Next, he talks about the warring viewpoints- creationism, atheism/agnosticism, intelligent design, and his own viewpoint, which he calls biologos, or theistic evolution.  I think that this was probably my favorite section.

I'll leave the rest of the book for you to explore, though.  You really must read it for yourself to get a true idea of what this book is about.

I think that Collins's most powerful argument is that we weaken God when we argue that God would not be real to us if the earth was not created in a literal 7 days, etc.  He talks about how we place this ridiculously human limitations on God.  Collins makes the point that God can, indeed be the master over all areas of science, that science is yet another language of God.  I found this to be a beautiful and poignant message.

This is probably the most controversial book that I've ever reviewed and it feels a little funny writing about something that is a rather tense issue right now.  But, I enjoyed this book and found it to be a thought provoking piece of writing.   If you're interested in this, Collins has also headed up a whole organization/website called BioLogos, or faith and science in harmony.   Here's the link:
http://biologos.org.

This book is for anybody who has ever thought about the rather fraught with tension issue of science and faith.  I think that this book perfectly addressed this issue, if only as a presentation of another position.  I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Sense and Sensibility by Joanna Trollope

A couple months back, Girl with her Head in a Book reviewed the two books that have been written so far in the Jane Austen Project series.  She wrote quite favorably of Northanger Abbey (which I have on hold at the library), but was quite tepid about Sense and Sensibility.  Well, I ignored her wise advice and grabbed Sense and Sensibility on a whim, thinking, "What the heck.  How much can you mess up Sense and Sensibility?"
People, note the earbuds coming out of the sides of their heads.   

I must preface this review by saying that I don't really approve of Jane Austen re-writes.   I mean, come on people, just read the real thing!  Are we really so pathetic that we can't pick up and understand the originals?  That said, I like what the Jane Austen project is doing and I think that, in the right hands, these books have the potential to be an interesting offshoot of the Austenite movement.  But Joanna Trollope was not the right person to handle this book.

I started the book yesterday and at first quite enjoyed it.  It is definitely not deep writing.  It's rather chick-litish, but I stuck with it and read until about halfway through.  And then I stopped.  Here was the main problem- the story just wasn't believable and it wasn't just an unbelievable scenario, it was a poorly written unbelievable scenario.  And so I quit.

Trollope set this story in modern England. Elinor, Marianne, Margaret, their mother (named Belle in this version) are left penniless and homeless after their father/husband (but not really), Henry Dashwood, dies of asthma.  Their father's son-from-a-previous-marriage comes with his unbearably awful wife (I hate her in every version I have ever watched/read of this book) and claims their old house, since he is the rightful heir to his father's possessions.  See, Belle and Henry Dashwood never really got around to getting married, which, according to Trollope, means that Belle and her daughters couldn't inherit anything from Henry.  I have my doubts about this, but I'm not a lawyer, so we'll let that drop.  But really, Joanna?  It is 2014.

Marianne is the sensibility half and Elinor is the sense half.  Margaret is the rebellious little sister who, it appears, spends the whole book listening to her iPod.  Belle is drifty and incapable of getting anything done and Marianne has inherited her father's asthma and her mother's personality, so the two of them completely lean on Elinor, much as they did in the actual book by Jane Austen.  Of course, there are the love interests- Edward, the attractive, but obviously bad-choice John Willoughby, and whoever Marianne ends up with (I didn't finish the book, so I have no idea who it is).  I actually liked Edward in this book.  He was an attractively-written man and he was the only character that Trollope semi-successfully pulled into the 21st century.

The story was very poorly written.  Of course, there were the problems of settings and such, but some of the sentences were just laughably bad.   Take this quote, for example,
"Marianne was in her favorite playing chair by the window in her bedroom, her right foot on a small pile of books-a French dictionary and two volumes of Shakespeare's history plays came to just the right height-and the guitar resting comfortably across her thigh.  She was playing a song of Taylor Swift's that she had played a good deal since Dad died, even though-or maybe even because-everyone had told her that a player of her level could surely express themselves better with something more serious."  Isn't that just the oddest, most full of unnecessary detail paragraph that you ever read?

Now here was my main complaint about the book.  I felt like Trollope was completely incapable of pulling this into the 21st century successfully.  She basically re-wrote Sense and Sensibility by Austen with a little side-addition of some shocking drug-trading going on in the background and plenty of social media stirred in.   Seriously, the fact that everybody had an iPod and a Twitter account was the only way that you could tell that this was set nowadays.  Trollope very awkwardly kept drawing attention to the fact that, "See?  See?  Isn't this new and hip and relevant?  Everybody has an iPhone!  Didn't you just notice the fact that Marianne just played a song on her guitar by Taylor Swift??!!!!!"
It just didn't fit.

I think that, for this book to work, it needed to be completely rewritten in such a way that it only held very slight ties to the original.  If these books are supposed to be new and original re-imaginings of Austen's writing, then I'd like to see it.  Trollope just did not manage to do this.  And maybe part of the problem is this story line.  Maybe there are just too many archaic references and settings and plot lines to make this a successful modern story.

After I smacked this book shut, I pulled the Real Sense and Sensibility off the shelf.  Ahhh...what a breath of fresh air!  Nobody writes like Jane Austen and I kind of doubt that anybody ever will.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home

Oh, readers.  I have fallen head over heels for this ice cream book.  Seriously.  I think it's the world's best ever ice cream book.  Ice cream books are definitely not a new phenomenon- from David Lebovitz's The Perfect Scoop to People's Pops (a hipster ice cream/popsicle cookbook).  But this cookbook is brilliant in a different way.

The thing that stands out to me is the fact that every single recipe I see in this cookbook sounds delicious.  I would happily eat any of the (sometimes unexpected and strange) flavors of ice cream enclosed in this book.  But here's the thing, these recipes aren't just bizarre for the sake of being bizarre.  Oh, no.  You know those recipes that are written simply for the sake of shocking and grossing out a large portion of the population?  While this cookbook has some interesting combinations, they are well-thought out and inspired, not just weird.

This cookbook is written by Jeni Britton Bauer, who started a small collection of ice cream stores all across Ohio.  As the restaurants grew in fame, Bauer began trying more and more combinations of flavors and found that the public was actually thrilled with this new, inspired flavors.  Bauer is a strong supporter of the local food movement and so the recipes are very conveniently arranged by season.  So you're not going to be making a roasted strawberry ice cream in January.

The photography is breath-taking.  I am completely in awe of people who can photograph food well.  The pictures are all beautiful and well-lighted and make the food look even better than I ever could.  Now that I think about it, it's probably because they don't just shove the random bits of household junk to one side of the table and then forget to turn on any lights while they take a few dimly lit pictures of a bowl of food.  Ahem.  But back to the book.  Each recipe is accompanied by a beautiful picture of a spoon full of ice cream.

As I mentioned earlier, the flavors are genius- things that would never cross my head.  Take this list that I made of a few of the ice cream flavors in this book:
-Wild Berry Lavender Ice Cream
-Bangkok Peanut Ice Cream (peanut butter ice cream with cayenne pepper, coconut milk, and honey)
-Gucci Muu Muu (a chocolate ice cream with curry powder)
-Sweet Corn and Black Raspberry Ice Cream

I'm currently waiting for a small, 1-quart ice cream maker to come in the mail.  We have the big gallon crank that you pull out for family gatherings and make a whole bunch of vanilla ice cream.  But, honestly, you don't want a gallon of celery ice cream with candied ginger.  But if a family of four each gets a small bowlful?  Perfect!  So once that comes, I will be celebrating the end of summer with lots of ice cream.

I sat drooling over this ice cream.  You simply must read this.  It doesn't involve turning on an oven.  All you need is a pile of dairy products, a couple other ingredients and an ice cream crank.  I know that you'll like this book.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Library Loot- 9/12/14

I'm participating in Library Loot from The Captive Reader this week!
"Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Linda from Silly Little Mischief that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries."

I haven't done a Library Loot post in a long time, but, unlike my recent library trips, I actually got a good pile of loot.  Yippee!

1. Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams At Home- This cookbook is one that I have heard rave reviews of and I think I'm going to love it.

2.  Adventures in Yarn Farming- Just a pretty book about raising sheep for wool.  Since we do this, this book holds a special interest.

3.  Longbourn by Jo Baker- A book about life downstairs of Longbourn, the fictional house of Jane Austen's Bennet family.

4.  Crossing on the Paris by Dana Gynther- The story of three women on board a ship in 1921.

5.  The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin- A woman's yearlong journey of returning home to create a warm, happy life with her family.

6.  The Language of God by Francis S. Collins- I think this book is going to be fascinating.  It's written by a scientist who's head of the Human Genome project.  He's also a serious Christian.  It's his defense of why Christianity and science need to have a harmonious relationship, and how they can go about that.

7. Northanger Abbey by Val McDermid- I have this on interlibrary loan right now, so I'm waiting for it to come to my library.  I'm including this, though, because it's practically on my library loot pile!  This book is part of a new project called The Austen Project.



What's on your library loot pile?