Currently on the hook

March 26, 2011 at 10:54 pm (in progress)

I’ve admitted previously that I frequently have multiple crochet projects going at any given time. If I were to stop and compile a complete list of projects pending, I’d get overwhelmed and also wonder where to draw the line: “Wait, OK, so that black chenille shawl is currently technically in progress, but I’ve not touched it in six months–does that still count?!”

No, best not to think too hard about it. I’ll talk about one of my projects pending.

Late last year, amidst a holiday season that was ridiculously stressful, I joined a swap in Ravelry’s Odd Duck Swaps group. When I signed up for the winter sanity swap, I had no inkling how welcome a diversion it would be. The idea of the swap was to put together a kit for a project and some goodies to help your spoilee get through the stress of the season. Granted, I didn’t get to working on the project itself for a little while longer, but I finally started it in February.

My spoiler gave me all the makings for Eva’s Shawl. She even went all out and bought me the most gorgeous carved wood hook to crochet with and a skull and knitting needle cross-bones project bag to tote it in. The yarn was from Wolle’s Yarn Creations in seafoam green, reminiscent of one of my favorite colors, teal. It’s aaaaaalmost done, my shawl, and with the weather warming up (sort of), I think the light weight of the shawl will be perfect.

Anyway, enough blathering. Here’s where it stands right now, about 75% done or so:

Here’s a close-up showing the gradual color shifts:

And lastly because they’re both so pretty, my yarn and hook:

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The Book Thief

March 22, 2011 at 9:42 pm (book review)

For a while, I’d heard rave reviews about Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief, so I flagged it as something to keep in mind as I combed used book stores. A couple months ago, I found it. Recently, during a spring break that I primarily spent huddled up in bed and miserable with the flu, I read it.

It is a dark and beautiful book.

Narrated by Death, The Book Thief tells the story of Liesel, a girl sent to live with German foster parents in the lead-up to WWII. She is the titular book thief, beginning with the grave digger’s manual she snags at her little brother’s funeral. She can’t read the book initially, but with the help of her loving and constant foster father, she learns, and over the course of the novel, indeed steals other books. Only a book at a time and frequently when she’s the most agitated by life.

The cast of characters of strong. Hans Huberman, the father, is loving and constant. Rosa Huberman, his wife, is a sharp-tongued woman whose constant verbal barrage masks her more caring personality. In time, they end up sheltering a Jew named Max Vandenburg, a man with “hair like feathers” who becomes good friends with the girl and even writes her some stories of his own on the painted-over pages of Mein Kampf. Their friendship is I think the most touching in the book since they are both traumatized by experiences and find comfort in sharing their nightmares with each other. Liesel’s best friend and accomplice to mischief is Rudy Steiner, a boy with lemon-colored hair who always asks her for a kiss. The primary source for Liesel’s later book thefts is the mayor’s wife, a shadowy, depressed woman who leaves her library accessible to the girl, tacitly encouraging the thefts and later recommending that the girl write her own story.

We all know the tragic consequences of the German Holocaust, and narrator Death does mention how busy the events keep him. But Zusak doesn’t dwell on the large-scale casualties, with the result being a more human–and devastating–look at personal loss during war. While the march of Jews through town is heartbreaking, so too are the results of a bombing campaign near the end of the book. As tragic as the losses are, the survivors’ emotions are more so. It’s a no-win situation, which is written well.

That said, the book also has very beautiful moments. As mentioned, the relationship between Leisel and her accordian-playing Papa is touching. His having a fourth-grade reading level doesn’t stop him from doing what he can to help the girl learn to read after she is awakened by nightmares is touching and indeed is a gift that serves her well throughout the novel. As many books are, The Book Thief is also an homage to the power of reading to transport people from dreary circumstances. This is illustrated simply and beautifully when Liesel reads aloud to everybody in the shelter as they wait for a bombing campaign to end. It’s telling that each time they have to go wait out a bombing, Liesel grabs her books to take with her–a bittersweet detail that is sure to make most bookworms smile a little in identification.

Death’s–and the book’s–final words are: “I am haunted by humans.” Fitting words for a haunting book.

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“Not leaving”

March 14, 2011 at 10:00 pm (current reading)

Markus Zusak's The Book Thief

A touching excerpt from my current reading, Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief.

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Stages

March 11, 2011 at 11:34 pm (crochet)

It seems like any crochet project has several distinct stages. Your mileage may vary, but here are mine:

1. Stash (a.k.a. raw potential): Of all the stages, this one varies the most wildly in length. In stash stage, anything is possible. That skein that you keep wandering by and rubbing against your cheek can be absolutely anything you put your hook to. It can go from scarf to cowl to wristwarmers with just a bit of imagination. And it’s pretty. And soft. You can’t keep your hands off that skein, and if it had hands, you’re pretty sure it’d be all over you too. Other people are probably a little uncomfortable watching the two of you.

2. Planning (a.k.a. potential, part two): Sometimes this overlaps with stash stage, particularly when one is disciplined enough to buy yarn with specific projects in mind. Other times, eh, it takes a little more time. One thing is certain: once you have the pattern, you know the inevitable conclusion: you will see it through to completion, oh yes, whether it knows it or not. I mean, come on, you’ve got the hook picked out and everything.

3. Beginning of project (a.k.a. the “ooh shiny” stage): This is the honeymoon period of a crochet project. Everything is amazing. The yarn? Amazing. The pattern? Amazing. The project just beginning to take shape and emerge as a beautiful project butterfly from a yarn cocoon? A veritable miracle. At this stage, people tend to ask questions like “Oh, what are you making this time?” And like any blushing newlywed, it’s the opportunity we hookers have been waiting for: “This is my new project. We’ve been together for two days, and I couldn’t be happier. I never believed in happily ever after until I started the base chain, and then, oh god, it was like destiny. I don’t know what I did with myself before he it came along.”

4. Reality (a.k.a. grumblings of discontent): Just as the newlywed realizes that her new dreamboat leaves his toenail clippings on the floor and the dishes a mere two feet away from the dishwasher instead of finishing the job, so too does the hooker realize that the formerly shiny project wasn’t actually quite so shiny. A frustrating row pops up in the instructions, or the yarn has unwelcome knots in it. Maybe the pattern repeat isn’t quite committing itself to memory as easily as one hopes. At least those irritations show there’s still an emotional attachment. Better that than…

5. Tedium (a.k.a. the “that new shiny project is looking awfully appealing” stage): “Oh,” you say to your project upon reuniting after a long day at work, “it’s just you.” Nothing is new, endearing, or even surprising anymore. It’s the seven-year-itch of the crafting relationship. You can go one of two routes from here:

6a. Grim determination (a.k.a. the “we’re stuck until the project grows up, so let’s just get through this” stage): At this point, you realize that the end is in sight if you can just make yourself do a set number of rows each night until it’s done. This may not be the most thrilling course, but as the end gets closer, some of the old excitement is rekindled. You remember why you fell in love in the first place and look forward to growing old with your completed project or giving it to someone you care about to grow old with. This is the logical, straightforward, pragmatic approach. However, there’s another way.

6b. Distraction (a.k.a. the “harmless little fling”): “Hello there,” you tell that skein of sock yarn that’s been making eyes at you from the yarn bin. “How you doin’?” You look over your shoulder at the once-so-promising project and sigh wistfully at what could have been. You may even feel guilty. But right over there is a shiny new project waiting, and if you’re honest with yourself, you and your little fling were already skipping merrily through steps 1 and 2 long before this point. You already had the hook picked out, didn’t you, scoundrel? And besides, it’s not so bad, honest; you’ll go back to the other project originally.

Once a hooker reaches stage 6b, anything goes. Monogamous crocheting becomes a thing of the past. Is there a way back from such debauchery? If I ever find out, I’ll let you know.

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