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Rarely There

A collection of discourses - myriad, profound, uplifting...
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Sunday, January 5, 2014

Lilian Jackson Braun and The Cat... books with Qwilleran


Lilian Jackson braun The Cat Who books Qwilleran

Quite by accident, I came upon a pile of Lilian Jackson Braun's books and loved the first one I picked up at random, The Cat Who Went Into The Closet (15th book in the series).

It is no secret that I love cats. And, with prescient Siamese Koko and Yum Yum, Ms. Braun has hooked in the cat lovers with ease.

James MacIntosh Qwilleran is a fine character developed from a recovering alcoholic to a prim and proper newspaper columnist who just happens to be a millionaire, thanks to an inheritance which he diverts sensibly for charitable causes, mostly anonymously.

Qwilleran aka Qwill and his intuitive Siamese cats, Yum Yum and Koko, investigate odd incidents near and far in Moose County, "400 miles north of everywhere."

The books can be loosely termed as mysteries, but some are rather meandering and dull. However, the writing is never dull. The daily life of this quiet place and the nice people seem to be plagued by unsavory criminal incidents which Qwill, as an amateur sleuth, tries to solve.

Of course, Koko and Yum Yum are the real solvers - they turn up clues and evidence, without which Qwill can't dream of closing up the case. Along the way, cat lovers are treated to the comfortable pleasures of detailed descriptions of typical cat behavior that endears them to the said cat lovers.

I found only a handful to be true mysteries worth investigating; and the solution seemed pretty droll, sometimes rather far-fetched. But, Moose County and Pickax seems like a place I'd like to spend a quiet retirement vacation, preferably in summer.

Next on my list to read:  “The Cat Who Killed Lilian Jackson Braun” by Robert Kaplow.

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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The World Until Yesterday

The World Until Yesterday
What Can We Learn From Traditional Societies
by Jared Diamond



As a Geography Professor, Diamond's prolific thinking and field research at New Guinea has brought out many books, and engendered severe criticism for his tendency to make generalizations based on just a handful of data collected by social scientists.

After, The Third Chimpanzee by the Pulitzer-winner, I was curious about The World Until Yesterday. It is a hefty volume, detailed and elaborate, wherein he argues for us WEIRD** people to learn something from traditional societies.

We have come take for granted the written language, travel, organized government with fine-tuned (and complicated!) laws, a society which strives to be ever-safe and progressive, and our unwavering faith in our abilities, despite the fact that these are pretty recent accomplishments in the human history.

Starting with what is a traditional society, we read about such things as child-rearing practices, treatment of or caring for the elderly, expectations of each member of the society, and constructive paranoia about dangers in the world.

Whereas some societies tend to kill a disabled child at birth, or even kill their old and ailing member to save the rest of the tribe, there are also such societies that treasure the wisdom and experience of the elders and care for them well.

The books has three real life situations the author experienced which were eye-opening not just for the reader but for the author himself.

Now, there's always two sides to a coin. What about brutality and warfare and even petty skirmishes for natural resources? What about law and order and a prescribed form of punishment applicable to all? In one incident shared in the book, a family that inadvertently killed another family's young child was not punished in the modern way of incarceration or death penalty. The families sat with each other, talked, and forgave, and agreed to move on without harboring ideas of revenge or hatred. Plausible in a close-knit group where members need to stay together to survive.

The book covers many aspects which is hard for me to describe here in detail. But, certainly a worthy read, even if we may not agree with some of the ideas therein.

**Western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic (“WEIRD”)

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Sunday, November 10, 2013

Sita's Ramayana

Sita's Ramayana
text by Samhita Arni
art by Moyna Chitrakar



I was bowled over by Mahabharata - A Child's View by Samhita Arni. She was just eight when she wrote it. And illustrated it.

Having read many versions of the epic through the years, by various scholars, in English, as well as the miscellaneous abridged and interpreted versions in my mother tongue, I have a special fondness for this tale. Bhagavad Gita, which forms a part of this tome, has been a huge influence in my formative years.

The other famous epic tale from India, The Ramayana, has always taken second place in my hierarchy of beloved ancient tales, right from childhood. I did not like the way Sita was treated. I did not like the way Raamaa used trickery to help Sugriva. I did not like the wasteful war and death over a woman who simply wanted to live her life. Again, having read various versions of it in a couple of languages, not to mention the distilled child-size doses in picture books and Amar Chitra Katha graphic books, it was something I took for granted.

But, when I came across Sita's Ramayana, I loved it! It is a graphic novel where the illustrations take the center stage, with crisp minimal text. The story is told from Sita's point of view - the main female character in the story who has often been sidelined in other presentations.

It is a quick read, if one excludes the time spent in poring over the gorgeous pictures. But, well-told from Sita's perspective - what she probably knew, what she saw, what she felt, what she suffered. Finally, Sita simply retires into the womb of her mother - Mother Earth - unable to take the callous treatment of her by her husband, the impeccable Raamaa.

"Chandrabati Ramayana"/"Molla Ramayanamu" pioneered by two 16th Century women poets took this unique perspective of retelling the tale from Sita's point of view. Possibly deemed a "feminist Ramayana", it is easily ignored or condemned. I am yet to read their translated versions as I am not proficient in the languages they were written in - viz., Bengali/Telugu respectively.

[image source: Author Samhita Arni's website]

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Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Adventures of Sally

The Adventures of Sally
By P.G. Wodehouse


It seems silly for me to write about P.G.Wodehouse's books here. Although inherently averse to fanaticism, I have held PGW's books in very high esteem practically from teenage when I first encountered it. They are a class apart.

If I were forced to pick one writer as my favorite, I would easily choose TP&PGW - opting to club them together as one entity (TP = Terry Pratchett). Only because they both inspire me immensely.

Well, enough of this gushing.

Moving on, The Adventures of Sally is not about Jeeves or Blandings Castle or Uncle Fred or any of the more popular staples associated with PGW. Nevertheless, it is a brilliantly written story, with the characteristic twists and turns and entanglements, all ending to everyone's satisfaction.

What's amazing about both PGW &TP is that they are keen observers of human nature, and they unfold the emotions behind the actions in a brilliant yet stark way that leaves us keeling over with fits of laughter. And they both know how to tell a tale - seemingly innocuous, yet profoundly complex.

Enough said.

I just wanted to list this book here as it is a hugely satisfying read, over and over.

[image source: Wikipedia]

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Thursday, September 12, 2013

Comedy Books

I'm Dying Up Here: Heartbreak and High Times in Stand-up Comedy's Golden Era
by William Knoedelseder


Coherent narration, weaving in the drama and tension, while keeping the characters real and staying objective, is not easy; especially a story about now-famous comedians before they were famous.

However, in I'm Dying Up Here, the author has managed to present a page-turning account of the golden age of comedy, and the events leading up to the strike that ended it all.

Back in the days, if one wanted to be a performing artist, especially theater/stage art, one had to make it in New York City; and for the aspiring stand-up comedian, the place to be was The Improvisation founded by Bud Friedman, a Broadway producer who simply wanted the performers to have a place to get together and exchange tools of the trade.

However, around mid 1970s, there was a mass exodus of comedians from NYC to LA, following Johnny Carson's The Tonight Show moving to Burbank, CA.

Many talented comedians like Jay Leno, Letterman, Dreesden, Lewis moved to L.A. in the hope of making it big. And, the yardscale for success at that time was being invited to perform at The Tonight Show - the only nation-wide stage on TV at that time.

When they get there, they gravitate towards Mitzi Shore's Comedy Store which allows them to try out their material and hone their craft. However, making ends meet is always a challenge and for many of the struggling artists, starvation was a reality. Resentment builds as Mitzi's strict control and non-payment policy  begins to seem unfair to the few who went through that system onto a more successful career.

Which led to an organized "strike"/"walkout" that had its own complications. And, thus started the downfall of this cozy system that seemed to have worked for many of the major players we've grown to adore from that era.

Along the way we learn about the nightclub scene and the drug culture prevalent in those days.

All in all, a fantastic read, absolutely well-narrated, full of pathos, and yet somehow larger than life.

[image source: npr.org]



Comedy at the Edge
by Richard Zoglin


Starting with Lenny Bruce, setting up the scene for what was comedy then, the author takes us through the changes and comedy subculture that evolved to its present-day irreverence, all thanks to some wild and crazy guys who dared to do what they wanted to do in the name of stand-up comedy.

Profiling several key comedians of the era like Richard Pryor, George Carlin, Rober Klein, Albert Brooks, all the way out to Jay Leno, Andy Kaufman, Robin Williams, Steve Martin, Jerry Seinfeld et al, we are walked through the gradual changes in the business, and the demands it put on the performers.

Dense with information, the book identifies the shift in focus of the material presented by the comedians - how the changing times influenced what they talked about on stage in an attempt to make people laugh. Starting with stringent socio-political commentary of Carlin's era, to Steve Martin's goofball buffoonery, to Seinfeld's observational comedy, we see how the "Age of Irony" took over the age of emotional rawness...

Drug abuse was accepted, perhaps even expected, to give the performers an edge - how else can Robin Williams excel at his craft day after day, club after club, gig after gig, not slowing down, not running out of energy and material?

Leno and Letterman come out strong in terms of talent, the drive to entertain and the determination to remain drug-free.

[image source: http://www.comedyattheedgebook.com/]

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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Detective,Mystery,Crime Binge


I've been on this binge-of-sorts lately - of detective/mystery/action/legal/crime/suspense type paperbacks.  Nelson DeMille, John Grisham, Daniel Silva, James Patterson et al.

I've been reading them without rhyme or reason - just whatever I can get my hands on - Run For Your Life, The Associate, The Last Juror, The Messenger, Plum Island, The Lion's Game... and, often, not waiting to complete one before starting the next novel.

Most days I switch between 2 or even 3 books I am "currently reading"... Easier to do as I have one book in the car, one in my backpack, two or three on my night stand so wherever I happen to be, I have a book handy to read.

Of course, even in this genre, there are some really well-written books with attention to language and plot and characters just as there are some quick cheap thrillers. Nelson DeMille's John Corey vs. Daniel Silva's Gabriel Allon vs. James Patterson's Michael Bennett... International Terrorist vs. Domestic Psychopath... it's all in the game. Just light reading.

And then, I've been re-reading some of the traditional classics of the detective mystery genre - Agatha Christie, Sherlock Holmes, P.D.James, John le Carré.

Though nothing much about these books inspired me to write a detailed post here, they satisfied a certain craving nevertheless.


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Monday, May 20, 2013

My Sherlock Holmes: Untold Stories of the Great Detective


My Sherlock Holmes: Untold Stories of the Great Detective

My Sherlock Holmes: Untold Stories of the Great Detective
 edited by Michael Kurland
stories by Barbara Hambly, Michael Mallory, Norman Schreiber, Peter Tremayne, Mel, GIlden, Richard Lupoff and others


The anthology of 13 stories contributed by various authors about one of my favorite literary characters seemed promising, especially since the stories are narrated from the perspective of some of the secondary characters, not Dr.Watson's; and, edited by Michael Kurland whose other Holmes books had a diametrically opposite perspective that it made me sit up and explore the possibility.

I decided to read the stories in this book in no particular order.

A handful turned out to be quite interesting and impressive, some were rather insipid, and a few were quite uncharacteristic and lacked respect for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's stalwart detective. But they all projected the spirit of the times in the style reminiscent of Holmes' original adventures.

"Call me Wiggins" was one of the stories I enjoyed. The young urchin, the Baker Street Irregular Wiggins, that Holmes employs as his eyes and ears in the streets often, is apparently taken under the great detective's wing, educated and trained, and even allowed to solve a case, on his own, successfully at that. Lewis Carroll's private life dragged into this story was a bit distasteful but the narration was quite tight and consistent.

"The Adventure of the Forgotten Umbrella", "The Riddle of the Young Protestor", "Mrs.Hudson Reminiscences", "And the Others", "Mycroft's Great Game" were all quite enjoyable. Couldn't say that for some of the other stories.

However, having tremendous respect for writers, especially ones who can take a famous character and write in a different voice, a different perspective, and still maintain authenticity and integrity, I did enjoy reading this book. I am no armchair literary critic - I prefer to share the books I enjoyed and not invest time in writing about the ones I didn't.

There were no apologies or excuses given for Sherlock Holmes in Doyle's narration - he is who he is. I liked that. Despite the coke addiction, despite the brusque and supercilious nature, Holmes had a certain sense of justice even if he had little regard for the law. As a result, I think I am biased against perspectives that try to make him appear amiable and even congenial, or for that matter tyrannical and vindictive.

As long as they keep publishing such collections, I think I will keep reading them.




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Saturday, March 30, 2013

A Short History of Nearly Everything, Longitude, Ignorance

A Short History of Nearly Everything
by Bill Bryson

Here's a book that has to be read in installments, savoring every detail, smiling quietly at the humorous presentation, sitting down awe-struck at the staggering amount of information we inadvertently absorb from it.

The title says it all - cosmology, geology (when geology wasn't even legitimate discipline on its own), chemistry, physics, life sciences...  the book is packed with history of the sciences, liberally strewn with anecdotes about the great minds throughout history who dedicated their lives to get one step closer to understanding our universe and how we fit in it.

This is the kind of book I wish I had read as a high schooler struggling to see the bigger picture, trying to figure out how all that I've been taught fit together, while at the same time getting a feel for the lives of the great minds.

[image source: amazon.com]




Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time
by Dava Sobel

I came across this book as it was referenced in A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson. Not necessarily in glowing light, but, intriguing nonetheless.

The Longitude problem was a huge one, one that stumped great minds of that time, one whose solution would immensely ease the lives of sea-faring folk.

Latitude was well established. Going 15 degrees eastwards takes us one hour ahead in local time, and going 15 degrees westwards puts local time one hour behind from our starting point. So, in addition to latitude, if we can know the local times at two different points on Earth, we can calculate how far apart those places are in longitude.

Growing up with GPS, today's children have no idea of the time when most of the ocean was uncharted and finding one's relative position was made all the more difficult  not knowing the longitude.

The subtitle describes the tone of this book: it is all about John Harrison, an incredibly gifted watch-maker who had no scientific background or training, yet dedicated his entire life to making an accurate mechanical  clock that would keep the time on sea.

While the rest of the learned folk turned to the skies for a celestial solution, Harrison quietly focused on designing and building a reliable chronometer.

Clocks were notorious for losing time in those days, even on land - temperature, pressure affected their performance - so, add to it the pitching and rocking in the seas and the extremes of weather, there was no way any of the clocks of that time could be relied on.

Galileo and Newton bent their minds towards this problem with no success. The British government got desperate enough to form a Board of Longitude, offering a hefty reward for the best solution.

Although it reads more like a human interest story, rather long drawn out and repetitive without additional value, the book is an interesting read, even if quite biased, possibly muddling the intentions and abilities of the other giants involved in the story.

Not much is shared about the inner workings of  H1, H2, H3, H4 and why it made them better - possibly because it was never blue-printed and shared by Harrison voluntarily; and there are not many pictures or images to help the reader recognize the beauty of this instrument.

[image source: neebo.com]




Ignorance: How It Drives Science
by Stuart Firestein

The author argues that ignorance, not knowledge, drives science. Not the willful ignorance that is empty of knowledge but the belief in seeking the unknowable, realizing that one answer raises a hundred new unanswerable questions, and that mysteries allow for possibilities hitherto not entertained.

"Being a scientist requires having faith in uncertainty, finding pleasure in mystery, and learning to cultivate doubt. There is no surer way to screw up an experiment than to be certain of its outcome."

Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, Phrenology, Gödel's challenge to completeness of mathematics... allowing for a possibility even if it seems improbable is the result of acknowledging ignorance - we cannot already know everything there is to know.

"It is very difficult to find a black cat in a dark room— especially when there is no cat."

The book is full of anecdotes and cases supporting the author's ideas. A very engaging and thought-provoking read on what drives science and motivates scientists.

"Science, then, is not like the onion in the often used analogy of stripping away layer after layer to get at some core, central, fundamental truth. Rather it’s like the magic well: no matter how many buckets of water you remove, there’s always another one to be had. Or even better, it’s like the widening ripples on the surface of a pond, the ever larger circumference in touch with more and more of what’s outside the circle, the unknown. This growing forefront is where science occurs… It is a mistake to bob around in the circle of facts instead of riding the wave to the great expanse lying outside the circle."


[image source: cen.acs.org ]


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Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Professor and the Madman

The Professor and the Madman
A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary
by Simon Winchester


Growing up with a dutiful reverence for the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) and the Wren & Martin Grammar book thanks to some dedicated teachers, I had never really wondered what it takes to make a dictionary. How does one know a word is really a word, when was it first used, in what context and how do you explain its meaning without being convoluted and ambiguous? For instance, how does OED define the word 'art'?

When James Murray took over the making of the OED, he called upon volunteers from all over the country to contribute as much as they can within the guidelines he meticulously developed for them. Among the many thousands of volunteers, a handful seem to have gone the extra mile, taking upon themselves the excruciating task of reading volumes after volumes of text in order to make up a precise definition of not just the more exotic words, but even the most common, mundane ones.

One such prolific contributor was Dr.W.C.Minor.

From his East Indies stint with his missionary parents, to his career as an American Civil War army surgeon, Dr.Minor's life was anything but 'normal'. Somewhere along the way, he acquired a mental condition that completely wrecked his career and any semblance of normalcy in his life. Retiring in England for a change from the increasing paranoia plaguing his life, Dr.Minor ended up inadvertently killing an innocent man. Convicted and sent to Broadmoor lunatic asylum in Crowthorne, he spent the rest of his life there, never getting better, never probably even diagnosed correctly or medicated as needed.

It was during his stay at Broadmoor that Dr.Minor chanced upon James Murray's call for contributions to the grand OED project. Being a man of means and superb literary taste, Dr.Minor already possessed a huge collection of rare books, which gave him the impetus to correspond with James Murray offering his services.

James Murray on the other hand grew up rather poor, was self-taught, a rather bright and enterprising man who just happened to be at the right place at the right time in history to make a major contribution to the English lexicon.

The book is a blend of history and facts, with quite some interesting speculation by the author, about the story of James Murray and Dr.W.C.Minor, with the OED being the common bond between the two men.

I liked the fact that the author did not sensationalize many of the horrific events, but instead chose to present it in a matter-of-fact way - especially the autopeotomy which left me trembling with disbelief.

However, there are parts of the book that was more speculation than historical facts, which in small doses was fine as it is the author's prerogative. But, it was hard to nail down the flow as at times it seemed like a murder mystery, at times a fairy blase biography, sometimes peppered with elaborate speculation.

Rather than setting out to tell a chronological series of events, the book juxtaposes information in a slightly jumbled way fitting the current part of the narration without being disorderly and confusing, yet being a bit tedious as it bounces back and forth between the lives of the two main characters.

The book certainly affected me more than I expected: the plight of Dr.Minor (and others like him) certainly made me appreciate the delicate balance of brain chemistry which can easily go wrong leading to terrible consequences. I've often reached for Oliver Sacks books and shied away from it precisely because I don't think I have the strength to learn about all that can go wrong with our amazing brain...

And as a bonus, I learnt a few obsolete words, and many interesting facts about the English language.

A wonderful read, rather heavy, yet quite rewarding in its own way.

[image source: amazon.ca]

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Sunday, November 18, 2012

Dodger

Dodger
by Terry Pratchett

Pratchett's 50th novel, Dodger, is set not in the fantastical Discworld but in Victorian London with its nobs and downtrodden, heroines and villains, not to mention Benjamin Disraeli (PM of GB), Sir Joseph Bazalgette (Sewer Network Engineer), Henry Mayhew (social researcher and co-founder of Punch magazine), Sir Robert Peel (Metropolitan Police), and Charles Dickens himself.

The story is rather straightforward and predictable - young Dodger,a street urchin, can do no wrong despite living in the slums, orphaned, and resorting to thieving, and then finally settling for rummaging in the sewers for 'lost' objects of value. He has the necessary skills to survive, has the beautiful heart to be generous, and a mandatory mentor who shares his living quarters with his dog Onan and the enigmatic Dodger . (If the dog's name is curious, the author urges us to 'google it').

Young Ms. Simplicity escapes from a loveless and abusive marriage to a rich and powerful European but is tracked and beaten up in London, somewhere near Dodger's usual haunt. Gallant and quick as he is, he saves the lady, who is then escorted by Henry Mayhew to his own home where his wife cares for such 'cases'.

Dodger grows very fond of Ms.Simplicity, who reciprocates in kind. Ms. Simplicity is not just any girl, a runaway - politics is involved, wars can start if she is not returned to her lawful husband. But, is it right to send her back to die?

Enter 'Charlie' Charles Dickens, with whose help Dodger quickly climbs up the social ladder, thanks to Ms. Burdett-Coutts and the right concatenation of events. It seems Dodger is favored by The Lady (of the Sewers) as well.

After a slightly tough start (for me, reading-wise), Pratchett's characteristic wit takes over and the story unfolds with the usual humor and twists that make it such a pleasure. The confusing contradictions of the Victorian England - women's place in society, the class distinction, the tenuous relationships between countries... all make for an interesting backdrop for the story.

Solomon, Dodger's mentor and landlord, is full of wisdom, dropping gems at the right moment, hinting at his exotic and checkered past just enough to preserve the air of mystery.

All's well that ends well. Boy gets the girl, villains are thwarted and justice prevails, sort of.

[image source: http://terrypratchett.co.uk/index.php/us/books/dodger]

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Friday, November 16, 2012

Sewing: Kids Fleece Tops


An easy and useful sewing project is to make fleece tops for kids, especially as the weather gets colder. I like the anti-pill soft fuzzy warm Polar fleece which I get on sale on and off. It is usually 60" Wide and so even half a yard is plenty for making one. I usually make a Size 5/6 which fits both the 4 yo and the 7 yo at home.

The fun part is to just add a small applique or detail to the front to personalize it, make it unique. I remember my daughter's favorites when she was about 3 or 4 - I was gung-ho about making a series of Nursery Rhymes themed appliques for her fleece tops.

Of course, the kids grow out of them before the fabric wears out so we've been able to pass the tops on to keep other kiddos warm. The Baa Baa Black Sheep applique one I had made about 5 years ago is still fine and is a great hand-me-down to the younger child. Of course, I 'extended' it a bit to fit the little guy with a band of blue fleece.



And, then, an elephant one, which is actually a Pajama Set.



One with race cars when race cars were the rage with Og

A green one, with a Cat, which was part of his Pine Tree Costume.


A grey one for the little girl, with a similar Cat.


And a very jolly Holiday one with a merry bird.




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Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Sewing: The Canada Dress



Of late, I've been making clothes for my daughter as needed, trying to incorporate her ideas. One of her ideas at end of summer was a "Canada Dress" which will be red and white with the Canadian flag appliqued on the chest.

Since it will be getting colder over the next few months,  she also requested tights to go with the dress.

Her choice of fabric was fleece and flannel for warmth. But, I didn't have white flannel, but plenty of white stretch knit T-shirt fabric.

I didn't use any pattern, as usual. Just measured her and cut the bodice based off another dress she has. I liked the ruffled collar/neckline and the bell sleeves with a gentle flare.

She did the Canada flag - white fabric, plus red strips sewed on by hand; then, fabric marker to trace and color in a maple leaf we found in our yard. I sewed this flag on to the dress.



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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Sewing: Wrap-around Double-tie Sarong-style Thai Pants


About 8 years ago was the first time I wore genuine Thai pants - at least it came from Thailand - and loved the pattern very much even if it doesn't flatter my frame much despite deftly wrapping the lower body in elegant fabric.

And since then, I've worn those pants only a few times a year, not because I don't like them, but because the style I was given is hard to put on - it is a double-tie wrap-around sarong-style pants. Ties are such that one fastens in the front and one ties in the back, and together they cover the legs in that elegant way that loose pantaloons tend to, but provide the elegance of a wrap-around.

Why not more often? Well, using the bathroom always turned out more of a challenge than I wanted it to be. Although that can be handled by smartly wrapping the front over the back and tying it in the back first, then tying up the front. And even then, the weather here is so cold that I have to wear leggings underneath and that poses a whole new level of challenge to use the bathroom.

However, I love the style as it is so simple to sew. So, this summer, I sewed one for my 7 year old. Only, rather than ties, I used hook-and-loop fasteners so she doesn't have to fumble with the ties.



And I got to recycle an old dupatta (shawl) that was part of a Salwar-Kameez outfit, that I wasn't using anymore.

It is not quite the loose pants with a tie that is popularly known as Thai Fisherman Pants, but a wrap-around one; but it was easy to sew with some reverse engineering to extract a reusable pattern.

And, the peasant tops she is sporting in the picture below is also recycled salwar, sewn a few summers ago.


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Monday, September 10, 2012

Snuff


Snuff
by Terry Pratchett


I admire Terry Pratchett not just for the side-splittingly funny story-telling he consistently offers but also for his thoughtful and deep social observations and commentaries.

While typically billed for Young Adult, I doubt if many of his books (Small Gods, Carpe Jugulum, Night Watch, Monstrous Regiment, The Truth, Thud!, Thief of Time, to name a few) would be fully appreciated by the tender minds as yet inexperienced and therefore potentially unaware of the significance and overtones of the narration.

As Siddhartha said, Knowledge can be communicated but Wisdom cannot. And sometimes, with age (and experience) comes wisdom, which allows for a greater appreciation of Pratchett's insightful genius.

All right, enough with the expounding, on with the book at hand...

Snuff is a Commander Vimes mystery. That's it in a nutshell, but, that hardly does justice to the 400-odd pages of sheer adventure.

Of the many wonderful characters who grace the Discworld, Commander Vimes grew in stature with the many books, from a lowly copper in the Night Watch to Captain to now the Commander of the bulging Watch, not to mention being His Grace the Duke of Ankh-Morpork.

Snuff addresses the social issue of racial discrimination head-on, albeit in its inimitable parallel world which is no different from the world we live in, except of course for the flatness of the Disc and the elephants carrying it riding on the giant turtle, the Great A'Tuin, and suchlike.

Goblins have never been admired much in literature so far, tending to be depicted as lowly, filthy, scums, probably sharp and cunning, but not ones to befriend or even associate with, let alone acknowledge the existence of.

In Snuff, Pratchett introduces us to goblins in much the same way - rather unappealing to look at, with the strange habit of collecting their bodily fluids in a pot and carrying it around with them at all times. Shunned by 'normal' folks, driven to live in hiding, with a status way below wretched animals in their society, goblins do not elicit much from us but disgust at the beginning.

As the story unfolds, so does Pratchett's propensity for peeling the layers of filters we wear to deny such sights that should morally disturb us.

We end up championing for the goblins, one of whom is inducted into the Watch, and all of whom seem to come across with some innate quality worth recognizing, if not appreciating.

There are several elements to this story which all come together in the end, beautifully as always:
Lady Sybill's impressive influence on His Grace Sir Samuel Vimes' life;
the delicate dance of marriage; the sense of duty that Vimes cannot seem to shut off;
the dynamics of fatherhood (young master Sam Vimes' interest in bowel movements of living creatures might be a tad uncomfortable for some, but, with two young ones myself who get excited finding dog poo during our walks I did catch myself smiling inwardly at the masterly touch);
the complexities of the hierarchical society; the (in)cohesiveness of the Watch at times;
Vimes' brilliant detective work and his ability to think on his feet;
oh, and as the title suggests, there is 'snuff' involved, of the tobacco kind that is entangled in a smuggling racket...

Plot thickens, as they say, and events concatenate to a very satisfying climax.

One of the more serious and dark books of Pratchett, Snuff is probably not for the early teenager. It is a fast-paced read which does tend to meander at times.

While it might seem like a simple murder mystery with a few intertwined criminal threads, Snuff is much more than just that.

[An interview with Terry Pratchett by Neil Gaiman at Amazon.com]

[image source: terrypratchett.co.uk]

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Thursday, July 26, 2012

Crochet: Baby Blanket and Sewing: Swaddle Blanket



For a friend's baby expected in August I wanted to make something rustic and useful, something that is unique... and so I crocheted a baby blanket with soft acrylic yarn, and sewed a swaddle blanket in soft cotton flannel print.

Of course, the crochet yarn blanket won't be needed until late Fall, but the swaddle blanket might be handy for the first few weeks...



I thought about granny square afghan like I've made before, but, decided to use an attractive tight stitch in colorful stripes, making a unique pattern. As usual, a made-up pattern - just followed a (sc,ch2,2dc) cluster repeated throughout, changing yarn at the end of rows as needed.



The swaddle blanket is not an original design. At first, I was leaning towards swaddlers like the ones I made for Oggie, but found a nicer design on the web which has a simple tie to keep the "baby burrito" from unraveling.

My daughter's friend Enid (cabbage patch doll) volunteered to help demonstrate the swaddle blanket's utility.


All that was left to do was wrap up the yarn blanket in the swaddle blanket and give it to the expectant mother. I was so happy to do these projects. There is something magical and joyful about making baby things, just thinking about the new baby, how the family dynamics changes and how one grows as a human being...



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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Sewing: Black Silk Brocade Dress



I used to scoff at the cliched "Little Black Dress", never having owned one despite black being my favorite color. 


But now that I've made a few black dresses for my daughter, it seems so elegant and versatile, dressed up or down.

When I found this piece of black silk brocade fabric in the Fabric Remnants section at my favorite fabric store, marked down so that the 0.85 yards cost me about $2.50, I knew it had this dress written all over it.

I made up the pattern: the front looks like a nice high neck dress; the back has these elegant straps; simple A-line cut; with matching hair-band which doubles as a fancy collar.

I wish I had drafted up a pattern on paper - I love this design and might want to make a few more... Oh well. Have to rediscover the wheel next time the inspiration hits, I suppose...

A turtleneck shirt underneath plus tights makes this a cozy winter outfit; a long sleeved bolero or shrug over it for nippy late fall and early spring; as-is for an overcast summer day (of which we have many)... this dress is quite versatile.


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Sewing: T-Shirt dress

I love souvenirs especially from faraway places, places I know I might not be able to visit often. Typically they used to be fridge magnets, until we ran out of room. 

And then when we traveled with  the kids, it seemed nice to get them something that will serve as a souvenir. That's how we managed to sustain the souvenir T-shirt industry.

We haven't traveled much in the last couple of years, just nearby places, nothing dreamy or exotic, although, 'exotic' is rather relative...

Anyway, Ana was 2 when we went on the Alpine vacation, where we bought, among other things (like a Sweetzerland Hat and a Bavarian Dirndl-clad Olga Paapa and such) a Berlin T-shirt. It was 3 sizes too big then, and now it is 2 sizes too small, length-wise.

After 5 years of regular use, it is still fine and I didn't have the heart to give it away.

So, I rummaged in the fabric stash and found a piece of nice contrasting print to extend the life of the T-shirt as long as I can.


Needless to say, this is a new "favorite" summer dress, thanks to the little matching bow. It doesn't look like much in the picture below, but, it certainly is much more comfortable and unique, along with a matching hair bow... the drop-waist style is my favorite, and as it happens, is also the little 7-yo's favorite too.


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Friday, July 6, 2012

I Shall Wear Midnight

I Shall Wear Midnight
by Terry Pratchett

After Wee Free Men, A Hat Full of Sky, and Wintersmith, we meet Tiffany Aching yet again as a 16 year old practicing witch, doing the needful for the needy, nothing glamorous, nothing fanciful, just back-breaking work that touches people's lives in a way that only witches care to do. She is the hag o' the hills. Chalk's very own witch.

But then, witches are suddenly becoming unpopular. Not that they were popular to begin with - they were ignored and perhaps feared, but they were duly acknowledged and accepted, they were respected. Not anymore. A whisper, a thought, a feeling rears up and the witches are condemned and scorned, hated and hunted.


Traditionally witches wore black. Tiffany preferred green. They also wore pointy hats. Tiffany was going to make her own hat. The title refers to something Tiffany says in A Hat Full of Sky, ""When I'm old I shall wear midnight, she'd decided. But for now she'd had enough of darkness." 


I was terribly torn as I read the book - none of the usual buoyant humor and witty social commentary that I've come to love Pratchett for. This book is dark with a rather meandering story arc, with some unappealing and one-dimensional characters. 


The brilliance of Pratchett's writing, his ability to string the words into a perfectly fabricated sentence that delivers the punch while being side-splitting-ly funny and instructive, is what I treasure more than just the plot and the characters and the clever narration. 


I Shall Wear Midnight is sadly not one of those books that I shall treasure for the sheer joy of reading. And it breaks my heart to admit it, because, clearly, Pratchett is losing his battle with early-onset Alzheimer's and the world is losing a genius. 


But then Pratchett's worst is still better than others' best. And this is not a book to be tossed aside lightly. Pratchett's keen observation and understanding of human workings comes through in piercing depth.


It was painful to start the book reading in detail about domestic violence and child abuse and murder and the ferocity of the lynch-mob and the poison of rumors and hatred. 


The characters were difficult to empathize or identify with. The Pettys, Letitia, the Duchess, Derek, even the eyeless villain, Cunning Man, were all rather distasteful, no redeeming features. Unfortunately, even my favorite Feegles suffer from this treatment - the impish, fiercely loyal, funny and riotous Feegles turn rather insufferable at times in this narration. 


The Watch meets Mistress Weatherwax meets Tiffany Aching story has so many possibilities. But, this book did not explore or present much in terms of appreciating the combination.


Having gotten that out of my chest, I must add that there are layers of subtle commentaries on relationships and machinations of the world that are quite thought-provoking. While Tiffany's relationship with Roland ("we're good friends") is much talked about in Chalk, that romantic aspect is incidental to the story, yet masterfully explored. What do people expect of their witch?

Tiffany is not a normal teenager. But then, which teenager is really normal? Which teenager, witch or otherwise, doesn't wonder, Will anyone understand me? Will they know what I go through? Will they always treat me like an outsider? Will they not realize I am human?

I was able to finish this book in a day, thanks to July 4th holiday, but the book was not an easy read.

All's well that ends well. How Tiffany beats Cunning Man seems rather hastily stitched together, just to get it out of the way and done with. Tiffany advocates for social progress with a new school and maybe a medic for the village and so on, very noble, very thoughtful... and the new Baron, her good friend Roland, does indulge her wishes very kindly.


[image source: terrypratchett.co.uk]

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Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Wintersmith

Wintersmith
by Terry Pratchett

The third book in the Tiffany Aching series, Wintersmith is a delightful read, as always, narrating the story of what happened when almost-13-year-old Tiffany felt the urge to dance.

 Not any old dance, not an ordinary girlish frolic, easily indulged and without much consequence, with a village friend. No. She steps into the Summer Lady's spot where the Wintersmith has tangoed with her for eternity in the Dance of the Seasons.

I met Tiffany in Wee Free Men. At 9, she didn't like not being the youngest and didn't like having to babysit her brother, but, willingly  stepped into Fairyland armed with a frying pan to retrieve her brother from the Queen of the Fairies.

At 11, in A Hat Full of Sky, Tiffany's entry into witch-hood (witchdom?) was quite dramatic, thanks to the hiver that takes over her as it had taken over thousands before, only to destroy them in the end. Tiffany's successful apprenticeship and return to Chalk, her home, etched her in my mind.

And now, at 13, she has done it again. Only, she didn't know what she had done. Or how to undo it. Can Granny Weatherwax and the Nac Mac Feegles help her out once again before the world freezes over?

It is no secret that I keep going back to Pratchett's books for his writing. Out of context, and randomly quoted, his words may seem just bits of frivolous indulgence, possibly funny but not all that deep. However, when taken in with his wisdom and commentary on human nature, his words simply stagger my mind. I wonder, did he just set out to write that sentence as it is and just type it out? Or did he write down the idea, scratch and polish over time to get that perfectly shining sentence conveying exactly what it does at face-value but much more as the mind unfolds it in its unique way?


The summary of Wintersmith is simple: Tiffany makes the mistake of dancing with the Wintersmith who mistakes her for the Lady of Summer and is immediately smitten with her. He follows her with his iciness and freezes the world for her to be his. But when the wee lambs are dying of cold and the world feels doomed to chillness forever, Tiffany manages to take charge. She finds a way to reunite the Summer Lady and the Wintersmith and bring Spring back to the world. 


Tiffany, like any 13-year old, initially loves the attention from the Wintersmith, but her Third Thoughts tell her it is not right. Her Second Thoughts wonder why she likes the attention. Her First Sight sees little Tiffanys in the snowflakes and wonders if that is the worst thing that can happen to embarrass her. 


And what about Roland? Sure, she incidentally rescued him from the Queen of Fairies when she got her brother back, but, is he as dense as she had assumed? Does he hold a torch for her? If so, does she care? And if she does, will she do anything about it? Other than curtsy and make him nervous? 


We learn a lot more about Tiffany, the Feegles, their Kelda Jeannie, and the sorority of witches and how they keep a watch on each other. 


Rob Anybody, with Daft Wullie and the Feegles, are irrepressible and rather adorable. The Scots conversations are a treat to read, the characters forming clearly even as they are clumped together as a clan of little blue men who love to steal and drink and fight. 


Just because the protagonist is a young adult, the book itself is not just for the Young Adult. In fact, there are very few Pratchett books that I think the young adult would experience at a depth that age/experience/wisdom allows.
[image source: terrypratchett.co.uk]

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Tuesday, July 3, 2012

A Hat Full of Sky

A Hat Full of Sky
by Terry Pratchett

The second in the Tiffany Aching adventure, following The Wee Free Men, A Hat Full of Sky showcases this plucky young 11-year-old heroine's mettle as she embarks on her apprenticeship in magic.

Tiffany is a hard name for a witch to live down. But, in ancient tongue it also means Land Under Wave, something hard to live up to. But, Tiffany is up for it.

The Hiver, at once terrifying and curious, is a creature with no body, no real mind, but just a sort of parasite that holds the echoes of the memories it has taken over since before time began. The hiver seeks power more for its sustenance, for its existence at some level, than for some grand end. So, the hiver naturally finds Tiffany, a powerful young witch who does not know quite how powerful she is and why.

With Granny Weatherwax's and the Nac Mac Feegles' support, it would seem like Tiffany is well-armed, but, she must face the hiver alone, in her mind. And it will take all of her resource and courage to deal with it, perhaps more.

What struck me about this book is the pre-teen Tiffany's bundle of emotions portrayed expertly by the author, once again establishing his mastery over not just the nuances of the language but of the human emotions and social entanglements.

Arriving at Miss. Level's cottage, naive yet determined, Tiffany was most certainly not ready for the double Miss Levels - two bodies with one mind, but not in the traditional "twins" way. But she takes it in her stride and manages quite well despite the invisible neat-freak Oswald tidying up after her even before she is done messing up her room.

She has no friends yet; she is far away from Chalk, her home; she does not know what the apprenticeship involves; she hopes it will be all about learning to be a witch but is slowly finding out that it might not be all about the conventional abracadabra magic but of the more subtle sort; she is quick to form opinions but quick to change them when reason demands it;  and she is certainly sure of herself, at least until the hiver takes over her.

Will she turn "evil" and start to cackle? Because we all know that a witch is only one step away from cackling if nobody is keeping an eye on her and she forgets the difference between right and wrong and no longer feels the need to be accountable for her decisions.

All's well that ends well, as always in Pratchett's wonderful Discworld tales. Tiffany manages to send the hiver away to a place it cannot return from. She earns the respect of fellow young witches and the greatest witch of all, Granny Weatherwax, who is one of the most intriguing and complex characters in the Discworld.

Tiffany learns a lot about herself, about witching, and about making her own hat. Granny Aching wore the wind for her coat and Tiffany will wear the sky for her hat. She may not be able to fly the broom without getting sick or make a shamble in a hurry (unless she really needs to), but, she can certainly open the door and show the departed the way into the next world, just like that.

Pratchett's genius always leaves me awed and inspired. His keen observation and accessible presentation, not to mention his flair of language and the side-splitting-ly funny narration makes his books a much-savored experience every time I read one.

[image source: terrypratchett.co.uk]

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Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Illustrated Wee Free Men

The Illustrated Wee Free Men
by Terry Pratchett
illustrated by Stephen Player

In this first book in the Tiffany Aching series, Pratchett packs it with his usual touches - unforgettable characters, out-of-the-world situations, romping adventure, brilliant wit, plus his inimitable humor and perspective on social issues.

The Illustrated Wee Free Men is quite a visual experience. Be it the full page pictures that sort of form the background for the text superimposed on it, or the wee little Feegles hanging precariously off a letter or quietly trying to make off with one along the edges, or the shadows and typography lending the ambiance, the illustrations complement the text superbly, neither interfering nor distracting but in perfect harmony with the images the words manage to paint in our heads.

Tiffany Aching of the Chalk is all of 9 years old, but very practical and efficient at carrying out her duties, blessed with keen observation and strong intuition, not to mention her cheese-making talents, who never misses an opportunity to do some extra learning on the side whenever she can spare the extra carrot or the egg - the fee for gaining knowledge from traveling teachers.

A girl cannot know enough, especially if she is a witch. She is not thrilled about babysitting her little brother Wentworth as much as she has to, but, she does it nonetheless. "He's a nuisance! He takes up my time and I'm always having to look after him and he always wants sweets."

But when her brother is stolen, she will not say Good Riddance and get on with her life. No. She will go to the end of the world, into the dream world, muster all the strength, determination, knowledge and courage she can to bring him back home safely.

Thankfully for Tiffany, she doesn't have to do it alone. The 6-inch tall, blue-skinned, red-haired, kilt-wearing, Scots speaking Nac Mac Feegles always keep an eye out for her, their Wee Big Hag.

"Crivens! Gang awa' oot o' here, ye daft wee hinny! 'Ware the green heid!... Nae time for fishin'!"

With Rob Anybody, their Big Man o' the clan, Daft Wullie, William the gonnagle, Hamish the aviator and a lot more weird ones, the Feegles are easily the at-once-simple-yet-richly-complex characters encountered in Pratchett's menagerie. They are pictsies (not pixies, oh no)  full of vigor and the fighting spirit, as well as the alcoholic spirits which they imbibe in copious amounts whenever they can, stealing anything not nailed down, tending to scream 'Crivens!' and 'Oh Waily! Waily! Waily!' a lot, fiercely protective of Tiffany yet terrified of her wrath, jumping headlong into unknown situations and coming out fine in the end... if we end up loving them in the end knowing what a nuisance they can be it is thanks to Pratchett.

What can I say about Granny Aching? Well, other than what the story reveals, of course? Almost all the matronly women authority figures in Pratchett's books are awesome, some more authoritarian while others rather quietly compelling. Granny Weatherwax is an all-time favorite of mine, but close on her heels is Nanny Ogg, and now the no-longer-with-us Granny Aching, Tiffany's grandma.

It is quite a wild ride when Tiffany sets out into the dream world where Wentworth is trapped. She not only manages to get back Wentworth but also rescue the Baron's son Roland who was decomposing there unbeknownst to him.

All's well that ends well. It is indeed something when one finishes the book but the books is not finished with one. I caught myself going back to it, flipping to favorite pages and relishing the experience. Of course, I do that with all of Pratchett's books.


Although it is a suggested Young Adult novel, the book is a wonderful read for older readers. This is another of Pratchett's books that I would love to have on my bookshelf to pass on to my kids when they are ready for it. 

[image source: amazon.com]

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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Cheshire Cheese Cat

The Cheshire Cheese Cat
A Dickens of a Tale
by Carmen Agra Deedy & Randall Wright
illustrated by Barry Moser



Take the best cheese in England, a literate and resourceful mouse, a well-meaning solitary cat with a potentially shameful secret; and his nemesis of a savage feline beast plus a raving Tower raven; and add in some colorful human characters including our very own Mr.C. Dickens, the writer; and put them in an absurdly intricate yet easy-to-unravel situation, and you have the makings of a riotous story for pages to come.

Add to it the brilliance of English language and compound story-telling, and there is a sure winner.

Although this hilarious romp is marketed for the young adult around middle grade or thereabouts, I had such a fantastic laugh that I am convinced it is for all ages. Well, ages 8+ perhaps as the Dickensian tale with its wry humor and sophisticated patter would be lost on the beginner readers.

Better yet, I think it is best enjoyed by the discerning adult who can get the subtle references and chuckle heartily. But then, that's just a perk, an incidental frolic. The book stands on its own thanks to some exceptional writing and shrewd characterization.

Ye Olde Cheshire Inn makes the best cheese in all of England. Pip, the talking, reading, writing mouse manages to herd his motley pack lodging in this Inn, while ensuring plenty of the best cheese for their consumption.

Into this harmonious dwellings is introduced Skilley, fleet of foot, a cat among cats. Or so he would have been, but for a secret: his love for cheese. Skilley, even though he is ashamed to admit it, is a cheese-loving cat who cannot bring himself to catch, let alone eat, a mouse. But dares to present himself as a mouser at Ye Olde Cheshire Inn.

Pinch is the impending danger lurking around the corner: a perfectly foul villain who kills mice just for fun, and is Skilley's nemesis.

Maldwyn, a misunderstood raven kidnapped from the Tower of London, or so he believes.

There is no way I will be able to do justice to the style of language and characters and narration. It is not to be taken seriously, the book, I mean. How can I when one of the pages in the book is an entry from Dickens' journal that reads:

                 
                               C. Dickens


Those were dire days indeed.
The times were cruel
ghastly
appalling
It was the worst of all the days the world has seen-

Oh, why can't I write an opening for my new novel that stands out from all the rest?

...

I'm at Ye Olde Cheshire today with my friend Wilkie. I was looking forward to a marvelous afternoon of cheese and chummery, but with my well of words tapped dry, I can only despair.

...

I think I'll just jump in the Thames.
Or become a lamplighter or a chimney sweep.
Anything but a writer.


Of course, little ones may not get the reference to the Tale of Two Cities, but it doesn't take away from the story.

Chapter Ten has some creative type-setting like the ones in books with concrete poetry - the font style and arrangement makes it an enhanced reading experience.

The black-and-white illustrations capture the characters and moods perfectly, adding a bit of humor to it that is subtle yet forceful.

I can only imagine the kind of fun the authors must've had while writing this book.

All's well that ends well. There are a few knots in the proceedings which get straightened out to everyone's advantage in the end, with a surprise last minute entrance from a mysterious visitor who sorts things out as is expected of her.

This is a book I'd love to have in my bookshelf to reach for at will and read a few pages at random and know that I will be entertained and amused each time. I am adding it to the as-yet-non-existent Reading List for the kids when they are ready.

[image source: schoollibraryjournal.com]

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Some non-fiction books I've been reading

The first quarter of 2012 went by without much from me to share here...

Rarely There. Self-fulfilling blog name, apparently.

Of course, Rarely There doesn't mean nothing's been going on, just didn't get around to jotting it down here I guess. Looks like it is time to dust this space and spruce it up with fresh stuff, with a strong lean towards minimalism.

Been reading a few books over the last couple of months, just this and that, as the topics intrigued me. I don't think any of these are on the latest bestsellers list but they might have been at one time or another.



Art of Choosing
by Sheena Iyengar

Summer of 2011 I read an article in India Abroad about Dr.Iyengar's wedding. I was awed by all that she has achieved despite losing her sight at a young age to retinitis pigmentosa.

A concatenation of circumstances, of seemingly random events, can either be seen as a pre-determined course of events which limit us, or can be viewed " in terms of choice, in terms of what was still possible and what I could make happen."

I enjoyed the anecdotes and research case studies. I liked the cultural references in Chapter Two, A Stranger in Strange Lands, where the author described how her parents were married. The Song of Myself, Chapter Three was quite interesting as I tried to apply it to myself: whereas "How similar are you to others?" elicits a "Not very" on an average, the same question in reverse, "How similar are others to you?" results in "very similar", thanks to our self-intimacy, and our tendency to place ourselves at a comfortable spot on the bell curve.

Speaking of astrology, Dr.Iyengar sought to know why people allow their choices to be directed by this arcane art, citing her own life wherein her soon to be mother-in-law hastened to an astrologer because not only was her son marrying a non-Iyengar, but he chose a bride who is not of the same religion either. And, an authoritative, "They've been married for the past 7 lives and will be married for seven more!" from the trusted astrologer removed any objections from the would-be in-laws.

The process of choosing can be confusing and exhausting. There is so much to consider, so much to bear responsibility for, it's no surprise we long for an easier path.


The book was quite an interesting read (thanks, mom, for this Xmas present!)

[image source: http://sheenaiyengar.com/the-art-of-choosing/]







Biology of Belief: 
Unleashing the Power of Consciousness, Matter, & Miracles
by Bruce H. Lipton

I recently read this book (thanks, mom!) as I was curious about its message. The New Biology. Does our thinking really affect us physically? Do positive "can-do" thoughts really influence the bio-chemistry enough to effect a discernible change in the physical body at the cellular level? How much of DNA's determinism is off-set by our thoughts?

The book did not convince me of anything new, anything that was not already a buzz. The author drew extensively from his own life and how getting his life together has helped him experience an epiphany of sorts, leading into Psych-K program.

I am sure cell biologists and geneticists would be able to address the author's views with scientific authority but as a lay-reader, all I gathered is a lot of proselytizing for an amorphous idea which isn't necessarily revolutionary or breath-taking, but certainly plausible, if one has an open mind.

[image source:  http://www.healthbooksummaries.com/BiologyofBelief.html ]




Botany of Desire:
A Plant's-Eye View of the World
Michael Pollan

Omnivore's Dilemma by Pollan was an interesting read a few years ago. I skipped Botany of Desire when it was creating a buzz but eventually got around to it.

Apples, tulips, marijuana, potatoes. Four different plants and their relationship with humans. That is the central theme explored in this extensively researched book.

With genetic engineering becoming an everyday reality what with us seeking the perfect potatoes for French fries and the juicy sweet crunchy apples to munch, did we truly select the plants and tailor it to our needs or is it vice versa?

With many anecdotes and thoughtful arguments, the author has highlighted some very relevant and important issues we face today regarding our food consumption and our role in preserving bio-diversity in nature.

What role do we play in the evolution and prevalence of plant species in our world? What ethical and conscientious choices can we make every day to preserve and foster this symbiotic relationship with our natural world?

An informative and thought-provoking read, and apparently there is a movie based on this book that has been out for 3 years now. I'd like to check it out soon.


[image source: http://www.sciencecafesf.com/scibooks/]

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Sunday, April 1, 2012

Crafts: Needle Felted Blue Bird and Wet Felted Basket



I had just a small bit of lovely blue and orange merrino wool roving that my mum-in-law had bought for me a couple of  years ago and decided to make something small and cute with them.


The blue bird is needle-felted (much like the fairy dolls) - uses very little wool, some repetitive Zen-like needle-poking (protect those fingers, ouch!). The quarter is for perspective - it is quite a tiny bird, just the right size for pencil topper or mobile.


For the wet felted basket, I used a small bowl I had for the mold: place the bowl upside down, add criss-crossing layers of wool roving all around, get some dish soap in hand, pour hot water and work it in to wet felt, much like the wet-felted purse.

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Saturday, January 7, 2012

Crochet: Assorted Hats from Leftover Yarn


I crocheted a few hats for this winter - made-up patterns that are variations of the standard hat pattern.

The four here are each different from the other in some way - one even has ear flaps that provides the trendy chain mail helm look :)

Hats are the easiest to crochet - two ways to do it: from crown to brim or brim to crown. For kids I prefer brim to crown so I can start at the brim and check if the starting chain fits around the head fine and then size it from there.

I don't like doing gauge swatches - it makes perfect sense to do it, of course, but it is a pain. And that's one of the reasons I love crochet (as opposed to knitting) - I can adjust and size as I crochet along whereas knitting needs to be a bit more precise (at least for me).




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