Friday, November 27, 2015

Book Review: Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy

Bathsheba Everdene is a head strong woman caught in a time when men ran the world. She meets Gabriel Oak, a small farmer, while she is living with her aunt to help on their own farm. Farmer Oak quickly falls in love with her and proposes marriage only to be refused. Bathsheba tells him that she doesn't want to belong to someone. The two part and Bathsheba leaves town, shortly afterward Gabriel loses his entire flock of sheep and is incredibly grateful to not have a wife to care for. Gabriel heads to the next town in search of work and is sent in the direction of a large farm. As he comes upon the farm at night, he can see a large fire in the farm and runs to give aid. Gabriel has the forethought to protect the barn and the fire is extinguished with his direction. He is called to the farmer to be thanked for his service only to discover that Bathsheba is the owner of the farm. She inherited the farm from her uncle and decided to take advantage of the opportunity to be her own boss. She gives Gabriel a job as a shepherd and they rekindle their respectful friendship. Gabriel then watches as Bathsheba lives life on her own terms. Bathsheba's neighbor, farmer Boldwood, is an older bachelor with a large estate. One day Bathsheba decides to play a trick and send farmer Boldwood an anonymous Valentine with the seal "Marry Me" on the envelope. It takes no time at all to find out that Bathsheba is the sender and only then does farmer Boldwood start to think about her. He quickly falls in love both with Bathsheba and the idea of having a wife at long last. When he talks with Bathsheba thinking that she already wants to marry him, she rebuffs his offer of marriage and tells him it was an insensitive prank and she wishes to make amends. He convinces her that it is only fair that she allow him to spend time with her so she can truly see if she could marry him in the future. Then comes Sergeant Troy onto the scene. Troy is an officer in a regiment that is staying in town. He's handsome and charming and very forward with women. At first Bathsheba thinks he's conceited and too forward, but soon she grows to love him passionately. She meets with Troy very openly and in the eyes of Boldwood and Oak, causing a very uncomfortable love triangle.

Far From the Madding Crowd is a beautiful story. I had never heard of this book until they made a movie of it (though for the record I did not see the film until after I read the book). I loved how tastefully this whole situation is portrayed. This is one of those books that makes me with for a time with more social graces even when the people's lives were simpler. Bathsheba certainly sticks her foot in things over and over again, and Oak is always there to lovingly call her out on her mistakes. Bathsheba falls for Troy pretty much because he's the only man who doesn't want to marry her (which brings up all kinds of psychological issues, but whatever). It has to be said - I just loved the constant presence and consistency of Oak. He's definitely the Mr. Darcy of the story and another literary dream boat to add to the list. Any man that can save your entire flock of sheep and still look handsome is worth keeping around. The story overall is about how one person's mistakes can affect so many others, a lesson we can all still benefit from today. I give this book 4 out of 5 stars.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Book Review: Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain

Confession: I first read more than 2/3rds of Kitchen Confidential about 2 years ago when I was giving the book away for World Book Night 2013. I didn't finish in time, and then other books caught my interest and I never managed to finish this one in spite of how much I enjoyed it. I finally thought to just get the audio book in September and re-read/finish, and I did not regret this decision.

Kitchen Confidential is Anthony Bourdain's life story of his experience in the restaurant business. The book was first released in 2000, and served as quite the exposé for the raunchy lives of the employees of big name operations in the 1980s and 90s. Bourdain talks about how he came to embark on his career (mostly just to prove he could to a hot shot cook who wouldn't hire him as a college student), what he learned from the numerous places he worked at (what spelled disaster and what succeeded for the owners and management), all mixed with tips and advice about how to be a better cook at home and why you should never enter this seedy industry yourself. He talks quite a lot about his problems with drugs and how this industry enabled him to do pretty much whatever he wanted. Eventually he decided that he was not going to be a statistic and managed to get his problems in check as he climbed the ladder to become a successful head chef in a hot restaurant of the time - no easy feat.

I love how open and raw this book presented Bourdain's life and opinions. I'm not a big fan of him personally, but I can't help but appreciate his insight into the restaurant industry. The book is filled with bad language (I feel like I must warn friends of more sensitive tastes), but it feels so natural and truthful in his stories because of the scene in which they occur. I particularly love the section where he describes all the kitchen lingo in detail and then recounts a plausible conversation that would happen in one of his kitchens. It was hilarious to hear him read it himself. While this book caused a lot of stir in the world at the time of its release, all these goings on are much more widely known now so it didn't feel shocking (though I probably learned about all the back room dealings vicariously through this book in some way or another down the line). Even if you don't love Anthony Bourdain, this book is a real life look into what it takes to climb in this strange business, and I enjoyed finally getting to finish it :) I give this book 4 out of 5 stars.

Monday, November 23, 2015

FO: Zhixin the Fuzzy Mitten Mystery Red Panda

I always love participating in the Fuzzy Mitten Mystery Knit Along. I first learned about it back in 2014 (the first one apparently), and I've been hooked ever since. The original one took place in the spring of 2014 and we made Kangaroos. This year, the previous times had been so popular that Barbara (designer of Fuzzy Mitten patterns) decided to have 2: one in spring, and one in fall. I hadn't been very active in the group the past few months, so imagine my surprise when I opened up the Ravelry page and saw that another mystery KAL was going on. I was so bummed I hadn't heard about it before! They were already 3 weeks into the clues when I began, but I was determined to catch up and participate. I finally caught up a few nights before the final clue was released, and then I devoted a little time this weekend to the final clue ... and here is the finished mystery!
It's a red panda! Isn't it so cute?! I love how Barbara managed to design the colorwork on such a complicated looking animal. I think the odd bits of color are why there aren't so many red panda patterns available actually. This pattern, as is always the case, is fantastic and yields an adorable toy that is still easily recognized.
I made my red panda out of all stashed Vanna's Choice yarn - the brown is Toffee, the orange is Rust, and then there's black and white. I used Baby Bee Sweet Delight yarn in Angel (white) for his outfit - the pattern calls for fingering weight white yarn, but Barbara said to err on the side of too big rather than too small. I don't have much fingering weight yarn, and not really any at all that is truly white (I have some wool but that always looks creamy), so I just picked what seemed like a sport weight that I had on hand. My outfit is definitely too big, but not too bad. Kimonos are supposed to be loose anyway, right? The head is the only intarsia section of the pattern, but because no one will ever see the inside I just cut and tied the yarns together to secure them. Easy peasy :) And just look at his little ear tufts! Love them!
Just like all Fuzzy Mitten toys, this guy has jointed arms and legs, so he is pose-able. I love that these toys can sit or stand, plus they all come with a cute outfit. What's not to love?! I added a little bit of "soft sculpture" to the white area of his face. This is a technique I learned from one of the other Fuzzy Mitten Knit Alongs where you just sew between the stitches to pull in certain areas. His face was looking pretty round before I did this, so now he has some facial definition. Also, how cute are those eyebrows?! They are cute and functional since that tiny patch of white makes placing the safety eyes a no-brainer.
This picture is solely to show pride - yes, people, there is a seam down the middle of the tail in this picture ... but it's completely invisible! I couldn't believe how well the seaming worked out here - even I had to feel where the thicker area was when I sewed it on so the seam would be on the bottom - I couldn't tell otherwise! Mattress stitch is amazing.
I did have a bit of a brain fart on reading the directions. The pants and top were from Clues 1-3 and I mainly focused on getting the body parts done first, working on the outfit after and in a hurry to catch up for the final clue. As I was sewing up the pats pieces I kept thinking, "where does the tail go in these pants?" but I didn't read the directions closely enough to see that I was supposed to leave a hole in the butt seam. Yeah. I totally knew it would need a hole, but didn't bother to investigate further and I sewed the butt up. Once I put the entire toy together for the final clue, I asked Barbara if the pants should have a hole and she enlightened me, lol. I was able to just unpick that half of the pants seam and redo it with a hole. No problem. 
So there you have it - another adorable mystery animal! I had to sign off this post with his, "Hi-yah" pose, lol. I always enjoy these knit alongs with Fuzzy Mitten and I'd highly recommend the next one to any toy-making fan.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

FO: Tower of Owls

I couldn't just give my nephew one owl for his birthday, of course, right? lol. He wanted owls of all colors. While that's a fine idea, I just didn't have enough time to make multiple large owls. Thankfully, Stacey Trock has designed a pattern for just such situations ...
I made 3 tiny owls instead! I used the Nel the Tiny Owl pattern from Fresh Stitches. I've had this pattern for over a year and I never made it up before! What a crime.
So, all the owls are made with Vanna's Choice for their white areas and the Mustard color for their beaks and feet. This purple guy has I Love This Yarn in Grape for the main color and Vanna's Choice in Wild Berry for the eye circles. I bought the wild berry yarn because I loved the color over a year ago (again - it's a theme) and I've never managed to use it until now. This was the first owl I made.
I made the next two owls simultaneously. The green body color is I Love This Yarn in Christmas Green and the eye circles are Red Heart Super Saver in Spring Green. It's funny - I have I Love This Yarn in several colors, but I very rarely use them on anything. After using the green and purple for these owls, I want to use it more often - this stuff is so soft! It was really nice to work with.
This final guy has a mystery acrylic yarn for the orange body (I got it at a thrift store - full skein, no label) and the yellow is Red Heart Super Saver (also thrifted, so I'm not sure of the color name). All of the owls have 12 mm eyes which I found surprising. I figured they would use smaller eyes since they are smaller owls, but the 12 mm really does look best.
The only difference between the larger owl and this little guy is that it doesn't have a tail. I kind of miss the tail! They're still cute without one, but I think I may come up with some little nub next time.
So there's the little owls. I had fun positioning them for these photos :) I love the top picture - I stuck a chopstick through them all to get them to balance on top of each other like that.
Just like with Red Bee, Luke loved his little owls. This picture was taken just as he opened the present. I couldn't resist posting this shot even though my sister was talking just behind him and was captured making a very unfortunate face (sorry, Kelly). So pardon my fancy editing, lol.
Isn't he just the cutest 3 year old?! He had a Curious George themed birthday party, and we had a banana hunt and pin the yellow hat on George and we made pinwheels. Good times were had by all.
So now Luke has a whole multi-colored owl family :) They all sleep in his bed with him every night, and I'm told that he enjoys arranging them just so. I'm really happy with how they all turned out, but I'm mostly just happy that Luke likes them so much. Yay for owls!