Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Tuesday Book Reviews

Coffee and Ghosts by Charity Tahmaseb

Five star review of Coffee and Ghosts 1: Must Love Ghosts: The Complete First Season by Charity Tahmaseb

Katy took over her grandmother's ghost-hunting business in a small Minnesota town. She used coffee to capture ghosts. Malcolm arrived in town and used tea in an ancient samovar for the same purpose. At first they were at odds, but eventually teamed up as a series of paranormal events occurred. The combination of scary moments, comedy and romance make for very enjoyable stories. Katy and Malcolm, his brother and a few other characters (and also a few of the resident ghosts and sprites) are great characters.

Vietnam Veterans Unbroken: Conversations on Trauma and Resiliency

Four star review of Vietnam Veterans Unbroken: Conversations on Trauma and Resiliency compiled and edited by Jacqueline Murray Loring

Using correspondence from seventeen veterans, organized by topic, the author tells the stories of their service and their lives during the forty years since they served. Some of the letters and stories are moving, some are just sad, many are hard to read. Illustrated with photos of the men and women, these stories should be read to help us understand how the war affected the veterans and what did and what should have happened to them afterwards.

Toward a More Perfect Union by Bruce A. Lieberman
Three star review of Toward a More Perfect Union by Bruce A. Lieberman

The book consists of a series of essays from a specific political viewpoint rather that any objective, non-partisan one. Although I mostly agree with the writer, I found it heavy-handed. Mr. Lieberman obviously loves our country and wants the best for it. His ideas on how to change it seem impractical under current conditions. If you’re looking for a book that supports your own ideals, this may be it.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Newest Knits

My latest sweater, front and back:

The four-ply yarn is a Cascade 220 with plies of dark brown, tan, beige and gray.

Monday, November 11, 2019


From a WIP. What do you think?

Someone banged on our door, an insistent rat-tat-tat. “Grab your things and come with me.” Marlene, the attendant for our train car, sounded out of breath. “Hurry. Abandon this car. It’s gonna fall into the ravine. Couldn’t decouple it.” The words tumbled over each other and were repeated a little farther away.
My eyes became accustomed enough to the dark that I could put my arm through the strap of my messenger bag and follow Abby out into the corridor.
Marlene rushed us to a line of people heading down the spiral stairs in the still-hurtling train. She shouted so we could hear her above the increasing noise level, “You’ll have to jump, no matter how frightened you are.”
As I went around the bend of the stairway, I heard, “Geoff, I can't do it.” The little girl at the front of the line balked. She turned to reveal a face covered in tears and a shaking body. “Please don’t make me.”
Marlene said we have to, Franny,” The teen behind her said. “Toss your backpack first so it's easier.”
I wasn’t sure I could jump either. I slipped the strap off my shoulder, preparing to throw the bag.
Franny finally leaped off, and her brother followed. Next, a younger boy jumped as if he were vaulting into a pool.
I reached the front of the line and looked down. Would I break something if I jumped? At least it was still light outside, and the ground was almost flat. I flung my bag, closed my eyes and jumped, trying to emulate the boy. My fall from the train was broken by the ground and sparse grass. From the siding, I glanced around. Holy moley! The cars ahead of ours were tumbling into a ravine. Any trestle bridge that had been there was gone. The falling train sections pulled our car toward the precipice, too. I gulped, realizing we could still be on it. My stomach clenched as I watched more people jump from our car as it neared the edge. Sparks flew from under the wheels as it neared the edge.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Tuesday Reviews on Wednesday

Forager by Peter R. Stone

4-star review of Forager by Peter R Stone

A hundred years from now, after an apocalyptic thermonuclear war, only parts of Melbourne remain. Ethan lives in Newhome, an area outside the damaged center of the city and works as a Forager, going out daily with his crew to find valuable metals in the ravaged skyscrapers and houses. When a group of Custodians is assigned to accompany the group, ostensibly to protect them from Skels, the skeleton-armored humans that haunt the area, Ethan believes they’re really there to root out anyone with mutant abilities, abilities he’s hidden from all but a few. When a convoy sent to establish trade with a Japanese-developed village is attacked by the Skels, the action revs up, especially when Ethan is drawn to the female translator sent with the convoy. I’d rate this 4.5 except for the abrupt ending that requires the next book in the series to find out what happens next.

Becoming by Michelle Obama

5-star review for Becoming by Michelle Obama

This was a fascinating look at Michelle’s childhood, education, marriage and her time in the White House. Her rise from a humble beginnings to First Lady of the United States is inspiring. Her efforts to help other girls reach for the stars is a part of her. No doubt she is an intelligent and caring woman. I’m impressed by how much time and energy she has devoted to her family. If you’re looking for a political book, this isn’t it. As she says, politics isn’t her field of interest. For her, championing education for girls all over the world, including the US, is of utmost importance.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Excerpts on Sunday

Here's an excerpt from The Crimson Orb, the first novel in The Crystal Odyssey Series.

I sat on a carved wooden bench in my favorite corner in the vegetable garden, watching the boys at their morning sword practice with my father and wishing I was out there with them. My brother Blane, nineteen-years-old and blond like Father, was easily besting the duke's son Kerr, as he usually did.
My favorite of the pure black cats inhabiting the Manor jumped up on my lap, licked a paw, then curled up and promptly fell asleep. It was that kind of warm summer day when, if I wasn't with the boys, I didn't want to do anything more than sit in the shade of the old apple tree and inhale its sweet scent. Since I was ten I've dreamed of learning to feint and parry, thrust and slice like Blane, Kerr, and my other brother Donal. But I'm a girl and it wasn't seemly.
Girls of ten to twenty were relegated to the sewing room where Jannet, the governess and seamstress, taught us the fine art of needlepoint. I couldn't sew a straight line to save myself, and I really wasn't interested in learning. Our only other lessons were in the kitchens. Cook – whose name was Bridey although no one ever called her anything but Cook, not even her husband – taught us to boil an egg and make soup from whatever was available. That wasn't so bad, because we could eat what we made and no one else was the wiser when it tasted awful.
Blane won his match, and next Donal fought a duel with Adair, the duke's younger son. I watched them closely, Donal's red hair and Adair's blond shining in the sun. I hoped I could learn by paying close attention, if not by actually using a sword. Mind you, these were short practice swords, not meant to do much damage. Donal appeared to do much better than I'd seen in the past.
I was startled when someone sat next to me on the bench. It was Madoc, the Manor's resident wizard. I never heard him coming, and yet suddenly he was there, like magic, which was what he wanted everyone to believe.
"Donal has improved, hasn't he?" Madoc hadn't lost his East Island accent. You would think a wizard would do something about that, but his kind of magic came from knowing what others had long forgotten. All I knew was that things had been different in the past. He had knowledge from reading ancient texts and passed some of it on to the boys.
I looked into his warm, dark eyes. "Yes. His movements are more..." I strove to find the right word. "more fluid." I waved my arms about, imitating my brother.
"He's learned how to become one with his sword," Madoc said. "Notice how Adair has to work to make the sword do what he wants, but Donal lets his sword go where it should."
I turned to him. "Did you teach him that?"
"Your brothers both have some magical talent, an understanding of how to connect with everything around them," Madoc explained. "I just helped Donal to recognize how to use that."
"Oh." As much as I wished I’d be allowed to learn to use a sword, my desire to study magic with Madoc was even greater.
He'd come to the Manor when I was eight. The duke's previous wizard was getting old and the duke wanted a younger man to take his place, although I doubt he expected a lad of sixteen. Madoc had shown his abilities on several occasions, despite his youth. He taught the boys who were interested in his art, and gave all of them lessons in science as well.
Now, eight years after his arrival, he was part of our lives, and no one questioned his ability.
Why aren't you in the sewing room with Morna and the other girls?” he asked.
I hate sewing.” I hesitated about going on, but the need to tell someone who might help make it happen was too strong. “I would rather learn to sword fight and do magic.” There, I'd said it.
He looked deeply into my eyes and asked, “Why do you hate to sew?”
I shrugged. “I'm not very good at it.”
Do you hate it because you're not good at it, or are you not very good at it because you hate it?”
That was a question I'd never considered. “Do you think if I liked sewing and thought it would somehow be useful, I'd be better at it?”
Then he really surprised me. “Nissa, you probably have as much magical ability as Blane and Donal.” He paused briefly while I considered that and what it had to do with what we'd been talking about. “Just as your brothers use the energy around us to guide a sword arm, you can learn to use it to improve your sewing.”
I swallowed. “Would you teach me?” I dared to ask. “I mean, show me how, as you've shown them?”
He stared at me for so long that I was afraid he was preparing to refuse, but then he surprised me one more time. “Meet me in my rooms this afternoon when the boys return here for sword practice, and we'll see how good a pupil you can be.”
I thought I would burst with happiness. Madoc was going to teach me to do magic, or rather how to use it!
I'll be there!” I said. He laughed, but it was a friendly laugh.
The cat woke just then and jumped off my lap. “Well, I guess I'd better get back to Jannet before anyone misses me.”
I could feel his eyes on me as I walked off. It was more of a skip than a walk as I made my way through a wooden side door and down the narrow hallway inside the Manor. But my good mood dissipated when I entered the room where my fourteen-year-old sister Morna and a few other girls sat at two tables, hemming the cloth napkins they would later embroider.
Narissa Day, where have you been?” Jannet asked, her broad accent deepening with her annoyance. Few people called me by my full name, but usually it was when they wanted to scold me.
I...I needed some air,” I replied. It was true that this room was stuffy. Lint from the linen cloth we worked with hung in the still air and I could actually see it when the light came through the two tiny east windows that early in the morning.
Well, you're falling behind. Morna, show your sister what she's to do,” Jannet instructed.
Yes, Ma'am,” Morna said, smiling her usual radiant smile. She still hadn't outgrown the sprinkle of freckles across her nose, and her bright red hair cascaded over her shoulders. You had to smile with Morna whenever you looked at her.
For the next hour or so, I worked diligently at hemming large squares of cloth under Jannet's critical eye, hoping that my lesson with Madoc in the afternoon would make this task much more pleasant in the future. The time passed slowly on the old hourglass Jannet used to time our work. I was always the last to finish.
Well, this time my finished hems were more or less straight and my stitches were even smaller and more even than Larena's. She was the duke's daughter, and the second worst seamstress after me.
Very well, ladies. You may all wash up and go to luncheon,” Jannet said.
We stood up and then trooped out toward the dining hall, stopping at the trough just outside to rinse off our hands before we ate. The hall was already filling up. The boys, hungry after their exertions on the practice field, were lined up to get their food. I just hoped they'd leave something for the rest of us.

The ebook is on sale this week

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Tuesday Book Review

Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet

4 star review of Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet by Charlie Holmberg

The title of this fantasy story is appropriate, as the protagonist, Maire, is a baker who infuses her confections with emotions and attitudes just by thinking of them. The story is also sometimes bitter, sometimes sweet, and sometimes bittersweet. Maire goes from her sweet life as the baker in an idyllic town, where she lives with lovable Dorice and Franc to the bitter life of a slave to the simple but cruel Allemas. His demands evoke known fairy tales and, like them, have their dark moments. All the while, she’s visited sporadically by the ephemeral Fyel. I won’t spoil the story, but I will say, as bittersweet as the ending is, the epilogue is almost too sweet.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Sunday Wool Blog

Superwash wool 
First a couple answers on the why of superwash wool. Why do people want it?
A big reason is washability. Non-superwash baby gifts can end up doll clothes, and socks that have been tossed accidentally in the washer and dryer barely fit a big toe. Dyers and knitters also love the intense color produced by dyeing on superwash. Lots of folks also say that superwash yarns are softer; they are certainly smoother.
Only a very small percentage of the superwash produced in the United States goes to the hobby market (that’s us knitters).
Much of the US-made superwash wool goes to ready-to-wear fashion, and to the military for uniforms. Wool for military wear is praised for its durability, its suitability in a variety of climates, and its fire resistance. The superwash process makes it washable, and it makes the United States wool pool (a variety of sheep breeds mixed into one yarn) soft enough to wear. The military uses a lot of wool and helps keep wool farming viable in the United States.

What Exactly Is Superwash?

Superwash is a process that makes wool less susceptible to felting when it is washed and dried by machine. There are two ways most commonly used to make a superwash yarn. One is to strip or dull the scales of a fiber, then fill the irregularities left behind with a polymer to smooth the fiber. The other is to coat the fiber to suppress the scales. There are many scientists working on developing new ways of shrink-proofing wool. Most methods are the super secret, proprietary information of the companies and labs developing them.

Felting: It’s All About Scales

Each individual wool fiber is covered with tiny scales, like a snake’s skin. When these little suckers are agitated, literally, that’s how felting happens.
Felting needs moisture, friction, and sometimes a change in temperature like accidentally putting things in the dryer. Wool relaxes in water, even more if it’s warm or hot: the scales open like the hatch on the back of a car. Agitation makes the fibers scootch closer together so that the scales hang on to each other. As the fiber dries the scales slam shut, locking out the ability for fibers to move past each other and locking in the new shrunken size. Your beautiful knitwear is now smaller, stiffer, and not so soft. If you’ve ever knit and then felted a bag or slippers on purpose, you know exactly how much the felting experience can change knitting.

Superwash and the Environment

There are environmental issues with many superwash processes, but not all superwash or anti-felting processes are the same. Different companies use different processes and chemicals, and different countries have different environmental regulations for their wool industry. The only way to know what process your favorite yarn company uses is to ask them.
While many yarn companies don’t know the process their suppliers use, some do, and a growing number are making it a priority to be aware and to choose supplies with the environment in mind. This is true about yarns processed in North America and the rest of the world.
For example, in most countries there are strict regulations on the cleanliness of water that gets dumped from any  industry, and there are companies that go beyond what the law requires to remove chemicals from their wastewater.
One of the most used methods to make a fiber superwash is to remove or reduce the scales on the fiber with chlorine, either as a gas or as a solution. Then the modified fibers are smoothed with a coat of a polymer.
Chlorine gas is the most toxic way to make superwash, both for the people working in the plants and the environment. A chlorine solution in water is less toxic to workers, and chlorine in this form can be filtered from wastewater.
The polymers used to smooth the fiber are made from different types of plastics. The type most commonly used is also used in paper processing. It’s a polymer that keeps paper from reverting to pulp when it gets wet.
Newer, more environmentally friendly methods of creating superwash are being developed and used in several different countries. I’ve read about some scientists experimenting with heat, and others working on a coating that biodegrades quickly, making the shrink resistance temporary. All of this work is industrial and secret.
One environmentally friendly method is used by O-Wool. They use a natural (and proprietary) polymer to coat the fiber to keep scales from interlocking. They do not remove or reduce scales, but only smooth them down—like using pomade on unruly hair.

With a regular and a shrink-proofed merino side by side, you get a visual to help connect all the words.