Tuesday, May 31, 2016

All the jellies, ALL the time

The smack of jellies on the right is the result of an amalgamation
of patterns: one found in this book and the other online.
I've had a busy day today, consisting primarily of trying not to melt in the heat while being covered in a pile of yarn as I make a metric butt-ton of crochet jellyfish.

I don't think "butt-ton" is part of the metric system.
No, I suppose it isn't. Fine, if you insist on accurate terminology, I was making a smack of jellyfish.

How is that better?
I didn't make that one up! I just learned, about two minutes ago, that a group of jellyfish is called a "smack." So I thought I'd share a smack with you. Someday I may even give you a smack. If I'm fortunate, someday, someone will purchase a smack from me. That will, indeed, be a great day for me. I may even make it a selling point.

Anyway! I just wanted to share a picture of what I was up to today with you guys. These guys (and their jelly brethren) will be available for purchase at Stockton-Con this August 20th and 21st. I'll be sharing a table with my significant other in the artist alley, and I sincerely hope you'll come visit us if you have an opportunity! (COME VISIT ME!)

Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Ice Dragon by George R.R. Martin

Available on Amazon!
Holy shit! Did you read something other than a gardening or crochet book?!
Yes! And I am so glad. Most of the reading I've done in the past few months has involved research of some kind; mostly into gardening, housing, or crafting. While these are all subjects I will continue to read about, I'm happy to find myself with time again for a genre I have always loved and sorely missed: fantasy.

After hours of searching for free books using only "dragon" as my keyword, I came across The Ice Dragon in my public library's "digital" section. Having satisfied my requirement that my next read at least loosely be about dragons— and with the added bonus of this being written by George R.R. Martin— I set to reading. As this was written by Martin, I mentally prepared myself for an epic saga that would span at least the next several weeks of my life. Instead, I quickly discovered that this is a short story that lent itself to about an hour of relaxing.

You mean it wasn't a digital brick?
Surprisingly no! There are a number of things I expect from a book written by George R.R. Martin, including:

  1. a massive roster of characters to keep track of.
  2. torture. Torture everyone.
  3. the imminent death of all of your favorite characters. I realize they were all idiots, but they were my favorite idiots.
Instead what I got was a short story about a little girl, born in the coldest Winter, who loved an ice dragon better than her own family. 

Adara, our main character, was never like other children. She never cried or fussed, and rarely smiled. She was born cold, during the harshest Winter anyone in her world could ever remember. She remained physically and emotionally cold during her earliest years, preferring to play alone in the snow than spend any time with other children. Adara's greatest hope was to someday leave her father's farm with the ice dragon that frequently appeared to her during the winter. That hope was killed when war and fire breathing dragons decide to start shit at the farm.

Though set in the world of his Song of Ice and Fire series (anyone up for a little Game of Thrones?), the story is too short to inundate you with hundreds of characters. There is no torture, and your favorites do not die. I don't think this story has any relevance to the events set in Game of Thrones, though, since it appears this all happened hundreds of years prior— in the time when dragons were still plentiful in the world. The book also contains some lovely illustrations by artist Luis Royo. Check out his gallery; it's beautiful. That being said, he also has several images that are not safe for work, so you've been properly warned. I'm not going to spoil this read for you guys, though. It's a short and entertaining. I highly recommend it! The Ice Dragon is worthy of your attention.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Stitch 'N Bitch: The Happy Hooker

Find me on Amazon in digital format!
My love of this book—

"Love," is it?
—begins with the title. Which, unfortunately, does not lend itself to my usual introductory snark, so I'll be skipping that today. Instead, let me just tell you about one of my favorite crochet books!

The Happy Hooker was my introduction to the Stitch 'N Bitch series by Debbie Stoller, as well as my reintroduction to crochet after many years of not practicing. I came across this title while perusing the craft section at Barnes & Noble many years ago.

Like a crack addict in the crack section of the store? What a surprise.
My name is Ly and I am a yarnaholic. My stash is so great that several months of dedicated crocheting have done little to reduce it. That being said, it is not for lack of trying or lack of patterns. If anything, maybe I have too many options. Debbie Stoller put together a collection of patterns from various designers that range from hats and scarves to purses and swimwear; an entire wardrobe just begging to be made. Not that I'm insinuating there are only patterns for clothes and accessories here. The book also includes: an outdoor rug, amigurumi, bunny slippers, afghans, and some baby things.

Happy Hooker is split in two parts. The first is the best and most comprehensive "how to hook" section of a crochet book that I have ever encountered. Even if I got bored of all of the patterns in this book— which is unlikely— I would hang on to it for use as a reference guide. If you are a beginning or returning crocheter and you're rusty on your basics, this book will whip you back into shape in no time flat!

Kinky hook(er), is it?
Creativity and knowledge of a few basic shapes turn a
basic beanie pattern into something extra special
More like best hook for buying and keeping a book! Most craft books will give you a crash course on the basics you'll need to know to reproduce the patterns therein, but this... This is comprehensive! I find that I remember things best when I understand how they work, instead of memorizing that they just work a certain way. Stoller explains the "hows" and "whys" of crochet, as well as delves into some of the history and the differences between crochet and knitting. The result is that after reading this, and a little practice with the patterns, I was able to start figuring out patterns on my own. This book has even helped me with patterns in other books. Do you have any idea how annoying it is to start a project, follow the directions exactly, and find that at the end, the directions didn't make sense for the thing you're trying to produce?

Is it awful?
It IS awful! But with a bit of knowledge, like that provided in The Happy Hooker, you may be able to figure out what went wrong and fix it yourself! I certainly have. I cannot stress this enough: this will help you break down patterns into their basic components. No pattern will be so complicated that you can't ultimately make it your bitch. That's how this book will make you feel. From how to hold your hook, to finishing your project, and everything in between: Stoller explains it all.
Part of making a pattern your bitch is making things up
when you can't find a pattern for it at all.

What about the patterns?
Part two of The Happy Hooker is broken up further into sections for: scarves and shawls, hats, bags, "spring and summer" (clothes), "Fall and winter" (sweaters), accessories, and "home, gifts and baby." The patterns are by different designers and I've yet to encounter one that didn't work the way it's supposed to. In other words, someone actually made all of the projects presented and edited the patterns accordingly so there are no mistakes.

You say that like not all editors earn their keep...
Because they don't always earn their keep. That is yet another point in this book's favor. Each pattern includes some basic information about the project: the finished size, different sizes (small, medium, large), materials, extras you may need, and special stitches you'll be learning. They have recommendations for the yarn you use or how to adapt the pattern if you decide to go with something else. I believe the patterns for scarves, shawls, hats, bags, and home things are generally the easiest to make, since gauge— though always given— is not always as important to adhere to. However, once you've gained some confidence in your hooking abilities, I recommend branching out and making yourself some clothes!

So basically, what you're saying is... You love this book.
YES! Stitch 'N Bitch: The Happy Hooker is my constant crochet companion. I highly recommend it to everyone, whether beginner or master hooker. I am an extremely happy hooker; you can be too!

A note about format:
I bought myself a Kindle a few months ago after years of believing that a digital format could never compare with the touch and smell of a paperback. While I sometimes miss the smell of paperbacks, I'm happy to report that my Kindle Paperwhite at least feels like a book in my hands, albeit much lighter. Obviously, whether you decide to go digital or physical with your books depends entirely on your personal preference but I do want to point something out. With craft books, there will be times when you'll want to check the reference section at the front of the book for help on something while you're working on a project and I (personally) think physical copies are the way to go in such cases. Just putting my opinion all over this blog, y'know. I recommend this book and —if you have the space for it on your bookshelf— I recommend getting a physical copy. That being said, I hope you enjoyed the review!

Friday, May 20, 2016

All work and no play make Ly a violent jerkface

Why does the digital version cost
more than the paperback? It's digital!
I added a picture of today's title, in case it wasn't obvious what I'm about to review. You guys... I have had an extreme mental block regarding this book. I wasn't even writing a story; I just couldn't make up my mind what to tell you about it! The Shining is a classic horror story. If you haven't read the book, you've certainly seen the movie. If you've done neither, you have seen it referenced. If that hasn't happened, I don't know how you're reading this because I must assume you're some kind of hermit slug living underneath a rock in a cave too deep to get Wifi.

If you've got nothing to say, why are you writing the review?
It isn't that there's nothing to say. There's actually too much, but none of it is necessarily new. But I like sharing what I've been reading and this is it. Actually, I've been listening to this on audiobook on my commute to and from work. Funny story, there: my drive to work is a little over an hour long each way, and when I get home from work I'm too tired to do anything. I haven't even had the energy to plug my phone into my computer to update the content on there. Consequently, The Shining is the only audiobook I've been listening to. I'm on my fifth time listening to it. In a row. So you see, that is why I'm writing the review. After five — and counting— listens, I'd better damn well write something about this book.

And that something is...?
I understand why Stephen King didn't like the movie based on his book (or at least I think I get it), madness could be contagious, and this story doesn't actually scare me — it makes me sad.

Those are some diverse angles for this book, lady.
Well, when you listen to a thing five times in a ROW, you start to notice all kinds of things. Jack Torrance is a normal guy with several big problems: he's a recovering alcoholic with a short fuse, and his life is going to shit. He loves his family, and is doing his best to be a good husband and father. Unfortunately, as we are all aware, you're best isn't always good enough. Torrance is a writer experiencing a prolonged writer's block, was recently fired from his position as a creative writing teacher in an elite prep school, and is pretty close to being penniless.

Sounds like a really shitty day.
Life's a bitch and then you die, as my mom likes to say. Which is exactly what happens! When a friend gets him the job as winter caretaker of the Overlook hotel, Jack recognizes it as a perfect (and potentially his last) opportunity to get his shit together. This is the time to finish the play he's been working on, reconnect with his family, and generally stay out of trouble while keeping his family fed and sheltered through the harsh Colorado winter. Unfortunately, the spooks in the hotel have other ideas...

Come play with us Danny...
Okay, so we all know this kid is psychic, right? I hope I'm not spoiling it for you; this book has only been around since the seventies. Dick Hallorann— our friendly, magical, black character in the story— refers to Danny's knack as "shining." I like to refer to it as "brain allergies." You see, even the book refers to the "shining" as something people might have in degrees. Some people don't shine at all, some shine only a little. Others, like Danny, shine hot. Again, think allergies. If a person is not sensitive at all, the hotel doesn't bother them. Others may feel a slight unease, but generally be okay. Still others, like Danny, not only see the horrors that happened, but apparently also activate a cognizant malevolence lurking within the hotel.

For someone else's in-depth look at the book vs. the movie,
check out "King, Kubrick, and The Shining" on
Now, if you've only seen the movie, you might start seeing why King is not a fan of Kubrick's work. I'm not saying Stanley Kubrick didn't make a kick-ass movie, but it's certainly not Stephen King's The Shining. That is going to sound awfully strange, given what I'm about to say next...
The movie touches on all the major plot-points in the book—

But you JUST SAID—!
I know what I said! The gist is essentially the same in both: a man goes crazy and tries to kill his family. Kubrick's "Shining" differs in that his Jack Torrance (Nicholson) is an asshole throughout the film. He's an emotionally abusive man who goes ape-shit very quickly. He dies, his family escapes, and I think, "Good riddance," then move on with my day. In the movie, his wife and son may as well be objects to be acted upon. I couldn't relate to any of them. But I relate with King's Jack Torrance.

I relate to the man who's struggling to keep his shit together and provide for his family, all while fighting his addiction and his violent inner demons. I understand how difficult it can be to not be an asshole to your friends and family when you're miserable. I'm sure a large portion of the U.S. population can empathize with a character who stays in a life position that's obviously bad for him because he has no alternative.
I can also relate to Wendy and Danny Torrance. They find themselves unable to do much more than hope for the best in an impossibly difficult situation. Maybe because of the shine —and maybe not— Danny understands a lot of what's happening to his family. Not all of it, obviously, because he's only five. But still, he gets that his daddy used to get drunk all the time, that he got fired, that he needs this job or they'll have nowhere to go. Danny understands, and that is why —despite his growing fear of the Overlook and its monsters— he doesn't tell his parents sooner that maybe they shouldn't go; maybe they should stay as far the hell away from that area as they possibly can.
One of the most iconic scenes in the movie, spoofed to death,
isn't even in the book. I love it.

Why so serious?
It makes me sad! When you listen to a book five times in a row and the first half of it is establishing how much this family loves each other... I got attached to them, okay? I want to have walked away from that many listens with a sense of, "If only they'd done this differently, maybe they would've been okay." But what could they have done differently? The true horror in this book is knowing that no matter what they did or tried, this family was doomed. They were isolated, not only while at the hotel, but in terms of their support network. What friends or family could've helped them while they got back on their feet? None, it seems. Love within their family wasn't enough, and it bums me out.

Now that I've maybe bummed you out too, let's talk about the ridiculousness that is repeatedly listening to a book about isolation while being isolated for hours at a time in a car during commute. I'm not about to say that listening to The Shining made me angrier than I already was about being stuck in traffic, but I'm not sure that it actually helped my situation. I spent a good deal of that time wishing I had Magneto-like powers to fling aside or crush all the cars ahead of me. So at the very least, I wouldn't recommend listening to this repeatedly during your daily commute to work. I do recommend that you read or listen to it, if you haven't already. Just be sure to take frequent breaks for hugs, though, okay? It's for your own good.

Hey guys, I'm sorry it took so long to get another review out (again). I've been bashing my head against this one for the last couple of weeks. However, I'm trying to get back on a weekly (Thursdays) schedule, so please stay tuned!
Next time, on Tea-time Reviews!

Sunday, May 8, 2016

The Water-Saving Garden: Because weather doesn't always happen in California

Fun fact: the state of California has every type of climate in the world except for tropical. Pretty cool, huh? That means if you travel a few hours in any direction, you'll find yourself in a different climate than where you started without even needing to leave the state. Unfortunately, for the last several years, we've been suffering through a severe drought. This makes me nervous: I've never wanted to live in the desert. My favorite color is green, not brown, and I love playing in water. So water conservation is high on my list of priorities. The Water-Saving Garden, by Pam Penick, is a book I picked up for free from Blogging for Books (in exchange for a fair and honest review), in the hopes of cultivating a kick-ass garden without wasting water. Let me tell you a thing or five about what I've learned...
Find me on Amazon!

The Water-Saving Garden is broken up into five different parts: inspiration, retaining water, planting, making you see things that aren't there, and recommended plants. That is a lot to pack into one book, but Penick does a great job of it. The inspiration portion features multiple gardens and highlights the different features that make them drought resistant. This portion is more photos than text, but it's a great way to start— giving you ideas as to what is possible.

My favorite parts in this book are probably the second part and third parts: retaining and planting. Basically: plan your garden. Before reading this book, I hadn't thought that planning a garden was more than deciding what plants to put in the ground or where I would place them relative to each other. That is certainly part of it, but you also want to consider how you can make it an inviting or relaxing space to be in, how you're going to water it, and how you can retain the maximum amount of rainfall on your property. Are you interested in holding rainwater to use during dry spells? There's a section for that in this book. What about preventing that rain from just going down the gutter and instead replenishing the ground water? That's in here too! I want to say that the basic premise of this book is: don't just reduce the amount of water you throw outside from your taps. Tap into the water that's already in the ground!

Thirdly, a chance to get dirty: Plant your garden!

So now you have a bunch of cacti planted in your yard so you won't have to water them?
Actually, right now I have a patch of dirt that needs to be cleared of debris. But to your insinuation that I would have a yard full of cacti I say, “Hah!” And no. While cacti and other succulents are certainly water thrifty plants, they are absolutely not the only choice available if you want to conserve water in your garden. You know what isn't really a choice in this type of garden? Lawns.

Lawns are the Humvees of the plant world —they're resource guzzlers, require a lot of time and maintenance, and don't look all that great anyway.

GASP! How can you say that about lawns?! It's the American way!
I know a lot of people picture a house with a white picket fence and a beautiful lawn as an integral part of the American dream but I think we can do better. There are other ways of doing things! And like it or not, the fact remains that during a drought, your lawn is going to wither and die because the roots just don't grow deep enough. They require a lot of water, you have to mow them frequently, they get weedy if you blink at them — they are just a lot more work than they're worth. If your main goal is to conserve water: lose the lawn. If you can't bear to lose the lawn, reduce it. If you decide to install artificial turf, lose my number.

Wanna tell us how you really feel about fake grass?
That's a post for a different day and a different blog. My point is that lawn is boring, lacks creativity, and takes a lot of effort for not much pay-off. There are alternative grasses and ground covers available to create visual interest, that thrive on less water, and give you an open green space if that's what you're after. There are wildflowers, trees, shrubs, and ground covers that are drought hardy. It doesn't have to all be about cacti or other succulents: we have options if we take the time to find them. I suppose that's the biggest deterrent for a lot of people having a garden instead of a lawn. You can set a lawn down and it looks like a lawn right away, but it takes more maintenance time later on. It might take you more time upfront to plan and set up a drought-hardy garden, but it will mostly take care of itself afterward. After all, it's meant to thrive on the amount of water that falls from the sky instead of you hosing it down.

What about this “making you see things that aren't there” section?
The section is actually about creating the illusion of water where there may not be any. This can be achieved by using stones, cascading plants, a simple water feature, etc. — anything that evokes an image of lakes, the sea, or other water by using plants.

The final section in this book is dedicated to 101 plants for water-saving gardens. Because like puppies, 100 just isn't enough. Gotta throw in that extra one.

And there you have it! The Water-Saving Garden: How to grow a gorgeous garden with a lot less water by Pam Penick is 223 pages of beautifully illustrated advice on how to grow a garden while conserving resources. If you have any aspirations toward creating an inviting outdoor space, I highly recommend it!