The Luminous Dead

The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling book cover

Not a Review

aka: I read a thing.

I realized after doing my wee writeup for Silver in the Wood, that I’d forgotten to mention I’d read The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling.

Gyre takes a high-risk spelunking job in hopes of getting off the backwater rock she calls home, ideally to find her mother. Em is a stubborn controller responsible for Gyre’s well-being underground. When Gyre realizes Em is her only support staff, and the job isn’t quite as posted, it’s a no-holds barred adventure. It’s a race against the clock as equipment malfunctions, supplies go missing, and the glowing, luminous dead remains of previous cavers rise to the surface like so many buried untruths. Add in a deadly underground predator, and it’s a thrill ride.

Seriously, folks, if you enjoyed the video game Portal and the movie Tremors, you’ll be all over this horror-thriller. Literally, the only thing it’s missing is the bacon (har har). Once I got into the story (as previously mentioned, I’ve been having some difficulty immersing myself in my reading), I couldn’t tear myself away.

I read the digital version of the book, which caused my one issue with the book. The map at the front was difficult to reference later in the story, so I read on the Kobo and referred to the map on my iPad. That’s a me-thing, though, and smarter readers who actually go get the dead-tree version of the book will find it very easy to flip back and forth.

Definitely a thumbs up. Definitely a recommend!


ps: I purchased this book all on my ownsome with my own cash monies. Because Kobo had it on sale for a more than reasonable price and PayPal is now an option at checkout. No goods were exchanged in trade for this not-a-review.

Silver in the Wood

Silver in the Wood by Emily Tesh book cover

Not A Review

aka: I read a thing.

Tobias is a Wild Man of the Wood. Henry Silver is the new lord of the manor. When the two meet, magic happens.

I just finished reading this little gem. On my Kobo, at my preferred font size, Silver in the Wood clocked in at a whopping 82 pages, which gave me hope that I’d actually be able to finish it in a timely manner. I’ve been having some difficulty settling my brain and getting into my reading lately, so discovering that the story that’s been making little ripples in my twitter stream wasn’t a full-size novel was actually refreshing.

(I’m also ramping up to do some reading for the Aurora Awards, so this is helping me ease into it. Huzzah.)

The concept of the Green Man of the Woods isn’t a new one. I think that any kid raised on fairy tales recognizes the Grimm atmosphere of dense woods, trees with a mind of their own, and uncanny forest-dwellers. Archetypes run the gamut from Hearne to Treebeard; I suspect that as long as there have been trees, someone has looked for their spirit.

Tobias has been around for at least 400 years. His memories are hazy, but that’s the count he’s sticking to. He’s happy taking care of his woods, his cat, and his dryad friends. Henry Silver, the new owner of Greenhollow Hall, is fascinated with his new home and the legends surrounding the area. Green as a young sapling, he’s enthusiastic to learn, and quickly manages to attach himself to the older, wiser man. It’s an attraction with consequences, evoking the changing of the seasons and the pagan rebirth of the old god.

Folk fantasy has had a huge boost in the past handful of years with works such as Naomi Novik’s Uprooted and Spinning Silver and Thomas Olde Heuveldt’s Hex. Silver in the Wood seems to sit solidly between the two, with a sweet romance that, more than once, reminded me of C. L. Polk’s Witchmark. It’s not really a fairy tale, but it’s not overt horror. At least not at first. If you enjoyed Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow, this might be right up your alley.


ps: I purchased this book all on my ownsome with my own cash monies. Because Kobo had it on sale for a more than reasonable price and PayPal is now an option at checkout. No goods were exchanged in trade for this not-a-review.

Craft and the art of goal-setting

A couple of posts back, I mentioned that I was learning to crochet. This might seem odd since I’ve posted a lot about my somewhat manageable yarn obsession. You’d think that by now I’d have this particular craft under my belt or (like many other knitters) just refuse to learn it out of stubborn solidarity. Really, knitting is just a really satisfying creative outlet. That doesn’t mean I haven’t used it to learn new things, though.

Almost ten years ago, I became frustrated at my knitting speed, or lack thereof, and taught myself to lever knit. Also known as Irish Cottage Knitting, lever knitting is a variant on the English method of holding one’s yarn and needles. It gained new popularity with the current crop of yarn enthusiasts through blogger Stephanie Pearl McPhee, who learned the method from her own grandmother. 

As far as learning new techniques go, lever knitting wasn’t terribly difficult. I figured out how to hold the yarn and wrap it through my fingers for the amount of tension I required, and started slowly. I’d knit that way for about five or ten minutes every time I picked up my knitting until it just became second nature. Learning to knit two-handed for stranded knitting was an added layer of difficulty.

I left my long-term employer this past September, and started looking at courses of study. I’ve had people suggest that I complete my network training or go into security or development. Development is an area where I have a bit of interest and some small experience. I fell in love with web design back in the 90’s, and reluctantly left it behind when my career started leading into network operations. At the time, web developers weren’t really valued unless they lucked into a career in a design house. I’m really happy to see that’s changed, and it’s a direction I’d like to head towards. 

Blue Crocheted Afghan
Granny Stripes afghan. Yarn is Caron Cakes Faerie Cake.

How does this tie into learning crochet? When I’m learning new crafts and crafting techniques, I generally teach myself. I’ve had to learn to set small, achievable goals, and make them interesting enough to want to complete them. I try to build off areas where I already have some competency and proficiency. The payoffs for me are awesome in scope: I’ve learned patience and focus. I’ve gained dexterity in fingers that currently have trouble performing a simple scale on the piano. I also have some warm socks, hats, mittens and shawls. I’m not really seeing a down-side to this.

It doesn’t escape my notice that I’ve just described something called a S.M.A.R.T. goal. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-Related. I’ve found that management makes a lot of noise about this method, but rarely gives you a real-world application for it. Having SMART goals sounds awesome. Being engaged enough to actually accomplish anything is another matter. Usually my interpretation of a SMART goal set by management translates to “How can we offload this thing we don’t want to do onto someone else so we can find something we like better.”

This attitude is probably why I tend to stick to crafts (at least for the time being).

When I’m teaching myself new crafts, I gain another side-benefit that I haven’t really talked about yet: an increase in self-confidence. I gain satisfaction in knowing that I’m not stupid, and that I can learn new things. I came out of my last job feeling pretty defeated. It’s taken me the better part of five months to start feeling like my old self again. I’m rediscovering a person who hasn’t seen the light of day in over a decade. I’m writing fiction again. I’m dusting off Photoshop and Illustrator. I’m digging further into WordPress and HTML and trying to teach myself Javascript. I have a lot of pans in the fire, and if learning how to crochet a shawl is the thing that helps me complete some of those tasks? Well then the extra acrylic yarn was well worth it in my estimation.

I’m not the only one who sees multiple mental health benefits to craftwork. Neuroscientists are studying people who craft and finding some really interesting observations about the meditative and social benefits. Even Lifehack has picked up the story.

The styling’ outfit my buddy Ollie is wearing was made by my Mum.

Crafts were a big thing when I was a kid. Growing up, there were always books on sewing, cross-stitch, macramé and knitting on the shelves in the family den. They were usually tucked willy-nilly between books on art history and the latest Stephen King or Kathleen E. Woodiwiss novel, but they were a natural part of my daily landscape.

My baby dolls had custom clothing and their own quilt. Mum made designer dresses for my Barbie dolls that were prettier and more durable than anything bought in a store. Cross-stitch and embroidered samplers were hung tastefully in certain rooms of the house, and crocheted snowflakes became a treasured part of the tree-trimming process.

I talk a lot about my Grandmother’s guidance on my love of craft, but I really can’t discount my own mother’s influence. By the time I was an adult, my mother had added Dene beadwork and moose hair tufting to her list of accomplishments, as well as leatherworked moccasins and mukluks. The parka I took with me to college was made and hand-embroidered by my Mum.

My mother also became an Amateur Radio Operator (HAM) in the early 1980’s, at a time when you needed to be fluent in Morse code as well as have an extensive knowledge of electronics to gain a license. Without that license, you were unable to participate in talks on various frequencies or attend meetings with other similarly-inclined persons. I can tell you from personal experience that learning Morse isn’t easy. I’ve given up on it a few times now, and I speak two languages (poorly, I grant you) in addition to English. Being able to draw on that background and meld it into the projects I’m currently working on? You have no idea how much this pleases me.

Red Heart Yarn doesn’t suck.

Yes, you read that right. No, I’m not shilling for Red Heart. Yes, I actually typed that sentence.

If you, like me, are a 40-something who plays with brightly-coloured string, you might remember the Red Heart of the past. Acrylic yarn so rough it made the scrubber side of a kitchen sponge feel like silk. That was my opinion of the spare yarn my Grandmother had lying around. The stuff that was purpose-made for teaching little fingers to knit. The stuff that convinced me that this knitting thing was the devil’s own handiwork and that I’d much prefer to go play softball with the boys, thank you very much.

This is the reputation that Red Heart has been dealing with for the past 80-some-odd years. I bought precisely two balls of acrylic when I was re-learning how to knit, and promptly shoved them in a storage box with the cheap needles I’d picked up as soon as I found access to Better Yarn soft wool. Soon my shelves where stocked full of merino and alpaca, and I swore I’d never touch acrylic again.

Right. Then my friends started having babies. Maybe you can see where this is going.

Yes, acrylic is improving.

I had an inkling that acrylic yarns were improving around the time someone suggested I knit a baby sweater or two. Instead, I dabbled in a baby blanket that didn’t get very far before I lost interest. At some point I bought some boutique acrylic from a local yarn store when I finally realized that baby sweaters need to be able to go in the laundry. A couple of years ago, I found that a slightly slubby acrylic had the kind of sheen I wanted for a pair of mittens for a co-worker. It’s been a slippery slope from there.

Speak Friend and Enter Mittens inspired by Tolkein's Lord of the Rings. Made for a co-worker using wool and acrylic yarns.
Speak Friend and Enter mittens made for my work buddy Lila

I recently decided to deepen my knowledge of crochet. Learning new crafts helps me kick-start my brain into learning other things. I think it has to do with being an experiential learner. At any rate, I have some very basic crochet skills, but haven’t used them beyond making the odd chain for a provisional cast-on. Mum gave me a crocheted doily she’d made years ago, and while I’ve tried my hand at it, I found some of the directions confusing (despite your best efforts, Leisure Arts).

I don’t like to start with easy projects.

I wanted to do something more than wash cloths or scarves, so I picked a shawl. A surprisingly easy shawl, once I found a YouTuber who was patient enough to film three videos on how to follow the pattern. Armed with this knowledge, I set off to Michaels in search of something I wouldn’t feel bad about accidentally destroying in a fit of pique. Hey, I can’t be held responsible where something lands when I pitch it across the room! I was surprised to find out that the colours I liked best were Red Heart Unforgettable. I’m a sucker for pinks, purples and blues. Some of the Unforgettable colorways seem to be calculated specifically to target me.

Virus meets Granny shawl in Red Heart Unforgettable colorway Candied. Posed thrown over the grey sofa in my office.
Virus Meets Granny shawl crocheted with Red Heart Unforgettable yarn

I was surprised at how soft the Unforgettable is! Granted, I’m crocheting with this, not knitting. Totally different way of holding the yarn. Even so, crocheting the shawl took surprisingly little time. I figured I’d be slogging away at it for a few months. It was done within a couple of weeks.

Hold on. There are still some drawbacks.

Don’t get me wrong – it’s not perfect. It has a halo, somewhat like mohair, which means it sticks to itself. You better hope you find any problems quickly if you need to rip back, because after a couple of hours being manhandled, the fibres start locking together. Under other circumstances this could be a feature, but for my personal skillset, it was something to watch out for.

Otherwise, I’ve found my Red Heart experience rather pleasant. To an extent where I’ve bought more. I figure there will be another Virus Meets Granny shawl in my future, possibly a Queen Anne’s Lace scarf. In the meantime, I have an afghan that I’m working up out of a bunch of Caron Cakes I picked up on sale after Yule. I’m almost convinced that the reason crocheters keep acrylic companies afloat is through the sheer speed involved in making afghans. Particularly if, unlike knitters, you don’t have to wrap the yarn around half the fingers on one hand.

Four balls of Red Heart Unforgettable yarn in the colorway Echo

No, I haven’t forgotten about knitting. I have a perfectly fine sock that I’ve been carrying around in my purse, thank you very much! 😃

Once more into the fray

I’ve been gearing up for a redesign of Stringchronicity for a while now. Imagine my surprise when I checked the site from Twitter to find..well…nothing. All the source code was present, but the site had gone *poof* into so much aether. I took this as a hint that maybe, while my host was restoring backups, I should rough in the new design.

Stringchronicity cat logo

I call the little guy over there on the left Widget. He’s my mascot. After all, if I’m not posting up pictures of yarn, knitting or unwitting family members, I’m usually posting pictures of my cat.

Widget was sketched on paper, scanned, and used for Adobe Illustrator practice. I’ve been so far into networking tech that my graphic skills have suffered a little atrophy.

If I don’t wind up refining Widget myself, I may ask a buddy for help. Widget is destined to grace my collateral items like business cards and such.

I’m also getting used to WordPress’s new Gutenberg posting interface. I’m enjoying it, for the most part. I like being able to choose and customize elements and plunk them into the appropriate places. I particularly like having nicely ordered menus full of those same elements. It makes life a lot easier. I’m looking forward to seeing whether the Gutenberg block is something I’ll be able to make from scratch, because I have Ideas. 😄

I guess there’s a part of me that’s happy the site broke. It got me to stop hesitating about the redesign and start posting again. Ever have those days where you start thinking about a blog post, and it’s only later that you realize you never actually wrote it out and posted it? I’ve been having a lot of those moments, lately.

December in pictures

Wrapping up December, 2018 with a wee gallery of memories! I got in a bit of Yule shopping, knit a whole lot, took a trip to the southern half of Northern Alberta, and dusted off some really rusty crochet skills. Not bad for a month filled with family events and last-minute panic knitting!

Papa’s got a brand-new hat

I found myself a little behind on Christmas knitting time last year. After finishing my traditional socks and a couple of extras, the last item on my list was still outstanding: a hat for Dad.

The Baa-ble Hat knit for my niece
The Baa-ble Hat knit for my niece

Dad had been hinting about a hat for over 2 years. I had knit stranded hats for my niece and nephew, and every time the subject came up, he’d inevitably utter the words “You know, I’d wear a hat like that…”
But it wasn’t to be. Because I ran out of time. Because I’m a good daughter, I printed out the pattern I had chosen and the yarn that the husbeast and I had bought at the yarn store, stuck them in a gift bag and let Dad know that a hat would be forthcoming.
Needless to say, the old man had reasonable doubts he’d ever see the hat. This wasn’t his first Rodeo. He’d been given the pattern and not received the finished product at least once before in the past. Possibly more, as I’m pretty sure my mother and grandmothers before me had likely pulled the same stunt. I’m pretty sure the same trick wears thin around the third generation.
He went back to wearing his usual toque and promptly forgot about the promised hat.
Until last week, when I dropped by the house to deliver the finally finished Native Winter Beanie I’d found the time to finish! The yarn is super-soft merino. Not sure about the lighter colour, but the ball band for the dark brown tells me that it’s a superwash in Black Mousse by Zen Yarn Garden. The yarns are, unfortunately, not from the same companies.

Native Winter Beanie
Native Winter Beanie, hat designed by Sheri Fuller

The brim was probably the hardest part. It’s a ribbed brim, and it seems to go on forever. It’s a 144-stitch cast on, and you knit for about 6.5cm (2.5 inches). I get tired of knit 2, purl 2 rib on a 64-stitch cast on sock after about 15 rounds! 144 stitches is pretty brutal. I’d say it took 11 months to recover from the trauma, but all I can really chalk that up to is a bit of knitter’s depression — things happening in your non-knitting life that keep you from picking up the needles. To be honest, I’ve been stuck in a place where I essentially only had the energy to play World of Warcraft and make sure I get my requisite amount of showers per week.
I’m out of practice when it comes to stranded knitting. My fingers hurt for about three days afterwards. I’d gotten the pattern colour and the background colour mixed up, you see, so when I realized that the background wasn’t the lovely chocolate brown, but the lighter gold…I had to rip back. I’d been in the middle of the decreases at the crown, so it wasn’t a small setback. Luckily, even my mildly arthritic fingers are nimble enough to catch up. It only took one afternoon to get back on track.

Dad, enjoying his new hat
Dad, enjoying his new hat

I’m glad I managed to get this project done and out of the way. I’m even happier that Dad now has a warm hat to wear on the cold days ahead! Winter is coming!

Happy Hallowe’en!

Happy Samhain! We celebrated this year with three pumpkins: a real pumpkin carved with a black cat that sat on our porch, and two faux pumpkins for inside the house. The two faux pumpkins are, of course, Edgar Allen Poe and Vincent Price. All patterns, if I recall, were purchased from my favourite pumpkin pattern shop, Zombie Pumpkins!https://www.zombiepumpkins.com