Friday, August 19, 2016

My one-year post-op checkup

was this week, and I got another "A" from my oncologist. She says I don't need to come back in for another year, AND that seeing the PA will be fine. From that I take it that she feels confident I'll be doing OK. And, of course, if anything comes up I can always call and book an appointment.

So - it's actually been 13 months since my cancer surgery and all still seems well!

Yeah, I'm happy.

Friday, July 29, 2016

What has changed?

Everything.

We have an official, main party candidate for the President of the United States who is a woman.  I never expected to see that in my lifetime - until we had a black POTUS. Then, I began to hope ... a little bit.

And now it's real.  It's so big that I can't really *feel* its reality yet.

I'm aware of her faults; politics is compromise (among adults, anyway). But I think she's the best candidate we've had for many a long, long year. Even Obama, while excellent in many ways, didn't have the years and breadth of experience she's got.

I can't wait to see what she accomplishes.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Just a sentimental scientist...

Just saw this on Bobak Ferdowsi's Twitter feed:


Philae Lander  Verified account  @Philae2014
It’s time for me to say goodbye. Tomorrow, the unit on @ESA_Rosetta for communication with me will be switched off forever...

RETWEETS 2,235
LIKES 2,522

7:00 AM - 26 JUL 2016

-----
and was very glad to see I'm not the only sentimental science lover whose eyes are a little bit wet right now.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Mom's birthday

July 25, 2016. Mom would have been 97 today. I’ve been thinking about her a lot. I know while I was responsible for her, 2002 - her death on Jan. 1, 2004, I tried very hard every single day to do it right. I knew after she died I would feel guilty no matter what I did but I tried every single day. Nowadays, I find I was right: I feel guilty anyway. But intellectually I know that her life was her own: she lived the consequences (and rewards) of her own choices, just like we all do. I found it hard to feel love for her, but I must have because it really hurt when she died. But that inner glow of love? Not so much felt.

But when I was a kid she could be a lot of fun. That was why so many people (including my friends) visited our house so frequently. She was the life of the party. And when there weren’t people visiting (okay, drinking - her adult friends I mean) we often had fun together. She gave me my love of reading, and of words. Some of my favorite times were when she was washing the dishes and I (grudgingly) was drying them (god I was an asshole kid; I resented having to do ANYTHING), out of sheer desperation I suspect, she would start word games: spelling, definitions, but especially the one where you say a word, the other person has to spell it - and then has to give you a word back that starts with the last letter of the first word. There was strategy involved! I loved it.

And I was in awe of her ability to rescue baby birds and squirrels and rabbits. No matter how young they were, seemingly she had it in hand.

I *think* we’d sometimes play two-person Rummy together. And maybe Scrabble. We weren’t hard-core Scrabble players, but our word games certainly enhanced Scrabble for us. But that wasn’t very frequent because I can’t actually *remember* these table games, I just have the feeling we played them.

She was also extremely kind and generous-hearted towards people having a hard time in life. She'd been a child of The Depression and that never left her. She'd help out down-and-outers and though she would complain if one occasionally ripped her off, it didn't stop her helping the next person on whom life was crapping.

Anyway, it’s a day to celebrate again those things she bequeathed me: love of reading, love of nature, love of humor. Those are mighty big things, and I can't imagine myself without them. Thank you, Mom. We both did our best.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Summer in the city, for sure

So last week when we had that little three-day run of days in the 80's, I was in the inertia phase of my mood and didn't get anything but the front yard mowed. The back yard is much bigger, and I kept thinking "tomorrow." We all know where that gets you. It gets you where I am: on a day when the heat index now at 1 p.m. is 105 degrees F, there is no way in hell I'm going out there to try to mow. I wouldn't last ten minutes. And the yard foliage grows and grows and grows - we've had rain the past 3 nights, I think, so the planties are very, very happy. 

Well, so (I hope) are the bees (who love all the Creeping Charlie when it flowers) and the lightning bugs (who love the taller, wetter grass or at least seem to; I think we should be at the end of their usual display season but they don't seem to be abating). And therefore all the other little crawly critters are happy and therefore the birdies who eat them like popcorn are happy. I'm a biologist and I love mess and diversity in my yard - but I think it probably drives my recreational-mowing neighbor crazy. I don't mean to, honest. 


Thursday, July 14, 2016

One month later...

I haven't been posting because I've had nothing interesting to post. Oh, I've been reading books, but kind of lost interest in writing about them. I visit several book reviewing blog sites and I don't have near the skills or insights those folks have, so I figure it doesn't hurt to let one tiny insignificant corner of the internet shut the hell up for a few days/weeks.

Everything's fine. I'm just really really low-energy this summer. And enjoying it!


NASA photo: Earth from Mars, a Curiosity rover photo.Yes, it's there. About a third of the way from the left side, and about a third of the way down from the top. It's maybe one light gray pixel. (Click on the picture to enlarge it.)

Perspective.

As in, yesterday it was one year exactly since my cancer surgery last summer. I'm doing great. My one-year check-up will be next month; I'll get nervous the week before, I'm sure. I tend not to take things for granted anyway, but since last summer, I really don't take any doctor's exam for granted. You never know what those wacky folks will say!

But seriously: I adore my oncologist, Dr. Nadkarni. She is the BEST. Thank you, Dr. Nadkarni.

One month later...

I haven't been posting because I've had nothing interesting to post. Oh, I've been reading books, but kind of lost interest in writing about them. I visit several book reviewing blog sites and I don't have near the skills or insights those folks have, so I figure it doesn't hurt to let one tiny insignificant corner of the internet shut the hell up for a few days/weeks.

Everything's fine. I'm just really really low-energy this summer. And enjoying it!


NASA photo: Earth from Mars, a Curiosity rover photo.Yes, it's there. About a third of the way from the left side, and about a third of the way down from the top. It's maybe one light gray pixel.

Perspective.

As in, yesterday it was one year exactly since my cancer surgery last summer. I'm doing great. My one-year check-up will be next month; I'll get nervous the week before, I'm sure. I tend not to take things for granted anyway, but since last summer, I really don't take any doctor's exam for granted. You never know what those wacky folks will say!

But seriously: I adore my oncologist, Dr. Nadkarni. She is the BEST. Thank you, Dr. Nadkarni.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Still slowly stumbling along

and really, enjoying the summer by not going out in this gawdawful heat very much. I have been looking at the grass in my yard, and it does not look like it has grown 1/4" in the past week, so I don't think I'll mow the front today (Tuesdays are designated Front Yard Mowing days) because I am not into Recreational Mowing. The back yard, done last Friday, or was it Thursday, is also not showing many signs of growing (I don't water my grass unless we've had weeks of no rain). So I may be off the hook Thursday/Friday (my two options for Back Yard Mowing) too. That would be nice ('cause I'm lazy).

There are plenty of other yard jobs to do, though, but until the heat lets up they'll wait. When I push and exert myself in the heat and humidity, I'm subsequently flattened for at least 24 and sometimes 48 hours. What a wuss, I know. But it's true.

I read a good book last week: Quiet Neighbors, by Catriona McPherson.


I thought it would be spooky, but it's more of a three-pronged mystery with a kinda unreliable narrator, which I don't usually like. But this one - it really pulled me along, trying to figure out what she's hiding, and what he's hiding, and what the other she is hiding ... all the secondary characters were interesting and of course the premise - when you live in the middle of the cemetery, you have quiet neighbors OR YOU'RE SUPPOSED TO - is a real grabber. And then, somewhere towards the end, it does a kind of gentle double flip and reveals its true nature and I'm glad I read it.  Is that spoiler-free enough?

Friday, May 27, 2016

Getting back in the swing of things, slowly

I've accomplished two mowings of each the front and the back yards. I think getting that push-button starting mower, and investing in the real, effective filter mask may have extended my yard work lifetime by about ten years. I hadn't realized how anxious I would be, having to work myself up into going out and yanking on that damned mower rope just to get it started, all these years. And it wasn't getting better, I'm getting older and every time I ended up more sore and worn-out. So, yay! for push-button starters! I would have loved to get an all-battery mower but those are like $1300 so that's out of the question. This one is "self-propelled" but the handle is only on the right side so my right hand gets a little tired (hmm...maybe that's why my right hand has been a bit swollen at the base of the thumb for a couple of days...?) but I just need to retrain myself to take advantage of the front-wheel drive better (don't bear down on the machine's handle, lift it up a tiny bit so the front wheels do more of the work!) and we'll be fine.

And it's SO nice not to be wheezing and hacking and coughing and sneezing for two hours after mowing! I LOVE my zombie apocalypse face mask/filter system!


It *is* hot to wear and my face is even redder than it gets usually once I'm done with the mowing, but man, is it nice not inhaling all that dust and pollen and Yark knows what else. Refreshing!

Today is indoor work, I don't have the stuffing to tackle yard work again. At least both the front and the back are mowed nice and neatly now. I wanted to get that done before the long weekend in case my neighbors have friends over, they don't have to be embarrassed by my messy overgrown yard. 

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Little to report

other than yard work, yard work, yard work. Last summer's forced hiatus (recuperating from successful cancer surgery) really set me back from the plans I'd made before the diagnosis. So, I'll feel happy if I can just catch up and stay caught up with the mowing - although I've invested some money in annual flowers and pots to hang, so I'm hoping I'll be able to do a *little* better than stay even.

Saturday, May 07, 2016

Progress

Yesterday I mowed my front yard for the first time this season. It's very late; the dandelions and patchy grass (it's a very shady yard from neighbors' trees and my own maple in the front; also maple trees exude substances that discourage other plants growing in their proximity) were halfway to my knees. But until I'd got rid of last year's leaves, I couldn't mow, and I didn't get around to that until Wednesday and Thursday. I'd planned to mow then Thursday but discovered that the battery for the pushbutton starter on the mower needed to be charged for a full ten hours before using it. So, yesterday I put in the oil and gas and it started right up on the first try. I was very relieved, it was a lot of money (for me) to spend on a machine that wouldn't work well. Anyway, it did, and the grass in the front is of uniform height now. The perennial bed still has leaves in it, but those are my free mulch and part of the nourishment I'm leaving there.

It is humiliating how little physical labor it takes to flatten me these days. Two hours of raking and bagging leaves sent me indoors completely knackered; I lay down for a 30 minute nap Wednesday and conked out for three hours! And was ready to go back to bed at 11 p.m. Same Thursday - a couple of hours of (slow-motion) raking & bagging and I was Done. However, I hope to keep pushing myself so that by the end of summer I can do both yards (mowing, weeding) in one day and still stay awake at least until nightfall.

Next (Monday) I start on the east side of the house (*drifts* of last year's leaves) and the back yard (many times bigger than the front). That will be slow-motion, too. First, patrol for sticks (courtesy of the ever-shedding 90-foot Chinese elm) then walk down the east edge of the lawn with the weed-whacker, so that I can use the mower with only half its width (or less) cutting the tall grass and Creeping Charlie. Most of the yard has Creeping Charlie now; I like it - because the bees love it. I can't bring myself to mow it all down, so I'm leaving a mower-width strip along the west fence-line, and I'm leaving the entire back 15 feet or so along the back fence to do anything it likes - though I'll keep after the weed trees. I've got the brush pile in the corner back there, and I know that snakes, birds and rabbits use it, so that makes me happy, if not my neighbors (the neighbor across the back fence can't see my yard, that fence is wooden and 6 feet high).

There are several problem spots I will need to work on - all of this work I had planned out step by step on paper last spring, but then the cancer diagnosis landed and nothing else got done until now. So I'm playing catch-up really, with a whole year's yard work delayed. I've decided my five day a week job now will be working on the yard this spring and summer.

Changing the subject now: I tried soft-boiled eggs for breakfast this morning, thinking of all those Golden Age mysteries where Lord and Lady What's-it sit down with their country home guests for a leisurely buffet breakfast, with eggs perched in charming little gold-rimmed Royal Doulton china egg cups. But ye gods, what is the point of soft-boiled eggs? Half the white stays with the egg shell and the rest is a mutilated mess. Also, what's with those toast racks? Is that specially designed to make sure every piece of toast is equally cold by the time you try to apply the butter to it? And KIDNEYS? for BREAKFAST? And the British wonder why people mock their "cuisine."


Sunday, May 01, 2016

Revisionary, by Jim. C. Hines

It has taken me SO long to work down through my towering To Be Read pile before I could get to this one, and it has acted as a spur to keeping me reading those ones before it. Finally, I got to read Revisionary, the fourth and last book in Jim C. Hines's Magic Ex Libris series.


Look at the gorgeousness of that cover! Just LOOK AT IT!!!! All four covers are just glorious and prove that it IS possible for a publisher to take enough care so that the cover artist knows what the book is about! 

All I can say is, after the first three books I had no idea how Jim could possibly do justice to them in the last of the series, and NO idea how he could wrap it up - but he hit home runs on both counts. This one is fast-paced and surprising and fun and harrowing, and the end is satisfying on several levels. And there's lots of Smudge in this one, too! Smudge! I adore Smudge. Wondering who Smudge is? Read the books! (Jim's original Goblin Jig series is Smudge's actual starting place and you won't be sorry for reading those, as well. I promise!)

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

In case anybody visits this blog

I thought I should enter a note. I haven't posted much for awhile because I've been kind of grappling with depression, which for me takes the relatively innocuous form of total inertia. Not emotional anguish, just a giant MEH, and being content to literally do nothing at all but sit in my chair all day before going to bed. It finally occurred to me that 1) this mood has lasted a LOT longer than usual (the usual is 2 - 3 weeks then suddenly I find myself up and at 'em again for a couple weeks, then back down in the burrow, lather, rinse, repeat) and 2) I haven't been able to logic myself out of it, and nothing behavior-therapy-wise that I've tried (and I *have* tried, a lot) was working, and 3) this is not healthy and 4) I need help. So I called my doctor and we're trying a prescription that seems to be helping since I've experienced a moderate amount of increased energy and interest in life.

And, I have been reading books, and I went to a movie with a friend, and there's been some small amount of house & yard stuff (really, really small amount), but I just can't get motivated to do a real post about any of it.

I'm fine, just need some more time getting my feet back under me.

Here's a picture of my cat as a reward for reading this far.


"Whut."

Thursday, April 07, 2016

Step by step

Spent a full day yesterday getting the living room windows finished:

Before:


After:


And it's incredible how mood-lifting that difference is. Today, I do the dining room's windows and get the dining room all cleaned up, and the plant shelving re-organized (since I'll have to take everything off it and get it off of the marble-topped sideboard it sits on, right in front of the windows). At some point, I need to decide whether to paint or stain & varnish that shelving unit, but it can wait.

It is good to feel like I've accomplished something.


Friday, April 01, 2016

Project days

The elephant has labored, once more, to produce a mouse.

With my state and federal income tax returns in hand, I can now do some things around the house and yard I've been putting off for way, way, WAY too long. I mean, years, sometimes decades.

I think I'm a weird person in that I don't really pay much attention to my surroundings. I have never "got" the need to have my house look like a catalogue or TV ad. But I think I've carried it a bit too far...

We bought this house in 1993. We remodeled the kitchen, and re-papered and re-tiled half of the bathroom, and pulled the weird carpeting out of the bathroom, kitchen, and two upstairs bedrooms (this house has hardwood floors all through), but aside from that, we've done nothing. Oh, we re-painted one of the bedrooms to make a library/den for Bob. So what I'm saying is that the dining room and living room still have the same wall colors and paper, carpeting - and window "dressings." I'm thinking next year my tax refunds will pay to have the rest of the carpeting yanked out of this place, and the floors refinished. We'll see. But the windows downstairs - Oy.

Sometime about 2000 I think, we had hefty 2" venetian blinds put in the two windows on either side of the front door. So those are worth keeping - I just spent $53.50 to have one of them re-strung! But the other windows - they were looking more and more like some derelict lived here. So I went out and got simple (& inexpensive) nickel-colored drapery rods, a bunch of Levelor roller shades (hey, by the way, if you get them at Lowe's, Lowe's will trim them to size for you for free! A nicety no one bothered to mention to me when I bought SEVEN of them the other day. It is mentioned on the ha, ha so-called "instruction sheet," buried amidst a bunch of other printed matter in various languages. Thought I'd pass that along, since no one at Lowe's or Levelor's can bother to), and I decided I'm so sick of those heavy, dark, rough, wheat-colored drapes, that I wanted sheer and light for a change. So I got two sky blue sheers and two pure white sheers for each window. Er, to be clear, there are two pairs of windows, one in the dining room and one in the living room  (the venetians are enough for their windows), then one single window on the one-step landing to the upstairs. There's another window on the top landing I'm treating the same as the others. The 7th shade is to replace the mini-blind in the bathroom that the cats ruined.

Now, Sunday night when I went to bed, I told myself that by bedtime Monday night I'd have all new windows. It made me feel very good and helped me sleep. And it was a total ridiculous con! Why do I keep on doing this to myself? Projects I dream up NEVER entail mistakes on ANYONE'S part; oversights or sheer stupidity on anyone's part; or clumsiness or ignorance on anyone's part. (For the purposes of this post, "anyone" means "me.") They only ever take an afternoon or morning, in my head. Simple!

It's Friday evening. On the dining room table are every hammer I own (a 16-oz., a ball peen, a rubber mallet and a tack hammer); a hacksaw; three sizes each of Phillips and straight screwdrivers; four different kinds of tape; the cordless drill and all the boxes of drill bits and screwdriver inserts that go with it; a needlenose plier, a regular plier, a box of razor blades and a box cutter. I have made TWO trips to Lowe's and one to Ace Hardware (oh yeah, that's the other thing no one bothers to mention: they no longer provide the hardware in the package with your roller blinds, you have to buy those separately. Bastards), and two trips clear the hell & gone to southwest Omaha to drop off and pick up that venetian blind. I'm sore from climbing up and down ladders and holding the power drill above my shoulders, my knuckles are scraped and my ego is bruised.

It's taken me two full days and god knows how much mileage on the car, and the sum total of what I've accomplished is: I finally got the venetian blind re-installed after much sweating, puffing, cursing and slicing of fingers, and I got the lower stairway window completely redone. As I lifted the rod, full of the gauzy drapes, up to its hooks over the window, I realized: It looks a lot like Disney's Cinderella's ball gown.


I stared at it for a minute, then thought, screw it, I can live with this for 23 years.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

More Griffiths

As promised, here's my report on yet another Elly Griffths novel, A Dying Fall. This is again a Dr. Ruth Galloway and Detective Chief Inspector Harry Nelson mystery. She's the prickly, independent archaeologist who chooses to live on a desolate stretch of Norfolk's coastline, facing the barren shingle and the tumultuous sea beyond. He's the guilt-ridden, married, father of her baby Kate (they have lots of history and between her independent nature and his genuine devotion to his wife, it doesn't look like they're ever going to have a simple relationship).

The story opens thusly: "At first he isn't even scared." And you're right, whoever "he" is, he's in deep trouble. In fact, he's about to die in a raging house fire. He was an old college friend of Ruth's, and shortly after she hears of his death, like, the next day, she gets a letter from him. He's been a professor of archaeology at a regional college in Lancashire, and he wrote to tell her he's made a tremendous discovery, but it's put his life in danger. Well, of course she hies herself and Kate up there to find out what happened. Unbeknownst to her, Nelson is wending that way, too, with his wife, for their annual visit at his mother-in-law's. Naturally - since they talk occasionally on the phone about Kate, and because Ruth calls him with her suspicions about her friend's "accidental" death, they end up investigating the situation together.

Several more of Ruth's old college gang appear in the story, and none of them are exactly what they seem. Nor are any of the college academics and students. Happily, for me anyway, she's brought her Druid friend Cathbad along to take care of Kate while she sleuths. Every story's better with Cathbad. (IMO)

The setting, around  Blackpool, Preston and Fleetwood, are flavorfully rendered in shades of scuzziness, industrial bleak, and just for variety, glorious rural landscapes. The title of the book refers to the climax, when an amusement park roller-coaster provides some of the most suspenseful and dismaying moments in this series yet. I actually cried at the denouement - but won't explain, as that would be a spoiler.



Once again, Griffiths hits it out of the park and I again highly recommend this series!

Sunday, March 27, 2016

How many more before the world stops this?


Hum hain Pakistan

Grief beyond words. My heart goes out to the good people of Pakistan.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Nothing to add.


Je suis Belge.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The subject schedule has been forgotten long ago

...as if it wasn't obvious already.

Well, I have read three books since my last book report (I don't call them book reviews because I don't even know what a book review is supposed to do), and there has actually been a tiny bit of knitting news. I won't lay all three books on you at once.

I've been in a mood slump but I think I'm coming out of it now.

The first book report is A Room Full of Bones, another Ruth Galloway archaeological mystery by Elly Griffiths:


When Ruth shows up at a small, private museum to participate in a high-publicity opening of an ancient coffin, she finds the curator dead in the room with the coffin, a stuffed snake, and one shoe lying by an open window.  This of course brings her back into contact with DCI Harry Nelson, who is not especially happy at another murder crowding into his life right when he's having a bad time trying to solve a massive drug-smuggling case. Ruth's and Harry's personal relationship is also a source of pain and doubt to both; a single night of survivors' passion after a previous, harrowing case had produced Ruth's beloved daughter Kate, and Harry's wife had known the instant she set eyes on the baby. Harry, to save his marriage, has pledged never to see either his daughter or Ruth again, except when required by their professions. The only one who isn't in terrible pain about all of this is Kate herself.

Anyway, the blue-blooded family who owns the museum lives on a horse training estate, and it will not surprise readers that things get mighty complicated once the investigation takes our pair out there; another murder ensues and things start getting really dangerous when Nelson begins to think his two cases might just be connected.

There's a degree of suspense here and several moments when I went "Oh, no!" and kind of tried to cover my eyes when it looked like something tragic was going to happen - a sure sign of a great read. I recommend this one, just like the others. Go to your local independent bookseller, I bet they can get this series for you if they don't already have it.

And the next book report is another Ruth Galloway mystery. The one after that isn't, though. So there's that.

The knitting news is good/bad: one of the second pair of socks I ever knitted developed a rather largish hole in the ball of the foot. That's the bad news; I think it's because at that point in my sock-knitting career I didn't realize that plain merino was a possibly poor choice for socks. Nowadays when I come across one of those early skeins with no nylon in them, I incorporate nylon thread into the heels and toes as I make them (and now I think I'll extend that to the ball of the foot, too).  Anyway, the good news is that I sat down with the remainder of that skein, a Pinterest series that shows how to darn, and got started darning it - and it's surprisingly easy.


Not the greatest photo, but evidence that it's working!

Since my last post, I've also found a couple of really cool web sites that I've put in my daily rounds:

Humans of New York, which is about humans, right, but the street photographer who started this has since gone all over the world, taking pictures and gathering stories from people everywhere. It is EPIC, funny, beautiful, heart-breaking, amazing. If you find yourself losing faith in human kind, put this on your daily rounds, too.

and myomahaobsession.com, a blog wherein a local woman explores all kinds of interesting mysteries in Omaha (where I live). Odd buildings, intriguing people, historic businesses, she delves deep and brings forth lots of fun and moving stories. This is a terrific addition to Omaha's online community.




Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Trivia

I haven't done much at all the past week because somehow, despite having rigorously disciplined myself when it comes to putting library books on Hold, suddenly found myself with NINE of them ready to pick up! How did that happen? And they're all ones I really want to read, so I've been reading.

I love being retired.

I'm also feeling virtuous, as I always do when I make soup or stew out of stock I've brewed from a chicken that I myself roasted - and even moreso, this time I remembered to give the beans a long enough soak so they actually got done - meaning you can squish them with the back of a spoon to thicken up the broth - and I remembered I have about five pounds of wild rice I need to use up. So I've got crock-pot chicken broth-based beans & rice non-Mexican soup for supper. It's actually pretty bland, but putting about 40 postage-sized-stamp-sized squares of Swiss cheese in it definitely helps, it's much tastier that way. That, and having my own home-made whole wheat bread with nice crunchy seeds and grains in it with nice healthy margarine-like substance on it.

So I'm feeling nice and healthy and thrifty and enjoying reading some books I really like a lot. My comments about them will follow in the days to come.

But jeez - NINE of them? When did I order them? I thought I'd quit doing that, instead using the library's For Later button mostly...

Monday, March 14, 2016

Two more book reviews!

I've neglected posting the past couple of weeks because there's been pretty much nothing going on. Nice and quiet and placid, yay.

But, I have been reading! Two books to report on today:

The Yarn Woman by Brooks Mencher was a title and author I found out about where else? Ravlery forums, of course. I have read my share of craft-related mysteries, and I have to say, for the most part, they haven't been all that well-written. Most have been fun and at least engaging enough for me to finish them, some are more fun than others. There have been, sad to say, a small number I couldn't finish, or even get past the first chapter. It's not the craftiness that's at fault; I suspect it's true of any mystery genre/niche-market mashup category (sailing, gardening, steeplechasing...). Even worse, I am absolutely allergic to any supernatural woo-woo in my mysteries, and the book blurb flatly states, "There are always the ghosts." So, because of this history, I approached The Yarn Woman with reservations, perhaps I should say: low expectations.

To my delight, I was completely disarmed and delighted by these three novellas!



Now, they are not without flaws. After reading it, I went back to Ravelry and found a book club there who read it several years ago. I was taken aback that most of the readers took great exception to Mencher's writing skills, particularly the "big words" he uses and especially how many adverbs he uses. (I am not blind to the two adverbs I used in that sentence.) First, my feelings about big words is that they are either used well, or poorly. If they stand out, it's poorly. But with this surprise came additional insight into my own attitude: I have a larger vocabulary than most people I know, and not one time in these stories did a "big word" stand out to me! Not one! So maybe my definition of "used well" or "used poorly" needs to change. I did mull this over. I decided that the author has no control over the working vocabularies of their readers, so there's no way, aside from deliberately dumbing down their text, they can make sure that any "big word" doesn't put readers off. I myself found Mencher's writing delightful, and I don't use that term for just any old book. I loved the characters, the settings, and the plots. I loved the descriptions. I even appreciated the handling of the supernatural elements.

Second, the adverbs. When I was writing fiction a lot (I don't any more), I did a LOT of reading and studying to improve my writing. The Adverb gets TONS of criticism. Some critics and authors go so far as to say you should never, ever use an adverb. And sure enough, when I would go through a manuscript I'd written, I'd find a lot of them I could cut and/or replace with some other way to get the same idea across that made my writing better. So if anything, I'm over-sensitive to the use of adverbs. Again, to my mind, you can use adverbs well (they don't stand up and yell at the reader) or poorly (they do exactly that, call attention to themselves and away from the story). And again, not ONCE in these novellas did I even NOTICE an adverb.

So I was charmed by the writing, and found it entirely professional and effective. What about the stories? Here's where a sensitive reader, one whom certain subjects upset, might be careful. There is child abuse here, wife abuse, and violence. None of it is on-screen nor are its effects treated gratuitously or in detail. And some of it turns out to not be what it seems. That said, I'll only give a little comment without spoilers for each. You can read fuller synopses and critiques on the usual web pages: amazon's comments, Goodreads reviews, mystery lovers' blogs.

Nat P.M. Fisher is a hard-working reporter in modern-day San Francisco, who starts out narrating the tale "Ghosts of the Albert Townsend" - I should mention the point of view does skip around some in the stories and occasionally I had to backtrack to figure out who was talking/doing, but not enough to ruin the reading for me - which involved a little girl whose nocturnal ramblings around town have brought her, wrapped in a hand-knitted shawl that's definitely the worse for wear, bloody and limp to the emergency room in her mother's arms. Fisher happens to observe their arrival, and then the very prompt arrival of quite a few policemen pique his curiosity about the case. Fortunately, an old childhood chum, Detective William Chu, is in charge of the case and he allows Fisher to tag along with the investigation. Because the shawl is unknown to the girl's mother, and it's hand-knitted, Chu calls in Ruth M, a textile forensics consultant (The Yarn Woman), to help them find out where the child had been because she's not talking. Fisher soon finds himself enthralled by the woman and her milieu: she's got a devoted - assistant? servant? chauffeur? protector? - in Mr. Kasparov, an elderly Ukranian ex-pat, and they dwell in a splendid old abandoned theatre in a tiny, hidden pocket of old San Francisco. Ruth M is indeed a yarn woman - a knitter with a stash that is no doubt the envy of half of Ravelry's members. And her knowledge of fibers and human psychology is wide and deep. Somehow connected, though how Fisher struggles to determine, the girl's story is tied in with the reappearance in the harbor of an old sailing ship that sank long ago. As I said, I am not usually at all interested in supernatural goings-on in my mysteries but this one kept me reading way past my bed-time until I could finally read the last page.

The second and third novellas, The Fisherman's Wife,  and The Boy in the Mist were just as compelling and rich-reading as the first. The characters are all colorful and interesting and the stories have heart. The Boy in the Mist has just a slight whiff of Martha Grimes's Richard Jury stories about it; that's all I'll say about that except I don't mean that in any kind of negative way at all. (I love her Jury series). This third one is also - to me - the most unsettling of the three in that it suggests goings-on that I never expected in this country, in this age, and which if true, are appalling. They remind me how very, very lucky I have been and how sheltered I still am. Unfortunately they are entirely believable. At least The Yarn Woman and Nat P.M. Fisher and Mr. Kasparov have helped a little bit, by the end.

I recommend this book to mystery lovers and yarn enthusiasts.

The other book I read last week is The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths.



My mystery book club read her The Janus Stone last year and I really liked it; I'm just now getting around to reading the rest in the Ruth Galloway series. The Crossing Places is the first in the series. Ruth Galloway is an archaeologist who becomes involved with a mystery in the wetlands she bought a small house beside. Her own personal and academic history and the history of ancient England, and the history of a disappearance the other main character, Detective Chief Inspector Harry Nelson, failed to solve ten years earlier, all entwine in a horrible and frightening situation literally in her own front yard.  I like both of these main characters and the archaeology is always fascinating. Highly recommended!